RAF Station Fairwood Common was built on what was originally common land in Gower during World War II. It was established as a base from which fighter planes would protect the skies over the south and west coast from German bombers, day and night. It is now the location of Swansea Airport.
During World War II, local defences required an airfield that could be used as a Royal Air Force (RAF) fighter station. Fairwood Common was chosen as the location. The construction of the runway took a year to complete and involved extensive levelling and draining of what was previously boggy common land, used by local farmers for grazing sheep and cattle. The work was carried out hastily – bearing in mind that war was raging in Europe – and unfortunately two Bronze Age barrows were destroyed in the process (an urn from one of the barrows, known as ‘Bishopston Burch’, can be found in Swansea Museum).
Fairwood Common airbase was finally declared operational on 15th June 1941. It was home to several RAF squadrons whose Hawker Hurricane and Bristol Beaufighter aircraft would regularly patrol the skies, day and night, on the lookout for German bombers.
The first wartime success for the airfield came on June 27th 1942, when a pilot from Fairwood shot down a Junkers Ju 88 bomber off the Pembrokeshire coast. Another pilot successfully battled against the German ‘Baedeker’ night raids upon Bath, bringing down an enemy aircraft and damaging another (the ‘Baedeker’ raids attacked targets of cultural or historical significance, rather than military ones, and were named after the popular German travel guide of the same name).
However, the successes of the Fairwood Common were not without retribution from the German forces. On the night of February 16/17th 1943, Swansea endured a particularly heavy raid, which thankfully proved to be the last air-raid of Swansea during the war. During the attack, enemy aircraft bombed Fairwood airfield causing the deaths of three Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) members. Fighter planes from the airfield were scrambled and the pilots were successful in chasing the German bombers back over the Bristol Channel, shooting down five enemy aircraft in the process.
A total of 22 RAF personnel were killed whilst serving at Fairwood Common during World War II. They included men and women from many nationalities such as Czechs, South Africans and Canadians. Their lives are commemorated by a memorial in the graveyard of St Hilary’s Church in Killay.
Following the end of the war in 1945, Fairwood Common became a maintenance depot where RAF aircraft were stored and repaired. The runway and hangers were eventually re-opened in 1956 on a commercial basis as Swansea Airport, which remains operational today for charter flights, police helicopter and Welsh Air Ambulance services.