Scapa Flow continued to tell its story to the Sheephaven divers as they completed a sequence of dives there last week.
A total of 12 dives over six days were conducted to depths between 16 and 40 metres depending on the wreck and all dives were conducted on Nitrox gas mixtures of no less than 28%.
This allowed for the maximum no-decompression dive times and when using Pile Stops minimised waiting at depth to decompress, which is a significant comfort factor given the cooler waters and repeated diving over the course of a week.
In-water conditions were reasonably good, with a temperature of no lower than 12 degrees Celsius and visibility at its best of around 10 metres horizontally.
The wrecks dived were – in order of dive – the German WWI ships the Coln II, Brummer, Kronprinz Wilhelm, Karlsrude, Markgraf, Koing, Dresden and the turrets of the Bayern. In addition to the WWI wrecks the Sheephaven divers also got onto the remains of German WWII escort F2 and its nearby salvage barge YC 21.
The best wreck dive of the week was on the SMS Dresden, which it was so good it warranted a second dive. She was a Light Battle Cruiser, launched in 1917 and had a total displacement weight of 5,600 tonnes when fully battle ready.
The Dresden was 115m in length and powered by 8 coal and 8 oil fired boilers, collectively producing 49,000 HP and giving her a very impressive speed of 27 knots.
The largest ship was the SMS Markgraf at 30,000 tonnes and a length of 146 metres. She was launched in 1913 and was powered by three oil and 12 coal fired boilers creating 43,000 HP and a speed of 21 knots, she was armed with 10 x 30.5 cm main turret guns and a further 14 x 15cm casement guns
The Markgraf was scuttled by her crew on the 21st June 1918 along with 73 other ships of the German High Seas Fleet and currently lies at a depth of around 36 metres to the sea bed, although the upper levels of the wreck are much shallower.
However the full story of these two ships is not how they ended up sunk together in a single act of apparent petulance by the crew seeking to get back home after 9 months interment after a cold winter in the Orkneys – but rather as a calculated military tactic to prevent a valuable asset falling into the hands of the enemy.
Rear Admiral Von Reuter was in command of the interned German High Seas Fleet, which had been brought to Scapa Flow on the 23rd November 1918, as a condition of the ceasefire and subsequent armistice that had been agreed to commence on the 11th November1918.
The Fleet complement of 20,000 men was reduced to a 4,800 and further reduced later to a caretaker complement of 1,820 men.
It had also been agreed that the surrender conditions of the German High Command would be completed by noon on the 21st June 1918, or otherwise a state of war would recommence between the belligerent parties.
As Von Reuter had not been informed of any agreement by the morning of the 21st June, his pre-arranged order to put these ships beyond the use of his enemy was carried out, thereby creating the single biggest sinking of ships in one day up until that time. The rest as they say is history.
However the story of these wrecked ships is even more closely interwoven with the how WWI ended and indeed how the subsequent toxic environment for WWII was created.
In June 1916 the Germans and British had fought a fierce naval battle at the Battle of Jutland, which effectively resulted in the German High Seas Fleet being unwilling to leave their bases of Wilhemshaven and Kiel – this resulted in an Allied blockade of Germany and the slow starvation of their people.
By 1918 a desperate last ditch, do or die German plan was decided to bring the British fleet to battle and break the blockade, which would have swung the balance of power of the First World War.
However the sailors on board the High Seas Fleet in Kiel heard of this desperate plan and refused to put to sea, commencing the Kiel Sailors Munity that eventually spread across Germany from one town to another and forced the authorities to seek a ceasefire.
At the centre of that sailor mutiny was the SMS Markgraf and when the still loyal crew on board the SMS Dresden attempted to put to sea the mutineers trained their 30.5 cm guns on the Dresden to force her to stay.