Friday, 1 January 2010

Amongst Sunken Ships

We did manage a couple of paddles during our week in Orkney. We enjoyed an unusual paddle around Lamb Holm and Glimps Holm, which took us up the line of Churchill Barrier Number 2 linking Lamb Holm with Mainland. It was a slightly strange experience paddling amongst the remains of the blockships which were sunk in this channel before the Barriers were built to deter a repeat of the incident in which Kapt Lt Gunter Prien entered Scapa Flow and torpedoed the battleship HMS Royal Oak at anchor in 1939. She went down with the loss of over 800 lives. The feat of seamanship by Prien in entering, pressing home his attack and then evading the hunting Royal Navy vessels shook the Admiralty, but drew private admiration despite the terrible loss of life.

Prior to the building of the Barriers, additional blockships were sunk in the channels between the islands surrounding Scapa Flow. It's quite a unique experience to paddle among the sunken remains; you can easily identify boilers, deck machinery and superstructure in the clear water.

The Churchill Barriers were built largely by Italian POW's who were accommodated on Lamb Holm. The Geneva Convention forbids the using of POW's for work on warlike projects, so roads were placed on top of the Barriers. These links are now a vital part of the Orkney infrastucture. The Italian men built a chapel nearby. This moving abd poignant building housed in a former Nissen Hut was decorated by the men using scraps and papoer mache; the images and icons within it evoking images of Italy. Today it's a popular stop for tourist buses. We were fortunate to see it at a quiet time, in the company - somewhat fittingly- of a German couple and two young Italians.

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