André Ruiter Historic Landscapes

Scapa Flow

Home of the British Royal Navy during both World Wars

About the project

My first trip to Orkney in April 2009 was actually a "regular vacation". I knew that Scapa Flow was home to the British fleet during both World Wars, but I was still mainly involved in landscape photography at the time. I therefore spent most of the trip along the rocky coasts of Orkney Mainland. This changed when I visited the remote coastal battery at Rerwick Head on the last day of my stay. The concrete structures along the rough coast were an unexpected surprise and inspiration.

When I got home I started making plans to go back and start a photo project about the defenses of Scapa Flow. In the end I would go back four more times. What helped was that I always had a great time at Orkney. Island life is an oasis of peace compared to the hectic pace in the Netherlands. After every arrival at Kirkwall airport, I immediately felt at home.

I traveled in March or April. The weather is very changeable. I have fond memories of the view over Scapa Flow from Houton Head. Showers were constantly passing and the skies were spectacular.

Days with strong winds were tiring but always good. On the first day of my stay in 2013, it was freezing cold with a biting wind. I seriously wondered how I was going to keep this up for a week. Fortunately, the weather became more pleasant in the following days. The strong wind had the disadvantage that misty days were rare. On the way to Yesnaby I saw a blanket of fog over Scapa Flow. I boarded the ferry to Hoy and was just in time to capture the North Pier in Lyness before the fog cleared.

Lyness was once the heart of the naval base and the recovery operation of the German fleet was carried out here after the First World War. After the armistice of 1918, the fleet of the German Imperial Navy was interned in Scapa Flow. In June 1919, the German admiral ordered the ships to be sunk to prevent the fleet from falling into British hands through the Treaty of Versailles.

Little can be seen of the vibrant village Lyness once was. The buildings make a desolate impression. Nevertheless, I always loved to wander around here.

Impressive are the shipwrecks around Burray, which are especially visible during low tide. These "blockships" were deliberately sunk to block the various entrances to Scapa Flow. However, they could not prevent the German submarine U-47 from entering Scapa Flow on 14 October1939 and sinking the battleship HMS Royal Oak. 877 British crew died. After this dramatic event, Scapa Flow turned into a formidable fortress.

After my fourth trip in 2014, I decided the project was finished. One wish remained unfulfilled. A visit to the Golta Peninsula on the island of Flotta never happened. This interesting area is located behind the oil refinery and can only be accessed with permission from local security.

In 2016 I went back one more time. On the first day, I received the required authorization by phone for the following day. However, availability on the ferry was limited so I would be short on time. The lady behind the counter tried to reassure me and said that there was not much to do on Flotta anyway...

When I arrived at Flotta I visited the Z Battery. The surreal concrete arches in the moorland landscape were worth the trip alone. On the way back I ran into the security guard who had given me permission by phone to enter the area the day before. He gave me a lift with his SUV, which gave me time to capture other locations. It was a great end to my project.