Tuesday, October 9, 2007

HMS Victoria

Illustration of H.M.S. Victoria.
Source: Index to late 18th, 19th and early 20th Century Naval and Naval Social History

In last week's mention of Rudyard Kipling's "Soldier an' Sailor too" under the header The Birkenhead Drill, his final stanza mentions the "Victorier."

The HMS Victoria, so named in celebration of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee, was a British battleship launched in 1887 and which sank in 1893 in the eastern Mediterranean following a tragic accident arising from miscommunication and obedient adherence to orders even when those orders were suspected to be erroneous.

I read of this incident as a relatively young child, perhaps eight or ten, in one of the first of many anthologies of sea mysteries, tragedies, shipwrecks, etc. which I have read over the years.

Admiral George Tryon commanded a squadron of British ships and was in the process of putting on a display of maneuvers. He had two lines of ships lined up in parallel and instructed that they were to turn in to each other and come around heading in the opposite direction in parallel with one another again, but now much closer together.

His watch officers questioned whether the distances were sufficient for such a maneuver but he dismissed their concerns and they obeyed their orders despite their misgivings.

The HMS Camperdown and the HMS Victoria, leading their respective lines, turned in towards one another. The distances were indeed insufficient and the Camperdown rammed the Victoria with the latter ship sinking within half an hour with the loss of more than half her crew; 358 men including Admiral Tryon who elected to remain at his post saying "It's all my fault."

I had never heard of the Royal Marines playing a particular role in this disaster so am not sure what Kipling is referencing but am guessing that this is the incident (rather than some other HMS Victoria) to which he is referring given that the ballad was written close to the time of the tragedy.

The wreck of the HMS Victoria was discovered by divers three years ago. Uniquely, the ship rests in a perpendicular position above the sea floor as reported at that time in the Cyber Diver News Network.

There is also a memorial to the Victoria in Portsmouth in the UK.

There is also a Wikipedia article on the incident.

A footnote to the sinking is that the one of the survivors was the executive officer, the second-in-command, of the HMS Victoria, John Jellicoe. Jellicoe later became Admiral and commanded the British fleet at the classic clash of battleships, the Battle of Jutland in World War I. Later in the war he became the First Sea Lord of the entire British navy.

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