Scapa Flow, largest ship graveyard in Europe
Today divers from around the world come to Scapa Flow to explore the gigantic wrecks and to rediscover a piece of European history.
Armistice and internment of the German fleet
Scapa Flow is a natural bay, sheltered from the wind, located in the Orkney Islands North of Scotland. This shelter was used as naval base for the Royal Navy during both world wars. In November 1918, a few days after the Armistice, Germany discovers the harsh conditions imposed by the allies which include, in addition to the withdrawal of troops and heavy financial damage, complete delivery of its aviation and naval fleet. All German warships have to be interned in Allied ports until a final decision is taken by victorious. A fleet of 74 ships of the German Imperial Fleet arrive at Scapa Flow accompanied by over 250 battleships. Indeed, the Allies feared the power of the fleet which was illustrated in numerous naval battles.
Scuttling of the German fleet in Scapa Flow
After a year of hardship and harassment imposed on seafarers and officers responsible for the maintenance of the fleet rats, scurvy, hunger, cold …, the ax falls. Under the terms of the Versailles Treaty, all German ships will be delivered to the allies. In June 1919, Vice Admiral Ludwig von Reuter decided to scuttle the fleet to avoid to”give” the fleet to the enemy. Almost all of the 74 German ships were sunk within hours, while the English officers panicked tried to save some of them. The German contingent was captured and the story would have ended there.
The ingenious bail out
The strategic importance of this bay for the English navy forced it to find a quick solution to remove these imposing wrecks that pose an immediate threat to navigation. The company Cox and Danks buys the right to exploit the wreckage and began to bail them out the water. Innovative processes, despite repeated failures, allow the company to bail out 32 boats. Another company takes over in 1936 and many other boats will be get out of the water. However, 7 vessels between 150 and 180 meters in length still laying down at a great depth. Their position and also the lack of profitability of the operation, have made Scapa Flow their graveyard for eternity. The name of those ship are:
the König, the Markgraf, the Kronprinz Wilhelm, the Brummer, the Köln, the Karlsruhe and the Dresden.
The incredible story of German submarine U-47
Two more battleships will join Scapa Flow graveyard: The HMS Royal Oak and Pegasus. In October 1939, a German U-boat managed to slip between the English line and dams to enter the bay. The submarine will send torpedos on both ship who will sunk quicly taking with them into deaths more than 800 sailors. The German submarine meanwhile ran from the bay without being detected.