A programme of events has been announced marking 100 years since the scuttling of the German High Seas fleet in Scapa Flow.
Led by the Orkney community as well as international contributors, the events will reveal the historical significance of the scuttling, mark its impact at the time, and highlight its legacy in Orkney today.
At the heart of the events are the centenary commemorations on Friday 21 June, when 15 German lives lost as a result of the internment and sinking of the vessels will be remembered.
All are welcome at the Service of Commemoration at the Royal Naval Cemetery at Lyness, which begins at 13:00.
People planning to travel to Lyness by ferry are encouraged to go as foot passengers aboard the Hoy Head and advised to use the 08:00 or 11:45 sailings from Houton and the 14:25 return sailing from Lyness. The cemetery is around a mile and a 20-minute walk from the ferry terminal.
On Saturday 4 May, an exhibition telling the story of what happened on that June day a century ago opens at the Orkney Museum.
‘1919: The Scuttling of the German Fleet’ draws on unpublished documents and eyewitness accounts and takes a poignant look at the events leading up to and during the scuttling as well as beyond.
More Scapa 100 events run from Saturday 15 June to Thursday 27 June. They include exhibitions, talks by experts, performances by the German Navy and Royal Navy musicians, underwater imagery, a theatre piece, the screening of a 1986 documentary on the scuttling – and the chance to explore the seabed wrecks using the latest virtual reality technology.
Details are available here and on the Scapa 100 Facebook page.
Antony Mottershead, Arts Officer with Orkney Islands Council, said: “All involved have created a full and imaginative programme. The varied events will provide many insights into the enormous impact the scuttling had on the Orkney community at the time and on those who witnessed the ships going down.
“This will be a fitting conclusion to five years of commemorations marking the outbreak of the First World War, the Battle of Jutland, the loss in local waters of four Royal Navy warships, and the Armistice that led to the internment of the German High Seas fleet in Scapa Flow.”
Local dive boat operator Emily Turton, a founder member of the Scapa 100 initiative, said: “An important aim of the programme is to explore the lasting legacy left by the scuttling of the fleet.
“A new industry sprung up as pioneering techniques were developed to raise entire ships – and salvage valuable components from others as they lay on the seabed.
“The salvage years supported many local families and businesses, as does wreck diving today – with Scapa Flow renowned worldwide in the diving community.
“Breathtaking photographs, video footage and 3D imagery will be on display, bringing wreck exploration alive for divers and non-divers alike. We’ve worked in partnership with the University of Dundee and Newcastle University, with support from Historic Environment Scotland, and the results are spectacular.
“Bringing Scapa 100 together has been a tremendous community effort with everyone involved keen to share their knowledge and expertise to help us tell a remarkable story.”
Remembering those lost when history was made in the Flow
“We watched the last great battleship slide down with keel upturned, like some monstrous whale”
The words are those of a schoolboy from Stromness, a witness to one of the most extraordinary events in naval history.
The deliberate sinking of an entire fleet of German warships would remain etched on the memory of 16-year-old James Taylor for the rest of his life.
He was one of 160 children who, on 21 June 1919, were on a school outing in Scapa Flow aboard a local vessel, the Flying Kestrel.
By chance, it was the day Rear Admiral Ludwig von Reuter issued the order to scuttle the vessels under his command - 74 warships from the German High Seas Fleet interned in Scapa Flow after the Armistice which ended the First World War.
The momentous events that followed will be remembered this summer when centenary commemorations are held in Orkney.
Descendants of the school children will be invited aboard the local ferry Thorsvoe. Flanked by the Northern Lighthouse Board tenders Pharos and Pole Star, the ferry will set out from Stromness on Friday June 21 and, like the Flying Kestrel a century ago, set a course for the Flow.
The ships will pause above one of seabed wrecks for a service of reflection and two-minute silence, as Navy divers from Britain and Germany make a commemorative dive to the vessel.
The flotilla will then continue to Hoy where a service of commemoration will take place at the Lyness Royal Naval Cemetery alongside the graves of the 15 German sailors who lost their lives during the internment and on the day the fleet was scuttled.
The German Ambassador to London, Peter Wittig, will be in attendance as will senior officers from the Royal Navy and the German Navy.
The service will be led by German Military Pastor Christoph Sommer, the Venerable Martyn Gough, Chaplain of the Fleet and Archdeacon for the Royal Navy, and the Rev. David Dawson, Chaplain to the local Sea Cadet Corps, the Royal British Legion Kirkwall Branch and Royal Naval Association Orkney Branch.
Mike Bullock, Chief Executive of the Northern Lighthouse Board, said: “We are honoured that Pharos and Pole Star will be participating in the commemorations to mark this historic and poignant event and delighted to be given the opportunity to reaffirm the already strong relationship between the Northern Lighthouse Board and the people of Orkney.”
A century ago, Admiral von Reuter was acting under the mistaken belief that peace talks had failed, when he gave the command to scuttle his fleet, to prevent the warships from falling into the hands of the British and Allied forces.
As James Taylor vividly described: “Suddenly without any warning and almost simultaneously these huge vessels began to list over to port or starboard; some heeled over and plunged headlong, their sterns lifted high out of the water. Out of the vents rushed steam and oil and air with a dreadful roaring hiss.”
The children had watched, “awestruck and silent”, as 50 of the ships went to the seabed. It remains one of the greatest losses of shipping ever recorded in a single day.
In later years, many were later brought to the surface again during one of the most remarkable salvage operations ever attempted at sea. Those that remain – seven vessels in all - attract divers from worldwide and make Scapa Flow the premier wreck diving site in Europe.