German WWII Submarine Designs

German submarine designs exerted a major influence, either directly or indirectly, on most of the world’s submarine development in the years between the two world wars-except in Britain and, to a lesser extent, the Soviet Union. All the major navies of the victorious Allies-Britain, France, Italy, Japan, and the United States-received examples of the latest German U-boats under the terms of the Armistice and the Treaty of Versailles. They intently examined and analyzed these German craft to determine the applicability and suitability of their features for incorporation into their own types and, in several instances, commissioned former German submarines into their own services to acquire operational experience in their use. Both Italian and French designers were very much influenced by studying and operating examples of the later Mittel-U and UB-III types prior to developing their first new postwar boats. The big U-cruisers had even more impact. The first French oceangoing submarines, the Requin class, benefited substantially from their designers’ study of U-cruisers. The big U. S. Navy fleet boats owed a great debt to the German boats (including even their diesel engines, in some cases), and German engineers were intimately involved in the development of the early Japanese kaidai and junsen types.

German design influence spread to lesser fleets too, largely through the activities of the Ingenieurskantoor voor Scheepsbouw (IvS). The IvS was established in July 1922 at Den Haag in The Netherlands by a consortium of the Krupp and Vulcan shipbuilding yards to circumvent the Versailles Treaty’s prohibition on submarine design and construction. The engineering staff was led by Hans Techel, who had headed Krupp’s submarine design team since 1907, and the firm also received clandestine financial support from the German Navy, which was desirous of maintaining German submarine design expertise despite the treaty. IvS engineers produced submarine designs that were constructed for Turkey, Finland, the Soviet Union, Spain, and Sweden, and also served as prototypes for the German Navy’s Type IIA coastal, Type IA long-range, and Type VII oceangoing U-boats.

German submarines were developed clandestinely, inasmuch as the Versailles Treaty prohibited them in the German Navy. Design work, both at IvS and by the Blohm und Voss firm, continued for foreign navies with production undertaken in the customer’s yards under German supervision. These boats also served as prototypes for domestic production, which made it possible for the first new German submarine, the U-1, to be completed on 29 June 1935, only five weeks after the repudiation of the Versailles Treaty.

The overwhelming majority of the 1,150 U-boats commissioned between 1935 and 1945 belonged to two groups: the so-called 500- ton Type VII medium boats, and the 740-ton Type IX long-range submarines. The Type VIIC actually displaced between 760 and 1,000 tons on the surface, had a cruising range of 6,500 to 10,000 miles at 12 knots on the surface and 80 miles at 4 knots submerged. They had a battery of 5 torpedo tubes with 14 torpedoes, an 88mm deck gun, and ever-increasing numbers of light antiaircraft weapons. Almost 700 of these boats in all of their variants entered service during World War II. The Type XIC actually displaced 1,120 tons; it had a cruising range of 11,000 miles at 12 knots on the surface and 63 miles at 4 knots submerged. They had a battery of 6 torpedo tubes with 22 torpedoes, a 105mm deck gun, and ever-increasing numbers of light antiaircraft weapons. Almost 200 of this type and its variants were commissioned.

Germany also commissioned a number of other important types during World War II. Among the most important were the Type X minelayers and the Type XIV supply boats. Both types operated as resuppliers for the operational boats during the Battle of the Atlantic, providing fuel, provisions, medical supplies, reload torpedoes, and even medical care and replacement crew members. Consequently they became prime targets for Allied antisubmarine forces, and few survived. The other major vessels were the radical Type XXI and Type XXIII boats, designed for high submerged speed and extended underwater operation. Revolutionary streamlined hull shapes, greatly increased battery space, and the installation of snorkels allowed these boats to operate at submerged speeds that made them very difficult targets for Allied antisubmarine forces. Confused production priorities, however, and the general shortage of materials late in the war prevented more than a very few from putting to sea operationally.


The outbreak of World War II found the German submarine arm well trained but deficient in numbers. From the moment of its reestablishment, the submarine force had concentrated much of its effort on validating Kommodore Karl Dönitz’s concepts for an all-out assault on enemy trade using concentrated groups of submarines under central shore-based control to locate and destroy convoyed shipping, primarily through surfaced night attacks (wolf-pack tactics). Dönitz was promoted Konteradmiral in October 1939, but shortages of U-boats, Adolf Hitler’s initial insistence on Germany’s adherence to the Prize Regulations, and demands on the submarine force for its support of surface naval operations prevented him from exploiting the potential of the wolf-pack tactics for most of the first nine months of the conflict. On average only six boats were at sea at any one time during this period, forcing them to attack individually, although some attempts were made to mount combined attacks whenever possible.

As a result of its World War I experience after 1917, Britain was quick to begin the convoying of merchant vessels. There was some initial hesitation because of the feared detrimental effect that convoys could have on the efficient employment of shipping, but when the liner Athena was torpedoed and sunk without warning on 3 September 1939, Britain took this to indicate that Germany had commenced an unrestricted campaign of submarine warfare against merchant vessels. Regular east coast convoys between the Firth of Forth and the River Thames started on 6 September and outbound transatlantic convoys from Liverpool two days later.

The conquest of Norway and the collapse of France in June 1940 brought substantial changes to the U-boat war against trade. From French bases, German reconnaissance and long-range bomber aircraft operated far into the Atlantic, while the operational range of the U-boats sailing from Norway and French Biscay ports increased dramatically. Italy’s simultaneous entry into the war terminated all commercial traffic in the Mediterranean except for very heavily escorted operational convoys bringing supplies into Malta. It also substantially increased the number of submarines available for the Atlantic campaign against shipping, inasmuch as Italian submarines began operating from Biscay ports, effectively doubling the total Axis force at sea. This situation allowed Dönitz to introduce his wolf-pack tactic on a large scale into the Atlantic shipping campaign, just as the British faced an alarming shortage of oceanic convoy escorts because of the neutralization of the French Fleet and their decision to retain destroyers in home waters to guard against a German invasion. The results vindicated Dönitz’s belief in the effectiveness of wolf packs. In the first nine months of the war, German U-boats sank a little more than 1 million tons of shipping, whereas they and the Italians together destroyed more than 2.3 million tons between June 1940 and February 1941. However, the release of destroyers from their guard duties, the addition of new escorts, and the transfer of fifty obsolete destroyers from the U. S. Navy improved the situation. The dispersal point for westbound transatlantic convoys and the pickup point for escort groups meeting eastbound shipping gradually moved westward as the range of the escorts was increased. This pushed the main arena of Axis submarine operations more toward the mid-Atlantic zone, which reduced the time that boats could spend on station. In mid-1941 the United States imposed its socalled Neutrality Zone on the western Atlantic and began escorting British convoys in conjunction with Royal Canadian Navy escorts, operating from Argentia in Newfoundland. North Atlantic convoys now were escorted throughout by antisubmarine vessels. Nevertheless, these additions to the escort force had only a limited impact on losses, since German and Italian submarines succeeded in sinking a further 1.8 million tons in the following nine months prior to the U. S. entry into the war.

The German declaration of war on the United States on 10 December 1941 brought a major westward expansion of U-boat operations against shipping. A disastrous period followed, while the U. S. Navy struggled with the problems of finding the escorts and crews required to convoy the enormous volume of merchant traffic along the East Coast of the United States, and with the very concept of convoy itself. Axis submarines sank more than 3 million tons of Allied shipping between December 1941 and June 1942, well over 75 percent of it along the East Coast of the United States and Canada. Nevertheless, by mid-1942 an elaborate and comprehensive system of interlocking convoy routes and sailings was established for the East Coast of North America and the Caribbean.

As Dönitz became aware of the extension of convoy along the Atlantic East Coast, he shifted U-boat operations back to the mid-Atlantic. His all-out assault on the North Atlantic convoy systems inflicted heavy losses: between July 1942 and March 1943, Axis (almost entirely German) submarines destroyed more than 4.5 millions tons of Allied shipping, over 633,000 tons in March alone. Nevertheless, new Allied countermeasures became available at this crucial moment, and U-boat successes fell to 287,137 tons in April, 237,182 tons in May, and only 76,090 tons in June. Dönitz’s reaction was to deploy his U-boats in areas where Allied antisubmarine forces were weak, anticipating that this would compensate for the lack of success in the North Atlantic. Initially this plan to some extent met his expectations, since sinkings rose to 237,777 tons in July, but the success of the Allied assault on U-boats in transit to their patrol stations rendered the German accomplishment transitory; merchant ship sinkings dropped to 92,443 tons in August, never to surpass 100,000 tons per month at any subsequent time during the war.

The collapse of the U-boat offensive in mid-1943 resulted from the Allies’ concurrent deployment of a series of new countermeasures and technologies that reached maturity almost simultaneously: centrimetric radar aboard both ships and aircraft, efficient shipborne high-frequency direction finding, ahead-throwing weapons that permitted ships to fire antisubmarine bombs forward and thus retain sonar contact, very-long-range shore-based antisubmarine aircraft, escort carriers and escort support groups, and advances in decryption of German communications codes. The U-boat arm attempted to defeat these countermeasures by deploying its own new weaponry, the most important elements of which were radar warning receivers, heavy antiaircraft batteries, and acoustic torpedoes designed to hunt antisubmarines vessels. Not only did these fail to stem the tide of Allied success against the U-boats, but new convoy communications codes also defeated German cryptographers, rendering locating targets much more difficult. Then, in 1944, Allied military successes in France began to force German U-boats to make more extended passages to their patrol areas as their home ports moved farther from the Atlantic; German air bases also ceased to give aircraft quick access to British coastal waters.

During the final year of this conflict, U-boats equipped with snorkels entered service. The production of new, fast elektroboote (the radical new Type XXI submarines with high underwater speed) allowed the first examples to become operational, but their numbers were far too few to make any difference. Also, there were insufficient experienced crews available to exploit their potential and they had design and manufacturing faults. Such was the success of Allied antisubmarine measures during this period that full-scale convoying became unnecessary in some areas, and much of the focus of their escorts turned to hunting U-boats rather than directly protecting merchant shipping. The full measure of the defeat of the U-boats is indicated by the fact that more than two-thirds of the 650 German submarines lost during World War II were sunk in the last two years of the war.

The Chinese War Junk I

Junk is a type of ancient Chinese sailing ship that is still in use today. Junks were used as seagoing vessels as early as the 2nd century AD and developed rapidly during the Song Dynasty (960–1279). They evolved in the later dynasties, and were used throughout Asia for extensive ocean voyages. They were found, and in lesser numbers are still found, throughout South-East Asia and India, but primarily in China. Found more broadly today is a growing number of modern recreational junk-rigged sailboats.

The term junk may be used to cover many kinds of boat—ocean-going, cargo-carrying, pleasure boats, live-aboards. They vary greatly in size and there are significant regional variations in the type of rig, however they all employ fully battened sails.

The construction of junks has been distinguished from the characteristics of traditional western vessels by several features: the unbattened sails on masts that employ little standing rigging, the presence of watertight bulkheads to minimize the consequences of a hole in the hull, the use of leeboards, and the early adoption of stern-mounted steering rudders. The historian Herbert Warington Smyth considered the junk as one of the most efficient ship designs, stating that “As an engine for carrying man and his commerce upon the high and stormy seas as well as on the vast inland waterways, it is doubtful if any class of vessel… is more suited or better adapted to its purpose than the Chinese or Indian junk, and it is certain that for flatness of sail and handiness, the Chinese rig is unsurpassed.”

The structure and flexibility of junk sails make the junk fast and easily controlled. The sails of a junk can be moved inward toward the long axis of the ship. In theory this closeness of what is called sheeting allowed the junk to sail into the wind. In practice, evidenced both by traditional sailing routes and seasons and textual evidence junks could not sail well into the wind. That is because a rig is dependent on its aerodynamic shape, the shape of the hull which it drives, and the balance between the centre of effort (the centre of drive) of the sail plan and the centre of resistance against the hull. In the typical junk these were both ill-adapted to windward work because, put simply, junks were neither intended to nor designed to work to windward.

The sails include several horizontal members, called “battens”, which in principle could provide shape and strength but in practice, because of the available materials and technology, did neither. Junk sails are controlled at their trailing edge by lines much in the same way as the mainsail on a typical sailboat, but in the junk sail each batten has a line attached to its trailing edge where on a typical sailboat a single line (the sheet) is attached only to the boom. The sails can also be easily reefed to accommodate various wind strengths, but there was traditionally no available adjustment for sail shape for the reasons given to do with traditional materials. The battens also make the sails more resistant than other sails to large tears, as a tear is typically limited to a single “panel” between battens. In South China the sails have a curved roach especially towards the head, similar to a typical balanced lug sail. The main drawback to the junk sail is its high weight caused by the 6 to 15 heavy full length battens. With high weight aloft and no deep keel, junks were known to capsize when lightly laden due to their high centre of gravity. The top batten is heavier and similar to a gaff. In principle junk sails have much in common with the most aerodynamically efficient sails used today in windsurfers or catamarans. In practice, because of the comparatively low tech materials, they had no better performance characteristic than any other contemporary sail plan, whether western, Arab, Polynesian or other.

The sail-plan is also spread out between multiple masts, allowing for a comparatively powerful sail area, with a low centre of effort, which reduces the heeling moment. However, a thoughtful analysis of these multiple masts indicates that only two or so were actually the main ‘driving’ sails. The others were used to try to balance the junk—that is, to get it to more or less steer itself along the chosen course. This was necessary because the Chinese stern hung rudder, in origin a modified centreline steering oar, whilst extremely efficient, was comparatively mechanically weak. The large forces that a sailing vessel can place upon its rudder were known to rip rudders from their relatively weakly constructed mountings (many trading junks carried a spare rudder), so using the sail plan to get the junk to steer itself, reducing the loads on the rudder, was an ingenious development.

Flags were hung from the masts to bring good luck and women to the sailors. A legend among the Chinese during the junk’s heyday regarded a dragon which lived in the clouds. It was said that when the dragon became angry, it created typhoons and storms. Bright flags, with Chinese writing on them, were said to please the dragon. Red was best, as it would induce the dragon to help the sailors.

Classic junks were built of softwoods (although after the 17th century of teak in Guangdong) with the outside shape built first. Then multiple internal compartment/bulkheads accessed by separate hatches and ladders, reminiscent of the interior structure of bamboo, were built in. Traditionally, the hull has a horseshoe-shaped stern supporting a high poop deck. The bottom is flat in a river junk with no keel (similar to a sampan), so that the boat relies on a daggerboard, leeboard or very large rudder to prevent the boat from slipping sideways in the water. Ocean-going junks have a curved hull in section with a large amount of tumblehome in the topsides. The planking is edge nailed on a diagonal. Iron nails or spikes have been recovered from a Canton dig dated to circa 221 BC. For caulking the Chinese used a mix of ground lime with Tung oil together with chopped hemp from old fishing nets which set hard in 18 hours, but usefully remained flexible. Junks have narrow waterlines which accounts for their potential speed in moderate conditions, although such voyage data as we have indicates that average speeds on voyage for junks were little different from average voyage speeds of almost all traditional sail, i.e. around 4–6 knots. The largest junks, the treasure ships commanded by Ming dynasty Admiral Zheng He, were built for world exploration in the 15th century, and according to some interpretations may have been over 120 metres (390 ft) in length, or larger. This conjecture was based on the size of a rudder post that was found and misinterpreted, using formulae applicable to modern engine powered ships. More careful analysis shows that the rudder post that was found is actually smaller than the rudder post shown for a 70’ long Pechili Trader in Worcester’s “Junks and Sampans of the Yangtze”.

Another characteristic of junks, interior compartments or bulkheads, strengthened the ship and slowed flooding in case of holing. Ships built in this manner were written of in Zhu Yu’s book Pingzhou Table Talks, published by 1119 during the Song Dynasty. Again, this type of construction for Chinese ship hulls was attested to by the Moroccan Muslim Berber traveler Ibn Batutta (1304–1377 AD), who described it in great detail (refer to Technology of the Song Dynasty). Although some historians have questioned whether the compartments were watertight, most believe that watertight compartments did exist in Chinese junks because although most of the time there were small passage ways (known as limber holes) between compartments, these could be blocked with stoppers and such stoppers have been identified in wrecks. All wrecks discovered so far have limber holes; these are different from the free flooding holes that are located only in the foremost and aftermost compartments, but are at the base of the transverse bulkheads allowing water in each compartment to drain to the lowest compartment, thus facilitating pumping. It is believed from evidence in wrecks that the limber holes could be stopped either to allow the carriage of liquid cargoes or to isolate a compartment that had sprung a leak.

Leeboards and centerboards, used to stabilize the junk and to improve its capability to sail upwind, are documented from a 759 AD book by Li Chuan. The innovation was adopted by Portuguese and Dutch ships around 1570. Junks often employ a daggerboard that is forward on the hull which allows the center section of the hull to be free of the daggerboard trunk allowing larger cargo compartments. Because the daggerboard is located so far forward, the junk must use a balanced rudder to counteract the imbalance of lateral resistance.

The rudder is reported to be the strongest part of the junk. In the Tiangong Kaiwu “Exploitation of the Works of Nature” (1637), Song Yingxing wrote, “The rudder-post is made of elm, or else of langmu or of zhumu.” The Ming author also applauds the strength of the langmu wood as “if one could use a single silk thread to hoist a thousand jun or sustain the weight of a mountain landslide.”

Ching Shih(also known as Cheng I Sao) had over 300 Junks under her command, manned by 20,000 to 40,000 pirates. With a fleet so large, she was a large threat to the Chinese, who had not been developing a better navy. After Ching Shih retired, the Chinese Navy had continued to make the same mistake, and would cause their downfall later in the First Opium War. This is also why Chinese mariners didn’t have a good compass until the 19th century.

The Vessels

From the 9th to the 12th century, large Chinese sea-going ships were apparently developed. The first Sung emperor often visited shipyards, which produced both river and sea-going vessels. In 1124 two very large ships were built for the embassy to Korea. There is a relief carving on the Bayon temple built by Jayavarman VII in Angkor Thom in Cambodia cited in Needham. Dating from circa 1185, it pictures a Chinese junk with two masts, Chinese matting sails, and stern-post rudder. A Nan Sung scholar, Mo Chi of the Imperial University, is reported as sailing far to the north in Chhi Tung Yeh Yu. In 1161, the main fleet of the Sung navy fought a larger Jin Empire fleet off the Shandong Peninsula and won. Thus, the Southern Sung of the 12th century gained complete control of the East China Sea. There were four decades of maritime strength for the Sung (until the first decade of the 13th century), when the Sung navy declined and the Mongols started building a navy to help conquer the Sung. In 1279, the Mongol Khubilai Khan had conquered the Sung capital and then his quickly created fleet chased a large Sung junk with the renegade Sung court and the last Sung prince, who leaped into the water and drowned.

The Yuan (Mongol) dynasty of the 13th and 14th centuries maintained the large fleet, sent emissaries to Sumatra, Ceylon, and southern India to establish influence, and Yuan merchants gradually took over the spice trade from the Arabs. It was the Yuan ships of this era that Marco Polo saw and reported, consisting of four-masted ocean-going junks with sixty individual cabins for merchants, up to 300 crew and watertight bulkheads. The Yuan dynasty greatly favored sea power (somewhat at the expense of lake and river combatants, which had been developing human-powered paddlewheel ships up until this period). However, while the Yuan achieved greater foreign contacts and overseas trading success, Khubilai Khan failed spectacularly in his two massive maritime expeditions against Japan (1274 and 1281), and also in expeditions against the Liu Ch’iu (Ryukyu) Islands. Initial successes of a Yuan armada against Java were followed by a forced retirement. A major feature of the Mongol rule of the Yuan dynasty was a dramatic lessening of Confucian influence in the Imperial court, and a great opening to foreign influences.

When the Manchus retook the Imperial throne and thus founded the Ming dynasty in the second half of the 14th century, the early Ming emperors inherited much of the Yuan maritime technology and policy. There were huge ocean-going warships, large ocean capable cargo ships, a regular coastal grain delivery system transporting grain from the southern provinces to the northern ones, and considerable foreign contacts, primarily in south east Asia but extending to Ceylon and India. However, two other dynamics were at work. First, the Ming dynasty was continually working to restore her native culture after a century-long of foreign rule. The Grand Canal, initially completed during the Sui dynasty (6th century AD), with a vast remodelling and extension to the new northern capital at Peking during the Yuan (13th century), was initially in disrepair due to the extensive conflict between the Yuan and Ming. The early Ming saw the rebuilding and improvement of the Grand Canal and other canals, paved highways, bridges, defenses, temples, shrines and walled cities. Second, the Ming administration was being restructured, with a resurgence of Confucian scholars as senior officials and a great development in the use of eunuchs in high office as well. These two categories of high officials were in considerable conflict throughout the Ming period. The Confucians were generally ascendant, but during the rule of the third Ming Emperor, Zhu Di, the eunuch administrators and warriors were greatly trusted and given great power. This was largely because Zhu Di was a rebel warrior prince who usurped the throne of his nephew, with an initial power base purely in the north. Many of the government ministers disapproved of his usurpation early in his reign, so Zhu Di preferred to entrust eunuchs with a large share of the business of government. Many of the eunuch administrators had been loyal retainers to Zhu Di in the frontier wars and the rebellion for decades, whereas the Confucian administrators and warrior princes had defended the old, recently defeated regime.

The Chinese War Junk II

In the case of the Ming Indian Ocean expeditions, the Emperor Zhu Di chose as his agent and leader of the expeditions the eunuch Admiral Zheng He. Born 1372 into a Muslim family named Ma in Yunnan, he was taken at age ten into the Ming service, and subsequently castrated at age thirteen and placed into the household of the twenty-five year old Prince of Yan, Zhu Di, the fourth son of the first Ming emperor. Over the next ten years, from Yunnan to the northern frontier, Ma He (who was to be given the name Zheng He when the prince became emperor) served in the field doing frontier defense with Prince Zhu Di. The large, commanding and battle experienced eunuch distinguished himself during Prince Zhu Di’s bid for the throne, in both the 1399 defense of Beiping and the final campaign of 1402 to capture Nanjing.

In 1403 the new emperor Zhu Di issued orders to begin construction of an imperial fleet of warships and support ships to visit ports in the China seas and the Indian Ocean. The Ming Tong Jian, an unofficial history of the period, says: Regarding the Jianwen emperor’s escape, there are some who say he is abroad. The emperor ordered Zheng He to seek out traces of him. The fleet was larger than required to reopen trade with the southern and western regions, but such magnificence might well convince any foreign ruler harboring the deposed Chinese emperor of Zhu Di’s strength. And foreign trade, such as that which had occurred fifty years previously under the Yuan dynasty, might well help a treasury depleted by a long civil war. An imperial history compiled in 1767, the Li-Tai Thung Chien Chi Lan (Essentials of the Comprehensive Mirror of History), states: In the third year of the Yung-Lo reign-period [Zhi Di’s dynastic title, 1405], the Imperial Palace Eunuch Zheng He was sent on a mission to the Western Oceans. The emperor [Zhu Di], under the suspicion that (his nephew) the (previous) emperor might have fled beyond the seas, commissioned Zheng He, Wang Ching-Hung and others, to pursue his traces. Bearing vast amounts of gold and other treasures, and with a force of more than 37,000 officers and men under their command, they built great ships and set sail from…the prefecture of Suchow, whence they proceeded by way of Fukien to Chan-Chheng (Indo-China), and thence on voyages throughout the western seas….Every country became obedient to the imperial commands, and when Zheng He turned homewards, sent envoys in his train to offer tribute…..Zheng He was commissioned on no less than seven diplomatic expeditions, and thrice made prisoners of foreign chiefs…..At the same time, the different peoples, attracted to the profit of Chinese merchandise, enlarge their mutual intercourse for purposes of trade, and there was uninterrupted going to and fro.

At the time of the Ming Indian Ocean voyages, Chinese ocean-going technology was somewhat superior to the European, with the exception of navigation. In ship size, the Chinese had by far the larger ships. The largest ships of the Zheng He expeditions were about 500 feet long. The dimension of the ships given in Chinese histories was always subject to the accusation of exaggeration. However, in 1962, an actual rudder post of one of Zheng He’s treasure ships was discovered at the site of one of the Ming shipyards near Nanking. This timber was 36.2 feet long, and when reverse engineered to typical proportions, this yields a ship length of 480 to 536 feet, depending upon different assumptions about the draught. In comparison, the ocean-going European ships of this period were considerably smaller, more typically 100 feet long (i.e. 1500 tons for Zheng He and perhaps 300 tons for the Portuguese explorers). The Chinese had been using multi-masted ships for several centuries, while the Portuguese had just in the past century developed this innovation with their new, secret design caravel. In compartmentation, the Chinese had a clear advantage, with large ships of up to thirteen watertight compartments for centuries prior the period of examination. Western ships were not provided with watertight compartments until the middle of the 19th century, after reports of Chinese compartmentation illuminated the advantages in surviving a hole in the ship’s hull. In sail technology, the Europeans had long sufficed with square sail rigs on their ocean vessels (while with some lateen rigs on smaller ships since the 3rd century), which were good running before the wind but unhandy in beating upwind. The Chinese had been using fore-and-aft lugsails (more efficient in beating upwind) since the 3rd century AD, and since the 9th century in ocean-going ships, and were thus long able to steer closer to the wind.

However, in the 15th century, the western and eastern sail technology was comparable. The mariner’s compass, so crucial to navigation out of sight of land, was developed from the Chinese magnetized needle of the 8th century, and it traveled via land route to the Mediterranean where about the 12th century the Europeans or the Arabs developed the true mariner’s compass (floating), but China soon received the improved model. So both East and West had the mariner’s compass in the 15th century. Stern post rudders, which are a significant advantage over steering oars in steering larger ships in tumultuous seas, were utilized in China as early as the 1st century A. D. These were not developed until about the 14th century in Europe, but stern post rudders were available to both East and West in the 15th century. Knowledge of wind and sea currents was considerably more advanced in the West by the Portuguese and Dutch than by the Chinese in the 15th century. The West also had superior knowledge of celestial navigation, that advantage being shared by the Arabs; the Chinese were reduced to utilizing Islamic astronomers and mathematicians at the Imperial Observatory, but had not extended celestial work to the practical work of navigating as of yet. The Arab and the Portuguese cross-staff or balestilha developed in the 14th century, and the astrolabe for even better measurement of the angle of celestial objects in the early 15th century. In military technology, both East and West had cannon, armor and horses.

In summary, before the 15th century, the Chinese were ahead in oceangoing ship technology, with larger compartmented ships and efficient fore-and-aft lugsails on multiple masts. In the 15th century, the Chinese and the Europeans were in rough overall parity. The Chinese were ahead in ship size and hull construction, and the Portuguese were ahead in the arts of navigation, and there was parity in sail technology (the Chinese with battened lugsails, the Portuguese with lateen sails). Neither had a distinct overall advantage. Both were technologically capable of great voyages of discovery, mercantile enterprise, and colonization. In tracing the developments, what is distinctive is that the rate of progress in nautical technology of the West was considerably faster than that of the East. By the 16th century, the West was clearly superior in ocean-going maritime technology (especially considering the regression that occurred in China due to policy influences).

Chinese Naval Warfare

It is perhaps not surprising that the Chinese didn’t develop naval gunnery to the degree practised by the Western navies. The majority of the actions fought took place in restricted waters, often on rivers in head to head encounters. Few cannon were mounted, the Chinese instead relying largely on close quarter actions and boarding. Thus the weapons developed by the Chinese tended to support this style of fighting. Typical weapons included fireships, rafts and burning torches, stink bombs, anti-boarding spikes, and primitive mines.

Stink bombs – these were small grenades, clay pots filled with gunpowder, sulphur, nails and other shrapnel and any other unpleasant substances which the maker had to hand. They were used in boarding actions, hurled by the boarding parties just before they stormed their intended victim, or thrown onto an approaching warship’s decks to disrupt the boarders before they made their attack. Being hand thrown their range was severely limited.

Mines – These were made from wooden barrels filled with gunpowder and rigged with a fuse. These would be laid by a ship and set to drift down upon an enemy. Chinese ‘minelayers’ were quite adept at estimating the anticipated speed of drift and could set the fuse accordingly. Nevertheless this was quite a haphazard weapon to use.

Fireships – Not quite on the grandiose scale of Western fireships, the Chinese equivalent was often made up of two small boats filled with combustible material, connected by a stout hawser or chain. A ship passing between the two boats would foul the chain and bring one or both of the boats alongside.

Spikes – These were arranged around a ships hull to discourage enemy ships from closing and boarding.

War on the Rivers

For age-of-sail players used to actions on the high seas, or even in normal coastal waters, the confined waters in which many Oriental actions were fought present some interesting problems. That is not to say that actions in open water did not occur (even on the rivers – the Yangtse is, after all, one of the world’s widest rivers), but since the Chinese vessels were really restricted to rivers and the littorals this is where most of the action will take place.

As alluded to already, operating a sailing vessel on a twisting river presents some unusual problems for sailing vessels constrained by the wind to certain courses. In many cases the ships boats would be lowered and the vessel towed. This would not present too much of a problem, but would of course expose the boat crews to extreme danger in action.

As well as wind constraints there would be depth constraints, possibly with narrow and sometimes shifting channels known only to local pilots (who may or may not be trustworthy…). Then there is the river flow itself – a typical regional river current of 1-2 knots would be appropriate, but could increase to as much as 5 or 6 in restricted areas or during floods (as an aside the depth of the Yangtse river could easily treble to as much as 60 feet during the rainy season!)

Most rules include some sort of rules to cater for shallows, but in these sort of scenarios they become somewhat more relevant. Referees and others should be aware of this challenging environment when writing scenarios, as they add considerably to the enjoyment and ‘feel’ of the game, and stop the scenario degenerating into an ‘open sea with lots of coast’ action as can often happen.

The Opium War

Whilst coastal and trade protection actions took place in the China Seas throughout the Napoleonic Wars, the major period of interest to naval wargamers in the region during the age of sail (or rather towards its end) was the Opium War of 1839-42. Despite the advances in naval technology in Europe and the USA since the fall of Napoleon the ships involved in the war were generally sail driven.

The main purpose of the RN presence on the coast of China was to maintain a blockade in defence of the right of British traders to import opium to mainland China. Opium had been exported from India to China since the latter years of the Napoleonic wars. This was before the trade in tea from India took off and was an attempt (partly by the authorities in India) to maintain a balance against the goods being exported from China at the time. A permanent trading enclosure, known as “The Factory” was established at Canton, 40 miles up the Canton river from the sea. Communications with the outside world were maintained by ships coming up to canton, or to Wampoa, 12 miles downstream. In 1820 the Chinese government declared the trade in opium illegal, although this was largely ineffective as many of the coastal warlords and mandarins were heavily involved in the trade or were accepting bribes from the importers. This state of affairs continued until 1837 when a government crackdown, initiated by the Emperor, and overseen by Lin Tse-hsii, led to the expulsion of several merchants from Canton and the seizure of stocks and properties belonging to the opium importers. Tension increased until February 1839 when Chinese police executed a local merchant involved in the trade and travel restrictions were placed on foreign nationals. To safeguard the British merchants in the region a squadron of the Royal Navy was despatched to Canton under Captain Charles Elliot, RN. Elliot advised the merchants that Canton was no longer safe. He was right, as Lin besieged the Factory, confiscating 20,000 cases of opium (worth £5 million, or the equivalent of £500 million today) when the inevitable occurred and the enclosure fell to Government forces. A withdrawal was made to Hong Kong Island, a move beginning the process which led to the British possession of the colony.

The situation deteriorated as the British attempted to continue the trade, opposed by the Chinese government. Diplomatic efforts were frustrated by the distances over which official communications and information had to travel, personalities on the ground, and after a number of minor incidents which rapidly escalated a state of near general war existed on the coast of China. There were several expeditions upriver to engage and destroy Chinese naval forces and smuggling operations. The blockade intensified in 1840 when all Chinese navigation was forbidden and orders were issued for all Chinese ships to be seized. In reaction the Chinese government offered bounties for Englishmen killed or captured. An enterprising Chinese could claim the equivalent of $100 for a captured sailor (or $20 for his head), up to $5000 for a Captain, and $10,000 for capturing or burning an English ship. Despite these incentives the success rate of the Chinese against the British was not great, superior firepower usually winning the day. However, there were close calls. Whilst patrolling the mouth of the Yangtse the Hellas became ensnared in a system of underwater stakes which the local warlord had placed in the river to trap unwary ships. She was attacked by eight Pechili junks which closed in an attempt to board, but the Hellas outgunned her opponents and extricated herself from this otherwise unfortunate position and was able to withdraw.

American Civil War Ironclads

At the outset both sides were militarily weak. The North did have a clear advantage at sea, although its widely scattered force of 80 warships was totally inadequate for what lay ahead. On 19 April Lincoln proclaimed a blockade of the 3,500 miles of Confederate coastline. Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles launched a major construction program, which included ironclads. Washington also purchased civilian ships of all types, many of them steamers, for blockade duty.

In April 1861, upon the secession of Virginia, the South gained control of the largest prewar U. S. Navy yard at Gosport (Norfolk) along with 1,200 heavy guns, valuable naval stores, and some vessels. Among the latter was the powerful modern steam frigate Merrimack. Set on fire by retreating Union forces, she burned only to the waterline before sinking. The Confederates raised her and rebuilt her as the ironclad Virginia. Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory hoped to offset the Northern naval advantage by ironclad warships capable of breaking the blockade, and he advocated commerce raiding, the traditional course of action of a weaker naval power against a nation with a vulnerable merchant marine. Mallory hoped to drive up insurance costs, weaken Northern resolve, and force the U. S. Navy to shift warships from blockade duties

Each side also constructed ironclads. The first were actually built by the Union to help secure control of America’s great interior rivers. Thanks to its superior manufacturing resources, the Union got its river fleet built quickly. In August 1861 the army ordered seven ironclad gunboats. Constructed by James B. Eads, they were the first purpose-built ironclad warships in the Western Hemisphere.

The so-called Peninsula Campaign set up history’s first battle between ironclads. On 8 March 1862 the Confederate ironclad Virginia sortied from Norfolk and sank two Union warships. That evening the Union ironclad Monitor arrived, and the next day the two fought an inconclusive battle, which nonetheless left Union forces in control of Hampton Roads. “Monitor fever” now swept the North, which built more than 50 warships of this type. The Confederates countered with casemated vessels along the lines of the Virginia, the best known of these being the Arkansas, Manassas, Atlanta, Nashville, and Tennessee. Also, the Confederacy secretly contracted in Britain for two powerful seagoing ironclad ships. These so-called Laird Rams were turreted vessels superior to any U. S. Navy warship, but when the war shifted decisively in favor of the Union the British government took them over.

Union Monitors

The distinction for participating in the first ironclad-to-ironclad clash must go to the Ericsson turret armorclad USS Monitor, the world’s first mastless ironclad. At the Battle of Hampton Roads (8 March 1862), Monitor faced off Confederate ironclad battery CSS Virginia in one of the very few naval battles fought before a large audience, lining the Virginia shore.

It is popularly supposed that Hampton Roads demonstrated that the day of the wooden warship had ended. It did no such thing; the armored Kinburn batteries had already taken the world’s attention almost six years before, the French La Gloire had been in service for the previous two years, and the magnificent seagoing British ironclad HMS Warrior for six months; and the world’s naval powers at the time had some 20 ironclads on the stocks. It would have been a peculiarly dense naval officer or designer who did not realize by March 1862 that ironclads would dominate the world’s fleets in the very near future. The main question would be what forms those ironclad warships would take.

The historic Battle of Hampton Roads did touch off a veritable monitor mania in the Union: Of the 84 ironclads constructed in the North throughout the Civil War, no less than 64 were of the monitor or turreted types. The first class of Union monitors were the 10 Catskills: Catskill, Camanche, Lehigh, Montauk, Nahant, Nantucket, Patapsco, Passaic, Sangamon, and Weehawken. (Camanche was shipped in knocked-down form to San Francisco. But the transporting vessel sank at the pier. Camanche was later salvaged, but the war was already over. Camanche thus has the distinction of being sunk before completion.) These ironclads, the first large armored warships to have more than two units built from the same plans, were awkwardly armed with one 11-inch and one 15-inch Dahlgren smoothbore. The Passaics were followed by the nine larger Canonicus class: Canonicus, Catawba (not completed in time for Union service), Mahopac, Manayunk, Manhattan, Oneonta, Saugus, Tecumseh, and Tippecanoe, distinguishable by their armament of two matching 15-inch smoothbores and the removal of the dangerous upper-deck overhang.

The eminent engineer James Eads designed four Milwaukee-class whaleback (sloping upper deck) double-turreted monitors: Chickasaw, Kickapoo, Milwaukee, and Winnebago. (Ericsson, on the other hand, loathed multiple-turret monitors, sarcastically comparing the arrangement to “two suns in the sky.”) Eads’s unique ironclads mounted two turrets, one of the Ericsson type (much to Ericsson’s disgust), the other of Eads’s own patented design: The guns’ recoil would actually drop the turret floor below the waterline for safe reloading; hydraulic power would then raise the floor back to the turret, wherein the guns could be run out by steam power. Eads’s two paddlewheel wooden-hull monitors, Osage and Neosho, designed for work on western rivers, were also unique. Although built to Eads’s designs, the two paddlewheel monitors mounted Ericsson turrets. All of the above monitors saw action in the U. S. Civil War. Completed too late for action were Marietta and Sandusky, iron-hulled river monitors constructed in Pittsburgh by the same firm that had built the U. S. Navy’s first iron ship, the paddle sloop USS Michigan.

Ericsson designed five supposedly oceangoing Union monitors: the iron-construction Dictator and Puritan, and the timber-built Agamenticus, Miantonomah, Monadnock, and Tonawanda.

The one-of-a-kind Union monitors were Roanoke, a cut-down wooden sloop; and Onondaga, also of timber-hull construction. Ozark, a wooden-hull light river monitor, had a higher freeboard than any Union monitor and also mounted a unique underwater gun of very questionable utility. None of the seagoing or the one-of-akind monitors saw combat.

Keokuk was an unlucky semimonitor (its two guns were mounted in two fixed armored towers and fired through three gun ports-a revolving turret would seem to have been an altogether simpler arrangement). The fatal flaw was in the armor, a respectable 5.75 inches, but it was alternated with wood. Participating in the U. S. Navy’s first attack on Charleston, South Carolina, Keokuk was riddled with some 90 Confederate shots and sank the next morning.

Aside from riverine/coastal ironclads, the Federals built only two broadside wooden ironclads, New Ironsides and Dunderberg (later Rochambeau, a super-New Ironsides, almost twice the former ironclad’s displacement), both with no particular design innovation. But New Ironsides could claim to be the most fired-upon ironclad during naval operations off Charleston, perhaps the most fired-upon warship of the nineteenth century, as well as the ironclad that, in turn, fired more rounds at the enemy than any other armored warship of the time. The broadside federal ironclad was formidably armed with fourteen 11-inch Dahlgren smoothbores and two 150-pound Parrott rifles, as well as a ram bow. Its standard 4.5-inch armor plate was far superior to the laminated plate of contemporary monitors. Whereas the monitors off Charleston suffered serious damage from Confederate batteries (and semimonitor Keokuk was sunk), New Ironsides could more or less brush off enemy projectiles and was put out of action only temporarily when attacked by a Confederate spar torpedo boat. During its unmatched 16-month tour of duty off Charleston, it proved a strong deterrent to any Confederate ironclad tempted to break the Union’s wooden blockading fleet off that port city, becoming the “guardian of the blockade.” Still, naval historians have tended to ignore New Ironsides and its wartime contributions because of the conservative design.

In light of their technological inferiority to British turret ironclads, it is difficult to understand why the Union’s Ericsson-turret monitors were also built by other countries: Brazil, Norway, Russia, and Sweden either built their own Ericsson-style monitors or had them built in other countries. (The Swedes, naturally enough, named their initial monitor John Ericsson.) The Russians constructed no less than ten Bronenosetz-class coast-defense monitors, and the Norwegians four similar Skorpionens. The Royal Navy ordered a class of four dwarf coastal ironclads that could be termed monitors, but they carried, of course, Coles turrets on breastworks well above the height at which they would have been mounted on Ericsson monitors, and they had superstructures. Furthermore, unlike the monitors, these coastal ironclads were in fact the diminutive template of the mastless turreted capital ship of the future.

The Union monitors, although an intriguing design, were in truth merely coastal and river warships; although several ventured onto the high seas, they only did so sealed up and unable to use their guns. Their extremely low freeboard (a long-armed man could have dipped his hand in the water from the deck) and tiny reserve of buoyancy made them liable to swamping, beginning with Monitor itself, which foundered off the North Carolina coast in December 1862. Monitor Tecumseh went down in less than two minutes after striking a mine at the Battle of Mobile Bay, the first instantaneous destruction of a warship, an all-too-common event in the twentieth century’s naval battles. Tecumseh was also the first ironclad to be sunk in battle, if one discounts two federal riverine armorclads sunk earlier at the Battle of Plumb Point Bend in May of 1862.

In fact, although the monitors might have been impervious to any Confederate gunnery, Southern mines destroyed the only three such warships sunk by the enemy: Patapsco, Tecumseh, and Milwaukee.(Monitor Weehawken foundered on a relatively calm sea in Charleston Harbor.)

The monitors also suffered from an extremely slow rate of fire; Monitor itself could get off only one shot about every seven minutes. Each shot required that the monitor’s turret revolve to where its floor ammunition hatch matched that of the hull; when firing, the two hatches were out of alignment to protect the magazine. And if an enemy shot hit where the turret met the upper deck, the turret could jam, something that apparently never happened to the many turrets built with Coles’s system.

In 1865, the U. S. Board of Ordnance obtusely argued that warships intended for sea service would be best with no armor at all. Yet at that very moment the Royal Navy had deployed five seagoing ironclads, including the magnificent pioneering Warrior and Black Prince, both warships with truly oceanic range, not to mention Defence, Resistance, and the timber-hull Royal Oak, Prince Consort, and Hector. The French, of course, years before had commissioned the seagoing La Gloire as well as Magenta and Solferino, the latter two the only ironclads ever to mount their main battery on double gun decks. (Magenta also has the melancholy distinction of being the first of the capital ships to be destroyed by mysterious explosion, a fate followed by about a score of such warships in the succeeding decades.)

In view of their design faults, plus their inferior and extremely slow firing guns and laminated armor, the monitors were a dead end in naval architecture from the start. The fact that Washington would consider the British sale of just two Coles turret rams to the Confederacy as grounds for war is a strong indication that the administration of President Abraham Lincoln realized the superiority of British-built turret ships to Union monitors.

Confederate Ironclads

Confederate secretary of the navy Stephen Mallory also wanted another type of ship for something far different from commerce raiding, one inspired by the old ship-of-the-line but possessed of some modern twists: an ironclad, steam-powered warship with rifled guns. He believed technological superiority would allow the South to overcome the disparity in numbers. “Such a vessel at this time could traverse the entire coast of the United States,” Mallory insisted, “prevent all blockades, and encounter, with a fair prospect of success, their entire navy.” They would allow the South to seize the naval initiative from its hidebound opponent. He eventually followed two routes to obtaining ironclads—buying them abroad and building them at home.

The Confederate Congress proved very receptive to Mallory’s ideas, voting $3 million to buy warships, including $2 million for ironclads. Mallory dispatched Lieutenant James North to Europe with instructions to try to buy a ship of the Gloire class, the innovative French ironclad commissioned in 1858. If this proved impossible, he should try to have one built. North, though, proved more interested in sightseeing than in doing his job. Mallory’s agents tried buying ironclads in Europe from May to July 1861, without success. The Confederate navy secretary decided to build them at home and signed deals for a few ships.26 Mallory also decided to build flotillas at various ports for their defense and gunboats for the Mississippi.

Building ironclads consumed most of the South’s naval effort. Mallory began studying the possibility of their construction in Southern yards in early June 1861. The first one arose from the burnt-out hulk of the USS Merrimack at Hampton Roads. The Confederacy had to do it this way because the South lacked the ability to build the ship it wanted from scratch. Mallory planned to use this new vessel, which became CSS Virginia, to clear the Union navy from Hampton Roads and Virginia’s ports. He generally believed that ironclad rams (which Virginia became) would be most useful for coastal defense. By late 1861, the Confederates had five ironclads in the works.

The Confederacy built ironclads to compensate for the enemy’s great numbers of warships. The South could not build oceangoing armored ships like Britain’s Warrior and France’s Gloire, but it could build slower, coastal ones like Virginia. These would, Mallory insisted, “enable us with a small number of vessels comparatively to keep our waters free from the enemy and ultimately to contest with them the possession of his own.” Mallory envisioned great but ultimately unrealistic achievements for Virginia. He believed that with a calm sea it could sail up the coast and attack New York City, causing such a panic that it would end the war. The Virginia’s success at Hampton Roads—ramming and sinking the USS Cumberland, then setting ablaze and driving aground the USS Congress—spurred Mallory to press the building of the CSS Louisiana in New Orleans, remarking that the “ship, if completed, would raise the blockade of every Gulf port in 10 days.”


Ptolemy I & II’s Military Forces

When Alexander left Egypt in 331 BC, he appointed two Egyptians, Doloaspis and Petisis, as governors – the second soon resigned – while Cleomenes of Naucratis, a local Greek, was in charge of collecting the tribute and governing Arabia. Four thousand of Alexander’s soldiers were stationed in garrisons at Memphis and Pelusium, with Pantaleon of Pydna and Megacles of Pella as garrison commanders (phrourarchoi), respectively, while the generals (strategoi) of the army were the Macedonian Peucestas and Balacros, according to Arrian (Anabasis 3.5.5), or Peucestas and the Rhodian Aeschylus, according to Curtius (4.8.4-5). In addition, Polemon was the admiral (nauarchos) of a fleet of thirty triremes, and the Aetolian Lycidas was in charge of the mercenaries (xenoi). The troops were probably Macedonians and Greek mercenaries, since their commanders were drawn from both groups. From the death of Alexander in 323 BC to the end of the fourth century BC, Diodorus is our most comprehensive source. According to him, Ptolemy went to Egypt without an army but with friends who were experienced officers. He also hired mercenaries with 8,000 talents he took from the Egyptian treasury (Diodorus 18.14.1). Two lucky events gave Ptolemy, still satrap, an opportunity to increase the number of his soldiers. First, his conquest of Cyrenaica in 322/1 BC with land and naval forces allowed him to hire Cyrenean soldiers (Diodorus 18.21.7-9). Ptolemy probably expanded his fleet by seizing ships abandoned by Thibron, the Macedonian commander vanquished in Cyrene, and by building new ones thanks to treaties with dynasts in Cyprus (320 BC). He also had access to building material as a consequence of his brief occupation of Coele-Syria (319/18-314 BC). Second, in 320 BC a large number of invading troops led by Perdiccas joined the Ptolemaic army, either expecting a better deal from Ptolemy or because they were left with no employer at Perdiccas’ death (Diodorus 18.21.7-9, 18.33-6). In addition, Ptolemy probably took over a few elephants with their mahouts.

A few years later, in 315 BC, Ptolemy was able to send 13,000 mercenaries and 100 ships to Cyprus and later to Caria, while keeping an army in Palestine (Diodorus 19.62.3-4). These mercenaries must have fought with Ptolemy at the Battle of Gaza (312 BC) along with newly hired mercenaries and armed Egyptians, for a total of 22,000 men including 18,000 infantry and 4,000 cavalry (Diodorus 19.80.4). This victory gave Ptolemy forty-three elephants and 8,000 prisoners, mainly mercenary infantry, whom he settled in the Egyptian nomes (Diodorus 19.84.1-4, 85.3; Plutarch, Demetrius 5; Justin, Epitome 15.1). Even if Ptolemy acquired some of Antigonus’ soldiers in the years that followed, Demetrius’ defeat on land of Ptolemy’s brother in Cyprus, where Ptolemy had 12,000 infantry and about 800 cavalry in garrison, led to the loss of a third of them (Diodorus 20.47.3). Even worse was Ptolemy’s naval defeat in 306 BC at Salamis of Cyprus, where Demetrius captured 8,000 infantry on supply ships, along with forty warships, while eighty of Ptolemy’s warships were disabled.

On the strength of the naval forces and the discrepancies between the ancient authors and within Diodorus’ account (20.46.5-47.4; 47.7-52), see Hauben (1976): Ptolemy’s fleet consisted of 200-210 warships (no larger than quinqueremes) and 200 transport vessels carrying at least 10,000 men; Demetrius’ fleet consisted of 180-190 warships, but was qualitatively better with the heptereis and hexereis that Ptolemy II lacked, which had large decks with arrow- and stone-shooting catapults.

Ptolemy had to abandon Cyprus and Coele-Syria to Antigonus and lost a total of 16,000 infantry and 600 cavalry (Diodorus 53.1), plausibly half his army. Despite this defeat, his soldiers proclaimed Ptolemy king in response to Antigonus’ assumption of that title (Plutarch, Demetrius 18.1; Appian, Syrian Wars 54; Justin, Epitome 15.2.11), and in 305 BC he was able to defend the Egyptian border by using small nilotic ships maneuverable in the Delta, but also by attracting some of Antigonus’ soldiers with money (Diodorus 20.75.1-3, 76.7; Plutarch, Demetrius 19.1-3; Pausanias 1.6.6).

These episodes show that money was central to the survival of what was about to become the Ptolemaic dynasty and to the organization of its army. The events of 305 BC were probably the last opportunity to hire large numbers of Macedonians or Thracian soldiers. In the third century the foreigners joining the Ptolemaic army were voluntary, independent immigrants, groups of soldiers hired for or during specific events, and the descendants of these original soldiers. An army of 30,000-40,000 soldiers and 100 warships, all ethnic groups included, for the entire realm at that time, is a plausible estimate on the basis of the numbers noted above and the description of the Battle of Raphia in 217 BC. Intense international warfare remained the norm in the decades that followed and during the second generation of Successors. Ptolemy I’s main rivals were Antigonus and Demetrius; theirsuccessors, the Antigonids, remained Ptolemy II’s principal opponents onsea. Ptolemy I took oversome cities in Lycia and Caria but was stopped in Halicarnassus by Demetrius and had difficulty maintaining his garrisons in Greece: by 303 BC he had lost Corinth, Sicyon and Megara (Diodorus 20.37.1-2; Diogenes Laertius 2.115). But Ptolemy had become Rhodes’ devoted ally during the siege of the city by Demetrius in 305/4 BC, by providing at least 2,000 soldiers and food supplies (Diodorus 20.88.9, 94, 96.1, 98.1). During the Fourth War of the Successors (303-301 BC), he secured Coele-Syria but did not fight with the other Successors at the final battle against Demetrius at Ipsus. Seleucus did not formally renounce the rights he enjoyed to this region thanks to his military participation at Ipsus but neither, because Ptolemy was a friend and ally, did he ask him to leave it (Diodorus 21.1.5). This ambiguous status was the cause of the numerous Syrian Wars between the Ptolemies and the Seleucids in the third and second centuries BC. The region was essential to Egypt as a buffer zone, a platform for trade and a prosperous region to tax. Ptolemy returned to Egypt with Jews whom he garrisoned in Egypt, although the figure of 30,000 soldiers given by literary sources is an overestimation. In the 290s BC, while the other kings were attacking Demetrius’ positions, Ptolemy was able to take back Cyprus and to add Lycia and perhaps already Pamphylia, as well as Sidon and Tyre to his external possessions (295/4 BC). Since his defeat at Salamis he had built up his fleet again to at least 150 warships, which he sent the same year to defend Athens – unsuccessfully – against Demetrius (Plutarch, Demetrius 33-4). In 287 BC Ptolemy supported a rebellion against his rival with 1,000 soldiers dispatched from his bases in Andros and led by the Athenian Callias but ultimately opted for a peace treaty with Demetrius. Without winning any major naval battles, Ptolemy I had established a network of fortified bases in the Aegean and provided solid ground for a Ptolemaic thalassocracy. It is likely that he acquired Demetrius’ warships in Ephesus, but Lysimachus, who probably seized Demetrius’ fleet at Pella, was still a serious rival at sea.

Ptolemy II (285-246 BC): the challenge of a thalassocracy

After the death of Demetrius and that of Lysimachus in 281 BC, Ptolemy II had the most powerful fleet in the Mediterranean. It is in this context that he founded the League of the Islanders and became its first president, as has recently been argued by Andrew Meadow, who rejects the idea that the League was an Antigonid foundation of the late fourth century BC. Modern historians refer to the three decades that follow as the Ptolemaic thalassocracy. Ptolemy’s garrisons and fleet dominated the Aegean, but the low level of military engagement of the fleet and the quasi-absence of naval victories over Ptolemy’s main rival, the new king of Macedonia, Antigonus II Gonatas (283-239 BC), remained partly an obstacle to total control of the Eastern Mediterranean and the consolidation of an empire. Ptolemy’s expansion at the beginning of his reign against his rivals in Anatolia, during and after the Syrian War of Succession (280/79 BC), is visible in the epigraphic sources, and its precise development continues to be refined by new material. This success was valuable for consolidating Ptolemy II’s influence early on. He took the opportunity to display his power and wealth publicly by organizing a Greek festival, the Ptolemaia, in honour of his deified father. The delegates of the League of the Islanders met on Samos, a new Ptolemaic possession, to “[vote] that the contest should be equal in rank with the Olympic Games” and to send sacred envoys. The Ptolemaia took place every four years and attracted many visitors between 279/8 BC and at least 233/2 BC. A description of the Grand Procession is preserved in Athenaeus’ Deipnosophists (5.197c-203e) drawing on Callixeinus of Rhodes’ account, perhaps written a century after the fact. Which occurrence of the Ptolemaia this description represents is unclear. The most widely accepted dates are 279/8 BC, the first Ptolemaia, immediately after the Syrian War of Succession, or 275/4 BC, when Ptolemy II was preparing his troops for the First Syrian War (274-271 BC) after the failed attempt by Magas king of Cyrene to march on Alexandria. But it is unnecessary to connect this description with a military expedition, and the Cyrenean episode was not particularly remarkable: Magas had to cut his assault short because the Libyan tribes rebelled, and Ptolemy did not pursue the Cyrenean army because he had to suppress a revolt by his 4,000 Celtic mercenaries. In any case, Callixeinus reports 57,600 infantry and 23,200 cavalry in the procession, and other units were not present.

Rice, in her study of the Grand Procession, accepts these numbers as representing some percentage of the total army, because Callixeinus had access to official records for his account. In addition, she regards Appian’s very high numbers of troops as referring to men from the garrisons in Alexandria and the Delta and from nearby cleruchies: 200,000 infantry, 40,000 cavalry, 300 war elephants, 2,000 armed chariots, and arms in reserve for 300,000 more soldiers (Praef. 10). Thompson is far more cautious, suggesting that the entire army perhaps consisted of about 100,000 soldiers. Even before her, many scholars had questioned the numbers given by Appian and Callixeinus because the size of the army reported in 305 BC and in 217 BC at Raphia does not correlate with these accounts. Appian supposedly relied on the Royal Records (Basilikai Anagraphai) and Callixeinus on official records, but numbers are often dubious in ancient historians’ accounts. In both cases, for example, the figures for the cavalry are unrealistically high for Hellenistic armies, which usually had a cavalry/infantry ratio of one to ten. If Callixeinus’ total approximates the number of soldiers in the entire army, it probably exaggerates the number of cavalry as well as the number of men present at the Grand Procession. Even with lower numbers, the propagandistic effect of thousands of soldiers on parade remains fundamental, and the event was a clear demonstration of strength, which the ancient writers augmented.

Both Callixeinus and Appian also describe Ptolemy II’s naval forces, emphasizing that he had the most powerful navy in the Mediterranean, whether at the beginning of his reign (Callixeinus) or the end (Appian).They are more specific than Theocritus’ praise of Ptolemy II (Idyll 17, esp. 86-94). Appian’s enumeration follows his description of the land army and precedes his report of the size of the state treasury, 740,000 Egyptian talents, which is a significant juxtaposition: 2,000 transports (kontota) and other smaller ships, 1,500 galleys (triereis), galley furniture for 3,000, and 800 vessels (thalamega). These numbers are certainly exaggerated, as also for the land army.

By contrast, Callixeinus’ description of the Grand Procession includes 112 warships, 224ships, and 4,000ships for controlling the islands (numbers calculated on the basis of Athenaeus 5.203d). In total, there were 336 warships, one third of these being quinqueremes or larger ships, whose decks allowed for more catapults and marines. The bulk of the fleet still consisted of triremes. This description, however, indicates maximal capacity rather than actual numbers.

Military naval activity was concentrated in the Mediterranean, but the Ptolemaic navy was also active on the Nile and in the Red Sea toward the Indian Ocean. In the latter two regions it served as a police force whose mission was to protect trade, notably commerce in gold and ivory, and to facilitate the transport of elephants captured in the south for military purposes from 270 BC until the late third century BC. Troops were also transported on the Nile, as during the Nubian expedition organized around 275 BC, when Ptolemy II secured the Dodekaschoinos (the approximately 75-mile stretch south of the First Cataract) and perhaps even a larger share of the Kushite kingdom. Ptolemy II’s achievements in Nubia and along the Red Sea were remarkable. But his goals in these regions were in large part driven by his military needs in the Mediterranean. A survey of military engagements there allows us to assess the degree of Ptolemaic supremacy during the thalassocracy. The First Syrian War (274-271 BC) began with an attack on Seleucid Syria by the Ptolemaic army but turned into a threat of invasion of Egypt by sea and land by Antiochus I (Theocritus, Idyll 17.98-101), whose army included twenty Bactrian elephants. Ptolemy II and his sister-wife Arsinoe II went to the border to organize their troops (Pithom Stele, ll. 15-16), but Antiochus soon renounced the attack because of troubles in Babylonia. In fact, the outcome of the war – no details of the engagements are preserved – was a continuation of the status quo but was celebrated as a victory at the Ptolemaia of 271/0 BC, as is clear from Theocritus’ Idyll 17, composed for the occasion.

Ptolemy II turned to his other rival, Antigonus II, and tried to erode his naval power in the Aegean by making an alliance with Athens and Sparta in the name of Panhellenic freedom. In response, Antigonus attacked Attica in 267 BC, starting a war known as the Chremonidean War (267-261 BC) after the Athenian Chremonides, whose decree before the Athenian assembly sealed the alliance with Ptolemy and Sparta. Ptolemy sent a fleet led by his Macedonian admiral Patroclus with Egyptians on board who, according to Pausanias, were supposed to attack Macedonian soldiers on land from the rear only once the Spartans started the assault (Pausanias 3.6.4-6). But King Areus of Sparta found the situation too risky and returned home. Ultimately Athens had to capitulate and Macedonian garrisons were established in the Piraeus and on the hill of the Museion. Why the instigator of the war, Ptolemy II, apparently contributed so little to it has accordingly been debated at length. Archaeological evidence shows that Patroclus’ troops set foot in Attica and on the nearby islands of Keos and Methana and were thus more actively engaged than Pausanias claims. Above all, Patroclus’ fleet established a network of Ptolemaic garrisons in the Aegean, notably in Hydrea, Thera and Itanos in Crete. From the Ptolemaic point of view, the war was rather successful, whereas Patroclus’ expedition is often used as an example of the lower quality of Egyptian soldiers in contrast to Greeks and Macedonians. But Pausanias’ description makes it clear that the troops were not hoplites but marines or infantry on ships (nautai), who were not supposed to fight against a Macedonian phalanx on land. This suggests that Ptolemy did not intend a major military engagement on land at this stage and was hoping for a minimum of actual fighting, as was probably the case in the establishment of his garrisons. Either Ptolemy II was generally uninterested in military involvement and his only concern was to protect Egypt – one explanation put forward in this debate – or he was instead a fine strategist: he decided to let the others fight, so as to weaken his main rival first while securing proper bases from which to launch further attacks if opportunity presented itself.

Around the same time an army led by Ptolemy “the son” was consolidating Ptolemaic influence in Asia Minor, Miletus, Ephesus and perhaps Lesbos, events that no doubt triggered the Second Syrian War against Antiochus (260-253 BC). In this context Antigonus, who supported Antiochus, defeated the Ptolemaic fleet commanded by Patroclus at Cos (Plutarch, Moralia 182, 545b; Athenaeus 5.209e; 8.334a), either in 262 BC or around 255 BC; in 255 BC or perhaps 258 BC, the Rhodians won the Battle of Ephesus against the Ptolemaic fleet, this time led by Chremonides. But according to Walbank there is no clear evidence that Ptolemy lost control of the sea after the Battle of Cos. Delos, however, was now Antigonid – as Andros too would be by the end of the 250s (Plutarch, Aratus 12.2). Ptolemy was no longer leading the League of the Islanders, which soon dissolved, and he lost important cities in Asia Minor such as Miletus, Samos and Ephesus to Antiochus. Ptolemy II also lost territory in Cilicia and Pamphylia but proved a skilled diplomat, by sealing the peace treaty with the marriage of his daughter Berenice to Antiochus II. Ptolemy II was also able to consolidate his presence in the Black Sea by supporting Byzantium against the Seleucids and their allies in 254 BC. His influence expanded as far as Crimea, where a fresco with a galley, probably a five (penteres), with the word ISIS engraved on it was found in Nymphaeum. After the war Ptolemy II also settled a large number of soldiers in Egypt by granting them cleruchic land in exchange for military service, which suggests that it was becoming Ptolemaic strategy to demobilize and decrease the cost of the land army. Ptolemy II’s visit to Memphis can be connected with the distribution of land in the Fayyum. Around 250 BC, the Ptolemaic fleet was finally able to defeat Antigonus, according to Aristeas Judaeus (180-1) and Josephus (Antiquitates Judaicae [AJ] 12.93). We have no idea where the battle took place, assuming that it really happened. Finally, during the last years of his reign, Ptolemy began to support the Achaean League financially and was able to maintain some influence in the Cyclades, notably through the garrison on Thera, which was still in place under Ptolemy VI.

If by “Ptolemaic thalassocracy” one means a strong network of garrisons in the Aegean with a large fleet freely navigating between them, its peak can be situated in the 270s and its decline in the 250s, as is traditionally assumed, or even later. If the term also implies the ability to defeat rival fleets in naval battle, it is misleading. Even if the fleet was not as large as Appian claims, but rather of the size given by Callixeinus, one wonders why Ptolemy’s admirals were unable to defeat Antigonus at Cos. As nothing is known about the battle, we can only hypothesize about causes. But such a major defeat and the material loss it implies easily explain why the fleet was unable to stand against another enemy, the Rhodians, especially if the two battles took place in the same year. At least four criteria can be put forward to evaluate Ptolemaic naval capacity: (1) the material quality of the fleet, including the number and type of warships; (2) the crews and marines; (3) the skills and experience of the captains and admirals; and (4) luck. The only encounter for which we have a description of the Ptolemaic fleet is the Battle of Salamis in 306 BC, where Ptolemy I’s fleet was numerically inferior. In addition, he lacked the heptereis and hexereis that made Demetrius’ fleet qualitatively better; but by Ptolemy II’s time these issues were resolved, notably because Phoenicia, the source of the heptereis, was part of Ptolemaic territory. An anecdote reported three times by Plutarch about Antigonus indicates that the fleet of Ptolemy II or Ptolemy III outnumbered the Antigonid ships at the Battle of Cos (Plutarch, Moralia 545b) or Andros (Pelopidas 2.2), or at both (Moralia 182). In addition, innovations in naval tactics were readily available from engineers in Alexandria, as the Compendium of Mechanics of Philo attests. The experience of the crew, from oarsmen and marines to the helmsman and captain of a ship, was essential, and in times of international competition it was also costly. But Ptolemy II was certainly not inferior to Antigonus in terms of economic power. Both used ships with local crews, meaning that the Ptolemies employed Greeks, Phoenicians and Egyptians, whose functions were not limited to serving as oarsmen. The skills and loyalty of the marines and the captain were also essential. The only evidence for the ethnicity of the fighting troops on Ptolemaic ships concerns Patroclus’ fleet during the Chremonidean War and suggests that they were Egyptian. Van ‘t Dack and Hauben have proposed that the Ptolemies imitated the Persian model by adding a small number of nonEgyptian marines to each ship (Herodotus 7.96 and 184). They also suggest that the Ptolemaic fleet failed in naval battle because a large share of its crews and marines were of Egyptian origin. But the contribution of Egyptian soldiers to the establishment of garrisons during the Chremonidean War does not suggest that Egyptian marines were unskilled. The only evidence to assess the quality of Ptolemaic marines and sailors goes back to the capture of Ptolemy I’s forty warships at Salamis (Diodorus 20.52.6), where they surrendered without a long fight. Either the ships were so damaged that they could not escape, or they were defeated quickly. In any case, they were probably in an unfavorable position, because Demetrius’ larger ships carried more marines, making it easier to board ships that carried fewer. The third plausible reason for failure was the quality of the high command and the skills of many captains and helmsmen. Ptolemy II employed a Macedonian, Patroclus, as admiral of the fleet, and thereafter an Athenian, Chremonides, whereas Ptolemy I was commanding in person – still with no success. But as communication between ships was a general weakness of ancient naval warfare, the outcome depended in the end on the tactical and navigational skills of captains and helmsmen. In terms of ethnicity, these positions were mostly given to Greeks. The lack of detailed sources prevents us from asserting that Ptolemy’s commanders were on average less skilled than their opponents, but this might have been a factor in his failure. Finally, luck can be important, when an external factor such as a storm destroys part of a fleet before battle, although no such event is reported concerning the Ptolemaic fleet.

In conclusion, even if the reason for Ptolemy II’s failure in naval battle cannot be precisely determined, it was not caused by the use of Egyptians in his fleet. It appears that Ptolemy II’s successful strategy of establishing naval forces would have allowed him to truly dominate the Aegean, had he been able to defeat his main opponents at sea. His overall strategy – in continuity with his father’s policy – leaves open the possibility that Ptolemy II hoped to expand his empire further. This might be confirmed by Ptolemy III’s military undertakings at the beginning of his reign.


Because the latest U. S. and Japanese battleships already mounted 16-inch guns, the Washington Treaty permitted the British to construct two capital ships, Nelson and Rodney, the only battleships in any navy designed and completed during the 1920s, and the only Royal Navy battleships ever to mount 16-inch guns. These were strange-looking warships, mounting all main guns forward to consolidate armor and thus keep under the treaty’s tonnage limits. (The British referred to them facetiously as “cherry trees . . . cut down by Washington”).

Career Highlights

Nelson was fleet flagship from 1927 to 1940. Nelson ran aground on the Hamilton shoal when leaving Portsmouth on 12 January 1934. There was no damage done and the ship was refloated on the next high tide, but the press had a field day with the Nelson-Hamilton connection. Both ships attended the Jubilee Review at Spithead in July 1935 and Coronation Review in May 1937.


On 30 October Nelson was hit by three dud torpedoes fired by U 56. On 4 December Nelson detonated a magnetic mine while entering the anchorage at Loch Ewe. The explosion was under the forecastle on the starboard side and the ship whipped two or three times. A hole 10ft by 6ft was torn in the starboard side and the side plating was dished in up to 4ft over a length of 70ft. A total of seven compartments were flooded and the double bottom fuel tanks leaked fuel into `A’ turret’s magazine. There was minor damage all over the ship due to the whipping, but no fatalities. Full repairs in Portsmouth would take until August 1940.


In August Rodney had a brief refit at Rosyth and remained there to counter the threat of German invasion. Nelson joined Rodney at Rosyth on invasion watch in September. Both ships returned to Scapa Flow in early November.


Nelson participated in Operation `Claymore’, the commando raid on the Norwegian Lofoten Islands from 2 to 6 March. She was then assigned as ocean escort to convoy WS7, a troop convoy heading to the Middle East. Nelson sailed on 13 May from Capetown in company with the aircraft carrier Eagle for return to the UK. On the night of 18 May the crew of the German raider Atlantis lying blacked-out and motionless south of St Helena were horrified to see Nelson and Eagle come over the southern horizon straight at them. Eagle passed so close that her wake was clearly visible. The two British ships did not see the raider.


In July 1941 Nelson was assigned to Gibraltar as flagship of Force `H’. Rodney joined her on 24 September after completing post-refit trials off Bermuda. Both ships sailed that day for Operation `Halberd’, a Malta convoy mission in company with Ark Royal and Prince of Wales. On 27 September an air attack developed with Nelson as the main target and at 13:25 she was hit by a torpedo forward on the port side. The damage inflicted was considerable as the hit was forward of the armoured citadel and the torpedo protection. A hole 30ft by 15ft was torn in the port side just forward of `A’ turret at platform deck level. The main hull frames and deck beams behind the hole were completely destroyed and some 3700 tons of water entered the ship, increasing her draught forward by 9ft. The main guns could still be used in an emergency, speed being kept down to 15 knots to reduce the strain on the damaged areas. There were no personnel casualties.

Admiral Cunningham signalled to Admiral Somerville aboard the Nelson: `Please accept a pat on the back to compensate for the smack in the belly with a wet fish’ to which Somerville replied `Thank you, but a kick below the belt doesn’t mean much at my age.’ Nelson returned to Rosyth on 16 October. She would be out of action for five months.


Both ships participated as close escort for Malta convoy Operation `Pedestal’ in August. The convoy and escort came under heavy air attack on 12 August as it approached the Sicilian Narrows.


On 31 August both ships bombarded the Reggio area at the `toe’ of Italy to cover the Allied invasion across the Straits of Messina. It was judged a great success, with Rodney scoring a direct hit on an ammunition dump with appropriately spectacular results. On 9 and 10 September as part of Force `H’ both ships were on patrol in the Tyrrhenian Sea as Support Force for Operation `Avalanche’, the invasion of Italy at Salerno. The force was under heavy air attack for the two days; this time it was Nelson using her 16in guns in barrage mode to deter torpedo bombers. On 12 September Force `H’ returned to Malta where the surrendered Italian fleet was now riding at anchor. The Italian surrender documents were signed aboard Nelson during a ceremony on 29 September. Both ships sailed for home on 29 October, Rodney suffering more steering problems on the voyage. Nelson returned directly to Rosyth on 7 November for refit while Rodney returned to Greenock where her mechanical state was assessed and found to be `poor’.


Both ships participated in Operation `Overlord’. Off Juno Beach on 7 June Rodney carried out a shoot against the 12th SS Panzer division, firing 132 16in shells. On the following day it was another bombardment of the 12th SS Panzer and on 9 June she took on the Houlgate battery and more German troop concentrations in the Caen region. From 11 to 17 June Nelson bombarded the Houlgate battery and troop concentrations at Noyers and Le Havre. On 18 June she detonated two acoustic ground mines. One of the mines exploded 50yds off the starboard beam abreast the bridge; the other went off forward under the hull. The outer bottom plating was corrugated from `A’ turret to the fore end of the forward engine room, several double bottom tanks were flooded and there were leaks in the double bottom fuel tanks. Major flooding was limited to one compartment forward of `A’ turret, with slow flooding in others. There was extensive but minor shock damage to electrical equipment and the gun directors. There was no damage to the armament or to the machinery and there were no personnel casualties.

The mines were later calculated to have contained 1500-pound charges, twice what the ship had been designed to resist. It is a testament to the nature of her defensive systems that damage was so limited. Just four days later she was bound for Philadelphia for complete repairs to her hull that would take the rest of the year.


Nelson finished refit in Philadelphia on 14 January and was assigned to the Eastern Fleet. On 19 July she sailed from Trincomalee on her last mission of the war, Operation `Livery’, covering a minesweeping effort off the Malaysian island of Phuket. She was at Trincomalee when VJ-Day was celebrated on 15 August. At Penang on 3 September senior Japanese officers came aboard to formally surrender all troops in the area, the surrender document being signed at the same table used for the Italian surrender in 1943. She then sailed for Singapore where she was present at the surrender of all Japanese forces in SE Asia on 12 September. She arrived at Portsmouth on 17 November to relieve Rodney as Home Fleet flagship.


Nelson remained as part of the active fleet until April 1946 when she was transferred to the training squadron. Nelson was placed in reserve in October 1947 and allocated for disposal in May 1948.


During the period 1919 to 1921, a considerable number of alternative capital ship designs, embodying 1914-18 experience, especially the lessons of Jutland and the recommendations of the Post-War Questions Committee, were prepared and considered by the Admiralty, and in 1921, when the large programme in hand in the USA and Japan necessitated a resumption of British capital ship construction, a battlecruiser type of 47,540 tons was chosen. The latest ship to complement the Royal Navy’s fleet at that time (1920) was the large battlecruiser Hood, and although she had been constructed without regard to the many lessons learnt at Jutland, her general design and layout was naturally followed (`K’, `K2′ and `K3′).

Following these sketch designs, there was a serious investigation into the construction of one of the largest and most powerful battleships built to date (`13′), but although it reached sketch stage and gained some Board approval, the Constructor’s department saw it as far too large and radical at that time. In 1920, however, the NID informed their Lordships that both Japan and the USA would probably construct vessels of about 48,000 tons armed with 18in guns in the near future, and it was reluctantly agreed that the Royal Navy would have to follow suit to meet any threat. It was realized, however, that ships of such a size would introduce severe problems not only for designers, but in docking accommodation as well.

During the next few months various designs were prepared for both battleships and battlecruisers, but unfortunately most of the information (ship’s covers) concerning the battleships has been mislaid, only the battlecruiser layouts being available (variations of `K’, `L’, `M’ and `N’ Designs were shown). In December 1920 it was decided that the sketches `G3′ and `H3′ (battlecruisers) should be investigated further, but with modifications on `G3′ so as to include extra armour protection to the deck area. After viewing the modified `G3′ layout, the Board accepted it in principle and in February 1921 asked for confirmation and further preparation on four ships of such a calibre. The DNC (d’Eyncourt) particularly approved of the modified G3 and wrote to the First Sea Lord on 23 March 1921 pointing out the salient features:

The main armament consists of nine 16in guns in three turrets with 40 degrees elevation. Two pairs forward and one amidships. The latter cannot fire right astern.

War experience, and our recently acquired knowledge of German and United States turrets have been carefully considered in connection with the main armament; the protection and flashtightness is very complete.

Secondary armament consists of sixteen 6in in eight turrets, arranged so that supply from magazines and shell rooms is very direct, but is provided with breaks and other safeguards to prevent flash passing down into magazines. AA consists of six 4.7in high-angle guns, and mountings embody the latest highangle ideas as recommenced by Naval High Angle Gunnery Committee.

Armament controls are a special feature. An erection forward supports the main director control tower, two secondary directors and the high-angle directors, and calculating positions are free from any smoke interference. Aeroplane hangars may be considered as a permanent feature but a decision is pending.

Main armament has been concentrated in the centre of the ship in order that the heavy horizontal and vertical armour required to protect it may be a minimum, and also that the magazines may be placed in the widest part of the ship, and the underwater protection be the best that can be afforded. Over this central citadel a 14in belt is arranged, and resting on the belt is a deck of 8in on the flat and 9in on the slopes. These thicknesses and angles have been carefully calculated after consideration to oblique attack results with the latest type of shell. Abaft the central citadel a sloping 12in belt and 4in deck are provided over machinery spaces.

The belt extends over the aft 6in magazine, and here the deck is increased to 7in. Abaft the citadel a thick deck of 5in is provided over the steering gear.

Barbettes are 14in and turrets and 17in on the face with 8in roofs.

Underwater experience is based on Chatham Float tests and embodies the principle of the bulge as fitted to the Hood. The side underwater protection is designed to withstand a charge of 750lb of explosive.

Protection against mines is afforded by a double-bottom of 7ft deep.

By sloping the main belt outwards, not only is the virtual thickness increased, but protection is provided against attack by distant-controlled boats containing large explosives. In order that the stability of the vessel may be adequate, the triangular space between side and armour will be filled with light tubes. Calculations show that the whole of this structure would have to be completely blown away before the ship would lose stability.

Although never wanting ships with such mastodon proportions, on accepting the `G3′ design and the battleship version `N3′, the Royal Navy had accomplished what it set out to do, and that was completely to outclass any foreign opposition for at least five years ahead. The design was far ahead of its time and showed features which even matched the Japanese giants of the Yamato class constructed in 1941. Indeed, it may be that the `G3′ plans were carefully considered by the Japanese when their two ships were under construction because they certainly reflected many qualities of the early 1921 British design.

With all major maritime powers building along the same lines it was only too obvious that it would be but a matter of time before the design was overshadowed by a vessel grossly out of proportion to requirements, with everyone else being forced to follow. The political implications were too complex to be discussed here, but the result ended in a Naval treaty called for by the USA and it would include Great Britain, Japan, Italy and France. An agreement was reached whereby there would be a battleship holiday for the next ten years. New ships could only be constructed after existing ships had reached the age of 20 years, and new construction was limited to 35,000 tons and calibres reduced to 16in guns rather than the 18in being prepared at that time. Dozens of older (in Britain’s case not so old) battleships went to the scrapyard.

Contracts for the British `G3′ class (four) had been under way for some time and when in February 1922 letters had to be sent out to the four yards involved, stating that the ships were cancelled, it came as a bitter blow to an already flagging industry during the depression.

To offset the retention of the West Virginia and Nagato classes by the United States and Japan respectively, which had been too far advanced to scrap, Great Britain authorized under the Treaty two new designs to comply with the severe limitations that had been imposed on construction.

As early as November 1921, when it became probable that the four `G3′ group vessels were to be scrapped, the Constructor’s Department was asked to prepare fresh layouts within the limits of the treaty, but was asked to include any of the G3’s features where possible. The first three sketches (`F1′, `F2′, `F3′) featured 15in guns because the department thought that no suitable 16in-gunned design could be acquired on such a limited displacement, but it would appear that the designs received little consideration because both the USA and Japan now had 16in-gunned battleships (see tables). In January 1922 further proposals were forwarded showing a reduced edition of the `G3′ but retaining many of its qualities (`O3′, `P3′ and `Q3′) with a speed of 23 knots.

The Controller asked for the designs to be fully worked out, and it was proposed to Constructor E. L. Attwood that dimensions be 710ft by 102ft (waterline) by 30ft, and that SHP sufficient to reach 23/24 knots would be needed. The main armament would be the same as in the `G3’s (16in), but armour plating would be severely thinned down from that design. In order that the legend weight, as defined by the Washington Treaty, should come within the 35,000 tons limit, the utmost economy was called for, and no Board margin was possible for any weights added during construction. In September 1922 the final design was accepted (modified `03′) and it embodied all the essential features demanded:

1. High freeboard and good seakeeping qualities, these being regarded as essential.

2. Armament as in the cancelled battlecruisers (`G3′).

3. Armouring generally similar to that of the battlecruisers, and concentrated over magazines, machinery and gun positions on the `all or nothing’ principle.

4. Speed equal to or higher than contemporary foreign battleships.

Although having the same main armament and turret arrangement as the cancelled battlecruisers (whose guns and mounts were utilized to a certain extent) and resembling them in certain outward characteristics, Nelson and Rodney were in no sense merely a reduced edition of those ships, but constituted an entirely distinct `battleship’ type, representing the nearest approach that could be obtained, within the limits, to the 48,000- ton plan previously proposed. The battlecruiser design was stated to have constituted a reply to Naval Staff Requirements for an `ideal battlecruiser’; Nelson and Rodney, on the other hand, represented the best that could be done, within treaty limitations, towards meeting the demand for an `ideal battleship’.

The influence of the Treaty restrictions on the new ships was considerable, as it was necessary, for the first time, to work to an absolute displacement limit which could not be exceeded, but which had to be approached as closely as possible in order to secure maximum value. The history of these two ships, then, is a complex one, but when laid out in tabular form it seems straightforward:

1. At the conclusion of the 1914-18 war, investigations were conducted into capital ship design to incorporate the lessons learnt at Jutland in particular.

2. Battlecruiser design with legend displacement of 48,000 tons was approved by the Board of Admiralty on 12 August 1921.

3. Orders were placed for four ships on 26 October 1921, but cancelled on 13 February 1922 under Washington Naval Treaty’s directive not to exceed 35,000 tons.

4. Investigations into designs for a 35,000-ton battleship resulted in sketch `03′ (modified) being accepted by the Board, and became Nelson and Rodney.

5. The Washington Treaty’s 35,000-ton limit led to development of better quality steel.

6. No further capital ships to be built from 12 November 1921 except Nelson and Rodney.

7. General armour and protection affected (reduction from `G3′) to save weight.

8. The armour citadel was 384ft by 14in abreast 16in magazines, sloped at 70° and was so arranged inside the hull that the slope produced downwards did not meet protection bulkheads. Each belt of armour was keyed, and individual plates were made as large as possible with heavy bars fitted behind the butts. Chock castings housing the lower edge of armour also directed fragments of bursting shells away from the belt.

9: No new construction to be commenced until: United States 1931; Great Britain 1931; France 1927; Japan 1931; Italy 1927[a1] .


With the exception of the 16.25in gun mounted in the Benbow and Sans Pareil classes, completed 1888 and 1891 respectively, Nelson and Rodney were the first and only British battleships to have 16in BL guns in triple-mounted turrets, which made them the most powerfully armed battleships afloat. An experimental mounting had been produced by Messrs Armstrong and Co. and fitted and satisfactorily tested in the monitor Lord Clive in February 1921 in anticipation of their being fitted in the `G3′ group. When the `G3’s were cancelled some £500,000 had been spent on them and it was only natural that the money and results of the tests should be used in the new ships of the Nelson class. Concentration of the entire main armament forward was unique at the time of their building, and allowed a minimum length of armoured citadel with maximum protection to gun positions and magazines, while the close grouping of the turrets incidentally facilitated fire control. These advantages were considered to outweigh the loss of tactical efficiency caused by the absence of direct astern fire which at first was a much criticized feature; the design, in this respect, subordinating tactical principles to severe pressures in constructional requirements and weight saving. The arrangement was not repeated after the Nelson pair, although it was later adopted by the French Navy in the Dunkerque and Richelieu classes (laid down 1932-7 respectively). Although no direct astern fire was provided, the superstructure was cut away and so arranged as to allow `A’ and `B’ turrets rather large nominal arcs of fire, bearing respectively to within 31° and 15° of the axial line astern.

The 16in gun was a high-velocity/lighter shell weapon, but tests after completion showed that it was much inferior to the low-velocity/heavy shell 15in gun which had proved itself an excellent piece during the Great War. Nevertheless, the heavier weight of broadside did have its compensations (6,790lb heavier than in Queen Elizabeth) and was not equalled until 1941 when the US North Carolina entered service with a similar armament.

Magazines and shell rooms were grouped together around the revolving hoists, and the boilers were located abaft instead of before the engine rooms so that the uptakes and funnel arrangement could be placed further aft, with a view to minimizing smoke interference to the control positions on top of the bridge structure. She was an improvement over previous designs, but, as completed, the funnel proved to be too short, being appreciably lower than the massive tower and its controls, especially steaming head to wind when the tower produced considerable backdraught and the funnel gases caused severe discomfort.

On trials, and during gunnery tests, it was found that when the guns were fired at considerable angles abaft the beam, the structure and personnel were affected by blast. In particular, `C’ turret, when fired abaft the beam at full elevation was to cause severe problems, and special measures would be needed when firing at these angles (see Captain’s report, elsewhere). Many officers thought that the blast was too severe, and that the design was a bad one, but when tests were carried out by HMS Excellent during the early gun trials, there was a divergence of opinion.

Gun pressures on the bridge windows were recorded and showed figures of 8½psi when bearing 120 degrees green or red, and it was suggested that bridge personnel might possibly be moved to the conning tower when the guns were firing at these angles. Constructor H. S. Pengelly was aboard Rodney on 16 September 1927 and had this to say when making his report for their Lordships:

During the firing of `X’ and `B’ abaft the beam, I remained on the middle line at the after end of the Admiral’s platform. The firing from `B’ was not uncomfortable, but there was considerable shock when `X’ fired at 130 degrees or slightly less, but at 40 degrees of elevation. The shock was aggravated by one not knowing when to expect fire, but apart from this point, it is understood that the blast recorded at the slots on the Admiral’s platform were about 9lb psi and on the Captain’s platform about 11lb psi. It was noted that 10 degrees more bearing aft made all the difference to the effect experienced on the bridge.

The bridge structure was, in itself, entirely satisfactory, and I was informed by the officers occupying the main DCT forward, that this position was extremely satisfactory, and they would have been ready, throughout the whole of the firing, to fire again in 8 to 10

The only damage was on the signal platform – 1 x 18in projector at the fore end – glass smashed, and shutter of another broken.

On the Captain’s bridge, four windows broken, a few voice pipes loose. On Admiral’s bridge, four windows broken. Number of electric lights put out of action. General damage was little, and the extra stiffening inboard after Nelson’s gun trials appear to have functioned well.

They were the first British battleships to carry anti-torpedo guns in turrets, which afforded, in addition to the better protective area for gun crews, substantially wider horizontal and vertical arcs of fire than the battery system of the preceding classes. On the protection side, however, the secondary armament failed miserably because of the restricted weights allowed in the ships, and the whole of the secondary armament – turrets and barbettes – were practically unarmoured, with nothing more than 1in high-tensile steel all over as a form of splinter shield.

The turrets were arranged in two compact groups, governed by the same considerations of concentration to allow magazine grouping, as had been the case with the main armament. There was some criticism of the close grouping because a single hit might put the entire battery out of action on any one side. They were located as far aft as practicable so as to minimize blast effect from the after 16in guns when firing abaft the beam. Their higher command (about 23ft against 19ft) meant that the fighting efficiency of these guns in moderate or rough weather was materially better than that of the Queen Elizabeth and Royal Sovereign classes, an advantage that was demonstrated during fleet manoeuvres in March 1934 when units of all three classes operated together in some of the worst weather ever experienced during practical battle tests (the secondary guns of the QE and RS classes were seen to be completely waterlogged and were of no use whatsoever).

The 24.5in torpedo armament was introduced in this class (21in was the largest previously carried) even though there was a body of opinion that expressed a wish to discontinue torpedo tubes in capital ships. The tubes were not trained abeam, but angled forward to within about 10 degrees of the axial line. To eliminate risk of serious flooding, the torpedo compartments were located in a separate flat rather than a single flat as in preceding classes, which was seen a serious fault in those early classes. The torpedo control positions were located on the superstructure close before the funnel.

Given that the design had been restricted in displacement, the armament in general was more than adequate, but the triple mounting of the 16in guns was not viewed favourably in the Constructor’s Department, which preferred twin mountings as in preceding classes – a well-tried and proven set of equipment. The trouble seems to have been the extreme weight of the entire triple mounting (1,500 tons approx.) which bore down too heavily on the flanges of the roller path when the turret was being trained. As a result of this and other small teething problems the guns or turrets never achieved the reputation of the twin mounted 15in gun which, in hindsight, has been considered the best combination that ever went to sea in a battleship. After new vertical rollers had been fitted, and much experimentation on the 16in mountings, things did improve, but they were never troublefree during prolonged firing.



The arrangement of armouring in the `G3’s and Nelson and Rodney embodied the `all or nothing’ principle, introduced for the first time in the Dreadnought era in the US ships Nevada and Oklahoma (laid down 1912).

Protection was concentrated over gun positions, magazines, machinery and boiler spaces, with the entire hull before and after this being completely unarmoured. To allow minimum length of the citadel, and maximum armour thickness, main armament was located forward, the after turret being located exactly amidships. The adoption of this method of application was a radical departure from British practice, but had been grudgingly accepted in order to secure the great freeboard required, good seakeeping qualities, extremely heavy armament and above-average speed on the 35,000-ton Washington Treaty displacement limit while at the same time meeting strict Admiralty requirements for a very thick belt (14in) to protect the main armament forward.

Extremely valuable information about armour protection was gleaned when the ex-German battleship Baden was used as a target for heavy shells on 29 September 1921. Rounds 3, 8 and 14 were of particular interest as they showed what modern AP shells could do, and the vulnerability of turrets protected by only medium armour thickness. The 7in side armour protecting the secondary armament, and that for the main belt lower edge (6_in) proved, in fact, almost valueless. These rounds also showed what AP shells could do against medium armour struck at large or oblique angles and proved how relatively ineffectual the armour was. It had long been recognized that armour plate was of the greatest value when worked in large thick masses. Distribution of medium thicknesses over large areas gave a general impression of protection, but this was, in fact, illusory. This was impressively illustrated by rounds 3, 8 and 14 when fired at the 7in plates of Baden, which were all pierced by 15in shells of armour-piercing quality, at a velocity of 1,380 fps. Not only was the 7in battery armour pierced, but the 7? in armour on the barbettes below the upper deck level was nearly perforated. This would have been accomplished had the range been greater and the shell diving at a steeper angle. The same shells attacking 14in armour under the same conditions would have broken up after considerable damage to the plate, but that thickness would have kept the blast outside.

The policy of the day was to protect any new ship with maximum concentration around vitals and at the maximum thickness that displacement would allow. Horizontal protection requirements were indicated by rounds 2, 4 and 10 which were fired at the unarmoured ends of Baden and resulted in explosions between the decks. In round 10 (CPC) the upper deck was lifted 4ft 6in and 43 feet of it was torn away from the side of the ship. The shell then pierced the main deck and produced a hole 16ft wide by 4ft 6in long and blew that deck 7ft downwards. It was considered that such severe damage in a strength deck would jeopardize the longitudinal strength of a vessel, especially if the vessel received more than one hit in the same area.

Round 6 was fired to test the tongue-type joints adopted by the Germans for their barbettes. The velocity and angle of attack was so arranged that the attacking shell would just fail to perforate and put maximum pressure on the joint. The result was that the strap behind the armoured joint gave way and the joint split; this was exacerbated by the number of bolt holes in the area.

To complete the tests against modern armour, further firing was conducted against the old battleship Superb (Bellerophon class, 1907) on 2 May 1922. Plates were taken from Baden and positioned in Superb to take the blast. A number of 15in shells were then fired at the decks (290lb plates) and side armour (560lb plates) from HMS Terror from a distance of 500 yards. The results were:

1. The armour quality of the plates from Baden stood up to the tests very well.

2. Any electric welding incorporated in the structure broke away.

3. Heavy deck thicknesses of this nature could be supported if necessary.

4. The angle of the 560lb armour was enough to cause the shell to break up on impact, but it was seen that the belt would have to be `keyed’ in properly so as to avoid any damage to the hull proper, or displacement of the armour strakes in question.

The general scheme of armouring in Nelson and Rodney also embodied all the lessons learned during the Great War, especially at Jutland. New improved `D’ type steel with a tensile strength of 37 to 43psi was used for the first time, in place of normal high-tensile steel, on decks and anti-torpedo bulkheads. The main belt was fitted internally for the first time in a British battleship – to secure maximum support to the armour against being driven in bodily by a direct hit, as had occurred in Derfflinger and Lion at Jutland, and it was fitted at an angle of 72 degrees, running away from the waterline at its bottom edge to increase effectiveness against plunging shell fire. The belt was not deep enough, however, and caused great concern among the construction staff. The upper edge of the main strake was supported by a thick armoured deck, but the lower edge rested on an inclined shelf with individual plates `keyed in’ and heavy bars placed behind this. These chock castings which housed the lower edge would also help to direct fragments of a bursting shell upwards and take them away from the lower parts of the ship. The arrangement of internal armouring reduced the armoured water plane, but sufficient resources of buoyancy were available to ensure that the ship would be safe even if the outer hull were opened up by gunfire. The horizontal protection against plunging fire and bombing aircraft was developed to a very high degree, and was considered at the time to be adequate against anything that could be used against the new ships.

The sloping armoured deck behind the main belt, which had been a feature in all British battleships since the Majestic class (1893), was abandoned in Nelson in favour of a flat heavy deck across the top of the main strake and covering the magazines, boiler spaces and machinery. An extension aft, at a slightly lower level, ran across to protect the steering gear. The horizontal armouring was concentrated entirely in these two levels, and they were the thickest individual armoured decks ever fitted in a battleship to that date. Their design also received special attention in view of probable developments in aircraft attack.

All openings for ventilation were reduced to a minimum while special hatches, with operating gear under protection below, were fitted to provide a ready means of escape. Protection to the main armament and magazines was very thorough, special attention having been given to this in view of the high percentage of hits on and around turrets during the war, and the usually disastrous effects of these. Maximum armour thicknesses on barbettes and turrets were respectively 5in and 3in more than in the Queen Elizabeth and Royal Sovereign classes. The turrets were a new, low design with a flat crown to deflect projectiles falling at a steep angle, and reportedly they afforded a high degree of protection. Anti-flash protection to magazines was materially improved as a result of postwar experiments. They were the first British battleships to carry the anti-torpedo armament in closed turrets, these providing, in addition to other advantages, more complete protection to the gun crews than the battery system. They were the last British battleships to have a separate heavily armoured conning tower, this being abandoned in the succeeding King George IV class and Vanguard in which only a light splinter-proof navigating position high up in the face of the bridge tower was provided. Queen Elizabeth, Valiant and Warspite were similarly modified during their final reconstructions. Underwater protection was very complete particularly in the machinery and boiler spaces, where it reached a degree not previously attained in any other British capital ship. The usual external bulges were replaced by an alternative and very efficient system of internal sub-division developed after a long series of experiments and it is reported that this was designed to be capable of withstanding the simultaneous explosion of four torpedoes. A longitudinal bulkhead was fitted throughout the machinery and boiler spaces.

The DNC (Sir William Berry) had favoured inward sloping sides with external bulges as in Hood, but this was found to be impracticable because of: 1. Inability of existing docking accommodation to take the increased beam caused by the considerably wider bulges required to resist modern torpedoes. 2. Necessity for maximum armoured beam at waterline to ensure stability in event of heavy flooding.

Pumping and flooding arrangements were very extensive and were designed to deal rapidly with the correction of heel and/or trim resulting from damage. Eleven electrically driven pumps with individual outputs of 350 tons per hour were provided for compartments outside the machinery and boiler spaces.

The main armour protection was as follows:

Main Belt: was 14in thick amidships and ran for 384 feet. Angled at 72°, it was fitted internally and extended from the outer face of the forward 16in barbette (about 100 feet from the bow) to the inner face of the after 6in barbette (about 70 feet from the stern) and sloped inwards to the waterline. The 14in plates reduced to 13in abreast machinery and after magazines. Bulkheads were 12in and 8in forward closing forward extremities of belt armour between middle and lower decks, 10in and 4in aft closing after extremities of belt.

Decks: 6¼in armour plates plus 1½in plating laid over the top (6_in) laid flat over the length of the 14in belt armour on middle deck level. Lower deck 4¼in armour plates plus ½in plating laid over the top (4_in) flat, from after extremity of 14in belt to within about 25 feet of the stern.

Barbettes: 15in carried down to middle deck (see plan for various thicknesses).

Turrets: 16in faces, 7¼in crowns and rear.

Secondary barbettes: 1in. Conning tower: 14in sides, 12in front, 10in back and 6½in roof.

Tube: 6in.

Conning tower hood: 5in-3in. Funnel uptakes: 8in-7in.

Anti-torpedo bulkheads: 1½in, longitudinal port and starboard, set well inboard, extending completely between forward and after magazines from keel to middle deck and sloping inwards from top to bottom.

On completion they were probably the best armoured battleships afloat although the shallow 14in belt led to much criticism after completion. During firing experiments in 1931 on Marlborough and Emperor of India one shell (hit no. 4) burst under the armoured belt, apparently just where it was in contact with skin plating, and caused considerable damage. This hit emphasized the desirability of a deep belt and it was proposed that Nelson and Rodney be improved in this respect when they came in hand for refitting, but the extension of side armour was never effected and their armour protection remained the same throughout their lives. The only addition was to Nelson, which was fitted with 100lb and 120lb NC armour on the lower deck forward between 80 and 84 stations, `160lb armour bulkhead at 80 station from hold to platform deck. Rodney was not completely fitted with additional armour forward, but it is understood that she did receive something along these lines although the official records are not clear. Later proposals to modernize the armour protection (1938) were finally abandoned.

General Notes

Both ships proved to be excellent steamers in service and it is said that while chasing Bismarck in May 1941 Rodney attained a speed in excess of what had been thought possible in view of previous machinery and boiler breakdowns and the long time that had elapsed since her last refit. In relation to displacement Nelson and Rodney were, on completion, probably the most economical steamers in the Royal Navy.

A complete breakaway from the normal bridgework and heavy tripod foremast, which was replaced by a high tower structure, was considered to be the only satisfactory means of obtaining adequate support and clear vision for the extensive modern fire control equipment, as well as providing the necessary accommodation for the navigating and signalling positions and extra cabins, etc. The controls for the main and secondary armament were located at the top of the tower, and the Admiral’s bridge, navigating and lookout platforms were arranged around the upper sides and face of the tower, with signalling searchlights in ports inside and lower down. The sea cabins, plotting offices, etc., were positioned at the base of the tower. All flag signalling was carried out from the foremast.

The massive tower bridgework, introduced in this class, was retained in the succeeding King George V and Vanguard classes, and (in modified form) in the reconstructed Warspite, Valiant, Queen Elizabeth and Renown.

The heavy boats were all stowed abaft the funnel, and handled by the main derrick which was worked from the mainmast base.

Accommodation greatly embodied the recommendations of the Accommodation Committee, which had been appointed by the Admiralty in 1923, and in these two ships it was especially good both for officers and ratings – the space available being much greater than usual as a consequence of the high freeboard over the whole length of the ship, which also offered ample headroom between the decks. Natural light was provided in most living spaces, and ventilation was greatly improved over preceding classes. The ships were also provided with such items as reading and recreation rooms, drying rooms for wet clothing, bakery, oil-fired galley, laundry and electric ovens for the first time.

Ventilation received special attention and proved to be generally satisfactory in service. In the crew’s galley, however, exhaust fumes were stated to be intolerable during the war when the skylights were often closed to darken ship.

The pair were known affectionately as `The Queen’s Mansions’ (because of the massive tower) and by 1930 had become part of the British constitution – the general public loved them and they were always crowded out on `Navy Days’, but a more relevant opinion came from Captain T. H. Binney of Nelson when finishing his term of service in her:

Before relinquishing command of HMS Nelson, I have the honour to submit the following remarks or points of interest relating to this class of ship. I have been fortunate in that I have joined the ship at that moment when she may be said to have got over her initial troubles, and my period of command has included the last twelve months of the first command with a well-trained ship’s company, and the first five months of the second command with a new ship’s company.

Manoeuvring powers.

In the early stages of the ship’s first commission, there was a general misconception in the service that the Nelson class were unhandy and difficult to manoeuvre. This was probably due to the unaccustomed position of the bridge and the initial inexperience of the personnel of what the ship might do under various conditions. Both my predecessor and myself, however, very soon discovered that this opinion was entirely fallacious. In calm weather, the ship’s manoeuvring capabilities are in no way inferior, and in many ways superior to those of Queen Elizabeth or Revenge. The astern power is much better than that of Queen Elizabeth, they steer much better with the engines stopped, and at rest they turn very easily by working the engines. Owing to the high superstructure aft, however, they carry a good deal of weather helm, and for the same reason, their turning circle when turning away from the wind is greatly increased, while when turning into the wind, it is correspondingly decreased.

As an example of the effect of the wind, on one occasion when getting under way with a wind of about 5-6kts on the starboard beam, the ship swung 4 points to starboard against full starboard helm, and it was not until the ship was moving through the water at 9kts that she started to answer her helm.

On another occasion, when anchored with the fleet, with a wind of about 5 knots on the port beam, the ship’s head could not be kept steady with full port helm, and swung to port in spite of starboard screws being reversed. On entering a harbour through a long narrow channel such as Gibraltar a strong head wind is the cause of some anxiety; but the effect seems to be greatly reduced if the wind is a few points abaft the beam or on the bow.

When pointing the ship using the engines, the wind has little effect, except to stop the swing at once.

Generally, the superstructure has the effect of a mizzen sail continuously set, and if this is kept in mind, no real difficulties should be encountered in any circumstances.


I  hold the opinion that the low-angle gun equipment as a whole, and particularly the 16in main armament, is a very marked advance on any previous capital ship, and should result in improved rate of hitting at all ranges.

On account of various improvements (rangefinders, control apparatus, etc.) as well as the increased size of splashes, long-range firing from Nelson should be more effective in the 25/28,000 yds long-range firing than in Queen Elizabeth at 21/25,000 yds.

In the case of secondary armament, although the rate of fire is rather low, the increased range at which fire can be opened, and the absence of loss of output due to fatigue, combined with excellent ammunition supply arrangements, will be a very prominent factor in war.

In view of the modem tendency of construction for `all or nothing’ armour protection leaving controls and secondary batteries unprotected, the possibility for using the secondary battery for `harassing fire’ at the main armoured target when the range has been found assumes greater importance, and in Nelson the secondary armament can do this efficiently without loss of anti-torpedo boat efficiency.

16in mountings

The 16in triple mounting has been subjected to considerable criticism from time to time, and there is little doubt, that in some quarters the view is held that a triple mounting for heavy guns is not a good investment. The great advantage of the triple mounting system from construction point of view (which is that the armament can be concentrated in a much smaller space, and will require less area of armoured protection) has not, perhaps been sufficiently emphasized. The main disadvantage of Nelson’s triple mounting is loss of output on account of the fact that the three guns cannot be fired together owing to ballistic difficulties, whereas they must be loaded together. This, however, is not in itself a reason for condemning the triple mounting in general. The mounting may be said to have proved itself, when in October 1929, one turret crew with two years’ experience, loaded and fired 33 rounds without mishap. The main defects appear to be the roller paths and the rollers.

Fire control

The main armament fire control is very satisfactory, and a marked advance on that of earlier battleships. The efficiency of the rangefinder installation and the Admiralty fire control table are of a high order, and it has been found a comparatively simple matter to train the personnel in their use. In secondary armament apparatus no great advance can be recorded as the installation is essentially the same as in older ships though more automatic in action. The installation, however, fulfils the required condition of simplicity.

Summary: Nelson and Rodney were the only two battleships designed and completed in the 1920s.

Construction: Nelson: Armstrong (1922-1927)

Displacement: 33,950 tons

Dimensions: 660′ x 106′ x 30′

Armament: 9 x 16″ in main battery guns in 3 x 3-gun turrets

Armor: 14″ belt; 9″-16″ turrets

Machinery: 2 x shaft Brown-Curtis geared turbines = 45,000 hp = 23 knots

Complement: 1,314

Fate: Nelson: used as bombing target before being broken up, 1948.

Carthage’s Navy

CARTHAGE Showing naval port.

Carthaginian Tetrere: The Marsala ship. Reconstruction by Michael Leek

Punic hepter. The dimensions of the holds of the military port of Carthage permitted only vessels of 4.80 m wide, the size of a trire, in the islet of the Admiralty with the exception of two holds of 7 Meters wide. The heavy units of Carthage seem to have been very rare, it is quite possible that there never was any deer in service in its fleet. The Hepter above, extrapolated directly from the Penteres of the fleet, did not exceed six meters in width, while embarking 420 rowers and 80 soldiers: It was the flagship of the fleet.

Carthage’s naval might started small. Its earliest known fleet, which joined an equal Etruscan force to fight the Phocaean Greeks of Corsica in 540, was only sixty penteconters strong. A penteconter (`fifty-oarer’) was the normal war-vessel of the time, rowed by twenty-five oarsmen on each side. Battles were invariably fought close to shore (warships could not stay out on the open sea for long stretches); their simple but stressful tactics aimed at piercing enemy ships with the penteconters’ bronze underwater rams or else shearing off one side of an opponent’s oars. The victors would be able to capture or kill survivors in the water or after pursuing them ashore, unless their own losses hampered them.

By the start of the fifth century, penteconters, though still used, were replaced as first-line warships by the trireme. This was a long, sleek and – with trained crews – highly manoeuvrable craft, rowed by oarsmen sitting in three banks, one above the other, each man wielding his own oar. Athenian triremes, the only ones known in any detail, each carried 170 rowers and a few (under twenty) soldiers and archers. The trireme was an eastern Mediterranean development: they were in use in Pharaoh Necho’s fleet in 600 BC, and by 525 formed part of the powerful navy of Samos, then allied with Persia. The Carthaginians probably adopted them some years after 540. Philippus, an aristocratic Italian Greek follower of the Spartan adventurer Dorieus, sailed to join him in Sicily in 510 with his own trireme and crew, which suggests that it was now in common use.

Carthage’s 200 warships for the invasion of Sicily in 480 were no doubt triremes, for Syracuse’s navy was just as large and the Syracusans had triremes. This warship remained standard, Mediterranean-wide, throughout the fifth century and well into the fourth. As in penteconters, the main tactic was to use the heavy bronze ram fixed to the bow below the waterline to smash into an opposing hull or its oars. This manoeuvre could be developed (it took skill and boldness) into what Greeks called the diekplous, the `passage’, whereby a fleet sailing line abreast sought to pass straight through the enemy line, then swing round so that each trireme could attack an opponent from the rear.

The next developments in warships were quadriremes (`four-oarers’) and quinqueremes (`fives’). Each kept three levels of seats for the oarsmen, but had four and five of these respectively. Diodorus credited the Syracusan tyrant Dionysius with being the first to build them, around 398, but they came into regular use only late in the fourth century. They then relegated triremes to secondary status: quinqueremes became the capital ships. Their layout is not certain in detail, as literary and archaeological details are thin, but each was fitted as usual with a massive bronze ram beneath the prow and most probably still had three banks of oars like the trireme. Two Carthaginian rams have been found (so far), along with over a dozen Roman ones, on the seabed just off Sicily’s west coast, relics of the decisive naval battle of the Aegates Islands fought in 241. Every bronze ram projects three horizontally layered ridges or flanges, powerful enough to crash through a thick wooden hull if driven at speed; practised oarsmen could then pull their ship back to let the victim founder.

The quinquereme’s much larger size apparently accommodated two men per oar on both the top and middle levels, while one rower on the lowest bench-level pulled one oar, but details are debated because no clear evidence survives. Its rowing complement numbered about 300, while the on-board soldiery would be several dozen strong. Thus a fleet of 100 quinqueremes could in principle carry as many as 40,000 men, not counting those on lesser companion ships. Quinqueremes were also big enough to embark war machines like catapults, themselves a fourth-century development. Manoeuvrability must have been more cumbersome than in trireme battles. Sosylus’ fragmentary account of a Hannibalic-war clash does attest that its Carthaginian ships were still using the diekplous, but it does not give numbers, ship-types or a location, and it is possible that those combatants were triremes.

In wartime, Carthage’s citizens went into the navy, along with some contributions (of unknown size) from coastal allies like Utica and Hippou Acra. As its population and wealth grew, so did its forces. The penteconter fleet in Corsican waters in 540 can at most have had 3,000 sailors. Sixty years later, the Sicilian expedition’s armada would have some 34,000 – if Diodorus’ figure for warships can be believed – and the crews of the supposedly 3,000-strong transport fleet would be still more numerous. Many of these crews were probably Carthaginians too. Between 100 and 200 remained the usual strength of a Punic fleet, when numbers are mentioned, before the first war with Rome. This suggests that until then, Carthage could normally put 17,000-34,000 trireme oarsmen to sea, accompanied by a few thousand shipboard troops who might be Carthaginians or Libyans and mercenaries.

Crew numbers must have gone up dramatically after 264, for according to Polybius and other sources, the Carthaginians launched fleets of more than 100 quinqueremes, and occasionally more than twice as many, to combat the Romans. Citizen numbers alone may not have been enough to man all these. If so, extra personnel were probably levied from the Libyphoenicians and Libyans. The manpower for smaller naval vessels and transports was an added need in all periods, with crews again probably not limited to Carthaginians.

For most of their history, the Carthaginians kept their navy in dockyards (neoria in Greek), which must have been sited on the city’s eastern shore or in the shipping channel dug from the lake of Tunis up to the city’s edge just below Byrsa. In 368, the neoria were ravaged by a fire severe enough to make Dionysius of Syracuse reckon that no Punic fleet survived, but he soon (and painfully) learned otherwise. In peacetime, existing warships were kept in ship-sheds, like those excavated in the circular enclosed harbour that was built in the third or second century. They could be launched swiftly when needed, so long as crews were available (and trained) and the necessary equipment ready.

Whether the state maintained skeleton professional crews between wars, and whether Carthaginian warships carried out peacetime naval exercises to keep them in trim, we are not told, but Sosylus’ remark about the skill of the Punic diekplous does suggest regular practice. We also know that early in the great mercenary and Libyan rebellion against Carthage, around 241-40, merchants from Italy doing trade with the rebels were intercepted by Punic naval patrols (which kindled a serious though brief diplomatic crisis with Rome). This happened soon after Carthage’s first Roman war had ended in a disastrous naval defeat, but plainly warships were still available for watching home waters.

Carthaginian Ships