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HMS Ringtail's Station Commander - Captain (A) J.F.W.C. Hawkins, R.N., March 1944.
In 1942 the Fleet Air Arm estimated that it was due to expand from 2,665 operational aircraft to 6,350 by late 1943. Most Fleet Air Arm training had been carried out RAF Schools. In the end the Air Ministry gave up a number of airfields to the Fleet Air Arm and others like Burscough where built for Navy use.
The Naval Air Station at Burscough was built on 650 acres of land using a compulsory purchase order on the 12th December 1942. Several farmers had their land requisitioned and also Lordsgate Township Primary School was demolished. The aerodrome layout was the typical admiralty design for the time, consisting of four runways, a three – storey control tower with an air watch office, along with 32 main hill hangars and 2 callendar hangar. Accommodation consisted of nissen huts. Three of the runways were a length of 1000 meters and the forth aligned with the prevailing wind being 1,100 meters. The width of the runways was 27 meters compared with the standard RAF 46 meters. HMS Ringtail was designed to accommodate around 80 aircraft.
The Air Station was used for fighter squadrons, but this grew to include night fighter, torpedo fighter, radar training and a fleet requirement unit. Around 40 squadrons were attached for short periods for working up, conversion or disembarking from aircraft carriers in the Mersey off Liverpool.
The first squadron to appear was 808 in October 1943, which consisted of Supermarine Seafires. This squadron was joined a few days later by three further Seafire squadrons, these being 807, 866 and 897. All these squadrons undertook tactical reconnaissance training and also other types of training. The Air Station also acquired a squadron of Airspeed Oxfords of 758 squadron.
Fourteen American built Corsairs of 1836 squadron were attached from 19th January until 8th March 1944, when they embarked on the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious. The remainder of the year saw a succession of British built Fairey Barracudas of 810 and 822 squadrons, Swordfish of 835 squadron and Fairey Fireflies of 1771 and 1772 squadron. Also at this time there were American built Curtis Hellcats of 888 and 1840 squadrons, Wildcats of 1896 squadron and Gruman Avengers of 846 squadron as well.
Probably the most impressive aircraft to arrive at Burscough in August 1944 for further training was the Curtis Helldiver. It was operated by 1820 squadron which was formed in the USA during April of that same year. Several crew members were killed in accidents in this type of dive bomber, three Helldiver aircraft failed to pull out of vertical dives this led to this unit being disbanded on the 16th of December 1944.
One particular accident happened whilst out on a training exercise from Burscough. A Helldiver of 1820 squadron whilst on a dive bombing exercise on Morcambe bay range failed to pull out of a dive at 600 feet, the Pilot Sub. Lt. Neville and his passenger Steward FT Turner were both killed and are buried in Burscough Parish Churchyard.
Another tragic accident happened on the 12th February 1946 at 09.35 hours. Lt. Thomas Wilson Wall of the Royal Canadian Fleet Air Arm 825 squadron took off from Burscough in Fairey Firefly (DK455) with two other aircraft to practice dummy deck landing landings. At 250 feet the aircraft were engulfed in cloud. Lieutenant Wall flying solely on instruments circled the airfield to allow other aircraft to land. Whilst he was flying at 4000 feet his vertical horizon instrument seemed to fail, his aircraft was spinning and losing height rapidly. He was unable to recover the aircraft and remained in it as long as possible. Not realising he was over Bootle, near Liverpool, which was somewhere he would not have flown over, he pulled back the hood and abandoned the Firefly at 800 feet with nothing but grey cloud beneath him. He thought he had abandoned the aircraft in open ground ground between Liverpool and Southport. At Around 9.45am the aircraft crashed into the middle of St Johns Road, Bootle, smashing windows and making an 8 foot crater and also fracturing the main gas main. Lieutenant Wall landed a few yards away uninjured.
As the aircraft crashed into the street were a number of children were playing, one 5 year old girl sadly died of her injuries. A postman Mr John Hudson was blown from his bike and also received burns. Mr Hudson recalled in his statement ” I was delivering parcels in St Johns Road when I heard the faint sound of an aircraft overhead. I looked up but there was thick cloud so i could see nothing. About two seconds later there was a sudden roar and an explosion. I was blown on my face in the gutter. There was a terrible fire and I felt as if I had been soaked in petrol and a mass of flames”. The Coroner recorded a verdict of “death by misadventure” on the child that died.
For Much of January 1944, 823 squadrons Barracuda aircraft were present and prior to embarking for the Indian ocean arriving in 1944 from Inskip, near Lytham St Annes, 735 squadron stayed at HMS Ringtail until the squadron was disbanded at the end of April 1946, by that time the squadron consisted of Swordfish, Hellcats and Avro Ansons.
The Barracuda was an aircraft with a dismal maintenance reputation and during a move from Crail in Scotland on 7th September 1944 a Barracuda from 812 squadron ditched in the Irish Sea only a few miles short of HMS Ringtail. Blackpool lifeboat rescued the crew and recorded that a bottle of rum from the boats stores was subsequently consumed!
During 1945 there were so many aircraft from various squadrons at Burscough that the air station looked for the need to expand to be able to work up more squadrons for the Far East. Close by RAF Woodvale was becoming surplus as a fighter unit for the defence of North West England; this provided an ideal satellite station for Royal Naval Air Station Burscough The RAF Air Station thus became known as HMS Ringtail 2 in April 1945. The Royal Navy stayed at Woodvale until January 1946 after that the airfield was handed back to the RAF.
On 3rd May 1946, 772 squadron was the last flying unit to leave the Air Station, the area was considered by the Royal Navy as a valuable site and kept it under inactive status for more than a decade as an aircraft engine-holding unit until 1957. During this time it was under he control of Royal Naval Air Station Stretton, near Warrington. The Navy finally paid off Burscough in 1957, its grassed areas reverted to agriculture and other areas to industry. Today there is an industrial estate on some of the former Air Station land and some roads have links to the past for example, 'Ringtail Place' and 'Admiralty Close'. The Naval Officers from Ringtail had an HMS Ringtail Trophy cast as a gesture of thanks for letting them play at Ormskirk Golf Club, the trophy is still played for there each year. Lordsgate Township Primary School each year presents the HMS Ringtail Trophy to a Pupil at the schools awards event.
A monument to commemorate those who served at HMS Ringtail was built and dedicated in 2004 on land that was back in 1946 within the boundary of the Air Station and a ceremony is held at the monument each year on the 11th November at 11am.
A new retail park has been built on land that was formerly HMS Ringtail and the development has taken the name Ringtail Retail Park. Located on the retail park is a new Booths Supermarket that has been designed to resemble a WW2 aircraft hangar. Inside is a themed Ringtail cafe. Outside a new memorial garden has been created and the monument has been moved into this along with a new and unique life size bronze sculpture of a Navy Air Man from WW2.