The steel battleship HMS King Edward VII was launched from the Devenport Naval Dockyard on 23rd July 1903. She measured 453.9′ x 78.0′ x 26.9′ and displaced 16350 tons. Her twin 4 cylinder triple expansion steam engines delivered 18000 ihp. Her impressive armament consisted of 4 @ Armstrong and Whitworth 12 inch Mk IV guns (2×2), 4 @Armstrong and Whitworth 9.2 inch Mk X guns (4×1), 10 @ Armstrong and Whitworth 6 inch Mk VII guns, 14 @ 12 pounder quick firing guns, 14 @ 3 pounder quick firing guns, 5 @ 18 inch torpedo tubes (submerged), four on the beam and one in the stern, 2 @ Maxim machine guns. The King Edward VII was a powerful ship when she was designed. However, the years of her design and construction brought revolutionary advancement in all aspects of warship capabilities (guns, fire control, armour, and propulsion). She joined the fleet in early 1905, but was made obsolete in less than two years by the commissioning of the revolutionary battleship Dreadnoughts. By 1914, King Edward VII and her sister ships were so outclassed that they spent much of their 1914-1916 Grand Fleet service steaming at the heads of divisions the more up to date dreadnoughts as a shield of protection for the dreadnoughts from naval mines.
HMS King Edward VII was commissioned on 7th February 1905 at Devonport Dockyard for service as the Flagship of the Commander-in-Chief of the Atlantic Fleet. On 5th March 1907 she was recommissioned as flagship of Admiral Lord Charles Beresford, Commander-in-Chief of the Channel Fleet. Under a fleet reorganisation on 24th March 1909, the Channel Fleet became the 2nd Division of the Home Fleet resulting in yet another recommissioning as Flagship of the Vice Admiral, Home Fleet on 27th March and again Flagship, Vice Admiral, Third and Fourth Divisions, Home Fleet in August 1911. Under a fleet reorganization in May 1912, King Edward VII and all seven of her sister ships were assigned to form the 3rd Battle Squadron, assigned to the First Fleet, Home Fleet. King Edward VII was commissioned at Sheerness as Flagship, Vice Admiral, 3rd Battle Squadron, First Fleet, Home Fleet, on 14 May 1912.
The 3rd Battle Squadron was detached to the Mediterranean in November 1912 because of the First Balkan War arriving in Malta 27th November 1912 and subsequently participated in a blockade by an international force of Montenegro and in the occupation of Scutari, Albania. The squadron returned to the United Kingdom in 1913 and rejoined the Home Fleet on 27 June 1913. With the outbreak of Word War I, the 3rd Battle Squadron was assigned to the Grand Fleet and based at Rosyth, with King Edward VII continuing her service as squadron flagship. The squadron was used to supplement the Grand Fleet’s cruisers on the Northern Patrol. On 2 November 1914, the squadron was detached to reinforce the Channel Fleet and was rebased at Portland. The squadron returned to the Grand Fleet on 13 November, although King Edward VII remained behind temporarily, not returning to the Grand Fleet until 30 November 1914.
On Thursday, 6th January, 1916 the King Edward VII, with a crew of 777 men aboard, left Scapa Flow, en route to Belfast, where she was to undergo a refit including repairs to a damaged watertight bulkhead. She passed through Hoxa Sound boom at 7:12am that morning and shaped a zig-zag course of north 71degrees west into a force four SSW wind and slight sea. Her commander, McLachlan, reported at the subsequent court martial that, at 10:47am as he stepped into the chartroom to verify their position, his shipped was rocked by a huge explosion under the starboard engine room. Immediately orders were given to close all watertight doors but his ship had been fatally wounded. It was never absolutely established what caused the explosion but a mine seems a more likely explanation than a U-boat attack. This conclusion is supported by reports of a minefield laid by German raider SMS Moewe in the area on 1st June, 1916. The engineer commander quickly reported to the bridge that both engine rooms were flooding and, as they turned south to try to steam towards land, a few minutes later reported that both engines were stopped. All other watertight doors seemed to be holding well but the ship had already taken on an eight degree list to starboard. Despite the increasing wind, now close to force six, McLachlan ordered all boats lowered for safety. He also ordered the flooding of a few compartments on the port side of the ship to reduce the increasing list.
The guns and rockets were fired to attract the attention of a passing steamship spotted some five miles to SSE east of their position. The ship, the SS Princess Melita, quickly arrived on the scene and began preparations to tow the crippled battleship. As a 5 1/2” wire was passed from King Edward VII to the steamship as another vessel, the SS Kempenfelt, also arrived and another wire tow was soon attached to the second ship. However, as they started to pull away at around 2:15pm, it was clear that the combination of the huge wallowing ship – she had now developed a fifteen degree list – and the increasing wind and swell was going to make the task impossible. In fact, despite their efforts, the King Edward VII was soon facing north rather than her intended route to the south towards land. At about 2:40 Kempenfelt’s tow parted and McLachlan ordered the Princess Melita to slip her tow – it was hopeless.
The King Edward VII was now settling deeper in the water with the starboard side of the quarter deck awash. The bulkheads below seemed to be holding but still she was gradually sinking. McLachlan was forced to take the heart rending decision to abandon his ship. By now the area was alive with other vessels and one by one destroyers Musketeer, Marne and Fortune came alongside and took off the men, McLachlan himself finally embarked from his ship aboard HMS Nessus at 4:10pm as darkness was falling. There is no doubt that his early decision to abandon ship saved many lives. Captain McLachlan arrived back at Scapa the following day, after spending the night at Scrabster, and reported aboard HMS Iron Duke, he was informed that the tugs standing by his ship had reported that she had turned turtle and sank at 8:10pm.
The wreck of HMS King Edward VII lies in position 58° 42.341’N, 003° 53.654’W in a depth of 108 metres lying oriented 170°/350°. The wreck is lying upside down on a shingle seabed and has been dived by a few technical divers who report the ship to be fairly in tact surrounded by a large debris field including box upon box of 12 inch shell cases, the result of the ship turning upside down on the surface as she sank. The huge casement guns are an impressive sight as they hang upside down from the deck of the sunken battleship. A huge bronze propeller is also still in place and clearly visible.