HMS Africa (1905)

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HMS Africa.jpg
HMS Africa
United Kingdom
Name: HMS Africa
Namesake: Africa
Ordered: 1903/04 Estimates
Builder: Chatham Dockyard
Cost: £1,420,040[1]
Laid down: 27 January 1904
Launched: 20 May 1905
Completed: November 1906
Commissioned: 6 November 1906
Decommissioned: November 1918
Nickname(s): The King Edward VII-class battleships were known as "The Wobbly Eight"
Fate: Sold for scrapping, 30 June 1920
Notes: The first British launch of an airplane from a ship took place aboard Africa in 1912
General characteristics
Class and type: King Edward VII-class pre-dreadnought battleship
  • 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 (13,000 kW)
Propulsion: 15 coal-fired (with oil sprayers) boilers (12 Babcock & Wilcox[2] water-tube boilers and 3 cylindrical boilers), two 4-cylinder vertical compound expansion steam engines, two screws
  • 18.5 kn (34.3 km/h) maximum
  • 16 kn (30 km/h) cruising
Range: 2,000 nautical miles (3,700 kilometres) at 18.5 kn (34.3 km/h); 5,270 nautical miles (9,760 kilometres) at 10 kn (19 km/h)
Complement: 777
  • Belt: 8–9 inches
  • Bulkheads: 8–12 inches (200–300 millimetres)
  • Turrets: 8–12 inches (200–300 millimetres)
  • Barbettes: 12 inches (300 millimetres)
  • 9.2 inches (230 millimetres) turrets: 5–9 inches (130–230 millimetres)
  • 6 inches (150 millimetres) battery: 7 inches (180 millimetres)
  • Conning Tower: 12 inches (300 millimetres)
  • Deck: 1–2.5 inches (25–64 millimetres)
Notes: 2,164–2,238 tons coal maximum; 380 tons oil

HMS Africa was a pre-dreadnought battleship of the Royal Navy. She was the penultimate ship of the King Edward VII class. Laid down on 27 January 1904, she launched 20 May 1905 and was completed November 1906. Like all ships of the class (apart from HMS King Edward VII), she was named after an important part of the British Empire, namely Africa.

Africa was a powerful ship when she was designed but during her constructions revolutionary advances in naval design occurred and she joined the fleet in November 1906 but was made obsolete the next month by the commissioning of the first of the Dreadnought class ships.

Decommissioned in 1918, Africa was placed on the sale list in March 1920, was sold for scrapping on 30 June 1920 and scrapped at Newcastle.

Technical characteristics[edit]

HMS Africa was laid down at Chatham Dockyard on 27 January 1904, launched on 20 May 1905, and completed in November 1906. She was the last battleship constructed at Chatham, later classes of battleships being too large for the yard.

Although Africa 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 Africa 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 Africa thus could bring two of them to bear on either broadside. Even then, Africa 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 Africa 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 VIIs had four 12-inch (305 mm) guns in two twin turrets (one forward and one aft), although the final three King Edwards, including Africa, mounted the Mark X 12-inch, an improvement on the Mark IX mounted by the first five King Edwards. Mounting of the 6-inch guns in casemates was abandoned in Africa and her sister ships, the 6-inch instead being placed in a central battery amidships protected by 7-inch (178 mm) armoured walls. Otherwise, Africa's armour was much as in the London-class battleships, although there were various differences in detail from the Londons.[4]

Africa and her sisters were the first British battleships with balanced rudders since the 1870s and were very maneuverable, with a tactical diameter of 340 yards (310 m) at 15 kn (28 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, Africa 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 Africa's acceleration. The eight ships between them were given four different boiler installations for purposes of comparison; Africa's outfit of Babcock & Wilcox and cylindrical boilers, reported by some sources to have been 12 Babcock & Wilcox and three cylindrical[4] and by others to have been 18 Babcock & Wilcox and three cylindrical[1] allowed her to exceed her designed speed on trials,[4] during which she exceeded 18.95 knots (35 km/h).[5]

Africa 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 November 1906, but was made obsolete the next month by the commissioning of the revolutionary battleship HMS Dreadnought and the large numbers of the new dreadnought battleships that commissioned in succeeding years. By 1914, Africa and her sisters were, like all pre-dreadnoughts, 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]

Early career[edit]

HMS Africa firing a broadside

HMS Africa commissioned on 6 November 1906 at Chatham Dockyard for service in the Atlantic Fleet. She transferred to the Channel Fleet on 4 March 1907 and collided with the merchant steamer SS Ormuz off Portland on 23 March 1907, suffering only slight damage.[7]

Africa transferred to the Nore Division, Home Fleet, in June 1908,[7] and in April 1909 joined the Second Division, Home Fleet.[8] During this service she commissioned at Chatham as flagship of Vice Admiral Sir William Henry May, commander of the Third and Fourth Divisions, Home Fleet, on 25 April 1911; the battleship King Edward VII relieved her of this duty on 24 July 1911.[7] In November 1911, she was placed in reserve at the Nore,[8] reduced to a small permanent core crew, being brought up to full complement with reservists in time of war.

In January 1912, Africa took part in aircraft experiments at Sheerness. She was fitted for flying off aircraft with a 100-foot (30-metre) downward-sloping runway which was installed on her foredeck, running over her forward 12-inch (305-mm) turret from her forebridge to her bows and equipped with rails to guide the aircraft. Africa's crew tested the strength and stability of the rails by jumping up and down on them, then held the Gnome-engined Short Improved S.27 pusher seaplane in place as Lieutenant Charles Samson entered its cockpit to attempt the first British shipboard aircraft take-off on 10 January 1912 while the ship was at anchor in the River Medway. The aircraft moved quickly down the runway, dipped slightly after leaving it, but then pulled up and climbed easily. Samson circled Africa several times to the cheers of the crew, although on one pass he came uncomfortably close to the ship. After a few minutes, Samson climbed to 800 feet (240 metres) and concluded his historic flight by landing safely at an airfield ashore. Africa transferred her flight equipment to her sister ship Hibernia in May 1912. Based on the 1912 flight experiments on Africa, Hibernia, and battleship London, the Royal Navy concluded that shipboard aircraft were desirable for spotting and other fleet duties, but also that a fixed runway on a battleship interfered too much with the firing of the guns and that recovering seaplanes that had landed in a seaway was too difficult to be practical as a routine operation. But shipborne aviation had begun in the Royal Navy aboard Africa, and by 1917 would become an important part of British fleet operations.[9]

Africa underwent a refit at Chatham in 1912. Under a fleet reorganization in May 1912, Africa returned to full commission and she and all seven of her sisters of the King Edward VII class (Britannia, 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. Africa and Hindustan returned to the United Kingdom and the Home Fleet in February 1913 and were temporarily attached to the 4th Battle Squadron; They rejoined the 3rd Battle Squadron when it returned to the United Kingdom and rejoined the Home Fleet on 27 June 1913.[10]

World War I[edit]

Upon the outbreak of World War I, the 3rd Battle Squadron was assigned to the Grand Fleet and based at Rosyth. It 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.[11]

Africa served in the Grand Fleet until April 1916, undergoing a refit at Belfast from December 1915 to January 1916.[7] 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.[6]

On 29 April 1916, the 3rd Battle Squadron was rebased at Sheerness (where Africa arrived on 2 May 1916), and on 3 May 1916 the squadron was separated from the Grand Fleet, being transferred to the Nore Command. Africa remained there with the squadron until August 1916.[7]

Africa began a refit at Portsmouth Dockyard in August 1916. Upon its completion in September 1916, she left the 3rd Battle Squadron and transferred to the Adriatic Sea, where a British squadron had reinforced the Italian Navy against the Austro-Hungarian Navy since Italy's entry into the war in 1915. She left the Adriatic in January 1917 for a refit at Gibraltar,[7] during which the 6-inch (152-mm) guns on her main deck were replaced with four 6-inch (152-mm) guns a deck higher because the original guns were awash in even slightly rough weather.

When her refit was completed in March 1917, Africa was attached to the 9th Cruiser Squadron for service in the Atlantic Patrol and for convoy escort duties. She was based mainly at Sierra Leone and escorted convoys between Sierra Leone and Cape Town, South Africa. She underwent a refit at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from December 1917 to January 1918.[7]

In September 1918, while Africa was based at Sierra Leone, some of her crew became ill during the influenza pandemic that broke out that year. Their numbers virtually doubled each day from less than a handful at the start of the month until 9 September, when 476 crew members were reported ill. On that day, one crewman was reported dead of pneumonia following a case of influenza. Five more crewmen died on 12 September. The next day, another eight perished. On 14 September, 10 more crewmen died. Africa sent burial parties ashore daily, and the ship was put into quarantine. By the time Africa hauled down her quarantine flag on 30 September 1918, 52 crew members had died of illness out of a total complement of less than 800.[12]

In October 1918, Africa returned to the United Kingdom; she went into reserve at Portsmouth in November 1918.

Post-World War I[edit]

Following World War I, Africa was briefly the depot ship of the 9th Cruiser Squadron and was employed as an accommodation ship. In December 1919 she was selected to replace protected cruiser Diadem as stokers' training ship at Portsmouth, but this was cancelled.


Africa was placed on the sale list in March 1920, and was sold for scrapping to Ellis & Company of Newcastle upon Tyne, England on 30 June 1920. She was scrapped at Newcastle.


  1. ^ a b Burt, p. 233
  2. ^ Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships, 1860–1905, p. 38, although Burt, p. 233, says Africa had 18 Babcock & Wilcox boilers
  3. ^ Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships, 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. ^ a b Burt, p. 235
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Burt, p. 257
  8. ^ a b Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships, 1906–1921, p. 9
  9. ^ Burt, pp. 242, 257; Thetford, p.454.
  10. ^ Burt, pp. 255–257
  11. ^ Burt, pp. 255, 257
  12. ^ HMS Africa, ship's log.


  • 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. & Colledge, J. J. 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.
  • Thetford, Owen. British Naval Aircraft Since 1912, Sixth Revised Edition. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1991. ISBN 1-55750-076-2.

External links[edit]