At 1730 on 5 June 1916, HMS Hampshire weighed anchor and sailed out of Scapa Flow. The weather was particularly bad that night with a full north easterly gale having blown up during the afternoon. By the time that HMS Hampshire began her course up the west coast of Mainland Orkney, the gale had backed to the north west exposing the cruiser and her destroyer escort to the full force of the weather.
Despite the conditions, there was no possibility of aborting this voyage as HMS Hampshire carried the British Minister of War Lord Kitchener and his staff to a meeting with the Russian Czar’s government. With the purpose of strengthening the precarious Russian position along the Eastern Front, this mission could not suffer any delays.
It was under this time pressure that the 11,000 ton cruiser pushed on, the 50mph gale reducing her speed as she steamed north. At 21:30 Captain Savill ordered the destroyer escorts HMS Unity and HMS Victor back to Scapa Flow as they were unable to keep up in the swells and thus it was alone that HMS Hampshire passed through waters that hadn’t been swept for mines in over a week.
Half an hour later, in the shadows of Marwick Head she struck one of the 34 mines laid by U-75 the week before and sank in 15 minutes. 655 men were on board HMS Hampshire that night and all but 12 of those men, who had survived the Battle of Jutland less than a week before, lost their lives.
(c) Gavin Lindsay