HMS Britannia (1904)

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For other ships of the same name, see HMS Britannia.
HMS Britannia
HMS Britannia
Career (United Kingdom)
Name: HMS Britannia
Namesake: Britannia, the Roman name for the island of Great Britain and the name of a Roman province there
Ordered: 1903/04 Estimates
Builder: Portsmouth Dockyard
Cost: £1,408,053[1]
Laid down: 4 February 1902
Launched: 10 December 1904
Completed: September 1906
Commissioned: 8 September 1906
Nickname: The King Edward VII-class battleships were known as "The Wobbly Eight"
Fate: Torpedoed and sunk 9 November 1918
Notes: The last British warship lost in World War I
General characteristics
Class & type: King Edward VII-class pre-dreadnought battleship
Displacement: 16,350 tons (standard)
17,500 tons (full load)
Length: 453 ft 6 in (138.23 m)
Beam: 78 ft (24 m)
Draught: 26 ft 9 in (8.15 m)
Installed power: 18,000 ihp (13 MW)
Propulsion: 15 coal-fired boilers (with oil sprayers), 12 Babcock and Wilcox[2] water-tube and 3 cylindrical, two 4-cylinder vertical compound expansion steam engines, two screws
Speed: 18.5 knots (34.3 km/h)
Range: 2,000 nautical miles (3,704 km) at 18.5 knots (34 km/h); 5,270 nautical miles (9,760 km) at 10 knots (18.5 km/h)
Complement: 777
Armament:

4 x BL 12-inch (304.8 mm) Mk X guns (2 x 2)
4 x BL 9.2-inch (233.7 mm) Mark X guns (4 x 1)
10 x BL 6-inch (152.4 mm) Mk XI guns
14 x QF 12 pounder 18 cwt guns (replaced by four 6 inch guns installed on the shelter deck in 1917)
14 x 3 pounder quick-firing guns

5 x 18 inch (450 mm) torpedo tubes (submerged), four on the beam and one in the stern[3]
Armour: Belt amidships: 9 inches tapering to 8 inches (203 mm)
Bulkheads: 12 inches (305 mm) to 8 inches (203 mm)
Barbettes: 12 inches (356 mm)
Main turrets (gunhouses): 12 inches (356 mm) to 8 inches (203 mm)
9.2 inch (234 mm) turrets: 9 inches (229 mm) to 5 inches (127 mm)
6 inch (152 mm) battery: 7 inches (178 mm)
Conning tower: 12 inches (305 mm)
Armoured deck: 2.5 inches (63.5 mm) to 1 inch (25.4 mm)
Notes: 2,164–2,238 tons coal maximum; 380 tons oil

The sixth HMS Britannia of the British Royal Navy was a pre-dreadnought battleship of the King Edward VII class. She was named after Britannia, the Latin name of Great Britain under Roman rule. After commissioning in September 1906, she served briefly with the Atlantic and Channel Fleets before joining the Home Fleet. In 1912, she, along with her sister ships of the King Edward VII class, was assigned to the 3rd Battle Squadron but in June 1913, she returned to duties with the Home Fleet.

When World War I broke out, Britannia was transferred back to the 3rd Battle Squadron, which was part of the Grand Fleet. In 1916, she was attached to the 2nd Detached Squadron, then serving in the Adriatic Sea. After a refit in 1917, she conducted patrol and convoy escort duties in the Atlantic. On 9 November 1918, just two days before the end of the war, she was torpedoed by a German submarine off Cape Trafalgar and sank with the loss of 50 men. She was the last Royal Navy ship to be sunk in the war.

Technical characteristics[edit]

HMS Britannia was built at Portsmouth Dockyard. She was laid down on 4 February 1902, launched on 10 December 1904, and completed in September 1906.

Although Britannia and her seven sister ships of the King Edward VII class were a direct descendant of the Majestic class, they were also the first class to make a significant departure from the Majestic design, displacing about 1,000 tons more and mounting for the first time an intermediate battery of four 9.2-inch (234-mm) guns in addition to the standard outfit of 6-inch (152-mm) guns. The 9.2-inch was a quick-firing gun like the 6-inch, and its heavier shell made it a formidable weapon by the standards of the day when Britannia and her sisters were designed; it was adopted out of concerns that British battleships were undergunned for their displacement and were becoming outgunned by foreign battleships that had begun to mount 8-inch (203-mm) intermediate batteries. The four 9.2-inch were mounted in single turrets abreast the foremast and mainmast, and Britannia thus could bring two of them to bear on either broadside. Even then, Britannia and her sisters were criticised for not having a uniform secondary battery of 9.2-inch guns, something considered but rejected because of the length of time it would have taken to design the ships with such a radical revision of the secondary armament layout. In the end, it proved impossible to distinguish 12-inch and 9.2-inch shell splashes from one another, making fire control impractical for ships mounting both calibres, although Britannia had fire-control platforms on her fore- and mainmasts rather than the fighting tops of earlier classes.[4]

Like all British battleships since the Majestic class, the King Edward VII-class ships had four 12-inch (305-mm) guns in two twin turrets (one forward and one aft), although the final three King Edwards, including Britannia, mounted the Mark X 12-inch, a improvement on the Mark IX mounted by the first five King Edwards. Mounting of the 6-inch guns in casemates was abandoned in Britannia and all seven of her sister ships, the 6-inch instead being placed in a central battery amidships protected by 7-inch (178-mm) armoured walls. Otherwise, Britannia's armour was much as in the London-class battleships, although there were various differences in detail from the Londons.[4]

Britannia and her sisters were the first British battleships with balanced rudders since the 1870s and were very manoeuvrable, with a tactical diameter of 340 yards (311 m) at 15 knots (27.75 km/h). However, they were difficult to keep on a straight course, and this characteristic led to them being nicknamed "the Wobbly Eight" during their 1914–1916 service in the Grand Fleet. They had a slightly faster roll than previous British battleship classes, but were good gun platforms, although very wet in bad weather.[4]

Primarily powered by coal, Britannia had oil sprayers installed during her construction, as did all of her sisters except HMS New Zealand, the first time this had been done in British battleships. These allowed steam pressure to be rapidly increased, improving Britannia's acceleration. The eight ships between them were given four different boiler installations for comparative purposes; Britannia's boiler installation is reported both as 12 Babcock and Wilcox and three cylindrical boilers[4] and as 18 Babcock and Wilcox and three cylindrical.[4] during which she made 18.24 knots (33.8 km/h).[5]

Britannia was a powerful ship when she was designed, and completely fulfilled the goals set for her at that time. However, she was unlucky in that the years of her design and construction were ones of revolutionary advancement in naval guns, fire control, armour, and propulsion. She joined the fleet in September 1906, but was made obsolete three months later by the completion of the revolutionary battleship HMS Dreadnought in December 1906 and the large numbers of the new dreadnought battleships that commissioned in succeeding years. By 1914, Britannia and her King Edward VII-class sisters were, like all predreadnoughts, so outclassed that they spent much of their 1914–1916 Grand Fleet service steaming at the heads of divisions of the far more valuable dreadnoughts, protecting the dreadnoughts from naval mines by being the first battleships to either sight or strike them.[6]

Operational history[edit]

Pre-World War I[edit]

HMS Britannia was commissioned into the reserve at Portsmouth Dockyard on 6 September 1906. She went into full commission on 2 October 1906 for service in the Atlantic Fleet. She transferred to the Channel Fleet on 4 March 1907. Under a fleet reorganisation on 24 March 1909, the Channel Fleet became the Second Division, Home Fleet, and Britannia became a Home Fleet unit in that division, becoming Flagship, Vice Admiral, Second Division, in April 1909. She underwent a refit at Portsmouth from 1909 to 1910. On 14 July 1910, she collided with the barque Loch Trool, suffering slight damage.[7]

Under a fleet reorganisation in May 1912, Britannia and all seven of her sisters of the King Edward VII class (Africa, Commonwealth, Dominion, Hibernia, Hindustan, King Edward VII, and Zealandia) were assigned to form the 3rd Battle Squadron, assigned to the First Fleet, Home Fleet. The squadron was detached to the Mediterranean in November 1912 because of the First Balkan War (October 1912 – May 1913); it arrived at Malta on 27 November 1912 and subsequently participated in a blockade by an international force of Montenegro and in an occupation of Scutari. The squadron returned to the United Kingdom in 1913 and rejoined the Home Fleet on 27 June 1913,[7] after which Britannia left the squadron to return to the Second Division, Home Fleet.[8]

Forecastle of Britannia ca. October 1914.

World War I[edit]

Upon the outbreak of World War I, Britannia transferred back to the 3rd Battle Squadron, which was assigned to the Grand Fleet and based at Rosyth

The squadron was used to supplement the Grand Fleet's cruisers on the Northern Patrol. On 2 November 1914, the squadron was detached to reinforce the Channel Fleet and was rebased at Portland. It returned to the Grand Fleet on 13 November 1914. She ran aground in the Firth of Forth at Inchkeith on 26 January 1915, suffering considerable bottom damage, but was refloated after 36 hours and was repaired and refitted at Devonport Dockyard.[7]

Britannia served in the Grand Fleet until April 1916. During sweeps by the fleet, she and her sister ships often steamed at the heads of divisions of the far more valuable dreadnoughts, where they could protect the dreadnoughts by watching for mines or by being the first to strike them.[9]

On 29 April 1916, the 3rd Battle Squadron was rebased at Sheerness, and on 3 May 1916 it was separated from the Grand Fleet, being transferred to the Nore Command. Britannia remained there with the squadron until August 1916, when she began a refit at Portsmouth Dockyard.[10]

On completion of her refit in September 1916, Britannia transferred out of the 3rd Battle Squadron for service in the 2nd Detached Squadron, which had been organised in 1915 to reinforce the Italian Navy against the Austro-Hungarian Navy in the Adriatic Sea. She underwent a refit at Gibraltar in February–March 1917, and on its completion was attached to the 9th Cruiser Squadron to serve on the Atlantic Patrol and on convoy escort duty, based mainly at Sierra Leone. She relieved armoured cruiser HMS King Alfred as flagship of the 9th Cruiser Squadron in March 1917 and underwent a refit at Bermuda in May 1917,[11] during which her 6-inch (152-mm) guns were removed and replaced by four 6-inch (152-mm) guns mounted on her shelter deck.[8]

Britannia sinking in the Atlantic off Cape Trafalgar on 9 November 1918.

Loss[edit]

On the morning of 9 November 1918, captained by Francis F. Caulfield RN, Britannia was on a voyage in the western entrance to Strait of Gibraltar when she was torpedoed off Cape Trafalgar by the German submarine UB-50. After the first explosion, the ship listed ten degrees to port. A few minutes later, a second explosion started a fire in a 9.2-inch (234-mm) magazine, which in turn caused a cordite explosion in the magazine. Darkness below decks made it virtually impossible to find the flooding valves for the magazines, and those the crew did find were poorly located and therefore hard to turn, and the resulting failure to properly flood the burning magazine probably doomed the ship. Britannia held her 10-degree list for 2½ hours[12] before sinking, allowing most of the crew to be taken off. Most of the men who were lost were killed by toxic smoke from burning cordite; 50 men died and 80 were injured.[11] In total, 39 officers and 673 men were saved.[13]

Sunk only two days before the Armistice ending World War I was signed on 11 November 1918, Britannia was the last Royal Navy vessel to be lost during World War I.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Burt, p. 233
  2. ^ Burt, p. 232, says that Britannia had 18 of these boilers
  3. ^ Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships, 1806–1905, p. 38, says there were only four of these torpedo tubes
  4. ^ a b c d e Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships, 1860–1905, p. 38
  5. ^ Burt, p. 241
  6. ^ Burt, p. 235
  7. ^ a b c Burt, p. 251
  8. ^ a b Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships, 1906–1921, p. 9
  9. ^ Burt, pp. 235, 251
  10. ^ Burt, pp. 251, 253
  11. ^ a b Burt, p. 253
  12. ^ Burt, p. 253, says that Britannia listed 10 degrees within "minutes" of the first explosion, then held that list for 2½ hours before sinking, while Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships, 1906–1921, p. 9, claims that she stayed afloat for a total of 3½ hours before sinking, making the length of time it took her to sink ambiguous
  13. ^ "HMS Britannia Sunk". The Daily Telegraph. 11 November 1918. 

References[edit]

  • Burt, R. A. British Battleships 1889–1904. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1988. ISBN 0-87021-061-0.
  • Chesneau, Roger, and Eugene M. Kolesnik, eds. Conway's All The World's Fighting Ships, 1860–1905. New York: Mayflower Books, Inc., 1979. ISBN 0-8317-0302-4.
  • Dittmar, F. J. & J. J. Colledge. British Warships 1914–1919. London: Ian Allen, 1972. ISBN 0-7110-0380-7
  • Gibbons, Tony. The Complete Encyclopedia of Battleships and Battlecruisers: A Technical Directory of All the World's Capital Ships From 1860 to the Present Day. London: Salamander Books Ltd., 1983.
  • Gray, Randal, Ed. Conway's All The World's Fighting Ships 1906–1921. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1985. ISBN 0-87021-907-3.
  • Pears, Randolph. British Battleships 1892–1957: The Great Days of the Fleets. G. Cave Associates, 1979. ISBN 978-0-906223-14-7

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 35°53′N 5°53′W / 35.883°N 5.883°W / 35.883; -5.883