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Frederic Logghe
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King George V class
The King George V class battleships were the second to last class of battleships completed by the Royal Navy.

The Washington treaty limiting post World War I battleship construction had been extended by the First London Naval Treaty but the treaty was due to expire in 1936. With increased tension between the various major naval nations, it was expected by planners that the treaty might not be renewed and the KGV class were designed with this in mind.

Apart from Japanese super battleships Yamato and Musashi the class had probably the heaviest armour of warships of the period. The main belt was 391 mm thick amidships, 127-178 mm forward and astern. The lower belt was 3 inches (76 mm) thick. Deck protection was 178 mm. The main gun turrets were protected by 406 mm to the front and 280-305 mm on the sides. The conning tower and citadel was at its maximum 318 mm. Overall the armour weight was estimated as high as 14,000 t. However, the belt armor was not inclined, as it was on many contemporary battleship classes. Inclined armor presents a greater thickness and forces shells to glance off. In addition, there were weak spots under the waterline. On examination of the Prince of Wales after its encounter with the Bismarck and the Prinz Eugen three damaging hits were discovered; one of the Prinz Eugen's shells had penetrated the torpedo protection inner bulkhead, very close to the fourteen-inch magazine.

The King George V and the four other ships of the class as built carried 10 14-inch (356 mm) guns, in two four-gun turrets fore and aft and a single two-gun turret behind and above the fore turret.

While some argued that this gave the battleships an inferior broadside to the eight 15-inch (381 mm) guns of the German battleship Bismarck and her sister-ship the Tirpitz, the designers of this class pointed out that the ten guns of the 14-inch (356 mm) class had advantages over the eight 15-inch (381 mm) of the Bismarck type. They pointed out that at normal battle ranges the 14-inch (356 mm) gun could penetrate any practical naval armor, could shoot repeated rounds faster, and in the bad weather of the North Atlantic the extra range of bigger guns was not needed. The 10 guns of the British ship could fire larger salvos increasing hit probability.

The original design called for nine 15-inch guns in three turrets, 2 forward and 1 aft. While this was within the capabilities of the British, they felt compelled to adhere to the Second London Naval Treaty signed in 1936 even though other signatory nations were violating the limits, especially with regards to gun calibre. As a result, the design was changed to twelve 14 inch guns in three turrets and this configuration had a heavier broadside than the nine 15-inch guns. In the end the second forward turret was changed to a smaller two gun turret for better armour protection, reducing the broadside weight to below that of the nine gun arrangement.

In service, the quad gun arrangement of two of the turrets proved to be more of an operational curse than a larger salvo blessing. Placing four 14 inch (356 mm) guns into a single turret made it cramped, mechanically complex and difficult to service, leading to low reliability which plagued the class through out its career.

The King George V class was built in an era where the aircraft carrier supplanted the battleship but nonetheless King George V, Prince of Wales, and Duke of York all saw the battleship-to-battleship action that they were designed for. The KGV and the Prince of Wales both fought the German battleship Bismarck in late May 1941, while the Duke of York dueled the German battlecruiser Scharnhorst in the battle of North Cape, contributing to the latter's sinking in December 1943.

Four of the five King George V-class ships survived World War II; Prince of Wales was sunk near Singapore by air attack in December 1941. The remaining ships never suffered any serious wartime damage, except for King George V which accidentally collided with and sunk HMS Punjabi in May 1942. All of them, including the King George V, were scrapped in 1957.

The planned successors to the KGV class were the Lion class battleships of some 40,000 tonnes with nine 16-inch (406 mm) guns.
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Nelson class
The Nelson class were battleships of the British Royal Navy built shortly after the Washington Naval Treaty in 1922. They were the first British battleships built since the Revenge class of 1913, and the last until the King George V class of 1936. Because of the limitations of the treaty the structure of the ships had to be revised, which resulted in unusual design considerations.

Two ships of the class were produced, named after famous British admirals: HMS Rodney and Nelson.

The Battle of Jutland had shown the value of firepower and protection over speed and manoeuverability. Admiral Fisher's dictum that "speed is armour" had been tested in battle, and had been disproved in the context of the battle line for all their success at the battle of the Falklands. Thickness of armour and weight of shell were now seen as the keys to naval victory.

The next generation of British warships were to incorporate this lesson. After World War I, the Admiralty drew up plans for massive, heavily armoured battlecruisers and battleships, far larger and stronger than all previous vessels. The G3 battlecruisers would carry 16-inch (406 mm) guns, and the proposed N3 battleships would carry nine 18-in (457 mm) guns, and would be the most powerful vessels afloat. The Royal Navy would hold its superiority in the burgeoning arms race, despite the large warships planned in Japan and the US.

However, development was abruptly halted when the arms race was brought to a halt by the signature of the Washington Naval Treaty in 1922. Four battlecruisers were ordered but not actually laid down - some of the material acquired was used in Nelson and Rodney.

The Treaty limited all nations battleships to 35,000 tons and 16-in guns. This killed both the "battlecruisers" and projected super-battleships, and the Royal Navy was forced to scale down its designs.

They took aspects of the G3 and N3 designs - forward armament and blocky armoured superstructures - and liberal advantage of the text of the Treaty. The British had successfully ensured that the definition of maximum tonnage excluded fuel and boiler water. They had argued that policing the widespread British Empire meant their ships had to carry more of both and they should not be penalised against nations like the US that operated much closer to their naval bases. As a result water-filled anti-torpedo protection could be incorporated, contributing only its "dry" weight to the overall limit.

The result of this compromise was the Nelson class of battleships. These were well-armed and defended (nine 16-inch guns in three turrets), but light and small enough to conform to the Treaty terms. (Navy men referred to this as the "Cherry Tree Class", because it had been "cut down by Washington").

The limitations of the treaty against the need to increase firepower and armour, while keeping weight low, resulted in a radical new warship design. In order to reduce weight of armour, all the primary gun turrets were mounted on the foredeck, which shortened the necessary armored length. The G3 and N3 designs had put the gun turrets forward: two on the foredeck, one superimposed above the other, with the third between the bridge and stern structures. For the Nelsons all three could not be staggered in height, so No. 3 was level with No. 1 but behind and lower than No 2 and its angle of fire was obscured ahead and astern.

The secondary guns were all located near the stern - another element of the G3 design. The engines and superstructure were also placed aft. The boilers were placed aft of the engines in order to keep the funnel, and smoke, as far away from the bridge as possible and to allow the maximum protection against torpedo attack to the more voluminous turbine rooms.

Armour weight was also saved by using an internal, inclined armour belt. Inclined armour increases the effective thickness of the belt, and its internal disposition was intended to provide a low-resistance path to vent torpedo explosions out of the ship via displaceable plates (this feature was unsuccessful). The external hull of the ship was unarmoured: the outer plating was meant to initiate detonation of shells which would then explode outside the armour. Also, for the first time a British dreadnought was given thick decks to protect against plunging shells and aircraft-dropped bombs.

As a compromise design, unsurprisingly it had some serious flaws. The rear location of the superstructure caused maneuverability problems in high wind: the superstructure acted as a sail, causing the ships to "weathervane" when steaming at low speeds. This was a particularly dangerous problem in crowded harbours, and the ships were notoriously difficult to dock and embark. They were also difficult to turn, and hard to steer when steaming astern. This is attributable to having twin screws and single centre rudder which was out of the propeller race. However at sea (and at speed?) they were reported to handle well.

The inclined armour disposition increased the danger of shells diving under the armour belt. With wave motion along the side of the ship, with the ship rolling, or with a list caused by damage, the ship would have been at risk of shells passing almost unhindered into the vitals of the ship. In publicly-released information, the Admiralty always showed the inclined armour to be much deeper than was actually the case. They were not the only ships to suffer from this defect.

These ships were very different from the rest of the British battle fleet. Their main armament of 16"/45 guns were mounted in triple turrets, the only RN battleships to do so. The guns themselves where a step away from standard British designs. Where previous RN weapons fired heavy shell at a low velocity, the Nelson class followed the German practice of a lighter shell at a higher velocity. This change in policy was due to British post-war tests of the German equipment, although subsequent testing proved contradictory and these weapons were never considered to be as successful as the previous 15"/42. The guns suffered considerable barrel wear and had a large dispersion pattern. As a result their muzzle velocities were lowered which reduced their penetrative power. A heavier shell was needed but the cost of producing new shells and modifying shell handling and storage equipment had come at a time when RN funding had been heavily reduced, and so they had to make do.

The need to reduce weight and the use of triple mount turrets led to problems with the ammunition handling and loading machinery. Incorporating many safety features but using lighter materials meant there were complex but relatively fragile equipment that gave problems that had to sorted out over the ships' lifetime.

Finally, the blast of the guns firing disrupted officers on the bridge to such an extent that the guns were usually prohibited from firing abaft of the beam. A great deal of effort was expended in correcting this problem, and no solution was ever found. They even placed tempered glass in the bridge window holes, but firing the guns shattered them and filled the bridge with flying debris. Weight-saving measures had included the use of light materials such as aluminium for fittings and fir instead of teak for deck planking. These were far more susceptible to the effects of the main armament firing and caused more maintenance work.

Because of their unusual silhouette, HMS Nelson and her sister Rodney were sarcastically nicknamed Nelsol and Rodnol by the Royal Navy - their maneuverability problems and silhouettes reminded Navy men of oil tankers, not battleships. (A series of fleet oilers had been built during the First World War that bore names ending in "ol".)

The closeness of the primary turrets to each other was also a danger to the structural integrity of the ships. The crews were warned to never fire all the 16-inch (406-mm) guns at the same time, because this would damage the deck - clearly, a serious handicap on a fighting ship. This is a long-standing rumour, and was disproved at the final action with Bismarck, where Rodney did fire the occasional full broadside without any adverse effect.

Another complication was the size of the forward gun deck. This area had to be kept clear of obstructions since any structures located there would be destroyed by the blast of the guns. However, this left a very large area of the deck where anti-aircraft guns could not be sited. The problem was partially solved by mounting AA guns on top of the turrets, though air defence remained a serious weakness with these vessels throughout their careers.

In theory, the "all-forward" design reduced the danger of an enemy "crossing the T" of the ship. However, this advantage was offset by the awkward location of the third ("C") turret. For structural reasons it was mounted lower on deck than the second ("B"), which severely limited its forward field of fire. This was bad enough, but "C" could also not fire in the aft quarters without damaging the superstructure. (The bridge was a particularly unpleasant place to be when firing on distant stern targets.)

When the Washington Treaty lapsed in 1936, the Royal Navy abandoned the "all-forward" arrangement and returned to traditional designs with the King George V class.

Despite these difficulties, both Nelson and Rodney had successful careers during World War II, the latter vessel helping to sink DKM Bismarck in 1941 (although the guncrews ignored engineers' instructions during the battle, and inflicted more damage on their own ship than Bismarck did.) (Source: Wikipedia)
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