End of an era at RAF Leuchars

The TV cameras roll in front of the famous sign at the front of the base.
The TV cameras roll in front of the famous sign at the front of the base.

FOR the first time in nearly a century, the skies above north east Fife are set to fall silent.

Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox announced on Monday that RAF Leuchars will be handed over to the army, ending the village’s proud 90-year association with the air force.

The historic base will instead house 1300 troops returning from stations in Germany.

Typhoon fighter jets from Leuchars will transfer to RAF Lossiemouth from 2013, with two major army units and a formation headquarters moving to Fife between 2014 and 2017.

Campaigners who fought tirelessly to save the base amid a national defence shake-up spoke of “the end of an era”.

Carroll Finnie, vice-chair of the task force set up to lobby for the retention of RAF Leuchars, said: “Hearing the news was just shattering.

“We were always very positive about the outcome, right up to the day itself. It’s the end of an era.”

Dr Fox revealed Leuchars’ fate during a nine-minute speech in the House of Commons on Monday afternoon.

He said: “Two major units and a formation headquarters will be based at Leuchars, increasing the number of posts there from 1200 to over 1300.

“Consequently, the Typhoon force due to be built up there will instead be built up at RAF Lossiemouth.

“The security of the nation and the requirements of defence were paramount in our analysis, but we have also considered the impact of changes on local communities, the impact on service personnel and their families, and the current pattern of the armed forces in Britain.

“I am very conscious of the uncertainty these changes will cause for service personnel and their families.”

North East Fife MP Sir Menzies Campbell reacted angrily to the announcement, branding the move “fundamentally wrong, strategically inept and likely to increase the risk to our citizens”.

He also criticised the lack of detail in the plans — particularly the absence of firm dates for the handover.

Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy described Dr Fox’s brief announcement as a “shabby” way to treat the armed forces and said there would be “fury in Fife”.

Leuchars appeared to have been spared the axe when the government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review was published last October — but the Fife base was soon dragged into the debate, leaving campaigners little time to mobilise.

Since then supporters have battled doggedly to convince ministers the RAF should remain in north east Fife.

A delegation of task force members and local politicians travelled to Downing Street in March to present Prime Minister David Cameron with a 7500-signature petition — and last month Mr Cameron praised the “remarkable level of support and affection” shown towards Leuchars during the campaign to save the base.