London class battleships

London class battleships

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London class battleships

The London class pre-dreadnought battleships were slightly modified versions of the previous Formidable class, with an improved distribution of armour.

The main chance involved the forward armour. In the earlier ships the side belts had been combined with forward and aft armoured bulkheads to produce an armoured box. In the London class the forward bulkhead was removed and the side belts extended forward. The main belt extended 32ft further forward than on the earlier ships, and the bow armour thickened. Their design and construction overlapped with that of the Duncan class, which sacrificed armour for speed.

Like their half-sisters, the London class ships served in the Mediterranean until 1908. At the start of the First World War they came together in the 5th Battle Squadron of the Channel Fleet, with HMS Prince of Wales as flagship. During this period the class suffered it’s only lose. On 26 November 1914 HMS Bulwark was destroyed by an explosion while loading ammunition at Sheerness.

After that the four survivors of the class had remarkably similar wartime careers. During 1914 they were engaged in channel patrols, with HMS Venerable taking part in the bombardment of the Belgian coast. In early 1915 they were ordered to the Dardanelles, although admittedly not in one batch. In May 1915 they were all transferred to the Adriatic under the terms of the agreement that brought Italy into the war, remaining there until early in 1917. All but HMS Queen were then returned to Britain, and in most cases their crews were paid off to serve in the anti-submarine flotillas. The exception was HMS London. She returned to Britain for conversion to a mine layer, joining the 1st Minelaying Squadron.

Displacement (loaded)


Displacement (Queen and Prince of Wales)


Top Speed


Armour – deck


- belt


- bulkheads


- barbettes


- gun houses


- casemates


- conning tower



431ft 9in


Four 12in guns
Twelve 6in quick firing guns
Sixteen 12pdr quick firing guns
Six 3pdr guns
Four 18in torpedo tubes

Crew complement






Ships in class

HMS Bulwark
HMS London
HMS Venerable
HMS Prince of Wales
HMS Queen

Books on the First World War |Subject Index: First World War

HMS Vanguard: Britain’s Last and Greatest Battleship

Britain’s last, largest and fastest battleship, HMS Vanguard, was commissioned in May 1946.[1] She was technically the best battleship the British ever built, but was completed too late for the Second World War, never tested in combat, and entered service at a time of severe budgetary constraints and rapid technological change, curtailing her operational life. What that obscures is the fact that she was part of a continuum of thinking that shaped British designs from the King George V class, through the suspended (and then cancelled) Lions, and which took in war experience along the way.

As described in another article, Vanguard was ordered from John Brown & Co in mid-March 1941,[2] and plans were delivered ten days later.[3] She was laid down in October,[4] and prioritised after the loss of Prince of Wales and Repulse in December.[5] This priority was reflected in Churchill’s plans for 1942, where he ruled out work on the two suspended Lion class battleships laid down in 1939, cancelled two further Lions outright, cancelled four heavy cruisers from the 1940 programme, and ordered that shipyard labour should focus on repairing merchants and completing new fleet carriers.[6] The exception was Vanguard, which he wanted ‘pressed forward’ within the ‘limits of the armour-plate provision’ of some 16,500 tons nationally in 1941 – divided between army and navy – and 25,000 tons in 1942.[7] Vanguard had already been assigned constructional steel originally delivered for Lion.[8]

However, this did not pan out as Churchill hoped. One constraint was labour availability. The result was that Vanguard was not launched until the end of November 1944.[9] The design was further amended after she was laid down, although the scope for change dwindled as construction progressed. A 1942 proposal to convert Vanguard to an aircraft carrier was declined,[10] but amendments continued on the basis of war experience. This included the loss of Prince of Wales and lessons from the Belfast,[11] among other events such as the battle of the Denmark Strait in May 1941. This last resulted, among other things, in additional armour on Vanguard’s magazine sides for improved splinter protection.[12]

Vanguard also gained significant bow flare,[13] defeating the Admiralty requirement for zero-elevation ahead-fire, but which promised to rectify the sea-keeping problems the King George V class had in even moderate swells.[14] The rake had to be restricted so the ship could fit into the Devonport graving dock,[15] and it was also, as R. J. Daniel observed, clearly a ‘late change’.[16] Many other adjustments, including deletion of aircraft facilities in favour of an improved anti-aircraft battery, were included in revised plans approved in November 1942.[17]

As we saw in an earlier article, Vanguard emerged from a 1937 idea to use four twin Mk I 15-inch gun mountings in storage since being removed from what were officially dubbed the ‘large light cruisers’ Courageous and Glorious, ordered in 1915.[18] One of the criticisms was that Vanguard‘s main armament consequently fell below the latest standards when, for example, Germany was deploying the 38 cm SK C/34,[19] Italy the long-ranged 381 mm/50 calibre weapon (1934 and 1939 models),[20] and likely allies such as the United States were developing a new generation of 16-inch guns,[21] including the outstanding Mk VII.[22]

All this meant that Vanguard gained the epithet – repeated in popular histories since – of being armed with ‘her great aunt’s teeth’.[23] However, the Vickers Mk I 15-inch/42 calibre gun was an outstanding weapon when first deployed in 1915,[24] offering excellent hitting power and range by First World War standards, coupled with superb accuracy and low bore wear.[25] And while by the 1930s this gun had been surpassed in size and many performance details,[26] it remained in front-line service with the Royal Navy.[27]

More to the point, while the Mk I 15-inch/42 lacked the range or armour penetration of more recent and larger weapons,[28] performance details such as muzzle velocity remained comparable with new-generation naval guns.[29] Furthermore, while below the general capabilities of the new-generation Mk II, III and, eventually, Mk IV 16-inch guns the British intended to deploy on the Lions,[30] the theoretical armour penetration of the MK I 15-inch/42 at specific ranges was marginally better than the new-generation Mk VII 14-inch/45 calibre guns fitted to the King George V class.[31] Deficiencies in range, by 1930s standards, were partially and variously corrected by modifying some of the Mk I mountings to 30 degree elevation, introducing more streamlined (6-crh) shells, and permitting heavier charges (‘supercharges’) on unmodified mountings.[32] Vanguard, it is worth noting, had modified mountings and not supercharges.[33]

There is also the point that the Mk I 15-inch/42 did all the British asked of it in the Second World War. Outcomes included destroying Bretagne with four hits during the bombardment of Mers-el-Kebir in July 1940.[34] This gun in its modified mounting also scored one of the longest-range hits known in naval warfare, during the battle of Calabria the same month, when Warspite hit Guilio Cesare at a range of about 26,000 yards.[35] Nor were these guns much lacking by comparison with other heavy naval weapons when it came to shore bombardment.[36] This last role was how the Mk I 15-inch/42 began its career in 1915,[37] and Warspite – notably – again demonstrated that capability in the Second World War.[38]

The mountings were modified for Vanguard by Harland and Wolff in the former Coventry Ordnance Works.[39] Alterations included new trunnion blocks for higher elevation,[40] with added insulation and dehumidifiers to improve conditions for gun crews.[41] The fact that none of the mountings had been built for superfiring positions meant that other adjustments had to be made to the pair intended for ‘B’ and ‘X’ locations.[42] However, the main change stemmed from the fact that Vanguard’s magazines were below the shell rooms, reversing First World War practice.[43] This meant adapting the below-decks structures and adding a powder-handling room.[44]

One point, not often stated in summary accounts,[45] is that Vanguard used only the mountings from Glorious and Courageous – although these were the more mechanically complex part of the armament, including the gun-houses and below-decks equipment.[46] The guns fitted to the mountings were drawn from a pool comprising most of the 184 service examples that were manufactured.[47] These were rotated ashore as each barrel needed relining, then variously reissued. The guns used on Vanguard had previously been deployed on Queen Elizabeth (2), Ramillies (2), Royal Sovereign (1), Resolution (1), the monitor Erebus (1) and Warspite (1).[48] The cost of this work was £3,186,868,[49] and the task was completed in 1944.[50] The modified mountings were dubbed Mark I/N RP 12.[51]

Vanguard was launched on 30 November 1944,[52] and fitting out began with the aim of completing her by late 1945. Had the Pacific war continued into 1946 – as the Allies expected and planned for[53] – Vanguard would likely have joined the British Pacific Fleet.[54] As matters stood, war’s end in August 1945 reduced the pressure, and she was not commissioned until April 1946.[55] By the time Vanguard was complete, the war was over and new technologies had rendered battleships largely obsolete as the primary means of asserting sea superiority. They still had roles, but an impoverished post-war Britain could not afford to run such ships for long.[56]

As a result, while Vanguard did serve with the Royal Navy,[57] she was as much symbolic as anything else – underscored by the fact that she was used as a royal yacht, notably for the royal tour of South Africa in 1947.[58] War plans in 1951 tasked Vanguard with destroying Soviet Sverdlov-class cruisers,[59] but aside from the fact that aircraft were also available for the job, whether the ship could have met the intended 90-day war readiness criteria was moot. By this time, thanks to budgetary constraints, X-turret was non-operational and Vanguard did not carry enough crew to operate all the magazines.[60] Nor was ammunition for the main armament usually carried.[61] The original design called for 100 rounds per gun,[62] a significant total weight,[63] and on first commission she carried an additional 9 practise shells per gun.[64] In the event, the closest Vanguard came to any of the Soviet cruisers was in 1953 when the name-ship of the Soviet class attended the Coronation Review – and Sverdlov’s commander boarded the battleship, to a formal welcome by Admiral Sir George Creasey.[65]

After a refit in 1955 Vanguard was taken out of service, becoming flagship of the Reserve Fleet in October 1956.[66] In this role, among other things, she provided sets for the film Sink The Bismarck.[67] By this time she was also Britain’s last battleship the King George V class were disposed of by 1957.[68] In October 1959 Vanguard too was put on the disposal list.[69] She was sold to the breakers for £560,000,[70] and in August 1960 was towed out of Portsmouth for scrapping at Faslane.[71] She did not go quietly, running aground on the way out, near the Still and West pub.[72] The tide was ebbing,[73] and she was thought to be at some risk of being swung by the tide across to Fort Blockhouse and breaking her back – creating an expensive salvage job.[74] Even if she did not, she might have had to wait for the next high tide.[75] However, she was pulled free after about 45 minutes and left the harbour – ending an era in British naval history

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2018

[1] Friedman, The British Battleship 1906-46, p. 441, but see Fry p. 18 who states 25 April.

[3] Alan Raven and John Roberts, British Battleships of World War Two: The Development and Technical History of the Royal Navy’s Battleships and Battlecruisers from 1911 to 1946, Arms & Armour Press, London 1976, p. 322.

[4] Alan Raven and John Roberts, British Battleships of World War Two: The Development and Technical History of the Royal Navy’s Battleships and Battlecruisers from 1911 to 1946, Arms & Armour Press, London 1976, p. 322.

[5] Matthew Wright, Pacific War, Reed, Auckland 2003, pp. 22-26.

[6] Winston Churchill, The Second World War, III, The Grand Alliance, p. 780.

[7] Ibid. Tonnages given in this article are British ‘long tons’.

[8] Friedman, The British Battleship 1906-46, p. 339.

[14] The issue included the interaction, during design, between displacement and freeboard, see Garzke and Dulin, British, Soviet, French and Dutch battleships of World War II, p. 175.

[15] Friedman, The British Battleship 1906-46, p. 340.

[16] R. J. Daniel, The End of an Era, Periscope Publishing, Penzance, 2003, p. 72.

[17] Friedman, The British Battleship 1906-46, p. 340..

[23] See, e.g. E. H. H. Archibald, The Metal Fighting Ship in the Royal Navy, Blandford Press, London 1971, p. 83.

[24] B. Webster Smith HMS Queen Elizabeth, Blackie & Son, London 1940, pp. 148-177.

[25] Norman Friedman, Naval Weapons of World War I, Seaforth, Barnsley 2011, pp. 43-46.

[26] See, e.g.

[27] All 15 of Britain’s battleships and battlecruisers permitted after 1932 under the inter-war treaty system carried them.

[28] Compare, e.g. tables in with tables for the US Mk VII 16-inch/50

[29] This was because materially higher velocities destabilised shells. See

[34] Bretagne was of similar vintage to the British guns. Robert Dumas and John Jordan, French battleships 1922-1956, Seaforth, Barnsley 2009, p. 76.

[35] Andrew Browne Cunningham, ‘Report of an action with the Italian fleet off Calabria, 9 th July 1940’, London Gazette (Supplement), 27 April 1948. Cunningham considered this hit ‘lucky’. A hit at similar range was scored by Scharnhorst on Glorious in 1940.

[36] Noting that naval guns, because of trajectory, were not optimised for some land targets.

[37] See, e.g., Matthew Wright, The New Zealand Experience at Gallipoli and the Western Front, Oratia 2017, pp 78-79.

[38] She had only six operational guns at this time. For the general story of this ship see Iain Ballantyne, Warspite, Pen and Sword Books, 2010.

[45] For example Antony Preston and John Bachelor, Battleships 1919-77, Phoebus, London, p. 58.

[53] In 1945 the Allies expected to invade Japan and Operation Coronet, the landing on Honshu, was planned for March 1946. The campaign was expected to last some months, see

[54] For summary of BPF operations see, e.g. Matthew Wright, Blue Water Kiwis, Reed, Auckland 2000, pp. 139-144.

[56] Friedman The British Battleship 1906-46, p. 367.

[59] The world’s last gun-armed cruisers, for brief summary see Bernard Ireland, The Illustrated Guide to Cruisers, Hermes House, London 2008, pp 238-239.

[60] Peacetime complement was circa 1500 versus circa 2000 in wartime, see

[63] The various British 15-inch shells deployed during the Second World War (APC Mk XIIa, HE Mk VIIIb, etc) weighed 1935 lb each, see

[66] Eric Grove, The Royal Navy Since 1815: A New Short History, Palgrave MacMillan, Basingstoke 2005, p.

[68] Garzke and Dulin, British, Soviet, French and Dutch battleships of World War II, p. 223.

Fire Control

Though it may have little relevance given the age difference, the general system of wiring between the in ships prior to Lord Nelson class is illustrated in Handbook for Fire Control Instruments, 1914. [15]


Evershed Bearing Indicators

It is unlikely that this equipment was ever provided. [Inference]


These ships never received directors for main or secondary batteries. [16]

Gunnery Control

The ship's guns were organized in 3 groups: [17]

Local Control in Turrets

There was no provision in these ships for local turret control wherein the receivers in the turret could be driven by transmitters in the officer's position at the back of the turret. [18]

Transmitting Stations

In February, 1910, Implacable, the London class battleships and the armoured cruisers still had their transmitting stations aloft. It was decided that ships were to be altered to provide a plotting area with tables and stools near the T.S., equipped with tables, stools and canvas and fearnought screens. A 3-in voicepipe and a navyphone would run between the plotting position and the primary control position, and a navyphone with a telaupad headset would permit communication to the secondary control position. "Spare rate instruments" were to be converted to range instruments to run between the plotting area and the primary control position. Lastly, the primary control position would be able to buzz the plotting station by a buzzer circuit. [19]

The other ships (and perhaps, eventually, Implacable) likely had fore and aft in the pattern typical of similar ships from their period. [20] [Inference]

A C.O.S. allowed [Inference] control options of

Each control group had transmitters with a pair of receivers, one wired directly to the transmitter as a tell-tale, and the other fed off the wires going to the distant guns (i.e., the aft guns for the fore T.S. and vice-versa) as a repeat. "These repeat receivers are necessary to keep the idle transmitters in step when changing back from separate control they are required to enable both halves of the group to be set alike before being paralleled on to one transmitter." [21]

Dreyer Table

These ships never received Dreyer tables. [22]

Fire Control Instruments

The three ships in this class were equipped in two separate styles.

  • Range (B. & S. Mark II): 6 transmitters, 30 receivers
  • Orders (B & S Mark I): 6 transmitters, 20 receivers
  • Rate (B. & S. Mark II): 4 transmitters, 8 receivers
  • Deflection (Vickers): 6 transmitters, 26 receivers

Additionally, this class had the following Siemens fire control equipment: [24]

  • Group Switches: 3 (converted by Chatham)
  • Turret fire gongs: 8 with 2 keys
  • Fire Gongs: 12 with 4 keys
  • Captain's Cease Fire Bells: 18 with 1 key

Irresistible was equipped with Vickers, Son and Maxim instruments for range, deflection and orders and with Barr and Stroud rate instruments [25] Detailed information is lacking, but might be similar to London class or another such. [Inference]

These ships lacked Target Visible and Gun Ready signals. [26]

In mid-1913 it was approved that these ships receive a Mark III Dumaresq, Pattern 760. Having been supplied with the Mark III variant, each was to surrender a Mark I instrument previously allotted. [27]

Design [ edit | edit source ]

Three types of battleships were studied, all with the same main artillery arrangement, two turrets forward, one turret aft, and the same secondary artillery arrangement (152mm caliber), all on center line, one triple turret forward, two triple turrets in superfiring position aft, between the funnel and the aft main artillery turret, as on the C3 version of projects for 1938 bis program. Η]

They differed on two points:

First, the main artillery consists in triple 380mm turrets, for type n°1, in 406mm triple turrets, for type n°2, in 380mm quadruple turrets, for type n°3.

Second, the anti aircraft artillery, consisting in every case of dual mountings of 100mm caliber (so-called pseudo turrets), would have counted eight mountings, on types n° 1 and 2, twelve mountings on type n° 3.

The armour is nearly the same (belt: 330mm on type n°1 and n°2, 350mm on type n°3 upper armoured deck :170–180mm lower armoured deck: 40mm) and the propulsion assuring the same speed (31.5 knots) as Richelieu, ⎖] ⎗] so the length of the hull, the power of propulsion machinery, and the Washington tonnage are varying from 252 m, 170,000 hp (130,000 kW) and 40,000 tons for the type n°1, 256 m, 190,000 hp (140,000 kW) and 42,500 tons for the type n°2, to 265 m, 220,000 hp (160,000 kW) and 45,000 tons for the type n°3. ⎘] ⎙]

As seen above, the type n°1 would have been similar to Vittorio Veneto-class battleships, ⎚] for the main artillery, in arrangement and in caliber, and an anti-ship secondary artillery which would have counted one triple turret less, but with a disposition on an axial line, the broadside would have been 50% more powerful, and the anti-aircraft artillery, with a slightly bigger caliber (100mm instead of 90mm) would have counted the same number of barrels. It also may be described as something between HMS Vanguard, ⎛] with one more 381 mm gun, and the Lion-class battleships, ⎛] with a main artillery of only 380mm caliber.

The type n°2 would have been similar to the Lion-, North Carolina- and South Dakota-class battleships, ⎜] regarding the main armament, in caliber and in arrangement. The top speed would have been 2 knots (3.7 km/h) higher, 30 kn instead of 28 kn for the U.S. Navy battleships concerned, with consequently a longer hull, more horsepower and an enlarged displacement. The choice of a dual-caliber secondary artillery instead of a dual-purpose one is characteristic of the Continental European navies at the beginning of the Second World War the lack of a robust light anti-aircraft battery is also consistent with contemporary practice that was soon outstripped by events.

The type n°3 would have retained a distinguishing feature of French capital ships: the quadruple turret. The French Navy advocated such a battery arrangement consistently, incorporating it into the designs of the proposed Normandie class and Lyon class classes of battleship in the First World War, and then bringing it into practice on the Dunkerque-, Richelieu-, and Gascogne-classes. The secondary artillery would have been near of which will have been fitted on Jean Bart as completed post war (9 x 152mm and 24 x 100mm), except the lack of fourteen AA 57mm dual mountings and twenty 20mm single mountings.

The French Admiralty is reported to have chosen the type n°1, ⎘] the nearest of Richelieu design, and discarded the type n°2, because of the delays to perfect the 406mm guns, a new device for the French Navy, and considered the type n°3 dimensions excessive, being nearly those of Iowa-class battleships (270 m, 212,000 hp (158,000 kW), 45,000 tons).

The first unit was intended to be laid down on 1941, in the Penhoët shipyards, where had been built the Normandie transatlantic liner, and later the Strasbourg battleship, and where was being built the Joffre-class aircraft carrier. But this choice would have deferred the building of the second aircraft carrier Painlevé of the Joffre-class aircraft carrier, clearly showing the higher priority granted, in this time, to battleships on aircraft carriers by the French Admiralty.

The second unit would have had to be laid down on 1942 in a new dock which was intended to be built in the Brest Navy Yards.

Two names of French provinces would have to be chosen among Alsace, Normandie, Flandre and Bourgogne, but with the 1940 France defeat, these battleships were never ordered, no work was ever begun, and even no material stored. ⎝] French provinces names have currently been used for French capital ships, as Bretagnes and Normandie-class battleships. They had also been considered a moment for Rubis-class nuclear attack submarines, and are nowadays in use for Aquitaine-class second generation stealth frigates.

British Bulwarks: The King George V Class Battleships

HMS King George V

This is the third in a series of five articles on the battleships built under the provision of the Washington and London Naval Treaty limitations in the 1930s. I am not including the ships which were completed in the immediate aftermath of the Washington Treaty limitations. This series looks at the modern battleships that the World War II combatants would produce in the 1930s which saw service in the war. This article covers the British Royal Navy King George V Class battleships. Part one covered the Italian Vittorio Veneto class entitled The Pride of the Regina Marina: The Vittorio Veneto Class Battleships. Part two French Firepower Forward: The unrealized potential of the Dunkerque and Richelieu Class Battleships covered the French Dunkerque class and Richelieu class Battleships. Part Four the American North Carolina and South Dakota Classes. I have already published the final part which covers the German Scharnhorst Class entitled Power and Beauty the Battle Cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau . The German Bismarck, Japanese Yamato, British Vanguard and American Iowa Classes will be covered in a subsequent series.

HMS King George V in 1941

In the wake of the First World War the major naval powers entered into an agreement restricting the construction of capital ships and limiting the numbers that treaty signatories were allowed to keep. As a result numerous ships were scrapped or disposed of and the majority of planned ships were either cancelled while building or never laid down. In some cases to comply with treaty restrictions ships such as the Royal Navy’s Nelson Classwhich was a compromise design which sacrificed speed for protection and firepower. By the late 1920s the Royal Navy’s battle force was comprised of the Nelson’s, the fast Battlecruisers Hood, Renown and Repulse and 10 ships of the Queen Elizabeth and Revenge classes all designed before the First World War.

King George V Class Quad Turret being built

The Royal Navy began planning for a new class of battleships in 1928 but the plans were shelved with the signing of the London Naval Treaty which continued the “building holiday” on capital ship construction as well as size and armaments until 1937. With the realization that its battle force was becoming dated as other nations laid down new classes of battleships the Royal Navy recommenced planning in 1935. The Navy planned to build to the maximum of the 35,000 displacement limitation and placed a great measure of emphasis on armor and protection. The ships were designed to achieve a 28 knot speed which made them faster than all British battleships although slower than the Battlecruisers. The planners had alternative designs to use 14”, 15” or 16” guns with the Navy favoring the 15” models which had equipped all of their other ships with the exception of the Nelson’s. However the Admiralty to use 14” as the government was endeavoring to negotiate with other powers to impose a 14” limitation on armament for new battleships. While the Americans and French agreed to the limit neither the Japanese nor Italians followed suit and as a result all new battleships of other powers had larger guns than the King George V Class ships with the French and Italians opting for 15”on the Vittorio Veneto Class, the Americans 16” on the North Carolina, South Dakota and Iowa Classes and the Japanese 18” guns for their Yamato Class. The Germans who were not a signatory built their Scharnhorst Class with 11” although they were planned as 15” ships and would equip the Bismarck Class with 15” guns. The Royal Navy attempted to rectify this by placing more guns on the ships than those of other navies but the planned armament of twelve 14” guns mounted in quadruple turrets but this was impossible on the 35,000 platform without compromising protection or speed. Thus the Admiralty compromised on 10 guns mounted in 2 quadruple and 1 twin turret.

ONI Drawing of King George Class

The ships displaced a full load displacement of 42,237 tons in 1942 which had increased to 44,460 tons in 1944. The were 745 feet long had a beam of 103 feet, a top speed of 28 knots with a cruising range of 5,400 nautical miles at 18 knots. Their relatively poor endurance limited their operations in the Pacific and even nearly caused King George V to have to abandon the chase of the Bismarck in May 1941.

The main batteries of the ships proved problematic in combat with the quadruple turret design causing all the ships problems. This was demonstrated in the engagement of the Prince of Wales against the Bismarck as well as the King George V in its duel with the German behemoth when A turret became disabled and completely out of action for 30 minutes and half of the main battery being out of action for most of the engagement for mechanical reasons. The Duke of York achieved excellent results against the Scharnhorst but even in that engagement the main battery was only able to be in action 70% of the time. One of the other drawbacks of the design was that in order to replace a gun due to wear that the turret itself had to be dismantled in order to remove and replace the guns.

The main secondary armament of 5.25” dual purpose guns in twin mounts suffered from poor rate of fire and slow traverse well below their designed standards.

The mounting of the armament was designed to provide protection against turret explosions which could potentially detonate the ship’s magazines. The main side and underwater protection scheme was sound and protected the ships well in combat. The vertical protection was also sound as was the protection afforded to the turret barbets and placement of the magazines to shield them from plunging fire. Only the Prince of Wales was lost due to enemy action had later examination of her wreck revealed that the culprit was a torpedo which detonated in a propeller shaft outside of the armored belt which caused uncontrolled flooding when she was attacked by Japanese aircraft on 8 December 1941.

HMS Anson conducting gunnery exercises

The propulsion systems developed problems after 1942 when fuel oil quality was decreased because of the need for aviation gas. The new mixtures which were higher viscosity and contained more water than the boilers could effectively burn increased maintenance costs and decreased efficiency. To compensate the Admiralty designed new higher pressure fuel sprayers and burners which returned the boilers to full efficiency.

The lead ship of the class the King George V was laid down on 1 January 1937, launched on 21 February 1939 and commissioned on 11 December 1940. As the flagship of the Home Fleet she took part in the unsuccessful search for the Scharnhorst and Gneisenauand in the hunt for the Bismarck in which she earned lasting fame in helping to sink that ship. She took part in the Murmansk convoy protection as well as Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily before sailing to the Far East for operations against the Japanese. She finished the war with the British Pacific Fleet and was present at the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay. She returned as flagship of Home Fleet until she was decommissioned in 1949. She was subsequently sold for scrap in 1957.

Prince of Wales pulling into Singapore

The second ship the Prince of Wales laid down on 1 January 1937, launched on 3 May 1939 and commissioned 19 January 1941 although she was not officially completed until March 1941. Her initial operation came in May 1941 when she sailed with the HMS Hood to intercept the Bismarck. When she sailed she still had shipyard technicians aboard. Damaged in the action she did score an important hit on Bismarck which cut a fuel line making her forward tanks inaccessible and causing her to make her run for Brest which she did not complete. Another hit damaged her aircraft catapult and a third an electric dynamo.

Church Service on Prince of Wales at Argentia Bay with Churchill and Roosevelt in attendance

Following repairs she carried Winston Churchill to the Argentia Bay Newfoundland where he met with Franklin D. Roosevelt and together drafted the Atlantic Charter. She accompanied the HMS Repulse to Singapore to bolster the British presence in the Far East but without air cover was sunk by Japanese aircraft which struck her with 4 torpedoes and a bomb, the key hit being a lucky hit on her propeller shaft which caused flooding that caused a loss of power to pumps and anti-aircraft defenses.

Prince of Wales sinking and being abandoned

The third ship the Duke of York was laid down 5 May 1937, launched on 28 February 1940 and commissioned 4 November 1941. She provided convoy escort for the Lend Lease convoys to the Soviet Union as well the sinking of the Scharnhorst on 26 December 1943 during the Battle of North Cape. She was transferred to the Pacific in 1944 and served at Okinawa. She was decommissioned in 1949 and scrapped in 1957.

Duke of York

The fourth ship of the class the Howe was laid down on 1 June 1937, launched 9 April 1940 and commissioned on 29 August 1942. She served with the Home Fleet and in the Mediterranean until she was transferred to the Pacific in August 1944. She was stuck by a Kamikaze in May 1945 and Howe was sent for refit at Durban South Africa. She was still in refit when the war ended. She returned home and was placed in reserve in 1950 and scrapped in 1958.

The last of the class the Anson was laid down 20 July 1937, launched 24 February 1940 and commissioned on 22 June 1942. She operated in the Mediterranean and the North Atlantic and was sent to the Pacific in 1945 where she accepted the surrender of the Japanese Forces at Hong Kong. She returned to Britain and was decommissioned in 1941 and scrapped in 1957.

The ships had rather unremarkable careers for the most part with the exception of the Prince of Wales and King George V in the hunt for the Bismarck and the Duke of York sinking the Scharnhorst. They had a number of technical problems which limited their operations in the war. However they and their brave crews deserve to be remembered as helping to hold the line against the Axis in the early years of the war and sank two of the four German Battleships lost during the war. This alone was as remarkable achievement as of their contemporaries only the USS Washington sank an enemy battleship in combat.

A Long Legacy

Within days of the sailors stopping all outgoing ships on the Thames, we encounter the first record in print that fellow workers — hatters in this case — “struck” for a pay increase (St James’s Chronicle and The British Evening-Post, May 7-10, 1768). It is likely that the technical term for “striking” sails — which had secured higher pay for the Tyneside sailors — quickly circulated from the docks onto shore and then among London’s laboring population who were increasingly suffering from the same high food prices. By spring 1768, a new term for labor agitation appears to have been coined.

Seamen’s strikes would subsequently occur on both sides of the Atlantic with increasing frequency, inspiring other workers. In 1775, shipwrights went on strike in Portsmouth, then the largest naval dockyard in Britain. In the United States, the Federal Society of Journeymen Cordwainers in Philadelphia had regular “turnouts’ aimed at protecting shoemakers’ wages. By the early nineteenth century, their actions culminated in what’s believed to be the first usage of the verb “to strike” in America.

In London’s strikes, despite the violent confrontations between coal-heavers and strikebreaking sailors, all the workers involved “showed an unprecedented degree of solidarity.” The strike represented a clear development in the potential for sympathetic labor agitation. Unfortunately, that potential was dampened when the sailors won their wage increase and returned to work, leaving the still-protesting coal-heavers in the lurch.

The phenomenon of riotous assembly was not new in Hanoverian England. It gained frequency as George III became increasingly reactionary and the aristocracy, the newly propertied landowners, and merchants ruled Parliament, ignoring the needs of the vast majority of the population.

In response, the ruling class deployed spectacular hangings, legal persecution of rioters, and military repression to convert London’s poor into a compliant industrial working class. These tools never really went away — as evident in the Battle of Orgreave in Britain in the late 1980s, when baton-wielding and mounted police charged striking miners.

The 1768 London Strikes still resonate among a broad array of labor struggles today. But there were unique aspects to the strikes that must be recognized. Among them is the pivotal role played by Irish coal-heavers. They drew from the Whiteboys’ agitation in Ireland to stage collective acts of resistance in a major artery of empire. That resistance combined with larger forces, provoking existential Crown anxieties. Growing mercantile interests, Jacobite rebellions in the first half of the century, and burgeoning republican sentiments in the New World converged to make coal-heavers’ struggles appear particularly threatening to the ruling class. The result was decisive suppression of political difference and the disciplining of a new and growing population of mobile and potentially unruly workers.

It wasn’t until over 120 years later in the London Dock Strike of 1889 that coordinated leadership bore profound results. Led by organizers including Ben Tillett and John Burns, it was a turning point in the history of trade unionism in Britain. They marshaled a massive collective work-stoppage through a new union and agitated on a clear objective: payment of the dockers’ “tanner.”

The success of the London Dock Strike gave a new confidence to workers, particularly unskilled ones, to organize themselves and carry out collective action across the country. In that way, the 1889 strike played a pivotal role in the rise of the British labor movement. But the coal-heavers and sailors of 1768, too, were pioneers. Before “strike” became union activists’ call to battle and before laboring solidarity had been shaped, as E. P. Thompson argued, into an identifiable working class, these eighteenth-century workers made a mark in labor history.


Ships of the line [ edit | edit source ]

Napoléon (1850), the first steam battleship

A ship of the line was a large, unarmored wooden sailing ship on which was mounted a battery of up to 120 smoothbore guns and carronades. The ship of the line was a gradual evolution of a basic design that dates back to the 15th century, and, apart from growing in size, it changed little between the adoption of line of battle tactics in the early 17th century and the end of the sailing battleship's heyday in the 1830s. From 1794, the alternative term 'line of battle ship' was contracted (informally at first) to 'battle ship' or 'battleship'. Ώ]

The sheer number of guns fired broadside meant a sail battleship could wreck any wooden enemy, holing her hull, knocking down masts, wrecking her rigging, and killing her crew. However, the effective range of the guns was as little as a few hundred yards, so the battle tactics of sailing ships depended in part on the wind.

The first major change to the ship of the line concept was the introduction of steam power as an auxiliary propulsion system. Steam power was gradually introduced to the navy in the first half of the 19th century, initially for small craft and later for frigates. The French Navy introduced steam to the line of battle with the 90-gun Napoléon in 1850 ⎚] —the first true steam battleship. ⎛] Napoléon was armed as a conventional ship-of-the-line, but her steam engines could give her a speed of 12 knots (22 km/h), regardless of the wind conditions: a potentially decisive advantage in a naval engagement. The introduction of steam accelerated the growth in size of battleships. France and the United Kingdom were the only countries to develop fleets of wooden steam screw battleships, although several other navies operated small numbers of screw battleships, including Russia (9), Turkey (3), Sweden (2), Naples (1), Denmark (1) and Austria (1). ⎜] Α]

Ironclads [ edit | edit source ]

The French Gloire (1859), the first ocean–going ironclad warship

The adoption of steam power was only one of a number of technological advances which revolutionized warship design in the 19th century. The ship of the line was overtaken by the ironclad: powered by steam, protected by metal armor, and armed with guns firing high-explosive shells.

Explosive shells [ edit | edit source ]

Guns which fired explosive or incendiary shells were a major threat to wooden ships, and these weapons quickly became widespread after the introduction of 8 inch shell guns as part of the standard armament of French and American line-of-battle ships in 1841. ⎝] In the Crimean War, six line-of-battle ships and two frigates of the Russian Black Sea Fleet destroyed seven Turkish frigates and three corvettes with explosive shells at the Battle of Sinop in 1853. ⎞] Later in the war, French ironclad floating batteries used similar weapons against the defenses at the Battle of Kinburn. ⎟]

Nevertheless wooden-hulled ships stood up comparatively well to shells, as shown in the 1866 Battle of Lissa, where the modern Austrian steam two-decker SMS Kaiser ranged across a confused battlefield, rammed an Italian ironclad and took 80 hits from Italian ironclads, ⎠] many of which were shells, ⎡] but including at least one 300 pound shot at point blank range. Despite losing her bowsprit and her foremast, and being set on fire, she was ready for action again the very next day. ⎢]

Iron armor and construction [ edit | edit source ]

HMS Warrior (1860), the Royal Navy's first ocean–going iron hulled warship.

The development of high-explosive shells made the use of iron armor plate on warships necessary. In 1859 France launched Gloire, the first ocean-going ironclad warship. She had the profile of a ship of the line, cut to one deck due to weight considerations. Although made of wood and reliant on sail for most journeys, Gloire was fitted with a propeller, and her wooden hull was protected by a layer of thick iron armor. ⎣] Gloire prompted further innovation from the Royal Navy, anxious to prevent France from gaining a technological lead.

The superior armored frigate Warrior followed Gloire by only 14 months, and both nations embarked on a program of building new ironclads and converting existing screw ships of the line to armored frigates. ⎤] Within two years, Italy, Austria, Spain and Russia had all ordered ironclad warships, and by the time of the famous clash of the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia at the Battle of Hampton Roads at least eight navies possessed ironclad ships. Α]

The French Redoutable, the first battleship to use steel as the main building material ⎥]

Navies experimented with the positioning of guns, in turrets (like the USS Monitor), central-batteries or barbettes, or with the ram as the principal weapon. As steam technology developed, masts were gradually removed from battleship designs. By the mid-1870s steel was used as a construction material alongside iron and wood. The French Navy's Redoutable, laid down in 1873 and launched in 1876, was a central battery and barbette warship which became the first battleship in the world to use steel as the principal building material. ⎦]

Pre-dreadnought battleship [ edit | edit source ]

Pre-Dreadnought battleship USS Texas, built in 1892, was the first battleship of the U.S. Navy. Photochrom print c. 1898.

The term "battleship" was officially adopted by the Royal Navy in the re-classification of 1892. By the 1890s, there was an increasing similarity between battleship designs, and the type that later became known as the 'pre-dreadnought battleship' emerged. These were heavily armored ships, mounting a mixed battery of guns in turrets, and without sails. The typical first-class battleship of the pre-dreadnought era displaced 15,000 to 17,000 tons, had a speed of 16 knots (30 km/h), and an armament of four 12-inch (305 mm) guns in two turrets fore and aft with a mixed-caliber secondary battery amidships around the superstructure. ΐ] An early design with superficial similarity to the pre-dreadnought is the British Devastation class of 1871. ⎧]

The slow-firing 12-inch (305 mm) main guns were the principal weapons for battleship-to-battleship combat. The intermediate and secondary batteries had two roles. Against major ships, it was thought a 'hail of fire' from quick-firing secondary weapons could distract enemy gun crews by inflicting damage to the superstructure, and they would be more effective against smaller ships such as cruisers. Smaller guns (12-pounders and smaller) were reserved for protecting the battleship against the threat of torpedo attack from destroyers and torpedo boats. ⎨]

The beginning of the pre-dreadnought era coincided with Britain reasserting her naval dominance. For many years previously, Britain had taken naval supremacy for granted. Expensive naval projects were criticised by political leaders of all inclinations. Α] However, in 1888 a war scare with France and the build-up of the Russian navy gave added impetus to naval construction, and the British Naval Defence Act of 1889 laid down a new fleet including eight new battleships. The principle that Britain's navy should be more powerful than the two next most powerful fleets combined was established. This policy was designed to deter France and Russia from building more battleships, but both nations nevertheless expanded their fleets with more and better pre-dreadnoughts in the 1890s. Α]

Diagram of HMS Agamemnon (1908), a typical late pre-dreadnought battleship

In the last years of the 19th century and the first years of the 20th, the escalation in the building of battleships became an arms race between Britain and Germany. The German naval laws of 1890 and 1898 authorised a fleet of 38 battleships, a vital threat to the balance of naval power. Α] Britain answered with further shipbuilding, but by the end of the pre-dreadnought era, British supremacy at sea had markedly weakened. In 1883, the United Kingdom had 38 battleships, twice as many as France and almost as many as the rest of the world put together. By 1897, Britain's lead was far smaller due to competition from France, Germany, and Russia, as well as the development of pre-dreadnought fleets in Italy, the United States and Japan. ⎩] Turkey, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Chile and Brazil all had second-rate fleets led by armored cruisers, coastal defence ships or monitors. ⎪]

Pre-dreadnoughts continued the technical innovations of the ironclad. Turrets, armor plate, and steam engines were all improved over the years, and torpedo tubes were introduced. A small number of designs, including the American Kearsarge and Virginia classes, experimented with all or part of the 8-inch intermediate battery superimposed over the 12-inch primary. Results were poor: recoil factors and blast effects resulted in the 8-inch battery being completely unusable, and the inability to train the primary and intermediate armaments on different targets led to significant tactical limitations. Even though such innovative designs saved weight (a key reason for their inception), they proved too cumbersome in practice. ⎫]

Dreadnought era [ edit | edit source ]

In 1906, the British Royal Navy launched the revolutionary HMS Dreadnought. Created as a result of pressure from Admiral Sir John ("Jackie") Fisher, HMS Dreadnought made existing battleships obsolete. Combining an "all-big-gun" armament of ten 12-inch (305 mm) guns with unprecedented speed (from steam turbine engines) and protection, she prompted navies worldwide to re-evaluate their battleship building programmes. While the Japanese had laid down an all-big-gun battleship, Satsuma in 1904, ⎬] and the concept of an all-big-gun ship had been in circulation for several years, it had yet to be validated in combat. Dreadnought sparked a new arms race, principally between Britain and Germany but reflected worldwide, as the new class of warships became a crucial element of national power.

Technical development continued rapidly through the dreadnought era, with step changes in armament, armor and propulsion. Ten years after Dreadnought ' s commissioning, much more powerful ships, the super-dreadnoughts, were being built.

Origin [ edit | edit source ]

In the first years of the 20th century, several navies worldwide experimented with the idea of a new type of battleship with a uniform armament of very heavy guns.

Admiral Vittorio Cuniberti, the Italian Navy's chief naval architect, articulated the concept of an all-big-gun battleship in 1903. When the Regia Marina did not pursue his ideas, Cuniberti wrote an article in Jane ' s proposing an "ideal" future British battleship, a large armored warship of 17,000 tons, armed solely with a single calibre main battery (twelve 12-inch <305 mm>guns), carrying 300-millimetre (12 in) belt armor, and capable of 24 knots (44 km/h). ⎭]

The Russo-Japanese War provided operational experience to validate the 'all-big-gun' concept. At the Yellow Sea and Tsushima, pre-dreadnoughts exchanged volleys at ranges of 7,600–12,000 yd (7 to 11 km), beyond the range of the secondary batteries. It is often held that these engagements demonstrated the importance of the 12-inch (305 mm) gun over its smaller counterparts, though some historians take the view that secondary batteries were just as important as the larger weapons. Α]

In Japan, the two battleships of the 1903-4 Programme were the first to be laid down as all-big-gun designs, with eight 12-inch guns. However, the design had armor which was considered too thin, demanding a substantial redesign. ⎮] The financial pressures of the Russo-Japanese War and the short supply of 12-inch guns which had to be imported from Britain meant these ships were completed with a mixed 10- and 12-inch armament. The 1903-4 design also retained traditional triple-expansion steam engines. ⎯]

A preliminary design for the Imperial Japanese Navy's Satsuma was an "all-big-gun" design.

As early as 1904, Jackie Fisher had been convinced of the need for fast, powerful ships with an all-big-gun armament. If Tsushima influenced his thinking, it was to persuade him of the need to standardise on 12-inch (305 mm) guns. Α] Fisher's concerns were submarines and destroyers equipped with torpedoes, then threatening to outrange battleship guns, making speed imperative for capital ships. Α] Fisher's preferred option was his brainchild, the battlecruiser: lightly armored but heavily armed with eight 12-inch guns and propelled to 25 knots (46 km/h) by steam turbines. ⎰]

It was to prove this revolutionary technology that Dreadnought was designed in January 1905, laid down in October 1905 and sped to completion by 1906. She carried ten 12-inch guns, had an 11-inch armor belt, and was the first large ship powered by turbines. She mounted her guns in five turrets three on the centerline (one forward, two aft) and two on the wings, giving her at her launch twice the broadside of any other warship. She retained a number of 12-pound (3-inch, 76 mm) quick-firing guns for use against destroyers and torpedo-boats. Her armor was heavy enough for her to go head-to-head with any other ship in a gun battle, and conceivably win. ⎱]

Dreadnought was to have been followed by three Invincible-class battlecruisers, their construction delayed to allow lessons from Dreadnought to be used in their design. While Fisher may have intended Dreadnought to be the last Royal Navy battleship, Α] the design was so successful he found little support for his plan to switch to a battlecruiser navy. Although there were some problems with the ship (the wing turrets had limited arcs of fire and strained the hull when firing a full broadside, and the top of the thickest armor belt lay below the waterline at full load), the Royal Navy promptly commissioned another six ships to a similar design in the Bellerophon and St. Vincent classes.

An American design, South Carolina, authorized in 1905 and laid down in December 1906, was another of the first dreadnoughts, but she and her sister, Michigan, were not launched until 1908. Both used triple-expansion engines and had a superior layout of the main battery, dispensing with Dreadnought ' s wing turrets. They thus retained the same broadside, despite having two fewer guns.

Arms race [ edit | edit source ]

In 1897, before the revolution in design brought about by HMS Dreadnought, the Royal Navy had 62 battleships in commission or building, a lead of 26 over France and 50 over Germany. ⎩] In 1906, the Royal Navy owned the field with Dreadnought. The new class of ship prompted an arms race with major strategic consequences. Major naval powers raced to build their own dreadnoughts. Possession of modern battleships was not only vital to naval power, but also, as with nuclear weapons today, represented a nation's standing in the world. Α] Germany, France, Japan, ⎲] Italy, Austria, and the United States all began dreadnought programmes and second-rank powers including Turkey, Argentina, Russia, ⎲] Brazil, and Chile commissioned dreadnoughts to be built in British and American yards.

World War I [ edit | edit source ]

The First World War was an anticlimax for the great dreadnought fleets. There was no decisive clash of modern battlefleets to compare with the Battle of Tsushima. The role of battleships was marginal to the great land struggle in France and Russia and it was equally marginal to the First Battle of the Atlantic, the battle between German submarines and British merchant shipping.

By virtue of geography, the Royal Navy could keep the German High Seas Fleet bottled up in the North Sea: only narrow channels led to the Atlantic Ocean and these were guarded by British forces. ⎳] Both sides were aware that, because of the greater number of British dreadnoughts, a full fleet engagement would be likely to result in a British victory. The German strategy was therefore to try to provoke an engagement on their terms: either to induce a part of the Grand Fleet to enter battle alone, or to fight a pitched battle near the German coastline, where friendly minefields, torpedo-boats and submarines could be used to even the odds. ⎴]

The first two years of war saw conflict in the North Sea limited to skirmishes by battlecruisers at the Battle of Heligoland Bight and Battle of Dogger Bank and raids on the English coast. On May 31, 1916, a further attempt to draw British ships into battle on German terms resulted in a clash of the battlefleets in the Battle of Jutland. ⎵] The German fleet withdrew to port after two short encounters with the British fleet. This reinforced German determination never to engage in a fleet to fleet battle. ⎶]

In the other naval theatres there were no decisive pitched battles. In the Black Sea, engagement between Russian and Turkish battleships was restricted to skirmishes. In the Baltic, action was largely limited to the raiding of convoys, and the laying of defensive minefields the only significant clash of battleship squadrons there was the Battle of Moon Sound at which one Russian pre-dreadnought was lost. The Adriatic was in a sense the mirror of the North Sea: the Austro-Hungarian dreadnought fleet remained bottled up by the British and French blockade. And in the Mediterranean, the most important use of battleships was in support of the amphibious assault on Gallipoli. ⎷]

The war illustrated the vulnerability of battleships to cheaper weapons. In September 1914, the potential threat posed to capital ships by German U-boats was confirmed by successful attacks on British cruisers, including the sinking of three British armored cruisers by the German submarine SM U-9 in less than an hour. Sea mines proved a threat the next month, when the recently commissioned British super-dreadnought Audacious struck a mine and sank. By the end of October, the British had changed their strategy and tactics in the North Sea to reduce the risk of U-boat attack. ⎸] The German plan for the Battle of Jutland relied on U-boat attacks on the British fleet and the escape of the German fleet from the superior British firepower at Jutland was effected by the German cruisers and destroyers closing on British battleships, causing them to turn away to avoid the threat of torpedo attack. ⎹] Further near-misses from submarine attacks on battleships and casualties amongst cruisers led to growing concern in the Royal Navy about the vulnerability of battleships.

The German High Seas Fleet, for their part, were determined not to engage the British without the assistance of submarines and since the submarines were needed more for raiding commercial traffic, the fleet stayed in port for the remainder of the war. ⎺] Other theatres equally showed the role of small craft in damaging or destroying dreadnoughts: SMS Szent István of the Austro-Hungarian Navy was sunk by Italian motor torpedo boats in June 1918, while her sister ship, SMS Viribus Unitis, was sunk by frogmen. The Allied capital ships lost in Gallipoli were sunk by mines and torpedo, ⎻] while a Turkish pre-dreadnought, Mesûdiye, was caught in the Dardanelles by a British submarine. ⎼]

Inter-war period [ edit | edit source ]

For many years, Germany simply had no battleships. The Armistice with Germany required that most of the High Seas Fleet be disarmed and interned in a neutral port largely because no neutral port could be found, the ships remained in British custody in Scapa Flow, Scotland. The Treaty of Versailles specified that the ships should be handed over to the British. Instead, most of them were scuttled by their German crews on 21 June 1919 just before the signature of the peace treaty. The treaty also limited the German Navy, and prevented Germany from building or possessing any capital ships. ⎽]

Profile drawing of HMS Nelson commissioned 1927

The inter-war period saw the battleship subjected to strict international limitations to prevent a costly arms race breaking out. ⎾]

While the victors were not limited by the Treaty of Versailles, many of the major naval powers were crippled after the war. Faced with the prospect of a naval arms race against the United Kingdom and Japan, which would in turn have led to a possible Pacific war, the United States was keen to conclude the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922. This treaty limited the number and size of battleships that each major nation could possess, and required Britain to accept parity with the U.S. and to abandon the British alliance with Japan. ⎿] The Washington treaty was followed by a series of other naval treaties, including the First Geneva Naval Conference (1927), the First London Naval Treaty (1930), the Second Geneva Naval Conference (1932), and finally the Second London Naval Treaty (1936), which all set limits on major warships. These treaties became effectively obsolete on 1 September 1939 at the beginning of World War II, but the ship classifications that had been agreed upon still apply. ⏀] The treaty limitations meant that fewer new battleships were launched from 1919–1939 than from 1905–1914. The treaties also inhibited development by putting maximum limits on the weights of ships. Designs like the projected British N3-class battleship, the first American South Dakota class, and the Japanese Kii class—all of which continued the trend to larger ships with bigger guns and thicker armor—never got off the drawing board. Those designs which were commissioned during this period were referred to as treaty battleships. ⏁]

Rise of air power [ edit | edit source ]

Bombing tests which sank SMS Ostfriesland (1909), September 1921

As early as 1914, the British Admiral Percy Scott predicted that battleships would soon be made irrelevant by aircraft. ⏂] By the end of World War I, aircraft had successfully adopted the torpedo as a weapon. ⏃] In 1921 the Italian general and air theorist Giulio Douhet completed a hugely influential treatise on strategic bombing titled The Command of the Air, which foresaw the dominance of air power over naval units.

In the 1920s, General Billy Mitchell of the United States Army Air Corps, believing that air forces had rendered navies around the world obsolete, testified in front of Congress that "1,000 bombardment airplanes can be built and operated for about the price of one battleship" and that a squadron of these bombers could sink a battleship, making for more efficient use of government funds. ⏄] This infuriated the U.S. Navy, but Mitchell was nevertheless allowed to conduct a careful series of bombing tests alongside Navy and Marine bombers. In 1921, he bombed and sank numerous ships, including the "unsinkable" German World War I battleship SMS Ostfriesland and the American pre-dreadnought Alabama. ⏅]

Although Mitchell had required "war-time conditions", the ships sunk were obsolete, stationary, defenseless and had no damage control. The sinking of Ostfriesland was accomplished by violating an agreement that would have allowed Navy engineers to examine the effects of various munitions: Mitchell's airmen disregarded the rules, and sank the ship within minutes in a coordinated attack. The stunt made headlines, and Mitchell declared, "No surface vessels can exist wherever air forces acting from land bases are able to attack them." While far from conclusive, Mitchell's test was significant because it put proponents of the battleship against naval aviation on the back foot. Α] Rear Admiral William A. Moffett used public relations against Mitchell to make headway toward expansion of the U.S. Navy's nascent aircraft carrier program. ⏆]

Rearmament [ edit | edit source ]

The Royal Navy, United States Navy, and Imperial Japanese Navy extensively upgraded and modernized their World War I–era battleships during the 1930s. Among the new features were an increased tower height and stability for the optical rangefinder equipment (for gunnery control), more armor (especially around turrets) to protect against plunging fire and aerial bombing, and additional anti-aircraft weapons. Some British ships received a large block superstructure nicknamed the "Queen Anne's castle", such as in the Queen Elizabeth and Warspite, which would be used in the new conning towers of the King George V-class fast battleships. External bulges were added to improve both buoyancy to counteract weight increase and provide underwater protection against mines and torpedoes. The Japanese rebuilt all of their battleships, plus their battlecruisers, with distinctive "pagoda" structures, though the Hiei received a more modern bridge tower that would influence the new Yamato-class battleships. Bulges were fitted, including steel tube array to improve both underwater and vertical protection along waterline. The U.S. experimented with cage masts and later tripod masts, though after Pearl Harbor some of the most severely damaged ships such as West Virginia and California were rebuilt to a similar appearance to their Iowa-class contemporaries (called tower masts). Radar, which was effective beyond visual contact and was effective in complete darkness or adverse weather conditions, was introduced to supplement optical fire control. ⏇]

Even when war threatened again in the late 1930s, battleship construction did not regain the level of importance which it had held in the years before World War I. The "building holiday" imposed by the naval treaties meant that the building capacity of dockyards worldwide was relatively reduced, and the strategic position had changed.

In Nazi Germany, the ambitious Plan Z for naval rearmament was abandoned in favour of a strategy of submarine warfare supplemented by the use of battlecruisers and Bismarck-class battleships as commerce raiders. In Britain, the most pressing need was for air defenses and convoy escorts to safeguard the civilian population from bombing or starvation, and re-armament construction plans consisted of five ships of the King George V class. It was in the Mediterranean that navies remained most committed to battleship warfare. France intended to build six battleships of the Dunkerque and Richelieu classes, and the Italians two Littorio-class ships. Neither navy built significant aircraft carriers. The U.S. preferred to spend limited funds on aircraft carriers until the South Dakota class. Japan, also prioritising aircraft carriers, nevertheless began work on three mammoth Yamato-class ships (although the third, Shinano, was later completed as a carrier) and a planned fourth was cancelled. ⎗]

At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, the Spanish navy consisted of only two small dreadnought battleships, España and Jaime I. España (originally named Alfonso XIII), by then in reserve at the northwestern naval base of El Ferrol, fell into Nationalist hands in July 1936. The crew aboard Jaime I murdered their officers, mutinied, and joined the Republican Navy. Thus each side had one battleship however, the Republican Navy generally lacked experienced officers. The Spanish battleships mainly restricted themselves to mutual blockades, convoy escort duties, and shore bombardment, rarely in direct fighting against other surface units. ⏈] In April 1937, España ran into a mine laid by friendly forces, and sank with little loss of life. In May 1937, Jaime I was damaged by Nationalist air attacks and a grounding incident. The ship was forced to go back to port to be repaired. There she was again hit by several aerial bombs. It was then decided to tow the battleship to a more secure port, but during the transport she suffered an internal explosion that caused 300 deaths and her total loss. Several Italian and German capital ships participated in the non-intervention blockade. On 29 May 1937, two Republican aircraft managed to bomb the German pocket battleship Deutschland outside Ibiza, causing severe damage and loss of life. Admiral Scheer retaliated two days later by bombarding Almería, causing much destruction, and the resulting Deutschland incident meant the end of German and Italian support for non-intervention. ⏉]

World War II [ edit | edit source ]

Pennsylvania leading battleship Colorado and cruisers Louisville, Portland, and Columbia into Lingayen Gulf, Philippines, January 1945

The German battleship Schleswig-Holstein—an obsolete pre-dreadnought—fired the first shots of World War II with the bombardment of the Polish garrison at Westerplatte ⏊] and the final surrender of the Japanese Empire took place aboard a United States Navy battleship, USS Missouri. Between those two events, it had become clear that aircraft carriers were the new principal ships of the fleet and that battleships now performed a secondary role.

Battleships played a part in major engagements in Atlantic, Pacific and Mediterranean theatres in the Atlantic, the Germans used their battleships as independent commerce raiders. However, clashes between battleships were of little strategic importance. The Battle of the Atlantic was fought between destroyers and submarines, and most of the decisive fleet clashes of the Pacific war were determined by aircraft carriers.

In the first year of the war, armored warships defied predictions that aircraft would dominate naval warfare. Scharnhorst and Gneisenau surprised and sank the aircraft carrier Glorious off western Norway in June 1940. ⏋] This engagement marked the last time a fleet carrier was sunk by surface gunnery. In the attack on Mers-el-Kébir, British battleships opened fire on the French battleships in the harbour near Oran in Algeria with their heavy guns, and later pursued fleeing French ships with planes from aircraft carriers.

The subsequent years of the war saw many demonstrations of the maturity of the aircraft carrier as a strategic naval weapon and its potential against battleships. The British air attack on the Italian naval base at Taranto sank one Italian battleship and damaged two more. The same Swordfish torpedo bombers played a crucial role in sinking the German commerce-raider Bismarck.

The Imperial Japanese Navy's Yamato (1940), seen here under air attack in 1945, and her sister ship Musashi (1940) were the heaviest battleships in history.

On 7 December 1941, the Japanese launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Within a short time five of eight U.S. battleships were sunk or sinking, with the rest damaged. The American aircraft carriers were out to sea, however, and evaded detection. They in turn would take up the fight, eventually turning the tide of the war in the Pacific. The sinking of the British battleship Prince of Wales and her escort, the battlecruiser Repulse, demonstrated the vulnerability of a battleship to air attack while at sea without sufficient air cover, finally settling the argument begun by Mitchell in 1921. Both warships were under way and en route to attack the Japanese amphibious force that had invaded Malaya when they were caught by Japanese land-based bombers and torpedo bombers on 10 December 1941. ⏌]

At many of the early crucial battles of the Pacific, for instance Coral Sea and Midway, battleships were either absent or overshadowed as carriers launched wave after wave of planes into the attack at a range of hundreds of miles. In later battles in the Pacific, battleships primarily performed shore bombardment in support of amphibious landings and provided anti-aircraft defense as escort for the carriers. Even the largest battleships ever constructed, Japan's Yamato class, which carried a main battery of nine 18-inch (46 cm) guns and were designed as a principal strategic weapon, were never given a chance to show their potential in the decisive battleship action that figured in Japanese pre-war planning. ⏍]

The last battleship confrontation in history was the Battle of Surigao Strait, on October 25, 1944, in which a numerically and technically superior American battleship group destroyed a lesser Japanese battleship group by gunfire after it had already been devastated by destroyer torpedo attacks. All but one of the American battleships in this confrontation had previously been sunk by the Attack on Pearl Harbor and subsequently raised and repaired. When Mississippi fired the last salvo of this battle, the last salvo fired by a battleship against another heavy ship, she was "firing a funeral salute to a finished era of naval warfare." ⏎] In April 1945, during the battle for Okinawa, the world's most powerful battleship, ⏏] the Yamato, was sent out against a massive U.S. force on a suicide mission and sunk by overwhelming carrier aircraft with nearly all hands.

Cold War [ edit | edit source ]

After World War II, several navies retained their existing battleships, but they were no longer strategically dominant military assets. Indeed, it soon became apparent that they were no longer worth the considerable cost of construction and maintenance and only one new battleship was commissioned after the war, HMS Vanguard. During the war it had been demonstrated that battleship-on-battleship engagements like Leyte Gulf or the sinking of HMS Hood were the exception and not the rule, and with the growing role of aircraft engagement ranges were becoming longer and longer, making heavy gun armament irrelevant. The armor of a battleship was equally irrelevant in the face of a nuclear attack as tactical missiles with a range of 100 kilometres (60 mi) or more could be mounted on the Soviet Kildin-class destroyer and Whiskey-class submarines. By the end of the 1950s, minor vessel classes which formerly offered no noteworthy opposition now were capable of eliminating battleships at will.

The remaining battleships met a variety of ends. USS Arkansas and Nagato were sunk during the testing of nuclear weapons in Operation Crossroads in 1946. Both battleships proved resistant to nuclear air burst but vulnerable to underwater nuclear explosions. ⏐] The Italian battleship Giulio Cesare was taken by the Soviets as reparations and renamed Novorossiysk she was sunk by a leftover German mine in the Black Sea on 29 October 1955. The two Andrea Doria-class ships were scrapped in 1956. ⏑] The French Lorraine was scrapped in 1954, Richelieu in 1968, ⏒] and Jean Bart in 1970. ⏓]

The United Kingdom's four surviving King George V-class ships were scrapped in 1957, ⏔] and Vanguard followed in 1960. ⏕] All other surviving British battleships had been sold or broken up by 1949. ⏖] The Soviet Union's Marat was scrapped in 1953, Parizhskaya Kommuna in 1957 and Oktyabrskaya Revolutsiya (back under her original name, Gangut, since 1942) ⏗] in 1956-7. ⏗] Brazil's Minas Geraes was scrapped in Genoa in 1953, ⏘] and her sister ship São Paulo sank during a storm in the Atlantic en route to the breakers in Italy in 1951. ⏘]

Argentina kept its two Rivadavia-class ships until 1956 and Chile kept Almirante Latorre (formerly HMS Canada) until 1959. ⏙] The Turkish battlecruiser Yavûz (formerly SMS Goeben, launched in 1911) was scrapped in 1976 after an offer to sell her back to Germany was refused. Sweden had several small coastal-defense battleships, one of which, HSwMS Gustav V, survived until 1970. ⏚] The Soviets scrapped four large incomplete cruisers in the late 1950s, whilst plans to build a number of new Stalingrad-class battlecruisers were abandoned following the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953. ⏛] The three old German battleships Schleswig-Holstein, Schlesien, and Hessen all met similar ends. Hessen was taken over by the Soviet Union and renamed Tsel. She was scrapped in 1960. Schleswig-Holstein was renamed Borodino, and was used as a target ship until 1960. Schlesien, too, was used as a target ship. She was broken up between 1952 and 1957. ⏜]

USS Missouri launches a Tomahawk missile during Operation Desert Storm.

The Iowa-class battleships gained a new lease of life in the U.S. Navy as fire support ships. Radar and computer-controlled gunfire could be aimed with pinpoint accuracy to target. The U.S. recommissioned all four Iowa-class battleships for the Korean War and the New Jersey for the Vietnam War. These were primarily used for shore bombardment, New Jersey firing nearly 6,000 rounds of 16 inch shells and over 14,000 rounds of 5 inch projectiles during her tour on the gunline, ⏝] seven times more rounds against shore targets in Vietnam than she had fired in the Second World War. ⏞]

As part of Navy Secretary John F. Lehman's effort to build a 600-ship Navy in the 1980s, and in response to the commissioning of Kirov by the Soviet Union, the United States recommissioned all four Iowa-class battleships. On several occasions, battleships were support ships in carrier battle groups, or led their own battleship battle group. These were modernized to carry Tomahawk missiles, with New Jersey seeing action bombarding Lebanon in 1983 and 1984, while Missouri and Wisconsin fired their 16 inch (406 mm) guns at land targets and launched missiles during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Wisconsin served as the TLAM strike commander for the Persian Gulf, directing the sequence of launches that marked the opening of Desert Storm, firing a total of 24 TLAMs during the first two days of the campaign. The primary threat to the battleships were Iraqi shore based surface-to-surface missiles Missouri was targeted by two Iraqi Silkworm missiles, with one missing and another being intercepted by the British destroyer HMS Gloucester. ⏟]

All four Iowas were decommissioned in the early 1990s, making them the last battleships to see active service. USS Iowa and USS Wisconsin were, until fiscal year 2006, maintained to a standard where they could be rapidly returned to service as fire support vessels, pending the development of a superior fire support vessel. ⏠] The U.S. Marine Corps believes that the current naval surface fire support gun and missile programs will not be able to provide adequate fire support for an amphibious assault or onshore operations. ⏡] ⏢]

Modern times [ edit | edit source ]

The American Texas (1912) is the only preserved example of a Dreadnought-type battleship that dates to the time of the original HMS Dreadnought.

With the decommissioning of the last Iowa-class ships, no battleships remain in service or in reserve with any navy worldwide. A number are preserved as museum ships, either afloat or in drydock. The U.S. has eight battleships on display: Massachusetts, North Carolina, Alabama, Iowa, New Jersey, Missouri, Wisconsin and Texas. Missouri and New Jersey are now museums at Pearl Harbor and Camden, New Jersey, respectively. Iowa is now on display as an educational attraction at the Los Angeles Waterfront in San Pedro, California. Wisconsin was removed from the Naval Vessel Register in 2006 and now serves as a museum ship in Norfolk, Virginia. ⏣] Massachusetts, which owns the distinction of never having lost a man while in active service, was acquired by the Battleship Cove naval museum in Fall River, Massachusetts in 1965. ⏤] Texas, the first battleship turned into a museum, is on display at the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site, near Houston. North Carolina is on display in Wilmington, North Carolina. Alabama is on display in Mobile, Alabama. The only other 20th century battleship on display is the Japanese pre-dreadnought Mikasa.

Owing to geography, Iowa, Missouri and Wisconsin are the only museum battleships not enshrined in their namesake states.


In early 1913, new pattern G. 329 trainer's telescopes of 2.5 power and 20 degree field were issued to these and many other capital ships, to replace the 5/12, 5/15 and 5/21 variable power G.S. telescopes that had previously been in use. [3]

During the war, along with those of other older ships, the eight 6-inch guns casemated on the first deck proved of little use in practical sea states. It was decided to remove the eight casemate guns, plate their ports over and move four of them to the upper deck. Four of the twelve 12-pdr guns were also surrendered due to this alteration. [4]

Main Battery

The four 12-in guns were Mark IX, mounted in twin turrets designated "Fore" and "Aft". [5] However, some vessels had twin B. VI mountings and others twin B. VII mountings.

The guns had 6-pdr sub-calibre guns. In late 1913, .303-in aiming rifles for use inside the sub-calibre guns were to be ordered, replacing the use of .303-in barrels that had previously been attached to the chase of the guns. Two were to be supplied by January 1914, and a further two by April. [6]

B. VI Ships

The mountings could be elevated 13.5 degrees and depressed 5 degrees.

The centre sights were limited to 13.5 degrees elevation, which was 15,800 yards for full charge. [8] They had a range gearing constant of 43.33 and range drums provided for full charge at 2475 fps, reduced charge at 2075 fps, as well as for 6-pdr sub-calibre guns and .303-in aiming rifles. Duncan had an additional drum for half-charge firings at 1,500 fps. Muzzle velocity was corrected by adjustable pointer between +/- 75 fps.

The deflection gearing constant for the centre sights was 72.3, with 1 knot equalling 2.7 arc minutes, calculated as 2475 fps at 5000 yards. Drift was corrected by inclining the pivot 1 degree. The sighting lines were 44.03 inches above and 39 inches abreast the bore. No explicit mention is made of a temperature corrector, but there was a "C" corrector able to at least modify the ballistic coefficient by +/- 8%.

The side sighting positions had vertical column sights in which 1 degree of elevation corresponded to 1.05 inches on the strip. Strips were provided for full charge at 2525, 2500, 2475 and 2450 fps, and for reduced charge at 2150, 2125, 2100 and 2050 fps, as well as for 6-pdr sub-calibre and 1-in aiming rifles. Duncan had an additional strip for half-charge firings at 1,500 fps. M.V. was corrected by strip selection. A deflection gearing constant of 146.7 gave 1 knot equal to 1.4 arc minutes, or 2433 fps at 5000 yards. Drift was allowed for by inclining the sight column 1.833 degrees. The sight line was 42 inches above the bore its lateral position is not documented. There was no temperature corrector or a "C" corrector.

B. VII Ships

Albemarle and Exmouth, generally in common with Venerable and Prince of Wales, had B. VII mountings with the following characteristics. [9]

The mountings could be elevated 13.5 degrees and depressed 5 degrees.

The sights were limited to 13.5 degrees elevation, which was 15,800 yards for full charge. [10] The centre sights had a range gearing constant of 43.33 and range drums provided for full charge at 2475 fps, reduced charge at 2075 fps, as well as for 6-pdr sub-calibre guns and 1-in aiming rifles. Albemarle also had half charge drums for 1500 fps. Muzzle velocity was corrected by adjustable pointer between +/- 75 fps. The deflection gearing constant for the sights was 72.26, with 1 knot equalling 2.7 arc minutes, calculated as 2433 fps at 5000 yards. Drift was corrected by inclining the sight carrier 1 degree. The sighting lines were 42.64 inches above (though this varied) and 42 inches abreast the bore. No explicit mention is made of a temperature corrector, but there was a "C" corrector able to at least modify the ballistic coefficient by +/- 10%.

The side sighting positions had vertical column sights in which 1 degree of elevation corresponded to 1.05 inches on the strip. Strips were provided for full charge at 2525, 2500, 2475 and 2450 fps, and for reduced charge at 2150, 2125, 2100 and 2050 fps, as well as for 6-pdr sub-calibre and 1-in aiming rifles. Albemarle had an additional strip for half-charge at 1500 fps. M.V. was corrected by strip selection. A deflection gearing constant of 146.7 gave 1 knot equal to 1.4 arc minutes, or 2433 fps at 5000 yards. Drift was allowed for by inclining the sight column 1.833 degrees. The sight line was 42 inches above the bore its lateral position is not documented. There was no temperature corrector or a "C" corrector.

Secondary Battery

Originally, the ship was provided twelve 6-in/45 B.L. Mark VII guns, eight in casemates and four on the upper deck. During the war, this was reduced to eight such guns on the upper deck. [11]

In early 1904, Duncans were taken as an example to illustrate that a proposed prismatic attachment be declined as unnecessary. The foremost starboard casemate gun and the aftmost port gun's left scopes were wooded at about 7 degrees from the centerline. An attachment proposed by Vickers would have permitted these to still be used when firing straight ahead and astern. This frivolity was seen as offering little benefit. [12]

In early 1905, it was approved that the B.L. 6-in guns in Majestics and later battleships should have "A" class cross connected sights, with one V.P. (variable power) 7 to 21 scope and one V.P.D.N. (variable power, day or night) 5 to 12 scope. [13]

In February, 1913, these mountings, along with many other 4-in and 6-in mountings in various capital ships and cruisers were to have illumination added for their training index racers. [14]

Other Guns

Twelve 12-pdr guns, later reduced to eight when the 6-in casemate guns were relocated.


The ships carried four 18-in submerged tubes: [15]

  • two forward, depressed 1 degree and angled 10 degrees before the beam, axis of tube 11 foot 3.5 inches below load water line and 2 foot 3 inches above the deck.
  • two aft, depressed 1 degree and angled at 25 degrees abaft the beam axis of tube 11 foot 3 inches below load water line and 2 foot 3 inches above the deck.

In 1909, as heater torpedo supplies were still growing, these ships were to receive two 18-in Fiume Mark III** H. Torpedoes each. [16]

Fire Control


The ships eventually boasted nine 9-foot [Inference] rangefinders: one in each spotting top, one in each turret roof, and a pair astride the aft boat deck, but Vanguard may have had its "A" turret rangefinder (which stood on a stem and may have been 12 feet, rather than being a 9 footer in a hood as was customary) added in 1910-1911 when the 4-in guns were removed from the turret, and then removed again 1911-1912. In 1918, a high angle rangefinder was added on fore control top in St. Vincent and Collingwood, likely a 2m F.T. 29. [Inference] [16] [17]

Sometime during or after 1917, an additional 9-foot rangefinder on an open mounting was to be added specifically to augment torpedo control. [18]

Evershed Bearing Indicators

All three ships were fitted with this equipment by late 1914, albeit Collingwood differed slightly. [20] St. Vincent and Vanguard had swapped out the use of "Y" turret as a transmitting position in favor of "X", while Collingwood retained the old arrangement.

Transmitting positions were

  • Fore control platform (telescope transmitters to port and starboard with a local switch to select one in use
  • "A" turret
  • "X" turret ("Y" for Collingwood)
  • Aft director tower with a periscope transmitter adapted to receive and fitted with an open-face indicator
  • all 5 turrets with both an open-face and a turret trainer indicator
  • the aft director tower with an open-face indicator

The protocols for how to handle wooding of the turrets was outlined in the Handbook for Fire Control Instruments, 1914. [21]

In 1917, it was approved that capital ships of Dreadnought class and later should have Evershed equipment added to their C.T., able to communicate with either the fore top or a controlling turret. If there were not enough room in the C.T., a bearing plate with open sights and 6-power binoculars would be added to the C.T.. At the same time, all directors were to be fitted with receivers and, "as far as possible", ships were to have fore top, G.C.T. and controlling turrets fitted to transmit as well as receive, though this was noted as being impossible in some earlier ships. [22]

Mechanical Aid-to-Spotter

At some point, these ships were equipped with a pair of Mechanical Aid-to-Spotter Mark Is, one on each side of the foretop, keyed off the Evershed rack on the director. As the need for such gear was apparently first identified in early 1916, it seems likely that these installations were effected well after Jutland. [23]

In 1917, it was decided that these should have mechanical links from the director and pointers indicating the aloft Evershed's bearing. [24]

Gunnery Control

Control arrangements were as follows. [25]

Control Positions

The tops had 2 rate transmitters (situated to port on main, to starboard on fore) and a range transmitter, a bearing and a firing buzzer on the opposite side of each top. The two control turrets were similar but lacked rate transmitters. Each control position was wired to the nearest T.S. [27]

Some ships had within the control positions so they could be connected to either T.S. [28]

Control Groups

The five 12-in turrets were each a separate group with a local C.O.S. [Inference] so that it could be connected to


Main Battery

The ships were completed without a director, but were eventually fitted with a geared tripod-type director in a light aloft tower on the foremast along with a directing gun in "Y" turret [29] . The battery was not divisible into groups for split director firing. [30]

The turret Elevation Receivers were pattern number H. 3, capable of matching the 15 degrees elevation limit of the mounts. The Training Receivers were the single dial type, pattern number 5. [31]

Secondary Battery

The 4-in guns never had directors installed. [32]

Torpedo Control

By the end of 1917, common torpedo control additions to all capital ships were to be adopted where not already in place. Those for Dreadnought and later classes with 18-in tubes were to include: [33]

  • duplication of firing circuits and order and gyro angle instruments to allow all tubes to be directed from either C.T. or T.C.T.
  • navyphones from both control positions to all tube positions
  • bearing instruments between "control position, and R.F., and course and speed of enemy instruments where applicable, between the transmitting stations and the control positions."
  • range circuits between R.F.s and control positions

Transmitting Stations

Like all large British ships of the era prior to King George V and Queen Mary, these ships had 2 [35]

The T.S. (which? both?) had 11, five for the main installation including fire gong circuit, four for the range bearing and buzzer instruments and two for rate instruments. [36]

The forward T.S. had a C.O.S. for each turret indicating whether its three combined range and deflection receivers would receive their input from the forward or the aft T.S.

Dreyer Table

Each ship was eventually retro-fitted with a Dreyer Table Mark I, [37] but was never given Dreyer Turret Control Tables. [38] It appears reasonable to assume that Vanguard had a table fitted prior to her accidental loss.

Fire Control Instruments

As in the previous class, by 1909 all three ships were equipped with Barr and Stroud Mark II* Fire Control Instruments for range, deflection and orders. [40]

The Handbook for Fire Control Instruments, 1909 lists the Barr and Stroud Mark II* equipment on this class as: [41]

  • Combined Range, Order, Deflection: 10 transmitters, 27 receivers
  • Group Switches: 11
  • Rate: 4 transmitters, 8 receivers
  • Bearing: 4 transmitters, 8 receivers
  • Range: 4 transmitters, 8 receivers

Additionally, this class had the following Graham's fire control equipment: [42]

  • Turret fire gongs: 10 Graham type with pushes in lamp boxes
  • Fire Gongs: none
  • Captain's Cease Fire Bells: 12 (Neptune had 14) Graham type with 1 key

The ships also had Target Visible and Gun Ready signals, with indications of which turret could see the target and which guns were ready being visible in the and control positions. [43]

Fire Control

There is an extensive set of diagrams and description of the fire control outfits of these ships in the Annual Report of the Torpedo School, 1915.

Range Dials

As of 1920, all five ships were equipped with a Range Dial Type A and a Type F. [13]


The ships completed with 15-ft rangefinders in their G.C.T.s and in all turrets and a 9-ft F.T. 24 on an M.Q. 10 mounting in the T.C.T.. [14] [15] [16] [17]

Sometime, likely not before 1918, the T.C.T. R.F.s were to be upgraded to 15-foot instruments, probably also F.T. 24, with new armoured hoods and racers and training driving the hood directly rather than through the rangefinder mounting. These rangefinders lacked hand-following gear to facilitate in transmission of range cuts, and when it was considered as an addition around 1917, space concerns were causing issues. [18] Resolution received her 15-ft instrument in 1918. [19]

By 1918, two additional 9-foot instruments were also to be provided for torpedo control. On Ramillies, these were situated on each side of the lower searchlight bridge, requiring manipulating hut #1 to be resited forward and its roof lowered a bit. On the other ships, the RFs were placed on either side of the upper searchlight structure, inboard of #3 searchlight. [20]

Around 1918, the envisioned rangefinder outfit generally resembled this, but it would take some time to institute: [21]

  • Two 30-ft in "B" and "X" turrets
  • Two 15-ft in "A" and "Y" turrets
  • Two 15-ft in T.C.T. and G.C.T.
  • One 12-ft in spotting top
  • Two 9-ft in fore bridge or platforms abreast funnels (probably the torpedo control ones)
  • One 2m F.T. 29[22] high-angle RF on roof of control top

The move to upgrade some turret R.F.s to 30-ft models was achieved slowly, as was the addition of small rangefinders aft situated between searchlight towers for help in ranging on a consort astern to assist in accurate Concentration Firing. [23]

Ship 30-ft on "B" 30-ft on "X" small R.F.(s) aft
Revenge 1918 1918 2 in 1919-21
Royal Sovereign Sep 1922 1919-21 1 in 1918 (removed Sep 1922)
Ramillies 1918? 1919-21?
Royal Oak 1919-21? June 1924? 2 in 1919-21
Resolution 1919-21 1 in 1919-21

By 1921, the ships were equipped as follows: [24]

  • "A" and "Y" turrets: 15ft F.T. 24 on M.G. 8 mounting
  • "B" and "X" turrets: 30ft F.X. 2 on M.G. 14
  • Fore top: 12ft F.Q. 2 on M.P. 2
  • Fore bridge: two 9ft F.Q. 2s on M.Q. 12s
  • Gun control tower: 15ft F.T. 25 on M.W. 1
  • Torpedo control tower: 15ft F.T. 24 on M.Q. 10
  • H.A. platform: 2m F.T. 29 on M.T. 6

Some R.F.s were removed from Resolution and Revenge in 1924. [25]


Main Battery

All phones for the main battery fire control was based on Pattern 333X Navyphones. [26]

The 15-in T.S. had an exchange board in communication with the ship's main navyphone exchange board. It had four exchange navyphones wired up to it, allowing them to converse with the following remote navyphones:

  • "A" turret
  • "B" turret
  • "X" turret
  • "Y" turret
  • G.C.T.
  • Spotting top
  • "A" turret (fall of shot)

"Director fire" navyphones in:

  • "X" turret (which had a directing gun)
  • Light aloft director tower
  • Armoured director tower
  • Spotting top
  • G.C.T.
  • "A" turret
  • "B" turret
  • "X" turret
  • "Y" turret

In addition to the four general-use navyphones in the 15-in T.S., the remote "range" navyphones in the turrets could also be directly addressed via four Pattern 3334 Navyphones wired into the TS's exchange board. A multiple plug permitted one of these to address all four turrets at once, if desired. Additionally, a navyphone in the conning tower was also connected to this exchange board.

Lastly, "X" turret's working space had a navyphone to the 15-in T.S., working off a battery. [27]

By mid-1918, it was approved to fit Pattern 3331 Navyphones with loud-sounding bells in the auxiliary machinery compartments of Lion and Orion classes and later where existing navyphones have proven ineffective. [28]

Secondary Battery

Each 6-in gun control tower, port and starboard had a Pattern 3331 Navyphone wired directly to the 3 groups' C.O.S. on its side. In the 6-in TS, six Pattern 3332 Navyphones were wired directly to their own group C.O.S., which each had 2 positions:

The T.S. phones had switches which permitted one phone to pass orders to the whole broadside. Each officer of group had a Pattern 3333 Navyphone, and each gun was equipped with telaupads. Lastly, each 6-in gun director tower had a Pattern 3330 Navyphone wired directly to a Pattern 3332 Navyphone in the T.S.. [30]

Evershed Bearing Indicators

All five units were fitted with this equipment, at least for main and secondary batteries.

In 1917, it was approved that capital ships of Dreadnought class and later should have Evershed equipment added to their C.T., able to communicate with either the fore top or the G.C.T.. If there were not enough room in the C.T., a bearing plate with open sights and 6-power binoculars would be added to the C.T..

Also in 1917, it was decided that all directors were to be fitted with receivers and, "as far as possible", ships were to have fore top, G.C.T. and controlling turrets fitted to transmit as well as receive, though this was noted as being impossible in some earlier ships. While it would have been nice to have the C.T. able to transmit bearings to the 6-in guns, it was decided not to do this for reasons of space. [33]

Mechanical Aid-to-Spotter

At some point, all ships in this class were equipped with four Mark II Mechanical Aids-to-Spotter:

  • one on each side of the foretop, driven by flexible shafting from the Evershed rack on the director
  • one on each side of the G.C.T. employing an electrical F.T.P. system.

As the need for such gear was apparently first identified in early 1916, it seems likely that these installations were effected well after Jutland. [34]

In 1917, it was decided that these should probably all have mechanical links from the director and pointers indicating the aloft Evershed's bearing. [35]

Gunnery Control

The control arrangements were almost certainly developed along lines similar to the King George V class, outlined here as follows. [Inference]

Control Positions

The main battery was controlled from:

In 1917, it was decided that these ships could better work their 6-in guns from the fore top, and these positions were to receive combined range and deflection repeat receivers, one on each side and wired to the 6-in circuits so they could serve as the primary control positions. [36]

Control Groups

Main Battery

The four 15-in turrets were each a separate group with a local C.O.S. so that it could be connected to

Secondary Battery

The secondary battery fire control was very similar to arrangements in Queen Elizabeth, but with fourteen rather than sixteen 6-in guns which were divided into 3 groups on each broadside: [39]

The transmitting sources illustrated in the Annual Report of the Torpedo School, 1915 are quite lavish and indicate a strong belief in the value of the secondary battery. [40] Each of the 3 groups, port and starboard (6 in all), received its range, deflection and firing signals from one of 4 sources:

  1. from its own transmitter kit the TS (6 there, dedicated to group)
  2. a similar but not identical broadside transmitter kit located in the 6-in gun control tower (2 there, dedicated to broadside)
  3. a Spartan alternative control position "A" in the spotting top (2 there, dedicated to broadside)
  4. a Spartan alternative control position "B" elsewhere (6 there, dedicated to group)

Each of the 6 groups had a 4-way C.O.S. in the T.S. to determine which source would inform the guns of its group.

The each had a combined range and deflection receiver monitoring its output indications for use as a tally and also as a repeat to the use of the group's transmitter in the T.S.. Those 6 group transmitting kits were capable of generating range, deflection and firing signals. The range and deflection were entered by hand crank, and the operator used the combined tally device to know what value was going out.

The 2 broadside transmitter kits in the 6-in G.C.T. were the most elaborate, as they each had a Vickers range clock to supply its range data. Otherwise, they were similar to the group kits in the T.S. below.

Alternative control position "A" had 2 small transmitting kits, one for each broadside. These were more Spartan than the main ones as they had no range clock and substituted a range transmitter and a deflection transmitter, each with an integral repeat. The outputs fed all 6 group in the T.S..

Alternative position "B" was more extensively furnished as it had 6 of these Spartan kits, one for each group. The output of each was fed directly to the C.O.S. for its group in the 6-in T.S. below. . [41]

A fall-of-shot transmitter in the spotting top worked receivers in each 6-in gun control tower. [42]