In Pembroke Dock in 1926, the Royal Navy abruptly left the haven along the Daugleddau estuary which had been used by seaplanes of the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Air Force before a permanent seaplane airbase was established. The RAF arrived in Pembroke Dock on 1 January 1930 with the first Squadron arriving in June 1931. Throughout the 1930s, No 210 Squadron was the main Squadron operating from RAF Pembroke Dock and was equipped firstly with Supermarine Southampton’s, Short Rangoon’s and Short Singapore IIIs.

Initially, the seaplane service only operated and carried out maintenance from a specially adapted floating dock known as HMS Flat Iron. This floating dock was able to submerge and allow two seaplanes to navigate onto it and then raise itself back up to allow for complex maintenance. During the 30’s the Royal Air Force improved RAF Pembroke Dock by the installation of two ‘B’ and one ‘T’ hanger. In 1935, the first spillway was constructed which allowed aircraft to be removed from the water whatever the tide. During this period, Sir Arthur Travers Harris (Bomber Harris) was the Officer Commanding RAF Pembroke Dock and 210 Squadron as a Wing Commander.

by Howard Coster, half-plate film negative, 1941

In 1934, 230 Squadron was reformed at RAF Pembroke Dock after having been disbanded in 1922. The Squadron would leave and return four times over the history of the base, but it was not active at Pembroke Dock during the Second World War. Its longest stay at the base was between February 49 and 57.

From 1938 onwards, Short Sunderland aircraft began arriving to replace older aircraft (Short Singapore and Supermarine Stranraer) on 210 and 228 Squadrons. The Sunderland became synonymous with the base and 210 Squadron and was the workhorse during the Second World War. In December 1936, No. 228 Squadron was stood up after having previously been disbanded at RNAS Killingholme. During the decade between 36 and 45, 228 Squadron was allocated to RAF Pembroke Dock 5 times, often for short intervals where individual aircraft from the Squadron were detached out to other bases.

On 1 June 1940, several seaplanes of the Royal Netherlands Naval Air Service escaped from their bases in the Netherlands as they were being overrun by enemy forces. They flew to RAF Pembroke Dock where they became No. 320 (Dutch) Squadron before RAF Carew became their home base. Other nations that flew from Pembroke Dock including Canadians and the United States Navy. The Navy VP-63 flew Consolidated PBY Catalina aircraft and on arrival in 1943, was the first US Navy unit to operate in Europe.

The flying boat squadrons operating from Pembroke Dock, were occupied with a myriad of tasks during the Second World War. Principal among these was Air Sea Rescue (ASR) with which most aircraft were equipped with Lindholme Gear for dropping into the sea for downed aircrews. The squadron also had responsibility for convoy escort duties in the Atlantic and also as hunter killers in Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW). On 2 June 1943, a Short Sunderland of No 461 Squadron (11 Crew, 9 Australian, 2 British) was attacked whilst on an ASR patrol over the Bay of Biscay by 8 Junkers 88 fighter aircraft. The Sunderland had been searching the Bay of Biscay area for a downed BOAC aircraft that had been shot down over that area the previous day (and included amongst its passenger manifest the actor Leslie Howard) when it was attacked by the Luftwaffe. The crew managed to down three of the enemy aircraft, but limped home with an airframe like a colander due to the strafing bullet runs that the Junkers 88s had taken against it. The aircraft was landed hard at sands in Cornwall and whilst most of the crew were injured, there was only one fatality. The tide destroyed the airframe the next day.

In 1944, No 201 Squadron was transferred from Northern Ireland to help blockade the invasion area for D-Day. The plan was to prevent U-Boats from being able to enter the area and enter into combat with allied forces.

Three Sunderlands from No 210 Squadron were part of a 640 flying aircraft display put on at RAF Odiham for the Queen’s Coronation Review. The display, held in June 1953, took exactly 27 minutes from start to finish. Throughout the 50s, Sunderlands of No 201 and 230 Squadrons ferried scientists and support staff to and from the North Greenland expeditions. No 230 Squadron even adopted a Husky mascot puppy when bringing everyone including the dogs back to Britain in ‘54.

The last flying boat squadrons to operate from RAF Pembroke Dock were disbanded on 28 February 1957. A month later the base was put on a care and maintenance programme with final closure coming in 1959.