The Royal Navy

Source: 'Illustrated London News'
First Published 1940.
This long defunct magazine has recently undergone a relaunch. We on the site have tried to contact both the I.L.N. and its publishers to no avail. We reproduce this article in the full knowledge we may have to remove it should they object to its publication here.



In recent defence cuts announced this year, 2004, it was revealed that all three services are to be cut to such levels that their combined efforts would be only equal to that of your average second rate European country. For a country whose current commitments and obligations far outstrip the rest of Europe combined its worth remembering exactly where we were with regards the Royal Navy no more than sixty or so years ago. At the time, the current Prime Minister of the day, Winston Churchill, considered by his race to be the 'Greatest Briton' that ever lived declared in a speech dated 31st of January 1940 as follows: -

"The Navy is today, as it always has been in our history, the first line of defence of these islands and of the great Empire which was built up by the toil and the enterprise of our forefathers.

I sometimes wonder whether we fully realise all that the navy has to do. If you ask me what is the battlefront of the navy, I say it is wherever British ships sail on the oceans that cover two thirds of the earth's surface. To give you an idea of the demands upon them I may tell you that since the outbreak of the war one of our battleships has covered already 30,000 miles. In the first 120 days one of our cruisers was at sea for 102 days and one of our destroyers for 103 days in succession.

"Do we landsmen realise what is the tremendous extent of these spaces of blue water which look so small upon the map or upon the globe? Why, from the north of Scotland to the coast of Greenland, that a space or gap through which a German raider has to pass to reach the Atlantic, or a German merchantman have to penetrate in order to take their cargoes to a home port, is one thousand miles long, and in wintertime visibility by day is not more than a mile. And yet that space is being continuously patrolled by the British Navy with increasing success."

When posting the following I realise that time and technology have moved on to such an extent that the service of monolithic battleships is no longer required or that the vast armada of ships assembled in 1940 is rather in excess for today's requirements. But surely, the reductions already made and those in the pipeline are a step too far made by politicians who neither have a grasp or the first idea on how to run one of the most efficient national institutions in the world today. Do those in Government, who do nothing but reinforce my opinion on euthanasia think that eventually we can tread the path of the Merchant Navy, that of employing foreign nationals to do our duty and work for us? Are the Admiralty to be replaced by an unanswerable to no-one quango who's only brief is that of cost efficiency, are our officers and ratings to be replaced by such multi racial crews already adopted within our merchant service that no-one understands an utterance by anyone else? Are we to rely on others and if so who, recent events worldwide only undermine those that proclaim so and if we are to go further back, the actions of the by then up and coming superpower America over Suez is further proof that we can rely on no-one but ourselves. We must insist that our services, on whom we rely and trust, are provided not only with the best available equipment but also in the quantities required to carry out their oft dangerous assignments. It is not my intention to commence a political argument but merely to point out to those interested that the decline of our armed services must cease, especially when we have reached such levels that we can no longer service our current commitments.

A short while ago I had the pleasure of meeting a young gentleman, Christopher Dixon from Glasgow, Lanarkshire, who's Great Grandfather had given him the copy of the "London Illustrated News" published in 1940 which is used as a term of reference for this article. All is written in the current tense and copied faithfully. The site is indebted to Christopher for leaving his volume in our care until as such time as we have finished the story. I realise what follows is under copyright somewhere, but reproduce the paintings and photographs on the understanding that they will be removed if the current owners of the said copyrights object.

At the time of publication the 'King George V Class' of Battleship had commenced a five ship build program of which King George V was the first, launched at the Walker Yard of Messrs. Vickers Armstrong on the 21st of February 1939 by the King her specifications was as follows:-


Drawing by Oscar Parkes, OBE.

Displacement: 35,000 tons.
Length/breadth: 745ft x 103ft.
Aircraft: Unknown but hangers for three fitted.
Guns: 10 x 14"., 16 x 5.25".

Ships to be completed in this class included the King George V were the Prince of Wales, Duke of York, Jellicoe and the Beatty. On completion the Jellicoe became Anson and Beatty the Howe.

Another four Battleships under construction at the time belonged to the 'Lion Class' and their specifications were as follows: -

Displacement: 42,500 tons.
Length/breadth: 740ft x 105ft.
Aircraft: Unspecified.
Guns: 9 x 16"., 16 x 5.25".

Ships to be completed of this class were the "Lion", "Temeraire" and two other with unspecified names. "Temeraire" was later cancelled as were possibly the two remaining.

Nelson Class

Two Battleships "Nelson", Armstrong, 1927 & "Rodney", Cammell Laird, 1927.



Displacement: Nelson 33,950 tons, Rodney 33,900 tons.
Dimensions: 710 x 106 x 30 draught.
Aircraft: One in Nelson two on Rodney.
Guns: 9 x 16", 12 x 6", 6 x 4.7", A.A. twenty-two including multiple Pom-pom.
Torpedo Tubes: Two 24.5" submerged.
HP & Speed: 45,000 at 23 knots.

Both "Nelson" and "Rodney" are remarkable ships, the products of unique circumstances. They were first planned as enormous battle cruisers of 48,000 tons. When under the restrictions of the Naval Treaties these plans were abandoned, the fittings and guns designed for the 48,000-ton vessels had to be incorporated in the ships limited to the 35,000 tons. The grouping of the three turrets forward results in a great saving of weight. It has, however, been criticised, because it deprives the ships of main battery-fire astern. Yet, oddly enough, this grouping of the main armament, originally partly a makeshift has been extensively copied and found imitators among French Naval designers (witness the "Dunkerque" and "Richelieu"). The great tower structure represents a combination of the former bridgework and tripod mast, and is the only method of ensuring adequate support and vision for the modern fire-control apparatus, with provision for bridge-work, sea cabins, signalling positions, navigating platforms, and so forth.

The grouping of the three 6-inch gun turrets on either beam allows for eight of these guns to be trained ahead or astern, while the magazines and shell-rooms are in one block, with power-worked hoists direct to the turrets. The 16-inch guns of the "Nelson" and "Rodney" are the only weapons of such a size at present in use in the Royal Navy. Each gun weighs just over a hundred tons, and fires a projectile weighing just over a ton at a velocity of about thirty-three miles a minute. The cost of firing a triple broadside from these guns was estimated at seven hundred pounds before the war. The underwater protection of these ships is most efficient. When the "Nelson" ran over a magnetic mine last December, she was able to return to port under her own steam. Their horizontal protection is also very good, as was shown when the "Rodney" was struck by a heavy bomb, off Norway, but only sustained a few casualties. If "Nelson" and "Rodney" have been the object of facetious remarks in the past, it was only because of their unconventional appearance. They were nicknamed the "Cherry Tree" class when first launched, because "they were cut down by Washington".

Royal Sovereign Class.

"Royal Sovereign", Portsmouth, 1916, "Resolution", Palmer, 1916, "Ramillies", Beardmore, 1917, and "Revenge", Vickers, 1916.

Displacement: 29,150 tons, about 33,500 tons full load.

Compliment: 1,009-1,146 all fitted as flagships.

Dimensions: 620ft 6inch x 102ft 6inch x 28ft 6inch draught. HP and Speed: 40,000 at 22 knots.
Aircraft: One with catapult on "X" turret in "Resolution."
Guns: Eight 15 inch; Twelve 6 inch; Eight 4 inch A.A. four three pounders.
Torpedo Tubes: Two in "Revenge."

Wright & Logan.


There were five battleships of the "Royal Sovereign" class until the sinking of the "Royal Oak" in Scapa Flow last October. The original plan was to make them coal burning vessels; but owing to the intervention of Lord Fisher their design was modified while they were still on the stocks and they were converted to oil burning; thus two knots were added to their speed, but one knot was sacrificed when the ships were fitted with modified bulges along the waterline as an anti torpedo measure. In the "Royal Oak" the bulges were very conspicuous, and the protection they afforded undoubtedly accounted for the fact that it took no fewer than three or four torpedoes striking her in quick succession to cause her to capsize and sink. "Royal Oak" was one of the battleships engaged in the Battle of Jutland; and so were the "Resolution" and "Royal Sovereign" of the same class. The "Revenge" (which bears a famous name in the Royal Navy-Sir Richard Grenville's name jumps at once to the memory) was hit by a torpedo in the course of the battle, but it failed to explode. The "Royal Sovereign" is another old name in the Navy, going back to 1635, the present ship being the seventh. The "Ramillies" is the fifth ship to bear that name, the first having been christened in 1706, in the very year of Malborough's victory. But most historic of all is the name "Resolution", which has been given to no fewer than seventeen of the King's ship in succession.

Wright & Logan.


"Queen Elizabeth" Class.

"Queen Elizabeth", Portsmouth, 1915, "Warspite", Devonport, 1915, "Valiant", Fairfield, 1916, "Barham", Clydebank 1915, and "Malaya", Elswick 1916.

Displacement: 30,000 tons about 35,000 tons full load.
Compliment: 1,124-1,184 all fitted as flagships.
Dimensions: 643ft 9inch x 104ft x 33ft 6inch draught, " Valiant's" length differed from that of her sisters, being 639ft 9inch.
HP and Speed: 80,000 at 24 knots.
Aircraft: Four with catapult.
Guns: Eight 15 inch, Eight 6inch, Eight 4 inch, A.A. Four three ponders, 5 MG, Ten Lewis.

Drawing by Oscar Parkes, OBE.

Wright & Logan

The "Queen Elizabeth" class of battleships, perhaps the most famous, and certainly one of the most successful capital ship designs ever produced, have had a long and eventual history, with the unique distinction, since the days of steel ships, of playing a leading part in two great naval wars. The five " Queen Elizabeth's, " under Rear Admiral Evan-Thomas, were the stalwarts that covered Beatty's battle-cruisers on their turn northwards at Jutland, and for a time endured the concentrated fire of not only the powerful German battle-cruisers, but also of some of the German battleships. Twenty-three years later, in the conflict in which the Royal Navy is now engaged, the veteran "Warspite" was Rear Admiral Whitworth's flagship, when his force broke into Narvick on April 13th, and annihilated the German naval division there. Accounts show that she used her 15-inch guns to good effect.

The original success of the " Queen Elizabeth" battleships lay in the introduction of the 15 inch gun and the fact that they were designed to burn oil fuel only. The economies thus achieved explain their extraordinary combination f speed, toughness and fighting power. Their toughness was shown at Jutland when a hit temporarily put the " Warspite's" steering gear out of commission. With jammed helm she began to describe an involuntary circle towards the German line. This took her within 10,000 yards of the enemy and she became a target for seven German ships. Fountains of water from falling shells hid her from view. She was struck eleven times before her steering gear was finally got under control, and yet as she sought to rejoin her squadron she was still capable of fighting. Only the fact that when she steamed at more than sixteen knots water poured into her engine rooms from shell holes in her side aft, led Admiral Evans-Thomas to order her to leave the battle and make her way alone to Rosyth for repairs.

By Oscar Parkes OBE.

Wright & Logan.

Wright & Logan.

This splendid ship was the first of the class, in recent years, to undergo a radical modernisation, which practically made a new ship of her. The diagrammatic drawing of the "Warspite" shown below, gives a good insight into her design after reconstruction, at a cost of 2,362,000. A great tower bridge, reminiscent of that in the " Nelson" and "Rodney," was raised amidships; aircraft hangers to accommodate four machines, and an athwart-ship catapult have added enormously to her efficiency as a fighting unit. In the " Warspite" the old pattern of secondary battery in casements has been retained, but in her sister-ships whose reconstruction followed hers, a secondary battery of dual-purpose guns in separate turrets has been mounted on the forecastle deck. Space does not permit us to detail here the full history of the adaptations and reconstructions of these ships, which includes their equipment with bulges, and the trunking of their original two funnels into one big funnel shortly after the last war. Jane's "Fighting Ships" states the cost of the reconstruction of the " Warspite" to have been over two millions.

Hood Class.
One ship, "Hood" John Brown's, Clydebank, 1920.

Displacement: 42,000 tons.
Compliment: 1,341 fitted as flagship.
Dimensions: 860ft 7 inch x 105ft 2.5 inch x 28ft 6 inch draught.
HP and Speed: 144,000 at 31 knots. Aircraft: One to be added.
Guns: Eight 15 inch, Twelve 5.5 inch, Eight 4 inch A.A. Nineteen smaller.
Torpedo Tubes: 21 inch above water in pairs.

Abrahams & C.E. Brown.

H.M.S. "Hood" is still the largest warship in the world and will remain so until the American 45,000-ton giants take to the water; for modern engineering improvements make it possible to crowd the power necessary to drive a large ship at high speed into a much smaller space than when the "Hood" was first designed in 1915. She was originally planned as one of four huge battle-cruisers, "Anson", "Howe", "Rodney" and "Hood," and we find suggestions made in 1921 that they could comprise an Imperial Fleet Unit, to the building and maintenance of which the Commonwealth, Dominions and Union of South Africa should contribute funds. The "Hood" was launched in August of 1918 at Clydebank, the ceremony being performed by Lady Hood, widow of Admiral Hood, who lost his life while gallantly leading the Third Battle-Cruiser Squadron at Jutland. It was subsequently decided, however, not to proceed with the other ships and their building was stopped. The design of these battle-cruisers was radically recast after Jutland, when our battle-cruisers were shown to be inadequately protected. Five thousand additional tons of armour were allowed for at the expense of a couple of knots of speed; the result being a compromise of great offensive power, adequate protection and high speed, which places the "Hood" in a unique position among the worlds warships.

She still stands as a supremely efficient hunter of commerce raiders, and it can be well imagined, if it had been the "Admiral Graf Spee's" fortune to have been caught by the "Hood" instead of by a squadron of ordinary cruisers, what short shrift she would have received from an enormous vessel that could both out steam her by a large margin and meet her broadside with about four times the weight of metal at a very much greater range. "Hoods" radius of action is given as 4,000 miles by the French manual "Flottes de Combat" but there is good reason to believe it is now considerably more. The "Hood" began her career as a flagship in the Battle-Cruiser Squadron of the Atlantic Fleet, and together with "Repulse" represented the British Navy at the celebrations of the Centenary of Brazilian Independence in 1922.

Renown Class,

"Renown" Fairfield, 1916 & "Repulse" Clydebank, 1916.

Displacement: 32,000 tons, "Renown" 37,400 ton, "Repulse" 36,800 ton full load.
Complement: 1,181-1,205 fitted as flagship.
Dimensions: "Renown" 794ft 1.5 inch x 102ft 8 inch x 30ft 4 inch.
"Repulse" 794ft 2.5 inch x 102ft 8inch x 31ft 9 inch.
HP and Speed: "Renown" 120,000 at 29 knots, "Repulse" 112,000 at 29 knots.
Aircraft: Four.
Guns: "Renown": Six 15 inch, Eight 4.5 inch, Twelve 4 inch, Eighteen smaller.
"Repulse": Six 15 inch, Twelve 4 inch, Eight 4 inch A.A., Four 3 pounder, One 12 pounder Field, Five M.G., Ten Lewis.
Torpedo: "Repulse" Eight above water in pairs.


The battle-cruiser "Repulse" has acquired a certain fame in the present war, not (as this work goes to press) through being involved in any great action, but through the industrious efforts of Dr. Goebbels and his propaganda experts to prove she has been torpedoed in Scapa Flow at the same time as the "Royal Oak." This propaganda campaign was almost as calamitous from the German point of view as the campaign to sink the "Ark Royal" on the wireless. In both cases there was probably a hidden motive, in that the Germans were particularly anxious to find out where our battle-cruisers, and the most modern of our aircraft-carries, were operating at a time when they were trying to get their commerce-raiders "Deutschland" and "Admiral Graf Spee" out onto the high seas.

The "Renown" was the first British capital ship to go into action against another capital ship in the present war. This occurred when she encountered the German battle-cruiser "Scharnhorst" with a "Hipper" class cruiser, off Narvik in a snow storm. The "Scharnhorst" was the smaller, but far the more modern ship. After nine minutes' firing at 18,000 yards the "Renown" hit the "Scharnhorst" forward and wrecked her fire control system, for a time silencing her guns. The action took place at high speed, the "Renown" having to push up to 24 knots through heavy seas breaking over her forward guns and turrets. After a few more minutes' firing a vertical column of smoke was observed upon the "Scharnhorst" and she made off under cover of a smoke screen laid by the cruiser. Both the "Repulse" and "Renown" were first designed as modified battleships of the "Royal Sovereign" class. After the Falkland Islands they were redesigned as battle-cruisers; but then, after Jutland, the meagre vertical and horizontal armour of these ships, similar to that of the "Invincible" of unhappy memory, caused great misgiving in the Fleet, and upon Jellicoe's representations they were at once taken in hand for their deck and magazine protection to be strengthened.


Even then their vast unarmoured sides left them exceedingly vulnerable, and shortly after the war additional belt and main-deck armour were given to the "Repulse"; additional inside armour and bulges being given to the "Renown" at a somewhat later date. Of recent years they have again been reconstructed, and this time their appearance radically modified, so that the two ships now bear very little resemblance to each other. The "Repulse" was equipped with aircraft hangars and an athwartship catapult, but the original tripod mainmast carrying the director towers was left practically unaltered. The "Renown" has been completely changed and virtually made into a new ship. She has been given a massive tower-bridge on the lines of the "Rodney" and "Nelson," an entirely new type dual purpose secondary armament, large aircraft hangars by the second funnel, and her mainmast reduced to a stump. This reconstruction completed in 1939, cost over 3,000,000.

Go to     Chapter Two