In the spring of 1901 the British Admiralty was facing some unpleasant facts. The last Royal Navy battleship design from the 1900 Estimates was the Queen Class. This two ship class of Queen and Prince of Wales was nothing more than repeats of the 1898 Bulwark Class, which in itself was only a slight deviation from the 1897 Formidable Class. The armament of the Queen of four 12-Inch and twelve 6-Inch was the same as that carried by the Majestic Class of 1893. More or less for the last decade, the basic design parameters of the First Class Battleships for the Royal Navy had remained the same. Sure, the Royal Navy had more battleships than any other country but the other significant naval powers were not satisfied in resting upon their laurels.
Early in 1901 as the powers that be of the Royal Navy looked around at the construction of battleships in foreign countries. Italy was producing the Benedetto Brin with the same armament of 12-Inch and 6-Inch of the Queen Class, plus an intermediate medium gun fit of four 8-Inchers. The USN had gone even further with their Virginia Class. The Virginias had the same numbers of 12-Inchers and 6-Inchers as the Queen but also had additional eight 8-Inch guns. Although the main guns of four 12-Inchers were still the world standard, the secondary armament of the Royal Navy battleships was clearly second class. The status quo could not be justified or maintained by the Admiralty.
The design for the 1901 Estimates would include an intermediate grade of artillery between the 12 and 6-Inch guns. A number of alternate design studies was prepared but the design that was initially settled upon was designed by J.H. Narbeth, who was Assistant Constructor to Sir William White, the DNC. White who was ill, initially took no part in the initial studies. Narbeth had the design of four 12-Inchers, ten 6-Inchers, plus the addition of eight 7.5-Inch guns mounted in four twin turrets. These intermediate gun turrets were to be mounted on the corners of the central superstructure. White returned from his illness and congratulated Narbeth on his design. White suggested one substantial change, to substitute single 9.2-Inch guns for the twin 7.5-Inch guns on the corner turrets. This change was agreed to and in April 1901 the design was accepted by the Lordships of the Admiralty. Although it was basically Narbeth’s design, the King Edward VII Class battleship is generally attributed to be the last design of William White.
Dimensions: Length - 453 feet 9-inches (oa) (138.3m); Beam - 78 feet (23.77m); Draught - 25 feet 8-inches (7.72m); Displacement - 15,630 Tons Load, 17,009 Tons Deep Load: Armament - Four 12-Inch Mk IX (305mm); Four 9.2-Inch Mk X (234mm); Ten 6-Inch Mk VII (152mm); Twelve 12-Pdr QF plus Two 12-Pdr Field Mounts (76mm); Fourteen 3-Pdr QF (47mm); Five 18-Inch Torpedo Tubes (457mm)(Underwater; 4 beam and 1 stern):
Armor: Belt -9 to 8-Inch (229-203mm); Internal Armored Bulkheads - 12 to 8-Inches (305-203mm); Primary Turrets - 9 to 5-Inches (229-127mm); Secondary Turrets - 7-Inches (178mm); Barbettes -12 to 8-Inches (305-203mm); Conning Tower - 12-Inches (305mm); Deck - 2.5 to 1-Inch (64-25mm): Machinery - 4 Cylinder Vertical Triple Expansion (VTE) Engines, 10 Babcock and Wilcox Boilers plus Three Cylindrical Boilers, Two Shafts, 18,000 IHP: Maximum Speed - 18.5 Knots: Complement - 777
Sir William White left his post of DNC on January 31, 1902 and the incoming Philip Watts, immediately examined the King Edward VII design and approved it with no changes. In part this was based on the respect for White and partly on the desire of Watts to keep Narbeth as his assistant. The King Edward VII was 25-Feet longer and 1,350 Tons heavier, as well as mounting the additional four 9.2-Inch guns than the preceding Queen Class. Armor was about the same but arranged differently than the Queens. Smaller changes amounted to the deletion of fighting tops and aft bridge found in the older designs.
Three ships of the class were laid down for the 1901 Program with another two for the 1902 Program. This caused great agitation among the Strong Navy Club that claimed the numbers were inadequate in the face of foreign challenges and this up-roar caused that another three in the class be added for the 1903 Program. The last three, New Zealand, Hibernia and Africa had the benefit of the latest 12-Inch gun, the Mk X.
In service the value of the additional 9.2-Inch guns was less than anticipated because of difficulties in distinguishing their shell splashes from the splashes of the 12-Inch shells. However, this was a failing in most designs involving medium caliber (8-10-Inch) secondary. Their slightly lower freeboard made them very wet ships but they were very maneuverable. Through a design quirk, they make minor adjustments when sailing straight ahead, port to starboard and starboard to port, giving them a wobbling appearance. From this the class acquired the nickname of the "Wobbly Eight". By 1914 their value had dropped considerably. Initially one ship of the class led each division. This selection was not to honor the "Wobbly Eight" but to present a less valuable target for submarines and to act as a "mine detector".
The King Edward VII was laid down at Devonport on March 8, 1902. Britannia was laid down the month before but the King Edward VII was much faster in construction. As the first battleship to be launched in the reign of the King, permission was received from the new monarch to name the first to be launched after him in a tradition of the Royal Navy. The only stipulation was that she would serve as a flagship. The King launched his namesake on July 23, 1903. She was commissioned on February 7, 1905 and immediately became the flagship of the Atlantic Fleet. On March 5, 1907 she became the flagship of Lord Charles Beresford, commander of the Channel Fleet. Beresford and Jackie Fisher were the two great British commanders of the time and frequently at odds with one another, so it was a high mark or else Royal politics that drove the selection of King Edward VII for Beresford’s flag. She spent two years as the Channel Fleet’s flag until in March 1909, when she became flagship for the Home Fleet.
By August 1911 the days of fleet flagship were over for King Edward VII. However, true to the stipulation with the King, she remained a flagship, although of lesser importance, as proliferating dreadnoughts drove her to obsolescence: August 1911 – May 1912 Flagship 3rd & 4th Divisions Home Fleet; May 1912 – June 1913 Flagship 3rd Battle Squadron First Fleet. She was detached with her squadron to the Mediterranean in an international blockade of Montenegro and occupation of Scutari, as a result of the latest Balkan War. The 3rd Battle Squadron rejoined the Home Fleet June 27, 1913. King Edward VII became flag for 3rd Battle Squadron Grand Fleet with the advent of World War One in August 1914 and until November 1914 worked with the cruisers and four Duncan Class battleships in the Northern Patrol Area.
In January 1916 she was sent from Rosyth to Devonport to receive a refit. For one of the few times in her career, the flag was transferred from King Edward VII and she sailed as a private ship on her voyage back to where she was launched. On January 6, 1916, three hours after clearing Rosyth, off of Cape Wrath she entered a minefield that had been laid by the German raider Moewe. At 10:47 AM she struck a mine under her starboard engine room. The rushing water stopped the closure of the watertight door connecting the starboard engine room to the port engine room, so the King Edward VII went dead in the water. Weather was getting worse as destroyer leader Kempenfeldt and collier Princess Melita tried to tow her to safety. With the rising wind and seas and the sluggishness of the waterlogged battleship, no headway was made and towlines were parted. After five hours the ship had taken a heavy list to starboard. With night falling and all attempts to tow ending in failure, it was decided to abandon ship. Destroyers Fortune, Marne, Musketeer and Nessus removed the crew by 16:10 (4:10 PM). Four hours later King Edward VII capsized and went down in the darkness at 20:10 (8:10 PM). (Bulk of History from British Battleships 1889 – 1904 by R. A. Burt)
Combrig King Edward VII
This article is intended to show a photographic review of the components for the Combrig King Edward VII, as well as providing a history of the ship. A following article on the Combrig Britannia will have a full review.