Sinking Of HMS Audacious HMS Audacious was the Royal Navy’s fourth and last King George V-class dreadnought battleship. She was laid down in 1911 and commissioned in 1913. Built by the legendary Cammell Laird, a British shipbuilding company that was formed from the merger of Laird Brothers and Johnson Cammell & Co, she could reach 21 knots. At 597 feet in length and with a displacement of 25,420 tons she was a big girl. Additionally she was equipped with 13.5 inch guns, she would have been a formidable addition at Jutland. But, sadly her fate was not to be.
The hero of Jutland, Admiral Sir John Jellicoe was worried about German submarine encroachments on Scapa Flow. He felt the area was not protected enough and dispersed his ships to other ports. Audacious sailed with her battle sqaudron for Loch na Keal on October 16th, located on the western coast of Scotland. About 130 miles southwest of Culloden, and and about 130 miles northwest of Bannockburn.
Unfortunately, the Germans had laid a number of mines in the area. The German mines consisted of two types, the torpedo launched TM mines (Torpedomine). In addition, the shaft launched SM mines (Schachtmine). The TM mines were launched from a standard 21 inch torpedo tube, making every attack boat a potential minelayer for the Germans.
On the morning of October 27th 1914, Audacious’ squadron was sailing near Tory Island taking part in a gunnery practice, she struck the German mine, laid only a few days earlier by the SS Berlin.
Initially Audacious believed she was torpedoed and that a German submarine was in the vicinity so she hoisted her flag notifying the other large craft to vacate the area. Only smaller support ships stayed to assist the beleaguered battleship.
The mine exploded 16 feet under the bottom of the Audacious and close to the rear of her port engine room. Water rushed into her engine room and the surrounding area flooded immediately as well. But, fortuntely for her the safety of her crew, the water’s spread stopped and her central engine room saw water enter much more slowly. As a result of the flooding not being too intense all of her crew from the affected compartments were able to vacate their spaces safely.
Moreover, as a result of the flooded compartments Audacious started to experience a list to port that was up to 15 degrees. To compensate for the imbalance in weight officers flooeded compartments on the starboard side to act as a weight counter. With the intention of keeping the ship from capsizing. The counter-flooding measures were successful and by 9:45am her list was decreased to no more than 9 degrees. Because of the heavy swells capsizing was an especially grave concern of her commanding officers.
It is nearly impossible to safely evacuate a capsized ship of great size.
When Audacious was reduced to only essential crew later in the morning she still had 250 souls on board down from 860. Imagine trying to safely evacuate 860 crew from a capsized ship?
Luckily the nearby passengership White Star Line’s Olympic (1911) had a wireless operator that was attending his station and picked up a message that the British battleship HMS Audacious had struck a mine and was sinking. So Olympic was able to come and assist Audacious. Furthermore, Olympic was only carrying 153 paying passengers so she had plenty of extra space to take on sailors. Olympic happenned to be on her last civilian voyage before her conversion into a World War I troopship.
Audacious‘ commander, Captain Cecil Dampier thought there was a decent chance his ship could make the 25 miles to land and beach the ship. Dampier could still make 9 knots with flooded compartments, so he turned Audacious south and made for Lough Swilly, one of Ireland’s 3 glacial fjords.
By 10:50am Dampier had made 15 miles of the journey when flooding became too much in the center and starboard engine rooms. And her crew had to abandon those areas. This forced the ship to stop. Dampier ordered all non-essential crew to abandon ship and efforts for Olympic to tow her failed as well, with the cable snapping.
By 17:00 only 50 men were left aboard. And by 18:15 her flooding had become too severe forcing Dampier to leave with the remaining 50 men.
Exmouth had been ordered by Jellicoe to sail for the wounded vessel and tow her the remaining distance and by 20:45 she had made her way to the scene. In fact, just as she arrived, Audacious heeled sharply and then rolled over and capsized. She would float upside down for 15 minutes until one of her magazines exploded, causing her sinking. In fact, it was this explosion that caused the only casualty of the day. With shrapnel hitting a nearby Royal Navy sailor.
Jellicoe would try and suppress news of the sinking so that the Germans didn’t know about the Royal Navy’s loss. However, he couldn’t quarantine the crew of Olympic through all of World War 1. And passengers aboard the ship had taken photos of the sinking.
It would not be until the war ended when on the 14th of November 1918, an official public notice announced her loss in The Times:
A Delayed Announcement.
The Secretary of the Admiralty makes the following announcement:—
H.M.S. Audacious sank after striking a mine off the North Irish coast on October 27, 1914.
This was kept secret at the urgent request of the Commander-in-Chief. Grand Fleet, and the Press loyally refrained from giving it any publicity.
A Royal Navy review board would fault crewmembers for not being at action stations to combat the flooding more quickly. But, they would also find that some of the hatches didn’t work and faulty seals around pipes contributed to the flooding spreading too quickly to be managed. She was still a young ship with a young crew.