A pair of famous Battlecruisers
Foreworld: Not the last, but near
This was not the last class of English battle cruisers, but undeniably, the Renowns marked a new milestone in the evolution of this controversial concept. In terms of tonnage, these vessels were equivalent to or even lower than recent dreadnoughts, but for size, they exceeded anything that had been built so far.
These were the largest warships ever seen at the time, a status they held until the Hood was removed in 1920. They also marked a logical evolution to the 15-inch (381 mm) caliber in parallel with dreadnoughts from Revenge and Queen Elisabeth classes.
Lord Fisher’s spendid folly
While the Admiralty no longer wanted to hear about other battle cruisers, claiming that the Tiger was the last, Lord Fisher’s return in October 1914 as the first Lord of the Sea put this positioning back into question. As expected, the latter spared no effort to request the construction of two new buildings of this type, capitalizing on the victories won by the Invincible Class ships in the Falklands against Von Spee.
He was told that these complex ships would not be completed before the end of the war, especially since the admiralty’s priority was to complete his dreadnoughts and ensure the massive production of the destroyers. He said that it was possible to rationalize production in order to achieve shorter study times and rapid construction. He even hoped for a commissioning in early 1916. To save time he proposed to recover the sheets and materials engaged in the manufacture of two dreadnoughts of the class Revenge bearing the same name, the latter being literally cannibalized and their turrets of 381 mm recovered.
As once again speed was decisive, Fisher counted on 32 knots, and to establish it, he was expecting new, lighter machines with fine-tube boilers and lighter turbines, but the delays caused us to fall back on the adoption of Tiger machines, with four additional boilers in the available space. Finally and above all the protection was once again sacrificed, resuming the pattern adopted on both Invincible – (Jutland had not yet taken place, and Fisher remained true to his creed, speed is the best protection).
In fact, when leaving the shipyards, these ships, whose weight had increased during construction, were able to reach the 32 knots only by forcing their boilers well beyond 120,000 hp, at the cost of a monster consumption of oil. Their normal speed was 30 knots for 112,000 hp, which was already exceptional in itself, and much better than the German Hindenburg (conversely much better protected). She remained the record of the ships of line until the fast arrival of the light battle cruisers Furious and Courageous (32 knots) and naturally Hood (31 knots).
Equivalents to the QE class battleships
The famous twins, the Repulse, were the battlecruisers equivalent to the Queen Elisabeth and Revenge classes, all armed with the new 15 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 battlecruisers. Until 1918 because of their tonnage and speed they remained the largest capital ships on record.
Notice: This is the traduction of an old article which was never released publicly, please do consider it as a placeholder as it will be corrected, updated and expanded in the future.
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 guns, 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.
The hull was equipped from the outset with light bulges of current protection all over the belt. Finally, we adopted secondary parts of a light gauge, returning to the solution of the previous buildings, but instead of barbettes, we choose to raise them and group them in single or triple carriages under masks.
This triple configuration for five of these carriages was also a strangeness that was not the happiest: The three pieces of each group was independent and needed alone more than 10 men for their operation, which in total represented 32 servants in the confined space of the shielding mask.
The complexity of the loading system was also criticized. Although the arc of fire of this artillery was in theory excellent, better than the barbettes hindered in the heavy weather, their weak caliber made them little effective. This concept proved mediocre in the end and was never taken again.
These two buildings were started at Fairfield and J. Brown on January 25, 1915, launched in January and March 1916 and completed in August and September 1916, the Repulse preceding the Renown. This construction had indeed taken a year and 8-9 months, more than expected, but less than the Tiger (two years and four months).
They carried for their hungry turbines some 4300 tons of fuel and more in wartime. Their secondary artillery used innovative double and triple mounts for 4 in (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 1930s refit. Their armor was directly inspired by the previous Indefatigable class.
Repulse during the Arab revolt in 1938
In service: WW1
When they entered service with the Grand Fleet, the battle of Jutland had just ended and the battle cruisers had lost all credibility. The turmoil caused by these losses was such that some in the government purposely offered to set aside these units.
Admiralty, when calm returned, decided by the voice of John Jellicoe to take back in hand these two buildings and to add to them 500 tons of armor above mainly ammunition bunkers and the room of the rudder and the systems of direction.
Their fore funnel had been raised as of November 1916 because of the inconvenience caused by the smoke on the footbridge. In the fall of 1917, a take-off gangway was fitted on the B turret, a first in England. The USA had shown the way on one of their cruisers.
This small platform (about 20 meters) was supported on the turret and guns, which was not without problem in case of shooting with a significant rise. Inclined, it was considered sufficient to launch a Sopwith Pup, light hunter used in this case as a lighting device, launched simply by removing the holds now the wheels, engine at full speed. The float planes were used during the 20-30’s.
The solution was resumed soon after on the Repulse, then adopted by all the other recent line buildings of the Royal Navy. During 1918, new modifications were made, baffles were installed, new projectors were placed in armored towers, while the structure of the long hull, too lightly built to withstand the powerful lining of its six rooms, was reinforced, and the post of reconstructed fire management.
The protection still being problematic, it was decided to reinforce the Repulse with the armor removed from the former Cochrane battleship transformed into an aircraft carrier. At the end of 1918, the Renown on his side had to wait for the availability of a new armor, only received in 1923-26. Their career during the Great War was insignificant, in part because the Admiralty simply feared exposing them to enemy fire. In 1918, some vital parts of the ship could be penetrated by projectiles of 152 mm. Attending the Renown hosted the Prince of Wales during his Asian and Australian tour.
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.
These two ships were once again modernized, receiving a modern DCA (with the removal of their 102 mm pieces) and new firing direction systems. But only the Renown benefited from a complete overhaul, coupled with a three-year reconstruction from 1936 to 1939. The Repulse was to be rebuilt in the same way, although the war prevented it.
Renown Specifications (1916)
|Dimensions||242 x 27,4 x 7,8 m (full load).|
|Displacement||27 600 t, 30 800 T Fully Loaded|
|Propulsion||4 shafts turbines Brown-Curtis, 32 B&W boilers, 112 000 hp|
|Speed||Top speed 30 knots, RA 5000 nautical at 12 knots.|
|Armament||6 x 381 (3×2), 17 x 102 (5×3, 3×1), 2 x 76 AA, 4 x 47, 2 x 533mm (Sub) TTs.|
|Armor||Belt 150, citadel 100, barbettes 180, turrets 280, CT 250mm, decks 75 mm.|
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 turrets, 160 mm decks, 152 mm rangefinders, 406 mm turrets, 38 mm barbettes, 343 mm blockhouse.|
Conway’s all the world’s fighting ships 1922-1947
Author’s illustration of the Repulse in 1918
Author’s illustration of the Renown in 1943