HMS Victoria (1887)

HMS Victoria (1887)

HMS "Victoria" was one of two "Victoria"-class battleships of the Royal Navy. On 22 June 1893 she collided with HMS|Camperdown|1885|6 near Tripoli, Lebanon during manoeuvres and quickly sank, taking 358 crew with her, including the commander of the British Mediterranean Fleet, Vice-Admiral Sir George Tryon. One of the survivors was second-in-command, John Jellicoe, later commander-in-chief of the British Grand Fleet at the Battle of Jutland.

She was originally to have been named "Renown", but the name was changed before launching to celebrate Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee (i.e., 50 years since becoming monarch), which occurred the year that the ship was launched.

She was the first battleship to be propelled by triple expansion steam engines and also the first Royal Navy ship to be equipped with a steam turbine, which was used to power a dynamo.

The collision

The British Mediterranean Fleet was one of the most powerful in the world at the time. The Royal Navy saw the Mediterranean as a vital sea route between the United Kingdom and India, under constant threat from the navies of France and Italy, and concentrated an impressive force in it. The bulk of the fleet, eleven ironclads (eight battleships and three large cruisers), were on their annual summer exercises off Tripoli in Syria (now part of Lebanon) on 22 June 1893.

Tryon was a strict disciplinarian who believed that the best way of keeping his crews taut and efficient was by continuous fleet evolutions, which before the invention of wireless were signalled by flags, and he had gained a reputation as a daring and highly proficient handler of his ships. His speciality was a new system (the "TA" system) by which complex manoeuvres could be handled by only a few simple signals, but which required his ships' captains to use their initiative; a quality which had become blunted by decades of naval peace since Trafalgar, and which was unwelcome in a hierarchical Navy which deified Admiral Horatio Nelson while misunderstanding what he had stood for. A taciturn and difficult man for his subordinate officers to deal with, Tryon deliberately avoided making his intentions known to them in advance, so as to train them to be adept in handling unpredictable situations.

Tryon led one column of six ships, which formed the first division of his fleet, in his flagship "Victoria" travelling at 8 knots (15 km/h). His deputy, Rear-Admiral Hastings Markham, was in the lead ship of the second division of five ships, the 10,600 ton "Camperdown". Markham's normal divisional flagship, "Trafalgar", was being refitted. Unusually for Tryon, he had discussed his plans for anchoring the fleet with some of his officers. The fleet were to turn inwards in succession by 180 degrees, thus closing to 400 yards (370 m) and reversing their direction of travel. After travelling a few miles in this formation the whole fleet would slow and simultaneously turn 90 degrees to port and drop their anchors for the night. The officers had observed that 1,200 yards (1100 m) was much too close and suggested that the columns should start at least 1,600 yards (1500 m) apart; even this would leave insufficient margin for safety. The normal turning circles of the ships involved would have meant that a gap between the two columns of convert|2000|yd|m|-3 would be needed to leave a space between the columns of convert|400|yd|m|-2 on completion of the manoeuvre. Tryon had confirmed that 8 cables (1300 m) should be needed for the manoeuvre the officers expected, but had later signalled for the columns to close to 6 cables (1000 m). Two of his officers gingerly queried whether the order was correct, and he brusquely confirmed that it was.

He ordered speed to be increased to 8.8 knots (16 km/h) and at about 15:00 ordered a signal to be flown from "Victoria" to have the ships in each column turn in succession by 180 degrees inwards towards the other column so that the fleet would reverse its course. However, the normal "tactical" turning circle of the ships had a radius of around 800 yards (730 m) each (and a minimum of 600 yards (550 m), although standing orders required "tactical rudder" to be used in fleet manoeuvres), so if they were less than 1,600 yards (1500 m) apart then a collision was likely.

As there was no pre-determined code in the signal book for the manoeuvre he wished to order, Tryon sent separate orders to the two divisions. They were:

"Second division alter course in succession 16 points to starboard preserving the order of the fleet.""First division alter course in succession 16 points to port preserving the order of the fleet."

The phrase "preserving the order of the fleet" would imply that on conclusion of the manoeuvre the starboard column at the start would still be the starboard at the finish. This theory was propounded in 'The Royal Navy' Vol VII pages 415-426. It is suggested here that Tryon intended that one division should turn outside the other.

Although some of his officers knew what Tryon was planning they did not raise an objection. Markham, at the head of the other column, was confused by the dangerous order and delayed raising the flag signal indicating that he had understood it. This precipitated another flag signal from Tryon which translated as "What are you waiting for?" Stung by this public rebuke from his commander, Markham immediately ordered his column to start turning. Various officers on the two flagships confirmed later that they had either assumed or hoped that Tryon would order some new manoeuvre at the last minute.

However, the columns continued to turn towards each other and only moments before the collision did the captains of the two ships appreciate that this was not going to happen. Even then, they still waited for permission to take the action which might have prevented the collision. Captain Maurice Bourke of the "Victoria" asked Tryon three times for permission to order the engines astern; he acted only after he had received that permission. At the last moment Tryon shouted across to Markham "Go astern, go astern".

By the time that both captains had ordered the engines on their respective ships reversed, it was too late, and "Camperdown"'s ram struck the starboard side of "Victoria" about 12 feet (4 m) below the waterline and penetrated nine feet (3 m) into it. Reversing the engines only had the effect of causing the ram to be withdrawn to let in more seawater before all of the watertight doors on "Victoria" had been closed.

With 100 square feet (9 m²) open to the sea, the forecastle deck was underwater in four minutes, and five minutes later the gun ports in the large forward turret reached sea level and water started to pour through them. "Victoria" capsized just thirteen minutes after the collision, and sank a few minutes later.

"Camperdown" herself was in serious condition with her ram nearly wrenched off. Hundreds of tons of water flooded into her bows, but she survived. Her crew had to construct a cofferdam across the main deck to stop the flooding. The following ships had more time to take evasive action, and avoided colliding with each other in turn.

357 crew were rescued and 358 died. Tryon himself stayed on the bridge as the ship sank, and was heard to murmur, "It's all my fault". It has been hypothesised that he had confused turning his ships through 90 degrees with turning them through 180 degrees when he considered how much sea room was needed. The former manoeuvre was much more common and required considerably less room.

The aftermath

The news of the accident caused a sensation and appalled the British public at a time when the Royal Navy occupied a prime position in the national consciousness.

A court-martial of the captain of "Victoria", Maurice Bourke, was held on HMS|Hibernia|1804|6 at Malta. It was established that the ship would have been in no danger had her watertight doors been closed in time. Bourke was found blameless, since the collision was due to Admiral Tryon's explicit order but carried an implied criticism of Rear-Admiral Markham by saying that "it would be fatal to the best interests of the Service to say that he was to blame for carrying out the directions of the Commander-in-Chief present in person".

Tryon's TA system, and with it his attempt to restore Nelsonian initiative into the Victorian-era Royal Navy, died with him. Despite the fact that it had not actually been in use at the time of the accident, traditionalist enemies of the new system used the accident as an excuse to discredit and to bury it. [Gordon, A. "The Rules of the Game"]

There is a legend in which Tryon's wife had given a large social party in their London home, and Admiral Tryon was seen descending the staircase by a number of people the moment his ship collided with the "Camperdown". There is a memorial to the crew killed in the disaster in Victoria Park, Portsmouth. It was originally erected in the town's main square, but at the request of survivors was moved to the park in 1903 where it would be better protected.

An actual photograph of the moment "Victoria" took her death plunge exists, and has been frequently reproduced.

A scale section of the "Victoria", a popular exhibit on display at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago at the time of the accident, was subsequently draped in black cloth as a tribute to the loss.

After a search that lasted 8 years, the wreck was discovered on 22nd of August 2004 in 150 metres of water by Christian Francis of Lebanon Divers. Probably uniquely for a shipwreck, she stands vertically with her bow and some 30 metres of her length buried in the mud and her stern pointing directly upwards towards the surface. The unusual attitude of this wreck is thought to have been due to the heavy single turret forward containing the main armament coupled with the still-turning propellers driving the wreck downwards.

The 1949 comedy movie "Kind Hearts and Coronets" features a satire of the accident, in which Alec Guinness plays a pompous and stupid Admiral D'Ascoyne who stands saluting on the bridge whilst his ship sinks beneath his feet. This was not the first time a reference to the disaster came up in a satiric piece. In 1893, in the Savoy Operetta "Utopia, Limited", William Gilbert brought back his character "Captain Corcoran" (here called "Captain, Sir Edward Corcoran, K.C.B.") from "H.M.S. Pinafore" as one of the "Flowers of Progress" sent to the Pacific Island Kingdom of Utopia to bring it into the modern world. In a song in the firstact, Corcoran boasts of British sea power, and how the men "never run a ship ashore". Then follows a chorus (as in "H.M.S. Pinafore") of "What never?", "No never", ending with a shamefaced Corcoran admitting "Well...hardly ever!".

[] .

External links

* [,776,0,0,1,0 Dive "HMS Victoria" in Lebanon]
* [ The loss of the "Victoria"]
* [ "Victoria" memorial in Portsmouth]
* [ Lebanon Daily Star article on the discovery of the wreck]
* [ "HMS Victoria" & a full account of the discovery]


* Andrew Gordon, "The Rules of the Game: Jutland and British Naval Command", John Murray.
* David Brown, "Warrior to Dreadnought: Warship development 1860-1905", Chatham Publishing.
* Richard Hough, "Admirals in Collision", Viking Press.
* Oscar Parkes "British Battleships", ISBN 0-85052-604-3.

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