Nelson Class

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Histories of the battleships of the Nelson Class. Royal naval battleships HMS Nelson and HMS Rodney. Battleship website dedicated to the history of HMS Nelson and HMS Rodney from their launch to their participation in major wars also notice board for families of ex-crew of HMS Nelson and HMS Rodney.

HMS Nelson was built by Armstrong and launched in September 1925. During the Second World War, Nelson was in the Home fleet from 1939-1942, and in 1943 she was in Force "H". Nelson was mined off the Scottish coast in December of 1939 and was under repair until June of 1940. She was struck by an Italian aerial torpedo on 27th September 1941 under repair until April 1942. HMS Nelson saw service in he Mediterranean up to 1943, she again saw service off Normandy where she was again mined on 18th June 1944 .

[Note: H H Taylor an ex stoker of the Nelson has sent us an email stating that on 18th June 1944, Nellie was not mined as she was on Atlantic convoy duty. However, one of the merchant ships did ram her on her port side.]

Although the British fleet was the largest and most powerful in the world at the end of world war 1, both the US and Japan had laid down capital ships that outclassed anything in the Royal Navy. Britain therefore ordered four battle-cruisers on 21 October 1921 and intended to order four battleships during 1923. In designing these ships, Britain had the inestimable advantage of not only having conducted intensive tests on her own and German vessels, but also of having four years experience of  battle damage and operational requirements. Neither the US or Japan could match this, and it is not surprising that the British designs were superior to anything contemplated abroad. The battlecruisers would have been armed with 3 triple 16.5in. (later 16in.) turrets, and would have had a speed of 33kts on a standard displacement of 47,200 tonnes. They were intended to have had a 12in-14in armour belt inclined at 25deg and an 8in-9in armour deck over the magazines. The battleships were to have a speed of  23.5kts, an armament of three triple 18in 45cal turrets and an armour belt of 15in on a standard displacement of 48,770 tonnes.

Both designs were to have had their main armament concentrated forward and their machinery aft to shorten the armour belt and save weight.  The bridge was to have been between the second and third turrets. However, both types were cancelled by the Washington Naval Treaty. This left Britain without any modern 16in gunned battleships to counter the American Colorado class and Japanese Nagato class. Britain was therefore allowed to build two 16in gunned battleships, but their maximum standard displacement was fixed at 35,360 tonnes. The best features from the cancelled ships were worked into the design. The three 16in triple turrets were mounted forward, and the bridge moved aft to shorten the hull, armour belt and deck still farther. The beam was restricted to 106ft by the dimensions of existing drydocks. For the first time on a British battleship an all-or-nothing protection system was adopted and the inclined armour belt was fitted about 25ft inboard, above the torpedo bulkhead. The outer part of the hull could be filled with water to improve the shock loading, and restrict damage. The secondary armament was concentrated aft, and consisted of six twin 6in turrets. For the period a powerful AA armament was mounted. To save weight a twin-screw arrangement was adopted, and although Nelson and Rodney had a small turning circle, the use of twin-screws, the long fo'c's'le and the tall tower bridge (adopted for the first time in a battleship) made them very unhandy ships. Also the triple 16in turrets proved troublesome, and the 16in gun itself was something of a disappointment when compared with the excellent British 15in gun. However, Nelson and Rodney were very powerful ships. They were better protected than most subsequent battleships, and were superior in most respects to their foreign contemporaries.  Nelson and RODNEY formed the basis of much inter-war designing -- the rebuilt US super- dreadnoughts IDAHO, MISSISSIPPI and NEW MEXICO were given "Nelson- like" tower masts, the French DUNKERQUE and STRASBOURG were based on Nelson, and the Soviets and Japanese also tinkered with some all-guns-forward designs.

The 16-inch Mk I high velocity gun was never as successful as the previous 15-inch Mk I. The 15-inch Mk I used a heavy low velocity shell to achieve its hitting power, the 16-inch Mk 1 used a light shell at a higher velocity. This however gave the barrels a short life of only 180 charges and a loss of accuracy as the barrel wore.

Modifications were made to improve the 16-inch Mk I but it never was as reliable or as accurate as the 15-ich MK I. If the guns gave problems the triple mounting gave just as much. Modifications being needed to the rollers due to excessive ware, and overly complex shell handling arrangements. The mounting compared unfavourably to the 15-inch MK I mounting. The 15-inch mount allowed the guns to be fired every 25 seconds, the 16-inch MK I every 45 seconds. Firing of X turret created damaged to the bridge and limits on the firing arcs on this turret were imposed in peace time. The secondary 6-inch armament was mounted in three twin turrets along each side the superstructure. These had a dual anti-aircraft / surface role. The main armoured belt was mounted internally and angled at 72 degrees. The twin screw arrangement gave them a 670 yard turning circle, but the large superstructure aft gave them poor low speed handling in any wind. Two pom-poms were mounted on each side of the bridge and two on each side of the after director tower. Two main directors controlled the 16" guns, one fore and aft, and there is a rangefinder on the armoured conning tower on the bridge face. There were two low-angle directors forward and two aft for the 6" guns and the 4.7" guns were originally undirected. There was a rangefinder for the 6" guns abeam the funnel. She differed from Rodney in not carrying an aircraft / catapult, had different masts and foretops and carried her boats in different places.

Burnham Thorpe, Norfolk... All Saints Church. Just inside the entrance is the ship's crest which was carried in HMS Nelson throughout the second world war. The flags in the east corner came from HMS Indomitable, and were flown at the Battle of Jutland. Those at the west end came from HMS Nelson when she was taken out of service. You will find a few other HMS Nelson relics here. The ships bell was taken to Newcastle Town Hall after the Nelson was scrapped, and was transferred from the care of Newcastle City Council to that of HMS Nelson Barracks, Portsmouth in 1974. It now hangs near the gate and is used as the watch bell.

The Flagship of the Third Battle Squadron was entering the harbour. From her bow to the slowly turning radar gear at her mastheads she gave the impression of enormous power. Rising deck upon deck was her armament, 156 guns bristling in all directions. Dominating them all were the 60-feet long barrels of the main armament, their bores plugged with tampions decorated with the head of Horatio Nelson. For this is the mighty battleship Nelson. It has been nearly four years since Singapore had seen a British battleship. Then, the Prince of Wales, with battle-cruiser Repulse, had put to sea, but without air cover had been destroyed.

We would like to thank Pete Knight for supplying the above text.

Some of the crew from either a Nelson Class or King George V Class