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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited by Moderator)
  • 1 class information
  • 2 Building data
  • 3 Basic Details
  • 4 Machinery
  • 5 Armament
  • 6 Armour Protection
  • 7 Service History
class information[edit]

The St Vincent class were a follow on of the preceding Bellerophon class and because they were very different from the following single ship class, Neptune, they can be considered the final development ,as a class, of the Dreadnought. They were followed by the single ship class the Neptune were the first super-firing turrets in a Royal navy battleship were fitted, the wing turrest were also staggered in this class allowing, in theory, a ten gun broadside.The new gun , a 50 calibre (C50) 12", made it's appearance in this class, the earlier Dreadnoughts had the 45 calibre weapon (C45). The new gun being 5 calibres or 5 feet longer needed a re-working of the basic design in the area of X and Y turrets to allow room for the longer weapon, there were slight modifications to the armour with an increase in thickness of the armoured deck but the deck below this was reduced in thickness so the overall effect was a negligible increase in protection.The machinery no longer had a separate cruising turbine in an attempt to improve the rather poor fuel consumption of the class, particularly when cruising, otherwise the class were identical to the Bellerophon's, the similarity and lack of correction of faults in these ships designs was the direct result of the Dreadnought arms race, the need to out-build any competitor meant that the follow on classes to the Dreadnought were built so quickly after the Dreadnought that there was no time for the design to properly evolve. It would take until the appearance of the Orion class in 1912 to make a start on these design defects, up until the appearance of the dreadnoughts the old idea of naval gunnery was little changed from the days of Nelson; get close and overwhelm the enemy with the sheer weight of shell fired hence the need for a thick armoured belt on the side of the ship and the Royal Navy's emphasis on the rate of fire.With the advent of heavier guns and longer ranges the old idea of protecting a ship by having a thick armoured belt was no longer sufficient. With the longer ranges the guns that fired the shells were using higher elevations resulting in a higher altitude of flight and thus a steeper angle of descent, or plunging fire, of the shells, to compound this better range finders and the advent of director control of the main battery was further increasing the ranges at which future battles would be fought. Although named Dreadnoughts they now had plenty to worry about in a long range gunnery battle, a plunging shell would easily penetrate their deck armour quite possible resulting in the loss of the ship.

Van1.jpg Undated shot of Vanguard - obtained from the USNH website - free of copywrite

Building data[edit]

Vanguard was built by Built by Vickers at Barrow in Furness, being laid down on the 02nd. April 1908 and launched on the 22nd February 1909 , she commissioned on the 01st. March 1910, building costs were just over £1.6 million.


Vanguard on her launch day 22nd February 1909 - USNH website photograph - frree of copywrite

Basic Details[edit]

L 536' B 84' Draft 27' to 31'03" Displacement 19,250 tons Standard to approx 23,000 tons full load Crew 810 to 820 men.


Machinery: Quadruple propellers driven by Parsons direct drive steam turbines in a more or less identical layout to the Dreadnought with the exception that no cruising turbine was fitted instead an extra stage was fitted to the High pressure turbines, this was separated from the main turbine by a by-pass valve. As id the dreadnought and Bellerophon classes the high pressure turbines drove the outboard propeller shafts and the low pressure turbines the inner shafts developing just under 26,000 SHP on trials at 342 Rpm giving a maximum speed of 21.5 knots , normal power was 24,500 HP for 21 knots.Steam was provided by eighteen Babcock and Wilcox boilers arranged in three groups essentially coal fired they were however fitted with oil sprayers to permit faster raising of steam. Steam pressure was 235 psi with a heating surface of 63,414 square feetBunker capacity was 2,800 tons of coal and 940 tons of oil, consumption at full speed being in the order of 360 tons per day, range was 4,250 miles at 18 knots rising to 6,900 miles at 10 knots


Main battery Ten 12" C50 Mk11 guns in five twin turrets in the same layout as the preceding Dreadnought and Bellerophon classes.The New weapon was not a success, now fifty calibres in length the longer barrel was designed to give higher muzzle velocities and thus greater range and hitting power, it used a larger propellant charge of 307 lbs against the earlier 12" guns 258 lbs of MD size 45 cordite. The larger charge did not always burn correctly within the barrel length resulting in a very poor shell spread pattern, also the higher pressures within the gun barrel , something akin to 20-22 tons per square inch, caused serious wear and thus the guns only had a working life of around 220 rounds.Shell weights were the same for the earlier 12 " guns at 850 to 859 lbs the range was around 21,000 yards at 15 degrees elevation against 19,000 yards for the C45 guns of the earlier classes.As with the preceding classes only eight of the ten guns could be fired on either beam with four or six ahead and six or eight astern, the actual numbers depending on the relative bearing of the target.


Vanguards aftermost, or 'Y' turret, taken post 1915, to the immediate right of the turret is the secondary conning position, and to the right of that, just above the mens heads the barrels of 'X' turret. The booms along the ships side are for support the anti-torpedo netting when in port.From the USNH website - free of copywrite

Secondary battery Twenty 4" C50 QF Mk7 guns all in single mounts in a mixture of 8 guns in casemates and 12 in open mounts these fired a 31lb shell to 11,500 yards .Four three pounder guns C50 were also carried, these could be used for AA surface or signalling duties, the shell wight was actually 3.3 lbs with a bore of 1.85" range was 5,600 yards with an AA ceiling of 15,000 feet.In 1915 eight of the twenty 4" guns were removed from the tops of the main gun houses, these being largely useless as they could not be manned when the main armament was in use.

Torpedo armamentThree below water tubes were fitted for 18 inch Whitehead torpedoes with one firing ahead and one on either beam.


This image and the image below are courtesy of navyphotos show 'Y' turret trained out to port and the somewhat useless pair of 4" guns on the turrest roof can be clearly seen, these were two of the eight turret mounted guns removed in 1915 so these pictures are pre-1915.


Armour Protection[edit]

The armoured protection of the St Vincent class remained very similar to the Dreadnought and Bellerophon classes. The main belt was 10 inches tapering to 8 inches on the lower belt and although of Krupp cemented armour (KCA) this was rather inferior, it was also not carried high enough allowing plunging fire relatively easy access over the top of the belt to the weak deck armour. The armoured bulkheads closing off the citadel were of 8 inches KCA forwards and 5" KCA aft The fore and aft torpedo bulkheads were still set rather too far inboard and were really magazine screens rather than true torpedo bulkheads these ran from the forward end of the forward magazine to the aft end of the after magazine, thickness varied between 1 to 2 inches with 3 inches in way of the mid-ships p and Q turrets..The deck s were all of Krupp Non Cemented Armour ( KNCA), the upper-deck being ¾. " The main deck 1 ¾. Inches Middle deck 1 ½. Inches increasing to 3 inches as special protective screens over the magazines , boiler and engine spaces.The gun houses ( turrets) had 11 inch faces and 4 inch roofs all KCA , the forward control tower had 8 inches of KCA and it's communications tube 5 inches of KCA , whilst the figures for the aft tower were 4 inches also KCA.

Service History[edit]

On completion Vanguard joined the 1st Battle Squadron Grand Fleet and remained there until April 1916 when she transferred to 4th Battle Squadron.

At Jutland Vanguard was part of the 4th division of the 4th Battle-Squadron Led by Vice Admiral Sir Doveton Sturdee in Benbow followed by Bellerophon, Temeraire and Vanguard, Her first action came at about 1820 when she reported shells falling around her, these came from the German battleships as yet out of sight in the smoke.At 1830 the source of a lot of the smoke, the badly damaged German light cruiser appeared and Vanguard fired 42 rounds of 12" at the hapless German ship, she was disabled and as she appeared out the smoke successive British ships opened fire on her, Vanguard claimed several hits from the fourth and successive salvoes but so many ships were firing at the Wiesbaden it is impossible to tell who hit her or indeed how often she was hit.Following this period Vanguard sighted the enemy battle-fleet but the targets were masked by other ships of the Grand fleet so she did not open fire.At 1920 the attacking German 6th and 9th destroyer flotilla's were sighted and Vanguard engaged with her main armament firing eight or nine salvoes without any known success.She fired a total of 80 rounds of 12" of which 65 were HE ( High explosive at the destroyers) and 15 CPC ( Common percussion Capped at the Wiesbaden) she also fired 10 rounds of 4" at unknown targets but in all probability the destroyers.During the battle Vanguard was not hit or damaged and suffered no injuries to her crew, she did have minor mechanical problems with a single gun breech.Post Jutland her life was one of routine patrols and fleet manoeuvres, she was now one of the more obsolete members of the grand fleet, outmoded by the super-dreadnoughts with their all centre line mounted 13.5" guns and heavier armour.Just before midnight at 2320 on the 09th July 1917 Vanguard was lying at anchor in Scapa Flow, her new crew of about 840 men were largely asleep when the entire fleet was lit by a brilliant flash, the magazines of Vanguard had exploded, in that moment all but 2 of her crew perished, the exact number is still a subject of discussion, recent analysis puts this number at 843 men.The two men who survived were a Royal marine and an AB, a third man an officer also survived but died shortly afterwards.

Divers were sent down to recover bodies, secret do***ents and to investigate what happened and what may have been the cause, all the guns had been blown out of the ship, the decks largely blown off and the armour blown outwards described as being like a peeled orange.One eyewitness account, was that of a signalman in HMS Marlborough, Charles William Mynott, he described seeing Vanguard's explosion as four separate explosions starting aft followed by midships then forwards followed by one Huge explosion.

The investigations followed three themes, Sabotage, Vanguard had recently changed her crew possibly allowing an insurgent on board, this was ruled out unlikely as she was no longer an important ship.

The second theory was deterioration with age of cordite, the propellant used for her shells .Based on there being around 80 rounds per gun there would be in the order of 245,600 lbs or 110 tons of this explosive on board, the type Being MD45 a nitro-glycerine based rod-shaped explosive contained in silk bags.This propellant was extremely unstable with age and this remains as the most likely cause of the explosion.

The third theory was spontaneous heating of a coal in a bunker adjacent to one of the mid-ships magazines, this heating being transferred through steel bulkheads to the cordite. This was the cause of the explosion in the USS Maine , a second class battleship at anchor in Havana harbour nearly 20years previously in February 1898, Given the number of crew on a ship of this size, and the well known risks of coal spontaneously heating it seems unlikely that this would have gone unnoticed and the fact that a witness who saw the explosion stated that it started aft away from the bunker spaces, it must however remain as a possible cause.

In 1958-9 salvage of the wreck was carried out with valuable metals such as condensers and valves being removed, the vessels concerned with the salvage were an old trawler the Ocean Raleigh and a on old boom defence vessel the Bearneath, they found one of the vanguards propellers lying some distance from the wreck still with a length of shafting and stern seal attached but twisted through ninety degrees or more attesting to the shear force of the explosion.

Today the wreck lying 108 feet of water is designated a controlled site under the protection of military remains act, a porthole recovered from the wreck can be seen in the Lyness Museum and just to the north of the crude oil loading jetty at Flotta can be seen an east cardinal buoy bearing the name Vanguard, testament to one of the Royal navies worst accidents and the biggest loss of life to an explosion to this day in the UK

Page construction competed 27th September 2007 by Steve Woodward


  1. IWM , Jutland - John Campbell, Jutland - Geoffrey Bennett.
  2. - loss of HMS Vanguard
  3. - number of crew lost

St Vincent Class Battleships

St Vincent class battleship - HMS St VincentSt Vincent Class Battleship - HMS Vanguard
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