Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Operation ZZ: Dramatic Conclusion to the War at Sea

HMS Cardiff Leading the German Fleet to the Firth of Forth

After tense negotiation, Germany had agreed to deliver its fleet — into the hands of the Allies. The delivery was to be made 10 days after the Armistice of Compiegne.

Operation ZZ , as it was designated, was executed on 21 November 1918.  Two days earlier nine German battleships, five battlecruisers, seven cruisers and 50 destroyers had set sail, heading west. Under the terms of the Armistice which had ended the war they were to hand themselves over in the Firth of Forth, before being brought to the lonely Orkney anchorage of Scapa Flow.

After four years of conflict and the battles of Dogger Bank and Jutland, the undefeated Imperial German Navy steamed into the Firth of Forth to surrender. Accompanied by American and French ships, the British Grand Fleet, including 33 battleships and 90,000 men were assembled in what must have been a once-in-a-life-time scene:

High Seas Fleet Approaching

This letter is dated 22 November 1918 and written from the battleship HMS Hercules. It describes the surrender of the German High Seas Fleet at the very end of the First World War, 1914–1918.

When I went on deck, the German fleet was steaming down between our two fleets, in an opposite direction, led by one of our light cruisers, the Cardiff. Each British fleet was about 3 miles distant from the Germans. After we had passed them, the two British fleets did a magnificent 16 points turning movement and steamed down the German line, closing in on them at the same time, and so they were escorted into the Forth. . .

The scene is impossible of description.
T. Smith

This grand turning movement was part victory parade and part warning demonstration against the futility of continuing hostilities. It was concluded with the German fleet being entirely surrounded. Not simply grandiose, the manoeuvre was designed to overawe the German seamen, for Smith makes it plain, "The fleet was never in more readiness for action, for we never trusted them at any time."

A Triumphant Moment
Admiral David Beatty (RN), Admiral Hugh Rodman (USN), King George V (RN Officer),
the Prince of Wales, Admiral William Sims (USN)

At day's end,  Rear Admiral W S Chalmers observed:

So at dusk as the sky reddened over the Scottish hills, the buglers of the British fleet sounded the call 'Sunset', the ensigns of the Imperial German Navy fluttered slowly down for the last time. And darkness closed like a curtain on the final act of this mighty drama at sea.

Sources: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich; BBC Website


  1. A trip to Scapa Flow would be a most interesting dive to see the scuttled German fleet, of course it would mean we would need to sharpen our scuba and snorkeling skills.

  2. HUGH RODMAN Is he related in any way to Hilary Clinton?????????????

    1. That's Dennis Rodman, the Basketball Star/North Korean Goodwill Emissary...sorry I couldn't resist that. Actually in Hillary's case it is Rodam.

  3. Holts Tours ,based in the UK, used to run tours of Scapa Flow every few years. Sadly ,they have become part of Leger tours. It is uncertain whether their adventurous tours will continue

    1. Hey maybe Mike could put together a tour, figuring some other spots in the north to visit as well. I hear Kirkwood, which is just over the hill from Scapa Flow is a most interesting town, and during the War in fact a Prize Court convened there.

  4. I am informed that patches of oil can still be seen in the waters,