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Battle of the High Seas

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Orkney was central to the war effort during the First World War. Scapa Flow was chosen as the main base of the British Grand Naval Fleet at the outbreak of the war and was its first northern base. Prior to 1914 the main British naval bases had always been near the English Channel. The mission of the Scapa Flow base was to control the entrances to the North Sea.

It was from the deep water anchorage at Scapa Flow that the British Grand Fleet sailed towards the coast of Denmark, to enter the Battle of Jutland, the biggest naval battle of the First World War. Between 31 May and 1 June 1916, over 6,000 British sailors died. This included eighteen men from the Isle of Lewis who were serving on the HM ships Invincible, Black Prince, Broke, Defence and Indefatigable.  


Three Shetlanders died on HMS Queen Mary, HMS Invincible and HMS Malaya and one Orcadian on HMS Tiger. Following the battle, Lord Kitchener, the Secretary of State for War, visited the British Fleet after they had returned to Orkney. As he departed on board HMS Hampshire it struck a German landmine and he was killed along with 736 others.

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Between Islands film with Tom Muir 


At the end of the war the scuttling of the German High Seas Fleet took place at Scapa Flow. In June 1919 the British Navy had detained 74 warships as part of the German defeat and were waiting for agreement from the allies about what to do with them.  However, the German Rear Admiral seized the opportunity to give his men the order to sink the ships to stop them falling into the hands of the allied forces.

Only two bells from the German ships scuttled at Scapa Flow are known to have survived, and one of those hangs outside St Michael’s Church in Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides. The bell is from SMS Derfflinger, a German Battlecruiser which helped to sink HMS Queen Mary and HMS Invincible at the Battle of Jutland.

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Kris Drever song about Scapa Flow 

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