Swimming Around the Churchill Barriers – Orkney


A swim filled with reflection and emotion thinking back on the two world wars.

When visiting Orkney, the Churchill Barriers are a must to explore from the water. They were high on my list, but little did I think of the emotional impact swimming around the ‘sacrificed ships’ would have on me.

I was asking myself so many questions whilst in the water – like the sadness of the sacrificed boats and the lives of people protected by the boats and the barriers.

During World War 1 strong defences were put in place throughout Scapa Flow to protect the British ships against attack. Anti-submarine netting was suspended across some of the larger channels into the Flow. Blockships were deliberately sunk in the smaller channels to further prevent the possibility of the Germans gaining access to Scapa Flow.

On 14 October 1939, the Royal Navy battleship HMS Royal Oak was sunk at her moorings within the natural harbour of Scapa Flow by the German Submarine u-47 under the command of  Gunter Prien. U-47 had entered Scapa Flow through Holm Sound, one of several eastern entrances to Scapa Flow. The eastern passages were protected by measures including sunken block ships, booms and anti-submarine nets, but U-47 entered at night at high tide by navigating between the block ships.

To prevent further attacks, the First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill  ordered the construction of permanent barriers. Work began in May 1940 and the barriers were completed in September 1944 but were not officially opened until 12 May 1945, four days after Victory in Europe Day.

The Churchill Barriers are four causeways in the Orkney  islands with a total length of 2.3 kilometres (1.4 mi). They link the Orkney Mainland  in the north to the island of  South Ronaldsay via  Burray and the two smaller islands of Lamb Holm  and Glimps Holm.

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