The Great Scuttle

Knowing I was heading to Scapa Flow and hearing of this book’s release, I pre-ordered a copy from Amazon prior to my trip.

It didn’t come. On first arriving in Kirkwall, I went to the local Orcadian Bookshop. Of course, they had a copy.

Review: The Great Scuttle: The End of the German High Seas Fleet, David Meare, 2019.

Lots of us have went on school field trips. I doubt any of those were as historic as the one the children of Stromness in the Orkney Islands took on June 21, 1919. From the deck of the Flying Kestrel, they saw more ships go to the bottom of the sea at one time than any day before or since.

There are, of course, other histories of that day. I reviewed one recently, Dan van der Vat’s The Grand Scuttle. Meara covers much the same ground as that book. We hear about the surrender of the German High Seas Fleet, its time in Scapa Flow, its scuttling, and the salvage efforts that raised much of it.

What Meara brings, besides the concision of 96 pages and lots of beautiful photographs and paintings, some in color, is the local angle all but ignored before now – what the Orcadians said about that day.

Meara’s uncle, Leslie Thorpe, was a thirteen-year-old schoolboy that day on the deck of the Flying Kestrel and wrote an account of it shortly afterwards. Meara also presents other local accounts. He’s a clever enough writer not to dump them en bloc into the book but provides the relevant quotes at the right time in the story.

The book includes an appendix with the fate of every ship in the captured German High Seas Fleet and a map showing where they all were at the time of the scuttling.

This book would serve as a good introduction to the history of the Great Scuttle. It should also appeal to those interested in the history of the Orkneys and World War One. As well as the usual pictures of ships, it has several pictures of artifacts retrieved from the sunken vessels as well as the landscape around Scapa Flow and Stromness.

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