Orkney, in naval terms, was a provincial backwater
until the turn of the 20th Century when with the advent of German naval power,
the threat to British marine interests was judged to have moved from the Channel
to the North Sea and Atlantic. The decision was taken to relocate the Grand Fleet
to an anchorage both large enough to take the capital ships and also allowing
easy access for these ships to sail to whatever part of a global empire required
Scapa Flow was the obvious choice, and so on the eve of
the First World War, the fleet moved north to the Orkneys. Here at Ness, fortifications
were built to defend Hoy Sound, the main western approach into the bay, with the
town of Stromness becoming the naval headquarters.
Scapa Flow became most
famous however, for an event which occurred after peace had broken out in 1919.
With the signing of the armistice, the German High Seas Fleet was ordered to sail
to Scapa Flow where it was interned awaiting the decision of the Versailles peace
conference as to its fate. This was no small force: there were 74 ships in all
including eleven battleships and five battle cruisers.
On 21 June
1919, with the fear amongst his officers that the peace treaty would deliver his
ships to the British and the Royal Navy out at sea on exercise, the German commander,
Rear Admiral von Reuter, ordered the scuttling of his fleet. Fifty one of the
German vessels went to the bottom, with a further eight being beached.
defences were further increased with the outbreak of war in 1939, with the Stromness
Hotel being taken over as the Orkney and Shetland headquarters. Most of the defences
to be seen here date from this period.
Scapa Flow suffered its lowest point
on the night of the 14th October 1939, when the U-47, a German submarine entered
the harbour and managed to torpedo the British battleship Royal Oak as it lay
at anchor. This was a daring raid on the Royal Navy at the point where it should
have felt safest.
What is most unforgivable about the disaster of the Royal
Oak, is that the Germans had tried twice in the previous war to sail a U-Boat
into Scapa Flow, only to have the submarine sunk on both occasions.
remarkably of all, some of the scrap metal taken from the scuttled German ships
has been used in space satellites, as the metal - forged in the pre-atomic age
has absorbed less radiation from nuclear explosions in the atmosphere which can
interfere with satellite sensors.
Directions: Follow the road on out
of the town, then take the next right and then turn left down the road past the
golf club. This road travels round the point and turns into a coastal path taking
you past Ness Battery.