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HMS Rodney in Valletta Harbour, Malta during July 1943

Class overview
Name: Nelson
Operators: Royal Navy
Preceded by: N3 class (planned)Revenge class (actual)
Succeeded by: King George V class
In service: 1927 - 1947
Completed: 2
Retired: 2
General characteristics (1942)
Class & type: battleship
Displacement: 33,950 tons standard, 41,250 tons full load
Length: 660 ft (201 m) p/p, 710 ft (216 m) o/a
Beam: 106 ft (32 m)
Draught: 28.5 ft (9 m), 31.5 ft (9.6 m) full load
Propulsion: 8 × Yarrow-type water-tube boilers (250 psi (1,700 kPa)), Brown-Curtis single-reduction geared steam turbines, 45,000 shp (33,600 kW) on 2 shafts
Speed: 23 knots (43 km/h)
Range: 16,500 nmi (30,560 km) at 12 knots (22 km/h)

5,500 nmi (10,190 km) at 23 knots (43 km/h)

Complement: 1,361
Armour: Belt

  • 14 in, 9–13 in closing bulkheads

Middle deck

  • 6.25 in over magazines, 3.75 in over machinery spaces

Lower deck

  • 6.25 in over steering gear


  • 1.5 in longitudinals

16 inch Turrets

  • 16 in faces, 12 in sides, 9 in rears, 7 in roofs
  • 14–15 in barbettes

6 inch turrets

  • 1.5 in faces, 1 in sides, roofs & barbettes

Conning tower

  • 13.5 in sides, 7.5 in roof, 6 in communication tube

Director control tower

  • 6 in sides, 4 in roof
Aircraft carried: 1 (Nelson) / 2 (Rodney) from 1934
Aviation facilities: catapult on 'B' turret (Rodney only)
Notes: Information as per Lenton[1]

The Nelson class was a class of two battleships (Nelson and Rodney) of the British Royal Navy, built shortly after, and under the terms of, the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922. They were the only British battleships built between the Revenge class (ordered in 1913) and the King George V class, ordered in 1936.

The ships were named after famous British admirals: George Brydges Rodney, 1st Baron Rodney of the Battle of Cape St. Vincent and Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson of the Battles of the Nile and Trafalgar.

To comply with the limitations of the Washington treaty, these ships were of an unusual design with many novel features. They are often referred to as the first treaty battleships. The Nelsons were unique in British battleship construction, being the only ships to carry a main armament of nine 16-inch (406 mm) guns. These were all carried forward.

Commissioned in 1927-29, the Nelsons served extensively in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Indian oceans during World War II. Rodney was made famous by her very important role in the sinking of the German battleship Bismarck in May 1941. During that Battle, Rodney's nine guns were credited with an estimated 100 to 130 hits on the German battleship, so being largely responsible for the total dismantlement of her four gun-turrets and her superstructure, prior to her sinking.

Meanwhile, Nelson participated in the bombardment of targets in northern France during and after the Normandy attack. In particular, during the Caen campaign she was credited with the destruction of a group of five Tiger tanks which ventured well into the red zone defined by the German command, which was located at the line of maximum range of the allied battleships (40 km. from the Coast)

The two ships of the class survived the War, but were scrapped in 1948-49.


[hide] *1 History and design

History and designEdit

The Battle of Jutland had shown the value of firepower and protection over speed and manoeuvrability.[2]

The next generation of British warships incorporated this lesson. After the First World War, the Admiralty drew up plans for massive, heavily armoured battlecruisers and battleships, far larger and stronger than all previous vessels. The G3 battlecruisers would carry 16-inch (406 mm) guns, and the proposed N3 battleships would carry nine 18-inch (457 mm) guns, and would be the most powerful vessels afloat. The Royal Navy was planning to hold its superiority in the burgeoning arms race, despite the large warships planned in Japan and the United States.[3]

Development was abruptly curtailed by the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, which brought the arms race to a halt. The four battlecruisers that had been ordered were cancelled. Some of the material acquired would later be used in Nelson and Rodney. The Treaty limited all nations' battleships to 35,000 tons and 16-inch guns. The British had successfully ensured that the definition of maximum displacement - the "standard displacement" - excluded both fuel and boiler feed water. They had argued that having to protect the widespread British Empire meant their ships had to carry more of both and they should not be penalised compared nations, such as Japan, France and Italy, that operated normally much closer to their home bases. As a result, water-filled internal anti-torpedo bulges could be incorporated, not contributing to the "dry" (standard) weights and therefore neither against the treaty limits.[3]

The limits of the treaty inevitably led to compromises in the design of two new ships, and the resulting Nelson class sacrificed installed power (and hence speed) in order that they be well-armed and defended. They were often referred to as the "Cherry Tree class", because they had been "cut down by Washington". The need to limit displacement resulted in a radical new warship design, drawing from the G3 and N3 designs. In order to reduce the weight of armour, the main gun turrets were mounted all forward, shortening the necessary armoured citadel length. The G3 and N3s had put the two turrets forward of and one behind the bridge, but in the Nelsons, this was taken to extremes, and all three were in front of the bridge; 'B' was mounted superfiring over 'A', with 'X' turret at the main deck level behind 'B', and therefore unable to fire directly forward or aft. The secondary guns were placed in weatherproof, director-controlled turrets at the main deck level and were grouped aft - another innovative element borrowed from the G3 and N3 design.[3]

Armour weight was also reduced by using an internal, inclined armour belt sloped at 18 degrees vertically, 14" thick over the main magazines and control positions to 13" over the machinery and 6" gun magazines . The slope increased the relative width of the belt to a plunging projectile. Water filled compartments surrounded by air filled Torpedo bulges were fitted internally between the external hull of the ship which was not armoured. The outer plating was meant to initiate detonation of shells which would then explode outside the armour. The armour scheme was of the "all or nothing" principle; areas were either well protected or were not protected at all, disposing of the multiple intermediate thickness of armour seen in older designs. For the first time a British battleship had a single, 6.75" thick armoured deck to protect against plunging shells and aircraft-dropped bombs with 3.75" armour over the stern, both on top of the 0.5" deck plating.[4]

The machinery was of necessity limited in weight, size and installed power, and there were only two shafts; all previous British battleships since HMS Dreadnought of 1906 had four. In order that flue gasses be kept clear of the superstructure, the boiler rooms were moved behind the engine rooms, exhausting into a single funnel - another feature unique in British battleships. As a countermeasure to the limited power, the hull was of a very efficient hydrodynamic form, to attain the best possible speed.[citation needed]

The large superstructure which was octagonal in plan, was known to its crew as the "Octopoidal"[5]and was sometimes referred to as "Queen Anne's Mansions", due to its similarity to a 14-storey brick residential development of the same name, opposite St. James's Park underground railway station in London. The superstructure provided spacious, weatherproof working spaces for the navigating officers and any flag officers embarked. Other than an emergency conning tower at its base, and the trunking for the main gun directors mounted on top, it was lightly armoured against splinters only, to save weight. Weight-saving measures included the use of light materials such as aluminium for fittings, and fir instead of teak for deck planking, although in practice teak decks were fitted in the 1920s, following concerns that the ships could not fire a full broadside without causing structural damage to the decks.[citation needed]

The Nelson class was a compromise design, and unsurprisingly there were shortcomings. The rear location of the superstructure caused manoeuvrability problems in high winds, with the superstructure acting as something of a sail, causing the ships to "weathervane" when steaming at low speeds or at anchor. This was a potentially dangerous problem in crowded harbours, and the ships were sometimes difficult to dock and embark, though no record of any major incidents exist.[citation needed] They were also hard to steer when steaming astern. This may be attributed to having twin screws and a single centre rudder which was out of the propeller race. However at sea they were reported to handle well, with a comparatively small turning circle according to the Navigation Officer of Nelson and subsequently Rodney, Lt. Cmdr. Galfrey Gatacre RAN (later Rear Admiral). He reported no difficulty in navigating either ship through the boom gates at Scapa Flow and nor did his predecessor, both of whom served as Navigator in both ships. Nelson & Rodney were the only battleships to never have bumped the boom gate vessel as they passed through Hoxa Sound.[6]

Their main armament of nine 16-inch (406 mm) guns were mounted in triple turrets, the only RN battleships with this feature. The guns themselves were a step away from standard British designs. Where previous RN weapons fired heavy shells at a moderate velocity, the Nelson's weapons followed the German practice of a lighter shell at a higher velocity. This change in policy was due to British post World War I testing of German equipment, although subsequent testing proved contradictory, nevertheless these weapons were never considered (by the RN) to be as successful as the previous BL 15 inch Mark I. The guns suffered considerable barrel wear and had a large dispersion pattern.[dubiousdiscuss] As a result their muzzle velocities were lowered which reduced their penetrative power.[dubiousdiscuss] A heavier shell was needed to offset this, but the cost of producing new shells, and modifying shell handling and storage equipment, had come at a time when RN funding had been heavily reduced. The need to reduce weight and the use of triple mount turrets led to problems with the ammunition handling and loading machinery. The incorporation of many safety features achieved with lighter materials meant that the complex but relatively fragile equipment had to be worked on constantly over the ships' lifetime.[dubiousdiscuss] These ships were fitted with the HACS AA fire control system and the Admiralty Fire Control Table Mk I for surface fire control of the main armament.

Finally, the blast of the guns disrupted officers on the bridge to such an extent that the guns were usually prohibited from firing abaft of the beam.[dubiousdiscuss] A great deal of effort was expended in correcting this problem, and no solution was ever found; fitting tempered glass in the bridge window ports was tried, but gun blast shattered them and filled the bridge with flying debris. Blast was also a problem elsewhere; D.K. Brown tells of a firing test that was suspended when DNC observers beneath the foredeck reported a bright red flash after firing. This was later discovered to be caused by concussion of the observers' eyeballs.[7] 3-view profile drawing of HMS Nelson as she was in 1931, with Fairey Flycatcher aircraft carried amidships.Because of their unusual silhouette, HMS Nelson and her sister Rodney were sarcastically nicknamed Nelsol and Rodnol by the Royal Navy ratings who never served in these ships - their manoeuvrability issues and single-funnelled silhouettes reminded Navy men of oil tankers, and a series of fleet oilers had been built during the First World War that bore names ending in "ol".[8] There was a long-standing rumour that the ships could not fire a full broadside without risk of structural damage.[citation needed] This was disproved in Rodney's action with the German battleship Bismarck, where upwards of 40 broadsides (380shells) were fired without major structural damage except to deck planking,[9]although damage to the "Heads" and plumbing in the forecastle were extensive.[10] Rodney also held the distinction of being the only battleship to have ever successfully torpedoed another battleship when one of its 12, 24" torpedoes hit Bismarck amidships.[11] Despite the derisive criticism directed at this class of battleship by some of the media and 'old salts' of the navy upon their debut, well respected Naval Historian, Antony Preston declares that they were 'Soundly conceived ships reflecting all the hard-won experience of WW1' and 'they proved to be very well-protected and well-designed ships'.[3] It is significant that in his 2002 book "The World's Worst Warships" he makes no criticism of the "Nelsons" whatsoever yet lists both Bismarck class and Deutschland class "Panzerschiff" (Pocket battleships) among the worst designs


By the end of the war, the two ships had seen hard use without any significant refit or repair and were worn out, especially their machinery.[12] They were both scrapped in 1948 not long after the Revenge class battleships & Queen Elizabeth class battleships, in the midst of great public-spending cuts, but nonetheless causing much public outcry.


Name Pennant Builder Ordered Laid down Launched Completed Fate
Nelson 28 Sir W. G. Armstrong Whitworth & Company, Walker

11 December 1922

28 December 1922 3 September 1925 15 August 1927 Sold for scrap 19 March 1948,

arrived Inverkeithing 15 March 1949 for breaking

Rodney 29 Cammell Laird & Company, Birkenhead 11 December 1922 28 December 1922 17 December 1925 7 December 1927 Sold for scrap 19 March 1948,

arrived Inverkeithing 26 March 1948 for breaking

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Lenton, H. T.. British and Empire Warships of the Second World War. Greenhill Books. ISBN 1-85367-277-7.
  2. ^ Angus Konstam, British Battleships 1939-45 (II), Osprey Publishing.
  3. ^ a b c d Preston, Anthony. Battleships.
  4. ^ "The Grand Fleet-Warship Design and Development 1906-1922",D.K. Brown,Pen & Sword Books, ISBN 978 1 84832 085 7
  5. ^ "HMS Rodney",Iain Ballantyne,Pen & Sword Books,ISBN978 1 84415 406 7
  6. ^ "Reports of Proceedings 1921-1942",G.G.O. Gatacre,ISBN 0-949756-02-4
  7. ^ The Grand Fleet - Warship Design and Development 1906-1922, D.K. Brown, Naval Institute Press, ISBN 1-55750-315-X
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Reports of Proceedings 1921-1964",G.G.O. Gatacre,ISBN 0 949756 02 4
  10. ^ "HMS Rodney",Iain Ballantyne,Pen & Sword Books,ISBN 978 1 84415 406 7
  11. ^ "Reports of Proceedings 1921-1964",G.G.O. Gatacre,ISBN 0 949756 02 4
  12. ^ Brown D K Nelson to Vanguard


  • Siegfried Breyer, Battleships and Battlecruisers 1905-1970 (Doubleday and Company; Garden City, New York, 1973) (originally published in German as Schlachtschiffe und Schlachtkreuzer 1905-1970, J. F. Lehmanns Verlag, Munchen, 1970). Contains various line drawings of the ships in various configurations.
  • Robert Gardiner, ed. (1980). Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships 1922 - 1946. London: Conway Maritime Press.
  • David Miller, " The Illustrated Directory of Warships From 1860 To The Present Day" ( Salamander Books Ltd, Greenwich Editions, 3rd Ed, London, 2004 pp 156–157) ISBN 0-86288-677-5
  • Rear Admiral G.G.O Gatacre, "Reports of Proceedings 1921-1964" (Nautical Press & Publications, Manly, NSW, Australia ) ISBN 0 949756 02 4

External linksEdit

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