Orkney naval disaster remembered 100 years on

Archive of destroyer HMS Opal, which ran ashore in a snowstorm on the same evening as HMS Narborough on January 12, 1918, as the loss of almost 200 lives. Picture; PA
Archive of destroyer HMS Opal, which ran ashore in a snowstorm on the same evening as HMS Narborough on January 12, 1918, as the loss of almost 200 lives. Picture; PA
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The loss of almost 200 lives when two warships ran ashore in a snowstorm will be remembered in Orkney exactly a century on.

The double tragedy occurred in atrocious weather conditions on the night of January 12 1918.

Gunner William Sissons, who was the only crewman found alive after the destroyer HMS Opal ran ashore in a snowstorm on the same evening as HMS Narborough on January 12, 1918,

Gunner William Sissons, who was the only crewman found alive after the destroyer HMS Opal ran ashore in a snowstorm on the same evening as HMS Narborough on January 12, 1918,

The destroyers HMS Opal and HMS Narborough were both wrecked on the rocks where they went aground at South Ronaldsay, resulting in the deaths of 188 men. Just one crew member survived.

Now, all of those who lost their lives will be remembered during commemorative events on the centenary of the disaster.

A wreath will be laid on Friday at the Opal and Narborough memorial at Windwick Bay, before the main commemorative event takes place at the Cromarty Hall, St Margaret’s Hope.

READ MORE: Historic aircraft landing a century ago in Orkney remembered

Harvey Johnston, the convener of Orkney Islands Council, said: “There was terrible loss of life when the two warships were wrecked on that fateful night close to Windwick, where we will lay a wreath in memory of those who perished.

“As with the commemorative events marking the Battle of Jutland and the loss of HMS Hampshire and HMS Vanguard, we will again remember the enormous sacrifice of those who served in our local waters during the First World War.”

The two destroyers were on a night patrol to the east of Orkney and on the lookout for German ships and submarines laying mines.

As weather conditions worsened, the Opal and Narborough were ordered to return to Scapa Flow.

But as a blizzard set in, and with visibility near zero, they ran on to rocks off the east coast of South Ronaldsay.

The only crewman found alive was a gunner aboard the Opal, Able Seaman William Sissons, who was rescued two days later. He survived not only the loss of his ship but the cold and snow once he got ashore.

Many of those who died were never recovered.

The graves of 55 of the men who perished can be found at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Royal Naval Cemetery at Lyness on the island of Hoy.

Captain Chris Smith, Royal Navy regional commander for Scotland, said: “The tragedy that claimed the lives of the crews of HMS Opal and HMS Narborough is a reminder that the sea can be a dangerous place and not just with the threat of enemy action.

“The link between the Royal Navy and the Orcadians has been a long one and we are once again grateful to see that our collective history is being recognised, especially noting the effort that many people on the islands have put into the commemorations of the last few years.”