Diving the SMS Karlsruhe wreck
Whereas in the early days of the salvaging operations an entire ship would be re-floated and broken up in dry dock, salvaging methods soon had to become cruder. The SMS Karlsruhe was salvaged in situ - blasted by explosives with only the high-value components being lifted. What remains is some of the best wreck diving the world has to offer.
The hull of the SMS Karlsruhe was extensively blasted and consequently much of its structure has been compromised. However, many of the components of this ship remain and the blasting has exposed parts of this ship that cannot be seen on the other wrecks. This wreck offers a different insight into the German High Seas Fleet.
The wreck rests on its starboard side in 25 metres of water. This is the shallowest of the four cruisers so sport divers have time to explore. What is more, the heavy blasting has allowed for exploration without the need for involved and dangerous penetrations. The wreckage can appear as a jumble at first, but it does not take long to make sense of the SMS Karlsruhe and the enticing diving on offer.
Massive anchors lie on the seabed at the bow, their bulky chains winding across the seabed and through the hawse pipes on the ship's hull. The chains still drape over the two anchor capstans and the engines that drove the capstans are visible. The engines hint at the scale and exposure of the engineering to be found on this wreck.
Behind the capstans the telltale signs of a warship start to emerge. Two 5.9 inch forward deck guns have fallen on top of one another and remain pointing forward. The recoil mechanism is brass and has been rubbed to a shine by the gloves of many curious divers over the years.
Armoured Control Tower
The Armoured Control Tower remains an imposing structure despite having broken away from the main body of the wreck. The armoured walls are made of steel four-inches thick and the rear door lies agape displaying an inside festooned with old wiring.
Beneath the tower an access tunnel is exposed and runs down to the lower control room three decks below. This is best viewed by looking through a letter-box-shaped hole just behind the forward port side 5.9 inch gun. The gun is immediately in front of the control tower.
The majority of the bridge is now missing. It was made of brass so as not to interfere with the magnetic accuracy of the ship's compass. There was likely to have been large quantities of non-ferrous metal within the bridge; hence the salvage teams' attention and the skeletal remains divers see today.
The SMS Karlsruhe had 12 boilers in total: 10 coal-fired and two oil-fired. They were housed midship in four boiler rooms below the smoke stacks. The oil and coal would have been stored in hull spaces along the ship. Where the ribs of the hull are exposed the oil residues have soaked into the silt and the coal has tumbled out.
The forward boiler room is very exposed and, because the boiler casing has rotted away, it is possible to swim past all the boiler tubes. Huge steam pipes run the length of the SMS Karlsruhe. They are the width of a man's shoulder and illustrate the power required to propel a ship of this size up to speeds of 27 knots.
Massive fans that were once used to maximise combustion in the boilers now block the way through to the next two boiler rooms. Below the fans are the steam pipes and a mess of control wires. Underneath these there are four boilers arranged side by side. They are in reasonable condition considering how long they have been immersed.
The floor in this area would have been a layer of steel gratings. The gratings fell away as the ship sank and a maze of valves and piping is now exposed. This sight emphasises the scale and complexity of the engineering on these warships.
Above the boilers and at the base of the funnels the ship's pinnaces would have been stored on deck. The large davits that would have lowered the pinnaces into the sea remain scattered around.
As with all the wrecks in Scapa Flow, the engine room on the Karlsruhe was one of the prime targets of the salvaging operations. Most of the ship's structure has been destroyed here. Amongst the wreckage are scattered bits and pieces of boilers, gearboxes, turbines, valves and wires. The technicality and complexity of it all is striking. Whereas merchant shipwrecks tend to comprise a couple of boilers and a reciprocating steam engine set in the middle of cavernous holds, these warships were chock-full of sophisticated machinery and much of it can still be seen today.
Approaching the stern the SMS Karlsruhe begins to regain her structure and the wreck appears more refined. There is a striking sophistication in lines of the SMS Karlsruhe despite her having been designed and engineered as a warship.
On the keel side of the hull the single massive rudder remains in place, its flat blade seeming to prop up the hull. The mechanics are still evident – the steering engine and connecting rods being exposed to a good degree. The propellers are long since gone and a solitary A-frame is all that remains.
The SMS Karlsruhe is often dismissed as the less interesting of the cruisers in Scapa Flow. For some reason the fact that the wreck lies in shallower water and is more broken up makes it feel less significant. Perhaps it is slightly too easy and too accessible in a diving location known for complexity and technicality. This sentiment is dispelled by those who recognise here an esteemed wreck. The more this wreck is explored, the more welcoming she becomes. With time, care and thought the SMS Karlsruhe ranks amongst the best dives in Scapa Flow.
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