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15 October 2014
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The Torpedoing of the Royal Oak in Scapa Flowicon for Recommended story

by West Sussex Library Service

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Contributed by 
West Sussex Library Service
People in story: 
Jack Joseph Heasman
Location of story: 
Scapa Flow
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
11 July 2005

This story was submitted to the People's War site by Sue Manning-Jones on behalf of Jack Heasman and has been added to the site with his permission. Me Heasman fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

At the beginning of the war I was in the RNVR based in Brighton at the King Alfred. I was mobilised on 6th September 1939 and sent by train from Portsmouth to Scapa Flow to join the Iron Duke, a first world war battle ship. It was to be used as a depot ship and carried the mail to be distributed to the fleet, not like the First World War when it was a fighting ship.

The Royal Oak was just astern of us when it was torpedoed by a U-boat. The U-boat had come through the boom defence by following a destroyer. He torpedoed the Royal Oak. It was a shocking night weatherwise. We spent the night lowering boats to lift the people off. A lot of men went down with the ship but we were able to rescue some. The water was very cold and I am sure that lots perished in the dreadful cold water.

The Admiralty sent a signal to the captain of the Iron Duke to send divers down to try and find the U-boat. These poor men were sent down in heavy suits connected by airlines to the ship. I was one of the crew who was manning an air pump — it took four men to man each pump. Whilst the divers were down a yellow flag came up on the fleet to say there was an air raid. The shore batteries opened up on the planes. One was shot down in flames and the pilot bailed out but his parachute didn't open. A big cheer went up!

The Iron Duke was hit in the air raid and they had to beach it. We had to come off the Iron Duke which was listing badly leaving all our kit etc. behind. All this was in vain as we found that the U-boat had come in, done its worst and got out again by following another boat out through the boom defence. The captain Cpt. Prienz was awarded the Iron Cross for his efforts. However we got our own back as he was depth charged and sunk some time later.

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