HMS Audacious (1912)

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For other ships of the same name, see HMS Audacious.
HMS Audacious LOC 17766.jpg
HMS Audacious
Career (UK)
Name: HMS Audacious
Ordered: 1910
Laid down: March 1911
Launched: 14 September 1912
Commissioned: August 1913
Fate: Mined, 27 October 1914
General characteristics
Class & type: King George V-class battleship
Displacement: 23,400 long tons (23,780 t)
Length: 598 ft (182.3 m)
Beam: 89 ft (27.1 m)
Draught: 28 ft (8.5 m)
Installed power: 31,000 shp (23,120 kW)
Propulsion: 4 × Parsons turbines
4 × shafts
Speed: 21 kn (24.2 mph; 38.9 km/h)
Complement: 900
Armament: 10 × 13.5 in (343 mm) Mk V guns (5×2)
16 × BL 4 in (102 mm) Mk VII guns
3 × 21 in (533 mm) torpedo tubes

HMS Audacious was a King George V-class battleship of the Royal Navy. The vessel did not see any combat in the First World War, being sunk by a German naval mine off the northern coast of Donegal, Ireland in 1914.

Design[edit]

The four ships of the King George V class of the 1910 building programme were to have been repeats of the Orion class. However, the battle-cruiser HMS Lion, completed in May 1912 with her foremast ahead of the fore funnel, showed that this was a far better arrangement than that in the Orions, where it was the other way round. This modification produced a new and much improved class of battleship, a rare case where a battle-cruiser design influenced that of a battleship. Although the Orion and King George V classes were very similar, the position of the mast easily distinguishes the two types.

The first two ships of the class, King George V and Centurion, were initially fitted with pole type foremasts, but the advent of director firing required a more substantial mast, so they were refitted with heavier tripod masts. Audacious and Ajax were fitted with tripod masts from the outset.

Propulsion[edit]

The machinery arrangement was very similar to that of the earlier Orion class: quadruple propellers driven by Parsons direct drive steam turbines. The machinery spaces were split into three, with the inboard shafts leading to the centre engine room, and the outer shafts to the port and starboard wing engine rooms. The two inboard shafts were driven by the high pressure ahead and astern turbines, with the ahead turbines having an extra stage for cruising. This was separated from the main turbine by a bypass valve. The outer shafts were driven by the ahead and astern low pressure turbines. For cruising, the outboard turbines would be shut down, the ship relying on the inboard shafts alone. The Yarrow boilers remained in three groups of six, eighteen boilers in total. Although primarily coal-fired, Audacious was equipped with oil spraying equipment for quickly raising steam. Normal power was 31,000 SHP, giving 21 knots (39 km/h). Bunker capacity was up to 3,180 tons of coal and 800 tons of oil, which gave a range of 6,370 miles (10,250 km) at 10 knots (19 km/h).

Main armament[edit]

Ten 13.5" C45 Mk5 guns were carried in five twin turrets, all on the centre line, with the "B" and "X" turrets superfiring over the "A" and "Y". "Q" turret, sited amidships, was the only one with restricted firing arcs, although "B" and "X" were still restricted from firing directly over "A" and "Y", due to the very real possibility of muzzle blast entering the lower turrets' sighting hoods, which were still placed in the forward ends of the turret roofs. Because of this, the "B" and "X" guns were restricted from firing over from right ahead/astern to 30 degrees either side.

The main battery of the King George V class was very similar to that of the preceding Orion battleships. The 13.5" gun, which had reappeared in the Royal navy after a gap of many years, and was first fitted in the Orion class, was an excellent weapon with very good range, accuracy and hitting power. It also had a good safety margin, allowing it to fire a heavier shell. The increase from the 1,260 pounds (570 kg) early shells fired by the Orions to the 1,410 pounds (640 kg) heavy shell did not increase the range; even though the propellant charge was now four quarter charges of almost 106 pounds (48 kg) of MD450 (rod based) cordite, the gun still had a maximum range of just under 24,000 yards (22,000 m).

The barrel construction consisted of a liner in an inner tube (A) which was wire wound with many miles of flat wire. Over this was shrunk a steel jacket. There were problems with the wire winding; the barrel could droop, and it is often quoted that the German solid guns were better made. Solid guns took a lot longer and much more machining to make, whereas the wire wound gun was much quicker to manufacture. With a navy with such a large number of weapons, speed of manufacture was of the essence and the Royal Navy never had supply problems for replacement barrels that the German navy had.

There were five main magazines and an associated shell room,[clarification needed] each serving its own gun. There were 112 rounds for each gun, so each magazine would hold 896 106 pounds (48 kg) quarter charges of cordite, for a total of 474,880 pounds (215,400 kg) of explosive, and a total of 1,120 shells weighing 1,568,000 pounds (711,000 kg) or 700 tons. The barrel life of 400 rounds for the lighter shell was reduced to 220 rounds, which was still good for the time.

Secondary battery[edit]

It was widely known that the 4" secondary guns of these and all preceding Dreadnought types were far too light to deal with the newer and larger torpedo boats and destroyers and the increasing range of torpedoes, but 6" guns would have added 2,000 tons of weight and increased the cost substantially, so the Liberal government of the day vetoed this improvement.

Sixteen 4" C50 Mk8 guns were carried, mainly in casemate mounts, and mainly in the forward end of the vessel. Most of the guns were mounted in the deck houses, but four were mounted in hull casemates forwards below the forecastle deck. These were found to be useless in any kind of sea, so they were removed from ships of this class in 1915, reducing the battery to 12 guns. Although these guns were a bit ineffectual in size, the deck-house mounted weapons could at least be used in most weathers.

The class were also fitted with four 3-pounder signalling guns.

Torpedo armament[edit]

Three 21" submerged torpedo tubes were fitted, with one on either beam and the third fitted in the stern. The torpedoes carried were the 21" Mk2 with a 515 pounds (234 kg) explosive charge of TNT. At 45 knots (83 km/h), they had a range of just 4,500 yards (4,100 m), rising to nearly 11,000 yards (10,000 m) at 30 knots (56 km/h).

Armour[edit]

The armour scheme of the King George V class was basically that of the Orion, but with slight improvements. The relatively narrow beam of British capital ships (to maintain high speeds) restricted underwater protection, which was certainly deficient in comparison to their German counterparts. The torpedo (screen) bulkheads were still discontinuous over their length and rather too close to the outer hull, but did cover a greater length than those on the Orion class. The side armour belt was, as in the Orion class, carried up to the upperdeck, thus protecting the ship a little better from long range plunging shell fire. The lower belt was of 12" thickness and the upper 8" of Krupp cemented armour. The transverse armoured bulkheads were of 10" Krupp non-cemented armour (KNC), whilst the torpedo bulkheads were a maximum of 3" KNC plate over the magazine and engine room areas, but down to 1" in other areas. This deficient underwater protection was to prove critical in the sinking of the Audacious.

The barbettes protecting the turret training gear and shell/charge handling spaces was of 10" Krupp cemented armour whilst outside other armour, and tapering to 3" Krupp cemented armour when inside of other armour plating. The gun houses (turrets) had 11" faces. The decks amounted to a maximum of 4" of non-cemented armour over the magazines, machinery and other vulnerable spaces, but tapering to just 1" in other areas.

Service history[edit]

Ordered under the 1910 naval estimates, Audacious was built by Cammell Laird Limited of Birkenhead, Merseyside, England. She was laid down on 23 March 1911 and launched on 14 September 1912. She commissioned into the 1st Division of the 2nd Battle Squadron on 21 October 1913.

At the beginning of the First World War, Audacious was part of the 2nd Battle Squadron of the Grand Fleet. On 27 October 1914, the 2nd Battle Squadron – consisting of the 'super-dreadnoughts' King George V, Ajax, Centurion, Audacious, Monarch, Thunderer and Orion – left Lough Swilly to conduct gunnery exercises at Loch na Keal in Ireland.

The crew of Audacious take to lifeboats to be taken aboard Olympic

In the middle of a turn, at 08:45, Audacious ran upon a mine laid by the German auxiliary minelayer Berlin off Tory Island. The explosion occurred 16 feet (4.9 m) under the bottom of the ship, approximately 10 feet (3.0 m) forward of the transverse bulkhead at the rear of the port engine room.[1] The port engine room, machine room, X turret shell room and compartments below them flooded immediately, with water spreading more slowly to the central engine room and adjoining spaces.

Captain Cecil F. Dampier, thinking that the ship had been attacked by a submarine, hoisted the submarine warning, and the rest of the squadron steamed away from possible danger. The ship rapidly took on a list of 10-15 degrees to port, which was reduced by counter flooding compartments on the starboard side, so that by 09:45, the list ranged from 1-10 degrees as she rolled in rough seas. At this point, the starboard engine was still operational. The ship could make 9 kn (10 mph; 17 km/h) and Dampier believed that he had a chance of making the 25 mi (40 km) to land and beaching the ship. However, water was still entering the central engine room, probably because of damage to the bottom of the longitudinal bulkhead. At 10:00, the decision was taken to abandon the central engine room, but water was also rising in the starboard engine room, so that engine too was stopped. By 11:00, the central turbine was submerged and the port side deck was dipping under water as the ship rolled to that side.[2]

The light cruiser Liverpool stood by, while Audacious broadcast distress signals by wireless. The Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet, Sir John Jellicoe, ordered every available destroyer and tug out to assist, but did not dare send out battleships to tow Audacious because of the apparent submarine threat. Meanwhile, the White Star liner Olympic, elder sister of the infamous Titanic, arrived on the scene.[3]

Dampier brought the bow of the ship round to sea and ordered all non-essential crew off, boats from Liverpool and Olympic assisting, so that only 250 men remained by 14:00. At 13:30, the captain of Olympic, Captain Haddock, suggested that his ship attempt to take Audacious in tow. Dampier agreed, and with the assistance of the destroyer Fury, a tow line was passed within 30 minutes. The ships began moving toward Lough Swilly, but Audacious was so unmanageable that the tow line parted. Liverpool and the collier Thornhill attempted to take the battleship in tow, but to no avail.[4] By 16:00, the forward deck was 4 feet (1.2 m) above water, while the stern had no more than 1 foot (0.30 m) clearance.[2]

In the meantime, at 13:08, a message had arrived from the coastguard station at Mulroy that the steamer Manchester Commerce had been mined in the same area the day before. At 16:60, Malin Head reported that the sailing vessel Cardiff had also been mined the previous night. Upon learning this, at 17:00, Jellicoe ordered the pre-dreadnought battleship Exmouth out to attempt to tow Audacious in. In case the ship was saved, he also requested an officer from the Construction Department at the Admiralty, in anticipation of major repairs.[5][6][7]

Liverpool (left) and Fury (centre), together with RMS Olympic, try to take Audacious (right) in tow. Viewed from passenger areas of RMS Olympic

Vice-Admiral Sir Lewis Bayly, commander of the 1st Battle Squadron, arrived on the scene in the boarding vessel Cambria and took over the rescue operation.[7] With dark approaching, Bayly, Dampier and the remaining men on Audacious were taken off at 19:15. As the quarterdeck flooded, the ship's whaler broke loose and, slithering across the deck, caused further damage to hatches and ventilators, leading to rapid flooding of the stern. At 20:45, with the decks underwater, the ship heeled sharply, paused, and then capsized. The ship floated upside down with the bow raised until 21:00, when an explosion occurred throwing wreckage 300 feet (91 m) into the air, followed by two more. The explosion appeared to come from the area of B magazine and was possibly caused by high-explosive shells falling from their racks and exploding, then igniting the cordite magazine.[2] A piece of armour plate fell on and killed a petty officer on Liverpool, which was 800 yd (730 m) away. This was the only casualty in connection with the sinking.[8][9]

Aftermath[edit]

Jellicoe immediately proposed that the sinking be kept a secret, to which the Board of Admiralty and the British Cabinet agreed, an act open to ridicule later on. For the rest of the war, Audacious '​ name remained on all public lists of ship movements and activities. Many Americans on board Olympic were beyond British jurisdiction and discussed the sinking. Many photos, and even one moving film, had been taken. By 19 November, the loss of the ship was accepted in Germany.[10] Jellicoe's opposite number in Germany, Reinhard Scheer, wrote after the war, "In the case of the Audacious we can but approve the English attitude of not revealing a weakness to the enemy, because accurate information about the other side's strength has a decisive effect on the decisions taken."[11]

On 14 November 1918, shortly after the war ended, a notice officially announcing the loss appeared in The Times:

A Royal Navy review board judged that a contributory factor in the loss was that Audacious was not at action stations, with water-tight doors locked and damage control teams ready. Attempts were made to use the engine circulating pumps as additional bilge pumps, but the rapid rise of water prevented this. Although hatches were open at the time of the explosion, it was claimed that all were closed before rising water reached them. Apart from the damage to the bottom of the ship, water was found to have spread through bulkheads because of faulty seals around pipes and valves, broken pipes and hatches which did not close properly.[2] Marlborough, of the subsequent (but fairly similar) Iron Duke class, was torpedoed at Jutland and for a time continued to steam at 17 knots (20 mph; 31 km/h).

The wreck of Audacious was found 24 miles (39 km) north of the Irish coast, and filmed for the television show Deep Wreck Mysteries on the History Channel. The programme featured an investigation of the wreck and the circumstances of its loss by nautical archaeologist Innes McCartney and battleship expert Bill Jurens. The wreck lies upside down on the sea bed, with the starboard propeller shafts bent and rudder detached, but in clear water 17 miles (27 km) north east of Tory island.[13]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Brown p.160
  2. ^ a b c d Brown p.161
  3. ^ Goldrick. The King's Ships were at Sea. pp. 139–140. 
  4. ^ Goldrick. The King's Ships were at Sea. p. 140. 
  5. ^ Corbett. Naval Operations II. p. 250. 
  6. ^ Jellicoe. The Grand Fleet. pp. 149–150. 
  7. ^ a b Goldrick. The King's Ships Were at Sea. p. 140. 
  8. ^ Jellicoe. The Grand Fleet. p. 149. 
  9. ^ Goldrick. The King's Ships were at Sea. p. 141. 
  10. ^ Goldrick. The King's Ships were at Sea. pp. 141–142. 
  11. ^ Scheer. Germany's High Sea Fleet in the War. p. 62. 
  12. ^ "H.M.S. Audacious: A Delayed Announcement" (News in Brief). The Times (London). Thursday, 14 November 1918. (41947), col C, p. 7.
  13. ^ "HMS Audacious". Deep image underwater shipwreck exploring. Retrieved 5 March 2011. 

Bibliography[edit]

  • "H.M.S. Audacious: A Delayed Announcement" (News in Brief). The Times (London). Thursday, 14 November 1918. (41947), col C, p. 7.
  • Brown, David K (1997). The Grand Fleet. Barnsley: Seaforth publishing. ISBN 978-1-84832-085-7. 
  • Corbett, Sir Julian Stafford (1920). Naval Operations. Volume I. London: Longmans, Green and Co. 
  • Goldrick, James (1984). The King's Ships Were At Sea: The War in the North Sea August 1914–February 1916. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-87021-334-2. 
  • Jellicoe, John (1919). The Grand Fleet. New York: George H. Doran Company. 
  • Scheer, Reinhard (1920). Germany's High Sea Fleet in the World War. London: Cassell and Company, Ltd. 

External links[edit]

55°32′16″N 7°24′33″W / 55.53778°N 7.40917°W / 55.53778; -7.40917Coordinates: 55°32′16″N 7°24′33″W / 55.53778°N 7.40917°W / 55.53778; -7.40917