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Centenary of HMS Vanguard tragedy to be marked

Centenary of HMS Vanguard sinking to be marked
7 July 2017
Events are taking place this week to mark the 100th anniversary of the tragic loss of the St. Vincent class battleship HMS Vanguard.

Built in 1909, Vanguard was the eighth ship to bear the name and was one of the new generation of Dreadnought battleships.  

On 9th July 1917, she had been conducting exercises in Scapa Flow and had proceeded to anchor for the evening.  At 11.20pm there were a series of catastrophic internal explosions and the ship sank almost immediately. Of the 845 men aboard, 843 were lost.  

Royal Navy clearance divers from HM Naval Base Clyde’s Northern Diving Group (NDG) have travelled to Orkney to carry out the poignant duty of changing the White Ensign on the wreck of Vanguard.  

Leading Diver James Brown said, “The waters of Scapa have always held a special place in NDG’s heart; whenever an opportunity arises for us to work in Orkney there is a competition within the team to secure a place."

During the week leading up to the anniversary, the NDG will carry out a sight survey and replace the White Ensign, laid in by the Royal Navy in 2009, with a new flag.  

In a rare collaboration, the NDG will be working alongside a team of volunteer civilian divers, who conducted a survey of the site earlier this year from the diving vessel MV Huskyan.

I am very happy to be joined by the ship’s companies of HMS Dasher and HMS Pursuer as well as the Northern Diving Group and personnel from the current HMS Vanguard

Captain Chris Smith, Naval Regional Commander Scotland and Northern Ireland

Able Seaman Diver Ahmet Demirezen said, “Working alongside the team from MV Huskyan has been a pleasure. Diving and honoring HMS Vanguard has been a humbling moment in my career."

During the winter of 2016/17 a dedicated team of volunteer divers were granted a licence to conduct an underwater photography, videography and 3D photogrammetry model of the wreck site.  

Emily Turton, the licensee and organiser of the civilian survey team said, “The data gathered by the team has allowed a greater understanding of the layout of the site, and also allows the wider community a chance to see HMS Vanguard after 100 years underwater.”

An evening event in Kirkwall on 6th July entitled, HMS Vanguard – 100 Years Underwater, offered the opportunity to find out about the survey and the collaboration between the RN and civilian team.  

Photographs and 3D imagery of the remains of HMS Vanguard were on show and there was the chance to talk to members of the survey team.

On Saturday 8th July, there will be a concert at St Magnus Catherdral, performed by the Music Ensemble and Corps of Drums from the Band of HM Royal Marines.

The 100th anniversary will be on Sunday 9th July and will be marked by a number of services and commemoration events. These events will be attended by 40 descents of the men who died. During the morning, a number of vessels, including two RN P2000 fast patrol boats, will take part in a wreath laying service over the wreck site of HMS Vanguard.

This will be followed during the afternoon with a service of commemoration at the Lyness Royal Naval Cemetery where 41 of the ship’s crew are buried. The day will culminate with a special night watch service at St. Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall.  

Starting at 11pm, it will mark the moment when the ship was destroyed by the explosions on board. During the service, the White Ensign that was recovered by the Royal Navy’s NDG will be presented to the people of Orkney.

Naval Regional Commander Scotland and Northern Ireland, Captain Chris Smith said, “The history of the Royal Navy and Scapa Flow are tightly entwined. Last year we recognised the huge sacrifice made by our sailors at the Battle of Jutland and commemorated the loss of HMS Hampshire.

“Next month we will recognise the achievement of Squadron Commander Edwin Dunning with his first ever landing of an aircraft on a ship at sea and his subsequent death a few days later, but this weekend we are firmly committed to commemorating the tragedy that was the loss of HMS Vanguard.

“The devastating explosion, completely accidental rather than a result of enemy action, was a shock when it happened and the tragic loss of more than 840 lives is still felt through their descendants and those in Orkney who feel passionately that we should mark the centenary in appropriate fashion.

“Royal Navy divers are today visiting the wreck, closely liaising with the Survey Team who did such an excellent job recently and the Ensign that has flown on that wreck will be recovered and presented to the people of Orkney at a ceremony in St. Magnus Cathedral in recognition of their continued role as guardians of so many of the Royal Navy’s lost ships and sailors.

“I am very happy to be joined by the ship’s companies of HMS Dasher and HMS Pursuer as well as the Northern Diving Group and personnel from the current HMS Vanguard as we support the welcome efforts of Orcadians in commemorating the loss of this great battleship and all but two of her crew in suitable fashion.”

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