FOR more than a century it has lain on the seabed, a lost relic of one of the greatest wartime disasters ever suffered by the Royal Navy.

But now undersea archaeologists say they have pinpointed the wreck of the boat used by sailors fleeing the wreck of the HMS Royal Oak as it sunk beneath the waters of Scapa Flow after a German U-boat torpedo attack.

The Royal OAK was a battleship which was moored in Scapa Bay as an anti-aircraft platform to help defend a vital radar station on the cliffs in 1939.

On the night of 13 October a German submarine, manoeuvred into Scapa Flow and staged a daring attack on the ship,

More than 830 men were lost of the 1,200 crew onboard, with the few survivors struggling in the cold oil-covered water.

But around 100 men managed to get aboard the battleship's steam pinnace - a light boat tethered to its side - and struck out for shore paddling with planks.

Yet the badly-overloaded boat capsized almost immediately, and also sank beneath the waves, sending dozens of men to a watery grave.


The location of the pinnace remained a mystery, until the Shiptime Maritime Archaeology Project pinpointed its wreck on multibeam sonar, 300 metres from the main wreck site.

Divers from SULA Diving of Stromness were able to swim down to the vessel, and establish its identity.

The project is led by Sandra Henry of UHI Archaeology Institute, ORCA (Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology), the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Kevin Heath of SULA Diving.

Pete Higgins, ORCA Senior Project Manager, said: “ It is a great privilege to be involved with the monitoring of such an important wreck site as HMS Royal Oak and in the finding of the missing pinnace.

"The site will now be recorded and will add to our knowledge surrounding the sinking of HMS Royal Oak.”

Diver, Wayne Allen, of Wayne Allen Technical added: “It was a privilege to be able to assist SULA Diving in recording these historically important sites.”


Documentary evidence suggests that around 100 crew members abandoned the HMS Royal Oak onboard the port side pinnace, which had a lifesaving capacity of just 59.

The Starboard side pinnace went down with the battleship and can be seen on the seabed a short distance from the wreck. The surviving boat had not got up steam, so boards were used to paddle the vessel away.

However, the pinnace began to rock due to being overloaded and the chief buffer tried to counter the movement by shouting instructions ‘’Lean to starboard, lean to port’.

Some on deck were ordered below to make more room as more men tried to climb onboard.

Sailor Dick Kerr, who was hanging on the side of the small vessel later recounted he heard someone start singing ‘Down Mexico way, south of the border’’ and a few others joined in.

A short while later the pinnace capsized, throwing those on deck into the water and trapping those who had gone below. Some crew scrambled onto the upturned hull but many were lost. The vessel then righted herself, capsized once more and then sank.

Alistair Coutts, Business Development Manager at Seatronics, was one of the team members who helped find the wreck.

He said : “Seatronics were delighted to have the opportunity to work with the collected specialists on this exciting project."