WWI warships at the bottom of Scapa Flow being mapped

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WWI warships at the bottom of Scapa Flow being mapped

August 21, 2017 - 19:27
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Shipwrecks of the WWI German High Seas Fleet and the Scapa Flow war graves of HMS Hampshire, HMS Vanguard and HMS Royal Oak, which are located in a body of water sheltered by five of the Orkney Islands, are to be surveyed.

Scuttling of the German Fleet at Scapa Flow—the upper-works of the German battle-cruiser SMS Hindenburg above the water at Scapa Flow.

Using a suite of geophysical equipment, ROV and diver survey to collect data that will accurately record the wrecks as they sit on the seafloor today, Orkney Research Center for Archaeology has conducted a survey to map 10 naval shipwrecks at the bottom of Scapa Flow, the main base of the British Grand Fleet since WWI. The data collected will be used to continue to monitor, protect, conserve and promote these impressive ship wrecks.


The High Seas Fleet was the battle fleet of the German Imperial Navy in World War One. Following the signing of the Armistice on 11 November 1918 at Compiègne, France, which effectively ended the First World War, the surface fleet was to sail to the Firth of Forth and surrender to the British admiral David Beatty. They would then be led to Scapa Flow and interned, pending the outcome of the peace negotiations. On 21 June 1919, Rear Admiral Ludwig von Reuter gave the order to scuttle the 74 ships of the High Seas Fleet located in Scapa Flow to prevent the ships from being seized under the Treaty of Versailles.

Not all salvaged

Most of the 52 wrecks were salvaged—only seven of the vessels, and some parts of others, remain underwater. The British Admiralty wrote off the sunken ships as complete losses and sold the rights to entrepreneur Ernest Cox for GB£250. He spent the next year recovering almost all of the smaller destroyers. Most of the steel was sold as scrap. One use, which could not have been predicted in 1919, was late 20th century precision scientific instruments, including those in satellites.

Today, the wrecks of three battleships and four light cruisers remain on the seabed of Scapa Flow.

The British ships in the study include the HMS Vanguard and HMS Hampshire, which sank during World War I, and HMS Royal Oak, which sank during World War II. The project has brought together universities, commercial companies and government bodies, including Historic Environment Scotland, Marine Scotland, Ulster University, Heriot-Watt University, University of Dundee and private company Seatronics.

Andrew Fulton, Historic Environment Scotland, said, "We are pleased to see this next stage of survey work on the underwater wartime remains of Scapa Flow. The results will help update existing records of the wrecks, guide their management and contribute to the commemoration of momentous events in wartime history."

It is planned that this project will contribute to the centenary commemorations of the scuttling of the German High Seas Fleet in 2019. ■

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