This was a place I’d wanted to visit for many years, ever since I was first introduced to diving with a previous dive club nearly 30 years ago. Listening to the tales from people who’d been I thought I want to do that but never getting the chance to go along, being told the dives were too deep, very challenging and dangerous for me. Heck how are you supposed to get the experience then!
Joining Bury Sub Aqua Club in recent years, and progressing with my dive qualifications I thought well if I want to do Scapa before it’s too late then I should organise a trip myself! Getting a recommendation about using MV Valkyrie from Adam at Dive Life, I was able to book a date 12 months’ in advance. It didn’t take too long before all the places filled up with a mix of members who’d been before plus a few of us ‘Scapa Virgins’.
Situated just above the Northern tip of the UK mainland, straddling the North Atlantic to the West and the North Sea to the East sits the archipelago of Scapa Flow forming a natural harbour with the islands of mainland Orkney,Flotta, Rysa, Cava,Fara, Switha, Hoy, Graemsay, Burray and South Ronaldsay.
Scapa Flow was the internment for the German high fleet during the armistice period of 1918. Admiral Ludwig von Reuter led 74 ships into the Flow to wait out the final terms of peace. Some time later, having little or no information as to what was happening, he took the decision to scuttle the ships to prevent them falling into the hands of the British forces.
Some were immediately recovered with others being salvaged over a further period of time, leaving 3 battleships and four light cruisers on the bottom of the sea.
Scapa Flow is described as one of the must do dives which I can finally sign off as one that I’ve longed to do for many years.
Staying aboard MV Valkryie based in Stromness it proved to be one of the best weeks both weather wise and for diving.
Our first dive was on the Karlsruhe, a second class cruiser of the Konigsberg II Class, a fast and powerful ship that could carry 120 mines in addition to more conventional armament. Now lying in 24-27m on her starboard side you can still make out the 150mm guns and capstans on her bow and, travelling towards the stern, get a glimpse of the inside through the cavernous holes left behind when salvage work was carried out. At the stern you can still make out the teak deck which is now only walked upon by Brittle Stars and other such marine life, as well as her aft 150mm guns, anchor and the ramps where they deployed the mines. [Hilary’s photo]
SMS Brummer a light cruiser that could carry 360 mines compared to other ships, but only half the guns. Measuring 4,000 tons and 460 feet overall show now lies between 31-37 from bow to stern. Many of her plates have now collapsed and, even though you can still visualise the immense size of the ship, it is now being collonised by marine life.
SMS Seydlitz. This is broken up with pieces spread all around the seabed and amongst the few rocks nearby. Dropping down the shot line to the mast lying on the seabed, now home to the biggest Lobster I’ve ever seen, along with quite a few scallops, horse mussels, edible and spiny crabs, Brittle Stars and shoals of Pollack.
Kronprinz Wilhelm, lying upside down in about 38m of water, was the last of the Konig class of Dreadnoughts to be completed. In addition to it’s main armament of ten 12 inch guns, it also had fourteen 5.9 inch guns on the battery deck capable of firing 101lb shell over an 8 mile distance at seven times per minute plus six 3.4 guns capable of firing 20lb shells.
The Markgraf, along with the Kronzprinz Wilhelm was another of the Konig Class Dreadnoughts to be completed. These type of ships were fitted with five underwater torpedo tubes each capable of launching 50cm torpedoes carrying 250kg of high explosive. She is now settled in about 24m, lying upside down. Travelling along the Starboard side towards the stern looking into the cavernous depths left behind by the salvage work undertaken gives you an idea of the immense size of this battleship. Heading towards the bow another large salvage hole provides a glimpse into the deep, dark interior.
SMS Koln was the first of the new Dresden II Class cruisers to be completed, a slightly larger and more complete fighting ship than the Konigsberg II Class. Settled in a position at around 34m lying on it’s side, at the stern and looking back towards it you can appreciate the size from this location. Working along mid-ships we came across the armoured control that housed the 88mm gun as well as various pipes, capstans and anchor winch. Heading across another large and very dark salvage hole we came across a Butterfish and a Shanny quietly sitting on a beam near the bow.
We also dived the Dresden a Light Cruiser,V83 as well as the remains of the Seydlitz, F2 and YC21.
These immense structures are gradually being taken over by the sea in that some of their structures are collapsing. It is also being collanised by the various marine life such as Plumose, Lightbulb Sea Squirts, Burrowing Anenomes, Feather and Brittle Stars, Sponges, Dead Man’s Fingers, and also home for Crabs, shoals of Pollack, Conger,Common and Cuckoo Wrasse to name a few.
As we usually finished our diving by mid-afternoon this gave us the opportunity to do some sightseeing around Orkney, visiting Skara Brae, Ring of Brogdar passing Stenness and Maes How on the way, the Italian Chapel, Block Ships, Lord Kitchener’s monument and St.Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall.
One of the most interesting visits we made was to the Lyness Museum, the former Royal Navy base lying at the heart of Scapa Flow on Hoy. This was the commanding position for the Navy’s Grand Fleet in WWI and for the Home Fleet in WWII. By 1940 there were over 12,000 military and civilian personnel stationed here. The base finally closed on 29th March 1957 when a vast majority of the buildings were either demolished or sold off.
For me the whole experience proved not to be the scary place I’d previously been led to believe, or had anticipated. Okay it helped having a great skipper and crew, fantastic weather with sunshine, hardly any wind and calm seas plus the viz wasn’t too bad either making the whole trip such a fantastic experience and well worth waiting for.
Don’t get me wrong the wrecks are absolutely huge and can be quite daunting when you first see these great big hulks lying on the sea bed and think about the history and period of time they represented. But it’s one dive experience I can now sign off and finally say I’ve done and what can only be described as one of the must do dives of your life!