An historical landmark
HMS Dreadnought in old Englishman “fear nothing”, is certainly one these vessels that changed history, creating a whole new class after its launch. There was a “before” and an “after” Dreadnought.
This ship indeed was the first to step up the battleship concept to a higher level. First it was the french Napoleon, first steam ship of the line in 1850, then the Gloire (wooden armoured frigate) in 1859 and the first ironclad HMS Warrior 1860. Then it was the invention of the Coles turrets, replacing guns ports and traversing batteries, first introduced by the HMS Captain in 1870. With the gradual disappearance of sails in the 1880s, revolution in steam engines (triple expansion), more complex and bigger battleships using turrets and barbettes up to the standards of the “pre dreadnought” battleship build by all major maritime Nations from 1890 to 1906. Invariably, they had four 305 mm in twin turrets, and secondary guns of 203 or 254 mm, then from 152 to 106 mm, completed by QF guns to deal with torpedo boats, 76, 57, 47, 37 and 20 mm caliber, not to mention submarine torpedo tubes. Symmetrical, using coal, measuring from 110 to 135 meters long, 22 to 25m wide for 15,000 tonnes they could achieve on average 16 to 18 knots.
The genesis of the Dreadnought deserves a book by itself, but it was clear conservatism in battleship designed ruled at the beginning of the century. However, new kind of ideas appeared in 1890 that seemed to find echoes: The armoured cruiser. Perfect hybrid, the concept joined speed (and other cruiser qualities) while still possessing potent weaponry (254mm guns), and enough armor to withstand heavy fire from other cruisers or even take older ironclads. These ships came to shine in the Russo-Japanese war, and also before in the 1898 Spanish-American war where these ships proved their effectiveness in combat.
The 1st All big gun steam turbine battleship
Early in the century, the British were building powerful cruisers including an assortment of heavy guns in 6 turrets and more, such as the HMS Defence or the Minotaur class. Italy, which had always be also innovative in naval technology, looked for such an alternative to traditional battleships. Engineer and theorician Colonel Vittorio Cuniberti had proposed to the italian Admiralty in 1903 its own “fast battleship” project armed twin turrets of a large caliber. His project, initially rejected, was however published in Jane’s Fighting Ships and came into view to many naval officers. The idea pleased Jackie Fisher, the then young an brash First Lord of the Admiralty, so much that he mandated a study by a special commission. The latter quickly suggested a rough blueprint, and the HMS Dreadnought’s keel was finally laid down in October 1905 in Portsmouth, and launched February 10, 1906, an unprecedented speed record for such ship.
Cuniberti’s plans were eventually endorsed by the Italian naval staff that ordered four battleships of the Regina Elena class. These were still “classic” battleships with two main turrets, but fast, and provided with a very powerful secondary armament. Therefore the Dreadnought will remain the first of this new generation of battleships. With the Dreadnought, the Royal Navy, which already had an overwhelming numerical superiority, further increase the distance technologically with its potential rivals. The delay for these to catch up left the advantage to constitute a sizable force of dreadnoughts until 1914.
This ship was radically different than the previous class Nelson, started earlier but launched in June and September 1906. They had only two turrets with 305 mm, against five twin for the Dreadnought. However, the Nelsons were modified during construction, receiving 6 single and double 254 mm turrets, faster than the 305 and almost equal in range. They also managed to reach 18 knots, against 21 for the Dreadnought. Above all, the Dreadnought only had ten 76 mm as secondary armament, illustrating perfectly the concept of “monocaliber” or “all big guns” battleship. Since size was already far greater than the pre-dreadnoughts, arrangement were made to give at least three of the turrets maximal traverse. Indeed, A, D and E turrets were centerline, while the B and C were located on each sides, with about 190° traverse (they could fire either on chase or retreat). The second important point were its steam turbine that helped this heavy ship pass the 20 knots realm, reserved until then to cruisers and smaller ships. This was not the 23 knots planned by Cuniberti, though.
The Dreadnought in service
The HMS Dreadnought was accepted into service in December 1906. Already it has inspired the construction of the Bellerophon and St Vincent classes. Their artillery disposal, superstructures and dimensions were similar. The new standard they imposed also traduced in longer dimensions, from 130 to 160 meters long but still 25m wide, for 18,000 tonnes against 15,000 tonnes in displacement. The artillery field of fire consisted in 6 x305mm in chase, 8 in retreat, and 8 for broadsides.
The Operational career of the Dreadnought spanned however only 15 years (scrapped 1921). At first it was the flagship of the 4th Battle Squadron, and served in the North Sea with the Home Fleet, and managing to sink the U29 (Cdt Weddingen) in March 1915 by ramming it. She received an overhaul in 1916 and returned into service with the 3rd Battle Squadron at Sheerness, receiving 24 and 27 pieces of 76 mm (QF and AA). She later returned with the 4th Battle Squadron of the Grand Fleet, until the armistice. She was placed in reserve at Rosyth in 1919.
The Dreadnought simply put to shame anything called a battleship to date. It could out-range, out-gun and out-pace all of these with a margin, and take punishment if needed. It single-handily launched a global naval race which really started in 1909 and peaked in 1919, before a treaty put an end to this folly. It was also the start of an Anglo-German naval arms race and a South American dreadnought race. Before 1920 about 120 dreadnought has been launched worldwide, hulls were being completed for new ones, blueprints slept in folders, or their ink was still wet on the drawing boards. However at that time, the concept was shifting towards even faster ships, the “super-dreadnoughts” that would reach at the end of ww2 close to 32 knots, twice the speed of typical 1914 pre-dreadnoughts.
The Dreadnought on wikipedia
Specs Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1906-1921.
HMS Dreadnought specifications
|Dimensions||160,6 x 25 x 9,4 m|
|Displacement||18 110t, 21 845t FL|
|Propulsion||2 screws, 2 Parsons turbines, 18 Babcock & W boilers 23,000 hp|
|Speed||21 knots (xx km/h; xx mph)|
|Range||xx nmi (xx km, xx mi)|
|Armament||10 x305 mm (5×2), 10 x76mm, 5 TT 457mm (sub)|
|Armor||Belt 280, Battery 280, Barbettes 280, turrets 280, blockhaus 280, bridge 76mm.|