British Ironclads, 1860-1875: HMS Warrior and the Royal Navy's "Black Battlefleet"
Osprey’s newest addition to the New Vanguard series tackles one of the revolutions in naval construction and warfare – the ironclad. In one of the slimmer editions of this series, this volume follows the tried and true formula of the series. Using a mix of original artwork and contemporary illustrations, the author examines the origins, armor, ordnance, propulsion and crew accommodations on early British Ironclads. Unfortunately, if you are looking for service histories of the ships of the Black Battlefleet, they are not included in the narrative. That is the only disappointment in this volume.
The date span of the volume, 1860-1875, encompasses the brief, but important decade and a half of the Royal Navy’s transition from wooden walls to ironclads. Spurred to action by the French Ironclad La Glorie (‘Glory’), the British built the HMS Warrior in response. Built completely of iron, with a mixed armament of breech and muzzle loading guns, mounted in line, it spurred a decade of construction of ironclads. What I appreciate about this slim volume is it not only lays out the individual ships of each class, but spells out the transitions from the traditional design of the Warrior to subsequent ships which would transition to what we know today as a modern battleship.
Broadly speaking, the first ironclads were both purpose built ships like the warrior and hybrids which converted wooden ships to iron clads by, well, covering them with iron plate. These were traditional ships in design, in that they had sails to supplement their steam engines and their armament was mounted in broadsides. The next step was moving the main guns to an armored citadel in the center of the ship. As guns increased in size, weight, and power, these newer designs overlapped the Warrior and her sisters. They were faster, had double bottoms, and were well protected.
The final iteration of the ironclad design were turreted ships. With two offset turrets in the center of the ship, it allowed for the mounting of large guns that covered the port and starboard, but due to the inclusion of masts, it limited coverage. In one of the more unfortunate incidents of this period, HMS Captain capsized due to its low freeboard and inherent instability due to its shallow draft and heavy turrets. The volume ends in 1875 with the launch of HMS Devastation. The Devastation dispensed with masts and mounted its turrets fore and aft, creating a ship that was the first modern battleship.
Many years ago, I remember listening to a presentation from a military historian who used Osprey publication as classroom texts. I can see why. This volume provides a concise summary of the ships that were a transition between the wooden walls of Lord Nelson and the battleships of the late nineteenth, early twentieth centuries. It was a critical time period in naval architecture and this New Vanguard release provides a nice entry point to the topic.
My thanks to IPMS and Osprey Publications for giving me the opportunity to review this book.