The Royal Navy in 1914 represented the absolute naval superpower worldwide, uncontested, unbeatable both by numbers and quality of the ships and crews, the absolute reference. It was moreover the central instrument that helped shaped an immense colonial empire, and a strong symbol of worldwide supremacy. It marked so deeply the young “Willy” that the future Kaider Whilhelm II made it its personal obsession. For him Germany deserved better, and the only way to gain a colonial empire was to built a powerful navy, a rival for the Royal Navy. Knowing this since 1905, as well as the rise of the “new” US Navy impregnated by the expansionist ideas of Alfred T.Mahan, supported by the “Falcons” as well as the Japanese Navy.
A global naval superpower
Since the beginning of the reign of Queen Victoria, the Royal Navy was left without any rival on the seas. Its vast empire needed a “fleet in beeing” a force capable of showing the flag responding to any threat to its commerce or colonies, rebellions or anything endangering the coherence of the empire. If in 1960 French navy was considered its most serious rival, since the invention of the Dreadnought in 1904, Great Britain once again denied any conservatism and widely assumed a technological leadership, showing new paths to follow.
In 1914, the Royal Navy was divided among various operating theaters. Squadrons available in its most distant stations were composed only of elderly units for the majority, and through alliances could keep the bulk of its forces and most modern units into the “Grand fleet”, chiefly based at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands, north of Scotland. This fleet was at the peak of new constructions to answer the growing threat of the Hochseeflotte led by Tirpitz.
In fact, the security of the Mediterranean and precious Suez Canal was assumed by a reduced force in 1914, in agreement with the French Navy and (later) the Italian Navy ensuring the forced inactivity of the Austro-Hungarian navy, and ineptitude of the Ottoman Empire navy. Russia, allied through France, guaranteed routes to the Far East through its presence in the Pacific, and also could neutralize the Turkish navy in the Black Sea. In Asia, the Chinese fleet was a forgettable entity while the Japanese Navy (also allied) provided security against the few ships of the Kaiser in this area (Von Spee’s pacific squadron). Also the eastern Pacific and western Atlantic were more or less guaranteed by the neutrality of the American States backed by a powerful fleet. Therefore, all the British naval might could be concentrated in the North Sea.
Technological edge ?
The rise of the Hochseeflotte seriously disturbed the Admiralty. However, under the guidance of Sir John Fisher, First Lord of the Admiralty, the British navy secured a clear cut superiority in 1914. British shipbuilding programme led by William White until 1901 was internationally recognized. Number of arsenals, including the heavyweight Armstrong Vickers-Barrow in Furness, were receiving orders and cranking up cruisers for all the world’s navies at a very competitive cost. Fisher’s motto ‘built first and built fast, each one better than the last’, had allowed homogeneous series of modern battleships in a short time, allowed the Royal Navy to keep a majority of recent, updated ships.
The Dreadnought was indeed a revolution in more ways than one. First battleship “monocaliber” retaining only 305 mm cannons as a standard, in ten turrets, more than doubling the firepower of previous battleships, and first to use steam turbines (Parsons), almost matching cruiser speed, they suddenly made obsolete all the battleships in service worldwide. The irony of it was Cuniberti (An Italian Engineer) first expressed this idea in Jane’s in 1903, but it was rejected by its native country, but no lost to the British staff.
It is certain that the will of the brash Admiral Fisher was a driving force to revolutionize the British shipbuilding Industry in no time, immediately following the Dreadnought by other developments: Classes Bellerophon and St Vincent were already ordered even though the Dreadnought was not completed, their design not taking in account lessons learnt from the prototype.
Similarly, the shipbuilding rate was still seen as the decisive factor for Fisher, seen as decreasing cost, but showed some sacrifices and shortcuts for the protection of the hull, and structural weaknesses inherent in the new constraints imposed by new standard of speed and size. Furthermore, Fisher did not believe in cruisers and lighter ships, since battles theories relied on battleships only, an idea also strongly advocated by Alfred Thayer Mahan, religiously studied by those favourable to an imperialist vision. The RN in 1914 therefore relegated all its near-obsolete dreadnought to secondary stations throughout the Empire, keeping the edge at home both in quantity and quality.
However this shipbuilding fever that saw protection faults was also compounded by the poor quality of the bagged propellants and the shells themselves. In particular if protection of munitions stores was adequate at least on paper, shortcuts in training (where speed imported much) meant it would result in several devastating explosions and tragic losses at Jutland in may 1916. At the contrary the quality of British rangefinders had reached an enviable level. Accuracy was excellent although often not always effective because of the shells not exploding on impact.
Quite a formidable force indeed
To judge the importance of the matter, it is useful to compare the RN to other navies at that time: 82 battleships, 136 cruisers, 142 destroyers, 80 torpedo-boats and 80 submarines.
Covering dreadnoughts, pre-dreadnoughts and battle cruisers.
51 Pre-dreadnought battleships:
All has been in service before the HMS Dreadnought was launched in 1906 (some were still under completion). Indeed, more or less experimental, two pre-dreadnoughts, the Nelson and Howe, were launched at the same time than the revolutionary new ship.
These 51 battleships were divided into 9 classes, and an extremely homogeneous force (in contrast with the French “navy of prototypes” produced by the “young school”). They derived from a standard that imposed itself in 1890. The oldest still in service were the 8 Royal Sovereign (1891-92), followed by 10 Majestic (1895-96), the 6 Canopus (1897-98), 3 Formidable (1898) of 6 London (1899-1902 ), 6 Duncan (1901), 8 King Edward VII (1903-1905), 2 Swiftsure (1903), and 2 Nelson (1906).
FOCUS The famous HMS dreadnought started a battleship revolution in 1906, spawned imitations worldwide, set a new standard and made classic ironclads obsolete overnight. Her name became a whole type of battleships She was fast and carried 2,5 time more artillery than the average battleship of the time (2×2 305mm cannons in turrets). But she was also costly and drawned even more budget strain into the navy.
This lineage started with the HMS Dreadnought itself, in 1906. She was followed the 3 Bellorophon (1907), 3 St Vincent (1908), HMS Neptune (1909 ) 2 Collossus (1910), 4 Orion (1911), 4 King George IV (1911-1912), 2 Iron Duke (two others in completion), plus five of the Queen Elizabeth and five of the Revenge class under construction. Moreover, British shipyards has been issued with foreign orders, requisitioned in 1914. These were the HMS Erin (1913, Turkish order), HMS Agincourt (1913, Brazil order), and two Chileans battleships (Almirante Cochrane) still in construction. Some of these dreadnoughts was worth two or three times the cost and military effectiveness of a pre-dreadnought battleship (see the Agincourt impressive firepower to be convinced). This was also the beginning of an arms race which ended with the treaty of Washington in 1922.
Battlecruiser HMS Princess Royal
9 Battle Cruisers:
The “splendid cats”, dear to Sir John Fisher, were characterized by their high speed, traded for protection. There were the three Invincible class in 1907, and 3 Indefatigable class of 1909-1911 followed by the HMS Lion and Queen Mary in 1912-13. Just being completed in august 1914, was the HMS Tiger.
The term encompassed cruisers (thee rates), armoured cruisers, protected cruisers, and scout/light cruisers.
60 Armoured Cruisers
The oldest were the two Blake class (1889), held in reserve. They were followed by nine Edgar class (1893-1896), the two Powerful class (1895), designed to outperform all cruisers and answers the Russian Rurik and Rossiya, the eight Diadem class (1898), the six Cressy class (1899), four Drake class (1901), ten smaller Monmouth class (1903-04), six Devonshire class (1905), Two Duke of Edinburgh class (1904), four Warrior class (1905), and three Minotaur class (1906-1907). None of this kind was built after this, only light cruisers until the end of the Great War.
49 Protected cruisers
These ships were generally ancient and ranked as second-class cruisers by the Admiralty. Descending from frigates, thes were among the oldest in service, the eight Apollo class (21 ships originally), already pre-reserve in 1914, the eight Astraea class, nine Eclipse class four Arrogant class, six Highflyer class, five Bristol class, four Weymouth class, and five Chatham class plus the HMAS Brisbane for Australia.
15 Light cruisers (scouts)
The most ancient were fast third class cruisers, four Adventure class, Forward class, Pathfinder class and Sentinel class (1904). There were also two Blonde class (1906) tow Boadicea class (1907),three Active class (1911-1913) which formed the base for wartime cruisers characterized by a better protection.
11 Third Class Cruisers
These antediluvian vessels were hardly in service but still enlisted and maintained active. They were also more or less assimilated to large gunboats intended for isolated colonial stations. These were the eight Pelorus class (two in disarmament), and four Gem class (1903).
This was through studying different torpedo carrier and first class torpedo gunboats that Great Britain knew what was best suited to counter to the numerous torpedo boats aligned by the other European powers, including France. Let start with denominations: “Destroyer” was a simplification of language, derived from the exact “torpedo boat destroyer” a sort of “torpedo boat hunter”. The “Destroyer” denomination would remain true until today, but essentially for ocean-capable ships, equipped with an imposing artillery and scores of torpedo tubes in banks. However, the first TBDs from 1892 to 1903 were just derived from torpedo boats, therefore quite small and flimsy, coastal in nature, and usually provided with a “turtle back” bridge, to deal with pouring water in formed sea.
The “River” class in 1903 will constitute a small revolution in permanently adopting the forecastle, an innovation followed by all other destroyers to date as it was the best way to deal with the North sea conditions. This also was a trusted way to distinguish them from torpedo. Thereafter, the Royal Navy will also introduce the concept of “super-destroyer”, an inflation of tonnage leading to unique units, called “flottila leaders”, designed to lead destroyer squadrons. By size, armament and capabilities, these leaders formed the basic blueprint for British 1930s destroyer designs.
HMS Swift, destroyer leader. In fact this experimental ship of 1906, another brainchild of Admiral Fisher was largely a failure, never followed.
Although roughly similar, a hundred early destroyers were built in many shipyard under orders from the Admiralty. These manufacturers were Yarrow, Laird, Thonycroft, Doxford, Palmer, White, Earle, Fairfield, Hawthorn Leslie Armstrong, Thames Iron Works, Vickers, Donald & Wilson, Brown and Thomson. All shared similar characteristics, having a similar armament, same triple expansion steam engines, but specifications and arrangements varied from one manufacturer to another. The are classified for more practicality as “26 knotters” (5 units, 26 knots, 1893-1894), “27 knotters” (38 units, 1894-1896), “30 knotters” (61 units 1897- 1900), “33 knotters” (3 units, called “special”) and revolutionary prototypes of turbine destroyers, the Viper, Cobra and Velox (1899-1902). From 1903, the “Rivers” class of forecastle ships entered the fray with 33 units built between 1903 and 1905. These were the ancestors of the mass-produced classes of the Great War, and also the ancestors of standard destroyers worldwide. We can only explain this dispersion as a way for the admiralty to test configurations before deciding of a standard to follow.
British 27-knotter HMS Daring
With the arrival of Lord Fisher as head of the Admiralty, a new standard for destroyers was defined: It started with the “Tribal” serie, 12 rather disparate ships (1907-1909). They were followed by the great squadron leader HMS Swift, then 16 Beagle class, 20 Acorn class, 29 Acheron class, 20 Acasta class, and some of the Laforey class, in completion by in August 1914. All of these could trace their origins back to the Rivers and Tribals, but were much more standardized.
Although this weapon was regarded with disdain by the old high rank officers of the Royal Navy, no one could at that time remain indifferent to the threat they posed to much larger capital ships. So when Robert Whitehead presented his torpedo concept and brought it to the production stage, he crossed the path of John Thornycroft, who previously excelled in the production of small, fast turbine ships. He was later coined as the alleged inventor of the torpedo boat, and later its own countermeasure, the destroyer.
Who owns the authorship of this type of vessel? The British unveiled theirs in 1877, the French in 1876, the Italians in 1878, the Germans in 1871, the Austro-Hungarians in 1875, but all bought British units built by Thornycroft or Yarrow. Only Germany in 1871 had units designed locally with Devrient, equipped with a spar with an explosive charge much like Americans Civil War Spuyten Duyvil and David, respectively from the Union and the Confederacy.
TB1, also called Lightning (lightning), was therefore one of the first “standards” torpedo boats (using crude torpedo launchers). The Lightning was followed in 1878 by eleven sister ships. Then came a series of 7 meters TB13-TB18 (from different shipyards), then four “113 footers” (1884-1886), 29 “125 footers” (1885-1886), the TB39 (1882), the TB80 (first class) and TB81-82 series (6 units), and the ten “140-footers” (1892-95), eight “160 footers”(1900-1905).
Only a small number of the oldest above TBs participated in the Great War.
At their side were also held in coastal reserve a kind of lightweight TB denominated “second class”, that could be carried in theory by a battleship or a cruiser, acting as a mother ship. The HMS Vulcan was built specialized for this role. The concept of mother ship for TBs was popular in the years 1878-1885. The series concerned the TB51 (1879), TB64 to 100 (Thornycroft and Yarrow), TB1-12 (White, 1883) Yarrow TB39-50 (1888-1889). Some colonial TBs were also built in 1879-1890 for cheap harbor defense. These second-class boats were obsolete in 1914 but kept in service nevertheless.
The Latest were 36 former coastal destroyers of the Cricket class (1906-1909), reclassified as TBs.
Light cruiser HMS Undaunted (1914)
“Gunboat diplomacy” has been practiced extensively by the Royal Navy, first to meet the needs of the Crimean war, and to ensure the presence of the crown in all the colonial cities of the empire. One can appreciate the contribution of these ships in the number of units that were fielded, often of a remarkable quality, as armed masted barques which formed the bulk of these forces. In 1914, however, most of these surviving ships were quite old. There vessels of the Bramble (1886), Pigmy (1888) and Redbreast (1889) classes, namely 6 units, but also 4 Bramble (ii) steam only ships from 1898; colonial gunboat Lady Loch (1886), converted to steam, and the old colonial “cruiser” HMS Protector (1884).
Great Britain had also developed torpedo gunboats, the Grasshopper, Sharpshooter, Alarm and Dryad. The first dated from 1887, the last in 1895. 13 surviving ships were retired in 1914.
Like torpedo-boats these were despised by conservative navy officers in the admiralty, considering these an “abject”, “odious”, “dishonorable,” way to wage war at sea, considerably delaying any real progresses in this area. The most advanced were indeed the Americans and the French at the end of the XIXth century. Failing to start effective submarine series, Great Britain studied the use of foreign designs. However both the language barrier and visceral rejection of a collaboration with French engineers led to adopt of the American patent from John Holland instead. This therefore provided the first British submersible series in 1903, pursued by Vickers under license, constantly improving models.
The No. 1, built by Vickers Barrow under Holland license was the first serie. These 5 units from 1901 to 1902 served shortly: In 1913, three of them had been already scrapped, and one lost in 1912. Only No.4 was left, virtually inactive during the war. The next series, called “A” will include 13 boats, ordered in 1903-1905. The first, unsatisfactory prototype served as a target and sank in 1911. The A7 was lost at sea (purge accident) in January 1914. What followed was “B” class from 1904 to 1906 (10 in 1914) less the the B2, lost in October 1912. Considerably larger they began to differ to the US units of the “Holland” type. The 38 “C” (1906-1910) were coastal units, quite successful. The C11 was lost at sea for unknown causes in 1909. The subsequent eight boats of D-Type were much larger, followed by the first group (pre-war) Class E, 10 boats. Only three of the second group will be operational in time in August 1914.
There was also a considerable number of miscellaneous ships of all tonnage in service. Not included are depot ships and school ships (unarmed). Torpedo gunboats like HMS Vulcan (1889), and Hecla (1878). The latter was converted into that role in 1889. Both became submersible tankers and destroyers in 1915.
War shipbuilding (1914(18)
-Accepted into service was the battlecruiser HMS Tiger in 1914, the two Renown class in August 1916 and the two “light” battlecruisers of the Courageous class in January 1917. The related Furious which followed was completed as an hybrid aircraft carrier. They were also four dreadnoughts class Iron Duke, five Queen Elizabeth (1915-16), five Revenge (1916-1917) whereas other dreadnought in construction for foreign navies were requisitioned and incorporated into the RN, such as HMS Erin in August 1914 (former Turkish), HMS Agincourt in August 1914 (ex-Brazilian, former Turkish), and HMS Canada in September 1915 (ex-Chilean). Its sister ship was later converted into and aircraft carrier (HMS Eagle).
-For Its naval operations near the Belgian coast, among others, she used the monitors armed with reformed battleships naval guns, such as Abercrombie 4 (1915), 8 the Lord Clive (1915), both Marshal Soult (1915) the two Erebus (1916), both Gorgon (1918), the 6 coastal light monitors the M29 class (1915) and those smaller, class M1. They were also the three former river monitors Brazilians requisitioned Humber class (1914), who served in Africa.
The “Grand Fleet” in its last review, 1914.
15 aircraft “carriers”:
Whether proper “aircraft carrier” or ships capable of operating seaplanes, most were converted 1916-1918. One of the earliest was the Ben-My-Chree. A 1908 Liner, it was requisitioned and converted in 1915, operating 4 Short S184 seaplanes in the Mediterranean, and was sunk in 1917 by Turkish coastal artillery. It was followed by the HMS Vindex, a fast steamer from 1907, converted in 1915, and the HMS Manxman. Both were given a flight deck and therefore were able to operate a large variety of aicrafts. They were also equipped with early “catapults”. Later, in 1917, the HMS Nairana followed. The Ark Royal, Empress, Riviera, Engadine, Anne, Raven II, Pegasus, were also later converted from cargo ships and bulk carriers (coal and grain). Two more will be converted in 1919 for the Caspian Sea to support the “whites” during the Russian civil war.
The most famous of these ships were unquestionably the old Campania (1893), a former Cunard luxury liner for the Atlantic, “Blue Ribbon” winner, which was given a broad flight deck but was lost by collision in 1918. The other was the HMS Argus, converted from the Italian liner Conte Rosso, then under construction in Beardmore and requisitioned. It was not accepted into service until September 1918. The sole Real military aircraft carrier on plans was the HMS Furious which trained first generation of sea airmen. It will be used during the Second World War as an aviation transport.
The fastest of these were two conversions from cruisers of the Grand Fleet: HMS Vindictive, (former heavy cruiser Cavendish) operational in October 1918. This former light cruiser battle was converted aircraft carrier fleet following the failure of the Battle of Jutland. Operational in March 1918, he was the best school for the Royal Navy who served operationally in and changed it to was go. At the end of the war it had conducted several raids successfully and had a continuous and complete with flight deck elevators, shed and catapults.
HMS Argus in November 1918.
She pursued her career after two redesigns during the Second World War. Other conversions of this style were planned in 1916: The HMS Eagle was one of them: Dreadnought controlled by Chile under the name of Almirante Cochrane, it was taken over and completed as an aircraft carrier of Wing in 1920. He served in the second World war. The HMS Hermes on his side, was the first of an extensive program to tackle the Hochseeflotte in its hideouts in the North Sea. First aircraft designed from the outset as such, it will be launched in September 1919 and finished in February 1924. It will be lost in the Indian Ocean in 1942
32 new cruisers
These buildings were light the standards of the time. The “heavy” were the battleships-cruisers whose last dated from 1906 and the battle cruisers. It was first ships of the Arethusa class 8 vessels whose last was completed in March 1915. They were followed closely by Caroline 6 (1915), 2 Calliope (1915), 2 Birkenhead (Class “B” -1915-16), 4 Cambrian, the first class “C” (1915-1916), followed by 2 Centaur (1916), 4 Caledon 1917), and 5 Ceres 1917-1918. The series will continue shortly before the November armistice with 5 Capetown (1918-1922) whose first made their trials, 12 Danae, or class “D” from 1918 to 1922, HMS Danae being the only one of its class to participate in the conflict. HMS Cavendish, the most advanced of a new series of heavy cruisers was operational in October 1918, not as a cruiser but aircraft carrier, under the new name of HMS Vindictive (see above). It will be followed by four other sister ships in 1919-25. All buildings cities from Caledon participated in the Second World War, anti-aircraft escort converted mostly.
232 new destroyers
The yards have not rested during the conflict and not freed nearly 330 ships, often responsible for ensuring the protection of convoys. It was the 13 class ship “M” (1914), 7 leaders (squadrons drivers) class Lightfoot (1915-1916), 4 Faulknor (1914-1915), and later Parker 6, 5 Valentine , 5 and 8 Shakespeare Scott, who served as a model later for all new British destroyers, but also of international standard after the Treaty of Washington. They were also the 4 standard Medea former requisitioned Greeks (1914-1915), of 4 Talisman former requisitioned Turks (1915-1916), the “M” of mobilization because of 89 units, the first major series of mass war, followed by 62 “R” (1916-1917), 26 “V” (1917-1918), 28 “W” (1917-1918), the 69 “S” of which 24 saw the war. After the war, in 1919-20, 15 destroyers type “W-bis” also went on.
Many who are cited as S, V and W were of great help during the Second World War as escort ships in the Atlantic. All these destroyers will form the bulk of the British fleet to the mid 30. The most singular of these destroyers was not built in Britain (although inspired largely of “Rivers”), was the HMS Arno, built by Ansaldo in Genoa for Portugal under the name of Liz and bought in March 1915 to serve as an escort ship in the Mediterranean. He was also cast in the Dardanelles.
The first submersible series of war were the “E”, in fact the continuation of a class that started in 1913 and will include 47 units in total, operational between 1914 and 1916. Inspired by submersible Italians Laurenti, 3 “S” in 1915 were followed by the 4 “V” from 1915, the 4 “W” of 1915-16, the 3 “F” from 1915 to 1917, HMS Nautilus (1915) and HMS Swordfish (1916) all prototypes, but operational during the war and the K26 (postwar). They were also the 14 “G” in 1915-1916, the 17 large “K” in 1916-1917, ocean, 7 “J” from 1915 to 1917, the same ilk, the 20 “H” from 1917 to 1919 and 34 “Ha” from 1917 to 1919, of which more than half will not see the service during the great war, unlike the 12 “R” of 1918 to 8 “L” 1917 and 19 “L-bis” half of these entered service before the armistice. 5 building of the L50 class will be completed only after the war in the mass cancellations. The most monstrous submersible British, 3 of Class “M” were equipped with a 305 mm gun and intended to shore bombardment. Only M1 was operational before the armistice.
865 miscellaneous (+580 transferred from USA)
During the conflict, one of the major threats quickly appeared was the blockade against-dépoyé by German submarines. Battleships, cruisers and destroyers being shown unable to fight effectively, the Admiralty quickly chooses to launch a series of dedicated ships, quite new in the English naval hierarchy, and which were caused civilian shipyards, military being fully saturated commands. Thus was born the famous sloop class escorts “Flower”, including subclasses Acacia (1915), Azalea (1915), Arabis (1915-1916), Aubretia (1916-1917) and Anchusa (1917) , respectively 24, 12, 36, 12, 28 and buildings. The 21 type “24” operational end 1918, but some were not at the time, were notorious for their totally symmetrical line to fool the submarine on their direction.
The 20 units (1917 to 1918) of the type “PC-Boat” were “decoys”, the “boat trap” specially constructed alongside the many conversions of cargo, and for disclosing their artillery, previously hidden under the submersible German guard vessel at the last moment, leaving no chance. With the development of the “unrestricted submarine warfare”, the submariners Germans increasingly bothered to board cargo ships and ran them without warning, making this type of obsolete units. The idea is not lost, it will be recovered during the next war … by the Germans. Finally, sites used to deliver destroyers found themselves ordering 43 “P-Boats”, the “patrol” specialized, lightweight and coastal. In retrospect, they were the first submarine hunters, quickly supported by the armada of SC-Boats and Eagle Boats made by the USA in 1918. In the same spirit, and next to a large number of conversions were built 80 high st class patrol boats “Kil”, inspired by whalers and more efficient than the converted trawler, as well as 15 smaller Z-Whaler.
In mine warfare, the RN 24 dredgers deployed in impeller of Ascot class, followed by 8 and 7 Banbury Fulmar, and put an end to this type of propulsion inappropriate Hunt with 20 and 32 Aberdare. 14 Dance were coastal units. In order to serve China, the Royal Navy also ordered the construction of 16 “Fly”, and 12 “Insect” to serve on the Danube. These were armed with pieces of cruisers and armored. Including the Dardanelles, the RN devised landings barges, type X-Lighter, 250 units followed by 90 Y-Lighter, and 20 barges to serve the Middle East. coastal defense units, but also adapted to the war in the inning were deployed in large numbers in 1917, inspired by the MAS Italians: They were the torpedo boats of the type CMB, series 40, 55 and 70 feet, respectively 38, 87 and 7 units, and 580 ML, light gun, constructed by mass Elco USA.
Aircraft carriers 15
A comprehensive source (in English and German): xxx