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Navy divers destroy WWII torpedo in Orkney

Navy divers destroy WWII torpedo in Orkney
7 April 2016
Royal Navy bomb disposal experts detonated a Second World War torpedo found during a routine seabed survey in Scapa Flow, Orkney, Wednesday, 6 March 2016.

The torpedo is likely to have been one of those fired at HMS Royal Oak, as the battleship lay at anchor in Scapa Flow in 1939. The attack by the German U-boat U47 sunk the Royal Oak with the loss of 833 lives.

Lying in around 35 metres of water, the torpedo was first spotted during a sonar survey carried out by SULA Diving on behalf of Orkney Islands Council Marine Services. Video footage was then captured using an ROV (Remote Operated Vehicle).

A Royal Navy Explosives Ordnance Team from the Northern Diving Group viewed the site on 1 March and discussed the video footage with the Orkney Harbour Authority. The Navy divers then examined the torpedo on the seabed and a plan was drawn up for its safe disposal.

Today the divers, on a return visit to Orkney, attached explosives to the torpedo on the seabed. When detonated, a section of the torpedo containing its own explosive charge broke free and appeared on the surface.

“From our first survey, it was clear that there was no immediate threat to shipping, so we marked the location so that we could return today to safely dispose of the torpedo when the conditions were more favourable,” explained Lieutenant Commander Tony Hampshire, Commanding Officer of Northern Diving Group.

This was carried out with great professionalism by the Navy divers and we are grateful for their assistance and expertise.

David Sawkins, Orkney Islands Council’s Deputy Harbour Master

David Sawkins, Orkney Islands Council’s Deputy Harbour Master, said: “The torpedo had been sitting on the seabed of Scapa Flow for almost 80 years. Although it posed minimal danger to shipping, our responsibility is to operate a safe harbour and, as it was likely to contain live explosives, the prudent course of action was to alert Royal Navy bomb disposal experts and arrange for its safe disposal.

“This was carried out with great professionalism by the Navy divers and we are grateful for their assistance and expertise. The hope now is that the rear section of the torpedo, including the propeller, will be recovered and after a full examination returned to go on display in Orkney later in the year. It would be a poignant reminder of the huge loss of life when the Royal Oak went down in October 1939.”

Based at HM Naval Base Clyde, home of the UK Submarine Service, the underwater experts of the Northern Diving Group consists of more than 40 Royal Navy Clearance Divers and support staff, split into two teams – NDU1 (Northern Diving Unit) and NDU2.

To aid civil authorities, NDU2 provides a perpetual high readiness Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team which covers an area that starts from the high water mark in Liverpool and stretches out to sea clockwise around the British Isles to Hull.  The massive area also encompasses Northern Ireland, the Scottish Western Isles, Shetland and the Orkney Islands.  

The area includes many sites exposed to multiple bombing raids during the Second World War both on land and at sea.  Today the team continues to find and safely dispose of items of historic ordnance that would otherwise pose a threat to the public and maritime trade. 

NDU1 meanwhile also has an Improvised Explosive Device Disposal (IEDD) responsibility which takes into account the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Unique to Northern Diving Group is the support and manning of the NATO Submarine Rescue System which can be deployed at short notice from its home at HM Naval Base Clyde to attend submarine emergencies.  

A tri-nation system, Northern Diving Group works closely with French and Norwegian counterparts to ensure a readily available worldwide deployable capability.

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