Shetland was to hold an intriguing position during the course of World War II.
In April, 1940, the Germans invaded and occupied Norway, and Shetland's proximity meant there was a real possibility that it could become an alternative entry point for a German attack upon Britain. Britain's military authorities recognised this threat, and special attention was given to Shetland's defences. Classed as a Restricted Area, an official pass was required by anyone wishing to enter or leave.
To counter the threat, soldiers were landed by troopship to form a garrison. Initially accommodated in tents, they were eventually housed in Nissen huts built in and around Lerwick, Scalloway, Sumburgh and Sullom Voe. Over 600 Norwegian and 1,200 British servicemen were stationed there, and at the peak of operations, some 20,000 servicemen outnumbered locals. The terrain and environment, like many other Scottish areas, meant that many training roles could be provided for the troops. The main defence effort was supplemented by volunteers of the local Shetland Home Guard, who guarded areas such as the pier and docks.
Defence measures taken included the protection of important buildings by thousands of sandbags, the installation of artillery around Lerwick, to protect the harbour, and anti-aircraft batteries throughout the area.
Runways established at Sumburgh and Scatsta were developed to become large RAF bases, with both Spitfires and Hurricanes being posted to defend Shetland from air attack. Sullom Voe was to become a base for flying boats.
From November, 1939, records tell of six Heinkel bombers dropping eight bombs on the north harbour in Lerwick. The bombs missed their target (shipping in the harbour), but the bomber's machine-guns set fire to a flying boat moored there. Had the bombs found their target, the result could have been catastrophic, as three trawlers moored there were fully loaded with depth charges.
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