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Diving at dive site HMS Vanguard
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The H.M.S. Vanguard was built by Cammell-Lairds at Birkenhead, and launched on January 3rd 1870. She was one of a group of four ships in the 'Audacious' class (named after the first of the four to be launched). She was the 7th ship of the Royal Navy to bear the name 'Vanguard' (the name currently belongs to a Trident nuclear submarine). The Vanguard was a 'central battery' ironclad battleship. She represented an intermediate step in battleship design between the earlier 'broadside' ships, whose guns were arrayed along the length of the ship, and the later 'turret' ships, whose guns were housed in rotating gun turrets. In the Vanguard, the main guns were contained in a reinforced central gun battery located amidships on the upper and main decks.
The HMS Vanguard grossed some 6,010 tons, and was 341 feet long. She was equipped with three masts as well as two engines capable of 4,830 horsepower giving her a top speed of 13 knots. She was built of iron, with teak used as backing on the inside to reinforce the iron plate against incoming fire. Her main armament was of ten 12-ton 9-inch muzzle-loaded guns. She also carried four smaller 64-pounder 6-inch 'chaser' guns, two at the bow and two at the stern on the upper deck, and six 20-pounder guns. Her full complement was of 450 men.
The Vanguard sank on September 1st 1875. She was traveling in convoy with three other ironclads from Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire) en route to Queenstown (Cobh), Co. Cork on the final leg of a flag-flying tour of Irish ports. The other ships in the convoy were the Warrior (now restored as a museum in Portsmouth), the Hector and the Iron Duke (a sister ship of the Vanguard).
Shortly after leaving port, the convoy encountered heavy fog off the Kish lightship. The Iron Duke was drifting off station, and had no working foghorn. When the Vanguard spotted a sailing ship ahead, she turned to avoid collision and collided instead with the Iron Duke. Ships of the time were equipped with underwater rams at the bow for holing other ships, and the the Iron Duke rammed the Vanguard near the engines. With water rushing in and the steam-operated pumps out of action once the engines had stopped (it was argued they would have proved inadequate anyway), the Vanguard sank in 70 minutes. The many life-boats aboard were deployed, and all 360 crew aboard were saved, the only casualty being the Captain's dog. Attempts, including efforts by Royal Navy divers, were made to salvage the wreck, but this proved impossible.Captain Richard Dawkins was subsequently court-martialled and never regained command of a ship. The admiralty argued that he should have saved the ship, and noted that the rescue of all the crew implied that there should have been sufficient time to do so. Popular opinion at the time, however, held that those who had delivered the verdict lacked understanding of the working of modern ironclad vessels and felt Captain Dawkins' treatment unfair.
The Vanguard was rediscovered in 1985. She lies on a sandy seabed, tilted over towards her starboard side. This is the shallow side of the wreck, dropping to around 45m - the port side drops to over 50m. Due to her solid construction, she remains very intact. The iron hull is very well preserved, and although the wood of the decks has largely rotted away, the iron frames remain.The octagonal upper deck of the central gun battery (the highest part of the ship at around 32m) is now beginning to collapse, but the huge 9-inch guns remain in place and can be seen through holes in the battery roof. The main mast, which stood clear of the surface after the sinking, has fallen over and lies across the central battery and over the starboard side. The bridge once stood aft of the central battery, above the upper deck, but is now gone. There is a large crack in the ship immediately aft of the central battery, where you can drop to the level of the main deck and see one of the ship's wheels. Back on the upper deck, and moving towards the bow along the port gunwale, you come across the main anchor and one of the small 64-pounder guns. The remains of the forward mast are a little further along.
Whilst visibility in the Irish Sea off Dublin apparently continues to improve year on year, the Vanguard can still be a very dark and challenging dive. As the ship has a large number of open hatches, and a substantial breach behind the gun battery, care must be taken to avoid unwittingly entering the wreck.
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