Gutter Sound

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Gutter Sound is an inlet of the vast anchorage of Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands of Scotland. Gutter Sound was the site of the mass-scuttling of the interned German Imperial High Seas Fleet in 1919.

Scuttling of the fleet[edit]

Gutter Sound within Scapa Flow

The terms of the armistice of 11 November 1918 required Germany to surrender the virtual entirety of the Kaiserliche Marine's High Seas Fleet to the Allies for the duration of the armistice, and pending a final decision about their fate. In total, 74 ships were brought to Scapa Flow and moored at Gutter Sound, manned by skeleton crews, and under the command of Rear-Admiral Ludwig von Reuter. As negotiations towards the drawing up of the Treaty of Versailles progressed, Reuter feared that the fleet would be seized by the allies. He drew up plans to scuttle it should this appear likely. Eventually, acting on faulty intelligence from dated British newspapers, he decided that the seizure of the ships was imminent and on 21 June 1919 he gave the order to commence scuttling the ships.

Fifty-two of the seventy-four ships, totalling more than 400,000 tons (more than twice as much tonnage as the combined losses in the Battle of Jutland) were successfully sunk, seventeen were towed into shallow water and beached, and four torpedo boats remained afloat. The effort marked the greatest tonnage of ships ever sunk in a day or in a single port.


A number of the sunken ships were salvaged, 43 by Ernest Cox during the 1920s. He used a variety of techniques, lifting the smaller ships with floating dry docks and hawsers. With the larger ships he patched all of the holes and then pumped the hulls with compressed air to force out the water and make them float upside down. Seven of the wrecks are still in Scapa Flow, and are a popular target for divers.

Commercial salvage work on the vessels ceased in the late 1970s and further salvage is no longer technically possible. There was some minor salvage work in the 1990s to remove some of the low-background steel from the wreck of the SMS Kronprinz,[1] that has been used in space satellites and some medical equipment. Metal forged before the first nuclear explosion in 1945 does not contain any trace of radioactive isotopes that are now present in the atmosphere. The background radiation of these isotopes could exhibit an effect on fine sensors used in space.[2]

The seven vessels that remain are protected as maritime scheduled ancient monuments.

Diving the wrecks[edit]

Today the seven remaining wrecks, though deep, make for popular and interesting dives for skilled scuba divers. In addition, debris and wreckage left from the ships salvaged is sometimes dived as well.

Name Type Depth
SMS Brummer light cruiser 36m
SMS Cöln light cruiser 36m
SMS Karlsruhe light cruiser 36m
SMS Dresden light cruiser 25m
SMS König battleship 43m
SMS Kronprinz Wilhelm battleship 38m
SMS Markgraf battleship 47m

External references[edit]

  • The Grand Scuttle: The sinking of the German Fleet at Scapa Flow in 1919. Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1982

Coordinates: 58°51′03″N 03°11′14″W / 58.85083°N 3.18722°W / 58.85083; -3.18722