Vanguard was laid down as a “one off” hull to use the 15 inch turrets and guns that had been build for HMS Courageous and Glorious during WW1. Both of these battlecruisers were converted to aircraft carriers during the 1920’s.
Vanguard was a modified Lion class battleship that was designed as a fast ship with a top speed of 30 knots. Work on her was suspended at the start of WW2 as resources were needed elsewhere for the war effort.
Work finally began on her during 1940 and her design was altered after lessons learned from the sinking of the HMS Prince of Wales in 1941. The new design increased the spacing of the ships propellers so a single torpedo couldn’t knock out all of her propulsion.
She was launched in 1944 but wasn’t commissioned into the fleet until 1946 under the command of Capt William Gladstone Agnew RN. By this time, a total of £11,530,503 including £3,186,868 for the modernisation of the main armament, had been spent on producing Vanguard.
After commissioning the ship the crew spent several months on sea trials and working up exercises. She was then picked to act as the Royal Yacht on the upcoming South Africa tour.
She underwent several months of alterations including changing the Admirals cabin for use by the Royal family and their staff. Also added to B turret was a saluting platform. She performed this duty for the next year or so on and off.
While returning from a brief training exercise in Gibraltar in 1949 Vanguard went to the aid of a small French merchantman whose cargo had shifted in a severe storm on 13 February 1950. The merchantman, SS Boffa, was taken under tow and the cargo was redistributed. Once the storm had abated, Boffa was able to resume her voyage under her own power
In 1950 Vanguard became the flagship of Admiral Sir Philip Vian, C in C Home Fleet, and carried out war games along with the Mediterranean Fleet and units from Royal Canadian Navy.
In 1951 the Admiralty was informed that the King would be going on a cruise to help improve his health and Vanguard was chosen for this task. She again began a refit to accommodate the Royal party. Unfortunately in 1952 King George VI died before the alterations were complete. A detachment from the ship’s company took part in the state funeral for the King.
Later that year she rejoined the home fleet but due to manning and weight issues the ship only could man 2 of the 15 inch turrets and only carried star shell ammunition for her secondary 5.25 turrets. That year she undertook naval exercises with the Dutch and American navies.
In 1953 she took part in Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation Fleet Review at Spithead.
In 1955 she was again with the Home Fleet to counter the Russian Sverdlov-class cruiser, but with a shake up in the Government of the day they chose to keep 2 cruisers instead of the expensive, man power intense, Vanguard. She became the flagship of the reserve fleet in November 1955.
During her time with the reserve fleet she was to feature on the silver screen as parts of her interior were used in the 1960 “Sink the Bismark!”
In 1959 the Government announced that Vanguard was to be scrapped. She was too expensive to run and maintain for the post war Britain. The White Ensign was lowered for the last time on 7th June 1960 and she was sold for scrap metal for the sum of £560,000.
She departed Portsmouth under tow to the breakers yard 4th August 1960, but she broke free of her tugs and became grounded at the mouth of Portsmouth Harbour. They finally managed to break her free after about an hour and she continued to Scotland to be broken up.
Part of HMS Vanguard does survive as some of her Armour belt was used in the reactor wall at the Radiobiological Research Laboratory in Hampshire.