Scapa Flow – the suicide of the German Navy


100 years ago, the German Navy sank, 52 German ships sank in the bay of Scapa Flow, without a shot could be heard. The only sound of the dying warships was the gurgling and smacking of the invading water, the tearing of metal and the bang of anchor chains.

How could this happen? Before the First World War Germany looked with pride on the navy. The construction of the Hochseeflotte was especially important to the Kaiser and the patriotic Germans. A mighty navy was supposed to secure the desired “place in the sun” for the Reich all over the world.

No role in the war

But when the war started in 1914, it soon became apparent that it was decided on the ground. In a quick push the Germans wanted to defeat Paris – to the fleet was not needed. When the fronts got stuck in an endless trench war, the High Seas Fleet was to try to control the oceans and thus decide the war.

From May 31, 1916, until June 1, 1916, the Battle of the Skagerrak became the only major naval battle in the war. After the first heavy losses of the British drove the German slaughter line straight into a trap. With a bold maneuver, Admiral Scheer rescued his ships and broke off the battle. Viewed from the losses, the battle ended with a “draw”. Strategically, it was a victory for the British. The Germans could not break out of their harbors and never challenged the Royal Navy again.

While millions of infantrymen were ripped apart by grenades and stifled by the poison gas, the fleet essentially spent the war in safe havens. When the war was hopelessly lost, some officers wanted to resort to a suicidal attack – but the sailors did not follow them anymore. The revolution broke out and the empire collapsed.

Delivered to the Allies

The handover of the German High Seas Fleet to the Allies was one of the conditions of the ceasefire that ended the First World War in November 1918. 70 German battleships, cruisers and destroyers under the command of Rear Admiral Ludwig von Reuter arrived on the Scottish coast off the Firth of Forth on 21 November to subordinate the fleet to British Admiral Sir David Beatty. The handover was peaceful and Beatty wrote to his wife with irony: “Well, Pansy, we've finally hit the High Seas Fleet.” The High Seas Fleet that had avoided encountering Beatty's ships for years.

The Allies were divided over what should happen to the German ships, so they were taken to Scapa Flow, the big natural harbor of the Orkney Islands, to be interned there. Other ships arrived, after all there were 74 with about 20,000 German sailors. Most sailors returned to Germany, only one emergency crew remained. “The ships were not really handed over, so there were no British troops on board to prevent them from being sunk,” Tom Muir of the Orkney Museum told BBC Radio. “They were property of the German government and stayed here throughout their time.”

Self-sinking to save the honor of the Navy

On 23 June, the British wanted to take over the German fleet, but already on June 17 prepared by Reuter to sink his fleet. He expected his ships to be boarded and seized by the Royal Navy. The Rear Admiral believed that he should not allow that. Paul Schell was a sailor on the torpedo boat G 102. He recalled in a radio interview: “I was on G 102 – ie Germania 102. And you already knew a few days before, you got so touched with the few officers who are still there were, and then it was also agreed that the ships are sunk at a certain moment. “

Muir of the Orkney Museum said: “Von Reuter had already sent letters to the commanders of the ships telling them that he planned to have the fleet lowered to his signal – ironically, it was British boats that sent these letters to the ships Officers on the other ships. “

On June 21, 1919, Reuter gave the order for self-lowering, after most British ships had left the harbor for an exercise. At 10:30 AM, the flagship Emden signaled the message – “paragraph eleven; confirm”. That was the signal that commanded the men to sink their own ships. Reuters ships once again hoisted the German flag, which they were forbidden in the internment. Seacocks, portholes, watertight doors, hatches and torpedo tubes were opened. The ships were purposely flooded from one side so they would turn and fall headlong. The Germans believed that this would make it harder to rescue the ships.

Paul Schell recalled, “Where the flag was hoisted, the sinking started, of course, and of course everyone had to turn their valves on, and see that he came out of the ship, ne, and the small boats, the lifeboats, there Of course, they sat down and tried to stay afloat for so long, until something was going on. “The remaining 2,000 men went into the boats.

Shots on the German sailors

The only civilian witnesses of the demise of the German fleet were schoolchildren from Stromness, who were on a journey. 15-year-old James Taylor, wrote: “Suddenly and without warning, these huge ships came down, some dived headfirst, their stern lifted and pointed skyward, a dull tearing of anchor chains amplified the noise, while the big bodies under horribly sucking and sucking clinking sounds went down. “

Another student, 12-year-old Leslie Thorpe, watches the British shoot a machine gun at a German boat full of fleeing soldiers. “The men were ordered to open the fire on the defenseless German sailors,” said Muir to the BBC. Nine Germans were killed and 16 injured. They were the last dead of the First World War.

The Hindenburg, the largest German battlecruiser, was the last ship to sink. 52 German ships sank, some of the superstructures were still visible. In the 1920s, the scrap dealer Ernest Cox bought two sunken battlecruisers and 26 destroyers and began to lift the ships to use the metal. Later, he bought more ships, more than 30 ships disappeared in this way. An inglorious end to the once proud ships.

Swell: Germany radio. BBC

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