Marking “a significant milestone for marine archaeological heritage in Scapa Flow”

Archaeology Results Published Online

On 21st of June 1919 the German Fleet which had been interned at Scapa Flow, Orkney was scuttled by the remaining crew.


German High Seas Fleet in Scapa Flow

“Of the 74 German ships interned at Scapa Flow, 52 (or an equivalent of about 400,000 tons of material) were scuttled within five hours, representing the greatest loss of shipping in a single day in history.Imperial War Museum

Nine German sailors were shot and killed – 16 were injured. Their graves can be found in the Lyness Naval Cemetery, Hoy.

It was a harvest for salvagers who paid the Admiralty for the vessels. Interestingly the Allies had been arguing about sharing out the German vessels as  the spoils of war but it was the British who were to benefit from the salvage operation.

Salvage at Scapa Flow

Scuttling of the German Fleet at Scapa Flow: Salvage work in progress on the German battleship BADEN at Scapa Flow. The cruiser FRANKFURT is also in view. (IWM)

Ernest Cox of Cox and Danks Ltd., purchased 28 ships and a floating dock with which to raise them.

“This dock had been seized from Germany as part of reparations for the scuttling and enabled Cox to raise 26 destroyers and eventually, the battlecruiser Hindenburg in 1930.”

7 of the vessels remain under the waters of Scapa Flow  registered under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.

Orkney Research for Archaeology (ORCA), University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and SULA Diving were commissioned by Historic Environment Scotland (HES) to undertake a full survey of the wrecks.

The full report is now available for public download here: Scapa Flow Historic Wreck Site

Pete Higgins, Senior Project Manager at ORCA 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, HES’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.”

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