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HMS Hercules


HMS Hercules was the second of the Colossus class of Dreadnought type battleships. The preceding class was Neptune.

Hercules is the Roman derivative of the Greek Heracles, the hero son of the god Zeus and the mortal Alcmena, Heracles went insane killing his family and entire village, after this he was made to perform 12 great tasks to cleanse himself.

The Royal Navy named five ships Hercules as shown in the table below. There was to be a sixth but she was not completed.

DateBrief History
1759The first Hercules was a 74-gun ship of the line.
1798The second Hercules was a 78-gun prize ship taken in 1798.
1815The third Hercules was a 74-gun ship of the line sole on in 1865.
1866-8The fourth Herculeswas a single ship of the class central-battery ironclad battleship built in 1866-8. She was 325 feet long and of 8,800 tons displacement and in 1904 became the Calcutta based at Gibraltar as a depot ship. In 1914 she was renamed again and towed home to Portsmouth where as the Fishguard she was stripped of all above deck fittings and superstructure and used as an artificers training ship. She was sent for scrap in 1932.
1911The fifth Hercules is the subject of this page.
1907The sixth Superb was one of the six-ship strong Majestic class aircraft carriers. She was laid down on 12 October 1943 and launched on 22 September 1945. However work on the ship was not completed until she was sold to India in 1957 when she became the INS Vikrant in 1961.

Image 1 shows HMS Hercules under way in Scapa Flow - the date is not known. [1]

HMS Hercules

Basic Data

BuildersPalmers Shipbuilding & Iron Company
Country UK
Yard Number 805
Displacement (Std)19,700 tons
Displacement (Full load)22,700
Length546 ft
Breadth85 ft
Draught27 ft (normal) 31 ft (max)
EnginesTwo Parsons direct drive steam turbines
Engine buildersPalmers Shipbuilding & Iron Company
Boilers18 Yarrow coal-fired boilers operating at 235 psi
Power26,559 SHP
PropulsionFour Screws
Speed21.5 knots
ComplementApprox. 775-800

Additional Construction Information

The Colossus class was a follow-on design to the Neptune class. There was originally meant to be three ships of the Neptune class, but a change to the armour scheme on the last two ships resulted in them being quite different from the Neptune, hence the single ship Neptune class, and the two ship Colossus class - Colossus and Hercules.

The Colossus class was similar to the Neptune class; Neptune being the first capital ship in the Royal Navy to use super-firing where one main turret is placed on the centre-line above another turret. This produces a compact pair of turrets taking up less length in the ship needing less weight of armour for protection. An added gain is that both turrets can also fire on either beam. One of the problems was that muzzle blast from the upper turret could adversely affect the lower turret. This was a great concern in days when the guns were fitted with open sighting hoods. To prevent damage to the lower turret 'Y' by 'X' turret firing astern, 'X' turret was limited to firing no closer than 30 degrees from right astern. Another feature of the Neptune and Colossus classes were the midships turrets P and Q. On all previous British Dreadnoughts these were placed one abeam of the other and they could then only fire on their own side of the ship. On the Neptune they were staggered - en echelon - along the length of the ship allowing limited cross-deck firing. In theory this permitted a ten gun broadside but in practice, the cross-deck firing was not a success and would cause damage to the ship by muzzle blast from the turret so firing. Although some length was saved by having 'X' and 'Y' turrets arranged for super-firing, the en echelon arrangement of the two midships turrets, 'P' and 'Q' took up a lot more space than the old abreast layout. To combat this a novel way of fitting the ships boats was devised. This consisted of a flying bridge type deck between the forward and aft deck houses, nicknamed the 'Marble Arches' after the RN offices of that name as they had an arched appearance. They were not a good idea; the fear was that in battle they could be damaged and drop onto the gun turrets below disabling them and they were removed during the war. The Colossus class was followed by the first of the 13.5" gunned Super-Dreadnought classes, the Orions.

Both the Hull and machinery were built by Palmers Shipbuilding and Iron Company at their Jarrow on Tyne yard. Ordered under the 1908/9 naval estimates, she was laid down on 30 June 1909, launched on 10 May 1910 and commissioned 31 July 1911 at a total cost of £1,661,240.

Hercules was fitted with quadruple propellers driven by Parsons direct drive steam turbines in a more or less identical layout to the Dreadnought with the exception that no cruising turbines were fitted. Instead an extra stage was fitted to the high pressure turbines; this was separated from the main turbine by a by-pass valve. As in the Dreadnought, Bellerophon and St Vincent classes, the high pressure turbines drove the inboard propeller shafts and the low pressure turbines the outboard shafts developing 26,559 SHP on trials at about 345 RPM giving a maximum speed of 21.5 knots. Normal power was 25,000 HP for 21 knots.

In the Colussus class the engine rooms were for the first time split into three with the two inboard shafts leading into the centre engine room, and the outboard shafts to the port and starboard wing engine rooms.

Steam was provided by eighteen Yarrow boilers arranged in three groups. Essentially coal fired, they were fitted with oil sprayers to permit faster raising of steam. Steam pressure was about 235 psi. Bunker capacity was 2,900 tons of coal and 800 tons of oil. Consumption at full speed was in the order of 360 tons per day, and range about 4,000 miles at 18 knots rising to 6,300 miles at 10 knots.

Career Highlights

13 July 1909Keel laid down
10 May 1910Launched
November 1911Completed
8 November 1921Sold for scrapping
1922Broken up in Germany


Main Battery

HMS Hercules was fitted with ten 12" C50 Mk11 guns in five twin turrets but the new weapon was not a success. Now fifty calibres in length, the longer barrel was designed to give higher muzzle velocities and thus greater range and hitting power. It used a larger propellant charge of 307 lbs against the earlier 12" guns 258 lbs of MD size 45 cordite. The larger charge did not always burn correctly within the barrel length resulting in a very poor shell spread pattern. Also the higher pressures within the gun barrel, something akin to 20-22 tons per square inch, caused serious wear and thus the guns only had a working life of around 220 rounds. Shell weights were the same for the earlier 12" guns at 850 to 859 lbs. The range was around 21,000 yards at 15 degrees elevation against 19,000 yards for the C45 guns of the earlier classes.

Image 2 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. [3]

HMS Bellerophon

Secondary Armament

The Idea of mounting the secondary battery on top of the main turrets had died a death and all the secondary armament was mounted in the deck houses. Twelve of these rather useless 4" guns, which were too small to stop a determined attacking torpedo boat, were fitted largely in casemates with another High angle (HA) 4" being fitted as an AA gun.

Hercules also carried four 3 pounder saluting guns.

Torpedo Armament

This class introduced the 21" torpedo with three submerged torpedo tubes being fitted, one on either beam and one firing stern, the stern tube being removed circa 1914-6.

Armour Protection


Not greatly different to the Dreadnought, these ships were similar to the Neptune, differing mainly in disposition of armouring and internal protection However Neptune's internal protection was not used in the Colossus class. To save weight, the internal screens - torpedo bulkheads - were not continuous between the end barbettes and only protected the machinery spaces and magazines. The weight saved was spent on thicker belt armour. To compensate for the poorer anti-torpedo protection, internal subdivision was increased. Weights of armour were 4,560 tons vertical and 2,010 tons decks total 6570 tons.

* KC= Krupp cemented armour, KNC= Krupp Non-cemented armour

Image 3 is from an Admiralty manual and shows the disposition of armour in black. [3]

HMS Bellerophon

Operational History

On commissioning, Superb joined the 1st Division of the Home Fleet and was transferred to 4th Battle Squadron in 1915.

Image 4 is an aerial photograph of HMS Superb - the location and date are not known. [2]

HMS Superb

Superb was at Jutland with the 3rd Division of the 4th BS Led by Admiral Sir John Jellicoe. Iron Duke was followed by Royal Oak, Superb and Canada. Her action during Jutland began at 18:26 when the hapless Weisbaden, a disabled German light cruiser, appeared out of the smoke. One of many British ships to fire on this target, Superb fired four salvoes claiming two hits.

Although in the general action against the German battleships around 19:00 when some firing was carried out at 9 miles, Superb could only see 5 miles and did not open fire. At 19:20 she opened fire on the Derfflinger and fired seven salvos in 4½ minutes with two claimed hits at 12,200 yards. During the battle she fired 54 12" shells - 16 CPC and 38 HE. She did not use her 4" batteries at all and received no damage.

In 1918, she was detached with HMS Temeraire to the Mediterranean, becoming flagship of the British Eastern Mediterranean Squadron and later flagship of the British Naval Forces in the Black Sea - the first British flagship to enter the Black Sea.

Back in UK waters in 1919 she was paid off into the Nore Reserve. Placed on the Disposal list in 1920, she was used as a gunnery and aerial bombing target until sold for scrapping in 1922.

Image Credits

  1. Expired Crown Copyright photograph
  2. By courtesy of the Imperial War Museum collection and in the public domain
  3. From old Admiralty manuals