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HMS Dreadnought: the battleship that caused a war.




HMS Dreadnought was the first of her kind. Her construction started on 2nd October 1905. The hull was launched on the 10th February and the ship was completed in December 1906 - a record time of 14 months. HMS Dreadnought gave her name to a new type of battleship; all the ships of her type that followed being known as Dreadnoughts.


Towards the end of the 19th century, battleship design had settled down to give a fairly standard type which all the major navies followed. It gave a ship of around 15,000 tons and armed with two twin gun turrets mounting heavy guns of around 12" calibre, backed up by a battery of quick firing guns of about 6"calibre. They were driven by reciprocating steam engines to give a top speed of around 18 knots, and were crewed by around 750 -800 men. They were protected by heavy armour up to 14" thick.

The design of the Dreadnought was a logical step forward, and utilised existing technology as well as introducing a number of new features.




The most obvious change was the increase in size to 18,000 tons, and the adoption of an all big gun armament. Ten 12" guns were now mounted in five twin turrets allowing eight guns to fire on either side, giving the firepower of two of the earlier ships. No secondary armament was fitted, but a number of 12pdr guns were provided for anti-torpedo boat defence. Propulsion was provided by steam turbines. These had been introduced in the late 1890s and had been used in destroyers, but this was the first use in a large warship, and they were larger than any used before. The engines were lighter and more powerful than the reciprocating type, and required less crew to look after them. They could drive the ship at 21 knots

HMS Dreadnought was, therefore, twice as powerful in heavy gun power as any existing battleship, was faster by at least 3 knots, and only required a similarly sized crew. Once completed she rendered all other battleships obsolete.

She was still fuelled by coal, and needed the services of teams of stokers to shovel coal into the furnaces by hand, and the control of her guns was still fairly rudimentary. Successive designs would improve the type, re-introducing a secondary armament, changing to oil fuel, and controlling the guns centrally to improve accuracy.


With the launch of HMS Dreadnought, all other navies of the world were temporarily at a disadvantage. This prompted nations to begin building similar vessels, most prominently Germany, whose Kaiser was insistent on having a strong navy. This shipbuilding race contributed to the tensions that were already building in Europe at the turn of the twentieth century that culminated in the outbreak of war in 1914.

The Dreadnought battleship had its heyday in the First World War, reaching the height of power and importance in 1916 when the Grand Fleet of the Royal Navy met the German High Seas Fleet for the first and only time at the battle of Jutland. HMS Dreadnought was not present at the battle, but she did hold the distinction of being the only battleship to sink a submarine when she rammed the U29 in March 1915.

The importance of the battleship declined with the advent of air power. The Second World War saw the development of the fast battleship with radar and heavy anti-aircraft batteries, but they were really only useful as escort vessels and for shore bombardment. The days of the fleet action were over and the battleships' replacement by the aircraft carrier as the most powerful type of warship was complete.

The last British battleship HMS Vanguard, still recognisably a Dreadnought, was scrapped in 1960, and the type has now disappeared from the world's navies after a reign of only 40 years.