Invincible class Battlecruisers (1907)

Invincible class Battlecruisers (1907)

United Kingdom (1907) – Battlecruisers – Invincible, Indomitable, Inflexible

Introduction: The world’s first battlecruisers

Admiral John Fisher Cruisers, naturally faster than the ponderous battleships, went to be seen like the “tip of the sword”, and compared to heavy cavalry on a conventional battlefield. The first single caliber battleship, the Dreadnought, has been influenced herself by a new type of armoured cruisers developed by Italian engineer Cuniberti. Moreover, continuity in the Royal Navy capital ship programme saw each new class of battleship assisted by a new class of armoured cruisers, like the Minotaur compared to Nelson. So it could not be otherwise with the new Dreadnoughts.

Prior to the order to built HMS Dreadnought, discussions went well underway between Admiral Fisher and engineering shipbuilding offices. The latter, after the demonstration of the Russo-Japanese War, had rallied to his views the rest of the Admiralty. He said that speed was the determining factor, and that actual battleships were too slow. Speed was a kind of “active” protection, allowing a ship not strong enough to sail out from enemy blows, unlike passive protection which was only useful against submarines, torpedo boats and destroyers. Typically “fight the weak, flee the strong”.

HMS Invincible in 1914.
HMS Invincible in 1914.

It is on these premises that was created the concept of “battlecruiser” to break with the continuity with previous armoured cruisers. Because unlike the latter, the new ships were given the same powerful all-big guns artillery, but in return traded protection for speed as protection (at least on British ships) was still comparable to a cruiser (150 to 200mm). Theur great speed made them best suited for “armed reconnaissance” missions. This tradeoff in protection became quite popular in navy staffs around the world, but this theory only came to its ultimate moment of truth at the Battle of Jutland.

Only three countries will have the opportunity to build battlecruisers, which were fewer in number than battleships. The British will launch sixteen (the last, HMS Hood, being launched in 1920), The Germans had seven, and the Japanese four. France programmed some in the Durant-Viel 1912 programme to be delivered in 1916, and the Americans planned a class of five to be launched in 1920. After the Treaty of Washington, this type of vessel was very much dropped but the “speed as a protection” illusion still prevailed as shown with the 1930s Washington treaty compliant “tin-clad cruisers”. At the beginning of World war II, only three battlecruisers were in service (with the British Navy), the others being converted as aircraft carriers of as fast battleships (like the Kongo class). They have been indeed rendered obsolete by new fast battleships, and combat aviation.

HMS Indomitable at Quebec Tercentenary
HMS Indomitable at Quebec Tercentenary.


The Three Invincible, were laid down respectively in Fairfield, Clydebank and Elswick, from February to April 1906, launched in early 1907 and completed in June 1908 (Indomitable), October 1908 (Inflexible) and March 1909 (Invincible). Final plans revealed vessels that were not elongated clones of the Dreadnought, but rather armoured battleships with heavy artillery. They shared the same turrets (although lighter) but had but only four turrets and eight 305 mm guns instead of 10. In addition, these turrets were disposed in lozenge, with the central on en échelon much like the Colossus and Neptune battleships. Theoretically, this provision allowed a full Broadside, although their shooting angle was limited, and six guns only in pursuit or retreat.

The design of these ships took time, as their construction. They were also 50% more expensive than the previous Minotaur class, but perfectly fulfilled initial specifications and obtained excellent trials results. Critics came later, and concerned the whole battlecruiser type. Confusion was maintained in the admiralty as they had heavy artillery, were named like battleships, and included from the outset in battle lines together whith battleships, while their true role was more of a classic cruiser: Waging war on trade and hunting smaller vessels. They had been designed to perform both.

HMS Invincible at the battle of Falklands Islands

Their propulsion was a must at that time, due to no less than 31 boilers. They reached 25.5 knots, 2.5 more than armoured cruisers. Some subsequent changes affected their appearance during service, as all three had their fore chimney raised, and canvas protections added to their light artillery on the turrets roofs, and in 1914, their torpedo nets were removed and a new firing control system was added. Later in the war they anti-aircraft 76 mm ordnance, then their upper masts were removed, and platforms added on the “A” turret for airplanes. Following the experience of Jutland in May 1916, protection was also improved.

Active career

HMS Invincible

Invincible suffered from a collision with submarine C13 in 1913. At the time of the declaration of war, she was in Queenstown, to prevent German raids. Then participated in the Battle of the Bay of Helgoland, then was detached with the Indomitable to the Falklands under the command of Commodore Sturdee, taking part in the Second Battle of the Falklands in November 1914, avenging the destruction of Sir Cradock’s squadron and destroying Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, the best ships of the German Pacific squadron. After a brief overhaul at Gibraltar the Invincible was detached to Rosyth, joining other sister ships to from the 3rd Battlecruiser Squadron. In May 1916 she was training at Scapa Flow, taking part in major firing exercises, soon before the legendary Battle of Jutland.

Flagship of Admiral Horace Hood, the Invincible engaged light cruisers scouts Pillau and Wiesbaden, putting them out of action, then crossed swords with battlecruiser Lützow, inflicting her severe damages. But soon the Derfflinger replicated and hit the Invincible 5 times, the last round blewing up her side turret, causing a dramatic cordite fed fire of accumulated dust in the cluster well. The flash detonated itself and a huge explosion ensured, breaking hull in two. She sank quickly, carrying with her almost all her crew in the deep.

HMS Indomitable
HMS Indomitable

HMS Indomitable

The Indomitable, which interrupted tests to carry the Prince of Wales to Montreal, served in the Home Fleet. She was transferred with the Invincible in the Mediterranean, undergoing some changes in Malta in June 1914. Both ships participated in August to the hunt for Souchon’s squadron, Goeben and Breslau, escaping from Port Said. Later on she took part in the Dardanelles forts. She was then returned to Rosyth, but participated in January 1915 to the Battle of Dogger Bank, squaring on Blücher, (finally sunk by HMS Queen Mary).

She also managed to destroy a Zeppelin with two shots from her pieces of 305 mm at maximum elevation, a rare feat at that time. She towed HMS Lion out of harm, at Rosyth, severely damaged. Soon after, she was herself victim of a fire, rapidly mastered, caused by an electrical short circuit. After a brief overhaul, she joined the Grand Fleet, and participated in the Battle of Jutland, she fired on Derfflinger, Seydlitz damaging also the battleship Pommern. She spent the rest of her career detached at 2nd battlesquadron until 1919, when placed into reserved, paid off and broken in 1922.

HMS Inflexible in the Falklands.

HMS Inflexible

The Inflexible sustained damage during test firing because of the explosion of a coal barge. She was flagship of Sir Edward Seymour at New York, late 1909. In 1911, she collided with Bellerophon, was repaired, then posted in the Mediterranean, flagship of the Admiral Milne, as headquarters of the Fleet. He hunted down the Goeben and Breslau in the hours following the declaration of war, and after an overhaul was sent to the Falklands, destroying the Von Spee’s squadron.

HMS Inflexible at New York, 1909
HMS Inflexible at New York, 1909.

In 1915, sent in the Mediterranean, she replaced the Indefatigable, bombarding Turkish forts of the Dardanelles. She suffered several hits, losing two 305 mm guns on 18 March and hit by a mine the day after, forcing her to resume the fight and be towed for repairs in Malta. Back in Rosyth, she participated in the Battle of Jutland, without suffering damage. Then she long inactive, participation in the short “Battle of May Island” in February 1918. She was placed in reserve in 1920 and broken two years later.


Invincible class on wikipedia
On dreadnought
Specs Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1921-1947.

Invincible class specifications

Dimensions 172,8 x 22,1 x 8 m
Displacement 17 373 t, 20 080t FL
Crew 784
Propulsion 4 screws, 4 Parsons turbines, 31 Babcock & Wilcox/Yarrow boilers, 41,000 cv
Speed 25.5 knots (46 km/h; 29 mph)
Range 3,090 nmi (5,720 km) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)
Armament 8 x 305 (4×2), 16 x 102 QF, 7 Maxim 7,62 MGs, 4 TT 533 mm (Sub)
Armor Belt 150, Battery 180, Barbettes 180, turrets 180, blockhaus 250, deck 65 mm



Illustration of the Invincible in 1914
Illustration of the Invincible in 1914.


Admiralty M-class destroyers

Admiralty M-class destroyers

United Kingdom (1915)
Destroyers – 85

Emergency War Construction Programme

At the outbreak of war, the Admiralty decided to submit an emergency shipbuilding programme on a specific design, hence the “Admiralty” denomination, largely based on the previous prewar class L. This was, in fact, a “superclass” counting several sub-classes:
-Six prewar “M” ships (which were lighter at 1010 tons and smaller) built at Palmers, Swan Hunter and John Brown;
-Sixteen “M” ordered in September 1914 (John Brown, Thornycroft, White, Fairfield, Swan Hunter)
-Nine other in November (some with “N” names) (same)
-Twenty-two late November (“N” and “O” names) (same)
-Sixteen February 1915 (“N”, “O” an “P” names) (same, but they had raking stems)
-Sixteen in May 1915 (“M” and “P” names) (same, but raking stems)

⚠ Note: This post is in writing. Completion expected in late 2023.

HMS Pasley
HMS Pasley


They were all largely based on preceding L class, all ships had three identical narrow circular funnels, a raised forecastle, three QF 4 in (102 mm) Mark IV guns, on mounting P Mk.IX, one forward, two aft, with the “Y” gun raised on a superstructure, and two twin banks of 21 in (533 mm) torpedo tubes. Anti-aircraft artillery was also present with two individual QF 2-pounder Bofors “pom-pom” Mk.II. Displacement was about 1000 tonnes (994 light, 1010 standard, 1059 fully loaded). These were propelled by three shafts in direct drive with steam turbines, 25,000 shp (18,642 kW)

HMS Oracle
HMS Oracle in 1915

which have a top speed of 34 knots (39.1 mph; 63.0 km/h). These were sturdy ships fit for the North Atlantic and North Sea, with a sufficient range due to their 237–298 tons fuel oil carried. The pre-war sub-group only had cruising turbines, the idea was dropped for mass-production. Another difference was the second 4 inch-gun was mounted on a bandstand.

Active service

All these ships were quite active during the war. HMS Marmion (1917), HMS Negro (1916), HMS Nessus (1918), HMS Narborough (1918), Narwhal (1916) were lost by collision with other ships or reefs, HMS Mary Rose by cruiser SMS Brummer and SMS Bremse off the Norwegian coast, the HMS Partridge by German destroyers in December 1917, the HMS North Star at Zeebrugge in 1918, HMS Pheasant (mine, 1917 off the Orkney Islands) and more famously the HMS Nestor and Nomad were sunk at the battle of Jutland. The remainder sold for scrap in 1921. During the war, Partridge, Norman, Maenad, Ophelia and Observer all received equipment to operate a kite balloon.

HMS Paladin
HMS Paladin in 1916


M-Class destroyers on wikipedia
ww1 British Destroyers on navypedia
Specs Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1921-1947.

M-class (1915 specifications)

Dimensions 82 x8,4 x3,2m (269 x27x 10ft)
Displacement 994t, 1042t FL
Crew 80
Propulsion 3 shafts, steam turbines, 25,000 shp (18,642 kW)
Speed 34 knots (39.1 mph; 63.0 km/h)
Armament 3 x102 mm Mark-IV QF, 2 x40 mm AA, 2 x2 533mm TT (axial).


M-class TBD
1/750 Profile of a M-class torpedo-boat destroyer.

Aerial view of a M class in 1918

HMS Marmion in 1915

HMS Minon in 1915

Colossus class Battleships

Colossus class Battleships (1906)

United Kingdom (1906) HMS Colossus, HMS Hercules

HMS Colossus HMS Neptune, launched in 1909 experimented with a main artillery divided into five turrets, one front, two aft centerline and two central ones in échelon. However the sister-ships were started at Scott and Palmers in 1909, also motivated by a 1908 rumor about the secret start of new dreadnoughts ordered by the Kaiser (which turned to be false). Winston Churchill, then at the head of the trade office, then violently argued with the Admiralty.

He famously coined then “we want eight(dreadnoughts) and we will not wait” which was also popular at the house of commons. Eventually the Liberal cabinet, which until then temporized, trying to keep a tight naval budget had to bend, alarm too by the intelligence service report. No less than six other battleships were ordered then, the first two being the Colossus and Hercules. They were laid down at Scotts Greenock in july 1909, launched in April 1910 and accepted in August 1911.

Design of the Colossus

They were keeping the number of the previous 12-inch Mark XI 50-calibre guns with the disposition seen on the Neptune. However superfluous sources of weight were eliminated, namely the bridge between the second chimney and aft deckhouse. The central turrets were spaced closed together, given a much better arc of fire for lighter artillery. Torpedo tubes 21-inch (533mm) Hardcastle torpedoes, which had a maximum speed of 45 knots (83 km/h) and effective range of some 7,000 yards, were fitted for the first time.

Last but not least, the belt protection was widely enhanced eleven inches thick), and the rear deck was increased to four inches over the rudder, the forward bulkhead, conning tower, turret faces were alaso thickened but this was performed on the same hull as the Neptune, and became a headache for engineers. In total armour accounted for 5,474 tons of the displacement, the weight of a cruiser. The eighteen boiler Babcock and Wilcox worked at 235-240 psi, heated by 3 single-orifice burners (standard Admiralty type). 2,900 tons of coal and 900 tons of oil were carried.

Service modifications

In 1912 their front chimney was raised, in 1915, their heavy torpedo nets were removed, while in 1917 a temporary platform was fitted over their rear turret (for an observation plane), the masts shortened, the rear tripod mast removed, and two light AA guns added.

Career of the HMS Colossus

Trials took place in 28 February 1911. Sht took part in the Second Battle Squadron in may 1912, and figured at the Parliamentary Review of the Fleet in July 1912, and later in December 1913 joined the Second Battle Squadron. After an early uneventful career, anchored at Scapa Flow, HMS Colossus fought at Jutland, being the only English dreadnought damaged, by two hits that made 5 victims. In 1919 the Colossus served as a training ship, repainted in the old Victorian livery (black hull, white superstructures and sandy canvas). It was eventually decommissioned in 1928. HMS Hercules collided with a steamship in 1913 but was repaired before the war. She participated in the Battle of Jutland with the 6th Division, then embarked an allied naval commission in Kiel in November 1918, and was decommissioned in 1921.

⚠ Note: This old post is scheduled for rewriting and expansion in 2023.

Career of the HMS Hercules

The Hercules was flagship of the 2nd Division Home Fleet, and from July 1912 to March 1913 flagship of the 2nd Battle Squadron. On March, 22, 1913 she collided with SS Mary Parkes of Glasgow, retaining only minor damage. In August 1914 she joined the Grand Fleet. On she fought on 31 May 1916 at the Battle of Jutland, 6th Division, also counting the Marlborough, Revenge and Agincourt. She fired about 98 shells on enemy battlecruisers, scoring hits and dodged torpedoes but remained unscaved.

She became flagship of the 4th Battle Squadron in June. In August at the raid on Sunderland she tested a towed kite balloon. She was sent in Orkney 24 April 1918 together with the St Vincent to support the Agincourt in the last sortie of the High Seas Fleet, and operation ZZ in November, escorting the surrendering Imperial German Navy en route to Scapa Flow. In December she was at the Allied Naval Armistice Commission to Kiel, then back to Rosyth. Put in the reserved in February 1919 she was sold on 8 November 1921 to a shipbreaker and later scrapped in Germany.


The Colossus class Battlehips on wikipedia
On the Dreadnought Project
Specs Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1921-1947.

Colossus specifications

Dimensions 166.4 x25.9 x8 m
Displacement 19,680t/22,700t FL
Crew 755
Propulsion 4 screws, Parsons direct drive steam turbines, 25.000 hp
Speed 21 knots (39 km/h)
Range 6,680 nautical miles (12,370 km) at 10 knots (19 km/h)
Armament 10 ×305mm, 16 ×102mm, 3 ×21-inch (533mm) sub TTs
Armor Belt 280 mm, Bulkheads 254 mm, Barbettes 279 mm, Turret 279 mm, Deck 102 mm


HMS Hercules
HMS Hercules

HMS Colossus
HMS Colossus

Profile of the Colossus class, in 1911.

HMS Neptune (1902)

HMS Neptune (1902)

United Kingdom (1908)

A brand new league

The Neptune was supposed to be the leading ship of a brand new class of dreadnoughts but the two others were so heavily modified that they ended in a new class, the Colossus. The main difference resided in the artillery disposition, with two wing turrets staggered en echelon so that all five turrets could shoot in broadside. However this was only in theory as the blast damage to the superstructure and boats would have been quite important at each volley.

Note: This post is scheduled for a rewrite in 2023

The other improvement concerned the superfiring rear turrets (on the previous series, both were at the deck level), that allowed all four turrets to fire in retreat. It was even the first Royal Navy ship to have this disposition, but there was a limitation though, as the upper turret could do damage the lower one through its sighting hoods when traversing within 30 degrees of the stern. The Neptune also introduced the first director gun-control which was heavily tested in trials and subsequently adopted throughout RN battleships.

HMS Neptune 1911
HMS Neptune in 1911

Service life

The HMS Neptune was ordered in 1908, laid down at Portsmouth Dockyard in 19 January 1909 and launched on 30 September 1909, and eventually commissioned on 11 January 1911 under Captain Vivian Bernard command throughout her carrer. She was flagship of the Home Fleet May 1911-May 1912 and then was transferred to the 1st Battle Squadron, remaining there until June 1916, after the Battle of Jutland (She took part in the Battle of Jutland as part of Admiral Jellicoe’s Battle Fleet, credited with some hits on the German battlecruiser Lützow). In April 1916 she was rammed by accident SS Needvaal but did no deplore any serious damage.

Neptune main weapons
HMS Neptune 12-in guns
Main weaponry.


The HMS Neptune on wikipedia
HMS Neptune on
Specs Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1921-1947.

Neptune specifications

Dimensions 166 x26 x8,2 m (546 x85 x27ft)
Displacement 19,900 tons, 22,000 tons FL
Crew 756
Propulsion 4 screws, 4 Parsons turbines (direct drive), 18 Yarrow boilers, 25,000 hp
Speed 21 knots (39 km/h; xx mph)
Range 6,330 nautical miles (11,720 km; 7,280 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h)
Armament 10 x305mm (5×2), 12 x102mm, 3 TT 457mm (sub sides and poop)
Armor Belt 250, Bulkhead 130, barbettes 230, turrets 280, conning tower 280, bridge 75 mm.


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HMS Neptune 1912

Bellorophon class battleships

Bellorophon class battleships

United Kingdom (1906) – Bellorophon, Superb, Temeraire

Direct successors to the Dreadnought

By december 1906, after the famous battleship was launched, 1st lord of the Admiralty sir Jackie Fisher was so confident over the design, that three sister-ships were already ordered respectively on similar plans. They were laid down for Bellerophon at Portsmouth and in January and February 1907 for the Superb and the Temeraire, respectively in Elswick and Devonport shipyards. Utterly similar they however differed by some details, the first striking difference being the masts. They were launched between July and November 1907 and entered service between February and June 1909.

HMS Belerophon 1907


The main singularity of these ships as stated was the use of two tripod military masts instead of one, the foremast being relocated in front of the first funnel to avoid the smoke plume to clog the vision of the forward observer. The second mast was located in front of the second funnel. The other major change was internal, as they received a complete internal protection without loss of speed, complete bulkheads running longitudinally through the ship whereas those of the Dreadnought only protected the magazines. Some sacrifices were done however, with belt armor decreased from 11 to 10 inches (254 mm) and reduced coal (therefore range).

⚠ Note: This old post is scheduled for rewriting and expansion in 2023.

broadside armour arrangementPlans HMS Bellerophon

Although their main armament was left unchanged in disposition their secondary 76mm QF guns were recognized as too weak to correctly deal with destroyers and replaced by Sixteen 4 in (102 mm) QF guns, which much longer range and twice the impact. This was supplemented with four 47 mm parade guns, firing white rounds, removed in 1914. A subdivision for better anti-torpedo protection was also added internally.

Active service

All three were active in 1915, when the 102 mm located on the roofs of the turrets, deemed too exposed, were removed and relocated in the superstructure. The masts have their upper extension shortened and they received a new radio system. Tow more secondary guns were also added, 102 and 76 mm AA. Heavy and unnecessary torpedo nets were removed, the bow torpedo tube Also, and projectors located on the platforms were also replaced by better protected, enclosed ones. In 1918 two turrets were fitted with launching platforms for a Sopwith Pup fighter and a Sopwith Strutter 1/1/2 used for advanced long range recognition. They were not recoverable and had to land on beaches if possible.

The Bellorophon was assigned to the 1st Battle Squadron, but had and a collision with HMS Inflexible and another with a cargo ship in August 1914. She fought at Jutland in May 1916, as well as the Superb and the Temeraire. The Superb was also the flagship of the fleet sent to the Dardanelles for a new large-scale action in November 1918. The Temeraire served in the Mediterranean until 1918. She later became a training ship, while the Superb, was placed in reserve became a target ship in 1920, disarmed. She was demolished in 1923 and two others in 1921.


Bellerophon class battleships on wikipedia
Specs Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1906-1921.

HMS Dreadnought specifications

Dimensions 160,3 x 25,2 x 8,3 m
Displacement 18,800t, 22,102t FL
Crew 773
Propulsion 2 screws, 2 Parsons turbines, 18 Babcock & W boilers 25-27,000 hp
Speed 21.2-21.5 knots (39 km/h)
Range 5,720 nmi (10,590 km) at 10 knots (19 km/h)
Armament 10 x305 mm Mk V (5×2), 16 x102mm Mk VII guns, 4x 47mm saluting, 3 TT 457mm (sub)
Armor Belt: 5–10 in (127–254 mm), Barbettes: 5–9 in (127–229 mm), Conning tower: 8–11 in (203–280 mm), Turrets: 11 in (280 mm), Deck: ½–4 in (15–102 mm).


HMS Temeraire

HMS Superb in 1917

HMS Superb leading the fleet

HMS Bellerophon
HMS Bellerophon in 1909

HMS Dreadnought (1906)

HMS Dreadnought (1906)

United Kingdom (1906)
Battleship – 1 built

An historical landmark

HMS Dreadnought in auld English “fear nothing”, is certainly one these vessels that changed history, creating a whole new class after its launch. There was a “before” and an “after” Dreadnought.

This ship indeed was the first to step up the battleship concept to a higher level. It was a revolution in naval warfare, such as the first all-iron ironclad, HMS Warrior in 1860. Then it was the invention of the Coles turrets, replacing guns ports and traversing batteries, the revolution in steam engines (triple expansion), turret instead of open barbettes, torpedo tubes, up to the standards of the “pre-dreadnought” battleship build by all major maritime Nations from 1890 to 1906. There was of course only “battleships” until the, but the new pet project of Jackie Fisher made them all obsolete overnight.

Invariably, classic battleships had four 12-in (305 mm) in two twin turrets, fore and aft, and secondary guns of 203 or 254 mm (8-in, 9-in), then from 152, 120 to 106 mm (6, 5, 4-in), completed by smaller, faster guns to deal with torpedo boats, 76, 57, 47, 37 and 20 mm caliber, not to mention submarine torpedo tubes. Symmetrical, using coal, measuring from 110 to 135 meters long, 22 to 25m wide for 15,000 tonnes they could achieve on average 16 to 18 knots.

HMS Dreadnought 1906


The genesis of the Dreadnought deserves a book by itself, but it was clear conservatism in battleship designed ruled at the beginning of the century. However, new kind of ideas appeared in 1890 that seemed to find echoes: The armoured cruiser.

Perfect hybrid, the concept joined speed (and other cruiser qualities) while still possessing potent weaponry (254mm guns), and enough armor to withstand heavy fire from other cruisers or even take older ironclads. These ships came to shine in the Russo-Japanese war, and also before in the 1898 Spanish-American war where these ships proved their effectiveness in combat.

The 1st All big gun steam turbine battleship

Early in the century, the British were building powerful cruisers including an assortment of heavy guns in 6 turrets and more, such as the HMS Defence or the Minotaur class.


Italy, which was also innovative in naval technology, looked for such an alternative to traditional battleships, trying to mix the speed of a cruiser with the advantage of armor. Engineer and theoretician Colonel Vittorio Cuniberti had proposed to the Italian Admiralty in 1903 its own “fast battleship” project armed with twin turrets of a large caliber (but still not battleship caliber). It was basically a ‘monocaliber armoured cruiser’.

His project, initially rejected, was however published in Jane’s Fighting Ships and came into view to many naval officers. The idea pleased Jackie Fisher, the then impetuous First Lord of the Admiralty, so much that he mandated a study by a special commission. The latter quickly suggested a rough blueprint, and the HMS Dreadnought’s keel was finally laid down in October 1905 in Portsmouth, and launched February 10, 1906, an unprecedented speed record for such ship.

HMS Dreadnought 1906

Cuniberti’s plans were eventually endorsed by the Italian naval staff that ordered four battleships of the Regina Elena class. These were still “classic” battleships with two main turrets, but fast, and provided with a very powerful secondary armament.

Therefore the Dreadnought will remain the first of this new generation of battleships. With the Dreadnought, the Royal Navy, which already had an overwhelming numerical superiority, further increase the distance technologically with its potential rivals. The delay for these to catch up left the advantage to constitute a sizable force of dreadnoughts until 1914.


There were key innovations that made the Dreadnought an authentic naval revolution:
> More than twice the firepower of standard battleships
> Centralized fire control with a mechanical computer and Barr & Stoud telescopic sights
> Turbines, for a gain of three knots
> Mixed coal boilers with fuel injection for extra knots.

There was also an innovation ‘by default’, by removing the secondary artillery, the 6-in caliber, and falling down directly to very light anti-torpedo boat caliber. In any case, the Dreadnough had a superior reach and accuracy than any battleship, long before bringing own’s secondary artillery close enough.
This ship was radically different than the previous Nelson class, started earlier but launched in June and September 1906. They had only two 12-in turrets, against five twin for the Dreadnought.
However, the Nelsons were modified during construction, receiving 6 single and double 254 mm turrets, faster than the 305 and almost equal in range. They also managed to reach 18 knots, against 21 for the Dreadnought.

Above all, the Dreadnought only had ten 76 mm as secondary armament, illustrating perfectly the concept of “monocaliber” or “all big guns” battleship. Since size was already far greater than the pre-dreadnoughts, arrangement were made to give at least three of the turrets maximal traverse.
Indeed, A, D and E turrets were centerline, while the B and C were located on each sides, with about 190° traverse (they could fire either on chase or retreat). The second important point was her steam turbine that helped this heavy ship pass the 20 knots realm, reserved until then to cruisers and smaller ships. This was not the 23 knots planned by Cuniberti, though.

A controversial choice

By creating the Dreadnought, Fisher gave the Royal Navy a ship ahead of any competition. But this choice also provoked a panic in the British admiralty: One of the crucial advantage of the Royal Navy until then has been its immense fleet of battleships, twice as many as the two next best navies put together.

The Dreadnought just negated this advantage. One nation in particular, rejoiced of this choice: The German Navy. Starting really t built up after 1890s the Kaiserliches Marine was never able to catch the Royal Navy in quantities and in quality (at least of the main artillery caliber, or Hipper’s choice to stick with VTE instead of turbines). By jumping to the Dreadnought in 1906, it was the perfect time for Germany that just had the steel production and network of providers for its brand new naval yards.


The Empire was now capable to deliver dreadnoughts faster, closing pace with Great Britain, giving Germany the ellusive hope of a future parity, which was previously impossible. The Panic in UK also spread to the house of commons (see the famous episode of “we want eight and we won’t wait”). It seems that through Fisher hasty decision, the Royal Navy shoot itself in the feet.

-On the other hand, Fisher himself and his supporters explained that centralized all-big gun artillery was “already in the air”, the logical next step after Tsushima and the result of recent experiments with armoured cruisers and a powerful secondary artillery. One could argue that the Nelson class and others were already prelude to it and it was better for UK to take the lead of this evolution rather than following it. France for example, was just in the midst of new battleships contructions when the Dreadnought was up, and took years to catch up, entering WW1 with few dreadnoughts, as well as Russia. Only USA, UK and Germany were able to compete in this new arms race.


-The other idea defended by Fisher was about cost. The Dreadnought was able to replace 2.5 classic battleships, which meant less manpower, consumption and maintenance involved. On the long-term, Great Britain could end with far less battleships, but more effective overall with this sharp edge in quality, even though the Dreadnought was more costly than a standard battleship, the choice of turbines for example was more cost-effective than VTE, consuming less, with fewer vibrations, and with the promises of full oil supply on the long run, that gave twice the autonomy in the same space; Also the centralized fire control and better gunnery systems ensure a more cost-effective firing, with more hits per volleys fired.

1906 armour scheme

But this did not hold as the Germans started building dreadnoughts in droves which in turn obliged UK to deliver about 40 dreadnoughts in eight years to keep the pace, at a prohibiting cost… On the other hand, the Dreadnought also help shifting alliances before the great war: Great admirer of the Royal Navy, the Kaiser’s insistence to be on par with it was doomed to failure (despite the justification of a future colonial empire) since Germany had also to maintain one million men under the flags to answer its traditional enemies, France and Russia. Whereas there was no latent hostility between Great Britain and Germany, the Dreadnought changed the paradygm entirely and pushed Great Britain closer to France and Russia, forging eventually the “triple entente”.

The Dreadnought in service

The HMS Dreadnought was accepted into service in December 1906. Already it has inspired the construction of the Bellerophon and St Vincent classes. Their artillery disposal, superstructures and dimensions were similar. The new standard they imposed also traduced in longer dimensions, from 130 to 160 meters long but still 25m wide, for 18,000 tonnes against 15,000 tonnes in displacement. The artillery field of fire consisted in 6 x305mm in chase, 8 in retreat, and 8 for broadsides.

The Operational career of the Dreadnought spanned however only 15 years (scrapped 1921). At first it was the flagship of the 4th Battle Squadron, and served in the North Sea with the Home Fleet, and managing to sink the U29 (Cdt Weddingen) in March 1915 by ramming it.

Vittorio Cuniberti’s ideal battleship, an inspiration for Fischer.

She received an overhaul in 1916 and returned into service with the 3rd Battle Squadron at Sheerness, receiving 24 and 27 pieces of 76 mm (QF and AA). She later returned with the 4th Battle Squadron of the Grand Fleet, until the armistice. She was placed in reserve at Rosyth in 1919.


The Dreadnought simply put to shame anything called a battleship to date. It could out-range, out-gun and out-pace all of these with a margin, and take punishment if needed. It single-handily launched a global naval race which really started in 1909 and peaked in 1919, before a treaty put an end to this folly.

It was also the start of an Anglo-German naval arms race and a South American dreadnought race. Before 1920 about 120 dreadnought has been launched worldwide, hulls were being completed for new ones, blueprints slept in folders, or their ink was still wet on the drawing boards.

However at that time, the concept was shifting towards even faster ships, the “super-dreadnoughts” that would reach at the end of ww2 close to 32 knots, twice the speed of typical 1914 pre-dreadnoughts.


The Dreadnought on wikipedia
Specs Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1906-1921.

HMS Dreadnought specifications

Dimensions 160,6 x 25 x 9,4 m (527 x 82 x 29 ft)
Displacement 18 110t (18120 long tonnes), 21 845t FL
Crew 700 to 810
Propulsion 2 shaft Parsons turbines, 18 Babcock & W boilers 23,000 hp
Speed 21 knots (39 km/h; 24 mph)
Range 6,620 nmi (12,260 km; 7,620 mi) @10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)
Armament 10 x305 mm (12 in) (5×2), 10 x76mm (3 in), 5 TT 457mm (18 in) (sub)
Armor Belt 280, Battery 280, Barbettes 280, turrets 280, blockhaus 280, bridge 76mm.

Video documentary about the Dreadnought


hms dreadnought firth of forth
Dreadnought guns

HMS Dreadnought
HMS Dreadnought in 1906

HMS Dreadnought
2-view drawing of the Dreadnought in 1911 (wikipedia)