BBC2 Play of the Week: Season 1, Episode 4

The Sinking of HMS Victoria (12 Oct. 1977)

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Dramatization of events surrounding the loss of the turret ship HMS Victoria during fleet exercises off Tripoli on June 22, 1893.

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Cast

Episode cast overview:
...
Captain Winsloe
Terrence Hardiman ...
Captain The Hon. Maurice Bourke
Frederick Treves ...
Admiral Sir Michael Culme-Seymour
George Waring ...
Vice Admiral Tracey
Adrian Pearson ...
Lieutenantn Collishaw
Roger Milner ...
Arthur Herbert Moore
David Quilter ...
Captain Richard
...
Rear Admiral Markham
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Dramatization of events surrounding the loss of the turret ship HMS Victoria during fleet exercises off Tripoli on June 22, 1893.

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12 October 1977 (UK)  »

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1.33 : 1
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When should one seriously question orders?
16 July 2006 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

I cannot actually review this teleplay from 1977, as it was never shown in the United States. However, I will make a comment about the background.

If you have seen KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS, you will have seen a funny take on the actual tragic events of June 22, 1893, when the most modern ironclad in the British navy was sunk in a collision with another ironclad in the same fleet, on a perfect day, in perfect weather, due to a badly given order. The movie has Admiral Lord Horatio D'Ascoygne order his flagship to port rather than starboard. The order is regretfully followed, and the flagship and it's sister ship collide. Both sink, and all survive but the Admiral, who drowns when he stands saluting from the bridge of the flagship.

It wasn't as humorous in the actual event. The man who gave the order, Vice Admiral Sir George Tryon, was one of the best minds in the British Navy of 1893. He had gotten the command of the Mediterranean Fleet by his own abilities. He was a disciplinarian who would debate his orders (gladly) but would insist they be carried out. His second in command, on board "H.M.S. Camperdown" was Rear Admiral Albert Sidney Markham, who was not a brilliant naval figure (Tryon once beat Markham in a war game where Markham was supposed to be protecting Britain from attack by Tryon).

Tryon had the fleet divided into two columns of ships, one led by "Victoria" and one by "Camperdown". They were six cables apart. Tryon insisted that the two columns turn inward and pass between through each other. Markham did not move quickly at first, until rebuked by Tryon. Then the maneuver began, and ended with the "Camperdown" ramming the "Victoria". Within half an hour the "Victoria" sank with 323 men lost, including Tryon.

The incident was compared, by Rupert Gould in his essay on the disaster in ENIGMAS as the naval equivalent of the charge of the Light Brigade, as an example of the limits of obedience to orders. Yet Richard Hough, the British naval historian, wrote a study of the case, ADMIRALS IN COLLISION, in which he suggested that the order was misunderstood.

As it stands, for the maneuver to be safe the columns had to be eight cables apart. But they were only six apart. But Hough felt that if Markham had taken his column outside Tryon's, then the two columns could have safely made the maneuver. But that is Hough's opinion. Tryon did not survive to defend himself. As it is, the Court Martial gently found he was responsible for the error in judgment, and had given a bad order. But Markham was marked from then on, and never held a really major naval position again.


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