WRECKTOUR:122 The Karlsruhe
Appeared in DIVER March 2009
Warming up to dive the Scapa Flow wrecks in Orkney? There are few better wrecks for that purpose than this, the shallowest of the WW1 German cruisers, says John Liddiard. Illustration by Max Ellis
WHEN DECIDING WHICH OF THE SCAPA FLOW wrecks to feature in this year’s Wreck Tours, I had only a small choice left to present – the WW1 Grand Fleet cruiser Karlsruhe, or the WW2 escort boat F2.
In the end, I decided to finish off the set of cruisers, so this month’s tour is the SMS Karlsruhe, at 26m to the seabed a few metres shallower than the other cruisers, a popular warm-up dive and convenient as a second dive after one of the deeper wrecks.
The Karlsruhe is more broken than the other cruisers, but this is one of its charms. Many details hidden deep inside the others are on open view on the Karlsruhe.
As on all the Scapa wrecks, a buoy is permanently attached. On the Karlsruhe it’s attached to the forward of a pair of heavy derricks (1) on the port side, just forward of amidships at a mere 14m. Below this, the corresponding starboard davits have fallen loose to the seabed (2) amid a substantial ladder and a mast at 26m.
The way forward is with the deck at your left shoulder. Masts have also fallen to
the seabed, then a large section of teak-planked decking has slipped out slightly as the hull has collapsed (3).
This isn’t that important a part of the wreck in itself, but it marks the point at which to start looking for the helm binnacle (4), a cone-shaped section that is half-buried in the seabed, between the deck section we have just passed and the armoured conning tower (5).
This latter feature is unmissable, a heavy steel cylinder a few metres in diameter
and height, with smaller rings on top to protect the captain during battle as he commanded the ship.
Staying on the seabed, our tour is now at the long, tapered bow of the cruiser. Two 5.9in gun turrets (6) have remained loosely connected to their bases, turret shafts and the surrounding deck, while the deck has collapsed. This pair would originally have been side by side, perhaps slightly offset so that they could both fire over the same side of the ship at the same time.
As on the other Scapa Flow cruisers, the backs of the turrets are open, revealing details of the breach and elevation mechanisms of the guns.
The way the deck has folded becomes more apparent a little further forward, where a pair of anchor capstans (7) lie almost one above the other with their own fragments of teak-clad deck, where they would originally have been side by side.
From the capstans, anchor-chain dangles slackly before disappearing down the hawse-pipes, with pairs of big mooring bollards to either side (8).
The bow itself is surprising, in that the hull-plates have rotted away to leave just
a skeleton of the bow (9), prime real estate for some big plumose anemones where the almost negligible current builds around the end of the wreck.
Now heading aft, back past the boat davits, a plate with an oval hatch (10) marks an area that would have once been unarmoured superstructure, now mostly decayed.
Our route now crosses another big section of teak-planked deck, before arriving at a scattered pile of coal (11).
A look at photographs of the Karlsruhe reveals that there were once more guns
in this area, but the most I could find was one of the shafts (12) that would have supported a gun down to the keel of the ship.
Just below this are some of the features of the Karlsruhe that would have been well inside any of the other wrecks – a kitchen range (13) and a metal storage cupboard.
The wreckage here takes a dip where the hull has been blown open for salvage, but the route aft is easy to follow by continuing along the edge of the wreckage. Now on the stern deck, another gun turret (14) has fallen to the seabed to rest on one side, the gun barrel almost obscured by silt.
More teak-planked decking leads the way aft to a single capstan for a kedge anchor (15).
To either side of the deck are pairs of bollards (16), then pairs of semi-circular cut-outs (17), each a little less than 1m across. I have yet to identify their purpose – it could be as sophisticated as mine-laying, or as simple as where toilet shacks hung over the stern. I would love to know for sure. There is nothing comparable on the other cruiser wrecks, but the Karlsruhe is a different generation of cruiser.
Right at the stern is a single hawse-pipe for a kedge anchor (18).
Rounding the stern and staying close to the seabed, the rudder has broken loose and rests on the seabed (19).
In doing so, it has opened a hole in the hull through which can be seen the top of the rudder-shaft and the huge rams of the steering engine.
Staying on the hull, the starboard propeller-shaft and A-frame (20) lead the way forwards, disappearing only momentarily before we get to the salvage hole. The salvors were after non-ferrous metals, but in the case of the Karlsruhe were not particularly efficient, as several sections of broken turbine ring (21) rest among the debris at the aft end of this hole. Looking forward, boilers (22) can be seen beneath the hull.
The dive could end here with the launch of a delayed SMB, but the port side of the hull is only 14m deep, and is easy to follow back to the buoyline (23).
With a dive computer that calculates deep stops, a couple of minutes at 14m may actually be compulsory.
Thanks to Andy Cuthbertson, Kieran Hatton, Kevin Heath, and various divers from Swansea and Leeds.
|SCUTTLED AT SCAPA
THE KARLSRUHE, light cruiser. BUILT 1916, SUNK 1918
THE KARLSRUHE WAS LAUNCHED at the Kaiserliches yards in Wilhelmshaven on 31 January, 1916. She was one of three light cruisers to replace losses that the German Navy had suffered in World War One, writes Kendall McDonald.