The Car on the Shore

Nightmare at Scapa Flow reconsidered

A review by David Wemyss (January 2012)

It was a clear but moonless night. Visibility was good. It was bright enough to be spotted from the shore, but, even so, Prien needed to remain on the surface to negotiate his way in. Although he seems to have believed he was not on the suicide mission many assumed it to be, he would have known that the risks were enormous.

Meanwhile the willingness of M15 to give credence to the absurd notion that Prien might have welcomed illumination from the shore seems to suggest that they were so embarrassed by the loss of the Royal Oak that they were happy to let people fantasise about spies if that took the heat off them. But the real spies were on the U-16 and the Theseus.

And was his story even true? After all, it is a psychological commonplace that people with a secret will sometimes filter out a little of the truth to make themselves feel better. Guilt is relieved by going satisfyingly close to confession. Fresh air can be breathed through a window that has been opened only slightly. Did Robbie Tullock see the U-47 moving through the waters of Kirk Sound?

Of course, if he did, he might not have realised what he was looking at. H J Weaver tells us about an old fisherman who came to believe he had seen the U-47 in Kirk Sound but assumed at the time it was just a tug, sailing very low in the water. Mr Tullock could easily have made a similar mistake.

This is what I mean by tangible incongruity.

David Wemyss graduated in law from the University of Aberdeen in 1977 and worked in local government in that city until he retired in 2011 at the age of 56. He continues to live there with his wife and son. Having had four academic papers published in the British theology journal Modern Believing between 2003 and 2008, he is now developing a portfolio of essays in cultural and political criticism.

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