On 14 October 1939, the Royal Navy battleship HMS Royal Oak was sunk at her moorings within the natural harbour of Scapa Flow in a nighttime attack by the German U-boat U-47 under the command of Günther Prien. Shortly before midnight on the 13 October the U-47 had entered Scapa Flow through Kirk Sound between Lamb Holm and the Orkney Mainland. Although the shallow eastern passages had been secured with measures including sunken block ships, booms and anti-submarine nets, Prien was able to navigate the U-47 around the obstructions at high tide. He then launched a surprise torpedo attack on the unsuspecting Royal Navy battleship while it was at anchor in Scapa Flow. The U-47 then escaped seaward using the same channel by navigating between the block ships.
In response, First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill ordered the construction of several permanent barriers to prevent any further attacks. Work began in May 1940 and was completed by September 1944. However the barriers were not officially opened until 12 May 1945, four days after the end of World War II in Europe.
Captain John first took me to see the Churchill Barriers way back in 2004, on my first full day in Orkney. I'd never heard of them, and I was amazed. This was either right before or right after we visited one of the naval artillery batteries that defended Scapa Flow. Orkney is full of history.
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... as I was doing a sort of condensed grand tour of the islands accessible by road. While still on tiny Lamb Holm, which is probably about as big as the University of Aberdeen campus, I revisited the Italian Chapel, and that will be the topic of my next Island Paradise post.