A digitised image of HMS Royal Oak, which lies 33 metres underwater. Photo: Chris Rowland / Dundee University

New images have revealed the extent of the damage to HMS Royal Oak after it was sunk during the Second World War.

The findings have been released as part of the commemorations to mark the 80th anniversary of the ship’s sinking. Gathered by divers, the images have been collated to create striking 3D models of the wreck.

HMS Royal Oak was attacked by a German submarine in Orkney’s Scapa Flow on 14 October 1939, killing 835 people on board. One of the first major incidents of the war, the ship sank just 13 minutes after it was struck by a salvo of three torpedoes.

The Revenge Class battleship now lies upturned 33 metres underwater at Scapa Flow. Diving is normally prohibited due to the ship’s status as a war grave, but also due to safety concerns. Fully fuelled when the torpedoes hit, the Royal Oak to this day still leaks small quantities of fuel oil.

The commemorations aim to ensure the disaster is not forgotten by the people of Orkney or the relatives of those who died. The last survivor of the incident, Seaman Arthur Smith, passed away in December 2016.

As well as the regular commemorations, which involve placing a White Ensign at the ship’s stern, 835 flowers were this year scattered on the sea for the first time.

The most striking finding of the new images is the extreme damage inflicted on the ship’s bows, which goes some way to explaining why she sunk so rapidly and left little time for her crew to escape.

This article was published in the December 2019 issue of Military History Matters. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.