Diving the SMS Markgraf wreck
In many ways the Markgraf is the jewel in the Scapa Flow crown, despite stiff competition from the other six German High Seas Fleet ships which the water still holds. The Markgraf has divers coming back time and time again.
The Markgraf is on a scale that surpasses anything experienced elsewhere in the world. She is in superb condition considering she has been immersed for nearly 100 years. Due to the immense scale of this wreck it takes time to understand and at 45 metres it requires a level of technicality beyond that needed for the other wrecks. With time spent exploring, the Markgraf soon becomes a first-class enthralling dive for competent sport divers.
The ship now lies almost completely upturned on her starboard side but the superstructure has prevented her from rolling over entirely. Most of the interest lies along the starboard edge, but it is the sheer scale of the wreck that is most impressive. Thanks to many of the ship's features remaining largely intact – including the bow, stern and rudders – the immense size of the Markgraf is evident in a way that is more tangible than on the other wrecks. Diving the Markgraf proves to be an inexhaustible experience.
The bow of the Markgraf rises impressively from the seabed and is undoubtedly one of the defining images of Scapa Flow. The stem rises in a sheer line direct from the seabed and continues toward the shallower hull (remember the wreck is almost overturned) and along the keel. The shape of the bow is classic dreadnought and you would be hard pushed to find a similar sight elsewhere in the world.
Swimming away from the north-west facing bow, and along the seabed, the wreck towers overhead – the magnitude is striking. The massive anchor hawse pipe and the start of the ship's armour belt are visible. The steel armour still encases the hull and is easy to discern.
There is some damage in this section. The salvage teams blasted the hull to gain access to the torpedo rooms, which ran laterally across the bow and contained the valuable non-ferrous metals. The damage extends in a deep V-shape down to the seabed, exposing the innards of the ship. On the forward face of the damaged area, all the mechanisms for the anchor capstans, including the massive gears and shafts, are visible.
Gears, shafts, and capstans… these are all common components of wrecks. The difference here is their vast size. It is this scale that makes diving on the Markgraf such a unique and thrilling experience.
The Markgraf’s anchor chain is a distinctive feature. As the vessel began to sink the anchor chain wrapped around her. Today the chain can be seen traversing the hull and descending the port side of the ship just aft of the torpedo room blast break.
The line of armour plates that once protected the Markgraf has been removed. Consequently the internal structure of the ship becomes exposed as you move aft along the side of the hull. Ribs, internal bulkheads and coal bunkers can all be seen.
Deeper in the water seven casemate guns run in a line at deck level. All seven remain, but some are easier to distinguish than others. The first two are hanging down and are quite apparent. The mast then interrupts the line of guns – it is protruding from the ship having bent over as the ship rolled during scuttling. From here it is a short swim out to the spotting top and the two platforms where men would have kept look-out in battle.
Moving further aft the armour belt has been largely removed in the salvaging operations and, as a result, the first two deck levels have fallen down. The armoured deck is still intact. The next three casemate guns now become visible and point towards the front. The sixth gun points to the aft. Two rows of portholes dotted along the side of the officers' accommodation complete the run to the stern section.
Another defining image of Scapa Flow is the twin rudders rising straight up from the hull at the stern of the Markgraf. The rudders are an impressive size, approximately 3.5 metres in height. They remain in place to this day having resisted damage from either the scuttling or the salvaging operations.
Surprisingly, the abiding impression given by the remainder of the stern is how petite it is. Overall the Markgraf feels huge and appears to have an immovable solidity, but the stern belies this with a more delicate line. Double tramlines of rivets mark the joining of deck plates and lead to the seabed in a gentle curve.
Moving forward, the damage can be seen that is left from the salvaging operation to retrieve the propellers. The broken stubs of the A-frames still remain and the shaped form of the hull that encompassed the propellers is evident, although it does begin to break up around the engine rooms.
As with many of the wrecks, the engine rooms of the Markgraf were a focal point for the salvage workers. The tops of the engine rooms have been blasted away and the low-pressure turbines have been cleanly removed. Cables, valves and broken pipework now scatter the area. In the forward engine rooms the high-pressure turbines remain, just visible through a bulkhead.
By the time the salvage teams started work on the Markgraf they were well practised and adept at their job. Blasting on this wreck was more accurate and concentrated in comparison to many of the others, especially the König. In addition, the orientation of the wreck has complemented the structural strengths of the ship, which has helped to slow her decay.
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