Naval History Homepage and Site Search



by Lt Cdr Geoffrey B Mason RN (Rtd) (c) 2008


HMS ROYAL OAK - Royal Sovereign-class 15in gun Battleship


Editing & Additional Material by Mike Simmonds

HMS Royal Oak  (MaritimeQuest, click to enlarge)

return to Contents List  


ROYAL SOVEREIGN Class Battleship ordered under the 1913 Programme from HM Dockyard Devonport and laid down on 15th January 1914 on the same day as her sister HMS ROYAL SOVEREIGN. She was launched on 17th November 1914 as the 7th RN ship to carry this name which commemorates the tree in which King Charles II hid after he had escaped from the Battle of Worcester. The name had been was introduced for a 3rd Rate in 1654 and last been carried by a battleship built in 1892, sold in 1914. Build was completed in May 1916 and she joined the Grand Fleet before the Battle of Jutland in which she took part. This ship served continuously in the post­war years apart from refit periods and was deployed with the Home Fleet in September 1939, manned by the Devonport Port Division.


B a t t l e   H o n o u r s


H e r a l d i c   D a t a

Badge: On a field, White a Crown (Stuart) gold within a wreath of oak proper.


M o t t o

'Old but firm'



S u m m a r y   o f   P r e – W a r   S e r v i c e



1 9 1 6


At Devonport carrying out contractors trials and commissioned for trials. Build completion and commenced Acceptance Trials. ROYAL OAK was the last and largest battleship ever to be built at Devonport.

Joined Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow as part of the 4th Battleship Squadron.

31st - Took part in the Battle of Jutland. Obtained several hits on German battleship DERFFLINGER.

June to December

Deployed with Grand Fleet based at Scapa Flow.


1 9 1 7

Grand Fleet deployment in continuation.

Flying platforms fitted to B and X Turrets for trials of aircraft from major warships.


1 9 1 8

Grand Fleet deployment in continuation.

Took part in escort of German warships into Scapa Flow for formal surrender after end of hostilities in November.
(Note: Later some of these ships were scuttled by their crews in Scapa Flow.)


1 9 1 9

Joined 2nd Battle Squadron in Atlantic Fleet.


1 9 2 0    t o    1 9 2 1

Atlantic Fleet deployment in continuation.


1 9 2 2

January to August

Atlantic Fleet service in continuation.

Nominated for refit.
(Note: Refit had been postponed as a result of Washington Treaty)


 Taken in hand for refit.


1 9 2 3

 Under refit.


1 9 2 4

January to May

 Under refit. During the refit the two 12 pounder AA guns were replaced with two 4in HA AA guns.

Harbour trials.

Trials personnel joined.


Refit completion. Sea trials and re-commissioning for Mediterranean Fleet service.

July to December

Mediterranean Fleet deployment.


1 9 2 5    t o    1 9 2 6

Mediterranean Fleet service in continuation.

Routine docking and essential repairs in Malta (1926).

Visited Palestine (October 1926).


1 9 2 7


Refit in UK (March to June). During the refit a further two 4in HA guns were added and the two forecastle deck 6" guns were removed.

Resumed Mediterranean service on completion.


1 9 2 8

 Mediterranean service in continuation.

Officer's court martial.

Exercise and visits programme (November-December).


1 9 2 9

Exercise and visits programme including Italy (March).

Mediterranean service in continuation.

Returned to UK to re-commission (October).

Resumed Mediterranean Fleet deployment.


1 9 3 0

January to August

Mediterranean service including Fleet exercises and visits

Spring and Summer Cruiser Visits and Exercise programme including Joint exercises at Gibraltar with Home Fleet ships.


Second Summer Cruise


31st - Returned to Malta from Cruise

November to December

(Presumably deployed in Malta.)


1 9 3 1

January to February

Deployed in Malta


14th - Sailed for Gibraltar

19th - Carried out exercises with Home Fleet ships.


4th - Took passage to Marseilles.

6th - Arrived at Marseilles

7th - Visited St Raphael, France

14th - Visited Golfe-Juan, Vallauris, South of France

21st - Passage to Malta

24th - Returned to Malta.


Deployed in Malta


Sailed from Malta to refit and re-commission

July  to September

Under refit.

October to December

Re-commissioned during refit. Carried out post refit harbour and sea trials


1 9 3 2    to    1 9 3 3

Mediterranean Fleet service in continuation

Nominated for major refit and modernisation


1 9 3 4

January to April

Deployed with Mediterranean Fleet based in Malta.


Passage to Devonport for refit.

Paid-off and taken in hand for modernisation by HM Dockyard, Devonport.


Taken in hand for modernisation. Work included:

Fitting of improved bulge system for protection against submarine torpedo attack.
Installation of improved secondary armament for AA defence. The four single 4in HA were replaced with four twin 4in HA Mk16 AA guns. On a platform either side of the funnel was fitted an eight barrelled 2 pounder pom pom, also fitted were two quadruple 0.5 inch MGs - one each side of the conning tower.
Improved armour protection.
Redesign of bridge structure.
Removal of submerged torpedo tubes and fit of four torpedo tube mountings on upper deck.
Improved W/T installation.
Fit of new catapult on X Turret.


1 9 3 5

At Devonport under dockyard control.
(Note: This ship was the most fully modernised of the Class.)

Suspected sabotage inquiry (December 1935)


1 9 3 6

January to July

Under dockyard control. Post refit trials.


Re-commissioned for service in Mediterranean.                            

September to October

Trials and shakedown in Home waters.

Flagship of 2nd Battleship Squadron (October).

November to December

Home waters deployment.

1 9 3 7


19th - Took passage to Gibraltar to resume Mediterranean Fleet service.

24th - Arrived at Gibraltar.

31st - Deployed at Gibraltar for joint Fleet exercises


On completion of Fleet exercises she sailed from Gibraltar for a visit to Palma, Majorca.

14th - Sailed from Majorca for Valencia, Spain.
(Note : Involved in Spanish civil war incident and came under air attack)

25th - Return passage to Gibraltar.


Deployed at Gibraltar.

18th - Sailed from Gibraltar on 18th for passage to Plymouth

22nd - Arrived at Plymouth.


24th - Sailed from Plymouth for visit to Bay of Biscay ports.
(Note : This was part of National policy to provide defence for British flagged mercantiles and to enforce blockade)

26th - At La Rochelle, France

27th - At St Jean de Luz on 27th.
(Note : These ports were near Spanish border)


4th and 7th - At St Jean de Luz.

10th - At La Pallice, France.

15th, 19th and 20th - At St Jean de Luz.

23rd - At La Pallice.

24th - Sailed for Bay of Biscay patrol

27th, 29th and 31st - At St Jean de Luz


Carried out Bay of Biscay patrol

1st - Called at La Pallice

2nd - Sailed for Plymouth.

4th - Returned to Plymouth.

July to December

Visited Liverpool.

Home Fleet deployment.


1 9 3 8

January to November

Deployed in Home Fleet FS of 2nd Battle Squadron

Took part in Exercises and Visits Programmes

Carried body of Queen Maud of Norway back to Oslo.


Re-commissioned for Home Fleet Service.


1 9 3 9

January to July

Home Fleet deployment in continuation.

Took part in Exercise and visits programme.

Based at Rosyth and war station nominated.


15th – The Home Fleet comprising the battleships NELSON, RODNEY, RESOLUTION, ROYAL OAK Captain William Gordon Benn RN and ROYAL SOVEREIGN, the battlecruisers HOOD, REPULSE, the aircraft carrier ARK ROYAL with attendant destroyer BOREAS, the light cruiser AURORA and the destroyers FAME, FAULKNOR, FEARLESS, FIREDRAKE, FORESTER, FORESIGHT, FORTUNE, FOXHOUND, FURY, JACKAL, JERSEY and JERVIS and Tribal's ASHANTI, BEDOUIN, ESKIMO, MASHONA, MATABELE, PUNJABI, SOMALI and TARTAR departed Scapa Flow.

18th - The Tribals arrived back at Scapa Flow for refuelling and left again later in the day.

20th - RESOLUTION and ROYAL OAK arrived back at Scapa Flow.

31st – At 1800 hours the Home Fleet comprising the battleships NELSON, RODNEY, ROYAL OAK, ROYAL SOVEREIGN, the aircraft carrier ARK ROYAL, light cruisers CALYPSO, CALEDON, DIOMEDE, DRAGON of the 7th Cruiser Squadron, EFFINGHAM, CARDIFF, DUNEDIN, EMERALD of the 12th Cruiser Squadron and AURORA, BELFAST, SHEFFIELD of the

18th Cruiser Squadron and the destroyers FAULKNOR, FAME, FEARLESS, FIREDRAKE, FORESTER, FORTUNE, FOXHOUND and FURY of the 8th Destroyer Flotilla sailed from Scapa Flow. The Fleet deployed in the North Sea between the Orkneys and Norway.


D e ti 1 s   o f   W a r   S e r v i c e


(for more ship information,  go to Naval History Homepage and type name in Site Search


1st – Arrived back at Scapa Flow.

4th – The battleships ROYAL OAK and ROYAL SOVEREIGN departed Scapa Flow, escorted by the destroyers BROKE WANDERER, WHITEWALL for a patrol to the east of the Fair Isle Channel.

6th – At 1300 hours the destroyers FORESIGHT, FORESTER and FURY joined the force.

7th – At 1030 hours the Force left the patrol area and set course for Scapa Flow.
At 1709 hours the Force arrived back at Scapa Flow.

(From the 13th to 29th September the U-14 carried out a special reconnaissance trip to the Orkneys, during which she catalogued the tidal conditions, lights, and where possible the warship patrols. On 26th September a Luftwaffe reconnaissance aircraft flew over Scapa Flow and obtained excellent aerial photographs of the Flows defences. These photographs and U-14 reports were used by Dšnitz to plan the U-boat attack on Scapa Flow)


At Scapa Flow.

9th - Over night the CinC Home Fleet was made aware that the German navy was about to launch a sortie by heavy units.
At 1320 hours the CinC Home Fleet received firm information from the RAF when one of Coastal Command’s Hudson aircraft of 224 Sqd. sighted the German Battlecruiser GNEISENAU and the cruiser KOLN and 9 destroyers off Lister lighthouse (Lindesnes LH southern Norway) steaming north.
(The purpose of this sortie was to sink any allied shipping found and to entice out the Home Fleet onto waiting U-boats and to bring them into range of German bombers).
At 1930 hours ROYAL OAK
with destroyers MATABELE and STURDY sailed from Scapa Flow to patrol to the west of the Shetlands. ROYAL OAK didn’t sail with the Fleet due to her slow speed, which was probably less than 20 knots, so she was given the task to act as a 'back stop', should GNEISENAU slip out of the trap being set by Forces E and F of the Home Fleet, and attempt to break out from the North Sea.

10th – Sailing west by north the ROYAL OAK force ran into very heavy seas. During the day due to the foul weather ROYAL OAK's destroyers lost touch with her. After trying to re-establish contact with her escort and failing ROYAL OAK set course to return to Scapa Flow.

11th – In the early hours of the morning ROYAL OAK arrived back at Scapa Flow. She anchored in the Northeast corner of the Flow, some 1500 yards south of the old seaplane carrier PEGASUS (ex ARK ROYAL).
(Because the CinC Home Fleet believed that an attack by the Luftwaffe on Scapa Flow was imminent the majority of the fleet left Scapa Flow and over the next couple of days and were dispersed to other anchorages, most of them to Loch Ewe. ROYAL OAK was left in Scapa Flow as her anti-aircraft armament was deemed to be a useful addition to Scapa Flows inadequate air defences)
Meanwhile ROYAL OAK set about making good the damage sustained on her latest sortie, in which the stormy seas had caused structural damage and washed away many of her Carley floats.

14th – At 0104 hours a torpedo, one of a salvo of three, fired by U-47 struck ROYAL OAK on her starboard bow near the anchor chains. Many of the crew heard a muffled 'whump' but were unsure of what caused it many thought it to have been an internal explosion.
At 0116 hours as Captain W G Benn and Commander R L Woodrow-Clark were examining the damage caused by the first torpedo, ROYAL OAK was struck by two more torpedoes on her starboard side amidships from a salvo of three fired by U-47.
At 0121 hours John Gatt the skipper of the 100 ton grt drifter DAISY II, ROYAL OAK’s tender, tied up for the night on ROYAL OAK’s port side, saw an explosion that reached masthead height. This explosion was thought to have been caused by an explosion in a small arms magazine that ignited cordite charges.
At 0129 hours ROYAL OAK rolled over and sank, 833 men were lost over 100 of who were boy seamen, some died of exposure, some of injuries from the fires and explosions; others drowned or choked on the oil. Of the 420
chilled and oil-soaked survivors, 386 were picked by the DAISY II, including Captain Benn. This was an incredible feat for Skipper Gatt and his crew to get so many bodies on to a vessel which was 17 feet wide by 100 feet long. For his part in the rescue Skipper Gatt, although a civilian was awarded the DSC. Most of the remaining survivors were picked by boats from the PEGASUS and few managed to swim ashore.
At 0200 hours the Admiral commanding the Orkneys and Shetlands signaled the Admiralty that the ROYAL OAK had been sunk in Scapa Flow by a series of explosions.
At 0330 hours the first destroyer to move following the attack, MASHONA, slipped from No. 8 buoy. This was almost an hour after U-47 had successfully exited Scapa flow.
At 0400 hours DAISY II abandoned the search for survivors and took those she had picked up to the PEGASUS.
The survivors were interviewed and asked what they thought had caused the explosions and sinking. There were suggestions of sabotage and investigations centred on a number of oil drums that had been loaded onto the ROYAL OAK on the day before. Few if any of thought the sinking had been caused by torpedoes fired by a submarine.

15th – A local salvage diver was hired to dive on the wreck in an attempt to establish the cause of the sinking. During his two dives he first found the holes caused by the torpedoes; then he found the propellers from two German type G7e/2874 electric torpedoes. Thereby definitely establishing that a submarine had been responsible for the sinking.

17th – By this date the ROYAL OAK survivors had mostly been embarked on the accommodation ship VOLTAIRE, the uninjured, and the injured on the hospital ship SAINT ABBA.
At 1200 hours four Ju 88’s dived out of the sun and bombed the fleet units that were off the Lyness naval base in Scapa Flow. Their main target was the old battleship IRON DUKE that was being used as an accommodation ship but they also dropped bombs near the VOLTAIRE and SAINT ABBA. Small boats took the ROYAL OAK survivors embarked in VOLTAIRE to the island of Flotta in the middle of Scapa Flow. There, they were landed and told to scatter until after the air raid.
Captain Benn of the ROYAL OAK protested to the Admiralty and requested that his men should be removed from the dangers at Scapa Flow. Following his protest, the men on Flotta and the remainder of ROYAL OAK survivors were taken to the mainland and sent south by rail. The SAINT ABBA, with the seriously injured men aboard, sailed during the early evening for Invergordon Naval Base where the men were transferred to the new Naval hospital.
Casualty List - note on casualties)


back to Contents List
or Naval-History.Net

revised 28/4/11


if any ads offend, please contact Naval-History.Net