Coordinates: Shackleton Barracks, Ballykelly, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland, was a British Army base that was originally known as RAF Ballykelly, a Royal Air Force station which opened in 1941. More recently a small part of the base was used as a refuelling point by army helicopters and small fixed-wing aircraft usually operating out of RAF Aldergrove near the town of Antrim.
Second World War
RAF Ballykelly opened in June 1941 during the Second World War as an airfield for RAF Coastal Command. In 1943, the main runway was extended and acquired an unusual characteristic in that it crossed an active railway line. Rules were put in place giving trains the right of way over landing aircraft. The airfield was used for anti-submarine patrols and escort convoys over the Atlantic Ocean. At various times Consolidated B-24 Liberator aircraft flew from Ballykelly in the fight against German U-boats, ranging from the Bay of Biscay to northern Norway. By the end of the war, Ballykelly located squadrons had been responsible for sinking twelve U-boats, sharing with other aircraft and surface ships in the destruction of several others, and damaging many more.
During the Second World War, an RAF bomber on a training flight clipped a telephone line behind a church in Ballykelly and crashed, claiming the lives of the crew.
The airfeld was closed at the end of the Second World War, but re-opened in 1947 as the home of the RAF Joint Anti-Submarine School, a training flight flying Avro Shackleton aircraft. It closed briefly in 1951 to allow preparatory work to be done for the arrival of the Shackleton aircraft in 1952.
In 1955, RAF Ballykelly was home to three squadrons of Shackletons, 204 Squadron, 206 Squadron and 240 Squadron. There was also a station flight with two Lockheed Hudsons, two Douglas Dakotas and an Auster. In 1957 and again in 1958, 240 Squadron was among those involved in Operation Grapple, nuclear weapon testing on Christmas Island in the Pacific Ocean.
By 1959, 206 and 240 Squadrons had been replaced by two other Shackleton squadrons: 203 Squadron and 210 Squadron. The three Squadrons were part of the ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) force. They also covered search and rescue(SAR) standby duties together with their counterparts at RAF Kinloss and RAF St. Mawgan.
Some Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm units including 819 Squadron moved onto the station in 1962 and the navy referred to it as HMS Sealion or RNAS Ballykelly. The runways were extended again in 1963 to allow for potential dispersal of the RAF's V bomber force. In 1968, a 204 Squadron Shackleton flying from Ballykelly suffered the last loss of an RAF Shackleton. Sqn Ldr Clive Haggett and his crew, a total of 12 men, were killed when their aircraft flew into the Mull of Kintyre early one rainy morning.
During a transatlantic yacht race in 1967/8 a French competitor was lost. One of the Shackletons from Ballykelly found him by adopting search positions well before the expected search location. They dropped life preserving equipment to him and marked his position to enable pick up by surface vessels. Some days later French President Charles de Gaulle visited Ballykelly to personally award medals to members of the crew.
The last of the Shackleton aircraft left RAF Ballykelly on 31 March 1971, the airfield closed and the site was handed over to the British Army on 2 June 1971, who renamed it Shackleton Barracks.
The camp was the HQ of 8th Infantry Brigade until it was disbanded in summer 2006. It was, until summer 2008, home to an infantry battalion - 2nd Battalion Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment. Both the Army Air Corps and RAF used the airfield, but no aircraft were stationed there by 2007.
Battalion HQ and HQ Company of the 5th Battalion, Ulster Defence Regiment were also based there since 1970 until 1992.
On 29 March 2006, an Airbus A320 aircraft operated by Eirjet on behalf of Ryanair landed at Ballykelly after the pilot mistook the runway for that of nearby City of Derry Airport. The 39 passengers who boarded the flight at Liverpool airport continued their journey to the airport by bus.
Permanent closure and current usage
The Army vacated Shackleton Barracks in early spring 2008, when 776 acres (3.14 km2) of land and 420 buildings were on offer, according to the Ministry of Defence (MOD). The closure eventually took place in March 2008, when the infantry battalion, 2nd Battalion, Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment moved to Royal Artillery Barracks, Woolwich, London. The camp was also home to 8th Infantry Brigade HQ, but it was disbanded and handed over responsibility to HQ 39th Infantry Brigade, Lisburn on 1 September 2006. The former airfield and technical site was offered for sale on the open market with offers to be submitted by 5 August 2011 by GVA Grimley of Belfast but despite receiving a few submissions the Defence Estates Organisation did not effect a sale and ultimately it was transferred to the Northern Ireland Assembly who now control the site.
- "Shackleton Barracks Ballykelly to Close". Sandes (26 June 2006). http://www.sandes.org.uk/news_detail.asp?id=13. Retrieved 2008-06-21.
- "Ballykelly". Culture Northern Ireland. Archived from the original on 2008-06-09. http://web.archive.org/web/20080609022355/http://www.culturenorthernireland.org/YourArea.aspx?location=453. Retrieved 2008-06-21.
- "Plane lands at airbase by mistake". BBC News NI (29 March 2006). 29 March 2006. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/4857962.stm. Retrieved 2008-06-21.
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