Queen Elizabeth Class Battleship - HMS Queen Elizabeth

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The name Queen Elizabeth[edit]

To date their has only been one ship to bear the name Queen Elizabeth the name ship of this article and the Class of battleships, there was also to be a large aircraft carrier to bear the name but she and the class that was to follow were not built. There is also a that a new class of two warships may bear the names Queen Elizabeth and the Prince of Wales, these will be aircraft carriers and if built will be the largest ships ever built for the Royal Navy.

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Queen Elizabeth on her launch day 16th. October 1913

Class information[edit]

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.

Building data[edit]

The Queen Elizabeth was built by the Royal Portsmouth Naval Dockyard being laid down on the 21st. October 1912 and launched on the 16th. October 1913 she was completed in January 1915 and as a new and unworked up ship was sent to the Mediterranean to Join the Dardanelles campaign becoming the flagship for the naval campaign.

Basic Details[edit]

L 646'01" B 90'06" Draft at full load 34'02" Disp 27,500 tons standard and 34,050 tons full load Note that the overall length of the Queen Elizabeth is a little longer than her sisters, she was the only ship completed with a stern gallery, the feature was omitted from the other four ships and removed from the Queen Elizabeth at the end of 1915.

Following her 1937-41 refit her beam had increased to 104 feet anf her full load displacement was now 38,450 tons ans her maximum speed down to 23.5 knots, as original her crew had been between 925 and 950 men, with all the extra wepaons, radar and other equipment this rose to 1,124 men making what had been ( for a battleship) a spacious accomodation rather over-crowded.


Machinery ( as built)  : Quadruple screws driven by Parsons 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 Babcock and Wilcox large tube boilers 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.


Main battery

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This 1915 image shows the after pair of 15" gunned turrets ( X and Y) on the Queen Elizabeth, Y turret is trained round to port probably as far as the stops will allow, any further round and severe blast damage would be done to the structures nearby. Photo courtesy of MaritimeQuest website

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

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This image shows the forward 15" guns of the Queen Elizabeth - the built up nature of the barrels can be clearly seen in this early picture of the ship. Image courtesy of MaritimeQuest website

Secondary battery

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 on the focsle deck above the aftermost 6” casemate gun. 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.

In 1916 the two focsle deck mounted 6" guns were removed and replaced with two twelve pounder (3”) C45 Mk1 HA AA guns these fired a 12.5 lb shell to a ceiling of 37,000 feet, four 3 pounder signalling guns were also fitted.

In the 1926-7 refit to reflect the greater threat shown by aircraft the two 3" AA guns were replaced with four single shielded mount 4" Mk5 HA AA guns.

In the later 1937-40 refit all the six inch and four inch guns were removed and the six inch case mates plated over thus making deck space for a new dual purpose (DP) secondary battery of twenty 4.5" guns in twen twin turrets, these were controlled by four HA directors.

Torpedo armament[edit]

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.

Armour Protection[edit]

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 rebuild in 1926 and 1927 her middle deck armour was increased to 5" with the upper deck contributing another 3.25" to 2,75".

Service History[edit]

The Queen Elizabeth, the first of her class to be completed commissioned into the 5th Battle squadron (5BS) in December 1914 and whilst still working up she was despatched to the Mediterranean in February 1915 to reinforce the British navies Dardanelles operations, she carried out her full power trials and gunnery exercises en-route, it was thought that her huge 15” guns would be devastating when used on the Turkish forts. She arrived off the Dardanelles in February and assumed the role of flagship under Admiral J.M. De Roebuck, her first action was the bombardment of the Seddul Bahr fort guarding the Gallipoli side of the entrance to the Dardanelles on the 25th February it was soon apparent that she was too valuable to risk losing her in the narrows so she had to bombard the forts from across the Gallipoli peninsula there was another drawback to using Britain’s newest, and first battleship to be fitted with 15” guns, the ship had been rushed through construction without the usual proof firing of her guns and this had left little time to build up stocks of the new shells, there were also no spare 15” gun barrels so she was under orders not to use too much ammunition nor wear out her guns, in the end she fired just 86 15” rounds from her main battery and 71 rounds of 6” from her secondary battery’s On the 14th May she returned back to the UK to rejoin the infant 5th BS on the 26th , at this stage just the Warspite was completed, it would be another 5 months before the third ship Barham Completed and not until February 1916 that the final two ships, Malaya and valiant were finished. On the 22nd may 1916 she was dry-docked for maintenance during which the two shielded mount 6” guns installed on the aft end of the foc’sle deck were removed and replaced with two 3” C50 HA AA guns she returned to service on the 04th June 1916 having missed the battle of Jutland on the 31st may-01st June. The Queen Elizabeth was further refitted from July 1916 until February 1917 for her role as Fleet Flagship under Admiral David Beatty who had been promoted to Commander of the Grand Fleet in November 1916, who had chosen the Queen Elizabeth as his flagship owing to the fact that she was the fastest battleship in the fleet. On the 9th to the 10th September she temporarily flew the flag of a US Admiral Mayo who was Commander in Chief of the USN Atlantic Fleet and awarded the British DSO, which is possibly why he flew his flag temporarily in a British warship. Queen Elizabeth along with her sister-ships was one of the many British warships which formed two lines of ships underway to receive the surrendering ships of the German High seas fleet off the Scottish coast leading them into the Firth of Forth. This collection of over 250 warships including 30 British and American battleships was and remains the largest gathering of naval vessels in history. On the 15th November 1918 on the Quarter-deck of the Queen Elizabeth Rear Admiral Ludwig von Reuter sign the surrender of the German High seas Fleet.

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This image shows the Queen Elizabeth following a line of British capital ships to accept the surrender of the German High Seas Fleet in 1918, the surrender doccument was signed on board the Queen Elizabeth Photo courtesy of MaritimeQuest website

From July 1918 to July 1924 she was flagship of the Atlantic fleet. following this she was flagship of the Mediterranean fleet until she returned to Portsmouth and decommissioned on the for a major refit on the 26th May 1926, this partial modernisation took until the 02nd January 1928 during which she was given anti-torpedo bulges, her middle deck armour was increased to 5” over the magazines and 31/2 “ over the machinery spaces, her two funnels were trunked into one and the two 3” AA guns fitted in 1916 were removed and replaced with four single 4” Mk5 HA AA guns, on completion she re-commissioned for the Mediterranean fleet once more assuming her role as fleet flagship, this was the Royal Navvy’s most important peace time station and it was reflected that the Mediterranean fleet consisted , amongst others, of the five Queen Elizabeth class battleships. By the time she relinquished her role as flagship to return to the UK for her major rebuilding in 1937 she had served eight Commanders in Chief (CINC), she had also been Senior Flag at King George V’s Jubilee Review at Spithead in July 1935 and was also at the Coronation review of May 1937. The major rebuilding of Queen Elizabeth was commenced at Portsmouth Dockyard in August 1937, in this virtually the entire superstructure was removed , her original engines and boilers removed, new Parsons geared steam turbines were fitted with the centre engine room being split into two separate spaces by a centre line water tight bulkhead the old 24 large tube boilers were replaced with just six admiralty three drum boilers of a more compact design but supply slightly more power than the original 24 boilers. Improvements were made to the hull shape, armour protection and the old and virtually useless 6” and 4” battery’s removed and the decks and hull completely plated over giving a new larger deck area to install the new secondary battery of 20 4.5” HA AA guns in ten twin turrets, these were controlled by four new HA AA gunnery directors, one either side of the bridge structure and two aft - either side of the after 15” main director. Her main 15” turrets were removed and sent back to Vickers, the makers, for a full rebuild in which their elevation was increased from 20 to 30 degrees, thus increasing their range to 32,000 yards, new fire control equipment was also fitted to make use of this increased range. On completion of the installation of the machinery an entirely new and modern looking tower superstructure was built giving her a new purposeful image. Her light AA batteries now consisted of eight of the eight barreled 2 pounder pompoms and four quadruple .5” machine guns; these were later removed and replaced with 20mm Oerlikons which eventually number 54. She was also given a new mid-ships catapult and hanger space for three aircraft. She was still at Portsmouth when war broke out in September 1939 and in December due to the threat of air attack she was moved to Rosyth in Scotland to complete her refit in peace, she completed her rebuild in February 1941.

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Queen elizabeth alongside the mole at Gibraltar in the 1930's with a Revenge class battlship astern, although the two classes may look similar they can be easily told apart by the location of the casemates for the 6" secondary battery guns, on the QE class these are more pronounced and nearer the bows making these guns very wet and nearly useless. Photo courtesy of MaritimeQuest website

Second World War

After re-commissioning she was part of the Home Fleet and completed her working up exercises out of Scapa Flow, in May 1941 she was part of the escort of a convoy ( operation Tiger) to Malta passing Gibraltar on the 06th May before continuing on to join the Mediterranean Fleet based on Alexandria, her first task being the support of evacuation of Crete along with her sister-ships Warspite, Barham and Valiant, on the 01st September 1941 she again assumed the role of flagship hoisting the flag of Flag of Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham, C-in-C Mediterranean, more commonly known as ABC). On the 19th December 1941 Italian frogmen made a daring under-water attack on the British fleet’s base at Alexandria, the Queen Elizabeth was severely damaged and the valiant less so by mines planted under their hulls causing them both to sink to the bottom of the harbour, fortunately the water was shallow and the Italians could be fooled into thinking they had failed in their attempt. To keep up this pretence Admiral Cunningham carried out his movements on the upper-deck as if nothing had happened, below water it was a different story 11,000 square feet of the double bottom area had been destroyed or badly damaged, and three boilers rooms were flooded Temporary repairs were carried out at Alexandria until the 27th June 1942 just sufficient to make her seaworthy for her passage to Norfolk Virginia were the American repair facilities at this major naval base would carry out full repairs, she remained here until the 26th June 1943.

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This image of the QE taken in 1943 shows her in her final form with the 6" casemates palted over an the 20 4.5" gun battery fitted, note the extra light AA guns on top of B and X turrets and any were else they would fit - reflecting that the threat to a battlship was now an aircraft, not another battleship, although looking a formidable weapon she is 28 years old. Note also the glass radar 'jampot' aerial near the top of the formast and the two forward 4.5" gun HA directors located just below the radar aerial Image courtesy of MartimeQuest

Back in home waters in July 1943 she worked up based in Scapa Flow until the 23rd December 1943 when she left for the Med win company with the battle-cruiser Renown and sister-ship Valiant for the far east, the fleet arrived in Trincomalee, Ceylon, at the end of January 1944. In May 1944 the QE became the flagship of Admiral Sir James Somerville, C-in-C Eastern Fleet, and took part in carrier air strikes on Sabang in Sumatra The Sabang raid came about due to request that the RN Eastern fleet provide a decoy attack in Sumatra to keep the Japanese occupied whilst the main attack was started by US forces on Kota Jayapura (then called Hollandia) on the Island of New Guinea, Sabang was convenient, it was in the Aceh province and the eastern most City of Sumatra (Now Indonesia). As well as helping the US forces it was also hoped to distract the Japanese in Burma thereby helping the British 14th Army, the operation was carried out from early in the morning on the 19th April 1944 Sabang was attacked by aircraft from HMS Illustrious and the USS Saratoga, backing this up with a naval bombardment was the Queen Elizabeth, Valiant and the French battleship Richelieu, the battle-cruiser Renown, heavy cruisers London and the light cruisers Ceylon, Gambia, Newcastle and Nigeria and the Dutch cruiser Tromp along with the destroyers Dunlap , Cummings and Fanning ( 3 USN), Petard, Penn, Quiberon (RNZN),Quilliam, Queenborough, Quadrant, Nepal, Napier, Nizam, Racehorse, Rotherham and Van Galen (RNN) this was also a practice engagement for British and US forces to work together ready for when the British had increased their military strength in the far east. In this successful raid major damage was done to the oil, radio and radar installations, 30 Japanese aircraft destroyed and two merchant and two destroyers damaged. Over the period of the 06th to the 27th May 1944 Queen Elizabeth was part of the carrier task force (TF65) escort attacking Surabaya, Queen Elizabeth also bombarded the port with her main battery. In July she was part of another attack on Sabang In October 1944 she sailed to Durban for a refit returning in November in time for the attack on the refinery at Belawan and the airfield at Sabang. On the 21st January 1945 she took part in operation Matador to capture the port of Kyaukpyu in Myanmar on the Bay of Bengal, the plan of action was for a shore bombardment by the Queen Elizabeth and the light cruiser Phoebe, spotting for this bombardment was by planes from the escort carrier Ameer, there was also an aerial bombardment before troops from the Indian 71st brigade made an un-opposed landing, this action is sometimes referred to as the Ramree island battle. In April 1945 she took part in another task force (TF63) attack on Sabang and then took part in the bombardment of car Nicobar and Port Blair in the Andaman Islands and also covered the capture of Rangoon.

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This image framed by the Y turret 15" guns of the Queen Elizabeth shows her with The Valiant ( nearest) and the French Battleship Reichelieu, a fitting tribute to a fine ship Picture courtesy of martimeQuest

On the 12th July 1945 she was relieved as flagship by the Nelson, now 31 years old she set sail to return to UK, the old girl was not in very good condition having fought a hard war with only the minimum maintenance to keep her going, she arrived back at Portsmouth on the 07th August 1945 and then sailed for Rosyth arriving on the 10th of August were she paid off into reserve , in March 1946 she was reduced to category B reserve at Plymouth and used as an accommodation ship on the 21st January 1948 the decision to scrap her was made and she was handed over to BISCO ( British Iron and Steel Company) and finally paid off on the 15th may 1948,. She left Portsmouth under tow for Arnott and Young’s yard at Dalmuir River Clyde for scrapping arriving on the 07th July 1948, the bare hull was then later towed to Troon for finishing, this was another opportunity lost to preserve a fine example of British engineering and a witness to the tragedy of two world wars.

Her battle honours are: Dardanelles 1915, Crete 1941, Burma 1944-5, Sabang 1945 and the East Indies 1945


Bibliography: IWM,

  1. Jutland – John Campbell,
  2. Jutland - Geoffrey Bennett,
  3. Conway’s 1906-21 and 1922-46
  4. Some pictures ( were noted) by courtesy of the MaritimeQuest website


Article completed on the 24th december 2007 by Steve Woodward

Queen Elizabeth Class Battleships
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