- Letter Writer
- WWII operations, Letter to the Editor
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- December 1998 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
I was most interested to read the account in the Naval Historical Review of June 1998 of the sinking of the British battleship Royal Oak. I was in command of the destroyer Sturdy and had been escort to that ship in a Home Fleet Operation off the Shetland Isles in heavy weather for three days waiting to intercept some German heavy units reported to be sailing for the Atlantic but in fact had not done so. On Wednesday, 11th October, all ships returned to Scapa Flow and I anchored in the Gutter Sound preparatory to escorting to Dundee the Polish submarine Wilk, which was being repaired after fighting her way out of the Baltic.
When I took my ship into the Flow on Friday, 13th October, I found to my surprise that all the Fleet had sailed on Wednesday night or Thursday for Loch Ewe on the west coast of Scotland except for the Royal Oak which was anchored at the northern end of the Flow.
Wilk was doing a practice dive and after she had finished I asked for the boom gate to be open at 1315 for our departure and set off with her astern.
Almost at once she broke down and we were delayed a bit before she got going again. This meant that it was 1330 before we passed through the gate which had been kept open longer than it should have been.
Next morning when I heard the news on the B.B.C. that Royal Oak had been sunk by a German submarine which had penetrated the Flow, I had a terribly guilty feeling that the U-Boat may have entered as I came out when the gate was open too long. It was several days before I heard to my relief that Prien had used the eastern entrance.
In your article [on page 15], the author states that it was fortunate that the major units had not yet returned to Scapa. But they had indeed and only left again the next day. It has never been stressed enough what a miraculous escape the Home Fleet had from this brilliant attack, Prien had been in the vicinity for a few days before entering the Flow on the Friday night. If he had come in on the Wednesday night, he could have sunk many ships and immobilised the fleet. I never discovered why the fleet left suddenly for Loch Ewe on that Thursday but it was very fortunate that it did.
George T Cooper,
Captain, Royal Navy.