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Skaw, radar station

A Scheduled Monument in North Isles, Shetland Islands

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Latitude: 60.816 / 60°48'57"N

Longitude: -0.777 / 0°46'37"W

OS Eastings: 466630

OS Northings: 1215405

OS Grid: HP666154

Mapcode National: GBR S0F4.VZ6

Mapcode Global: XHF70.BD4P

Entry Name: Skaw, radar station

Scheduled Date: 31 October 2012

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM13097

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: 20th Century Military and Related: Radar station

Location: Unst

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: North Isles

Traditional County: Shetland


The monument comprises the remains of a Second World War Chain Home radar station. The station is spread over two sites, a main and a reserve site, with over 50 buildings and structures reflecting its core early warning function and with supporting infrastructure and domestic blocks. The radar complex is the furthest north of its type in the United Kingdom. It is located on rough grazing land over two headlands (Lamba Ness and Blue Jibs) at the northeast corner of Unst.

This extensive complex includes a variety of concrete and brick buildings and structures, some of which are heavily protected with blast walls. The site includes four key elements: buildings and structures for signal receiving and transmitting; defensive structures built to protect the complex; supporting infrastructure to service the radar function; and domestic buildings to house the military personnel stationed here. The reserve site, to the north of the main complex, comprises the essential components for transmission, reception and defence only. The main complex covers an area of Lamba Ness approximately 1800m long by 450m wide. The reserve site has a more compact footprint covering an area approximately 200m long by 200m wide.

The area to be scheduled comprises two irregular-shaped polygons and includes the remains described above and an area around them within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment may survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. Specifically excluded from the scheduled area are the above-ground elements of a modern transmission mast, its anchor points, cabling and cable channelling and associated maintenance cabin, the above-ground elements of an electricity transmission line and its anchor points, the above-ground elements of all modern farm buildings, the above-ground elements of a small building to the immediate north of the building known as 'the engine house', all modern boundary features not associated with the original function of the site, all cattle grids, the above-ground elements of interpretative signage and the uppermost surface of the metalled access track, to allow for their maintenance.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

The monument's cultural significance can be expressed as follows:

Intrinsic characteristics

This is a remarkably well-preserved military complex dating to the early 1940s. Its function was to warn the military authorities of the position, course and speed of aircraft observed in the radar's transmission area. The eastern edge of the main site was where the technical buildings and structures were erected: the receiving and transmitting masts and buildings. The masts here were over 100m tall, while the processing rooms were heavily reinforced to survive direct hits from airborne ordnance. Only the metal anchor points and concrete plinths survive from the masts, but the transmission and receiving blocks are remarkably intact with several fixtures in situ and most of their structure intact. The support elements were positioned further inland and included the powerhouse, guardrooms and anti-aircraft positions, among other structures. These tend to survive in a ruined state, but with their individual footprints and lower structure clearly visible. The brickwork and brick manufacturer (ETNA and Edinburgh brickworks) are also clearly visible. Lastly, the domestic part of the site at its western edge includes all the elements necessary to sustain the RAF workforce. These include the accommodation blocks, ammunition stores, ablution units, cookhouse, decontamination building, air raid shelters, medical block, motor transport housing, a cinema and an outdoor boxing ring. They tend to survive as the low courses and foundations of individual buildings, or as simple concrete pads marking the building's outline. In many cases the anchor points used to secure the roof structure (against extreme weather conditions) also survive, and in one case, the decontamination block, the building is roofed and generally intact.

This is a very coherent monument which has survived as an intact complex. It had a short lifespan during World War Two and reflects the functional and technical nature of Britain's early warning radar network.

Contextual characteristics

The complex at Skaw is part of the wider network of early warning radar stations developed in the 1930s and laid out along the coastline of Britain. By the end of 1945 there were over 300 such sites across Britain providing early warning reports for the overall air and sea defence of the nation. Skaw was one of the first batch of stations to be built (known as Chain Home) and was operational in 1941. It was one of approximately 17 that were built in Scotland and it provided radar cover for approaching airborne targets up to 100 miles away. It could not, however, detect low-flying or seaborne targets. This was a later development (known as Chain Home Low and Coastal Defence Chain Home) and, together with ten other radar sites in Shetland, reports from these stations allowed the military authorities to observe and intercept enemy craft attempting to cross or penetrate territorial waters, airspace or the coastline.

Following the German invasion of Norway in 1940, this early warning ability was seen as crucial for the defence of the wider United Kingdom and the development of the network, including the complex at Skaw, was brought forward as the perceived threat of invasion from Norway increased. Construction at Skaw took twice as long as many mainland counterparts because of the extreme conditions and remoteness of the location. Over 15,000 tonnes of material were transported by sea and landed at nearby Haroldswick to build the complex, which was the northernmost site in the whole Chain Home network. It was an important strategic reporting station because of the position of Shetland between mainland Europe and the Atlantic to the west.

Over 100 aircraft observations were recorded in 1941 by radar at Skaw and the complementary Chain Home Low station at Saxa Vord. Some of these targets were not intercepted and, as a result, the bombing of various targets in Shetland was successful. Skaw itself bears the (surviving) scars of two such attacks.

The complex at Skaw has an important part to play in the story of the defence of the United Kingdom during World War Two. It is a good representative of it class and an important part of the mid 20th-century landscape of the Shetland Islands.

National Importance

This monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to make a significant addition to the understanding of the past, in particular the advance of radar technology and the development of an early warning system protecting the sea and airspace around the United Kingdom. It survives in good condition as a complete example of the technical, support and domestic buildings and structures necessary to provide an early warning reporting function. The loss of the monument would significantly diminish our future ability to appreciate and understand the scale of the efforts employed on the home front in the defence of Britain.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland




Brown, I, nd, Air Ministry Experimental Station, Skaw. Typescript papers from the Historical Radar Archive.

Dobinson, C, 2010, Building Radar. Forging Britain's early-warning chain, 1935-1945. Methuen, London. 404, 410.

Guy, J A, 1995, A survey of the 20th-Century Defences of the Shetland Islands. Circulated typescript report.

Redfern, N I, 1998, Twentieth-Century fortifications in the United Kingdom. V I, Introduction and Sources.

Redfern, N I, 1998, Twentieth-Century fortifications in the United Kingdom. V 4, Site gazetteers: Scotland.

Radar in Shetland (D50/5/11); Communications in connection with Radar (D50/5/12); Communications and control (D50/5/13) - Papers from the Major Rollo Archive held by Shetland Museum and Archives.

Waters, D, 2006, Radar at Unst, 1941-1943 in, The New Shetlander, 236, 8-25

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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