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World War I: HMS Dreadnought

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World War I: HMS Dreadnought

HMS Dreadnought, 1906/7

Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval Historical Center

HMS Dreadnought - Overview:

  • Nation: Great Britain
  • Type: Battleship
  • Shipyard: HM Dockyard, Portsmouth
  • Laid Down: October 2, 1905
  • Launched: February 10, 1906
  • Commissioned: December 2, 1906
  • Fate: Broken up in 1923

HMS Dreadnought - Specifications:

  • Displacement: 45,000 tons
  • Length: 527 ft.
  • Beam: 82 ft.
  • Draft: 26 ft.
  • Propulsion: 18 Babcock & Wilcox 3-drum water-tube boilers w/ Parsons single-reduction geared steam turbines
  • Speed: 21 knots
  • Complement: 695-773 men

HMS Dreadnought - Armament:

Guns

  • 10 x BL 12 in. L/45 Mk.X guns mounted in 5 twin B Mk.VIII turrets
  • 27 × 12-pdr 18 cwt L/50 Mk.I guns, single mountings P Mk.IV
  • 5 × 18 in. submerged torpedo tubes

HMS Dreadnought - Design & Construction:

In the early years of the 20th century, naval visionaries such as Admiral Sir John "Jackie" Fisher and Vittorio Cuniberti began advocating for the design of "all-big-gun" battleships. Such a vessel would only feature the largest guns, at this point in time 12", and would largely dispense with the ship's secondary armament. This approach was validated during the 1905 Battle of Tsushima in which the main guns of Japanese battleships inflicted the bulk of the damage on the Russian Baltic Fleet.

British observers aboard Japanese ships reported this to Fisher, now First Sea Lord, who immediately pressed ahead with an all-big-gun design. The lessons learned at Tsushima were also embraced by the United States which began work on the all-big-gun South Carolina-class and the Japanese who commenced building the battleship Satsuma. In addition to the increased firepower of an all-big-gun ship, the elimination of the secondary battery made adjusting fire during battle easier as it allowed spotters to know which type of gun was making the splashes near and enemy vessel.

The removal of the secondary battery also made the new type more efficient to operate as fewer types of shells were needed. This reduction in cost greatly aided Fisher in securing Parliamentary approval for his new ship. Working with his Committee for Designs, Fisher developed his all-big-gun ship which was dubbed HMS Dreadnought. Including the latest technology, Dreadnought's power plant utilized steam turbines, recently developed by Charles A. Parson, in lieu of the standard triple-expansion steam engines. This greatly increased the speed of the vessel and allowed Dreadnought to outrun any existing battleship.

For its main armament, Dreadnought mounted ten 12" guns in five twin turrets. Three of these were mounted along the centerline, one forward and two aft, with the other two in "wing" positions on either side of the bridge. As a result, Dreadnought could only bring eight of its ten guns to bear on a single target. Supplementing the 12" guns were 27 12-pdr guns intended for close defense against torpedo boats and destroyers. For fire control, the ship incorporated some of the first instruments for electronically transmitting range, deflection, and order directly to the turrets.

Anticipating approval of the design, Fisher began stockpiling steel for Dreadnought at the Royal Dockyard in Portsmouth. Laid down on October 2, 1905, work on Dreadnought proceeded at a frenetic pace with the vessel being launched after only four months on the ways. Deemed complete on October 3, 1906, Fisher claimed that the ship had been built in a year and a day. In actuality, it took an additional two months to finish the ship and Dreadnought was not commissioned until December 2. Regardless, the speed of the ship's construction startled the world as much as its military capabilities.

HMS Dreadnought - Operational History:

Sailing for the Mediterranean and Caribbean in January 1907, with Captain Sir Reginald Bacon in command, Dreadnought performed admirably during its trials and testing. Closely watched by the world's navies, Dreadnought inspired a revolution in battleship design and future all-big-gun ships were henceforth referred to as "dreadnoughts." Designated flagship of the Home Fleet, minor problems with Dreadnought were detected such as the location of the fire control platforms and the arrangement of the armor. These were corrected in the follow-on classes of dreadnoughts.

Dreadnought was soon eclipsed by the Orion-class battleships which featured 13.5" guns and began entering service in 1912. Due to their greater firepower, these new ships were dubbed "super-dreadnoughts." With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Dreadnought was serving as flagship of the Fourth Battle Squadron based at Scapa Flow. In this capacity, it saw its only action of the conflict when it rammed and sank U-29 on March 18, 1915. Refitted in early 1916, Dreadnought shifted south and became part of the Third Battle Squadron at Sheerness. Ironically, due to this transfer, it did not participate in the 1916 Battle of Jutland, which saw the largest confrontation of battleships whose design had been inspired by Dreadnought.

Returning to the Fourth Battle Squadron in March 1918, Dreadnought was paid off in July and placed in reserve at Rosyth the following February. Remaining in reserve, Dreadnought was later sold and scrapped at Inverkeithing in 1923. While Dreadnought's career was largely uneventful, the ship initiated one of the largest arms races in history which ultimately culminated with World War I. Though Fisher had intended to use Dreadnought to demonstrate British naval power, the revolutionary nature of its design immediately reduced Britain's 25-ship superiority in battleships to 1.

Following the design parameters set forth by Dreadnought, both Britain and Germany embarked on battleship building programs of unprecedented size and scope, with each seeking to build larger, more powerfully armed ships. As a result, Dreadnought and its early sisters were soon out-classed as the Royal Navy and Kaiserliche Marine quickly expanded their ranks with increasingly modern warships. The battleships inspired by Dreadnought served as the backbone of the world's navies until the rise of the aircraft carrier during World War II.

Selected Sources

  • US Naval Historical Center: HMS Dreadnought
  • World War I: HMS Dreadnought
  • History of War: HMS Dreadnought

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