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Silly buggers

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24.06.2017

I don’t remember which navy I was in when I first heard the term “silly buggers,” but the meaning was clear. It included some sensible exercises like “man overboard” drills, but the heart and soul of the game was high-speed manoeuvres by ships travelling in close company. These sometimes got quite exciting, because ships don’t have brakes.

Off the coast of Lebanon, in 140 metres of water, is the wreck of the British battleship HMS Victoria, which sank in 1893. It is the world’s only vertical wreck, because its bow is plunged deep in the mud, but its stern is only 70 metres below the service — “like a tombstone,” said one of the divers who found it in 2004. And it was “silly buggers” that did for it.

The British Mediterranean fleet was travelling in two parallel lines when Admiral George Tryon decided to reverse course — and to make it interesting, he ordered the lead ships of each line to make the turn inwards, towards the other line. In theory, the two lines of ships should have ended up travelling in the opposite direction, but much closer together.

Unfortunately, they were already too close, and they couldn’t turn tightly enough to avoid hitting each other. The lead battleship of the other line rammed HMS Victoria and all 10,400 tonnes of her sank within a few minutes, carrying the admiral and 357 other officers and men down with her. That’s the sort of thing that happens when you play “silly buggers” and get it wrong.

It’s silly enough when everybody is on the same side. When two different countries start playing “silly buggers,” it gets even more dangerous, and that’s where we are........

© The Telegram