Majestic-class battleship

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HMS Mars LOC ggbain 16923.jpg
Class overview
Name: Majestic-class battleship
Builders: Laird Brothers, Birkenhead;
J & G Thomson, Clydebank;
Chatham Dockyard;
Pembroke Dockyard;
Portsmouth Dockyard
Operators: Royal Navy
Preceded by: HMS Renown
Succeeded by: Canopus class
Built: 1893–98
In commission: December 1895 – November 1921
Completed: 9
Lost: 1
Retired: 8
General characteristics
Displacement: 16,060 t (15,810 long tons; 17,700 short tons)
Length: 421 ft (128 m)
Beam: 75 ft (23 m)
Draught: 27 ft (8.2 m)
Propulsion: 2 × 3-cylinder triple expansion steam engines, twin screws
Speed: 16 knots (30 km/h; 18 mph)
Complement: 672

The Majestic class was a class of pre-dreadnought battleships, built under the Spencer Programme (named after the First Lord of the Admiralty, John Poyntz Spencer, 5th Earl Spencer) of 8 December 1893, that sought to counter the growing naval strength of France and the Russian Empire. With nine units commissioned, they were the largest class of battleships in history in terms of the number of member ships. This class was designed by Sir William White.


Right elevation, deck plan, and hull section as depicted in Brassey's Naval Annual 1902

In 1891 Rear Admiral Jackie Fisher, then the Controller, issued a request for a new battleship design based on the Royal Sovereign class, but that incorporated a recently designed 12 in (305 mm) gun and Harvey armour, which was significantly stronger than compound armour. The Director of Naval Construction, William Henry White, prepared a preliminary design for a 12,500 tonnes (12,300 long tons; 13,800 short tons) ship armed with four of the 12-inch guns and protected with an armour belt that was 9 inches (229 mm) thick. White submitted the design on 27 January 1892 to the Board. Since Harvey armour was so much stronger than compound plate, less of it could be used for the same level of protection, allowing for a significant savings in weight. As a result, the protection scheme could be made stronger and more comprehensive than in the Royal Sovereigns, while keeping the rise in displacement to a minimum. This included the fitting of fully-enclosed armoured gun shields for the main battery guns.[1]

The Board approved the design and intended to lay down three ships under the 1892 programme, but work on the 12-inch gun was taking longer than predicted, and so construction was delayed to the 1893 programme. By that time, the third ship of what was to be the Majestic class was redesigned as a second-class battleship, Renown, leaving only two ships to be laid down under the 1893 estimates. By August 1893, however, the public perceived the strength of the Royal Navy to have fallen relative to its traditional rivals, the French and Russian navies. John Spencer, the First Lord of the Admiralty, proposed a large naval expansion plan referred to as the Spencer Programme that included seven more Majestic-class battleships to soothe public opinion.[1]

The Majestics were to be a benchmark for all successor pre-dreadnoughts. While the preceding Royal Sovereign-class battleships had revolutionized and stabilised British battleship design by introducing the high-freeboard battleship with four main-battery guns in twin mountings in barbettes fore and aft, it was the Majestics that settled on the 12 inch (305 mm) main battery and began the practice of mounting armoured gunhouses over the barbettes; these gunhouses, although very different from the old-style, heavy, circular gun turrets that preceded them, would themselves become known as "turrets" and became the standard on warships worldwide.[2][3][4] The Majestic class—which was the largest class of battleships ever built—were some of the most successful battleships of their time, and they were widely copied.[1] Indeed, the Japanese Shikishima and Mikasa classes were based directly on the Majestics.[5]

General characteristics and machinery[edit]

The Majestics were 390 feet (120 m) long between perpendiculars and 421 feet (128 m) long overall They had a beam of 75 ft (23 m) and a draft of 27 ft (8.2 m). They displaced up to 16,060 t (15,810 long tons; 17,700 short tons) at full combat load. The ships had a freeboard of 25 ft (7.6 m) forward, 17 ft 3 in (5.26 m) amidships, and 18 ft 6 in (5.64 m) aft. The Majestics were considered good seaboats, in large part due to their high freeboard, with an easy roll and good steamers, although they suffered from high fuel consumption. They were nevertheless very manoeuvrable. They were fitted with two pole masts, each with two fighting tops. Except for Caesar, Hannibal, and Illustrious, they had a new design in which the bridge was mounted around the base of the foremast behind the conning tower to prevent a battle-damaged bridge from collapsing around the tower. The ships had a crew of 672–760 officers and enlisted men.[2][6]

Their propulsion system consisted of two 3-cylinder triple expansion engines, each driving a single screw. Steam was provided by eight coal-fired fire tube boilers, which were trunked into a pair of funnels placed side by side. By 1907–1908, the ships had been re-boilered with oil-fired models.[7] Their engines were rated at 10,000 indicated horsepower (7,500 kW) at normal draught, and they provided a top speed of 16 knots (30 km/h; 18 mph). At forced draught, they could reach 12,000 ihp (8,900 kW) and 17 knots (31 km/h; 20 mph).[2]


Majestic‍ '​s forward 12-inch gun; note the 12-pounder mounted atop the turret

Majestic and her sisters were armed with four BL 12-inch Mk VIII guns in twin turrets, one forward and one aft. The turrets were placed on pear-shaped barbettes; the first six ships had this arrangement, but the last two, Caesar and Illustrious, circular barbettes. This calibre would become the standard for all future British battleship classes. They were the first new British battleships to mount a 12 inch main battery since the 1880s. The new gun was a significant improvement on the 13.5 inch (343 mm) gun which had been fitted on the Admiral and Royal Sovereign classes that preceded the Majestics, and was significantly lighter.[7][2] The 12-inch gun had a muzzle velocity of 2,500 feet per second (760 m/s), and it could fire a 850-pound (390 kg) shell out to a range of 13,900 yards (12,700 m). The BII mountings in the first six ships allowed all-around loading from the supply of ready ammunition kept in the turret, but the guns would have to return to the centerline to bring ammunition up from the magazines. Caesar and Illustrious, with their circular barbettes, had BIII mountings, and these allowed all-around loading from the magazines. Both the BII and BIII mounts had a range of elevation from -5 degrees to 13.5 degrees, with the loading angle at maximum elevation. During World War I, four of the Majestics were disarmed, and these guns were used to arm eight Lord Clive-class monitors. A further two turrets from Illustrious were later emplaced as coastal guns on the Tyne.[8]

The saving in weight from the main battery allowed the Majestic class to carry a secondary battery of twelve QF 6-inch /40, a larger secondary armament than in previous classes. These were mounted in casemates in two gun decks amidships,[7][2] and they fired a 100-pound (45 kg) shell at a muzzle velocity of 2,205 ft/s (672 m/s). Elevated at 15 degrees, they could hit targets out to 10,000 yards (9,100 m).[9] The ships also carried sixteen QF 12-pounder Mk I guns and twelve QF 2-pounder Mk I guns. These were placed in a variety of mounts, including in casemates, on the main battery turret roofs, and in the fighting tops. The ships wew also equipped with five 18 in (460 mm) torpedo tubes, four of which were submerged in the ship's hull, with the last in a deck-mounted launcher.[2] Woolwich Arsenal manufactured the torpedoes, which were the Mark IV model; these carried a 200-pound (91 kg) warhead and had a range of 750 yards (690 m) at a speed of 27.5 knots (50.9 km/h; 31.6 mph).[10]


The Majestic-class ships had 9 inches (229 mm) of Harvey armour on the armoured belt, which allowed equal protection with less cost in weight compared to previous types of armour. This allowed the ships to have a deeper and lighter belt than previous battleships without any loss in protection.[7] The belt armour extended for 220 feet (67 m) along the hull; it covered 5 ft 6 in (1.68 m) above the waterline and 9 ft 6 in (2.90 m) below. The belt was connected by a 14 in (356 mm) thick transverse bulkhead forward and a 12-inch thick bulkhead aft. The barbettes for the main battery were protected with 14 in of armour on their exposed sides, while the portion that was masked by the belt were reduced to 7 in (178 mm). The gunhouses for the main battery had 10 in (254 mm) thick faces. The secondary guns' casemates were 6 in thick. The conning tower had the same thickness of steel on the sides. The ship's armoured deck was 3 in (76 mm) thick on the central portion, with 4 in (102 mm) thick sloped sides that connected to the bottom edge of the belt armour. The deck was reduced to 2.5 in (64 mm) toward the bow and stern.[2][6]


Caesar fitting out at Portsmouth
Name Builder[2] Laid down[2] Launched[2] Completed[2]
Caesar Portsmouth Dockyard 25 March 1895 2 September 1896 January 1898
Hannibal Pembroke Dockyard 1 May 1894 28 April 1896 April 1898
Illustrious Chatham Dockyard 11 March 1895 17 September 1896 April 1898
Jupiter J & G Thomson, Clydebank 24 April 1894 18 November 1895 May 1897
Magnificent Chatham Dockyard 18 December 1893 19 December 1894 December 1895
Majestic Portsmouth Dockyard February 1894 31 January 1895 December 1895
Mars Laird Brothers 2 June 1894 30 March 1896 June 1897
Prince George Portsmouth Dockyard 10 September 1894 22 August 1895 November 1896
Victorious Chatham Dockyard 28 May 1894 19 October 1895 November 1896

Service history[edit]

The Majestics served in home waters and the Mediterranean (and Victorious served briefly on the China Station) from their introduction in the 1890s until World War I began in August 1914. Like all pre-dreadnoughts, the Majestics were effectively made obsolete by the introduction of Dreadnought in 1906, and by the beginning of World War I, they were (with the exception of the Royal Sovereign class battleship HMS Revenge), the oldest and least effective battleships in service in the Royal Navy. Majestic and Prince George saw active service early in the war, Majestic bombarding German positions in Belgium in 1914 and both ships in action against Ottoman forts and shore batteries in the Dardanelles Campaign in 1915–1916, during which Majestic became the only ship of the class to be lost. The rest of the ships spent the early months or years of the war on guard ship duties before being disarmed for subsidiary service as troopships, depot ships, and ammunition ships during the war's later years and the immediate post-war period, although Caesar survived in battleship form as a guardship until 1918. All surviving ships were scrapped between 1919 and 1923.[11][12]


  1. ^ a b c Burt, pp. 139–140.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Gardiner, p. 34.
  3. ^ Hodges, p. 33.
  4. ^ Sondhaus, p. 168.
  5. ^ Gardiner, p. 221.
  6. ^ a b Burt, p. 139.
  7. ^ a b c d Gibbons, p. 137.
  8. ^ Friedman, pp. 52–55.
  9. ^ Friedman, pp. 87–89.
  10. ^ Friedman, p. 329.
  11. ^ Burt, pp. 134, 136.
  12. ^ Gardiner & Gray, p. 7.


  • Burt, R. A. (1988). British Battleships 1889–1904. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-0-87021-061-7. 
  • Friedman, Norman (2011). Naval Weapons of World War I. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1-84832-100-7. 
  • Gardiner, Robert, ed. (1979). Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships, 1860–1905. Greenwich: Conway Maritime Press. ISBN 978-0-8317-0302-8. 
  • Gardiner, Robert; Gray, Randal, eds. (1985). Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships, 1906–1921. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-0-87021-907-8. 
  • Gibbons, Tony (1983). 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. ISBN 978-0-86101-142-1. 
  • Hodges, Peter (1981). The Big Gun: Battleship Main Armament, 1860–1945. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0870219170. 
  • Sondhaus, Lawrence (2001). Naval Warfare, 1815–1914. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-21478-0. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Parkes, Oscar (1990). British Battleships. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-55750-075-4. 

External links[edit]