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Presenting this Kaiserliche Marine wet-card magnetic compass, salvaged from Scapa Flow. The auxiliary compass was used as a standard magnetic or back-up to the main ship’s compass. In Germany, Hermann Anschütz-Kaempfe invented the first usable gyrocompass in 1906. After successful tests, the Imperial German Navy adopted it two years later. By WW1 all the ships in the Kaiserliche Marine were using the gyrocompass, but still carried an auxiliary compass. This compass was salvaged by local Orcadian (someone born and bred in the Orkney Isles) diver in the 1970’s as a genuine German ships auxiliary compass (see below).

I have rated this compass as a ‘Historical Relic’. It has been sympathetically given new retainer screws and a display box has been specially made in the period correct fashion. A small, brass information plate subtly furnishes the bottom panel.

'Scapa Flow
At the outbreak of World War I defences were put in place to guard the Grand Fleet in its new home at Scala Flow. It was from this well guarded naval base that the Grand Fleet sailed in May 1916 to engage in battle with the German High Seas Fleet at the Battle of Jutland. Old merchant ships were also sunk as blockships to prevent access through the channels my enemy vessels.

On 21 June 1919, under the mistaken belief that peace talks had failed, Rear Admiral Ludwig von Reuter gave the command to scuttle the entire fleet in the Flow. A total of 52 ships went to the seafloor and this remains the greatest loss of shipping ever recorded in a single day. 

During the 1920s and 1930s the majority of the scuttled ships of the German High Seas Fleet were raised. It was one of the largest maritime salvage operations in history. Of the 52 ships that sank, only 7 remain (Battleships and Light Cruisers) beneath the waters of Scapa Flow today. This ships auxiliary compass belongs to one of these last remaining seven German ships:

SMS Dresden Wreck
SMS Cöln Wreck
SMS Karlsruhe Wreck
SMS Brummer Wreck
SMS Kronprinz Wilhelm Wreck
SMS Markgraf Wreck
SMS König Wreck


'Salvage Diving & Provenance'
Salvage had been in operation since the scuttled vessels were first sunk. The interest for amateur divers, and the like, took off in earnest in the 1960’s and 70’s. This ships compass was salvaged by a local diver from Orkney, who my own father met personally, in the early 1970’s. Since then the interest for divers, from around the UK and wider afield, has been a phenomenon. The compass came in to my hands some years back and is now seeking a new home.

The compass is in fair condition considering its life sunk under the waters of Scapa Flow since WW1. The main housing is sound overall with much of the original blackened paint still evident (it’s worth remember that many of these types of compasses were taken from civilian or fishing boast of the time and used a standard magentic/back-up to the newer gyro-compasses). It’s missing its outer gimbal hoop and the original housing screws have been replaced. The front glass has been lost and suffice to say there is no liquid in it. This is a ‘wet card’ compass and the resulting lost of liquid and sea water over many decades has meant the round compass card has lot most of its outer printed layer, where the degrees and other information would have been displayed. Given all of aforementioned I rate the compass as a ‘Historical Relic’ for display purposes.

Please the images as they form part of the description and condition.

A wonderful piece of WW1 Maritime history that has an incredible story to tell.

Material: Brass and wet card plate
Housing diameter: 23cm
Era: Late Victorian/Early Edwardian

Stamps: None

Scapa Flow salvaged German ship's auxiliary compass, circa. WW1