Orkney, United Kingdom

By Nigel Roddis

Flying over the lush, green islands of Orkney in Scotland, it is hard to imagine the area as an important naval base during the two World Wars. But a wide expanse of water south of Orkney mainland used to be just that.

An aereal view of part of the Orkney Islands, Scotland, May 3, 2014.The Orkney Islands North of the Scottish mainland was a major British Naval base during WWI and WWII. It was also the scene of the Grand Scuttle on June 21 1919 when 74 interned German battleships were scuttled on the orders of Rear Admiral Ludwig Von Reuter. REUTERS/Nigel Roddis

The area, known as Scapa Flow, has seen its fair share of bloodshed. It was also the scene of the “Grand Scuttle,” when more than 50 German warships were sunk at the orders of their own Rear Admiral.

This strange event came about after Germany, defeated in World War One, had 74 ships interned at Scapa Flow.

A view of the interned German fleet is seen in this handout picture provided by the Gibson family, taken in 1919, at Scapa Flow in Orkney, Scotland May 5, 2014. REUTERS/Nigel Roddis

On June 21, 1919, Rear Admiral Ludwig Von Reuter mistakenly thought that the Armistice had broken down. To prevent the British seizing his warships, he ordered them to be sunk, or “scuttled”.

Direct witnesses of the Grand Scuttle have now sadly died, but I managed to track down some of their relatives who still had tales to tell. One of them was Gary Gibson, whose mother Peggy was 10 years old when she saw the fleet go down.