The Battle-Cruiser HMS Renown 1916 - 1948
“Speed is Armor”
Such was the concept behind the brainchild of Royal Navy Admiral Sir John Fisher. When he became First Sea Lord in 1904, he began to turn his many innovative concepts of naval warfare and warship design into reality. One of these was of a new breed of warship – heavily armed yet lightly armored but faster than her enemies. In theory, what she couldn’t out fight, she could out sail. And so the soon to be called “battle cruiser” was born, the last of these built for the Royal Navy was HMS Renown. Although armed with six 15-inch guns, she was never intended to form a part of the capital ship battle line. Yet, their heavy armament and promotion as very powerful units often compelled commanders to use battlecruisers in roles they were unprepared for. While they acquitted themselves well in some notable single ship engagements early in the Great War, the type fared poorly during the Battle of Jutland in 1916, where three British battlecruisers were lost. Soon after HMS Renown and her sister HMS Repulse were commissioned, they were determined to be woefully under protected and underwent modifications that kept them from participating in hostilities. World War I ended before they could bring their guns to bear on their enemies.
This book is not merely a technical reference for the design and operational highlights of the Royal Navy’s last battlecruiser. Author Peter C. Smith, who has written widely on the Royal Navy, goes into considerable detail to tell the complete history of this ship, from the philosophy that brought her into being, to her final voyage to the breakers. He draws extensively on many personal accounts to describe her actions during peace and war. He describes her use as the “Royal Yacht”, carrying the Prince of Wales, and later the Duke of York, on tours overseas and around the world (for which she would finally acquire high grade teakwood decking in anticipation of carrying the Royals). Like numerous other larger units, she would be used for aircraft flying-off experiments carrying biplanes on turret-mounted platforms. She would undergo numerous modifications between the wars to modernize her fire control, communications, A-A weapons and armor protection (although never enough to be allowed to fight heavyweights Bismarck or Tirpitz on her own). There are many first hand descriptions of life in port, whether it is at Plymouth, Scapa Flow, Gibraltar or Trincomalee.
When World War II commenced, she saw continual service hunting German raiders in the South Atlantic, escorting Mediterranean convoys and chasing the Italian fleet as part of the famous Gibraltar based “Force H”, keeping a wary eye out for German heavies while shepherding Arctic convoys, or taking part in some of the Royal Navy’s last actions covering invasions in the Indian Ocean as part of the Eastern Fleet.
If you like a thorough, detailed history of a famous, long lived fighting ship, this volume will give you just what you’re looking for. It also provides an insightful look at some of the Royal Navy’s more interesting naval leaders, including Admirals Cunningham and Somerville. There are also several reference tables highlighting Renown’s cited actions, her commanders, her previous namesakes, and several profile illustrations showing her many modifications throughout her service life.
My thanks go to Pen and Sword Books for providing IPMS with this volume for review.