March 3rd 2016

Royal Navy bomb disposal experts have examined an item of suspected ordnance found during a routine seabed survey in Scapa Flow and confirmed that it is a German torpedo.

The torpedo is likely to have been one of those fired at HMS Royal Oak, as the battleship lay at anchor in Scapa Flow in 1939.

Lying in around 32 metres of water, the torpedo was first spotted during a sonar survey carried out by SULA Diving on behalf of Orkney Islands Council Marine Services. Video footage was then captured using an ROV (Remote Operated Vehicle).

A Royal Navy Explosives Ordnance Team on a visit to Orkney viewed and discussed the video footage with the Orkney Harbour Authority. The Navy divers then examined the torpedo on the seabed during a diving operation in Scapa Flow.

Brian Archibald, the Council’s Harbour Master and Head of Marine Services, said: “This has confirmed that it is a torpedo and that it is German in origin.

“We have held further discussions on what action should be taken next, with plans now to be drawn up for its safe disposal. Meanwhile, there is no risk to vessels in Scapa Flow.”

He added: “Now that know that the torpedo is German, we believe it is highly likely that it was among those fired at HMS Royal Oak by the U-boat U47 in October 1939.

“It’s location in Scapa Flow is in the vicinity of the area where, from historical accounts, U47 is thought to have carried out the attack.”

The Royal Navy team was from the Northern Diving Group (NDG).

Lieutenant Commander Tony Hampshire, who is Commanding Officer of NDG and who attended the scene, said: “After examining the video footage of the item and conducting dives to inspect it on the seabed we believe the object is a Second World War German torpedo.

“There is currently no threat to shipping or the public and so we have marked the location so that we can return in the near future and safely dispose of it.”

HMS Royal Oak, a Revenge Class battleship, was sunk after being torpedoed by the U-boat, with the loss of 883 lives.

The dive down to examine the torpedo was especially poignant for the Northern Diving Group team. Each year, in an act of remembrance, members of the unit travel to Orkney in order to visit the wreck of HMS Royal Oak.

“Northern Diving Group has the honour of diving and placing the White Ensign on the wreck of Royal Oak,” said Lieutenant Commander Hampshire. “It is a task which the Group has conducted for many years and one which we are proud to participate in.

“To think that this torpedo could have been one fired at HMS Royal Oak brings the tragedy home. Those who served with the ship were incredibly brave individuals.”

He continued: “While it wouldn’t be safe to preserve the torpedo whole, once we return to the scene we will explore the possibility of preserving one of the fins or perhaps a propeller blade for historical interest.”

Following discussions with the Royal Navy team, the no-anchorage area already in place around the area where the torpedo was found has been reduced to a 500 meter radius with diving also prohibited.