HMS Iron Duke bombed in Scapa Flow

Four Ju 88s from Sylt approach Scapa Flow at 11,000 ft in line astern and, diving out of the sun, bomb the ship. One crashes on Hoy as a result of shore based AA fire.

Moored off Lyness, HMS Iron Duke is the only vessel left in Scapa Flow after the sinking of HMS Royal Oak three days earlier. It was serving as the flagship of the Admiral Commanding Orkney and Shetland. Damaged in the raid it is towed to a nearby sandbank to prevent it from sinking and remains beached for the rest of the war.

HMS Iron Duke was a dreadnought battleship which served as the flagship of the Grand Fleet during the First World War, including at the Battle of Jutland. Sold for scrap in 1946.

Ju 88 shot down by AA over Hoy

4D+EK of 1/KG25 Crashes at Pegal Burn and is the first enemy aircraft to fall to anti-aircraft fire as it is claimed by gunners of 226 Battery on Hoy before it can release its bombs - William Rendall Seatter, was one of the gunners.

UFF2 Fritz Ambrosius, Wireless Operator, the only surviving member of the crew is taken prisoner. Pilot OB/Lt. Walter Flaemig, and Air Gunners UFF2 Attenburger and Obergefr. G R Faust are killed. They are reputedly buried in Lyness Cemetery on Hoy in graves marked as unknown German combatants, although as their names were known at the time, this seems odd.

The aircraft was one of a number taking part in an attack on the fleet anchorage of Scapa Flow, the crews had been briefed to attack only ships at anchor in open water, one of these was HMS Iron Duke which was attacked. Very early in the attack, before dropping any bombs this aircraft was fired upon by anti aircraft guns on Rysa Little (a small island off Hoy). The aircraft was hit and caught fire almost immediately, the rear gunner was almost certainly killed by this AA fire as his compartment was virtually destroyed. Unteroffizier Ambrosius released the upper escape hatch which was dragged away from the aircraft by the slip stream, with him still holding onto the release handle. Once clear of the aircraft he was able to open his parachute.

Battery No 1 gun fired and its 4.5 inch shell blew the glazed nose clean off. The nose landed by the gun crew

In his statement made to RAF Air Intelligence personnel he said that he could not understand why the Pilot and Observer had not abandoned the aircraft as he thought they had sufficient time to do so. The crew had taken part in the previous day's attack on the Firth of Forth.

Camouflage: brown and green on upper surfaces, light blue underside.

Armament: three MG15 and 21 drums of ammunition: six top rear, 11 lower rear, four observer. Two 500 kg bombs, no armour or bombsight.

Fritz Ambrosius had been a telegraphist at the General Post Office in Berlin and had signed up for twelve years' service. He had attended the wireless school at Halle then to KG257 before being posted to Rechlin where he joined KG25.

According to the RAF Museum, the bombs exploding on Hoy were considered to be the first enemy bombs to explode on British soil.

Denys Felkin records of Ambrosius: "The interrogator realised that this man was a born talker and kept him under interrogation – with excellent results for 103 days."

(AIR 40/2636 quoted in "The Walls Have Ears")

On 12 January 1940 Ambrosius was asked about photographs of military installations. When returned to a (bugged) room with fellow Luftwaffe PoW Erich May he told him:

"They must have poor apparatus. I told them so. They were taken from a height of 7 to 8 thousand metres. Our photos are better: when they are taken from, say, 4,000 metres, you can see every house on them." He then went on to speculate that the R.A.F. would not be able to bomb German installations and runways based on photos of this quality.

High level raid on Scapa Flow

Three hours after the sinking of HMS Iron Duke a high level raid of 15 aircraft bombs Scapa Flow, narrowly missing the 12,000 ton accommodation ship Voltaire. One stray bomb lands on Hoy which is the first part of the British Isles to be hit by a German bomb in the war.

The Skuas of 803 Sqn. from Haston make no contact with the enemy.

804 Sqn. scrambled to intercept raid over Scapa Flow

Shetland radar picks up a raid approaching Orkney from the east. Ten minutes later they arrive in two groups, one over Hatston and the other over Scapa Flow. Estimates put the number of aircraft at 35 He 111 (KG 26?) but the twilight makes identification difficult.

One hundred high explosive and incendiary bombs fell on land, half in error at Brig of Waithe in the parish of Stenness where James Isbister becomes one of the first civilian to be killed by bombing in the war. Most of the other bombs fall near Hatston creating eight foot wide craters and narrowly missing the bomb dump. The only casualty is one of 800 Sqn. ground crew hit by shrapnel whilst taking a walk a mile from the airfield.

The attack on Scapa Flow is more successful with the cruiser HMS Norfolk hit and holed with the loss of three of her officers and six ratings injured.

The whole of 804 squadron is scrambled from Hatston. They fail to make contact with any enemy aircraft and have difficulty returning to their own base.

Both the Royal Navy and the RAF blame inadequate radar coverage from Nethebutton on Orkney which is poorly situated.

Major R T Partridge recalls in his book Operation Skua:

The whole squadron (804) got airborne but, in the gathering darkness, no contacts were made and we all had a hell of a job landing back at the airfield as there were no flares or runway lighting.

Cottages at Brig of Waithe, Orkney
One of these cottages was hit by a bomb during the raid on 16 March 1940 killing its occupant James Isbister

Cottages at Brig of Waithe, Orkney in 2020
Cottages at Brig of Waithe, Orkney in 2020

Bomber command launch an attack on Sylt

Minelaying sea planes at Hörnum are the target of Whitleys and Hampdens.

Raid detected approaching Orkney

Anti-aircraft cruiser HMS Curlew's radar plot shows unidentified aircraft approaching, 80 miles from Orkney at 12,000 to 20,000 feet.

(HMS Curlew will be sunk by Ju 88 bombers of Kampfgeschwader 30 near Narvik on 26 May.)

Source: @Ness_Battery

Hurricanes take off from Wick

Hurricanes of 43 Sqn. take off from Wick to intercept German aircraft heading for Scapa Flow. Estimates vary - at least 24 raiders. 8.20pm Orkney: Air Raid Warning RED

OSDef HQ (Stromness Hotel) - CO Brigadier Kemp very unwell - has spent day in bed but "got out by raid 8.15. Dressed and saw whole show."

Source: @Ness_Battery

Hurricanes intercept He 111s over Orkney

Hurricanes from Wick intercept 6 enemy aircraft 40 miles E of Copinsay. Formation broken up, one shot down into sea. Heinkel 111 lands at Wick, 2 crew dead, pilot & wireless operator taken prisoner. Great difficulty for pilots - planes attacking from West, no light.

HMS CURLEW estimates 24 planes in attacks, 6 turned away by fighters. "the objective appeared to be the Hoxa and Switha booms. High level bombing against a floating boom could hardly be expected to achieve success. No bombs fell particularly close to the target."

The raid is made up of He 111 and Ju 88.

War Diary Appendix 3 showing times of raid on 8.4.1940

Source: @Ness_Battery

Skuas sink Königsberg

Skuas from 800 & 803 Sqns (from Hatston, HMS SPARROWHAWK) attack & sink Königsberg in Bergen - first major warship ever sunk by aerial attack.

Lieutenant William Lucy, Officer Commanding 803 Sqn. has read intelligence reports of a German cruiser in Bergen harbour and persuades Major R T Partridge, Officer Commanding 800 Sqn. to take part in a dive bombing raid.

All but one of the Skuas made it back. But only just... There's an account of the attack and some stunning images on a page dedicated to the attack.

Source: @Ness_Battery

804 and 605 Sqn. scrambled to intercept aircraft over Orkney

804 Sqn. (Gladiators) patrolling Copinsay intercept Do 17 at 16:40.

804 Sqn's diary, quoted in Sky over Scapa, reads:

A tremendous day for HMS Sparrowhawk, the first and we hope by no means the last. 804 Squadron began their fun at 16.05 hours when Yellow Section flew off to Copinsay. There were a great many plots on the board, the weather fine with layers of cloud varying in density up to about 10,000 feet. about 16.40 hours P/O Sabey saw a Do17 and the section gave chase. Sub.Lt. Fell got in a burst at about 500 yds. as the Do17 disappeared into the cloud but followed him in.P/O Peacock went in above the cloud and as he came out so did the Do17, 400 yds. away. Peackock got in a burst before the enemy aircraft dived away back into the clouds. We were later informed that Do17 was crying SOS with a leaking petrol tank and did not reach his base.

804 and 43 Sqn intercept He 111 over Orkney

Red Section of 804 Sqn. (Gladiators from Hatston) are patrolling between Copinsay and Burray when they see an He 111K ten miles east which is being chased by 43 Sqn. Hurricanes from Wick.

804 Sqn's diary, quoted in Sky over Scapa, reads:

At 16.45 hours Red Section was sent to patrol between Copinsay and Burray. As soon as it got there, Carver saw a Heinkel 111K about ten miles east going north-east. Hot pursuit was begun and as the Section followed, Hurricanes could be seen on the cloud dodging Heinkel's tail. After a few minutes the enemy aircraft began climbing, twisting and diving. By the time Red Section arrived and got within range, 43 Squadron had done their job. The enemy aircraft's motors were idling and he dived down to 20 feet over the sea. For two or three miles, he held at 20 feet with a dark oil streak trailing behind him on the sea and finally flopped, port wing first. Six Hurricanes and Red Section few around the wreck as three of the crew swam for it.

Main air raid on Orkney starts

Estimates vary, possibly as many as 60 aircraft, Junkers 88s and Heinkel 111s, 7-10,000ft. One wave approaches from the east and another from the south-east.

605 Sqn. Hurricanes are scrambled from Wick and 804 Sqn. Gladiators are scrambled from Hatston.

OPERATIONS RECORD BOOK of (Unit or Formation) No. 605 Squadron.

Place Date Time Summary of Events References to Appendices
WICK. 10.4.40. Fine day with little wind. No activity in the morning and patrols were ordered over South going convoy from Kirkwall. At approx. 1545 hours P/O.Muirhead while on convoy patrol sighted enemy aircraft and carried out two attacks before losing him in cloud. An hour later F/O. Leeson leading red section saw two enemy aircraft at 14000 ft. climbed and brought the one down and two of crew jumped with parachute. It is unknown for certain whether the first machine encountered by F/O. Muirhead was brought down or not. For the next six hours there was intense activity far greater than anything seen previously. The released Squadron was brought to Stand-By; at one time we had three sections at Stand-By and it was still said there there were not sufficient fighter aircraft. Four pilots fired rounds at enemy aircraft and made out reports. F/O Lesson P/O. Carter, P/O. Muirhead and Sgt.Moffatt. Red section were available for 2¼ hours. "A" Flight were supplying the night phase pilots at at approx. 2045 hours Wick Air Raid Warning sounded; two of Red and Yellow section took off together with others from 43 and 111 Squadrons there were about 10 aircraft in the air after dark to encounter a raid on Scapa of about 40 enemy aircraft who came over in successive waves. Anti-Aircraft fire was intense and there were one or two loud reports of bombs one on the Pentland Skerries but no damage at all was reported. P/O. Edge and Flying Officer Austin P/O Currant and Sgt Mainland took part; F/O. Edge attacked three separate enemy aircraft and P/O. Current used all his ammunition on one enemy aircraft but neither pilots was able to say definitely with what results. It was reported that this station together with Hatston and anti-aircraft had accounted for seven enemy aircraft during the day.

Source: @Ness_Battery

Orkney air defences open fire on raiders

Ness Battery: Single Heinkel 111 approaches from E, 800ft over Battery. Ness Battery's 5 Bren guns open fire. No hits.

Flotta - Stanger Battery's Brens open fire on low flying aircraft, which fire back. No casualties.

Map of Flotta defences

At least 2 waves of bombers turn away when faced with HAA barrage fire and fighters, but ~20 press on and ~15 250kg and 500kg bombs dropped, mostly on Flotta. Luftwaffe targeting the Hoxa and Switha booms again. Buchanan Battery hit - no casualties.

Diagram of Orkney raid 10.04.1940

Ness Battery: 2nd plane low over huts. Brens open fire. Plane 'disappeared over Black Craig, swerving violently'. Ness Battery makes tentative claim as a 'kill' - thought unlikely to have made it back to base.

Sketch of aircraft downed near Stromness 10.04.1940

HMS SUFFOLK hit during air raid on Scapa Flow - but not badly damaged. SUFFOLK took part in occupation of Faeroe Islands three days later and sank German tanker "Skagerrak" off Norway on 14th.

Twin 4-inch Mk XVI guns HMS SUFFOLK © IWM (A 4194)

During the raids two AA gunners killed in explosion at gun site in S Ronaldsay ('R3' manned 178 HAA Bty at Herston). Gnr Thomas COCKBURN & Gnr Alfred SAYERS, both aged 39, buried at St Peter's, South Ronaldsay. OSDef CO Brig. Kemp at funeral on 13 April 1940.

Diagram of Hoxa defences

Source: @Ness_Battery

Admiralty surveyors looking at airfield sites in Orkney

One month later (date unknown) Twatt is chosen to be the location of a station to accommodate one reinforcing fighter squadron. This is later changed to be one and a half squadrons.

At the start of construction the farm of Hyval is demolished, followed by Festigarth, Skogar, Newhall and North Newhall.

The airfield is very close to RAF Skeabrae which causes some concern that with the wind in north-westerly or south-easterly directions aircraft taking off from one might get in the way of aircraft landing at the other. Inter-service cooperation is difficult as the Navy would not allow an RAF controller to overrule a Fleet Admiral who might want to immediately embark aircraft onto his carrier, they also rejected the RAF's suggestion that they locate the station at Grimsetter.