Ordered in 1922, the British Royal Navy battleship HMS Nelson - along with her sole sister ship HMS Rodney - represented the most modern and powerful battleships in service to the Crown heading into World War 2 (1939-1945). Nelson saw her keel laid down by Armstrong-Whitworth on December 28th, 1922 and launched on September 3rd 1925 before being commissioned on August 15th, 1927. The Washington Naval Treaty that followed World War 1 (1914-1918) limited British capital ship construction to these two.
As such, engineers trialled various arrangements for their new ships. The standard displacement was limited to 35,000 tons and to this was added the required caliber of the main armament as 16". A further challenge came from the level of protection to be afforded to the twins. The resulting design proved wholly-unique in the realm of period battleships - the entire main gun armament of 9 x 16" guns was situated across three separate turrets and all mounted ahead of the main superstructure (which contained the bridge) in a "low-high-low" turret arrangement aft of the bow. To offset the design, all of the 6" (152mm) guns were positioned aft of the bridge, providing the new Nelson-class with a unique, if not strange, profile concerning battleships of World War 2. Engineers also utilized another interesting feature in the Nelson's design, one kept relatively secret until after the war, in which bulkheads set under the waterline could be filled with water as needed. When empty, this allowed the Nelson its proper, "legal" peacetime displacement and, when filled, added point protection against detonating enemy torpedoes by spreading their disastrous effects across a "padded" area.
HMS Nelson was given the fighting motto of "Let him bear the palm who has deserved it" (though presented in its true Latin form) and served under pennant number "28".
As built, HMS Nelson officially displaced at 34,500 tons under standard load and rose to become 41,900 tons under full load. Her dimensions included a length of 710 feet, a beam measuring 106 feet and a draught reaching 33 feet. Her complete crew complement numbered 1,360 personnel to include officers, enlisted and security personnel. The vessel was afforded a single floatplane aircraft for over-the-horizon spotting work though the ship lacked a catapult launching feature. Her complete armament suite included 9 x 16" (406mm) BL Mk I main guns in three, three-barreled turrets, 12 x 6" (152mm) BL Mk XXII guns in six, double-barreled installations, 6 x 4.7" (120mm) QF Anti-Aircraft (AA) guns as six, single-barreled turrets, 48 x 2-pounder QF AA guns in six octuple mounts, 16 x 40mm AA guns in four, four-barreled mounts and 61 x 20mm AA guns for close-in defense. Armor protection would be key to the Nelson's survival. As such, she fielded 14" across midships, 6.75" over her deck, 16" across each turret face and up to 13.4 inches at the sides of the conning tower.
Beyond her armament and armor, the Nelson's other key quality lay in her propulsion system when reaching desired speeds within the British Fleet. This was provided for by eight three-drum, super-heated boilers feeding 2 x Brown-Curtiss single reduction geared turbines driving 2 x shafts while producing an output rating of 45,000 horsepower. This allowed for a maximum ocean-going speed of 24 knots to be reached in ideal conditions with a range out to 7,000 nautical miles when making headway at 16 knots. However, Nelson would end up proving rather slow in the war, laboring to track down the faster German battlecruisers and like-ships.
HMS Nelson began Royal Navy service as the flagship of the British Home Fleet when she was launched and stayed under the Home Fleet title when war came to Europe in September of 1939 following the German invasion of neighboring Poland. When HMS Spearfish was damaged off Horns Reef, Nelson (joining others including the carrier HMS Ark Royal) provided critical escort duty while also searching for the displaced and injured. Further actions in the North Sea showcased the vessels general slowness against German warships in the theater. On October 30th, 1939, the German U-boat U-56 struck Nelson with three torpedoes though all three amazingly proved duds and Nelson escaped possible damage. In December, Nelson's luck had run out some as a magnetic mine struck her hull when she entered Loch Ewe near the Scottish coast. This forced repairs to be conducted as the vessel lay at Portsmouth into August of 1940.
During April of 1941, Nelson was charged with convoy protection in the Atlantic and, by May, she made up a portion of the British contingent attempting to coral the mythical KMS Bismarck battleship of the German Navy. During June, Nelson formed part of "Force H" and added much-needed firepower to critical convoys heading to Malta in the Mediterranean Sea. With a high level of Italian naval activity in these waters, Nelson took forward torpedo damage on September 27th, 1941 which warranted further repairs as she made her way back to home waters by way of Gibraltar. She was not made ready until May of 1942.
Back in action for November 1942, Nelson brought her guns to bear in support of the Allied invasions of North Africa during Operation Torch and then took part in the Sicily landings of July 1943. From there, it was to the Italian coastline to provide cover for more amphibious landings by Allied personnel. With the noose finally tightened on the Italian peninsula, the Italians accepted the formal surrender on the decks of the Nelson herself in September of 1943.
The following month, Nelson followed suit with many other Allied warships when she took on increased anti-aircraft armament to improve her point-defense network. She then joined the flotilla taking part in the Allied invasion of northern France during D-Day on June 6th, 1944. On June 18th, however, Nelson was the unlucky recipient of two naval mines which caused enough damage to force repairs yet again. This time, the vessel wade her way across the Atlantic to America where laborers conducted repairs at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.
In January of 1945, Nelson joined Allied naval strength in the Indian Ocean to help attain naval supremacy in the Pacific Theater while Europe lay more or less in check. The Japanese remained the last major Axis power in the war following Germany's surrender in May of 1945. The Japanese surrender then followed in September, formally ending all official fighting in World War 2.
With the war over, Nelson was handed flagship status of the Home Fleet once more (at Scapa Flow) and found her way back to British waters in November 1945. She was then given a new charge as a training vessel for Training Squadron (Portland) from July 1946 onwards. She served in this role until formally decommissioned (along with her sister HMS Rodney) in February of 1948. Both were then anchored at Firth of Forth and unceremoniously used in aerial bombing training to which Nelson's hulk was then sold off for scrap in 1949 - an unfitting end for such a storied British warship. Regardless, her naval career was now over in full.
Ship Class [ Nelson-class ] Ships-in-Class [ 2 ]Ship Names:HMS Nelson (28); HMS Rodney (29)
- Blue Water Operations
- Fleet Support
710 ft (216.41 m)
Width / Beam:
106 ft (32.31 m)
Height / Draught:
33 ft (10.06 m)
8 x Admiralty three-drum, super-heated boilers with 2 x Brown-Curtis single reduction geared turbines developing 45,000 horsepower to 2 x shafts.
24 kts (28 mph)
7,000 nm (8,055 miles; 12,963 km)
9 x 16" (406mm) BL Mk I main guns (3x3)
12 x 6" (152mm) Mk XXII guns (6x2)
6 x 4.7" (120mm) QF Anti-Aircraft (AA) guns (6x1)
48 x QF 2-pounder Anti-Aircraft (AA) guns (6x8)
16 x 40mm Anti-Aircraft (AA) guns (4x4)
61 x 20mm Anti-Aircraft (AA) guns
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