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David Irving Diving Scapa Flow

In the middle of the Orkney Islands, to the north of Scotland, lies Scapa Flow, a large body of water which is virtually surrounded by the islands themselves, with only narrow entrances to the open sea to the east, west and south. It makes a very calm, sheltered natural harbour, one of the best in the world. The water is often clear, but at 40 or 50 metres depth, it's still dark and intimidating. It was here, after the armistice at the end of the First World War, that Germany was ordered to sail its High Seas Fleet. And here, 18 months later, that the ships were sunk by their own crews. Although most of the ships were salvaged in the 1920s, there are still 3 battleships and 4 heavy cruisers at the bottom of the Flow. Together, these form one of the best Scuba Diving sites in the world.

I first dived Scapa Flow in 2012. It took us a day to travel up to Thurso, we stayed overnight and caught the morning ferry to Stromness. We then spent the next 5 days diving, two dives a day, on the wrecks of the High Seas Fleet. We dropped off our converted trawler and followed the shot-line (all the wrecks are now marked, diving them is so popular) down to the wreck itself. It is the battleships that I remember most. Following the shot-line down to 20 metres and then hitting sand and thinking that you must be on the sea-bed - but it's too shallow - is confusing. Until, that is, you realise that under the sand is metal and you are actually on the upturned hull of one of the largest battleships of the First World War. You get your bearings, switch on your torch and check your dive
computer. Then follow the curve of the hull over the side, down a further 20 metres, to where the superstructure lies, under the hull, as the ship was too top-heavy to stay upright when she sank. Now it really is dark, but only because the ship is blocking out the light.

Normally, you drop to the seabed amidships, where the casement guns are. These are small-arms compared to the big guns, but you wouldn't think it looking at them. 6-inch guns are basically big tubes with an internal diameter of 6 inches. The outside of the barrel is more like double that. These were the ship's defensive guns. You swim past these slowly, taking in the size of them. There were 14 of them, but very few are left. This brings you to the main gun turrets, but doesn't prepare you for the scale of what you are looking at. When I first saw the main guns on the SMS Kronprinz Wilhelm, I thought I was just looking at a drainage pipe (what one was doing attached to the deck of a First World War battleship, I don't know, but we'll gloss over that!) it took a few minutes to understand what I was looking at, it was just so enormous, disappearing into the darkness under the hull.

One more memory that I will take with me to the grave is diving the SMS Markgraf. We swam away from the wreck so that my dive buddy could get some pictures of the bow. That gave me a chance to look properly at the wreck as well and my memory is of a perfectly straight line going up from the seabed almost half way to the surface. This was an incredible sight, one that words cannot do justice to at all, awesome - you have to admire the engineering - and a little eerie at the same time.

With thanks to Chris Payne for the use of these fantastic photos.


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