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Scatsta - Construction

'A history of Scatsta Airfield, Shetland (revisited)' by Terry Mayes

The following excerpts, photographs and illustrations are taken from the book, 'A history of Scatsta Airfield, Shetland (revisited)' by Terry Mayes and from his collection. You can buy the book for £3 from the Shetland Times Shop in Lerwick or online - all proceeds from the sale of the book go to Cancer Research Scotland. Grateful thanks to Terry Mayes.  You can click on some of the pictures for a larger version.


map showing Scatsta and Sumburgh airfields


RAF Scatsta, located in the north of mainland Shetland, was the most northerly RAF airfield in the British Isles. The most northerly RAF establishment in the UK was at Skaw on the island of Unst where a radar station had been set up.

Scatsta was constructed to meet an urgent operational requirement to provide a base for fighter cover facilities for nearby RAF Sullom Voe, a major Catalina and Sunderland flying boat base and its accommodation camp at Graven. It also provided a satellite airfield to Shetland's only other wartime RAF airfield at Sumburgh, located on the southern tip of Shetland.




Luftwaffe map 1940

Photograph of the single runway, taken by the Luftwaffe in 1940.
Photo courtesy of the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.



The construction of the airfield was undertaken by Zetland County Council (ZCC), the forerunner of the present Shetland Islands Council (SIC) for the Air Ministry Works Directorate. Scatsta was originally planned to have three runways but due to labour shortage only two were constructed. Complete in two phases, the first was the construction of a single NE-SW (07/25) runway 3,600 feet long x 150 feet wide which began early 1940 and was completed in April that year.






ZCC Scatsta drawing 1940

Scatsta aerodrome. Zetland County Council drawing dated 1940 shows five bases for hangars (three T1 hangars and two T2 hangars) only three bases were laid and one T1 hangar constructed.


The second phase began in July 1941 and completed in April 1942 consisted of the second longer runway NW/SE (13/31) 4,530 feet long x 150 feet wide and connecting perimeter tracks. Concrete bases for five hangars were planned but only three bases were built together with one T1 Hangar.

In a report to ZCC by their County Roads Surveyor in 1946, it was stated that the construction of Scatsta Airfield had been extremely difficult due to the vast amounts of peat which had to be excavated and difficulty of disposal, and the drainage required. The report concluded by saying that Scatsta was the largest agency service tackled by the Council.

To give some idea of the quantities involved, there were 396,000 cubic yards of peat which had to be excavated and removed and some of which was used to partly fill in the nearby Houb of Scatsta. Some 66,000 cubic yards of gravel together with 211,000 square yards of regulating and 211,000 square yards of Tarmac laid. Finally, 22,000 yards of drainage was laid to ensure adequate drainage of the airfield site.

The average number of men working on the construction was 200, some of whom came from Ireland. At their disposal were 26 dumper trucks, 38 trucks, 9 drag line excavators, levellers and much other plant. 120 men were accommodated in a large purpose built camp. Two nearby quarries at Voxter and Mavis Grind were opened up to supply in excess of 102,000 tons of rock for hard core. The total cost of constructing Scatsta was £211,000, diversion of the main Brae-Graven road £3,900 and local airfield defences £19,000, which all added up to a tidy sum in those days.

Men working at Mavis Grind quarry

Shetland men working at Mavis Grind quarry: Willie Tait, Voxter; Lollie Tait, Hametoon; Willie Anderson, Hivdi; Tammy Tait, Burgins; Robbie Anderson, Slyde; Bertie Ratter.
Photo courtesy John Tait

Scatsta - The War Years >>