At the outbreak of the war HMS Vanguard was in the battle squadron in Scappa Flow and took part in the Battle of Jutland from beginning to end and did not suffer any damage or casualties.
Just before midnight on Monday 9th July 1917 the ship blew up, killing more than 840 men – 3 men were thrown into the sea one of whom later died. The whole incident took just 25 seconds. The casualty list is bad but could have been worse by over 150 as some crew members were off the ship at the time.The loss of HMS Vangaurd is believed to have been caused by an explosion in one of the two munition magazines which served the midships turrets. Although no formal cause for the cordite explosion was ever found by the Court of Inquiry, the most likely explanation is that a fire in a coal bunker or neighbouring area smouldered away undetected long enough to heat the cordite stored at an adjoining bulkhead to dangerous levels, eventually triggering an explosive reaction.
Eye witness accounts of the incident described seeing a bright flash or flame followed by two heavy explosions and then a third, smaller one. Heather on a nearby hillside was set on fire. Because of the press censorship, the general public had to wait 18 months beofre the full details of the event could be printed.
Thomas Austin lived with his parents Charles and Kate at 52, Church Street, St Peter’s and he is commemorated on the Chatham Naval Memorial.
Image courtesy of Ronnie Cox & Maggie Cook. Text by B.Sleightholm