The Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership Scheme

The British Grand Fleet

Scapa Flow was plunged into the centre of the global stage on 4 August 1914 with the outbreak of war with Germany. The Royal Navy was of paramount importance to the war effort with four principle responsibilities namely; to ensure that British merchant ships had free passage to keep Great Britain supplied, to bring steady economic pressure on the enemy, to assist and defend army expeditionary forces and finally to prevent invasion of the UK.  To achieve these aims, a watching policy was put in place where the home ports of the German Navy were kept under observation and the exits from the North Sea into the Atlantic were patrolled.  This policy would effectively blockade Germany, restricting the movement of her fleet as well as inhibiting her sea trade. 

To maintain the blockades, the British divided their Home Fleet into two Battle Fleets.  The Channel Fleet guarded and operated in the English Channel and the Grand Fleet covered the North Sea basing itself at Scapa Flow.  Smaller cruiser squadrons carried out patrols and offensive sweeps between the two fleets and could call on the larger force if they were engaged by the German High Seas Fleet.  Admiral Sir John Jellicoe was appointed Commander in Chief of in August 1914 and was said to be the only man on either side who could lose ‘the Great War’ in an afternoon, such was the critical value of the Royal Navy.

As the main anchorage for the 150 warships of the Grand Fleet, Scapa Flow was a hub of activity throughout WWI. Ships came and went as they maintained the blockade on Germany.  The Grand Fleet would often put to sea in reaction to German Fleet movements or to carry out offensive operations of their own.  They also carried out patrols across the North Sea in support of the Cruiser Squadrons in an effort to lure out the German High Seas Fleet and engage them in battle.  However, it wasn’t until the end of May 1916 that Admiral Jellicoe got the opportunity to set his fleet against the massed strength of the German Hochseeflotte (High Seas Fleet) in the largest battleship action in history, the Battle of Jutland.