Torpedo detonation in Scapa Flow

Orkney’s wartime heritage was brought into focus this afternoon with the detonation of a Second World War torpedo in Scapa Flow.

It’s thought the torpedo is one of those fired at HMS Royal Oak by German U-boat U47 as the battleship lay at anchor in the Flow in 1939. The attack sunk the Royal Oak with the loss of 833 lives.

The buoy marking the resting place of HMS Royal Oak in Scapa Flow

The torpedo was first noticed during sonar surveys being carried out by local company SULA Diving, on behalf of Orkney Islands Council. Video footage was taken using an ROV, which was then studied by a Royal Navy Explosives Ordnance Team from the Northern Diving Group.

Divers also descended to the seabed, 35 metres below the surface of Scapa Flow, to examine the torpedo for themselves.

The team returned this morning to dispose of the torpedo by attaching explosives to it. Unfortunately, when detonated, a section containing the explosive charge from the decades old device broke free and floated to the surface.

Divers from the Northern Diving Group preparing for the torpedo detonation

The Royal Navy divers then carried out a second controlled detonation to destroy the section.

The operation comes at a time when Orkney is getting ready to host the national commemorations of the Battle of Jutland, with services and special events planned across the islands. HMS Royal Oak served at Jutland in 1916, making the operation in Orkney this week particularly poignant.

If the remainder of the torpedo on the seabed is in a suitable condition, there are plans to recover and display it in Orkney later this year.

Find out more about Orkney’s Battle of Jutland programme from the Visit Orkney website.

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