The Naval Military and Air Situation as reported to the War Cabinet for the week up to 19 October 1939:
The Overall Situation
1. H.M.S. Royal Oak was torpedoed and sunk during the night 13th – 14th October whilst at anchor in Scapa Flow. 810 lives were lost. This attack is believed to have been the work of a U-boat which had penetrated the boom defences. No definite evidence in support of this theory has yet been produced, nor is it clear how the attacking aircraft entered and left (if it has yet left).
2. The Polish submarine Orzel, which had escaped from Italian, arrived in the Firth of Forth on 14 October.
3. In an air raid on the Firth of Forth on 16 October, H.M.S. Southhampton was hit by one bomb, which pierced the upper deck and passed out through the ship’s side before exploding. H.M. ships Edinburgh and Mohawk were hit by splinters and sustained slight material damage. Casualties were as follows: —
Southampton: 1 dead and 7 wounded.
Edinburgh: 1 dead and 6 wounded.
Mohawk: 16 killed, including the captain, and 44 wounded.
H.M.S. Iron Duke, which is being employed as base depot ship at Scapa Flow, was bombed by two near misses in an air raid on 17 October. She developed a heavy list but was safely beached. Casualties: 1 dead and 24 suffering slight shock.
5. The U-Boat attack on trade has been renewed with increased vigour in the week under review. The attacks, almost without exception, have taken place in the Western Approaches and well out in the Atlantic.
Anti Submarine operations.
Two 740 ton U-boats were definitely accounted for on 13th October – U-42 by H.M.S. Imogen in the Western approaches, and U-40 by the Dover mine barrage. Survivors were picked up in both cases. What was originally believed to be a third successful attack on the same day was subsequently disproved.
14. One further lay is required to complete the Dover barrage.
In all about 50 German mines have been washed up on the East Coast. Many of these appear to have been laid by surface mine layers, and are of the horned contact type. Information received from prisoners indicates that German submarines are laying a type of magnetic mine. Magnetic sweeps are now available.
The German mined area in the North Sea has been extended to the west, and two additional mined areas have been declared by them in the Baltic.
18. From the 12th to 15 October German operations were limited to patrolling and artillery harassing fire. During the night of 15 -16th of October considerable movement’s words are observed in the Merzig area, and in the early morning of the 16th the enemy launched an attack on a 4 mile front between Apach and Mandern, on a sector which runs from the point of junction of the French, Luxembourg and German frontiers. The attack, which is believed to have been carried out by one division, was preceded by an hours artillery preparation. It appears to be made with the limited objective of gaining some high ground, known as the Schneeberg, which was occupied by the French and overlooks the country towards Trier. The attack was opposed by advanced French elements only.
During the afternoon of the 16th the Germans launched three further attacks on the Saar front.
30. Some units of the Polish army are apparently still resisting in areas such as the Suwalki salient, the Carpathians and the north-west part of the Pinsk marshes, where the country is difficult.
Air defence of Great Britain
Defence of Rosyth.
38. The raid on Rosyth on 16 October was preceded by reconnaissance flights, which were attacked by fighters but succeeded in escaping into clouds. The enemy bombers flying singly or in pairs attacked between 1415 hours and 1654 hours. They were engaged by fighters and A.A.defences, 2 enemy aircraft being shot down by fighters and 2 by A.A. fire. None of our aircraft were lost in this engagement.
41. On the 15th-16th of October 7 bomber aircraft left this country to drop leaflets over Germany containing extracts from the speech made by the Prime Minister on 11 October. Seven aircraft operated from England, but six of them were compelled to turn back before reaching German territory owing to ice accretion; the seventh pilot reached Germany and reports that he dropped his leaflets over the Berlin-Potsdam area, where he circled for half an hour. Two aircraft of five which stood ready for a similar operation from an aerodrome in France started, but were recalled by wireless because of the unfavourable weather conditions; one of them came back, but the other failed to acknowledge the recall signal and has not returned.
Six aircraft carried out a similar operation from this country on the night of the 18th -19th of October and distributed leaflets over Hamburg, Hanover and Bremmen. Five aircraft returned safely to their aerodromes of departure and one forced landed in France.
Operations against the German fleet.
43. A striking force bomber aircraft has been held ready to attack units of the German fleet found operating in the North Sea; no targets judged suitable for attack have, however, been reported by reconnaissance aircraft.
see TNA CAB/66/2/44