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HMS Bellerophon


HMS Bellerophon was the first of the Bellerophon class of Dreadnought type battleships. The preceding class was Dreadnought, and the next class was St Vincent. The Bellerophon class comprised three ships; in order of completion they were Bellerophon, Temeraire and Superb.

In Greek mythology, Bellerophon was the hero who rode Pegasus the winged horse and slew the monster Chimera.

The Royal Navy named four ships Bellerophon as shown in the table below.

DateBrief History
1786The first Bellerophon was a 74 gun third rate ship. She was converted into a prison ship in 1815, was aptly renamed Captivity and famed for transporting Napoleon Bonaparte, she was scrapped in 1836.
N/KThe second Bellerophon saw action in the Crimean war but I have no data on her.
1856The third Bellerophon was a Victorian central battery ironclad battleship. She paid off for the last time in Plymouth in 1892, and was re-commissioned as port guard ship at Pembroke until 1903. She was then renamed HMS Indus and converted into a stoker’s training ship in 1904. After a mere 53 years in service she was scrapped in 1922.
1906The fourth Bellerophon, and the subject of this page, gave its name to the Bellerophon class of dreadnought battleships.

Image 1 shows HMS Bellerophon - the location and date are not known. [1]

HMS Bellerophon

Basic Data

BuildersRoyal Navy Dockyards
Country UK
Displacement (Std)18,596 tons
Displacement (Full load)22,540
Length526 ft
Breadth82.5 ft
Draught31.5 ft
EnginesTwo Parsons direct drive steam turbines
Engine buildersFairfields
Boilers18 Babcock coal-fired boilers operating at 230psi
Power23,000 SHP
PropulsionFour Screws
Speed21 knots
ComplementApprox. 730

Additional Construction Information

As Dreadnaught was completed in December 1906, Bellerophon, the lead ship of the follow-on Bellerophon class, was being laid down by Portsmouth Dockyard on 6 December 1906. She was launched 27 July 1907 and commissioned on the 20 February 1909. Her building costs were £1,763,491 – the most expensive of the three sisters.

Although superficially similar to Dreadnought, the main external distinguishing feature was the second tripod mast. Dreadnought had a single tripod mast immediately aft of the forward funnel with a heavy boat derrick facing aft from this mast, whilst Bellerophon had a second mast immediately forward of the aft funnel with the boat derrick facing forwards of this mast. Another not-so-easy to tell feature was that the rather weak secondary battery of twenty-four 12 pounder guns of the Dreadnought were replaced with sixteen singly mounted 4” guns which recognised the increasing risk of attack by torpedo-carrying small craft and the rapidly increasing size of these ships.

Internally the main difference was the improvement to the under-water protection from torpedo damage. A continuous fore and aft torpedo bulkhead now ran from the forward end of the forward magazine to the aft end of the after magazine. It was called a screen bulkhead as it was intended to screen the magazines from torpedoes. The Bellerophon class was one foot shorter than the Dreadnought class and just 5 inches greater in beam. However the Bellerophon ships were slightly less than 500 tons heavier in standard displacement reflecting the greater use of armour. They were also 1,800 tons heavier in full load displacement. The two masts on this class were located on the fore-side of the funnels and an improvement on Dreadnought's single mast which was placed behind the fore funnel but in certain wind condition smoke and hot gases could make the spotting tops untenable. A novel feature of this class having two masts is that they were fitted with two sets of fire control systems.

The machinery of the Bellerophon Class ships was virtually identical to the Dreadnoughts - Quadruple propellers driven by Parsons direct drive steam turbines built by Fairfields of Govan. The turbines consisted of a high pressure ahead and astern turbine on the outboard shafts, and a low pressure ahead and astern on the two inboard shafts. The inboard shafts also incorporated an ahead cruising turbine for fuel economy. The turbines developed a total of 23,000 SHP and gave 21 knots. Steam was produced by 18 Babcock coal fired boilers. There were three boiler rooms with six boilers in each with a working pressure of 230 psi. The range of the class was not particularly good being about 5,700 miles at 10 knots.

Image 2 shows the steam turbine casings for HMS Bellerophon being fitted with their impulse blading. [2]

HMS Bellerophon

Image 3 is believed to show a HP and a LP turbine unit that have been assembled together for testing on a test bed. This arrangement was not how the turbines were fitted when installed in the ship. The outboard shafts had the HP ahead and astern turbines and the two inboard shafts had the LP ahead and astern turbines along with a cruise turbine. [2]

HMS Bellerophon

Career Highlights

3 December 1906Keel laid down
27 July 1907Launched
2 February 1909Completed
20 February 1909Commissioned
31 May-1 June 1916Participated in the Battle of Jutland
1919Placed in reserve and converted to a Gunnery Training School
November 1921Sold to breakers
1923Broken up in Germany


Main Battery

Ten 12" C45 Mk10 guns (identical to the Dreadnought, Invincible and Indefatigable classes) construction being identical using steel inner tubes and liners and reinforced with flat wire winding and finally enclosed in a steel jacket. The gun houses themselves were Vickers Mk 9.

The guns fired a shell weighing 850lbs for the HE to 859 lbs for the AP. Post Jutland, when it was realised that British shells had performed poorly, and that rather than just make a hole in the armour of an enemy ship what was needed was a shell to penetrate the armour before exploding, a new shell was designed called the ‘Green Boy’ which weighed 854 lbs. Dependant on type, the shells ranged from 38 to 48 inches in length and the rate of fire of the guns was about one round every 40 seconds. The range was just under 19,000 yards at 13.5 degrees elevation and used a charge of 258lbs of MD45 propellant. MD45 is a cordite or colloidal propellant consisting of long rods of explosive - cordite being a somewhat unstable blend of nitro-cellulose and nitro-glycerine with added stabilisers. Shore versions of these guns had a longer range of around 25,000 yards with a much higher elevation (in excess of 40 degrees) not achievable on a ship .

During the building of the Bellerophon class, attention was now being paid to the streamlining of the shells. A measure to this is the formula 'CRH' which stands for Calibre Radius Head, and the 4CRH shells carried on the class indicated the length of the curvature of the nose of the shell in relation to its length. Earlier ships including the Dreadnought had used 2CRH shells, but trials with the 4CRH confirmed these had longer ranges and eventually all 12” gunned ships using the more streamlined shell.

Image 4 is a copy of an Admiralty plan of Bellerophon showing the location of her main and secondary armaments, The main turrets were identified the same way as Dreadnought: 'A' forward on the Foc’sle, 'P' to port, 'Q' to starboard of midships, 'X' & 'Y' aft. It should be noted that the plan gives this as the 'Temeraire' class in fact it should be Bellerophon class. [1]

HMS Bellerophon

Secondary Armament

The secondary battery consisted of sixteen 4" Mk7 guns each in single mounts. Eight of these guns were placed two each on 'A', 'P', 'Q', and 'Y' turrets, and the remaining eight in casemate mounts - four on either beam in the deck house at forecastle deck level. There still prevailed the thought that defence of the ship against torpedo attack would only come either before or after a fleet action using the main battery, so that whilst the main battery was in action the eight 4" on their roofs could not be used. At least the eight casemate guns, usable during a fleet action, were a step in the right direction, although the open mounts on two of the turrets had one advantage – they could be fired through 360 degrees whilst the casements were limited to 60 degrees either side of their stowed position. Designed in 1904, 700 of these guns were produced and something like 500 of them remained in use on merchant vessels in WW2. The construction of these weapons was very similar to the main battery using wire winding. On some of the later Dreadnoughts the turret-mounted weapons were high angle AA guns, but to date I have found no evidence of these being fitted on the Bellerophon class ships.

The guns fired three types of shell: CPC ( Common Percussion Cap), HE ( High Explosive), and Shrapnel. All weighed 31lbs and could be fired either electrically or by percussion, range was 11,500yards using a charge of just over 9lbs of cordite, and the rate of fire was up to 8 rounds per minute.

Bellerophon also carried two 3 pounder guns which would in all probability be used for saluting.

Torpedo Armament

Three below-water torpedo tubes were fitted for 18" Whitehead torpedoes. These fired one on either beam and one ahead.

Armour Protection


Image 5 is from an Admiralty manual and shows the disposition of armour in black. [1]

HMS Bellerophon

Operational History

When completed, Bellerophon joined the 01st battle squadron, part of the Home fleet and the only incident of note occurred on 26 May 1911 when she collided with the battle-cruiser Inflexible. With the onset of war she joined the 4th battle Squadron and, on the way to Scapa Flow, collided with the civilian steamer St. Clair on 27 August; damage was only slight. She had a refit in May/June 1915.

Bellerophon was present at the Battle of Jutland (31 May 1916 to 1 June 1916) where she was under the command of Captain Edward F. Bruen, (Rear Admiral Alexander Duff) in 4th Division - part of the 4th BS led Vice Admiral Doveton Sturdee in Benbow followed by Bellerophon, Temeraire and Vanguard. Her first action at Jutland came at 1828 with a brief period of fire at the hapless German light cruiser Weisbaden. Disabled earlier by the Inflexible, she was fired at by a large number of British ships as they passed her.

At 18:30 Bellerophon opened fire on the Derfflinger straddling her several times and hitting her once. The 12" shell did little damage - it hit the armoured section of the control tower and did not penetrate the 12" armour - British shells performed very poorly at this time. Shortly after 19:00 she joined in the general melé to repulse a torpedo attack by the German 6th and 9th destroyer flotillas. This attack was most likely a brave attempt to rescue the crew of the Wiesbaden. In all Bellerophon fired a total of 62 rounds of 12" shell - 41 rounds of APC and 21 rounds of *CPC plus 14 rounds of 4" but she was not hit in return.

* CPC = Common Percussion Capped; APC = Armour Piercing Capped, the cap refers to a ballistic cap attached to the shell to increase the ballistic characteristics of the shells and thus the range.

Post Jutland, Bellerophon carried out regular patrols of the North Sea with other ships of the Grand Fleet. As the relief Flagship of the 4th Battle Squadron, her Admirals were RAs Roger Keyes and Douglas Nicholson. She had a quiet existence with no events of note and, unlike her sisters Temeraire and Superb, was not sent to the Mediterranean.

Post-war, now superseded by the super-Dreadnoughts with 13.5 inch guns, she was placed in reserve in 1919 and converted to a Gunnery Training School; Bellerophon lasted just over two years in this role. A victim of the 1920 Washington arms reduction Treaty, she was sold to the breakers in November 1921 and broken up in 1923.

Image Credits

  1. By courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
  2. From a Fairfield publication dated 1909 and sent to the site owner by Alistair Russell.