HMS Vanguard Lost with 843 Men
There is a terrible irony in the fate of HMS Vanguard, one of Britain’s mighty Dreadnought battleships. The craft, launched at Barrow-in-Furness in 1909 when the arms race with Germany was at its height, had survived the Battle of Jutland on May 31 and June 1 1916 without losing a single man. Yet at about 11.20pm on July 9 1917, with not an enemy in sight as the ship lay in Scapa Flow, just off Flotta, the mighty vessel exploded, sinking within minutes. Such was the violence of the explosion that a passing trawler was showered in the blood and flesh of those on Vanguard. The detonation was heard throughout Orkney.
The confusion of war means that casualty figures cannot be exact, but more than 800 were killed, perhaps as many as 843. Only two men survived the disaster, one a marine the other an able seaman. The bodies of 187 men were recovered, the rest sinking with the ship.
What is believed to have happened is that a fire amidships heated a bulkhead, eventually igniting munitions stored against it in a separate compartment. Sabotage was suspected for a time, but is now thought unlikely. The disaster remains the worst loss of life through explosion in UK history.
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