23 May 2016

First Battle Squadron visits Hove

Judy Middleton 2014 (revised 2016)

copyright © J.Middleton
This postcard was produced especially to commemorate the visit of the 1st Battle Squadron to Hove.

A Rare Sight

On 30 June 1914 eight battleships of the 1st Battle Squadron of the British Fleet sailed majestically up the English Channel and dropped anchor around three or four miles off Hove seafront. The ships rode at anchor in two lines from a point opposite Grand Avenue and west to a point opposite the Coastguard Station. HMS Marlborough was in the front rank as befitted the dignity of being the flagship. The other vessels were HMS Collingwood, HMS Colossus, HMS Hercules, HMS Neptune, HMS St Vincent, HMS Superb and HMS Vanguard. The light cruiser HMS Bellona joined their ranks on 2 July.

Not surprisingly, the visit caused a sensation in town and crowds of people hurried to the seafront to see the ships. At first a light haze obscured the view, which caused great annoyance to the man who had brought his telescope down to the promenade to hire out at a penny a time.

People were disappointed the ships were so far out but a British dreadnought was hardly in the same class as pleasure paddle steamers that could load passengers from the end of the West Pier.

But the Mayor of Hove and the Mayor of Brighton enjoyed a close encounter with Marlborough when Admiral Bayly welcomed them aboard. Ordinary folk could pay for a trip around the fleet for a close-up look. The Brighton Queen kindly ferried sailors from ship to shore and back again without charge.

 copyright © Robert Jeeves / Step Back in Time
This photograph was probably taken when the Mayor of Hove and the Mayor of Brighton visited HMS Marlborough with sailors lined up in their honour.

Alderman E.H. Leeney, Mayor of Hove, knew about the visit in advance and it gave him and councillors time to raise a subscription in order to entertain all the officers and men to a grand dinner at Hove Town Hall. It must have cost a considerable amount because it seems no expense was spared. Bunting and streamers decorated Hove while flags were draped over the entrance to the Town Hall. Inside the Great Hall the tables were adorned with fresh flowers. There were so many men to entertain that there had to be two separate dinners.

 copyright © J.Middleton
Officers and men from the 1st Battle Squadron were entertained at Hove Town Hall.

Commander Usborn of HMS Colossus was in charge of the men who marched through the town to the first dinner at Hove Town Hall to the cheers of the watching crowds. Another column of men marched to the Corn Exchange in Brighton for their meal. The menu at Hove Town Hall was as follows:

Roast beef
Roast veal
Roast haunches and ribs of Southdown lamb
Pressed beef
Fruit tarts
Custard puddings
Hot plum puddings

Potatoes were also served but if there were other vegetables the reporter did not mention them. The meal must have made a welcome change to ordinary ship’s rations

The band of the Queen’s Regiment played throughout the repast and when the men had eaten their fill, they were presented with packets of cigarettes and inscribed memento tobacco boxes.

Commander Usborn was a handsome man with a clarion-like voice. In his speech he thanked Hove for its hospitality and remarked ruefully that not every town welcomed the Navy because of exuberant sailors and guns that rattled windows.

The next day there was a repeat performance and it was the turn of the other ranks to be entertained at Hove Town Hall. Chief Petty Officer Webb from HMS St Vincent gave a vote of thanks on behalf of the lower deck.

  copyright © J.Middleton
Members of Hove Police are happy to pose with a Naval visitor outside the entrance to Hove Town Hall but their helmets make the sailor look rather small.

On Wednesday 1 July 1914 a sultry evening heralded a violent storm that broke out at 7.50 p.m. with loud claps of thunder followed by sheeting rain. Fortunately, the weather had calmed down by 9.30 p.m. when crowds again descended on the seafront for the long-anticipated event. A single rocket flared into the sky, which was the signal for all eight battleships to be illuminated overall at the same time. The spectacle drew gasps of admiration from one and all. The people lucky enough to be on board Brighton Queen had the best view of all.

copyright © J.Middleton
The Brighton Queen did sterling work ferrying sailors to and fro as well as taking curious local residents for a closer inspection of the ships.

Coronation Fleet Review 24 June 1911

 copyright © J.Middleton
The sheer number of vessels lined up for the Coronation Fleet Review is amazing.

King George V and Queen Mary were crowned on 22 June 1911. Part of the celebrations included the impressive Coronation Fleet Review at Spithead. It is interesting to note that among the ships in attendance were HMS Collingwood, HMS St Vincent and HMS Superb.       

Battle of Jutland (31 May – 1 June 1916)
  copyright © J.Middleton
Admiral John Rushworth Jellicoe (1859-1935) 
was Commander-in-Chief of the 
Grand Fleet at Jutland.

All the ships of the 1st Battle Squadron that visited Hove in 1914 were present at the Battle of Jutland.

The battle was a complicated one with heroism and mistakes made on both sides. It was also inconclusive. But it is true to say that had Germany won an all-out victory, they would have been on target to win the war as well. When the German fleet came home they were treated to a welcome fit for heroes whilst by contrast in Britain there was gloom and recriminations. Indeed there was even a rumour that Admiral Jellicoe had been subject to a court-martial and shot for ‘losing’ the battle.

British Fleet – Casualty List

Out of 21 vessels

8 destroyers lost
3 battle cruisers lost
3 armoured cruisers lost
Some 6,097 men killed
510 men wounded
177 men picked up by Germans and became prisoners

German Fleet

Out of 37 vessels

1 battle cruiser lost
1 armoured cruiser lost
4 light cruisers lost
5 torpedo boats lost
Some 2,551 men killed

HMS Bellona

The ship’s unusual name was a historic reference to an earlier HMS Bellona launched in 1760 that enjoyed the kudos of serving under Nelson in 1801 at the Battle of Copenhagen.

The Great War Bellona was a Boadicea-class scout cruiser and she was attached to the 1st Battle Squadron, which was composed of heavy battleships. It was standard practice at the time to appoint a light cruiser to accompany each battle squadron. But of course when the guns began to roar, such light cruisers were despatched to the rear to allow the battleships to get on with the task in hand. This happened to Bellona at Jutland and consequently she emerged unscathed.

Almost a year to the day after Jutland, Bellona was converted to the useful role of minelayer and during her service she laid no less than 306 mines in four separate missions. This was hazardous work with the ever-present threat of U-boats lurking beneath the waves not to mention the vagaries of the weather.

HMS Bellona survived the war and in 1919 she was paid off. This was a different ending to that experienced by most of her large companions of the 1st Battle Fleet because they nearly all eventually found themselves being consigned to the scrap-yard.

HMS Collingwood
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HMS Collingwood

She was named after Vice-Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood (1750-1810) the English Naval commander who had a distinguished career and was associated with Nelson. At the Battle of Trafalgar Collingwood was second-in-command to Nelson and when Collingwood died at sea in 1810 his body was brought back home and buried beside Nelson in St Paul’s Cathedral.  

HMS Collingwood was launched in 1908 and she was a St Vincent-class dreadnought battleship. She attended the Coronation Fleet Review at Spithead on 22 June 1911. Collingwood had closer associations with royalty too. On 18 April 1914 she hosted a visit from Edward, Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII). But it was his younger brother with whom the ship had a more lasting bond.

 copyright © J.Middleton
On the left Prince Edward wears a fashionable sailor suit as a youngster. On the right in more serious mode he wears the uniform of a naval cadet.

Prince Albert (later George VI) endured a difficult childhood starting off with a sadistic nanny who wilfully neglected him while showering attention on Prince Edward. It is thought that Prince Albert’s inadequate diet at such a tender age led to his subsequent stomach problems. Then at the age of seven or eight he developed a stammer that made him reluctant to speak and gave people the impression he was unfriendly. The stammer was thought to originate from making the young prince write with his right hand when he was actually left-handed. There was also the problem of his knock-knees, a condition shared with his younger brother Prince Henry. Their doctor thought the problem might be resolved by making the boys wear splints both day and night. The splints must have been most uncomfortable and hindered their concentration in the schoolroom.
  copyright © J.Middleton
Prince Albert looks far too young to
 have been present at the Battle of Jutland.

Perhaps the rigours of the Royal Navy did not seem so bad to Prince Albert after such a childhood. On 15 September 1913 Midshipman Prince Albert was assigned to HMS Collingwood. It therefore seems entirely likely that he was one of the sailors entertained to dinner at Hove Town Hall when the 1st Battle Squadron paid a visit. If he did not visit Hove on that occasion, he certainly did in July 1919 when he and the Prince of Wales were guests of Sir Sidney Greville at Hove Manor in Hove Street.

Prince Albert was still aboard HMS Collingwood in 1916 when the ship took part in the Battle of Jutland. Prince Albert acquitted himself well and his action as turret officer earned him a Mention in Despatches. Unfortunately, he was not fit enough to see further action and eventually he needed an operation for his duodenal ulcer.

At the Battle of Jutland Collingwood’s position was in the middle of the battle line. Her main guns fired 8 salvos at SMS Wiesbaden, the already damaged German battle-cruiser. She also fired 2 salvos of high explosives at SMS Derfflinger that resulted in one hit. But when she fired her secondary guns at the German destroyer G42 she did not hit her target.

When the war ended Collingwood was placed on the reserve list and was used as a training ship. In 1922 she was sold off for scrap.

HMS Collosus
 copyright © J.Middleton
HMS Collosus

She was launched in 1910 and provided the namesake for her type of dreadnought battleship. Her sister ship was HMS Hercules and was also in the 1st Battle Squadron.

The building of Collosus was the direct result of pre-war jitters in 1908 about the fear the German Navy was also constructing dreadnoughts. The 1st Sea Lord, Admiral Fisher, was the leading man in the campaign to construct more British dreadnoughts; if this was to be an arms race, Fisher was determined not to lag behind. It is interesting to note that Winston Churchill, President of the Board of Trade, led the opposition to more battleship building but in this case he was overruled. Churchill’s stance was in marked contrast to his attitude in the 1930s when he continually warned the Government about the dangers of German re-armament and the need for Britain to take appropriate action. But the powers-that-be chose to ignore him and Churchill was labelled a war-monger for his pains. 

By 31 July 1911 Collosus had her full crew complement. At first Collosus was assigned to the 2nd Battle Squadron but in December 1913 she joined the 1st Battle Squadron, of which she later became the flagship.

At the battle of Jutland the 1st Battle Squadron was split into two divisions. Collosus led the 5th Division; the other vessels accompanying her were Collingwood, Neptune and St Vincent. Collosus was placed seventeenth in the line after the Grand Fleet had deployed. It was a look-out aboard Collosus that first spotted the German High Seas Fleet in the distance. This set the scene for the vessel to be involved in the thick of the action and for 20 minutes she and Collingwood engaged German battle-cruisers of the 1st Scouting Group. It was recorded that she scored several hits on SMS Derfflinger. Colossus was one of the few British battleships hit by gunfire and although the damage was comparatively light affecting the forward superstructure, the crew sustained six casualties. All the same Collosus was sent home for a refit in 1917 and re-joined the fleet the following year. On 21 November 1918 she was present at the surrender of the German fleet.

After the war Collosus served as a boys’ training ship. She did well to last until 1928 before being broken up.

HMS Hercules
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HMS Hercules

She was a Collosus-class dreadnought battleship and like her name-ship, she too was launched in 1910. It turned out that Herucles was a very apt name for the ship. Hercules was a legendary Greek hero, son of Zeus, and renowned for his courage and strength but he could be violent too. Hercules was known around the fleet as the pugilists’ ship. Men who proved to be trouble-makers in other ships, or were caught fighting, or even guilty of a breach of discipline, were swiftly despatched to Hercules to curb their behaviour. The ship had its novel punishments, one of which was setting two of them in the boxing ring with most of the ship’s company eager to see the outcome not least because bets had been placed. Another punishment involved a man being sent to the brig and the door locked. There he stayed until he had unpicked with only his hands a piece of hawser that had been heavily used; a hawser was a large, strong rope usually made of left-hand twists. Men often emerged from this ordeal with ripped nails and bleeding fingers.

copyright © J.Middleton
British battleships at sea.

At the Battle of Jutland Hercules was part of the 6th Division together with Agincourt, Marlborough and Revenge. During the whole engagement Hercules fired 98 rounds from her main armament and five or six of them scored hits. Splinters rained down upon Hercules but fortunately there were no casualties and no damage. It was a lively action with Hercules adroitly evading several torpedoes despatched in her direction, possibly in the manner of a boxer dancing about to avoid body blows.

In June 1916 Hercules became flagship of the 4th Battle Squadron. In 1918 she was amongst the British ships escorting the Imperial German Navy to its surrender to the Grand Fleet.

In December 1918 Hercules took the Allied Armistice Commission to Kiel and for this delicate mission four destroyers accompanied her. The tough men of the Hercules were totally unimpressed by the amount of gold braid aboard their ship; there were in fact three Admirals – one British, one American and the other French. Men of such high rank must be accorded proper procedure and accordingly no less than three Admirals’ flags flapped above the decks of Hercules from a single tripod mast. Junior officers scornfully dismissed the display as most un-seamanlike and joked as to whether or not the yard could stand the weight of so much honour.         

Poor Hercules! This proud British dreadnought had the indignity of being sold in 1921 to a German ship-breaker and to add to the insult she was scrapped at Kiel.

HMS Marlborough
 copyright © J.Middleton
HMS Marlborough

She was built between 1912 and 1914 and was an Iron Duke-class battleship. She was named after John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough (1650-1722) who was famous for his victories at Blenheim (1704) and Ramillies (1706). The gratitude of the nation resulted in him being given a magnificent residence, which naturally enough he named Blenheim.

In June 1914 Admiral Sir Lewis Bayly (1857-1938) took command of the 1st Battle Squadron with Marlborough being the flagship and, appropriately enough, at the time Winston Churchill was 1st Sea Lord. When Bayly visited Hove with the 1st Battle Squadron he had a conversation with the Mayor of Hove; either he was being optimistic or perhaps he did not realise the gravity of the situation in Europe but he told the Mayor he was fairly confident of paying a similar visit to the town in a couple of years’ time. But of course by then the British Navy was otherwise engaged. After the visit Bayly sent a letter from Marlborough thanking Hove for its warm hospitality.

Bayly had a chequered career to say the least. In 1900 he became Naval Attaché to the United States and Japan but just two years later he was recalled because it seems he displayed ‘rather indiscreet conduct’. In December 1914 Bayly was appointed to command the Channel Fleet. He took the 5th Battle Squadron for some gunnery practice, manoeuvres and exercises within 25 miles of Portland Bill; Bayly sailed aboard the flagship HMS Nelson. The squadron, composed of seven battleships and two light cruisers, was escorted from Sheerness to Folkestone by six destroyers, which then departed. By 1 January 1915 the squadron was sailing peacefully at night with fishing boats nearby when suddenly the German submarine U-24 sent a torpedo hurtling towards HMS Formidable scoring a hit. The stricken vessel pulled out of line and less than an hour later a second torpedo hit home. The full complement of Formidable was 780 men and in this dreadful incident 35 officers and 512 men perished.

The news appalled those in authority in London and the Admiralty severely censured Bayly for his supposed mishandling of the situation. On the other hand, the Admiralty had given him permission to go on manoeuvres and if they thought the area was too dangerous, they would have refused. It was quite normal to continue with training in wartime. Bayly felt he had been unfairly treated and requested a court martial to enable him to clear his name. But he was refused. Of course he lost his command and was shuffled off to become president of the Royal Naval College.

Luck does play some part in how a commander or general is perceived although Fisher claimed that they had lost confidence in him. But later on the authorities decided they needed his services after all because it was the height of the U-boat menace. Bayly was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Coast of Ireland. This was something of a poisoned chalice because he was responsible for an enormous area of sea with just a few ships. It was not until the United States decided to join the Allied war effort that there were enough vessels to begin to make a difference.

copyright © J.Middleton
Twilight on the North Sea with the big guns busy.

Meanwhile, HMS Marlborough was on patrol duties in the North Sea enforcing the blockade of Germany.

Marlborough was present at the Battle of Jutland when visibility was so poor that some German Kaiser-class battleships could barely be discerned in the gloom. Later in the battle clouds of smoke from a cruiser that was on fire, masked the enemy ships. Although Marlborough’s gunners fired seven salvos and claimed some hits, it was difficult to ascertain the truth.

But she did manage to fire five salvos at the German cruiser SMS Wiesbaden.  Unfortunately, ‘A’ turret was then put out of action when there was a premature detonation in the right barrel. To make matters worse a torpedo from the Wiesbaden hit her starboard side tearing a hole in the hull that was 28 feet wide. Nor surprisingly, there was flooding and 40 watertight compartments were damaged. Nothing daunted, Marlborough continued to fire salvos at Wiesbaden and three shells put an end to the German vessel’s fighting capabilities although she did not sink until some hours later.

copyright © J.Middleton
How a British Dreadnought goes in to action.

Marlborough then turned her attention to RMS Grosser Kurfürst and three of her salvos hit home. Marlborough was also busy firing off torpedoes, one at the damaged Wiesdbaden and the other at RMS Kaiser but both missed. Meanwhile, Marlborough was the target of three more German torpedoes; she managed skilfully to avoid the first two and thankfully the third one passed harmlessly under the ship.

However, by this time Marlborough was beginning to list and had to reduce her speed. Jellicoe sent orders for her to return to the Humber for temporary repairs and scout cruiser HMS Fearless was delegated to provide the escort. It was not a plain run home either because Marlborough very nearly became a victim of friendly fire. She happened to encounter two British submarines 63 and 65. At first the submariners mistook her for an enemy vessel and were preparing to fire their torpedoes when fortunately Marlborough was recognised just in time.

Marlborough continued to limp home and eight destroyers from the Harwich Force joined her. But there was more flooding aboard and the situation looked so serious that the captain ordered Fearless and one destroyer to come alongside just in case the crew needed to be rescued.

But she made it home safely and after a patching-up she sailed from the Humber escorted by four destroyers on 6 June. Her destination was the Tyne for more permanent repairs at the Jarrow shipyard, which surprisingly enough were completed by 2 August. Marlborough’s battle record was impressive; her main battery fired no less than 162 shells while the secondary guns fired 60 rounds plus five torpedoes were despatched. It must have been mortifying for the officers and men when in February 1916 HMS Revenge replaced Marlborough as flagship of the 1st Battle Squadron.

 copyright © J.Middleton
HMS Marlborough was despatched to rescue the 
Dowager Empress of Russia from the Bolsheviks. 
She was the sister of Queen Alexandra.
After the high drama of Jutland the rest of the Great War passed uneventfully for Marlborough. But she did find herself on a most interesting mission in 1919. This was to rescue Maria Feodorovna, Dowager Empress of Russia, (1847-1928) from the clutches of the Bolsheviks. George V was personally involved in this enterprise. The Empress was not some remote royal person because she was in fact George V’s aunt, her sister Princess Alexandra being the wife of Edward VII. Perhaps George V was having a twinge of conscience because the Russian royal family might have been granted asylum in England instead of being murdered. The Dowager Empress had not been with the rest of the royal family because she had gone to live at Kiev apparently dismayed by Rasputin’s influence at court and she had never got on with her daughter-in-law the Tsarina. The Dowager Empress was a popular figure and during the Great War she served as President of the Red Cross in Russia. After her son Nicholas’s abdication, she went to Crimea with other Romanov refugees. The Dowager Empress was no stranger to England. For instance in 1873 she and her husband and two eldest sons came to visit her sister the Princess of Wales and by coincidence the Russians were entertained at Marlborough House.

In April 1919 Marlborough anchored at Crimea to take the Dowager Empress aboard accompanied by Grand Duke Nicholas. It is not known whether or not the captain of Marlborough expected to rescue a small group but it turned out the Russian contingent numbered 80 persons. This was because the doughty Dowager refused to come aboard unless the sick and wounded were also taken in together with any civilians who might wish to escape the murderous Bolsheviks who were closing in. Another member of the royal party worthy of note was Prince Felix Yusopov, his wife and daughter. Prince Yusopov was the Dowager Empress’s grandson-in-law; he was also ringleader in the plot to kill Rasputin in December 1916.

Marlborough landed the Russians at Malta and returned to her duties. The Dowager Empress travelled on to England where she was re-united with her sister. But the Empress found her loss of status hard to bear and later went home to Denmark – both she and her sister were Danish princesses by birth. Queen Alexandra died in November 1925 and the Dowager Empress died in October 1928 aged 80, having out-lived her husband four of her six children.

From 1920 to January 1922 Marlborough was out of action while she underwent a refit at Devonport. In the 1920s she was used as a training ship, having transferred from the Mediterranean fleet, along with the 3rd battle Squadron, to the Atlantic Fleet.

It is questionable whether or not the refit was a waste of money because under the Treaty of London 1930 it was decreed that four Iron Duke-class battleships should be scrapped. Thus in 1932 Marlborough found herself reduced to the Disposal List and she was then broken up at Rosyth.  

HMS Neptune
 copyright © J.Middleton
HMS Neptune

She was a dreadnought battleship launched in 1909 and great things were expected of her because she had been fitted with super-firing turrets. But in the event they turned out not to be a great success. Innovations were being made all the time and although Neptune was part of the 1st Battle Squadron from 1914 to 1917, she then had to give way for the latest trend – Revenge-class ships and Neptune was transferred to the 4th Battle Squadron.     

In 1915 Neptune was with the Grand Fleet in the North Sea involved in an exercise. On 18 March 1915 they were returning to Scapa Flow when Neptune had a lucky escape from a torpedo that fortunately passed behind the vessel. It was German U-29 that fired the torpedo.

In 1916 at the Battle of Jutland Neptune also escaped damage but she did manage to fire off 48 12-inch rounds.

Neptune was sold off in 1922.

HMS St Vincent
  copyright © J.Middleton
HMS St Vincent

The ship was named after Admiral John Jervis, 1st Earl of St Vincent (1735-1823). He took his title from his famous victory at the Battle of Cape St Vincent on 14 February 1797 when fifteen British ships prevailed against a superior force of 24 Spanish ships. Jervis was a patron of Nelson who played a distinguished part in the same battle. Jervis was an experienced Naval commander and he also excelled in introducing Naval reforms and in an administrative capacity too.

HMS St Vincent was launched in 1908 and she was the name-ship of her class of dreadnoughts. On 24 June 1911 she took part in the Coronation Review at Spithead and the following year she underwent an extensive re-fit. She was ready for service again in 1914 and she was re-commissioned under Rear Admiral Hughes Evans-Thomas. On 8 July 1915 St Vincent was host to George V who came aboard to inspect the 2nd Battle Squadron.

copyright © J.Middleton
The British royal family have a long association with the Navy. In this photograph the Prince of Wales (later George V) and Edward VII wear their naval uniforms.

Admiral Evans-Thomas (1862-1928) was a naval cadet at HMS Britannia in 1877 at the same time as Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, and Prince George (later George V). The princes’ tutor was impressed enough with young Thomas’s character (surname later changed to Evans-Thomas) to allow him to become friends with the young princes. The good impression was consolidated when Thomas went to HMS Bacchante as part of a hand picked crew to serve with the young princes on board. In 1882 Thomas attended the Royal Naval College, Greenwich as a sub-lieutenant and formed a friendship with Lieutenant John Jellicoe. In later years Evans-Thomas took command of HMS Britannia; the reason behind this decision was that he knew Prince Edward (later Edward VII) and Prince Albert (later George VI) would be attending just as their father George V had done as a youngster. While the princes were at Britannia an epidemic of measles swept through the establishment and it was felt safer to remove them to Evans-Thomas’s house as a precaution. But they both caught measles just the same. It must have been a time of great worry for the Evans-Thomas family but fortunately the princes survived the illness. The public had also been greatly perturbed and a variety of well-meaning remedies were despatched to the household.           

 copyright © J.Middleton
Prince Edward and Prince Albert both attended HMS Britannia.  
They were photographed with their mother the Princess of Wales (later Queen Mary)

In 1915 Rear Admiral Evans-Thomas was given command of the 5th Battle Squadron. When he died in 1928 Jellicoe’s tribute was that he was a man ‘who never failed me’.

At the Battle of Jutland St Vincent was under the command of Sussex-born Captain William Fisher (1875-1937). He remained in this post for three years and 5 months and then moved to the anti-submarine division. At Jutland St Vincent was placed 20th in line of battle. She fired her guns at SMS Wiesbaden and SMS Moltke.

On 21 November 1918 the German fleet surrendered at Rosyth and St Vincent was there on this historic occasion but after the war she was placed on the reserve list. At Portsmouth she became a gunnery training ship before being scrapped in 1922.

HMS Superb
copyright © J.Middleton
HMS Superb

She was completed in 1909 and was a Bellerophon-class battleship of the 4th dreadnought type. On 24 June 1911 she was present at the Coronation Review at Spithead.

In November 1915 Superb was transferred to the 4th Battle Squadron of which she became the flagship. Rear Admiral Alexander Ludovic Duff (1862-1933) was in command of the vessel. He had once been a sub-lieutenant aboard the royal yacht Victoria and Albert. In later years he had spent three years at the Admiralty but he returned to sea duties on the outbreak of the Great War.

At Jutland Superb was fortunate not to have any casualties aboard and received no hits. Jutland was the last of her active service and inevitably by April 1919 she was placed on the reserve list at Sheerness. But worse was to come when the old battleship suffered the indignity of being used as a target for gunnery practice and later she proved useful when pilots needed to practice attacks from the air.

It was at Dover that she was finally broken up in 1922.

HMS Vanguard
 copyright © J.Middleton
HMS Vanguard

In 1909 she was sent down the slipway on a day of glorious sunshine from Vicker’s shipyard at Barrow with a launch weight of 10,250 tons. It is interesting to note that to enable this leviathan to ‘slip sweetly into the water’ required the application to the slides of some 70 barrels of soap plus £200 worth of grease and the pressure on the slides was estimated at two tons per square foot. Once safely settled in the water she only required the services of four tiny tugs to tow her to the dock for fitting-out purposes. 

Vanguard was commissioned in 1910. She spent most of the Great War on training exercises or on routine patrols although she was also present at Jutland. She found herself assisting the 4th Battle Squadron and after deployment she was the 18th ship in line. Vanguard fired several salvoes at German light cruiser SMS Wiesbaden and some of them hit home. The final firing total during the battle was as follows:

65 high explosives
15 2-inch shells
10 4-inch shells 

Vanguard came to a terrible end in what came to be regarded as one of the worst accidents to befall the Royal Navy. It happened on 9 July 1917 at Scapa Flow and ironically in the morning the crew had been involved in a regular exercise on the procedure for abandoning ship.

First there was a white flare and a small explosion, followed almost immediately by two huge explosions. There was no time for the crew to abandon ship because she sank at once. There were only two survivors while 804 men were killed. Such bodies as could be recovered from the disaster were laid to rest in Lyness Royal Naval Cemetery, Hoy. The crew of HMS Collingwood, Vanguard’s sister ship, managed to retrieve the bodies of three victims.

The Court of Inquiry decided that the main detonation took place in either ‘P’ magazine or ‘Q’ magazine or perhaps both together.

In 1975 the Royal Navy’s Command Clearing Diving Team carried out an intensive investigation into the accident and concluded that faulty cordite was the culprit and blew the vessel apart. The wreck is a designated war grave.


Australian Newspaper Trove website – 10 April 1909
D’Enno, Douglas Brighton in the Great War (2016)    
Sussex Daily News
Internet searches
Thanks to Robert Jeeves of Step Back in Time, 36  Queen’s Road, Brighton BN1 3XB. for allowing the reproduction of the HMS Marlborough photograph.
Additional research by D. Sharp 

Copyright © J.Middleton 2016
page layout by D.Sharp