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part 11 - below the waves


part 11 - below the waves

The straw that broke the camel’s back


he German U-boats had their final shot at glory in October 1918

when UB116, carrying 11 torpedoes, headed into Scapa Flow.

Since 1914, this had been the primary base of Britain’s Grand Fleet,

commanded byAdmirals Jellicoe then Beatty.

At Hoxa Sound, the southern entrance to Scapa Flow, the

U-boat’s engine noise was detected by hydrophone, fixing the exact

location and depth. Within seconds UB116 was destroyed by an

electrically operated mine.

Her target, the British Grand Fleet, was 200 miles to the south.

Their new commander, Admiral Beatty, had transferred the entire

fleet to the Forth.The final U-boat attack had been a deadly and

pointless failure.

At Wilhelmshaven, the command came on 24th October to

prepare to take to the seas and to prepare to go down fighting rather

than surrender. This was the last straw and a mutiny started on

28th October which spread to Kiel on 3rd and 4th November. Their

revolution spread across the country. The Kaiser abdicated. On 11th

November 1918,the landwar endedwith theArmistice of Compiègne.

The sea war would end four days


the end of four years and

three months of war,the German U-boats had sunk over 5,000 ships.


After the surrender of the German Navy in the Forth the German surface fleet was

escorted to Scapa Flow.The great natural harbour where the British Fleet had

begun the war was where the German Fleet was ordered to end it.

Under the command of Admiral von Reuter, the frustrated, hungry and

ill-disciplined sailors on board the 74 German ships awaited the outcome of the

Paris peace talks. After seven months, von Reuter’s patience ran out and his

fear of his fleet falling into enemy hands if the peace talks failed got the better

of him. At 11.20 am on 21st June 1919, von Reuter sent a signal from his

flagship – the Emden. The flags read,“Paragraph Eleven Confirm”. This was

the cue to scuttle the entire fleet. At 12 noon, as they settled lower and lower

in the water,each ship hoisted the colours of the Imperial German Navy.

Over the ensuing years many of the ships have been salvaged and sold for

scrap. But many remain on the bed of Scapa Flow and are the destination for

scuba divers.The Stromness Museum has a haunting display of assorted relics

of the Imperial Navy including spanners, a log book, brass candlesticks and

shell-encrusted plates and bowls from a fine china dinner set.