The Station opened on 13 February 1941, in No 9 Group, Fighter Command, and for the first few weeks of its existence was called Royal Air Force Rhosneigr after one of the nearby villages, but was re-named Royal Air Force Valley on 5 April 1941.
On 3 March 1941, No 312 (Czech) Squadron moved in from Speke with its Hurricanes and began flying convoy patrols over the Irish Sea, and by the time it departed for Jurby on 25 May 1941 it had claimed the destruction of a Ju 88 during one such sortie. It was replaced by No 615 Squadron from Kenley, also flying Hurricanes, and was joined on 10 May by 'A' Flight of No 219 Squadron who brought their Beaufighter IFs on one month's attachment from Tangmere and whose nocturnal activities claimed several enemy aircraft. In the June, 2 sections of Hurricane IIBs of No 302 (Polish) Squadron and one section on No 68 Squadron with Beaufighter IFs arrived at Valley for one month's fighter defence duties.
No 456 (Royal Australian Air Force) Squadron formed at Valley on 30 June 1941 with Defiant 1s for night operations under the command of Wing Commander Olive DFC and became operational on 5 September. The Squadron converted to Beaufighter IIs in the same month as operations began, and these in turn were replaced by Beaufighter VIs in June 1942. The Squadron’s first ‘Kill’ came on 10 January 1942 when Squadron Leader Hamilton shot down a Do 217 during a routine night patrol and by the time the Beaufighters were replaced by Mosquito IIs in January 1943 and the Squadron departed for Middle Wallop in the March, 3 more enemy aircraft had been claimed as destroyed.
In August 1941, Valley had assumed responsibility for 2 air/sea rescue launches which were based at Rhoscolyn Bay close to the airfield. Delivery was not taken of these launches however until November of 1941 in Holyhead. During August of that year a tragic incident occurred: a Blackburn Botha (L6417) of No 4 Air Observers School from West Freugh force-landed in rough sea off Rhosneigr beach. The crew of the Botha sadly drowned along with 11 other people, including airmen from RAF Valley, who attempted in vein to rescue the downed crew. Having seen these events unfold two young boys from Rhosneigr fearlessly put to sea in a sailing dinghy in an effort to reach the aircraft. They too were unable to make it to the downed aircraft in time and were capsized by the towering waves. The boys were fortunately rescued by spectators from the beach who roped themselves together and waded out to them. For their bravery the 2 boys were awarded The George Cross by The King.
On 15 October 1941, No 275 Squadron formed at the Station for air/sea rescue duties for which it was equipped with Walrus and Lysander IIIA aircraft.
By the end of the summer the Station, which had been barely habitable when it was first occupied in February, was beginning to take shape and expand. The 3 tarmac runways were already being extended and improvements to the domestic buildings were under way although the highly dispersed nature of the various sites which comprised the Station presented many problems. One of the additions was a site for Women’s Auxiliary Air Force personnel who started to arrive at Valley in the August and soon began taking on duties in almost every sphere of activity on the Station and even had their own voluntary military band. At their peak strength well over 500 officers and airwomen were stationed at Valley.
No 350 Squadron formed at Valley on 12 November 1941 as the first Belgian-manned fighter squadron and was equipped with Spitfire IIAs. It became operational on 22 December, but after 3 months of relative inactivity flying the monotonous convoy patrols, it left for Atcham on 19 February 1942. In the following months a number of squadrons used the Station as a base for operations including Nos 131, 315 and 452 Squadrons with Spitfires, 125 and 406 Squadrons with Beaufighters and No 157 Squadron with Mosquito NFIIs.
By 1943 enemy air activity over the western part of the United Kingdom and the Irish Sea had greatly diminished, and Royal Air Force Valley came under consideration as a terminal point for transatlantic flights by American aircraft being delivered to the Royal Air Force and to reinforce the United States Army Air Force Squadrons based in England. Already, inbound aircraft from across the Atlantic had been delivered to the Station on occasions and in July 1943 the first American personnel of Transant 1005 moved into Valley and began preparing for the arrival of their compatriots and the setting up of a control centre to handle the large number of aircraft movements anticipated.
In October 1943 the Sector Operations Centre at Valley closed down leaving only No 125 Squadron’s Beaufighter VIs for air defence duties, and No 275 Squadron which continued its air/sea rescue duties until the following April when it departed south to Warmwell. The Station’s effort during the remainder of the war was devoted almost entirely to the task of receiving incoming aircraft from the United States of America and Canada and despatching them to their war stations in Britain. They came in ever-increasing numbers until it was quite a common occurrence for 60 to 70 aircraft to arrive in a single day. In the main, they were handled by the United States Army Force Movements Section, whilst the Royal Air Force element took care of the diverted British aircraft.
The end of the war in Europe brought additional work to Valley, for less than 2 weeks after the German capitulation in May 1945 the United States Army Air Force began transferring its aircraft from Europe to the Far Eastern theatre where the war against Japan continued. A great many of these aircraft passed through Valley and by September, when the move had been completed, 2500 aircraft, each with 20 passengers and crew, had been dispatched.
With the departure of the United States Army Air Force Transit Unit in September 1945, the Station’s activities were reduced to a minimum and consisted of providing accommodation for No 1528 Beam Approach Training Flight which had been reformed at Valley in No 44 Group on 1 November 1944 with Oxford T1s to provide practical training to pilots in the use of blind-approach systems.
When this unit left for Blakehill Farm on 17 December 1945, Valley’s only role was reduced to that of providing the facilities for night flying training for units based at more congested stations elsewhere in the country. There were occasional diversions of aircraft to Valley, but these were few and far between, and on 29 July 1946 the Station was transferred to the control of Flying Training Command on a care and maintenance basis; although it was used temporarily by No 2(P) Refresher Flying Unit and later by No 10 Air Gunnery School.
Control of Valley changed once more in April 1948 when it was passed to No 12 Group, Fighter Command, and the uncertainty of its future was resolved by the decision that it was to become a permanent Royal Air Force station. Although the Station had been officially designated a Master Diversion Airfield in 1947, it remained on a care and maintenance basis and provided only limited diversion facilities. The Mountain Rescue Team, which had been formed in 1943, continued to turn out for crashed aircraft and stranded climbers in the Welsh hills.
On 19 July 1949, No 20 Squadron moved in from Llanbedr with a variety of aircraft types, including Beaufighter TT10s, Martinet TT1s, Spitfire LF16Es and Vampires – the first jet-propelled aircraft to be based there, and for the next 2 years, before it disbanded in October 1951, the Squadron co-operated with the Army in anti-aircraft exercises.
During the period of inactivity, a number of improvements were made to the Station; 4 barrack blocks were built to a new design which provided a single room for each airman; a new dining hall was constructed and a considerable number of married quarters built, and since 1951 it has been one of Flying Training Command’s principal stations.
The first unit to take up residence in its new role was No 202 Advanced Flying School which formed at Valley in February 1951 and was placed under the control of No 25 Group, which was itself newly reformed. The School’s purpose was to give freshly-trained pilots experience in flying jet aircraft and was equipped with Vampire FB5s, supplemented with a handful of older Vampire F1s, Meteor T7s and the 2-seat Vampire T11s, the first of which was received on 29 September 1952. As part of the reorganisation within the Royal Air Force in the mid-50’s, the Unit was renumbered No 7 Flying Training School on 1 June 1954 and continued its predecessor’s role of training Naval pilots to fly jet aircraft. The Royal Naval Officers had first completed 28 weeks’ initial flying on piston-engined Provost T1s before coming to No 7 Flying Training School for another 28 weeks of advanced training on the Vampire T11. With the award of their ‘Wings’, the students’ next step was to a Naval Flying Training Squadron to convert them on to operational machines. The Vampire FB5s inherited from No 202 Advanced Flying School lingered on until October 1959 when the School became wholly equipped the Vampire T11.
In 1955, No 6 Joint Services Trials Unit was established at Valley as a lodger unit to undertake trials with the Fairey Fireflash air-to-air guided missile. As an air-launched beam-riding missile, the Fireflash possessed only a limited advantage over fixed gunnery and was destined to never achieve operational status. Intensive trials of the missile were however conducted with the redesignated No 1 Guided Weapons Development Squadron in 1957 with 10 modified Swift F7s acting as their carriers. On 1 January 1959 the unit was again renumbered and, as No 1 Guided Weapons Training Squadron, employed 6 Javelin FAW7s until June 1962 engaged on the trials programme of the Firestreak infra-red homing missile. Between January 1959 and May 1962, 99 Firestreaks were fired by the Squadron.
Ever since becoming a Flying Training School there had always been an Army Rescue Launch on standby duty at Menai whilst flying was in progress at Valley. In January 1955, they were relieved of this task with the arrival of Her Majesty’s Air Force Vessel No 2743 of No 1113 Marine Craft Unit at Holyhead Harbour. The Unit’s 68 foot high speed launches were later assisted in the air/sea rescue role by the Sycamore helicopters of ‘C’ Flight, No 22 Squadron, which arrived at the Station in the May. The Sycamores were used briefly until replaced successively by Whirlwind HAR2s and HAR10s. In 1976, the Whirlwinds were in turn replaced by Wessex HAR2s and continue to operate at least one on 24-hours standby every day of the year in the event of an emergency. Since its formation in 1955, the Flight had flown over 2000 rescue missions and in 1980 alone rescued 93 people during 137 operational missions.
In 1958 the training of naval pilots was transferred to Linton-on-Ouse and Valley took over from Worksop the role of No 4 Flying Training School - the advanced training of student pilots. However, it was not until 15 August 1960 that No 4 Flying Training School reformed at Valley with Vampire T11s to replace No 7 Flying Training School. In 1960, the School also began to train students for Coastal and Transport Commands using Varsity T1s, but later in the year were transferred to Oakington as part of a general reorganisation within the Command.
The Vampires of No 4 Flying Training School were gradually replaced as advanced trainers with the arrival of the Gnat T1, the first of which was delivered in November 1962 and provided the mounts for the School’s 1964 aerobatic team ‘The Yellow Jacks’. From January 1967, the Gnat’s role at Valley was supplemented by the delivery of single-seat Hunter F6s and the T7 trainer version and provided training for the ‘fast jet stream’ students.
The Royal Air Force’s latest advanced trainer, the Hawk T1, arrived at the Station in October 1976 and by 1979 had completely replaced the Gnat and the Hunter within No 4 Flying Training School, and also provided the equipment for the Central Flying School Hawk Squadron which received its aircraft in November 1976 and currently teaches qualified pilots of the Royal Air Force, Royal Navy and other Air Forces to become fast jet instructors.
In May 1962, No 1 Guided Weapons Development Squadron was disbanded and replaced by the Fighter Command Missile Practice Camp, which in turn became the Strike Command Missile Practice Camp in April 1968. The Unit has since been renamed the Strike Command Air-to-Air Missile Establishment (STCAAME) and currently provides the opportunity for visiting squadrons to carry out live firings of their missiles over Cardigan Bay at drones supplied by the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Llanbedr. Residing within the wire compound on the south side of the airfield, STCAAME also provides its facilities for aircraft including Sea Harriers and Canberras conducting trial firings of missiles.
Two basic target systems are operated; an unmanned jet aircraft called a Jindivik is launched and recovered off the runway at Llanbedr by radio control and it can tow either a flare body target (for heat seeking missiles) or radar body target (for radar homing missiles). Canberra aircraft also operate from Llanbedr carrying a missile-type of target called Stiletto which can be air-launched on a pre-programmed flight path either at low-altitude or high-speed. Each missile firing is analysed to enable the performance of the missile and the launching aircraft’s weapon control system to be assessed in detail.
The Mountain Rescue Team was originally formed at Valley in August 1943 and during its first year of existence received over 400 call-outs. It was one of 6 similar teams throughout the UK whose proper purpose was the rescue of aircrew who have crashed or abandoned their aircraft in mountainous area. However, it was much more frequently called out to assist climbers of all types who get into difficulties in Snowdonia or on sea cliffs and therefore worked closely with Valley’s Search and Rescue (SAR) helicopters. The 36-man team received 15 call-outs in 1980, all of which were for climbers.
Another lodger unit at Valley was the Central Flying School Helicopter Detachment (CFS(H)) which arrived from Ternhill in May 1962 with Whirlwind HAR 10s and provided training in the search and rescue role in the moutainous and coastal regions of North Wales. The CFS(H) was later replaced by No 2 (SAR) Squadron of No 2 Flying Training School and moved its Headquarters from Ternhill to Shawbury in September 1976.
On 3 December 1979, the Unit was replaced at Valley by the Search and Rescue Training Squadron from Finningley, which continues to provide SAR mountain flying training to Helicopter Flying Training School pilots and pilots on SAR refresher courses. The Squadron also trains all navigators, winchmen and instructors for the SAR helicopter role and provides mountain flying training facilities for all 3 Services. Ten different types of courses are run by the Search and Rescue Training Unit (SARTU); the longest, of some 10 weeks duration, is for Air Sea Rescue (ASR) crewmen, whereas the shortest course of 2 weeks is intended for refresher or familiarisation training. There is an average of 4 students per course.
Initially equipped with Whirlwind HAR 10s, SARTU converted to the more powerful Wessex HAR 2 between January and February 1981.
As a Master Diversion Airfield, RAF Valley was open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to receive all types of aircraft forced to divert due to bad weather or unserviceability. In 1980, the Station, and its relief landing ground at Mona, logged over 139,200 aircraft movements, which placed it amongst one of the busiest airfields in the UK, and justified its motto, ‘In Adversis Perfugium’ – ‘A Refuge in Adversity’.