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Also known as: Balcomie / Crail Aerodrome / Crail Raceway / HMS Bruce / HMS Jackdaw / RAF Crail / RNAS Crail
County: Fife
Current Status: Farmland / Industry / Leisure activity
Date: July 1918 - 1961
Current Use: Disused
Used By: RAF / FAA
Landing Surface Types: Unpaved, later paved
Aircraft Roles: Naval aviation / Trainer

Crail opened in July 1918 with No 27 Training Depot Station forming shortly after. Fighter reconnaissance aircraft types such as the Avro 504K and Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2b were used by this unit during its relatively brief life. There were short stays at Crail for the American 120th Aero Squadron and No 104 Squadron RAF in 1918 and 1919. However, the airfield was closed later in 1919 after use for aircraft storage and the site lay dormant until the Second World War.

The Royal Navy commissioned the airfield on 1 October 1940 as HMS Jackdaw for use as a TBR (Torpedo Bomber Reconnaissance) base, using aircraft such as Fairey Albacores and Fairey Swordfish. A large number of units visited Crail for varying lengths of time including brief stays from aircraft carriers and longer durations for training. Crail’s location gave quick accessibility to the sea ranges in the Firth of Forth and Navy ships with which to train, making the airfield ideal as a base for torpedo training especially. No 770 Squadron, a Fleet Requirements Unit, was one of the units that remained at Crail for a longer period of time, from June 1941 to the beginning of 1944.

The majority of flying units left the airfield around the end of the war. No 780 Squadron was one of the last, carrying out instrument training for a few months at the end of 1946 and the beginning of 1947.

Crail immediately became HMS Bruce in 1947 after HMS Jackdaw was paid off on 28 April, being used as a training facility for boys from the age of 15. This school however only lasted for two years. The airfield was used by The Black Watch at various times in the 1950s and St Andrews University Air Squadron also operated de Havilland Canada Chipmunks from Crail until 1958. Between 1956 and 1960 the Joint Services School of Linguists (JSSL) was based at the site, teaching Russian and to a lesser degree Polish and Czech. The airfield’s closure and sale thereafter proved a protracted affair.

Crail is one of the best preserved Second World War airfields in Britain and the whole site has been listed. No First World War buildings survive but all four runways and most of the later buildings remain, including a rare gabled hangar type only seen elsewhere at Evanton, although some of these have been modified to house livestock. The Crail Thrash motorsport event is popular and brings several thousand people to the airfield when it is held.


The following organisations are either based at, use and/or have at least potentially significant connections with the airfield (as at 01/09/2011):                    

  • Crail Airfield Promotions
  • Crail Museum and Heritage Centre
  • East of Scotland Kart Club
  • Fife Wargames
  • Royal Burgh of Crail & District Community Council

Notable Past Associated Organisations:

  • Kirkcaldy & District Motor Club

Main unit(s) present:

  • No 4 Ferry Flight

  • No 27 TDS

  • No 50 TS

  • No 104 Sqn

  • 120th Aero Sqn

  • No 711 Sqn

  • No 747 Sqn

  • No 758 Sqn

  • No 770 Sqn

  • No 778 Sqn

  • No 780 Sqn

  • No 785 Sqn

  • No 786 Sqn

  • No 800 Sqn

  • No 810 Sqn

  • No 811 Sqn

  • No 812 Sqn

  • No 816 Sqn

  • No 817 Sqn

  • No 819 Sqn

  • No 820 Sqn

  • No 822 Sqn

  • No 823 Sqn

  • No 826 Sqn

  • No 827 Sqn

  • No 828 Sqn

  • No 829 Sqn

  • No 831 Sqn

  • No 832 Sqn

  • No 833 Sqn

  • No 834 Sqn

  • No 836 Sqn

  • No 837 Sqn

  • No 837A Flight

  • No 846 Sqn

  • Aircraft Torpedo Development Unit


General oblique aerial view of the airfield and ancillary buildings, taken from the north-west, 22 October 2008. © Crown Copyright: Historic Environment Scotland,


 Oblique aerial view of the technical area at Crail airfield, taken from the east-south-east, 17 May 2011. © Crown Copyright: Historic Environment Scotland,


The control tower at Crail, 2006. © CFA Archaeology Ltd.,


The torpedo attack training building at Crail, 2006. © CFA Archaeology Ltd.,


A hangar at Crail, 2006. © CFA Archaeology Ltd.,


Former airfield building at Crail, 2006. © CFA Archaeology Ltd.,


Various buildings at Crail, 23 July 2004. © Jim Bain and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence


The control tower at Crail, 14 June 2008. © Copyright Steven Brown and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

IWM (A 28245).jpg

A mass flight over Crail during the Second World War. © IWM (A 28245)

IWM (A 3166).jpg

Torpedoes being wheeled towards Fairey Swordfish aircraft at Crail during the Second World War. © IWM (A 3166)

IWM (A 3176).jpg

Fairey Swordfish aircraft at Crail during the Second World War. © IWM (A 3176)

IWM (A 3529).jpg

A torpedo being loaded onto a Fairey Swordfish at Crail during the Second World War. © IWM (A 3529)

IWM (A 3531).jpg

Two Fairey Swordfish aircraft at Crail during the Second World War. © IWM (A 3531)

IWM (A 6557).jpg

Pupil pilots at Crail during the Second World War. © IWM (A 6557)


An RAF Second World War vertical aerial photograph of Crail airfield, 19 June 1941. © Courtesy of Historic Environment Scotland (RAF Air Photographs Collection),


Aerial view of the technical area, 1991. © Crown Copyright: Historic Environment Scotland,


Aerial view centred on the remains of the control tower, buildings, huts and aircraft hangars at Crail, taken from the east-south-east, 11 June 1998. © Crown Copyright: Historic Environment Scotland,


Aerial view of Crail airfield, 1940. © Historic Environment Scotland (Luftwaffe: Aerial Reconnaissance (Scotland)),

The Queen Mother at Crail, saying farewell to the Black Watch on their way to Korea, 1952. Courtesy of British Pathé

 The Queen Mother reviews the Black Watch at Crail, 1954. Courtesy of British Pathé


Plan of Crail, c. 1940s. © Royal Navy Research Archive. Click here for more information.



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