Home » Human Life » The Mystery of the Sinking of the HMS Black Prince 1916

The Mystery of the Sinking of the HMS Black Prince 1916

Black Princr

Eric Pemberton has always provided the site with a  number of fascinating postcards, a few weeks ago he sent a postcard of the locally built HMS Black Prince and some of the ship’s history.


The Launch at Blackwall

The HMS Black Prince was a Duke of Edinburgh-class armoured cruiser built by the famous Thames Ironworks in Blackwall  and launched on 8 November 1904.  The ship was one of the last Royal Navy ships built-in the shipyard which was at the time facing considerable financial problems.

black prince 2222

An unusual  photograph entitled ‘Launch of the ‘Black Prince’, Thames Ironworks’, taken by Edgar Tarry Adams in 1904.

The HMS Black Prince served with the 2nd Squadron until 1907, the 1st Cruiser Squadron from 1907–1908, the 5th Cruiser Squadron (as part of the Atlantic Fleet) from 1908–1912 and the Third from 1912–1913.


The ship was stationed in the Mediterranean when the First World War began and became involved  in the pursuit of the German battle cruisers,  Goeben and Breslau.  The German ships reached safe waters, so the ship was sent to the Red Sea to protect troop convoys arriving from India and to search for German merchant ships. After capturing two German ocean liners Südmark and Istria, Black Prince was transferred to the Grand Fleet.


However it is the ship’s involvement at the Battle of Jutland in 1916 that would concern historians for many years afterwards.

In the process of the battle, the ship lost contact with the rest of the fleet and was sunk with all hands lost.

The only clue to the ship’s demise was a wireless signal received at 20:45, reporting a submarine sighting, this led to rumours that the ship had been sank by a submarine .

Eyewitness reports seemed to offer contradictory evidence.

‘The Black Prince and the Shark went down, but it was grand to see them fight for it against such odds, when they both could have got away.’

‘All at once a huge fountain of water came 20 yards ahead of us, and we then knew that we had to deal with something bigger than a light cruiser, two shells of at least 12-inch calibre  fell ahead of the Defence, and three seconds later a salvo cut her amid ships, and she crumpled up and sank. The Black Prince was next to go, a great salvo carried away her funnels and her fore turret, and a second salvo hit her in the magazine, and she blew up. ‘

An officers report of the battle offers some reasons for the confusion.

‘In both fleets ships were bursting into flame and sinking, says another officer. We could not tell what was going on. We saw clouds of steam and smoke coming from the surface of the sea. We saw destroyers buckling up, we saw ships sinking. We saw helpless ships that were half sunk. The water was strewn with dead bodies and fish killed by the concussion. Great column of’ water spurted up, for many of the shells which missed the ships were fitted with percussion caps, which caused them to explode on striking the water. The Germans used smoke bombs, which burst in the same way as they threw them overboard, obscuring our vision.’

The fact there was no survivors from Black Prince’s crew, all 857 being killed might indicate that the ship blew up almost instantaneously which did not give a chance for anyone to survive. However it still remains one of the great naval mysteries of World War One.


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