RAF Pembrey started as a training base for anti-aircraft gunners in 1936/7 with the 280 Ground Defence Squadron. In 1938 plans were drawn up for an airfield and the airbase was operational by 1939. After the loss of France there was a great need for airfields to defend Britain from the Luftwaffe and Pembrey became a Battle of Britain fighter base which included the 316 Polish Hurricane Squadron. The area saw a great deal of action with the airfield and Royal Ordnance Factory at Pembrey being major targets for German bombers and Kidwelly was bombed twice, one drop falling on the house of an Irish gentleman in Priory Street. Another fell on the marsh, possibly on a moonlit night when the bombers mistook the river for the runway. Two German aircraft were shot down directly over the base and there were a number of air wrecks in the area.
In 1941 it became a bomber gunner training base with Wellingtons, Fairybattles and Blenheims using the airfield's Spitfires to teach the crews how to shoot down enemy fighters.
One famous incident occurred when a German Focke Wolfe 190, flown by Arnen Veber, was pursuing Spitfires on raids near Cherbourg. He found himself under a squadron of Spitfires over Cornwall and made a hasty exit on a round-about route via South Wales, landing at Pembrey with very little fuel. He tried to blow up the plane but failed and the RAF got hold of the new German super-fighter that had a deadly reputation and was nicknamed the 'Butcher Bird'. The RAF had planned a commando raid to gain one from France but the windfall at Pembrey and 2 later aircraft that landed in Kent, meant that they could test and analyse the one German fighter that could outperform the Spitfire and it was not until the Mark 9 that the Spitfire was supreme again. There was talk as to whether the Austrian pilot had defected on purpose but this was probably not true as he tried to destroy the aircraft, though his brother was on the Eastern Front and there was talk that he had British relatives.
By 1947 the base was wound down and the fighters left but right up until 1957 there were Hunter and Vampire jets occasionally based at the airfield and on it's 1957 closure Princess Margaret flew on the last Valetta aircraft to leave the runway.
There were 5 huge hangers for bombers and a number of smaller blister-roofed hangers for fighter aircraft but these were taken down in 1962 and only 2 remain. There was an observation tower near Allt Cunedda Farm, a radio station on the Pinged Road and a domed star navigation building that still stands on the approach to the airfield. There were a series of anti-aircraft batteries and numerous pillboxes to defend the area. Along the railway line tank blocks protected against invasion and along the top end of Cefn Sidan, the stakes that defended against landings are still visible at low tide.
The RAF have not left entirely, however, as there is a security station by the new airfield and a bombing range near the dunes opposite the holiday camp. It is a bizarre boast at the camp that there are daily air-shows and the views of the Hawk and Harrier aircraft dive-bombing the targets can be spectacular. There are the severe bankings, the smoke of fire and the dust of the impact giving a great view of the run while it is not until the aircraft reaches the top of it's climb that the drum of the fire can be heard. A control tower in the corner signals the accuracy of the attack and after a short pause another aircraft lines up with a tight turn and a drop of the controls.
Also in the area was an RAF air-sea rescue base at Ferryside, using high speed launches to pick up crews that had ditched in Carmarthen Bay, and a Royal Navy base at Llanelli. There was D-Day landing training in Rhossili Bay and countless US, Canadian and British camps in the area awaiting Operation Overlord's Normandy landings, including a US tank regiment at Pembrey and Stradey.
The other major area of war effort was the munitions factory at Pembrey. The isolated sand dunes of southern Cefn Sidan were ideal for explosives manufacture and in 1881 there was a factory producing gunpowder and dynamite. In 1914 this became a large scale Royal Ordnance Factory built and run by the Nobel Explosives Company of Glasgow and owned and financed by the Government. It produced Trinitrotoluene, TNT, and was one of the largest of the 200 factories producing munitions during WW1.
It closed in the early 1920s but reopened during WW2 and was rebuilt as the Royal Ordnance Factory over 200 hectares with sand banks and bunkers for protection and camouflage. It had it's own railway system, linked to the main railway-line at Pembrey, and it's own power station with a capacity of 4,300 kwatts. It was Britain's largest producer of TNT with 700 tons and produced 1,000 tons of Ammonium Nitrate and 40 tons of Tetryl at it's peak in 1942 and employed 2,000 people.
Production declined after 1945 with a small rise during the Korean War of the early 1950s but by the late '50s was concerned with breaking down excess bombs and shells. Its closure was announced in 1962 and it finally closed in March 1965 and it is now part of the Pembrey Country Park with the bunkers and some of the buildings still evident at the south end.
The RAF airfield was also redeveloped and in the late 1960s car rallies were held on the tarmac runway with straw bales and tyres for barriers. In the early 1980s, Llanelli Borough Council decided to develop the circuit with rally-cross and sprint races in 1981/2. In 1989 it gained the license to run full motor races and in the 1989/90 season the BARC, British Automobile Racing Club, was given a trial period to run the circuit which was extended to a 50 year lease on January 4th 1990.
The Welsh Motor Racing Centre has a full calendar with races most weekends. It has tarmac rallies, rally-cross, a number of motorcycle meetings, saloon races, the Celtic Superprix, with Formula 3s and more, including 2 truck meetings. It also held the European round of the European Rally Cross Championship in 1997. It has testing on many days during the week and is connected to the Swansea Institute in the degree course in motor-racing and also was Ayrton Senna's favourite circuit in the entire world. It has plans to extend the track from 1.5 to 2.5 miles and improve the pit-lane and hospitallity areas.
The airfield has also been developed for private light aircraft, gaining planning permission in August 1997. There is a flying school, a helicopter centre and it is the base of the West Wales Microlight Centre.
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