HMS King Edward VII

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HMS King Edward VII (1903) in early 1907.jpg
HMS King Edward VII in early 1907
United Kingdom
Name: HMS King Edward VII
Namesake: King Edward VII
Ordered: 1903/04 Estimates
Builder: Devonport Dockyard
Laid down: 8 March 1902
Launched: 23 July 1903
Completed: February 1905
Commissioned: 7 February 1905
Nickname(s): The King Edward VII-class battleships were known as "The Wobbly Eight"
Fate: Mined off Cape Wrath, 6 January 1916
General characteristics
Class and type: King Edward VII-class pre-dreadnought battleship
  • 16,350 long tons (16,610 t) (standard)
  • 17,500 long tons (17,800 t) (full load)
Length: 453 ft 6 in (138.2 m)
Beam: 78 ft (23.8 m)
Draught: 26 ft 9 in (8.15 m)
Installed power: 18,000 ihp (13,420 kW)
Speed: 18.5 kn (21.3 mph; 34.3 km/h)
  • 2,000 nmi (2,300 mi; 3,700 km) at 18.5 kn (21.3 mph; 34.3 km/h)
  • 5,270 nmi (6,060 mi; 9,760 km) at 10 kn (12 mph; 19 km/h)
  • Coal: 2,164–2,238 short tons (1,963–2,030 t)
  • Fuel oil: 380 short tons (340 t)
Complement: 777
  • Belt: 8–9 in (20.3–22.9 cm) (amidships)
  • Bulkheads: 8–12 in (20.3–30.5 cm)
  • Barbettes: 12 in (30.5 cm)
  • Turrets:
    • Main battery: 8–12 in (20.3–30.5 cm)
    • 9.2-inch battery: 5–9 in (12.7–22.9 cm)
    • 6-inch battery: 7 in (17.8 cm)
  • Conning tower: 12 in (30.5 cm)
  • Deck: 1–2.5 in (2.5–6.4 cm)

HMS King Edward VII, named after King Edward VII, was the lead ship of her class of Royal Navy pre-dreadnought battleships. She was commissioned in 1905, and entered service with the Atlantic Fleet as Flagship, Commander-in-chief (by request of the King, she was always to serve as a flagship). Rendered obsolete in 1906 with the commissioning of the revolutionary Dreadnought, she underwent a refit in 1907, following which she was assigned to the Channel Fleet and then to the Home Fleet. In 1912, she, together with her sister ships, formed the 3rd Battle Squadron.

During the early phase of World War I, the 3rd Battle Squadron was attached to the Grand Fleet and served on the Northern Patrol. In January 1916 she struck a mine while in transit to a scheduled refit at Belfast and sank. All but one of her crew were safely evacuated.

Technical characteristics[edit]

King Edward VII underway

HMS King Edward VII was laid down at Devonport Dockyard on 8 March 1902, the first plate was laid by King Edward VII who with his wife Queen Alexandra had just attended the naming and launching ceremony of HMS Queen.[3] She was launched by the King on 23 July 1903, and completed in February 1905.

Although King Edward VII 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 long tons (1,000 t) more and mounting for the first time an intermediate battery of four 9.2 in (230 mm) guns in addition to the standard outfit of 6 in (150 mm) guns. The 9.2-inch incher was a quick-firing gun like the 6-incher, and its heavier shell made it a formidable weapon by the standards of the day when King Edward VII 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 in (200 mm) intermediate batteries. The four 9.2-inchers were mounted in single turrets abreast the foremast and mainmast, and King Edward VII thus could bring two of them to bear on either broadside. Even then, King Edward VII 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 King Edward VII had fire-control platforms on her fore- and mainmasts rather than the fighting tops of earlier classes.[4]

Like all British battleships since the Majestics, the King Edwards had four 12 in (300 mm) guns in two twin turrets (one forward and one aft), the first five King Edwards, including King Edward VII herself, mounted the Mark IX 12-inch gun. Mounting of the 6-inch guns in casemates was abandoned in the King Edwards, the 6-inch instead being placed in a central battery amidships protected by 7 in (18 cm) armoured walls. Otherwise, King Edward VII's armour was much as in the London-class battleships, although there were various differences in detail from the Londons.[4]

King Edward VII and her sisters were the first British battleships with balanced rudders since the 1870s and were very manoeuvrable, with a tactical diameter of 340 yd (310 m) at 15 kn (17 mph; 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]

King Edward VII in dry dock, Gibraltar, c. 1906.

Primarily powered by coal, King Edward VII had oil sprayers installed during her construction, as did all of her sisters except New Zealand, the first time this had been done in British battleships. These allowed steam pressure to be rapidly increased, improving King Edward VII's acceleration. The eight ships between them were given four different boiler installations for comparative purposes; King Edward VII is variously reported to have had 10 Babcock & Wilcox boilers and six cylindrical boilers[4] or 10 Babcock & Wilcox boilers and three cylindrical boilers.[5] She exceeded her designed speed on trials.[4]

King Edward VII 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 early 1905, but was made obsolete in less than two years by the commissioning of the revolutionary battleship Dreadnought at the end of 1906 and the large numbers of the new dreadnought battleships that commissioned in succeeding years. By 1914, King Edward VII and her sisters – like all pre-dreadnoughts – were 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]

King Edward VII consented to having King Edward VII carry his name on the condition that she always serve as a flagship. The Royal Navy honoured this wish throughout her career.[7]

Pre-World War I[edit]

HMS King Edward VII commissioned on 7 February 1905 at Devonport Dockyard for service as Flagship, Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet. She underwent a refit in 1906–1907. Her Atlantic Fleet service ended when she paid off at Portsmouth Dockyard on 4 March 1907.[7]

On 5 March 1907, King Edward VII recommissioned as flagship of Admiral Lord Charles Beresford, Commander-in-Chief, Channel Fleet. She underwent another refit at Portsmouth in 1907–1908.[7]

Sailors of HMS King Edward VII at Rathmullan in County Donegal, c. 1909

Under a fleet reorganisation on 24 March 1909, the Channel Fleet became the 2nd Division, Home Fleet. Accordingly, King Edward VII recommissioned as Flagship, Vice Admiral, Home Fleet on 27 March. She underwent a refit at Portsmouth from December 1909 – February 1910. She recommissioned at Portsmouth on 1 August 1911 as Flagship, Vice Admiral, Third and Fourth Divisions, Home Fleet.[7]

Under a fleet reorganisation in May 1912, King Edward VII and all seven of her sisters (Africa, Britannia, Commonwealth, Dominion, Hibernia, Hindustan, and Zealandia) were assigned to form the 3rd Battle Squadron, assigned to the First Fleet, Home Fleet. King Edward VII commissioned at Sheerness as Flagship, Vice Admiral, 3rd Battle Squadron, First Fleet, Home Fleet, on 14 May 1912.

The 3rd Battle 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.[8]

World War I[edit]

Upon the outbreak of the World War I, the 3rd Battle Squadron was assigned to the Grand Fleet and based at Rosyth, with King Edward VII continuing her service as squadron flagship. 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. The squadron returned to the Grand Fleet on 13 November, although King Edward VII remained behind temporarily, not returning to the Grand Fleet until 30 November 1914.[9]

King Edward VII served in the Grand Fleet until her loss in January 1916.[10] During sweeps by the fleet, she and her sisters 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 6 January 1916, King Edward VII — having transferred her flag temporarily – departed Scapa Flow at 07:12 on a voyage around the northern coast of Scotland to Belfast, where she was scheduled to undergo a refit. At 10:47, she struck a mine that had been laid by the German auxiliary cruiser SMS Möwe off Cape Wrath. The explosion occurred under the starboard engine room, and King Edward VII listed 8° to starboard. Her commanding officer – Captain Maclachlan – ordered her helm put over to starboard to close the coast and beach the ship if necessary, but the helm jammed hard to starboard and the engine rooms quickly flooded, stopping the engines. Counterflooding reduced her list to 5°.[11]

King Edward VII sinking off Cape Wrath on the afternoon of 6 January 1916.

Signals to the passing collier Princess Melita induced her to close with King Edward VII and attempt to tow the battleship; soon, flotilla leader Kempenfelt also arrived and joined the tow attempt. Towing began at 14:15, but King Edward VII settled deeper in the water and took on a 15° list in a rising sea and strong winds and proved unmanageable. Princess Melita's towline parted at 14:40, after which Captain Maclachlan ordered Kempenfelt to slip her tow as well.[11]

With flooding continuing and darkness approaching, Captain Maclachlan ordered King Edward VII abandoned. The destroyer Musketeer came alongside at 14:45, and she and destroyers Fortune and Marne, took off the crew with the loss of only one life (a man fell between the battleship and one of the rescue vessels), the last man off being Captain Maclachlan, who boarded destroyer Nessus at 16:10. Fortune, Marne, and Musketeer departed to take the battleship's crew to port, while Nessus stayed on the scene until 17:20 with tugs that had arrived to assist. After Nessus departed, the tugs continued to stand by, and saw King Edward VII capsize at 20:10 and sink around nine hours after the explosion.[12]

At the time it was not clear whether King Edward VII had hit a naval mine or a been torpedoed. The presence of the minefield was determined from an examination of German records after the war.


Divers first visited the wreck of King Edward VII, in 377 feet (115 m) of water, in April 1997.


  1. ^ Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships, 1860–1905, p. 38, although Burt, p. 232, claims she had 10 Babcock & Wilcox water-tube boilers and 3 cylindrical boilers
  2. ^ Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships, p. 38, says there were only four of these torpedo tubes
  3. ^ "The King and Queen in Devon". The Times (36711). London. 10 March 1902. p. 10. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships, 1860–1905, p. 38
  5. ^ Burt, p. 232
  6. ^ a b Burt, p. 235
  7. ^ a b c d Burt, p. 246
  8. ^ Burt, p. 255
  9. ^ Burt, pp. 246–247
  10. ^ Burt, p. 247
  11. ^ a b Burt, p. 247-248
  12. ^ Burt, pp. 249, 251


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