HMS Royal Oak entering the harbour with old Portsmouth in the foreground painted beautifully by artist Neil Marshall
Email: neilmarshall20211@outlook.com
HMS Royal Oak entering the harbour with old Portsmouth in the foreground painted beautifully by artist Neil Marshall Email: [email protected]

Memories of Royal Navy ship HMS Royal Oak

The sinking of ‘The Mighty Oak’ in the early hours of October 14, 1939, was branded the ‘first great tragedy’ of the war. It left scores of heartbroken families in Royal Oak’s home city of Portsmouth devastated and sent shock waves around the nation.

Thursday, 26th May 2022, 9:04 pm
Updated Thursday, 26th May 2022, 9:07 pm

On 14 October 1939, Royal Oak was anchored at Scapa Flow in Orkney, Scotland, when she was torpedoed by the German submarine U-47. Of Royal Oak's complement of 1,234 men and boys, 833 were killed that night or died later of their wounds. The loss of the old ship the first of the five Royal Navy battleships and battlecruisers sunk in the Second World War did little to affect the numerical superiority enjoyed by the British navy and its Allies. However, the sinking had considerable effect on wartime morale. The raid made an immediate celebrity and war hero out of the U-boat commander, Günther Prien, who became the first German submarine officer to be awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. Before the sinking of Royal Oak, the Royal Navy had considered the naval base at Scapa Flow impregnable to submarine attack. U-47's raid however demonstrated that the Germans were capable of bringing the naval war to British home waters. The shock resulted in rapid changes to dockland security and the construction of the Churchill Barriers around Scapa Flow.

The wreck of Royal Oak, a designated war grave, lies almost upside down in 100 feet (30 m) of water with her hull 16 feet (4.9 m) beneath the surface. In an annual ceremony to mark the loss of the ship, Royal Navy divers place a White Ensign underwater at her stern.

In this selection you will see her in Portsmouth Harbour and harbour in Malta prior to the Second World War, the man responsible for her sinking and the front page of the Evening News and how it was reported at the time.

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