The Scapa Flow Marine Archeology Project

Contacts: Brian Calder, Ian Oxley, Bobby Forbes, Rich Lear, Martin Dean


ScapaMAP (Scapa Flow Marine Archeology Project) is a multi-disciplinary, multi-institution, international project involving government agencies, industry and the academic community, designed to document a unique marine archeological area in the waters of Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands of Scotland.

Scapa Flow (Figs. 1a, 1b, 1c) is a shallow natural harbor off the north east coast of Scotland. Used as a sheltered anchor since at least the thirteenth century, it played a major role in both World Wars as a fleet base for the British Grand Fleet. At the end of World War I, it was also the internment site for the German High Seas Fleet during the Armistice negotiations. On Midsummer's Day (21 June) 1919, the British fleet left for exercises in the North Sea, leaving only two destroyers on guard. Acting on four day old reports in The Times that Armistice negotiations were about to fail and that the recommencement of hostilities was possible, Admiral von Reuter took the chance to make sure that the fleet would not fall into anyone's hands, and at 1030 hrs executed the pre-arranged order to scuttle the ships at anchor. Following the relay of the signal, the interned ships hoisted their battle ensigns along with the code flag 'Z' (Advance on the Enemy), and proceeded to abandon ship. With the sea-cocks open and internal water-tight doors removed, the British had no opportunity to stop the mass sinking except to tow some of the ships to shore and beach them. In all, 52 of the 74 interned ships (representing about 95% of the total tonnage) went to the bottom.

Figure 1a
Figure 1b
Figure 1c

During the inter-war period, and up until the 1970's, many attempts to slavage the ships were made until only seven major ships now remain in the water: the cruisers Brummer, Dresden, Köln and Karlsruhe, and the battleships König, Kronprinz Wilhelm and Markgraff. Today, along with the remains of the salvaging work on other ships and wreckage from other periods of Scapa Flow's naval history, the wrecks provide a major attraction for sport divers, with several thousand visitors per year. However, the wrecks were extensively weakened by later salvage work and over 80 years at the bottom, and many of them are in poor condition. In order to protect and monitor the wrecks for the future, ScapaMAP was initiated with the aim of constructing suitable base maps of the wrecks, recovery sites and other areas of interest in the Flow to aid in the interpretation, protection and monitoring of a significant local, national and international asset.


In early 2001, the ScapaMAP Acoustic Consortium (SAC - Figure 2) was formed with the aim of augmenting the project's other work with acoustic remote sensing data. The visibility of the water, its depth and temperature make it extremely difficult to carry out extensive diver measurement of the ships. Consequently, the only way to quickly map all of the wrecks and surrounding area to reasonable accuracy is to use an acoustic instrument.

Figure 2

Previous work has used sidescan sonar and shallow water multibeam equipment to provide medium resolution bathymetry and high resolution acoustic backscatter for the area. SAC chose to use a new, dynamically focused, very high resolution multibeam echosounder---the Reson 8125 (Figs. 3a-3c)---to provide the highest resolution data of the wreck and surrounding area to date.

Figure 3a
Figure 3b
figure 3c

The survey system (Figs. 4a, 4b) provided by the SAC members consisted of the Reson 8125, a TSS POS/MV 320 attitude and navigation system, and a Racal Landstar DGPS receiver, installed aboard the S/V Scimitar (Fig. 4c). The survey was carried out from 13-16 June 2001.

Figure 4a
Figure 4b
Figure 4c

Reconstructed Bathymetry - Cruisers

The four remaining cruisers show a variety of states of decay. The Köln (Figs. 5a-c) is probably the best preserved of the four, lying on its starboard side in about 35m of water. Careful inspection of the data shows the remaining portholes, superstructure, rear 6" guns and even lifeboat davits to be in place. Extensive damage has been done to the rear hull in order to salvage the engineroom non-ferrous materials, as with all of the remaining wrecks.

Figure 5a
Figure 5b
Figure 5c

The Brummer (Fig. 6) and Dresden (Fig. 7) have both suffered significant upper hull damage, the Brummer's forward plates collapsing, while the Dresden's weather-deck has fallen out to port, putting its forward guns into the sediment.

Figure 6
Figure 7

Of all the wrecks, the Karlsruhe (Fig. 8) is in poorest condition, principally due to extensive salvage work in the 1970's.

Figure 8

Reconstructed Bathymetry - Battleships

The three remaining battleships have all turtled as they sank, mostly resting on the remaining superstructure, slowly crushing it with their own weight. The Kronprinz Wilhelm (Fig. 9) is mostly intact, except for the bow and engineroom sections, while the Markgraff (Fig. 10) and König (Fig. 11) are in poorer condition.

Figure 9
Figure 10
Figure 11

Also in the area are the remains of the Bayern (Fig. 12), at 28,000 tons the heaviest in the fleet. Prematurely over-pressured with compressed air during salvage attempts, the Bayern lifted off the ground too quickly, and left its four gun turrets behind before settling down, turned slightly towards the south east. Subsequent raising attempts were more sucessful, leaving behind only the turrets and some pieces of superstructure.

Figure 12


[1] Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping and Joint Hydrography Center, University of New Hampshire, 24 Colovos Road, Durham NH 03824, USA. +1-603-862-0526.
[2] Dept. of Civil and Offshire Engineering, Heriot-Watt University, Riccarton, Edinburgh EH14 4AS, UK. +44 0785 559 9251.
[3] International Center for Island Technology, Heriot-Watt University, Old Academy, Back Road, Stromness, Orkney Islands KW16 3AW, UK. +44 1856 850605.
[4] Reson Offshore Ltd., Bowtech Building, Howemoss Crescent, Kirkhill Industrial Estate, Dyce, Aberdeen AB21 0GN. +44 1224 727427.
[5] Archeological Dive Unit, University of St. Andrews, St Andrews, Fife KY16 9AJ, UK. +44 7836 226346.

Project Sponsors

In addition to the industrial and academic partners involved directly, ScapaMAP received financial aid, or aid in kind, from the following sponsors:

Historic Scotland
The Carnegie Fund for the Universities of Scotland
GSE Rentals Ltd., Aberdeen, UK.
TSS (UK) Ltd.