Sinking of HMS Royal Oak at Scapa Flow
On October 14, 1939 the German submarine U-47, type VIIb submarine, penetrated the British fleet anchorage at Scapa Flow in the Orkneys, and sank the battleship HMS Royal Oak, with the loss of 833 lives.
Scapa Flow at the outbreak of World War II was still very lightly defended. The Germans noticed this by photo-reconnaissance and Commodore Donitz, in charge of the U-boat command, decided to attempt an attack on Scapa Flow. Lt. Gunther Prien and his U-47 were selected to undertake the mission and left Wilhelmshaven on October 8.
The mission was carefully timed to coincide with a new moon, when high water at Kirk Sound was about 23:30. The plan was to enter at slack water, before the ebb (west-going) tide had built up.
The lighthouses at Roseness and Pentland Skerries were turned on at 22:00 on the 12th, no doubt due to shipping movements, but also allowing Prien to have an accurate position. The next night at about midnight, U-47 crept into Scapa Flow, unobserved.
On the night of October 13, 1939 there were in fact very few warships in Scapa Flow, but no modern capital ships or aircraft carriers, except for the old battleship HMS Royal Oak and the old sea-plane carrier, Pegasus, which were moored near Scapa Bay, below Gaitnip.
Although there was no moon, the night was clear, starlight thus allowing Prien to see the two ships to the north. At about 01:00 and from about 3,000m he fired three shots, and one hit the HMS Royal Oak at the bow inflicting little apparent damage, but causing both anchor chains to run out. In fact the crew thought it was an internal explosion in a paint store. After re-loading, three more torpedoes were fired and a few minutes later the ship was rocked by three explosions. The HMS Royal Oak sank within 15 minutes with the loss of 833 crew out of a total of about 1,200 officers and men.
Meanwhile U-47 slipped away on the surface, this time taking the south side of Kirk Sound and within a short time she had stemmed the strongly running ebb tide and made good her escape. Prien and his crew were given a tremendous welcome in Germany, Prien being invested personally by Hitler with the Knight`s Cross of the Iron Cross, which became the traditional decoration for exceptional U-boat commanders.
HMS Royal Oak, battleship Royal Sovereign class:
Constructed by HM Dockyard, Devonport, laid down 1914, completed 1916
Displacement (tons): 29,150, full load 35,000
Dimensions (L*B*D meter): 186*26.5*10
Propulsion: Originally designed to be coal-fired, this class was changed to oil-fired during construction 4*10,000hp sets of Parsons steam turbines, 4 shafts
Speed (knots): 23
Armor: Main belt 10in, armor deck 1.75in, increased to 4in at refit, Turrets 11in, control top 10in
Armament: 8*15in main armament in twin turrets; 8*6in secondary; 8* 4in AA high/low angle; 2 pom-pom AA Mountings 8*40mm; 2*4-barrelled 0.5in AA machine guns
Refitted: several times, HMS Royal Oak`s last major refit was in 1934/35, when much of her equipment was updated and 900 tons of extra deck-armor was added. This reduced her buoyancy and stability and made her an even wetter ship. She also had a catapult for a spotter-plane, new gun direction and new radio equipment fitted. In 1937 she was reckoned to be the best-equipped Royal Sovereign class battleship. Even by 1939, however, her slow speed and obsolete design, made her no match for her German opposition.
||Sinking of HMS Royal Oak 1939.Gunther Prien's U-47 in Scapa Flow