The main role of RAF Eglington was operational training and convoy escort within range, they also looked for and chased off long range German FW200 which were seeking convoy targets to relay to U Boats. During 1942, the 95th, 96th and 97th Fighter Squadrons were here with P-38 Lightnings which later moved on to the 12th USAAF in Algeria. In May 1943 the base was handed over to the Fleet Air Arm and became the first shore base unit for H.M.S Gannett. The base continued in is role training aircrew in anti submarine warefare, carrier landing training and active convoy patrols. It received Battle Honours for its part in the Battle of the Atlantic from 1943 to 1945.
Another pilot who spent a short spell at Eglington in 1943 was the 'Ace ' Hellcat pilot Stanly Orr who came here with the 804th Squadron, they transitioned from Sea Hurricanes to Hellcats at Eglington and trained hard for carrier landings before being moved on for a couple of carrier assignments in preparation for the raid on the German battleship, the Tirpitz..
There are so many stories connected to the base through the lives of those who came here, or had connections to the squadron that came here. One pilot of the 133rd squadron was Gordon Brettal, he joined the 'Eagles' in 1942 after they had moved to the south of England. He was shot down and severely injured on a mission over France, after lengthy treatment in Paris he was sent to Stalag III. While here he escaped with another prisoner but both were recaptured and returned. Later he was selected as one of the prisoner's to take part in 'The Great Escape' (recounted in the film of the same name starring Steve McQueen). He was again recaptured, and tragically along with fifty other servicemen, shot by the Gestapo. Hitler was furious about the scale of the breakout ordered that every one recaptured should executed.
One 'Eagle' pilot from Eglington, Don Gentile (Dominic Salvatore Gentile) went on to become an 'Ace', he was the first pilot to beat Eddie Rickenbacker's WWI record by shooting down 27 enemy planes. President Roosevelt nicknamed him 'Captain Courageous' and Winston Churchill called him 'Damon' from Greek mythology. After the war he became a test pilot at Wright Field. He died in 1951 aged 30, when his T-33 'Shooting Star' trainer crashed. In 1995 he was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.
One headstone in St.Canice that drew my attention belongs to Elizabeth Gladstone, a wren, aged nineteen who died on 5th November 1948. She had joined the Royal Navy in England when she was 17 and was posted to H.M.S. Gannet, Eglington. An opportunity arose for her to get a flight aboard an Avenger to Hatfield, where she could then go to see her family. Tragically she lost her life when the plane crashed on Divis mountain, Belfast.
After the war Eglington continued as a Fleet Air Arm base until 1959 when it closed, part of the base reopened in 1960 as H.M.S. Sea Eagle for helicopter use. It finally closed as a military base in 1966. The civil airport we see today started in 1978 and has grown since then. In 1994, after investment the name of the airport was officially changed to the City of Derry Airport.
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