Loss of HMS Vanguard 9 July 1917 – more lax magazine procedures?

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    Malcolm Lewis

      The Dreadnought Battleship HMS Vanguard (L.1909) blew up whilst anchored at Scapa Flow on 9 July 1917 with the dreadful loss of 843 of the 845 men onboard. The Naval Correspondent of the Daily Telegraph at the time wrote(14July 1917):-“ This is not the first disaster of the kind which has occurred to the British Fleet.” (HMS Bulwark exploded at a buoy off Sheerness 26 Nov 1914 – 746 killed. HMS Natal destroyed by an ammunition explosion in Cromarty Forth 31 December 1915- 404 men lost)
      The correspondent continued, “There have been suspicions of foul play but official assurances were given to sooth these fears. However the Stockholm revelations have been published and we have learned of high explosive being made up to represent pieces of coal to be inserted in ships bunkers. The public await with anxiety the result of the enquiry.”
      Can anyone say what the “Stockholm revelations” were? Sounds as there were suspicions of sabotage.
      Wm Schleihauf in his article (July 2000) “Disaster in Harbour – The Loss of HMS Vanguard” mentions the Enquiry considered a cause could have been older Cordite in the magazine which had degenerated with time. Sulphate in the Cordite could have been released attacking the cellulose in the mix, generating heat and potential spontaneous inflammability.
      The fact that the explosion occurred in a magazine next to a boiler room that had remained flashed up for a long period in harbour is likely to have raised the magazine temperature to a dangerous level.
      Looking at ADM137/293, Order 194 Grand Fleet Gunnery Torpedo Orders 6 December 1916 Appendix Table 4. Precautionary Orders Regarding Ammunition, 1916 they state “magazines should be visited two or three times a day to ensure they are not being used for improper purposes” but I can’t see any regulations about checking temperatures or age of the explosive.
      I assume these regulations were updated after Jutland.
      It does seem that there was still not a lot of care taken in storing Cordite and also note how dangerous an explosive it was if it was past its “use by date”. Is there evidence that ships’ C.O.s were under pressure not to dispose of “old” Cordite?

      Frank Scott

        See William Schleihauf, Disaster in Harbour: The Loss of HMS Vanguard, Northern Mariner/Le Marin du nord, X, No. 3 (July 2000), 57-89. This is free to download on the Northern Mariner website. It seems a very comprehensive article & I doubt that there is much more that anyone can add.

        Frank Scott

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