During the First World War, the British Grand Fleet used Scapa Flow as a northern base. After a German U-Boat managed to enter the Flow early in the war, merchant ships were sent as blockships in strategic places and anti-submarine nets were put in place. From this base, vessels from the fleet made sweeps in search of the enemy. After the armistice, seventy-four ships of the German High Seas Fleet were ordered into Scapa Flow to be interned. They arrived in November 1918, and stayed there for 10 months. During this time, they became a tourist attraction, with boat trips to see them. By June 1919, Rear Admiral von Reuter, the German Officer in command at Scapa Flow, knew that Germany would have to accept surrender terms. When the main part of the British Fleet left the flow for exercises he gave the order for the German fleet to be scuttled. Most of the scuttled fleet did not stay where they had sunk. Those that were beached were removed almost immediately. In the 1920s, the firm Cox & Douglas began salvage operations, lifting many of the ships. This salvage continued until the advent of the Second World War, and only eight scuttled ships now remain in the Flow

We started early (it seems a lot of diving trips start early) and picked up everyone in the minibus with Adrian driving most of the cylinders in his car. Bob and I switched drivers every two hours which made the drive easy and we soon arrived in Thurso, piled into the Hotel then ventured out to find some local cuisine (haggis, kebab and chips). We awoke the next day for had a relaxing breakfast and then caught the ferry, which was very smart and comfortable. Two hours later we pulled into Stromness, one of the major towns of the Orkney Islands. The energy of anticipation grew as we viewed our charter the Sunrise as we pulled into dock. Sunrise is a converted trawler with a fully enclosed deck and seven cabins below. We met Dougie the Skipper and Bruce the crewman and loaded the boat. With all aboard and the safety brief completed we left the harbour and headed out into Scapa Flow. The water was as calm as a mill pond and we were told ‘first dive is in thirty minutes’! Thirty minutes later we were all kitted up and ready for our first dive which was on the Konisberg II Class light cruiser SMS Karlsruhe. This ship was built at Wilhelmshaven by Laiserliches Werft in 1916.  She was driven by two coal/oil fired turbines that could push her to speeds on 28 knots.  She was protected by a 2.4 inch thick layer of armour plating on her main belt and on her deck.  Her control tower was more heavily defended by 3.8 inch thick plating. Karlsruhe carried eight 5.9 inch guns set in single turrets, two at the bow, two set one at either side of the bridge facing forward.  Two faced astern at either side of the deck, just forward of the mainmast, and two were set astern on the centre line of the vessel, one behind the other.  In addition Karlsruhe boasted tow 3.5 inch anti aircraft guns and two 19.7 deck mounted torpedo tubes and had a carrying capability of 200 mines. We descended into the broken mid-section where the engines had been salvaged from and made our way aft. The water temperature was 14 degrees which was warmer than we had expected and made for a more comfortable time. We headed aft and came across the mast laying on the seabed pointing out into the gloom. On turning around the stern we discover the tidal side of the wreck covered in filter feeders and life with hardly any surface visible and the whites creams and orange colours glowing under the sunlight.

This was a great dive with a maximum depth of 26m. With smiles all round, we headed back to Stromness for dinner and purchasing provisions for the week

 

© Rod Macdonald and reproduced by permission from Dive Scapa Flow

We eagerly awoke early on Monday and breakfasted ready to leave harbour at 8.00. With a sea as calm as before, we ventured out to find the 5,531 ton Dresden II class light cruiser Dresden was built in Kiel by Howaldtswerke in 1917.  Built to the same general specifications as the Cöln, which we dived later in the week, she boasted eight 5.9" guns set in single turrets, two 3.4" rapid firing guns, four deck mounted torpedo tubes and was capable of carrying 200 mines. Powered by two coal/oil-fired turbines her twin propellers could push her to speeds on 29 knot

 

© Rod Macdonald and reproduced by permission from Dive Scapa Flow

After a nice long surface interval and a nice curry for lunch, our second dive of the day was the SMS F2, where we descended onto the bow, which was very well defined and sleek and cam across the deck gun, which was very impressive. On moving further aft we came to the broken section and I found that you should wear your computer on your arm and not still attached to the top of your cylinders, my next thought was how can I get it without my buddy spotting my error. I managed to acquire it but was spotted just as I managed to unclip it and with a little help from my laughing buddy this was soon recovered to my wrist. I noticed Bob laughing most of the dive after that. We then made our way across to a wooden barge which had sunk right next to the ship and was carrying anti aircraft guns, whose barrels where still pointing towards the sky.

 

© Rod Macdonald and reproduced by permission from Dive Scapa Flow

    

This Gun is the deck gun on the deck of the SMS F2 above

On Tuesday still with calm seas, we headed out to dive the massive 25,800 tons König class battleship Kronprinz Wilhelm, which was built by Germaniaweft in Kiel and launched on 21 February 1914.  This dreadnought and her sister vessels König and Markgraf were so big that the Kiel Canal had to be specially widened to let them through after completion.
At 575 feet long she was the length of two football pitches her beam 97' and her draught of over 30 feet.  With ten 12 inch main guns set in five twin turrets and fourteen 5.9 inch casemate guns and five submerged torpedo tubes she was an immensely powerful fighting island/machine.  She was also very heavily defended by a 13.8 inch thick main armour belt, her deck had a 3.8 inch layer of armour plating on it also.  Her 46,000 horsepower turbines drove three huge propellers capable of pushing her to speeds of 21.3 knots, making her the fastest in her class.
She was manned by a crew of 1,136 officers and men and formed part of the Third Battleship Squadron of the High Seas

 

© Rod Macdonald and reproduced by permission from Dive Scapa Flow

After a nice surface interval we were able to look around the Scapa Museum, where an old fuel tank had been converted into a cinema to play a documentary film of the scuttling of the fleet. Also lots of recovered articles, guns and a complete engine room complete with boilers.

We headed out again to dive the 5,531 ton Dresden II class light cruiser Cöln, built in Hamburg by Blohm & Voss in 1916.  As a light cruiser she was well armoured, yet sleek, fast and packing a powerful punch with her eight 5.9" guns set in single turrets. In addition she boasted two smaller 3.4" rapid firing guns (capable of firing ten 9.5kg shells per minute), four deck mounted torpedo tubes and a capability to carry 200 mines.
Her two sets of coal/oil fired turbines and twin propellers could push her to speeds of more than 29 knots, easily outrunning the much heavier battleships which could only make about 23 knots.

 

© Rod Macdonald and reproduced by permission from Dive Scapa Flow

Visiting into another Harbour that evening we awoke early again and headed out to dive the James Barry, a modern trawler, this a little deeper than the others we had been diving but intact and in crystal clear water. Some who did not wish to dive this then went off to dive a Submarine, but unfortunately they reported that the remnants of the vessel were mainly broken and they described it as a poor dive.

We spent the surface interval in the port of Lambholm visiting The Italian Chapel. The chapel was built on this now uninhabited island out of a tin Nissan or Quonset hut by Italian prisoners of war in their spare time, using metal debris as it came to hand, and creating a trompe d'oeil perspective effect to make it look much more impressive than it should, a mini-cathedral in effect. After the war it fell into desuetude, but in the late 1970s Scotland sought out in Italy the surviving members of the original team and brought them back to refurbish the original inspired glory. As of 1983, the Italian Chapel sat out there on uninhabited Lambholm Island, with no fences or guards, a stupendous exemplar of lots of good things. It was a lovely building which houses the poignant expressions of peace and faith exemplified by its creators

We then headed off to dive the MV Radiation a wooden ship sitting upright in clear water, well it was until the silt inside was disturbed, so Bob and I went on a Scallop hunt, which with garlic and spices was very nice.

Thursday our diving began with the SMS Koning. As we descended the shot line, the wreck came into view at 15m, the wreck lying nearly upside down and came across one of the casement guns just underneath. There were lots of filter feeders covering the sides of the ship. We swam around the bow then started to surface and as we where hanging on our second stop we watched the wreck pass by as we were swept along in the current.

 

Later on Thursday we head out again to dive the 4,308 tons Bremse class light cruiser SMS Brummer, built at Stettin by A.G. Vulcan and launched on 11 December 1915.  A fast, sleek warship, her role was to penetrate enemy territory, lay her deadly cargo of 360 mines and outrun any vessel that might try to close on her with her high speeds of up to 28 knots. The ship came into view at 15m then we entered the hole in the side, enjoyed a nice swim through the ship and came out underneath lots of life to see. Another swim through was a bit tight and we had a little difficulty getting through. Next we came upon two large guns on the deck which made for a good photo shoot. We came across Gary Andy and Mark on their ascent and have some good pictures of them too.

 

 

After such a great dive the day before and the fact that Steve had missed this due to a torn cuff seal, and some others did not dive, the group unanimously agreed to return so that those who missed it the first time could share the experience and again The Brummer was a great dive

 

© Rod Macdonald and reproduced by permission from Dive Scapa Flow

Our last dive was to be the block ship Tarbaka, which was in a very narrow tidal passage with a tidal window of 30mins. This in mind we had to all go in at once with no air in our suits or jackets and make an immediate descent, which all went off well. On reaching the bottom the wreck looked like a huge rock covered in life and not like a ship at all. Upon entering the ship we discovered that it was crystal clear inside and very open and easy to explore with glorious shafts of light piercing through holes in the walls. We entered into the engine room and found the three huge boilers still intact, which gave Andy a shock when he looked inside one as he came face to face with a huge Conger.

Our 30 minutes up we started to ascend and sure enough the tide had changed and was beginning to run. This is thought of as a difficult dive and not for novices, and I would like to add that everyone treated this as such and made this a safe and interesting dive. Well done to all!

Our time in Scapa Flow was now over and we only had a few beers to down that evening before the long drive home. I would like to thank all who came on the trip for making it such a fantastic time that I will always remember.

 

I would like to thank Rod MacDonald for the use of wreck pictures as printed in his Book Dive Scapa Flow

www.rod-macdonald.co.uk

Thanks Bob for a great weeks diving just like old times