Divernet

The wrecks of the scuttled German High Seas Fleet in Scapa Flow include two Dresden II class cruisers, the Köln and the Dresden. Although basically identical ships, the Dresden is one of the more broken German Fleet wrecks, in stark contrast with the Koln, which is regarded as the most intact of all.
Local skippers maintain buoys on all the main Scapa Flow wrecks. On the Köln, the line is usually attached to a boat davit just forward of the break in the hull (1).
Immediately below the line is one of the 3.4in secondary anti-aircraft guns mounted high on a pillar above deck (2). Originally the gunners would have stood on an open platform attached to the pillar from which they could work the gun, but this platform has long gone.
Forward from this gun are the flues from the funnels (3). The funnels have broken off, but some parts are still recognisable among debris on the seabed beneath. As usual with warships, the flues are blocked by armoured grilles, to protect the boilers below from falling shells.
Next comes the bridge and main mast. The mast is spectacularly intact, with supporting cables home to dangling arrays of plumose anemones (4). Two spotting platforms are located a short way up the mast (5).
Beneath the mast, the main bridge area retains its overall structure, but the sides have rotted away to leave a cross-hatched array of supporting beams (6).
Forward of the bridge is the armoured conning tower - a solid-looking cylin-drical structure with slit windows. On the roof is a T-shaped device that, on a modern ship, could be a radar scanner, but is in fact the rangefinder for the ships guns (7).
An arrangement of lenses and prisms would be used to calculate range from the parallax between images viewed through opposite ends of the range-finder. The optics from the rangefinder were removed in Germany before the Koln was surrendered to the British. Apparently the Germans regarded the secrets of their rangefinder optics as something worth keeping to themselves when the fleet was interred.
The Köln originally mounted two bow turrets side by side on the forward deck (9), but all that remains are two debris-filled holes in the decking where the turrets used to be, and an armoured locker just behind them, perhaps used to store ready ammunition (8).

The last feature before the bow is a pair of capstans with anchor chain dangling between them (10). Beneath the starboard bow, a length of chain runs out across the seabed, but I have never swum to the end of it to look for an anchor (11).
Back towards the conning tower on the port side of the hull, several missing plates and a gouge in the deck provide easy access to the spaces below deck, with turret mechanisms and drives for the capstans easily accessible (12).
Following the shallower port side of the deck back past the bridge, you come to the remains of one of the main 5.9in gun turrets (13). This turret is unusual in that half of the armour plating has fallen away, leaving the gun mechanism more accessible than on the more intact turrets at the stern. The corresponding starboard turret is presumably buried among debris on the seabed.
Other features along this side of the hull are davits for the ships boats (14), the last of which hosts the buoy line (1).
With a maximum depth between 33 and 36m, the route so far gives a relatively brisk no-stop dive or a more leisurely dive with a moderate amount of decompression stops.
Unless you are breathing an optimum nitrox mix, are carrying lots of it, and are prepared for lengthy deco stops, you will probably want to save the second part of the route for a later dive.
Behind the davits and gun pillar, the hull has been broken open for salvage (15). Over a number of years, the weakened structure has collapsed further, leaving a tangled mess of debris, including the aft mast and superstructure.
Crossing the debris, the wreck soon regains its structure, with a raised deck supporting one of the rear turrets. This turret is intact, showing the full armoured shield covering the front, top and sides of the turret, but leaving the rear open (16). The 5.9in gun barrel points about 20 to port of aft.
Further back and on the main deck, the other rear turret is also intact (17). It must be something about the balance of the turrets, because the rearmost turret points upward at a similar angle to the previous one, as do similar intact turrets on the other scuttled cruisers Dresden and Brummer.
A few plates have broken free of the deck, leaving holes too small to enter. At the stern, a single capstan and chain hold the kedge anchor in place against the rear of the hull (18). A diversion along the keel reveals the remains of the rudder and propshafts (19). The main life on the hull plates consists of tunicates and brittlestars.
Returning to amidships along the shallower port side of the deck, the break in the hull is soon reached. With decom-pression stops now mounting rapidly, it is probably easier to release a delayed SMB from the start of the break (20) than work across it back to the buoy line.
As mentioned earlier, the Köln is of the same class of cruiser as another wreck in Scapa Flow, the Dresden. The Dresden is similar in layout to the Köln, but lies on its port side, with considerably more damage to the amidships and stern areas. Its bow used to be reasonably intact but, over the past couple of years, the plates have started to fall away from the ribs of the hull.


DANGEROUS ONLY IN DEATH  

The

‚ The light cruiser Köln was the last of the 74 ships of the surrendered German High Seas Fleet to reach Scapa Flow, but among the first to obey the order to scuttle. All 5531 tons of her went down, sternfirst with a starboard heel, and all 510ft went out of sight at 1.50pm on 21 June, 1919, writes Kendall McDonald.

The Köln, named after the city of Cologne, did not have much of a war record. She was built at the Blohm and Voss Hamburg shipyard to replace the sunken Köln (German spellings changed around this time) and launched in October, 1916, but was not completed and taken into service until January, 1918.

She was a high-speed mover with a heavy punch. Her two sets of turbines and twin propellers could drive her along at nearly 30 knots, even when fully loaded with ammunition for her eight 5.9in and two 3.4in AA guns, torpedoes for her four deck tubes, and 200 mines. That is not to mention the weight of a large amount of 2.4in and 3.9in armour. Her crew numbered 559.

The Köln became part of the Second Scout Group, escorting U-boats through the swept channels of German minefields in Heligoland Bight. Sometimes she laid some of her own mines. Her chances of action against the British Fleet diminished as German naval mutinies spread, but she and the Second Scout Group remained loyal and stayed at sea, awaiting orders.

Those orders, when they finally came, were to join not battle but the Internment Fleet. Leaky condensers meant that she finally limped into Scapa Flow behind the rest of the German Fleet.

However, she nearly did sink one British warship. A destroyer went alongside to try to stop her sinking and just missed being taken down by the Köln as she rolled over for her final plunge.


Divernet
Divernet







TIDES: The Koln can be dived at any state of the tide.

GETTING THERE: Ferries to the Orkney Islands run from Scrabster, Invergordon and Aberdeen. The longer ferry routes cost more, but they have the advantage of shorter road journeys. The Scrabster-to-Stromness ferry is accustomed to divers and has a system for carrying dive gear for foot passengers, so you can easily leave your car on the mainland. Coaches from Inverness to Scrabster are scheduled to fit in with the ferry sailings. It is also possible to fly into Kirkwall.

DIVING AND AIR: Most diving in Scapa Flow is from large hardboats, many offering liveaboard floating bunk room accommodation. Boats are generally based in Stromness, but may tie up overnight at other harbours. Air is provided by on-board compressors. Nitrox can be mixed on-board most boats for an extra charge. Air, weights and cylinders are usually included in the price, so travelling light to the Orkney Islands and using the boats equipment is always an option. Try Jean Elaine, the skipper of which, Andy Cuthbertson, lent a hand with this Wreck Tour (01856 850879) or check out the Classified Ads section of this issue for the many other options available.

LAUNCHING: If you want to ferry your own boat across, there are a number of small slips in Scapa Flow. The nearest to the Koln is at Houton. Scapa Flow is a working harbour and you will need to arrange permission to dive in advance with the Harbourmaster.

ACCOMMODATION: Sleep on board the boat, or stay ashore in a local hotel or B&B. There is a camp site in Stromness, but camping in the Orkney climate is not recommended. Contact Orkney Islands Tourist Board on 01856 872856, website: www.orknet.co.uk

QUALIFICATIONS: Scapa Flow is best suited to experienced sport divers and above who are capable of doing some decompression . Nitrox can be an advantage to get the most out of this wreck.

FURTHER INFORMATION: Admiralty Chart 35, Scapa Flow and Approaches. Ordnance Survey Map 6, Orkney - Mainland, Ordnance Survey Map 7, Orkney - Southern Isles. Dive Scapa Flow, Rod Macdonald. The Wrecks of Scapa Flow, David M Ferguson. The Naval Wrecks of Scapa Flow, Peter L Smith. Shipwreck Index of the British Isles Vol 4, Scotland, by Richard and Bridget Larn.

PROS: A reasonably intact warship that can be dived at any state of the tide.

CONS: Scapa Flow is a long way to travel for most UK divers.
Thanks to Matt Wood, Andy Cuthbertson and many members of Tunbridge Wells BSAC.