HMS Vanguard’s dramatic final departure, 1960

HMS Vanguard was not only the biggest, fastest and last of the Royal Navy’s battleships but she also had the distinction of being the last battleship ever launched when she was commissioned on May 12th 1946. Throughout her career, Vanguard usually served as the flagship for Royal Navy or NATO surface groups and in 1953 she participated in Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation Review. While undergoing refit in 1955, the Admiralty announced that the ship was going to be put into reserve and was finally sold for scrap in 1960. However, the ship would have one last defiant and almost catastrophic moment in her life before she was to go to the breaker’s yard.

On August 4th 1960, the sea front was packed with people who came to see the mighty ship off as she was to leave Portsmouth for Faslane, Scotland where she would be broken up. As the last battleship was being towed towards the harbour entrance however, she slid across the harbour and ran aground near the Still & West pub. It would take an hour and the effort of five tugboats to pull her off again and lead her out to sea for her final journey north.

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Unmanned Warrior 2016

Video released by the Royal Navy looking back on Exercise: Unmanned Warrior 2016 which saw the extensive testing of semi- and fully-autonomous drone aircraft and vessels in various military scenarios.

The Amphion Tragedy

thomas-tegg-hms-amphion-1796-1780-frigate

Thomas Tegg’s depiction of the blast

It had been a busy few days for Captain Israel Pellow and the 219 officers and men that made up the crew of HMS Amphion, an Amazon-class fifth-rate frigate sporting an armament of no less than 32 guns. In the early afternoon of the 22nd September 1796, the ship was alive with the kind of activity associated with the eve of departure from port. In 1796, HMS Amphion was a 16-year old warship and had seen action against American revolutionary forces having participated in a successful raid on New London in Connecticut on September 10th 1781.  The warship had also seen action against the French having recaptured the British sloop Bonetta, which had been captured at Yorktown.

Laying in Plymouth harbour alongside a sheer-hulk, a type of floating crane, that was assisting in repairs and refitting the sailing vessel, the number of persons onboard had swelled to well over 300 as family members visited their husbands, fathers and brothers before they sailed the following morning. Captain Pellow on the other hand was waiting for another type of visitor to come aboard his vessel. A 64-gun Dutch warship, the Overyssel, was also in Plymouth and expected to sail the next day as well. Pellow had invited her captain, William Swaffield, to dine aboard the British warship that afternoon with him and his first Lieutenant. The Dutch ship’s captain accepted and the three men had sat down together in the captain’s cabin aboard Amphion before 1600hrs to dine together.

Suddenly and without prior warning, Pellow and his guests were hurled out of their seats as the ship shook violently and roared with the deep, booming sound of an explosion. The three men were badly dazed and confused by the violence of the blast and as the floor beneath them began to change angle it was clear that some terrible calamity had befell the ship. Pellow and the First Lieutenant, both barely able to stand from their own injuries, made a desperate bid for survival by throwing themselves out of the galley window unsure if they were fit enough to swim or not but certain they would die if they remained. Pellow managed to clamber on to a chain from the sheer-hulk and as luck would have it a boat that had rushed to the scene spotted and then rescued the two men but their dinner guest, Captain Swaffield, failed to materialise. A Royal Marine who was guarding the door to the cabin also survived but had no recollection of events from the initial blast up to when he too was rescued by a boat in the water making his own escape a complete mystery.

The blast originated on the aft gun deck and was so powerful that it threw mangled bodies and splintered timber high in to the air and even sent four of the ship’s 32 guns over the side and on to the sheer-hulk. The majority of those who perished were killed in the initial blast which caused scenes of appalling horror aboard the warship with sailors and their family members overcrowded on her decks being cut down by flying debris. In one horrifying scene, a wife of one of the sailors had the lower half of her body blown clean off. Her upper half was found still clutching her infant that was, amazingly, still alive and rescued by one of the other survivors who managed to get them both off before the vessel went down.

Exact figures are difficult to ascertain given the fact that families were allowed onboard to say goodbye to their loved ones but most sources agree that at least 300 perished in the blast including women and children. The remains of the warship sank alongside the sheer-hulk in over 60ft of water with pieces of the warship and some of her crew still washing up on the shore months later. Captain Swaffield’s body was found a whole month later sporting a massive skull fracture which was presumed to have occurred during his escape attempt.

Lacking the modern forensic technology of today, the precise cause of the blast will never truly be known. However, an investigation in to the ship’s company following the blast revealed that at least one gunner was known to be pilfering supplies of gunpowder for sale on shore. When questioned about the sailor, one survivor remembered seeing him drunk shortly before the blast occurred leading many to believe that he had gone down to the gunpowder stores possibly to steal more of the powder to sell or trade for liquor. Either through smoking or dropping a lamp in his drunken state, he detonated the gunpowder.

The horrific scene of the mother and child was later remembered in a poem by English poet Felicia Hemans;

Till then we had not wept—
But well our gushing hearts might say,
That there a Mother slept!
For her pale arms a babe had prest
With such a wreathing grasp,
The fire had pass’d o’er that fond breast,
Yet not undone the clasp.
Deep in her bosom lay his head,
With half-shut violet eye—
He had known little of her dread,
Nought of her agony.
Oh! human love, whose yearning heart,
Through all things vainly true,
So stamps upon thy mortal part
Its passionate adieu:
Surely thou hast another lot,
There is some home for thee,
Where thou shalt rest, rememb’ring not
The moaning of the sea.

 

 

 

News Round-Up – July 11th 2016

British Army female soldier

Here are some of the latest British military news stories making the headlines.


British Army News

British troops being sent back to Afghanistan as Taliban gaining power
(Daily Star)

Former British Army commander says having women in the army ‘will cost lives on the battlefield’
(The Independent)

UK Task Force To Help Military Avoid Missteps in Future Conflicts
(Defense News)


Royal Air Force News

Ministry of Defence selects Certifiable Predator B Reaper for Royal Air Force
(Intelligent Aerospace)

Air Force Cam: PM enjoys first outing on refurbished RAF plane
(The Guardian)

Airbus Wins RAF Crypto Contracts For Voyager, C-130J And F-35
(Aviation Week)

Boeing to double number of jobs in UK in long-term partnership
(Daily Mail)


Royal Navy & Marines News

Royal Navy bids to torpedo Channel subsea cable project
(The Times)

Arctic convoy heroes: Almost 70 WWII veterans get Russian bravery medals
(RT)


Disclaimer: all news stories are the property of their respective publishers. Any opinions expressed in the articles are of the person making them.

NEWS: ISIL in Libya casts shadow over Mediterranean says NATO Admiral

ISIS ISIL ISLAMIC STATE DAESH CRUISE SHIP

The Royal Navy’s Vice Admiral Clive Johnstone CB CBE who currently holds the NATO post of Commander of Allied Maritime Command has spoken publicly about his concerns for civilian shipping in the Mediterranean given the situation in Libya. Speaking to The Telegraph he said that ISIL (also known as Islamic State, ISIS and Daesh) had cast an “uncomfortable shadow” over shipping in the Mediterranean. The capture of coastal towns and cities by the group earlier this month such as Sirte has caused widespread alarm in Europe since the group now possesses bases with which to carry out such attacks which Vice Admiral Johnstone claims could include using sophisticated Russian and Chinese weapons acquired on the black market.

Just the threat of attacks presents major problems for Europe and NATO in the Mediterranean. At the very least a major surveillance operation will be required to detect vessels coming from ISIL-held ports and territories. Fortunately, this is already largely in operation, partly to monitor ISIL activity and partly to track the many thousands of refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.

Given the sheer number of vessels transiting the Mediterranean, attacks by ISIL would have serious economic consequences for the European Union. As well as the loss of any cargo vessels and their goods, security costs and maritime insurance policies would no doubt go up increasing transport costs of the cargoes which in turn would increase the costs to the consumer.

This is to say nothing about the cost in human lives if ISIL target a cruise liner with 6-8,000 people onboard.

These worries have reinforced the opinion that Britain and other NATO countries should increase its support to forces in Libya opposed to ISIL. This would involve a combination of airstrikes with training and logistical support.

NEWS: Royal Navy has seized drugs worth £937m in two years

HMS Somerset Type 23 Frigate

HMS Somerset

Figures released this month show that Royal Navy counter-narcotics operations have resulted in the seizure of drugs worth £937 million. The figure represents a two-year period starting on January 1st 2014 and have involved smuggling routes across the Caribbean, North Arabian Sea, Mediterranean and closer to home in the North Sea.

Ships listed as having been involved in the raids were;

  • HMS Richmond
  • HMS St Albans
  • HMS Somerset
  • HMS Argyll
  • Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship Wave Knight.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said the Royal Navy’s efforts showed “Britain at it’s best”.

 

NEWS: HMS Scott returns to sea

HMS Scott H131 (Royal Navy)

HMS Scott H131 (Royal Navy)

The Royal Navy’s fifth largest warship, HMS Scott H131, has returned to sea after completing an extensive refit at HMNB Devonport, Plymouth. The oceanographic survey ship entered port for her refit, the most extensive refit in the vessel’s 17-year life, back in November after completing a deployment in the North Atlantic.

The ship generally spends over 300 days a year at sea and during the course of her lifetime she’s travelled more than 750,000 nautical miles. Scott has been able to achieve these impressive figures by actually having more than one crew. One crew (comprising of two sections) takes the vessel out to sea while a third section rests and conducts training on shore duty before swapping over with one of the operational sections when the ship puts in to port.