"Only HMS Royal Oak, which in a biting force-nine velocity gale had lost contact with her escorts, turned to home water, to the serenity of her protective ring of islands around her anchorage in the northeast corner of the Flow.
Already war-weary, the elderly lady ached in her joints, clumsily lumbered into her appointed place, barely making it, for the rough seas had put her port battery completely out of action, damaged ventilators and exhausts on bulkheads, caused many of her rivets to loosen, side plates to leak, letting salt water into her starboard aft fresh water tank and into the Royal Marines’ mess deck, as well as into the implement store immediately below, which stood awash in two feet of salt water." The Royal Oak Disaster by Gerald S. Snyder, at page 79.
On October 8, 1939 Admiral Forbes at Scampa Flow, hearing of a sortie of units of the Kriegsmarine, put his ships on alert. A Hudson bomber/reconnaissance aircraft of Coastal Command found the Gneisenau off of Lister Sound on the Norwegian coast. Forbes suspecting a German breakout into the Atlantic, put his forces into motion. Hood, Repulse, Sheffield, Aurora and four destroyers worked up speed, steaming towards Norway. Nelson, Rodney, Furious, Newcastle and eight destroyers made for the water northeast of the Shetland Islands. HMS Royal Oak, too slow for either of the other hunting groups, made for a position west of Fair Isle Channel between the islands of Shetland and Orkney. On that same day U-47 made transit from the Baltic into the North Sea, through the Kiel Canal on one of the most daring missions ever attempted by the U-Boat Fleet, the penetration of Scampa Flow.
When HMS Royal Oak joined the Grand Fleet, she was a state of the art battleship, one of five sisters of the Royal Sovereign Class. Mounting eight 15-Inch guns, the heaviest and most powerful armament of the time, the Rs as they were called were meant to lie in line of battle against opposing dreadnoughts. "In 1914, when they began to take shape, they were the ultimate in battleship design, far superior to the equivalent German designs of the time, and, in their internal armor protection, actually superior to the ‘Queen Elizabeths’, a fact often overlooked or ignored in reference books." Battleship Royal Sovereign and Her Sister Ships by Peter C. Smith, at page 11. Through their life span of four decades, the Royal Sovereign Class was often overlooked, under-appreciated, and just plain belittled next to the preceding battleship design, the fabled fast battleships of the Queen Elizabeth Class.
HMS Royal Oakwas the proud bearer of a distinguished name, the 11th Royal Navy warship so named. At the Battle of Worcester in 1651, the "Round Head" army of Parliament and Oliver Cromwell finally finished off the "Cavalier" army of King Charles I and the Royalists, ending the English Civil War. One participant of the Battle was Charles, Prince of Wales, eldest son of Charles I. During the night after the Battle, Prince Charles found refuge from the searching patrols of the Parliamentarians by hiding in an Oak tree and thereafter made his escape to the continent. Ten years later, after the beheading of Charles I and the death of Oliver Cromwell through natural causes, the majority of the populace and especially key generals, such as George Monk, were tired of the puritanical totalitarianism of the Interregnum. Charles, Prince of Wales, was restored to the throne as Charles II, the Merry Monarch, so called because of his amorous exploits with the opposite sex. To celebrate the Restoration and honor the new King’s escape from the Battle of Worcester, one of the first ships of the line to be constructed, finished in 1663, was named HMS Royal Oak.
Eustace Tennyson d’Eyncourt was appointed Director of Naval Construction (DNC) shortly after his predecessor, Phillip Watts, had designed the Queen Elizabeth Class. His first task was to design a battleship that would be a 15-Inch gunned version of the Iron Duke. As such, the class was meant to be part of the line of battle, which was the traditional mission of all battleships of the Royal Navy. The Queen Elizabeth Class was designed from the start to form a fast wing of the battlefleet but with the Royal Sovereign Class it was back to the basics. Exceptional speed was not needed, so armor and armament were to be emphasized at the expense of speed. The requirements were to design a ship with the speed of the existing battleline, 21 knots, to incorporate ten 15-Inch guns, to look at the feasibility of incorporating the triple turret and to revert to a coal fired power plant, rather than the oil fired machinery of the Queen Elizabeth. All of these items were to be used within a design in the dimensions of the Iron Duke Class.
Within a month the DNC reported back that a ten-gun design would not be possible within the displacement and length constraints imposed in the specifications. A fifth, Q turret amidships, arranged as in Iron Duke, would require a significant rise in length and displacement and because of its placement, would have limited fields of fire. He also reported that there was an insufficient number of 15-Inch guns ordered to equip the class with ten guns and that since the Royal Navy had no experience with a triple gun turret, a lengthy time was necessary to experiment with any triple gun design, before it could be worked into a design. The Board agreed to his proposal for an eight gun design and on March 31, 1913 designated the new design as T1, the first-class battleship design for the 1913 Estimates.
The new design was at 580 feet in length, the same as Iron Duke but twenty feet shorter than Queen Elizabeth. Compared to the Queen Elizabeth, the design was also shortened by two feet in beam and three feet in draught, with a displacement reduction of 1,750 tons. Although the main armament was the same, the new design had fourteen 6-inch secondary guns grouped amidships, rather than the sixteen gun spread-out design of the Queen Elizabeth. The armor scheme was to be heavier, with a uniform 13-Inch belt, rather than a tapering belt in Queen Elizabeth, and an armored deck one deck higher and six-inches thicker than the previous design. The freeboard was the same as in Iron Duke, which was lower than the Queen Elizabeth design. The new design, designated the Royal Sovereign Class in the summer of 1913, had one other critical difference. To make the ships steadier gun platforms, the metacentric height of the design was to be two feet lower than in the Iron Duke. That was fine as long as the units in the class suffered no significant underwater damage but if significant flooding were to occur, they would lose stability much faster than the previous design. To counteract this, the design was given a protective deck at main deck level and internal armored bulkheads, running the length of the ships between the main and middle decks.
Originally there were to be ten ships in the class but three were soon cancelled and when Jackie Fisher became rejoined the Admiralty, the materials for two more of the Rs were used to build two more of Fisher’s pets, the battle cruiser. These two became Repulse and Renown. Fisher also made another, very important change to the Royal Sovereign Class. He insisted that the battleships be given entirely oil fired machinery rather than the original mixed coal and oil fired propulsion system. This one changed the class speed to 22-knots. Although not as fast as the Queen Elizabeths, the Rs were still faster than the balance of the battleline.
In the years prior to the First World War, the Royal Navy had been experimenting with schemes to provide additional underwater protection from mines and torpedoes. While the Royal Sovereign Class was still under construction, Tennyson d’Eyncourt reported to the Admiralty in September 1915 that if a series of tubes was incorporated outboard of the armor belt in a torpedo bulge, protection from underwater attack would be greatly enhanced. The Admiralty decided to try this device on one of the Rs and Ramilles was selected for the experiment with the provision that launching not be delayed. Sine this was a feature added to the Ramilles after she was substantially built, rather than designed into the ship from the start, the design was somewhat inferior to the bulge design as worked-up. After completion in tests with Ramilles it was discovered that the ship still could maintain fleet speed of 21-knots, that the bulges cut down the roll of the ship and that there was no significant impairment of capabilities. The Admiralty quickly approved Revenge and Resolution for a better bulge design without the tubes, fitted during 1917-1918. Royal Sovereign did not receive her bulge until 1920 and Royal Oak was last to receive this feature, in a refit from 1922-1924 with a even newer bulge design, rising almost to the 6-inch battery level. "The rounded humps, thought ‘proof’ against torpedo warheads of 450-500 pounds, decreased the Oak’s draft, looked, as one observer put it, ‘as if someone had sliced a huge sausage down the centre and stuck one half to her starboard side, the other to her port side." The Royal Oak Disaster by Gerald S. Snyder, at page 81.
The resulting battleships, with their single funnel and tripod foremast, had a most impressive appearance and came to characterize the British battleline between the wars. HMS Royal Oak was commissioned at Devonport on May 1, 1916, the second after Revenge of the five Rs to be completed. She immediately joined the 4th Battle Squadron with the Revenge joining the 1st Battle Squadron. The pair both fought at Jutland. Royal Oak was given the position directly behind the fleet flagship, Iron Duke. During the battle she engaged Derfflinger at 14,000 yards and scored several hits from the 38 15-inch shells fired by her during the battle.
During the 2 ½ years left in World War One Royal Oak received some minor changes. Two extra 36-inch search lights were added in the top and for awhile range baffle flanges were added to the topmast and funnel. In 1917-1918 she received coffee-box search light towers on the funnel, the control top was enlarged, a high angle AA director was added on top of the control top, deflection scales and range clocks were added, a new search light platform was also added to the sides of the main mast and other search light positions were moved. Flying-off platforms were added on top of B and X turrets on all five in the class in 1918, which were removed in refits in the 1920s. In November 1918 Royal Oak led one line of the Grand Fleet to meet the High Seas Fleet steaming to Scampa Flow for internment.
After the war she was transferred to the Mediterranean Fleet and in 1919 served off of the coast of Turkey. As mentioned earlier, Royal Oak received her very large torpedo bulges in a refit from 1922 to 1924. Also the middle bridge was extended aft to touch the funnel, a larger range-finer was added to B turret, a high angle range-finder was added in a small tower over the bridge and range clocks were moved around.
Another minor refit came in 1927, when the control top of Royal Oak was again enlarged and modified, the upper pair of 6-inch guns were removed and 4-inch HA AA guns were added. The 1931-1932 refit removed the range clocks as well as the upper deck 6-inch casemate guns. The last minor refit received by Royal Oak was from June 1934 to August 1936. In this process single 4-inch HA AA guns were replaced by twin mountings, 6-inch director towers were moved to new platforms on the foremast below the 15-inch director, multiple 2 pounder pom-poms were added around the funnel, Vickers quad .50 calibre machine guns were added around the conning tower, four above-water experimental 21-inch torpedo tubes were added in recessed ports in the forecastle in front of A turret as existing twin 21-inch torpedo positions were removed, new 44-inch search light were fitted, a training catapult was fitted, tripod legs were added to mainmast, upper bridge was reworked and lower bridge extended aft to the funnel. On August 2, 1936 Royal Oak joined the Home Fleet as part of the 2nd Battle Squadron. In 1938 she transported the body of Queen Maude of Norway back to Norway from Britain. On June 7, 1939 she was designated to join the Mediterranean Fleet but with the worsening political situation was retained in home waters pending a fleet organization in August. She never made it to the Mediterranean as by September time had run out for the Royal Navy and HMS Royal Oak. In the time before October 14, 1939, she spent her time between Rosyth and Scampa Flow.
During the 20 years that separated the end of the First World War and the start of the Second World War, Royal Oak, along with the other four ships of the Royal Sovereign Class, always received minimal refits and modernization. With limited inter-war funding, the Royal Navy was very constrained in what it could fund for modernization of its battleships. The full modernization funding was applied to the glamour ships of the battlecruisers and Queen Elizabeths with nary a pound left for the overlooked and tired Rs. This penny-wise pound-foolish political attitude would come back to haunt the Royal Navy, Royal Sovereign Class and Royal Oak in particular.
U-47penetrated Scampa Flow and at 0100 hit Royal Oak with one torpedo. The submarine had fired three but only one had struck on the starboard anchor chain. "At 1:04 a.m. on Saturday the 14th Ordinary Seaman Leonard E. Soal, on watch on the compass platform of Royal Oak’s upper bridge, heard suddenly a near thunder, an explosion, saw linked cable shackles jump into the air, white and yellow smoke rise from the deck forward, then pieces of wood floating in the water, ten feet off of the starboard bow." The Royal Oak Disaster by Gerald S. Snyder, at page 103.
While the crew members were scratching their heads and looking around to see what happened, U-47 was listening. At 0115 U-47 fired again with tube number five but missed again. " Four shots, three misses, only one hit. It was inconceivable to the men on the bridge that a submarine could fire four torpedoes at a stationary target, see only one hit, even that take little effect, more astonishing that no alarm had been given." The Royal Oak Disaster by Gerald S. Snyder, at page 121.
The crew of U-47 reloaded her tubes. Another three torpedo salvo was fired. At 0116 at least two torpedoes hit and tore the bottom out of Royal Oak. "The Oak shuddered; after a short interval, about one or two seconds, perhaps three – exactly how many no one would ever agree – there came another explosion, then another , each equally violent, booming fatal thumps down the starboard side, between ‘A’ and ‘Y’ turrets and taking immediate and catastrophic effect: the ship lifted, and then settled back, the officers stared with horror, countenances smitten by the revelation that the impossible was happening." The Royal Oak Disaster by Gerald S. Snyder, at page 123.
Within thirteen minutes Royal Oak turned turtle and went down, taking 24 officers and 809 ratings with her. HMS Royal Oak still rests at Scampa Flow, having been designated a war grave. (History from British Battleship Royal Sovereign and Her Sister Ships by Peter C. Smith; Battleships of World War Two, An Illustrated Encyclopedia by M.J. Whitley; British Battleships of World War One by R.A.Burt; The Royal Oak Disaster by Gerald S. Snyder)
The WSW Royal Sovereign
The hull for the WSW Royal Oak starts very built up. The hull casting includes the 01 deck as well as some of the deckhouses and platforms above that deck as part of the hull. The first thing you notice is the gigantic torpedo bulges, starting from right under the 6-inch secondary casemate positions, they flare dramatically outward and downward. They are extraordinarily distinctive on this kit.
Since WSW has not used brass or steel photo-etch to any significant degree in the past, their skill in casting extremely thin resin parts is among the highest in the industry. Their degree of skill appears in every facet of the Royal Oak. The shelter deck is littered with very thin boat chocks cast as part of the hull. Because of their thinness, they appear to be susceptible to damage, and yet none were damaged on the hull. In fact there was no damage present anywhere on the hull, inspite of the great quantity and quality of the detail cast onto it. Deck fittings of various types, sizes and shapes are everywhere. The breakwater is as thin as any that I have ever seen.
One of the most difficult areas of a warship model to cast are areas with overhanging decks. These areas or undercuts are hard to cast and easy to damage. They can also form a trap for resin in the pour. The WSW Royal Oak has a great number of these undercuts. All twelve of the six-inch casemate guns on the main deck have the overhanging foc’sle deck above them. On the next deck up, there is a very wide overhang for a long distance on each side amidships. Yet above that there are AA platforms with more overhangs. This one casting has three levels each with a hard to execute overhang, executed without a flaw. There are no flaws, no bubbles, no voids, no resin spill, no rears, no breakage, in short, it is perfect.
Smaller Resin Parts
Almost all of the platforms and smaller decks are on thin resin film. Accordingly, they will need some minimal cutting to remove the part from the film and clean with light sanding. The Royal Oak has a lot of bridge levels and platforms around the stack and they are assembled level after level. The resin sheets also have two very nicely done starfish that just need some minor cleanup.
Other smaller resin parts are cast on runners. These parts include the secondary gun barrels, twin 4-inch HA guns, pom-poms, boats, davits, quad Vickers, searchlights and single HA guns on the bridge. Also included in this bag of parts are the legs for both tripods, none of which had any warpage. Of the smaller parts, the most delightful is the inclusion of a five piece, double pontoon Swordfish. After seeing so many Walruses, it is refreshing to see another type of floatplane, especially a Swordfish on floats.
The second fret contains railing, vertical and inclined ladders. WSW provides ten runs of three bar rail, two of vertical ladder and one of inclined ladder. All parts must be cut to the right length, which is the standard presentation with most producers. The quality of the included photo-etch is similar to Eduard’s, which is good but not quite on the same level as that produced by WEM, GMM or Toms. If you wish to supplement the included fret, the WEM Warspite fret and the new GMM WWII Royal Navy fret would each be excellent choices. Also with the P-E WSW includes a folding Royal Navy ensign, a small but thoughtful addition.