H.M.S. Vanguard

July 9, 2020


Remembering The Fallen. Today's post is slightly different as this is following a special request.  It isn't very often we get to commemorate our fallen heroes from the Senior Service (Royal Navy for the benefit of those who don't know that's what they're often called in military circles) but on this occasion we are more than happy and proud to oblige. It is a sad fact that remembrance of our sailors isn't always about any one individual but quite often it will involve large numbers of individuals as it also remembers the loss of a ship that will have suffered many casualties. In addition, there will be no grave as those lost at sea will have gone down with their ship.



Today, we remember the crew of HMS Vanguard. On this day, 9 July 1917, she had been anchored in the northern part of Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands after spending most of the day practising abandon ship routines. At about 11:20pm she was torn apart by a huge explosion and sank immediately. Only three of her crew survived, one of whom died later. In total, 843 men were lost out of her total crew of 845. The explosion was due to the detonation of cordite charges. At that time it was normal practice to carry these separately from the ammunition which would need to be loaded into the gun after the round. This would then propel it through the barrel once the gun has been fired. As demonstrated here, this was a highly dangerous practice. Modern warships do not have this issue, being fully automatic and with a fully enclosed round eliminates the need to carry a separate charge, although there is still a risk as it is still live ammunition.

A subsequent Board of Inquiry into HMS Vanguard's loss heard many eyewitness accounts from crew members onboard nearby ships. It concluded that the detonation of the cordite charges was the cause but why the explosion happened in the first place was not clear. Similarly, as she sank so quickly, it became clear many of her watertight doors which should have been closed had been left open. Again, there has never been an explanation for this either. It would have been normal for our warships during wartime to keep their watertight doors closed, even when in port.

HMS Vanguard was the third and final ship of the St Vincent class of dreadnought battleships. She was laid down by Vickers at Barrow-in-Furness in April 1908, launched in April 1909 and commissioned in March 1910, just over a month before her sister ship and second ship of the class, HMS Collingwood. She displaced 19,700 tons and her main armament consisted of 10 12-inch guns mounted in five twin-barrel turrets. Her secondary armament consisted of 20 single 4-inch guns and unusually for a battleship, three 18-inch torpedo tubes.

She was assigned to the British Grand Fleet as part of the 1st Battle Squadron and participated in the Battle of Jutland in May 1916 and a few minor skirmishes with the German Navy the following August. She would spend most of her service on routine patrols and training in the North Sea. Her wreck had been largely salvaged after the war although her remains still cover a large area and lay at a depth of about 110 feet.

She was designated a war grave in 1984 and as a controlled site in 2002, therefore no exploration of her remains can be carried out without the permission of the Ministry of Defence. A memorial to HMS Vanguard and is featured among the pictures here stands in the Royal Naval Cemetery in the village of Lyness which is on the island of Hoy, Orkney, to the south west of Scapa Flow. In this cemetery 18 of this ship's crew are buried here. Rest In Peace, lads. Si vis pacem, para bellum.



O Eternal Lord God, who alone spreadest out the heavens, and rulest the raging of the sea; who hast compassed the waters with bounds until day and night come to an end: Be pleased to receive into thy Almighty and most gracious protection the persons of us thy servants, and the Fleet in which we serve. Preserve us from the dangers of the sea, and from the violence of the enemy; that we may be a safeguard unto our most gracious Sovereign Lady, Queen Elizabeth and her dominions, and a security for such as pass on the seas upon their lawful occasions; that the inhabitants of our Island may in peace and quietness serve thee our God; and that we may return in safety to enjoy the blessings of the land, with the fruits of our labours; and with a thankful remembrance of thy mercies to praise and glorify thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.



Among those who died that day:

Top row:

Bugler Noel Herbert Newnham, Royal Marines, from Dorking in Surrey, sixteen years old.

Able Seaman Harry George Silver, from the Isle of Wight, twenty-one years old.

Able Seaman John Duckmanton, from Bilby in Nottinghamshire, eighteen years old.

Middle row:

Boy Telegraphist Albert Edward Clark, from Sway in Hampshire, seventeen years old.

Stoker First Class Tom Turnpenny, from Pudsey in Yorkshire, twenty-seven years old. 

Engine Room Artificer 4th Class Victor William Taylor, from Chatham in Kent, twenty-three years old.

Bottom row:

Musician Harold Ernest Tebby, Royal Marines, from Portsmouth, seventeen years old.

Petty Officer William Richard Cory, from Deal in Kent, twenty-seven years old.

Stoker 1st Class Clarence Victor Luckhurst, from Faversham in Kent, twenty-one years old, who died alongside his brother William.




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