The armoured cruiser HMS Hampshire was built by Armstrong at Elswick, and launched on 24th September 1903 and joined the Channel Fleet when she was
completed on 15th July 1905. In 1911 she served in the Mediterranean and then at the China station from 1912 to 1914.In 1915 she was ordered to Scapa Flow to join The Grand Fleet and undertake patrol duties.
On 30th May 1916, she received orders to prepare to go to sea, and fought in the Battle of Jutland, returning safely to Scapa Flow on 3rd June. Despite furious gales and awful sailing conditions, the ship set out at 1645 on 5th June on route to Archangel, in North Russia to escort the War Minister and British hero, Lord Kitchener, who was to explain the allied financial and military policy to the Russian Tsar. He had been chosen for this mission because his prestige and status in foreign countries was almost as great as at home.
An hour later, Captain Savill decided to turn back due to appalling weather conditions. At 1940hrs, when the Hampshire was only one and a half miles from shore between the Brough of Birsay and Marwick Head, there was an explosion which tore out the centre of the ship, and within fifteen minutes she sank with almost her entire company. Many perished due to the stormy sea and exposure rather than the explosion. The ship had struck a mine field of 22 mines laid by U75 on the night of the 28/29th May. U75 was one of the German submarines ordered to watch the British bases during the German fleet’s sortie before Jutland.
As soon as news of the disaster came through to the Commander-In-Chief, four of the Grand Fleet destroyers were ordered out. They were followed by five others but all hopes of saving life were vain. By the time the destroyers and patrol vessels reached the spot there was hardly a trace of wreckage. Fourteen men reached the shore on Carley rafts, but two died before the rescue parties could reach them. Lord Kitchener and his staff were not amongst the survivors and over 600 men had died when she sank. More may have survived if the lifeboats had not been smashed by the heavy seas during the lowering operations or become entangled in the main rigging. This had left the crew to the mercy of the sea and had to use anything with a floating capacity or Carley floats in an attempt to survive. Survivors have stated that Kitchener was not killed in the explosion and must have made it to the upper deck, as they were told to ‘make way for Lord Kitchener’ whilst mounting the hatchway ladder, although they did not see him after this.
© Royal Naval Museum Library, 2000
The information contained in this fact sheet is correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the library for a bibliography of further reading materials, if available.