Dreadnoughts and Super-Dreadnoughts
By the turn of the Twentieth Century, Great Britain was at the height of its industrial and colonial power, with the largest ironclad navy in the world. By 1904, Britain ruled the seas with 45 “pre-dreadnaught” battleships. Each of these carried a main armament usually consisting of four 12- or 13-inch main guns in two twin turrets (one forward and one aft) along with a number of lesser caliber weapons (6”, 12-pounder and 3-pounder) for close in defense. Other navies, primarily Germany, the United States, and after 1905 Japan followed on Great Britain’s heels. The stage was set for an abrupt alteration in the status quo, as industry, technology and the critical thinking of one man combined to change the face of naval power in the decades to come.
Author Chris McNab chronicles the development and introduction of a revolutionary new class of capital ship under the guidance of British First Sea Lord Admiral John Arbuthnot “Jackie” Fisher. With the delivery of HMS Dreadnought, with its faster speed, thicker armor protection and astounding ten 12-inch gun armament into the Royal Navy, it rendered all ships that came before it obsolete - including those of the Royal Navy.
This volume primarily describes the development of HMS Dreadnought and subsequent vessels of her class, as well as improved follow on classes that were constructed for the Royal Navy (all henceforth known as “dreadnoughts”). Early chapters describe the intense arguments that ensued within the Royal Navy over the merits of “all big-gun ships”, the value (or not) of greater speed at the expense of reduced armor protection, and of the economic question of rendering their own powerful pre-dreadnougt navy obsolete. The author goes on to detail the various elements of the class in chapters describing armor protection, propulsion systems, as well as the myriad weapons and fire control systems that would make these ships the arbiters of national power for the opening decades of the century. Further chapters describe life at sea aboard these vessels, and of the vessels of the rest of the world’s navies as they sought to emulate this new oceangoing powerhouse, to the point of developing “super-dreadnoughts” with their even greater protection and larger 14- and 16-inch main batteries. Finally, the author highlights the major actions of Germany’s and Great Britain’s dreadnoughts at war - early Great War skirmishes and the 1916 Battle of Jutland.
The volume is highly illustrated with many contemporary paintings to compliment the photographs, period plan drawings, and profile illustrations. This is a fine primer for those wishing to fill in the knowledge gaps of naval warship development leading up to WWII. Thanks to Casemate Publishers and IPMS for the opportunity to review this book, and fill in a few of my own “knowledge gaps”.