OF THE ROYAL OAK
Like the attack on Pearl Harbor opportunist audacity was
behind the sinking of the Royal Navy battleship Royal Oak as it lay at
anchor in the waters of the 'impregnable' Scapa Flow. The facts are quite
straightforward but as with most ignominious cock-ups the humiliation has
been garlanded with lies, rumour and myth, largely to avoid giving credit to
the Germans for such a courageous enterprise.
On the 14th October 1939, under the moonless though clear night sky,
Lieutenant Gunther Prien, in command of U-47 guilefully steered his craft
through the eastern channels of this heavily defended naval harbour. There
was an irony to the unfolding events as it was here that much of Germany's
captured First World War navy was scuttled by its commanders rather than
allow it to be surrendered to the British.
With what he had in mind it is inconceivable that Lieutenant Prien could
expect to escape swift and lethal revenge. The odds against escape were
heavily stacked against him but the prize must have seemed well worth it.
Moving on the surface to avoid the submarine nets the German commander
steered his submarine through the channels of one of the world's most
heavily protected naval citadels.
On either side, silhouetted against the night sky and island escarpments,
were manned block ships. One can well imagine the heart stopping tension as
the U-boat crew spotted he Royal Oak swinging at anchor, though they mistook
it for the Repulse. Releasing a salvo of three torpedoes of which only one
hit home they inflicted little damage on the formidable leviathan.
Incredibly, the investigating Royal Navy officers presumed the explosion
originated inside the ship and raised no alarm. Meanwhile U-boat's commander
reloaded his tubes and let loose another salvo, two of which struck the
battleship. Within 13 minutes the pride of the Royal Navy capsized with a
massive loss of life.
Amidst the confusion that followed Commander Prien U-47 submarine slipped
through the harbour's defenses. On reaching Germany he was received as a
national hero and awarded the Iron Cross for his outstanding seamanship and
courage. From the British side what followed was a cacophony of sneers,
cheap insults, and red herrings (fifth columnists and spies again being
|"In order to make the individual's culture and
society acceptable to him, steps must be taken to prevent inconvenient
fact from becoming obstructive. People do not love men who give them
the truth, but rather men who give them illusions." - John Greenway,
The Inevitable Americans.
IGNORANCE SAVES LIVES
In 1940 an Austrian publisher named Goldschmidt having been deprived of
privilege citizen status assumed by Jews decamped for England. Alas being an
alien anyway he was promptly arrested and soon afterwards found himself on
the SS Dunera en route to Australia.
While on board thuggish British sailors ransacked his cabin and stole
everything they thought had value. This did not include the publisher's
treasured library which they considered worthless. They tossed it overboard.
Records later revealed that at the time U-56 was stalking the British
troopship and let loose three torpedoes. Two missed and one failed to
explode. Surfacing to attack with its deck gun the crew found Goldschmidt's
German language books bobbing about in the water.
Deciding that the ship was carrying German POWs they abandoned the attack.
The crew and the passengers of the SS Dunera, unaware of lucky escape due to
the unfortunate incident, blithely sailed on. The prisoner was embittered to
the end of his days but would he have felt so badly had he realised that the
despicable act carried out by the Merchant Navy's sailors had saved not only
his own life but that of others?