At the outbreak of WWII in 1939 there was one airfield on Lough Neagh, located on the east shore at Aldergrove, which is now the site of Belfast International Airport. By the end of the war four more airfields had been built along the shores of Lough Neagh as it had long been viewed as an ideal location for bombing practice. During the war Northern Ireland had 25 airfields, quite a large number for a relatively small region. The reason was a fear of attack from Germany directly or via the British mainland and/or the Republic of Ireland or Éire as it was then known. In the event of such an occurrence it was hoped the region could be defended by the locally based army company which would be augmented by an air force. (Image: Location of airfields surrounding Lough Neagh. Click here to enlarge image)
A secondary reason for the number of airfields was to protect shipping in the North Atlantic which came under threat from U-boat attacks the war progressed. This accelerated after the fall of France in June 1940 with shipping between Britain and America, which traditionally followed the route around the southern coast of Ireland, becoming vulnerable to attacks from the newly captured ports and airfields of northwest France. In order to protect trade the shipping route was diverted around the north coast of Ireland with the convoys being escorted by both the Navy and RAF. The importance of this trade was reflected in the increased numbers of Navy and RAF personnel stationed in Northern Ireland during this time and resulted in the construction of new bases in which to house and train them. (Image: Torpedo platform, Antrim Bay, 1940’s)
Each of the 25 airfields was assigned a certain task; some provided bases for combat operations by the Royal Air Force (RAF) Coastal and Fighter Commands and Royal Navy (RN) Fleet Air Arm who dealt with anti-submarine patrols whilst others operated as temporary storage depots for aircraft where construction, maintenance, and modification were carried out. Finally some operated as training bases for aircrew of the RAF, RN and United States Army Air Force (USAAF).
The establishment of so many aerodromes and their associated activity had an effect on the fishermen of the Lough. Certain areas had restricted accesses such as the torpedo firing range off the shore at Antrim. An area off Langford Lodge measuring 15miles by 5miles was demarcated as a no-go area for the fishermen and was surrounded by 52 danger area mark buoys. Within this area fighters practiced firing in drogue targets towed by another aircraft and the flying boats arrived and departed the Lough. Duck Island, the eastern-most part of Rams Island, was also used for target practise. This area of the lough was an important fishing ground and undoubtedly words were spoken between the fishermen and the RAF boats who patrolled the area, but in the main fishing appeared to continue as normally as possible. (Image: Torpedo platform, Antrim Bay, present day)