Monday, 7 March 2011

The Loss of U-47 - On this day in Scottish Military History - 1941

In 1939 the defences of Scapa Flow were breached by a German U-boat and the battleship HMS "Royal Oak" was lost with 833 hands. It earned the Captain of the U-boat the Knight Cross of the Iron Cross with oak Leaves - The German equivalent of the Victoria Cross.

Nine months later the transport ship SS "Arandorra Star" was torpedoed by the same U-Boat off the Hebrides. The "Arandorra Star" was carrying Axis internees to Canada. Many crewmen, guards from Scottish yeomanry regiments and hundreds of German and Italian civilians died in the sinking. The survivors were taken to the Clyde and over the next few weeks bodies from the ship were washed ashore on the Western Isles.

This same U-boat was on station in the North Atlantic in November 1940 as a weather ship, and first spotted convoy HX84 which was under the protection of the "Jervis Bay". Tracking the convoy, U-47 led the battleship "Admiral Scheer" to its prey.

U-47 was commanded by Günter Prien. He was one of Hitler's favourites. A dyed-in-the-wool Prussian Nazi and a ruthless submariner. He had sunk the second British ship lost in the war, the SS "Bosnia" and by March 1941 he and his crew had sunk 30 ships.

On this day seventy years ago U-47 was lost with all hands near the Rockall Banks whilst attacking convoy OB293. HMS "Wolverine" is credited with its sinking but there is doubt that was the actual cause of U-47's loss. Even if "Wolverine" was responsible or not, the U-47 never surfaced again.

No-one in Scotland would have shed any tears for the 'Bull of Scapa Flow' and his 44 crewmen who had caused so many deaths around the shores of Scotland over the previous eighteen months.


  1. Prien was born in Thuringia, not in Prussia.
    He joined the Nazi Party in 1932 but is there any evidence that he was a ‘dyed in the wool’ Nazi (whatever that means)?

  2. Thanks for the comments Highland Cathedral

    Prien was born in 1908 and as far as I can see Thuringia as a state wasn't formed until 1920. Before then Osterfeld, where Prien was born, was part of Saxony which itself had been part of Prussia. He may well have considered himself a Saxon?

    I thought the phrase "dyed in the wool" was a common phrase however if you've never heard it before it means that person has a strong opinions about something, in this case politics

    Prien joined the Nazis in 1932 while they were still quite a minority party and anything I've read of Prien suggests he was an enthusiastic member of the Nazi Party up until his death.

    Thanks for the comments