Preparations for War

The Boom Slab - repairing the nets © The National Archives, ref. ADM116/5790

The Boom Slab – repairing the nets © The National Archives, ref. ADM116/5790


We pick up Hoy’s incredible story of involvement in the global narratives of WWII on 7th March 1936 when Germany, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler and the fascist right wing Nazi Party, contravened the Treaty of Versailles and remilitarised the industrial Rhineland area of Germany. This dramatic action reawakened concerns of renewed hostilities between the European powers and as a consequence the British Government began to re-evaluate its defensive capabilities. The Admiralty conducted surveys of its naval anchorages and by June plans had been drawn up for the laying of anti-submarine boom nets across the main entrances into Scapa Flow and an expansion scheme was initiated to increase the oil fuel storage capacity at Lyness previously established during World War I (TNA: ADM116/5790 p.159).

The conversion of these plans from paper to reality was a slow one and it wasn’t until German troops marched into the northern and western Sudetenland border regions of Czechoslovakia in March 1938 that the pace began to quicken. June saw the arrival of Naval personnel and boom laying vessels in Scapa Flow at what was now designated a Category A Defended Port. Local recruitment also began by the hurriedly reinstated Orkney Territorial Army, advertising for men to serve in two heavy anti-aircraft gun batteries to be built overlooking Lyness (The Orcadian, 12/5/1938 p.6). The Boom Defence Office set up its net construction and laying operations at Lyness; their workshops, hangar-like shed, launching trough (NMRS: ND39SW 20.05) and concrete assembly slab (which still spans a large portion of the Lyness wharf) forming some of the first purpose built military installations to be erected on Hoy in preparation for WWII.

WWII Hoy Then & Now - Boom Defence Office, Lyness

WWII Hoy Then & Now – Boom Defence Office, Lyness


Owing to severe shortages of enlisted manpower, most of the pre-war military construction work on Hoy fell to the Civil Engineer in Chief’s Department who oversaw a vast array of civil engineering contractors including Messrs, Balfour Beatty, Baldry, Yerburgh & Hutchison, Gibson & Co and Sir William Arrol & Co Ltd (TNA: ADM116/5790 p.159). By the end of 1938, Messrs and Balfour Beatty were progressing well with the fabrication of 12 above ground oil tanks (NMRS: ND39SW 20.02) and associated pumping infrastructure (NMRS: ND39SW 20.01) and Messrs, Baldry and Yerburgh & Hutchison had begun the herculean task of constructing an underground oil fuel store (UOFS, NMRS: ND29SE 4) with a capacity of over 100,000 tons on Wee Fea (TNA: ADM116/5790 p.6). Civilian contracted engineering work continued on Hoy throughout the war years and a great many of the large structural archaeological sites that survival today stand as a testimony to the hard graft of the civilian workers who lived alongside the Navy in a menagerie of camps at Lyness.

In January 1939 Scapa Flow was designated Main Fleet Base for the British Home Fleet and the full land-based organisational infrastructure required for such a hub of Naval operations started to make its way north. In the ensuing months, a survey of Scapa Flow was conducted by a joint staff from the three services of the armed forces. The survey highlighted a woeful lack of protection for the Fleet from air and submarine attack whilst at anchor.


On 25th August 1939, 226 Battery, the Orkney raised Territorial Army Anti-Aircraft unit, moved across to Hoy and manned eight 4.5” Heavy Anti-Aircraft (HAA) guns overlooking Lyness (TNA: WO166/2507). Other than the Fleet’s own guns, the two half batteries at Ore (NMRS: ND39SW 43) and Rysa (NMRS: ND39NW 161), which represent the earliest examples of HAA gun batteries in Orkney, served as the only defence against air attack at the outbreak of hostilities on 3rd September 1939.


© Source: Lindsay, G.J. & Dobney, K. (2014). Legacies of Conflict: Hoy & Walls Wartime Heritage Project, Wartime Development Document. Island of Hoy Development Trust.


THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES OF THE UK (TNA), (1937-1946). ADM116/5790 Main Fleet Base – Scapa Flow: Inception, Development and History. Unpublished Archive Document.

THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES OF THE UK (TNA), (1939-1941). WO166/2507 226 HAA Battery War Diary. Unpublished Archive Document.

THE ORCADIAN, (12/5/1938). Territorial Army Activities. Kirkwall: The Orkney Press.


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