Was the Royal Navy justified in opening fire on German sailors at Scapa Flow?

Was the Royal Navy justifed in opening fire

  • Yes, it was an act of war

    Votes: 1 12.5%
  • No, they where re-surrendering

    Votes: 2 25.0%
  • Tensions were running high, whislt not justifiable are understandable

    Votes: 3 37.5%
  • They thought the Germans where trying to give back EoR's Scheisse Porn collection

    Votes: 2 25.0%

  • Total voters
    8

Lawnmowerman

Ad Honorem
Mar 2010
9,842
In 1919, 7 months after the armistice the German Navy imprisoned at Scapa Flow scuttled its ships rather than handing them over to the British.

This was in direct violation of the armistice, which stated that the German Fleet was not to be destroyed.

When the Germans scuttled their ships they ran up the Imperial ensign (Forbidden also under the Armistice, but already ignored once on the anniversary of the Battle of Jutland) boarded their life boats and made either for land or towards the British ships coming to prevent the ships from sinking.

At some point the British opened fire on the Germans in their life boats despite them being unarmed and waving white flags, killing 9. The last true casualties of WWI, as the treaty of Versailles was signed 7 days later formally ending the war.

Where the British justified in opening fire on the Germans??

Technically they had just broken the armistice and committed an act of war. However they weren't behaving hostile towards the British and were re-surrendering(?)

I can't find any exact details as to how the shooting started, does anyone know more???



Sinking of the German Fleet – Scapa Flow on Saturday 21 June 1919 by Bernard Finnigan who was present at the event.
 
Dec 2011
1,304
The commander in chief of the German fleet, Ludwig von Reuter, wrote a book about the events surrounding the scuttling of the Kaiserliche Marine. He writes that the British didn't immediately realize what happened and when they saw the sailors leaving their ships, they opened fire. The Royal Navy was "frantically" trying to shoot the German sailors but in their frenzy they were overwhelmed by the rapidly growing number of boats detaching from the ships so that they "didn't know which boat to shoot first". He concludes that thanks to this frenzy, only a small number of German casualties were to mourn. He goes on to describe how the German sailors were picked up by the British and that they received "considering treatment". However, suddenly, at one point, they started to treat the Germans badly and while he does not discuss the reason for it, he seems to blame the British government.

Reuter claims he didn't know that the armistice following the ceasefire was prolonged and that he thought scuttling the ships was a rightful act of war, because the English admiralty didn't inform him about the updated conditions of the armistice. Obviously, he wasn't happy about the deaths of his sailors, but his work does not give one the impression that it did concern him that much, either. Also, he is more concerned with justifying his actions and defending himself against charges of war crimes for the scuttling, than with charging the British for what they had done. Well, at least this is my impression from skimming over much and reading a few pages.

My personal opinion is that they shouldn't have killed German soldiers, unarmed and raising white flags. However, I think all of the soldiers participating were aware that they would commit an act of war that would potentially result in them being killed. I don't think the British should have been charged with any criminal offense. Reuter himself had the British ship off some soldiers he deemed not fit for this last act of patriotism.
 
Last edited:

pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
9,775
there is no doubt the Rueter knew that his actions were in direct contravention of the armistice terms and that he tried to magnify british actions as "atrocities"

9 killed out of 1,783. suggest any shooting was widespread or systematic.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scuttling_of_the_German_fleet_in_Scapa_Flow
"Nine Germans were shot and killed and about sixteen wounded aboard their lifeboats rowing towards land.[28]

During the afternoon, 1,774 Germans were picked up and transported by battleships of the First Battle Squadron to Invergorden."

seems from this one that the firing was confusion a number of incidents, did involve shooting lifeboats.


https://books.google.com.au/books?id=t7m8BQAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
 

johnincornwall

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
7,864
Cornwall
Justified to who?

And was who justified - 'the navy', an officer who made a mistake, one man on a gun or who? Your text suggests it was just someone panicking so does that mean the whole British Navy needs to be justified to somebody? Either God or yourself?

I don't understnd such threads, which suggest a wholesale lack of understanding of the context of a World War.
 

pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
9,775
there were a number of instances which all cannot be lumped together. yu would need a far better picture of events. from snippets I've read one german for example was cutting a tow cable, others attempting to stop the British from stopping the scuttling,other case firing on lifeboats, from all accounts there was extreme confusion. what were the orders, on whose authority was the firing? what there any warning issued? the British did rescue the vast bulk of the German sailors.

any judgement is pretty arbitrary without a lot more information.
 
Dec 2011
1,304
there were a number of instances which all cannot be lumped together. yu would need a far better picture of events. from snippets I've read one german for example was cutting a tow cable, others attempting to stop the British from stopping the scuttling,other case firing on lifeboats, from all accounts there was extreme confusion. what were the orders, on whose authority was the firing? what there any warning issued? the British did rescue the vast bulk of the German sailors.

any judgement is pretty arbitrary without a lot more information.
Well, that is why the OP explicitly asks "I can't find any exact details as to how the shooting started, does anyone know more???". You could, for example, tell us the author of the text where you found that a German cut a cable.
 

pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
9,775
yeah I should have put the link when I found it but everything I found was very short of any real context and fragmentary. i did not because it was not very informative. mentions a german attempting to cut tow cable with knife but without context says very little. the german fleet was breaking it's parole, there was some showing 9 died but the vast majority were indeed rescued by the British.
 

Peter Graham

Ad Honorem
Jan 2014
2,671
Westmorland
I don't understnd such threads, which suggest a wholesale lack of understanding of the context of a World War.
Quite. These sorts of threads are all too often phrased in a way which often dictates the response. The question posited is often beset with unwarranted assumptions and simplistic notions of good guys and bad guys. Very often, they are designed to serve the hidden (or not so hidden) agenda of the OP.

This one, in all fairness, is not as bad as most, but there is still an implicit assumption that the RN ordered the shooting. Did they? Also, what are the 'rules' when someone breaks the terms of an armistice. Are all bets off?