Tuesday, 29 June 2010

AOC in C Strike Command Visit 29 Mar 1989

In March 1989 Air Chief Marshal Sir Patrick Hine GCB, FRAeS, CBIM and a party visitors spent the day at RAF Saxa Vord. The party consisted of:-

The ACM accompanied by his ADC Flt Lt Hedley-Smith
Brig Gen Fryer (USAF) accompanied by his wife Mrs Fryer
Maj Hansen (R Danish AF Liaison Officer)
Air Cdre Joan Hopkins from HQ Strike Command – was kinown as “Auntie Joan” and well-respected by everyone who worked with her and by many others who came ito contact with her. Sadly she has recently passed away but will be fondly remembered by many.

The party was met at Scatsta by the Stn Cdr Sqn Ldr Peter Hunter.

Whilst on the Domestic Site the AOC in C officially opened the new Sergeants’ Mess.
The party were given a tour of the Top Site where they were also accompanied by the S Eng O – Sqn Ldr Tuck and Mrs Tuck.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Battle of Britain and Remembrance Day Parades (updated 20 Oct 2010)

From the opening of RAF Saxa Vord until very late on in the life of the Unit servicemen participated in Battle of Britain and Remembrance Day Parades – the only exceptions being years when there was insufficient manpower to be able to release staff. The larger element participated in the main Lerwick Parades but there was usually a small representation at the  Baltasound Remembrance Day Service. I have attached a few pictures below. (Left Click on pictures to enlarge).
I’m grateful to Lez Fishman, Mike McDonald & Harry Cairns for the list of people in the picture above they have recognised:-
Flt Bob Hyde
WO Bowie?
Row 1 Left - Lez Fishman, Middle - Farquhar?, Right – Patrick Bunn
Row 2 Left – Jimmy Haswell
Row 3 ?
Row 4 Right - Johnny Larkman

Row 5 Right - Larry Bain
Row 6 ?
Row 7 Left – Matt Drake
Row 8 Middle - Keith Phillips
Row 9 Right - Mike Harbord
Row 10 Left – Mike Macdonald (young & handsome he says) – Right - possibly Dennis Bright
Row 11 Right – Sgt Sandy Provan?

Sullom Voe
 In 1997 there was a special Remembrance Service at Sullom Voe, which had been a Coastal Command Centre during WWII. Sunderland and Catalina flying boats were based there and carried out extensive operations mainly on escort duties and against U Boats in the North Atlantic. Many aircrew from overseas (particularly from Norway & Canada) took part in these missions. 330 & 333 Sqns, manned by Norwegians flying Sunderlands were based at Sullom and 413 Sqn, manned by Canadians, flying Catalinas carried out some operations from the base. A number of overseas nationals were also integrated within RAF Sqns. An airfield was also built at Scatsa, close to Sullom, to house fighters whose main mission was to protect the Flying Boat Base.
More than 50 years after the end of the war a special gathering, with the unveiling of a monument, took place. Many veterans, including a number from overseas, returned to Shetland for the occasion. RAF Saxa Vord was represented by the Station Commander, who laid one of a number of wreathes, and by a small Guard of Honour.

Monday, 21 June 2010

The Top Site from the Air (& Hermaness) - Added to on 4 Jul 2010

The airborne photos in this section were probably taken from helicopters or a Loganair Islander. The section also includes 3 plans of the Top Site at different stages of it’s development. There is also an enlargement from a tourist photo taken from Hermaness in 1965 and a photo taken this month from west of the perimeter fence.
I am hoping that someone reading this will be able to help answer a couple of questions about the Top Site. The first picture is part of an Air Ministry plan of the radar area from the 1950’s which was sent to me by Bob Jenner. I have marked some of the major structures and I am particularly interested in the 2 gantries shown to the west & north–west of the Type 80.

The second picture is a long range photo taken by a tourist on her way to see puffins in 1965, soon after the Type 80 radome was finished and soon after the Type 14 was switched off for the last time. The 2 gantries can be seen, one either side of the T80. Although the picture is not great it looks as if there may have been equipment on both of the gantries. The Type 14 must have been on one of them but I don’t know which or what, if anything, was on the other. The gantry to the north-west of the Type 80 site is still standing and is shown in the third picture (taken this month –Jun 10). If anyone can help with information about the early life of these gantries, an email to: gordon.carle@gmail.com would be much appreciated.
The next photo shows the radar site at the beginning of the major reconstruction phase when the Type 80 and Type 13 were finally replaced. The site plan following the photo shows the top site as it would have been in about 1979, just after the redevelopment.

The next plan shows the top site as it was in 1988.

The following photos were all taken late in December 1991. There were severe gales on the 18th and 19th December and some damage to the site was caused. Problems with radome panels are visible in a few of the pictures and it is thought that these weaknesses were a major contribution to the destruction of much of the equipment with the New Year Storm a few days later.

I have put extracts from 2 of the above pictures below. I am very interested in the circular depression on the Burrafirth side of the old T80 structure. It must be at least 8 feet deep on the eastern side and had been fenced off by the time these pictures were taken. It is not visible on earlier photos of the site and nothing seems to have occupied that part of the site since. As a guess it could be an early attempt at building a dome for the Type 93 before deciding to use the base of the old Type 80 dome for the new radar. If anyone is aware of the story behind this feature I would be pleased to hear from them: gordon.carle@hotmail.com

Addition on 4 Jul 2010. I have just come back from a trip to Unst and whilst there did a circuit of the top site perimeter fence. It wasn’t possible to see right into the depression described above but there was enough on view to make it very unlikely that it was intended for the construction of a radome. The hole was too deep (over 6m below the surface on the HF200 dome side) and of course there were buildings above that height. Two concrete anchoring points could also be seen, one of which is shown in the picture below.

It is therefore likely that the site was intended for a communications mast or masts, though what for and whether or not anything was actually built is still a mystery to me.

Finally, although it doesn’t really belong, I have include what must have been one of the last photos of the TACAN site on Vallafield before the site was written off in the New Year 91/92 gales.


Sunday, 20 June 2010

The Domestic Site from the Air

The following pictures show a few shots of the Saxa Domestic Site from the Air. A couple of plans of the camp have also been included. I have tried to put them in chronological order but a certain amount of guesswork has been involved. I’m grateful to Bob Jenner who supplied some of the pictures.


Thursday, 17 June 2010

First Visit by AOC in C Strike Command – Oct 68

Strike Command was formed on the 1st April 1968 following the amalgamation of Bomber Command and Fighter Command. On 16 Oct 68 the first ever visit of the AOC in C took place. Air Marshal Sir Denis Spotswood’s RAF Pembroke was also the first aircraft to land on the new tarmac which had been recently laid at the Unst Airstrip. The visitor was met by the CO Sqn Ldr Jerrold (Jed) Le Cheminant (more usually known as “Chem”)
After a short tour around the Unit the AOC in C left 2 hours later. Sir Denis Spotswood was unusual in this period in reaching such high rank without attending Cranwell as a student. He went on to further promotion and was made Chief of Air Staff, becoming a Marshal of the Royal Air Force on his retirement. He died in 2001.


Thursday, 10 June 2010

Type 13

The Type 13 was designed during WWII and was introduced into service just before the end of the war. When RAF Saxa Vord was being planned it was envisaged that there would be up to 3 Type 13 Heightfinders and 3 separate sites were actually constructed to mount these radars. In the event only one Type 13 was installed.
It had a limited range compared to the Type 80 and was unable to operate in high winds but it was it was to be the only Height Finder for more than 20 years of Saxas operations. The Type 13 at Saxa was never to get a radome which made its wind limitations a frequent problem. The RAF must have purchased significant numbers of the various versions of this radar so that, unlike with some of the other radar equipment, spares seemed to be available fairly quickly. This was fortuitous as the Type 13 was damaged quite often by the elements.

The first 4 photos show the Type 13 as I like to remember it (working). Left click on pictures to enlarge.
In the pictures below I have included 2 photos of the exterior of the building which was used as the Type 13 Workshop and 3 photos showing the interior in the days after the Type 13 had been dismantled. These pictures were taken in 1983/84 when the building was being shared by the Coastguard and the Civilian Aviation Authority. I have included these pictures because the building may have more significance than most of the Type 13 operators and engineers realise. The building was probably built in 1941 as a blockhouse for the CHL (Chain Home Low) Radar site which was located at Saxa during WWII (thanks to Bob Jenner for this information).
The final photos show the Type 13 at the end of its operational life just before decommissioning. These pictures were taken just after the radar was damaged by high winds on on 16 Sep 78.