This look at what remains at the present-day site of the Castle Archdale flying boat base is brought to us by correspondent John Rogers, who spent a day having a wander around what was in WWII, a very active base indeed; just look at the number of 'boats up on the hardstanding or moored out on Lough Erne in the contemporary photographs. Our grateful thanks goes to John for his outstanding effort. Thanks, John.

Click on the photographs for a full-size image


RAF Castle Archdale - Lough Erne - Co. Fermanagh,  N. Ireland 1941 – 1945

Right from the start of WW2 Castle Archdale, on Lower Lough Erne, became an important flying boat base for Coastal Command due its close proximity to the Atlantic, just about 30 miles away. Unfortunately those 30 miles lay across County Donegal a part of neutral Eire, the present day Republic of Ireland. However a secret deal was struck between Britain and the Irish Republic that allowed the aircraft to overfly Donegal along a narrow corridor to reach the Atlantic.

This concession gave the Sunderlands and Catalina's an extra 100 miles range, which was crucial to the protection of the Atlantic convoys, and the detection of enemy ships and submarines. During WW2 there were a number of flying facilities on the eastern shore of Lower Lough Erne.

From South to North there was the airfield at St Angelo which, by extending the runway across the public road, could take B-17's. Today, without the road crossing, St. Angelo is Enniskillen airport catering mainly for private aircraft and helicopters.

Next came RAF Killadeas which was an operational training unit and a maintenance area. Many of the crashes on the Lough occurred during training from Killadeas. Today Killadeas is once again the site of the Lough Erne yacht club

Further on in Rossclare bay there was a salvage unit operated by the RAF using civilian divers from Belfast. Today, Rossclare is a public jetty and slipway but signs of WW2 still remain such as the concrete mooring blocks, some incribed with the date of casting  March 1943.

Finally we come to the main operational site Castle Archdale set on the northern shore of Duross bay. The camp was set in a wooded area with large concrete slipways with hangars and all the usual camp amenities. The base played a large part in the battle of the Atlantic. Catalina's from Lough Erne found and shadowed the battleship Bismarck until the Royal Navy destroyed it. Sunderlands and Catalina's from the base were also responsible for a number of U boat sightings and sinking.

Castle Archdale itself was a large manor house, which accommodated the officer’s mess and the control tower. It was built between 1773 and 1777 but was not occupied after WW2. In 1959 it was derelict and had to be demolished. However, the imposing courtyard still remains and houses a youth hostel and a small but compact WW2 museum. The rest of the site is now a beautiful country park with static and touring caravan sites, woodland walks, wild life areas and a marina.

Many remains from the wartime era are still visible in the park, some of which have been converted to modern usage. For example, the concrete hardstanding of the caravan sites were previously hanger and maintenance areas. The present day group camp site used to be the airmen's quarters and recreation area. The estate road circumnavigating the park is still called by its wartime name “The Burma Road”

Throughout the site are the remains of ammunition and fuel dumps and the old filter house still stands where water from the Lough was filtered and pumped throughout the camp. One unique feature of the base which is still very much in evidence is the flying boat dock built in 1945 to accommodate the Short Shetland. Although it was never used it is still in remarkably good condition and could still be used although the level of the Lough is now lower than it was in 1945. It is thought that this dock is the only one of its kind remaining.

Other reminders of Castle Archdale’s role during WW2 are the numerous war graves in the nearby cemeteries and the shoreline markers denoting the war graves in the Lough itself.

Castle Archdale ceased to be an operational unit in August 1945 and closed as an RAF station in January 1958

A number of Sunderlands and Catalina's were scrapped and some Catalina's were deliberately scuttled and now lie deep in silt at the bottom of the Lough.

Today, one or two small private flying boats use the Lough. Ironically it is much better surveyed and marked and therefore much safer than it was during WW2 when Sunderlands used it day and night.



Castle Archdale  slipways WW2@75.jpg (353996 bytes)
Castle Archdale base from overhead sometime during WWII. Note the large collection of Short Sunderlands on the left and more being worked on outside the right-hand hardstanding area. All-in-all, quite a compact base area.
Castle Archdale hanger area WW2@75.jpg (329049 bytes)
This view, also taken sometime during WWII shoes the base from ground level, looking towards the right-hand-hardstanding of the photo above, taken from behind the hangars.
Catalina's moored at Castle Archdale1944@75.jpg (327427 bytes)
Consolidated Catalina's moored out on Lough Erne beside the  Castle Archdale base during 1944. Note the base in the upper left of the picture.
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The crew of Catalina XJ202 coming ashore in 1945 in a marine launch.
Lough Erne WW2@75.jpg (254378 bytes)
Short Sunderland overflying Lough Erne in WWII.
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RAF Catalina, coded 'F', landing on Lough Erne during WWII.
Short Sunderlands moored on Lough Erne surrounded by ice, during the winter of 1944.
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Short Sunderland taking off from Lough Erne during WWII.
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Summer at Castle Archdale during 1943. Note the Catalina in the background.
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Suiting up at the nearby Rossclare salvage area, a fully camouflaged Sunderland in the background.
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One of Castle Archdale's Catalina's overflying Enniskillen, albeit more like 'buzzing' the town.
As WWII becomes ever more distant in our memories, and those that were actually their grow less and less with the rapidly passing years, like many other places Castle Archdale is slowly being swallowed up by nature and the encroachment of modern structures. However, it is still possible - just - to wander around the site an figure out 'what-went-where', just as John has thankfully done below and recorded for all-time.
Original concrete hangar area in 2008@75.jpg (311079 bytes)
This is a view of the original concrete hangar area taken in 2008; now a storage area for mobile homes, the hangars having long been removed. Note, though that the lines of dense trees is still in-situ behind the mobile homes.
This was the compass calibration area@75.jpg (266221 bytes)
This concrete was the original compass calibration area to the right-hand -side of the base.
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The remains of an brick built ammunition dump close by.
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Remains of an ammunition barge on the foreshore close to the base area.
The dock built fo the Short Shetland@75.jpg (196998 bytes)
This is the docking area built for the operational use of the Short Shetland.
Rossclare WW2 salvage area with old mooring blocks@75.jpg (269824 bytes)
Rossclare WWII salvage area with old mooring blocks showing above the water level.
Now a Marina A WW2 beacon still stands@75.jpg (223819 bytes)
Now a marina, a WWII beacon still stands.
Sqdn History 1@75.jpg (607975 bytes)
Very interesting 'potted' history of the RAF Squadrons based at Castle Archdale during WWII - Part 1.
Sqdn History 2@75.jpg (505573 bytes)
Very interesting 'potted' history of the RAF Squadrons based at Castle Archdale during WWII - Part 2.
Castle Archdale Sqdns.jpg (78083 bytes)
List of RAF Squadrons based at Castle Archdale during WWII.
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Colour profile of the Catalina that found the Bismarck.
The sinking of the Bismarck@75.jpg (562118 bytes)
Description of the actions of the Catalina that found the Bismarck.
Flying boat ove Lough Erne Jan 2008@75.jpg (30662 bytes)
During John's visit to the site of Castle Archdale in 2008, this is the closest it came to a 'flashback'..... a float equipped seaplane flying in the those hallowed skies above the old base.
A reminder of WW2@75.jpg (291217 bytes)
Found within the wooded grounds surrounding the base site, a poignant memorial to the sacrifice of individuals based there during WWII. Not everyone stationed there went home at the end of the war.
War grave marker Castle Archdale@75.jpg (311376 bytes)
Another one beside the Lough itself, with an all-to familiar story to tell.
Grateful acknowledgement goes to our correspondent, J-Christophe Polet for supplying these magnificent images to accompany the above article.

If YOU have any other quality images, please send them into SEAWINGS.

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Overall view of the RAF Killadeas the 131 OTU (Operational Training Unit) Base at with Catalina's moored alongside and being attended to under cover of the 'sheds'.
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Another view of a 131 Sqn Catalina, in the servicing 'shed' at RAF Killadeas in 1942.
Overhead view of Castle Archdale base with 202 Sqn Short Sunderlands in attendance, in late 1944.
Another overhead view of Castle Archdale, absolutely packed with Sunderlands and Catalina's. Oh, to have been able to have walked around the base when this image was taken! How many can you count?
Castle Archdale, looking into the ramp area from Lough Erne, at the Catalina's and Sunderlands ashore for servicing and maintenance.
RAF Catalina AH536 BN-K out on the Lough Erne water.
Catalina BN-W of 240Sqn Castle Archdale taking off from Lough Erne in 1942. Note the upper wing camouflage and the wing staining.
A Catalina moored off Castle Archdale in the depths of winter.
Another Catalina moored during freezing, icy weather.
The 'Bismarck' Catalina landing on Lough Erne.
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A Catalina of 131 OTU heading off for a training mission from Lough Erne.
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RAF Catalina's of 131 OTU over Castle Archdale during June 1943.
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Catalina's of 201 Sqn up from RAF Killadeas during 1943.
RAF Catalina JX383 of 131 OTU based at RAF Killadeas during 1945.
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RAF Catalina W84XX 'L' of 240 Sqn moored out on Lough Erne.