HMS Audacious

HMS Audacious when new.

HMS Audacious was a King George V class battleship, built for the Royal Navy at Cammell Laird from 1911 to 1913. One year and six days after her commissioning, Audacious put to sea from her base at Lough Swilly for target practice, along with six other new super-dreadnoughts. While making a turn northeast of Tory Island at 8:45 AM, the vessel stuck a mine abreast the port engine room.

The dull thud was not at first thought to be an explosion, so no order to close the watertight doors was given until the ship had completed her turn and failed to right herself. The port and centerline engine rooms flooded, and the ship took on a marked list to port. To counteract the list, compartments were counterflooded on the starboard side, which reduced the list to 10-15 degrees. However, many of these compartments, thought to be watertight, were not. 

Progressive flooding from both the damage and the counterflooding proved to be more than the pumps could handle, and the vessel began to settle. She attempted to make port at her best speed of 9 knots, but about 1 hour and 15 minutes after the explosion the rising water in the starboard engine room caused the loss of all power. The vessel went dead in the water, without power to her auxiliary machinery. The British liner Olympic, sistership to the ill-fated Titanic, answered the distress call, and along with the cruiser Liverpool and some destroyers took off all but 250 essential crew members. The giant liner then attempted to tow the wounded battleship to port, but the sea and wind were pulling hard to the south, so the pull line parted. The cruiser, and later the collier Thornhill, also attempted the tow, but the rough weather made salvage impossible. By 5 PM all but 50 crewmen had been evacuated, and they followed an hour later. By 9 PM the list had increased to 30 degrees, and the vessel was down dramatically by the stern. At 10:45 PM she capsized, and 15 minutes later a large explosion of a forward magazine, followed by two smaller secondary explosions, accompanied the sinking of the vessel. 

No lives were lost in the incident, but one of Britain's newest and most powerful dreadnoughts had been lost due to poor damage control.

HMS Audacious sinking

At the time of the sinking, the British Grand Fleet was suffering a series of setbacks that caused it to be much weaker than it looked on paper; Several of the newer dreadnoughts had not yet been worked up, several others were suffering from engine problems, and the battlecruiser Invincible was having her troublesome electric turret gear replaced with a hydraulic system. In an effort to hide this weakness, Admiral Jellicoe suggested that the loss of Audacious be covered up. The British Foreign Office readily agreed, and the British cabinet concurred. A campaign of censorship led to the suppression of all stories of her loss, and the ship continued to appear on the fleet lists until after the war.
However, there were hundreds of Americans embarked on the Olympic, so the American press was filled with stories and even photos of her sinking. Soon, the loss of HMS Audacious was common knowledge to the entire world, and the continued insistence of the Royal Navy that the ship was still in service became a running joke that undermined the credibility of the British government on the world stage.

The HMS Audacious lays in 216 feet of water, with the top of the wreck at 190 feet, some 15 miles off Malin Head. The wreck's GPS possition is 55 28.291 North by 07 45.101 West. Because the loss of the vessel was kept secret, the wreck was not discovered until 1995, and it is thus almost completely undisturbed. The vessel is upside down, with large holes blown in the hull from the magazine explosion and mine, which allows access to the engine rooms and other internal spaces. One turret is turned 90-degrees, so the guns protrude from underneath the hull. Torpedoes, 13.5-inch, and 4-inch shells litter the bottom around the wreck. The bottom is gravel, which leads to excellent visibility. Due to the depth and the prevalent heavy seas, this is a difficult dive for the experienced diver only.

Thanks to Doug Johnson for the photos!!