A very good documentary on a diving expedition to try and explain the loss of battle cruisers Invincible, Indefatigable, Queen Mary, and armored cruiser Defence at Jutland on 31 May 1916. There has been much written about the fragility of Jackie Fisher’s battle cruisers, his fast “cats”, where at Jutland the Royal Navy suffered devastating explosions from relatively little damage, while their High Seas Fleet counterparts absorbed frightful punishment but still managed to limp home to the Jade.
A myth surrounding the loss of these vessels was that German shells slammed into the ammunition magazines, piercing the too-thin armored plate and detonating massive explosions in each which blew the large ships apart. Far less publicized is the reputation of the Royal Navy and her sailors for flagrant disregard for safety in the handling of cordite propellant. Cordite in open spaces, the failure to close flash doors between handling rooms and turrets, possibly in order to increase rates of fire of the main batteries, were common practices. A good summation of the highly dangerous practices, and the foolhardy risks such practices entailed, is provided beginning around 36:00.
As an artilleryman, I have been responsible for burning powder countless times. The flames from a football-sized powder bag will often burn three or four meters high, and produce intense heat. (See video.) And those bags are miniscule compared to the propellant charges of a medium or large naval gun. Once exposed propellant had been ignited belowdecks on those vessels, there was nothing to stop it, nor any way for sailors to get away from it.
Twenty-five years after Jutland, almost to the day, the Royal Navy’s greatest warship, 42,000-ton battle cruiser HMS Hood, exploded and sank after a strike from Bismarck’s 15″ guns. Like her sisters a generation earlier, she did not succumb to the detonation of a projectile magazine, but with the roaring furnace of propellant spelling her doom.
Worth the viewing. And thinking about the importance of battle drills. And the integrity of senior Officers.