The mission of any battleship design was to bring to bare on the enemy the greatest amount of firepower, while being able to withstand the firepower of the opposing ship. The satisfactory accomplishment of this mission revolved around a series of trade-offs among the three prime areas of design, speed, armament and armor. In the Royal Navy emphasis was traditionally placed in the ship’s armament and speed with the armor scheme placing a distant third. In part this reflected the offensive mindset of the service. Battleships had to be fast enough to catch the enemy and then had to overwhelm them with superior firepower.
For decades the Royal Navy had maintained the standard against which other countries’ ships were measured. Starting with the Majestic class in 1893 that standard for armament was in the form of four 12-inch guns mounted in twin centerline turrets, actually barbettes with armored gun houses. By 1904 it was time for a change and the HMS Dreadnought was the result. That designed dramatically increased the fighting characteristics of the British battleship in two areas, armament and speed. Main armament leaped from four 12-inch guns to ten of the weapons, although only eight were available for a broadside. The turbine machinery of Dreadnought increased the battleship’s speed from 18 knots to 21 knots. These characteristics established the new benchmarks for the world’s navies.
The Dreadnought also improved the destructive ability of the individual 12-inch gun by introducing the longer 12-inch/45 Mk X gun. With a muzzle velocity of 2,725 feet/second the gun could send a 850-lb. shell out to a range of 16,400 yards. This range was far in excess of what the Admiralty thought would be the battle range in any future conflict. Consequently with this mindset it was very rare that firing practice would be conducted even to 10,000 yards. The Dreadnought, Bellerophon, and Lord Nelson classes, completed after Dreadnought, carried the Mk X. Additionally the Invincible and Indefatigable classes of battle cruiser also were equipped with the Mk X.
The next jump in armament came with the St. Vincent class of battleship. Essentially a longer, reworked Dreadnought/Bellerophon design, the three ships of the class introduced the 12-inch/50 Mk XI gun. The Mk XI gun was five feet longer than the Mk X. Turrets were enlarged for this longer gun. Although the Mk XI fired the same shell as the Mk X, the longer barrel length increased the muzzle velocity and range. Muzzle velocity was increased to 2,850 feet per second and maximum range jumped to 21,000 yards, about three miles greater than the Mk X. The following Neptune and Colossus class designs also mounted the Mk XI. However, the development of the 12-inch gun at the time had hit its upper limit. The Mk XI was not as successful as anticipated. The greater muzzle velocity produced some unforeseen consequences in the weapon. With a flatter trajectory the accuracy of the Mk XI dropped at longer ranges and this was further compounded by excessive wear in the barrel liners. These liners with their rifling wore out very quickly. The degradation of the rifling further increased the inaccuracy of the piece. Something new needed to be tried.
That new weapon was the 13.5-inch/45 Mk V. This gun fired a 1,250-lb shell 23,800 yards. The muzzle velocity was 2,582 feet/second so it had a better barrel life and increased accuracy over the 12-inch/50 Mk XI. From any viewpoint the RN 13.5-inch/45 was an outstanding weapon. The new weapon had been tested for some time under the disguise of the 12-inch ‘A’ title, so as to conceal the jump in bore size. The Royal Navy just needed a platform on which to mount their new greater than ever gun. That platform would be the Orion class battleship of the 1909 program.
Four ships were laid down from November 1909 to April 1910 in the class: Orion on November 29, 1909, Monarch on April 1, 1910, Conqueror on April 5, 1910 and Thunderer on April 13, 1910. The design of the Orion class amounted to a complete break in offensive firepower from the preceding 12-inch designs. Not only did it mount ten 13.5-inch/45 Mk V guns, each of which fired a shell almost 50% heavier than the 12-inch Mk X or Mk XI, but also all five turrets were on centerline. All ten guns could fire a broadside, rather than have a turret masked by the obsolete wing arrangement. Wing turrets also posed a risk to the ship in that they were too close to the hull sides. The centerline arrangement provided for a greater level of protection for the trunks and magazines of the guns, at least in theory. The weight of the broadside of the Orion was almost twice that of Dreadnought, which was only four years old. Because of this huge jump in offensive capabilities, the class was instantly dubbed "Super-Dreadnoughts".
The Royal Navy also finally fully adopted the concept of superfiring turrets, in that B and X turrets were in superfiring positions. The RN had toyed with this arrangement in the Neptune and Colossus classes with X turret in a superfiring position above Y turret but these designs had still retained wing turrets in an echelon arrangement. Although the USN had adopted the centerline superfiring arrangement for all of their dreadnought battleship designs, it had taken some time for the RN to adopt this most sensible arrangement. However, part of the benefit of superfiring turrets was lost by the retention of sighting hoods at the forward edge of the turret. End on fire of the upper, superfiring turret was precluded because the blast of the guns would give the sighters of the lower turret concussions. It was a simple matter of moving the sighting hoods to the rear of the turret to prevent this.
Orionwas launched on August 20, 1910 and completed in January 1912.. She displaced 21,922-tons (25,596-tons deep load) on a hull 581-feet in length overall with a beam of 88 ½-feet. The secondary gun arrangement was sixteen 4-inch/50 guns mounted in the superstructure along with three underwater 21-inch torpedo tubes. At trials on November 19, 1911 Orion developed 30,112 shp for a top speed of 21.045-knots. Because of the superfiring turret arrangement, more weight was carried higher, creating a higher center of gravity than earlier designs. This was one of the primary reasons why the superfiring arrangement was slow to be adopted in the Royal Navy. Soon after commissioning Orion experienced some problems because of this. As built she rolled badly. On a trip across the Bay of Biscay, Orion experienced some wicked rolling. According to the tabloids of the time, you would have thought that Orion was in danger of turning turtle like the ill-fated HMS Captain 50 years earlier. However, these panicked reports were far from the truth. The greatest extent of roll experienced by Orion was 20 degrees, which was bad enough but hardly the near disaster reported by the wild-eyed denizens of Fleet Street. The answer was to fit bilge keels to inhibit rolling. The initial design for the new bilge keels was too large. If they were mounted, the class would not be able to fit into existing facilities. The true culprit of excessive compromise and constraint of British capital ship design was the Royal Navy’s failure to build new, larger dry docks and facilities. Rather than spend money on newer facilities, design characteristics were constrained to the dimensions of the existing facilities. So the Orion class could not receive the bilge keels as designed. A second, smaller set of keels were prepared that would allow the class to use the existing infrastructure and these successfully reduced the tendency of the class to roll.
Upon commissioning HMS Orion became the flagship of 2nd Division of the Home Fleet and became part of the Grand Fleet in August 1914, where she became flagship 2nd Division, 2nd Battle Squadron. On January 7 Orion was involved in a collision. The old predreadnought Revenge broke loose from her moorings and drifted into Orion. However, neither ship experienced any significant damage as a result of this. On May 31, 1916 Orion did participate in the Battle of Jutland. During the course of the action, she engaged the German battle cruisers and claimed four hits on Hipper’s flagship, Lutzow. On March 1919 she was transferred to the 3rd Battle Squadron and then relieved King George V as flagship of the Reserve at Portsmouth. From June 1921 to March 1922 she had the mission of seagoing gunnery training ship at Portland. The Washington Treaty on warship restrictions had just been concluded in February 1922 and Orion was one of the ships earmarked for disposal pursuant to the terms of that treaty. On April 12, 1922 Orion was paid off and sold in December. In February 1923 she arrived at the bone yard for scrapping.
Combrig has just produced 1:700 scale models of all four members of the Orion class battleships. A full review of the 1:700 scale Orion class models will be covered in the next installment, a review of Combrig model of the HMS Thunderer. The purpose of this article is to give the modeler a photographic preview of the HMS Orion kit. Although the purpose of this article is not a full review, a few notes are in order. In taking photographs of the Combrig Orion and then the Combrig Thunderer, I noticed that there were differences in a several of components. The Orion clearly represents the ship as built, up to 1915. As built the Orion had a small compass platform on top of the pilot house. Additionally the face of the pilothouse had three windows in the front with the sides going back at 90 degrees with two windows each on the sides. In 1915 this platform was extended to the rear around the forward stack in Orion and Monarch and abreast the forward funnel in Thunderer. Conqueror had received the extension in 1914 before the war. The Orion kit includes the short platform initially used, therefore the model best represents the ship from 1912 to 1914. The Orion also has the earlier foretop arrangement without a director platform, while Thunderer has an additional fire control platform right under the top. The title art is a cigarette card and actually shows Thunderer with the longer compass platform and triple white bands on the funnels.
Box Art & Instructions
The photo-etch fret comes with two navigation bridge faces. The short one with two windows per side is for the Orion as fitted while the longer version with three windows per side is for the enlarged bridge/compass platform versions. Rather than go back at 90 degree angles as with the original Orion, the larger bridge face goes back at a shallower angle. Combrig provides optional torpedo net booms with the kit. The assembly drawing annotates that they are not shown in the assembly drawings. However, they are shown in the line drawing profile of Orion on page one of the instructions. These booms were not removed until 1915 so in building the Orion kit, they should be present. Do not remove the resin film on the forward superstructure well. This film will serve as the boat deck. If you remove the film there will be a gap at the forward edge of the superstructure where the superstructure part overlaps the forward well in the hull. One other caveat is with the turrets. All five turrets from the Combrig kit are of the same design with sighting hoods forward and a rangefinder fitting to the rear of the turret crown. From photographs it appears that initially the turrets were not fitted with the rangefinder fittings. They are present on the turrets in photographs taken during the last half of the war but I so far have not discovered when they were so fitted. The plan of Monarch as of late 1912 in British Battleships of World War One by R.A. Burt shows this feature only on Q turret. Accordingly, at first blush, it appears that these fittings should be sanded level with the turret crowns for the 1912-1914 Orion, except for Q turret. However, it is an area that requires additional research. As mentioned above, a full review will be published with the Combrig HMS Thunderer review.