Welcome to Wick John O’Groats Airport
Once a Viking settlement, and one of the busiest herring fishing ports, and now home to the Castle of Mey and Old Pulteney whisky distillery
Wick John O’Groats Airport is nestled in the far north of the mainland of Scotland in Caithness and Sutherland and offer unspoilt natural surroundings within small, enterprising communities.
History of Wick John O’Groats Airport
Wick Airport is located north of the town of Wick in Caithness and was originally a originally a grass airfield used by Captain E. E. Fresson’s Highland Airways Ltd (later Scottish Airways Ltd). From 1933 until 1939, when it was taken over by the Air Ministry and reconstructed with hard runways, hangars, and other buildings. Wick, along with its satellite airfield at Skitten, became one of fourteen airfields extending from Iceland to North Yorkshire administered by No. 18 Group, R.A.F. Coastal Command with its headquarters at Pitreavie, Fife.
The first R.A.F. Squadron to be based at Wick, and indeed to enjoy the longest association with the aerodrome, was No. 269 Sqn. of Coastal Command. In October 1939, No. 269’s Avro Ansons moved from Montrose to Wick to begin General Reconnaissance patrols over both the Atlantic and the North Sea. The slow, but reliable and manoeuvrable Anson was the backbone of Coastal Command in its early years and was affectionately known as “Faithful Annie” by its crews. The crews of Wick’s Ansons soon became well known to the isolated lighthouse keepers in the Orkneys. Newspapers and magazines were dropped to the grateful recipients who expressed their gratitude by waving their arms or displaying a large sheet with “Thank you” written on it.
By January 1940, No. 269 Sqn. was flying 150 patrol sorties a month and in February the Squadron made six attacks on U-boats, one being claimed as probably destroyed. The intensity of enemy activity is measured by the fact that patrol sorties by 269 Sqn. rose to 200 in March, a month which also saw the arrival of the first Lockheed Hudson for the Squadron and which first went on operation on 21st April. The Anson was already considered obsolescent for G.R. duties in Coastal Command and was steadily being replaced by the American built Hudson which had first entered R.A.F. service in May 1939. Throughout the War the versatile Hudson was to perform a whole variety of roles and became the Coastal Command aircraft most closely associated with Wick in the early years of the War. A vivid personal impression of a fighter pilot’s life at Wick during this period is given in Group Captain Peter Townsend’s autobiography “Time and Chance”. He was then a flight commander with No. 43 Sqn. and recalls how the fighter pilots “stood guard throughout the long northern days and, during the bitter cold of the night, slept briefly, fitfully, under rough blankets and newspapers. Not that the hard lying was a bad thing – it made it easier to go out, face the weather and the enemy and, if need be, die”.
In spite of its comparative remoteness from the Blitz, Wick was not entirely immune from the attentions of the Luftwaffe. On 26th October 1940, three Heinkel He111s made a surprise raid on the airfield and on the town itself. High explosive bombs were dropped on or near the airfield and one Hudson was set ablaze. Despite the bombing and machine-gun strafing, the casualty list was mercifully low with three civilians being unfortunately killed and eleven others escaped with minor injuries.
The task allotted to Coastal Command was the protection of the sea lanes surrounding Britain, and the nation’s lifelines for virtually every commodity across the Atlantic Ocean. This immense task was to continue every day and night until well after the end of the War in 1945. Coastal Command had already been fully mobilised a fortnight before the beginning of hostilities and on the day War was declared, many patrols were airborne covering the North Sea, the Channel and the Western Approaches.
For the latest information on what to see and do on within Caithness and Sutherland please visit our Visitor pages within the Wick John O’Groats airport site or go to www.caithness.org or www.visitscotland.com.
More Tourist Information
For the latest tourist information, what is on and places to visit and accommodation please visit our Visitors Section within Wick John O’Groats airport. Or contact the local tourist board on www.caithness.org or www.visitscotland.com.