HMS Bulwark

HMS Bulwark was a London class battleship that was destroyed by an accidental explosion in November 1914. Before the First World War the Bulwark had served as flagship of the Mediterranean and Home Fleets, but by 1914 she was part of the 5th Battle Squadron, part of the reserve. At the start of the war the entire London class, with their half-sisters of the Formidable class, were grouped together in that squadron, taking part in the operations to protect the BEF as it crossed the channel.

On 27 November 1914, while taking on ammunition at Sheerness, she “suddenly blew up with an appalling explosion” (Official History vol. II). When the smoke cleared the ship had entirely disappeared, along with all but 12 of her 750 crew. The scale of this explosion inevitably led to rumours of foul play, coming in a period of acute paranoia about German agents in Britain, but in mid-December a court of inquiry established that the cause of the explosion was an accidental ignition of ammunition. As would be demonstrated at Jutland, even the most powerful battleships were effectively floating bombs. Any spark on the long route between the quayside and the ship’s magazines could be fatal, bypassing all of the precautions to prevent such an explosion during battle.

Plans of Formidable and London Class Battleships
Plans of
Formidable and
London Class

The loss of the Bulwark was one of a series of disasters that reduced the strength of the southern forces at the end of 1914 – the same period also saw the loss of the Formidable to a German u-boat and the sinking of three Cressy class cruisers.

Displacement (loaded)


Displacement (Queen and Prince of Wales)


Top Speed


Armour – deck


 - belt


 - bulkheads


 - barbettes


 - gun houses


 - casemates


 - conning tower



431ft 9in


Four 12in guns
Twelve 6in quick firing guns
Sixteen 12pdr quick firing guns
Six 3pdr guns
Four 18in torpedo tubes

Crew complement

714 (750 when lost)


18 October 1899


March 1902


G. L. Sclater


26 November 1914

British Battleships 1889-1904 New Revised Edition, R A Burt. Magnificent study of the Royal Navy's pre-dreadnought battleships, amongst the most powerful ships in the world when built, but seen as obsolete by the outbreak of war in 1914. Traces the development of the 'classic' pre-dreadnought design and the slow increase in the power of the secondary armament, leading up to the all-big gun ships that followed. [read full review]
cover cover cover

Books on the First World War | Subject Index: First World War

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (2 November 2007), HMS Bulwark ,

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