On This Day

Scuttling at Scapa Flow

German Navy ship SMS Bayern after being scuttled on the orders of German Admiral Ludwig von Reuter
German Navy ship SMS Bayern after being scuttled on the orders of German Admiral Ludwig von Reuter

Historical Context

After the German surrender in World War I, the High Seas Fleet of the Imperial German Navy was interned at Scapa Flow, a naval base in the Orkney Islands in Scotland. At the time the ships arrived in Scotland, more than 20,000 German sailors were onboard, though this number was reduceed in the ensuing months.

The 74 ships arrived during negotiations between the Allies and Germany over a peace treaty that would become Versailles. Up for debate was what to do with them - the French and Italians wanted a portion; the British wanted them destroyed as any distribution to other countries would be detrimental to their naval superiority.

Admiral Ludwig von Reuter began to prepare the scuttling in May 1919 after hearing the potential terms of the Versailles Treaty. Shortly before the treaty was signed in 21 June, Reuter sent the signal to his men, who began opening flood valves, smashing water pipes and opening sewage tanks. Nine German crew members who abandoned ship and attempted to come ashore were shot by British forces. In all, 52 ships were sunk.

Privately, British Admiral Wemyss was delighted that the ships were sunk, ending the question of how to redistribute them. Many ships have been refloated and salvaged in the years since, but some remain in the seas at Scapa Flow.

Photo Info

Photographer: Royal Navy
Date taken: June 21, 1919
Location taken: Scapa Flow, Scotland, United Kingdom

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Related Events

  • 1919-06-21 The German Navy, feeling betrayed by the terms of the Versailles Treaty, scuttles most of its ships interned at Great Britain's Scapa Flow Naval base in the Orkney Islands


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