Join us on an incredible adventure to dive the German Fleet wrecks of Scapa Flow. Lamar and Jared Hires from Dive Rite will be our special guests for this once in a lifetime trip to dive some rusted metal!
Scapa Flow is one of the jewels in the crown of UK scuba diving. The remains of the German fleet still lie in the flow, heavily protected from any sort of salvage or interference by divers. Their legacy is some of the best scuba diving in the world, the behemoths of the battleships rising from 45m to 22m, guns pointing into the green, seemingly on eternal patrol. The stricken cruisers on their sides, their superstructures slowly falling to the seabed after nearly 100 years underwater.
All of the WWI German wrecks lie approximately 50 minutes from the port of Stromness. All have a shotline on them. Maximum depths to the seabed is around 44m. Least depth to the seabed is around 12m. The wrecks are at depths that will allow two long dives per day. Water temperaturs are expected between 6 – 10C (38-48F).
We will be diving “The Big Seven” with 12 Technical CCR dives spread over 6 diving days. Some of the wrecks we will be visiting are: SMS Markgraf, SMS Kronprinz Willhelm, SMS König, SMS Brummer, SMS Dresden, SMS Cöln, SMS Karlsruhe, and more.
The name Scapa Flow comes from the Old Norse Skalpaflói, meaning ‘bay of the long isthmus’, which refers to the thin strip of land between Scapa Bay and the town of Kirkwall.
Scapa Flow has been used as a harbour since Viking times, the name Skalpaflói being given to it by the Vikings. However, it wasn’t until the Napoleonic wars of the early 1800s that the Admiralty first took an interest in Scapa Flow. The Admiralty used the area as a deep water anchorage for trading ships waiting to cross the North Sea to Baltic ports. Two Martello Towers were built on either side of Longhope in order to defend these trading ships until a warship arrived to escort them to the Baltic Sea.
Subsequent wars were waged against countries including France, Spain and the Netherlands – as such a northern naval base became unnecessary. However, by the early 20th century the Admiralty once again looked at Scapa Flow. This time it was to defend against a new enemy: Germany. Scapa Flow was ideally situated to provide a safe anchorage in the north with easy access to open waters. If the Admiralty were to rely on the Firth of Forth further south, there was a real risk their ships could be trapped if a minefield was placed across its mouth.
World War I
At the outbreak of World War I defences were put in place to guard the Grand Fleet in its new home. Coast defence batteries were built and boom defences, including anti-submarine nets, were stretched over the entrances to prevent enemy vessels from penetrating Scapa Flow. Old merchant ships were also sunk as blockships to prevent access through the channels.
It was from this well guarded naval base that the Grand Fleet sailed in May 1916 to engage in battle with the German High Seas Fleet at the Battle of Jutland. On 5 June in the aftermath of the battle, the Minister of War – Lord Kitchener – visited the Grand Fleet in Scapa Flow on his way to Russia for a goodwill visit. He never made it to Russia. She sank in twenty minutes with a loss of 737 men (Orcadian 2015: 21) including Lord Kitchener, only 12 of the company survived.
A greater loss of life would be suffered the following year when the battleship HMS Vanguard exploded at anchor in Scapa Flow with the loss of 843 men; only two of those on board survived. It is thought that spontaneous combustion of cordite triggered the devastating explosions.
As part of the Armistice agreement at the end World War I, Germany had to surrender most of its fleet. A total of 74 ships of the German High Seas Fleet arrived in Scapa Flow for internment.
On 21 June 1919, under the mistaken belief that peace talks had failed, Rear Admiral Ludwig von Reuter gave the command to scuttle the entire fleet in the Flow. A total of 52 ships went to the seafloor and this remains the greatest loss of shipping ever recorded in a single day.
The majority of the German ships were raised in one of the largest ever salvage operations in history. Only seven of the 52 ships remain in the Flow, although evidence of others can still be seen in some locations on the bottom of Scapa Flow.