Faslane remembers Royal Oak 81 years after tragedy

Sailors on the Clyde paid tribute to one of the greatest naval tragedies in Scottish waters – 81 years ago today.

Battleship HMS Royal Oak was torpedoed in the Royal Navy’s wartime base at Scapa Flow by German U-boat U-47, sinking in a matter of minutes.

The disaster rocked the nation and Navy – many of the victims were boys, and Scapa was believed to be a safe haven.

A buoy in the vast natural harbour in Orkney marks the wreck site – the upturned, crumpled hull lies on the seabed just below the surface of the water – and has served as the focal point for acts of remembrance down the years (sadly, all survivors of the sinking have now crossed the bar).

And each autumn, frogmen from the Northern Diving Group based at Faslane descend to the remains of the Royal Oak to check the state of the hull, inspect for any fuel leaking, and replace the Royal Navy’s standard ‘hoisted’ by their predecessors 12 months earlier.

Except this year. Due to Covid, 2020 marks the first time since the ship’s bell was recovered back in 1982 that they’ve been unable to do so. 

Petty Officer (Diver) Guy Rudkin, who had started planning this year’s visit to Orkney, was determined that the battleship’s tragic loss should not pass without commemoration and, with Chaplain Mark Noakes, organised a special service in Faslane.

Only after diving and seeing the ship first hand does her story humble your bones. The sailors that were aboard on that night in 1939 will not be forgotten. We shall remember them

AB (Diver) Paul West, Northern Diving Group

Divers were joined by personnel from the Clyde-based 1st Mine Countermeasures Squadron and the rest of the naval base.

Wreaths were laid, and a White Ensign placed below a photograph of HMS Royal Oak and a list of the names of all those who lost their lives – 835 souls in all, many of them boy seamen. 

In addition, there were readings from divers Able Seaman Toomey and Leading Seaman Lund.

“It is a shame we have not been able to dive on the wreck as usual, but we are pleased to have had the opportunity to pay our respects in this way,” said Northern Diving Group’s Commanding Officer Lieutenant Commander Mark Shaw. 

“We have a long history with HMS Royal Oak and the people of Orkney and we are looking forward to deploying to Scapa Flow next year.” 

Able Seaman (Diver) Paul West, who was one of those who made the trip last year, added: “After having the privilege of diving the Royal Oak last year and having the honour of changing the ensign, the news that this year's commemorative dive would not take place was disappointing.

“Only after diving and seeing the ship first hand does her story humble your bones. The sailors that were aboard on that night in 1939 will not be forgotten. We shall remember them.”