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Queen Elizabeth Class BB

Barham in the 1920s in as completed condition
Barham in the 1920s in as completed condition
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Builder Laid Down Launched Completed Fate
Queen Elizabeth Portsmouth DY 21 Oct 12 16 Oct 13 Jan 15 Scrapped at Dalmuir 48
Warspite Devonport DY 31 Oct 12 26 Nov 13 Mar 15 Wrecked 23 April 47
Barham John Brown 24 Feb 13 31 Dec 14 Oct 15 Lost 25 Nov 41
Valiant Fairfield 31 Jan 13 4 Nov 14 Feb 16 Scrapped at Cairn Ryan 48
Malaya Armstrong, Elswick 20 Oct 13 18 Mar 15 Feb 16 Scrapped at Faslane 48

As designed
Displacement: 27,500 tons/27,940 tonnes (standard);* 33,000 tons/33,528 tonnes (full load)
Length: 645ft 9in/196.76m (oa); 600ft/182.8m (pp)
Beam: 90ft 6in/27.57m
Draught: 30ft 2in/9.19m (mean)
Machinery: twenty-four Babcock & Wilcox boilers (Warspite, Barham Yarrow) boilers: 4-shaft Parsons (Barham, Valiant, Brown-Curtis) direct-drive turbines
Bunkerage: 3,400 tons oil
Performance: 75,000shp = 24kts
Range: 5,000nm at 12kts
Protection: main belt 13in, 4in-6in ends; upper belt 6in; armd blkhds 6in; torpedo blkhd 2in; forecastle deck 1in; main deck 1.25 in forward & aft; middle deck 1in (2in over magazines); lower deck 3in ends, 21/2in over steering; barbettes 10in; main turrets face 13in, sides 11 in, roof 41/4in;CT11in
Guns: eight (4x2) 15in; sixteen (16x1) 6in; two 3in AA
Torpedo tubes: four 21 in (submerged)
Aircraft: nil
Complement: 950

As rebuilt 1936-9, Queen Elizabeth, Valiant
Displacement: QE 31,795 tons/32,303 tonnes (standard); 36,821 tons/37,410 tonnes (full load) Valiant 31,585 tons/32,090 tonnes (standard); 36,513 tons/37,097 tonnes (full load)
Machinery: eight Admiralty 3-drum boilers; 4-shaft Parsons single-reduction geared turbines
Bunkerage: 3,393 tons/3,366 tonnes oil
Performance: 80,000shp = 24kts Range:?
Protection: 5in over magazines; 21/2in over machinery spaces; main deck forward 17/8in; CT 3in; 4.5in guns 2in Guns: eight (4x2) 15in; twenty (10x2) 4.5in DP; thirty-two (4x8) 2pdr; sixteen (4x4) 0.5in MGs
Torpedo tubes: nil
Aircraft: two, catapults, one (double-ended)

As rebuilt 1937, Warspite
Displacement: 31,315 tons/31,816 tonnes (standard); 36,450 tons/37,033 tonnes (full load) Machinery: six Admiralty 3-drum boilers; 4-shaft
Parsons single-reduction geared turbines
Bunkerage: 3,501 tons oil
Performance: 80,000shp = 231/2kts Range: 7,400nm at 12kts
Protection: as previous except 5in over magazines and 3.5in over machinery spaces; main deck forward 3.1in; CT 3in; 6in battery 2in Guns: eight (4x2) 15in; eight (8x1) 6in; eight (4x2) 4in AA; thirty-two (4x8) 2pdr; sixteen (4x4) 0.5in MG
Torpedo tubes: nil Aircraft: two, catapult one (double-ended)

Having stolen a march on the other great powers with Dreadnought, armed with ten 12in guns, and followed that in the 1909 Programme with the 13.5in, Great Britain was comfortably ahead in the main armament calibre stakes at that time. The USA had followed suit, with the 14in-gunned Texas class but was not considered a possible enemy, while Japan, which at that time had close links with Great Britain, had adopted the 14in gun for its new battleships. The Germans on the other hand chose not to adopt the increased calibre, preferring the merits of their 12in gun, although rumours of their intending to fit 14in guns in the new Konig may have influenced British thinking. But it is quite likely that the British increased the gun calibre merely to stay ahead of friend or foe. So the intention to build three more 13.5in-gunned battleships and a battlecruiser in the 1912 Programme was altered, under some pressure from the then First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, and yet another jump in gun calibre was implemented, this time to one for which no guns as yet existed.


The basis was taken from the previous class, Iron Duke, and enlarged to accommodate the increased gun weights. At the same time it was decided to adopt full oil-firing and abandon coal with all its attendant difficulties (coaling ship, dirt and the fact that manual stoking soon led to a fall off in speed as exhaustion set in and more distant bunkers had to be used). By late 1912 three final sketch designs designated RIII, RIII* and RIV were under consideration, and RIII* was chosen. This displaced 2,500 tons more than Iron Duke and the hull was 23 feet longer, the absence of the midships main turret not fully compensating the need of more boilers to achieve the desired speed. Beam, however, was only increased by 6 inches, the need to dock the ship always being a major consideration. The elimination of the midships turret avoided the previous disruption to the machinery spaces and released space for more powerful machinery while at the same time the increase in calibre to 15in gave a 9 per cent heavier broadside. The protective scheme included a 13in waterline belt approximately 4 feet in depth, continuing up to the upper deck in 6in only. The lower edge of the 13in belt was tapered to 8in. Forward and aft of this belt the side armour was reduced to 6in then 4in. End bulkheads were 6in. The torpedo bulkhead was 2in and extended from the bottom plating to the main armoured deck, and covered the hull length between the torpedo flats. Abreast the machinery spaces and magazines, there was an internal bulkhead, oil being stowed between this and the torpedo bulkhead. The main horizontal protection consisted of a 1in deck over the machinery spaces; outside the torpedo bulkhead this deck sloped down to meet the lower edge of the main side belt. The battery deck had 1.25-2in and the upper deck 1in. Over the steering gear was a domed deck 2.5-3in thick. Barbette armour was 10in above the upper deck and 4-6in below it, but the 10in section was confined to the beam quadrants, with reductions to 9in and 7in in the ahead position. Armour represented 29 per cent of the design displacement.

The designed speed for this class was 25 knots, i.e., a little over 4 knots faster than the preceding Iron Duke-class, to achieve which a 150 per cent increase in power was required. This necessitated twenty-four boilers as opposed to the eighteen in Iron Duke, and they were arranged in eight spaces, two abreast. Warspite and Barham had Yarrow boilers, the rest Babcock and Wilcox. Full oil-firing was adopted, these ships being the first battleships to be so equipped, although the US Nevada class had been laid down earlier. The turbines were arranged in four spaces, the HP stages connected directly to the wing shafts and the LP stages to the inner shafts of a four-screw propulsion plant. Cruising turbines were fitted to the wing shafts via gearing. Parsons turbines were fitted in all except Barham and Valiant, which had Brown-Curtis. Designed shp was 75,000. On trials, which were curtailed because of wartime conditions, the designed 25 knots was not attained, the best being about 24 knots. Machinery represented about 14.4 per cent of the designed displacement.

The 15in 42cal gun was known as the Mk I, (although for subterfuge purposes at the time of design it was referred to as the 'experimental 14in') and fired a l,9381b projectile to a range of 26,650 yards at 20°. All four turrets were on the centre-line with 'B' and 'C' superfiring. Secondary armament consisted of sixteen 6in BL Mk XII on single PIX mountings in casemates, four of which were aft, abreast 'Y' turret. The forward battery, whose foremost gun was abreast 'B' turret, was staggered to allow three guns on each side to fire ahead (in theory). This mounting was intended for anti-torpedo-boat defence and had only 14° elevation. As designed, there were also twenty 12pdrs in single mountings, twelve forward and eight aft on the upper and shelter decks, but these were deleted before construction began, as being of little use. There were four submerged 21in torpedo tubes, two on each beam just outside the barbettes of 'A' and 'Y' turrets. Twenty torpedoes could be carried. As aircraft were in their infancy at the time of design, neither aircraft nor AA guns were included.

Orders were placed for four ships in the 1912 Programme, another was ordered as a result of a gift from the Malay States, and a sixth under the 1913 Programme; this latter ship, to have been named Agincourt, was cancelled on 26 August 1914 because of the outbreak of war.


Queen Elizabeth (and reportedly Barham) completed with the full sixteen 6in in casemates. The after four having been found useless in a seaway, two were removed in 1915 and two were re-sited in shielded single mountings on the boat deck between the after funnel and control position; the others completed in this fashion. A pair of 12pdr (3in) guns on high-angle mountings, one on each beam between the funnels, were added in 1917. During the war a second searchlight tower was added to the after funnel, and after Jutland the deck armour over the magazines and their bulkheads was reinforced by extra 1in plating, and flying-off platforms fitted to the tops of 'A' and 'X' turrets to operate two Sopwith Camel or 1.5-Strutter fighters for observation of fall of shot. There were no landing facilities. As completed only Queen Elizabeth had a stern walk, but Warspite was so fitted in 1920.

On 31 October 1924 Warspite was paid off to be the first of the class to be taken in hand for refit (at Portsmouth Dockyard), when bulges were fitted to the hull, increasing the beam to 104ft. These bulges were divided into upper and lower portions and stopped about 90ft short of bow and stern. The fore funnel was trunked back into the after funnel forming one large stack and the bridge platforms were modified. The boat deck 6in and the 12pdr AA were landed and replaced by four single 4in Mk V on HA mountings. The flying-off platforms remained aboard, but aircraft were not operated. In 1931 she was given a high-angle control system HACS Mk I and the after torpedo tubes were removed in 1930-1. In March 1934 a major rebuilding was begun at Portsmouth Dockyard, the hull being gutted and all superstructure removed. Six modern Admiralty-pattern boilers with superheaters replaced the originals, and the direct-drive turbines were replaced by Parsons geared turbines, increasing the output to 80,000shp. In the machinery spaces sub-division was improved and a centreline bulkhead fitted. The new machinery represented a saving of some 1,480 tons. The deck armour on the main deck forward of 'A' barbette was increased to 3in, and over the magazines the armoured deck was increased to 5.5in, with 3.5in over the machinery spaces. The main turrets were altered to allow 30° elevation which increased range to 32,300 yards (with new-pattern shells), and the existing 4in AA were replaced by four twin 4in mountings Mk XIX. The foremost and aftermost 6in on each side were landed. Abreast the funnel (of new design) were four Mk VI eight-barrelled 2pdrs, two each side, and after the old flying-off platforms had been removed two quadruple 0.5in machine-guns were fitted on each of 'B' and 'X' turrets. The remaining pair of torpedo tubes was removed. The tripod mainmast was landed and a large block bridge, topped by a pole mast replaced the former tiered platform structure. A new 15in director was fitted atop this new bridge, the old one from the former conning tower being transferred to the after superstructure. Two HACS Mk III were fitted to port and starboard of the admiral's bridge. Aft of the funnel a large hangar was built, and a fixed athwartships DIIH catapult was fitted on the upper deck between it and the after control position. Four Blackburn Shark, later Fairey Swordfish floatplanes and finally Vickers-Supermarine Walrus amphibians could be operated in theory, but normal complement did not exceed two because there was only hangar accommodation for this number. Swordfish were operated from 1938 to January 1942 and Walrus from the end of 1941. After this reconstruction the deep load displacement increased to 36,096 tons, the ship making 23.8 knots on post-refit trials. In 1939 one 3.7in howitzer was added for some reason.

After bomb damage off Crete in 1941 Warspite was repaired in the USA when the bridge received some modifications, radars 271, 281 and 284 being fitted, thirteen single 20mm added and the old 0.5in machine-guns and the 3.7in howitzer landed. In 1942 the 20mm outfit was increased to fifteen and a Type 273 radar replaced the 271 set. In May-June 1943 the 20mm outfit was again increased by a total of sixteen single guns, the catapults and aircraft fittings were removed and the hangars converted to other uses. In June 1944 the remaining 6in were landed and four twin Mk IV 20mm mountings added, four singles being landed. Type 274 radar replaced the 284 set. By this time, she had twenty-seven single 20mm and four twin.

In 1919-20 Queen Elizabeth had the foretop enlarged and large base (15ft) range-finders fitted in 'B' and 'X' turrets. In 1922-3 the searchlights on the main and after superstructures were removed. Two single 4in AA supplanted the 3in AA in August-September 1924. She too was reconstructed from June 1926-October 1927 when the fore funnel was trunked into the after funnel, bulges fitted, the AA increased to four 4in, and the flying-off platform removed from 'X' turret (that on 'B' turret remaining until 1933-4). In 1930 she received an HACS Mk I on the foretop and the after torpedo tubes were removed. Two eight-barrelled 2pdr Mk VI were added in 1936 and two quadruple 0.5in machine-gun mountings on the after superstructure. In August 1937 she too began a major rebuilding. Her superstructure was gutted and removed, new Parsons machinery was installed, and armour was increased as had been done with Warspite. The 15in elevation was increased to 30° and all 6in guns were removed, the embrasures being plated over. Twenty 4.5in QF Mk I or III in twin 'tween decks mountings BD Mk II replaced the original secondary armament. These were dual-purpose weapons firing a 55lb projectile and having an elevation of 80°. Maximum ceiling was 41,000ft, To expedite completion some of these mountings were taken from the incomplete carrier Indomitable. Four HACS were fitted, two on the bridge structure, the starboard unit higher than the port, and two aft behind the 15in director tower; again, to speed completion some of these came from the cruiser Fiji. Four eight-barrelled 2pdrs and four quadruple 0.5in machine-guns were fitted, as well as a hangar for four aircraft and two fixed athwartships catapults. All armour over the former 6in casemates was removed and 2in high-tensile steel was fitted in the way of the 4.5in guns. Over the magazines and machinery spaces, extra plates of 4in armour were fitted, 3in in way of 'Y' barbette, l.5-2in on the main deck between the two forward bulkheads and 3.5in on the lower deck. New geared turbines were fitted, and eight Admiralty 3-drum boilers supplanted the older units. These were fitted in four spaces instead of the three of Warspite to enhance internal sub-division. Unlike Warspite, she was given a tripod foremast and mainmast. After modernisation she operated Walrus amphibians, not Swordfish. By 1943 her standard displacement had risen to 32,700 tons, 37,875 tons full load. This had increased by another 1,000 tons or so by 1944. The light AA was continually augmented, fourteen single and four twin 20mm being added during damage repairs in the USA from September 1942 to June 1943, when the 0.5in MGs were landed. In the autumn of 1943 sixteen twin 20mm were added, and the aircraft installation was removed. At the end of the war Queen Elizabeth had fifty-four 20mm in twenty twin mountings and fourteen singles aboard.

Valiant had her 3in replaced by 4in AA in January-March 1925, two more single 4in being added in June-August 1926. In 1927 she was given a new foretop and HACS. From March 1929 to December 1930 she was refitted on the lines of Warspite, when bulges were added, the funnels trunked into one, new fire control systems added (HACS Mk I) and half the torpedo outfit removed. She was given an EIIH catapult on the quarterdeck and operated a Fairey IIIF floatplane. One eight-barrelled 2pdr was also fitted, the second not being available because of Treasury parsimony. The second 2pdr mounting was added in 1932-3. The flying-off platform was removed from 'B' turret in 1933, and two quadruple 0.5in MGs were fitted in 1936. Valiant was given a major reconstruction, on the lines of Queen Elizabeth, at Devonport Dockyard from March 1937 to 1939, her new machinery being built by Fairfields. She was given Swordfish floatplanes but exchanged these for Walrus in March-April 1942. After this modernisation her deep load displacement had risen to 35,698 tons, increasing to 38,908 by 1946. Radar 279 was fitted in December 1939. She received ten single 20mm during refit at Durban in April-July 1942, when the 279 set was removed and radars 273, 281, 282 and 285 were added. At Devonport in March-April 1943 she received another fifteen single and six twin 20mm, landing the 0.5in MGs and the aircraft and catapult installation. Radar 284 was replaced by Type 274. In 1943-4 ten more single 20mm were added, giving her thirty-five singles and six twin 20mm. By October 1945 she was listed as having sixty-eight 2pdrs in six eight- and five 4-barrelled mountings as well as sixteen 40mm singles and sixteen 20mm (7x2, 2x1). But at the end of her final refit, her outfit was fifty-six 2pdrs (6x8, 2x4), twelve 40mm and sixteen 20mm.

Malaya exchanged her 3in AA for 4in guns in April-May 1924 and received a second pair in the summer of 1926, when an HACS was also fitted to the foretop. From September 1927 to March 1929 she was given bulges, trunked funnels and new 4in HA guns. In 1930-1 two torpedo tubes were removed. From October 1934 to December 1936 she was further refitted but not as extensively as Warspite, about 60% of the superstructure being altered. This was mainly concerned with improving her AA capability, four twin 4in mountings Mk XIX replacing the singles, and two HACS being fitted, one on the foretop and the second on the after control position. She also received two eight-barrelled 2pdrs abreast the funnel, two quadruple 0.5in MGs on 'Y' turret, an athwartships catapult and hangar for four aircraft, although again her normal complement was two. Shark floatplanes were replaced by Swordfish in August 1938, and in September-October 1941 Walrus were carried. The remaining two (forward) torpedo tubes were removed, a proposal to fit her with eight 21in above water tubes having been rejected. The middle deck armour was increased to 5in over the magazines, with 3.5in over the machinery spaces, and the conning tower was modernised. During the war she received about fourteen 20mm as well as radar. In July 1941 the 0.5in MGs were landed and eleven single 20mm fitted, with radars 281, 282, 284 and 285 being fitted. Four single 20mm were added in September that year. From October to December 1942 the catapult was removed and two more twin 4in Mk XIX fitted abreast the former catapult position. Two eight-barrelled 2pdrs were fitted on the after superstructure and two more single 20mm. In January 1943 two single 20mm were fitted on 'B' turret and in September of that year all 6in were landed, the ports plated over with 2in armour, and twenty single 20mm were fitted. In March 1944 a further eight 20mm and missile-jamming radar were fitted.

Barham had the 3in replaced by 4in in 1924-5 and received a second pair in October-November 1925. She also received an HACS at the foretop. From January 1931 to January 1934 she was fitted with bulges, trunked funnel and new (single) 4in. At this time a catapult was fitted to the roof of 'X' turret, one Fairey IIIF being carried. The two after torpedo tubes were removed. The mainmast was converted to a tripod and a single HACS fitted half way up. A second was fitted to the foretop. Two quadruple 0.5in MGs were fitted on the roof of 'B' turret, as well as two eight-barrelled 2pdrs, one on each beam abreast the funnel. The middle deck was increased to 5in over the magazines, with 6in to the casemates. During February to July 1938 the last two tubes were removed and the single 4in finally replaced by four Mk XIX twin mountings, and she was equipped to operate a Swordfish floatplane, which was replaced by a Walrus in July 1941. In the early part of 1940 she received a UP mounting on the roof of 'B' turret (removed in 1941) and two more quadruple 0.5in MGs, one replacing the UP mounting and one on the after superstructure. The original mountings were transferred to the roofs of 'A' and 'Y' turrets. Finally, two more eight-barrelled 2pdrs were fitted. Little more was done to this ship before her loss.

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Warspite oiling in the Seychelles, 28 June 1942

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