WW1 RNAS/RAF Station

Researching RNAS, then RAF, Catfirth in the Shetland Isles. This station operational for last 6 months of WW1. Would be very grateful for any information, photographs, records, anecdotes. Have tried major museum archives, but very few records seem to exist.

The base still exists in part. Some concrete huts are still standing, while the wooden ones were sold off in the 1920s. The slipway and concrete standing are still there as well as some of the ammunition store and guardroom.

First flight was sometime in late May, early June 1918, was a Porte Baby no.9807, pilot was a Canadian, Lt Arnold B Massey. Would like to establish actual date, as the centenary of first flight to Shetland will be in 2018.


The base was opened in November 1917, and was transferred to the Royal Air Force when it was formed on 1 April 1918, the base was closed on 15 April 1919 and returned to open land.

300 (Flying Boat) Flight RAF was formed at Catfirth on 18 June 1918.

First flight in the week ended 11th July 1918. 9807?
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|Hello Topstop,

Thanks for your response. Regarding the first flight, I know Sturtivant & Page list 9807 as arriving at Catfirth by 11 July, but I think it must have arrived before that. I have a document from RAF HQ Stenness stating that Porte Boat 9807 was driven ashore in a gale at Catfirth on June 14th and was under repair.

Saying that, many thanks, I would be grateful for any info you might have on Catfirth. I have gleaned quite a lot about the base over the years, but it seems that most of the station documents were destroyed by bombing in WW2.

Thanks again........Finch.
This is what I do know about RAF Catfirth:-

The site was 90 acres and built by Air Department Construction Corps to house 445 men. Built initially by RNAS in November 1917, went under RAF control from 1st April 1918: No.300 Flight, No. 28 Operations Group, an offshoot of Houton Bay on Orkney. Northern Command HQ was at Stenness on Orkney. Base closed in April 1919.

Its purpose was to house and maintain seaplanes (flying boats) for anti-submarine patrols between Shetland and Fair Isle.

I know of 5 flying boats used at Catfirth: Porte (Baby) Boat no. 9807 was the first to arrive, flown in from RAF Killingholme, via Dundee and Houton Bay by Lt Arnold B Massey (1897-1984). He believed his was the first to ever flight to Shetland, as there was a reception committee to meet him, both military and civilian. I believe he arrived (alighted?) at Catfirth in the last week of May or first 2 weeks of June 1918. The plane was damaged in a gale on 14.6.18 while on the hardstanding, it was never repaired and scrapped at the end of the year. I don’t know the identities of the rest of Massey’s crew, but assume there was a co-pilot, a wireless operator and engineer, though there could have been a passenger or two from Houton Bay.

Porte Boat 9810 arrived at Lerwick and Catfirth 18.8.18, flown by Lt George Hodgson (1893-1983). Plane returned to Houton Bay at a later date.

Felixstowe F3 flying boats nos. 4405, 4407 and 4232 also at Catfirth. Last two used for patrols from 19.7.18-12.8.18, total of 69.5 hrs, no submarines seen. 4405 may have been used to fetch General Swann from Catfirth and return to Houton Bay, but aeroplane damaged hull while on Cat Firth on 25.7.18, so 2 pilots and general returned to Orkney on S.S. Vienna.

The Commanding Officer at Catfirth was Lieutenant-Colonel C.R. Finch Noyes, who had also been CO at RNAS Killingholme before it was handed over to the RAF and US Air Force. Knowing he was going from there to Catfirth he ensured he took the best men and pilots with him. He also had Porte Boats 9807 and 9810 fitted with 3 Rolls Royce Eagle VIII engines (2 tractor engines, one pusher).

Three of the pilots were Canadian: Lieutenants A. B Massey and G. R. Hodgson, with Captain H.A. Wilson.

The Catfirth base still exists, in part. The wooden huts were sold off in the 1920s, but 3 concrete ones are still standing, together with the coal and meat stores, the remains of the ammunition store with guardhouse, and the concrete slipway with concrete hardstanding.

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