HMS Rodney (29)

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For other ships of the same name, see HMS Rodney.
HMS Rodney after refitting at Liverpool.jpg
Rodney in May 1942
Career (United Kingdom)
Name: HMS Rodney
Namesake: Admiral Lord Rodney
Ordered: 1922
Builder: Cammell Laird, Birkenhead
Cost: £7,617,799
Laid down: 28 December 1922
Launched: 17 December 1925
Sponsored by: Princess Mary
Completed: August 1927
Commissioned: 10 November 1927
Decommissioned: 1946
Struck: 1947
Identification: Pennant number: 29
Motto: Non Generant Aquilae Columbas
(Latin) "Eagles do not breed doves"
Nickname: Rodnol
Fate: Sold for scrap, 26 March 1948
General characteristics (as completed)
Class and type: Nelson-class battleship
Displacement: 33,730 long tons (34,270 t) standard
37,430 long tons (38,030 t) standard (full load)
Length: 710 ft 2 in (216.5 m) overall
Beam: 106 ft (32.3 m)
Draught: 31 ft (9.44880000 m)
Installed power: 45,000 shp (34,000 kW)
8 Admiralty 3-drum oil-fired boilers
Propulsion: 2 shafts
2 Brown-Curtis geared turbine sets
Speed: 23 knots (43 km/h; 26 mph)
Range: 14,500 nmi (26,900 km; 16,700 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)
Complement: 1,314 (1,361 as flagship)
Armament: 3 × 3 - 16-inch Mk I guns
6 × 2 - 6-inch Mk XXII guns
6 × 1 - QF 4.7-inch Mk VIII anti-aircraft guns
8 × 1 - 2-pounder anti-aircraft guns
2 × 1 - 24.5-inch (622 mm) torpedo tubes
Armour: Belt: 13–14 in (330–356 mm)
Deck: 4.375–6.375 in (111–162 mm)
Barbettes: 12–15 in (305–381 mm)
Gun turrets: 9–16 in (229–406 mm)
Conning tower: 10–14 in (254–356 mm)
Bulkheads: 4–12 in (102–305 mm)

HMS Rodney (pennant number 29) was one of two Nelson-class battleships built for the Royal Navy in the mid-1920s. She was named after Admiral Lord Rodney. The Nelsons were unique in British battleship construction, being the only ships to carry a main armament of 16-inch (406 mm) guns, and the only ones to carry all the main armament forward of the superstructure. As her superstructure was located aft of midships like RN fleet oilers whose names carried the ...'ol' suffix, she was sometimes derisively referred to as "Rodnol". Commissioned in 1927, Rodney served extensively in the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean during World War II.

She played a major role in the sinking of the German battleship Bismarck in May 1941. During and after Operation Torch and the Normandy landings, Rodney participated in several coastal bombardments. In poor condition from extremely heavy use and lack of refits, she was scrapped in 1948.


Known as 'Queen Anne's Mansions' on account of the bridge structure bearing some resemblance to the well-known London block of flats, or 'Cherry Tree Class' because they were designed as larger ships but 'cut down' by the Washington Treaty of 1922, the design was limited to 35,000 tons and showed certain compromises. To accommodate 16-inch main guns in three turrets, all of the turrets were placed forward and the vessel's speed was reduced and maximum armour was limited to vital areas. Even with the design limitations forced on the designers by the treaty, the Rodney and Nelson were regarded as the most powerful battleships afloat until the new generation of all big gun ships was launched in 1936.

Construction and commissioning[edit]

Rodney was laid down on 28 December 1922, the same date as her sister ship Nelson. She was built at Birkenhead by Cammell-Laird shipyard, Launched on 17 December 1925 by Princess Mary Viscountess Lascelles after three attempts at cracking the bottle of Imperial Burgundy. She began trials in August 1927 and was commissioned in November 1927, three months behind her sister. Her construction cost £7,617,799. Her Commanding Officer in 1930 was Captain (later Admiral) Andrew Cunningham and Chief Engineering Officer was Lieutenant Commander (later Admiral) George Campell Ross, son of Sir Archibald Ross, a marine engineer and pioneer of shipbuilding.


From commissioning until World War II broke out in September 1939, Rodney spent her entire time with the British Atlantic Fleet or Home Fleet. In 1931, her crew joined the crews of other ships in taking part in the Invergordon Mutiny. A prototype radar system was installed in October 1938 on the Rodney. She was the first battleship in the Royal Navy to be so equipped.[1] In late December 1939, she was under refit and repair because she was having steering gear problems.

She was damaged by German aircraft at Karmøy, near Stavanger on 9 April 1940 when hit by a 500 kg (1,102 lb) bomb that pierced the armoured deck, but did not explode.[2] On 13 September 1940, she was transferred from Scapa Flow to Rosyth with orders to operate in the English Channel when the German invasion of Britain was expected. In November and December, she did convoy escort duties between Britain and Halifax, Nova Scotia. In January 1941, she participated in the hunt for the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, with no success. On 16 March, however, while escorting a convoy in the North Atlantic, she made contact with the German battleships, but no battle followed, as the German ships turned away when they realised that they were facing superior firepower.


In May 1941, while commanded by Captain Frederick Dalrymple-Hamilton, Rodney was ordered to sail to Canada, along with the ocean liner MV Britannic and four destroyers. Rodney was intended to travel on to the United States for repairs and refits; she carried a large number of passengers, as well as additional goods, such as boiler tubes, intended for use in her refit. Britannic was taking civilians to Canada and would be bringing Canadian troops and airmen back to Britain.

Rodney firing on Bismarck, which can be seen burning in the distance

It was during this run on 24 May that she was called by the Admiralty to join in the pursuit of the German battleship Bismarck, leaving the destroyer Eskimo to escort Britannic and taking Somali, Mashona and Tartar with her in the search. Despite Admiral Sir John Tovey in the battleship King George V heading north-west due to a misinterpreted signal from the Admiralty, Dalrymple-Hamilton and his own 'Operations Committee' consisting of Captain Coppinger (newly appointed captain of the battleship Malaya), his Navigator, Lt.Cmdr. Galfrey George Gatacre RAN, USN Naval Attache', Lt.Cmdr. Joseph Wellings, and Executive Officer, Cmdr. John Grindle, decided that Bismarck was, most likely, headed to Brest, and so set course to the East to head Bismarck off, 'at some stages exceeding her designed speed by two knots', despite her engines being in need of an overhaul.[3] On 26 May, she joined up with King George V, as Admiral Tovey had realised his mistake and doubled back. Tovey then sent the three remaining destroyers home because they were low on fuel, and had Rodney fall in behind King George V for the battle against Bismarck the next day. Early on the morning of 27 May 1941, along with the battleship King George V and the cruisers Norfolk and Dorsetshire, she engaged Bismarck, which had damaged rudder machinery due to a torpedo launched by the aircraft carrier Ark Royal's Swordfish bombers the day before. Unable to manoeuvre and listing to port, Bismarck scored no hits before her forward guns were knocked out, after which Rodney closed with Bismarck until she was firing on a virtually flat trajectory, and spotters could actually follow the shells to the target. One 16-inch shell was tracked from the gun to where it hit the face of Bismarck‍ '​s #2 turret Bruno and exploded, blowing out the back of the turret, with the resulting splinters killing most of the crew on the bridge. Rodney fired 340 16-inch shells, some in 9-gun broadsides, and 716 6-inch shells during the battle, scoring many hits from a range of under 3,000 yards (2,700 m) and inflicting most of the damage suffered by Bismarck, whose stern was blown off. During the battle, Rodney also fired twelve 24.5-inch (622 mm) torpedoes at Bismarck whilst zig-zagging across her bow; most of the torpedoes missed, but one hit Bismarck and exploded amidships on the starboard side, making Rodney the only battleship in history to have torpedoed another battleship, although Bismarck survived the hit by Rodney‍ '​s torpedo.[4][5][6][7][8] Rodney and King George V finally broke off the action; Dorsetshire was then ordered to finish Bismarck off with torpedoes. Rodney and King George V, running short on fuel, were ordered home, and were attacked by Luftwaffe bombers, who sank Mashona, but missed Tartar, with whom the battleships had rejoined.

Force H[edit]

Rodney adds her weight of shells to the Navy's pounding of enemy positions along the Caen coast, 7 June 1944

After this, she went to the South Boston Navy Yard in Boston, Massachusetts, for previously scheduled repairs to her engines and the fitting of more 8-barrelled "Pom-Pom" AA guns, which she had been carrying in crates on the deck throughout the battle. This is significant because the United States would not formally enter the war for several months and the docking of the Rodney illustrated the US government's true sympathies in the growing global conflict. Since the repairs took several weeks to complete, the Rodney's crew was furloughed to local Civilian Conservation Corps camps. In the interim, some members of the crew struck up lasting relationships with American civilians.[9][10]

In September 1941, Rodney was stationed with Force H in Gibraltar, escorting convoys to Malta. In November, she returned home and was stationed in Iceland for a month and then underwent refit and repair until May 1942. After the refit, she returned to Force H, where she again escorted Malta convoys and took part in Operation Torch, the invasion of Northwest Africa. She was subsequently involved with the Invasion of Sicily and Salerno. From October 1943, she was in the Home Fleet, and took part in the Normandy invasion in June 1944, where she was controlled from the headquarters ship HMS Largs off Sword Beach. Her tasks included a 30-hour operation firing an occasional shell 22 miles (35 km) inland, to prevent a Panzer division from crossing a bridge.[11] She also destroyed targets at Caen and Alderney. On 7 June 1944 a collision between Rodney and LCT 427 resulted in the loss of 13 Royal Navy seamen.[12] In September 1944, she performed escort duties with a Murmansk convoy.

During the entire war Rodney steamed over 156,000 nautical miles (289,000 km) with no engine overhaul after 1942. Because of her frequent machinery problems and the fact that she had not been upgraded to the extent of her sister Nelson, starting in December 1944 she became the flagship of the Home Fleet based at Scapa Flow and rarely left her mooring. She was finally scrapped at Inverkeithing, starting on 26 March 1948.[13][14]


  1. ^ Coales, J. F., and J. D. S. Rawlinson; “The Development of Naval Radar 1935-1945”, J. Naval Science, vol. 13, nos. 2-3, 1987.
  2. ^ Reports of Proceedings 1921-1964, G.G.O. Gatacre
  3. ^ HMS Rodney, Iain Ballantyne, Pen & Sword Books, ISBN 978 1 84415 406 7
  4. ^ Reports of Proceedings 1921–1964, G.G.O. Gatacre, Nautical Press & Publications, ISBN 0 949756 02 4, pg.140
  5. ^ On His Majesty's Service, 1940–41, Joseph H. Wellings,
  6. ^ HMS Rodney, Iain Ballantyne, Pen & Sword Books, Yorkshire, ISBN 978 1 84415 406 7, pg.142
  7. ^ Killing the Bismarck, Iain Ballantyne, Pen & Sword Books, Yorkshire, ISBN 978 1 84415 983 3, pg.258–60
  8. ^ Pursuit: The Sinking of the Bismarck, Ludovic Kennedy, William Collins sons & Co., ISBN 0 00 211739 8
  9. ^ "N.H. Connection to the Sinking of the Bismarck". May 2007. Wright Museum. Retrieved 29 June 2011. 
  10. ^ Reports of Proceedings 1921–1964, G.G.O. Gatacre
  11. ^ "obituaries:Commander Dan Duff". Daily Telegraph. 8 November 2012. Retrieved 11 November 2012. 
  12. ^ BBC online
  13. ^ Schlachtschiffe und Schlachtkreuzer 1905–1970, Siegfried Breyer, Karl Müller, 1993, p. 196
  14. ^ "Image of HMS Rodney being scrapped at Thomas Ward and Sons Shipbreaking Yard, Inverkeithing". Retrieved 6 September 2013. 


  • Ballantyne, Iain (2008). H.M.S. Rodney. Ships of the Royal Navy. Barnsley, UK: Pen and Sword. ISBN 978-1-84415-406-7. 
  • Brown, David K. (2003). The Grand Fleet: Warship Design and Development 1906–1922 (reprint of the 1999 ed.). London: Caxton Editions. ISBN 1-84067-531-4. 
  • Brown, David K. (2006). Nelson to Vanguard: Warship Design and Development 1923-1945. London: Chatham Publishing. ISBN 1-59114-602-X. 
  • Burt, R. A. (1993). British Battleships, 1919-1939. London: Arms and Armour Press. ISBN 1-85409-068-2. 
  • Gatacre, Galfrey George Ormond (1982). A Naval Career: Reports of Proceedings 1921–1964. Manly, New South Wales: Nautical Press & Publications. ISBN 0-949756-02-4. 
  • Parkes, Oscar (1990). British Battleships (reprint of the 1957 ed.). Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-55750-075-4. 
  • Raven, Alan; Roberts, John (1976). British Battleships of World War Two: The Development and Technical History of the Royal Navy's Battleship and Battlecruisers from 1911 to 1946. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-87021-817-4. 

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