By the turn of the century, the German Navy proved a greater challenge to British naval supremacy than France and Russia. The culmination of the British drive for as many armored cruisers as possible occurred in 1905 when production began on some of the most powerful armored cruisers ever constructed: the Minotaur-class. These three ships provide a fine example of the zenith of armored cruiser construction. Each displaced 14,600 tons on hulls that measured 519 feet by 74 feet; the engines were capable of a maximum speed of 23 knots. Guns reflected the assortment of armament carried by all types of ships in the pre-dreadnought era, the period that preceded that where ships carried batteries of a uniform caliber. The main battery was four 9.2-inch guns carried in two twin turrets located fore and aft in the hull. The secondary armament of ten 7.5-inch guns was totally protected, as single turrets housed each gun. There were five of these turrets mounted on the main deck on each side of the vessel. The placement of these guns is only one example of the tendency by the early twentieth century to group all large guns of the biggest cruisers in turrets rather than affording protection by armored shields. By the time these ships were commissioned, Great Britain had the largest armored cruiser force in the world.
Until the advent of the dreadnought cruisers (Invincible) they were the most powerful cruisers ever constructed, but there is little doubt that the grouping of the 7.5in turrets along the ships’ sides and the resultant wide dispersal of ammunition during engagements was the major weakness in an otherwise carefully balanced design, and a fault which almost certainly caused the instantaneous destruction of the Defence at Jutland when she came under the fire of German capital ships.
Throughout the discussions the whole question of guns mounted in turrets versus guns mounted on the broadside or in casemates was considered. After much debate, the conclusion was one on which all present were unanimous, and that was the acceptance of turrets as the best method of mounting guns along a ship’s side. This would overcome the disadvantages of having large ports or holes cut in the armour upper belts. Furthermore, the turrets would raise the guns to a height of 20 feet above the lower waterline, compared with 15 feet for the muzzles of any guns mounted in casemates along the vessel’s side.
The type of gun then came under consideration and it was soon agreed that any modern cruiser to be built for the Navy should have the 9.2in gun at least. Reference was made to the newly constructed battleships Swiftsure and Triumph and. their Lordships were well aware that these vessels were armed with the latest 10in guns on a displacement of approximately the same tonnage as the new cruisers. Moreover, consideration was given to the DNO’s report on the US cruiser Tennessee which was armed with four-10in, 16-6in, 22-14pdrs, and 12-3pdrs. Figures and graphs placed before the Board showed that the US 10in gun had a muzzle velocity of 2800ft per second and was capable of piercing 13 1/2in of Harvey steel plate. The 10in mounted in Swiftsure had 2920ft per sec muzzle velocity and pierced 11.3in of Krupps steel plate at 3000 yards.
The latest 9.2in 50 calibre then in production and envisaged for the new ships compared very favourably with figures of 3030ft per sec velocity and 10.1in of Krupps steel plate which it could pierce at 3000 yards.
The Minotaurs carried only four 50-calibre BL 9.2-inch Mk XI guns, compared to the six of the earlier ships, but the guns were mounted in twin hydraulically powered centreline turrets, which gave them the same four-gun broadside as the Duke of Edinburghs. The guns had an elevation range of −5°/+15°. They fired 380-pound (172 kg) projectiles at a muzzle velocity of 2,875 ft/s (876 m/s); this provided a maximum range of 16,200 yd(14,813 m) with armour-piercing (AP) shells. The rate of fire of these guns was up to four rounds per minute and the ships carried 100 rounds per gun.
The secondary armament was much heavier than the older ships, with five single hydraulically powered turrets equipped with 50-calibre BL 7.5-inch Mk II guns mounted on each side. The guns could be depressed to −7.5° and elevated to +15°. Using 4crh AP shells, they had a maximum range of 15,571 yd (14,238 m). Their 200-pound (91 kg) projectiles were fired at a muzzle velocity of 2,841 ft/s (866 m/s) at four rounds per minute. Each gun was provided with 100 rounds.
Anti-torpedo boat defence was provided by sixteen QF 12-pounder 18-cwt guns. Eight of these were mounted on the tops of the 7.5 inch gun turrets and the other eight in the superstructure (four fore and four aft), as per the deck plan illustration. They fired 3-inch (76 mm), 12.5-pound (5.7 kg) projectiles at a muzzle velocity of 2,660 ft/s (810 m/s); this gave a maximum range of 9,300 yd (8,500 m) at their maximum elevation of +20°. They also mounted five submerged 18-inch torpedo tubes, two on each broadside, plus one mounted in the stern.
Armour in the Minotaur class was reduced compared to the earlier ships. The upper belt, considered superfluous after the elimination of the main deck casemates, was eliminated as were the transverse bulkheads that connected the waterline belt to the barbettes that protected the ships from raking fire. The 6-inch (152 mm) waterline armour belt of Krupp cemented armour extended past the fore and aft 7.5-inch gun turrets; its lower edge was about 5 feet (1.5 m) below the waterline at normal load. Forward the armour was 4 inches (102 mm) up to about 50 feet (15.2 m) from the bow when it was reduced to three inches; aft the belt armour was three inches thick all the way to the stern. In addition to this, the engine cylinders were protected by armour plates 1.5–2 inches (38–51 mm) thick.
The faces of the primary gun turrets were 8 inches (203 mm) thick and they had 7-inch (178 mm) sides. The face armour for the 7.5-inch turrets was also eight inches thick, but their sides were only 6 inches (152 mm) thick. The main barbettes were protected by seven inches of armour as were the ammunition hoists, although the armour for those thinned to two inches between the lower and main decks. The thickness of the lower deck ranged from 1.5 inches on the flat amidships to two inches on the slope connecting it to the lower edge of the waterline belt for the length of the ship. At the ends of the ship, the thickness of the deck armour increased to two inches. The sides of the forward conning tower were 10 inches thick while those of the rear conning tower were three inches in thickness.
Appearance and Modifications
As completed, the three ships were very much alike in appearance and differed only in funnel and rig detail. Defence and, Shannon were practically identical.
Regarded by many as less handsome then the Warriors, they nevertheless presented a distinctive, aggressive profile owing to the long row of turrets fitted along the upper deck amidships.
They were completed with very short funnels in accordance with Fisher’s ideas, and neither masts nor funnels had any rake.
Individual differences were:
Minotaur: Large oval funnels with very large caps and prominent caging.
Defence and Shannon: Smaller and more circular funnels ” with small caps and less conspicuous caging.
(1909) Minotaur: 1 white on first and fourth funnels.
Shannon: 1 white on second and. third funnels.
1909: Range clocks fitted to face of each control top. Funnels raised approximately 15ft to clear bridge
1912: 24in SL [searchlights] removed from foremast, and one pair of 24in twin mountings added on superstructure before the bridge. (Defence and, Minotaur only.)
During 1915–16, a 12-pounder was fitted to the rear superstructure and a three-pounder to the quarterdeck, both guns on high-angle mounts for anti-aircraft defence.
In 1916, reinforcing legs were added to the foremast to support the weight of a fire-control director; Shannon received her director that same year and Minotaur in 1917–18. In the last year of the war, the reinforced foremast was replaced by a stronger tripod mast and the 12-pounder was moved to the top of the forward turret.
World War 1 Service:
China station at start of war.
August 1914 Captured and sank German merchant ship Elsbeth
6 August 1914 bombarded German wireless station at Yap.
November 1914 Escorted Australian troop convoys.
December 1914 Flagship Cape Station.
January 1915 refit then joined 2nd Cruiser Squadron Grand Fleet.
31 May 1916 present at the Battle of Jutland.
1920 Sold for scrap.
1st Cruiser Squadron Mediterranean Fleet.
August 1914 involved in hunt for SMS Goeben and Breslau.
November 1914 sent to South Atlantic in hunt for Admiral Graf Spee.
January 1915 1st Cruiser Squadron Grand Fleet.
31 May 1916 Sunk at the Battle of Jutland.
2nd Cruiser Squadron Grand Fleet.
November 1914 refit at Cromarty.
31 May 1916 present at the Battle of Jutland.
November 1916 Murmansk.
1917-18 Atlantic convoy escort.
1922 Sold for scrap.