NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

Orkney service marks HMS Vanguard sinking centenary

Wreck of HMS Vanguard Image copyright Marjo Tynkkynen
Image caption Royal Navy divers changed the White Ensign on the wreck of HMS Vanguard as part of the commemorations

A service to mark the centenary of one of the biggest tragedies in the history of the Royal Navy has taken place in Orkney.

More than 800 people died when HMS Vanguard sank in Scapa Flow.

A series of internal explosions ripped through the battleship at about 23:20 on 9 July 1917.

A memorial service was held in St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, on Sunday evening to mark the exact moment of the explosions.

Commemorative events also took place above the wreck site and at the Lyness Naval Cemetery where 41 of the men are buried.

The White Ensign on the wreck of the Vanguard was also changed by a team of Royal Navy Divers.

A book of remembrance compiled for the commemorations was handed over to the people of Orkney at the service.

Image copyright Orkney Library and Archive
Image caption HMS Vanguard sunk almost immediately after the accidental explosions

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

On 9 July 1917, the ship had been conducting exercises in Scapa Flow and had anchored for the evening.

At 23:20 a series of catastrophic explosions, most likely caused by an accidental magazine explosion, resulted in the ship sinking almost immediately.

Of the 845 men aboard, only two survived.

As part of the commemorations, Royal Navy divers from HM Naval Base Clyde's Northern Diving Group (NDG) travelled to Orkney to change the White Ensign on the wreck of Vanguard.

Image copyright Marjo Tynkkynen
Image copyright Marjo Tynkkynen

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."

Naval regional commander Scotland and Northern Ireland, Captain Chris Smith said the history of the Royal Navy and Scapa Flow were "tightly entwined".

"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," he said.

"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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