“Never Again.” Frank Carr, World Ship Trust
The Sunken Museum Ship
The fifth ship in the Museum Ships Series is the former HMS Implacable. Although never formally placed on display to the public as a museum ship, the attempts were made to preserve Implacable as a museum ship. Just like the Implacable lost to the HMS Victory as the Dugay-Trouin at the Battle of Trafalgar, the Implacable ultimately lost in a race to be preserved against the Victory. Although the Implacable had no less of an impact on history, Implacable was just on the losing side. Implacable was a warship captured from the French just after the Battle of Trafalgar and was later pressed into British service. The vessel had a long service in the Royal Navy and like many other outdated sailing ships, Implacable was used to educate the next generation in sail training. After she served in that duty, the vessel fought a difficult battle in being preserved until it was ultimately destroyed. Although the loss of the Implacable is unfortunate, it inspired others to later take a role in preserving historic ships. Although many warships have been preserved, the wars and battles these vessels participated in begin to fade from public memory, and by the time the attempt to preserve Implacable was made, most of its history was largely forgotten. This blog post is going to discuss the vessel’s history and the reasons behind its destruction and the lessons learned from this ship’s loss.
HMS Implacable started was launched as the Dugay-Trouin for the French navy. The Dugay-Trouin was a Temeraire class ship and was first laid down in 1797 and finally launched in 1800 and was the tenth of her kind. When completed, she was a three-masted, ship-rigged, 74 gun third rate ship of the line. The vessel had a sparred length of 181 feet and a hull length of 155 feet with a beam of 50 feet and a 20-foot depth of hold. She was armed with 4 x 36-pound carronades, 28 x 26-pound guns on the lower gun deck, and 30 x 18-pound guns on the upper gun deck. The vessel was named for one of Frances’s most celebrated naval commanders Rene Dugay-Trouin and carried a crew of 640. Once commissioned, Dugay-Trouin escorted convoys of troopships sent to Santo Domingo to fight the Toussaint rebellion in 1803. This is where the vessel first ran into trouble; Dugay-Trouin was too big and too heavy for operating in the shallow waters around the island and had run aground on the western portion of Haiti. The crew had to remove 20 guns in order to lighten the ship enough to float off of the reef, making an archaeological site unto itself. This ship itself was apparently undamaged. Months later Britain and France were once again at war and the French fleet had to escape from the British blockade of the Caribbean. Dugay-Trouin had managed to escape back to Spain in a squadron of two other ships after exchanging fire with a small squadron of British ships off the Spanish coast.
The Battle of Trafalgar
On 21 October 1805, one of the largest naval battles in all of history occurred off of Cape Trafalgar, Spain with 27 ships of the Royal Navy versus a combined force of 33 ships of the French and Spanish Navies respectively. Dugay-Trouin was part of the French Spanish fleet under rear admiral Dumanoir Le Pelley’s squadron and was the fifth ship in line. Why warships of this time were referred to as “ships of the line” is due to how naval warfare was conducted at the time, belligerent fleets of ships would sail in lines parallel to each other and fire at each other. This was the rules of engagement. However, British Admiral Horatio Nelson broke the rules by having his fleet sail perpendicular to the French-Spanish lines and break up the fleet making it easier to engage and destroy. Nelson deviated from the norm and even though he lost his life, he assured a British victory. Historical records deviate regarding Duguy-Trouin’s contribution to the battle, even suggesting that the vessel had engaged with Nelson’s HMS Victory directly or Duguy-Trouin never got the opportunity to even join the battle. Duguy-Trouin was fifth when Villeneuve reversed the order of the line in a tactical maneuver. The vessel was cut off when Nelson maneuvered his fleet into the center of the line and was one of four other ships to follow Dumanoir’s attempt to join the battle. At which point these were kept at bay by the broadsides of the HMS Minotaur and the HMS Spartiate. After an hour’s worth of firing at each other, Dumanoir realized that the battle was lost and led his ships to the southwest to later turn north and head for one of the safe harbors in the Bay of Biscay. The squadron was sighted by the HMS Phoenix which chased the four vessels into a larger British squadron of a second rate, three third rates, and four frigates commanded by Sir Richard Strachan. A skirmish ensued where the escaping French squadron suffered 750 killed or wounded including Captain Touffet of the Dugay-Trouin. The only officer left aboard the French ship was Ensign de Vaisseau Rigodet who lowered the colors on the Dugay-Trouin and surrendered. All four vessels of the French fleet were captured and pressed into service in the Royal Navy.
The captured Dugay-Trouin was taken to Plymouth and renamed the HMS Implacable and was commissioned in the Royal Navy in 1806. The British had rearmed the vessel but had kept the 30 x 32-pound guns. The upper gun deck had 30 x 32-pound guns and had 12 x 32-pound guns on the aft quarter deck and 2 x 12 pounders in the forward forecastle. The new Implacable was quickly pressed into war again as Russia switched sides and allied with France in 1807. Russia gaining dominance of the Baltic sea was considered a threat to British trade and a fleet including Implacable was created and sailed to the Baltic. Most of the duties of the Baltic fleet was blockading various ports, escorting convoys, and most large ships including Implacable served as mobile gunboat bases, with each vessel’s small boats being used as small gunboats to combat the Russian gunboats. Large warships like Implacable were powerful and therefore intimidating, just their presence was enough to deter attacks by the Russians.
The Baltic Expedition
On 25 August a fleet of roughly 20 vessels appeared off of Oresund where the Swedish had a squadron of 9 ships at anchor along with HMS Centaur and HMS Implacable. All ships weighed anchor to give case and the Russian fleet scattered. For her size, Implacable was comparatively a fast ship and quickly begun to overtake the nearest vessel of the Russian fleet, the 74 gun Vsevolod. The skirmish began with the Vsevolod opening fire on the Implacable as she crossed in front of her, Implacable continued on a straight course and was able to fire upon the Vsevolod with such force that the Russian ship immediately struck her colors and surrendered. At this point, the rest of the Russian fleet had taken notice of the skirmish, changed course, and was bearing down on Implacable and coming to the aid of her stricken quarry, Vsevolod. Before Implacable could send a boarding party to Vsevolod, Implacable had to break off and return to the British fleet. The Russian fleet was more concerned with the rescue of the Vsevolod and the heavily damaged ship was taken into tow by the Russian frigate Poluks to be towed out of harm’s way to a safe harbor at Roggersvik. When finally repaired from the engagement, Implacable along with the rest of the British fleet gave chase to the Poluks and her consort. Poluks dropped its tow leaving the Vsevolod ground on a shoal outside of the port. As the tide changed, the vessel was able to float off the reef without major damage and the Russian Navy sent small boats to attempt to tow the Vsevolod into the sheltered harbor. Meanwhile, the British Flagship HMS Centaur sailed next to the Vsevolod and managed to quickly board and secure the ship, not before the Russian captain had managed to cut its anchor chain causing both vessels to swing around in the wind and the combat between British boarders and the Russian crew continued until Implacable arrived. The Implacable came up into the wind and released both bow anchors which, when caught brought the stern of the Implacable to face the stern of the Centaur, where both crews watched as the Captain of the Implacable Byam Martin boarded the Centaur by walking across Implacable‘s spanker boom and hopping down to the deck to deliver his report to the Admiral. During the boarding action, both Centaur and Implacable had grounded on the same reef.
The Russian fleet had begun to make another offensive maneuver until they realized that Implacable was attempting to pull the Centaur off the reef, they were not able to affect a rescue of Vsevolod‘s crew and the surviving crew was captured by the British. Vsevolod was then set on fire where the fire eventually reached the magazine (where gun powder was stored) and the ship exploded in full view of the Russian fleet. Both Implacable and Centaur sailed to rejoin the main force of the British fleet.
Baltic Boat Action
Implacable had briefly sailed home to patrol the coasts of France and Spain but had quickly returned to the Baltic. Implacable was operating in a squadron with HMS Bellophron, HMS Melpomene, and HMS Prometheus. On 7 July 1809, had sighted a convoy of a dozen Russian merchant ships escorted by eight Russian gunboats. These vessels were the bait for a clever trap set by the Russians; they all quickly took shelter in the nearby Baro sound where the Russians had mounted guns on clifftops overlooking the sound. The British squadron waited until nightfall just outside the range of the cliff guns. Instead of attacking the Russian ships directly, which would bring the squadron under fire from the cliff guns, each vessel lowered its armed small boats over the side to attack the fleet. During the raid, the British managed to capture all of the merchant vessels and six of the gunboat escorts, while the seventh was destroyed and the final Russian gunboat escaped. This raid was not without cost, 17 were killed and 37 were wounded, among the dead was Implacable‘s first lieutenant Hawkey who was tasked with leading the raid. The British Admiral James Saumarez had though the number of casualties from this action was too high and Captain Byam of the Implacable who had organized the raid took offense to this, perhaps motivated by the loss of his first officer. Martin then asked Saumarez for a court-martial and justified his attack by repeating the orders that Saumarez had given him. Saumarez had refused Captain Matin’s request for a court-martial and asked him to his flagship HMS Victory. After a discussion, Saumarez had reluctantly agreed to court-martial, but a day later after an exchange of letters between the two, the issue was dropped altogether. Admiral Saumarez had explained that due to this action, the Russians would not be able to send supplies over the sea but by the more difficult overland route.
The Blockade of Egypt
The HMS Implacable returned home in December 1809. Implacable would spend the following years patrolling the West Indies and the Spanish coast. Implacable was used to supply the British forces landed in Spain who were engaged with destroying French batteries of guns between Rota and Santa Maria, Spain. Implacable returned home again in autumn 1812 and after so many long deployments without much repair or servicing, the warship was drydocked and repaired through 1813-14. After which, the vessel was placed in ordinary (basically stored away but could be made ready for use again) for the next 25 years. In 1839 she had returned to the shipyards in 1836 to be briefly used as a demonstration ship. In 1839 Implacable was made ready for duty once again and sailed with the British fleet to participate in the blockade of Alexandria, Egypt to prevent the Egyptian fleet from getting underway during the Egyptian-Ottoman War. While the main force of the fleet continued to bombard Beirut and Acre, Implacable was left behind to maintain the blockade. When Implacable returned home again to Plymouth in 1841, she was awarded the gilded cockerel as the smartest and fastest ship in the Mediterranean fleet. Implacable was once again placed in ordinary, but the Royal Navy had the hull completely re-coppered in 1842.
Royal Navy Sail Trainer
At this point, Implacable was forty years old and outdated compared to the burgeoning technological innovations of the time such as steam power and iron hulls. An all sail wooden warship simply could not compete. Much like many of the old navy sailing ships such as the USS Constitution, HMS Foudroyant, and later the USS Constellation, in 1855 HMS Implacable started a new life as a sail training ship. Implacable remained moored in Plymouth and was used to train the Royal Navy Boy Entrants. Although used to teach boys the skill needed for a life in the Royal Navy, Implacable never sailed again under her own power, but still saw regular maintenance during this period. The ship still carried sails for sail training, but the ship never again moved under its own power. In 1870 Implacable was joined by the HMS Lion to expand the sail training facilities for the Royal Navy Boy Entrants and became known as the “Lion Establishment.”
The Preservation of the HMS Implacable
“If the Implacable is allowed to disappear, we shall in a few years be building copies of her because no modern ship is so well designed.” Geoffrey Wheatley Cobb
The Preservation and the conservation of historic ships was not a fully realized concept at this time. In 1831 the HMS Victory was rescued from the breakers yard only due to a public outcry at the very thought of a loss of a naval legend and the ship was set aside for public tour only to be run into the ground. At roughly the same time in 1830, USS Constitution was slated to be scrapped as well, inspiring Oliver Wendell Holmes to write “Old Ironsides” which also incited public outcry to preserve the vessel. Both were heroes and at the time people just wanted to prevent them from a date with the breakers. That was preserving them there was no consideration for long term preservation. Implacable was first named worthy of preservation in a letter written by William Laird Clowes in the letter to the London Times 29 December 1891. Clowes was a journalist with a fascination in British Naval History and penned the seven-volume set The Royal Navy: A History from the Earliest Times to the Present in 1897. As part of his interest in recording and sharing naval history, he sought the continued preservation of various surviving Royal Navy vessels, because what better way to share this history than to have a tangible piece of it. Clowes had also sought to preserve the 80 gun Foudroyant which was the first command of Admiral Horatio Nelson and later, the HMS Trincomalee. Clowes would team up with philanthropist Geoffrey Wheatley Cobb to rescue the Foudroyant. Which they used as a sail training ship until it foundered in Blackpool in June 1897, the loss of which will be discussed in a later museum ships series. In 1902, the British Admiralty discontinued all forms of sail training because as the age of steam progressed, sail training became unnecessary and redundant. The Royal Navy was up for sale in 1904. Geoffrey Wheatley Cobb once again stepped in to preserve the Implacable. The Admiralty took her off the sale list in order to give Cobb time to raise the necessary funds to purchase the vessel. His campaign was not able to raise the proper funds in time to purchase the vessel and Implacable was again listed for sale. Cobb devised a unique solution, Cobb appealed directly to King Edward VII and managed to convince him to have the ship withdrawn from sale and set aside. This caused problems because as the Royal Navy was trying to downsize, they were saddled with an outdated ship that they no longer had use for and could not dispose of.
Cobb had worked diligently to develop connections of like-minded individuals who would be able to help him preserve Implacable. Cobb was able to state his case as a guest at a prestigious Royal Academy Dinner, he was able to convince those in attendance to sign a petition sent to Reginald McKenna, first lord of the Admiralty to have Implacable loaned to him as a sail training vessel and a floating memorial to the brave men of 1805. This would circumvent the cost of having to purchase the vessel outright from the Admiralty as Cobb could not raise the required funds and he could focus the financial resources to maintaining the ship. By 1912, the Admiralty relented and finally gave Cobb what he had wanted Implacable on load as a sail training vessel. Which, for a short time he was able to do, Implacable continued on as it had, training and educating boys both in seamanship and history. By 1920, as the rightful owners, the Admiralty had concerns about the state of Implacable’s hull. Unless Cobb took responsibility and paid for her repair and maintenance, they would repossess the ship and have it scrapped. The Admiralty, however, offered to have Implacable towed to Devonport to make the necessary repairs and return the ship for £6,000. Once again Cobb had launched a campaign for funds to repair the ship, which was not immediately forthcoming. He had also developed a plan to make Implacable into the floating headquarters for the Sea Scouts which also came to nothing. Cobb had moved to Falmouth and took to renting out his family’s estate at Caldicot Castle in an attempt to raise funds for Implacable. Cobb was able to fund the Navy’s plan to drydock Implacable and the Royal Navy began work in 1926 in Devonport. Once again, Implacable came into direct competition with the HMS Victory, this time it was a competition in which ship would be preserved. At the same time that Cobb was attempting to fundraise, the Society for Nautical Research was conducting a relatively successful campaign to raise money for the Victory. Being that the Victory was a British built vessel associated with both the largest naval battle in history and one of the greatest British admirals in history, the Society for Nautical Research had an easy public appeal.
Implacable did not have the same amount of perceived historical pedigree as the Victory and therefore, had a more difficult time securing funds. The Implacable was a French-built ship and was on the opposing side during the battle of Trafalgar, and most people were not aware of what the ship had achieved in service of the Royal Navy. Due to the lack of awareness, Implacable was not going to interest the average citizen. The memory this ship’s history had faded and because of that, it was hard to convince anyone to aid its preservation. Regardless, the depression made fundraising more of a challenge because people could not give. It became a matter of selecting which ship was going to be preserved as it was beyond the means to attempt to preserve two wooden sailing ships at the same time. Implacable was surveyed by Thames shipbuilders Green and Silley and their report was disheartening, according to their survey, Implacable was beyond saving. Cobb had lost faith in preserving the ship and was resigned to the fact that he was going to return her to the Admiralty to be finally scrapped. There was a brief glimmer of hope, through his efforts, Cobb was able to raise £20,000 and it was estimated that Implacable only required at least £50,000 for restoration. The had found donors who were able to provide matching donations if Cobb was able to raise another £20,000, the donors would match this. Although this campaign was largely successful, they were still unable to raise the £50,000 required.
Implacable continued to suffer but hope was rekindled when Cobb discovered that Scottish shipping magnate Sir James Caird contributed £50,000 to the Save the Victory! campaign. In light of this Cobb figured that Caird could be persuaded to donate an equally large sum to Implacable. Caird would only do agree to do it after Implacable had another marine survey and these surveyors were also willing to donate £25,000 but backed out after the survey was complete. Cobb wanted to make sure that his dream of preserving Implacable would continue in the event of his death, so he organized and set up the Implacable Committee to oversee the ship. Cobb worked hard to protect the Implacable but it was felt by many that if any money went to Implacable, that would only mean less money for Victory. Implacable was too far gone. Cobb was able to convince Geoffrey Callender, the first director of the National Marine Museum to write a letter to Caird on behalf of the Implacable, which he did but had worded it in such a way that showed that he did not explicitly support the Implacable. He had written another earlier in the Royal Society Journal for the Arts which seemed much more enthusiastic. Gracious donations continued to flow into the Victory but by 1927, the necessary repair work to keep Implacable floating was completed. Cobb was killed from injuries resulting from being hit by a London taxi and he died in 1931. Implacable was without her protector. Cobb’s wife Anna gifted the Foudroyant (the renamed Trincomalee) to the Implacable committee. With the hull repaired, Implacable begun its life as a floating summer camp (or holiday home) for children and for the first time, young girls were also allowed to stay on the ship and learn seamanship and its history. This started the tradition that continues to this day of bringing children to stay aboard historic ships to learn their history. In 1937, the French Admiralty grew interested in their former ship but after coming for a visit, there was no further interest. During WWII, Implacable was used as a floating storage depot for bulk cargos but mainly coal, whereas Victory was the flagship for the Royal Navy Chief of Staff Portsmouth.
The Sinking of the Implacable
After the war, the Royal Navy had to downsize and the Admiralty stated once again that it was going have Implacable broken up. Attempts were made to revive the former Implacable Committee. The Committee suggested sending Implacable to the National Maritime Museum to restore the ship and have it displayed in London. Once again Implacable was surveyed and reports estimated costs around £150,000 with a further £50,000 for re-rigging. These numbers were daunting in post-war Britain where entire towns had been destroyed from German bombing. Frank Carr and Harold Wyllie Caird warned the other trustees against attempting another public appeal for funds due to the bleak economic conditions. It was felt that if they were to fail, the loss of the Implacable would be seen as the fault of the people. They approached other historical or preservation organizations that may be interested and capable of restoring the old ship, although they all expressed interest, when confronted with the price of repair, each passed on the Implacable and again, there were no takers. They even approached the French Admiralty but the economy of post-war France was similar to Britain and they refused. Eventually, the Implacable committee had to admit defeat in the face of the Admiralty. Implacable’s figurehead and stern gallery were removed from the ship and were eventually restored and placed on display in the gallery of the National Maritime Museum in 1993.
On 1 December 1949, HMS Implacable was ballasted with 500 tons of further pig iron and towed from her moorings in Portsmouth past the modern aircraft carrier that carried the name Implacable in WWII. Implacable was temporarily moored at Spithead. On 2 December 1949, Implacable was then towed into the English Channel on her final voyage, 9 miles south from the Owens Lightship. Implacable was carrying the naval ensign for both the French and British navies. The Royal Navy placed four scuttling charges inside of the hull and at 1:30pm detonated them, sending plumes of smoke and water high into the air. The vessel took 3 hours to sink into 36 fathoms (or 216 feet) of water. It was believed that either the Royal Navy was too overzealous with their explosive charges and they had managed to blow the bottom of the hull from the rest of the ship, resulting in the vessel taking so long to sink or the Implacable was too solidly built and the charges were too weak. 37 of the former crew of the Implacable from her sail training days were there to witness the scuttling. On 13 December 1949, wreckage in the form of a few curved beams and a set of steps thought to belong to Implacable had washed up at Dunkirk, France and it was widely acknowledged that in a way, Implacable finally returned home to France. There is a slight chance that the wreck of the Implacable remains as a submerged archaeological site.
An Explosive End
Although the efforts to preserve Implacable as a museum ship were well-intentioned, the vessel was ultimately a victim of its time. The early 20th century was not conducive to preservation efforts. The Great Depression did not allow for the proper funds to garnered to preserve a ship the same was the case for post-war Britain where the primary goal was to rebuild after the devastation wrought on the nation from German attacks. Preserving a wooden tall ship much less two was simply more than anyone could afford. Implacable was in constant conflict with Victory and all of the resources that could be mustered into preserving a wooden sailing ship went to Victory. The choice had to be made, they could save one or another but not both. Victory had a more historic pedigree and its history is British and fits in with feelings of nationalism. Implacable simply could not compete. It is unfortunate that the Implacable met its end the way it did and not preserved as a museum for everyone to this day. This ship and her story serves as a poignant example and inspired preservationists to care for historic ships. In its 30 years of existence, the now-defunct World Ship Trust operated with the Mantra “Never Again.” in reference to Implacable and used a picture of Implacable’s stern gallery as their logo. If Cobb had managed to purchase Implacable from the Admiralty, the vessel would likely be preserved to this day. He found what he thought was a novel strategy for preserving the ship by essentially forcing Implacable into the Royal Navy’s custody and working out an agreement to rent the ship from them. Ultimately, this strategy proved fatal for Implacable and the Admiralty did exactly what they pledged to do, get rid of an outdated ship. Not only did they succeed, but they also disposed of it in the most ostentatious way possible, they filled the ship with explosives and blew it up. Though what they did is also not without merit, there was a historic ship that they could not afford to restore or maintain and they took it and sank it on purpose. Sinking a historic ship purposely as an artificial reef especially in lieu of the titanic costs in preservation is not a terrible fate. Recently this was done with the former coast guard tug USCGC Tamaroa sunk 10 May 2017 off of Cape May, New Jersey. Tamaroa and the organization behind it like Implacable had struggled for years trying to preserve the tug as a museum ship and decided to sink it on purpose as a dive attraction. When a ship is sunk, it is placed in an entirely new environment, a new context that is equally if not better conducive to the ship’s continued preservation. Several struggling museum ships have had such a fate suggested as we saw in Museum Ships Series I: The Falls of Clyde. Others include the USS Clamagore and the MS Norgoma, the Clamagore being prepared to be sunk as an artificial reef and the Norgoma has only had sinking suggested as a possibility. As stated, there is a slim possibility that the Implacable is still extant on the bottom somewhere, though no one has thought to search. The possibility is still there. All that’s left preserved of the Implacable is the figurehead and the stern gallery, a monument to what could have been, a monument of failure, and a respect for history.
Sources & Resources
Butler, Beverely, and Littlewood, Kevin. Implacable: A Trafalgar Ship Remembered.
Clowes, Laird. The Royal Navy: A History from the Earliest Times to the Present. Vols V-VI.
Callender, Geoffrey. THE OLD “IMPLACABLE”. Journal of the Royal Society of Arts. Vol 79. No.4084.
“The 132 Year Old “Implacable”.
“Implacable to the End”
“Implacable Nears Her End”
“She Braved Battle And The Breeze”
The Mariner’s Mirror. Requiescat H.M.S. IMPLACABLE: 2 DECEMBER 1949. Vol. 36 No.2
McGowan, Alan. The First HMS IMPLACABLE. The Marriner’s Mirror. Vol. 91. No. 2
National Maritime Museum
HMS Victory Museum