Scapa Flow Battleships

Diving the Battleships in Scapa Flow

The three remaining battleships of the High Seas Fleet at Scapa Flow are SMS Konig, SMS Markgraf and SMS Kronprinz Willhelm. These are all from the Konig class of dreadnought, the first in the High Seas Fleet to have their main armourment positioned down the centre line of the ship so that all of the guns could be bought to bear for either port or starboard broadside.

The ships weighed 28,600 tonnes, were 175,4 m long, has a beam of 29,5 m and drew 9,19 m of water. The main armourment was 10, 30.5 cm L/50 guns (12 inch) on 5 turrets; with 14, 15cm L/45 (6 inch) guns as secnondary armourment split between the port and starboard sides. There were 5 torpedo tubes and up to 10 anti aircraft weapons. The German 12 inch guns had a range of up to 13 miles firing a shell weighing approximately 900 lb (405kg). The main belt armour was 350mm, with 300mm at the command tower and gun turrets, deck armour was 30mm. The ships had a max speed of 21 knots and a crew of 1136.

Along with a further sister ship SMS Grosser Kurfhurst these were the most advanced German battleships to fight in the Battle of Jutland. Because of this they were in the van of the the Battleships of the High Seas Fleet. The Konig was the leading German Battleship during the "Run to the North" when all of the German Battleships were chasing Beatty's Scouting Group which consisted of Battlecruiser Fleet, and the Super-Dreadnoughts of the British 5th Battle Squadron of the Barnham, Valiant, Warspite and Malaya. It was during this British rearguard action that the Malaya was badly damaged and causing 131 casualties, many of whose gravestones are at Lyness Cemetery. The Konig class Battleships of the III Battle Squadron were also the first to meet the entire British Grand Fleet at the end of this chase. As a result of all this action the Konig suffered the most damage of all of the German Dreadnought Battleships. The Konig was hit 10 times, with 72 casualties, the Markgraf was hit 5 times with 24 casualties, the Grosser Kurfhurst was hit 8 times with 25 casualties, the Kronprinz Wilhelm was not hit.

Diving the Battleships

All of the remaining battleships when sunk "turned turtle" and so they are upside down on the sea bed, with the Kronprinz at 35m, the Konig at 40m and the Markgraf at 45m. Much of the superstructure has either sunk into the sea bed or has been crushed by the impact, however what is left is of great interest and hence the dives are quite deep.

Probably the best dive is the Kronprinz Willhelm, because it is the shallowest and it is the only dive where the 12 inch guns are accessible. When we dived it on this trip, we had 2 buddy pairs that were interested in seeing the guns (I was fortunate enough to be in the first pair). The shot was on the port rail of the wreck towards the stern, the descent is quite long, and towards the end of the shot it got quite dark. At the end of the shot we dipped under the hull swam to the remains of the superstructure and started swimming towards the stern (very gently). It was much darker now and we had to be very carefull about stirring up silt. At first it was very difficult to make sense of the shapes before us, but looking on the ground it was possible to see what looked like the end of a large drainpipe sticking out of the seabed. Obviously this was the tip of one of the guns and at the same time directly above, it dawned on me that the structure we could see was part of the turret of the sternmost guns. I distinctly remember the turret's very angular shape and the rows of rivets holding the armour-plated steel in place. We then swam round the turret and along the whole length of the stern gun. It is difficult to remember how long a swim this was - but these things are very big. At the tip of the barrel it got tighter for space and turning round looking for an exit I could see 3 more torches dotted at distances along the barrel swimming towards me, that image is burned very clearly into my memory as a top diving moment. Torch off and then follow the light towards the exit. After the guns we went up over the stern of the hull to where the props used to be and where the rudders still are. This area is absolutely covered with life and makes for an interesting stop on the way further along the keel until the dive ended.

This trip was the first time that I dived the Konig having favoured the Kronprinz and Markgraf previously. This shot was right near the stern near the rudders in approximately 38m of water and when reaching the bottom (after a short wait for my buddy) we set off round the stern on the sea bed and along the starboard side of the ship. It was possible to see a small amount of the superstructure here underneath the hull - but there was not much room. Swimming further along there were quite a lot of lines which were smothered with anemonies and dead mans fingers which, hanging in arcs off the ship. We then arrived at an area where the hull had been blasted for salvage and found a glorious swim through inside the hull from the sea bed up to the bottom of the keel, where we could swim out through the blasted area. The swim through was again covered with life and it proved to be a very pretty swim from the dark near to the seabed up to the light at about 20m. Swimming round this area although there was no keel the blasting made it very difficult to make out the bits of wreckage but it was a very interesting potter until the end of the dive

The only time I have dived the Markgraf was on a trip in 2003 where we followed the shot from the hull down the starboard side of the wreck somewhere amidships. When we hit the starboard rail we swam along the ship towards the stern. I distinctly remember seeing some of the secondary guns (6 inch) and assuming that these were the main armourment, and after the dive being disappointed to know that this was not the case. However this is another ship to go back to.

I have now done Scapa 4 times which has now included about 8 dives on the battleships (mostly the Kronprinz). They are deep and very big and they require many more dives than the light cruisers to find your way around - I do not think that I am there yet. To me (and especially on this last trip) these dives have been much more rewarding and I think that this is probably due to their place in history. Jutland was the last surface ship naval battle and these ships were at the forefront of German battleship development at that time and as a consequence were right in the thick of the battle.

Thanks go to Mike Littler for organising the trip and Pete Dixon my buddy for following me

References

A lot of the information regarding the Battle of Jutland came fromJutland 1916 : death in the grey wastes / Nigel Steel and Peter Hart.London : Cassell, 2003, isbn 030435892.

The two excellent photos of the Konig came fromhttp://www.d3.dion.ne.jp/~ironclad/Which looks an excellent site but my Japanese is not up to it.

Most of the stats about the ships came from the German Naval
History site
http://www.german-navy.de/
From the Hochseeflotte section.

Some of the weapons info came from
http://www.navweaps.com
Sadly I could not access this site from my work pc as it is
categorised as weapons - thanks John

Although there is nothing included in this article, I would
recomment a visit to the Dreadnought project site who have developed
some computer simulations showing how these weapons were aimed over
such great distances
http://www.dreadnoughtproject.org