Remembering Today 14/10/39 Marine: Terence Henry Townsend,PO/X 3049, Royal Marines H.M.S. Ro

Discussion in 'Commandos & Royal Marines' started by CL1, Oct 14, 2015.

  1. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery

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  2. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery

    The attack

Konteradmiral Döenitz, Commander of the Submarines, said on receipt of a survey to find Scapa Flow's weakness: "I hold that a penetration at this point [Kirk Sound] on the surface at the turn of the tide would be possible without further ceremony." Kapitänleutnant Günther Prien was to prove how inadequate the British defences were when he made one of the most daring attacks ever recorded (Wood, 2008, p.91).

    A sortie by units of the Kriegsmarine, or German Navy, including the battlecruiser Gneisenau, the cruiser Köln and nine destroyers, was staged to tempt units of the British Home Fleet out of Scapa Flow for attack by the Luftwaffe. Although many ships of the Home Fleet did respond, the Luftwaffe did not engage and this tactic left Prien with just a few ships in Scapa Flow as targets. HMS Royal Oak had returned early from the Home Fleet sweep and took up its role as anti-aircraft defence for the Scapa Flow anchorage and the Radio Direction Finding station at Netherbutton.

    The German submarine U-47, under the command of Prien, approached Scapa Flow through the narrow approaches at Kirk Sound with surprising ease. It was high tide and a little after midnight on 14 October 1939. U-47 first sailed towards Lyness but, finding no ships in the area and encountering no resistance, then turned to the north where HMS Royal Oak, HMS Pegasus and possibly HMS Iron Duke were spotted (Wood, 2008, p.92). A total of 51 ships were in Scapa Flow at the time, 18 of which can be described as fighting ships (Weaver, 1980, p.39).
    When the first torpedo struck HMS Royal Oak at 12.58am, the dull thud confused the sailors – they thought the muffled explosions were an on-board problem, perhaps an explosion in the paint store. They certainly did not think it was a U-boat attack. A second salvo failed to deliver a hit but the confusion surrounding the first hit gave Commander Prien an additional 20 minutes to return to his firing position, reload, and fire a third salvo. This third discharge landed direct hits amidships.
    Such was the ferocity of the explosions, the ship heeled over alarmingly and all the lights went out. It had been fine weather so all of the ship's hatches were open. Undoubtedly Royal Oak would have taken longer to sink and more lives would have been saved if the watertight hatches had been closed; but it is not normal procedure to have all hatches closed when in a supposedly safe harbour with no alerts.

    When the ship rolled its gun barrels shifted, pulling the ship faster beneath the surface. Water crashed through the open hatches and men asleep in their bunks were unable to get out in time. It took just minutes for the battleship to sink. Hundreds fought for their lives in the water, trying to swim for shore through thick fuel oil and in freezing temperatures. A total of 834 men lost their lives. Many of the men are buried in the Lyness Royal Naval Cemetery on Hoy (Wood, 2008, p.92).
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