Old Photograph Salvaging The Kaiser German Battleship Scapa Flow Scotland


Old photograph of salvaging The Kaiser German Battleship at Scapa Flow, Orkney Islands, Scotland. Historically, the main British naval bases were located near the English Channel to better face England's old enemies, France, Spain, and the Netherlands. In 1904, in response to the build up of the German Kaiserliche Marine's High Seas Fleet, it was decided that a northern base was needed to control the entrances to the North Sea. First Rosyth in Fife was considered for the base, then Invergordon at Cromarty Firth, but construction in both places was delayed, leaving them largely unfortified by the outbreak of WWI. Scapa Flow had been used many times for exercises in the years before the War, and when the time came for the fleet to move to a northern station, Scapa Flow was chosen for the main base of the British Grand Fleet. Following the German defeat in World War I, 74 ships of the Kaiserliche Marine's High Seas Fleet were interned in Gutter Sound at Scapa Flow pending a decision on their future in the peace Treaty of Versailles.

On 21 June 1919, after nine months of waiting, Rear Admiral Ludwig von Reuter, the German officer in command at Scapa Flow, made the decision to scuttle the fleet because the negotiation period for the treaty had lapsed with no word of a settlement, he was not kept informed that there had been a last minute extension to finalise the details.

After waiting for the bulk of the British fleet to leave on exercises, he gave the order to scuttle the ships to prevent their falling into British hands. The Royal Navy made desperate efforts to board the ships to prevent the sinking, but the German crews had spent the idle months preparing for the order, welding bulkhead doors open, laying charges in vulnerable parts of the ships, and quietly dropping important keys and tools overboard so valves could not be shut.

The British did eventually manage to beach the battleship Baden, the light cruisers N├╝rnberg, and Frankfurt together with 18 destroyers, but the remaining 52 ships, the vast bulk of the High Seas Fleet, were sunk without loss of life. Nine German sailors died when British forces opened fire as they attempted to scuttle their ship, reputedly the last casualties of WWI.

All photographs are copyright of Sandy Stevenson, Tour Scotland, and may not be used without permission.

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