Wartime Shetland
Shetland "Hands Across the Sea" Norway



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The first bomb to fall on Shetland

Although there was no intensive bombing of Britain by the German airforce in the early months of the war, Shetland was paid a visit by six Heinkel bombers in November 1939. The bombers flying at low altitude were over Lerwick before the air raid warning had sounded.

Their target was the shipping in the harbour. Eight bombs were dropped on a flying boat moored in the north harbour. Amazingly all the bombs missed their target. However, machine gun fire from one of the bombers succeeded where the bombs failed as this account from the Lerwick Harbour Trust from the time recorded:

Gun emplacements at the Ness of Sound, Lerwick
protecting the South entrance to the harbour

" Six German Heinkel bombers flew very low over the town, dropping bombs in the north harbour, and machine-gunning a flying boat which was ultimately set on fire. All the crew were rescued by two haddock boats."

In fact six of the crew were rescued by two haddock boats while a seventh crew member swam ashore. There was some anger amongst the crowd who had gathered to watch the rescue towards the Officers who had appeared on the scene with no dry clothing for the soaked and half frozen men.

Training a Bren Gunner

Fortunately the German bombers did not attack three trawlers in the harbour - the Northern Foam, Northern Isles and Northern Princess - as each trawler was carrying large quantities of depth charges. An attack upon these boats would have had far more serious consequences.

The invasion of Norway by the Germans in April 1940 opened up the real possibility that Shetland might be used as an alternative entry point for a German attack upon Britain. Special attention was now given to boosting Shetland's defences by the British military authorities.

Shetland had its own Home Guard

Troopships now began landing large numbers of soldiers who would provide a garrison for Shetland against any German threat. At first there were so many troops arriving that they had to be accommodated in tents. Nissan huts were hastily erected to provide more permanent quarters for the servicemen.

These huts were not just built in and around Lerwick but at Scalloway, Sumburgh and Sullom Voe too. At the height of operations in Shetland, some 20,000 service men were stationed in the Islands, easily outnumbering the local residents.

Many other measures were taken to defend Shetland. These included the provision of thousands of sandbags to protect important buildings against bomb blasts. Artillery guns were positioned around Lerwick to protect the harbour approaches and anti aircraft guns were also deployed in Lerwick and elsewhere.

Troops trained in a number of roles in Shetland,
which was ideal due to its rugged terrain and
the harsh, unpredictable environment.

Runways were developed at Sumburgh and Scatsta (which both  became large RAF bases) and both Spitfire and Hurricane planes were based there to defend Shetland from air attack. Sullom Voe was also brought into use as a base for flying boats and is reckoned that at one time over 600 Norwegian and 1200 British servicemen were stationed there..

The regular troops were aided in their defence of Shetland by the Shetland Home Guard. These volunteers were used to help with guard duties at places such as the Knab, the pier and the docks.

An indication of Shetland's importance to the military was that Shetland was now a restricted area. No one could get in or out without an official pass.


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Design and Authoring by Force 10
Made in Shetland