In 1912, the British government planned twelve “Air Stations” operated by the Royal Flying Corps who had been established in April that year. Under the instructions of the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, the first of these Air Stations was at Montrose, allowing aircraft the ability to protect the Royal Navy bases at Rosyth, Cromarty and Scapa Flow.
On 13th February 1913, five aircraft of No. 2 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, took off from Farnborough and flew north. The 450 miles (720 km) journey was completed in a series of stages over the following 13 days. The aircraft landed at Upper Dysart Farm on 26th February, 3 miles (4.8 km) south of Montrose, making it the first operational military airfield to be established in Great Britain.
Major Burke, Commanding Officer of No.2 Squadron, considered their location at Upper Dysart far from ideal and started surveying the Montrose area for somewhere more suitable. He identified a site at Broomfield Farm situated 1 mile (1.6 km) north of Montrose and next to the railway line. The land was flat, just 30ft (9m) above sea level, in line with the prevailing wind and with good drainage thanks to the sandy soil.
He was given authority to relocate the air station to Broomfield and at the end of 1913 Army Engineers erected three hangars of Indian Army Shed design (known as the “Major Burke’s sheds”) on the site. No.2 Squadron move to their new base in the New Year of 1914.
World War One started on 28th July 1914 and on 3rd August the aircraft of No.2 Squadron left Montrose and flew to Farnborough. War with Germany was declared the next day on 4th August 1914. The vehicles and ground crew of No.2 Squadron left Montrose by rail on the morning of the 8th of August. They arrived the same evening at Prince’s Dock, Govan, near Glasgow, where the lorries and stores were loaded on S.S. Dogra bound for Boulogne.
The 12th of August saw the RFC squadrons flying to Dover ready to cross the English Channel. At 6:25am the next day No.2 Squadron took off from Dover and crossed the English Channel to France. At 08:20 the first pilot landed at Amiens, it was Lieutenant H.D. Harvey-Kelly. Another of the squadrons’ pilots, 2nd Lt. W B Rhodes-Moorhouse became the first pilot to be awarded the Victoria Cross. It was awarded posthumously on 26th April 1915.
No.2 squadron never returned to Montrose but as the war progressed several new ones were stationed there. It became a major training airfield with Americans arriving in 1918 to train for the Western Front, and Canadian and British Squadrons forming.
Between The Wars
RAF Montrose closed in 1920. Starting in 1924 the Major Burke’s Sheds were again used, this time for the maintenance and refurbishment of Lewis machine guns.
In 1935 the British government decided to expand the RAF in the face of a growing threat from Germany and a key requirement was for more trained military pilots. RAF Montrose, virtually unchanged from the First World War, was re-opened on 1st January 1936 as No.8 Flying Training School. Between that date and the end of the Battle of Britain an estimated 800 pilots trained and got their ‘wings’ at Montrose though not all of these became fighter pilots.
Many of the British WWII Fighter Aces were trained at Montrose including:
World War II
During World War II, many fighter squadrons and the RNAS served at RAF Montrose. Commonwealth, Polish, Czech, American, Russian, Turkish, Free French and other Allied nationals all trained and served at RAF Montrose during this time.
Operational duties included serving as a location for the Spitfires and Hurricanes which formed part of the air defence for the city of Edinburgh.
From August 1944 RAF Kinnell served as the stations satellite for No. 2 Fighter Interception Squadron until July 1945. The station also flew regular missions to Norway for reconnaissance, supply drops for the Norwegian resistance movement, and entry/exit for Special Operations Executive. On 25th October 1940 three German Junkers Ju 88 aircraft dropped 24 bombs on the station killing five, injuring 18 and destroying two hangars and the officers mess. They and the pilots who died in local training accidents are buried in a Commonwealth War Graves Commission plot in the local church.
During 1948 it was home to No 63 Maintenance Unit (No 63 MU) and aircraft for repair were brought in and shipped out by road as there were no tarmac runways. Activity was minimal until the crisis in Hong Kong and the onset of the Korean War when the unit became very busy. RAF Montrose closed permanently on 4th June 1952.
Whilst Montrose is relatively flat the area is bounded by mountains and aircraft crashes on them were not uncommon. As was the norm, RAF Station Montrose (Montrose Air Station) had carried out mountain rescues on an ad hoc basis since it opened. However, with the increasing number of crashes occurring in mountainous terrain during WW2 several RAF doctors, who had to lead these ad hoc rescues, applied pressure on the Air Ministry. In July 1943 the RAF formed the Royal Air Force Mountain Rescue Service (MRS) and its formation was duly put into effect in January 1944. Eventually ten teams were put together and one of these was located here at Montrose in 1944. After only a few months it was relocated to Dyce (Aberdeen) on 2nd August 1945, which itself closed just a few weeks later. In 1949 the MRT reformed at RAF Montrose and remained here under Team Leaders Nelson and W McDonald to cover the area of the central Grampians. This improved the emergency rescue facilities for the whole of Scotland with teams at RAF Kinloss covering the north and RAF West Freugh the west. In 1953 the team was moved to nearby RAF Edzell which in 1956 moved to RAF Leuchars where it remained until 2013. The RAF Mountain Rescue Team for Scotland is now based solely at RAF Lossiemouth. The RAF also have Mountain Rescue Teams based at RAF Valley in North Wales and RAF Leeming in England.