SO482A.  Historic Shipwrecks: Science, History, and Engineering


Victory case study

About the Presenter:

Dr. Bob Mayer is a former Department Chair and a Professor in the USNA's Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering Department, Division of Engineering & Weapons.  He earned a Ph.D. from the University of Delaware.  Before joining the faculty at USNA, served in the Civil Engineer Corps of the U.S. Navy (1971-1978), and in the U.S. Naval Reserve (1978-1989). While on active duty, he was Resident Officer in Charge of Construction for the Navy's East Coast Air Combat Maneuvering Range that involved installation of four offshore towers. Also, as Assistant Officer in Charge of Underwater Construction Team One, he was involved in underwater cable repairs and installations, fuel terminal moorings and pipeline installations, and numerous underwater facility inspections. He is a qualified Navy Ship Salvage Diving Officer.  Dr. Mayer's research interests relate to the application of statistics, operations research and risk analysis methods to the management, engineering design, and construction of ocean engineering systems. His applied research  has been multi-faceted dealing with alternative energy sources, coastal wetlands, coral reefs, navigation channel design and maintenance, pipeline installations, underwater inspection strategies, waste remediation, and more.


Lesson Objectives:

  • Discuss the historical research that assisted in the discovery of HMS Victory
  • Explain the archaeological features that helped prove the identity of HMS Victory
  • Discuss ways in which the discovery of HMS Victory might parallel the discovery of the Bonhomme Richard


Part III of this “Technology” series introduces the student to the underwater search and discovery of the British warship HMS Victory, lost in the English Channel on 5 October 1744. It was not until 2008 that possible remnants of the lost ship were detected by an Odyssey Marine Exploration crew using side-scan sonar as part of its Atlas Shipwreck Survey Project.  Despite conflicting information as to lost ship’s location, subsequent investigation and recovery of select artifacts have provided near conclusive evidence that the wreck site is indeed that of the Victory.


HMS Victory was a 100-gun ‘first-rate ship’ of the line of the Royal Navy, built at the Portsmouth dockyard and launched on 23 February 1737.  It was the largest ship in the Royal Navy and judged to be the most impressive warship of its time. On its return to England Following a successful encounter with the French Brest fleet in the Tagus estuary (Lisbon, Portugal) under the command of Admiral Sir John Balchen, on the return to England, the vessel was wrecked in a violent storm with the loss of its entire crew.

By all accounts – including ‘eyewitness’ and physical evidence – the Victory went down off Alderney among the Casquets, a 2.5-km spread of rocky islets protruding above the waterline 60 miles from England’s shores. Yet, the Odyssey site lies significantly west of the Casquets, by about 60 miles, in approximately 100m of water.  (For obvious reasons, the exact location of the Odyssey site has not been disclosed.)

The general area where HMS Victory sank.


The Evidence

A formal report of Odyssey Marine’s discovery is available as “Odyssey Papers 2: HMS Victory, a First-Rate Royal Navy Warship Lost in the English Channel, 1744, Preliminary Survey & Identification.” The discovery was also documented in two “Treasure Quest” episodes for the Discovery Channel in 2009.  In that HMS Victory sailed much the same seas in the same (time) period as the Bonhomme Richard, it is useful to review the details of its discovery for the parallels it may provide.  The ‘Odyssey Papers 2’ report is available as a pdf file at the following web site:

You should review (as a minimum) the following sections of the report:

  • Summary (Sec. 1) – give particular attention to the dive purposes and the photomosaic and pre-disturbance site plan (Figs. 2 and 3) of the wreck site.
  • Archeological Features: Iron Ballast (Sec. 4-D) -  iron ballast, cannons, and anchors are likely to be the only remaining large parts of the Bonhomme Richard.
  • Wreck Location (Sec. 7) – the inconsistencies in reporting the wreck location of HMS Victory may be indicative of the difficulties in finding the location of the Bonhomme Richard.
  • Conclusion (Sec. 14) – speaks to the evidence confirming the identity of HMS Victory.

For those students with special interests as to the impact of the environment, additional archaeological finds, and warship design and construction of the time, additional sections of the report will prove interesting as well.

Finally, to better appreciate the technology and its method of use in the discovery of the HMS Victory, students should view the Treasure Quest episode “The Legend”, (slightly modified) which has been made available in MP4 file format.    There are 4 files, each 200-400 MB in size.  Links are only available within USNA.


You might want to right click on the links, and save them on your hard drive. 

Discussion forum. 

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Last revision 4/13/2011