01/11/2018
Share this story Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Google Plus icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

Underwater archaeology project explores salvage site of the scuttled German High Seas Fleet

b0a59a3e-d373-4c8d-b535-48589b9bb65d

Archaeologists from around the world have been working in Orkney over the past few months, on a project which aims to explore Scapa Flow’s key role as a naval wartime harbour and the story of the scuttling and salvage of the German High Seas Fleet.

The wrecks of the First World War German High Seas Fleet that lie on the seabed in Scapa Flow, Orkney, are famous throughout the world as a diving and archaeological resource.

These wrecks include battleships, battlecruisers and other distinctive vessels from the First World War and provide marine archaeologists and historians with an opportunity to examine at first hand German warships from this period. 

During the interwar period, 42 vessels were re-floated and salvaged for their scrap in one of the greatest marine salvage feats of all time, but many of the important structures from these vessels were left behind on the sea bed. 

Following on from the successful completion of phase one of the project in 2017, archaeologists from the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) have teamed up with SULA Diving to undertake a second phase of the Historic Environment Scotland-funded marine archaeology project to examine Scapa Flow’s salvage sites. This phase of the survey commenced in June 2018 and concentrates on the debris left behind when the wrecks in deep water around the island of Cava were salvaged in the interwar period, including vessels such as the battleship Kaiser and the battlecruiser Moltke.

Worldwide involvement

The project is led by Pete Higgins, Senior Project Manager (ORCA) and Kevin Heath (SULA Diving) on behalf of Historic Environment Scotland. The team aimed to provide baseline data to aid long term monitoring and protection of the wreckage, and to contribute to our understanding of the construction and equipment of these vessels. 

The project has been fortunate to enlist the voluntary services of experienced divers from the Scapa Flow diving community, Heriot Watt University, the British and Orkney Sub Aqua Clubs and divers visiting Orkney from all over the world.

The scrap sites include major components of ship structures and equipment such as masts, searchlights, plating, steam pinnaces (small boats serving as tenders on the larger ship), funnels, spotting tops and so on. As this wreckage is relatively broken up and lacks statutory protection, the sites are currently vulnerable to modern salvage activity.

Understanding and protecting the site

Pete Higgins said, “This is an important marine archaeology project surveying what remains of the German High Seas Fleet warships that were salvaged from Scapa Flow in the inter war period. It is very exciting to see divers from all over the world participating in marine archaeology. Their work is helping us retrieve valuable information on warships that we thought had been effectively destroyed seventy years ago.”

Philip Robertson, Historic Environment Scotland’s marine expert, said “Nearly 100 years since the High Seas Fleet was interned in Scapa Flow at the end of the First World War, HES funded this project to help us understand and protect, where possible, the important information that has been left behind from these times and which helps us appreciate Scapa Flow’s key role as a naval wartime harbour and the incredible story of the scuttling and salvage of the High Seas Fleet.”

The project data and results will be available to the public through the Scapa Flow Wrecks website, along with various other platforms and exhibitions.

QUICK LINK: Explore our maps and archives collection for everything from Viking settlement to finding your way around Edinburgh Castle!

 

 

(images from top © Sula Diving, Bobby Forbes Collection, Sula Diving)

Back to "Scottish archaeology" Category

01/11/2018 Share this story   Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Google Plus icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

Recent Updates

HMS Vanguard was accepted for sea trials - On this day in history

On 25 April 1946 the battleship HMS Vanguard was accepted for sea trials by the Royal Navy.


On this day in history - Mary Queen of Scots married Francis Dauphin of France

Mary Queen of Scots married Francis, Dauphin of France at Notre Dame de Paris on 24 April 1558.


Did your ancestor sign the Declaration of Arbroath? New project aims to discover descendants through DNA testing

The University of Strathclyde Genealogical Studies Postgraduate Programme has launched the Declaration of ...


Rediscovered film shows footage of a 'lost lifestyle' in the Hebrides in the 1930s and 1940s

A new film celebrating the footage collected by Margaret Fay Shaw will premiere at an event in South Uist on ...


Other Articles

Where was Mary Queen of Scots born?

Discover facts about Mary Queen of Scots, who became queen of Scotland at just six days old, with our guide ...


King Charles II was crowned at Westminster Abbey - On this day in history

King Charles II was crowned at Westminster Abbey in London on 23 April 1661.


Ancient marine reptile fossil findings influenced sea serpent sightings, new research reveals

Sea monster sightings in the 19th century were influenced by the discovery of ancient reptile fossils, new ...


Politician Sir Henry Campbell Bannerman died - On this day in history

Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, the first politician to be officially called Prime Minister, died on 22 April ...