How a Nazi Submarine Somehow Sneaked into a Royal Navy Base and Sunk a Battleship

Warfare History Network

Warfare History Network

Security,

What a story. 

How a Nazi Submarine Somehow Sneaked into a Royal Navy Base and Sunk a Battleship

In Britain itself, rumors persisted throughout the war that the German boat had been guided into Scapa Flow by a traitor, and that the car headlights that had so scared the submariners were in fact a secret signal. Only when the war ended did it become apparent that the Germans’ main source of information had been aerial photographs.

World War II had been in progress for six weeks when on the evening of October 12, 1939, the German submarine U-47 surfaced off the Orkney Islands at the northern tip of Scotland. While the officers standing in the conning tower observed the twinkling lights ashore to the west, only the captain, Kapitänleutnant Günther Prien, knew the purpose of their mission. Security surrounding it had been so tight that only now, with the climax approaching, would it be possible to tell his men the reason for so daring a foray into enemy waters.

Following a night of observation, U-47 submerged and withdrew eastward. As it settled on the bottom, the motors were cut and Prien ordered the crew to assemble in the forward mess. The time had come to reveal to these young men—average age of 20—that the following day, they would be entering Scapa Flow.

A Symbolic Mission

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