Iceland Cruise 26 – Scapa Flow & Churchill Barriers, Orkney, Scotland

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Iceland Cruise March 2018 – The coach trip we choose to go on when we visited Orkney, included Scapa Flow and Churchill Barriers.  We travelled over all four causeways and had good views of the Scapa Flow straits.  These are a few photos I took on route, just to give the feel of the islands.

A little history……..The Churchill Barriers are a series of four causeways in Orkney, Scotland, with a total length of 1.5 miles (2.4 km).  They link the Mainland in the north to South Ronaldsay, via Burray, and the two smaller islands of Lamb Holm and Glimps Holm.  They were built in 1940 as naval defences following the sinking of The Royal Oak, but now serve as road links, carrying the A961 road from Kirkwall to Burwick.  Within a month of the sinking of the Royal Oak, Winston Churchill visited Orkney and ordered that work begin on the construction of four permanent barriers, to stop any further German U-Boat attacks.  Italian prisoners of war built the causeways and also the Italian Chapel, which I have posted about. The work began in May 1940 and was completed by September 1944.  The Churchill Barriers were formally opened by the first Lord of the Admiralty on 12th May 1945, four days after the end of World War II in Europe.  The lasting role of the Chruchill Barriers has not been as a defence for Scapa Flow, but as a series of causeways linking the five islands together.  The roads crossing them have been improved over the years and Barrier No 4, no longer looks artificial. Over the years dunes have accumulated on the eastern side to form a lovely sandy beach and as a result Burray and South Ronaldsay are no longer really separate islands.

In 1919 the German High Seas Fleet was brought to Scapa Flow after the German surrender.  A misunderstanding over the progress of the peace talks led the German commander, Admiral von Reuter, to believe that war was about to resume.  To avoid his fleet falling into British hands he ordered the scuttling of the 74 German battleships and other warships at anchor in Scapa Flow, on 21 June 1919.  Many of these were salvaged for scrap after the war, but others still remain on the sea bed as a magnet for divers…… the following photos show some of the rusting remains of the blockships.

With the help of Italian prisoners of war, the construction phase used bolsters – wire cages or baskets filled with broken rock and dropped into the water of the channels.  Most of this lies under the surface, with the topping and road surface built from dumped aggregate and concrete blocks.  In total, around 250,000 tons of stone rubble and 66,000 concrete blocks were used to build the barriers.  The next photo show how the blocks were used making the barriers/causeways.  I have added the information board and hopefully it is just about readable.  

4 Replies to “Iceland Cruise 26 – Scapa Flow & Churchill Barriers, Orkney, Scotland”

  1. It’s amazing that after 100 years there is that much left of the German ships. I guess the ocean isn’t as destructive as I thought. Interesting place. 🙂

    1. Yes Pat, that is a thought, but yes it it a very interesting place. It was strange for me to see what was left of the ships, very odd to see them just sticking up through the water 🙂

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