Scapa Flow

Defending the Fleet

Scapa Flow is a natural harbour surrounded by the Scottish Orkney Islands. In response to the build-up of the German Imperial Navy's High Seas Fleet and before the outbreak of the First World War, the British decided that it would be the home of their Grand Fleet. Despite its strategic importance it was not a safe anchorage. Bad weather, strong tides and the many entrances to Scapa Flow made it vulnerable. Coastal batteries, minefields, anti-submarine obstacles and boom defences were constructed to defend the fleet. Blockships were sunk to seal the many entrances to Scapa Flow and prevent access to enemy ships.

The First World War proved that Scapa Flow was a good choice. In 1916 the Grand Fleet intercepted an outbreak of the German High Seas Fleet and the Battle of Jutland followed. It became the greatest naval battle in history. The outcome of the battle was indecisive but the High Seas Fleet would never leave their harbour again and the British Royal Navy maintained their superiority.

After the war the British fleet left Scapa Flow, but in 1933 the political situation in Europe was getting worse. Scapa Flow became once again the home of the British fleet. At the beginning of the Second World War the old defences had fallen in disrepair. On 14 October 1939 the German U-boat U-47 penetrated Scapa Flow and sank the battleship HMS Royal Oak. 833 of the crew were lost. After this incident Scapa Flow became one of the most strongly fortified harbours in the world.

After the war the British fleet left Scapa Flow for good. The last facilities were closed down in 1956. What remains are the remnants in the landscape of this once great harbour.

Rerwick Head

Rerwick Battery

Battery buildings overlooking the North Sea

Rerwick Head, Orkney Mainland, 2013

Rerwick Head

Rerwick Battery

Engine room with the Battery Observation Post in the background

Rerwick Head, Orkney Mainland, 2011


A wartime bicycle inside the Battery Observation Post

Rerwick Head, Orkney Mainland, 2014

Swanbister Seaplane Station

Swanbister Seaplane Station

Remains of the pier

Swanbister Bay, Orkney Mainland, 2014

Blockship Juniata, Inganess Bay

Blockship Juniata

The "Juniata" was used to block entrances to Scapa Flow

Inganess Bay, Orkney Mainland, 2011

West Pier, Lyness

West Pier

Lyness, Isle of Hoy, 2013

North Pier, Lyness

North Pier

Lyness, Isle of Hoy, 2014

Blockship Collingdoc, Burray

Blockship Collingdoc

The remains of the beached blockship "Collingdoc"

Burray, 2011

Control Tower, Stanger Head

Control Tower

Stanger Head, Isle of Flotta, 2016