PART I: A new breed of super dreadnoughts
The Queen Elisabeth class battleships carved quite a path in the Royal Navy. When they appeared they redefined altogether the dreadnought genre, levelling up to “super-dreadnought” or “fast battleship”. By their heavy armament, oil-fired turbines and greater speed they outclassed all their opponents and allowed the Royal Navy to keep a 2-3 years advantage. They were not cheap also, and the admiralty -which appreciated their qualities- were constrained for the next class to look for a cheaper and less ambitious alternative: The Resolutions.
But outside their revolutionary character, the five of the “QE” class had a fantastic career, very active in both wars, and instrumental during WW2, notably in the Mediterranean. The paradox was they were still slower than the new King Georges V class, but in a sense, better armed, and the latter did not shine the same way, notably when looking at the Prince of Wales – Granted, a victim of unusual conditions.
*Note: This very important post is scheduled in two parts, notably because of he very long career of all five ships. The second part will focus more on their WW2 career.
The Great War levellers
The Queen Elizabeth class were designed to take the lead in battleship development worldwide, like for the Dreadnought barely ten years earlier. Within these ten years, both the Royal Navy and Kaiserliches Marine rivalled over numbers and qualities of dreadnoughts, and were also the only ones cranking up battlecruisers in 1914 (outside Japan).
As Winston Churchill became First Lord of the Admiralty (October 1911) the 1911–1912 Naval Programme included the four Iron Duke and battlecruiser HMS Tiger while preliminary design work started for the next 1912–1913 Naval Programme capital ships.
These new battleships were to be designated Design N, but nothing has been found in Admiralty records and Norman Friedman argued that the O was unused and P was reserved for a slow, ten 15 in design after a simple note in naval construction archives during the War, and possible precursor to the Queen Elisabeth class.
General appearance of the Queen Elisabeth class in 1915-16
Churchill and Admiral Sir Jackie Fisher correspondence give however some clues in the direction to take in 1911. He advocated for a fast (possibly 28-knot) battleship with a 4×2 main guns configuration but slightly less armoured than a battleship. He called this a “super-Lion”, in reference to his cherished “splendid cats”, and lead ship HMS Lion. The Director of Naval Construction (DNC), legendary Sir Philip Watts, was asked by Fisher to prepare also this Design, named “Q” and another, slower one with more protection called Design R. The lack of documentation over this does not tell more about when the second design was eventually adopted. It seemed both Churchill and Fisher agreed on design Q, against the admiralty. Fisher was no longer first lord of the admiralty by then, but Churchill was.
Tactically, these fast ships were supposed to make the classic “T-crossing” manoeuvre, joining the head of a battleline. But they were also seen as battlecruisers hunters. The latter were more heavily armoured as this was known at the time thanks to spying. Churchill sent a memo to Rear-Admiral Gordon Moore, Third Sea Lord on 27 October 1912. In this he argued that “the speed and long range artillery of the new design was to be a deterrent to German battlecruisers trying to out-manoeuvre the grand fleet battle line. In fact, Fisher advocated for a mixed battlecruiser-battleship for the 1913 program, eventually rebuffed by Churchill, to the dismay of the former.
HMS Queen Elisabeth’s rendition – the blueprints
Artillery: A risky choice
Churchill therefore also ordered a 42-calibre BL 15-inch Mk I gun codenamed “14-inch Experimental” to be studied in January 1912. It was a hardy move, due to the short delays, with as price serious delays in completion of the new battleships. However, the turret were quicker to create and one was successfully tested on 6 May 1914.
The choice of fuel oil
The Admiralty eventually endorsed Churchill’s will and approved the Queen Elizabeths on 15 June 1912. However they raised the issue of fuel oil or a mix with coal to be decided soon after. Eventually the program received the Board’s stamp, with full oil burning boilers. Fuel tanks had to receive specially new requirements, Eustace Tennyson d’Eyncourt (the new DNC) Watts, deplored this last minute change which could add additional displacement of 300 tonnes. This choice also led Churchill to negotiate the Anglo-Persian Oil Convention, which had profound consequence in the long run for the middle east…
The powerplant as specified should be powerful enough to reach 25 knots (46 km/h; 29 mph), which was quite a departure over previous designs indeed. Due to this, the fourth planned battlecruiser of the lion class was dropped, replaced by a fourth of these new fast battleships (Barham). It happened the Federation of Malay States funded a fifth one, soon to be named HMS Malaya. The class was complete, the five ship scheme was repeated on the next Revenge, and in the 1940s King Georges V class.
HMS Barham, Malaya and Argus circa 1925
On their blueprints, the QE class showed a greater length than previous vessels of the Iron Duke: 600 feet 6 inches (183.0 m) between perpendiculars, 634 ft 6 in (193.4 m) waterline, and 643 ft 9 in (196.2 m) overall. The Iron Dukes were (189.8 m) by comparison.
Their beam was 90 feet 6 inches (28 m) vs. 27.4m for a 33 feet 7 inches (10.2 m) vs 9.9m draft deeply load. They were definitely larger, and this traduced into their displacement:
32,590 long tons (33,113 t) normal, 33,260 long tons (33,790 t) deeply loaded versus 25,000 tons/29,500 on the Iron Duke, quite a remarkable increase, of 3,750 tonnes, a light cruiser. Metacentric height was 6.5 feet (2.0 m) deeply loaded, which stayed acceptable. Peacetime crew was 923, up to wartime 951 officers and sailors, and in 1920, 1,025 and 1,262 as flagship. Officers could enjoy a stern-walk at the stern, a long-standing tradition.
Inside their larger engine rooms were mounted by two sets of direct-drive Parsons steam turbines (lead ship), Warspite and Malaya but Brown-Curtis on the following Barham and Valiant. Cruising turbines were also installed on the first three ships, not the last two, as the B&O turbines were larger. These auxiliary turbines helped saving fuel at slow speeds.
The turbines were connected to a shaft each, driving a 12-foot (3.7 m), three-bladed propeller. Steam was provided by 24 Babcock & Wilcox boilers. They worked at a pressure of 235 psi (1,620 kPa; 17 kgf/cm2). Warspite and Barham differed by having Yarrow boilers, rated at the same level. These numerous boilers were ducted into a pair of tall and broad funnels, close together, which gave them a characteristic look, otherwise, only the amidsdhip turret on the Iron Duke was a sure recognition tip.
Turbines on the first three ships comprised compartimentation, with three watertight rooms for the low-pressure turbines in the centre and the high-pressure outboard. That way, a torpedo hit could not cripple the ship, which keeps some mobility. These turbines were rated at a total of 75,000 shaft horsepower (56,000 kW) with forced heating, but the design speed of 25 knots (46 km/h; 29 mph), was never met. Rather, HMS Barham on sea trials reached in August 1916 23.9 knots (44.3 km/h; 27.5 mph), on a 70,788 shp (52,787 kW) rating, fully loaded. 3,400 long tons (3,500 t) of fuel oil were stored, allowing a 5,000 nautical miles (9,300 km; 5,800 mi) radius, cruising at 12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph). At full speed, around 23 knots, they were still able to manage 1,600 nautical miles (3,000 km; 1,800 mi).
The last class before the Queen Elisabeth, HMS Iron Duke, displaced 29,500 fully loaded, for 29,000 shp (22,000 kW) and 21,25 knots.
Armament of the Queen Elisabeth class
One of the most crucial aspect of the design was a radical caliber upgrade, from 13.5-inch (343 mm) guns to 15 in (381 mm) guns; Since the beginning, only a 4×2 configuration was retained. There was no way to fit a axial fifth turret amidship without making the hull longer, with a displacement approaching 40,000 tonnes. This was uncharted territory at the time; In addition, the lack of central turret saved addition armour and headache to keep the overall displacement and metacentric height reasonably low. But nevertheless, the last three classes, Orion, KGV and Iron Dukes had this armament, and the procurement of a larger gun was expected to take years. Churchill’s gamble was bold, to procure the guns in time for completion. Therefore work started in 1912.
Queen Elisabeth’s main artillery
To shortcut the usual process, the BL 15-inch/42 Mark I was basically an enlarged BL 13.5 inch /45 naval gun. The design was exactly the same. It became the best British gun developed for battleships, in both wars. To read more about its development see the armament section of WW2 British Battleships. This upgrade was the direct result of the last German dreadnought class, the Bayern, planned since 1910 and which details transpired over her main artillery of eight 38 cm (15 in) SK L/45 guns.
This became a race against time, both compared to the own ship’s delivery and German’s. This wire-wound gun was made of 76 grooves. It weighted 97 tonnes in all, with a breech mechanism of 2 tons 17cwt. Shells weighted 1,920 lbs (4 AP crh). Using separate charges, muzzle velocity was 2,450 feet per second (750 m/s) and later 2,640 feet per second (800 m/s), with the interwar supercharge, and a range of 33,550 yards (30,680 m) (with the Mk XVIIB/Mk XXII streamlined model), versus 23,000 on the previous Iron Duke. Each of these turret could fire two volleys a minute, therefore sixteen shells were fired every 60 seconds. The gun was introduced late in the completion, despite rushing its development, bypassing prototype steps and testing stages.
This gun was argued by an US specialist as possibly the best heavy naval gun of WW2, meeting all expectations in action, with an impressive hunting board. Their Mk1 mount allowed an elevation of 20°. These guns were so good, they were used by the next Revenge class battleships, Renown-class and HMS Hood, Courageous-class battlecruisers and Monitors of the Erebus, Marshal Ney, and Roberts-class, and also the last British Battleship ever completed, HMS Vanguard. Accuracy was excellent, as shown at Jutland, Calabria and Mers El Kebir. On the Queen Elisabeth, they were mounted in four turrets, two pairs of super-firing ones called A,B,X,Y. 80 rounds were stored for each.
Queen Elisabeth’s secondary artillery
The ships comprised either 12 or 14 BL 6-inch (152 mm) Mk XII guns. They had had a muzzle velocity of 2,825 ft/s (861 m/s) and fired a 100-pound (45 kg) shell, capable of 13,600 yd (12,400 m) at max range.
In the original blueprint, twelve were to be mounted in casemates on the upper deck, six on the broadside amidships, four guns on the main deck aft. Just as for USN ships, low casemates were subjected to flooding problems in heavy seas as shown by the Iron Duke class and on the design they were moved back, between ‘A’ and ‘B’ turret. The aft guns were more prone to flooding still, and were virtually useless even in moderate seas. Only Queen Elizabeth was completed with them; one pair was removed (so from 14 to 12) and the other was repositioned on the forecastle and protected by gun shields by May 1915 during completion. The remaining casemates were plated over to improve seaworthiness and modifications were ported on the other during fitting-out. These standard 6-in guns were provided a total of 130 rounds, with immediate stowage of rounds in ready ammunition hoists located at the forward end of the battery.
Queen Elisabeth’s tertiary artillery
3-inch AA gun and crew on HMS Royal Oak – IWM
The rapid fire and simplification of supplies made all the light artillery gradually disappear. HMS Dreadnought showed the way with a set of 3-in guns to deal with destroyers and TBs, and the Queen Elisabeth class eliminated them altogether, only maintaining two single 3 in (76 mm) AA guns for air defence, the new threat just recognised in 1913. The reasoning was the secondary guns, being able to fire at a rate per minute, 5-7 rpm at 21 yards, should be able to deal with any approaching destroyer or TB beyond torpedo range.
The QF 3 inch 20 cwt anti-aircraft gun were not initially planned in 1914 but they were added during completion, and became standard in the Royal Navy. They were derived from the common BL 3-in in service already in the three forces (naval, air, ground), a very ubiquitous ordnance piece of artillery.
This 3-in gun fired a shell with Fixed casing, QF HE 76.2 x 420mm R weighting 12.5 lb (5.7 kg) for the 1914 model but 16 lb (7.3 kg) in 1916. The exact caliber was 76.2 mm.
The gun used a semi-auto Breech with a sliding-block, and a recoil of 11 inches, working with an hydro spring, constant course.
The high-angle carriage was static, allowing 360° and -10° – 90° in elevation.
Its rate of fire was 16–18 rpm, muzzle velocity 2,500 ft/s (760 m/s) with the 12.5 lb shell), down to 2,000 ft/s (610 m/s) for the 16 lb shell and a firing range of 16,000 ft (4,900 m) effective, up to 22-23,500 ft (7,200 m) at maximal range.
In addition the ship mounted four 3-pounder, 47-mmm or 1.9 in saluting guns.
The four 21 in (533 mm) torpedo tubes were also standard, mounted in the broadside underwater, two pairs either side. 20 spare torpedoes were carried in all; The model was also standard ordnance, shared and used by all ships in the Royal Navy at that time. Torpedoes were fired by capital ships inline during the Jutland, but without any results.
Fire control of the Queen Elizabeth class in 1915
Each of the five battleships carried two fire-control directors. One was mounted above the conning tower with an armoured hood and walls. It housed a 15-foot (4.6 m) Barr & Stoud concidence rangefinder. The other was mounted on top of the tripod mast, with a smaller, 9-foot (2.7 m) rangefinder. ‘X’ turret directed the main armament but in case it was disabled, each turret was fitted with its own 15-foot rangefinder. ‘B’ and ‘X’ turrets rangefinders were swapped for larger, 30-foot (9.1 m) models after the war, from 1919.
-There was a torpedo-control director as well, fitted with a 9-foot rangefinder, on the aft end of the bridge structure.
-6-in guns were controlled by smaller directors mounted on the compass platform sides of the foremast, fitted in March 1917.
Also for long range observation and artillery spotting, the ship’s vision was extended by Flying-off platforms on ‘B’ and ‘X’ turrets roofs in 1918. They could launched fighters (Sopwith Camel) and reconnaissance aircraft, served by removable cranes.
The ship had rangekeepers, and fire control tables of the mechanical era such as the Dumaresq Mk IV/Admiralty fire control table. The Argo aim corrector was never adopted by the admiralty when presented in 1913.
The electrical dumaresq model was supposed to be one step ahead of the 1911 Mark VI Table. The electric model modified by F.C. Dreyer was the zenith in complexity, applied to the Mark IV and Mark IV*. The Dreyer system was sitting atop a range clock. It was helm-free, with a gyro for keeping course, bearing clock for the plate settings. There was an elaborate electrical device would automatically apply the indicated range to the clock, converted speed-data and integrated gunnery deflection. HMS Hood inaugurated the Mk.V table in 1920 with the Dreyer fire control system.
Directing long-range gunfire was highlighted at the Battle of Jutland. The British thought they had the world’s finest fire control system, manual, but actually 3% of their shots met their intended targets. There was only one British ship with a mechanical fire control system, and soon rangekeepers became standard.
Read More:Ballistic computers 1914-18 And ballistic rangekeepers and accuracy at Jutland and more on the Dreyer fire control table.
Video: Complete overview of the ship by Drachinfel
Armour protection derived from the Iron Duke class, but with a thicker belt and better underwater protection (compartimentation). The waterline belt was made of Krupp cemented armour (KC) 13 inches (330 mm) thick over the center, between the turret’s barbettes. Gun turrets 13 inches (330 mm) faces, 11 in (279 mm) sides of KC armour. They were supported by barbettes 7–10 inches (178–254 mm) thick. The froward conning tower had 13 inches thick walls. The deck armour was the same as previous classes, weak, but typical of the time. They went from 1 to 3 inches (25 to 76 mm). After Jutland, high-tensile steel plates 1-in thick were welded to the main deck, just over the ammunition magazine roofs. Also anti-flash systems were added in there as well, in addition to automatic flooding valves. Compared to the main gun caliber (381 mm) it was relatively weak, at the exception of sloped internal armor and turret’s sides.
A debatable design
On paper, requirements were difficult to achieve, as so much was asked in terms of novelties in the design. They failed to check all the boxes, as being seriously overweight, with a draught in excess of ten meters causing some considerable drag, which in turn impacted the top speed. In the end it fell well below the planned 25 knots, at barely 21 knots, hardly “battlecruiser setting”.
The combination of oil fuel with more boilers than in the Iron Duke however allowed to regain a service 23 knots (43 km/h; 26 mph) speed, and that small difference made her worthy of the title of the first fast battleships.
The battle of Jutland, where these ships participated, made Admiral Jellicoe assumed that the new battleline speed standard was to be 23 knots, and therefore there was no justification to detach these new QE class dreadnoughts from the battle line as previously thought.It should be noted than in 1940 after three refit, the powerplant was able to deliver an output of 80,000 hp, with half a knot gain, due to a broader beam, enhanced ASW armor, AA armament and considerable superstructure additions. With that power back in 1916, the designed speed of 25 knots would have been reached.
On the armament plan, secondary to be precise as the main guns gave all satisfaction, Captain Morgan Singer, at the head of the gunnery school (HMS Excellent) voiced his concerns about this the 6-in guns ammunition hoists. For him, reports over time clearly shown they had been proven inefficient already in pre-dreadnoughts and recommended using dredger hoists for fast supply. The Admiralty rejected this, based on defence against destroyers torpedo range statistics and to maintain a break in the cordite supply for safety reason.
But in service this decision had appealing consequences as crews stockpiled additional rounds in the vicinity of the guns, breaking this safety rule. As a result, an ammunition fire broke onboard HMS Malaya during the Battle of Jutland with severe consequences, almost fatal. It is well possible that was a main reason behind the HMS Hood initial fire in May 1941, and also possible fire starters onboard the three battlecruisers lost at Jutland, although the main rounds and cordite bags stored would be the main culprit.
Construction and the sixth ship
The large size of the ships needed at least 250 m long and 45 m wide basins. Five yards took over construction of the ships in short order to have them out as soon as possible. HMS Queen Elisabeth, the lead ship, saw her keel laid down at HM Dockyard, Portsmouth 21 October 1912. Ten days after, it was HMS Warspite’s turn at HM Dockyard, Devonport, then 1913, January, February and October at Fairfield, Clydebank, John Brown, Clydebank and Armstrong Whitworth, Tyneside for the remainder three.
A sixth ship was planned, to be laid down when HM Dockyard, Portsmouth main basin was free. Authorised in 1914 and provisionally named Agincourt (later gave to the requisitioned order by Ottoman Turkey) according to some sources and official papers she was just another sister-shop, but one historian suggested she was to be given a thinner armour 10-in (254 mm) for max figures and reached the first planned 28-knot wanted by Fisher. But she was cancelled in August 1914, as new designs were already thought of and other priorities. HMS Agincourt was to be given to HM Dockyard, Portsmouth, but the keel was never laid down past August 1914 (Queen Elisabeth left the basin and was launched on 16 October 1913. The others were launched respectively in 26 November, 4 November 1914, 31 October 1914 and 18 March 1915. Completion and commissions were staged between 22 December 1914, up to 1 February 1916. These ships served until 1948-50, so they had by then 36 years of very good and loyal service to the Crown and country. Total cost per yard varied. A good indication was Valiant’s contract cost, total construction of £78,836. Turbines were supplied by Fairfields, armour plate by William Beardmore, telemetric systems by Barr & Stoud, and artillery by Vickers.
-Queen Elisabeth was of course, not the current one but Elisabeth I (1533-1603), the famous Tudor’s “Virgin queen” which rule was strong enough for the whole era to carry her name.
-Warspite (“Elizabethan ‘spite’ – ‘spight'”) was a green woodpecker jockingly supposed to poke holes into Spanish Galleons.
-Valiant. Adjective, from the Norman French “valliant”, and same meaning.
-Barham: Honouring Charles Middleton, 1st Baron Barham (1726-1813), active abolitionist, famous admiral during the American revolution and Napoleonic era.
-Malaya: After Malaysia, since 1842 Sarawak was ceded by the Sultan of Brunei to James Brooke, and the White Rajahs. The last paid a large portion of the ship’s cost.
-Agincourt (unbuilt), swapped names for the famous 7-turrets export dreadnought of 1913. After Henri V’s epic battle.
After world war one:
The ships received upgrades in three different occasions in drydock. New machinery was fitted notably with small-tube boilers (which number was drastically reduced) and deck armour was reinforced ad layered and the torpedo belt thickened. Their funnels were truncated on all ships. A new secondary armament was fitted, but moreover the anti-aircraft weaponry was considerably extended. Also telemetric systems and ballistic computers were modernized, even electronics later with the fitting of radar. Queen Elizabeth, Valiant, and Warspite became the most modernized battleships in all the Royal Navy prior to WW2. They were famously nicknamed “Queen Anne’s Mansions” for their brand new block superstructure. QE and Valiant also diverged in having twenty 4.5″ dual-purpose guns in ten turret while HMS Warspite retained her 6″ casemates, but just four per battery.
More to come: In part II we will see the different upgrades, during the interwar and WW2 and for individual ships, their whole interwar and WW2 career.
QE class specifications 1915
|Dimensions||196.2 m (643ft 9in) long, 27.6 m wide (90ft 7in), 10.2 m draft (33ft 7in).|
|Displacement||32,590 t. standard -33,260 t. Full Load|
|Crew||950 to 1200 – see notes|
|Propulsion||4 shafts Parsons turbines, 24 Admiralty boilers, 56,000 hp.|
|Speed||Top speed 23.5 knots.|
|Range||? nm at 12kts|
|Armament||8 x 16-in (381mm) 4×2, 12 x 6 in (152 mm), 2 × 3 in (76 mm) AA guns, 4 × 21 in (533 mm) TTs, 1 plane (1918).|
|Armor||Belt: 13 in (330 mm), Deck: 1–3 in (25–76 mm), Barbettes: 7–10 in (178–254 mm), Gun turrets: 11–13 in (279–330 mm), CT: 13 in (330 mm)|
Conway’s all the world’s fighting ships 1906-1921
Breyer, Siegfried (1973). Battleships and Battle Cruisers 1905–1970.
Brown, David K. (1999). The Grand Fleet: Warship Design and Development 1906–1922.
Burt, R. A. (2012a). British Battleships, 1919–1939 (2nd ed.)
Campbell, John (1998). Jutland: An Analysis of the Fighting. London: Conway Maritime Press.
Friedman, Norman (2015). The British Battleship 1906–1946. Barnsley, UK: Seaforth Publishing.
Friedman, Norman (2014). Fighting the Great War at Sea: Strategy, Tactics and Technology.
Friedman, Norman (2011). Naval Weapons of World War One.
Greger, René. Battleships of the World.
Dreadnought Gunnery and the Battle of Jutland: The Question of Fire Control
Halpern, Paul, ed. (2011). The Mediterranean Fleet, 1919–1929.
Jellicoe, John (1919). The Grand Fleet, 1914–1916: Its Creation, Development, and Work
Massie, Robert K. (2003). Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea.
British Capital Ship Design and Fire Control in the Dreadnought Era: Sir John Fisher, Arthur Hungerford Pollen, and the Battle Cruiser
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.
The models corner:
–1/700 trumpeter Queen Elisabeth 1918
Kindle book ShipCraft 15: Queen Elizabeth Class Battleships – seaforth publishing
Also: Trumpeter 1/700 Warspite 1915
Navis Neptun antics online
The Queen Elisabeth class battleships in WW1
During the First World War, HMS Queen Elizabeth was detached from the squadron of Scapa Flow to reinforce the fleet engaged in the Dardanelles Campaign. Because of this, she missed Jutland. During that time, she was undergoing maintenance in drydock before returning in home waters.
Vice-admiral sir Hugh Evan Thomas colorized by iroo toko jr.
At Jutland, the remaining four formed Admiral Hugh Evan-Thomas‘s 5th Battle Squadron, clashing with the German 1st Scouting Group under Admiral Franz von Hipper, firing very fast and accurately according to their opponent, Admiral Scheer. They damaged SMS Lützow and Seydlitz and many other capital ships in the process and duelled with battlecruisers at the amazing range of 19,000 yards (17,400 m), a record at the time. The opposing ships were just out-ranged. However all but Valiant received hits with more of less serious consequences. Warspite had her rudder jammed and sustained fifteen heavy shell hits, but she survived, a testament to her armor, and Barham was also badly hit, Malaya was perhaps more spared, and Valiant was the overall most lucky, and all managed to get back home when the Hochseeflotte went back home in turn, with Jellicoe’s Grand Fleet there. During this famous naval battle, the speed of the 5th BS made them an interesting in-between battlecruisers and battleships.
They proved naturally far more resilient, while being able to manoeuver as well. The same unofficial crew procedures about stockpiling ready rounds and leaving safety haches open aimed to gaining time between salvoes was perhaps applied, but records has been negated, while proof were found on the Queen Mary’s wreck. In any case, their better armor proved the concept of super-dreadnought or fast battleship Fisher had in mind was well-funded. The new breed was to resurface after the Washington ban, pushing the envelope even further thanks to more modern machinery, up to 30 knots. Unfortunately at that time, the whole concept of battleship was doomed, but the QE’s inspired the whole worlds’ navies, like US’s Tennessee, Japan’s Nagato, Italy’s Carracciolo or Germany’s L 20e α-class battleship, probably the most ambitious of them all.
HMS Queen Elisabeth
The “QE”, first of the class, entered service in January 1915, as the First World War was in full swing. The front has just been stabilized in the Marne, Northern France, and Italy would enter war a month later. The lead battleship made her testing in the Mediterranean, and they were cut short to have her sent to the Dardanelles for the Cherished operation of the first lord of the admiralty Sir Winston Churchill. The famous and ill-fated landings to knock the Ottoman Empire out of the war.
She was the only dreadnought to participate in the operation, surrounded by pre-dreadnoughts and a couple of battlecruisers, ready to sally forth in case the Goeben (Yavuz) attempted to make a sortie. Naturally, the superb battleship, pride of the Royal Navy, instantly became the flagship for the whole Dardanelles Campaign fleet, at least the first period. She led the first line on 18 March 1915. The entire battle line pounded the southernmost forts, giving the occasion to the Queen Elisabeth to start her career with a live firing exercise on stationary targets.
Sir Roger Keyes, Vice-Admiral De Robeck, Sir Ian Hamilton and General Braithwaite.
The attempted invasion of the Gallipoli peninsula which started on 25 April, was directed by General Sir Ian Hamilton. He stood on upper bridge of the battleship and flagship, raising his mark of commander of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force and giving orders, planning the next moves on a map. She brought all along a phone-based artillery support to ground troops, with a sufficient reach on most of the landing zone. On 27 April, Ottoman counter-attacked at Anzac cove for the first time: The 57th Infantry Regiment took the seaward slope of Battleship Hill (because of the presence of Queen Elizabeth anchored at Gaba Tepe).
Immediately informed, and with binoculars in hands, the battleships fired a broadside of six 16-in shells on the troops. The concussion was enough to halt the attack. The day after, near Y Beach, officers with their binoculars and telemeters spotted a hundred Ottoman troops en route towards the position. A single 15 inch shrapnel shell was fired, spreading 13,000 shrapnel bullets over the party, which was wiped out, all killed outright. Operations resumed with other shelling at very close distanced, although the Ottoman troops were now afraid of the steel giant anchored too close for comfort. Her mere sight was a detterence for other attacks. However this was not over.
Shelling Forts during the attack on the Narrows at Gallipoli, 18th of March 1915 (IWM)
Church service celebrated on the aft deck of the Queen Elisabeth in 1915
A kite-balloon ship spotted a Turkish reinforcement transport on her way inside the slot and closing with the narrows. Informed, the battleship turned her guns to the supposed position and fired. The third round penetrated the steamer which exploded and sank at 10 miles of distance over the hills. For the remainder of the month and May, and especially on the front line closer to Krithia, Queen Elisabeth fired volleys to cover attacks and counter-attacks.
On 12 May, HMS Goliath however was torpedoed by Turkish destroyer Muâvenet-i Millîye. An order was soon given to HMS Queen Elizabeth, too precious to risk that close to the Turkish fleet, to withdrawn to a further back, but safer position. This was fortunate as later on 25 May HMS Triumph was torpedoed by U21, and two days later, HMS Majestic off W Beach. The threat was real and very serious. The Grand fleet back in the firth of forth badly needed her presence.
When the evacuation took place, she covered the troopships back home, via Alexandria, Malta and Gibraltar.
HMS Queen Elisabeth’s rear guns at Gallipoli (AWM).
In May 1915, HMS Queen Elisabeth joined Admiral Hugh Evan-Thomas’s 5th Battle Squadron, with the whole five battleships, now with HMS Malaya just commissioned. This was the best battle line squadron of the Grand Fleet anchored in Scapa Flow. Prior to that in August 1914, this unit counted eight rather recent pre-dreadnoughts: HMS Prince of Wales, Bulwark, Implacable, Irresistible, Formidable, London, Queen and HMS Venerable, and later HMS Lord Nelson and Agamemnon after the loss of HMS Bulwark, from 6th squadron which was re-equipped.
The 5th BS was temporarily transferred to David Beatty’s Battlecruiser Fleet. These ships were enough the fastest in the fleet, the only ones that can trail behind Beatty’s “splendid cats” in order to provide them reinforcements in case the German fleet was lured to them. There were few events however to notice until Jutland in May 1916. most of the previous battles has seen cruisers and battlecruisers engaged one another, and battleships, sent in reinforcements, never made it in time before the Germans broke off.
HMS Queen Elisabeth seen from her spotter plane in 1918
In May 1916, the 5th BS was amputated from HMS Queen Elisabeth, in dock for maintenance. After the battle, she became the Grand Fleet’s Flagship just as Beatty was appointed Admiral of the Fleet in 1917. From 1 October 1918 to 7 April 1919, Evan-Thomas left (he would command the ship during most of her active service) and was replaced by Rear-Admiral Sir Arthur Leveson.
She would see in 1919 the German High Seas Fleet internment at Scapa Flow, escorting the entire surrendering fleet from German waters.
Surrender of the German Hochseeflotte: Admiral Otto Maurer on board HMS Queen Elisabeth to sign the act.
completed in April 1915 Captain Edward Phillpotts took command of the ship. She joined the 2nd Battle Squadron, Grand Fleet after trials. W. Churchill was present when she started her gunnery trials, firing her 15 inch (381 mm) guns, and was impressed by their apparent performance. Late that year, HMS Warspite however hit the bottom of the River Forth. Indeed, she had been led by her escorting destroyers down the “small ships” channel instead of the main one, too shallow. The damage was extensive but she could be repaired in drydock at Rosyth and Jarrow for two months. She eventually went back to the Grand Fleet, 5th Battle Squadron.
By early December during an exercise, she collided with HMS Barham, damaging her bow. This was repaired at Devonport, but she was quickly back on Christmas Eve.
The raid on Lowestoft took place in April 1916. That last swoop of German battlecruisers was like the others, aimed at luring out th Grand fleet for a decisive battle. This led some reorganisation to assist David Beatty’s battlecruiser force better. Therefore, HMS Warspite like the whole 5th Battle Squadron were temporarily attached to David Beatty’s fast Squadron. On 31 May, the squadron was deployed at the Battle of Jutland. This time, both battleships fleets collided, in what both navies had always hoped for: The single major decisive battle of this war at sea.
Warspite and Malaya at Jutland
However there was a signalling error, and the 5th BS left Beatty’s trail and instead of joining the fight , left them exposed to the might of German battle line. However they were still back in action, and the 5th Battle Squadron at last clashed with the High Seas Fleet, just turning northwards. HMS Warspite score a first hit on battlecruiser Von der Tann. The trap, when Hippe tried to surround the 5th Battle Squadron before she headed north, failed. Warspite and others attacked Hipper’s battlecruisers and the head of Scheer’s battle line. SMS Markgraf was badly damaged.
The 5th BS then turned away to meet the Grand Fleet. However Warspite was hit in its port-wing engine room and her steering jammed just when she tried to avoid Valiant and Malaya. Captain Phillpotts could not maintain a straight course: The ships began circling, staying beind, quite a tempting target and she received numerous other hits but diverted attention from the armoured cruiser HMS Warrior, critically damaged, and now miraculously spared. Its crew praised Warspite’s captain for this heroic action which was unintentional.
Despite the odds, the emergency teams managed to repair the steering, the regained control of the crippled battleship after two full circles. However when they just resolved the jamming the ship was in straight course towards the German High seas fleet. Rangefinders and transmission station were badly damaged, “B” turret also, so only “A” turret could fire under local control. Warspite managed to fire 12 salvos, falling short. Sub-Lieutenant H.A. Packer commanded of “A” turret and was later awarded.
Warspite turning circles, sparing hms Warrior
HMS Warspite was stopped for ten minutes for more extensive repairs, fortunately she presented a rather narrow target, and the crew succeeded in correcting the steering problem for good, se she could turn away and try to catch up the 5th BS. However due to this episode, in which Warspite was the closest to her demise in all her career, she would keep the scars of the battle and her steering problems endured until the end of her service. At last, she was joined by the Grand Fleet at night fall, crossing ahead of the German battle while opened fire. This time, the Hochseeflotte was forced to retreat ad the battle was over. This saved Warspite, which was able to limp back to port, hit fifteen times in all.
HMS Warspite’s crew assessed the damage in port: With 14 killed and 16 wounded, her steering system would need extensive repairs, with stokers killed, ‘X’ turret barbette armour pierced though and killed part of No 5 fire brigade, the Wireless Transmitting room was blown off, another hit shut down all internal lights, casemate guns damaged, six-inch battery ablaze… One of the heavy shell was found unexploded in the engineers’ workshop.
Nevertheless, the vitals of HMS Warspite has been spared, and she still could raise steam. This allowed her to limp back to Rosyth during the night of 31 May by order of Rear-Admiral Hugh Evan-Thomas, and en route, she came under attack from an unidentified U-boat. Three torpedoes were fired but missed, and their bubble trail was spotted. Warspite then attempted to ram her in surface, and signalled her position to nearby escorts. A squadron of torpedo boats sortied to met her but failed to sport the German submarine. Warspite arrive safe and sound on the morning of 1 June in Rosyth, and her damages needed two more months of extensive repairs.
Battle damage after Jutland
At last in September, Warspite was able to meet the 5th Battle Squadron again. But her caracteristic lack of luck reappared when she collided with HMS Valiant right after night firing. She returned to Rosyth for repairs again, but if Captain Philpotts was not blamed for it he was moved to a shore-based job for Admiral Jellicoe instead, replaced by Captain de Bartolome. The latter took command in December 1916, and nothing notable arrived until June 1917.
This time the almost routine mishaps resurfaced, and Warspite collided with a destroyer. Fortunately this did more harm to the latter. There was no need to send the battleship to Rosyth again, as the damage was light and mostly required a paint job. In july 1917 however, HMS Warspite was rocked at her moorings when HMS Vanguard ammunition magazine exploded by accident. In April 1918, HMS Warspite and her unit sallied forth in a pursuit of the German High Seas Fleet spotted off Norway trying to intercept a convoy.
She never made it in time. Not long after howeber, the battleship suffered a boiler room wild fire. The episode cause the stokers to leave quickly due to the excruciating heat, while water was poured in and eventually cooled the room enough to start repairs. In fact many of the boilers and devices has been damaged and the episode needed four month of repairs. Captain Hubert Lynes replaced de Bartolome. By 21 November 1918, after the armistice and end of the war, HMS Warspite joined the Grand fleet at sea, to escort the German High Seas Fleet to Scapa Flow.
After three extensive refits the Warspite, the “old lady” would have quite an amazing career in WW2.
HMS Valiant in the 5th Battle Squadron, training behind Beatty’s battlecruiser force on 31 May at Jutland;
Completed in 19 February 1916 she was in service under command of Captain Maurice Woollcombe, and immediately joined the newly formed Fifth Battle Squadron (5th BS), Grand Fleet in the firth of forth. Nothing notable arrived before she made a sortie as a rear-unit detached towards David’s Beatty BC force at the Battle of Jutland. During this epic clash, she fired two hunded eighty-eight 15-inch shells on the German High Seas Fleet’s capital ships, but with the same level of accuracy as other vessels.
Whereas Barham, Malaya and in particular Warspite were badly hit, HMS valiant suffered no damage at all. It seemed she was lucky or German ships focused on other targets. At 4.29 p.m. she was slightly on the starboard quarter of Barham, and was ordered to take station astern. At 4.46 p.m. she was severely shaken by one salvo, bursting just short on the port side aft, making a tall water plums, but the shells plunged under her belly. She then turned to starboard, and new plumes appeared astern, still without hit.
She then crossed “L” class destroyers picking up survivors of another ship, altered course again, and at 5.6 p.m. resumed firing on German battlecruisers, despite an unfavourable lighting. She fired at the second ship from the right, but due to mist and smoke missed. She later straddled forward and aft, realizing the real strenght of the enemy. She altered course to port again, behind Barham, the whole 5th BS turning slowly to port to get astern of Beatty’s Battle Cruisers. Accurate fire threatened them with small spread of from 50 to 100 yards, but four salvoes intended for Valiant missed her by 10 yards ahead. By default of hittig the big splashes from heavy shells further obscured the silhouettes far away.
At 5.17 p. the Germans were now on the starboard quarter of the Fifth Battle Squadron, veering away at 25 knots, the Germans keeping pace behind. She kept altering course, and at 5.29 p.m. one salvo landed just short of Valiant’s bow and another fell behind. At 5.40 p.m. she engaged the fourth ship from the right but missed again. Three minutes later, the fight resumed again at long range. Due to heavy weather, at 6.H p.m. the 5yh BS lost sight of the enemy, and catch them again, reopining fire 15 inutes later. HMS Valiant later observed the cruisers Defence, Warrior and Black Prince heavily engaged. The second was soon badly hit and almost disabled. By 6.24 p.m. several salvoes fell short of the Valiant, enemy’s shrapnel bursting hit the fore-top, ship’s side and funnel, without casualties. By latering course to avoid hits, at 6.42 p.m. Valiant nearly collided with Barham, slowing down. At 7.23 p.m. the enemy’s Battlefleet broke off and the battle was realy over as darkness fell.
One of her 15-inch guns dating back to the battle was removed and replaced for normal wear and tear of the barrel, and has been preserved at the Johore Battery at Singapore since then. On 24 August 1916, while resuming normal service she collided with HMS Warspite. She was sent in repairs until 18 September. She made a sortie into the north sea in 1918 to try to intercept the High seas fleet, but in vain. After the end of the war, she escorted the latter to Scapa flow after her surrender. In 1919 still, the 5th BS was dissolved and she joined 1st Battle Squadron, Atlantic Fleet until 1929 and Mediterranean fleet afterwards.
HMS Valiant after her first major refit in the interwar. She would be one of the three “queen’s anne mansion”.
Barham joined the Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow after her commission, 5th BS, and took part in a fleet exercise west of Orkney 2–5 November 1915, and another in 3 December when she accidentally rammed Warspite, repaired at Scapa and then to Cromarty Firth in a floating dry dock until 23 December. She made another training cruise in the North Sea, on 26 February 1916. She took part in a sweeping operation on the northern end of the sea, and another on 6 March, cut short due to the weather, too harsh for escorting destroyers. On the night of 25 March, she supported Beatty’s battlecruisers for the raid against a Zeppelin base at Tondern. German forces disengaged due to a strong gale. On 21 April, she departed for Horns Reef to ficus the attention of the Germans during a coordianted Russian minesweeping operation in the Baltic Sea.
On 24 April, Barham refuelled and sailed south, to be in position for a reported raid on Lowestoft, but arrived when the Germans had withdrawn. On 2–4 May, another diversion took place off Horns Reef and on 21 May, the 5th Battle Squadron was attached to Beatty’s force officially, 3rd Battlecruiser Squadron now at Rosyth.
The British fleet sailed due east and the opposing fleets met off the Danish coast on 31 May. The High Seas Fleet comprised 16 dreadnoughts, 6 pre-dreadnoughts, 6 light cruisers, and 31 torpedo boats, and departed on the morning, preceded by Hipper’s BC Squadron’s five battlecruisers and supporting cruisers and torpedo boats. Room 40 intercepted and decrypted radio traffic and the Grand Fleet departed, 28 dreadnoughts, 9 battlecruisers, but not the Queen Eslisabeth. Barham left her mooring at 22:08.
Postcard of the Barham – credits the-weatherings.co.uk
At dawn, Beatty were in cruising formation with the 5th Battle Squadron trailing behind, only five nautical miles (9.3 km; 5.8 mi) apart. At 14:15, Galatea spotted smoke on the horizon and at 14:32, Beatty changed course south-southeast and after a signal badly interpreted Evan-Thomas changed course despite contrary advice from the Barham’s captain. Seven minutes later, the gap was ten nautical miles, and this time Hipper’s battlecruisers engaged the 3rd BCS at 15:20. The battle started.
At first light cruisers of the 2nd Scouting Group were spotted by Evan-Thomas when he changed course. Barham opened fire at 15:58 but theyr soon vanished in smoke. SMS von der Tann was spotted ans fired upon at 23,000 yards (21,000 m). Apperently Bahram scored a first hit on her stern but was ordered to target SMS Moltke, with Valiant. She was hit just below the waterline and partially flooded her stern and put her steering gear out of action. Barham and Valiant hit Moltke four times, without certaintly for Barham. Barham was hit twice during the “Run to the South”, one on the waterline armour and another from SMS Lützow in the aft superstructure, sending splinters and starting a small fire.
Evan-Thomas manoeuver made him cross the German Hochseeflotte some 4,000 yards (3,700 m) apart and the 5th Battle Squadron was heavily engaged interposing between Beatty’s force and Hipper’s battlecruisers. Barham was struck by two 12-in shells at 16:58 attributed to SMS Derfflinger. The medical store compartment was destroyed and created 7 feet hole in the main deckwhile fragments hit the starboard No.2 6-in gun. The aft superstructure was hit, antenna cables severed and the wireless station out of order, one fragment hitting the opposite side of the ship. She returned fire at 17:02 scoring three hits on SMS Seydlitz and Lützow but at 17:13 she was hit twice more by Derfflinger, but without heavy damage while Lützow was flooded. However soon SMS Seydlitz made a hole in Barham’s bow and eventually holes made a massive flooding, nearly sinking the ship after the battle.
Author’s rendition of HMS Barham and Queen Elisabth ships in 1916
At last Evan-Thomas turned northeast at 18:06, spotting the Grand Fleet’s lead ship HMS Marlborough, flagship of the 6th Division, 1st Battle Squadron and the 5th Battle Squadron tried to take her place in the battle line, concentrated fire on German battleships while battlecruisers were away. Barham resumed fire at 18:14 but made no jits due to the faling darkness and heavy weather.
In total, she would fire 337 fifteen-inch shells and 25 six-inch shells against lighter ships, DDs and light cruisers. She shared about 23-24 hits with Valiant, making them the most accurate warships in the British fleet. in all, her six hits cost was 26 killed and 46 wounded onboard, notably the medical facility with all the medical personal and wounded sailors.
Barham at Scapa flow in 1918. Notice the wooden additions on the funnels, as a sort of “material camouflage”.
Barham was repaired until 5 July 1916 and on 18 August made another sortie because of another Room 40 alert, the German fleet bound to Sunderland on 19 August, with an advance of Zeppelins and submarines. The Grand Fleet sailed complete (all 29 dreadnoughts, 6 battlecruisers), expected to face 18 dreadnoughts and 2 battlecruisers. However both Jellicoe and Scheer would receive conflicting intelligence and both fleets passed each other without spottind one another. A Zeppelin spotted the Harwich Force (Reginald Tyrwhitt) ad Scheer changed course until the real nature of the force was known and he veered for home. Jellicoe alter issued a forbidding order to head for the southern half of the North Sea due mines and U-boats, unless certaintly to find the Hochseeflotte.
Barham was refitted at Cromarty until March 1917 and visited by King George V on 22 June at Invergordon. She was refitted again at Rosyth on 7–23 February 1918, Captain Henry Buller taking command on 18 April, then Captain Richard Horne on 1 October. She saw and escorted the High Seas Fleet on 21 November. After the war he was extensively modernized, but less than the first three class ships. Nevertheless she took part in WW2 operations, but was one of the many victims of german U-Boats, in 1941.
HMS Malaya was named in honour of the Federated Malay States in British Malaya and joined Rear-Admiral Hugh Evan-Thomas’s 5th Battle Squadron, Grand Fleet when entering service. She participated in several exercises and swoops in the North Sea, but withour ever having the chance to fight (see Barham early records). Of course her first and most serious test during her career was on 31 May, the battle of Jutland. She was hit eight times during the fight, taking major damage and heavy casualties, 65 men KIA and around 33 gravely injured, many other wounded. She flew the red-white-black-yellow ensign of the Federated Malay States and one of her sailors was the first to receive a plastic surgery facial reconstruction.
The battle of Jutland
She first was the first to spot and open fire on the vanguard of the German battlecruisers around 5:15 p.m. She was shot at for almost 30 minutes and was with HMS Warspite, the two battleships of Evan Thomas that suffered the most, taking 13 heavy hits, and bearing the brunt of the battle for the 5th battleship squadron. She fired a total of 215 heavy shells, scoring at least three hits on Lützow and (probably) Derfflinger.
She received at least eight 30.5 cm hits, causing severe flooding because of holes below the water line and a deadly casemate burst that destroyed the entire 6-in battery on the starboard side. The casemate of gun No.5 was hit at 5:30 p.m. on the starboard, killing the entire crew and causing a firece fire which extended rapidly to adjacent batteries. The fire was cointained somewhat and the ammunition magazines for the 381 mm guns flooded at the last minute. Another shell penetrated the hull at the stern, downthrough the bottom floor. Malaya was nearly steer-jammed, turning of about four degrees to starboard.
The battle ended at noon, and when limping back to port, Malaya collided with an unidentified underwater obstacle, possibly a sinking wreck, in the early hours of June 1, around 4 a.m.. The hull wnottom was severely damaged, but she managed to be back; having notably a boiler destroyed and lost tons of oil. She was repaired for two months, while personnel losses were the highest of all British battleships in th battle. a total of 63 seafarers died, another 33 were seriously wounded. She was drydocked on a shipyard in Invergordon but emerged on July 27, 1916.
For the remainder of WW1, she made a sortie on August 19, 1916 against a German sweep in the North Sea but arrived too late. In 1918, she collided with the destroyer HMS Penn during an exercise, but suffered little damage. She would see the Hoschseeflotte surrendering and escorted to Scapa Flow. She would be also like the other modernized during the inerwar, but less extensively than the first three, and served with distinction in WW2.
An advertisement from the Arsmtrong Yard showing Malaya – Brasseys 1923