HELLES - On May 27, two days after the sinking of HMS Triumph, von Hersing struck again, this time off the coast of Cape Helles. That day HMS Majestic took up a position close to shore, protected by submarine nets and surrounded by a fleet of transport ships unloading supplied. It was hoped that this position would allow her to keep firing while protecting her against the submarine, which it was half-believed had been rammed on the previous day. HMS Majestic
At 6.45am this optimisitic attitude was proved to be false. U-21 was spotted 400 yards from the ship. Moments later two torpedoes were fired through gaps in the lines of transports. Both hit the Majestic, and seven minutes she capsized. The loss of life was surprisingly low - it very quickly became clear that the ship was sinking, and the order to abandon ship was given. Of her crew of nearly 700, only 43 were lost, mostly in the initial explosion but some when they became entangled in the submarine nets.
The loss of two battleships in three days had a serious impact on the Gallipoli campaign, seriously reducing the amount of support the navy could offer the army.
Photograph: From The War Illustrated, 26 June 1915.
Thursday 27 May 1915 - Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett War Correpondent
Aboard HMS Majestic was one of the official press journalists covering the campaign, Mr Ellis Ashmead Bartlett.
"I was aroused by men rushing by me and someone trod on, or stumbled against, my chest. This awoke me and I called out, "What's the matter?" A voice replied from somewhere, "There's a torpedo coming!" I just had time to scramble to my feet when there came a dull heavy explosion about 15 feet forward of the shelter deck on the port side. The hit must have been very low down, as there was no shock from it to be felt on deck. The old Majestic immediately gave a jerk over towards port and remained with a heavy list. Then there came a sound as if the contents of every pantry in the world had fallen at the same moment. I never before heard such a clattering, as everything loose in her tumbled about. You could tell at once she had been mortally wounded somewhere in her vitals and you felt instinctively she would not long stay afloat. The sea was crowded with men swimming about and calling for assistance. I think that many of these old reservists, who formed the majority of the crew, had forgotten how to swim, or else had lost all faith in their own powers."
Thanks to the swarms of small vessels that rushed in to try and rescue the crew only 43 of the 700 men died. The great upturned hull of HMS Majestic would provide a grim monument just off W Beach until it disappeared during the winter storms later that year.
The arrival of the U-Boats recast the equation of forces at Helles. As at Anzac the great ships of war could no longer prowl night and day off the beaches; now they could only appear in special circumstances. Lesser ships, the destroyers would take up much of the work of supporting the troops. Many of the troops ashore felt deserted and a little isolated after the 'big beasts' had gone.
E. Ashmead-Bartlett Some of My Experiences in the Great War (London: George Newnes Ltd, 1918), pp.130 & 131E. Ashmead-Bartlett Some of My Experiences in the Great War (London: George Newnes Ltd, 1918), pp.130 & 131