Around Lough Neagh new aerodromes were constructed during WWII at Langford Lodge (1941), Cluntoe (December 1941) and Toomebridge (1942), whilst the runway at Aldergrove (which was now assigned to Coastal Command and No 233 Squadron) was extended to accommodate larger planes, beginning September 1941. Other new aerodromes close to the Lough were established at Maghaberry, Longkesh and Nutts Corner. Toome and Cluntoe became Combat Crew Replacement Centres where new crews trained as a team and familiarised themselves on bombing techniques over northwestern Europe before moving to operational units in England.
Langford Lodge was established as a Satellite Landing Ground (SLG); these were small airfields in which the new aircrafts produced by the factories of the Ministry of Aircraft Production were temporarily stored. These aircraft were not the finished article and required fitting out at a RAF Maintenance Unit prior to use, and Langford Lodge was one of five SLGs in Northern Ireland servicing the Maintenance Unit based at Aldergrove. In December 1941 the site was re-designated as a depot for the maintenance of American aircraft flown by the RAF and operational control of the aerodrome was transferred to the United States Army Air Force (USAAF). This resulted in the construction (beginning February 1942) of new runways, buildings and mains services under the administration of the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation who were sub-contracted by the USAAF to manage the depot on their behalf. The aerodrome, now designated “Base Air Depot 3”, was assigned to the 8th Air Force Service Command who was stationed there from August 1942.
Flying Boats at Sandy Bay
Sandy Bay became the site of a USAAF flying-boat base, comprising 12 moorings with extra for moorings for attendant vessels, while navigation buoys were laid to the north and south of Rams Island guide the flying boats and marine craft into the open Lough. Similar to the land bases, the pilots of the flying-boats practiced bombing and gunnery techniques on the Lough but from May 1944 a regular daily service to New York operated from Sandy Bay via Port Lyantey in North Africa. The service was well used with a recorded 280 passengers in June 1944 alone. The service ceased on 16thOctober 1944. To guide the flying boats and marine craft into the open Lough navigation buoys were laid to the north and south of Rams Island. (Image: Sunderland and tender on Lough Neagh)
In 1940, the Air Ministry decided to build a RAF Operational Training Unit (OUT) in the parish of Ardboe on the western shore of Lough Neagh. The new aerodrome known as Cluntoe, began construction in December 1941 and was completed by August of the following year. During this time it was used as an emergency landing ground. In 1943 the aerodrome was transferred to the USAAF and designated the No. 4 Combat Crew Replacement Centre training B-17 crews. By March 1944 it was re-designated No. 2 CCRC and training of B-24 crews commenced. In order to accommodate the American planes the runways were lengthened under a second phase of construction which began October 1943 to 1944.
The construction of the new aerodromes caused much consternation to the people of Cluntoe and Toome many of whom were forced to sell their land to the Air Ministry under a compulsory purchase order (CPO). At Cluntoe, landowners were paid £50 an acre plus compensation for disturbance and moving expenses. However, it was not only landowners who suffered here; two small shops, two shoemakers, and two forges were also forced to closed and move on. In total 35 families were forced to comply with the CPO, which took in over 640acres of good quality farmland in the townlands of Kinrush, Sessiagh, Killygonland and Mullinahoe.
On the flip side construction of the aerodrome provided employment to the local communities in a time when people had very little money. Local men were employed as labourers during the construction of the sites and work was abundant not only in the construction of the airdromes but also in the local processing of required materials such as stone, sand, gravel and bricks etc. On the east shore, a rail track was constructed between Crumlin and Gortnagallon to assist locals commuting to Langford Lodge, c. 0.5m away. An upsurge in employment possibilities would prove attractive to those outside Northern Ireland and men flocked to Lough Neagh from England and the south of Ireland looking for work. In order to protect local jobs in the long term work permits had to be issued to non-locals which ensured that they were forced to return home after the work was completed. Employment was to be found within the completed aerodrome as cleaners, cooks, drivers, secretaries and maintenance men, and women living around the aerodrome often took in washing to supplement the household budget. The American soldiers were not subject to rationing and being better paid were seen as “rich” by the locals. They bought goods from the local shops such as eggs and eels and would have been a welcome boost to the local economy.