In 1861, HMS Warrior set the state of the art in Line of Battle Ship, combining steam engines, advanced guns, and an iron hull, she was substantially superior to her ironclad counterparts in France and the United States. The Royal Navy developed on the ironclad type for the next twenty years, with the Colossus class of 1882 being the first to resemble what became known as the classic “pre-dreadnought”. Experimentation on the battleship form continued until the Royal Sovereign class of 1891, which essentially set a new state of the art for battleship construction. Between 1891 and 1905, pretty much all battleships in all navies followed the pattern set by Royal Sovereign; four heavy guns in two turrets, one fore and one aft, with a heavy secondary armament, reciprocating engines, and a speed of around 16 knots.
HMS Victoria preceded Royal Sovereign by four years, and was originally intended to carry the name HMS Renown. In a decision that would become heavy with irony, she was renamed Victoria on the occasion of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. Commissioned in 1890, HMS Victoria displaced 11000 tons, could make 17 knots, and carried 2 16.25″ guns in a single twin turret forward. She also carried a single 10″ gun turret aft. Victoria was the first battleship to use vertical triple expansion engines, which significantly reduced her coal consumption. The 16.25″ guns were enormous weapons, but were not directly comparable to later naval artillery; the expected range of engagement was no longer than a couple of miles. The guns were also difficult to load, taking five minutes for each shot. In any engagement involving movement on both sides, this would have been a critical handicap, as primitive rangefinding equipment meant that gunners had to rely on splashes. The 16.25″ gun was replaced by much smaller weapons in later battleship classes.
Upon commissioning HMS Victoria was designated flagship of the Royal Navy Mediterranean squadron, which included an overwhelming concentration of naval power. The Mediterranean squadron was intended to offset the growth of the Italian Navy, which had recovered from the embarrassment of Lissa to field a squadron powerful enough to threaten British communications (via Suez) with India. In 1891 the Mediterranean Fleet fell to Admiral George Tryon, an innovator whose main enthusiasm was signaling. The Royal Navy system of signaling, the Admiral felt, had ossified since the days of Nelson, leaving the captains of individual ships little room for initiative, and threatening an entire system collapse in response to unforeseen events during battle. Accordingly, Admiral Tryon pursued a much simpler system of signal that relied on the ability of captains to do their jobs.
On June 22, 1893 the Mediterranean squadron was engaged in maneuvers of Tripoli (part of modern Lebanon). Deployed in two columns, the fleet was returning to anchor when some confusion arose. The exact details remain unclear; Robert Massie suggests that Admiral Tryon was attempting a complex maneuver that involved the two columns weaving into one another, while Andrew Gordon makes the altogether more plausible argument that Tryon simply miscalculated the distance between the columns. In any case, the maneuver set HMS Victoria on a collision course with HMS Camperdown, the lead ship of the second column. Several officers on both Camperdown and Victoria suggested that the maneuver might be quite dangerous, but Admiral Tryon was inattentive, and Admiral Markham (commander of the second column) did not wish to cross Tryon. By the time that Tryon realized what was happening, a collision was unavoidable.
HMS Camperdown, equipped with a ram bow, struck HMS Victoria on the starboard side, then reversed engines to disengage. This doomed Victoria, as Camperdown left an enormous hole below the waterline. Thirteen minutes after the collision, Victoria rolled over and sank, carrying 358 sailors with her. Admiral Tryon did not survive, and his innovative system of signaling was discarded following the accident, even though it had not contributed to the collision. HMS Victoria now sits in 500′ of water just off the coast of Lebanon, with her bow buried in the sand and her stern pointing towards the surface. As far as I know, she is the only ship ever named after a sitting monarch to sink during the reign of that monarch.
Commander John Jellicoe escaped the sinking Victoria seconds before her loss. Just short of twenty-three years later, Jellicoe would command the Grand Fleet at the Battle of Jutland, where poor signaling would contribute to the loss of three British battlecruisers and to the escape of the High Seas Fleet.