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King George V Class Battleship – HMS Centurion

From SN Guides


The name Centurion

The name Centurion was first recorded in the Royal Navy in 1650 and originates with the centurions of Rome who were professional officers of the Roman army and was first used about 107 BCE. A Centurian commanded a Centuria of men which rather strangely was usually 80 men not a hundred.


undated postcard of Centurion - courtesy of Wikipedia

1. Was a 34-gun ship launched in 1650 and lost by shipwreck in 1689.

2. Was a 48 gun fourth rate ship of the line built in 1691 and unlisted after 1728

3. was another fourth rate ship but with 60 guns , she was built in 1732 and scrapped in 1769

4. Was a further fourth rater but of 50 guns she is listed from 1774 to 1825

5. Was an 80 gun two deck second rate ship of the line of the Vanguard class, launched in 1844 of 2,580 tons and 190 feet in length she was converted to steam screw propulsion in 1855 and sold out of the navy in 1870

6. Was an early battleship built in 1892, she was the lead ship of a class of two ships, the other being the Barfleur, commanded by a certain Captain John Jellicoe she took part in the Boxer uprising in China. Of 11,000 tons and 360 feet in length she was armed with four 10" guns she was sold for scrapping in 1910 at Motherbank.

7. Was the KGV class battleship the subject of this article

8. Was to be a cruiser of 9,000 tons but was cancelled in 1946

9. Today Centurion is the name of a shore establishment which is located in Gosport

Class information

The four ships of the King George V class of the 1910 building program were to have been repeat Orion class , but the battle-cruiser Lion had been completed in May 1912 with her foremast ahead of the fore funnel, this proved to be a far better arrangement than that in the Orion’s were it was behind the funnel so the Orion plan was modified and the mast placed ahead of the fore funnel producing a new and much improved class of battleship, this must be a rare case where a battle-cruiser influenced the design of a battleship.

The first two ships of the class, KGV and the Centurion were initially fitted with pole type foremasts but the advent of director firing needed a more substantial mast and they were refitted with heavier tripod masts although this refit in KGV herself did not occur until 1918, the Audacious and Ajax were fitted with tripod masts from the outset. Although the Orion and KGV classes were very similar the position of the mast easily distinguishes the two types. It was widely known that the 4” secondary guns of these ships, (and all preceding Dreadnought types) were far too light to deal with the newer and larger torpedo boats and destroyers that were appearing on the scene but the change to 6” guns would have added 2,000 tons to weight and increased the cost substantially so the Liberal Government of the day vetoed this improvement on the grounds of trying to keep the naval budget down.

Building data

Centurion was the third of the KGV class battleships to be completed, she was built by Devonport Naval Dockyard, she was ordered under the 1910 naval estimates and laid down on the 16th January 1911, launched on the 18th November 1911 and commissioned into the 1st. division of the 2nd. Battle Squadron (2BS) along with her three sister-ships in May 1913. She was the longest serving ship of the four King George V class lasting until 09th June 1944 when she was scuttled off the normandy beaches as a break-water for the Mulberry harbour, she was scrapped in 1945.


dated 1912 this shows Centurion at the Devenport fitting out berth - photo courtesy of MaritimeQuest

Basic Details

Length 597'09" Beam 89'01" Draft 28'08" displacement 23, 000 tons standard and 25,700 tons full load


The machinery arrangement for the King George V class was very similar to that of the earlier Orion class with quadruple propellers being driven by Parsons direct drive steam turbines. The machinery spaces were split into three with the inboard shafts leading to the centre engine room and the outer shafts the port and starboard wing engine rooms. The two inboard shafts were driven by the high pressure ahead and astern turbines with the ahead turbines having an extra stage for cruising, this was separated from the main turbine by a bypass valve. The outer shafts were driven by the ahead and astern low pressure turbines, for cruising the out board turbines would be shut down , the ship relying on the inboard shafts alone. The boilers of greater power remained in three groups of six with eighteen Yarrow boilers in total, although coal fired oil spraying equipment was fitted for quickly raising steam. The normal power for Centurion was 31,000 SHP giving 21 knots, on her trials in early 1913 she attained just over 34,500 SHP which gave 22.87 knots .

Bunker capacity was up to 3,180 tons of coal and 800 tons of oil, this gave a range of 6,370 miles at 10 knots.

Finding details of the machinery layout of these old ships is quite daunting, I obtained details of the layout from studying a minute plan with a magnifying glass, the details are as accurate as I can get them for the moment SW Nov 05 2007


Main battery

Ten 13.5" C45 Mk5 guns were carried in five twin turrets all on the centre line with B and X superfiring over A and Y turrets , Q turret sited amidships was the only one with restricted firing arcs although B and X were still restricted from firing directly over A & Y due to the very real possibility of muzzle blast entering the lower turrets sighting hoods which were still placed in the forward ends of the turret roofs, because of this B & Y guns were restricted from firing over from right ahead / astern to 30 degrees either side.

The main battery of the KGV class was very similar to that of the preceeding Orion class battleships. Britain had learnt from the rather poor performance of the high velocity 12" C50 gun fitted to the St Vincent, Neptune and Colossus classes that higher velocity was not the answer to greater range and hitting power, the answer lay in a heavier shell. The 13.5" gun which had reappeared in the Royal navy after a gap of many years, and was first fitted in the Orion class, was an excellent weapon with very good range, accuracy and hitting power, it also had a good safety margin allowing it to fire a heavier shell, the increase from the 1260lb early shells fired by the Orions to the 1410 lbs heavy shell did not increase the range even though the propellant charge was now four quarter charges of almost 106 lbs of MD450 (rod based) cordite, the gun still had a maximum range of just under 24,000 yards. The barrel construction was of a liner in an inner tube (A) which was wire wound with many miles of flat wire, over this was shrunk a steel jacket, there were problems with wire winding, the barrel could droop and it is often quoted that the german solid guns were better made. Solid guns took a lot longer and much more machining to make whereas the wire wound gun was much quicker in manufacture. With a navy with such a large number of weapons speed of manufacture was of the essence and the Royal Navy never had supply problems for replacement barrells that the German navy had. There were five main magaines and an associated shell room, each serving it's own gun, there were 112 rounds for each gun so each magaine would hold 896 106lb quarter charges of cordite a total of 474,880 lbs of explosive and a total of 1,120 shells weighed 1,568,000 lbs or 700 tons. The excellent barrel life of 400 rounds for the lighter shell was reduced to 220 rounds, which was still good.

Secondary battery

Sixteen 4" C50 Mk8 guns were carried, mainly in casemate mounts, and mainly in the forward end of the vessel, most of the guns were mounted in the deck houses, but four of these guns were mounted in hull casemates forwards below the focsle deck and found to be useless in any kind of sea so were removed in 1915 reducing the battery to 12 guns, although these guns were a bit ineffectual in size the deck-house mounted weapons could at least be used in most weathers. Although the destroyers of the day were increasing in size and the range at which torpedoes could be fired was increasing the Liberal government of the day was trying to save weight and thus money the 6" secondary battery that was predicted and needed for the KGV class was never fitted. The class were also fitted with four 3 pounder signalling guns and in 1915 she was fitted with an extra pair of 4" HA AA guns on the quarter-deck.

Torpedo armament

Three 21" submerged torpedo tubes were fitted with one on either beam and the third fitted in the stern, the torpedoes carried were the 21" Mk2 with a 515lb explosive charge of TNT. At 45 knots they had a range of just 4,500 yards rising to nearly 11,000 yards at 30 knots.

Armour Protection

The armour scheme of the KGV's was basically that of the orions but with slight improvements but by no means good, failings were still there. The relatively narrow beam of British capitals ships to maintain high speeds restricted the under water protection which was certainly deficient in comparison to 'say' comparable German ships, the torpedo (screen) bulkheads were still discontinuous over their length and rather to close to the outer hull but did cover a greater length than those on the Orion class. The side armour belt was, as in the Orion class, carried up to the upperdeck thus protecting the ship a little better from long range plunging shell fire, the Lower belt was of 12" thickness and the upper 8" of Krupp Cemented Armour ( KCA) The transverse armoured bulkheads were of 10" KNC whilst the torpedo bulkheads were a maximum of 3" KNC plate over the magazine and engine room areas but down to 1" in other areas, this defficient underwater protection was destined to let down one of the class leading to her loss.

The barbettes protecting the the turret traing gear and shell/ charge handling spaces was of 10" KNC whilst outside of other armour and tapering to 3" KNC when inside of other armour plating. The Gun houses ( turrets) had 11" faces but the side armour is not recorded, the decks ammounted to a maximum of 4" of non cemented armour over the magazines, machinery and other vulnerable spaces but tapering to just 1" in other areas.

Service History

Centurion had an unfortunate start to life during her steaming trials on the On 9 December 1912 she collided with and sank the Italian steamer Demo, post collision repairs delayed her commissioning until may 1913. Centurion finally commissioned in may 1913, the third of the four King George V class battleship to be completed commissioned into the First Division of the 2nd Battle Squadron (2BS) of the Home fleet based at Cromarty joining her already commissioned sister-ships King George V and Ajax, they were to be joined by the final ship of the quartet, Audacious, in October that same year. In 1914 the 2BS joined the newly formed Grand fleet and in this fleet that they took part in the battle of Jutland on the 31st May and the 01st June 1916 under Admiral Sir John Jellicoe flying his flag in the Iron Duke. The 2BS were lead by Vice admiral Sir Martyn Jerram, in King George V with Captain F. L. Field in command. Followed by , in order  : HMS Ajax - Capt. GH Baird, HMS Centurion - Capt. Michael Culme-Seymour and due to loss of Audacious in October 1914 due to a mine HMS Erin - Capt. V.A. Stanley. The 2BS were to the east of Jellicoe in the Iron Duke and thus father away from the German High Seas Fleet and so were too far away to join most of the Action, especially the earlier events. Centurion first came to action at 1916 when the 1st. Scouting Group (1SG) under Vice-admiral Franz von Hipper, these were the battle-cruisers Lutzow, Derflinger, Seydlitz, Moltke and Von der Tann, centurion engaged the Lutzow with four salvoes of 13.5” Armour Piercing Capped (APC) shell, the first three were short with the fourth over, HMS Orion in the second division of the 2BS then obscured the target and firing was checked , Lutzow’s escorting destroyers then covered her withdrawal and turn to the south. Due to the High seas fleet fleeing south wards with the Grand fleet in pursuit no further contact was made and this was the end of Centurions Jutland battle she had fired a total of 19 13.5” APC rounds and did not use her 4” batteries at all.

She spent the remainder of WW1 in the 2BS without any real action, most of her time was spent on exercises and sweeps of the North Sea. In 1918 Post WW1 Centurion was posted to the Mediterranean were along with the Bellerophon class battleship Hms superb witnessed the capitulation of the Ottoman Empire, once the worlds largest and longest live empire it was finally killed off by the first world war. In 1919 Conqueror was sent to the Black sea as aprt of the allied intervention in the Russian Civil war to assist the White Russians which is the old name applied to the country of Belarus.

The Washington Naval Treaty, occasionally referred to as the ‘Five Power Treaty’ ( USA, GB, Japan, France and Italy) signed on the 06th. February 1922 signalled the end of Centurions life as a commissioned warship, Britain had to reduce her capital ships to a parity with the USA set at 525,000 tons this spelt the end and the scrapyard for many fine ships, Centurion was placed in reserve to await her fate in 1924 and decommissioned in 1925. However Centurion was saved from the breakers by the need to replace the aging fleet target ship Agamemnon, a Lord Nelson class battleship built in 1906 she had been converted into a radio controlled target ship in 1921 but with the advent of more powerful guns her usefulness was at an end and so she was sold for scrapping in 1926. Centurion replaced Agamemnon in use as a target ship in 1927 having been stripped of all her armaments any useful equipment and fitted with radio control equipment .


Courtesy of MaritimeQuest this image of Centurion shows her early in her life as a radio controlled target vessel

The advent of WW2 and 1941 saw a new role for the veteran battleship, she became a decoy, converted to look like HMS Anson, from a distance she looked like the real thing, close up she looked like what she was an elderly hull fitted with a wood and canvas mock-up of guns and deck houses. The original plan was to use her as a block-ship to close the entrance to Tripoli harbour in Libya, although converted to oil fuel her range was very low so here unused main magazines were converted to extra bunker tanks to give her the needed longer range .


Centurion disguised as the later KGV battleship HMS Anson, courtesy of MaritimeQuest a careful look will reveal the midships 5.25" gun turrest painted onto the structure.

On a Saturday April the 26th 1941 with a crew of 283 the fake HMS Anson was commissioned and sailed from Plymouth on the 04th May although from a distance looking the part her armament was just four single 2 pounder Pom-Poms and four 20mm Oerlikons, her initial course was via Loch Long to join a Westbound Atlantic convoy supposed bound for Canada, well out into the Atlantic she turned south calling at Gibraltar, Freetown, Capetown , Durban Mombassa, Aden to bunker and store enroute, all port calls were made at night so as not to reveal that she was really a fake she finally arrived at Port Tewfik on the 26th July, here the operation to block Tripoli was abandoned the old ship was just too slow and unreliable to risk such an operation. On her way back to the UK she encountered heavy seas during which ‘A’ turret was washed away she then turned back and had a ‘refit’ in Bombay where the missing A turret was rebuilt, she was also fitted with another 12 20mm Oerlikon AA guns. She now returned to Port Tewfik and transited the Suez canal in mid June, the plan now was for the resupply of Malta from Alexandria with convoy MW11 the escort of the convoy consisted 8 cruisers, 25 destroyers, 8 corvettes and 4 motor launches with Centurion AKA HMS Anson appearing as a battleship escort. Although this convoy did not get through it distracted the Italians enough to allow a simultaneous convoy from Gibratar to get through although MW11 suffered heavy losses, Centurion herself was hit on the foc’sle with the bomb exiting the hull side and exploding on the water-line but causing no injuries. Following this Centurion became a static AA battery ship at Alexandria and Suez remaining here until 1944 when she was selected for one final task – she made the passage to the UK and was finally expended as a breakwater ship protecting the Mulberry harbours in she was sunk off the Normandy beaches of Avranches on the 07th June 1944, she was scrapped in 1945, the exact nature of the scrapping is unrecorded. An amusing fact of the scuttling off Avranches is that after arrival and position by tugs the sinking and evacuation of the 70 passage crew was witness by the German 352nd Shore battery who reported a battleship sinking with great loss of life. As only a few men had been seen to leave the old ship they thought the remaining 1000 or more had gone down with her.


Bibliography: IWM,

  1. Jutland – John Campbell,
  2. Jutland - Geoffrey Bennett,
  3. Conway’s 1906-21
  4. Wikipedia for the list of previous Centurions
  5. MaritimeQuest for their pictures of the Centurion


Article completed by Steve Woodward 22nd November 2007

King George V Class Battleships

King George V class battleship - HMS King George V King George V class Battleship - HMS Ajax King George V Class Battleship – HMS Centurion
King George V Class Battleship - HMS Audacious

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