Twenty-two DPA members and friends gathered on the remnants of the roads near the middle of the World War 2 airfield that was RAF Harrowbeer, Yelverton, on Saturday 25th March. The first part of the walk was to the nearby site of the North Roborough Down Tin Mine.
Most of the group are captured in the photograph above! It was a quite glorious day, sunny, fairly warm, and with a little breeze. Above, there is a link to a satellite map of where we walked and, below, you can see many of the features that were seen along the way.
The gert runs down to the edge of the main road through Horrabridge. Various heritage records note that the site consists of open works of approximately 10 shallow lodes, none deeper than 10 fathoms (60-feet). Twenty-three tons of tin were gained in 1863, although the mine ceased working two years later.
The gert gets deeper the further down hill until it has some cliff-like walls. One feature to be seen at SX 51410 68461 is a section of old fence panel that has become completely enveloped in a tree …..
The circumference of the tree trunk is 5′ 6″ (66″) and allowing for a little slowing down in growth during maturity, this tree can be said to be over 70 years old. There is a short run of these fence panels on the north side of the gert – they were serious about keeping people from falling in.
After leaving the tin mine site we followed the cycle path and soon passed the site of what had been a shower block during the war – according to a passing jogger. There were over 2,000 personnel associated with the airfield at times and they were dispersed in various sites close by the airfield, for safety in case of aerial attack.
The track is part of Drake’s Trail, Route 27 – this section constructed 2008, whole section to Tavistock completed September 2012. There are twenty-one miles between Tavistock and Plymouth …..
The photograph above shows where the cycle track approaches the road from Horrabridge to Long Ash and Crapstone. We crossed the road and continued ahead.
On the importance of reconnaissance! In visiting this area so rarely, I am always tempted to take the footpath to the left on looking at “The Old Station” sign, somewhere “behind” the blue car in the previous photo. Life is easier if you take the track in the photo above that bears off left, after entering The Old Station road.
The tree and memorial bench above is found at the turning point in the walk where we climbed a fairly gentle slope up to the high part of the Common.
Wikipedia – Roborough – Roborough Down is the name given to the long stretch of undulating moorland over which the road to Yelverton and Tavistock passes. It lies within Dartmoor National Park, but is owned by Lord Roborough‘s Maristow Estate. The down has a rich array of wildlife such as ravens, buzzards, foxes, deer and semi-wild ponies and its vegetation consists of pasture, gorse and bracken with frequent stands of hawthorn, oak and birch. However, the down’s unique wildlife and environment is threatened by increasing deforestation and grazing pressure.
The two photographs above are taken from another walk on this route – the weather during recent “recon” walks was simply too grey and misty to permit decent photos.
RAF Harrowbeer – Brief History
This WW2 airfield was part of 10 Group, Fighter Command. It was opened 15th August 1941 and closed in July 1945.
Rubble from the Plymouth blitz was used as hardcore during construction of the runways etc, also stone from local mines and quarries.
Nationalities known to have served here were British, Polish, Canadian, American, French and Czechoslovakian.
At times, there were more than 2,000 personnel serving on the airfield.
Aircraft known to have flown from here include Spitfire, Hurricane, Blenhein, Walrus, Mustang, Typhoon and Anson.
Harrowbeer provided escorts for bombers searching for enemy E and U-boats in the English Channel and in the area of the Brest peninsula.
And, from the web site’s “History” page ….. one very unexpected visitor arrived on 2nd August 1945 when an aircraft, due to land at St. Mawgan, was diverted due to fog to Harrowbeer. On board was the President of the United States, Harry Truman on his way home after the Potsdam conference.
The site was proposed for an airport for Plymouth in 1960 but this was rejected. The site was demolished in 1961.
In the north-west section of the airfield, in a fairly isolated area, are the ramps for rolling bombs off the delivery lorries so that they could be stored here. They were used by fighter bombers based at RAF Harrowbeer. The bombs were fused somewhere else, on their way to the planes.
There are two rifle defence trenches, lined with blocks and roofed-over with soil for use in the event of attack by enemy paratroops. They would have been manned by Home Guyard or local army units until the RAF Regiment became available for defending airfields, in 1942.
There is quite an extensive area of old road near the middle of the airfield where there were once hangars, garages, workshops, stores and a fuel depot. All the buildings are gone but their concrete bases and the connecting roads, now much-deteriorated, remain. These form an extensive parking area, although care should be taken to avoid the potholes.
Temporary pond, SX 50785 68283, where Fairy Shrimp (Chirocephalus_diaphanus) can be found: they are protected.
The foreground in the photograph above shows the base of a building that I have not been able as yet to ascertain the function of. However, beyond and left is the base of the control tower (or “watch office”), beyond and right is the signals square, and in the distance (across the signals square) is the compass platform …..
From the RAF Harrowbeer web site …..
“The Signals Square was situated close to the Watch Office. On an airfield the runway-in-use for landing and take-offs was dependant on the wind direction. For an aircraft coming in to land a “Landing Tee” would be positioned in the Signals Square pointing in the approximate direction. There would also be a second “Tee” positioned at the downwind end of the runway. The crossbar was always nearest to the approaching wind.”
From the Atlantikwall web site, about the Signal Square …..
“An aid to show the pilots the landing conditions on the airfield. QB is RAF Harrowbeer’s pundit code, a radio code for the airfield. Usually they used the letters of the airfield but as there are several airfields beginning with H another code had to be found.
A Google Satellite image of part of the airfield – the signals square (with associated QB radio code letters) is prominent, the smaller control tower base is just north of the signals square and the circular compass platform is in the lower right corner …..
- Control tower and signals square at Tarrant Rushton Airfield, 1949
- Compass swinging platform (this link has photographs, use CTRL+F to find) – used to accurately adjust each aircraft’s magnetic compass
- Map of the airfield are on this web page
- Link to the most detailed map
Dispersed sites as part of RAF Harrowbeer. The airfield was the main site with the runways, operational buildings and huts: but there were also twelve other sites in the area, away from the airfield. These were situated towards Crapstone and Buckland Monachorum. They housed the aircrew and ground staff in groups of huts in the corners of fields with some larger sites that also had dining halls and shower blocks. After the war, these sites were converted into emergency housing for victims of the Plymouth blitz.
More photographs can be seen on the Dartmoor CAM web site.