Royal naval Air Station Stretton began life as an R A F Night Fighter station. At this particular time in World War II both Manchester and Liverpool were suffering from ,” The Blitz” inflicted by the German Luftwaffe, and so initially 465 acres of agricultural land around the villages of Appleton and High Legh were set aside by the War Ministry for the construction of an airfield to protect both Manchester and Liverpool.
Thankfully, Germany switched tactics and commenced her ill-fated attack upon Russia, meaning that there was a drastic reduction in Luftwaffe attacks on Liverpool and Manchester. It also means that the RAF now had no use for the airfield under construction. An agreement was reached between the War Ministry, RAF and Admiralty for the new airfield to be loaned to the Admiralty in exchange for facilities at Macrinhanish in Scotland.
On the 1st of June 1942 RNAS Station Stretton, HMS Blackcap (ALL Naval Air Stations are named after birds) was commissioned. It had 3 RAF type runways as distinct from the 4 at naval Air Stations and RAF type buildings, including an RAF type Control Tower and even fighter dispersal\al pens on the perimeter. The total complement was 1462 Officers and Ratings, including 13 Wren Officers and 104 Wrens, Blackcap also gave employment to numerous civilians from the surrounding area.
During the 16 years of its “ Operational Life “, HMS Blackcap was the home to 41 different Naval Air Squadrons including being the “ Home “ station of 1831 and 1842 Squadrons RNVR, who eventually formed the Northern Air Division ( NAD ) of the RNVR, prior to their ill-timed disbandment in 1957.
The station was divided into five separate sites for accommodation. Each site being named after a famous \Naval Vessel, “ Ark Royal “, “ Hermes “, “ Courageous”, “ Glorious “, and “ Eagle “, Eagle site being the main Admin’ site as well. Today this ite is occupied by Appleton Thorn Young Offenders Institution.. The Wrens were accommodated “Off Site “ at Grappenhall Heys and Grappenhall Hall.
In 12944 an Aircraft Maintenance Yard or AMY was built on the side of Barley Castle Lane, consisting of 4 large workshops and several smaller hangers. In addition there was an engine repair shop and aircraft salvage unit. Aircraft access to the AMY was via a taxiway crossing Barley Castle Lane, a Police Post was set up, manned by Royal Navy Police to stop traffic to allow the planed to cross, the post is still there today..
Fairey Aviation established two “out-stations “consisting of two large workshops on the edge of the airfield. Fairey Barracuda TBR’s built at Fairey’s Heaton Chapel Works, Stockport were flown into Blackcap from Manchester to the workshops for modification and final flight testing before being issued to Operational Squadrons, both these workshops can still be seen today, used mainly for storage and distribution..
At the end of the war large number of American Naval Aircraft such as Hellcat’s, Wildcat’s Corsairs were flown into Blackcap to be broken up for disposal. The coming of peace saw a large reduction in the Fleet Air Arm and of Naval Air Stations, however with AMY and storage facilities at Blackcap, her importance to the Fleet Air Arm grew. Eventually Blackcap was handling one third of all Fleet Air Arm Aircraft and ALL the spare engines of the Fleet Air Arm.
!!947 saw the Admiralty’s decision to form the RNVR Squadrons, the first being 1831 Fighter Squadron, RNVR based at Stretton, which was formed on the 1st June 1947, this squadron was joined on the 18th August 1952 by 1841 Ant- Submarine Squadron RNVR. Both these Squadrons formed the Northern Air Division (NAD) of the Fleet Air Arm. The NAD was disbanded in March 1957 owing to Defence cuts.
The last “ Operational “ Squadron based at Blackcap was 728B Squadron F.A.A. who were formed in January 1958 and flew out of Blackcap on the 15th February 1958 enroute to RNAS Hal Far, Malta.
RNAS Stetton, HMS Blackcap was “Paid Off “on the 4th November 1958.
Today there is not much left of HMS Blackcap apart from the main runway, which is still in remarkable good condition and parts of the perimeter track, a few of the old hangars are scattered round and about, used mainly for storage and distribution along with the Stations Telephone Exchange, last used as a Cattery.
A lasting memorial to HMS Blackcap and those who served there can be found in the graveyard at St Cross Church, Appleton, being the graves of personnel who were killed at Blackcap whilst serving there. It includes two graves of two young Free Dutch Naval Officers serving in the Fleet Air Arm, killed when their planes collided over Budworth Mere whilst practicing for the D Day Landings.
There is a lovely story attached to these two graves, for on every Remembrance Day there appears two crosses of Poppies on their graves with a handwritten note pf condolence in Flemish, although it is known that they have no living relatives, somebody places the crosses there.
RNAS STRETTON PHOTO ALBUM
John Redfern Tale 1
John Redfern Tale 2
John Redfern Tale3