Scapa Flow Wrecks

F2 Escort vessel


The F2 is a good second dive. She is submerged in Gutter Sound (near Lyness) at 18m. Although (despite) her stern is badly damaged, she is a thoroughly good rummage wreck. A lot of life around her.



Built at Kiel in 1936.



The F2 was used as an experimental boat by the German Navy. In some ways similar to a destroyer, she was converted to a torpedo recovery vessel. She was 250 ft long with a beam of 30 ft and displaced nearly 800 tons. She had two 4 inch guns on pedestal mountings – one on the forecastle deck and the other on her aft deck. After the end of WW2 she was given to Britain as war reparations and was moored in Gutter Sound. She sank shortly after in December 1946.



The boat lies on its port side in 18m of quite cold water. The visibility is usually quite good. The bottom is shaly and pebbly. There is an awful lot to see and discover. Not only the extensive wreckage but also a lot of interested sea life. The wrasse are particularly friendly – probably hoping for a sea urchin meal from a diver. There are enormous horse mussels, energetic scallops, many sea urchins and a couple of lurking conger.

The wreck has been extensively salavaged around the stern. Unrecognisable wreckage lies strewn all over the sea bed. Wreck ferrets will be in their element. Towards the bows a more recognisable shape emerges. The bridge structure is quite intact and the mainmast still lies across the seabed. On the foredeck there is a well preserved 4 inch gun turret with its breech mechanism exposed for inspection by the interested diver. Anchor chains are clearly visible as are the paraphenalia of cleats and capstans.

Near to the F2 (about 40m off the starboard midsection) is a barge that was used in salvage work. The barge sank in 1968 during a storm. Inside its hold can be seen one of the anti aircraft guns that was being salvaged from the F2 plus a lot of other bits and pieces. If you are the first pair of divers then it is pleasant to swim into the hold of the barge and explore. At one end you will see a worktable with a vice on it plus tool cabinets. There are a couple of passageways. Underneath the barge there are quite a few ling and conger.

The water seems particularly cold around the F2. There is a lot to see, and there are many surprises. A good second dive.


Gobernador Bories

The Gobernador Bories is another of the blockships lying in Burra Sound. Although she is near the Inverlane (300m S – SE) she is entirely submerged. It is quite common to start a dive on the Inverlane, swim over to the Gobernador and ascend from her. However, the GB deserves a dive all to herself. She makes a superb dive.



The GB was built in West Hartlepool in 1882.



She was sunk as a blockship in 1915. She is a 2500 ton steamer.



The Gobernador is unforgettable. She is one of those surprise dives that you don’t really expect in Scapa. This is because of the exceptional visibility and the profusion of life around her. The boat lies in 16m of clean, well swept water. The bottom is sandy gravel with no silt which gives it a very light background. She lies uprightish and is still quite a recognisable boat despite the fast current that runs around her and keeps her clean.

However, it is important to dive this wreck on the slack. With currents of up to 12 knots it is so easy to get swept off despite the shot line. Slack is around 30 – 45 mins and the current picks up within minutes, so good dive planning and an aware skipper is essential.

It is possible to get into the holds of the GB, and what a sight! With the clear limpid water, good light and prolific fish life, being inside rather resembles a small church with a greeny light pouring in through stained glass windows. The fish are quite unperturbed by divers – indeed they almost expect to be fed with the abundant sea urchins that abound around. Amidships there are boilers with a below deck section that may be safely penetrated. The bows are quite intact and there is a ‘little room’ out of which the diver can see a surreal pattern of kelp dancing outside maybe to the accompaniment of bubbles from divers underneath.

Divers can swim around the keel of the boat on the NE side. The propellor is still there (1988). The whole wreck is buzzing with life – fish (wrasse especially), sea urchins, all manner of starfish and the most plenteous carpeting of kelp. The wreck is a riot of colour and life, and has a somewhat bizarre Mediterranean feel about it.

Unforgettable and unmisseable.



Light Cruiser – Bremse class




Launched in Dec 1915 at Stettin.



The Brummer and Bremse took part in a raiding operation against a convoy bound from Bergen to the Shetlands in October 1917. They massacred the convoy and as a result Germany considered using them as lone commerce raiders. However, the combined total of American and British naval opposition made this unworkable. The Brummer sank at 14.30pm on 21st June 1919.



The Brummer can be a darkish dive that is different from the Dresden cruisers. Partly this is because of her orientation and partly because this is a more open wreck that divers can partially enter. She lies in 36 metres with 20 metres being her shallowest depth. She lies on her starboard side with her bows slighly shallower than her stern. At the bows you can see the anchor capstans with the chains still hanging off them. Behind them lies the 6 inch bow deck gun with its armoured shield. Aft of this is the control tower with its narrow viewing slits and open access door and directly behind is the bridge. The bridge and mainmast strucure is largely intact, and presents the diver with a mass of wires and cross rigging. Just aft of the bridge is the mid 6 inch gun with its barrel facing astern. Midships is a mess of salvage damage. It is possible to enter the ship here and explore her interior. Further back at the stern can be found another 6 inch gun. The rudder can be seen lying on the seabed.

Since the winter storms of 1996/97 the deck has moved away from the hull, which has opened the wreck somewhat. Some swim throughs are easier.



Light Cruiser – Konigsberg II class




The Karlsruhe was completed in January 1916 at Wilhelmshaven.



The Karlsruhe saw a little action around the Baltic islands in 1917 and did some minelaying and guard duty in 1918. Sank at 15.50 on 21st June 1919.



The Karlsruhe is the shallowest of the High Seas Fleet. She lies in 26 metres with a minimum depth of 12 metres. The boat is quite badly broken in places, but is nonetheless a rattling good dive. She lies on her starboard side with her stern section relatively intact with capstans and mooring bollards still attached to a sloping quarterdeck. Her mid section has been extensively salvaged, but this means that parts of her structure are the more easily seen. Towards her bows there are two 6 inch guns that straddle the sea bed having collapsed from the main deck housing. Her bows are intact and quite imposing. Anchor chains from the capstans lead out over the deck through hawse pipes set in the damaged deck. An anchor chain runs out along the sea bed. She has an excellent control tower.

This is an excellent dive not least because the salvage damage has made some parts of the cruiser more obvious than in the more extant ones. The stern is quite impressive.




Light Cruiser – Dresden II class


Built at Kiel and launched April 1917.



The Dresden laid a few mines off Embden and was attacked by a British submarine in August 1917. Owing to a turbine failure she was one of the last ships to arrive for internment at Scapa Flow. Sank at 13.30 on 21st June 1919,



The Dresden lies in 35 metres with her nearest surface point at 18 metres. In some ways she resembles the Koln, but her stern is more intact and gives the diver a better appreciation of that area. She lists at a slighter angle than the Koln and part of her deck has rotted and dropped away to reveal some of the innards. The bridge is intact and the whole superstructure together with the mainmast makes for excellent diving. The bow anchor chains are present, but like the Koln, the gun platforms are empty.

Towards the stern the officers’ accommodation section is obvious with its windows and open doorways. Both stern guns still remain as does the stern anchor.

The winter storms of 1996/97 have affected this wreck. The deck has moved away from the hull, so opening it up and making some swim throughs easier.


Salvage in the 70’s


I spent some time at the end of the 1971 season up there when Arthur Nundy was still working on the wrecks. It was in November of that year that I along with a David Nicol – a demolition contractor from Dysart in Fife – purchased Nundy Marine Metals. The deal included 20 odd acres of ground on Flotta the old cinema and the west pier. On Hoy at Rinnigil just to the south of Lyness, there was another 25 or so acres with several sheds and buildings and there was also the old pier where the ex boom defence vessel “Barneath” was kept. She was a coal fired steamer and had two 15 ton winches – one forward and the other at the stern. One of the two drums from the after winch was used for the stern anchor which was the most common method of anchoring and the wire from the other drum was led through snatchblocks up forward and over the port horn. There was another anchor over the apron at the bow and the second wire went over the starboard horn, so with both winches in tandem we could pull a good 30 tons.

The other vessel we had was a 52.5ft Harbour Launch or Pinnace on which we had a compressor and air receiver and two 300ft airlines. This was our dive boat which we used for all the blasting and preparatory work. There was a small recompression chamber which could be run off an L.P. compressor or H.P. diving cylinders. In the early days we also had a small 100 ton coaster in which we shipped scrap down to Inverkeithing in the Forth. We got a couple of seasons out of the Barneath before it was found that the goosenecks in the boiler furnaces were thin and that there was evidence of hairline cracks, so she was the next scrap that had to be sent south, towed by a tug also down to the shipbreakers yard at Inverkeithing. The cost of boiler repairs would have been prohibitive. The following season, we were short of any major lifting capability but we concentrated on using airbags and a large fibreglass open bottomed tank with strongpoints built in which could lift 25tons.

Our next heavy lift vessel, was the GWR 30, a coal fired steam, stiff leg crane, with a safe working load of 50tons at a 62ft outreach, an ideal tool for lifting armour plate which also had the great advantage of being able to load any coaster which we chartered to ship the armour to Germany or elsewhere. One drawback was that it was not self propelled so we had to hire a fishing boat or the Kirkwall owned coaster the Elwick Bay to tow us out to the wrecks.

It was at the end of the 1977 season that the decision was made to stop salvaging. Scrap metal prices had fallen and of course the law of diminishing returns prevailed. The more we recovered the less there was to be recovered. Almost all the accessible heavy armour had been salvaged. A few plates were lying attached to each other on the south side of the Konig and quite a few on the low side of the KP again the south side still remain. They are of course under the vessel and well in the mud. All main condensers with the exception of the low side engine room of the Dresden have been recovered. The Dresden as you will be aware was not completed until 1917, by which time Germany was getting very short of raw materials and whereas the other ships had all the best of copper and gunmetal, the valves and pipework tended to be of steel. The condenser which was recovered was only brass tubed with steel separator plates. When we removed the stern prop shaft tubes and bearings from her they came all gleaming like brass but after only a few hours on deck they tended to go rusty. Just another indicator that the materials used were of inferior quality.

Now to give a brief description of the wrecks as we left them.



The vessel with least amount of damage is the Dresden for the reason previously stated. She lies on her port side and has been opened up into the starboard side engine room and the starboard main condenser, circulating pump, air pump to increase the exhaust steam flow through the condenser, circulating pump and several evaporators have been recovered. Both sets of turbines are still thought to be there along with the low side condenser which is situated almost against the starboard side of the vessel. Her propellers like all other propellers were removed by Metal Industries. It was interesting that in many cases we found the brass propeller boss nuts lying on the sea bed which had been blasted off prior to springing the prop off the shaft with a small explosive charge.The other items removed were the stern tubes, main shaft seals and bearings.



On the Koln, both engine rooms were opened and all condensers, pumps, valves etc. removed. The low side turbines are still there. The deck torpedo tube on the port side was recovered the starboard side tube is still there under the mud. The vessel is of course lying on her starboard side. It is interesting to note that the main sea valves which were of the large mushroom type,were both found to be open and on one of the main condensers of which there were two in each engine room inspection doors had been removed to allow a rapid ingress of water when the ships had been scuttled.



The Brummer which was in fact a minelayer had been made of even better materials than Dresden or Koln. Her two engine rooms – unlike the other light cruisers which were side by side – appeared to be staggered fore and aft. She had both engine rooms cleared out along with stern tubes etc. All of which were high quality gunmetal.



The Karlsruhe in terms of scrap metal, was the most productive of the light cruisers. Being completed in 1916 as was the Brummer she had a lot of good quality gunmetal valves and heavy duty copper steam pipes. As well as having deck torpedo tubes we kept on noticing references to the fact that she had four tubes yet there were only two deck tubes. It was not until we did a detailed survey of the hull that we found the faintest outline of what could have been the door of a port side submerged tube. But the area was filled with mud and we could not be certain. I managed to get underneath the hull on the starboard side just below the conning tower and worked my way towards the keel when about halfway through came across the same kind of aperture on the starboard side which was clearly the heavy cast bronze doors of the broadside submerged torpedo tube. These are shown in the photographs which are enclosed. These two tubes individually weighed 18 tons and as can be seen were of top quality gunmetal. They were located athwartship just below the bridge area. The bridge itself was made of 1/2 inch brass plate and weighed 4.5 tons.The sides of the light cruisers were of 2 inch armour plate and were an integral part of the ships side. The plates were about 12 by 25 ft., there is only one plate left on the port side of the Karlsruhe all the plates are of course still on the starboard side. Both the engine rooms which were side by side have been gutted. Arthur Nundy, took the high side condenser and pumps, but left the low side intact. We got the low side one together with the usual pumps, valves etc. The condenser weighed 25 tons was about 25 ft long and gorthed 24 ft. The end plates and doors were gunmetal, the separator plates brass and the tubes were tinned copper.  We also recovered boiler feed pumps, manifolds, valves, evaporators and of course tons of brass turbine blades and the usual heavy copper pipes. The turbine blades were of varying lengths, the high pressure blades at the steam inlet end of the turbine being approx. 4 ins long increasing in length to the low pressure end to approx. 20 ins. The blades of airefoil cross-section were individually keyed into the steel rotor with brass keys. To get the blades off the rotor took many hours of work with hammer and cold chisel knocking out the keys. A good pastime for those days when it was too rough to dive.

The Karlsruhe was the most extensively worked wreck and consequently is in quite a mess. Originally when she sank her masts were visible, it is thought that she slowly rolled over onto her side over the years. Her masts were also removed at an early stage as she was a hazard to shipping.



One area where we seriously considered working was the gun turrets of the Bayern, which as you will probably know fell out unexpectedly when they were doing preparatory work to float her. Luckily it happened when all the workers had finished for the day and gone home leaving only a small crew to keep the compressors running onboard a workboat. When the turrets which had not yet been secured properly fell out, the vessel lurched to the surface and on doing so ruptured some of the airlines going to the top of the airlocks from the workboat and she slowly sank back down onto the seabed away from her original position. There are four turrets all with twin 12 inch guns each weighing 650 tons. We had intended to pass leader wires under the turret and guns and with one of the Smith 1000 ton A frame crane barges could have broken them out of the mud and put them onto the quay at Lyness or onto a flat top barge.

We took all the accessible armour off the Markgraf and cleared up what was left on the other two battleships. Major recoveries included broadside torpedo tubes, 18 tons of bronze condensers and up to 25 tons each of copper tubes and centrifugal pumps. The armour plate was in 25 ton slabs up to 14 inches thick. Most of the salvage was done using explosives – hence the jagged heaps of scrap.


Salvage diving

All our diving was done using surface supply and bailout. We tried 8mm wetsuits on the belief that it would not matter if the suit got cut, but we found that they just were not warm enough so we very soon went back to Avon dry suits and learned to tread carefully and be aware that it was easy to get cuts in the suit. At the end of a season the suits were covered in Tiptop puncture repair patches. The simple rule was that each diver had his own suit and was responsible for its upkeep and repairs, so if he got wet and cold it was his own fault. They very soon got wise.

As far as tables went we basically used R.N. Tables doing wet stops on a shot line. A lot of the dives we did were of a short duration i.e. without stops. When doing blasting we could be working on two different wrecks. Setting the charges did not take all that long, so we could set and fire a charge on two wrecks in the morning then go back out in the afternoon a survey dive then more charges in the afternoon. When preparing for lifts it would be a matter of getting a downline onto the item to be stropped, slide the strop down the line then either shackle it or choke it around the object ready to hook onto with the lifting vessel. I do tend to get more than a bit riled when I read some of the publications which make reference to “skin divers” being employed.


                       There are two myths about the wrecks which have to be dispelled.

·               All the German ships which still remain in the Flow basically have a north-westerly heading with the exception of the Markgraf which the Royal Navy had tried to tow and beach on Cava which as far as I can remember heads WSW. The anchor chain comes out of her starboard hawse pipe leads up over the top of the wreck and leads off towards the NE. It was always an excellent landmark for us. The charts even used to show some of the vessels heading to the SE.

·           The other myth is when with great authority it is said that the radioactive steel was of great value as it was used to make surgical instruments. Wrong, there was one firm in Edinburgh, Nuclear Enterprises which had a requirement for undamaged 7″ armourplate which they used to make “whole body monitors” which were used in atomic establishments. A whole body monitor was a box large enough to place a patient or worker at an atomic establishment who was suspected of being contaminated with radioactivity so that he could be monitored in an environment which was totally free of background radiation. I never saw one but I believe the box was big enough to have the patient on a stretcher and the monitoring equipment.


Picture Gallery

Another plate comes up from the Kron Prinz.

10 inch internal armour from around the forward gun barbette on the Kron Prinz.

A typical 7 inch armour plate

Firing a shot from the fibreglass rowing boat.

GWR at Rimmigil pier.

Karlsruhe condenser in the coaster hold with other non ferrous scrap.

Dougall with broadside torpedo tube from the Karlsruhe at Lyness pier.

Broadside torpedo tube from the Karlsruhe at Lyness pier.

Salvage diver.


Dougall Campbell – April 1998




Totnes BSAC at Scapa Flow – 1999


In 1999 Totnes BSAC revisited Scapa Flow after a break of 4 years. We took the week 17th – 24th July 1999. We used the John L again, this time ably skippered by Robert Swanney and managed by the Diving Cellar. We followed a similar diving pattern to previous years – ie. cruisers, battleships, the F2 and blockships.


What did we find?

·                   The most obvious change was the Inverlane blockship. To our dismay this wreck is no longer diveable. The winter storms of 1996 damaged her mid section and she slid down and turned round. Further winters have increased the damage and it looks likely that more will follow. However, the Gobernador Bories was just as good to dive and the strong tidal streams hadn’t changed at all.

·                   The German cruisers have deteriorated slightly. The decks of both the Brummer and Dresden have opened up a little which makes entering the wrecks a little easier than before.  The Dresden seems to be leaning over a little more.

·                   Not surprisingly the battleships seemed as hardy as ever. These wrecks are going to last for a long time to come.

·                   In 1995 few divers used Nitrox. In 1999 nearly all divers were using it. Most of the dive boats supplied Nitrox and the John L was no exception. The favoured practice was to dive on 15 litre air cylinders and then to use 3 litre ponies with 40% or more Nitrox for decompression. We all used air computers rather than dive to Nitrox tables. My logbook for 1987 tells me that 10 litre cylinders were used. On the Markgraf this gave a dive time of 11 – 15 mins. In 1999, this time had more than doubled although part of this was due to the more leisurely deco time.

·                   Stromness now has hyberbaric treatment facilities. Although we didn’t see the chambers apparently they are located just behind the Stromness Hotel. The Coastguard has given new instructions to the dive boats in case of diving accidents. This is a considerable improvement to the old system where bent divers were helicoptered to the hyberbaric chambers in Aberdeen.



What was the water like?

Well Scapa water is cold. In July the water temperature was 12 Centigrade. In June 10 or 11 Centigrade is usual. If you add this to the typical Orkney weather then good dry suits and wooly hats are a must – even in high summer. Water visibility was good – one memorable dive on the Kronprinz gave 15m vis. From the surface we could see the hull back just 12m below us. The tidal streams of Burra Sound gave us 20m plus visibility. In the Flow tidal streams are hardly existent. Although we could feel a slight fetch on the Markgraf this was no problem. Burra Sound is quite different. Tides are very strong here (6 knots and more), and the  slack doesn’t last for long. When we dived the Gobernador Bories we had to pull energetically down the shot line and get into the wreck quite smartly. Within 10 minutes slack arrived and we could swim around the wreck with no problem. 20 minutes later and an opposite current rapidly developed.


What was the weather like?

Sometimes a little overcast and unsettled and sometimes really sunny. Orkney isn’t hot. Mind you, July is high summer in Orkney so it wasn’t biting cold either, although many of us were reluctant to discard our woolly caps. Only once did the weather stop us diving – and that was only for a few hours. Here are some of us enjoying the wind driven dunking at the stern of the boat. Ian is so happy at getting wet that he’s singing.

The days were long since sunset comes late at these latitudes during summer. The colours and light were particularly noticeable. Orkney is a place of great beauty and it is easy to see why painters and artists fall in love with the place.


What’s the marine life like?

Good. The German wrecks are strangely lacking in fish – maybe because of the oil and explosions that they experienced years ago. But there are plenty of encrustated species like soft corals covering parts of the wrecks, and the battleship hulls support large and active colonies of brittle stars. But where you expect to see congers or wrasse then you don’t see many. You dive the German wrecks for the wrecks – not for the fish. The blockships and the F2 are quite different. These wrecks are throbbing with fish life. The F2 supports loads of friendly Ballan Wrasse that approach the diver hoping for a meal. There are lots of ling, cod and conger on this wreck.

On the seabed queen scallops, scallops, horse mussels and sea urchins are abundant. It is easy to collect scallops for a evening meal.

In shallower water we saw lots of jellyfish. They made the 6m deco stop more interesting. On most dives we would be surrounded by hundreds of  Common Jellyfish (Aurelia aurita), with quite a few Cyanea in attendance. There were also lots of transparent medusae and smaller plankton.



What else did we see?

There’s a lot to Orkney. Apart from eating, drinking and shopping in Stromness we were able to drive around Mainland courtesy of the van provided by the Diving Cellar. Some of us “got historical” and took time off to visit the ancient sites of Skara Brae and the Ring of Brongar. These sites are quite atmospheric – especially in the light drizzle – and are well worth visiting. We also drove from Stromness right down to the southern tip of South Ronaldsay via Kirkwall. As well as seeing Scapa Flow from the land, we went over the Churchill barriers, saw the impressive Italian Chapel and realised that Orkney supports a thriving population of birds and cattle. These islands are fertile and prolific despite their Falklands profile.

Most days, between dives, we visited different places. One day we went to Lyness to see the Naval Base and graveyard – always a diver’s favourite. We walked further up the hill and found the old oil storage depot that was used to refuel the navy ships. These oil tanks have been carved into one of the Hoy hills and to see them means that you have to walk down a long dark tunnel before you find them. There are six of them and they are huge and cavernous. Hoy has other attractions – notably the Old Man of Hoy and Rackwick bay. We landed at the small jetty of Moaness and took a taxi around the hills of Hoy to Rackwick. On the way we stopped off to see the Dwarfie Stane – a rock cut tomb 5000 years old. This is splendid country. To get from Rackwick to the Old Man means walking along the cliffs for about 40 minutes. The views are superb, and all around seabirds wheel and squeal. Kirkwall – the main town – was another visit. Although the town is quite small there is good shopping to be had here – not least, the mandatory sweat shirt from Kemp’s shop. The cathedral of St Magnus is an old red standstone building of great charm. It is well used by Orcadians and unlike some other venerable piles in Britain, has a lived in feel about it. Close to is the Earl’s and Bishop’s palaces. The Earl’s palace in particular, is a fine example of Orcadian renaissance architecture.



What’s Stromness like?

Stromness is a nice town. It seems to have been initially settled around 1500 but really began to develop in the 18th century. In the 1770’s whaling ships bound for Canada called in to Stromness to take on crews as well as hiring agents. In the 19th century herring became the commodity for the growing town. By 1900 Stromness was burgeoning with herring. In the First World War Stromness became a naval HQ, and during the Second World War the town was an important part of the naval operation that was based around the flow. Today, Stromness hosts the busy ferry service from Scrabster and many visitors to Orkney base their stay in Stromness. The town is quite charming and consists of a narrow main street that curves through the tightly packed town. There is little traffic and quite a few small shops that sell the basic commodities as well as more ‘artistic’ produce. To the south of Stromness lies the Ness – an an open area that supports an active golf club and some splendid views of Hoy and the sea approaches.


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