fonte ANSA: Un relitto scoperto da subacquei al largo del porto di Tripoli ha fatto riemergere la brutta storia di un disastro causato da una incauta manovra di uno stolto Ammiraglio della flotta di Sua Maestà. Una tragica pagina della pur gloriosa storia della Marina Inglese che l’Ammiragliato di Londra avrebbe voluto strappare.
Questo è almeno ciò che è riportato da fonte ANSA:
“LONDRA, 2 SET – E’ stata la peggior collisione tra navi della Royal Navy della storia della marina militare britannica, la maggior perdita di vite umane in tempo di pace ed uno degli episodi che l’Ammiragliato avrebbe preferito dimenticare per sempre. Ora invece, a distanza di 111 anni, la carcassa della nave ammiraglia della flotta di Sua maestà nel Mediterraneo, la Victoria, e’ stata ritrovata al largo del porto di Tripoli, allora Siria ed ora Libano. La sagoma della nave, colata a picco in pochi minuti il 22 giugno del 1893 trascinando con se’ centinaia di marinai, e’ apparsa come uno straordinario monumento sottomarino ai sommozzatori che sono riusciti ad individuare il relitto, piantato con la prua nella sabbia del mare, i due terzi della sua lunghezza di oltre cento metri visibili in verticale, con le due enormi eliche che si stagliano contro la superfice del mare, una sessantina di metri sopra la poppa.
Un monumento all’arroganza di un ammiraglio, sir George Tryon, e alla fiducia cieca dei comandanti delle 10 navi da guerra che comandava che, pur consci della pericolosita’ della manovra ordinata, dopo timide resistenze, avevano accettato una decisione dimostratasi tragica. Nel corso della manovra di ancoraggio infatti un’altra nave, la Camperdown, aveva alla fine speronato la Victoria mandandola a fondo: erano scomparsi 358 ufficiali e marinai, compreso l’ammiraglio Tryon che prima di morire aveva riconosciuto alla fine il suo errore.
La Victoria aveva una stazza di oltre 10 mila tonnellate; era una nave a vapore con le strutture in legno ricoperte con corazze di ferro e due enormi cannoni a prua, i piu’ grandi dell’epoca, del peso di 110 tonnellate l’uno. A rintracciare il relitto sono stati due sommozzatori, Christian Francis che da anni era alla ricerca dello scafo e (????) Elliatt. I due sono riusciti a identificare l’area di mare grazie ad una serie di racconti fatti dai pescatori che descrivevano un’area ricca di pesci, fatto che poteva rivelare la presenza di un relitto. La vista della Victoria ha lasciato attoniti i due: l’enorme massa dello scafo piantato in verticale – hanno raccontato – e’ stato uno spettacolo senza precedenti, anche perche’ si ricorda di un solo scafo trovato in questa posizione ed era nelle Filippine. La nave una volta speronata sarebbe affondata di prua trascinata dall’enorme peso dei due cannoni e contemporaneamente spinta dalle eliche che hanno continuato a girare vorticosamente.
La Victoria varata nel 1887, era l’ammiraglia della flotta nel Mediterraneo costituita da 10 unita’ navali, tutte di stazza attorno alle 10 mila tonnellate. la formazione era divisa in due gruppi di cinque unita’ che procedevano parallelamente. Ad un certo punto l’ammiraglio Tryon aveva deciso di dare alla gente che stava nel porto di Tripoli la dimostrazione di come sapevano manovrate le navi di Sua Maesta’. All’inizio sembrava aver accettato il suggerimento di allontanare le due formazioni per consentire la manovra prevista a novanta gradi, poi aveva deciso che la manovra doveva essere fatta in spazi piu’ piccoli, causando alla fine la tragedia. Ora l’area di mare che circonda il relitto e’ stata vietata a navi e sommozzatori. Dovra’ essere deciso se il relitto deve o no essere classificato come una sorta di cimitero di guerra. In questo caso nessuno potrà più avvicinarsi. Non si sa per quanti anni le strutture di ferro reggeranno ancora il peso della nave, ma i tecnici calcolano che il relitto, svuotato della struttura lignea, potrebbe crollare tra pochi anni come tra un centinaio.”
ecco il testo della storia in inglese:
The best known and most tragic collision beween ships in the history of the Royal Navy was that between the battleship Victoria – the flagship of the British Mediterranean Fleet – and the Camperdown, on 22 June 1893. The Victoria was launched in 1887. She was to have been called the Renown, but as she was ready for launching in Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Year, her name was changed to that of the reigning monarch.
She carried two enormous Armstrong 16.25-inch guns weighing 110 tons each and firing a 1,600 lb. projectile. They were so large and heavy that only two could be carried. Both were mounted in one turret forward, which meant that they could not fire astern. This limitation was accepted by the Board of the Admiralty because “no British battleship would be called upon to fire astern.” The Victoria had only one sister ship, the Sans Pareil, which was in company with her when she sank. They each displaced 10,420 tons.
The Camperdown was a slightly older ship and displaced 10,600 tons. She was launched in 1883 as one of the ‘Admiral’ Class, having an armament of four 13.5-inch guns each weighing 67 tons, mounted in one twin turret forward and another twin turret aft.
On a hot afternoon in the Mediterranean in June 1893 the British Mediterranean Fleet was about to anchor, in formation, off Tripoli [on the coast of Syria – now in Lebanon].
The fleet, consisting of 10 battleships, or large armoured cruisers, of about 10,000 tons each (and one despatch vessel), had been organised into two divisions. They were formed in these divisions, in line ahead disposed abeam, with the Victoria leading the first division and Camperdown leading the second division.
The fleet was under the command of Vice-Admiral Sir George Tryon, who flew his flag in the Victoria. The second-in-command was Rear-Admiral Markham who flew his flag in the Camperdown.
Admiral Tryon was an expert in fleet handling, and had trained his captains to expect a variety of complicated manoeuvres at any time. He was a great martinet, a large taciturn man who sought counsel from nobody and rarely informed his staff of his intentions.
On this occasion, however, Tryon had discussed his anchoring plan with his Flag Captain, the Staff Commander and Flag Lieutenant. He told them he intended to form up in two columns steering away from the coast with the columns 1,200 yards apart, with ships in column at normal station-keeping distance apart, which in those days was 400 yards. He intended to reverse the course of the fleet by turning the columns inwards, leaders turning together and each ship following in succession the next ahead. He then intended to close the columns to 400 yards apart. Finally he intended to turn the whole fleet together 90 degrees to port, and then to anchor the fleet.
It was intended to be an impressive sight to those on shore who witnessed it, and indeed it would have been. Even in those days it was not often possible to see ten large warships anchoring together. The Victoria would have hoisted a two-flag signal which denoted ‘anchor instantly.’ The Camperdown would have repeated the hoist, and, as Victoria’s signalmen hauled it down, ten blacksmiths armed with hammers would have knocked off the slips holding the cables and down would have simultaneously splashed ten anchors.
The Staff Commander and the Flag Captain remarked to the Admiral that 1,200 yards was insufficient to allow the leading ships to turn together towards each other, and the Staff Commander suggested that 1,600 yards would be better, but even that would have been insufficient.
The Admiral agreed, but later told his Staff Lieutenant to close the columns to 1,200 yards.
The signal was hoisted and the Staff Commander, seeing that 1,200 yards was hoisted, told the Flag Lieutenant that he must have made a mistake as the Admiral had agreed to 1,600 yards. The Flag Lieutenant therefore went to the Admiral, who was in his sea cabin, and queried whether it should be 1,200 yards or 1,600, explaining that “1,200” was flying. The Admiral, somewhat tersely, told him to leave it at 1,200 and to execute the signal as soon as possible.
The fleet was formed accordingly. It should be noted that, when the fleet was formed in columns like this, the normal distance between columns laid down in the manoeuvring instructions was in those days “the distance apart of ships [in this case 400 yards] multiplied by the number of ships in the longest column.” In this case the longest column had six ships in it and the distance apart of columns should have been 400 x 6 = 2,400 yds., which would have left plenty of room for carrying out the intended manoeuvre.
The distance between columns was worked out to allow for a favourite manoeuvre in those days – forming a single line by turning leading ships of columns 90 degrees to port or starboard, the remaining ships following their leaders in succession. By this means a single line could be formed – at right angles to the original line of advance.
If the distance between columns was too small then in this manoeuvre the end ships of columns in the direction of the turn might have got muddled up with those of columns not in the direction of the turn, with a consequent risk of collision. If the distance between columns equalled the number of ships in the columns multiplied by their intervals apart, the end of the column in the direction of turn should have fitted perfectly with the leading ship of the column away from the direction of the turn.
The fleet increased speed to 8.8 knots, and shortly afterwards, at 15.00, the Admiral directed his Flag Lieutenant to hoist two signals. One was addressed to the first division and directed it to turn in succession, preserving the order of the fleet, 16 points (180 degrees) to port. The second was addressed to the second division and directed it to turn in succession, preserving the order of the fleet, 16 points to starboard.
The columns were thus to turn towards each other. The signals were made in separate hoists and it would have been possible to execute one signal (by hauling it down) before the other. However – the Flag Lieutenant knew perfectly well what was in the Admiral’s mind.
The turning-circle diameters of Victoria and Camperdown, under “tactical” rudder, were each about 800 yards. Thus even the 1,600 yards which the Staff Commander had suggested was only barely sufficient for the manoeuvre.
If the two battleships had used full rudder their turning circle diameters would have been reduced to about 600 yards. It would then have been possible for the two ships to turn inwards without colliding, but with only 20 yards or so to spare. However, the standing instructions were that during manoeuvres tactical rudder should be used.
It must have been obvious to every captain in the fleet that the manoeuvre was an exceedingly dangerous one – yet every ship, with the sole exception of the Camperdown, went “close up” with her answering pennant in full acknowledgment of the signal (it was – and still is – standard practice to keep the answering pennant “at the dip” if the signal is not understood).
Camperdown, being the leading ship in her column, repeated the hoist, but Rear Admiral Markham – aboard her – ordered the repeated hoist to be kept at the dip, signifying that he did not understand the signal. At the same time he ordered that a semaphore signal to the flagship should be made indicating that he did not understand the flagship’s signal.
However, the semaphore was never sent. Admiral Tryon – “ever impatient” – ordered Camperdown’s pennants to be shown, an expression of impatience which no officer would like, and sent a semaphore signal of his own saying “What are you waiting for?” Rear Admiral Markham, seeing this and having complete confidence in his superior officer, thought that Admiral Tryon would solve the problem somehow. He therefore had his own semaphore cancelled and ordered that the repeated signal be hoisted close up.
At the subsequent court-martial Markham was questioned as to why, given that he knew the intended manoeuvre was dangerous – if not impossible, he had allowed the repeated signal to be hoisted close up? He answered that he had such faith in Admiral Tryon that he thought that he must have some trick up his sleeve.
Markham considered that there were two possibilities – either the C-in-C would execute the order to the Second Division (Markham’s column) first and, when this division was safely turned, would turn his own division; or he intended to turn Victoria and the First Division with less rudder and therefore turn outside the Camperdown’s division.
Nonetheless when the signal was executed the two divisions were turned simultaneously and Camperdown started turning to starboard, while Victoria started turning to port, with both using tactical rudder. Even then, although it was obvious to all the onlookers that a collision was imminent, both Captains failed to put their inner screws astern, not being prepared to do so without permission from their division commanders.
In fact Captain Burke – the commanding officer of the Victoria – had to ask three times for permission to put his port propeller astern before it was eventually given.
The two battleships met halfway between their respective columns. Camperdown struck the Victoria on the flagship’s starboard side, opening up an enormous hole at and below the waterline. Camperdown’s ram had penetrated the flagship’s side by about 9 feet, at a point about 12 feet below the surface. It struck a transverse bulkhead almost directly and, as the two ships swung together, the breach became enlarged to about 100 square ft.
Just before the impact the order “close watertight doors and out collision mat” had been given aboard the flagship – but only a few doors had been closed when the collision took place. Thus water was able to get into a coal bunker just forward of a stokehold. Victoria began to list to starboard, and the list started to increase more rapidly when the starboard battery began to flood as water entered the broadside gun ports.
As the collision occurred “Collision Stations” was piped aboard Victoria, and the crew lined up four deep on the port side. At first it was hoped to beach the flagship and the gallant men in the engine-room and stokehold were still keeping the machinery running.
However, by now the ship was down by the bows as well as listing heavily. Suddenly the bows went down and the stern rose, with the screws still turning. Victoria foundered soon afterwards – only 13 minutes after the collision.
The order “Abandon Ship” was given just before the end, and the ship’s company – which had remained in good order – then broke ranks. The list was by then so heavy that it was difficult to leave the ship – many men were left on board and went down with the ship. In all, 358 were lost, including Vice Admiral Tryon. 357 officers and men were rescued, among them Commander John Jellicoe, the Victoria’s Executive Officer, who went on to become C-in-C of the Grand Fleet during the First World War and arguably Britain’s greatest Admiral since Nelson.
Admiral Tryon’s last words were ‘It’s all my fault’ and at the court martial he was found entirely to blame. No one can tell what was in his mind . . .one perhaps can only assume he had some sort of mental blackout, as he was probably working under a strain.
What is quite inexplicable is how 11 Captains and one Rear-Admiral could all have acknowledged the signal ordering the turn ‘received and understood’, and how Admiral Tryon’s own staff, who knew the manoeuvre to be dangerous, did not expostulate more with him when the signal was hoisted. The only explanation is that both his staff and his Captains had such infinite faith in him that they thought he had some last-minute manoeuvre up his sleeve to save the day. Also, it must not be forgotten that he was a difficult man to approach, and it was perhaps a brave staff officer who queried a manoeuvre he had ordered.
[ Text from John Marriott’s “Disaster at Sea” Ian Allan, London 1987pp. 38-43 ]