HMS Montagu was a steel British Duncan class battleship built at Devonport Dockyard, Plymouth in 1901 in direct response to large French, Russian and German ship-building programmes prior to the First World War. One of six ships in the heavily-armed class, which proved to be superior in their balance of speed, firepower, and armour; they were the fastest battleships in the Royal Navy when completed.
In May 1906 the Montagu was patrolling the entrance of the Bristol Channel on the open side of Lundy and carrying out wireless trials with the Scilly Isles. Visibility was poor and the dense fog and a strong prevailing current drove the ship off course. Soundings were taken at frequent intervals, but became grounded by the bows before any evasive action could be taken. The ship had struck rocks off Shutter Point and the swell had carried the stern onto the rocks with both propellers being carried away. The battleship lay stranded in shallow water with a large hole in the starboard bottom, with water above the torpedo nets, in the engine room, boiler room and stokehold. Distress flares and the minute gun were fired, 2 officers rowed ashore and scaled the cliffs to the North Light. An exchange occurred between the keeper and themselves with the officers eventually believing they were on Lundy Island rather than at Hartland Point as first thought. When news reached the mainland tugs and salvage vessels were sent to the scene along with the battleships Exmouth, Duncan, Dido and Alblemarle. The paymaster, sick men, ledgers and money were taken ashore to Millcombe House. The next day, the crew of the Montagu were employed salving the ships stores and transferring them to the Duncan and Dido with lifesaving equipment being rigged to the cliffs. It was hoped to float her in July using a floating crane from Bermuda on the highest tides of the year, but it soon became obvious this would not happen.
The Montagu was initially salvaged by a Liverpool Salvage Company for the British Navy but was later sold to the Cornish Salvage Company in 1907. In order to aid the salvage operation the Cornish company constructed an aerial walkway suspended from the cliffs to the wreck and steps were cut into the cliff face. The steps are known as the Montagu Steps, some of which are reinforced with iron plates, likely to be parts salvaged from hull of the Montague. The wreck has swiftly deteriorated to an artefact scatter, consisting mainly of metal frames and riveted armour plating with some gun mountings and 12″ shells.
In recent years, dives have been led by Wessex Archaeology in collaboration with Help for Heroes, a charity which helps British service personnel and veterans wounded in the line of duty, and their families. The underwater survey work has resulted in HMS Montagu and the Montagu Steps being protected as scheduled monuments. Recreational divers will still be free to explore the ship but the remains of the wreck will be monitored and managed.
The dives led by Wessex Archaeology form part of Operation Nightingale, a ground-breaking military initiative, controlled by the Ministry of Defence to aid the recovery of wounded, injured and sick servicemen by getting them involved in archaeological investigations.
Lundy Island is situated just off the Devon coast. The best way to get to Lundy Island is via the ferry, which sails to the island regularly from Bideford or Ilfracombe. There are also several reputable charter companies who provide boat services. You can also get to Lundy Island by helicopter.