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St Kilda Spy

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The St Kilda Spy is a fanciful story circulated by the media in February 2014, following the publication of new research by the National Trust for Scotland, while refurbishing the St Kilda gun emplacement.

During 1913, a German radio engineer named Gustav Flick was sent to St Kilda by Marconi. His job was to install a pair of 75 foot radio masts which served a radio station located on the main island of Hirta.

Flick left the island some months prior to the star of World War I, in January 1914, when a nurse who travelled with him reportedly said, "I never saw such joy in my life as in that boy’s face when he got off the island."[1]

When World War I finally broke out on 28 July 1914, the radio station on Hirta became a wireless telegraph station for the Royal Navy, and was defended by a garrison of around 10 sailors, armed with two Webley revolvers and 12 Lee Enfield rifles.

Flick was not a spy

Given that Flick was sent to St Kilda before the outbreak of war, was carrying out his normal work for employer Marconi, and also left the island months before war was declared, his description as a 'spy' is fanciful at best, and simply wrong at worst. Unless the German Navy employed psychics, it could not have sent Flick to the island as a spy - the war had not started, events which triggered it had yet to take place, and the Royal Navy was not (could not) be carrying out war related operation in the Hebrides.

Wile it is true that he (and his employer) was well aware of the radio installation, the knowledge was not a secret, and the subsequent shelling by U-90 of the area where the radio station and masts were located did not take place until May 1918, so the suggestion that he was a 'spy' is not well founded. The Royal Navy would not even have been operating in the Hebrides when Flick was there, and Naval activity would only begin in the area once war had been declared months after his departure in 1914.

The island was attacked by German submarine U-90 in May 1918, and the vessel’s commander was polite enough to advise the island’s inhabitants to take cover before he started shelling.

George Geddes, a historian for the trust, said: “The widespread shelling seems to reflect the fact there were two radio masts by the factor’s house, and also that the Germans thought other buildings were a power house or barracks.”

Two boats and a few houses were damaged in the raid, and a few days later the crew of the U-90 stole seven sheep from North Rona, another island in the North Atlantic.

- How Herr Flick’s attempts to sabotage the war effort in St Kilda failed.[2]

As a result of the raid, the St Kilda gun emplacement was installed on the island a few months later.

References

1 Herr Flick — the spy of St Kilda | The Times Retrieved 26/02/2014.

2 How Herr Flick’s attempts to sabotage the war effort in St Kilda failed | Deadline News Retrieved 26/02/2014.

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