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● (Left) Divers
‘Buffer’ Lund and
‘Fergie’ Ferguson
examine a gunner’s
seat on the wreck of
the Royal Oak and
(right) the Battle
Ensign is secured
to the propshaft of
HMS Royal Oak; it is
changed each year
by Royal Navy divers
on the anniversary of
the sinking

THESE haunting images
left without a battle torpedoes from the a ladder that stretched into the
show one of the greatest
ensign. Each October,
Photojournalist and diver Simon Brown was invited to join
bow tubes. One darkness, deep below decks. It
– and most tragic – names
the previous year’s of the torpedoes was impossible to not look at
ensign is recovered,
the men of Northern Diving Group as they visited the wreck
failed to launch, two the ladder and think of the last
in the annals of the Senior cleaned of the marine
of HMS Royal Oak to mark the 70th anniversary of her loss.
missed their target set of boots to climb its rungs.
Service, 70 years after
growth before being These are his images and his account of the dive. but the fourth struck Over the last 70 years the
the waters of Scapa Flow
presented to the the starboard bow wreck has become many things.
closed over her.
Royal Oak Association, of HMS Royal Oak, The provenance of the wreck
and a fresh fl ag secured to the (64ft) of water are covered in equipment. waking her crew. and its legal protection have
This is the wreck of HMS
prop shaft to await next year’s plumose anemone and one of At the stern are four large Onboard, the cause of the ensured it has remained relatively
Royal Oak and these are the
ceremony. the original barrels had become prop shafts and the huge explosion was thought to be untouched, complete with much
men of the Northern Diving
Today HMS Royal Oak lies on home to an edible crab. single rudder, now covered in an internal explosion. A U-boat of its original navigation and
Group inspecting her.
her starboard side in 30 metres In deeper water the softer, anemone. The bronze propellers operating in Scapa Flow was not fi ghting equipment.
Few have seen what lies
(98ft) of water, her decks tilted delicate fi lter feeders that themselves were removed thought possible. The Royal Oak is now the sole
beneath the waves – Royal
at 45° and her upturned hull dominate the shallows give way for scrap in the 1950s, but all On U47 Prien waited for the example of a British battleship
Oak is a war grave protected
rising to within fi ve metres (16ft) to harder marine growth. other attempts to salvage the response that never came. The in shallow water anywhere in
by law – but the Faslane-based
of the surface. Here the wreck has more form wreck were prevented by public order was given to reload the the northern hemisphere, and
divers visit the site to survey the
On calm, clear days the wreck and shape, and recognisable outcry. bow tubes before launching a is perhaps the fi nest preserved
hull and check the site for any
is visible from the surface, her objects such as the Admiral’s Royal Oak rests here thanks to second salvo and this time three example of early 20th-Century
ammunition that has found its
presence reinforced by the barge can be found lying on the the skill of German submariner torpedoes found their mark, naval technology.
way on to the seabed.
rainbow hue of small droplets of seabed next to the broken and Günther Prien. striking Royal Oak amidships. But the wreck is more
One date in the group’s
fuel oil that leak from the wreck. twisted remains of the fi ghting On the night of October 13 During the resulting chaos than a museum or historical
calendar is never forgotten: each
Underwater, the sheer size deck, still complete with range 1939, Prien navigated U47 Prien turned U47 towards Kirk record. The soft marine life has
year to mark the anniversary of
and scale of the battleship is fi nding equipment and speaking through Kirk Sound, scraping Sound and escaped on the blanketed the hull with delicate
the battleship’s loss – October
apparent. The upturned hull tubes. past the blockships in the narrow ebbing tide, slipping through growth and the iron and steel of
14 1939 – the divers return to
stretches beyond the limits of One of the masts has fl attened channel between Lamb Holm the blockships and hugging the ship has become in its own
the stern and raise a battle
visibility, blanketed by the fi lter the stern section of the barge and the mainland, penetrating the shore of Lamb Holm before right a monument to the crew.
ensign over the wreck as a mark
feeders and marine growth. but the wooden bows and brass the defences of the anchorage returning to Germany for a The wreck is as peaceful and
of respect and tribute to those
Dropping over the port side air inlet that fed the small steam of the Home Fleet. hero’s welcome. as tranquil as any graveyard
lost. The sight of the ensign
the deep shadow of the wreck engine are in excellent condition, Germany and Britain had been After losing power Royal Oak above the waves, draped with
raised above the wreck is both
initially restricts the view, but considering their age. at war for six weeks. German was plunged into darkness, the delicate touch of marine life.
humbling and poignant.
as the eyes adjust to the gloom Further forward and close to intelligence had revealed a weak quickly listing to starboard as HMS Royal Oak is now a place
There was little or no current
the structure and purpose of the the seabed the boxes of ready point that could be exploited. the seawater fl ooded in. In fewer of stunning beauty.
running across the hull but
wreck reveals itself. ammunition lie stacked, and Fearing air attack, most of the than 14 minutes the ship rolled ■ Simon has donated the image
Royal Navy divers who bear the
Weapons of war are now close by the multi-barrelled anti- fl eet, including the battle cruiser over and sank, sealing the fate of the White Ensign wrapped
responsibility of securing the
encrusted in marine growth, aircraft gun they would have fed HMS Hood and the aircraft of 833 of her crew. around the propshaft (top right)
ensign have never known the
softening the hard lines of steel is still fi xed in its mounting. carrier HMS Furious, had been Seven decades later, diving to the Royal Oak Survivors
fl ag to fail to unfurl and fl y as if
and disguising their original But the most impressive ordered to disperse the previous the wreck is a very moving Association, ten of which will
in a stiff breeze.
purpose. The 6in casement guns fi repower was her main night leaving just one capital experience and evidence of be signed by some of the
The battleship is never
along the port side in 20 metres armament. When the ship sank, ship and four cruisers remaining what happened to the ship and remaining ship’s company.
the 15in guns swivelled on their at anchor. her crew are everywhere. Proceeds will be used to help
mountings and the barrels now Prien missed the heavy cruiser From the twisted steel where fund the building of a permanent
lie embedded in the seabed, but Belfast, but after searching the the fi rst torpedo struck the bow, memorial in Scapa Bay.
the top covers of the turrets have harbour spotted HMS Royal to the rows of open portholes Each print is A1 in size,
fallen off and revealed all eight Oak stationed in Scapa Bay, hanging inwards along the port reproduced on archival paper,
of the enormous breeches. providing anti-aircraft cover for side or the stern section of and available from October 14.
Higher up the superstructure the anchorage and the town of the barge fl attened under the
a pair of large calibre anti- Kirkwall. collapsed superstructure – all For more details visit
aircraft guns point skyward and At just after 1am on the poignant reminders, but the www.simonbrownimages.
on a bulkhead lay a paravane, morning of the fourteenth, most haunting sight was a deck com/html/hmsroyaloak.html
an example of anti-mine warfare Prien ordered a salvo of four hatch, hanging open to reveal or call 01252 653759.
● How many men this
way came? (Right) An
open hatchway and
ladder leading to Royal
Oak’s innards and (left)
the hand wheel of a 15in
gun breech
Images © Simon Brown
NEW 019_NN_Oct.indd 1 22/9/09 10:52:25
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