Revenge Class Battleship - HMS Royal Sovereign

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The name Royal Sovereign[edit]

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This undated image courtesy of MaritimeQuest shows the Royal Sovereign on gunnery trials, the condition of the ship plus the lack of anti torpedo bulges and the fact that she appears to be flying the red ensign indicates this was taken on her builders trials thus dating this picture as April or May 1916

The name Royal Sovereign first appeared in the Royal navyin 1701, although there had been a Sovereign of the Seas as early as 1637, to date there have been five ships bearing the name.

  1. Was a first rate ship of the line launched in 1701 and last until her scrapping in 1766
  2. Was another first rate ship of the line launched in 1786, she was Collingwood's flagship at Trafalgar in October 1805.
  3. Was a 131 gun screw frigate built in 1857 and became the navies first turret ship when she was converted in 1861-3, she was scrapped in 1885.
  4. Was the lead ship of the Royal Sovereign pre-Dreadnought class of battleship, built by Portsmouth Royal Dockyard in 1889-1892 she was armed with four 13.5" and ten 6" guns and dispalced 15,600 tons she was scrapped in 1913.
  5. Was the Revenge class battleship the subject of this article, following the scrapping of the Royal Sovereign in 1949 the name has not been in use.

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This freely available image labled only as taken from the Revenge shows the Royal Sovereign steaming at speed alongside, although undated This shows the RS as she was built with her original gun outfit and no torpedo bulges ( fitted 1920), there are no flying off platforms fitted to B or X turret ( fitted 1918) so this picture has to be between her commissioning in May 1916 and 1918. the next inline ship would appear to be the Royal oak with possibly the Resolution next and a QE class behind her

Class information[edit]

In 1913 a programme was started for the construction of a class of five battleships which for some reason are frequently referred to as the Royal Sovereign class, however the correct name for them was the Revenge class as that is how they were referred to in the Admiralty at their time of building. There was an original plan to built eight of the class but in 1914 all future capital ship building was cancelled , Jackie Fisher then the new First Sea Lord managed to get two of the classes construction suspended, these were the Renown and Repulse – the materials for these ships were later to become the battle-cruisers of that name, the eight ship Resistance was cancelled altogether. They followed the Queen Elizabeth class and if ever a design can be called a retrograde step then this is that design, once again costs and the need to keep these down reared it’s unwanted head, the Revenge class were smaller and cheaper than the QE’s and they were to be coal fired, thankfully during construction the design was altered and they reverted back to oil firing, original bunker capacity had been planned at 3,000 tons of coal and 1,500 tons of oil, this was changed to 3,400 tons of oil and 150 tons of coal but still gave a rather short range of action. Another strange feature was the single rudder, all other battleships had had twin rudders whilst the revenge class were fitted with a single main rudder on a centre-line skeg aft with a smaller auxiliary rudder immediately forwards of it. The secondary rudder was for use if the main rudder was damaged and it was the only one able to be operated by hand. in use the rudder was proved as ineffective and was later removed. From ahead the class looked similar to the preceding QE class but the secondary battery 6” guns in their casemates were set much further aft, although almost amidships these guns were still much to low in the ship and as such suffered badly in any seaway, and as they could not be closed watertight posed a threat to the ship by allowing flooding of the ship should she be damaged, from beam on the single upright funnel made them easily distinguishable. One good feature of the design was the better disposition of the armoured protection, the middle deck was no longer the armoured deck, instead this was moved up one level to the main deck. They were also steady sea boats which made them good gun platforms however the later fitting of anti torpedo bulges somewhat reduced this by making them prone to roll faster. They were also steady sea boats which made them good gun platforms however the later fitting of anti torpedo bulges somewhat reduced this by making them prone to roll more.

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This image of Royal Sovereign, courtesy of the matitimeQuest website, is undated however the foc'sle deck 6" guns are missing so it is post 1928 (when they were removed) and there are no pompoms either side of the funnel which were fitted in 1932 so this image is dated circa 1930

Building data[edit]

Royal Sovereign was built by the Royal Portsmouth Dockyard being laid down on the 15th January 1914 and launched 29th April 1915 and commissioned into the the 1st Battle Squadron (1BS) of the Grand Fleet in May 1916.

Basic Details[edit]

As built L 624'03" B 88'06" Draft 28'06" inc to 30'06" Disp 28,000 tons standard and 31,000 tons full load


The machinery of the Revenge class was a virtual repeat of that first fitted in the Queen Elizabeth class except that as a cost saving measure the designed power was considerably less. The installation consisted of Parsons reaction type direct drive steam turbines driving quadruple three bladed propellers each 9.5 feet in diameter, and developing 36,000 SHP for 21 knots, overload power being 40,000 SHP at 320 RPM giving 23 knots. There were three engine rooms, the two wing spaces contained the HP turbines which drove the outboard shafts with a small cruising turbine driving through a set of reduction gears , the two low pressure turbines were sited in the centre engine room driving the inboard shafts.

Steam was provided by 18 large tube Babcock and Wilcox oil fired boilers at 235 psi, bunker capacity was 3,400 tons of oil and 160 tons of coal which gave a range of 7,500 n. miles at 12.5 knots and 2,400 n. miles at 21 knots, on her trials she attained 21.6 knots on 41,115 shp

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This second image, courtesy of martimeQuest is for the same reasons as the previous image also dated between 1928 and 1930


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 23,500 yards at 20 degrees elevation and using 428 lbs of MD45 propellant in four quarter charges contained in 'Shallon’ silk bags. 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 on 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 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.

Secondary battery

As built the class were fitted with fourteen 6” C45 Mk12 guns all on single Mk9 pedestal mountings, all in casemates with six either side of the upper-deck and one either side of the foc’sle deck above the Number two gun in the lower casemates. This was the same secondary weapon as fitted to the Queen Elizabeth class and a large number of cruisers as their main battery, they suffered from flooding at sea but to a slightly lesser degree that those of the Queen Elizabeth class and in a even a moderate sea were difficult if not impossible to use. They had a very similar construction to that of the main battery with a liner inside an A tube, then wire wound with a shrunk on jacket , the guns were just over 23 feet long and weighed about 7 tons, maximum elevation was 15 degrees giving a range of about 14,000 yards. They fired a 100 lb shell using a charge of 27lbs of cordite contained in a single silk shallon bag. Rate of fire would be about 6 rounds per minute and 130 rounds per gun were carried, this gun could also fire star-shell with just 100 rounds carried on the ship. Designed to combat the larger torpedo boats then appearing the gun was not a success, at the same time aircraft were appearing and the low elevation of these guns was useless for AA fire. One improvement on this class was that from the outset director firing was fitted for the 6” batteries however the directors themselves were not fitted until 1917-18.

AA weapons : as new two 12 pounder (3”) C45 Mk1 guns were fitted, one either side of the boat deck, this was the first purpose built British AA weapon which weighed 20 cwt ( one ton) and was just over 10 feet long, ammunition was of the fixed type with the shell and charge/ cartridge loaded as one unit the original round weighed 12.5 lbs but rose later to 17.5 lbs and used a 2.1 lb charge of cordite. Normal ceiling was 23-24,000 yards and range when used as a surface gun was just under 11,000 yards.

The class were also fitted with four 3 pounder signalling guns

In 1924 the two 3" 12 pounder guns were repaced with two 4" HA AA guns and later in the 1927/8 refit the upper pair of 6" casemate guns were landed and another two single 4" HA AA guns added. In 1932 the AA outfit was further supplemented by the addition of two eight barelled 2 pounder pompoms on platforms either side of the funnel and a quadruple 0.5" machine gun either side of the control tower. A further refit in 1937/8 saw the four single 4" guns replaced with four twin 4" C40 Mk16 HA AA guns, these fired a 35lb shell to 19,700 yards and had an AA ceiling of 39.000 feet. In WW2 the useless quad machine guns were removed and replaced with ten single 20mm Oerlikons and two quadruple 2 pounder pompoms - one on B and X turret roofs. During her 12943 refitat Philladephia in the USA she was fitted with a further six twin and fourteen single 20mm oerlikons.

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Courtesy of MaritimeQuest this image is was taken on 16 May 1933 in the Grand Harbour in Valetta. Examination of the photo shows clearly that the 2 pounder pompoms either side of the funnels are present so this is post the 1932 refit and the twin 4" aa guns are not yet fitted so this image is pre 1937

Torpedo armament[edit]

The original outfit was four submerged 21" torpedo tubes, two on either n beam, one pair forward of A turret and the other pair aft of Y turret, in 1932 the after pair of tubes were removed and in 1938 the forward pair went.

Armour Protection[edit]

The Revenge class were armoured very much like the Queen Elizabeth class, reputedly with better distribution but by the fact that the class as a whole was kept out of harms way during WW2 showed they were very much under protected. The main belt, 13” thick, ran from just forward of A barbette to just aft of Y barbette and was just under 13 feet deep and projected 5 feet below the load waterline, forward and aft of the two end barbettes the armour tapered to 6” and finally 4” forwards , above this was a lighter belt 6” thick protecting the 6” gun batteries and running from A to Y barbette. The ends of the armoured belt were closed off with armoured bulkheads 6” thick forwards and 4” inches aft forming the armoured citadel. Torpedo protection was afforded by a a bulkhead covering the magazines and machinery spaces, 1.5” thick over the magazines and 1” elsewhere, this was considered rather poor and the small size and narrow beam of this class made improving this very difficult. Deck armouring was 1” on the foc’sle deck, the next deck the upper or battery deck was 1.5”, the armoured deck below this was just 2” thick, although this was one deck higher than the QE class it was still woefully inadequate against modern long range gunnery with steeply falling shells, the steering gear was in an armoured box of 3 or 4” plate. The barbette armour was 10” when on the beam and outside of other armour this tapered to 4” on the fore and aft line and also reduced to 4” when behind the side armour belts. The Turrets had 13” faces, 11” sides and a 4.5” roof whilst the control tower had 11” sides a 3” roof and a 4” hood, the armoured communications tube down into the ship from the control tower was 6” thick when outside of other armour and 4” inside. At some time in her later life, probably during the 1942-3 refit she was fitted with an additional 2" of High Tensile steel plate over the magazine areas.

Service History[edit]

On her completion by Portsmouth Royal Dockyard in April 1916 she commissioned into the 1st. Battle squadron (1BS) of the Grand fleet and was too late to take part in the Battle of Jutland, manned from Chatham with a nick name of the Tiddley quid In 1918 she had flying off platforms added to both B and X turrets, these consisted of a metal framework bolted onto the gun barrels over which was laid a wood deck, the length of this platform would be about 60 feet, just room for the Fairey flycatcher they carried to take off with a suitable wind, there was no means of recovering the aircraft, after use it had to land ashore and be returned via a barge, she was also fitted with a 30 foot range finder in B turret to supplement the main and secondary range-finders should they be damaged in battle. In 1919 the Grand fleet was disbanded and Sovereign joined the Atlantic Fleet and along with others in her class was stationed in the Black Sea and Mediterranean during the Turkish- Greek war, she returned to the UK in July 1920 and in September collided with the battle-cruiser Tiger in Portland, she then paid off and entered Plymouth for repairs in December 1920 she was also taken in hand for first major refit period in which she was fitted with anti-torpedo bulges, these seven foot wide cigar shaped bulges ran from just aft of the forward torpedo tubes to just forward of the after tubes and extended upwards from the bottom of the turn of the bilge to just below the secondary battery 6” gun casemates, they added some 2,200 tonnes to the displacement and slightly reduced the speed her beam on completion was now 102’06”. To help withstand the blast of a torpedo explosion the bulges were filled with concrete in some areas, wood and sealed metal ‘crush tubes’) during this time she was also fitted with the large base range finder in X turret to match that in B turret On completion of the refit she remained in reserve until October 1922 when she rejoined the Atlantic Fleet and then in late 1926 she transferred to the Med fleet. During this commission she received her first pair of 4” Mk4 HA AA guns in lieu of the 3” guns in 1924. In 1928 she was taken in hand for another major refit, in this the two 6” foc’sle deck guns removed and two additional 4” Mk4 HA AA guns added. In 1932 a further refit saw her being fitted with two eight-barrelled 2 pounder pompoms on platforms one either side of the funnel she also had a rudimentary High Angle Control system added to the foremast in the form of a Mk1 HIACS.the after torpedo tubes were removed. In 1933 she had a catapult installed on her quarter deck to operate a single Fairey float plane. Reflecting her age and the fact that the small size of the class prohibited any real modernisation she was delegated to lesser roles finally becoming a training ship in 1935 that being said small improvements in the AA armament continued to be made to at least attempt some semblance of modernisation. In 1936 the catapult and air-craft was removed from the poop deck, it would be destroyed by muzzle blast unless launched before the after guns were used. In 1937 to 1938 at Devonport she underwent a fairly substantial refit, the four single 4” guns were replaced with four twin 4” Mk9 HA AA guns and the control system was upgraded to two HIACS Mk3 and the last two torpedo tubes, the forward pair were landed. Other refits to improve the armour scheme of the ship and increase the range of the guns were not carried out due to the threat of war as other ships and new construction was seen as a greater priority.

On the outbreak of war Sovereign along with her sister-ships Revenge and Ramillies was assigned to convoy escort duties as part of the 3rd battle Squadron based on Scapa Flow, most of her duties were in the Western Approaches and North Sea areas and convoys to and from Norway. In January 1940 she transferred to Halifax on North Atlantic convoy escort duties especially for the troop convoys from Canada then in March 1940 due to the threat from Italy she transferred to the Med joining the fleet based in Alexandria, the first months were spent on working up exercises. In June a major operation for two convoys MF1 MS1 – two convoys run co-incidentally one being fast the other slow was covered by Sovereign and her Sister-ship Ramillies along with the old carrier Eagle, four cruisers – Orion, Liverpool, Neptune and Sydney and nine destroyers, these convoys from Malta were evacuating non-essential staff On the 09th of July Sovereign was at sea with Malaya and Warspite, in company with the eagle and the destroyers Hasty, Hostile, Hyperion, Ilex dainty, Defender, Janus, Juno and the RAN Vampire cover a Malta convoy when the Italian fleet attempted to interfere with the convoy, this action know as the battle of Calabria was ended when the Italian fleet withdrew after Warspite hit the Italian Flagship, Guilio Cesare at a range of 13 miles, bothe Malaya and in particularly Royal Sovereign were too slow to take part in this action although there presence did help the Italian admiral to make the decision to retire. In August Sovereign transferred to the Red Sea, again on convoy escort duties, Italian destroyers had been attacking convoys, whilst here she was narrowly missed by torpedoes from an Italian submarine, in December she transferred to the Indian Ocean again on convoy protection duties. During January to may 1941 she remained in the Indian ocean until returning to the UK in June for a refit . she remained in refit from July to October during which she was fitted with fire control radar for both her main armament ( type 284) and two type 285 sets for her secondary batteries, a 286 set was fitted for air defence, November was spent on trials and working up after the fitting of the Radar , following this she was part of the escort for a convoy to Durban in November and December, following her arrival at Durban she continued with her Indian Ocean escort duties, and escorted troop convoys to and from Australia and New Zealand, these troop convoys were prime targets for a surface raider and a heavy escort was a necessity. On March the 26th Royal Sovereign joined the other battleships Warspite, and her sister ships Ramillies, Resolution and Revenge forming the Eastern Fleets 3rd BS, other ships included the carrier Hermes and the cruisers Caledon and Dragon with eight destroyers. On the 31st they carried out a search for japans warships which were heading to attack Ceylon, given that Warspite was the only modern ship among them it is perhaps as well the two fleets never met as the Japanese fleet had four modern carriers, the poor horizontal protection of the 3rd BS and poor AA defences would have caused a major loss to the British unless the two fleets had met in the dark and even then the outcome would probably have been in favour of the Japanese, following the failure to find the enemy fleet the 3rd BS returned to Addu Atoll their emergency base as Ceylon was no longer considered safe, latterly they transferred further from the area to Kilindini, Sovereign then carried on with her convoy escort duties. In February 1943 Royal Sovereign sailed for Norfolk Virginia for refit during which her radar was up-rated with the fitting of a type 79 air-search unit, she remained in Norfolk from April to July and in August made the passage back to the Indian Ocean to resume her escort duties. In January 1944 she returned to the UK, Somerville the Admiral of the Far East fleet had rejected her on the basis that her speed was now so low she was not suitable for working with a fleet, her machinery which was never replaced or upgraded was now 28 years old, Ramillies was also returned as being too slow, on arrival back in the UK Royal Sovereign was paid off into reserve to release her crew for more important ships and duties and in March the old ship was placed in refit to ready her for transfer to her new operators, the Russian Northern Fleet, there are many rumours as to why she was transferred, one is that it was a get back at the revolutionaries, they had killed off their Royal family so they were getting a ship called the Royal Sovereign. The probable truth is that the Russian navy had been promised the Italian Battleship the Giulio Cesare on the Italian surrender but she was not yet ready and so the old Royal Sovereign was substituted. She was under refit on the 31st march when she was handed over to the Soviets and renamed Arkhangelsk and returned to service with her new owners in July 1944 she then sailed with Russian Convoy JW59 to Murmansk and served with their Northern Fleet until the end of the war. On the 09th February 1949 she was handed back to the RN in a ceremony at Rosyth and was renamed Royal Sovereign, she was immediately placed on the disposal list and sold to BISCO ( British Iron and Steel Company) who in turn allocated her to T. W. Ward’s at Inverkeithing were she arrived under tow on the 05th April 1949. During the war the old lady had escorted the following convoys : HX18, HX22, HX28, HX34, SC016, HX 103, TC109, HX113, HX114, HX116, HX120, SC028, HX124, DM002 and CM029 . All those miles must have told heavily on her nearly 30 year old steam plant.

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This 1944 image of the Royal Sovereign shows her in the Russian navy as the Arkhangelsk and is courtesy of maritmeQuests website, note the radar Lantern on the main mast and the type 284 radar antenna on top of her forward main battery gun director ( located just forward and lower than the wheelhouse.


Bibliography: IWM,

  1. Jutland – John Campbell,
  2. Jutland - Geoffrey Bennett,
  3. Conway’s 1906-21 and 1922-46
  4. Martimequest website for the images of Royal Sovereign

This article was completed on the 18th January 2008 by Steve Woodward

Revenge Class Battleships[edit]

Revenge Class Battleships
Revenge Class Battleship - HMS Ramillies Revenge Class Battleship - HMS Resolution Revenge Class Battleship - HMS Revenge Revenge Class Battleship - HMS Royal Oak Revenge Class Battleship - HMS Royal Sovereign