the Degree Confluence Project

United Kingdom : Scotland

4.7 km (2.9 miles) NW of Kirkwall, Orkney Islands, Scotland, United Kingdom
Approx. altitude: 28 m (91 ft)
([?] maps: Google MapQuest OpenStreetMap ConfluenceNavigator)
Antipode: 59°S 177°E

Accuracy: 5 m (16 ft)
Quality: good

Click on any of the images for the full-sized picture.

#2: the "Hamnavoe, the ferry from Scrabster to Stromness / Port of Stromness #3: Captain Peter talking with the Chief Officer on the navigation bridge #4: "The Old Man of Hoy" #5: the Port of Kirkwall #6: GPS #7: view to the South #8: view to the West #9: Scapa Flow and U-47 leaving Kiel. The hat and umbrella were used as mocking symbols of the then British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain #10: the Ring of Brogar

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  59°N 3°W (visit #3)  

#1: view to the North

(visited by Captain Peter and Werner Furlan)

12-Jun-2004 -- On June 11th, at 7 p.m. we took the almost brandnew "Northlink"-ferry "Hamnavoe" at Scrabster near Thurso. "Hamnavoe" is Celtic and means "Home Port", "Safe Haven". She links the port of Scrabster with Stromness on Mainland Island of the Orkneys, and the voyage over the Pentland Firth takes one and a half hour.

Even though only a passenger in this case, Captain Peter is of course not prepared to travel just sitting in the restaurant, in the bar or in a deck chair and glaring onto the Sea, but he immediately requested to get admittance to the navigation bridge, which has been granted to us by the Master with pleasure. Werner, having already joined twice Captain Peter's ship, the "Nova Scotia", had now the opportunity to see a real modern navigation bridge, - equipped with all the most recent technology available, as electronic mapping, video surveillance and a fully automated ballast control system.

Approaching the Orkneys from the South the first attraction to see is "The Old Man of Hoy" on the island of Hoy, - a vertical column created by erosion in millions of years.

After arrival at Stromnes we went to the capital of the Orkney Islands, Kirkwall, where we checked in the "Kirkwall Hotel", located directly on the Port of Kirkwall.

The next morning we went to the close by confluence, which was easy to find and access. The view to the South shows the radio masts, and to the North we see the Wide Firth. Looking towards West we see parts of Kirkwall.

Another important and very famous Bay in the Orkneys is Scapa Flow.

The audacious attack on the battleship "Royal Oak" by U-47 at the base at Scapa Flow in October 1939 is one of the legendary stories in naval history. The raid on Scapa Flow made British High Command realize that they were not so invincible - which in turn was to lead to the beginning of a more concerted effort to combat the U-Boot threat.

Scapa Flow was the main fleet anchorage of the Royal Navy, a kind of a "British Pearl Harbor" - an obviously impregnable fortress, particularly against submarine attack. Indeed, the only previous attempt by a German submarine (U-116) in 1918 to make its way into the British base had ended in failure.

According to Großadmiral (Grand Admiral) Dönitz, the Chief in Command of the German U-Boot fleet in WW II, any attack on Scapa Flow would need nerves of steel and the highest level of skill. He used to call it "the boldest of bold enterprises", for any attacker had to deal with not only the heavy defences, but also the unpredictable currents, powerful enough to carry a U-Boot off course and into danger. But Dönitz began to collect intelligence on this British anchorage. Subsequently it had been concluded that a penetration into Scapa Flow might be feasible only through the Holm Sound, and that the raid would have to take place at night and during slack water (i.e. at the turn of the tide). The main difficulty, however, would concern the navigation.

After reaching his conclusion, only one thing remained - the task of finding the right man to carry out the raid. In his post-war memoirs, the Grand Admiral wrote:

"I decided to allow an attempt to be made. My choice fell upon Kapitänleutnant (Lieutenant-Commander) Prien, the captain of U-47. He, in my opinion, possessed all the personal qualities and the professional ability required. I handed over to him the whole file on the subject and left him free to accept the task or not."

And Prien, the esteemed commander of U-47 wanted to do it. As Prien himself wrote:

"I felt a tremendous tension within me. Would it be possible to bring it off? My common sense calculated and questioned the chances, but my will had already decided that it could be brought off. My thoughts were obsessed with the single idea of Scapa Flow."

The date set for the "Einsatzorder Nordsee Nr. 16" (Operation Order North Sea No. 16) was the night of 13th to 14th October, when both periods of slack water would take place during darkness. By 4 October, all other U-Boots operating around the Orkneys were withdrawn from the area.

Armed with a full complement of torpedoes, U-47 gently moved out from its base at Kiel, the major German Navy port on the Baltic Sea, on 8th October, taking a carefully-considered route to the Orkneys - lying on the bottom during daytime and keeping strict radio silence. The mission had been planned with the highest level of security, and all information had been transmitted word of mouth only.

When Prien on board made the announcement about the task to his crew he recalled being able to hear the dripping of water, so still was the silence. On being informed of the boat's destination U-47's First Officer replied nonchalantly "das geht schon in Ordnung, Herr Kaleu ." (that will be OK, Lieutenant-Commander ...)

On 13th october, at 23:31 hrs U-47 surfaced at Rose Ness, and carefully started to make its final approach heading NW up the Holm Sound. Moving slowly along the surface. The main defences consisted of booms - large defensive barriers - and the small Kirk Sound to the North of the little island of Lamb Holm was protected by a number of sunken wrecks or "blockships", strategically placed to prevent a possible submarine attack. The Kirk Sound itself was little more than half a kilometre in width; while the intelligence reports gathered before the raid had suggested that the route was not completely impenetrable, it didn't fail to mention the obvious dangers. It was through this small stretch of water that Prien was to navigate U-47.

With so little room to play with and under constant fear of the unpredictable currents, the path through the Kirk Sound was a perilous one; having studied the situation and the position of the three partly-visible blockships, Prien instructed his helmsman to take the narrow channel between two of them, running with the current, and there was a particularly heart-stopping moment as the U-Boot found itself momentarily grounded when its hull brushed the anchor cable of one of the blockships. After blowing the tanks U-47 managed to free itself and rejoin the current, only to come so close to the shore that it found itself illuminated by the headlights of a passing taxi car in the vicinity of St. Mary's Village.

By just after midnight on the morning of 14th October the U-Boot had finally made its way into the harbour. At 00:27 hrs, Prien entered into his logbook the famous words:


The scene was now set for one of the most dramatic incidents of the war: Continuing westwards after entering the British base, two vessels were spotted, one of which was the "Royal Oak" and the other the veteran seaplane carrier "Pegasus". Having decided on the target "Royal Oak", U-47 silently moved in for the kill.

At 00:58 hrs, Prien gave the command to launch the first of two three-torpedo salvoes at the two targets from the bow tubes, one at the Northern target ("Pegasus") and two at the lower ("Royal Oak"). The first torpedo had struck the "Royal Oak" at 01:04 hrs, and the crew were clearly shaken but not too stirred. It was assumed by the crew, still under the false illusion that they were immune to enemy attack, that the sudden shudder had been caused by an internal explosion. Not thinking anything of it, many of them returned to their beds.

Having waited a short while for the reaction from the battleship, that never came, the crew of U-47 busily set to reloading the bow tubes. Reloaded and ready, Prien maneouvred his U-Boot for the fatal attack, launching three more torpedoes at the "Royal Oak".

After around three minutes (01:16 hrs), the hull of the British vessel was torn apart. Very quickly the battleship started to list heavily. A mere thirteen minutes later it had sunk to the bottom, taking with it the lives of 833 sailors, among them Rear Admiral Henry E. Blagrove, the commander of the 2nd Battle Squadron.

Amid the chaos it had caused, U-47 quickly and quietly slipped out of the Flow back through the Kirk Sound, escaping both the now-awakened Royal Navy destroyers and the current running at a hair-raising ten miles per hour.

Contrary to reports put out by the BBC suggesting that the offending U-Boot had been sunk, by 02:15 hrs, Prien was safely out in the open waters of the North Sea on its way to base at Wilhelmshaven. Even when U-47 was well on its way home, the British Admiralty refused to believe that the Royal Oak had been sunk as a result of a torpedo attack, insisting on that it had sunk due to a series of explosions.

It was not until 07:46 hrs that the British realised what had actually happened, after divers had been sent down to examine the wreck where they found the remnants of a type G7e/2874 electrical torpedo.

U-47's journey back home was a big celebration. Prien was soon to become known as "Der Stier von Scapa Flow", ("The Bull of Scapa Flow") On arrival at Wilhelmshaven on 17th October Prien and his crew received the much-expected heroes' welcome and were greeted by U-Boot commander Dönitz himself. Prien and his crew were even taken to Berlin for lunching with Adolf Hitler. Prien received the "Ritterkreuz" (Knight's Cross). The rest of the crew was awarded with the "Eisernes Kreuz" (Iron Cross, either Frist or Second Class). Prien and his crew were celebrated like film stars, besieged by armies of autograph hunters.

The attack by U-47 on the "Royal Oak" was without doubt one of the most significant actions of the war. The then First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, who in an annoucement after the attack grudgingly described Prien's feat as "a remarkable exploit of professional skill and daring".

The Admiralty were determined that what had happened on the night of 13th to 14th October 1939 would never happen again. A week after U-47's escapade, several additional blockships were sunk, sealing off the Kirk Sound completely. Later other potential gaps were also plugged, mainly by the construction of concrete dams, known as "Churchill barriers".

The lengths to which the Admiralty went in sealing off everything up to the last inch of the Flow was due to the fear and respect they held towards the German U-Boots and their crews.

(Recommended literature on the German U-Boot-Weapon and the Raid of Scapa Flow: Dönitz, Karl, Großadmiral - Memoirs: "Zehn Jahre und zwanzig Tage" (Ten Years and Twenty Days)

Prien, Günther, Kapitänleutnant - "Mein Weg nach Scapa Flow" (My Way to Scapa Flow)

see also: www.u-47.org

Sheep are plentiful on the Orkneys and the Stone Rings from prehistoric times are nowadays inscribed in the World's Heritage List.

At 1630 we took the "Hamnavoe" back to Scrabster and travelled South until Golspie, where we checked in the "Granite Villa" for overnight.

 All pictures
#1: view to the North
#2: the "Hamnavoe, the ferry from Scrabster to Stromness / Port of Stromness
#3: Captain Peter talking with the Chief Officer on the navigation bridge
#4: "The Old Man of Hoy"
#5: the Port of Kirkwall
#6: GPS
#7: view to the South
#8: view to the West
#9: Scapa Flow and U-47 leaving Kiel. The hat and umbrella were used as mocking symbols of the then British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain
#10: the Ring of Brogar
ALL: All pictures on one page