The Battle of May Island tragedy took place - On this day in history

31 January 2021
imports_CESC_0-k47eefro-100000_14325.jpg The Battle of May Island tragedy took place - On this day in history
The so-called Battle of May Island occured on the night between 31 January and 1 February, 1918. ...

The ‘battle’ was a series of collisions between submarines, battleships and cruisers during a secret military exercise named Operation ECI in the Firth of Forth.

The crafts involved were steaming out of the Forth to the North Sea to take part in fleet exercises, during misty weather conditions. They included:

  • Three battleships with destroyers
  • Four battlecruisers with destroyers
  • Two cruisers
  • Nine k-class submarines

c.104 Royal Navy servicemen were killed in the incident and although it took place during World War One, enemy forces were not involved. Because of wartime conditions, details of the accident were not released to the public, and some files relating to the tragedy were only released in the 1990s.

In 2002, a memorial cairn was erected at Anstruther harbour, opposite the Isle of May, to remember those lost.

Further reading

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Naval Historical Review (June 2017) "The Battle of May Island" 

Naval Historical Society of Australia 

Scotland's War website

Nash, N.S. (2009). K Boat Catastrophe: Eight Ships and Five Collisions: The full story of the "Battle" of the Isle of May, Pen & Sword Books

With thanks to Professor Kevin Dunion, vice chair of the Scottish Fisheries Museum, for his help in compiling this article.

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