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Armistice and Archaeology at Sea

"Armistice and Archaeology at Sea", by Aidan Dodson FSA

Derfflinger Sinking

Image: The Derfflinger sinking. Public Domain via Naval History and Heritage Command.

The First World War was ended by the Armistice with Germany on 11 November 1918. Among its terms were a number dealing with the German navy, requiring the immediate surrender of the huge submarine fleet that had so nearly brought Britain to her knees, and the internment of the cream of the German High Seas fleet. Over the next few months, the Allies squabbled among themselves while drafting the peace terms to be dictated to the Germans in the Treaty of Versailles, over the fate of these vessels and others left (for the time being) in German waters. Should they be added to Allied fleets? Should some or all be destroyed?

This was partially resolved when the interned part of the German surface navy was scuttled at Scapa Flow in the Orkneys on the eve of the Versailles signature. Further wrecks in British waters were created as ex-German ships and submarines were sunk as targets or foundered/were wrecked in tow to shipbreakers or other Allied countries.

These events are often little regarded among the much bigger international events that derived from the 1918/20 peace-making, but are important for the light they shed on the varying points of view taken by the individual Allied powers. Accordingly, this lecture is in part intended to shed more light on the diplomatic maneuverings of the period.

This lecture will look at the contribution of the events to maritime archaeology, by the creation of a large number of wrecks in relatively shallow water, which have moved over the past century from mere heaps of scrap metal to protected heritage assets and leisure resources. This will be explored through a number of case-studies, covering a range of both vessel-types and fates, and also how the examination of survivors has contributed to our understanding of German naval vessels of the era.


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