1: Coastal Shed (220ft long 70ft Wide)
Submarine Scout Class Shed (150ft long 45ft wide
The northern Scottish islands
of the Orkney Islands were positioned perfectly for the
Grand Fleet based at a large safe inlet of Scapa Flow. It's
strategic importance meant that it's perfect position meant
the Grand Fleet could be deployed in to the northern entrance
to the North Sea and the Atlantic.
For aerial protection it was
decided that a RNAS airship base would need to be set up.
The challenges of this was that on the Orkney Islands, there
are few trees, which would mean very little in the way of
protection from the prevailing winds which would sweep over
the landscape from the North Atlantic. Most airship sites
were selected having natural sheltered positions from the
It was mid way through the First
World War, in April 1916 that Commander Roland Hunt was
sent to select a location for an airship base. Earlier Col.
Harris who was Commander of the Orkney Defenses, had scouted
out a number of locations on the island in the vicinity
of Scapa Flow. Harris had reported back that only two locations
would be suitable.
Of 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 airship operations.
There 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.
|| It was
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.
The 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 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.
The 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.
Construction 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
Unfortunalty 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
In December 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.
The 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.
Perhaps 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 the fleet.
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.
Since both wars, the buildings
have been demolished.
For more information on the base,
and some excellent pictures, please visit the excellent
historical research site Crashsite