Indefatigable Class Battleship HMS Indefatigable


Royal Navy Ships Named Indefatigable

HMS Indefatigable was the first of the Indefatigable Class of battle cruisers. The Indefatigable class comprised three ships; in order of completion they were Indefatigable, New Zealand and Australia.

The Royal Navy used the name Indefatigable for seven ships as shown in the table below.

Date Brief History
1784 The first Indefatigable was an Ardent class frigate built at the Hampshire yard of Henry Adams at Bucklers Hard on the Beaulieu River. She was laid down in 1781 and launched in 1784. She was originally intended to be a third-rate Ship of the line with 64 guns but when launched she was already obsolescent so one of her two decks was cut down to convert her into a Razee, a type of armed frigate to carry 44 guns. She was finally commissioned in 1794 or 1795. She was 160 feet long on the gun deck and of approximately 1,400 tons and was scrapped in Chatham in 1816.
1804 The second Indefatigable was a purchased-in merchant ship that was only in use for one year.
1851 The third Indefatigable was a fourth-rate Ship of the line of 50 guns. Built 1848-51 she was used as a training ship in the mid 1860’s and sold on in 1914.
1892 The fourth Indefatigable was a member of the 21-strong class of Apollo second class cruisers. She was built by the London & Glasgow Engineering & Iron Shipbuilding Co. Ltd. at Govan on the Clyde between 1890 and 1892. Length 314 Ft, breadth 43 Ft 8 Inches, draught 18 Ft. 6 Inches and displacing 3,600 tons. She was armed with two 6" guns, six 4.7" guns, eight 6-Pounder guns, one 3-pounder gun and four machine guns. The class was also fitted with four above-water torpedo tubes. She was a twin-screw ship powered by a pair of two cylinder compound steam engines fed by 3 double-ended and two single-ended boilers and developed 7,000 ihp on normal draught for 17.5 knots. Forced draught increased this to 9,000 ihp and 20 knots. She carried 535 tons of coal which gave her a range of 8,000 miles at 10 knots, and had a crew of 273 men. She was built of steel but sheathed with teak and copper for service in the tropics and was scrapped or sold in 1913.
1909 The fifth Indefatigable was an Indefatigable class battle cruiser and the subject of this page.
1913 The sixth Indefatigable was the Leander Class second-class cruiser renamed Indefatigable, a training ship in 1913 - the second to carry the name as a training ship. She was renamed again in 1943 as the Carrick II and served as a training ship throughout WW2. She was built by Napiers of Glasgow from 1880 to 1886. Length 315 Ft., breadth 46 Ft., draught 20 Ft. 6 Inches and displacement of 4,300 tons full load. She was powered by twin screws driven by a pair of two cylinder horizontal direct-acting compound steam engines developing 5,500 IHP from 12 cylindrical boilers. She could make 16.5 knots and her bunkers of 1,016 tons of coal gave her a prodigious range of 11,000 miles at 10 knots. She was also rigged as a barquentine. She carried ten 6" guns, and sixteen machine guns and was also fitted with four 14" above-water torpedo tubes. As a training ship she was stationed in the Mersey off Rock Ferry from 15 January 1914. In WW1 the Admiralty requisitioned her and used her as a Q ship in the war against U-boats. Following this service she was returned as a training ship until 1941 when she was sold for scrap at Wards of Preston, but the Admiralty had a change of mind and bought her back again and converted her into an accommodation Hulk to be moored off Gourock. She was renamed Carrick II (not to be confused with Carrick the former City of Adelaide). In 1946 the old ship finally came to the end of her life and she was sold back to Wards of Preston and arrived on the 24 January 1947 to be scrapped after a service life of 61 years.
1944 The seventh Indefatigable was an aircraft carrier of the Implacable class built by John Browns on the Clyde 1939 to 1944. She was 766 feet long and displaced 32,600 tons full load. She had a wide and varied career and was also the first British carrier to be hit by a Kamikaze suicide attack on 1 April 1945. Having an armoured flight deck saved the ship and she was back in action in just 5 hours but 14 men were killed. She became a training ship in 1950 and was scrapped in 1956.

An eighth ship was was ordered in 1832 but cancelled in 1834; she was to have been a 50-gun fourth-rate ship of the line and had not been listed.

HMS Indefatigable - the location and date are not known. She is in her 'as built' condition. She retains her anti-torpedo nets which were removed circa 1914. [1]

Basic Data

Item Value
Type Battleship
Class Indefatigable
Builder Royal Navy Dockyard
Builder's Yard Devonport, Plymouth
Builder's Country UK
Displacement (Std) 18,470 tons
Displacement (Full load) 22,080 tons
Length 590 Ft.
Breadth 80 Ft.
Draught 26 Ft. 7"
Engines Four Parsons direct drive steam turbines
Engine Builder Works Turbinia, Wallsend
Engine Builder Country UK
Engine Builder Country UK
Power 43,000 SHP
Boilers 32 Babcock & Wilson coal-fired boilers
Propulsion Four Screws
Speed 25 knots
Complement 1,017 at time of loss

Additional Construction Information

The Indefatigable class of three battle-cruisers – Indefatigable, Australia and New Zealand were intended to be battle-cruiser variants of the single ship of class HMS Neptune - a battleship. However financial constraints dictated that costs were kept down and instead the class was a virtual repeat of the previous Invincible class but some 23 feet longer to allow the two mid-ships turrets (P and Q) to be placed on the centre line, giving them better arcs of fire and removing the problems of cross-deck firing associated with the Invincible class.

The armour scheme of the Indefatigable class was virtually identical to the Invincible class apart from the enclosing bulkheads of the citadel. Inadequate in the Invincible class it was actually thinner in the Indefatigable class. Much has been written about the poor comparison between the armour of the British battle-cruisers and their German Counter-parts, but it should be remembered that the role for the battle-cruiser was not to engage similar ships but, in the days before radar and aerial scouting, fleets sent ahead fast scouting cruisers. These would make contact with an enemy's ships and then steam back at high speed to report to the slower heavy ships in the main fleet. Battle-cruisers were intended to be as fast, if not faster, than these scouting cruisers, and to be armed with heavy long range guns.

The theory was that they would sink the scouting cruisers and deprive an enemy of its 'eyes'. For this role the British designed battle-cruisers were ideally suited. Unfortunately it was all to easy for an Admiral to look at these ships and include their eight heavy guns into the main battle-line. This was a major error - once the battle-cruisers were kept in the main gun line they became a target for ships similarly armed and they were just not protected against this sort of battle. The end results were inevitable; three ships - Invincible, Indefatigable and Queen Mary were to be lost during the Battle Of Jutland where they were exposed to fire against which they had no armoured defence. Although similar in many ways, the Invincible and Indefatigable classes were easy to tell apart. The Invincible’s two mid-ships turrets were fitted en-echelon and were also together between the second and third funnels; the Indefatigable class had the two mid-ships turrets separated by the middle funnel.

Indefatigable was built by Devonport Royal Dockyard being laid down on 23 February 1909 and launched on 28 October 1909. She was commissioned in April 1911 and her building costs were £1,520,591.

HMS Indefatigable - dated 1912 [1]

Although this image is dated 1912 I feel it is later, perhaps 1916 just before her loss as it shows her without her anti-torpedo nets which were removed on a fleet wide basis in 1914 and also with a large range finder on top of the foretop which was fitted later in her life. (Steve Woodward)

Quadruple propellers were driven by Parsons direct drive steam turbines in a virtually identical layout to that of the Invincible class battle-cruisers. 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 43,000 shp giving a speed of 25 knots and on her trials on overload she attained 55,140 shp which gave her a speed of 26.89 knots. Steam was supplied from a total of 32 Babcock and Wilcox coal fired boilers which were also fitted with oil sprayers to facilitate raising steam quickly and to provide maximum power when required. The bunker capacity of 3,340 tons of coal and a 840 tons of oil gave them a range of 6,330 miles at 10 knots. The class was fitted with twin rudders which made them quite manoeuvrable with a small tactical diameter.

Career Highlights

Date Event
23 February 1909 Keel said down
28 October 1909 Launched
24 February 1911 Completed
31 May 1916 Sunk during the Battle of Jutland


Main Battery

Indefatigable had eight 12" C45 Mk10 guns in four twin turrets with turret A on the foc'sle deck. Turret Y was right aft and two turrets were amidships - P forward of the No.2 funnel and Q aft. Although P and Q turrets still had restricted arcs of fire ahead and astern, they were in a better position than the echelon arrangement in the previous Invincible class and could fire an eight-gun broadside without risking blast damage to the ship.

Construction of the gun barrels was of wire winding of several miles of thin flat wire onto a steel inner tube. This was then covered with a steel jacket. Bore length was 45 calibres or 540 inches and the guns were fitted with an improved mechanical type breech. Each gun weighed approximately 57 tons with the two gun turrets weighing a total of 450-500 tons. Although of a calibre favoured by the Admiralty, these guns were not a good weapon at long range as the shell tended to wobble in flight giving poor accuracy.

The guns had a range of 16,500 yards at an elevation of 13.5 degrees and fired a shell weighing 850 to 859lbs using a propellant charge of 258lbs. of Cordite MD45 (MD standing for Cordite Modified - now obsolescent and comprised 65% guncotton and 30% nitro-glycerine and 5% Vaseline). The number indicates this is a rod shaped propellant i.e. it is in long rods not granular. The charges were in four silk bags and the silk was a special type called 'Shallon'. Much coarser than normal silk this ensured that it burnt completely in the barrel so as to leave no residue that might ignite a following charge. The shell life of the guns was reasonable at 220 rounds per gun (RPG) with on board stowage being 800 rounds or 80 RPG. Rate of firing was two rounds per minute on gun-layers tests but in battle it was nearer one round per minute. Penetration was given as 10.5" of armour plate at a range of 10,000 yards.

Copy of an Admiralty plan of HMS Indefatigable showing main and secondary weapons [2]

The image above is a scan of a page in a very old manual and shows the layout of the main and secondary weapons of the Indefatigable class battle-cruisers. Note that the two midships (P and Q) turrets are offset, this was to keep the additional length of the ship to a minimum from the original Invincible design. The proximity of the guns to the ships side and thus lack of protection from interior structures entailed a patch of armour having to be added to each respective side of the ship in the area of the vulnerable turret. The side elevation shows the outline of the armour scheme.

Secondary Armament

Ships in the Indefatigable class were originally fitted with three 18” submerged torpedo tubes, one aft and one on either beam. In about 1915 the stern tube was removed from all three of the ships in the class.

Torpedo Armament

Sixteen single 4" C50 Mk7 guns were fitted to this class of ship. Thankfully none were installed on the main turret roofs a place that was untenable when the main armament was in action - instead they were positioned in casemates or in open mounts around the deck houses.


As already mentioned above, the armour scheme of these ships was not great - nor was it intended to be as the ships were not designed for fighting a heavily armed opponent. The class was particularly weakly defended against long-range plunging shell-fire. The main belt consisted of a shallow belt just 6" thick with a 4" upper belt. Closing the armoured citadel off were two armoured bulkheads which were just 4" thick, The decks over the magazines and machinery spaces were just 2.5" thick and reduced to an inch elsewhere. The barbettes protecting the turret machinery and shell hoists were a little better at 7" where they were outside of other armour but reduced to just 3" inside other armour. The main turret faces were 10" thick with 6" side and back plates and the control tower armour was 2.75" thick.

Indefatigable showing her with anti-torpedo nets and booms so is pre-1914. Also note the large square patch of armour on the hull alongside P turret. P is the forward of the two centre turrets and is off-set to port so needed extra armour protection in that area. There is a corresponding patch on the starboard side in way-of Q turret - which is just aft of the centre funnel [1]

Operational History

Indefatigable was commissioned in February 1911 into the First Cruiser Squadron which became the First Battle Cruiser Squadron (1BCS) in January 1913. She remained here until transferred to the 2BCS serving in the Mediterranean in December 1913.

In August 1914 she was part of the British fleets attempt to intercept the German Mittelmeer Division comprising the battle-cruiser Goeben and light cruiser Breslau in their passage through the Mediterranean to Turkey. The German ships eluded the British fleet and on arrival in Constantinople were transferred to the Turkish navy, although they retained German crews, becoming the battle-cruiser TCG Yavuz Sultan Selim, later Yavuz, and the cruiser Midilli. They remained a thorn in the British side until the Midilli was sunk by a mine in 1918. Yavuz however remained in service with the Turks until 1973 when she was scrapped.

Indefatigable at sea during WW1 from Imperial War Museum catalogue Q 75281. [4]

In late October/early November 1914, HMS Indefatigable bombarded the Turks on Cape Helles at the mouth of the Dardanelles passage during the troop landings of the Gallipoli campaign. On 3 October 1914 she became the Flagship for the campaign flying the flag of Admiral Cardin. In early 1915 she was relieved by HMS Inflexible, another battle-cruiser, and left the Dardanelles area for a refit in Malta following which she sailed for home waters joining the 2BCS of the Grand Fleet at Scapa flow in February 1915. Her life in the 2BCS was that of any other capital ship in the Grand Fleet in war; she carried out routine sweeps and manoeuvres in the North sea.

On 31 May 1916 she was to take part in the Battle of Jutland as part of the 2BCS, as Australia had been damaged and was under repair. This was a two-ship squadron with New Zealand in the lead as flagship under Rear Admiral W.C. Packenham and commanded by Captain John FE. Green followed by the Indefatigable under Captain Charles F Sowerby. The 2BCS were attached to Vice-Admiral Sir David Beatty in the Lion with the 1BCS.

Indefatigable underway in coastal waters just before the Battle of Jutlan. From Imperial War Museum catalogue SP 392. [4]

We join the Indefatigable at 15:34 when the 2BCS was ordered to take station astern of Beatty’s ships - the 1BCS with Lion leading as flag followed by the Princess Royal, Queen Mary and Tiger. Thus all six battle-cruisers formed into a single line with New Zealand as the fifth ship. At this time Hipper's five battle-cruisers of the first Scouting group (1SG) : Lutzow (Flag) , followed by Defflinger, Seydlitz, Moltke and Von der Tann were 18 miles away bearing 065 from the New Zealand – which at that time was the nearest British ship to the German 1SG. The British were steaming at 25 knots on a NE’ly course whilst Hipper was at 15 knots on a NNW’ly course. Normally the 3BCS: Invincible, Inflexible and Indomitable would have been detached from the grand Fleet by Jellicoe to join Beatty’s forces, but instead they had been stationed to the North West to trap any retreating enemy light forces.

Contact was made between the two battle cruisers with Hipper sighting Beatty at 15:35. For some unknown reason the British ships did not do what Hipper feared and that was to open fire using the greater ranges of their 13.5" and 12" guns over Hipper's 11" guns. Instead they held their fire until about 15:50 when the range had fallen from 23,000 to 18,000 yards or less. Indefatigable opened fire at 15:51 or perhaps a little later engaging the Von der Tann with the VDT returning the fire. Both sides initially over-estimated the ranges and missed. At 16:02 or 16:03 the Von der Tann hit the Indefatigable with two shells each out of two salvoes. A small explosion occurred aft and she swung out of line sinking by the stern. Almost at the same time she was hit again near A turret. She then listed over rapidly to port and commenced a massive explosion beginning forwards and moving aft sinking her in less than 4 minutes under a huge cloud of black smoke. Just two survivors from her crew of 1,017 were rescued by the destroyer S16 at 19:50; these were Able Seaman Elliot and Leading Signalman Falmer.

HMS Indefatigable sinking at Jutland on 31 May 1916. [3]

Sir Julian S. Corbett describes the end of Indefatigable in the Official History of Naval Operations - External Reference #4 - as follows:

.............At the other end of the line the duel between the Indefatigable and the Von der Tann had been growing in intensity till, a few minutes after 4.0, the British ship was suddenly hidden in a burst of flame and smoke. A salvo of three shots had fallen on her upper deck and must have penetrated to a magazine. She staggered out of the line, sinking by the stern when another salvo struck her; a second terrible explosion rent her, she turned over and in a moment all trace of her was gone......................
Royal Navy Signaller C. Farmer - one of the two survivors from HMS Indefatigable from Imperial War Museum catalogue FLM 3792 [4]

The Indefatigable today is unrecognisable. During the 1950s a German salvage company destroyed what was left of her. They also desecrated the wrecks of two other Jutland losses - the Pommern and Lutzow. Today the wreck is designated a war grave and is protected as such.

A list of all the men lost on the Indefatigable can be found at External Reference #5.

Image Credits

  1. By courtesy of the MaritimeQuest website
  2. Scanned from an old Royal Navy manual
  3. Provenance unknown
  4. By courtesy of the Imperial War Museum