HMS Barham (04)
A veteran of World War 1, HMS Barham fought on into World War 2 until torpedoed and sunk by the German U-boat U-331 on November 25, 1941.
Authored By: Dan Alex | Last Edited:
To match the capabilities of the German Navy during the years leading up to World War 1 (1914-1918), the British Royal Navy ordered an all-new, six-strong class of "super-dreadnought" fast battleships to be built. This became the Queen Elizabeth-class which succeeded the previous Iron Duke-class and added improved qualities in armor, ocean-going performance and firepower. The super-dreadnought categorization was born in the years following the commissioning of HMS Dreadnought which appeared during 1906 and evolved the type through more modern features and greater power. Dreadnought rewrote the book on naval warship engineering by incorporating an "all-big-gun" main battery as well as steam turbine propulsion - rendering any previous mixed-gun warship a "pre-dreadnought" design by default.
The Queen Elizabeth-class was appropriately led by HMS Queen Elizabeth and was followed by HMS Warspite, HMS Valiant, HMS Barham and HMS Malaya. HMS Agincourt was to be the sixth ship of the group but was cancelled when World War 1 broke out. The name was reused on another warship initially ordered by Brazil, purchased by the Ottoman Navy and confiscated while still being built by the Royal Navy for service in World War 1.
HMS Barham (04) was named after First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Barham (Admiral Charles Middleton, First Baron Barham, 1726-1813) and shipbuilder John Brown & Company of Clydebank (Yard No. 424) was charged with her construction. Her keel was laid down on February 24th, 1913 and the vessel was launched on October 31st, 1914. Since World War 1 broke out in July of that year, HMS Barham arrived in time for service in the grand conflict. Having completed her trials and evaluation, she was formally commissioned on October 19th, 1915.
Barham and her class held excellent speed as warships of the period went. Her machinery was made up of 24 x boilers feeding 2 x steam turbines through 56,000 horsepower driving 4 x shafts. She could make headway at 24 knots and ranges out to 5,000 nautical miles. Coupled with this was her armament array which included 8 x 15" main guns set across four twin-gunned turrets, two forward and two aft of the superstructure. Then there were 14 x 6" (152mm) guns fitted as single-gunned mountings. She was also (later) given 2 x 3" (76mm) 20 cwt Anti-Aircraft (AA) cannons for local defense, these too in single-gunned mountings. As was consistent with surface warship design of the period, Barham was fitted with torpedo tubes, these being 4 x 21" (533mm) launchers. Good performance and strong firepower made the vessel a vital component for British Royal Navy operations.
She carried a crew complement of 1,016. Her bridge was located along the forward face of the superstructure as expected with two main masts breaking up her side profile. Her bow was well-pointed and her sides bulged, leading to the stern to complete her silhouette. Armor protection included 330mm thickness at the belt and up to 76mm along the deck. Her barbettes were covered over in up to 254mm of steel. The primary gun turrets featured up to 330mm protection and the conning tower carried 330mm as well. Dimensions included a length of 643.8 feet, a beam of 90.6 feet and a draught of 33 feet. Displacement was 33,790 tons under load.
A recoverable floatplane aircraft could be carried, launched via catapult over gun position No. 3 and recovered by a crane at midships.
Barham took part in the famous Battle of Jutland (May 1916 - June 1916) off the coast of Denmark which became the largest naval engagement of the war. The Allies featured 28 battleships to the enemy's 16 and included a combined force of British, Australian and Canadian warships. Though tactically inconclusive, the engagement marked a strategic victory for the Allies and limited the German Naval commitment to large-scale surface engagements for the foreseeable future - forcing a greater reliance on its submarine force from then on. During the melee, Barham was hit six times and lost 26 men with a further 46 being wounded. Damaged, Barham was laid up for repairs which took her into July 1916. She was given a refit during the spring of 1917 which was the time she took on the AA armament mentioned above. She continued her service during the war which ended with the Armistice of November 1918. She had received another refit the February prior.
During the Interwar years, Barham sailed with the Atlantic Fleet serving as its flagship. In 1924 she formed part of the British presence in the Mediterranean ensuring British interests were upheld and this took her until 1929. Her next service was with the Atlantic Fleet until another refit was had from early 1931 until early 1934. The following year she was back in Mediterranean waters. During the latter part of the decade the class was wholly upgrade to a more modern fighting form which included revised superstructures, propulsion systems and equipment. Barham saw a lesser modernization than her sisters and lost two of her torpedo tubes in the process and replaced her AA guns with 4 x 4" QF Mk XVI guns.
World War 2 (1939-1945) began on September of 1939 and thrust Britain back into war with Germany. At the time of the outbreak of war, Barham was still in the Mediterranean until recalled back to the Home Fleet for December. She collided (and sunk) HMS Duchess which cost 124 lives. Later she took a German torpedo to her side while on patrol which cost four of her crew but her torpedo bulges held and she entered Liverpool for repair work which took her to April 1940.
During her time offline, she was given additional AA protection and was back in action for September to which she lent her capabilities to "Operation Menace" in at Dakar, Senegal. Her guns were used against French warships which were operating under the flag of the Vichy French at the time. She herself took several direct hits from enemy fire though without any major damage to report and was able to return fire against shoreline defensive positions. Her strength was then used to tow the damaged battleship HMS Resolution to safety. From there Barham set sail to British-controlled Gibraltar where she lay during an attack by Italian naval special forces using a manned torpedo. She survived this action and joined the Mediterranean Fleet in December of 1940.
Off the coast of North Africa, HMS Barham was used to protect the aircraft carried HMS Eagle during its assault on Tripoli and used her guns against enemy positions along the shore. For the new year, she was in action as a convoy escort headed to Malta during March and, that same month, she joined other Royal Navy warships for the Battle of Cape Matapan. The battle spanned from March 27th to March 29th and involved a combined British-Australian force against the Italians, ensuring an Allied victory and helping to shift the balance of power concerning navies in the Mediterranean Theater. She then engaged enemy elements at Tripoli.
In November of 1941, she was called to support an attack against an Italian navy convoy and it was during this action that Barham met her end. The German submarine U-331 planted three torpedoes into her side which forced her to roll over to portside before a magazine store detonated - sinking the vessel in short order. Over 70 percent of her crew went down with the ship - 841 men- and the news was shielded from public consumption for a time to maintain war support morale.
HMS Barham (04) was lost to the sea on November 25th, 1941.