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U-Boat Commander Extraordinary

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Exactly one month after Britain’s declaration of war on the German Reich (September 3, 1939) a U-boot skipper’s audacious opportunism sent the first of five of Britain’s battleships and battlecruisers to the bottom of Scapa Flow. Situated on Scotland’s stormy west coast this fortress harbour served as an English lair from which Royal Navy ships ambushed German shipping navigating the North Sea.

The facts are well documented in respect of the humiliation that resulted from the sinking of the Revenge-Class battleship HMS Royal Oak. However, there could be no question during or after the war of giving the German armed forces credit for their incredible boldness. Had a British submarine courageously penetrated an impregnable German harbour there would be more television repeats than The Great Escape and Sound of Music combined.

Under a clear night sky on October 4, 1939, Commander Lieutenant Günther Prien skilfully steered U-boot U-47 through the eastern channels of this heavily defended naval stronghold. There was an irony to the impending exploit.

In this almost landlocked harbour, many of World War One’s surrendered German ships were insolently scuttled by their officers rather than allow them to be taken as Prizes of War. Lieutenant Günther Prien would have been well aware that in entering the unassailable Royal Naval lair he ran an extra risk. If he was to fail in his objective, he would be handing England a propaganda coup that would settle an old score. It was a risk he felt obliged to take.

Furthermore, with what he was about to do, it is inconceivable that Lieutenant Prien could expect to escape swift and lethal revenge. The odds against his submarine’s escape were heavily stacked against him. For him, the prize must have seemed well worth violent death.

Moving silently on the surface to avoid submarine nets the German commander steered his submarine through the narrow rocky channels of one of the world’s most heavily protected naval citadels. Clearly silhouetted against the night sky and island escarpments on each side of his lurking craft were moored the Royal Navy block ships. The purpose of the block ships was to act as sentinels to protect the pride of Britain’s navy concealed from the open seas.

One can imagine the tension as the U-boat crew spotted the pride of the Royal Navy’s Royal Oak swinging at anchor. At first, the German submarine crew thought they had chanced upon HMS Repulse. There was hardly a whisper on board U-47 as a salvo of three torpedoes was released. Their intended target was fortunate as only one of the three lethal torpedoes hit its mark. This caused little damage to the formidable British behemoth.

Due to their well-defended protected position, there was much complacency displayed by RN officers and ratings. Royal Naval officers who investigated the rumbling sound concluded it originated inside the ship’s hull and they raised no alarm.

Keeping his nerve, the U-boat commander reloaded his tubes and triggered another salvo. Two torpedoes were to lethally strike their prey. Within 13 minutes HMS Royal Oak capsized with massive loss of life. If 1,234 ratings 835 were killed that night or later lost their lives due to injuries sustained.

Amidst the confusion that followed Lieutenant Günther Prien’s unnoticed U-47 submarine slipped away through the harbour’s hapless defences. Commander Günther Prien had carried out one of the boldest sea raids in the annals of naval history.

On reaching the Reich the gallant skipper was feted as a national hero. Günther Prien was the first U-Boat Commander to be awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross for his outstanding seamanship and courage. From the English side, what followed was a cacophony of sneers, cheap insults, and red herrings, fifth columnists and spies again being blamed for the crushing catastrophe.

 Read  More: UNTOLD SAGAS OF THE SEA Volume I (Paperback / Ebook)

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MICHAEL WALSH is a journalist, broadcaster and the author of WITNESS TO HISTORY, RISE OF THE SUN WHEEL, EUROPE ARISE, TROTSKY’S WHITE NEGROES, MEGACAUST, DEATH OF A CITY, MY LAST TESTAMENT LET GOD JUDGE ME, THE BUSINESS BOOSTER, DEBTOR’S REVENGE, IMMORTAL BELOVED, THE THE ALL LIES INVASION Volume I (Paperback / Ebook), and THE ALL LIES INVASION Volume II (Paperback / Ebook), Odyssey Adolf Hitler, INSPIRE A NATION Volume I and II, SLAUGHTER OF A DYNASTY, REICH AND WRONG, THE RED BRIGANDS, RANSACKING THE REICH, SCULPTURES OF THE THIRD RIECH: ARNO BREKER AND REICH SCULPTORS, SCULPTURES OF THE THIRD REICH VOLUME II Josef Thorak and Reich Sculptors, SCULPTURES OF THE THIRD REICH VOLUME III Porcelain and Reich Sculptors, The Exiled Duke Romanov Who Turned Desert Into Paradise, THE DOVETAILS, SEX FEST AT TIFFANY’S, THE PHANTOM OF OPHELIA, A Leopard In Liverpool, The Stigma Enigma, The Souls Meet, All I Ask Is a Tall Ship, The Leaving of Liverpool (Paperback/Ebook), Britannic Waives the Rules (Paperback/Ebook), UNTOLD SAGAS OF THE SEA Volume I (Paperback / Ebook), FOR THOSE WHO CANNOT SPEAK, and other book titles. These best-selling books are essential for the libraries of informed readers.

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