It has been 39 years since my first visit and 17 years since my last, so it was with great anticipation I recently revisited the Orkney Islands and their diving treasure, the remains of the scuttled German Fleet from WW I. Over recent years I had read several stories and heard comments that the wrecks were beginning to noticeably degrade and sink further into the surrounding seabed. Well that maybe, as they have been underwater since 1919, but the wrecks are still very impressive if nothing else for their sheer size and scale and I left with many good memories and thoroughly enjoyed the trip.
Our base for the week was aboard the purpose built dive vessel Huskyan skippered and run by Emily Turton and Ben Wade with shore accommodation at No15-Divers Lodge in Stromness. The plan was simple, 5 days diving with two dives per day and our party comprised both open and closed-circuit divers. As six dive charter boats were working throughout the week, the skippers agreed who was diving what on each day, and over the five days all the main wrecks were covered.
I have included a few key facts on the ships, but as there are so many books and websites on the wrecks in Scapa Flow there is no point in reproducing it again here. We will put a page on here in the next few weeks on the Grand Scuttle of 1919.
The three remaining ships are the Konig, Kronprinz Wilhelm and Markgraf. The wrecks are all Konig class and weigh in around 25,800 tonnes displacement and circa 178 metres in length. These wrecks are vast and unless you have a powerful scooter and CCR, will require 2-3 dive visits to see the whole wreck. They have all received the attentions of the salvors so expect to see large areas of torn, bent and twisted metal, some exposed areas of hull can be the thickness of your forearm. I only dived two of the three, and the pictures below are from the stern sections of the Kronprinz and Markgraf. Unfortunately, visibility on these larger wrecks seemed less than on the light cruisers, the battleships maybe subject to less tide or, perhaps they are more popular with divers. The scale of the wrecks cannot be appreciated without actually diving on them, they all lie upside down, some lean-to port or starboard giving the diver the ability to view parts of their main or secondary armament at or near seabed level.
The four remaining are Brummer, Cöln, Dresden and Karlsruhe. The Cöln and Dresden are sisterships, so you have three slightly different designs within the four ships. They all weigh in around 5500 tonnes displacement except Brummer at 4385 tonnes, and measure between 140 and 155 metres long. The four wrecks all lie on their sides, the Dresden to port and the other three on starboard. The pictures are from dives on the Cöln, Dresden and Karlsruhe.
During recovery work in 1934 the 28,079 ton battleship Bayern accidentally rose to the surface, vented and partially sank again by the stern. During this upset her four massive turrets, each with twin 15” guns, separated from the main body of the ship. While the main hull was eventually raised and scrapped, the turrets have remained on the seabed in 34-38 metres. I found this the most interesting dive of the week, good visibility and CCR allowed me to visit all four turrets which are in various states. Unfortunately, none of the 15” barrels are visible, they lie tantalisingly beneath the seabed. The west turrets (A+B) were damaged during the mishap noted above, the east turrets (C+D) are more complete and Turret C rises to around 23 metres.