Royal Naval Aircraft Yard, Belfast, Co. Antrim

The name of the George Best City Airport in Belfast has changed many times over the years but during World War Two it was a busy Royal Naval Aircraft Yard.

Royal Naval Aircraft Yard

Airport Road


Co. Down


United Kingdom

It was once HMS Gadwall, HMS Gannet III and the Royal Naval Aircraft Yard, Belfast. For a while, it was Royal Air Force Sydenham and today still operates at George Best City Airport.

Belfast Harbour Airport opened in the run-up to the war in 1938. The wife of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain unveiled the site on 16th March 1938. Located near Sydenham in East Belfast, the airfield is accessible by rail and road.

Fleet Air Arm training in Sydenham, Belfast.

Imperial War Museum Photo: HU 107187 (Part of the Belfast Telegraph Collection). Training personnel for the Fleet Air Arm beside their aircraft at Sydenham, Northern Ireland on 15 November 1939.

The RAF and Royal Navy take control

At the outbreak of World War Two, the Harbour Airport fell under the command of the Royal Air Force. RAF Sydenham was a training centre for both the Air Force and the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm.

From 21st June 1943 to 30th April 1946, the site was HMS Gadwall. After the war from 1st May 1946 to 31st May 1959, still under Royal Navy control, it became HMS Gannet III. From then, the site returned to civilian use.

As a Royal Naval Aircraft Yard, the main use was maintenance. Facilities for the embarkation and disembarkation of planes were available. There was also space to store excess equipment. The Navy resided on site or in the nearby Victoria Park to the south-west of the airfield.

The Blitz destroys the Yard

During the Belfast Blitz on 5th May 1941, the Luftwaffe bombed RAF Sydenham. It was a prime target for Nazi navigators and the attack rendered the station out of action. The airfield sustained sixteen craters with a further nineteen around the perimeter.

Today a memorial stands in the walkway between the terminal building and car park.

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