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13 December 2018. New unidentified Japanese WWII tug wreck in Truk Lagoon

Here's the link to my video tour on my YouTube channel of this newly located and as yet unidentified Imperial Japanese Navy WWII tug wreck off Weno.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jYfVkiE7IsE&t=7s

 
12 December 2018. NEW JAPANESE WRECK LOCATED IN TRUK LAGOON

Just back from a couple of weeks diving the famous Japanese WWII wreck at Truk Lagoon in the Pacific, the world's greatest collection of Japanese wartime shipwrecks. It has been quite a long time since a new WWII wreck was located in the lagoon, but I was priviledged to be taken out by Truk Stop Dive Centre

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30 October 2018. Des épaves du monde

Just back from a long weekend in Orkney filming with a french TV company about the Scapa Flow wrecks for a documentary series on shipwrecks around the world. These guys were hard core - they did The Big Blue with Jean Reno and have worked on Titanic - much respect! 

 
16 October 2018. Shipwrecks of Scapa Flow chart available again

A few years ago I had a unique A1 size full colour chart of Scapa Flow professionally created by the artist who has created all my shipwreck illustrations for me over the years, not just in Scapa Flow but also in Truk, Palau etc. The Scapa shipwreck illustrations were added to the chart in the correct locations with some text about the indivdual wrecks and the Scapa story as a whole. The resulting chart is stunning - and is currently on public display outside the Ferry Terminal in Stromness.

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Jutland to Junkyard

Jutland to JunkyardScapa Flow is a dramatic and windswept expanse of water some 12 miles across and almost completely encircled by the islands of Orkney. For centuries it has been a safe, sheltered and heavily defended anchorage for the Royal Navy. Great warships have come and gone. Dramatic deeds are an integral part of its past. Countless military man hours have gone into defensive planning and endeavour to render this great naval anchorage safe and impregnable to our war time enemies. Those enemies in turn have gone to similar lengths in attempting to find a way through those defences to attack valuable Allied shipping.

 

Even today more than half a century after the end of World War II all around the sea passages into the Flow empty gun emplacements and barracks bear silent witness to its war time role. In the dark depths of Scapa Flow lie countless testaments to man's inhumanity to man. U-boats attempting to penetrate into the Flow to attack Allied shipping have been depth charged, or sunk by a controlled mine explosion after the sound of their engines had been picked up by detector cables laid across the seabed. Countless other vessels have come to grief in the Flow. Others have been sunk deliberately in attempts to block the minor sea passages. The seabed is littered with the legacy of its maritime past.

 

One U-boat, U-47 under the command of Lieut. Cmdr. Gunther Prien, did manage to slip past the British de

fences on 14 October 1939 in the dea

d of night and torpedo the 29,000 ton British battleship HMS ROYAL OAK at anchor. ROYAL OAK turned turtle within 5 minutes and sank in 30 metres of water with most of her crew still trapped inside her. The torpedo explosions destroyed her power circuits and the whole ship below decks was pitched into darkness. Desperately crew members stumbled around in the darkness, groping for a way out of her labyrinthine insides as ROYAL OAK keeled over. In all 833 officers and men died in that one attack.

The 19,560 ton British battleship HMS VANGUARD was destroyed in a single cataclysmic magazine explosion on 9 July 1917 with the loss of more than 700 men.

Scapa Flow is however probably best known nowadays as the final resting place of the remains of the German Imperial Navy's High Seas Fleet of World War I. The High Seas Fleet had been interned at Scapa Flow in November 1918 as a condition of the Armistice which suspended the hostilities pending peace negotiations which would eventually lead to The Treaty of Versailles. Fearing that those negotiations were about to break down and that the British would seize the Fleet, Rear Admiral Ludwig von Reuter gave the order on 21 June 1919 to scuttle the entire Fleet. All 74 warships of the Fleet, giant battle cruisers, battleships, light cruisers and torpedo boat destroyers scuttled simultaneously and sank to the bottom of Scapa Flow. It was and still is the single greatest act of maritime suicide the world has ever seen.

Initially the British Admiralty resolved to leave the sunken fleet to rust on the bottom of Scapa Flow for ever. By the 1920's however the price of scrap metal, initially so abundant and cheap at the end of the Great War, had picked up and the salvors' attentions turned to the seemingly endless supply of high quality German scrap metal lying on the seabed. Additionally the sunken warships, some only partially submerged had proved to be a hazard to navigation with a number of other vessels running aground on them. Over the coming decades the majority of the 74 warships were raised intact from the depths in a mammoth, ground breaking salvage operation.

The last vessel of the High Seas Fleet to be raised intact from the seabed was the 26,180 ton battle cruiser Derfflinger, brought to the surface in 1939 from a record depth of 45 metres. She was towed to Rosyth for breaking but the outbreak of World War II led to the Admiralty taking over control of the dry dock where the vessel would have been broken down. Derfflinger lay at Rosyth throughout the whole of the War and was finally broken down in 1946.

All bar seven of the High Seas Fleet had been salvaged during these decades of incredible marine salvage. The 26,000 ton battleships Kronprinz Wilhelm, Markgraf and Konig lay in deep water of between 35 - 45 metres with awkward lists of 30 - 40degrees, settling year by year into the clinging mud of the seabed. The smaller 5,500 ton light cruisers Coln, Karlsruhe, Brummer and Dresden, all lay on their sides in relatively deep water. They would be difficult wrecks to raise from the seabed and did not hold sufficient of worth to merit economic salvage. The salvors therefore abandoned any attempts to raise these seven vessels whole.

Over the succeeding years some small scale salvaging of the remaining vessels of the High Seas Fleet was carried out mainly by the use of explosives to blast open the engine room areas and remove the valuable non ferrous engine machinery. That having been done the seven ghosts of the High Seas Fleet were left to lie in peace on the seabed.

Jutland to Junkyard is thus a fascinating account of these times, the dramatic scuttling and the momentous salvage works in the coming decades by charismatic characters. In writing the book, S.C. George went to painstaking lengths to trace and interview the actual characters involved in the work. It is based on genuine first hand accounts and is full of fascinating anecdotes from the actual people involved. If he had not gone to these lengths and recorded these memories for future generations they would have passed into oblivion. Now they are here for posterity, for all of us interested in the subject to learn from.

When Jutland to Junkyard was published in 1973, S.C. George probably thought that the remaining seven vessels would be left in the dark depths of Scapa Flow to rust away to nothing in ignominy, passing silently into the history books and of little interest to future generations. Whereas the focus of the world's attention had been on Scapa Flow at the time of the momentous salvage attempts in the 1930's, not much interest was being shown in the remaining vessels on the seabed.

In the years following its publication however there has been a huge surge in the popularity of scuba diving. Progressively throughout the 1970's more and more divers started visiting Scapa Flow enticed by the legend of the scuttling, the momentous salvage works and the ghost ships lying on the bottom. Each wreck is a time capsule that represents an era of sea power and majesty that has long since passed into the history books. Scapa Flow became a place of pilgrimage for divers eager to visit these huge relics of a distant war and the countless other wrecks that have come to grief here and litter the seabed.

Scapa Flow in 1973 had only very limited facilities for visiting divers. Divers had to be robust and ingenious to find and dive the wrecks. Quite often they would have to take their own compressor to Orkney to fill air tanks, along with their own inflatable boat to get out to the wreck sites. Some divers camped ashore. The wrecks were not buoyed and the navigational aids that divers nowadays use were not around. Divers had a compass, a set of transits and a depth sounder at best and had to search the wide expanse of the Flow themselves to find the wrecks. There were no dive charter vessels to take divers out to the wreck sites.

Over the years as more divers came north to the Flow the commercial potential of the German World War I wrecks became appreciated and in the late 1970's the first hard boat charters started up taking parties of up to 12 divers at a time out to explore the wrecks. Progressively more and more dive charter businesses started up and nowadays there are usually about 10 dive charter boats working the Flow. In the good diving months of the year here, between April and October, most of these boats will have their full complement of 12 divers aboard diving 6 days a week. Some of the boats now offer a liveaboard package. 

In all thousands of divers visit Orkney each year bringing much appreciated revenue to local businesses, dive/souvenir shops, hotels and pubs and not just to the dive charter boats themselves. Groups of divers make trips here from the USA and Europe and in diving circles Scapa Flow is known and revered internationally as one of the great dive locations of the world. The value of the income to Orkney from the wrecks of Scapa Flow cannot be underestimated.

When I was researching material for Dive Scapa Flow in 1989 Jutland to Junkyard was one of my main reference books. I didn't have a copy myself and it proved very difficult to get hold of it through my local library as it was long out of print. As far as I am aware it was only reprinted once in 1981. I am therefore very pleased to see this essential book republished again and once more on the shelves of bookshops and libraries in Orkney and on the mainland. It is part of Orkney's heritage.

New generations of divers and non divers alike can now rediscover a fascinating chapter of Scapa Flow's rich maritime history.