This month’s Warship Wednesday we focus on the battleship HMS BULWARK, during November 1914 she blew up in the River Medway at Kethole Reach, near Sheerness.
The ship was embarking ammunition when an internal explosion occurred. Only twelve men survived from a ship’s company of 750. Whilst the ship was not based at Chatham, there were Chatham ratings onboard.
BULWARK was the first London class of the pre-Dreadnought battleships, the class comprised of five ships.
Built at Devonport Dockyard, Plymouth and completed in March 1902. Two of her sister ships were built at Chatham – HMS VENERABLE, completed November 1902 and HMS PRINCE OF WALES, completed March 1904.
With an overall length of 400ft, and 75ft beam the average displacement at deep draught was 15,600 tons. The main armament consisted of 4 x 12inch guns carried in two turrets and 12 x 6inch guns.
The disaster was reported in the local press stating “many Chatham residents heard the explosion, whilst those on high ground had actually seen the flash”. The remains of the wreck are still marked by by the “East Bulwark” and “West Bulwark” buoys in the River Medway.
Whilst the battleship was lost unexpectedly in this disaster, her sister ships HMS VENERABLE and PRINCE OF WALES both served throughout the First World War and were broken up in 1920.
A memorial to those lost on BULWARK and the minelayer PRINCESS IRENE (also lost in an accidental explosion) was erected at the Dockyard Church, Sheerness, in 1921.