- Date, John C., RANVR (Rtd)
- Naval technology
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 1988 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
DREADNOUGHTS – the name given to battleships and battlecruisers of the navy, were ships to inspire men’s imaginations and by their majestic increase in tonnage and fire power, became the proud rulers of the seas.
So the ironclads of the end of the 19th century, and the armoured cruisers of similar tonnage, (for example, HMS Warrior, 13,000 tons, 6 x 9.2″, 4 x 7.5″, 18,000 hp engines and a speed of 18 knots) gave way to the battleships of the beginning of the 20th century. Their armament was suddenly to be increased in the number of 9″ calibre guns and vital parts of the ship were given extra armour protection (as with the pre- dreadnought battleship HMS King George VII with a mixed battery of 4 x 12″, 4 x 9.2″ and 10 x 6″). Ancillary services were also improved with electric power to the gun turrets and ammunition hoists and greater emphasis was placed on speed. Wireless was also a new installation.
As the British First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir John Fisher of Kilverstone was to say, in 1900: ‘It is clearly necessary to have superiority of speed to compel your opponent to accept battle, or to enable you to avoid battle and head him away from his goal till it suits you to fight him.’
It was evident that such a ship would act as a fast spearhead and eyes of the fleet and also be a hard hitting rebuff to enemy commerce raiders. The Japanese were also aware of this new need for speed and power, as was Vittoria Cuniberti of Italy, Rear Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz of Germany, the American Captain Thayer Mahan and then Lt. Cmdr. Sims USN and so HMS Vanguard, the last British battleship – Vanguard never fired a shot in anger. Britain’s last and largest battleship, the Vanguard was built on a war emergency programme, but was not completed until after the war was over. She proved a magnificent sea boat and gun platform which was demonstrated during the Anglo-US naval exercise ‘Mariner’ held during appalling weather in September, 1953. While the American battleship Iowa was wallowing under tons of green water and rolling up to 26°, the Vanguard rode out the storm dry abaft of her breakwaters, and rolling a mere 15°. However, the day of the great gun had passed and carrier born aircraft were taking over its work. After a spell as a seagoing training ship, the Vanguard went into reserve at the disposal of NATO and was scrapped in 1960.
The worldwide push was on to achieve the best of this improved breed of man-o- war. The big breakthrough came with the replacement of the steam driven reciprocating engine which was now over 100 years old and was proving to require too much space and demanding too much servicing.
The Honorable Charles A. Parsons, younger son of the Third Earl of Rosse mastered the introduction of the turbine engine through the advent of HMS Dreadnought in 1906. This ship was the very embodiment of grandeur, pace and power. She had proudly displayed a speed of 21.6 knots from her 23,000 hp Parsons turbines, which had the added advantage of a saving in noise and vibration. Here we were witnessing the evolution of the capital ship.
In 1913 HMS King George V was to upgrade the battleship style, with an increase in tonnage to 23,000 tons, large calibre main armament guns of 13.5″ and a better centre alignment of the five heavy turrets. With the battlecruiser HMS Tiger in 1914, the largest and fastest ship in the Battle of Jutland in 1916, featuring turbine engines of 100,000 hp, progress was made with the first fore and aft tier mounted heavy gunned capital ship, each turret superfiring over the one in front. This was to be the characteristic mode of the continuing battleship/battlecruiser design until the last great battlecruisers to be commissioned, HMS Hood in 1920 and the modified German battlecruisers Gneisenau and Scharnhorst in 1939. The splendour and power of the battlecruiser was not to be denied.
In due course it was accepted that it was not a true proposition to sacrifice gunpower or armour for the sake of high speed – but only by even greater size, and there was to be no sacrifice for it. Typical of future perfection of the battleship culminated in the following:
- Vittorio Veneto (1940 – Italy) 35,000 tons 9 x 15″ 12 x 6″ belt 12″ turrets 12″ 30 knots
- Richelieu (1949 – France) 38,500 tons 8 x 15″ 9 x 6″ belt 15.75″ turrets 17″ 30 knots
- Tirpitz (1941 – Germany) 41,700 tons 8 x 15″ 12 x 5.9″ belt 12.6″ turrets 14″ 30 knots
- Vanguard (1946 – Britain) 44,500 tons 8 x 15″ 16 x 5.25″ belt 14″ turrets 13″ 30 knots
- Missouri (1944 – America) 45,000 tons 9 x 16″ 20 x 5″ belt 19″ turrets 18″ 33 knots
- Yamata (1942 – Japan) 68,200 tons 9 x 18″ 12 x 5.1″ belt 16.5″ turrets 18″ 27 knots
Now it was only to be the fast big battleship – the ultimate gun capital ship.