Catalina Mark I, W8406, of No. 4 (Coastal) Operational Training Unit on a training flight over the Irish Sea Black And White Credit IWM (CH 2455)

During the Second World War, the six counties of Northern Ireland were a vital hub of aviation activity with around 25 military airfields in use by both the Royal Air Force and the US Air Force between 1939 and 1945.

These bases were home at one time or another to more than 300,000 American troops as well as thousands of civilian staff from the Lockheed Corporation, who built their bombers in County Antrim at the sprawling Lough Shore base known as Langford Lodge.

LISTEN: Wings Over Ulster

Forces Radio BFBS Northern Ireland broadcaster Tony Rodgers has been on a journey of discovery across the province, visiting some of the most important locations from the war era as well as speaking to some amazing people who remember the time.

In this special programme, Tony uncovers the importance of the wartime Northern Irish airfields which were used by the United States Army as a transit hub and manufacturing base.

Plus we find out how a secret agreement with the Irish Free State helped the Allies win the Battle of the Atlantic.

Ernie Cromie from the Ulster Aviation Society contributed to the production and said:

“We had 25 military airfields in Northern Ireland during the war, and the coastal airfields played a pivotal role in the Battle of the Atlantic.”

Belfast was unprepared for the German bombing campaign during 1940 and 1941 which became known as The Blitz. More than 1000 lives were lost over the Easter period of 1941.

In "Wings Over Ulster" Tony finds the original Air Raid Patrol records from the time and reads about the stories of loss and destruction caused by the bombing.

Blitz Eglington Street Belfast Northern Ireland German Luftwaffe Air Raid, 7 May 1941 CREDIT IWM (H 9476)
Credit: IWM (H 9476)

During the Second World War, the general public in Northern Ireland bought 17 Spitfires via the Belfast Telegraph Spitfire Fund, something which would today be called Crowdfunding.

It was a fantastic effort for such a small country. David McCallion from War Years Remembered in Ballyclare said:

“War costs money – and the Belfast Telegraph Spitfire Fund was just one way that money was raised.”

Tony at Langford Lodge

One of the most interesting relics of the Second World War era in Northern Ireland is the old Lockheed base in County Antrim known as Langford Lodge.

This sprawling country estate was home to thousands of American civilian contractors and hundreds of planes were manufactured on site.

It was also a busy hospital and centre for the rehabilitation of sick and injured soldiers, and in its day boasted the finest entertainment complexes in Ireland including a bowling alley, baseball pitch, cinemas and an ice cream shop.

Tony was granted rare access to the site which nowadays is home to a factory making aviation parts and ejector seats.

Other notable places visited in the documentary include a former and often forgotten airfield in Toome, County Londonderry and the US Consulate General Headquarters in Danesfort House in Belfast.

"Wings Over Ulster" will be broadcast on Saturday, January 26 at 2:30 pm to 3 pm and again at 10:30 pm to 11 am UKT on BFBS Radio 2 and also on Sunday, January 27 from 1 pm to 1:30 pm UKT on Forces Radio BFBS (within Forces Life).

Cover Photo: © IWM (CH 2455)