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The Last British Battleship

The Last British Battleship

RA Burt
ARRSE Rating
4 Mushroom Heads
In 1953, on a school visit, I stood on Vanguard's quarterdeck under the massive guns of her after turret. I knew then that through all the years since I had first decided to be a naval officer, I had been absolutely right.

This is the life story of the Royal Navy's last and largest battleship, from her inception – with a look at other monster battleship designs being bruited in the later years of the war – via her service which included the Royal Tour of South Africa to her final destruction in the breaker's yard (via a quick call at the Still and West pub on her way out of Portsmouth).

To describe the data as copious is something of an understatement. Both for the projected (but cancelled) 'Lion' predecessors and Vanguard herself, we are given a very complete picture of the ship, her armour and armament. That said, this is a mechanical depiction and the ship does not come to life much in terms of her people and how they lived on board. It's essentially an external view and, for instance, has nothing to say about the disturbances during the Royal Tour regarding how shore leave was managed.

As a spoiler, a short account about the ship can be found at
HMS Vanguard (23) | Wikiwand and a more intimate look can be found at Content

As additional scuttlebutt, I was given to understand that Vanguard being thumped by Indomitable had left the battleship with a slightly twisted stern. It is not clear to me whether her 5.25” turrets had the same difficulty as those in Prince of Wales where their training rate was inadequate to keep up with their fire control when the ship was manoeuvring or the guns were being trained 'uphill'.

In effect Vanguard emerged from Brown's in 1946 fully equipped to fight the Japanese war which had just finished. As flagship and flag-shower she found a brief niche but at high cost in both £ and manpower, and from late 1954 onwards she was used as a training ship and essentially admin centre for which other ships (or, in the latter case, offices ashore) could have been substituted. It was so sad that she, to my mind the most beautiful ship in the RN's possession since the days of sail, was fundamentally out of a 'war' job from the day she commissioned, even with the Korean War raging with its opportunities for bombardment.

The elegance of presentation, with its copious illustrations, cannot be too highly praised and is a great credit to both Seaforth and the author who showcases a remarkable private collection of photographs (several in colour) and a large number of technical drawings, several by his own hand. The illustrations are the huge strength of the book for the general reader; the amazingly comprehensive data for the naval historian. 29.5 mm x 26 mm.

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