The centenary of the scuttling of the German High Seas Fleet in Scapa Flow, Orkney is approaching in June 2019. Historic Environment Scotland commissioned the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology and SULA Diving to complete a full survey of the wrecks and debris remaining on the sea bed following the interwar salvage operations.
The seven remaining ships of the High Seas Fleet have seen Scapa Flow become one of the most well-known dive sites in the World. Those wrecks are still the primary focus of recreational divers, but the remains of the vessels that were mostly recovered and removed from Scapa Flow have also been a recognised diving resource for many years. However, the exact extent and composition of these so-called salvage sites was unknown until this week, when the report of the second phase of work on these sites was published online.
The overall aim of the Scapa Flow Salvage Sites Project was to determine what remains of the many vessels of the German High Seas Fleet that were salvaged in the years that followed their scuttling in June 1919. Phase One, undertaken over the winter of 2016/17, involved a side scan sonar survey of the main anchorages and other areas thought to have been involved in the salvage process. In the second phase of this project, divers and remotely operated vehicles examined and recorded the remains in detail. The overall result is that the vast majority of salvage sites in Scapa Flow have been located and the remains at each site have been directly investigated and recorded.
The salvage of the German High Seas Fleet was an unparalleled achievement. It was initially said that the recovery of the larger German vessels was an impossible task given their sheer size and weight (some up to 28,000 tonnes displacement), but a unique method was used to recover these vessels, most of which were lying upside down on the seabed in depths up to 45m. The basic principle was simple - fill the vessels with air to the point that they floated to the surface.
The process of flotation itself caused parts of the vessels to fall away, leaving behind debris which has now been recorded to form an incredible record of the details of construction of these warships and the ground-breaking salvage process. The fascinating wreckage examined ranges from huge mast sections complete with spotting tops, searchlights, a diesel engine from a ships boat to smaller items such as gyrocompass remains. The report itself is a mine of information for anyone interested in the construction of these historically important vessels and what happened to them. Where possible, photographs of objects on the seabed are matched with those taken of the same object when the ship was in use.
The full report is now available for public download through the Scapa Flow Historic Wreck website http://www.scapaflowwrecks.com/projects/salvage-sites-phase-2/
Pete Higgins, Senior Project Manager at Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology said,
” The German High Seas Fleet Salvage Site Project provides an insight into one of the most spectacular episodes in maritime history when forty four warships were raised from the seabed of Scapa Flow and salvaged. The report brings together the archaeological remains of this operation and not only records the position and scale of the debris field, but also tells the story of these ships and their salvage through the remaining artefacts.”
Philip Robertson, Historic Environment Scotland’s marine expert said, “As the centenary of the scuttling of the German High Seas Fleet approaches, the publication of this report marks a significant milestone for marine archaeological heritage in Scapa Flow, and we are particularly grateful to the many volunteers who have assisted us in documenting what survives of the Fleet following one of the greatest salvage feats of all time.”
Click here to see video of the wreckage of the German battleship SMS Kaiser.
The High Seas Fleet was interned at the Royal Navy base Scapa Flow, Orkney at the end of the First World War. Admiral Ludwig Von Reuter, ordered the fleet to be scuttled so that the British could not make use of this vast resource.
This resulted in the sinking of 52 of the 74 interned vessels. After the scuttling, 44 of these vessels were salvaged and various components of the ships’ structures lie on the seabed marking these wreck sites, a valuable cultural heritage resource.
Media Contact: Sean Page, Marketing Officer, Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology, Kirkwall. E: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: 01856 569229
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