Thursday, 30 May, 2024
14October 1939

Royal Navy battleship sunk by u-boat in ‘impregnable’ British naval harbour

On this day, the British battleship HMS Royal Oak was torpedoed and sunk by the German u-boat U-47.

U-47, under the command of Günther Prien, slipped into the British naval base at Scapa Flow and first its first torpedoes at 1:00am, striking the British battleship Royal Oak. Nobody on the coast noticed the impact, giving the u-boat time to reload. At 1:23am it fired three more torpedoes, once again hitting the Royal Oak. As explosions spread throughout the battleship, the rest of the naval base was alerted. U-47 then escaped the area to the open sea, as HMS Royal Oak sank, with the loss of 835 crew members, including Read Admiral Henry Blagrove. Admiral Dönitz, commander of the German submarine fleet, later reported he knew of the success of the mission only after hearing a sombre British radio announcement reporting the loss of the battleship.

Günther Prien became the first u-boat commander to receive the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross.

HMS Royal Oak was launched at the start of World War One. She was anchored in the Royal Navy naval base Scapa Flow in Scotland. Scapa Flow was viewed as a well-protected and safe base for warships to anchor during both world wars. The ability of U-47 to slip into the naval base, attack and sink a battleship, and then escape seriously shook the United Kingdom’s confidence.

HMS Royal Oak was seen, even at the start of World War Two, as obsolete and outdated. It had experienced many years of upgrades but was still slow lacked the power of more modern warships, and so was relegated to less critical duties. The loss of the ship didn’t massively affect the power of the Royal Navy.

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