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On This Day… The Scuttling Of The German Fleet At Scapa Flow

Written by: George Chittenden : 21 Jul 2019

It was on this day, 21st June back in 1919 when the scuttling of the German fleet took place at the Royal Navy's base at Scapa Flow, in Scotland, following the end of the First World War. The handing over to the Allies of the German High Seas Fleet was one of the terms of the armistice that ended the First World War in November 1918. The huge fleet of German ships were shepherded to anchor at Rosyth, north-west of Edinburgh before moving to Scapa Flow in the Orkneys until the peace arrangements were settled. Eventually seventy-four German battleships, cruisers and destroyers sat at anchor. On arrival at Scapa Flow they were manned by around 20,000 German sailors, most of which were sent back to Germany leaving only caretaker crews aboard the ships that were left. It wasn’t Britain who decided to scuttle Germany’s fleet.

In actual fact it was the German commander, Admiral Ludwig von Reuter who decided to sacrifice his own vessels rather than see them fall into enemy hands. Ludwig feared that the ships would be seized and divided amongst the allied powers. The British tried to intervene and were able to beach several ships, however 52 of the 74 German ships sank. Around 1,774 Germans surrendered and were picked up by British ships. Nine Germans were killed and sixteen were wounded following the scuttling. The surviving ships were shared between the Allied navies, and over the years many of the wrecks were salvaged. The surviving wrecks are often used as diving sites.

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