At the beginning of the First World War barriers in the form of block ships were put in place at five entrances to try and prevent German U-boats from entering Scapa Flow. Some of the ships were purchased by the Navy while others were the result of 'spoils of war'. Once in place the ships were filled with ballast and sank. Anti-submarine netting was also used to protect the entrances. Defencive mine-fields were also laid and gun batteries were installed at strategic points for further protection. The presence of the British Fleet in the North Sea restricted the movement of Germany ships in the area and made it difficult for the Germans to move supplies to their country by sea.
In May1916 the Grand Fleet left Scapa Flow to engage ships from the German Navy in the Battle of Jutland. Two hundred and Fifty ships were involved in the battle which lasted all night until the German ships retreated from the scene. Fourteen British ships were lost with 6,094 men while the Germans lost eleven ships with 2,551 men. However the Germans determined not to risk a major battle in open seas with the British again.
Although every effort had been made to prevent German U-boats entering the seas near Scapa Flow the Germans managed to lay at least one mine resulting in the sinking of HMS Hampshire on 5 June. The ship was on its way to Russia with the British War Minister, Lord Kitchener aboard.
After the declaration of the Armistice seventy-four German ships with skeleton crews were interned and escorted to Scapa Flow. On 21 June 1919 Rear Admiral Von Reuter told his men to scuttle the ships which they did at 12 noon. Fifty-two of the ships were sunk while the others were towed to shallow waters. Most of the ships have since been salvaged but some wrecks still remain.
Scapa Flow was strategially important to the defence of Britain during both World Wars.It is a most interesting place to visit.
Scapa Flow - historic wreck site
Scapa Flow - First World War.com
Scapa Flow - Block ships
Battle of Jutland - Eyewitness history
Lord Kitchener - First World War.com
Scuttling of the German Fleet - Wikipedia
Defending Scapa Flow - Remembering Scotland at War
Battle of Orkney - Scapa Flow
Italian chapel - Undiscovered Scotland