Scapa Flow is a natural harbour which has been used over many centuries, from the Viking fleet of King Haokon in the 13th Century, to the present day. It formed an important northern base for the British fleets in both world wars.
During the first World War, the British Grand Fleet used Scapa Flow as a northern base. After a German U-Boat managed to enter the Flow early in the war, merchant ships were sent as blockships in strategic places and anti-submarine nets were put in place. From this base, vessels from the fleet made sweeps in search of the enemy.
Kron Prinz WilhelmIn 1916, the British Grand Fleet left to fight in the Battle of Jutland. 24 battleships and 3 battlecruisers, plus destroyers and scouting cruisers set out under the command of Admiral Sir John Jellicoe. They met the German High Seas Fleet in battle. There was much damage wrought, with many thousands of men losing their lives, but both sides believed they had won. However, after the battle, the Kaiser's fleet never went to sea again.
In June 1916, Lord Kitchener, the Minister of War, arrived in Scapa Flow to visit Admiral Jellicoe and hear his account of the Battle of Jutland, Kitchener left on board the Hampshire, and sailed up the west coast of Orkney. Near Birsay, the Hampshire struck a mine, and only 12 men out of 665 survived. On 1926, money was raised by public subscription to erect the Kitchener Memorial at Marwick Head near Birsay.
After the armistice, seventy-four ships of the German High Seas Fleet were ordered into Scapa Flow to be interned. They arrived in November 1918, and stayed there for 10 months. During this time, they became a tourist attraction, with boat trips to see them. By June 1919, Rear Admiral von Reuter, the German Officer in command at Scapa Flow, knew that Germany would have to accept surrender terms. When the main part of the British Fleet left the flow for exercises he gave the order for the German fleet to be scuttled.
Most of the scuttled fleet did not stay iwhere they had sunk. Those that were beached were removed almost immediately. In the 1920s, the firm Cox & Douglas began salvage operations, lifting many of the ships. This salvage continued until the advent of the Second World War, and only eight scuttled ships now remain in the Flow.