Sunday, 7 September 2014

Scapa Flow

Scapa Flow
Scapa Flow has been used as a safe anchorage for ships since the times of the Vikings in Britain. Surrounded by many of the islands making up the Orkneys this large expanse of water provided a natural shelter for many ships so during the First World War and the Second World War the British Navy used Scapa Flow as a base.

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.
When visiting the Orkney Islands some of the wrecks of ships are visible, especially when crossing the Churchill Barriers.
During the Second World War Scapa Flow was again used to house the British Fleet. However it was soon obvious that the defences established during the First World War were insufficient. Between the wars some of the block ships had also been removed to make safe passage for fishing boats to enter the North Sea. On 14 October 1939 the HMS Royal Oak was torpedoed from a German u-boat and sank in Scapa Flow. Eight hundred and thirty-four men died. After the Germans also carried out aerial bombing of sites in October 1939, the British fleet was removed from the area for six months until effective anti-aircraft defences could be installed to protect ships and surrounding area. During the first German air raid the HMS Iron Duke was bombed.  The ships returned on 8 March 1940. German air raids continued until 10 April 1940 but additional protection was also provided from the RAF station at Wick and radar was also used to detect approaching aircraft. Scapa Flow was essential to British naval plans and needed to be well protected.
It had already been decided to install additional block ships to protect the area however another method of protecting the entrances was also instigated - the Churchill Barriers. The plan was to build four causeways between five of the islands - Lamb Holm, Glimps Holm, Burray, South Ronaldsay and the Orkney Mainland - thereby permanently blocking these entrances. When a shortage of labour threatened the project it was decided to establish a prisoner of war camp for Italian prisoners of war and use this additional manpower to complete the project.
Only the chapel from Camp 60, at Lamb Holm, remains today.
The chapel was constructed from Nissan huts with a facade attached to the front.
Inside the decorations of the chapel appear to be ornate
but the walls of the hut have been cleverly painted to produce effect of tiles and other decorations.
The chapel has been kept as a reminder of Camp 60 and this period of British history.

Scapa Flow was strategially important to the defence of Britain during both World Wars.It is a most interesting place to visit.

Scapa Flow

Scapa Flow - historic wreck site

Scapa Flow - First World

Scapa Flow - Block ships

Battle of Jutland - Eyewitness history

Lord Kitchener - First World

Scuttling of the German Fleet - Wikipedia

Defending Scapa Flow - Remembering Scotland at War

Battle of Orkney - Scapa Flow

Italian chapel - Undiscovered Scotland

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