Last fall I took a trip to the Orkney Islands in Scotland. In preparation, I took this book off the shelf.
I inherited it from a late friend of mine who had a keen interest in naval history and World War One history.
He tried three times to make it to the Scapa Flow Museum. Once he got no closer than London due to a missed flight. Another time he made it to the ferry port on the mainland, but the ferry wasn’t running. Another time, he made it to the museum – only to find it closed for remodeling.
I didn’t do much better. It was closed when I was there too.
This book, published by the respected Naval Institute Press, is still well thought of by historians. You can still find it in places in the Orkneys. It was in The Orcadian Bookshop in Kirkwall, and I believe I saw copies at the Stromness Museum when I nipped in for an all too short look at some of the artifacts from the Grand Scuttle.
Review: The Grand Scuttle: The Sinking of the German Fleet at Scapa Flow in 1919, Dan van der Vat, 1986.
The scuttling of the German Fleet on June 21, 1919 sank more marine tonnage in a single day than any time before or since.
Van der Vat’s book looks at the German High Seas Fleet from its beginning as a notion in the head of Captain Alfred von Tirpitz to its voyage to outer space.
Some parts of that story are relatively well known.
Histories of the war’s beginning often talk about the Anglo-German naval arms race as a cause of World War One, and van der Vat places too much emphasis on it. Germany lost that arms race by late 1912, and both sides knew it. But he does show it was a definite cause in the souring German-British relations before the war.
Certainly, German naval actions in skirmishes in the North Sea and, of course, the Battle of Jutland have gotten wide coverage.
Likewise, the actual scuttling of the fleet on the summer solstice has certainly been covered elsewhere. The nine German sailors who died that day – half shot in lifeboats as they left their sinking ships – are the symbolic last German casualties of the war.
Where the book shines is in its coverage of the fleet between the Nov. 11, 1918 Armistice and the scuttling and the fate of the fleet after the scuttling. Continue reading