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Ensign of the Royal Navy animated.gif
CountryFlag United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.gif United Kingdom
BranchNaval Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg Royal Navy
RoleArea Command
Part ofOrkney and Shetlands Command
RN BaseLerwick
FirstRear-Admiral Clement Greatorex
LastRear-Admiral Clement Greatorex

Shetlands was a base of operations and area command of the Royal Navy established during World War I.


Location Map of Shetlands WW I courtesy of Gordon Smith Source:

Shetland was always an important maritime location: a target, then a base, for Viking raiders. Its splendid natural anchorages, such as Bressay Sound and the various fjord-like inlets or ‘voes’, were much used as harbours of refuge throughout the sailing era. Shetland was a centre of conflict during the Anglo-Dutch wars, as the Dutch were accustomed to using it as a base for their lucrative herring fishery, and as a convenient lay-over for their large merchantmen bound to or from the West and East Indies. In an attempt to deny them the use of Bressay Sound, a fort was begun at Lerwick in 1665, but this was unmanned when, in 1673, a Dutch squadron destroyed it; it was ultimately completed in 1780, named Fort Charlotte, and still exists, albeit now hemmed in by urban development. Another action took place in Ronas Voe in February 1674, just before the end of the third Dutch war, when the East Indiaman Wapen van Rotterdam, which had overwintered there, was trapped in the anchorage by a British squadron comprising the Cambridge, Crown and Newcastle.

During the early 1900s, the German Fleet visited Shetland on various occasions, and talk began of the importance of Shetland as a naval base in the event of any war, although war was thought unlikely. During the First World War, it was immediately clear that Shetland could play a vital part in enforcing the maritime blockade against Imperial Germany. This area command was established under the control of the Senior Naval Officer, Shetlands who was responsible for the management of the port of Lerwick that was the focal point of a North Sea convoy system set up in 1917 to try and reduce the loss of shipping. ships travelled in convoys from east and west coasts of Britain up to Lerwick where they crossed the North Sea to Norway and vice versa. Between 18th October 1917 and 10th January 1918, 4150 vessels passed through the channels of the approaches to Lerwick, channels that were constantly menaced by hostile submarines and minelayers. By the beginning of 1918 the British Navy had the upper hand of the U-boats and Lerwick ceased to be a convoy port (this was moved to the Firth of Forth). In its place came the Northern Patrol Force that contained the 10th Cruiser Squadron.

Naval HQ

Senior Naval Officer, Shetlands

  1. Rear-Admiral Clement Greatorex, 8 October, 1917 - December, 1919. (and as Senior Naval Officer, Swarbacks Minn).[1]


  1. "Greatorex, Adm. Clement, (1869–21 March 1937)". WHO'S WHO & WHO WAS WHO (2020). London and Oxford: A & C Black and Oxford University Press. 1 December 2007. doi:10.1093/ww/9780199540884.013.u210371.