A pair of famous Battlecruisers
The famous twins, the Repulse, were the battlecruisers equivalent to the Queen Elisabeth and Revenge classes, all armed with the new 16 in (381 mm) caliber. To save weight, not only armour, as usual was lighter but both ships only boasted three turrets, for six guns total. They were launched in 1917 and in service at the end of 1918, barely having time to operate and proved their value during the First World War.
She was also before the release of HMS Hood, the most powerful warship afloat in the world, with unmatched tonnage, size and speed. Both ships were part of the arms race unleashed during the war between all the beleaguering nations, later condemned and stopped by the Washington Treaty in 1922. The underlying idea of the battlecruiser concept layed in the simple theoretical slogan: Speed is the best protection. They were basically fast enough to leave behind any battleship, while having the same devastating artillery.
British Admiralty’s prodigy and terrible child David Beatty was these ships’s best advocate: Despite the skepticism of John Jellicoe and first Lord of the Sea, these new capital ships were started soon after the revolutionary Dreadnought came out in 1906, and the Repulse were the last of a long serie. Unlike the others, the Repulse was “post-Jutland”. These ships designed in 1916 incorporated a number of recommendations under construction, acknowledging the severe limits found on previous British battle cruisers. Until 1918 because of their tonnage and speed they remained the largest capital ships on record.
HMS Repulse in 1917
Design of the Repulse class
Strangely, these giant ships were first started as improved versions of the Revenge, there were three units planned, HMS Repulse, HMS Renown and HMS Resistance, laid down at Royal Dockyards and Palmers. With the early successes of battlecruisers (at Heligoland Bay and Falklands), and the combined pressure of Fisher, Jellicoe, and Beatty on Churchill, the first Lord of the Admiralty, conversion of these ships into battlecruisers was approved at the end of 1914.
The condition was they used the turrets of the Revenge class battleships and Queen Elisabeth, but reduced to 6 pieces, to make it practical with the loss or hull strength due to a lighter armour. Very long, these ships shown some structural problems, which were quickly settled. The construction process of their original yards included light alloy manufacturing, but for fear of delaying completion, more classic solutions were eventually chosen.
They carried for their hungry turbines some 4300 tons of fuel and more. Their secondary artillery used innovative double and triple mounts for 4 inches (127 mm) Mk.9 guns. They will prove too cumbersome, also required a plethoric staff (32 servants per turret), all for a relatively low firing rate improper for true dual-purpose guns. The experiment was not renewed and the mounts in question were eliminated during the 193s refit. Their armor was directly inspired by the previous Indefatigable class.
Repulse during the Arab revolt in 1938
After a quick carrer without notable feats (see the class ww1 section) the Repulse participated in the second battle of the Heligoland bay (November 17, 1917). But her action was passive and preventive. The Hochseeflotte was by then struck in harbour until surrender. Both modern battlecruisers were spared by Washington’s tonnage cuts, but were redesigned in the 1920s and again in the early 1930s. In September 1935, the HMS Renown entered the drydock again for a total reconstruction based on that of HMS Warspite, from which she did emerged in August 1939, a few days before the beginning of the conflict. The HMS repulse on her side, only received cosmetic changes, mainly focuse around a more modern AAA.
HMS Repulse camouflaged, escorting convoys and departin from Singapore in December 1941
The Repulse in action
The Repulse never received the same attention as her sister-ship and redesigns were superficial. She was part of the battlecruiser squadron during the 1920s with the Renown and the Hood, and during the war she chased for the Graf Spee, escorting the Furious and Ark Royal. In the Norwegian campaign, she tried to catch KMS Admiral Hipper.
She will participate with her sister ship in the interception of the Scharnhorst, then the Bismarck in May 1941, running out of fuel. She received additional AAA later and a new firing radar, to be sent to escort a troop convoy to South Africa. From there, she crossed the horn to join the Indian Ocean squadron. She joined the freshly arrived Prince of Wales in Ceylon to create out from the blue, the Singapore squadron, or Force Z. On 8 December, the squadron sailed out to intercept a Japanese troop convoy, but both ships were spotted en route by a submarine and the contact was kept later by seaplanes.
Their position was soon communicated to the Imperial Staff. Knowing their ships had been discovered, Admiral Tom Philips tried to turn back to port during the night, but in the morning around 5:00, he received a report of a Japanese landing in Kuantan, bending his course to surprise them. But the squadron was again spotted, and this time attacked in force by the bombers of the 86th flotilla based in Saigon, carrying bombs and torpedoes. Despite repulse’s Commander Bill Tennant’s extraordinary ballet to avoid high-altitude bombs and torpedoes, for more than half an hour, and downing two bombers damaging eight others, she was attacked by eight more aircraft and hit in quick succession by 4 or 5 torpedoes.
She sank at 12:23, resulting in the death 508 sailors and officers. Survivors were rescued by two destroyers. The same fate occured to HMS Prince of Wales. Z force had lived, and shortly after HMS Renown became the last battle cruiser in service.
The Renown in action
In 1939 thanks to their speed, both ships were frequently at the forefront of operations. They passed from the Home Fleet, to the North Sea, then the Force K (South Atlantic) to track the Graf Spee, and force H, (South Africa) to prohibit any passage to the same corsair. The Renown participated in the Norwegian campaign and faced the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, which replicated and cause her some damage.
She went after a few rough repairs to the Gibraltar-based H Force, relieving the Hood, which retained by then her traditional role within the BattleCruiser Squadron. After participating in various operations in the Mediterranean, the renown returned to the home fleet in November 1941 to escort convoys bound to Murmansk and the North Atlantic. She then returned to Force H to support Operation Torch. In June 1943 she returned to the mainland for another brief drydock session, seeing removed her own aviation, rendered obsolete by radars.
The Renown later convoyed Churchill to Quebec City and later for the Cairo conference, and was sent afterwards to the Far East for Operation Cockpit, attacking Japanese bases of Sabang and Sumatra. This was payback time for the loss of her sister, HMS repulse. Then took part in Operation Transom against Java and Sumatra, the Nicoban and Andaman Islands. She was placed in reserve in May 1945 and broken up in January 1948.
|Dimensions||242 m long, 27.4 m wide, 9.7 m draft (full load).|
|Displacement||36,080 t. standard -36 660 t. Fully Load|
|Propulsion||4 propellers, 4 Parsons turbines, 8 Yarrow boilers, 120,000 hp.|
|Speed||Top speed 29 knots, RA 5000 nautical at 12 knots.|
|Range||5400 @14 knots (10,000 km)|
|Armament||6 x 381 mm (3×2), 10 x 113 mm (5×2) DP, 24 x 40 mm AA (3×8), 3 Walrus seaplanes.|
|Armor||355 mm shielded casing, 160 mm bridges, 152 mm rangefinders, 406 mm turrets, 38 mm barbets, 343 mm blockhouse.|
Conway’s all the world’s fighting ships 1922-1947
Author’s illustration of the Renown in 1943