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Hatston (Kirkwall)

Also known as: Hatston Aerodrome / Hatston Industrial Estate / HMS Sparrowhawk / HMS Tern II / Kirkwall Airport / RNAS Hatston
County: Orkney
Current Status: Ferry terminal vehicle parking area / Industry / Open land
Date: 21 December 1934 - May 1948; subsequent minor use
Current Use: Disused
Used By: RAF / FAA (main user) / Civil / US Navy
Landing Surface Types: Unpaved, later paved
Prominent People: E.E. Fresson
Aircraft Roles: Airliner / General aviation (minor use) / Maritime patrol / Naval aviation (main role)

The site at Hatston was used by civil flying pioneer Captain Ernest E. Fresson from the second half of 1931. However, it was not until the mid-1930s that the airfield achieved any form of permanence for visiting airliners and only then through temporary operating licences. It was Fresson that recommended the place to be used by the Admiralty at the start of the Second World War. The airfield officially opened as HMS Sparrowhawk under Fleet Air Arm control in October 1939. Hatston was probably the first airfield in Britain to be built with hard runways, four of which were constructed.

During the Second World War, the airfield was occupied by and used by a large number of Fleet Air Arm units. Many of these were carrier-based aircraft from ships visiting the nearby naval base of Scapa Flow. Aircraft types to fly from Hatston included Fairey Swordfish, Blackburn Skuas, Blackburn Rocs, Supermarine Seafires and many more.

An example of one of the units based at the airfield was No 700 Squadron, formed at the airfield in early 1940. This unit operated Supermarine Walrus amphibians plus Fairey Seafox and Fairey Swordfish floatplanes, acting as a pool and headquarters for aircraft based on battleships and cruisers. Another long-term resident was Fleet Requirements Unit No 771 Squadron which resided from September 1939 until as with No 700 Squadron moving to Twatt in the summer of 1942.

Aircraft flying from Hatston made a significant contribution to the war when they destroyed the German cruiser Konigsberg during the invasion of Norway. Blackburn Skuas from Nos 800 and 803 Squadrons were the aircraft to inflict the loss on 10 April 1940, the first sinking of a capital ship during the war. On 22 May 1941, it was a Martin Maryland of No 771 Squadron flying from Hatston that discovered that the famous German battleship, the Bismarck, had left the safety of the Norwegian fjord that it had been anchored in. As a result of this intelligence, the ship was severely damaged and scuttled by her crew a week later following a major battle with Royal Navy aircraft and ships in the Atlantic Ocean.

In addition to the Fleet Air Arm, the United States Navy operated several squadrons from Hatston, arriving in April 1942. Aircraft types used included Douglas TBD Devastators, Grumman F4F Wildcats and Vought SB2U Vindicators.

After the war, the airfield became Kirkwall’s civil airport. However, it was eventually decided that the runways were not long enough for the larger aircraft operated by British European Airlines (BEA) to land safely and nearby Grimsetter was chosen instead. The airport therefore officially closed in 1948, although the Orkney Flying Club did use the site in a minor capacity during the 1950s.

Hatston Industrial Estate now occupies a large part of the site. Most of the runways and airfield buildings have now been demolished although an access road for the industrial estate now follows the path of the main runway. The nearby Hatston Pier has become Scotland’s longest commercial deep-water berth to further assist marine energy firms.


The following organisations are either based at, use and/or have at least potentially significant connections with the airfield (as at 01/09/2011):

  • A1 Car Hire
  • Andrew Sinclair
  • Bartons Scrapyard
  • Birsay Farmers Ltd
  • C Gregg
  • Croneys Crescent
  • Dunberry Marine
  • Hatston Motors
  • J W Gray & Co
  • Kirkwall and St Ola Community Council
  • Kirkwall GVTS
  • Knowles Food Services Ltd
  • Northern Isles Freightways Ltd
  • Olsons
  • Orkney Aggregates Limited
  • Orkney Auction Mart Ltd
  • Robertsons
  • SEPA (Orkney)

Main unit(s) present:

  • No 254 Sqn
  • No 700 Sqn
  • No 701 Sqn
  • No 712 Sqn
  • No 746 Sqn
  • No 771 Sqn
  • No 800 Sqn
  • No 801 Sqn
  • No 802 Sqn
  • No 803 Sqn
  • No 804 Sqn
  • No 806 Sqn
  • No 807 Sqn
  • No 809 Sqn
  • No 810 Sqn
  • No 811 Sqn
  • No 812 Sqn
  • No 813 Sqn
  • No 814 Sqn
  • No 816 Sqn
  • No 817 Sqn
  • No 818 Sqn
  • No 819 Sqn
  • No 820 Sqn
  • No 821 Sqn
  • No 822 Sqn
  • No 823 Sqn
  • No 824 Sqn
  • No 825 Sqn
  • No 826 Sqn
  • No 827 Sqn
  • No 828 Sqn
  • No 829 Sqn
  • No 830 Sqn
  • No 831 Sqn
  • No 832 Sqn
  • No 833 Sqn
  • No 835 Sqn
  • No 836M Flight
  • No 837 Sqn
  • No 837D Flight
  • No 840 Sqn
  • No 841 Sqn
  • No 842 Sqn
  • No 845 Sqn
  • No 846 Sqn
  • No 848 Sqn
  • No 852 Sqn
  • No 853 Sqn
  • No 856 Sqn
  • No 860 Sqn
  • No 878 Sqn
  • No 880 Sqn
  • No 881 Sqn
  • No 882 Sqn
  • No 883 Sqn
  • No 884 Sqn
  • No 885 Sqn
  • No 887 Sqn
  • No 888 Sqn
  • No 890 Sqn
  • No 891 Sqn
  • No 893 Sqn
  • No 894 Sqn
  • No 896 Sqn
  • No 898 Sqn
  • No 899 Sqn
  • No 1770 Sqn
  • No 1771 Sqn
  • No 1820 Sqn
  • No 1840 Sqn
  • No 1841 Sqn
  • No 1842 Sqn
  • Orkney Flying Club
  • Scottish Airways
 IWM (A 9055).jpg

Fairey Swordfish lined up on the tarmac at Hatston being loaded with dummy torpedoes, March 1942. © IWM (A 9055)

 IWM (A 9374).jpg

In the foreground with wings folded are US Devastator torpedo bombers, just landing is a Vought SB2U Vindicator scout bomber, April 1942. © IWM (A 9374)


An aerial view of the airfield and pier, taken from the north-west, 24 September 2008. © Crown Copyright: Historic Environment Scotland. Licensor


Aerial view of the airfield and industrial estate from the south, 24 September 2008. © Crown Copyright: Historic Environment Scotland. Licensor


Aerial view of Warness Park at Hatston, looking east-south-east, 18 July 2012. © Crown Copyright: Historic Environment Scotland. Licensor

IWM (A 9015).jpg

Fairey Swordfish aircraft taxiing along the tarmac to take off for an exercise with dummy torpedoes, March 1942. © IWM (A 9015)

IWM (A 9039).jpg

Supermarine Walrus seaplanes at Hatston, March 1942. © IWM (A 9039)

IWM (A 9040).jpg

A Fairey Swordfish being brought into its hangar at Hatston, March 1942. © IWM (A 9040)

IWM (A 9049).jpg

Sunday Divisions at Hatston. In the background is a Fairey Swordfish, March 1942. © IWM (A 9049)

IWM (A 9114).jpg

Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS) radio mechanics fitting wireless apparatus, 26 May 1942. © IWM (A 9114)

IWM (A 9363).jpg

An Amercian Curtis SOC-3 Seagull leaving its hangar, watched by US and British sailors at Hatston during the Second World War. © IWM (A 9363)

IWM (A 9367).jpg

A British Naval officer is shown over a new American Vought SB2U Vindicator scout bomber while in the background one of the same aircraft being repaired by US mechanics, April 1942. © IWM (A 9367)

IWM (A 9382).jpg

Bristol Beaufort torpedo bombers being loaded with dummy torpedoes for training at Hatston during the Second World War. © IWM (A 9382)


Aerial view looking over Kirkwall with Hatston in the background, looking north-west, 3 June 1955. © Crown Copyright: Historic Environment Scotland. Licensor


A Second World War pillbox at Hatston, 29 May 1996. © Crown Copyright: Historic Environment Scotland. Licensor


View of machine shops at Hatston, 26 May 1996. © Crown Copyright: Historic Environment Scotland. Licensor


Wooden huts at Hatston, 26 May 1996. © Crown Copyright: Historic Environment Scotland. Licensor


A wooden shed at Hatston, 26 May 1996. © Crown Copyright: Historic Environment Scotland. Licensor


View of a dispersal bay at Hatston, 24 May 1996. © Crown Copyright: Historic Environment Scotland. Licensor


A Luftwaffe aerial photograph of Hatston from 1940. © Historic Environment Scotland (Luftwaffe: Aerial Reconnaissance (Scotland)). Licensor

Hatston industrial estate, 2016. Courtesy of Graham Johnston



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