62 years on the
Unquestionably the most
spectacular wreck diving off the coast of
The Fleet was interned in
the Flow while the Allied Powers deliberated on its fate. The German Fleet
Commander, Admiral Von Reuter, considered that
Those wrecks that couldn’t
be beached by the British Navy were inspected by naval divers and pronounced
impossible to salvage. The view was that as the wrecks were of no real hazard
to shipping they would be left to rust and rot. So there they stayed until 1924
when Ernest Cox began his mammoth and record breaking task of raising as much
of he fleet as possible. Often devising his own unique methods of salvage. He
commenced by raising the small destroyers by means of winches & cable from
floating docks, The battleships, being of over: 25,000 tons each could only be
raised by sealing up the hull on the sea bed and blowing air inside to raise
them, mostly upside-down.
Now all that remains of the fleet are three battleships and four light cruisers. These seven wrecks provide the best diving in the Flow, with the exception of the British battleship
Although many other wrecks lie on the sea bed in the area it is those ships of the German Fleet that drew us back to the Flow between the 5th & 11th. September 1981. Diving of this sort requires “expedition” tactics. 3 inflatable boats, 2 compressors, 19 divers & equipment mounts up to approximately 4 tons of gear. We left
A 2½ hour sea crossing landed us in Stromness by mid Saturday afternoon. Our base was a field
adjacent to the old army base on Midland Ness. The location proved ideal as we had easy water access for the
boats and an average boat trip of only 1½ miles to reach the wrecks. All the
dives had to be planned with extreme care as we intended diving twice each day
and with depths of 30-40 metres, decompression would be necessary to avoid the
real danger of the “bends”.
Our first problem occurred straight away, the echo sounder packed up although not essential it was a valuable tool for locating the wrecks. Sextant readings positioned us roughly over the wrecks but a “bottom trace” that the echo sounder should have given us would have pinpointed them precisely.
The first dive was on the “
On Monday we started our
busy schedule of 2 dives a day. This involved a dive mid-late morning, followed
by a compulsory gap of 6 hours before the next dive. This was to avoid excessive
decompression stops on our last dive of the day. This time was put to good use
running the compressors to refill our cylinders, which was a mammoth task in
itself, considering that every diver was using twin sets of a total capacity of
120-140 cubic feet each and a compressor could only deliver air at 5 cubic feet
per minute. Each wreck we dived was an individual experience. The three light
cruisers we visited, the “
The bridge area of the “oln” was still intact except for the windows in the
wheelhouse. One pane however remained immediately in front of the brass column
which originally housed the helm & binnacle, both of which had long since
been removed. As with the “
We visited the 4000 ton “Bummer”, the smallest of the wrecks, 4 times. She possessed a unique bow profile which was a concave curve with a bulbous projection where it merged into the keel below the waterline. I first saw the shape in its entirety when I was swimming along the deck towards the bow and noticed a hole in the deck. I peered in, then swam into a large compartment emerging back into daylight through a hole in the starboard side of the ship. I descended to land on the sea bed at a depth of 32 metres. I looked up to see the entire bow profile above me. Just then my diving partner emerged from over the top of the bow and I took several photographs. as his silhouette gave a sense of scale to the scene.
On another occasion on the ‘
The largest ship we dived on was the “Konig’, a 25000 ton battleship, lying on its side on the bottom. The problem with this kind of wreck is that as it is so huge it cannot be covered from bow to stern in one dive. As the battleships were scuttled and gently s1id down into the water, their massive 12 inch guns, which could throw a shell of ½ ton over 20 miles, along with extensive superstructures, capsized them before they touched bottom. This caused the majority to be either upside down. or listing more than 90 degrees on the sea bed. One of the remaining wrecks, the “Markgraf”, is virtually upside down and it is possible to sit on the sea bed at the fore end in 40 metres of water and look up at the impressively sharp bow standing almost vertical but “upside down”.
By Thursday & Friday
only the ‘ard men were left diving, the rest had
found the strain too much. It was a team of tired but happy divers who were
transported back to reality on the Saturday morning ferry.