Lough Erne Yacht Club now occupies a former WW2 RAF site built in 1941 for Catalina flying boats
The former slipway, moorings and hangar are now used for members' sailing boats, power boats and caravans. The Clubhouse, with changing rooms, bar and social facilities was built in the 1960s & 1980s. A marina containing berths with full water and electricity was completed in 1992 and an extension with space for an additional 28 berths has recently been added.
WWII History of LEYC
Winter 1940 brought flying boats to Gublusk Bay. RAF Stranraer had been set up in August, but Lough Erne was over a hundred miles closer to the mid-Atlantic, where air cover was urgently needed by convoys under attack from U-boats.
Two boats from Stranraer surveyed the Lough from the air at Christmas. In January, the Free State Government secretly allowed flying straight to the Atlantic via the Donegal Corridor. In February, RAF Stranraer’s 209 and 240 Squadrons were re-equipping and training with Catalinas, and began to use Lough Erne. These handy aircraft carried a full service kit so their crews could set up a first base quickly on any sheltered beach. Thus did RAF Killadeas begin along the sheltered north shore of Gublusk Bay, nowadays the home of our Lough Erne Yacht Club.
The first photograph shows Catalinas on Gublusk shore in mid-winter 1941, engines under corrugated iron canopies for servicing, a hospital under construction on land north to the Manor House, and a big boat shed, half built – today called the Hangar. A hatched line marks the edge of the planned concrete hard standing. The work was done by US servicemen under Ivan Bicklehaupt USN, in civilian clothing. A couple of years later, his men used Killadeas experiences as similar US Navy Catalina forward bases were set up on Pacific island beaches in the Japanese war.
On 12 March, first casualties were all of a 240 squadron crew in a Catalina out of RAF Killadeas that hit a hill and burnt in Leitrim. On 27 March, 209 and 240 transferred from Stranraer to RAF Killadeas. Another 240 crew were all lost on 7 May when a Catalina from RAF Killadeas crashed in flames mistaking a landing onto mirror-calm water near Gay Island. They are remembered today by one of Joe O’Loughlin’s memorial stones nearby at the Marina beacon.
Training was rewarded three weeks later on 26 May, when a Catalina from 209 found the Bismarck on her way to France after sinking the Hood, and handed over to another from 240 to follow this dangerous battleship. She was sunk next day. Thereafter, for the crews of the Catalinas, and the Sunderlands from Castle Archdale, the war was rarely so glamorous, but often dangerous, uncomfortable and boring. They flew whatever the weather. Landing in summer sunshine from clear air to calm water was a puzzling danger. Navigation, hundreds of miles off-shore was another dangerous puzzle, particularly in the dark, freezing, blinding fury of winter Atlantic gales and driving snow storms.
A few planes were shot down. Many flew out and did not return. Perhaps fifty crashed on coastal headlands in the lough or on inland hilltops. Joe O’Loughlin recorded 330 casualties onto Rolls of Honour by Catalina, Sunderland and land plane, and presented these on Remembrance Sunday 2005 for display at LEYC, Castle Archdale and St Angelo.
RAF Killadeas expanded in mid-1942 to include OTU 131, an Operational Training Unit, where individual pilots, navigators, gunners and radio operators, trained in Galloway and elsewhere, became crews and learned to operate together patrolling the Atlantic hunting submarines in Catalinas, and later in Sunderlands. RAF Killadeas became a big place, with accommodation for 2,800 RAF personnel, and a new Catalina slipway on the east shore of Gublusk Bay.
Most from OTU 131 were posted elsewhere. Canadian pilot, Bud Crooks, who unveiled Joe O’Loughlin’s OTU 131 memorial stone at LEYC Flagstaff in 2000, remembered flying his Sunderland to the Far East after training. When the war ended, and its longest running battle, the Battle of the Atlantic, RAF Killadeas closed down, leaving surplus buildings and scrap aircraft, boats, tools and equipment. A plan to make the site into a Butlin’s Holiday Camp did not happen. Corrugated iron scrap from buildings was sold to Belfast, and some used for Casement Park GAA stadium.
LEYC has been on the site since 1950. Likewise, Stranraer Sailing Club is on the old RAF slipway there. Our historic Fairy keelboats have wintered in the Hangar for over 50 years, a major reason for their survival to centenary in 2006. In summer, they launch down a WW2 slipway to lie on flying boat moorings, while hoisting their 1906 gunter mainsails. Catalina service bays now hold the RNLI Station, LEYC’s BBQ and children’s dinghy racks. Rings that held Catalinas down in gales now secure catamarans. The refuelling jetty snugly berths a barge. Peace now, where once was war.
A second picture show Catalinas over RAF Killadeas about 1943, left foreground is the amphibian Catalina slipway under construction, with boats and aircraft in Gublusk Bay and around, and Devenish in the distance. A third shows Doreen, about 45 years later, moored by a chain to a clump on the bottom made for flying boats, her crew raising sail.
Copies of longer reports in the local Fermanagh press and loan of a DVD of the ceremony at LEYC are available.
Michael Clarke, LEYC Historian, Email [email protected]
'Sailing History of Lough Erne' is the title of an article in the local history journal, Clogher Record, 2005 edition
A century ago, the grand Crom era in LEYC’s history was at its height. A water-colour from then, showing a becalmed Two-Rater racing yacht off Crom Castle, graces the front cover of this 2005 editionof the Clogher Record.
Inside The Sailing History of Lough Erne is set out in 40 pages, from the Maguires in the 1500s, to Big Houses and ‘pretty yachts’ in the 1700s, to yacht racing’s 1818 pioneers, The Subscribers to the Boat Races on Lough Erne, for the encouragement of fast Sailing Boats, and for the improvement of the Navigation, then Two-Raters, Colleens and Fairy keelboats, Enniskillen Yacht Club, and today’s LEYC sited on the former WW2 flying boat base RAF Killadeas.
The Clogher Record, journal of the Clogher Historical Society, is circulated to its members and to many universities, libraries, museums and historical societies. The then LEYC Admiral, John Phillips acepted a copy presented to the Club which is in the Secretary's files and available to members. Ther is also a copy in Enniskillen Library, local history collection.
The club is located on Lower Lough Erne, Co Fermanagh, about 6 miles north of Enniskillen just off the main Enniskillen- Kesh-Belleek Road.
LEYC has a long history of competitive sailing at a national and international level and was one of the first clubs in Northern to achieve the national standard of Volvo RYA Champion Club in 2002 To gain the award, clubs must operate an approved scheme of youth sailing and race coaching which both introduces young people to sailing and helps them compete at different levels up to international standard.
The club has active J24, GP14, Laser and Topper fleets as well as a fleet of classic wooden sailing boats designed by Linton Hope known as the Fairies. LEYC hosts a number of major sailing events each year and its superb facilities, including a pillar crane for smaller boats and a straddle hoist for the larger boats and spacious camping and parking areas are much appreciated by visiting fleets
A large fleet of sailing cruisers, motor cruisers and smaller boats is also based at the LEYC with immediate access to the glorious cruising waters of the Erne Lakeland. With over 250 active members, there is a full sailing and social calendar every season. To apply for membership, contact [email protected] To enquire about courses, Try Sailing, or other information contact [email protected]
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