785 Squadron at RNAS Crail Fife

Naval Air Torpedo School

Photograph of Crail village (top), the sea on left and base with runways taken during WW2.

The 700 series squadrons were the training schools for the FAA. 

 Aircraft flown: Swordfish and Albacore 

Swordfish dropping torpedo.

GMA logbook

The Fairey Swordfish, the legendary ‘Stringbag’, was a Torpedo Spotter Reconnaissance biplane dive-bomber which went into service with the Fleet Air Arm pre-war in 1936. Initially, Swordfishes operated from the large fleet carriers. Later Swordfishes operated from escort carriers, and were very effective against U-boats. The nickname Stringbag indicated the versatility of the Swordfish, which could carry an unlikely combination of loads, but also referred to its jungle of bracing wires, which belonged to a past age. The Swordfish remained operational until the end of the war, gaining the distinction of being the last biplane to see active service.

 At the outbreak of war, the Fleet Air Arm had 13 squadrons equipped with Swordfishes, most of them based on the six fleet carriers, and three flights of Swordfishes with floats, that operated from catapult-equipped warships.

After this time, Swordfishes operated from 14 escort carriers and 18 MAC (Merchant Aircraft Carrier) ships. MAC ships were converted oil tankers or grain ships, with a flight deck but minimal maintenance facilities, and the aircraft were continuously exposed to the often Arctic weather conditions. For operations from small flight decks with heavy loads, rocket-assisted take-offs were necessary.

In their anti-submarine role, the Swordfish were very successful. They usually flew patrols at night, patrolling between 145km and 40km ahead of the convoy. Targets were located with radar, and investigated by dropping flares.

The final Swordfish was delivered in August, 1944 and the last front-line Swordfish Fleet Air Arm unit was 836 squadron (GMA in 836 squadron Aug 1942 to May 1943), which disbanded on 21 May 1945. However, the Swordfish continued in second-line training duties until Summer 1946. 

Control panel of typical swordfish (FAA museum- photographed October 2010)

The Stringbag song below is from "The Fleet Air Arm Song Book". This is a collection of songs (clean and otherwise) from the foundation of the RNAS (Royal Naval Air Service (in WWI)) which became the FAA.


Fairey Albacore

The Fairey "Albacore" was a single-engine biplane designed as a torpedo-spotter reconnaissance aircraft. It was an all-metal monocoque fuselaged biplane, with wings braced with wire and covered with fabric. It also had an heated enclosed cabin and was nicknamed the  "Applecore" and regarded pleasant to fly.

By 1942 there were 15 Fleet Air Arm squadrons equipped with the Albacore, several of them shore-based in North Africa. The main use of the Albacore was in coastal operations, the aircraft usually operating singly at night.

The Albacore was retired before the Swordfish, and started to be replaced from 1942 by the Fairey Barracuda and Grumman Avenger. 

Early History of Crail Airfield

Crail Airfield is the best surviving example of a WW2 Fleet Air Arm airfield in the United Kingdom and is designated a scheduled ancient monument. The airfield was originally established during the First World War but none of the structures associated with that phase of its use are thought to survive.
Formerly known as HMS Jackdaw, the present Crail airfield was constructed in 1939 and functioned throughout the war as a naval training base. Naval air operations ceased in 1947.
The site continued as HMS Bruce, a naval training unit.
During the Cold War, military use continued between 1952 and 1960 as the Joint Services (Russian) Language School.
Since 1960 part of the airfield has been a pig farm.

Part of the Crail site showing the aircraft hangers in the foreground and part of the runways on the left.

The airfield is clustered into two groups of buildings.

The western group consisted of the non-operational sector (barrack blocks, church and cinema) and the eastern group was the operational sector (control tower, hangar, dispersal bays, runways, engine and aircraft armament repair shops).

(These hangers are now part of a small industrial estate)

Photographed from the road from Crail to Balcomie golf course in May 2009: the control tower  and part of the aircraft hangers.

Closer view of  the aircraft hangers showing the rusty corrugated iron roof.

Part of the runway which is now used for go karts.