Scapa by James Miller

Britain’s Famous Wartime Naval Base

Birlinn, 2000, 191 p.

 Scapa cover

As its subtitle implies this is a short history of the use of Scapa Flow in Orkney as a base for British naval operations. These had marginal beginnings in the Napoleonic Wars but the emergence of Germany as a potential enemy and a threat to North Sea and Atlantic shipping during the run up to the Great War led to proposals for the main British fleet to be stationed there. The outbreak of war saw these brought to fruition and Scapa and Orkney quickly became a home to thousands of men – and in World War 2 many women, who on their nights out were apparently strictly chaperoned. The locals were also in great demand for dances and such. Unlike in the rest of the UK in wartime food was reasonably plentiful on Orkney due to its fertility. Eggs were in good supply and there was never a shortage of mutton!

The book is replete with photographs, with a readily accessible text. The caption to a photo of the men of the Ness Battery in front of a hut mentions the strap designed to hold the hut down during strong winds.

The main incidents are all here; the HMS Vanguard explosion, the loss of HMS Hampshire, the collision of HMS Opal and HMS Narborough, the internment of the German High Seas Fleet in 1918, its Grand Scuttle in 1919, the sinking of HMS Royal Oak, the building of the Churchill Barriers and the Italian Chapel. A quick, easy history of the UK naval presence in Orkney.

Pedant’s corner:- fiand (find – all five instances of this word in this book were spelled in that odd way,) Grand Fleet commander Admiral Sir George Callaghan (is referred to thereafter as Cunningham,) stripped the ships off anything of use (stripped the ships of anything of use.)

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