The Scuttling of the German Fleet: An Introduction.

The Scuttling of the German Fleet: 2019 Summer Exhibition at the Orkney Museum. Panel 1, Part 1. Introduction.

German Battle Cruiser 'Derfflinger'
Above: The German Interned Squadron in Scapa Flow, anchored around the island of Cava. Below, key to the above photograph. Tom Kent Collection, Orkney Library & Archive.

2019 was the centenary of the scuttling of the German Fleet in Scapa Flow. This exhibition is now being split up into parts and will be published in installments, along with many more photographs to illustrate the events. In it I wanted to give the facts as clearly as possible. World War I saw no winners, just losers on all sides as it paved the way for a Second World War. My thanks to all those people who helped me to create this exhibition.

The Home Fleet in Scapa Flow prior to World War I. Tom Kent Collection, Orkney Library & Archive.


On the bright and sunny Midsummer Day of 1919, a funeral was being held in the parish of Orphir, overlooking Scapa Flow. As the coffin was lowered into the ground, a murmur rippled around the gathered mourners. When the minister looked up from his psalm book he found himself alone – everyone was standing along the kirkyard wall. When he joined them, he saw what the excitement was about. The German Fleet had been interned in Scapa Flow as security while peace talks to end World War I were taking place. Those ships were fast sinking beneath the waves. Rear Admiral Ludwig von Reuter, believing that the peace talks had ended in failure, had ordered the scuttling of the German ships rather than let them fall into enemy hands. The scuttling was the largest loss of shipping in a single day in world history. This exhibition tells the story of the scuttling and subsequent salvage operations with their continuing contribution to Orkney’s economy. Equally important is the status of the remaining ships as scheduled ancient monuments, having the same legal protection as Skara Brae or St Magnus Cathedral.

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