Gladiator (HMS), disaster, April 1908

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HMS Gladiator Royal Navy Cruiser
HMS Gladiator Royal Navy Cruiser

HMS Gladiator, a cruiser of the Royal Navy, was rammed by the SS St. Paul during a blizzard off the coast of the Isle of Wight on the afternoon of 25 April 1908, as a result she turned on her side and came to rest on the seabed.

HMS Gladiator was slowly, due to the blinding blizzard conditions, making her way from Portland to Spithead when those on board suddenly saw the American liner, St. Paul, suddenly loom up through the snow storm, apparently, heading straight for the Gladiator. Both vessels reversed engines and changed their courses, but too late to avoid a collision[1].

The Gladiator turned to port in an attempt to avoid the liner, but the bow of the huge liner struck the cruiser about midships on her starboard side. When the St. Paul back away, the Gladiator began to settle to starboard as she took on water through the gash in her side. Luckily she was near enough to the Isle of Wight that she settled on the sea bed within ten minutes of the collision.

Many of the crew of the Gladiator either jumped or were thrown into the sea; others, as the cruiser slowly went over, managed to scramble onto her port side. The Royal Engineers stationed nearby at Fort Victoria were quickly on the scene, pulling sailors from the seas and moving others from the stranded vessel. Servicemen from nearby and local people all contributed to the rescue.

The St. Paul stood by and her boats were lowered and assisted - later she returned to Southampton for repairs to her damaged bow.

Recovery of the Gladiator wreck
Work to recover the wreck of HMS Gladiator

Initial reports were that one sailor had drowned while trying to get ashore, three others had died from shock and exhaustion, and 23 reported missing were believed to have died.

The Admiralty decided to salvage the Gladiator and the Liverpool Salvage Association undertook the work which began in late July 1908. The ship was pulled upright and attempts made to 'plug' the hole in her side, then pontoons were strapped to both side. Pumps were then used to remove water from inside the Gladiator's hull. She was finally towed across the Solent to Portsmouth on 3rd November 1908[2]. However, having spent £50,000 on salving HMS Gladiator, the Admiralty decided to sell the wreck rather than attempt a repair or break her up themselves and she was sold for £15,000 to a Dutch firm[3].

Wreck of ex-HMS Gladiator en-route for Holland
ex-HMS Gladiator en-route for Holland (Illustrated London News - 22 May 1909)
  1. Isle of Wight County Press - 2 May 1908
  2. Evening Star and Daily Herald - 5 October 1908
  3. Illustrated London News - 22 May 1909