Queen Elizabeth-class battleship

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HMS Queen Elizabeth Lemnos 1915 AWM H12931 clipped.jpeg
HMS Queen Elizabeth in her original configuration at Lemnos, 24 April 1915
Class overview
Name: Queen Elizabeth class
Operators:  Royal Navy
Preceded by: Iron Duke class
Succeeded by: Revenge class
In commission: 1914–1947
Planned: 6
Completed: 5
Cancelled: 1
Lost: 1
Scrapped: 4
General characteristics (as built)
Type: Battleship
  • 32,590 long tons (33,110 t)
  • 33,260 long tons (33,790 t) (Deep load)
Length: 643 ft 9 in (196.2 m)
Beam: 90 ft 7 in (27.6 m)
Draught: 33 ft (10.1 m)
Installed power:
Speed: 24 knots (44 km/h; 28 mph)
Range: 5,000 nmi (9,260 km; 5,750 mi) at 12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph)
Complement: 1,016 (1916)

The Queen Elizabeth-class battleships were a group of five super-dreadnoughts built for the Royal Navy during the 1910s. The lead ship was named after Elizabeth I of England. These battleships were superior in firepower, protection and speed to their Royal Navy predecessors of the Iron Duke class as well as preceding German classes such as the König class. The corresponding Bayern-class ships were generally considered competitive, although the Queen Elizabeth class were 2 knots (3.7 km/h) faster and outnumbered the German class 5:2. The Queen Elizabeths are generally considered the first fast battleships in their day.

The Queen Elizabeths were the first battleships to be armed with 15-inch (381 mm) guns, and were described in the 1919 edition of Jane's Fighting Ships as "the most successful type of capital ship yet designed."[1] They saw much service in both world wars. HMS Barham was lost to U-boat attack in 1941, but the others survived the wars and were scrapped in the late 1940s.


As depicted in Brassey's Naval Annual 1923

Following the success of the 13.5-inch (343 mm) 45 calibre gun, the Admiralty decided to develop a 15-inch (381 mm)/42 gun to equip the battleships of the 1912 construction programme.[2] The move to the larger gun was accelerated by one or two years by the intervention of Winston Churchill, now at the Admiralty.[citation needed] Rather than waiting for prototype guns, the entire design was optimised on paper for the new weapon, and construction commenced immediately. In making this decision, the Admiralty ran a considerable risk, as a forced reversion to the 12-inch (305 mm) or 13.5-inch (343 mm) gun would have resulted in a ship with weakened striking power.[2]

The initial intention was that the new battleships would have the same configuration as the preceding Iron Duke class, with five twin turrets and the then-standard speed of 21 knots (39 km/h). It was realised that, by dispensing with the so-called "Q" turret amidships, it would be possible to free up weight and volume for a much enlarged powerplant, and still fire a heavier broadside than the Iron Duke. The original 1912 programme envisaged three battleships and a battlecruiser, possibly an improved version of HMS Tiger named Leopard. Given the speed of the new ships, envisaged as 25 knots (46 km/h), it was decided that the battlecruiser would not be needed and a fourth battleship would be built instead.[3] When the Federation of Malay States offered to fund a further capital ship, it was decided to add a fifth unit to the class (HMS Malaya).[2]

The Director of Naval Construction (DNC) advised that the concept would be feasible only if the ships were powered solely by oil. Previous classes, including those still in construction, used fuel oil, which was still relatively scarce, as a supplement to coal, of which the UK then commanded huge reserves. The then First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, undertook to guarantee a supply of oil in wartime, thereby allowing the programme to proceed. The oil was guaranteed by the negotiation of the Anglo-Persian Oil Convention.[4]

Meanwhile, an investigation led by Admiral Jackie Fisher had worked through all the logistical problems associated with using oil fuel instead of coal, and so oil fuelling was selected for the Queen Elizabeth class. Relative to coal, oil has a much greater energy density, vastly simplified refuelling arrangements, requires no stokers, and emits much less smoke to obscure gun laying, making the ships less visible on the horizon.

A further ship was authorised in 1914 and would have been named Agincourt (a name later applied to a dreadnought expropriated from Turkey). Although most sources and several official papers in the class's Ships Cover[5] describe her as a further repeat of the Queen Elizabeth design, one historian has suggested that Agincourt would have been built on battlecruiser lines. This design would have kept the Queen Elizabeth armament, but substituted thinner armour [down to 10 inches (254 mm) instead of 12 inches (305 mm), for example] in order to gain a 28-knot (52 km/h) top speed.[6] Whatever the case, Agincourt was cancelled at the outbreak of war in 1914.[7]

In some respects, the ships did not quite fulfil their extremely demanding requirement. They were seriously overweight, as a result of which the draught was excessive and they were unable to reach the planned top speed of 25 knots (46 km/h). In the event, the combination of oil fuel and more boilers provided for a service speed of about 23 knots (43 km/h; 26 mph), still a useful improvement on the traditional battle line speed of 21 knots (39 km/h; 24 mph) and just fast enough to be thought of as the first fast battleships.[8] After Jutland Admiral John Jellicoe was persuaded that the slowest ship of this class was good only for about 23 knots (43 km/h), he concluded that, since this should be considered as the speed of the squadron, it would not be safe to risk them in operations away from the main battlefleet.

Despite these problems, most of which were mitigated in service, the ships were well received and proved outstandingly successful in combat. The savings in weight, cost and manpower made possible by oil fuel only were convincingly demonstrated, as were the benefits of concentrating a heavier armament into fewer mountings.

The class was followed by the Revenge class, which took the Queen Elizabeth configuration and economised it back down to the standard 21-knot (39 km/h) battle line.

The intended successor to the Queen Elizabeths was to be an unnamed fast battleship with high freeboard, with secondary armament mountings clear of spray, a shallow draught and a top speed of at least 30 knots (56 km/h); First Sea Lord Fisher changed it to an even faster but less armoured battlecruiser. Out of the class of four ships, only HMS Hood was completed. Though armour was hastily added during construction that would have made her theoretically on a par with the Queen Elizabeths, the Royal Navy were well aware of the flawed reworking and always considered Hood a battlecruiser and not a fast battleship.[9]


Armour protection was modified from the previous Iron Duke class, with a thicker belt and improved underwater protection.[2] The scale of deck armour was less generous, though typical of contemporary practice. Four of the ships survived a considerable pounding at the Battle of Jutland while serving as the 5th Battle Squadron, so it should be judged as sufficient for its time.

Main armament[edit]

The 15-inch (381 mm) gun turned out to be a complete success in service. It was reliable and extremely accurate, being able to drop tight groups of shells at 20,000 yards (18,000 m). Poor shell design reduced its effectiveness at the Battle of Jutland, but this was addressed with the arrival of the superior "Green Boy" shells in 1918. The gun even remained competitive in the Second World War after receiving further shell upgrades and mountings with greater elevation, and HMS Warspite would eventually record a hit during the Battle of Calabria which to this day is one of the longest-range naval gunnery hits in history - 24,000 metres (26,000 yd).

The guns could elevate to 20° and depress to −5°, but the turret sights could only elevate 15°, effectively limiting the range that could be achieved unless firing under director control. The sights were equipped to permit the guns to fire at full charge or with ​34 charge.[10]

Secondary armament[edit]

Original port forward secondary casemate battery on Valiant seen circa 1930–1933
Queen Elizabeth c. 1918 showing the two aft port secondary casemates plated over
Forecastle deck gun as added to all ships in 1915–1916, here seen on Warspite after Jutland

As designed, and implemented on Queen Elizabeth, the 6-inch Mk XII guns were mounted in hull casemates, with six guns under director control on each side in casemates on the upper deck between B turret and the second funnel and two more in hull casemates on each side on the main deck aft below X and Y turrets, for a total of sixteen guns.

The mounting of the 6-inch (152 mm) secondary armament in hull casemates drastically reduced the reserve of buoyancy, since the casemates could take on water if submerged. In practice, the casemates would be flooded even in normal steaming if the sea was heavy.[11] The ammunition supply arrangements for the 6-inch guns were relatively exposed; during the Battle of Jutland this resulted in an ammunition fire aboard Malaya that nearly resulted in the loss of the ship.[12]

The aft four casemate guns in Queen Elizabeth were soon found to be of little use and were removed and the casemates plated over, and the other ships were completed without them. The aft casemates were replaced in all ships with two guns protected by shields mounted on the forecastle deck, one on each side. The ten guns which were hence no longer required for the Queen Elizabeths (two from each ship) were used in 1915 to arm the five M29-class monitors.

The forecastle-mounted guns were removed in late 1916, leaving the final configuration as twelve 6-inch guns in hull casemates until the 1930s. The secondary armament of the five ships received differing degrees of modernisation in the 1930s and is hence discussed on the individual ships' pages.

Operational history[edit]

First World War[edit]

In the First World War, Queen Elizabeth was detached from the squadron and took part in the Dardanelles Campaign, but missed Jutland as she was undergoing dock maintenance.

At the Battle of Jutland, four of the ships formed Admiral Hugh Evan-Thomas's 5th Battle Squadron, and in the clash with the German 1st Scouting Group under Admiral Franz von Hipper they "fired with extraordinary rapidity and accuracy" (according to Admiral Scheer, commander of the High Seas Fleet), damaging SMS Lützow and SMS Seydlitz and a number of other German warships. These battleships were able to engage German battlecruisers at a range of 19,000 yards (17,400 m), which was beyond the maximum range of the Germans' guns.[13] Three of the Queen Elizabeths received hits from German warships during the engagement, yet they all returned home. Warspite was the most heavily damaged, with her rudder jammed and taking fifteen hits, coming close to foundering.

Between the wars[edit]

Between the wars, the ships received considerable upgrades, including new machinery, small-tube boilers, deck armour upgrades, torpedo belt armour, trunked funnels, new secondary armament and anti-aircraft armament, and many improvements in gunlaying and electronics. Queen Elizabeth, Valiant, and Warspite were the most modernised, with all three receiving the new "Queen Anne's Mansions" block superstructure for the bridge, whilst twenty 4.5" dual-purpose guns in 10 turret mountings replaced the 6" casemate secondary weapons on Queen Elizabeth and Valiant. Warspite kept her 6" secondary guns, now reduced to just four per battery.[14]

Second World War[edit]

HMS Warspite off Salerno, 1943

By the Second World War, the class were showing their age. Barham and Malaya, the least-modernized of the class, were at a disadvantage compared to modern battleships. In spite of this, Malaya prevented an attack on a transatlantic convoy by the modern German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau by her presence.[15] Queen Elizabeth, Warspite, and Valiant, the more modernised of the class, fared better. With her modern fire control equipment, Warspite scored a hit on an Italian battleship during the Battle of Calabria at a range of more than 26,000 yards, one of the longest range naval artillery hits in history.[16]

Modern torpedoes outclassed their torpedo belt protection: in November 1941, Barham was torpedoed by a U-boat and sank in five minutes, with the loss of over 800 of her crew, when her magazines detonated. Warspite survived a direct hit and two near-misses by German glider bombs, while Queen Elizabeth and Valiant were repaired and returned to service after being badly damaged by limpet mines[17] placed by Italian frogmen during a raid at Alexandria Harbour in 1941.


Ships of the Queen Elizabeth Class
Name Pennant Named for Builder Laid down Launched Commissioned Fate
Queen Elizabeth 00 Queen Elizabeth I HM Dockyard, Portsmouth 21 October 1912 16 October 1913 22 December 1914 Broken up at Dalmuir, 1948
Warspite 03 Previous namesakes HM Dockyard, Devonport 31 October 1912 26 November 1913 8 March 1915 Towed for scrapping at Faslane; ran aground at Prussia Cove April 1947
Broken up at Marazion, 1950
Valiant 02 Adj: Brave, courageous Fairfield, Clydebank 31 January 1913 4 November 1914 13 January 1916 Broken up at Cairnryan, 1948
Barham 04 1st Baron Barham John Brown, Clydebank 24 February 1913 31 October 1914 19 October 1915 Sunk following torpedo attack, 25 November 1941
Malaya 01 Federated Malay States Armstrong Whitworth, Tyneside 20 October 1913 18 March 1915 1 February 1916 Broken up at Faslane, 1948
Agincourt Battle of Agincourt HM Dockyard, Portsmouth N/A Cancelled August 1914

HMS Queen Elizabeth[edit]

Queen Elizabeth took part in the Dardanelles Campaign of 1915 bombarding forts, but missed Jutland in 1916. She became Admiral Beatty's flagship in 1917 after he assumed command of the Grand Fleet. In the Second World War she was mined by Italian frogmen and badly damaged, but did not ground in the shallow water of Alexandria Harbour in 1941.[18][19] She was subsequently repaired, and served in the Far East until 1945.

HMS Warspite[edit]

Warspite suffered severe damage at Jutland, being hit by at least 15 heavy shells. She lost 14 dead and 32 wounded, firing a total of 259 shells. In the Second World War, she took part in many battles, including Narvik, Cape Matapan, Crete, and Salerno, where she was hit by a glider bomb. She was never fully repaired, and became a coastal bombardment ship, covering the Normandy landings, further operations in other parts of France, and the Walcheren landings. She holds the most battle honours for an individual ship in the Royal Navy's history, with 14.

HMS Valiant[edit]

Valiant received no hits at Jutland but suffered one wounded and fired 288 shells. In the Second World War, she took part in the attack on the French Fleet at Mers-el-Kebir, and was mined and damaged at Alexandria in 1941. She was repaired, and served in the Far East until 1944. On 8 August 1944 whilst in the floating dock at Trincomalee, Ceylon, she was severely damaged when the dock collapsed with the result that repairs were stopped.

HMS Barham[edit]

Barham was named after Lord Barham, First Lord of the Admiralty. The Barham received five hits at Jutland, suffering 26 dead and 46 wounded and fired 337 shells. In the Second World War, she fought at Cape Matapan. On 25 November 1941 she was struck by three torpedoes from U-331, commanded by Oberleutnant zur See Hans-Diedrich von Tiesenhausen, and went down with 850 of her crew.

HMS Malaya[edit]

Malaya was hit eight times at Jutland, suffering 63 dead and 68 wounded, and fired 215 shells. In the Second World War, she escorted convoys and was damaged by a torpedo from U-106 in 1941. Subsequently, she escorted several convoys and supported various operations following the Normandy invasion until she was decommissioned in 1945.

HMS Agincourt[edit]

HMS Agincourt was to be the sixth member of the Queen Elizabeth class. She was authorized in 1913, and intended for completion in late 1916, but was cancelled after the outbreak of the First World War.[2] She is not to be confused with HMS Agincourt that was ordered by Brazil, sold to the Ottoman Empire while under construction, and seized for use by the Royal Navy before the beginning of the first World War.

Other ships[edit]

The Canadian Naval Aid Bill of 1913 intended to provide the funds for three modern battleships, which most likely would have been three more members of the Queen Elizabeth class, potentially named as Acadia, Quebec and Ontario,[20] in much the same way as Malaya had been funded. The bill met with stiff opposition in Parliament, and was not passed.[21] It is unclear if these ships would have served in the Royal Navy (as with outright gifts like Malaya or the battlecruiser New Zealand), or if they would have served in the Royal Canadian Navy (HMAS Australia, an Indefatigable-class battlecruiser, served with the Royal Australian Navy).


  1. ^ Jane, Fred T. (Parkes, Surgeon-Lt. R.N. Dr. Oscar and Prendergast, Maurice co-ed.) (1919). Jane's Fighting Ships of World War I. London: Jane's Publishing (1990 reprint, Military Press, New York; dist. by Crown Publishers). p. 36. ISBN 0-517-03375-5.
  2. ^ a b c d e Raven and Roberts, p. 17
  3. ^ Breyer, p. 135, 141.
  4. ^ Churchill
  5. ^ A Ships Cover was an official volume prepared by the Constructor's Department and contained machinery contracts, rough design specifications, trials reports, and other documents relating to the design, construction, and repair work for a specific class of ships. Surviving Covers are held by the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.
  6. ^ Lambert, Nicholas A. "'Our Bloody Ships' or 'Our Bloody System': Jutland and the Loss of the Battle Cruisers, 1916." The Journal of Military History: 61, January 1998, pp. 29–55.
  7. ^ Breyer, p. 140.
  8. ^ Greger, p. 101
  9. ^ H.M.S. Hood Association-Battle Cruiser Hood: History of H.M.S. Hood: Designing H.M.S. Hood
  10. ^ ADM 186/216 The Sight Manual, 1916, pp. 20-22, 108
  11. ^ Conway's All the World’s Fighting Ships, 1906–1921. Conway Maritime Press, 1985. ISBN 0-85177-245-5. p. 34.
  12. ^ Campbell, NJM. Jutland: An Analysis of the Fighting . Conway Maritime Press, 1986. ISBN 0-85177-379-6. p. 132.
  13. ^ Britain 15/42 (38.1 cm) Mark I
  14. ^ The Battleship Kongô
  15. ^ www.scharnhorst-class.dk
  16. ^ The German warship Scharnhorst scored a hit on the British aircraft carrier HMS Glorious at approximately the same range, a month earlier, during the evacuation of Norway.
  17. ^ Winton, John (1998). Cunningham. John Murray Publishers, 1998. ISBN 0-7195-5765-8.
  18. ^ Burt, pp.120-121: "Prior to the attack Queen Elizabeth had a draught of 33ft 5in forward and 32ft 7in aft; after the explosion: draught 41ft 10in forward, 33ft 10in aft." Queen Elizabeth was moored in approximately 48ft (8 fathoms) of water.
  19. ^ Brown, David. p. 225.
  20. ^ Schleihauf, William (2000). ""Necessary stepping stones" - The transfer of Aurora, Patriot and Patrician to the Royal Canadian Navy after the First World War". Canadian Military History. 9 (3): 21–28. Retrieved 19 March 2014.
  21. ^ Borden's Naval Aid Bill, 1912


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