Devastation-class ironclad

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For the French ironclads with a similar name, see Dévastation class ironclad.
HMS Devastation
HMS Devastation in 1896
Class overview
Built: 1869–1877
Completed: 2
General characteristics [1]
Displacement: 9,330 long tons (9,480 t)
Length: 285 ft (87 m) pp
307 ft (94 m) oa
Beam: 62 ft 3 in (18.97 m)
Draught: 26 ft 8 in (8.13 m)
Propulsion: Two coal fired Penn trunk engines, 2 screws,
6,640 ihp (4,950 kW) (Devastation)
Speed: 13.84 kn (25.63 km/h; 15.93 mph)
Complement: 358

As built: 4 × 12-inch (305 mm) rifled muzzle-loading guns mounted in two turrets

From 1890: 4 × BL 10-inch (254.0 mm) guns
6 × 6-pounder QF guns
8 × 3-pounder QF guns
Armour: Belt: 8.5–12 in (220–300 mm) with 16–18 inches (410–460 mm) wood backing
Breastwork: 10–12 in (250–300 mm)
Turrets: 10–14 in (250–360 mm)
Conning tower: 6–9 in (150–230 mm)
Decks: 2–3 in (51–76 mm)
Bulkheads: 5–6 in (130–150 mm)

The two British Devastation-class battleships of the 1870s, HMS Devastation and HMS Thunderer, were the first class of ocean-going capital ship that did not carry sails, and the first which mounted the entire main armament on top of the hull rather than inside it. For the first fifteen years of their lives, they were the most powerful warships in the world.


Right elevation and deck plan as depicted in Brassey's Naval Annual 1888

The genesis of the design was a request by the First Lord of the Admiralty Hugh Childers to the head of ship design at the Admiralty, Edward Reed in early 1869 for a large breastwork monitor which could steam from Queenstown (now Cobh) in Ireland to Halifax in Canada. At a meeting shortly afterwards of the Admiralty board it was agreed that the ship should have two 12-inch (305 mm) guns firing 600-pound (270 kg) shells mounted in each of two turrets protected by 14 inches (360 mm) of armour, which would each have a 280 degree field of fire. The ship would be protected by a 12-inch (300 mm) thick armour belt around the waterline.

A very low freeboard of 4 feet 6 inches (1.4 m) was agreed since the ship was now intended for coastal service in waters around the United Kingdom or service in the relatively calm Mediterranean. Twin steam engines and twin screws were felt necessary for security, and there was a strong feeling that masts and sails should be eliminated to reduce interference with the field of fire of the turrets, but their absence meant that the vessel could not operate far away from friendly coaling stations.

A replica of the proposed turret was constructed and tested at Shoeburyness in May 1872. The 11-inch (280 mm) armour plate backed by 15 inches (380 mm) of teak and a 1.25-inch (32 mm) metal skin resisted hits from a 25 ton gun firing at a range of 200 yards (180 m), although one shot hit a joint between plates and opened a gap 7 inches (180 mm) wide but did not penetrate.[2]

The loss of HMS Captain in 1870 led to concerns about the stability of turret ships, and a committee was set up to determine whether HMS Devastation would be safe. One effect of this was to extend the armoured breastwork with unarmoured structure to the sides of the ship and carried aft to improve the stability at large angles of heel. This greatly improved the crew comfort by adding extra accommodation and especially latrines, but since it was not armoured would have been riddled in a battle reducing the stability of the vessel.[3]

In 1871 a 9-foot (2.7 m) long model of Devastation was tested in a water tank, and subsequently with an 18-foot (5.5 m) long version. Once Devastation was completed, tests could be carried out with the real ship. This included building up a roll of 7 degrees by having 400 men run backwards and forwards across the deck 18 times. Other tests involved taking it to sea to look for rough weather, in one trial waves of 20-26 feet (6-8 m) were encountered which gave the ship a 14 degree roll either way.


  1. ^ Chesneau and Kolesnik 1979, p. 23.
  2. ^ Brown 2003, p. 60.
  3. ^ Brown 2003, p. 61.
  • Brown, David. Warrior to Dreadnought: Warship development 1860–1905, Chatham Publishing.
  • Chesneau, Roger and Eugene M. Kolesnik. Conway's All The World's Fighting Ships 1860–1905. London: Conway Maritime Press, 1979. ISBN 0-85177-133-5.

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