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Wednesday, 14 October 2009

HMS Royal Oak Commemorations

There are a number of services and commemorations in Orkney this week for the 70th anniversary of the sinking of the battleship "HMS Royal Oak". HMS Royal Oak was part of the British naval fleet and was sunk by a German U-boat on 14th October 1939. The British fleet was anchored in Scapa Flow during WWII, which was thought to be a "safe haven" with protection from anti-sub nets and "block ships" (ships deliberately sunk to block channels) however a U-boat captain conducted "a remarkable exploit of professional skill and daring" (quoting Winston Churchill I think...) and the "Royal Oak" was torpedoed with the loss of 833 lives. A brief history of the event is given on "The Orcadian" website here. More information about HMS Royal Oak is on this website dedicated to the men who lost their lives that day.

As the British naval fleet continued to be anchored in the Flow, better protection for the fleet was needed and the Churchill Barriers were designed and constructed for this very purpose. However construction of the barriers took several years and were completed a few days after VE day in May 1945. They are a lasting reminder of that time, and now provide a permanent fixed link between the Orkney Mainland and the islands of Lamb Holm, Burray and South Ronaldsay. More on the barriers here.

The beautiful Italian Chapel is another haunting reminder of that period. Italian prisoners of war were camped on Lamb Holm, having been brought in to help with the consturction of the Churchill barriers. In 1943 two nissan huts were joined together and the Italian POWs created the interior of the chapel using any bits of scrap metal they could find, as well as tromp-loeil artwork. It really is a beautiful place and still used for services as well as being open to visitors. More photos here.

So today a service and parade will take place in Kirkwall, including family members and survivors, to remember the men who lost their lives on HMS Royal Oak in 1939.

Note for those in the UK who can get the "History" channel, there is a programme about the sinking of HMS Royal Oak at 7pm tonight. It's just been shown on STV - very poignant hearing some of the survivors talking about their experiences as boy naval cadets, just teenagers.


  1. We loved seeing the Italian Chapel, the Churchill Barriers, and the Scapa Flow. John's a big history reader, and knew a lot about it before we got there.

  2. Fascinating post. Informative and well written.

    Thank you. I'll be dropping by again.

  3. MaryZ - It's amazing how much history (ancient and more recent)there is to explore in Orkney.

    Martin - welcome to my blog! Thanks for the compliments. I look forward to you visiting again!