Of all the Royal Navy's Battleships, there are none more 'highly regarded, heavily worked and wartime modified' than those of the Queen Elizabeth class - and of those, is there 'none more renowned' than HMS Queen Elizabeth herself:
HMS Queen Elizabeth and her four sister battleships (Barham, Malaya, Valiant and Warspite) had all been laid down (for construction) in 1912/1913. Being completed in 1915/1916 they were soon 'put to use' within World War One - with HMS Queen Elizabeth 'shelling land forts' in the Dardanelles, and her sisters 'taking heavy fire' at the Battle of Jutland. In terms of Naval Architecture, there is 'an important milestone' which is usually accredited to them: they are seen as, the World's first true, fast battleships :) For one simple reason - their designs were close to 'the ideals' of matched: armour, guns and speed! By the time of World War Two (1939 to 1945), they were regarded as the Royal Navy's primary battleships - with HMS Queen Elizabeth herself 'being the most modified' within her long service life (of 33 years).
When it comes to the Queen Elizabeth's profile/battleship class, there are four features that I particularly liked:
The arrangement of her primary armament naval guns - 2 twin turrets forward, and 2 twin turrets astern. Which for me 'has always felt like' that it best encapsulated 'the ideas of balance'. And yet, do these ideas of balance, also apply to the choice of naval gun calibre. For the Queen Elizabeth class, were armed with eight 15 inch naval guns, which are believed to have been, the best well balanced guns, within the Royal Navy. As the 15 inch naval gun/shell, met the ideals of: maximised destructive fire-power, with low barrel wear/tear, and considerable engagement range :) Which is perhaps 'just slightly ironic', because it was feared, that the 15 inch calibre shell, would be inferior (in terms of performance and robustness) to the 'well established and proven' 13.5 inch calibre shell - which was fitted to 'the preceding generation' of British battleships (the Iron Duke class).
Whilst the earlier profile/appearance of the Queen Elizabeth, was certainly impressive 'they are as nothing' when compared to the Queen Elizabeth, when she was overhauled - with her imposing 'block like' forward superstructure (and conning tower). As this feature 'more than any other' totally modernised the appearance of the Queen Elizabeth :) Whilst at the same time, do I feel that it improved, her fighting capabilities 'no-end' - as there was so much more 'available space and vantage points' for fire control (including new 'gunnery radar').
The Queen Elizabeth 'was originally armed' with sixteen 6 inch (case-mated) secondary naval guns - which were 'at the mercy' of turbulent seas! The fact that these 6 inch guns, were designed 'with the sole purpose' of engaging enemy vessels - meant that they were of little use/value, against enemy aircraft. Thus 'was I glad' when the Queen Elizabeth was overhauled, with a dedicated secondary armament, of twenty 4.5 inch dual purpose guns - that could target both enemy warships and enemy aircraft :) I also liked the fact, that these dual purpose guns, were now 'enclosed in turrets', and that they were located 'at higher levels' above the hull form (i.e. at forecastle deck and quarterdeck levels), which afforded more 'usability and accuracy' in turbulent seas :)
The addition of anti-torpedo bulges 'onto the sides' of the Queen Elizabeth's hull form. Whereas previous battleships had been 'coal powered' - the Queen Elizabeth class was 'oil fuelled'. Yet oil 'did not protect' like coal did! Because coal 'when stored in hull forms' - both dampened the explosive forces/shockwaves of torpedo impacts, and guarded against flooding. Thus 'the addition of hull form bulges' provided an external layer of protection, against 'incoming enemy torpedoes'. Unfortunately, as the torpedoes of World War Two 'gradually became stronger' - it was found that their bulges 'were insufficient'. HMS Barham provided 'conclusive proof of this' - when she was hit by 3 torpedoes (amidships), soon capsizing 'with her magazines exploding' and sinking!
I feel that the Queen Elizabeth class battleships 'would have been even better' if the modifications had been 'left at the above' - yet they were also modified to carry aircraft. As it was felt (at the time) that battleships 'needed help spotting'. The idea being that 'spotting/reconnaissance aircraft' would be useful, for providing information to the battleship - such as 'sighted local enemy warships' and/or ground forces (for shore bombardment). In previous battleships, such aircraft were 'usually launched' from modified gun turret roofs - but HMS Queen Elizabeth herself, had the following setup:
An aircraft 'launch catapult' that was installed 'across the width of the ship' (behind the smokestack).
Two large 'aircraft recovery cranes' that were installed 'one port one starboard' (behind the smokestack).
Two large 'aircraft hangers' that were used for 'aircraft storage and maintenance' (behind the smokestack).
Despite having these 'fancy aircraft handling arrangements' - it was 'eventually learned' that aircraft aboard battleships 'took up too much space', and that aircraft 'were better left' to aircraft carriers. As such, HMS Queen Elizabeth had all of her aircraft removed (July 1943) - yet I also feel, that the superiority of 'radar directed fire' contributed to this decision.
Within World War Two, HMS Queen Elizabeth was initially stationed within the 'Home Fleet' (i.e. coastal waters of the United Kingdom) whereby she completed her 'sea trails' (as was required 'on completion' of her major refit). After assisting within the Atlantic (i.e. convoy duties) she was then transferred to the Mediterranean. Whilst based at Gibraltar, she 'steams to rendezvous with' an incoming Atlantic convoy (which is carrying allied 'troops, fighter planes and tanks' for Egypt). The convoy 'runs the gauntlet' to Alexandria (also being protected 'along the way' by the battleships HMS Barham, HMS Warspite and HMS Valiant) - where upon arrival (at Alexandria), the Queen Elizabeth becomes flagship. At this time, 'Germany decides' that Crete (as held by the British) is fundamental 'to the German war machine'. As such, the Queen Elizabeth reinforces 'defensive fleet operations' in/around the waters of Crete (helping to guard against Italian warships and German aircraft). The Queen Elizabeth then participates in several 'fleet gunnery exercises' (north of the Suez Canal), together with several 'diversionary missions' (that are designed to 'draw heat' from other 'allied convoys and naval operations'). It's then time 'for the big one' when Queen Elizabeth (and her sisters Barham and Valiant) are ordered 'to provide fire support' for the British Army's 'North African relief of Tobruk'. It is here that HMS Barham is 'torpedoed and sunk'! Shortly after, with both HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Valiant 'having returned' to Alexandria, the Italians penetrate the harbour defences and 'place explosives' underneath their hull forms. Both Queen Elizabeth and Valiant are damaged! Unfortunately, the Queen Elizabeth was 'so badly damaged' that it takes around 18 months to repair her (even having to transfer to the United States 'to fully complete her repairs'). The Queen Elizabeth then returns to the United Kingdom, whereby her crew 'is made ready', and it is decided that she be transferred to the Indian Ocean (via Gibraltar and the Suez Canal) to support British operations 'against the Japanese'.
It really 'can be seen' that the Queen Elizabeth 'was a workhorse' of the Royal Navy, which is why she was 'repaired and overhauled' during wartime (although 'the same is also true' for her sisters). She had a 'fundamental role' to play within the Mediterranean, whereby if she hadn't been present at Alexandria, I feel that the Allies 'would have been overrun'. As a whole, the Queen Elizabeth class battleships were regarded as 'being extremely robust, but frequently targeted by the enemy'. This was 'even more so' for her sister HMS Warspite, who with incomplete repairs (only six 15 inch naval guns) was used to bombard the invasion beaches of D-Day! Even so, the Queen Elizabeth 'shall always be my favourite':
Yes, she was 'heavily damaged' at Alexandria, but she was 'rebuilt and made as new' - because she had a job to do!
HMS Queen Elizabeth's Battleship Data ('as modernised' in 1940):
Armament: Eight 15 inch naval guns (4 x 2), twenty 4.5 inch dual purpose guns (10 x 2), thirty-two 2-pounder 'pom-poms' guns (4 x 8), fifty-two 20 mm 'Oerlikon cannons' (26 x 2) and sixteen 0.5 inch 'Vickers' machine guns (4 x 4).
Armour: Belt (6 to 13 inches), primary turrets (4.5 to 13 inches), barbettes (4 to 10 inches), secondary turrets (up to 2 inches), decks (up to 5 inches) and bulkheads (4 to 6 inches).
Whilst Valiant's data 'was similar' and Warspite's data 'secondary armament different' - both Barham and Malaya 'were considerably different' (because they were not modified 'as much as their sisters').
If there's one Battleship (more than any other), that best illustrates the requirement of, mounting as many naval guns on your battleship (as possible), then there's no finer example, than the Royal Navy's - HMS Agincourt:
HMS Agincourt (of 1913), mounted no fewer than, fourteen twelve-inch naval guns (in seven twin-turrets). This was done, to both maximise her fire-power, and increase the chances of hitting, an enemy battleship. I like the fact, that her turret arrangement, adhered to the principles of Naval Conflict, that had been learned in the days of Nelson's - HMS Victory: the more guns you have, the more fighting power, your warship - brings to bear :) And yet, perhaps unlike the days of HMS Victory, did this maximisation of guns - come with a price tag! In the case of Agincourt, carrying so many turrets (seven) meant that their weight had to be 'paid for', at the expense of adequate - armoured protection ...
This was particularly apparent, upon the thinness of her belt armour (up to nine inches), the thinness of her deck armour (up to two and a half inches), and the thinness of her bulkheads (up to six inches). Of these, I would say that it's the bulkheads thickness, that would concern me the most - as having seven gun turrets, could easily mean, that a fire/explosion, in one of their magazine's/shell handling room's, could easily spread, to an adjacent gun turret/group of turrets! And given the fact, that HMS Agincourt was regarded (amongst the Royal Navy), as a 'floating magazine' - leads little to the imagination ... Despite this, there are three features to HMS Agincourt's profile, that I quite liked:
The fact that HMS Agincourt mounted all of her primary naval guns, on the centreline, of her hull form. This meant that she could bring all, primary naval guns to bear, on both port and starboard - which maximised her broadside. The adoption/standardised use of centreline turrets went hand-in-hand with the 'Space Age Idea', of super-firing turrets (where one turret's roof, was directly beneath, another turret's gun barrels). In the case of HMS Agincourt, this leads to an interesting arrangement, of her stern turrets - a little group of three, which was 'somewhat unique' in their layout :)
Having so many primary naval guns (fourteen twelve-inch), made it a 'key requirement' for her shell spotters, to have an unimpeded line-of-sight, towards the enemy. Thus, it is good to see, that her forward lookout platform/spotting top (that's mounted atop the forward-most tripod mast), is actually located, in-front of the forward-most smokestack - where it seems less likely to have been 'smoked out'.
Whereas HMS Dreadnought (the so-called grandfather of all later/better battleships), had for the most part, omitted any (dedicated) secondary armament - the same could not be said, for HMS Agincourt. In the case of Agincourt, I like the fact that she featured twenty six-inch guns - that were all grouped, within the 'central third' of her hull form.
For me, the inclusion of six-inch (surface target) guns reflected a decent realisation of the 'potential menace' of Destroyers and Patrol Boats (who could both launch torpedoes!). Yet here do I find, that there's a secondary armament feature - which I was not so keen on:
The fact that her six-inch guns, were case-mated (i.e. built into the hull form), and that they were situated (mostly) beneath main deck level - meant that they would have been unusable, in anything but 'a calm sea'!
Despite this, the inclusion of a (powerful) secondary armament, meant that Agincourt, did at least cater for, two different ranges, of Naval Engagement - both long range (with her twelve-inch guns), and short/medium range (with her six-inch guns). This made naval combat 'so much easier' - as off target 'shell splashes' could be traced 'more easily' to one of two gun calibres (with any 'necessary aiming adjustments' being made to the associated naval guns).
HMS Agincourt was a 'somewhat novel solution', to the conflicting naval requirements - of both maximising fire-power, and maintaining survivability. Ironically, the spread of her seven turrets, both aided survivability (as the chances of an enemy shell, knocking them all out - was much reduced), but the chances of an enemy shell, knocking out the entire battleship, was much increased (as the turrets were housed within a hull form, that did not have enough - armoured protection).
HMS Agincourt's Battleship Data:
Armament: Fourteen 12 inch naval guns (7 x 2), twenty 6 inch naval guns (20 x 1), ten 3 inch naval guns (10 x 1) and three 21 inch torpedo tubes.
Armour: Belt (4 to 9 inches), turrets (up to 12 inches), barbettes (3 to 9 inches), decks (1 to 2.5 inches), bulkheads (up to 6 inches).
If there's one Battleship (more than any other), that's responsible for defining an entire genre of Warships, than that credit of distinction, belongs only to the Royal Navy's - HMS Dreadnought (of 1906):
HMS Dreadnought was a 'World Above', the Warships that had come before her (the pre-dreadnoughts), and her design was so radical (at the time), that she gave her name, to all the Dreadnoughts that came after her (which we know by today - as Battleships). I especially like the fact, that HMS Dreadnought, helped redefine the definition/meaning of the phase: Naval Engagement ... This was achieved, through a 'Space Age Idea' - that unified her primary armament, to be of all the same calibre of guns: ten twelve-inch naval guns. This in-turn, supported the idea of Naval Engagements, from greater distances - as shell spotters, only had to look for one type of shell splash (to help correct their aiming).
Why the requirement for a greater range of naval engagement? Well ... It was believed, that such Dreadnoughts, would no longer be within the range of - enemy torpedoes! It was an idea that was regarded as radical, because Navy Engagements (up to circa 1906), had always been fought, at closer ranges (being somewhat reminiscent, of the days of Nelson's - HMS Victory).
When it comes to HMS Dreadnought's profile, there are three features, which stand out for me:
Her high 'ram shaped' bow. This would have helped with her sea keeping (of 21 knots), and have been useful (owing to its shape), for the ramming of enemy warships, and submarines!
The poles that extend along the side of her hull form. At first, I thought that these were a part of her armour - but they are in-fact, booms for her anti-torpedo nets (which would have been deployed, when she was in port, and/or when she was stationary).
The layout of her primary armament gun turrets (i.e. her ten twelve-inch naval guns). Three gun turrets were located on her centre line, and could fire on either beam - at an enemy located to port or starboard (as the turrets rotated). The remaining two turrets, were located on her beams/wings (one port, one starboard) - but could only fire at an enemy, located on the relevant beam/wing (owing to limited rotation, and no line of sight/fire across her main deck). Thus do I like, the fact that HMS Dreadnought, could bring to bear: eight twelve-inch naval guns - for a full naval broadside!
Despite this, there are two design features (of HMS Dreadnought), that I did not like:
Her complete lack 'of a true' secondary armament. Having been so revolutionary, it was almost an afterthought, to have added in twenty-seven twelve-pounder (5.44 kilogram) guns. These, were all mounted above deck, both on the roofs of her primary gun turrets, and within her topside superstructure. And as such, I find it slightly ironic/reflective, that these were the positions, which were used in later Battleship classes, for anti-aircraft arrangements. Thus did HMS Dreadnought, lack any effective close range, medium calibre guns - that could have been of use, against enemy Patrol Boats and Destroyers (who ironically, could launch torpedoes!).
The location of her forward most, gun spotting platform (atop the tripod mast). Which could easily be 'smoked out', when she was at speed! Although to be fair, this particular design flaw, also affected - later Battleships.
HMS Dreadnought 'was the first of her kind', who sparked a Naval Arms race - as other countries, also wanted Dreadnoughts. Even so, there's one particular area, that Dreadnought often receives flak for - that her thickest belt armour (of 11 inches), was actually located beneath the waterline (when she was at sea), where it would do - little good! In any case, HMS Dreadnought was a 'step in the right direction', as many of her novel features, made it successfully into - later Battleship classes :)
HMS Dreadnought's Battleship Data:
Armament: Ten 12 inch naval guns (5 x 2), twenty-seven 12 pounder guns (27 x 1) and five 18 inch torpedo tubes.
Armour: belt (4 to 11 inches), turrets and barbettes (up to 11 inches), decks (0.75 to 4 inches), bulkheads (up to 8 inches).
Battleships - The Ultimate Guide to the Worlds Greatest Battleships
The third book on battleships that I have read, is Battleships - The Ultimate Guide to the World's Greatest Battleships:
The first fact I noticed about this book, is that it takes a different format ... Battleships are not presented country-by-country, they are instead broken down based upon their chronological classification: The Pre-Dreadnought Era, Dreadnought, The First World War, The Treaty Battleships, The Second World War, and the End of the Line (aka the swansong). Amazingly, this approach seems to work quite well! Another difference is the fact that this book is much more reading based - and yet, the book still manages to be crammed full of many high-quality battleship photographs :) You may think that the Pre-Dreadnought Era could be quite boring - but not at all ... I'm amazed that the Royal Navy built a fourteen thousand tonne, Royal Sovereign class battleship (called HMS Hood) in circa 1889. That fact made me wonder how many battleship classes, and battleship names have been re-used throughout naval history (as those of you who enjoy reading about battleships - shall be aware that the Royal Navy, also had a 1913 Royal Sovereign battleship class, and a later/better edition HMS Hood). My favourite chapters are The Treaty Battleships, and The Second World War - for one simple reason: battleships were clearly becoming larger and more powerful (despite the so called Washington Treaty). The book features one of the best descriptions of The Washington Treaty (and related) that I have ever read: an attempt to limit the expense of battleship building programs, by con-straining the amount of battleships each nation could have, together with the size and power of future battleships ... For me, the aim of such treaties, is no more clearly illustrated, than by the book's coverage, of the Royal Navy's Nelson class. As this book's stunning photos of HMS Nelson, only serves to highlight the fact, that Nelson had all three triple sixteen inch gun turrets mounted forwards, of the main superstructure - in a bid to save weight. Even so, this book helped me realise, that there was an unexpected side effect of such treaties: that there was nothing to stop the World's navies, improving/modernising existing battleships! This was especially true of Japan, who with an eye to future war, pretty much modernised her entire fleet - especially with regard to speed and protection. In doing so, such nations hotted up the battleship building programs again, ensuring that as World War Two broke out, most battleships would be true behemoths (the like of which had not been seen before!). I feel that this book, covers all of this in great detail, which is why it can be hard to put down :) Added to this, is the fact that the book goes one stage further, as it includes specific battleship technology sections ... Of these, my favourites are: armour protection (as I enjoyed reading about the evolution of battleship armour, especially that it's all wood backed!), inside a gun turret/naval gun (as it helped to make me aware, of the tasks undertaken by gun crews) and anti-aircraft defences (as it helped me realise, that later battleships featured three levels of such defences - long range for bombers, medium range for torpedo bombers, and short range for fighters that got through, including kamikaze). Overall: I found this book to be an amazing merger of battleship fact, battleship story/spirit, battleship history/war, and battleship photographs. Of these, there's one particular photograph (that for me), captures the Heart and Soul, of a battleship and her crew (more than any other): the USS North Carolina, as she steams to war ...
The second book on battleships that I have read, is Conway's Battleships: The Definitive Visual Reference to the World's All-big-gun Ships:
After reading the introduction of this book, I decided upon one simple stance: I was hooked! The introduction covers an amazing amount of topics: battleships before 1900, fire control, Dreadnought, armour, World War One, the Washington Treaty and World War Two. The introduction also features some stunning photographs ... My favourite is that of the USS Wisconsin - which immediately puts the size of triple 16 inch naval gun turrets into perspective. Another eye opening photograph is the rotating upright of the USS Oklahoma (fifteen months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour) as I had no idea that the American's possessed such salvage equipment. Its another book that lays out battleships country-by-country, and class-by-class, with each entry typically featuring four components: a profile line drawing, a statistics box, lengthy descriptive text, and decent photographs (and/or art). I first read this book in 2011, and still find it's content - to be of interesting value :) Its another navy book, where you cant help but notice, the shear number of entries that both Great Britain, and it's Royal Navy has ... I think its fair to say, that the entries for Great Britain, best illustrate the rise of battleship technology: earlier units featuring anti-torpedo nets and booms, earlier units featuring the loading of coal (as opposed to oil fuel), earlier units featuring bi-planes (on their primary gun turrets), earlier units with wrong lessons learned (the entire battle-cruiser concept!), middle units with the emergence of the first modern battleships (the Queen Elizabeth class), all units the race for bigger naval guns (12 inch, 13.5 inch, 14 inch, 15 inch, 16 inch and 18 inch), later units the quest for speed (especially the Royal Navy's Renown and Hood classes) and finally: later units featuring thicker armour and better armour disposition (with lessons learned from wartime experience). My other favourite country's battleships (within the book), is of course the United States, and it's US Navy ... As such, one important fact is immediately apparent, about earlier American battleships: their reliance on lattice masts. Whilst I understand why the Americans opted for lattice masts (weight saving and supposed better protection from blast shock-waves), I'm so glad that they eventually made the switch to (more conventional) tripod masts! My three favourite American battleship classes (within this book) are: North Carolina (with USS Washington at speed), South Dakota (with USS Massachusetts' secondary armament all aimed skywards) and Iowa (with USS Missouri in memorial at Pearl Harbour). All three entries feature text, that just keeps you turning those pages :) Overall: an amazing battleship book, that both features informative text (although there are some errors), together with stunning photographs (especially for later battleships - such as the Iowa class). And it is here, that I realised which of the book's photographs, is indeed my all-time favourite, battleship photo (thus far): the crew of the USS Missouri, on a particular VJ Day anniversary (which really serves to illustrate, both the size and the power, of an American triple 16 inch naval gun turret!).
The first book on battleships that I ever read, was Jane's Battleships of the 20th Century:
I was first struck by the quality of this book, especially the quality of the battleship artwork: being hand-drawn, coloured and (usually) of the right-hand-side of the vessel, I have found the drawings to be suitable fuel for my battleship interest :) The larger drawings span two pages, and are crammed full of details - including battleship conning towers, primary and secondary armament arrangement, camouflage schemes, and plenty of smaller features (such as life-rafts and lifeboats). I like the fact that the battleships are laid out country-by-country, and class-by-class, allowing me to quickly lookup a specific entry. I also like the fact that each class of battleship, is presented combined, with descriptive text, and suitable photographs. A further twist, is the fact that the drawings/text, are not only for battleships that were actually made, but are also for several battleship design studies - with my personal favourite, being the post Yamato class (Japanese) battleships. When it comes to the battleship drawings/write-ups, one of the most interesting countries is the United Kingdom. From the shear number of entries, you can see why the British Royal Navy used to be so powerful ... Although you can also see the reasons why, they lost out eventually - to the industrial might of the United States. Some of my favourite battleship classes (within this book) are: the Bismarck (I like her thick armoured hull), the Vittorio Veneto (I like her turret layout and camouflage scheme), the Nagato (I like her uniqueness, power and layout), the Yamato (I like her massive imposing presence), the Queen Elizabeth (I like the idea of them as the bastions of the Royal Navy), the Hood (I like the idea of the Pride of the Royal Navy), the South Dakota (I like their citadel layout, plus triple 16 inch naval guns!) and the Iowa (I like their subscription to the battleship maximum speed - less armour, less firepower principal). I also found the books text to be quite informative, although there are some errors! For example: there's one particular photograph, showing some of the aftermath of Pearl Harbour, that actually has an incorrect caption (and initially caused me some head-scratching). Even so, there's an incredible amount of battleship facts, history and information - contained within this book, and I especially like the way, that topic specific articles, are dropped in. Of these, there's three that I particularly enjoyed reading about ... First: The Sinking of the Utah. I had not realised before, that Utah had been modified to be a radio-controlled target ship (a side effect of the Washington Treaty). As such, she was in no fit state to defend herself - when she came under fire, at Pearl Harbour. Second: Amphibious Assault. The older battleships (such as USS Texas), could not keep up with the US aircraft carrier fleets - but their big guns were highly suitable for bombarding beaches (and other land-based fortifications). As such, I liked the fact that such battleships, were modified to work in-conjunction with the Marines (who helped to direct their ordinance, from land based positions). Third: Night Battles off Guadalcanal. Unintentional perhaps, but the USS South Dakota lost power, in the middle of one particular battle! I was amazed that this could happen to a US battleship, but it seems that the US Navy, learnt a great many lessons from this experience (such that an over-reliance on technology - that when knocked out, left key personnel, unable to perform their duties: of maintaining an operational, manoeuvrable, gun platform). Overall: this is my favourite battleship book :) I have spent many an evening just flicking through, and I often pick random pages - just to read them.