The F2 was a German World War Two experiment, and ended up scuttled in Scapa Flow in mysterious circumstances. JOHN LIDDIARD conducts the tour, assisted by ace wreck illustrator MAX ELLIS
WE HAVE PUBLISHED WRECK TOURS of nearly all the popular wrecks in Scapa Flow – with one exception, the Geleitboot or escort boat F2, similar to a Royal Navy corvette. The F2 was not part of the World War One German Grand Fleet, but a later addition to the wrecks following WW2. Located in water just 16-18m deep, it makes a great second dive, and can be enjoyed by those with only entry-level qualifications.
As with all the main Scapa Flow wrecks, local skippers keep a buoy on the F2, in this case tied to the bow (1). The F2 has fallen with the starboard side uppermost, and the starboard anchor-chain snakes out from the hawse pipe across the hull, and then dangles over the stem to the sand below.
Rather than moving on straight away after descending, it is also worth having a quick look beneath the bow, where a small cylinder (2) hangs on a chain.
The first time I saw this, I thought it was part of some oceanographic data-collection experiment, but it is actually a memorial. The inscription reads: “In memory of Lesley Clarke. 19th Jan 1959 to 9th Aug 2006. This capsule was placed here by her dive buddies.”
Moving aft, the deck is intact, and pretty much vertical. The starboard anchor-chain is hooked over a pair of small bollards on the upper side of the deck, then wrapped over the starboard capstan (3).
Below this, the port chain dangles over its capstan to a neat pile on the seabed.
Behind the capstans, a few deck-plates have fallen away, providing a view inside the bow – and also some light should you feel like venturing inside, though the easiest point of access is a little further aft, where the wreck is broken open.
An angled spray-deflector (4) spans the deck before we come to the forward gun (5). Like many small warship guns, the turret has an open back, so it is easy to see details of the breech and controls.
Aft of the gun would have been the wheelhouse, but the wreck is now considerably more broken, as the superstructure has been cut away with explosives, destroying much of the deck and hull in the process – a casualty of the salvage operations carried out.
Nevertheless, as noted earlier, this does provide a means of access for those who would like to look further inside the bow.
As usual, take precautions not to get lost. Even in good visibility it is possible to stir up small particles of debris to the point at which the way out is obscured.
Among the devastation in this area is a tangled mass of electrical cables (6). Tucked in beneath other debris are cones of high-tension electrical insulation (7), maybe from a radio, sonar or radar system.
The main part of the wheelhouse (8) stands on one side as a big box just a few metres further out from the wreck. Looking inside, sections of cable and unidentifiable equipment casings poke out of the accumulated rust and detritus.
Staying on this side of the wreck and following the seabed aft, we come to a round section from the mast (9), then, a little further out, a much larger section from the funnel (10).
Visibility is usually good enough to keep you in visual contact with the main body of the wreck, so there is no risk of getting lost.
A little further aft, also fallen clear of the main body of the wreck, is a big chunk of machinery (11) that may have been used in handling cables. We will come to another part of this later that makes it easier to visualise the whole assembly.
Back in on the main body of the wreck, a pair of boat-derricks (12) have fallen nicely in formation. Wreckage aft from here looks as if the hull has been tipped completely over in the process of its destruction. A small strip of keel (13) sticks out with the rounded square guide for one of the F2’s two propeller-shafts.
A boxy section of hull marks the transom stern (14), skewed slightly out of line with the main body of the wreck.
Rounding the stern, a large broken cog with a contortion of levered machinery is the steering mechanism (15), and out from this is the single rudder (16).
Nearby, a truncated pyramid standing just off the stern is actually a concrete mooring block, and nothing to do with the wreckage. Perhaps it was laid during the salvage operations, because the buoys set by local dive boats are always tied in to the wreck itself.
Now heading forward again, along the keel side of the wreck (taking that orientation from the bow), an A-frame from one of the propeller-shafts sticks out above the general wreckage (17), with a section of shaft and the plain collar of a bearing running along the seabed.
On top of the wreck, a large and obvious section of keel- and hull-plates (18) lies twisted well out of line with it, possibly shifted during the salvage of the turbines.
Next to this is a coil of steel cable. This is the part of the F2 where the steam turbines would have been located. The many non-ferrous turbine blades here would have been the first items salvaged, so no surprise that so much damage has been done.
We then come to a block of tightly packed tubes. This is the core of a high-pressure water-tube boiler (19), similar to that fitted to the German minesweeper wrecks M343 and M483 off the Channel Islands (Wreck Tours 85 and 115). I suspect that a second boiler is holding up the large pile of wreckage between this boiler and the break from the bow section.
Scattered in the saddle of debris by the break are arrays of finned boxes (20), cooling for electrical equipment.
We have seen everything on the wreck, but our tour is not over. A rope (21) leads out from the keel of the wreck to the west.
Following this, we come to another large section of machinery (22) enclosing huge wheels and pulleys. It is very similar to the part noted earlier (11) and is either the other end of a machine broken in two, or another machine of similar purpose.
In 1939, before WW2 began, the F2 was converted to an experimental torpedo recovery ship. This would have required a means of locating and recovering test torpedoes, probably involving trawls and cables. Perhaps this machinery is part of the cable torpedo-recovery equipment.
Continuing along the rope (23), about 50m from the F2 are the remains of the 500-ton wooden salvage barge YC21, which foundered in a storm in November 1968 with parts of the F2 in its hold, including a 20mm anti-aircraft gun.
Divers could surface on delayed SMBs, but with easy to locate buoy-lines at the bow of the F2 and stern of the YC21, ascending one of the buoys is a convenient way to end the dive.
A BOTCHED JOB
F2, torpedo recovery vessel. BUILT 1936, SUNK 1946
Though she was built in 1936 in Kiel’s prestige yard of Germaniawerft, she never got a name. As an experimental warship, she was called simply F2, writes Kendall McDonald.
The first version looked very like a destroyer, but was described as a Geleitboot, or escort vessel. She was then of 790 tons, 249ft long, with a beam of 29ft and a draught of 11ft.
But no one seemed pleased with the experiment. F2 was a poor seaboat, and her high-pressure boilers gave great problems. So they fiddled about with her.
F2 was at first equipped with four 37mm and four 20mm AA guns. She had two larger guns of 4.1in, one in a single open-back turret at her bow and one similarly mounted at the stern.
None of her crew of 121 officers and men seem to have liked her, but they did admire her 28-knot speed, derived from twin turbines with two propellers each.
Fiddling with the boat took up the years before the start of WW2, and she finally went to war lengthened to 263ft and with weight reduced to 756 tons. By then she had become a torpedo recovery vessel, and the German Navy reduced her armament by the four 37mm AA guns.
What she actually did during the war seems generally unrecorded. She surrendered to the Royal Navy in 1945, arrived at Scapa Flow in February 1946, and there is a complete mystery about her sinking at her mooring in Gutter Sound on 30 December of that year.
This sinking is unlikely to have been deliberate, as there were no German crew on board. There is no mention of it in any Admiralty or local records, nor was there any attempt to raise her until salvage started in 1968.
The wreck had been bought by Metreck Company Engineering, which started blasting for metal recovery.
HOW TO FIND IT: GPS co-ordinates are 58 50.70N 003 11.59W (degrees, minutes and decimals), with bow to the south-west. The wreck of the barge YC21 lies to the west of the F2, and both have buoys attached. There is also a large channel-navigation buoy just east of the wrecks.
TIDES: The F2 can be dived at any state of the tide.
DIVING & AIR: Most diving in Scapa Flow is from large hardboats, many offering liveaboard “floating bunk-room” accommodation. Boats are generally based in Stromness, but may tie up overnight at other harbours. Air is provided by onboard compressors. Nitrox can be mixed aboard most boats for an extra charge. Air, weights and cylinders are usually included in the price, so travelling light and using the boat's equipment is an option. Scapa Flow Charters operates the boats Jean Elaine and Sharon Rose, 01856 850879.
ACCOMMODATION: Sleep on board the boat, or stay ashore in a local hotel or B&B. There is a camp site in Stromness, but camping in the Orkney climate is not recommended. Orkney Islands tourist board, 01856 872856.
QUALIFICATIONS: An easy dive for those with entry-level qualifications.
LAUNCHING: If you want to ferry your own boat across, there are a number of small slips in Scapa Flow. The nearest to the F2 is at Houton. Scapa Flow is a working harbour, so you need to arrange permission to dive in advance with the harbourmaster.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Admiralty Chart 35, Scapa Flow & Approaches. Ordnance Survey Map 6, Orkney: Mainland, Ordnance Survey Map 7, Orkney: Southern Isles. Dive Scapa Flow, by Rod Macdonald. The Wrecks of Scapa Flow, by David M Ferguson. The Naval Wrecks of Scapa Flow, by Peter L Smith. The Wrecks of Scapa Flow, by Lawson Wood.
PROS: An interesting contrast to the older design of Grand Fleet wrecks. Convenient
for stopping off at the Lyness Museum.
CONS: Can be crowded if there is more than one boat-load of divers on the wreck.
DEPTH RANGE: -20m
Thanks to Andy Cuthbertson, Kevin Heath, and various divers from Swansea and Leeds.
Appeared in DIVER March 2010