HMS King Edward VII Pre-Dreadnought Battleship
HMS King Edward VII was lost to a German naval mine on January 6th, 1916.
Authored By JR Potts, AUS 173d AB; Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
HMS King Edward VII battleship of the British Royal Navy was laid down at Devonport Dockyard on March 8th, 1902, and became the lead ship of her King- Edward VII-class which numbered eight in all. The sister ships of HMS King Edward VII were HMS Commonwealth, HMS Hindustan, HMS Britannia, HMS Dominion, HMS New Zealand (Zealandia), HMS Africa and HMS Hibernia. HMS King Edward VII was formally commissioned in a ceremony on February 7th, 1905 and appropriately named after the reigning monarch of the time, King Edward VII (under the stipulation that she always remain a fleet flagship). Despite her powerful stature, the HSM King Edward VII was quickly overshadowed by the arrival of HMS Dreadnought in 1906. HMS Dreadnought proved a major step evolutionary step in naval design as she became the first "all-big-gun" ship - that is, she fielded a primary gun battery of the same caliber across armored barbettes. At the expense of armor protection, the vessel was also relatively fast in the water. The design was originally championed by Admiral John Jackie Fisher and ultimately spawned a warship classification that all proceeding battleships would be measured against for the next 25 years. Therefore, HMS King Edward VII, and all other battleships having entered service prior to HMS Dreadnought, would be referred to as "pre-dreadnought battleships" - deemed as obsolete as the ironclads they themselves replaced.
The King Edward VII-class was designed with a running length of over 453 feet (138m) with a beam of 78 feet (24m) and a draught of 26 feet, 9 inches (8.15m). As completed, she displaced at 17,800 tons and was powered by 2 x 4-cylinder vertical triple expansion steam engines. The engines were fed by 10 x Babcock and Wilcox water tube, coal-fired boilers and 6 x cylindrical boilers driving power to 2 x screws held under the waterline at the stern. To further benefit its potential speed, oil sprayers were installed that would coat the coal before firing which helped to increase their burn rate - generating rapidly increased steam pressure and, in turn, increasing the ships acceleration (maximum speed in ideal conditions was nearly 19 knots). The overall design of the King Edward VII-class was similar in respect to the British Majestic-class battleships they originated from though the new design was heavier by some 1,000 tons (long) and designed with more inherent speed. HMS King Edward VII and her class were the first modern British battleships fitted with a new, more maneuverable "balanced" rudder which gave the ship excellent turning qualities though ultimately proving difficult to keep along a straight course. It was this quality that gave the ship class the nickname of "The Wobbly Eight".
The choice of main gun armament for the King Edward VII-class was a widely-accepted multiple caliber gun approach consistent with the time. 4 x 12" (300mm) Mk IX twin gun turrets were fitted to make up the main gun battery and this was backed by the secondary battery consisting of 4 x 9.2" (230mm) Mk X quick-firing single gun turrets. The 9.2 inch guns were fixed through four individual turrets with two held forward and two held aft and bracketed the twin 12" gun turrets at the port and starboard sides. Through this arrangement, the HMS King Edward VII could bring two of the 9.2" guns to bear along either broadside in conjunction with the 12" main guns when attempting a broadside attack. As it turned out, however, the placement of the 9.2" guns next to the 12" guns proved to have a negative impact in combat for it became nearly impossible for observers to discriminate between the shell splashes of either caliber in the heat of battle (for ranging purposes). The fire control system (FCS) used at the time was primitive and therefore could not distinguish between the shell splashes of the two caliber types. Shell splashes proved very useful in adjusting the attack angle of subsequent fire.
The third battery level selected for HMS King Edward VII was 10 x 6" (150mm) Mk VII single guns mounted across evenly spaced turrets. Following these were 14 x 12-pounder quick-firing guns attached to single mounts and 14 x 3-pounder quick-firing guns were staged around the decks. These guns were designed to be used against smaller ships that were considered too close a target for the main and secondary gun batteries. As was standard practice for the time, 5 x 18" (450-mm) torpedo tubes were fitted into the design, these submerged below the water line as 2 x installations along the port beam and 2 x installations along the starboard beam with the final tube located at the stern. On the bridge were 2 x .303 Maxim naval machine guns intended for extreme close-in defense against surface and aerial threats.
HMS King Edward VII's armor protection included 9" at the belt, 8-12" bulkheads, 8-12" main gun turrets, 5-9" protection for the secondary turrets, 7" for the 6" gun battery and 12" for the conning tower. To maintain the required speed, deck armor was left minimal and generally not sufficient for "plunging fire" with only 1-2.5" of thickness being used. As the class was designed with a low free board, this made them extremely wet vessels in high seas. As designed, HMS King Edward VII carried no recoverable floatplane aircraft for "over-the-horizon" reconnaissance work. In terms of battle worthiness, the King Edward-class were regarded as stable gunnery platforms.
HMS King Edward VII underwent a standard refit beginning in 1906 which lasted into 1907. Following this work, she was assigned to the British Home Fleet and patrolled the vital waterways of the English Channel that served England proper and the European mainland. HMS Kind Edward VII then underwent another refit at Portsmouth from December 1909 to 1911. In 1912, the Royal Navy created the 3rd Battle Squadron out of the King Edward VII-class ships. The squadron was then ordered into Mediterranean waters during November of 1912 to take part in the First Balkan War which spanned from October 1912 to May 1913 and involved the allied forces of Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece and Montenegro against the Ottoman Empire. She arrived at Malta on November 27th, 1912 and assisted the French and Spanish in the blockade of Montenegro. The squadron was then called home in 1913 and stationed at Scapa Flow.
King Edward VII was a formidable warship at the time of her commissioning in 1905, only done in by the period in history which she happened to be born. Technology of the time was furthered through leaps and bounds and proved evolutionary in the grand scope of military history. By the summer of 1914, tensions across Europe had mounted to the point of spilling over and this proved the case following the assassination of little known Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria in June in Sarajevo prompting long-held alliances to take sides and declare war on one another - thusly beginning World War 1, The Great War. Amazingly, many of the peoples of the European powers celebrated the arrival of war and many believed the engagement would be completed by Christmas.
Due to the declaration of war (Britain declaring war on Germany through their alliance with Belgium), the 3rd Battle Squadron was sent to reinforce the Channel Fleet at Portland in November. With strategy attempting to keeping pace with the ever-changing developments of war, the squadron was recalled to the Grand Fleet thereafter. However, HMS King Edward VII showcased issues with her rudder and was forced to remain behind for repairs. She rejoined the Grand Fleet in late November of 1914. King Edward VII then continued her service as flagship on Atlantic patrols.
During the early phases of the war, the 3rd Battle Squadron was charged with assisting larger patrol groups assigned to the Grand Fleet. As they were deemed "lesser" ships in value when compared to the newer, more powerful "Dreadnoughts", HMS King Edward VII and her class were consistently placed at the head of flotillas to provide a barrier of sorts for the powerful battleship lines held further aft, exposing these lead ships to all manner of potential enemy attack - through torpedoes, naval mines, surface guns or aerial attack. The lead ships would trigger the enemy positions and warn the remaining flotilla in turn.
King Edward VII left Scapa Flow on January 6th, 1916 and was scheduled for a dry dock refit in Belfast. Along her route, she undertook double-duty in carrying out a patrol sortie along the northern coast of Scotland. As she rounded Cape Wrath, she struck an unseen German naval mine which detonated under her starboard engine room. Incoming water forced her to list eight degrees to starboard though there proved no loss of life. however, the deluge of water threatened to flood the entire engine room and kill the vessel completely. In response, Captain MacLachlin ordered the vessel to starboard to attempt to bring the vessel closer to shore should the situation degrade. During this turn, however, the helm jammed hard enough to starboard that the engine rooms flooded and stopped all propulsion. The crew engaged in practiced "counter flooding" strategies and managed to reduced her list to 5 degrees for the interim.
Now stranded, HMS King Edward VII called out to the nearby collier Princess Melita. An attempt was made to tow the battleship to shore to not risk her sinking altogether. HMS Kempfenfelt, a C-class destroyer, arrived to aid the sinking King Edward VII. HMS King Edward VII had settled deeper into the water by this time and was now listing a full 15 degrees to starboard. Strong winds further exacerbated the situation by generating six foot waves that threatened the towing initiative. The forces proved too much when the tow line to the Princess Melita was cut. Captain MacLachlin, understanding that his vessel could not be towed by a single destroyer, ordered HMS Kempfenfelt to cut her lines and free HMS King Edward VII.
As nightfall set in, the wounded (and sinking) battleship led Captain MacLachlin to give the final call to abandon ship. The destroyers HMS Musketeer, HMS Fortune and HMS Marne had arrived to receive HMS King Edward VII crew and the transfer proceeded in an orderly and professional fashion. One King Edward VII crewman was lost when he fell during the operation but no other losses of the 777 crew were reported. Captain MacLachlin himself, appropriately waiting until all his crew had disembarked, then boarded the destroyer HMS Nessus. With all hands safely removed, HMS King Edward VII sank by the stern on January 6th, 1916, thus ending her tenure of the seas.