HMS Vanguard, launched in 1944, was the last battleship constructed for the British Royal Navy.

Designed with a culmination of experience and technological advancements from previous battleships, she boasted impressive armaments and significant armor protection.

Despite her advanced capabilities, the Vanguard never saw combat and was decommissioned in 1960, symbolizing the end of the age of battleships in naval warfare.


Construction Of HMS Vanguard

HMS Vanguard stands as a testament to British naval engineering, conceived amidst a changing landscape of warfare. Her construction began during the late 1930s, a time when the world was preparing for another great conflict. As war clouds loomed, the British Royal Navy felt the need for a powerful warship that could uphold its maritime supremacy.

HMS Vanguard anchored in port.

Initiated at the Clydebank shipyard by John Brown & Company, the keel for HMS Vanguard was laid down in 1941. However, given the exigencies of World War II and the prioritization of other shipbuilding projects, the completion of Vanguard faced delays. It wasn’t until 1944 that this magnificent ship was launched, with the Second World War nearing its end. By the time she was commissioned in 1946, the war had concluded, causing her to miss active participation in combat.

Design Specifications of the HMS Vanguard

Armament: The primary firepower of the Vanguard came from her eight 15-inch guns, which were mounted in four twin turrets. These guns were known for their range and devastating impact. Supplementing her primary armament were an array of secondary guns and anti-aircraft weapons, ensuring she was well-prepared for threats from both sea and air.

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Armor: Drawing from experiences against formidable adversaries, the design of Vanguard emphasized protection. She boasted a main belt armor of up to 14 inches and turret armor of 13 inches. This robust protective layer was especially focused around vital areas, making her one of the most heavily armored battleships of her time.

Propulsion: The HMS Vanguard was fitted with a state-of-the-art propulsion system consisting of four sets of geared steam turbines. These turbines, coupled with eight Admiralty 3-drum boilers, endowed her with a power output of 130,000 shaft horsepower. As a result, Vanguard boasted an impressive top speed of around 30 knots, making her one of the fastest battleships ever built.

Dimensions: The Vanguard measured approximately 814 feet in length overall, with a beam of 108 feet and a deep draught of 36 feet. This made her one of the largest battleships in the Royal Navy’s history, reflecting her status as the last and most advanced of Britain’s battleships.

Aircraft Facilities: Recognizing the increasing role of aviation in naval warfare, Vanguard was equipped with aircraft facilities. She had a catapult, crane, and hangers, allowing her to operate aircraft for reconnaissance and other roles.

How did HMS Vanguard sink?

HMS Vanguard sank on July 9, 1917, at Scapa Flow due to an intеrnal еxplosion caused by faulty corditе, not еnеmy action. Thе blast torе thе ship apart, lеading to thе loss of 843 livеs, with only two survivors. Invеstigatеd in 1975, thе Royal Navy confirmеd thе еxplosion’s origin, rеndеring thе wrеck a protеctеd war gravе. Rеcovеrеd bodiеs rеst in Lynеss Royal Naval Cеmеtеry, Hoy, honoring thе tragic еvеnt in naval history.

Service History

The HMS Vanguard, while emerging as an epitome of British naval engineering, had an operational history marked not by combat but by its role in showcasing Britain’s maritime presence and prowess during the transitional post-war era.

Post-World War II Era: Commissioned in 1946, shortly after the end of World War II, the Vanguard missed the opportunity to participate in the conflict that had shaped so much of her design and construction. However, she swiftly assumed her position as the flagship of the British Home Fleet. In this capacity, she served to reassert the Royal Navy’s presence in European waters and demonstrated the continuing capability of the British fleet in the post-war period.

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Royal and Diplomatic Duties: One of the most notable aspects of Vanguard’s operational history was her role as a royal vessel. In 1947, the battleship was selected to transport King George VI and his family on a state visit to South Africa. This royal tour, conducted over several months, saw the Vanguard sail from Portsmouth to Cape Town and back, cementing her status not just as a warship but as a symbol of national pride and monarchy. The visit itself had diplomatic implications, strengthening ties between Britain and its dominions.

Training and Exercises: Throughout the 1950s, the HMS Vanguard was actively involved in various training exercises. These maneuvers, often conducted in collaboration with NATO allies, emphasized the importance of naval readiness during the nascent stages of the Cold War. Though she never encountered an actual threat, her participation in these exercises underlined her capabilities and the strategic importance of battleships in naval doctrines of the time.

HMS Vanguard during NATO exercise in September 1952.

Goodwill Missions: The Vanguard undertook several goodwill missions during her operational life. These voyages, which took her to numerous ports around the world, served dual purposes. Firstly, they showcased Britain’s continued maritime strength and presence on the global stage. Secondly, they aimed to foster diplomatic ties, strengthen alliances, and promote peace during a period of geopolitical realignment.

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Decommissioning: By the late 1950s, the landscape of naval warfare had witnessed significant shifts. The emergence of missile technology, the rising prominence of submarines, and the undeniable dominance of aircraft carriers meant that battleships like the Vanguard were becoming increasingly obsolete. Recognizing this evolution, the British government made the difficult decision to decommission the HMS Vanguard. In 1960, she was retired from active service and was subsequently scrapped.

Off For A Pint?

On 9 October 1959, the Admiralty declared that the Vanguard would be decommissioned and dismantled, citing her obsolescence and the high costs of her upkeep. Officially taken out of service on 7 June 1960, she was subsequently sold to BISCO for a sum of £560,000.

HMS Vanguard trying to go for one last pint.

On 4 August 1960, as she was set to be towed from Portsmouth to the Faslane dismantling yard in Scotland, throngs of spectators lined the Southsea seafront to bid her farewell. However, as she was being guided out of the harbor, Vanguard veered off course and became stranded near the Still & West pub. It took the combined effort of five tugboats and an hour’s time to free her.

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She narrowly avoided another grounding near the Moving & East pub on the opposite coast before finally departing Portsmouth. She reached Faslane five days after, and by the middle of 1962, her dismantling was finalized. Vanguard holds the distinction of being the last British battleship to undergo scrapping.