05 July 2017

CWGC to join commemorative event to mark centenary of the sinking of HMS Vanguard

The CWGC will join a commemorative event to mark the centenary of the sinking of HMS Vanguard in the Orkney Islands on Sunday.


Built in 1909, HMS Vanguard was one of three St Vincent-class dreadnought battleships commissioned for the Royal Navy. She spent her whole career assigned to the Home and Grand Fleets and, apart from participating in the Battle of Jutland in May 1916, her service during the First World War generally consisted of routine patrols and training in the North Sea.

Shortly before midnight on 9 July 1917, HMS Vanguard suffered a series of magazine explosions in Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands. She sank almost instantly, with only two of her 837 crew surviving.

The Board of Inquiry, which heard accounts of the sinking from many witnes

ses, concluded that the explosion took place in the central part of the ship but were unable to find the exact cause.

Several theories were made but the final conclusion of the Board was that a fire probably started in one of the ammunition magazines, perhaps when a raised temperature caused spontaneous ignition of cordite, spreading to one of the ship’s main ammunition magazines which then exploded.

The wreck of HMS Vanguard now lies at a depth of 14 metres in Scapa Flow and its associated debris covers a large area. The wreck was heavily salvaged for non-ferrous metals in the 1960s and 70s before it was declared a war grave in 1984.

Seventeen of the 22 men recovered from the sea are buried at Lyness Royal Naval Cemetery in Scotland. The remaining casualties are commemorated on the CWGC Naval War Memorials at Chatham (621), Portsmouth (125), and Plymouth (74).

The Commission’s Assistant Director General Mike Bullen and Regional Supervisor for Scotland Iain Anderson will represent the Commission at the event, organised by the Royal Navy and Orkney Islands Council. The event will consist of a wreath-laying service at the buoy marking the wreck of HMS Vanguard, a Service of Commemoration at the Lyness Royal Naval Cemetery, and will conclude with a Watch Night Service at St Magnus Cathedral and the opening of the Book of Remembrance.

Mike Bullen said: "The Commonwealth War Graves Commission looks after 1.7 million casualties around the world. Amongst this number are the 17 headstones from HMS Vanguard here in Lyness. The remaining casualties from this tragic event are listed on our naval war memorials at their respective home port. Our founding mission remains for us to ensure that these brave men and women are honoured and commemorated in perpetuity."

Photo caption: HMS Vanguard on completion © IWM (Q 40389)