Underwater surveys at Scapa Flow could lead to Historic Marine Protected Area

By Culture24 Reporter | 25 October 2013

Historic Scotland has begun its investigation into the deteriorating wartime remains that lie buried beneath the waters of Scapa Flow.

a black and white photo of a seagull resting on the barrel of a navy gun overlooking Scapa Flow
HMS Victorious at Scapa Flow, 1941.© IWM A 6971
The Marine Surveys are being undertaken by Orca Marine, a Department of Orkney College and Sula Diving and will look at the wrecks that have been missed by previous underwater archaeology projects around the islands including the block ships of the “Churchill Barriers”, which were sunk as a U-Boat deterrent during World War Two.

The dives, which will use side scan sonar, will not only help to identify the nature and character of the historic remains but also help Historic Scotland consider the case for a Historic Marine Protected Area focussing on the valuable remains beneath the Flow.  

For many, the name Scapa Flow is synonymous with the Royal Navy during two World Wars.

The inlet in the heart of the Orkney Islands was the main British Naval Base facing the threat of the German Navy in both conflicts and the scene of U-boat incursions, sinkings and most famously the scuttling of the German fleet after the Frist World War.

a photo of a ship at anhcor in an inlet
HMS Petronel, fleet water boat at Scapa Flow. She was responsible for bringing fresh water supplies to ships at Scapa.© IWM A 5903
Sheltered by the mainland and surrounding islands, its natural defensive attributes and its positioning at the fulcrum of the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean made it the perfect location to face the growing threat of the U-boats and warships of the Kriegsmarine.

Today, it has become a mecca for divers who explore the accessible wrecks that remain sunk in its waters, but it is also official war grave to HMS Royal Oak and HMS Vangaurd which were sunk at anchor in the First World War.

Last year Historic Scotland commissioned sonar surveys of the sea bed revealing new details of scuttled merchant ships from both World Wars. It also identified a German submarine and a trawler used to operate boom defences at the entrance to Scapa Flow.

The new investigation will explore a number of specific sites including HMS Roedean and HMS Rose Valley, together with areas including Gutter Sound, Clestrian Hurdles and a potential Spitfire wreck near the Barrel of Butter.

Andrew Fulton, of the Senior Designations Office at Historic Scotland said historians and archaeologists have "increasingly recognised the diversity of remains on the seabed” at Sacpa Flow.

“This work will increase our understanding of Scapa Flow’s marine heritage sites and fill the gaps in our mapping," he added. 

“The sites are deteriorating and this makes the case for recording them even stronger.  This will enhance our understanding of the historic marine environment and provide an up-to-date record of important sites.”

The outcomes of the surveys will be made available at a workshop in Orkney, which will be organised by Historic Scotland and facilitated by the Marine Archaeology Forum in Spring 2014.

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a black and white photo of Ryal Navy Warship at sea during World War Two
Royal Navy Destroyer manouevres at Scapa Flow.© IWM (A 10296)
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