Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1939, 833 crew members of H.M.S. Royal Oak lost their lives at Scapa Flow. Among them were Seaman Donald McAngus from Hilton, age 19, Seaman Hugh Vass from Shandick, age 32, Seaman David Vass from Shandick, age 19, and Seaman Hugh Vass from Baltinore, age 32. More than one hundred of those who lost their lives were under eighteen years of age.
A Revenge-class battleship, H.M.S. Royal Oak had been built in 1914 and saw combat during the Battle of Jutland; during the Spanish civil war she was conducting non-intervention patrols around the Iberian Peninsula. She was at anchor at Scapa Flow at the outbreak of the second world war, when Kriegsmarine Commander of Submarines Karl Dönitz had plans in place to attack by submarine. The raid was scheduled for the moonless night of the 13th of October, when the tides were high.
U-47, commanded by Gunther Prien, fired three torpedoes, one of which struck H.M.S. Royal Oak, but just shook her. After another unsuccessful attempt, three more torpedoes struck her and detonated. What was described as a fireball moved through the ship, which listed and then rolled over on to her side before slipping beneath the surface. Many of the crew had managed to jump into the water, which was very cold with a thick layer of fuel oil; only a small number were able to swim to shore. Daisy 2, a tender which had been tied to the ship, was freed and the crew were able to pull 386 men from the water, some of whom died later from their wounds. The skipper of Daisy 2, John Gatt, was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
The ship still contains the remains of many of the crew and is considered a war grave. There is a memorial plaque at St. Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall. “Oh hear us when we cry to Thee, for those in peril on the sea.”