JANUARY 2011: My Surface Interval named one of the best scuba diving blogs

Monday, July 25, 2011

Scuba Diving Scapa Flow Day 3

"Guns, I need guns."

Well the Konig-Class battleship SMS Kronprinz Wilhelm has enough to keep Neo happy in his fight in the Matrix.

And chief among them are the ten massive 12-inch cannons in the five gun turrets that bristled the deck of the heavily armoured dreadnought.

Despite the weaponry, she saw battle only once, in the Battle of Jutland when she kept up the devastating shelling of the British fleet. One can imagine the ear-splitting boom and the clouds of acrid smelling cordite as the gunners fought time and fatigue to keep up the barrage of deathly shelling.

Thankfully, some of those impressive armaments are still visible, even though the ship turned turtle as she sank to the bottom in about 37m of water when the crew scuttled her in a final act of defiance against the Allied forces.

The shotline takes you down to the the bottom of the hull, on the port side, a third of the way from the upturned stern - or pert little arse, as Emily would describe it, at about 22m. From there, we crested the armour plated hull and followed her down to the seabed, the wreck casting a gloomy shadow over our watery path into the darkness.

At about 30m, as our eyes became adjusted to the low light, we were presented with what looked like an overhang. But as the bright beams of our torch danced across the ceiling - or what should have been the gundeck when she plied the seas - our eyes caught sight of the first guns, two 5.9in weapons, one pointing sternwards.

But the best was yet to come - two of the 12-in gun turrets. As massive as the turrets looked underwater, it must have been cramped, deafening and dirty for the gunners keeping up with the action. Lying almost on top of each other, their massive barrels protruded outwards, their stepped armour giving an appearance that they were telescopic.

The second of the two disappeared into the gloom, but shining our torches ahead of us we pressed forward into the every narrowing passageway to follow the barrel along the ceiling.

After retracing out steps, we were back outside the wreck and heading towards her 'pert-little arse' at about 35m-ish. For such a huge battleship, it was tiny.

Ascending over the upturned hull, we moved forward past the two giant rudders. I was anticipating this would be the least interesting part of the dive - I don't want to dive on an upturned bathtub, I may have been heard to say as we planned the trip - but it actually provided a wealth of interest.

At one point we could see three different thicknesses of armour plating, from the 12in at and below the water line to the thinner cover on the upper decks. We also came across parallel rows of metal sitting across the wreck, these were the fixing supports for the heavy armour and are not seen anywhere else.

As we neared 50-odd minutes were made our way slowly to the surface.

Dive two was on the Dresden, another of the lightcruisers and the only one sitting on her port side. She lists over more than others so it took a bit of time to get orientated as we dived the forward section, as he deck is slowly peeling away from her body, like a partly opened can of tuna, to expose her innards.

Who said Junior's an anchor?Number One, Number Two, Junior and myself decided to take a slight detour and we followed her anchor from the deck hawse and she stretched across the sandy seabed for a hundred or so yards.

That seen we headed back to the magnificent bow, festooned with a carpet of marine growth, including the beautifully bright plumrose anemones and white deadman's fingers. For those interested in their feeding habits, spending a few minutes simply watching them pulsate in the gentle current is an eye-opener.

With our no-decompression limits approaching, we headed towards the shallower part of the deck before making an ascent to the surface, Number One showing us the right way.

Jono and Ash, meanwhile, had headed back along to wreck to take in her conning tower and bridge. The control tower itself is resting on the seabed, blocking the tiny hatch inside. Peering through the letterbox sized viewing slits in the armour plating, the brassing dials and fittings are still visible.

The pair also saw the 5.9in gun resting close to the bottom and the giant lifeboat davits that curved round to rest on the seabed below. With their computers indicating they were approaching no-deco limits, they returned and made their way safely to the surface.

Viz was about 8m, temperature about 12degrees and only slight current on both wrecks.

Tomorrow: The Mighty Markgraf

Catch points, what catch points?

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