Loch Eriboll was well known as an important capacious, as well as a relatively sheltered, anchorage for large ships, from as far back as the Viking era. Its importance increased between the World Wars and became popular with the Royal Navy and its large warships, such as HMS Hood, who became a frequent visitor.
It became a custom for sailors from the Royal Navy ships visiting the area to climb the hillside between Portnancon and Laid and leave big white rocks spelling out their ships’ names on the slope. Among the ships whose names were once obvious were the Valiant, Swift, Union, Unga, Whirlwind, Lucretia and H43, the only submarine to be thus commemorated.
The Hood was to become the Royal Navy’s first major casualty of the Second World War when she was sunk by the Bismarck off the coast of Greenland in May 1941, with the loss of 1,415 lives. This became the single biggest British naval loss of the war. In May 1997 a plaque was unveiled in the private chapel at Eriboll, commemorating the unfortunate seamen of the Hood.
In 1993 local children climbed the hillside and repainted the stones spelling out Hood, as well as H43, to try and keep the memory of the once-glorious ship and her crew alive. This then became a bit of a ritual and school children repeated this in 1995 and then 1999, with material supplied by the Royal Navy and local businesses. The efforts of the school children have been recognised by the HMS Hood Association and its president, Ted Briggs, presented the pupils with a framed photograph of HMS Hood signed by Mr Briggs. In 2018 the custom continued when the crew of the HMS Sutherland attended the site and conducted some minor repairs and maintenance.
Loch Eriboll was to see another massive naval gathering, in May 1945, but this time the craft were from the Kriegsmarine of Nazi Germany. A total of 33 submarines ultimately gathered in the loch to present their surrender to the Royal Navy. According to DavidHird’s book about the incident, The Grey Wolves, the surrendering submarines had claimed 59 ships of the Merchant Navy and 14 Royal Navy warships, amounting to over 300,000 tons of shipping. Some of the U-boats that came to Loch Eriboll had steamed all the way from as far away as Japan, others from Norway. Once their surrender had been affected, all weapons such as torpedoes, firing pistols and other explosives, were ceremoniously dumped into the Loch.
The entire surrender proceeded entirely peacefully, with the only incident being the accidental ramming of the Canadian escort ship HMCS Nene by U-295, punching a small hole in the frigate’s side. In total there over 1,000 German sailors gathered in the loch, with each U-Boat having a crew of between 30 and 50 men. Many were just relieved to be able to surrender to the British, as many were afraid of falling into the hands of the Russians. After the U-Boats had all been taken fully under Royal Navy control, the fleet was taken out into the North Atlantic and scuttled under an action which was called Operation Deadlight.
Operation Deadlight – British Pathe News
Tobar an Dualchais:
Rev. Donie MacSween (1955- ), Remembrance service for those who lost their lives when the warship HMS Hood was sunk. Interviewed by Kenneth MacIver. https://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/track/7497?l=en
Calum Nicolson (1902-1978), Fhuair Sinn Buille Chràiteach: Gaelic song about the sinking of HMS Hood. Recorded by Thorkild Knudsen (1925-2007). https://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/track/18944?l=en
U-BOATS SURRENDER AT LOCH ERIBOLL. 9 AND 10 MAY 1945, LOCH ERIBOLL, SCOTLAND. THE FIRST OF GERMANY’S U-BOAT FLEET BEGAN ITS STRAGGLE OF SURRENDER TO THE FORCES OF THE ROYAL NAVY.A British armed guard going on board U-Boat 1305 for Inspection, Loch Eriboll, 1945, Ref A28522,
Admiralty Official Collection: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205159872
THE BIGGEST U-BOAT SURRENDER. 19 MAY 1945, FROM A NAVAL AIRCRAFT OVER LOCH ERIBOLL, SCOTLAND. FIFTEEN U-BOATS, IN TWO COLUMNS AND ESCORTED BY HM SHIPS AND AIRCRAFT OF THE ROYAL NAVY INTO LOCH ERIBOLL. (A 28905) One of the surrendering U-boats (U 668?), with another in the distance, on their way to Loch Eriboll. Copyright: © IWM.
Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205160214
Copyright: Stephen Bone, ‘The crew of a German U Boat gather on deck as the submarine pulls up alongside the British ship in a loach. A group of british Naval officers gather on the deck of the British Ship to meet them’. ART.IWM ART LD 5370. Artist: Stephen Bone: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/3260
Copyright: Stephen Bone, ‘A view looking down at a group of naval officers on board a ship, looking out over the Loch at fourteen U boats emerging from the water’. ART.IWM ART LD 5184 Artist: Stephen Bone:
Wrestling with Social Value: An Examination of the Methods and Approaches for Assessing Social Value in Heritage Management and Conservation, Case Study Report: The Hood Stones, Loch Eriboll, Dr. Elizabeth Robson