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Scatsta - The War Years

At intervals, detachments of Spitfires and the occasional Hurricane were stationed at Scatsta to provide fighter cover for the flying boats, camp facilities and Royal Naval Ships which were detached to Sullom Voe throughout the war years. These fighters were scrambled to engage the occasional universal enemy fighter/bomber which had the habit of coming in at low level. The first enemy bombs to fall on British soil were those in a raid on Shetland; four bombs fell in a field at the village of Sullom, November 13th 1939. (The sole casualty was a rabbit, allegedly inspiring the famous wartime song 'Run Rabbit Run'.)

The first official landing of an aircraft at Scatsta was a Hornet Moth with Air Vice Marshall Breese Officer Commanding No 18 Group RAF Coastal Command to carry out an inspection of Sullom Voe on April 25th 1940. The following years saw various visits and stop overs - including Anson, Dominies, Whitley, Hamden and a Walrus amphibian aircraft on air sea rescue stand-by duties.

painting of plane
Photo courtesy Terry Mayes, taken 1978

At some time during the war years, a Spitfire silhouetted against a sunset was painted on the wall of the old Scatsta Kirk building. Other paintings were also present but sadly they have all succumbed to the ravages of time.

Some time during the construction of the airfield in 1940 Army Engineers laid pipe mines under the runways and associated taxiways, known as Canadian Pipe mines. These steel tubes 6" in diameter and up to 80' in length were laid at 50 yard intervals and filled with gelignite explosive. Their purpose was in case an invasion of Shetland took place and demolition of the runways and associated perimeter tracks was necessary to prevent the airfield being used by the enemy. The explosive contents of Scatsta's mine were assumed to have been removed at the end of the war.



Xmas menu 1943

During the last three months of 1944 Scatsta was to get involved in a series of operational missions as the RAF intensified its efforts to sink the German Pocket Battleship 'Tirpitz' moored in a Norwegian fjord. Squadron Leader GE Fawke of No 671 Squadron ('Dambusters' fame) and his crew arrived at Scatsta September 2nd, 1944. This was in preparation for the forthcoming raid later in the year.

A Photographic Reconnaissance Unit (PRU) Mosquito XVI of No 540 Squadron from RAF Benson also used Scatsta at that time, refuelling during a high level reconnaissance sortie to photograph the 'Tirpitz'.

On October 29th 1944 thirty nine Lancasters of No 9 and No 617 Squadrons carried out an attack on the 'Tirpitz', code named Operation Obviate. They left their bases at RAF Lossiemouth, Kinloss and Milltown each carrying a single 12,000lb Tallboy bomb - Scatsta was chosen as the emergency diversion airfield on their route back. Low cloud prevented a successful attack and two Lancasters from No 617 Squadron diverted to Shetland to refuel on the return leg - one to Scatsta and one to Sumburgh.

The sortie was repeated under the code name Operation Catechism and on November 12th thirty one Lancasters of No 9 and No 617 Squadrons were successful in sinking the 'Tirpitz'.

Other aircraft using Scatsta during the war years included Harrow bombers, Hamden, Whitley, Mosquitoes, Dominie, Lockheed Hudson, Grumman Goose, Blenheim, Mohawk, Liberator, Wellington, Dakota, Warwick, Oxford, Proctor, Ventura, Fulmar, Corsair, Spitfire, Sea Otter, Martinets, Anson, Beechcraft. See Terry Mayes' book for more details and for post-war information on Scatsta airfield up to 2006.

Please click on the pictures below for a larger version.

Station workshops crew RAF SV (Graven) 1945.

Station workshops crew RAF SV (Graven) 1945. Bertie Mouat third in back row left.

Cease fire 9th May 1945.

Officer commanding (G/Capt Cahill DFL AFC) and officers at Sullom Voe at cease fire at 9th May 1945.

Scatsta - The War Years - photos>>