Yesterday I listed the top five Google strings that found my blog. Not on that list was a string that found me a while back – ‘strange battleship designs’. Odd. I didn’t have any listed.
Hey – challenge! Although I can’t help thinking about the foolishness of nineteenth and early twentieth century thinking that uplifted these engines of destruction into symbols of national prestige – tributes to the pride and folly of humanity. But the geek in me has to admire the technology. And some of those designs were really, really strange. The British led the way…
1. HMS Victoria (1890)
Built to a financially imposed limit of 10,600 tons, Victoria was expected to carry 16-inch guns. The result was this bizarre carpet slipper, mounting just two monster guns in a turret forwards. There was talk of her using these symbols of Britain’s national inadequacy complex to blast through the Dardanelles should war break out with Russia. However, in 1893, off Tripoli, she was rammed and sunk by HMS Camperdown, after a botched manoeuvre always blamed on Rear-Admiral Sir George Tryon.
2. HMS Glorious (1917)
There was no arguing with the volcanic and charismatic Admiral Sir John Arbuthnot Fisher – inventor of ‘OMG‘ – who returned in triumph to the Admiralty in 1914 as First Sea Lord and was able to get five battlecruisers authorised, despite a Cabinet edict against new capital ships. Every one was iconoclastic – including Glorious and her sister Courageous, over-blown light cruisers with a stupid armament of four 15-inch guns. They weren’t good for anything – the sailors called them the Outrageous class – and the Admiralty lost no time converting them to aircraft carriers. Their gun mountings were re-used, a quarter-century later, on Britain’s last battleship, HMS
3. HMS Rodney (1927)
A cherry tree of a battleship. Why? Because she was “cut down” by Washington.
In 1920, the world seemed about to plunge into a new naval race, led by Japan and the United States. The British were the only nation with combat experience, and applied the lessons to designs that outstripped anything in US or Japanese yards. These 48,500 ton ‘G3’ battlecruisers – more heavily armoured than battleships of the day – were ordered in 1921.
All this came as the world emerged from the most devastating war in history, prompting the US to call other powers into a naval treaty, hammered out in Washington, limiting warship size and number. Most of the new ships were cancelled, but Britain was allowed to build two ships to 35,000 ton Treaty limits. Hence Rodney and her sister ship Nelson, sometimes dubbed the ‘Cherry Tree’ class because they had been ‘cut down’ by the Washington Treaty. The bluejackets – cruelly – called them Rodnol and Nelsol, after fleet oil tankers.
Despite being ‘cut down’ they were still the most powerful battleships in the world until late 1941, when Japan commissioned the Yamato.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014
Coming up: Regular writing posts resume tomorrow, more geekery (with custard), humour and other stuff. Watch this space.