Scapa Flow shipwreck. Part of the German fleet that was scuttled during WWI and used as a blocking ship in WWII to prevent the entry of Nazi U-boats. It’s weird to see how this survivor of two cataclysmic events has became a familiar part of the Orcadian landscape. Location: Mainland, Orkney, Scotland Scapa Flow (/ˈskɑːpə/ or /ˈskæpə/; from Old Norse Skalpaflói, meaning “bay of the long isthmus”) is a body of water in the Orkney Islands, Scotland, United Kingdom, sheltered by the islands of Mainland, Graemsay, Burray, South Ronaldsay and Hoy.
Historical shipping use
Vikings anchored their longships in Scapa Flow more than a thousand years ago, but it is best known as the site of the United Kingdom‘s chief naval base during World War I and World War II. The facility was closed in 1956.
The scuttling of the German fleet
Following the German defeat in WWI, 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 sinkings, 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.
World War II
Primarily because of its great distance from German airfields, Scapa Flow was again selected as the main British naval base during WWII. On 14 October 1939, under the command of Günther Prien, U-47 penetrated Scapa Flow and sank the WWI–era battleship HMS Royal Oak anchored in Scapa Bay. After firing its first torpedo, the submarine turned to make its escape; but, upon realising that there was no immediate threat from surface vessels, it returned for another attack. The second torpedo blew a 30-foot (9.1 m) hole in the Royal Oak, which flooded and quickly capsized. Of the 1,400-man crew, 833 were lost. The wreck is now a protected war grave. Blockships were sunk, booms and mines were placed over the main entrances, coast defence and anti-aircraft batteries were installed at crucial points, and Winston Churchill ordered the construction of a series of causeways to block the eastern approaches to Scapa Flow; they were built by Italian prisoners of war held in Orkney, who also built the Italian Chapel. These “Churchill Barriers” now provide road access from the mainland to Burray and South Ronaldsay, but block maritime traffic.