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When the bombs fell: The Orkney air raid

The bombed-out cottage of Isa MacLeod at Bridge of Waithe, Stenness – Sphere Magazine

By Patricia Long

The little parish of Stenness suffered the worst effects of the German bombing raid on 16 March 1940 but was not the only part of Orkney to be attacked…

An extract from W. S. Hewison, This Great Harbour Scapa Flow, 1985: “The enemy bombers came in from the east as darkness began to fall on Saturday evening, 16 March. Intelligence reports later put the number at 14 or 15 although some estimates were as high as 35 – it was difficult to make an accurate count as some of them dived out of the twilight while others made high-level attacks…

“Their targets were the Fleet in Scapa and Hatston airfield (HMS Sparrowhawk) on Kirkwall Bay, with the attack starting at 7.45 pm and lasting a noisy, confused and hectic three-quarters of an hour.

“The main attack on the Fleet was by eight aircraft in line-astern but breaking formation over the Flow itself as they selected their individual targets.

“The raid on Hatston was by five or six bombers flying fairly low. A total of nearly 100 HE and incendiary bombs were dropped on land, quite apart from those which fell in the sea, and there was no question this time of the German bomb-aimers forbearing to unleash their missiles at land-based targets.

“30 bombs were dropped around Hatston where they did little damage and another 50 at the completely innocuous Brig of Waithe…

“There was some indiscriminate machine-gun fire from a few of the bombers, as well as firing down searchlight beams. The blockships in Holm Sound were also bombed and machine-gunned, apparently in the mistaken belief that they were anchored merchant ships…

“And once again the old Iron Duke, having been patched up and moved to Longhope [after being damaged in the first raid of the war on 17 October] was bombed for the second time with, however, little damage. Much more serious was the attack on the cruiser Norfolk which was hit and also holed by a near miss…

This preview ends here. To read the full captivating story from Patricia Long, visit her blog on www.aboutorkney.com

Patricia Long is a tourist guide based in Stenness, with a particular interest in social history.

The full article is also available in the April 1 edition of The Orcadian.