Diving the SMS Cöln wreck
The SMS Cöln is what many people imagine a shipwreck to be. She has remained remarkably intact and, despite lying at 90 degrees on her starboard side, bears a significant resemblance to the magnificent warship she once was.
The starboard side rests in 36 metres of water with the wreck extending up to 22 metres at the shallowest point. The bow points roughly north. On the whole, the SMS Cöln is an easy wreck to navigate which does not require involved technical diving to be enjoyed although, for those with the skills and knowledge, extended dives offer plenty of reward.
One of the delights of diving Scapa Flow is to approach the SMS Cöln from midwater and see the bow emerging through the sea. The straight stem lies parallel to the seabed and sweeps off to the right to join the keel. The tip of the bow is shaped by moulded groves – this is where the mooring ropes would have been fed through to the securing bollards on the wharf.
Moving in the direction of the stern the deck appears as a vertical wall of steel running along on the right-hand side. Anchor chains can be seen running up and out of the hawse pipes, circling the capstans and then disappearing down the spurling pipes. Skylights are set into the deck and on the lower edge of the deck hatches hang open and allow a view of the deck space below.
All that remains from the two 5.9 inch forward deck guns is the stub of their mounting shaft. A shield from the forward side of one of the guns lies abandoned on the side of the hull.
Armoured Control Tower
The Armoured Control Tower on the SMS Cöln is very distinctive and has retained its structure well. This is surprising considering the 90 degree angle at which the ship now rests and the fact that this massive armoured steel cylinder is unsupported beyond the deck of the ship. A line of viewing slits spans the front face of the tower.
The tower comprises two rooms. The lower, forward room would have housed the steering helm and compass. The higher and aft room is where the operators could have viewed the ship's targets through powerful sighting optics. The gimbals for the optics can still be seen through a circular hole on the roof of the tower.
The bridge has retained much of its original structure. In the SMS Cöln’s service days the bridge would have been an open structure rather than the enclosed structure we expect today. So the scaffolding structure that remains is in fact largely complete.
There is a gun barrel wedged in the superstructure of the bridge and the ship's mast runs out from the topside of the bridge. Two searchlight platforms rest on the seabed. The supporting wires can also be seen in the seabed and have formed a triangular structure.
Moving aft from the bridge the deck is characterised by three large symmetrical openings. They mark where the funnels once stood. The view inside the openings is blocked by what is thought to have been the heat shield at the base of the funnels. The view inside the boiler room is also obscured, but plenty of evidence remains of a working warship and chunks of coal have spilled out from the coal bunkers.
The teak deck planking in this area of the SMS Cöln seems to have been stripped. The ship's pinnaces would have been stowed on deck here and two massive davits still hang down over the deck. An array of smaller davits and derricks dot the area.
Further aft a distinctive torpedo tube sticks out of the seabed in a vertical position. It is sitting under a similarly distinctive high elevation gun. The gun remains sitting proudly on deck. The shield and accommodation structure that once encased this gun have long since gone leaving it uncharacteristically exposed.
In keeping with the other cruisers, there are two 5.9 inch guns at the stern. Both are visible and pointing aft. The penultimate gun is mounted on the roof of the superstructure, high enough to fire over the stern-most gun.
The kedge anchor remains housed and marks the aft-most point of the wreck. The seabed surrounding the stern is littered with bottles that stick up out of the silt. The stern sweeps down toward the keel with a refinement of line where form follows function.
The SMS Cöln’s propellers have been salvaged. However, the large rudder remains and takes the form of a large and conspicuous steel rectangle jutting from the hull. Gaps between the ribs of the hull allow a view of the manual steering.
The hull has broken up on the lower side of the ship where the salvage teams began blasting to gain access to the engine room. They were particularly efficient in their stripping of the SMS Cöln’s engine room, leaving nothing but a mesh of twisted plates, pipes, valves and cables.
The shape of the hull does begin to reform at the forward bulkhead of the engine room. From here – running along what would have been the underside of the ship toward the bow – the SMS Cöln’s basic structure remains largely unchanged from its service days.
The cruisers have very angular and well-defined hulls that are in contrast to their smooth stems. The craft is of such precision and intricacy it seems to dispute the belligerent intention of these cruisers. Whichever way the aesthetics of cruisers such as the SMS Cöln are viewed, this is a style and shape of warship which will remain rooted in an era of history the world will never see again. Scapa Flow is a living museum in the sea. Nowhere is this more evident than in the graceful yet functional lines of the SMS Cöln.
Wrecks Protected Status
In recognition of their historical and cultural importance, the wrecks of the Cöln, Dresden, Brummer, Karlsruhe, Kronprinz Wilhelm, König and Markgraf have been protected as scheduled monuments. Divers are welcome to enjoy and respect these wrecks but removal of artefacts from them is illegal. For more information, please visit the: MCA Website