Scapa flow is an expanse of water that for centuries has been a sheltered anchorage for mariners. At the outbreak of World War One, Scapa Flow became the home base for the Grand Fleet. On 21 June, 1919, 74 interned warships of the Imperial German Navy Fleet were scuttled at Scapa Flow to avoid them falling into British hands. It was, and still is, the single greatest act of naval suicide the world has ever seen.
Over the course of the coming decades, the majority of the warships were raised, leaving today eight complete ships of the original High Seas Fleet on the seabed waiting to be explored. They are the 26,000-ton battleships König, Markgraf and Kronprinz Wilhelm, the 5000-ton cruisers Dresden, Brummer, Cöln and Karlsruhe and the 900-ton destroyer V83.
Over the years, many other vessels have come sunk in Scapa Flow – both military and civilian. during World Wars One and Two, “blockships” were also sunk in the eastern and western channels leading into Scapa Flow acting as barriers against enemy vessels.
The german high seas fleet wrecks lie in 30 to 45m of water – with average underwater visibility of 10-15m. The German wrecks either lie on their sides or upside-down. The cruisers all lie on their side, allowing divers to swim to the side of the hull and look down the now-vertical deck. Everywhere there is something to hold your interest: sleek cruiser bows designed to slice through the water; gun-turrets looming up out of the gloom and anchor-chains run out from their chain lockers to steam-driven capstans – before dropping down to the seabed.
As one might expect scapa flow hosts a countless number of ships over the years, which means that there are some pretty special wrecks to explore, amongst the best of them are;
SMS Brummer – A firm favourite amongst many divers, the SMS Brummer was left largely intact by the salvage teams and makes an enthralling, impressive dive.
Tabarka – Sunk to protect the entrance of Scapa Flow from enemy submarines, the Tabarka now rests in the strong tides of Burra Sound.
F2 and YC21 – F2 was a World War II German escort boat, similar to a corvette, given to the British as war reparations. The boat sank during a gale in 1946 and came to rest in Gutter Sound, between the islands of Hoy and Farra.
SMS Markgraf – Often thought of as the jewel in the Scapa Flow crown, Markgraf is of a scale that surpasses anything experienced elsewhere in the world. The wreck remains in superb condition, demonstrating the impressive size of the König class battleships.