Diving the SMS Dresden wreck
When the SMS Dresden sank she settled on an underwater mound. As a result the wreck is resting on an incline with the northward pointing bow sitting in 25 metres. The remainder of the ship slopes southward toward the stern at 38 metres.
SMS Dresden is similar to the other cruisers with a length of 155 metres and a beam of 14 metres. However, she is unique amongst the German High Fleet wrecks of Scapa Flow in that she fell onto her port side.
The SMS Dresden is often the first dive of a Scapa week as the shallower bow section allows for more conservative shakedown dives. The deeper stern section is often returned to later in the week. It is easier to do a multi-level profile dive on this wreck thanks to the incline. Hence shot lines are maintained at both the bow and the stern. Regular visitors and local divers continue to find the SMS Dresden an intriguing wreck. She has retained her shape well and many original features remain inside. These features provide a captivating throwback to life on the ship nearly 100 years ago.
Lying away from the wreck is the port anchor. The anchor chain snakes back toward the wreck and through the port side hawse pipe. Behind the stem of the ship, which slopes up toward the keep at an angle of 30 degrees, is the ship's shield. At the rear of the shield is the massive mould where the anchor would have been stowed.
The deck level at the very tip of the bow resembles the shape of a crown. It was moulded so that mooring ropes could be fed through to the securing bollards on the wharf with minimal chaffing points. The remains of two 5.9 inch gun mounts are still visible on the forward deck. The guns have been salvaged.
The deck is beginning to fall away from the starboard side of the hull in a similar effect to the lid of a sardine can parting along one edge. Over the years the gap has widened and lengthened. The deck is now almost lying upside down on the seabed. The shafts of the two capstans on the bow held the weight of the parting top deck for a number of years, but eventually the weight of the deck has caused it to pull clear. In more recent years the next deck has also fallen out and the starboard hull plates have collapsed onto the seabed.
Armoured Control Tower and bridge
Continuing toward the stern of the SMS Dresden, the next recognisable structure is the sloping face of the cylindrical Armoured Control Tower, protected by four inches of armoured steel. A line of viewing slits spans the front edge and shining a torch though these slits is the only way to view the contents of the control room, which is otherwise inaccessible. Three holes on the roof mark where the sighting optics would have been mounted when the SMS Dresden was in service.
The bridge would have originally adjoined with the top of the Armoured Control Tower but over time it has fallen away from the ship like a stack of cards. A 5.9 inch gun lies in its original position alongside the bridge on the port side, while another gun can be found further toward the stern. This second gun points aft and is surrounded by wreckage. Above the bridge there would have been a mast with two searchlight platforms. The remains of the searchlight gimbals and irises can still be seen.
The majority of the Dresden’s length is taken up by its boiler rooms, which remain sealed and inaccessible. Gratings that once sat at the base of the now absent funnels create a barrier to the boiler rooms below. Coal bunkers run alongside the boiler rooms. Hatches and light access points are now broken open and lumps of coal have spilled out.
At this point massive davits overhang from their fixed position on the port edge of the ship. The davits, which would have been used to lower the ship's pinnaces, now punch into the seabed below. An engine, a boiler and some hard machinery are all that remain from one of the ship's pinnaces.
Toward the stern end of the boiler rooms the breach, barbette and mounting posts of the aft high-elevation guns mark the start of the salvage teams' blast area.
The officers' accommodation on the aft deck has retained most of its shape. Cables, pipes and heating coils litter the area and the remains of a lifting derrick lie on the seafloor. Just forward of the rear deck gun is another bath. There are two deck guns at the stern. One of the guns is mounted on the roof of the officers’ accommodation, above the very aft gun.
The seabed surrounding the stern is sticky with oily tar, which is presumed to have come from the wreck. The shape of the stern has been well preserved. It shows off the splendour of such ships. The rudder lies in place with the remains of the two A-frames on either side.
The sloping seabed upon which SMS Dresden rests is believed to have contributed to its deterioration more than the salvaging efforts. The wreck is slowly turning turtle and the resultant forces continue to work their worst. At the stern the deck is coming away from the hull along its top edge.
In 2004 the top deck of the bow separated from the hull and fell away. As time goes by the internal decks have began to fall away in the same manner. It is this sheer force that will ultimately seal the demise of the structurally impressive Dresden.
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