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SC APA FLOW ORKNEY ISLA NDS, SCOTLA ND

HE STORY OF the largest deliberate sinking of a fleet of ships in naval history is well documented. During the end of World War I as part of the Armistice, 10 battleships, six battle-cruisers, eight light cruisers and 50 destroyers, all belonging to the German High Fleet, were to be interned. They ended up in the relatively sheltered waters of Scapa Flow in Orkney under the watchful eye of the Royal Navy although still manned by a skeleton German crew. Differing reports confuse the actual reason why the ships were scuttled. However, on

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the morning of 21st June 1919 Admiral von Reuter gave the order to his men to sink his fleet rather than hand them over to the British. Seacocks were opened, pipes below the water line smashed and at least one condenser per ship allowed to flood, ensuring that the ships would sink quickly with little chance of being saved. Eyewitness accounts describe the event as unbelievable as thousands of tonnes of prime German fighting vessels simply disappeared beneath the waves in a mass of hissing and what they described as boiling water. Over the years that followed many salvage operations took place with the recovery

IMAGES Left: The Blockship Gobernador Bories. Middle, from top: The MV Halton, my home for the trip. Naval gun on display at Lyness Naval Museum on the island of Hoy. Mast of a blockship on the beach. Above: The Kronprinz Wilhelm is well-covered with marine life.

of valuable gunmetal and non-ferrous metals being the primary objective. Some ships were salvaged in their entirety, while others had their engine rooms smashed, propellers and guns removed. However, some were either too deep or too inaccessible to be worth it and remain where they sank in the relatively sheltered waters of the sound in Scapa Flow. Diving them today is a must for all wreck aficionados, British wreck divers or simply anyone interested in exploring some of the largest naval shipwrecks anywhere in the world. Of all the wrecks to dive, the German Battleships and Cruisers are the jewel in Scapa’s crown.

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