High Seas Fleet Salvage Sites Report 2018

This report was compiled by ORCA Marine, University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and SULA Diving on behalf of Historic Environment Scotland

This report presents the outcomes of research, side scan sonar and diver survey on the salvage sites of the German High Seas Fleet in Scapa Flow, Orkney. Seventy-four vessels of the High Seas Fleet were interned in the British naval base when the scuttling occurred on the 21st June 1919. Forty-five of the fifty-two scuttled ships were successfully recovered, and evidence of this salvage activity remains on the seabed. This project identified the locations of various components of the salvaged vessels structures, identifying the vessels represented by these wreck sites, furthering our understanding of the salvage activities and the submerged cultural heritage resource of the High Seas Fleet present on the seafloor in Scapa Flow.

At the primary sites, evidence of salvage activities can be seen in the form of superstructure fittings, along with large depressions on the seabed and lifting apparatus used by the salvors. The movement of the vessels after they were lifted is evident in the debris trails associated with their towing to Lyness or their secondary sites at Rysa Little and Cava. These debris trails were created as parts of the superstructure became trapped in the seabed and broke away or were cut and blasted off by the salvors. Secondary sites are the locations where cutting or blasting of superstructures was undertaken in shallower water to reduce the draught of the vessel before moving to Lyness or south to dry docks at Rosyth, Faslane or various other locations.

The surveys and evaluations established the identification, extent of survival, character and condition of the remains in support of Scotland’s Archaeology Strategy (HES 2015; The aims of this strategy are to help deliver archaeology, to enhance the understanding of our past, to help care for, value and protect our historic environment, to encourage greater engagement with our past, and to provide opportunities for innovation and development of skills. While it is not within the remit of this survey project to address management issues, the evidence from this project (and the outcomes of previous surveys) should contribute to HES and stakeholders’ formulation of appropriate management and monitoring strategies for heritage assets within Scapa Flow and at a national level. This project provides baseline data for long-term monitoring of the sites, aiding promotion and protection of this submerged cultural heritage resource.

Downloadable Resources

Salvage Sites Report 2018

salvage sites 2018


Sandra Henry, Kevin Heath and Mark Littlewood authored this report. In addition, Malcolm Thomson, Bertrand Taylor, Barry Kenyon and Bob Anderson participated in data collection.

The authors are very grateful to Philip Robertson for his input throughout this project, and comments on earlier drafts of this report.

The authors would like to thank Marsden Samuel and Gary Staff for their input and contribution to this project.

Thanks are extended to members of the Orkney Maritime Archival Research Group: Edd Baxter, Jim Bright, Michael Ferguson, Laken-Louise Hives, Tom Hunter, Alette Kattenberg, Andrew Prentice, Jasmijn Sybenga and Tris Thorne.