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Watch this space - Council matches heritage funds to bring rare naval guns back on display

Date: 23 December 2022

Image of child viewing the German Ensign on display at Scapa Flow Museum

Four rare guns from the decks of WWI warships will soon be back on display at Scapa Flow Museum, following agreement from The National Lottery Heritage Fund to release leftover contingency funds from the Museum’s £4.4m redevelopment towards the move.

The contingency funds, matched by Orkney Islands Council, will cover restoration, transport and installation costs for the guns, which are now over 100 years old.

This includes a gun – complete with barrel, mount and shield - from the deck of German WWI warship SMS Bremse, one of only five First World War German naval guns surviving in the UK. Scapa Flow Museum also holds another of the five, from the deck of SMS Karslruhe.

The impressive Bremse gun, which many will recall stood imposingly in the forecourt prior to the Museum’s redevelopment, was moved from storage recently by Ian Clark and transported south for restoration. It will return in the new year where it will be displayed under cover in the Museum’s Romney hut.

Meantime two gun barrels, from the ill-fated HMS Opal and HMS Narborough, will be gently eased into place in the Museum’s new gallery space by local engineering specialists Heddle Construction.

The Opal gun was loaned to The National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN) in Portsmouth in 2015 and 2016 to be part of the UK’s main exhibition there telling the story of the Battle of Jutland, the pivotal maritime conflict of WWI.

The fourth gun earmarked to go back on display at Scapa Flow Museum, from German destroyer B98, was also loaned to NMRN for the Jutland display.

As part of that loan arrangement, the NMRN carried out extensive conservation work on both the Opal and B98 guns, before they were returned to Orkney following Jutland commemorations. They have since been safely stored in the Romney Hut.

B98 was the leader of the 2nd Flotilla of the German High Seas Fleet at Jutland. The ship later went aground in the Bay of Lopness in Sanday, where parts of B98 can still be seen – the base plates of the hull survive, along with boilers and turbine casings.

HMS Opal took part in the Battle of Jutland as part of the 12th Flotilla. In January 1918, while on a Dark Night Patrol in severe weather and with poor visibility, an unfortunate navigational error caused HMS Opal and her sister ship HMS Narborough to sail straight into the cliffs at Hesta Rock on South Ronaldsay. Both ships were wrecked with 188 casualties and only one survivor.

Nick Hewitt is Team Manager for Culture at Orkney Islands Council – and in a satisfying twist he was part of the team at NMRN during Jutland commemorations and oversaw the loan from Orkney of the Opal and B98 guns.

“We’re delighted the National Lottery Heritage Fund is supporting this work.

“Not only are these guns rare and internationally significant, each holds its own powerful story which deserves to be retold.

“We’re pleased to once again have Heddle Construction, who showed so much care and skill with dismantling the Bremse gun for its eventual conservation, involved in helping us move these other three guns too.

“And of course it’s fantastic to see the Bremse now actually on its way for that expert renovation with Ian Clark. The gun was a formidable presence outside the Museum for many years, but the elements were starting to have an impact - and this work, along with giving it a new indoor home in the Romney hut, will ensure people can enjoy its grandeur for years to come.

“The other three guns folk will be able to see in the gallery space in the Museum’s new extension which now holds the majority of our precious wartime artefacts in a modern climate controlled environment, with lively, striking interpretation, when the Museum reopens in March after its winter break.”

Councillor Gwenda Shearer is Chair of the Council’s Education, Leisure and Housing committee: “For everyone involved in the Museum’s redevelopment, this is another piece of the puzzle falling into place in terms of protecting our unique wartime heritage. I know many from the local community and friends of our Museum around the world will be equally pleased with this news, and will be excited to see the final result.”

Caroline Clark, Heritage Fund Director for Scotland, said: “We were delighted to agree that remaining contingency money from the funds provided, thanks to National Lottery players, for the museum regeneration be invested in the care and display of these guns. They are a valuable part of the Scapa Flow Museum story.”

Scapa Flow Museum is run by Orkney Islands Council and charts Orkney’s military involvement in the First and Second World Wars. It provides a safe home for a major collection of wartime artefacts, many of national and international importance.

Its recent refurbishment project valued at of £4.4 million, comprising an extension to the Museum and refurbishment of the historic pumphouse, has been supported by Orkney Islands Council, the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Historic Environment Scotland, the Orkney LEADER 2014-2020 programme, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Museums Galleries Scotland and the Scottish Government’s European Regional Development Fund programme, managed by NatureScot through the Natural & Cultural Heritage Fund. (The Natural & Cultural Heritage Fund is part of the Scottish Government’s European Regional Development Fund programme, which finishes in 2023. NatureScot is also managing another element of the programme – the Green Infrastructure Fund. The Scottish Government is the Managing Authority for the European Regional Development Fund and the European Structural Funds 2014-20 Programme. For further information visit the Scottish Government website or follow @scotgovESIF.)

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Image: A gun from WWI German destroyer B98 will go on display in front of the German ensign on display in Scapa Flow Museum – watch this space.

More about the guns and vessels they came from:

The Battle of Jutland between the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet - the two most powerful naval fleets of the time – took place on May 31– June 1, 1916.

It was a military engagement which led to 6,000 British and 2,500 German personnel lost.

The guns from SMS Bremse and SMS Karlsruhe in Scapa Flow Museum’s collection are both 15cm SK L45 – both these vessels were interned with the rest of the High Seas Fleet in Scapa Flow in 1918, and scuttled by their own crews on 21 June 1919. Bremse was salvaged by Ernest Cox ten years later, but Karlsruhe remains on the sea bed and is a popular site for recreational divers.

SMS Bremse was a minelaying light cruiser launched in 1916 in Stettin. She spent the war operating in the North Sea, taking part in a raid on British convoy to Norway in 1917 which resulted in the sinking of two Royal Navy destroyers and nine merchant ships.

SMS Karlsruhe was a light cruiser, launched in 1916 in Kiel and named after the Imperial German Navy’s famous raiding cruiser which was lost in the Caribbean at the start of the First World War. She saw service in the North Sea and the Baltic. The gun from this vessel in the Museum’s collection is missing its gun shield.


  • Summary:

    Four rare guns from the decks of WWI warships will soon be back on display at Scapa Flow Museum, following agreement from The National Lottery Heritage Fund to release leftover contingency funds from the Museum’s £4.4m redevelopment towards the move.

  • Category:
    • Museums
    • Scapa Flow Museum
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