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HMS Dreadnought was a battleship of the British Royal Navy that revolutionised naval power when she entered service in 1906. Dreadnought represented such a marked advance in naval technology that her name came to be associated with an entire generation of battleships, the "dreadnoughts", as well as the class of ships named after her, while the generation of ships she made obsolete became known as "pre-dreadnoughts". She was the sixth ship serving under that name in the Royal Navy.

Dreadnought was the first battleship of her era to have a uniform main battery, rather than having a few large guns complemented by a heavy secondary battery of somewhat smaller guns. She was also the first capital ship to be powered by steam turbines, making her the fastest battleship in the world at the time of her completion.

Her launch helped spark a major naval arms race as navies around the world rushed to match her, particularly the Kaiserliche Marine (German Navy) in the build-up to the World War I.


Battleships of the era typically carried four large guns mounted fore and aft in twin turret, with a number of smaller-calibre guns ranged along the sides of the ship, often in armoured turrets or casemates. This arrangement had several disadvantages: the lateral guns could only fire at targets on their side, while rotating turrets mounted on the centreline could fire to either side. Water entering through the many gunports was a hazard in heavy seas. Furthermore, each calibre of gun had different ballistic properties, which greatly complicated gunnery, especially when watching for splashes. Either the smaller-calibre guns would have to hold fire to wait for the slower-firing heavies, losing the advantage of their faster rate of fire, or it would be uncertain whether a splash was due to a heavy or a light gun, making ranging and aiming unreliable.

The invention by Charles Algernon Parsons of the steam turbine in 1884 led to a significant increase in the speed of ships with his dramatic unauthorised demonstration of Turbiniamarker with her speed of up to 34 kn (63 km/h) at the Spithead Navy Review in 1897. After further trials and construction of two turbine-powered destroyers, HMS Viper and HMS Cobra, the Admiralty confirmed in 1905 that future Royal Navy vessels were to be turbine-powered.

"All-big-gun" concepts

The idea of "all-big-gun" warships, capable of firing powerful guns from a long distance, seems to have emerged as the threat from torpedoes became more potent. The Italian naval architect Vittorio Cuniberti first articulated the concept of an all-big-gun battleship in 1903 (although British admiral Jackie Fisher claimed the idea had occurred to him by 1900). When the Italian Navy didn't pursue his ideas, Cuniberti wrote an article in Jane's Fighting Ships propagating his concept. He proposed an "ideal" future British battleship of 17,000 tons (15,000 tonnes), with a main battery of 12 12 in (30 cm) guns, 12 in (30 cm) belt armour, and speed of 24 kn (44 km/h).

Japanese development (1904–1905)

The Russo–Japanese War (1904–1905) provided operational experience to validate the concept. The Russian Navy was decisively defeated during the naval battles of the Russo–Japanese War (1904–1905), especially at the Battle of Tsushimamarker (May 1905), by the modern Imperial Japanese Navy which was equipped with modern-era battleships, mostly of British design. The events of the battle confirmed to the world that only the biggest guns mattered in naval battles at that time. As secondary guns grew in size, spotting and discriminating between splashes of main and secondary guns became problematic. The Battle of Tsushima demonstrated that damage from the main guns was much greater than secondary guns. In addition, the battle demonstrated the practicality of gun battles beyond the range of secondary guns (12,000 yd/11 km). The United States, Japan, and Britain all realised this and launched plans for all-big-gun ships. During the battle, Royal Navy observers onboard Japanese ships made reports regarding the battle. These reports were analysed by the Admiralty in London and the approval to lay the keel of Dreadnought was granted in October 1905.

The Imperial Japanese Navy's Satsuma was the first battleship in the world to be designed (1904) and laid down (15 May 1905) as an all-big-gun battleship, five months before Dreadnought, although gun shortages only allowed her to be equipped with four of the 12 12 in (30 cm) guns that had been planned.

American development

Influenced by William S. Sims, the United States also worked on an all-big-gun design around the same time as Dreadnought: and were presented to Congress in 1904. The Americans moved slowly. The ships were not authorised until the spring of 1905 and not laid down until December 1906, after Dreadnought. The South Carolina class carried all of their main guns on the centreline, avoiding the wing turrets favoured by the British. Unlike Dreadnought, they used triple-expansion machinery, not the latest and much more powerful (but less fuel-efficient) steam turbines developed on Tyneside, in England, by Charles Algernon Parsons a few years before.

British development

A 1907 painting of the Dreadnought

Britain, led by Admiral Sir John "Jackie" Fisher, who became First Sea Lord in 1904, took the lead. Fisher's "Committee of Designs" which he assembled in December 1904 consisted of the Director of Naval Construction and other senior figures. This generated the design for Dreadnought. In order to have the new ships which he desired, Fisher had to make them financially attractive as well - showing that they would cost less to build and run than the current battlefleet. Dreadnought was laid down and assembled with unparalleled speed in Portsmouth Royal Dockyard. She was laid down on 2 October 1905, and completed just 14 months later in December 1906 (according to Conway's, a basin trial in October 1906 was treated "for publicity purposes ... as completion", thereby providing official sanction for the often-repeated claim that she was built in a year and a day). Fisher had originally advocated a Royal Navy based around submarines and fast torpedo boats, and had subsequently tempered his revolutionary ideas with a vision of fast, all-big-gun battlecruisers, which would have the firepower and speed to engage battleships and cruisers, albeit with much less armour protection than the former. Fisher felt that speed was a better defence than armour. Although the battlecruiser concept would become popular in the run-up to the First World War, Fisher was nonetheless forced by the Admiralty to create an all-big-gun battleship instead.


Plan and profile of HMS Dreadnought
from The Naval Annual 1913.


Dreadnought used steam turbines in place of the older triple-expansion engine that had powered almost all previous ships, giving her a design speed of a steady 21 kn (39 km/h). This would allow her to outrun any existing battleship with comparable firepower, while she could outgun any faster vessel. Submarines were largely ignored. Thus protected from smaller ships, lighter guns that would normally be placed along the sides of the ship to deal with them could be omitted. This left considerably more room for the largest guns, which were placed in turrets on the main deck.

Main armament

Dreadnought mounted five two-gun turrets. Three turrets were located conventionally along the centreline of the ship, with one fore (A turret) and two aft (X & Y turret), the latter pair separated by the torpedo control tower located on a dwarf tripod mast. Two further (wing) turrets (P & Q turrets) were located either side of the bridge superstructure, each able to fire only towards its side. Arrangement of all the turrets along the ship's centreline was rejected in order to minimise the risk of blast damage to the closely-packed turrets, although this precaution was later found to be unnecessary. Dreadnought could deliver a broadside of eight guns, and fire eight guns abaft or six ahead, in each case only in a narrow range of angles; she could never fire all her 10 12 in (30 cm) guns at one target. At the time of her design end-on fire was regarded, at the instigation of Jackie Fisher, as being of paramount importance over and above broadside fire. This design concept originated in the earlier battlecruiser classes and was perpetuated in the succeeding classes.

Later British battleships, starting with the Superdreadnoughts of the Orion class, used a "superimposed" (or "superfiring") arrangement, with turrets arrayed in a stair-step arrangement on the centreline. Additional light guns were included for close-in defence but were not intended as offensive weapons.

The vessels which Dreadnought was expected to engage could only bring to bear four guns of similar size, plus shorter-range guns; Dreadnought would endeavour to engage within the range of her guns, but stay out of the range of smaller guns, giving her far more effective firepower than earlier battleships.

Fire control

The use of a uniform main battery greatly simplified the task of adjusting fire in action through the process known as spotting. As all guns had the same ballistic characteristics, the shells of a salvo would fall simultaneously in a cluster about the point of aim. If the shells were seen to splash to the left or right (or short or long), the next salvo would be adjusted in deflection (or range) accordingly. Ships with mixed batteries had a more difficult time correcting their fire in this way, as their shells arrived sporadically due to differing times of flight.

Dreadnought was one of the first vessels of the Royal Navy to be fitted with instruments for electrically transmitting range, order and deflection information to the turrets, removing the reliance on voice-pipes which had been shown to be ineffective in combat. The fire-control equipment, consisting of the transmitting equipment and Vickers range clocks (a variable-speed clock that continuously indicated the range between two moving vessels), were located in the Transmitting Station (T/S in Royal Navy parlance) in the heart of the ship for protection.

The transmitting station was connected by a large-diameter armoured voice-pipe to the spotting top where a dumaresq (a rate of change device) was placed with a rangefinder - the initial range, spotting corrections and deflection being called down to the transmitting station. After she returned from her shakedown cruise, Dreadnought was fitted with electrical means of transmitting information from the spotting top to the transmitting station. Her rangefinders by Barr and Stroud were of a new type, having a base length as opposed to the standard 4½ ft (1.4 m) base on almost every other naval vessel. This allowed for greater accuracy of determining the range at distance.

The director, a device invented by Admiral Percy Scott in conjunction with the armament firm of Vickers for transmitting the range and deflection to all turrets and then firing them simultaneously, was first installed on Dreadnought in 1909 but removed before being tested. It was not until the First World War that she would be fitted with the device again.

Secondary armament

Compared to later battleships, Dreadnought was ill-defended against torpedo attacks. Her anti-destroyer armament consisted of 12-pounder guns; the arrangement of these was the subject of experiment during her trials, resulting in a final arrangement of 14 guns distributed about her superstructure, and another 10 mounted in pairs on the roofs of the main turrets. Even in 1906, this gun was considered too light to be wholly effective against the newest classes of destroyer, and all subsequent British dreadnoughts had secondary batteries of 4 in (10 cm) calibre or larger.


Another major innovation was the elimination of longitudinal passageways between compartments below the main deck level. While doors connecting compartments were always closed during combat, connected compartments had been found to be a cause of weakness following a collision during fleet exercises which resulted in the sinking of a battlecruiser.

Crew accommodation

Sailing ships were controlled from the aft part of the ship, and officers were customarily housed aft. Steam ships were controlled from the bridge, high and in the first quarter or third of the ship. Dreadnought reversed the old arrangement, housing officers in the forward part of the ship and enlisted men aft, so that both were closer to their action stations.

Construction and early years

3-view drawing of HMS Dreadnought in 1911, with QF 12 pdr guns added

So convinced was Fisher that construction of the design would be ordered that he started stockpiling steel for use on the ship before a construction slip was even available. This proved a fortunate decision, as during the stockpiling phase a new hull shape was identified that would decrease drag. Fisher, happy with the original 21 kn (39 km/h) speed, used the reduced drag to increase the weight of armour rather than increasing the speed. The final design mounted 11 in (279 mm) of armour on the sides and turrets, about 3 in (76 mm) more than designs from only a year earlier. Construction finally started in October 1905, and Dreadnought was launched by King Edward VII on 10 February 1906, after only four months on the ways. She went to sea on 3 October 1906, only a year and a day after construction started. The process had been sped up by using turrets originally designed for the Lord Nelson-class battleships which preceded her. The speed of Dreadnought s construction was almost as alarming to foreign navies as her technical capabilities.

Dreadnought was commissioned for trials in December 1906, and in January 1907 she sailed for the Mediterranean Seamarker and then to Port of Spainmarker, Trinidadmarker. Her engines and guns were given a thorough workout by Captain Sir Reginald Bacon. His report stated, "No member of the Committee on Designs dared to hope that all the innovations introduced would have turned out as successfully as had been the case." On her return to Portsmouth, Dreadnought became flagship of the Home Fleet between 1907 and 1912. As such, she spent most of her time in home waters, with occasional cruises to Spain and the Mediterranean.

View from the bridge during naval review

Her building, trials and early service were closely watched by the world's naval authorities. Her design so thoroughly eclipsed earlier types that subsequent battleships of all nations were generically known as "dreadnoughts" and previous ones disparaged as "pre-dreadnoughts". Her time of outright superiority was short, however. Dreadnought had originally been built to show other navies the futility of attempting to go toe-to-toe with the Royal Navy, but as in the past (see for instance), the Navy underestimated the German fleet's desire to maintain parity. Her construction sparked off another naval arms race, and soon all major fleets were adding Dreadnought-like ships. Whereas before the commissioning of Dreadnought, Britain had possessed a lead of over 25 first-class battleships, she now possessed a lead of only one.

Dreadnought was quickly followed by nine more almost identical ships. In the Bellerophon class, several detailed improvements in design were introduced, notably a heavier secondary battery. Then came the St. Vincent, the Neptune and the Colossus classes; Neptune, Colossus and Hercules had staggered (rather than symmetrical) wing turrets as well as a superfiring turret aft to gain an additional two guns in the broadside for parity with the new American Florida-class dreadnoughts, which mounted all their turrets on the centreline. The contemporary German and her predecessors all had wing turrets and a consequent broadside of eight guns.


HMS Dreadnought in dry dock

From 1907–1912, Dreadnought served as flagship of the Royal Navy's Home Fleet. In 1910, she attracted the attention of notorious hoaxer Horace de Vere Cole, who persuaded the Royal Navy to arrange for a party of Abyssinianmarker royals to be given a tour of a ship. In reality, the "Abyssinian royals" were some of Cole's friends in blackface and disguise, including a young Virginia Woolf and her Bloomsbury Group friends; it became known as the Dreadnought hoax. Cole had picked Dreadnought because she was at that time the most prominent and visible symbol of Britain's naval might.

In 1910, , the first of the gunned "super-dreadnoughts", was laid down. These ships had much greater fighting power than the gunned Dreadnought and her immediate successors, and gradually supplanted them in both military significance and prestige. The "super-dreadnoughts" had the same design speed as the older dreadnoughts (21 kn/39 km/h), and the older ships therefore had no difficulty maintaining station with them.

In common with all major warships of her day, Dreadnought was fitted with anti-torpedo nets, but these were removed early in the war, since they caused considerable loss of speed and were easily defeated by torpedoes fitted with net-cutter.

At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, she was flagship of the Fourth Battle Squadron in the North Seamarker, based at Scapa Flowmarker. Ironically for a vessel designed to engage enemy battleships, her only significant action was the ramming and sinking of German submarine skippered by K/Lt Otto Weddigen (of U-9 fame) on 18 March 1915 – Dreadnought thus became the only battleship ever to sink a submarine directly. She was refitted early in 1916, and from May 1916 served as flagship of the Third Battle Squadron, based at Sheernessmarker on the Thames, part of a force intended to counter the threat of shore bombardment by German battlecruisers. As a result, she missed the Battle of Jutlandmarker, the Royal Navy's most significant fleet engagement of the war. She returned to the Grand Fleet in March 1918, resuming her role as flagship of the Fourth Battle Squadron, but was paid off in July. Like most of the older battleships, she was in bad condition from constant patrols in the North Sea, and was put in reserve at Rosythmarker in February 1919. Dreadnought was put up for sale on 31 March 1920 and sold for scrap to T.W. Ward & Company on 9 May 1921 for the sum of £44,000. She was broken up at Ward's new premises at Inverkeithingmarker, Scotland, upon arrival on 2 January 1923.


When Britain commissioned its first nuclear submarine, in recognition of how things changed with her in service, she was named .

On the anniversary of her launch in 2006, a temporary exhibition on her was opened at the Royal Naval Museummarker, Portsmouth.

See also



  • Archibald, E.H.H. (1984) The Fighting Ship in the Royal Navy 1897-1984, Blandford, ISBN 0-7137-1348-8
  • Brooks, John (2005) Dreadnought Gunnery at the Battle of Jutland:The Question of Fire Control, London : Routledge, ISBN 0-7146-5702-6; A detailed study of British fire-control development before the First World War.
  • Brown, David K. (2003a) Warrior to Dreadnought: Warship Development 1860-1905, Caxton Editions, ISBN 1-84067-529-2; A very useful general overview of the ships built before Dreadnought, written by a former Royal Naval Constructor.
  • Brown, David K. (2003b) The Grand Fleet: Warship Design and Development 1906-1922, Caxton Editions, ISBN 1-84067-531-4
  • Friedman, Norman (1978) Battleship Design and Development 1905-1945, Conway Maritime, ISBN 0-85177-135-1; Well-regarded American work on battleships.
  • Gardiner, Robert (Ed.) (1985) Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships, 1906-1921, Conway Maritime, ISBN 0-85177-245-5; Good general study of the ships which composed the British Grand Fleet. Good technical coverage.
  • Gardiner, Robert (Ed.) (1992) The Eclipse of the Big Gun: The Warship, 1906-45, Conway’s History of the Ship series, Conway Maritime, ISBN 0-85177-607-8
  • Grove, Eric (1991) Fleet to Fleet Encounters: Tsushima, Jutland and the Philippine Sea, Weidenfeld Military, ISBN 1-85409-012-7
  • Hacker, Barton C. (2005) "The Machines of War: Western Military Technology 1850-2000", History and Technology, 21 (3: September), p. 255–300
  • Hough, Richard (1975) Dreadnought: A History of the Modern Battleship, Patrick Stephens, ISBN 0-85059-202-X; Overview of the battleship period, specifically Pre-Second World War. Features development of the all-big-gun concept.
  • Ireland, Bernard (1996) Jane's Battleships of the 20th Century, ISBN 0-00-470997-7; A general guide with several drawings, although quite limited in scope.
  • Massie, Robert K (2004) Dreadnought: Britain, Germany and the Coming of the Great War, London : Jonathan Cape, ISBN 0-224-04092-8; a substantial book which deals mostly with the political situation which led to the First World War. Technical information concerning the battleship itself is limited to Chapter 28.
  • Pugh, Philip (1992) The Cost of Seapower: The Influence of Money on Naval Affairs from 1815 to the Present Day, Conway Maritime, ISBN 0-85177-419-9
  • Roberts, John (1992) The Battleship Dreadnought, Anatomy of the Ship series, Conway Maritime, ISBN 0-85177-600-0
  • Sumida, Jon T. (1993) In Defense of Naval Supremacy: Financial Limitation, Technological Innovation and British Naval Policy, 1889-1914, London : Routledge, Doctoral Dissertation, ISBN 0-415-08674-4

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