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RNAS Ronaldsway

While the Wallaces and Gauntlets performed their routines over Ronaldsway, the future of the airfield was being determined far away in London, in the offices of the Air Ministry and the Admiralty. The latter, short of air stations was desperately searching for accommodation for the operational training of crews to fly the new Fairey Barracudas which were now entering large scale production. Approaches had been made by the Admiralty for the use of either Jurby or Andreas, but the R.A.F. refused to give up these stations Instead, Ronaldsway was chosen because of its ideal position close to the sea which was the concern of the Fleet Air Arm.

By the end of 1942 the decision had been reached which would determine the future of Ronaldsway in a manner never before contemplated. The destiny of Ronaldsway was, therefore, tied up with the Barracuda which had taken four years of development and in which the Admiralty had pinned their faith, especially for the anticipated long Pacific campaign against the all-conquering Japanese. Designed to replace the obsolescent torpedo bomber/reconnaissance Swordfish and Albacore biplanes, the Barracuda first appeared as a neat shoulder-wing monoplane with a long canopy over the wing to provide protection for the pilot, observer and telegraphist/gunner. Development was slow because of other priorities and design difficulties were encountered when the power plant W15 changed to the Merlin and when it was decided to add dive-bombing to its roles. Hydraulically operated dive brakes had to be added to the folding wings This, in turn, meant the redesigning of the tail unit with the tail plane supported by struts. The the new Air to Surface Vessel radar had to be incorporated ill the design thus further adding to the complexities of the aircraft. It came in for heavy criticism in Parliament but the Admiralty persisted and the aircraft proved itself in the end, being mainly used as a dive bomber. Now weighing nearly seven tons the first batch of Barracuda Is were badly underpowered and a hasty switch to the Merlin 32 engines of 1,640 h.p. was made in what became the main production Barracuda 11. The aircraft first came into prominence when 42 successfully dive-bombed the Tirpitz in Norwegian waters in April, 1944, inflicting heavy damage.

n early 1943 the Admiralty's Land Division intimated to the Manx authorities its intention of developing the Ronaldsway area into a major Royal Naval Station and the schedule they presented covered a massive 850 acres. Acting under the U K. Defence of the Realm Act, which was extended to cover the Isle of Man for the war period, His Excellency The Lieutenant Governor, Vice Admiral Earl Granville, authorised orders of requisition to be served on the landowners. The entire Ronaldsway Estate would disappear together with the two neighbouring farms of Ballagilley and The Creggans. Ronaldsway Farm was bigger than the other two together and its 430 acres stretched from Santonburn to Langness. Mr. William T. Faragher was still the tenant farmer and in 1939 the Air Ministry had taken over the lease held by Isle of Man Air Services and added the corner field at the junction of the Balthane and Derbyhaven Roads, the farmer being compensated for loss of all the grazing rights.

The whole of Langness had also been leased by the Air Ministry as a site for a shooting range and the gunnery work. Besides the Estate, the farmhouse, a row of six farm cottages and three substantial houses, nos. 12, 13 and 14, The Crescent Derbyhaven, were also compulsory purchased. The Ronaldsway Estate had been valued in May 1943, at £63 844 but the final settlement for £32,000 was not made until November, 1944. The three houses were purchased for £2,850 and the six cottages for £400. Subject of a separate purchase was the quarry at Turkeyland (an Anglicised form of Thorkeld's land) which had been opened in 1934 by C. Kniveton Ltd. for the purpose of supplying limestone to the kilns at Ballahot. The quarry was purchased from the Trustees for £1 575 and would be used to provide hardcore for the runways

Excerpts from

Manx Aviation in War and Peace published by kind permission of The Manx Experience