In June 1941 it was decided that 2 RAF Chain Home Low (CHL) radar stations should be built in Shetland. One was to be built to the west of Walls on the Shetland Mainland and became known as RAF Watsness; http://ahistoryofrafsaxavord.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/raf-watsness-1942-to-1945-air-ministry.html .The other was to be constructed on high ground, known as the Ward of Clett (locally called the Wart o' Clatt) at the south end of the Island of Whalsay. This station bore the official designation of Air Ministry Experimental Station (AMES) 96a but was more usually called RAF Clett. Although the two CHL stations were started at the same time Clett took slightly longer to complete. This was due to the location - most material had to be shipped from Lerwick by sea, poor weather and difficult access to the Ops/Tech site - up a fairly steep track which was at times impassable for the vehicles available.
Like RAF Watsness, Clett had billets and facilities for a small guard force on the Ops/Tech Site and a remote domestic site for the off duty operators and technicians. The main centre of population on Whalsay was (and is) at Symbister and the Domestic Site was located at Harlsdale, close to Symbister House, an impressive Georgian Mansion. The modern Flash Earth image below shows the location of the 2 main sites. (Left click on images to enlarge).
The construction of the accommodation at both the Domestic Site and the Ops/Tech Site ran late and neither site was complete by the end of March 1942. The main contractor for this work was a mainland Shetland firm called Pearson & Fraser. The delays were not of their making, the problems lay with the climate and the supply chain. Construction had begun as early as July 1941 and the civilian labour employed was from Whalsay and other parts of Shetland. The main technical equipment (or apparatus as it was then known) was in Lerwick awaiting shipment from September 1941 but there were other components which were missing. Every brick had to be shipped in and Douglas Fir timbers provided for the aerial gantry - when an item was missing, or in short supply, it would hold up other work.The weather during the first 3 months of the year was terrible, on occasions making outside work impossible. Most of the material required had to be imported and items were often delayed. At the beginning of the war the Royal Navy had requisitioned a small number of Shetland Drifters (herring fishing boats) to transport supplies to military units throughout the islands, particularly to those on the smaller islands like Unst, Fair Isle and Whalsay. These Drifters were subject to weather delays in the winter months and sailings could also be affected by the tidal conditions. With new units the initial requirement would be for building material and once units were up and running, resupply with essentials like coal and diesel fuel would be needed. A photo of one of the Drifters used by the Royal Navy (Valkyrie, LK40 ) is shown in Lerwick early in WWII below:
Quite a few Whalsay men were involved in the project - digging foundations, laying water pipes, helping with the brick-laying etc. They were also engaged in the collection of two raw materials which were available on the island, sand from Sandwick near the Domestic Site and gravel from Vevoe, about 5 miles further north. During part of the construction phase some of the workers had to sleep on the Ops/Tech Site and, not unsurprisingly, the most complete hut was selected for the purpose. It can't have been reassuring when the hut moved with the wind and the men were so cold they had to sleep with their hats on! Nevertheless, they persevered until the work was finished.
Domestic SiteThe Shetland Museum and Archive Photo Library has 2 photos of the Domestic Site, taken in the late 40's after the station had closed. I have added modern ones, taken from near where the originals were taken and one can see the chance of finding significant parts of the war time site are negligible. The construction of a more modern housing estate and other recent structures have covered the area. In the first picture Symbister House can be seen in the left distance, and the Nissan huts, closer to the camera, form the main part of the site.
The photo below, taken in 2014, shows the same area:
In the next picture the derelict domestic site can be seen in the foreground and Symbister Bay is centre right:
In modern times the area looks like this:
A photo of the Harlsdale camp, held by the Whalsay Heritage Centre, is below and a key showing what the buildings were used for is beneath it. This key is largely based on information provided by Ron Buckingham and work done by the Whalsay Heritage Centre:
In common with most of rural Shetland, Whalsay was dependent on wells and rain water for its water supply. Not all houses had wells so seeing people of any age carrying water buckets was a frequent sight. With the coming of the RAF a water scheme was soon established. Water was piped from Bu Water to a small loch called the Hillhead Loch (this no longer exists). The water was then piped to a filtration tank and then chlorinated before being stored in a 10,000 gallon reservoir. From this reservoir there were 2 possible routes for the water. Because of the height of the tank gravity allowed water to be fed to the domestic site. However, clean water was also needed 200 ft higher up at the Ops/Tech Site on the Ward of Clett. This required the construction of a Windmill, which can be seen by the 10,000 gallon reservoir, in this extract from a Shetland Museum & Archive photo:
When there was sufficient wind the water was pumped up to a 600 gallon tank near the top of the Ward, should the wind fail for any length of time manual pumping would be needed.
The Ward of Clett at 393ft above sea level is the highest point on Whalsay and the aerial gantry was located on the summit. Theoretically this gave the RDF equipment (now radar), good opportunities for detection to the north, east and south. The next 3 pictures are all from Flash Earth and show the last part of the route up to the site, a labelled picture of the site itself and an enlargement of the area in the vicinity of the CHL radar.
The Ward of Clett at 393ft above sea level is the highest point on Whalsay and the aerial gantry was located on the summit. Theoretically this gave the RDF equipment (now radar), good opportunities for detection to the north, east and south. The next 3 pictures are all from Flash Earth and show the last part of the route up to the site, a labelled picture of the site itself and an enlargement of the area in the vicinity of the CHL radar.
The Power House, which contained a Crossley Generator, overlooks the Loch of Huxter to the north-east. It looks as if it has been partially reconstructed post war and has been put to agricultural use.
The structure of the Standby Set House is also fairly intact with the generator "beds" still prominent.
The Ops/Tech area at Clett was similar to that at RAF Watsness, brick built blast walls surrounding a pre-fabricated wooden hut, which measured about 50ft by 18ft. The hut would have contained a Transmitter Room, combined Receiver/Ops Room and a couple of smaller areas for rest and storage.
The foundations of the hut can be seen in this next picture with the conduits for the electrical cables:
To the north of the blast wall the footings of the 20ft CHL aerial gantry are well preserved:
When the gantry and aerial were in place they would have looked like the installation from the SD 0458 illustrated below:
An object which appears to be part of the aerial turning mechanism is by the east side of the blast walls:
I believe that, when installed, it used to look like the machinery in this photo also from the SD 0457
During high winds the CHL aerial was lashed down to save damage to its components and to the turning motor. One of the lashing points can be seen in the foreground of the next photo:
One rare photo of the Ops/Tech area in WWII survives in the Whalsay Heritage Centre and it is reproduced below:
The smaller of the two aerials is for an early version of the IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) System, which was an important aid in recognising potentially hostile aircraft.Just to the south of the Main Power House and a little lower on the hill a small building was constructed to house a later IFF Mk lll secondary radar system, which became operational towards the end of 1943:
An Air Raid Shelter, full of rubbish lies at the south east corner of the site:
There is another Air Raid Shelter on the other side of the Guard Force Accommodation:
The foundations of a number of buildings can be seen on site. These include the bases of guard force billets, washrooms, cookhouse and various equipment stores.
There are many similarities between the Clett and Watsness sites, one of which can be seen in the next picture (the area from Watsness has been realigned). The extracts from Flash Earth show part of the guard force accommodation on each site - built by different people but to the same overall plan.
Both the Ops/Tech sites had 2 Light Anti Aircraft (LAA) gun emplacements for .300/.303 weapons. Those at Clett are to the north and south of the Ops/Tech Hut. The LAA emplacement to the north overlooked Bu Water with Symbister in the distance.The People. The number of servicemen at Clett varied considerably and is not well documented in the Unit records. A small advance party, which included Cpl Wilf Tetley arrived in mid March 1942. It is known that there were approximately 26 servicemen when the station opened in late March 1942 and the numbers were recorded in the Operations Record Book a number of times between August 1944 and the closure of the Unit in 1945. Some of this information is below:
The emplacement at the south has the Power House and Loch of Huxter behind it:
August 44 1 Officer & 31 Other Ranks
October 1944 1 Officer (RCAF) & 36 Other Ranks (Incl 3 RCAF)
December 1944 1 Officer (RCAF) & 42 Other Ranks (Incl 3 RCAF)
April 1945 No Officers, 42 Other Ranks (Incl 3 RCAF)
31 Jul 1945 No Officers, 54 Other Ranks (Incl 5 RCAF)
What the figures don't show is how much outside assistance was given in guarding the station. We do know that an Army Brigadier was on site in May 1942 inspecting the area to be occupied by the guard force. The next relevant note is in December 1942 "The 155th Company of the Pioneer Corps left Clett after 5 months of defence duties". Whether or not these soldiers were fully replaced is not clear. It is certain that the local Home Guard Company assisted with defence duties during exercises and, presumably, at other times. Some RAF Regiment personnel and 4 RAF Policemen were posted in during late 1942, presumably for defensive duties and to help with the security of the station. It is also noticeable that the RAF strength had increased by August 1944 and continued to increase until the Unit shut down - perhaps the extra personnel were for guard duties.
The names of a few people appear in the records but many more have been recorded in the Whalsay Heritage Centre and the Staff there have also recorded the stories of a number of airmen who served at Clett. One of the items held is a list of personnel who were based at Clett at one particularly time in 1942 or 43RAF Personnel.
Aberaman, Appleton, Aston, Baggalay, Bailey, Beaudreau, Bennett, Blanchard, Boys, Buckingham, Burt, Clare, Coulter, Cox, Davies, Edgecomb, Farmer, Flannigan, Gladman, Hamilton, Harter, Haselden, Hawcrow, Hawley, Healey, Hoare, Hockley, Hodges, Howard, Jackson, Johnson, Jones GW, Jones G, Jones, Kepple, King, Kirkwood, Love, MacGregor, Martin, Mettam, Moore, Norman, Nuttall, Paterson, Pearson, Peers, Reah (Colin), Reast, Reed, Reid (Tammy), Rosethorne, Sayer, Selkirk, Smith T, Tetley, Truelove, Turner G, Washbrook, Watson, Winter, Young
Chubb, Preston, Rowe, Smith E
Bell, King L/Cpl, Smith L/Cpl
No service given - Wharmby
Two of the servicemen from Clett, Ron Buckingham and Wilf Tetley, have provided more information about some of the people stationed there:
The surname of the first Commanding Officer was Taplan but it appears he did not stay very long. In 1942/3 there were 4 members of the Royal Navy, who were responsible for passing plots on surface vessels detected by the radar. The four had all previously been aboard ships which had been torpedoed. The names were given by Wilf Tetley and were confirmed by Ron Buckingham, who made the comments below:
Jimmy Rowe - a professional Jazz Pianist
Eric Smith - a rotund spitting image of Max Miller
Bill Chubb - a rosy faced youngster from Essex
Bert Preston - a quiet chap but a bit too serious for most of us
Ron also described some of the personnel who were posted in when the station opened:
Cpl Bill Coulter, a soft-spoken scot and a very popular radar mechanic
Jack Rosethorn, who in civvy street was a school teacher from Durham, he was eventually to win the local mixed pairs badminton competition with Betty Polson.
Robin Schlesinger, a radar operator, a young Jewish lad with artistic leanings, who must have found the somewhat Spartan conditions difficult to bear. Of all things he possessed an electric razor, a rare luxury in those days.
Eric Baggaley, a radar operator from somewhere in the Midlands, a big strong lad with a shock of curly hair and a chipped front tooth.
George Turner - a radar operator, one of our elder statesmen who must have been at least 25 years of age at the time and was a somewhat gifted dancer.
He went on to say, "There was a Canadian radar mechanic in my next bed space when we arrived but his names escape me whose popularity soared whenever he received a parcel containing a supply of "Sweet Caporals", fortunately he was quite generous. (Sweet Caporals - brand of Canadian cigarettes).
In another hut was a Radar Mechanic called Howard (surname) from London, whose profession in civvy life was associated with radio; he spent many hours of his leisure time engaged in knitting".
Ron Buckingham also provided some information on a few of the later arrivals:
Cpl Jackson, who came to help Wilf Tetley attend to our inner needs. He came from Swindon and frequently kicked a ball about with us when we eventually found somewhere level enough to do so.
Eddie Selkirk, a Radar mechanic from Edmonton, Alberta in Canada. He played a guitar, after a fashion, and taught us all the lyrics of "I Wanna Be A Cowboy's Sweetheart".
Archie Frain, a Radar mechanic from Aberdeen, who shared the same billet with me in 1943.
Bill Love, a married Radar operator from Glasgow who, because of his advancing years (about 28), became a source of knowledge to all those impressionable colleagues prepared to listen to him at that time.
Tammy Reid, a Radar operator from Kirkcaldy in Fife, who arrived with Bill Love and threw himself wholeheartedly into every activity at the camp. After an eventful RAF career he was destined to become an influential character on the island of Whalsay.
Tommy Smith, a very young and enthusiastic Radar operator, who I subsequently briefly encountered at Thame in Oxfordshire, when most of the mobile Radar units in Europe were repatriated in 1945.
Finally there was a Radar mechanic named Burt, a New Zealander, who married a local Whalsay girl and took her off to New Zealand.
Other servicemen who were at Clett included:
1438191 Cpl Sugars CE, who it is known was also at Yatesbury, Exminster & Happisburgh - his postings indicate that he would have been in a radar trade
Aug 44 - F/O ER Clark (RCAF} was CO
Oct 44 - Flt Sgt HR Martindale (RCAF) i/c for a short period
Dec 44 - Flt Lt DE Harris (RCAF) CO
Jan 45 - WO WB Stretch i/c
Jul 45 - Sgt GR Howells i/c
It is apparent that the RCAF played an important role on the site. An excellent reference for RCAF WWII information is here: http://www.rquirk.com. Within that site one other Canadian at Clett is mentioned " Len MacMillan, RCAF, of Calgary, was attached to the Navy and served at the CHL radar on the Island of Clett".
By 1942 most of the younger, fitter Whalsay men would have left the island, either voluntarily or on call-up. Being an island community, sailing and fishing were important skills and a significant proportion of the men folk ended up in the Royal and Merchant Navies. Some, with specialist skills, would have been in "protected occupations" but they would still be deployed to wherever they were needed. Coincidentally, with the massive radar construction programme, a large number of people in "protected occupations" were helping to build radar sites all around Britain. The somewhat older men who remained would have been expected to do what they could to replace the younger men and to contribute to the war effort by joining the Coastguard or Home Guard.
The population of Whalsay now is just over 1,000 and the community is relatively prosperous. However, just before the War there would have been about 900 people on the island, heavily dependent on local fishing and crofting. During the war years essential items, which could not be produced locally, were brought in on the old Earl of Zetland (1877), which was scheduled to visit Symbister 3 times a week (and occasionally did so when weather and tides permitted).
Tammy's widow, has also kindly allowed me to use some of her photos.
Like many places in the UK, outside of towns and cities, there was no regular electricity, the only power coming from windmills and accumulators (rechargeable batteries), which were not available to everyone. The limited electricity was used largely to listen to the BBC broadcasts to hear how the war was progressing.
The arrival of a group of young men in March 1942 would have been treated with suspicion by some islanders to begin with but it didn't take too long for most of the barriers to come down. Some of the servicemen, particularly those from England and Canada would have found the Whalsay dialect unusual and perhaps a few of the customs were different. Many of the Whalsay population, like many of their counterparts in other UK communities, had been brought up to respect the Sabbath as a day of rest. In some households this meant that food for Sunday was prepared the day before and frivolous pursuits were not countenanced. However, military personnel received a daily rate of pay - 7 days a week, 365 days a year. For those fortunate to have time off-duty it was not unusual to see them kicking a football around or heading off with a fishing rod (known as a wand in Shetland), whatever day of the week it was. The local economy would have seen a small boost with; for example, the RAF needing to purchase a limited quantity of supplies, a couple of the ladies employed to do the camp laundry, a number of Shetland knitwear items commissioned for sending to families back home, etc
In the early months, when much of the station was still being built, there was little service entertainment provided for the men - the first barrel of beer not arriving until just before Christmas 1942. However a number of personnel became involved in community activities such as the Friday night dances in the Symbister Hall, the music being provided by local fiddle players. After a while, the facilities improved and the generation of electricity resulted in a number of diversions. An occasional film show - usually on a Sunday and frowned upon by some folk, dances, a gang show or concert helped provide some entertainment, whilst the more active could participate in sports, such as badminton. Sometimes there would be visits and shows by groups of artists from ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association).
The "incomers" posted to RAF Clett must have had very diverse backgrounds and talents, coming from all 3 services with homes all over the UK and the added overseas elements from Canada & New Zealand. Sometimes outsiders, with little experience, looked on remote communities as "backward" but in much of Scotland and, in the islands in particular, the people were often better educated and had more experience of the world than town and city dwellers. Shetland has been proud of its education system for a long time and the maritime tradition brought connections with overseas countries. For centuries Whalsay had been involved with the Hanseatic League, a trading confederation around North Europe and the Baltic, islanders had frequently gone to sea with the Merchant Navy and Shetland had a tradition of sending men to "the whaling", an industry UK was involved in Until 1963. This travel ensured that many households had experience of foreign lands. Another attribute found in remote areas was resourcefulness, items were reused and little went to waste, problems had to be overcome with what was available.
At the end of the war two servicemen, Wilf Tetley and Tammy Reid, returned to Whalsay, married and settled on the island, whilst a third returned to New Zealand with his wife from "the Bonnie Isle", as Whalsay is known. Sadly both Wilf and Tammy have both died. Maureen Stewart, niece of Wilf Tetley, has kindly allowed me to use the two photos of her uncle which appear below:
Some of the personnel who were at RAF Clett in 1943 appear in the next picture:
Tammy was posted from Whalsay to Egypt, Italy and Europe - where he volunteered for glider duty. Tammy and his unit were landed in advance of the front line and set up their radar to provide information for allied aircraft. In the meantime Babie remained in Whalsay and servicemen continued to be posted to and from RAF Clett. Luckily Babie also kept 2 photos of personnel from 1944, which she has given me permission to use. The first is a group photo and I have also copied the list of names which, fortunately was on the back.
The final picture in this part features the three senior servicemen in charge of the Unit at the time. The Commanding Officer was Flying Officer E Ritchie Clark, RCAF, the senior Radar Operator was Sergeant Hodges and the senior Radar Mechanic was Sergeant HR Martindale (also from the RCAF).
Tammy Reid was demobbed from the RAF in June 1946 and returned to Whalsay to marry Babie.
The Whalsay Heritage Centre has an interesting collection of anecdotes from civilians and servicemen whose wartime memories have been recorded - I can certainly recommend a visit.
1942. According to the operational records "Clett was rushed into use at the end of March in answer to high priority demands for greater RDF (Radar) coverage in the Shetlands area". Despite major efforts the work was not finished - the power supplies and communications were not fully in place. The accommodation was also incomplete, both at the Domestic Site and on the Ops/Tech Site. However, radar cover was needed in the area and the German air force and navy were not going to wait for the construction to be finished. The first year of operations was to prove interesting.
The first aircraft detected was a friendly Coastal track which was seen at a range of 40 miles. On 30 March the RDF Operators had a busy night when a large scale friendly bomber raid passed though the area and, in just one hour, 300 plots were passed to the Filter Room in Lerwick with the longest range being recorded at 113 miles. In early April it was noted that, whilst the radar performance was disappointing, unusual returns were picked up to the east at between 195 and 210 miles. As these returns appeared to be static it was assumed they were caused by the Norwegian coastline. This phenomena is known as anomalous propagation - when atmospheric conditions cause radio waves to follow an unusual path. In certain conditions the radio wave can almost follow the curvature of the earth - on occasions I have seen the coast of Iceland on radar displays 800 miles away.
On 15 May Brigadier General GC Cunningham MC, accompanied by staff officers, visited Clett to see the army accommodation on the Ops/Tech Site and to discuss defence of the station. On the following day communications were established with the Naval Plotting Centre in Lerwick so that plots on surface vessels could be passed to the appropriate authorities rapidly - the first surface plot was passed on 17 May. Four RN Personnel were posted in to fulfil this duty. Air raid warnings were sounded on the evening of 26 May when a hostile aircraft approached from the direction of Out Skerries, north-east of Whalsay. The plane circled the station at about 50ft and was identified as a JU 88. The aircraft made off without dropping any bombs. The picture of a JU88 below has a common user licence and is from the Bundesarchiv :-
The next day the unit went off the air for its first quarterly overhaul and a number of modifications were made. These resulted in an improved performance with good ranges obtained on Hostile 299, which was picked up on the 31st at 104 miles, and tracked for 240 miles before it was lost to radar cover at 150½ miles south-east of the unit.
June 42 was a fairly quiet month but there were a few notable events. On 8 June the station plotted the successful interception of a hostile aircraft flying in an easterly direction to the north of Unst. The interception was carried out by a Bristol Beaufighter of Coastal Command and the German Aircraft was identified as an Ha140 seaplane. The following picture of an Ha140 comes from Flightglobal (httpwww.flightglobal.compdfarchiveview1938).
Photo of a Beaufighter MkII below is in the public domain and available on Wikimedia:
255 Sqn Beaufighter Mk II - Sep 1941
During June a Scientific Officer from 14 Group paid a visit to the station and showed a great deal of interest in the Vertical Polar Diagram (VPD), which had been constructed by station personnel. VPDs showed the shape of the radar beam/s in a vertical plane and, when combined with detection range, could be used to make an assessment of an aircrafts height. The Clett VPD was proving to be very accurate and had come to the attention of the staff at the Filter Room in Lerwick. Visiting technicians from No 71 Wing found some faults on the radar receiver caused by fluctuations in the way some of the components were operating. The main generator, which had been running continuously for over 1300 hours, was given a major overhaul and new parts were fitted by station personnel, none of whom had experience of such work on a diesel engine. The task was finished within 10 hours and the CO was pleased with the men's performance.
On 3rd July the Operations Building was struck by lightning and, although it was alarming, no one was injured and no lasting damage was caused to the equipment - the radar was up and running again within 20mins. A defence exercise to test the evacuation of the Domestic Site and the manning up of defensive positions on the Ops/Tech Site was carried out on 6th July. The Whalsay Home Guard Company provided the "attacking force" and it was considered that the site was successfully defended but only by a narrow margin. Afterwards a number of amendments were made to the Station Defence Plan. The German Air Force carried out a number of reconnaissance flights on a regular basis. One of the routes followed took the aircraft out into the Atlantic to gather data on shipping movements and the aircraft which operated this route were known to the RAF as "Atlantic Specials". In July a number of attempts were made to intercept Atlantic Specials but on each occasion they escaped (mainly due to poor visibility).
Efforts to make an intercept continued into August and although no "Kills" were claimed the Atlantic Special was twice seen by Fighter crews - after one intercept the reconnaissance aircraft was last seen heading east towards its base with one engine on fire. The Hostiles seen were identified as JU88s.
September 1942 was an active month for the Unit. On the 8th a Catalina Flying Boat from 422 Sqn RCAF had to put down in the sea after suffering damage during bad weather and was run ashore on rocks by the pilot about three quarters of a mile from the domestic site. This incident has a number of interesting facets and I have included a summary in Note 1 at the end of this piece.
The Air Officer Commanding(AOC) 60 Group and some of his staff visited on the 10th and carried out a tour of inspection of the Station. According to the CO he was pleased to receive appreciation from the AOC on the operational, technical and general condition of the camp. It was a busy month operationally with many detections and plots passed to the Filter Room. The Radar performed well with the longest detection being at 184 miles on an aircraft at 25,000ft. Numerous surface vessel plots were tracked, including submarines at ranges between 18 ½ and 25 miles. The aerial had to be lashed down due to high winds for varying periods but this time was used in training, particularly in improving Radio Telephone (R/T) techniques among the operators and technicians - rather than use live radio, telephones between Transmitter and Receiver Sections were used. All radar units use friendly aircraft flying at known heights, of known size and flying particular routes, to calibrate their equipment - all 15 attempts at calibration in September provided satisfactory results.
Air activity in October was recorded as "normal" but a number of intercepts against Hostiles were instigated. The Atlantic Special was again the object of most attempts but the results were mixed. On one occasion a fighter got within 20 miles of the target but then suffered R/T problems and could not complete the mission. On another day a fighter was seen on the radar to close within half a mile of a track identified as hostile but the raider was far too high for the fighter to get within weapon range. The same thing happened on a second attempt but the aircraft turned for home. At this stage it was re identified as a friendly aircraft belonging to Coastal Command! On the 17th better results were achieved with Hostile 277 being attacked and, at the time, it was thought probable that the German plane would not see its home base again. The radar aerial had to be lashed down due to high winds on a number of occasions. A number of long range detections of aircraft were noted and the best detection on a surface vessel was on the RMS St Magnus (RMS = Royal Mail Ship) at 40½ miles.
Not many plots were passed in November as the Unit was off the air for overhaul and modifications for part of the month and because high winds restricted operations after the technical work had been completed. The CHL aerial assembly was removed then rebuilt as a 5 bay system and strengthened - theoretically it would now be able to withstand wind speeds up to 80mph. The radar receiver and transmitter were overhauled and modified. During the 2 weeks that this work was being carried out it was also decided to service the main diesel generator and replace components where necessary. When the site returned to operations a marked improvement in performance was noted and a new detection record was achieved with a target picked up at a range of 204 miles. Heavy snowstorms occurred on the 21st & 22nd, the snow quickly melted but returned with a vengeance on the 28th, lasting beyond the end of the month. With ice the track up to the Ops/Tech Site became impassable to motor vehicles. A note in the records states that entertainment during the month was good but there is no further explanation!
December was a very quiet month with only one Hostile detected and that was seen only for a short time. the records show that on the 22nd the 155th Company of the Pioneer Corps left Clett after 5 months of defence duties. The same paragraph goes on to say that 11 of their number were left behind until sufficient guards for vulnerable points were made available. This is about the same period when some RAF regiment personnel and 4 RAF Policemen were posted to Clett.
1943. There was little operational activity in the month of January and the weather was severe. High winds resulted in the need to lash down the radar aerial for a total of 130 hours. On the 18th a report was received saying that a balloon had been found at the north end of Whalsay and a party was sent to investigate. It was discovered to be a Naval Barrage Balloon and this information was relayed to the Naval Headquarters. Arrangements were made for the balloon to be dispatched to Lerwick. Bad gales continued into February and the unit had to stay off the air for long periods with the wind speed recorded at over 100mph on frequent occasions. Time was spent usefully in practicing R/T procedures, once again making use of the phones in the Transmitter & Receiver Rooms. Between the 11th & 14th February visiting Technicians from 71 Wing carried out quarterly maintenance on the equipment.
Activity in March showed a slight increase though the problem of high winds continued. Most of the tracks reported were friendly aircraft on coastal patrols. In the first half of the month there was an unsuccessful attempt at intercepting a Hostile aircraft and a successful intercept of an unknown track, the latter was identified as friendly. Later in the month Hostile 216 was intercepted and shot down into the sea but the only information in the Clett records states "This Hostile was identified as one of the latest types of enemy aircraft". Not many surface vessels were seen, the longest range achieved was 40 miles, but it was noted that 3 submarines and their escort were observed 31 miles south of Clett. There was a significant changeover in personnel during April. The weather showed slight signs of improvement and there were few German raiders detected. On the 23rd Hostile 295, flying at between 300 and 400ft was picked up at 46 miles range but did not stay in radar cover for long. I have no records for May 1943 and the only event which I have a note of in June is the transfer of Clett (and a number of other stations) from 71 Wing, based at Bucksburn, to the 70 Wing, based at Inverness.
On the 8th July a significant surface movement was plotted. No range was recorded but it was later visually confirmed to be 1 Aircraft Carrier, 1 Battleship, 1 Cruiser & 10 Destroyers (fortunately of friendly origin!). Later on in the month, on the 22nd, 2 Hostiles were seen a long way east of the station but no intercept was attempted. The following day the Station had to go off the air for 1hr 25mins whilst a fault on the PPI (Plan Position Indicator/Radar Display) was rectified. The power supply caused a few problems in August with operations ceasing for short periods on at least 2 occasions. On the 11th, 11 aircraft (originally thought to be 6) were tracked for 187 miles to the south-east. Although the records don't explain what they were, the most likely assumption is that they were friendly. On the same day a troopship (flying a balloon) and its escort were picked up 42½ miles away to the south of Whalsay. The Air Officer Commanding 60 Group, Air Vice Marshal RS Aitkin visited Clett on the 13th - he also visited RAF Watsness on the same day. A quarterly overhaul of the equipment meant that the radar was off from the 22nd to the 25th.
The Station received information on 7th September that 966354 Cpl Tetley WG had been awarded a "Mention in Despatches" - the notice had been promulgated in the London Gazette earlier in the year but had taken a while to filter through. No reason for the award is given but Tetley did return to, and settle in, Whalsay at the end of the war. On the 14th a Pre-amplifier type RL37 was fitted to the Receiver and a marked improvement in performance was noted. Two days later a Hostile was plotted at a range of 124 miles north of Clett - in the past that had been a poor sector for seeing tracks.
A low-flying aircraft was detected 22 miles east of the Station on 4th October. Fighters were sent to investigate and found a JU88. According to the RAF Clett official record "Bursts of fire were exchanged but the Hun released a cloud of smoke and escaped into thick cloud. The Station was commended by all concerned on the assistance given on an excellent interception." A record range for Clett was achieved on the 13th when a friendly bomber was seen at a range of 206 miles. Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) Mark III - BL3 system - installation was completed on 20th October and initial results were promising. It replaced an earlier and less efficient system which had been located in the main Ops/Tech Hut. This picture, from another site, shows what the IFF Mark III BL3 System looked like:
Clett joined the "searchlight chain" on the 18th November when a searchlight was installed. The searchlight was to be used when ordered to assist in directing lost friendly aircraft to the nearest suitable airfield. A party of Commandos launched a mock attack on the Unit on 20th November. They approached the island from the west in a high speed launch and landed by canoe. With the assistance of the local Home Guard a spirited defence was mounted and, at the end, the exercise was considered very successful and the experience gained useful.
The installation of new turning gear (C.D.100) for the CHL radar was completed on 3rd December. Part of this gear is still visible on site today beside the blast wall which would have been on the east side of the Ops Hut.
Unfortunately, it will take a little more than a drop of oil to get it functioning again.
1944. I don't have complete records for RAF Clett in 1944 but the interesting events I do have information about, are detailed below.
On 17th January Hostile 500 was plotted by a number of Radar stations, including Saxa Vord, Clett and Grutness in Shetland. The Hostile was eventually shot down by a fighter under the control of Cocklaw, a radar site in Aberdeenshire. The German aircraft was identified as a JU88. A number of Hostiles were tracked in April, including 10 Atlantic reconnaissance flights and 2 checking meteorological conditions (known as "Weather Willies"). Perhaps the most interesting intruder was a JU88, which was seen visually by a number of people over Lerwick and was recorded once on Cletts radar when it was flying at about 50ft. I have no record of any interceptions during the month. The recently installed IFF Mk III system must have been experiencing some interference from other equipment on site as a few modifications were made during April and May
From the 1st July until 5th July there must have been unusual atmospheric conditions as the coast of Norway was seen on the radar display between 050 & 087 degrees at ranges of 200 to 215 miles. In my experience this phenomenon usually happened in the summer/autumn during hot spells associated with areas of high pressure. In August some good plots were recorded, both on surface vessels and on aircraft. An Allied force of 3+ ships was seen to the north of the radar on the 2nd, picked up at 49½ miles and fading at 61 miles. Three days later a submarine was detected at 16½ miles to the south-east. On the 11th and 22nd good airborne pick-ups were made to the south of Clett (at ranges 187 and 190 miles). The station was complimented on its performance in tracking a Sunderland in distress on the 12th, it was first seen to the north-east at 57½ miles and was tracked for 40 miles on a south westerly heading. The photo below was taken by an RAF photographer earlier in the war and the copyright has expired:
Events more of an administrative nature during August included a visit from the Officer Commanding 70 Wing, Group Captain RC Richardson, who was accompanied by the Officer Commanding the Lerwick RAF detachment, Squadron Leader JF Sarsfield-Sampson (the latter would have been in charge of the Lerwick Filter Room which received plots from all the Shetland radar sites). At some stage during the month the unit received an extra Browning .303 machine gun, together with mount. Unlike other machine guns held by the Station as Light Anti-Aircraft weapons, this one was specifically for ground defence. September seems to have been a fairly quiet month but with a fair amount of inclement weather. The station was forced off the air for 3 hours on the 5th with a Receiver fault and on the 17th all off-duty personnel attended a church parade at a local church in observance of "Battle of Britain Day" - just 4 years earlier. No significant surface plots were passed but there were a number of long ranges recorded on airborne tracks. The two longest ranges were both to the south-east at 202 and 195 miles. I have been unable to find anything about Clett involvement in attempted interceptions in September.
Hostile 517 was picked up on 27th October to the north east at a distance of 74 miles. It was flying east at 1,000ft. A pair of fighters was picked up to the south-east and tracked for over 74 miles before they called "Tally Ho" on the German aircraft. The Hostile was shot down at 09.38 and the fighters were tracked back to Sumburgh. The identity of the intruder is not recorded in the Clett records but the Filter Officer complimented the Clett operators on the accuracy of their plotting. The longest range recorded for the month was 174 miles on a Coastal Patrol aircraft flying at an unknown height.
November turned out to be an eventful month with some interesting episodes. On 3 nights (7th,14th & 22nd) the searchlight was operated to help aircraft in trouble. The aircraft on the 3rd occasion was a Bomber returning from an operational mission and was short of fuel. All 3 aircraft landed safely. On the 17th a Warwick aircraft heading south just east of the island was seen to drop a lifeboat attached to a parachute. The CO contacted the Filter Officer and was assured that there was no one in the boat. It was later discovered that the Warwick crashed just off Sumburgh and the crew had been seen in a dinghy. The picture of a Warwick below comes from the Imperial War Museum:
The lifeboat was washed up on rocks and recovered by fishermen that evening. The CO inspected the boat and posted a guard to watch over it. After speaking to the Filter Officer, who said a guard was not required, the guard was removed. Gear on board the boat had been handed over to the Receiver of Wrecks by the fishermen who had brought it in. The next day the Commanding Officer at Sumburgh asked the CO of Clett to recover the gear and try to salvage the boat. The boat was taken from the water, the gear was recovered and a guard reposted. A vessel from Lerwick arrived on the afternoon of the 19th and the recovered items were handed over to the care of the master.
On the evening of the 20th a message came from Warrant Officer Moreton in the Filter Room requesting that the body of an airman, which had been washed ashore at the north end of Whalsay, be collected. The CO and 3 airmen carried out the task and took the body to the Civilian Medical Practitioner for examination. The body was then transferred to the Unit where it was searched - the results were passed to the Filter Room. On the afternoon of the 21st the CO conducted a Memorial Service for the dead airman before the body was escorted to the quayside and taken on board a High Speed Launch for transferral to Lerwick.
December was a relatively quiet month. There was a change of Commanding Officer and in the 11 day gap between the first one leaving and his replacement arriving the station had a Royal Canadian Air Force SNCO in charge - R75744 Flight Sergeant Martindale H. The longest range of the month was on a Civilian aircraft to the south-east at 22,000 ft, which was seen at 179 miles.
1945. Operationally, this close to the end of the war in Europe, German activities in the area were greatly reduced and life at Clett became fairly quiet. In January the longest detection was once again on a Civilian aircraft - seen at 190 miles. The best surface vessel plot recorded was on 2 Cruisers at 29 miles range. February was also rather quiet with 2 staff visits and the radar off the air for 3 days whilst a quarterly overhaul took place. The maximum range for the month was 197miles on "Area Raid 3" to the south, which would have been a group of Friendly Bombers. The record doesn't say if they were outbound or inbound. Most of the months aircraft tracks were noted to be Civilians and Coastal Patrols - the only surface vessel plot was a group of 5 ships which were tracked for 47 miles on the 11th.
March brought a 3 day visit by the Dental Officer - the first of such mentioned in the operational record - perhaps there had been previous visits but too many other things were happening for them to be considered worthy of note. On the 13th twenty-six Beaufighters at 2 to 3,000ft were plotted heading towards Sumburgh though no range was given, they had possibly been on a shipping-strike mission off Norway . On the 16th a Hostile 501 was picked up 171 miles north of the Unit, heading east. It was only tracked for 25 miles before it disappeared from radar cover. Abnormal atmospheric conditions on the 23rd resulted in the coast of the Orkney Islands showing on the radar display. The maximum airborne detection range for the month was 183 miles and the most interesting surface vessel plot was on a naval group of 9 vessels which were followed for 45 miles whilst they were heading north-easterly to the east of the station. April brought little excitement other than help in getting a Lancaster aircraft safely to Sumburgh in the early hours of the 11th. The aircraft was lost and, on the order of the Filter Room, the searchlight was illuminated for 42mins. It helped guide the crew to their destination where they landed safely at 02.17 hours.
No record of the end of the war in Europe appears in the official Unit Records for May 1945 but I'm sure that occasion would have been suitably recognised. Very little appears in the record for the month. The equipment was unserviceable for just 56 mins, the best detection of an aircraft was at 140 miles and the best surface vessel plot (on a Cruiser & 2 destroyers) was at 61 miles to the south. June saw the real beginning of the run down. The Naval Plotting Room in Lerwick was closed down so there was no need to record the surface plots and the Station began restricted operations on the 23rd, The radar was no longer required for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Instead, operational hours were 0900 to 1700 and 2300 to 0400 Mon to Fri, 0900 to 1700 on Sat and closed on Sundays. In July nothing of great significance, other than a reduction in the early morning operating hours occurred.
Along with the other Shetland RAF radar stations, Clett was told to stop reporting tracks with effect from 4th August and the Station was put on care & maintenance (non-operational) from 22 August. All the Shetland RAF radar stations were to be closed down by the 15th September and all moveable equipment sent to the mainland. Unfortunately, the Royal Navy had withdrawn all the drifters they had been using in the islands and the Clett equipment had to be shipped out in small quantities using the local passenger steamer, the Earl of Zetland. The equipment and what was left of the site was transferred to the Officer Commanding RAF Scousburgh (Air Ministry Experimental Station 7000 series/GEE - navigation equipment).
NOTE 1. 422 Squadron RCAF - Catalina DG-A - 8th September 1942
I have read a number of reports regarding this incident and the number of conflicting statements caused so much confusion I realised it would be wise to seek an official version of the events. An example of the lack of agreement in the accounts can be illustrated by the status of the pilot. Whilst the versions of the story I have seen agree his surname was "Honey", he is variously said to be a Pilot Officer RAF, a Pilot Officer RCAF, a Pilot Officer South African AF and a Lieutenant Royal Navy.
In some ways confusion is understandable. 422 Squadron was formed just a few weeks earlier and most of its staff were from the RCAF but personnel from a number of other services were represented. Because of the Canadian connection it was often known as 422 "Tomahawk" Sqn. The first CO - Sqn Ldr Keyes - arrived at Loch Erne, Northern Ireland, in July 1942 to find some airmen but no operational aircraft. He arranged to "borrow" 7 Saunders Roe Lerwick flying boats, which had been withdrawn from RAF service, so that the Sqn could commence a training programme. The aircraft had been withdrawn because of its poor service record - of the 21 built, 10 were lost in accidents. The following picture comes from the Imperial War Museum:
Early in August the Sqn received the first 3 aircraft of its own - 3 Catalinas. The Catalina was an American designed Flying Boat (later an Amphibian). Over 3,300 were built, mainly in the USA & Canada. By 27th August these 3 aircraft (FP103, FP105 & FP106 ) had been converted for operations. Almost immediately the aircraft were put to work. On 30th August FP103, followed by FP106 on 31st and then FP105 on 1st September all departed for the Murmansk/Arkhangelsk area of Russia. They followed approximately the same route via Sullom Voe and the aircraft were listed as carrying crews, passengers and cargo. After arrival they carried out a number of missions in the North Cape area. On the 7th September Catalina FP103, flown by Lieutenant Honey RN, with Pilot Officer Patience as the co-pilot, left Graznya near Murmansk on the long flight back to Sullom Voe. The Catalina normally carried a crew of 9 or 10, including Pilots, a Navigator, Flight Engineer, Radio Operator, Air Gunners and later versions had a Radar Operator. From other accounts it is possible that the Flight Engineer on FP103 was a chap called Bill McEwen. The Operational Record Book for 422 RCAF Squadron mentions just one passenger on this trip, Lieutenant Ryan RN.
On the 8th just north of Shetland FP103 ran into very bad weather and Lt Honey decided to climb in the hope of avoiding the worst of it. After gaining some height the aircraft entered a spin and it was seen that the ailerons were damaged and the machine had lost a lot of fabric. The pilot had little option but to put the aircraft down on the sea as soon as he could. There was no time to lower the floats and Lt Honey was fortunate enough to be able to see the Point of Gruid on the south coast of Whalsay. Because of the damage he had limited control of the aircraft but he was able to drive the flying boat onto the rocks. The account then says that crew and the passenger were able to assemble on land unscathed after a flight of about 18 hours.
The location too was fortunate. The RAF Clett Domestic Site was just ¾mile away - the crew and passenger were looked after there whilst a High Speed Launch was summoned from Lerwick. In those days the RAF also had a rum ration for emergency use and I think it highly likely that a few tots were issued!
However, there are embellishments in other versions of the story which mention another passenger or even two more. These accounts refer to one or two Russian Diplomats carrying documents. In the words of Cpl Wilf Tetley, who looked after the people who came ashore, "The whole crew, about 9 of a crew, and 2 Russian envoys with them, they came up to the camp and I fed them and then there was an MTB came and picked them up". This is first hand evidence and not hearsay - Tetley was a cook and had been one of the first servicemen to arrive at Clett in the previous March. Perhaps the "2 Russian envoys" were actually one Russian and the listed passenger (Lt Ryan RN), in civilian clothes. There is no mention of a Russian involvement in the 422 Squadron Operations Record Book but it was a new Squadron, was widely dispersed, perhaps less interested in civilian passengers and had just lost an aircraft - the records are quite likely to be incomplete.
The weather and seas soon removed the wreckage of the Catalina, but not before a few items were salvaged by one or two servicemen and locals. In days to come some young ladies would be seen sporting rings or broaches fashioned from Perspex or metal from the aircraft and it is rumoured that a few aircraft instruments were rescued as trophies.
Whalsay Heritage Centre
Babie Reid & Family
Unst Heritage Centre
Shetland Museum and Archive Photo Library
Flying Cats - The Catalina Aircraft in WWII by Andrew Hendrie
Royal Canadian Air Force Personnel in Canada Involved in Radar During WWII - Robert Quirk
SD 0458 Photographic Record of Radar Stations (Ground), August 1943
Air 27/1830 - Operations Record Book 422 Sqn RCAF
Air 26 - 092 HQ 70 Wg Operations Record Book
Air 26 - 094 HQ 70 Wg Operations Record Book Appendices
AIR 26 - 095 HQ 70 Wg Operations Record Book
Air 26 - 100 HQ 71 Operations Record Book