Torpedo Aimed at HMS Royal Oak Found in the Scapa Flow:

Far from German airbases and protected by blockships and floating booms that deterred all but the most daring U-boat commanders, Scapa flow served as the Royal Navy’s main base in WW2 as it had in WWI. In mid-October 1939, the HMS Royal Oak, a World War One era battleship, recommissioned in 1938 returned to the Scapa Flow after a failed search for the Nazi Battleship Gneisenau.


 HMS Royal Oak

Unknown to the British, Karl Dönitz, commander of the German Navy, had devised a plan to attack the British Fleet at anchorage. Dönitz selected Kapitänleutnant Günther Prien, commander of the submarine, U-47 to make the daring mission into Scapa Flow. Prien, aided by reconnaissance photographs, made his way into the flow under the lights of the aurora borealis. Though it got caught on cables from a blockship and fell under the headlights of a British Taxi, U-47 succeeded in infiltrating the British Harbor. A lookout on U-47 spotted HMS Royal Oak 4,000 meters to the north and at 12:58 am, U-47 fired three bow torpedoes, a fourth getting stuck in the tube. One torpedo struck the bow of HMS Royal Oak at 1:05 am, cutting the starboard anchor but doing little damage. Most men aboard the battleship thought the explosion was from the forward inflammable store and didn’t realize they were under attack. An announcement was made on board to check the magazine temperature but most men went back to sleep.

Seeing his attack had little impact, Prien turned his U-boat around and fired a fourth torpedo from the stern tube which also missed. He reloaded his bow tubes and turned around again and fired a spread of three torpedoes from the bow. All three torpedoes hit at 1:16 am and blew a hole in the deck, igniting a magazine and creating a huge fireball throughout the ship. At 1:29 am the HMS Royal Oak capsized, killing 833 men including Rear Admiral Henry Blagrove, commander of the 2nd Naval Squadron and over 100 Boy Seamen under eighteen years old.


Kapitänleutnant Günther Prien

The British, initially unsure why the HMS Royal Oak had sunk, did not raise a U-boat alarm and let U-47 slip away.

In March 2016, a 22 foot long German torpedo was found in the Scapa Flow by sonar near the wreck of the HMS Royal Oak. The torpedo, lying 100 feet underwater has a 1,640 exclusion zone around it for safety. The Royal Navy is discussing how to safely dispose of the torpedo, but for local divers it’s exciting to know that a torpedo likely fired by Prien has been found.

The HMS Royal Oak is a registered war grave as many of the 833 dead are still entombed on her.

Kapitänleutnant Günther Prien met a hero’s welcome back in Germany. He was awarded the Iron Cross First Class and his whole crew was awarded the Iron Cross Second Class. Hitler was so pleased with the attack that he sent his personal plane to pick up Prien and personally awarded him the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, Germany’s highest military honor. Günther Prien earned the nickname the “Bull of Scapa Flow” and decorated his ship’s conning tower with a snorting bull. He wrote his autobiography with a ghostwriter in 1940 and was in demand for radio and magazine interviews. Prien went on to sink 30 ships totaling about 200,000 tons and was awarded the Oak Leaves to his Knight’s Cross, indicating a second award. Prien, like the men lost at Scapa Flow, met a watery end in March 1941, when he and the forty five men of U-47 went missing at sea.


The Torpedo found in the Scapa Flow

For More Information on about U-47’s inking of HMS Oak Royal Please Check Out:

U-47 in Scapa Flow: The Sinking of HMS Royal Oak 1939


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