Queen Victoria Class Battleships

Queen Victoria enroute to Jutland, May 1916.

Links to full size drawings from Left to Right: Queen Victoria 1916, Trafalgar 1924, Trafalgar 1940, Nile 1943, Queen Victoria 1944.


Displacement: 35,502t normal; 36,210t deep load

Dimensions: 721ft 4in oa X 98ft 5in X 30ft mean

Machinery: 4-shaft Parsons turbines, 14 small-tube Yarrow boilers, 69,957shp = 25kts. Oil 4000t Range c4500nm at 10kts

Armor: Belt 13in-6in, bulkheads 6in-4in, barbettes 10in-4in, turret faces 13in, CT 11in, decks 3in

Armament: 10-15in/42 cal Mk I (5x2), 14-6in/45 cal Mk XII, 2-3in/20cwt AA Mk I, 4-3pdr saluting, 4-21in TT sub (beam)

Complement: 1293-1681

Queen Victoria: Laid down 23/4/13 Portsmouth DYd, Launched 15/5/14, Completed 7/15, Sold for BU 3/48

Nile: Laid down 11/9/13 John Brown, Launched 21/9/14, Completed 11/15, Sunk 17/6/43

Trafalgar: Laid down 16/12/13 Harland & Wolf, Launched 7/1/15, Completed 1/16, Sold for BU 7/48

Devastation: Laid down 4/3/14 Devonport DYd, Launched 16/4/15, Completed 4/16, Sunk 31/5/16

Queen Victoria on sea trials, July 1915.

Trafalgar, March 1916.

Soon after the first battleships of the Queen Elizabeth class were laid down, new rumors began to emerge about a new class of German battleship, one armed with 16" guns. Fearing that these new German monsters would outclass their newest battleships, Britain began planning a response. At first, consideration was given to upping the guns on the Queen Elizabeths from 15" to 16", but Armstrong was still in the process of finishing work in the 15" design and a new design would delay any new ship. Triple turrets were briefly considered, but were seen as too unwieldy. Finally, it was decided to enlarge the existing Queen Elizabeth design by adding an additional turret in the "Q" position, or amidships. Such an arrangement had been planned for the Queen Elizabeth but the middle turret was removed to allow for an enlarged engineering section and more speed. The Admiralty decided that keeping the speed gained was critical, so made the decision to use small-tube boilers for the first time. The boilers were smaller and lighter than those in the Queen Elizabeth and would allow the new battleship to retain the Queen Elizabeth’s speed while adding the extra turret. Like the preceding Queen Elizabeth class, the ships were oil fueled instead of relying on coal. Only oil fuel could possible provide enough energy to drive these ships at the speeds demanded.

Named after Queen Victoria, the first ship in the class was laid down in April of 1913 at Portsmouth Dockyard. After the war began, the ships were rushed to completion, with the first joining the Grand Fleet in the summer of 1915. Her three sisters soon followed in late 1915, early 1916, and the last in the early spring of 1916. By this time however, it had become apparent that the reports about German 16" gunned battleships were false. Despite the misinformation that lead to their design, the Admiralty was still quite pleased to have the four most powerful and largest battleships in the world. The four ships were combined into the 6th Battle Squadron, complimenting the 5th Squadron of Queen Elizabeth class ships.

The three surviving Queen Victorias sailing home from Jutland. Left to Right are Trafalgar, Nile, and Queen Victoria.

Aerial view of Queen Victoria, 1918

The Battle of Jutland in late May of 1916 would prove to be both one of the finest and darkest hours for these warships. Attached to Admiral Beatty’s Battlecruiser Force, along with the 5th Squadron, they found themselves covering the escape of the battlecruisers in the face of the bulk of the German High Seas Fleet. Their powerful armament, capable of ranges exceeding 19,000 yards, proved devastating. The Queen Victoria scored several severe hits to the Lutzow and Seydlitz and Nile and Trafalgar both struck Derfflinger, detonating her aft magazines and blowing her to oblivion. Devastation was hit several times, possibly by Moltke or Seydlitz, with tragic consequences. Her forward magazines appear to have detonated, blowing the ship in two just forward of the funnels. The forward section sank almost instantly, the aft section remained afloat for several minutes before it capsized and exploded as well. Seventy men survived, but more than 1300 were killed, the worst single ship loss of the battle. The exact cause of her loss is unknown, but damage to the Malaya seems to provide a clue. That ship was nearly lost later in the battle when her 6" battery was struck and a flash cordite fire sent flaming debris down open hatches into the 6" magazine. Only the quick action of the magazine crew in smothering the burning embers saved her. Devastation appeared to have been struck on her 6" battery just below the conning tower immediately prior to the fatal blast. It was another tragic example of the faults in the British ammunition handling system.

Nile at Scapa Flow, 1918.

Trafalgar, 1919. Note fore and aft flying-off platforms.

Nile on a port visit to Naples, Italy, Summer of 1920.

The three survivors suffered only minor damage at Jutland and saw very little further action during the remainder of the First World War as U-boat attacks lead to shortages of the oil that they depended on. They received the typical upgrades to fire control and protection as other British warships after Jutland. After the war the Victorias and Elizabeths formed the core of the British battlefleet as older Dreadnoughts were sold for scrap. They underwent refits in the 1920’s that were almost identical to those performed on the Queen Elizabeth and her sisters. Similar upgrades were made in the late 1930’s as war again threatened England. Queen Victoria and Trafalgar underwent more extensive reconstruction than Nile, receiving entirely new superstructures and secondary armaments. Queen Victoria had her 6" guns removed entirely and replaced with 4.5" AA guns. Trafalgar kept most of her 6" guns, with moderate AA upgrades. Nile was to have been modernized to resemble Queen Victoria, but the threat of war left her with only modest additions to her AA armament.

Trafalgar in 1933 after her first major refit.

Queen Victoria in 1940 after her second major refit.

All three ships saw extensive service during the Second World War. Late in 1939, Trafalgar briefly engaged the German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau in the North Sea, forcing them to abandon a planned commerce raiding sortie after Scharnhorst’s "Bruno" turret was badly damaged by a direct hit from her 15" guns. She also saw combat along the coast of Norway. In April of 1940 while off Narvik, she was hit by two torpedoes fired from U-51 and badly damaged. She limped back to Scapa Flow for temporary repairs, then to Rosyth where repairs were finally completed late in 1940. In June of 1941, she and Queen Victoria took part in the Battle of Iceland, where Queen Victoria scored a fatal hit on the cruiser Admiral Hipper which blew it apart and they both damaged the German battleships Wotan and Bismarck, forcing them and the Tirpitz to retreat to Norway. The Tirpitz was able to score a serious hit on Queen Victoria’s "Q" turret, basically destroying the turret, though the modifications inspired by Jutland prevented any serious threat of a catastrophic explosion.

Color profile of Trafalgar, 1941

Nile served in the Mediterranean during the early years of the war, seeing action at Cape Matapan and the evacuation of Crete. At Matapan she joined Warspite, Barham, and Valiant in sinking the Italian battleship Vittorio Veneto. Later that year, however, she was badly damaged by four direct hits and three near misses while helping to cover the evacuation of Crete and barely limped into Alexandria. She was patched up and sent through the Suez Canal along with the damaged Warspite to complete repairs at Puget Sound in the western United States, sailing to Australia and the Indian Ocean after the United States entered the war in December of 1941. In the spring of 1942, after the Japanese threat to Australia and India eased, Nile sailed home to England for a much-needed refit to her meager anti-aircraft defenses.

All three ships served together from mid-1942 primarily guarding against further German attempts to break out into the North Atlantic. After the Battle of Iceland in 1941, German surface units had remained close to Norwegian or Baltic waters, their primary targets being the various convoys sailing to the Soviet Union. Most had been unsuccessful, either due to poor weather, intelligence, or luck. There had been a few notable exceptions, especially PQ17 in July of 1942. In that sortie, Tirpitz and Bismarck engaged an undefended, scattered convoy. The battleships, Luftwaffe, and U-boats butchered the convoy.

Nile in July of 1943, one month before her loss.

In August of 1943, JW48 set off from England, bound for the Soviet Arctic ports. The Queen Victoria, Nile, and Trafalgar were the centerpiece of its powerful escort. The Germans sent one of their largest raiding groups to try and destroy the convoy, three battleships and two battlecruisers plus cruiser and destroyer escorts. Poor weather and mechanical failure sent several of the destroyers and cruisers back to their Norwegian ports, but the remainder of the German force continued with the attack. Little did the Germans know that their plans were fully known to the British and a trap had been set.

While the three older battleships escorted the convoy, a second force of three modern, fast battleships was steaming to their southwest, the Lion, Howe, and Temeraire. They would be the hammer, while the Victorias were the anvil. The Germans were spotted on radar early on the 17th and opened fire on the convoy escorts at almost 40,000 yards, the Queen Victoria and her sisters still out of range for their own 15" guns. The German battleship Odin quickly scored two hits on the Nile, destroying "X" turret and causing a major fire forward. The British battleships attempted to close the range, while the Germans tried to maintain their distance. While this left the three old battleships under a punishing barrage, it worked in the Royal Navy’s favor. The Germans were driven further and further away from the convoy, and the other British battleships were moving into position to spring the trap.

The Germans had only just spotted the other ships on their inferior radar at over 20 miles when 16" shells began to fall around them. Bismarck was soon hit on her conning tower and shells straddled the Odin. Realizing their predicament, the German fleet turned east and tried to make a run for it. British cruisers and destroyers blocked their path. A few German destroyers and the cruiser Prinz Eugen were able to break through, but the Odin, Bismarck, Tirpitz, Moltke, Scharnhorst and the rest of the German force were doomed. They did not go down quietly, however. Moltke hammered the already damaged Nile with 15" shells. Battered and burning and listing badly, Nile limped clear of the fight. Later that afternoon her list increased and she was abandoned and scuttled by British destroyers. Queen Victoria and Trafalgar remained in the fight and concentrated on the Moltke. Pounded to a barely recognizable hulk, her secondary magazines exploded and she soon sank. Torpedoes fired from the cruisers and destroyers hit Tirpitz and Scharnhorst. Scharnhorst sank in less than five minutes after being hit by five torpedoes. Tirpitz was hit three times, twice aft and once amidships. Her stern broke off abaft "Dora" turret, leaving her dead in the water. Before her crew scuttled her she sank the cruiser Norfolk and two destroyers. Lion, Howe, and Temeraire engaged Bismarck and Odin. Howe took several serious hits from 15" and 16" shellfire and had to turn away, but Lion and Temeraire pounded first Odin, then Bismarck, into burning wrecks. Destroyers’ torpedoes dispatched them both. Few survivors were pulled from the frigid Arctic waters and the estimated death toll exceeded 10,000 for the Germans, and 900 for the British, most on Norfolk, which exploded under fire from Tirpitz. Casualties on Nile were around 150 killed, with the rest being rescued by destroyers.

Nile abandoned and burning, lists badly to starboard after the Battle of Convoy JW48. Moments later she was torpedoed by British destroyers. 

The attack on convoy JW48 was one of the Royal Navy’s greatest victories of the Second World War. The threat of German surface raids against the Arctic convoys was all but eliminated. The battlecruisers Gneisenau and Derfflinger would not sail from their Norwegian fiords again and were destroyed by British bombers in late 1943 and early 1944. The Wotan was torpedoed by a Soviet submarine off the Polish coast in early 1945. She was able to beach herself and the wreck was scrapped after the war. The nearly completed battleship Loki would remain in German home waters until the end, being captured mostly intact at Kiel. She was sunk in the Bikini Atoll atomic bomb tests.

The two surviving Queen Victoria’s would not see combat against enemy warships again. Nearly thirty years old, they were relegated to shore bombardment duties, supporting the invasion of Europe in June of 1944. While off Normandy, the Trafalgar was hit by two German guided bombs and badly damaged. She would spend the rest of the war at Rosyth and was never fully repaired since her service life was almost over. Queen Victoria was placed into reserve in March of 1945, ending her thirty years of service to King and country as well. Within three years they were sent to the breakers along with the rest of England’s pre-World War Two battleships.