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Battle Class Destroyer - HMS Agincourt
From SN Guides
HMS Agincourt was one of the third flotilla of Battle Class Fleet Destroyers. They were authorised under the 1943 construction programme. HMS Agincourt was built on the Tyne by R & W Hawthorn, Leslie & Co Ltd and like all of the Battle Class built them she was fitted out as a Leader. These ships had additional accommodation for a Captain (D) and his staff. A Captain (D) was the commander of a destroyer flotilla.
In the second half of the 19th Century the torpedo became a serious threat to major warships. The favoured means of delivering a torpedo attack was from a swarm of small, fast, steam launches or torpedo boats. These were about 100 to 150 ton craft, able to attack at speeds that were about 10 knots faster than the pre-Dreadnought capital ships and able to launch two torpedoes.
Various experimental ships were produced by the Royal Dockyards to counter this threat. All were completely ineffectual. In 1892, Rear-Admiral J A Fisher became Controller of the Navy and he asked three private specialist torpedo boat builders, Thornycroft, Yarrow and Lairds to each build a pair of vessels for the task. The specification was merely that the vessels’ speed must be at least 27 knots and that a powerful gun armament should be carried.
The new vessels were essentially torpedo boats scaled up to about twice the normal size at around 250 tons. They were originally called Torpedo Boat Catchers, but on 8 August 1892 an Admiralty memo was headed Torpedo Boat Destroyers. The new name caught-on and when the vessels proved to be successful it was shortened to Destroyers.
As the destroyers grew in size and capability, it soon became clear that they were far more effective attack vessels than the torpedo boats, which they quickly replaced in the major navies. Operationally they worked in Flotillas, which in the Royal Navy nominally consisted of eight destroyers. The normal tactic was to exploit poor visibility, fog banks, smoke, etc to mount a high speed surprise attack to launch a salvo of torpedoes at the enemy battle-line.
Although surface torpedoes gradually increased in speed and destructive power, the entire concept was largely outdated by the end of WW2. The speed of capital ships had increased and largely eliminated the destroyers’ speed differential, especially in a seaway. Radar and radar directed gunnery, made a surprise attack most unlikely. More importantly fleets of capital ships were no longer expected to fight each other in line-of-battle and the battleship had been replaced by the aircraft carrier as the prime unit. Major naval battles were fought in the Pacific in WW2 without the opposing surface fleets sighting each other.
Nevertheless destroyers remained highly prized, fast, general purpose warships and were generally in the thick of any naval action. During WW2 they suffered the heaviest casualties of any class of Royal Navy warship – 139 destroyers were lost, of which 50 were as a result of air attack.
The last true RN destroyers were 16 Daring Class ordered under the 1944 Programme. Eight were cancelled at the end of the war and construction of the remainder was stretched out until the 1950s. Co-incidentally one of the six ships ordered in the original 1892 Programme was also named Daring
For political reasons the designation “destroyer” has since been resurrected to describe ships that are really anti-aircraft guided missile cruisers. Ships covered by this later use the term have been ignored in this article.
The construction of a destroyer called for the highest standard of technical skill and workmanship and not every Admiralty approved shipyard was permitted to undertake this work. Many firms on the Admiralty List were only awarded destroyer contracts in a national emergency. Other famous shipbuilders never received a destroyer contract, as the Admiralty felt they were more suited to other work.
In all, 27 firms built the 890 Fleet Destroyers and 86 Hunt Class WW2 utility destroyers that were delivered to the Royal Navy. Of these 78% were built by the top ten firms. These were: -
The Vickers-Armstrong figures include ships built both on the Tyne and in Barrow. Palmers closed in the 1932
During WW2 Admiralty planning was based upon British shipyards being able to produce about 40 destroyers a year, including Hunt Class utility destroyers.
R & W Hawthorn, Leslie & Co Ltd
In 1817, the 20 year old Robert Hawthorn rented a shed in a brewery yard in a Newcastle street called Forth Banks, which runs from the present Newcastle Central Station, steeply down to the Tyne. There he started a business as an independent millwright, employing four men. His brother William joined him as a working foreman the following year. The business prospered and expanded. By 1830 the company was building locomotive components and two years later complete locomotives. The engineering works grew considerably on the same site and began building marine engines. In 1870 a new dedicated marine engine works was built about 2 miles downriver at St Peters. Locomotive building for UK and for export continued at Forth Banks until that part of the business was merged with Robert Stephenson in 1937 and the joint-company sold to North British Locomotive in 1943.
The new St Peters Engine works was very successful, building marine engines and boilers for many UK shipyards, including that established in 1853 by Andrew Leslie, further down the Tyne on the opposite bank of the river at Hebburn. In 1886 the two firms merged through the creation of a public limited company, R & W Hawthorn, Leslie & Co Limited.
The first RN ship built by Hawthorn Leslie was the first class cruiser HMS Bellona, built in 1890. The first production batch of destroyers were the A Class ordered under the 1893 -94 Programme. Three were placed with Hawthorn Leslie.
During the eight years 1939 to 1946, Hawthorn Leslie launched a total of 63 ships: -
The evolution of the Battle Class design
The Admiralty Board generally agreed with the Prime Minister’s views, with the important exception that they firmly believed that defence is most easily carried out from the ship under attack. The major problem was finding the resources needed for both the anti-submarine war in the Atlantic and the anti-aircraft war in the Mediterranean. A further difficulty was that pre-war the Admiralty had neglected the growing air threat and as a result there were no modern British naval anti-aircraft gun designs and little manufacturing capacity.
After consulting all of the fleet commanders, the Vice-Chief of Naval Staff gave instructions to prepare three sketch designs for a new class of destroyer incorporating the latest gun mountings and radar control systems.
In fact six outline designs were submitted to Controller, who approved the production of a design with two new twin 4.7 inch through-deck gun mountings forward, four twin Bofors, six Oerlikons and two sets of quadruple torpedo tubes, all to be radar directed. Construction of about 60 ships was contemplated.
The sketch design and outline specification were submitted to the Admiralty Board on 22 September 1941. These were approved on 9 October 1941 and work commenced on building drawings at the end of that month but kept grinding to a halt. There was still considerable debate within the Board about all aspects of the new design and even about the wisdom of proceeding ships that were so much larger and more complex than the destroyers currently under construction. There was also the great concern that the weapon manufacturers would not be able to produce the new armament in sufficient quantity. Eventually Controller agreed that an immediate order be placed for 16 destroyers of the new design and about 32 of the existing destroyer designs. The full Staff requirement was finally issued on 2 January 1942. In February 1942 however a major armament change was made. The development of the new twin 4.7 inch mounting was considered to be too immature, and it was replaced by the twin 4.5 inch dual-purpose Mark III through deck mounting. This mounting was a modification of a design in service as secondary armament in some larger warships. It had the great advantage that its 80 degrees maximum elevation made it an effective anti-aircraft weapon.
The calculations and drawings for the new destroyers were completed on 25 March 1942 for formal Board approval and advanced copies were sent for information to the five selected builders. This work was carried out by the Destroyer Section of the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors. Six men had been engaged on calculations, seven on the drawings and one on the specification and contracts for about eight weeks. This left only three other men in the department to deal with all technical and design matters concerning the 65 destroyers already building for the Royal Navy. During this period model experiments were also conducted at Haslar, which showed that the selected square stern produced reduced resistance of about 5% and that a bulbous bow would give no advantage. The tests did show, however that increasing the propeller diameter by a foot and making minor changes to the underwater shape would be of benefit.
Orders for 12 ships were placed on 27 April 1942, including two with Whites. Unfortunately Whites yard at Cowes was extensively damaged by a series of air raids a few days later, and these ships were transferred to Cammell Laird in August when an additional four ships were ordered to complete the first two flotillas. The Board Stamp was affixed to the drawings and specification on 18 June 1942.
Given that there are two other Battle Class ships tied up at Swans Wallsend yard opposite, and given the times of commissioning, I think it safe to conclude the picture was taken in 1945, not 1946. Why? As Solebay and Armada were commisioned and left in 1945 with Saintes still under construction, this shot shows them all together in the yard just before Solebay & Armada have left for good.
Also, the ships in Swans would two of these: St. Kitts (R18) or Gabbard (R47), or even more likely Trafalgar which also left in 1945 (Barfluer having left in 1944). (edited by Hawthorns1: 21 December 2011)
The 1942 Programme
Cammell Laird – Gravelines, Hogue, Lagos and Sluys
Fairfield – Cadiz, Camperdown, Finisterre, St James and Vigo
Hawthorn Leslie – Armada, Saintes and Solebay
Swan Hunter – Barfleur, Gabbard, St Kitts and Trafalgar
The armament of the Battles was a major departure from previous Royal Navy destroyers.
The intended weapon fit was: -
Two twin 4.5 inch Mark III in Mark IV through-deck gun mountings forward. These were able to fire 20 rounds-per-minute per barrel. The maximum elevation was 80 degrees, which enabled shells to be fired to a ceiling of 41,000 feet. The maximum range was 20,750 yards with the guns at a 45 degree angle. At 10,500 yards a Semi-Armour Piercing shell could penetrate 2.5 inches of armour. The bridge of the ships was further aft than usual, to enable the two forward turrets to have the maximum possible arcs. It was the intention that the main armament would be controlled by a new American Director Control Tower fitted with a Type 285 fire control radar. A Type 272 search radar was to be fitted. One deck mounted 4 inch Mark XIX high angle/low angle gun was to be fitted on the superstructure aft of the funnel in Q position. Two quadruple sets of hand worked 21 inch torpedo tubes were to be fitted. Two twin 40 mm Bofors 40/L60 Mark IV mountings were to be situated on a deckhouse between the torpedo tubes and a further two to be mounted on a deckhouse aft of the tubes. The Mark IV mounting was a British copy of the Dutch Bofors Hazemeyer tri-axial mounting of an advanced design that incorporated its own fire control Radar 282. Four hand trained Oerlikon single 20 mm guns were to be fitted; one to be located on the deckhouse between the main B gun mounting and the bridge; one on each bridge wing and one on the quarterdeck. Working the forward 20 mm guns must have been most uncomfortable when the main armament was fired on full aft arc. The only anti-submarine provisions were two depth-charge racks and four throwers.
By comparison, the Q Class destroyers that were fitting out when the Battle Class were ordered were armed with four deck-mounted single 4.7 inch guns with no anti-aircraft capability, one pompom and six hand trained Oerlikon single 20 mm guns. The anti-aircraft ceiling for a pompom was 13.500 feet, compared with 23,500 feet for a Bofors 40 mm gun. The theoretical ceiling for an Oerlikon was 10,000 feet, but for practical purposes the effective range for any manually aimed weapon rarely exceeds 1,000 yards.
The ships of the first two flotillas
Barfleur had been due to complete in March 1944. In August the director tower had still not been delivered and it was agreed that she was to commission on 4 September 1944, run trials and return to Wallsend to await the arrival of the tower. The trials did not disclose any major problems.
In service, however, a number of armament difficulties led to significant changes in follow-on ships. The 4 inch gun in Q position was found to be useless except to fire star shells. After the first 5 ships were delivered it was replaced by one or two single Bofors 40 mm mountings. The same mountings were used to replace the Oerlikon 20 mm manual guns. The actual numbers of Bofors fitted varied from ship to ship.
The eight ships in the first flotilla all carried four Dutch Bofors Hazemeyer twin 40 mm mountings, each incorporating its own radar fire control system. These did not live up to expectations as they were found to be very difficult to keep serviceable in operational conditions. In the ships in the second flotilla these were replaced by a twin 40 mm tri-axle mounting of a British design called STAAG (Stabilised Tachymetric Anti-Aircraft Gun) that worked on different principles. Each mounting carried its own radar and was the first naval mounting in the world that was capable of locking on to a target then automatically following and aiming the guns. Unfortunately each was 10 tons heavier, so that only two mountings could be fitted and they were also very hard to maintain. The radar systems of the time were unable to withstand the shock vibrations transmitted to the mountings from prolonged operation of the guns.
The equipment manufacturers did not catch up on their delivery programme and all of the ships were delayed. Only Barfleur arrived in the Pacific in time to enter the war against Japan and she was in Tokyo Bay for the surrender ceremony on 3 September 1945.
The 1943 Programme
During the inter-war years the Admiralty had developed an excellent lightweight surface warfare fire control system for destroyers, but this was totally ineffective against aircraft. The Tribal Class destroyers carried a very complex system that depended upon an estimate of the aircraft’s course and speed and an assumption that the aircraft would continue to fly straight and level. This was not very useful against dive-bombers! Various improvisations were made to overcome shortcomings in the equipment but a new approach was needed. Promising new equipment was under development, but the demand was greater than production capacity as all major warships also needed an anti-aircraft gunnery control solution.
The US Navy was far more fortunate, as it had a very complete, sound well engineered solution that had been in full scale production since 1941. In October 1942 approval was given that this director control tower should be allocated Washington Priority 1 acquisition status and that the next group of Battle Class destroyers designed around this equipment. In British service it was known as Mark 37 Director Control Tower. The DCT was to full US standard with one major alteration that the new British Type 275 radar was to be used as it was smaller and lighter than the American radar. The modification was very successful and a most effective system resulted.
The main criticism of the (yet to built) first group of Battles was the absence of any surface gun aft. To meet this perceived shortcoming it was proposed to fit a new single 4.5 inch deck mounted gun in the Q position, aft of the funnel. This change was of questionable value as the aft superstructure and sensors prevented the gun from being fired directly aft. Various new Bofors mountings were also considered. To accommodate all these changes and to offset the stability effect of weight growth that was becoming evident in the first Battles, it was decided to increase the beam of the follow-on ships by three inches.
Orders were placed for four new Battle Class in March 1943, for fifteen in late April and a further five in June of that year.
As the programme progressed, changes continued to be made to the secondary anti-aircraft arrangements, but the most important armament change was to the torpedo arrangements as a result of war experience in the Pacific. The two quadruple 21 inch tubes on the earlier Battles were replaced by two quintuple mountings launching Type D torpedoes. These were 12 inches longer and 200 pounds heavier than the torpedoes carried on the earlier ships. To compensate for this weight increase, the 44 inch searchlight and five depth charges were deleted. In service the destroyers also continued to carry the lighter Type XX torpedoes. Later in the build programme all of the depth charges were replaced by a Squid mortar which threw a spread salvo of three 12 inch projectiles 250 yards ahead of the ship. Sometimes! if light charges were used in error with heavy bombs they gave the Fox'l mess a big fright (one or two landed on Fox'l
The 1944 Programme
The 1944 building programme included arrangements for the construction of two Battle Class destroyers in Australia. Orders were placed in 1945 but with the end of the war, construction proceeded at a slow pace. HMAS Tobruk was built at Cockatoo Docks & Engineering and commissioned on 8 May 1950. HMAS Anzac was built at Williamstown Naval Dockyard and commissioned on 22 March 1951. The armament of these ships differed from the Royal Navy’s ships by having two twin 4.5 inch Mark VI turrets forward. These were the turrets fitted in the later Daring Class Destroyers. The single 4.5 inch gun in Q position was deleted and a total of twelve 40 mm Bofors fitted.
The impact of the Japanese surrender
Agincourt – Hawthorn Leslie (Leader)
Some ships were launched and had machinery installed when work was halted. They were laid-up in reserve with a view to future completion if the need arose. The ships were: -
Oudenarde – Swan Hunter – scrapped 1957
Other ships had been launched but were awaiting machinery, plus some that were launched to clear the building berth. All were immediately scrapped: -
Belle Isle – Fairfield – scrapped 1946
The following ships had either not been launched (in which case they were broken-up on the berth) or work had not started at the time of cancellation: -
Mons – Hawthorn Leslie
HMS Agincourt As-Built Specification
Early operational career of HMS Agincourt
In the immediate post war years the number of 1943 destroyers in service fluctuated, but Agincourt was the only one of the eight to remain in service throughout the period. The 4th Destroyer Flotilla was renamed 4th Destroyer Squadron and in 1951 Agincourt became leader.
In 1954 the Squadron deployed to the Mediterranean until the following year. The Squadron returned to the Mediterranean in 1957 and remained there until 1959. On return to UK, Agincourt paid-off and entered Portsmouth Dockyard for conversion into a Radar Picket.
Battle Class Radar Pickets
Four Battle Class ships were selected for the conversion. They were Agincourt, Aisne, Barrosa and Corunna. The work was carried out in the naval dockyards between 1949 and 1962 at a cost of £2.25 million each.
Only the hull main armament and fire control, forward superstructure, funnel, main machinery and anti-submarine systems remained of the original ships. The accommodation was greatly changed and the ship changed from DC to AC electrics. The single 4.5 inch gun, torpedo tubes and all of the Bofors anti-aircraft guns were removed.
A massive lattice foremast was fitted between the bridge and the funnel. The legs of this structure were located at the edge of the deck utilising the full beam of the ships. This tower was about the same height as the original lattice mast fitted to the ships, but it now supported a very large AKE-2 aerial for the Type 965 long range radar. This antenna had a colossal four tons weight. On the forward face of this lattice tower a Type 293Q target indication radar was located.
Aft of the funnel a new range of deckhouses were installed to accommodate operational rooms and technical equipment. A further lattice mast was located on them to carry a Type 277Q height finding radar an array of ESM and DF aerials. A GWS 21 Sea Cat surface to air missile system was also mounted on the aft superstructure.
HMS Agincourt Specification Changes
HMS Agincourt remaining career
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