HMS Vanguard

People associated with HMS Vanguard

Of the 845 men on board Vanguard when the devastating explosion destroyed the ship, all but two died as a result. Not all those who died were British sailors.

Commander Kyosuke Eto, Imperial Japanese Navy

Kyosuke Eto was a liaison officer from the Imperial Japanese Navy and had joined HMS Vanguard on 15 August 1916.

Eto was born in Aomori, Japan, on 7 April 1881. He was the first son of a local sake brewer and was expected to take over the family business in the natural course of events under the primogeniture system. However, whilst in junior high, Eto told his father that he wanted to go to a high school in Tokyo so he could serve in the Imperial Japanese Navy in the future. He is said to have fasted for three days before finally succeeding in persuading his stubbornly objecting father to let him go.

He graduated from the 28th class of the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy in 1900. He served in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904 and 1905 and was decorated with the Order of the Golden Kite 3rd Class for bravery in combat. Eto also served in World War I, with one of his duties being to command the naval heavy artillery during the Battle of Tsingtao in November 1914.

In May 1916 he was assigned as a military attaché to the United Kingdom, travelling to Europe via Siberia. Under the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, Eto was assigned a position as a military observer on board HMS Vanguard on 15 August 1916. When the ship exploded on 9 July 1917 Eto was killed.

His family visited Orkney in 1984 and were taken to the site of Vanguard's wreck.

As was traditional in the Imperial Japanese Navy, Eto was posthumously promoted to the rank of captain. He was also awarded the Order of the Rising Sun 3rd Class by the Japanese government and the British government made Eto a Companion of the Order of the Bath.

The Australian connection

Other men on board Vanguard that night included two Australian stokers – Robert Houston and Leslie Roberts. The two men had been serving on board HMAS Sydney, which was anchored nearby.

However, on 9 July 1917 the two men were part way through a seven-day sentence in the Vanguard's brig. After almost a week in confinement the two men died when in the explosion. Boats from HMAS Sydney were first on the scene, but Houston and Roberts were not found.


A small number of men were lucky enough not to be on board the ship at the time of the explosion. Some officers were attending a concert on another ship, which was also stationed in Scapa Flow.

Midshipman RF Nichols was one of the officers at the concert. After witnessing the aftermath of the Vanguard explosion, Nichols went on to serve as Commander on HMS Royal Oak. Incredibly Nichols was on Royal Oak in Scapa Flow in 1939 when German torpedoes struck the ship, and he also survived that sinking. Nichols was later promoted to Captain.

Of the 845 men on board the Vanguard at the time of the explosion, only three survived: Lieutenant Commander ACH Duke, Marine J Williams and Stoker 1st Class FW Cox. Williams and Cox are said to have been asleep in their cabin one second and swimming amongst the wreckage the next. They were rescued by one of the boats from HMAS Sydney. Lieutenant Commander Duke later died of his injuries (RBLS, n.d).

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