Queen Elizabeth Class Battleship - HMS Barham
The name Barham
The Queen Elizabeth class battleship Barham is named after Admiral Charles Middleton, the 1st Baron Barham, who was both an RN officer and a Tory politician, he served in the navy from 1741 until his death in 1813. The battlship ws the last ship in the RN to bear the name, she was preceeded by two other ships.
- Was a 74 gun Third rate ship of the line built in 1811 and scrapped in 1939
- was Third class cruiser launched on the 11th september 1889 and scrapped in February 1914, she was a single ship class and displaced about 1830 tons.
- Was the QE class battleship of this article
This 1917 shot of Barham at anchor in Scapa Flow is largely as she was built, the triangular pieces on her funnel and masts are canvas and are meant to hamper German range finders during battle. The forward case mate mounted 6" guns can be clearly seen below the foc'sle deck and below X turret can be seen two of the four plated over casemates below the upperdeck.
The picture is freely available from the USA NH website
The decision to build Queen Elizabeth class of six battleships stems from rumours that the Germans were planning an increase of gun calibre in their next class of ships, in 1912 it had been intended to build three battleships of an improved iron Duke class and a single battle cruiser, but worries over Germany and the certainty that both the American and Japanese navies were building ships with 14” guns prompted Britain to go one better with the 15” gun, Elswick’s, the gun manufacturers had assured the admiralty that the 15” gun with a 1920 lb shell was perfectly feasible. With this confidence plans for a new class of ship were rushed forwards, this was initially a modified ‘Iron Duke’ with five twin 15” turrets, however this proved to be a much larger, heavier and more costly vessel, it was then accepted that an eight gun ship with four turrets firing a 1,920 lb shell had a broadside weight of 15,360 lbs whereas ten 13.5” guns firing a 1,400 lb shell had a broadside weight of 14,000 lbs less than the eight 15” so the four turret design was accepted. Another advantage of the four turret ship was that the space occupied by Q turret amidships could be used for more powerful engines and the necessary boilers to power them. Although the navy had fast battle-cruisers it was now thought that fast battleships would be safer, not only would they have the speed to run down an enemy they would have the armour to protect them in battle – unlike a battle-cruiser. To gain the speed 25 knots coal-firing would no longer be able to provide the power without taking up to much of the internal space with the large number of boilers needed so the greater thermal efficiency of oil firing was accepted, the only drawback to this was that whilst Britain had plentiful stocks of good steam coal she had little oil of her own. To get round this lack of oil Churchill then the First Lord of the Admiralty but a large number of shares in the Iranian Oil Company this assuring a plentiful supply of oil. One failure with the oil firing of these ships was the decision to stay with large tube boilers, small tube boilers would have delivered the power they really needed and saved weight. The 1912 order-books now consisted of four fast battleships, the battle-cruiser being replaced with the fourth battleship, the Federated Malay states then offered to pay for another ship so the four became five, their names were in future build order : Queen Elizabeth, Warspite, Barham, Valiant & Malaya – named in honour of the Malay States who paid for her construction. The Sixth ship was to be the Agincourt, she was to have been built by Portsmouth dockyard but she was cancelled 0n the 26th August 1914 before she was laid down.
Although a highly successful design and a great step forward from previous designs too much had been attempted on too small a ship so that a number of compromises had to be made, horizontal protection against plunging fire and bombs although improved was still lacking and the design was rather badly overweight making achieving the design speed difficult if not impossible.
Barham was built on the Clydebank by John Browns and company's shipyard, she was laid down on the 24th February 1914 and launched on the 31st. October 1914 and completed in October 1915, the third ship of the class to do so.
This freely available image from the USA NH website shows Barham on exercises in the late 1920's followed astern by the Malya and the aircraft carrier Argus.
L 645'09" B 90'06" Draft 28'09" ( 198.8m x 27.6m x 8.8m) at standard disp 27,000 tons , full load 33,590 tons. She was the last of the class to undergo the first rebuild which was carried out in 1930-3 in this she was semi modified being fitted with the anti-torpedo bulges, the middle deck armour was increased to 5" thick over tha magazine flats, the 6" gun casemates had dwarf bulkheads of 1.5" plate fitted to reduce the flooding that took place through the casemate doors in bad weather. her AA oufit was supplemented by the removal of the two upper 6" guns and replacement with two single 4" HA guns, two 8-barrel 2 pounder pompoms were also fitted. She was received a single cross-deck catapult and hangers for two aircraft, the forward two torpedo tues were removed, this refit took her full load displacement to 35,970 tons. Due to the advent of WW2 barham received no further major refits and entered the war the least modernised of the five sisters.
Machinery ( as built) : Quadruple screws driven by Brown-Curtis direct drive steam turbines developing a maximum of 72,000 SHP at 300 rpm, this gave a maximum speed of 25 knots, this was the overload rating and the normal rating was 56,000 SHP for 23 knots. The turbines were supplied with steam at 285 psi from 24 Yarrow large tube boilers contained in eight boiler rooms split into four separate groups of six boilers each. Fuel capacity was 3,300 tons of oil and 100 tons of coal, her range was about 8,500 miles at 10 knots and 4,000 miles at 21 knots Electrical power was from two 450 Kw and two 200 Kw alternators and an emergency diesel alternator of 200 Kw.
The layout of the turbines was very similar to that of the preceding Iron Duke class with the HP turbines driving the wing propeller shafts and the low pressure turbines driving the inner shafts. Cruising turbines were fitted by way of a gear drive to forward end of the of the HP turbines.
This image freely available from the USA NH website shows Barham in the 1930's taken after her 1930-3 refit. In 1936 she was showing national flag markings on B turret so this is between 1934 and 36 and was most likely taken in 1934 immediately after she returned to service following the refit.
Main battery : eight 15” C42 Mk1 guns in four twin Mk1 turrets, these guns fired an AP shell weighing 1,920 lbs out to approximately 23,400 yards at 20 degrees elevation and using 428 lbs of MD45 propellant in four quarter charges contained in 'Shallon’ silk bags. Post the 1937 refit the guns were given a 30 degree elevation and were designated Mk2 guns with a new shell weighing 1,938lbs and using a charge of 432 lbs of propellant they now had a range of 32,500 yards, a shell covering this distance would take slightly over a minute to arrive. The 15 inch gun was without a doubt the finest gun ever produced by the UK, it was first test fired for the Queen Elizabeth class in 1912 and it’s last firing was the Vanguard in 1954, ( Vanguard was fitted with the 15” turrets and guns originally intended for the 1916 Glorious class battlecruisers – it was often said that she was the best battleship but was fitted with her Great Aunts teeth!). The Queen Elizabeth class were built at great risk, the normal proving of a new gun was surpassed to allow the guns to be made in time for them to be fitted, if this had not been done then they would have had to have been fitted with the 13.5” weapon fitted to the preceding Iron Duke class, the man responsible for this great rush was Winston Churchill, he wanted the ships built quickly and to be armed with the 15” gun and the man that made it happen was Rear Admiral Moore the Director of Naval Ordnance. The 15” gun was very powerful but had a very good wear rate and could fire 330 to 340 rounds with a full charge before needing relining, they were constructed of a steel liner inside a steel inner or A tube over this to reinforce the gun 185 miles of thin flat wire was wound at a set tension , over the wire windings a steel jacket was shrunk on, the entire gun was 54 feet long and weighed about a hundred tons and the entire two gun turret a total of 770 tons.
For details of how to operate one of these weapons see : Warspite
This image shows Barham alongside John Brown's fitting out berth with the final 15" gun, in this case the left gun of X turret being fitted, - this gun barrel weighs approximately 100 tons, beneath X and Y turrest and below the upperdeck can be seen the empty and yet to be plated over positions of the casemate mounted 6" secondary guns, these four positions ( two a side) were proved so wet on the Queen Elizabeth, the first ship of the class to be completed that they were removed and plated over, on the Barham and other ships the 6" guns were never fitted and simply plated over from new. Image courtesy of MartimeQuest website.
The secondary battery weapon chosen for the QE class was the 6” breech loading Mk12 C45 gun, originally there was to have been sixteen of these weapons fitted and the Queen Elizabeth was the only ship of the class to be so fitted. They were all originally fitted in case mates in a very similar layout to that of the Iron Duke class, with 6 guns either side of mid-ships below the foc’sle deck and four guns aft below the quarter-deck fitted two aside just aft of Y turret, these four guns proved so wet as to be totally useless, the guns were removed and the casemates were plated over , a single shielded gun was then mounted over the 6” battery at the aft end of the battery. The other four ships were not fitted with the after guns instead the casemates were plated over from new and 14 guns as per the Queen Elizabeth were fitted. The forward casemates suffered from water ingress and used the same solution as the Iron Duke class, low bulkheads were built behind the guns to prevent water ingress finding it’s way below and rubber seals and gaskets were fitted to the casemate doors, a workable but far from satisfactory arrangement as in any kind of a seaway the forward guns could not be used These guns had a range of about 13,500 yards at 14 degrees elevation firing a 112lb shell with a 27 lb cordite charge. Rate of fire was in the order of five or 6 rounds per minute with 130 rounds per gun being carried plus a 100 rounds ( per ship) of star-shell. Although a reasonable weapon to repel surface craft, the possibility of attack by aircraft was now starting to appear and the 6” gun was far too slow and had far too low an elevation to be of any use, what was now needed was rapid fire dual purpose weapons. four 3 pounder signalling guns were also fitted.
In 1916 the two 6" guns installed above the casemate batteries were removed and replaced with two twelve pounder (3") C20 Mk1 HA/AA guns these fired a 12.5 lb shell to a ceiling of 37,000 feet,
in 1926 reflect the greater threat shown by aircraft these were replaced with four single shielded mount 4" Mk5 HA AA guns. In 1931-3 two eight barrelled 2 pounder pompoms ( nicknamed Chicago pianos) were added to boost the AA defences. In 1938 the 4 singles were replaced with four 4" Mk16 twin HA AA twin mount guns. and in 1940 two further 8 barrelled pompoms were added.
Originally fitted with four beam firing submerged 21” torpedoes with 20 torpedoes they were located one pair abreast A turret and the other abreast Y. The forward pair were removed in 1930-3 and the after pair in 1938.
When first built the QE class were the best protected of all British battleships, their armoured belts were 13" thick over the magazines and machinery spaces and tapering to 6" elsewhere, the upper armour belt was 6" running the length of the ship between end barbettes, the transverse armoured bulkheads were 6 inches tapering to 4", barbettes were 10" when outside of other armour and 4" inside other armour. The 15" gun turret faces were 14" thick with 4.75" roofs and sides, the deck armour ( middle deck) was 3" other decks added another 2.5" to this. Following her rebuilds in 1930 and 1933 her middle deck armour was increased to 5" with the upper deck contributing another 3.25" to 2,75".
Barham was the third of the five Queen Elizabeth class battleships to complete and commissioned on the 19th August 1915 on the Clyde and then sailed to dry-dock on the Mersey, the name of the dock is not noted but may have been at Cammell Lairds in Birkenhead, she had been afloat for 15months and would have need antifouling and the possible removal of launching brackets on the hull. After the docking she preceded to Scapa Flow arriving on the 02nd October 1915 were she joined the 5th Battle squadron which consisted of the first two of the Queen Elizabeth class – QE and Warspite and assumed the role of Flagship 5BS, a part of the Grand Fleet. On the 03rd. December 1915 Warspite Collided with Barham, a signal to Warspite for a speed of 8 knots was misread as 18 and as she increased her port bow collided with the starboard quarter of the Barham, luckily neither ship suffered serious damage and at a courts martial blame was attached to several officers in both ships, Barham was under repair from the 8th to the 23rd December at Cromarty and Invergordon. As a newly worked up ship Barham’s first action was at Jutland on the 31st may and 01st. June 1916 were as flagship of the 5BS and part of the 13th Sub-division; Barham under Rear Admiral Hugh Evans-Thomas, - Captain A.W.C. Waller, was followed by Valiant - Captain M. Woollcombe, 14th Sub-division; Warspite - Captain E. Phillpotts, and Malaya Captain the Hon. A.D.E.H. Boyle. The 5BS was in support of the 1st battle-Cruiser Squadron (1BS) this comprised the Lion, Princes Royal, Queen Mary and Tiger and the under the flag of Vice Admiral Sir David Beatty, and the 2BS comprising the New Zealand and Indefatigable under Rear Admiral W.C. Packenham. Although the Queen Elizabeth class had been designed to be as fast as a battle-cruiser they could not actually attain the designed speed of 25 knots due to their being over their design weight and so they fell astern of the battle cruisers, rather than reduce speed Beatty well known for his ‘up and at em’ mentality, rather than slow down and keep all his ships together deliberately left the 5BS astern in his determination to meet the enemy, at 1548 when Beatty first opened fire on Hippers battle-cruisers Evan Thomas with the 5BS was several miles astern. A lamentable situation given that the four ships of the Queen Elizabeth class were the most powerful ships by far at Jutland, The QE herself being in dry-dock during the battle. Hippers forces of the 1st. Scouting Group (1SG) comprised the following ships:- SMS Lützow flag, Vice admiral Franz von Hipper, Kapitän zur See Harder, SMS Derflinger , Kapitän zur See Hartog, SMS Seydlitz , Kapitän zur See von Egidy, SMS Moltke , Kapitän zur See Harpf, SMS von der Tann , Kapitän zur See Zenker; At 1602 Indefatigable was hit by the Von der Tann and exploded and sank with a loss of 1,017 of her man, at 1626 the Queen Mary at which the Defflinger and Lutzow were firing exploded and sank with the loss of 1,266 of her men. Barham first came to action at 1548, making best possible speed to join Beatty’s beleaguered battle-cruisers the German scouting cruisers Frankfurt Pillau and Elbing were sighted, at 1558 Barham opened fire on the Frankfurt at a range of 17,000 yards, her first salvo fell 300 yards short, the 3rd salvo straddled and the cruisers made smoke and turned away, the cruisers reported an exceptionally small spread of shot some 50 to 100 yards – they had had a very lucky escape. At 1605 Evan Thomas sighted the German 1SG and opened fire with CPC on the Von der Tann a few minutes later at 1608, after the encounter with the light cruisers the guns would still be loaded with CPC (common Percussion Cap) and some of this ammunition would still be in the loading train, it would take a few salvoes before APC (Armour Piercing Capped) ammunition would arrive at the guns. Although this intervention was heaven sent for Beatty it was too late for the Queen Mary at 1616 she was hit in the forward magazine causing a devastating explosion sinking the ship with the loss of 1,266 of her men, just twenty men were saved. To return the Barham, as previously mentioned she opened fire on the Von Der Tann, at 1609 hit the Von der Tann heavily on the stern, this shell a 15” CPC hit 28 feet from the stern and most likely below the water line, the shell exploded on contact and the Von der Tann was said to vibrate and shake like a tuning fork from end to end. Damage to the 4” armour was not great with a two foot square hole being blown in it but the hull below this was destroyed for a 6 foot length and driven in 5 feet causing flooding on the middle and armour decks. Shortly after this the three other ships of the 5BS came to action with the four ships firing in pairs, the Barham and Valiant engaged the Moltke and the Warspite and Malaya the Von der Tann. At 1623 Barham was hit by an 11” shell from the Von der Tann at a range of 17,000 yards , the hit below the water line on the armour belt with little damage, at around the same time she was hit by a second shell, a 12” possibly from the Lutzow, this hit on the port side of the foc’sle deck over the wing engine room, the shell exploded inside the 5.9” Gun room under the foc’sle deck causing widespread damage to lighter structures, a fragment also penetrated the 1.1/4” thick upper-deck , then went sharply down through the ½” main deck before stopping on the 1” middle deck, as well as the damage to light structures a fire was started in the gun room. At 1658,1701,1708 and 1710 Barham was hit a further four times by 12” shells most likely from the Derfflinger, the first shell, a SAP type, hit near No2 starboard 6” gun in line with the aft end of B turret barbette some 7 feet inboard, it pierced the 1.5” upper-deck leaving a hole 2.5 x 1.5 feet and exploded on the 3/8” main deck over the medical stores, the medical stores were destroyed and also destroyed the auxiliary wireless room on the main deck, very severe damage was done to nearby light structures and a large number of fires started. The 6” gun hand-ups and dredger hoists were badly damaged by splinters; the explosive flash passed up the hand ups to the No. 2 6” gun burning the crew and putting the gun out of action, flash also penetrated down a torn vent trunk into the dynamo room on the platform deck burning the crew here. The 1701 hit was also a 12” Sap Shell on the after superstructure passing through the 5/8” superstructure plate and exploding inside causing heavy damage to light structures and putting the main wireless station out of action – radio messages to Jellicoe now had to signalled by lamp or flag to Valiant for forwarding, the 1708 hit was on the ½” side plating below the upper-deck, the shell exploding six feet inside the hull blowing a 7x3.5 foot hole in the 1.1/4” main deck and again causing heavy damage to light structures, one fragment of this shell came to rest 40 feet from the explosion having penetrated the main deck, 5/8” lower deck, through a ¼” bulkhead before being deflected off a pillar and passing through a further ¼” bulkhead The 1710 hit was on the 1 1/4” upper- deck at the joint with the No1 starboard 6” gun casemate, it exploded 14’ inside the ship blowing a hole in the 3/8” main deck, once again severe damage was caused to light structures nearby. During this time Barham and valiant were engaging a German battle-cruiser, possibly the Seydlitz and the Warspite and Malaya the battleships of the German 5th Division. The Seydlitz was hit at 1706.08 and 1710 but these cannot be attributable to either the Barham or Valiant, however they caused a great of damage putting the starboard wing turret out of action. Around 1806 the German battleships re-appeared again briefly and were engaged by the bar ham without any confirmed hits, the visibility at this very much favoured the German ships with just 4 to 6 miles being reported by the British ships. There is confusion in the records over the next targets of the bar ham and valiant but it is thought they engaged the German battleship Helgoland briefly at 1817, although not hit the salvo’s were uncomfortably close and of a very close spread, later bar ham sighted the unfortunate German light cruiser Weisbaden crippled earlier by the battle-cruiser invincible she was fired on by a large number of British ships as they steamed past. The battleship Konig was also briefly engaged. Around 1925 the British Grand fleet came under a torpedo attack from the German 6th and 9th destroyer flotillas, the fleet turned to the north whilst under smoke the German fleet turned to the south and started their flight back to Germany, Barham used her 6” batteries briefly but smoke from the destroyers achieved its aim and hit the German ships from the British guns. This was effectively the end of the battle. Although the British had lost more men and ships they had won a tactical battle as the German fleet never put to sea in strength again, the German ships however came very close to achieving their aim which was to isolate a part of the British fleet and destroy it, in this case Beatty’s battle-cruisers, knowing Beatty’s impetuosity they had very nearly isolated his ships from the main British fleet – and if it had not been for the intervention of four ships, Barham, Valiant, Warspite and Malaya they would have achieved their aim, they were also not to know that Jellicoe was aware of the plan due to the decoding and reading of German messages and came very close to cutting them off from their bases and inflicting an appalling defeat on their fleet, only brilliant manoeuvres on the German leader admiral Scheer had saved them, damage was also lessened by the poor design of British shells, these had been designed to hole the opponents armour rather than punch through and explode inside. Another factor in the German fleets escape was the poor level of communications within the Grand Fleet, most message were sent by flag signals in a method not far removed from that of nelsons days at Trafalgar. During the battle Braham fired 337 rounds of 15”, of which 201 were CPC and 136 APC she also fired 25 rounds of 6” and suffered 26 men killed and another 46 wounded Post Jutland Barham was docked for repairs at Devonport and was back in service five weeks later on the 4 July 1916 with the majority of the High seas fleet confined to port life for the British battle-fleet and the 5BS was one of routine patrols and sweeps of the North Sea during these intervals a large amount of time was spent lying at anchor at the 5BS’s home base Scapa Flow. The Barham received two minor refits during WW1, the first at Cromarty in February 1917 and the second at Rosyth in February 1918. Following the war she was flagship of the 1st. BS of the Atlantic Fleet until 1924 when she joined the Mediterranean fleet until returning home for a refit in 1927-28 after this she rejoined the Atlantic fleet. In 1931-3 she was decommissioned to begin her first major refit, in this the engines and boilers were replaced, the old 24 large tube boilers always a restriction were replaced with six admiralty small tube 3 drum boilers, these are what should have been fitted from the start as they took up far less space but a conservative admiralty stuck with the older design, the old direct drive turbines were replaced with geared steam turbines of a much more compact and reliable design, the two funnels were also trunked into one single broad funnel which marked the class very distinctly, the boiler rooms were segregated giving six separate spaces and a centre line bulkhead was fitted in the centre machine space giving four separate engine rooms. Two of the torpedo tubes were removed at this time. The flying off platforms on b and X turrets were replaced with a single athwart-ships catapult and two hangers were built for her aircraft which were usually two Supermarine Walrus amphibian biplanes designed by R.J. Mitchell. The hull changed considerably with the addition of anti-torpedo bulges which ran from just aft of the bow and covered all the machinery spaces and magazines running from just above the waterline down to the double bottom, these increased the width of the ship to 104 feet but did not reduce the speed by any noticeable amount. Armour plating was beefed up by increasing the middle deck armour to 5” over the magazines and 31/2” over the machinery and boiler spaces. After this refit the full load displacement rose to 35,970 tons and the draft was around 36 feet, due to the added weight and in-spite of the newer machinery maximum speed was now just 23.5 knots. Post this refit she rejoined the Home fleet until 1935 when she rejoined the Mediterranean fleet, on the outbreak of World War 2 she was the Flagship VA of the 1st BS at Alexandria and second in command of the Mediterranean fleet, she returned to the UK and joined the Home Fleet at Scapa Flow, the war prevented the second refit she was scheduled to undertake and she went to war as the least modernised of the five sisters. Initially she formed part of the escort on convoys running to Canada, the battleship protection being needed due to the risk of German surface raiders such as the two Scharnhorst class small battleships and the Deutschland class heavy cruisers. Barham was commanded at this time by Capt. Harold Thomas Coulthard Walker, RN who was in command from 31 January 1939 to the 25 March 1940 On the 12th December 1939 she collided with and sank the 1936 built D class destroyer HMS Duchess, sadly only 23 of the destroyers 160 man crew survived this terrible accident in which Duchess was cut in two at 0400 in the morning off the Mull of Kintyre in the North Channel, the weather at the time was fog patches.
This image of Barham arriving at Malta she is showing the national flag markings on B turret, these were only shown shown the Spanish civil war - 1936-7 and would anyway give a date for the photo, however this photo is dated on the 01st september 1936 and is courtesy of the MartimeQuest website
On the 28th December 1939 when steaming to the North of the Hebrides Barham was hit by a single torpedo from the type VIIA submarine U30, the torpedo hit below the canteen flat abreast A and b turrets on the port side destroying the anti-torpedo bulge in that area, although the damage was serious there was no risk of the Barham sinking and she made for the Mersey where she was repaired by Cammell Lairds. During the repair period command of the ship was transferred to Captain Geoffrey Clement Cooke, RN who remained in command from the 25 March 1940 to the 25 November 1941. Repairs were complete during June 1940 and she spent the next two months on working up exercises, mainly based on Scapa Flow before sailing to Freetown West Africa were she arrived in August 1940. This was the lead up to an attack on the French naval ships in Dakar, the Vichy French Government in France were determined that the French naval ships would not end up under the control of the British. Britain for its part feared that the French ships would end up under the control of the Nazis thus the stage was set for a disastrous and upsetting debacle off Dakar on the 23rd to 26th September 1940, this bombardment off the French West African port by the Barham, and Royal Sovereign with spotting carried out by Barham’s swordfish aircraft left the new French battleship Richelieu disabled, the French replied with 9.4” and 6.1” shore batteries hitting the Barham 4 times but not causing serious damage, the Vichy French submarine Beveziers left Dakar and fired three torpedoes at the Barham and although avoided by the Barham one hit the Resolution on the port beam, Resolution listed 12 degrees to port and a serious fire broke out in No1 boiler room, losing all power she was towed to Freetown on the 26th September by the Barham this ended the operation. In November 1940 Barham was missed in another attempted torpedoing, this time by Italian frogmen riding a manned torpedo, whilst she was lying on the outer mole at Gibraltar. On the 11th November 1940 Barham was part of the covering force for Illustrious attack on the Italian fleet at Taranto, following this she sailed to Alexandria. On the 02nd January along with Warspite and valiant bombarded the airfield at Bardia in Libya near the Egyptian border, these were not successful attacks nor were they popular with Admiral Cunningham as they exposed his ships to a high risk of air attack from the Luftwaffe based in North Africa. On the 28th March in a well executed night manoeuvre Cunningham in Warspite followed by the Valiant and the Barham crossed the ‘T’ of an Italian cruiser force at Matapan causing the loss of two Italian heavy cruisers, the Zara and Fiume. On the 21st. April the three battleships, including Barham bombarded the Libyan port of Tripoli and on the 20th May the three ships took part in the battle of Crete, on the 27th may 1941 a Stuka dive bomber hit Barham with a 500 KG bomb on Y turret roof causing the ship to be taken out of service and sent to Durban for repairs in June 1941, she left Durban on the 31st July and was back in the Med at Alexandria on the 16th August 1941 were her first duties were another bombardment of Tripoli. On the 24th November 1941 Warspite valiant and Barham sailed from Alexandria to cover an attack on an Italian convoy to Benghazi in Libya North Africa, on route the three battleships and their escort of eight destroyers was sighted on the 25th November by the German submarine U331 under the command of Kapitanleutnant Freiherr Hans-Diedrich von Tiesenhausen, the daring German captain managed to pass through the British destroyer screen and get his boat into a firing position on the Middle battleship – Barham, he fired four torpedoes at a range of just 1,200 yards of which three hit close together on the port side just aft of the funnel on the elderly battleship. UN believably the submarine had been picked up three times on British sonar from the destroyers but being fairly new it was disbelieved; this allowed the sub to pas under the escort and approaches the battleships at a close range. The damage to Barham was massive far more than her torpedo protection scheme had been designed for she immediately listed heavily to port and seemed to halt briefly at 40 degrees and then continued until on her beam ends, at this point a massive explosion of her magazines ripped the dying ship apart, she then quickly disappeared beneath the waves with the loss of captain G.C. Cooke and 861 of her men. There were 396 survivors including Vice Admiral Henry D. Pridham-Wippell, her sinking had taken just two and a half minutes, her list was so fast that although attempts would have been made at counter-flooding these would have been futile. The cause of the explosion cannot be determined but it was thought to have been caused by an oil fire started by the torpedo explosions setting off the 4” magazines which in turn ignited the main after magazines. On firing the four torpedoes the change in weight caused the submarine to temporarily lose control and caused her to break the surface, The Valiant in line astern of the Barham immediately altered course to Ram but the Submarine managed to crash dive just before valiant arrived. During this crash dive the subs depth gauge stopped at 250 feet, the crew however could sense they were still diving, on checking the forward spare depth gauge the reading was 820 feet, the subs maximum depth was supposed to 330 feet! As a testimony to the good construction of U331 she did so much as spring a leak before she was returned to a safer depth. Von Tiesenhausen had heard his torpedoes hit followed by a fourth massive explosion, although knowing herd had sunk a battleship is was to be some months before he found out which one. In Germany he was awarded the Knights Cross on the 27th January 1942. Von Tiesenhausen as the Captain was the oldest on the crew of the submarine although he could hardly be called the old man – he was just 28 years old. A memory of Barham is John Turners film of the sinking, John Turner was a Gaumont British News cameraman on board the Valiant, all he had was two minutes of film remaining, not very much, but sufficient to capture for all time the shocking horror of the death of 862 men. Although the Germans were aware a Battleship had been sunk they did not know which one, hence the British cover up to keep the enemy guessing. On the 01st December 1941 the last casualty of the tragedy died in hospital and on the 08th December 1941 the next of kin were informed their relatives were missing in action it was not until the 23rd December they were informed on their deaths. News of the sinking was released to the press on the 27th January 1942 but John turner’s film was not released until 1945, to see the film follow the link below to the HMS Barham association’s website I have not included any images of the sinking on two reasons, one is that I am not sure of the copywrite position and two is that this footage has been rather poorly used in advertising campaigns and not given what I feel is the respect it is due, the death of so many men deserves the greatest respect.
Article completed on the 22nd december 2007 by Steve Woodward
- Jutland – John Campbell,
- Jutland - Geoffrey Bennett,
- Conway’s 1906-21 and 1922-46
- Warspite SW Roskill
- Imperial war Museum (IWM)
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