Wartime Air Sea Rescue base, Tenby
This building, now the Tenby harbour office, was home to the RAF’s No.48 Air Sea Rescue unit from 1941 to 1945. An RAF Marine Craft detachment also operated from Tenby, from 1940 to 1985. Beside this building was a Nissen hut, where crews slept while on duty.
The RAF’s Marine Branch was formed just 11 days after the RAF itself, in 1918. It provided rescue and other services for the RAF around the world. During the Second World War it saved more than 13,000 lives. It supported the D-Day landings in France, when the Allies began to recapture Nazi-occupied western Europe.
Pembrokeshire had more airfields during the Second World War than any other region of Wales. The Air Sea Rescue unit was established at Tenby to rush to the aid of aircrew whose planes had crashed in local waters. Along with the ASR unit at Fishguard, it also covered the flying-boat base at Pembroke Dock.
Tenby harbour was dry for hours either side of low tide. It was therefore of little use for the high-speed ASR launches, except for loading supplies at high tide (see photo, right). The unit’s two launches were moored to buoys near the decaying Victorian pier, which was approximately where the new lifeboat station now stands. To get to a launch, crewmen descended the lifeboat slipway or rungs on the outside of the pier, hauled in a dinghy on a rope, crossed to the moorings and then clambered up into the launch. This was too laborious for emergencies, and the crews usually spent the day on the boats, ready for rapid response.
A few years after the war, a plaque was unveiled on the harbour wall which mentioned the loss of two ARS launches during the war. This plaque is now in St Julian’s Church, by the harbour. A newer plaque, outside the harbour office, commemorates the ASR and Marine Craft presence and refers to the loss of 18 crew when the launches sank. This has been a topic of controversy among veterans, and the ASRMCU Club (Air Sea Rescue Marine Craft Unit Club) has no records of those 18 deaths.
Clifford Burkett served at several ASR bases during the war, including Tenby. He told HistoryPoints in July 2013: “In March 1944, five ASR skippers were chosen from the whole of the bases around the British Isles for a Combined Operation [RAF and Royal Navy] on D-Day. It is to Tenby base's credit that two, Flying Officer Probert and F/O Ambler, were chosen from Tenby. Mr Probert took me with him.”
Tenby Museum & Art Gallery has a small display about the unit, including a lifebelt presented by the marine branch to Tenby lifeboat station when it left the town in 1985.
Postcode: SA70 7BW
FOOTNOTES: Personal recollections of Tenby Air Sea Rescue