Saturday, 28 July 2012

Sinkings in the Orkneys

German Fleet at Scapa flow
It is a grey day as a young lad stands near the cliff edge on Hay one of the Orkney islands. He looks out over Scapa flow that is crowded with ships. The German fleet has been interned. He has heard that the war is over and that is why they are all here at the Navy’s most northerly base and guard to the North Sea.

While the boy is sat a top the cliff eating a bread and dripping sandwich, his eyes are drawn to some flashing lights, it looks like all the ships are winking at each other, little does he know that this is the order from rear admiral Von Reuter to his commanders confirming orders to scuttle the fleet. He looks on day dreaming about what life may be like now that the war has ended. He suddenly notices that all the ships he can see are flying the Imperial German Ensign from their main masts. While he looks on there are lots of small boats moving between the ships, if only he had a telescope he would be able to see what is going on in more detail but he still hasn’t got enough pocket money saved.

Whaling boat stranded on Battle Cruiser Moltke
The German sailors had been preparing for the scuttling for some days by  drilling holes in the bulk heads to help the passage of water through the ships. Once the order was given sea cocks and flood valves were opened, internal water pipes were smashed and all water tight doors and portholes left open. It was not until midday that  the scuttling was noticed.  Friedrich der Grosse was seen listing heavily to starboard. What remained of British naval forces at Scapa flow navel base sprang into action, but they were limited in the force they could take since the leaving of the fleet the day before . It was not until twenty minuets after midday that Admiral Fremantle on manoeuvres with the fleet  received a message that the German fleet was sinking. He immediate turned round and steamed back at full speed to Orkney. He radioed ahead to order all available boats to try and stop as many ships sinking as possible. By the time Admiral Fremantle returned it was only the large battle ships that were still partly afloat. The last ship to sink was the battle-cruiser Hindenburg at five o'clock.
Battle cruiser Seydlitz

The young boy up on the cliff had lost all track of time it was getting late, he would be 'for it' by the time he got home, with a clip round the ear from his mum. He had resigned himself to it but had a great story to tell his friends when he got to school the next day. On his way home he wondered what those faint popping sounds were. The tragedy of those sounds were that nine Germans were killed and sixteen wounded when the British boarded their ships to stop the sinking's. 

Battleship Bayern listing heavily

I know you are probably thinking what has this got to do with photography. The funny thing is this was all sparked off by an article in Black and white Photography magazine about post cards. Which lead me to a box of  cards that was given to me by my Gran. In among them are a collection of twenty pictures of ships, of these fourteen show the sinking of the German fleet at scapa flow at the end of the Great War. The photographer who took these shots probably used 127 or 120 format film in a box Browne or fold out camera of the time.

For more information on the Sinking of the fleet.