shed and two windbreaks at RNAS Caldale
the two, a small hollow situated some two and a half miles
west of Kirkwall, provided protection from the prevailing
winds. With the exception of some low barbed wire fences
to keep the sheep in local fields by the farmers on the
islands, the surrounding countryside was clear of any obstacles
for a considerable distance, and thus proving suitable for
was suitable dry level ground for the foundations of an
airship shed. Other than the exposure to the prevailing
wind, one of the other drawbacks about Orkney was that,
surprisingly for Scotland, was the lack of a water supply
during the summer months. It was noted that the water was
almost non existent, the only source of water being a stream
used by a local whisky distillery nearer the shore.
noted that unless an airship base could be set up before
September of 1916, then it would not be able to be of operational
use, due to the strong winds which tend to occur in the
autumn and winter months on Orkney The Commander in Chief
of the Grand Fleet informed Commander Roland Hunt, that
he was of the opinion that if a Submarine Scout rather than
a Coastal Class shed could be used, then it would be operational
sooner, as being smaller, it could be arrested within 28
days of of the arrival of the materials and supplies. It
was also discussed that rigid airship sheds should not be
placed this far north, as it was deemed the fleet would
not operate in more northerly latitudes. It was noted that
if there would be engagement of the enemy, then it would
be around the Firth of Forth, which already had protection
from the air.
Director of Air Services arranged for the dispatch of a
portable Submarine Scout shed be sent at short notice to
Caldale, and a month later in May 1916, the airship station
Caldale was commissioned. Due to the tight timescale, with
the deadline of September 1916, it was suggested that a
Coastal shed, which was due to be delivered to Muldros in
Greece, could be reassigned to Caldale. However this part
of the plan was delayed and the shed was sent to Muldros.
The first ships to arrive at RNAS Caldale were Submarine
Scout S.S.41 and S.S.43, which had been dispatched from
RNAS Kingsnorth in Kent, sited on the Hoo Peninsular, at
the mouth of the River Medway. As with many airships at
the time, the delivery of the new ships was by rail, and
then by ship, then to be assembled and inflated in the new
shed. The new ships arrived in late July 1916, and the first
ship to make a flight from the newly commissioned station
was the S.S. 41 on 20th August. 1916. On 24th August, the
second ship, S.S.43 made it's first successful flight. It
was an impressive feat that that site be located in April,
and by the end of August of the same year, a shed had been
erected the two ships were operational from the new base.
onset of the winter months proved troublesome as had been
expected for the RNAS Caldale. It was reported to the Admiralty
in November 1918, that very high winds and heave rain had
been experienced, and these were sweeping through the shed.
Doors had not been fitted in time and it was not possible
to re-inflate the ships as at the wind was sweeping through
the shed. The rain was also soaking the aeroplanes which
had also been stored in the shed, despite efforts to protect
them with deck cloths. Some work had begun on the Coastal
Patrol shed, but this had been destroyed by wind and needed
to be cleared away before progress could be started again.
The hydrogen main and electrical circuits had been delayed
due to the non delivery of material. One other thing which
hampered the construction process was that as the site was
so far north, in the winter months with the clocks changing
back in October, it meant that it was noted that it was
barely daylight by 8:00am in the morning and dark again
by 4:30pm, thus cutting down the productive working hours.
Due to this delay on the Coastal shed, and the winter weather,
it was decided to suspend any airship flying operations,
and the RNAS base was now put on a "care and maintenance"
basis only for the winter months.
situation improved in the spring of 1917, and operations
resumed in the April. A submarine bomb target had been laid
out on the ground to offer target practice to the airship
crews. The Submarine Scout shed was nearing completion and
material had arrived at the docks for the erecting of the
second shed. Like with some of the other RNAS stations,
as they were often sited in remote coastal areas, getting
the materials from a railway station or from a nearby dock,
the last few miles always proved troublesome. The motor
lorry allocated to do the job, kept on breaking down, and
thus hampered the deliver of the materials. A light railway
assembled so that the last half mile could be delivered
from the dock without too many issues. In August, the onset
of fog, and also high winds limited th number of patrols
which could be flown by the Submarine Scout ships which
were based there.
of the new airship shed was assisted by 100 men from the
Grand Fleet, which was moored in Scapa Flow. The second
Coastal shed was finally completed in the end of 1917, and
the windbreaks were still being worked upon. Unusually for
an airship station there were six which had been erected
to provide as much shelter as possible.
in the latter part of 1917, firstly 26th November 1917,
the S.S.P.2 left Caldale on patrol, however the wind strengthened,
and after an hour the pilot decided to return to base. Shortly
on this turn for home, the ship signaled that it's engine
had failed and it was going to make a forced landing. A
station lookout later reported that he had seen the S.S.P.2
come down in the sea, and explode off the Island of Westray
HMS Leopard, which had been in the vicinity could not trace
the wreckage or survivors. It's crew of 3 men, Flt Lt S.
Deveraux, AM1 A.E. Scott, and L.M. J Wilson (Wireless Operator)
were all lost.
another incident occurred. The S.S.P.4 left the base on
a night flight on the evening of 21st December 1917. After
an hour, it reported that it was snowing heavily and it
was attempting to return to the base. Over the next few
hours the airship reported that it could not make any headway
due to the wind. The crew requested that ships with searchlights
be sent to the area so they could determine their position.
After this last message, no further messages were received.
The remains of the S.S.P.4 were found on the Island of Westray
the next day. There were no signs of the crew consisting
of Flt. Cdr W. Horner, L.M Anthony and AM9 R.Behn.
winter weather caused the local roads to the base to become
blocked, and the lorry was unable to make deliveries. The
essential supplies were delivered to the base on sledges
pulled by ratings. By the end of 1917 only one Submarine
Scout ship remained, S.S.41. It had been deflated in the
shed for maintenance.
it was a consequence of the loss of the two airships in
the winter months, the Admiralty decided that the base be
closed on 22nd January 1918. This was not the end of the
story for RNAS Caldale. A short time later, the base was
reopened as a kite balloon station, which were manned balloons
which were towed behind warships to direct the gunfire of
After the Armistice, in November of 1918, the station again
was closed down as the use for either airships, or kite
balloons, were no longer required. By 1920, the base had
fallen in to disrepair and was derelict. During the World
War II, the what was left of the buildings on the base was
used house a vehicle repair yard, and to store barrage balloons.
Many of the building were brought back to good order to
make the watertight, and also make way for other buildings
needed for the Royal Naval Base at Scapa Flow.
both wars, the buildings have been demolished.
more information on the base, and some excellent pictures,
please visit the excellent historical research site Crashsite