Nelson Class Battleship HMS Rodney Part 1

This article about HMS Rodney spans several pages:

On this page:


Class Information

The two ships of the class, Rodney and Nelson, were both laid down on the same day - 28 December 1922 - but their story begins well before that.

Immediately following WW1 Britain, realising that it had slipped down the world order, and that it's current ships were below the standard of it's main threat – those of the USA and Japan, designed two new class of warship:

Orders had been placed in 1921 with work to start in 1922 when the Washington naval Treaty of November 1921 curtailed all building and escalation of naval power.

Britain had to scrap a huge number of ships under this treaty realising that both Japan and the USA had ships armed with 16" guns:

The Washington BB47 was cancelled under the treaty and used as a target ship. Britain was still at a disadvantage so was allowed to build two new ships with 16" guns. The two ships were designed using the best features of the both the G3 and N3 designs; this was certainly the most radical battleship class ever built for the Royal navy if not the world. The class was given many nicknames; most well known was the "Cherry Tree" class because they were cut down by Washington. Another nickname they earned due to their unusual design with the all-aft structure which left them looking like tankers was the "Rodol and Nelsol" after a fleet of tankers that all had names ending in OL. Another nickname applied to the huge tower of her deck house was "Queen Anne’s Mansions" – part of the Admiralty buildings in London.

Royal Navy Ships Named Rodney

HMS Rodney was a member of the Nelson class of battleships and named after Admiral George Brydges Rodney - 1st Baron Rodney-Stoke (1719-1792).

The Royal Navy named six ships Rodney as shown in the table below, although only four of them were officially warships.

Date Brief History
Pre-1759 The first Rodney was one of the 'unofficial' ships; initially she was used for fisheries protection duties off Newfoundland. The then Captain Rodney had introduced a number of small cutters for this task, one of which was named in his honour. In 1759 the Rodney was used in support of General Wolfe’s assault on Quebec. Under the command of Lt The Hon Philip Tufton-Perceval, she carried just 4 guns and was used to carry dispatches.
Pre-1793 The second Rodney was listed in Steel's 1793 list of the Navy as a Brig-Sloop of 16 guns - a Brig Sloop being a naval term for a sloop with two masts. She had been purchased in the Caribbean sometime about 1779 and was the second 'unofficial' Rodney. It was quite common in those days for the commander of an important fleet to purchase a ship such as this for his own purposes and name her after himself. John Douglas Brisbane her commander led a crew of 51 and, as part of a force of small British ships off the Demerara River in a battle against a much larger French force, the Rodney was captured by the French in late January 1782.
1809 The third and first official Rodney was a third rate ship of the line of 1,754 tons and 74 guns. She was ordered by the Admiralty on the 28th May 1808 from the shipbuilder William Barnard whose yard on the Thames was close to Deptford. She was launched on 8 December 1809 and, after consuming more than 3,000 oak trees in her construction, she was in commission at Plymouth in May or June of 1810. In 1827 she was renamed Greenwich to free up the name for a new ship. She lasted as the Greenwich until 1836 when she was sold on.
1833 The fourth Rodney was a larger vessel again. Advances in ship design dictated that ships were getting bigger and more powerful, thus the new Rodney was a 92 gun second rate wooden wall ship of the line designed by Sir Robert Seppings. She was built at Pembroke having been laid down in 1827 and launched in 1833. Displacing some 2,600 tons, she was innovative in that she was the first two-deck ship to carry more than 90 guns on a length of about 206 feet. She completed her fitting out at Plymouth and set out on her first commission in September 1835 under the command of Captain Hyde Parker with a crew of 484 men, 47 boys and 146 Royal marines. Her first call to action did not come until 1854/5 when she was involved in the first siege of Sevastopol. When she shelled shore batteries - in particular the one on Telegraph Hill - she received far more damage than she meted out. In 1959 she was taken in hand at Chatham Dockyard for conversion to a steamship. She re-commissioned in 1860 with a displacement of 2,770 tons but with 72 guns to give more space for her machinery. Her first commission was to the China station. In April 1870 she returned to Portsmouth to pay off. She was the last wooden wall battleship in the Royal Navy and spent the next fourteen years on harbour duties before being sold out of the navy after 53 years of good service.
1888 The fifth Rodney was one of the six admiral class battleships : Anson, Benbow, Camperdown, Collingwood, Howe and Rodney and was the second ship of the class to be completed after Collingwood. Although they were classed together, slight differences split them into 3 groups, Collingwood was in group one on her own; Rodney was in the second group with Anson, Camperdown and Howe; and the third group was Benbow. They were classed as 'barbette type' battleships in which the main armament was contained behind a barbette - a high circular iron wall protecting (just) the gun and it’s crew. The second group differed mainly from the Collingwood in that they mounted 13.5 inch instead of 12 inch guns. Length 325', Breadth 68', Draft 27'10", Displacement 10.300 tons full load, they were twin screw ships with three cylinder inverted compound steam engines by Humphreys with 12 cylindrical boilers developing 7,500 IHP for 15 knots on natural draft and with a sealed boiler room and forced draft 11,500 IHP and 17 knots. She was armed with four 13.5" Mk1 guns of 30 calibres these early breech loading guns fired a 1250lb to a range of just under 12,000 yards using over 600 lbs of a slow burning cocoa powder – so called as that was what it looked like, the guns were mounted in two pairs in a barbette at each end of the ship. The secondary battery consisted of six single 6" guns, twelve 6 pounder, and ten 3 pounder guns, the class also carried four above-water 14" torpedo tubes with two on either beam. Armour was heavy but not comprehensive with a main belt of 18" in the magazine areas but 8" elsewhere which was closed of with a 16" bulkhead forwards and 7" aft, the barbettes were 11.5" and the decks 3" over the magazines. The class was not well liked due to the open barbettes and tended to be overloaded and rather wet at sea. They were also well known as the Camperdown was the ship that rammed and sank the Victoria - a sort of half sister-ship. Rodney had an undistinguished career ending her days as a guard ship at Queensferry until 1901 when she went into reserve in 1909 and was sold and broken up that same year.
1906 The sixth Rodney is described on this page.
Rodney post trials in her 'as built' state in 1927. [3]

Basic Data

Item Value
Type Battleship
Class Nelson
Builder Cammell Laird & Co.
Builder's Yard Birkenhead
Builder's Country UK
Yard Number 904
Displacement (Std) 33,313 tons
Displacement (Full load) 41,250 tons
Length 710 Ft.
Breadth 106 Ft.
Draught 33.5 Ft.
Engines Two single-reduction geared steam turbines
Engine Builder John Brown & Co.
Engine Builder Works Clydebank
Engine Builder Country UK
Power 45,000 SHP
Boilers 8 Admiralty type 3-drum oil-fired
Propulsion Twin Screws
Speed 23 knots
Complement 1,640
An old postcard photograph of Rodney believed to have been taken in her original configuration [3]

Additional Construction Information

Rodney was built by Cammell Laird at their Birkenhead yard and was laid down on the 28th December 1922 - the very same day as her sister-ship Nelson. She was launched on the 17 December 1925, some three months later than the Nelson, and commissioned on the 10 December 1927.

The 'Basic Data' table contains Rodney’s basic data at the time of launch. By 1945 the full load displacement had risen to 44,054 tons on a draft of 34' 06" One of the specifications of the Washington treaty was for a battleship with a maximum standard displacement of 35,000 tons. Standard displacement indicated a ship fully stored and ammuntioned but with just circulating water in her systems. Both the sisters were initially well under that figure; the additional 1,700 tons would have allowed a significant improvement of what was already a well armoured ship.

Rodney had twin screws driven by Brown-Curtis single reduction geared steam turbines supplied with steam by eight Admiralty type 3-drum oil fired boilers with a working pressure of 260 psi. The turbines were originally designed for wet steam but were adapted for super-heaters. Developed power was 45,000 SHP giving a speed of 23 knots. Bunker capacity was 3,965 tons of fuel oil and 160 tons of diesel oil giving her a range of 5,500 miles at full speed and 7,000 miles at 16 knots. The machinery was contained in two separate engine rooms placed forwards of the two gearing rooms, aft of the gearing rooms were the four boiler rooms, each room containing two boilers.

From Imperial War Museum catalogue A153 and captioned 1940 'The Chief Quartermaster in the Master Gyro room which gives the true course of the ship.' [5]

Career Highlights

Date Event
28 December 1922 Keel said down
17 December 1925 Launched - named by HRH The Princess Mary, Viscountess Lascelles
August/September 1927 Sea Trials
10 December 1927 Commissioned
1936 Aircraft catapult fitted on top of X turret to launch a Swordfish floatplane
1936 Aircraft catapult fitted on top of X turret to launch a Swordfish floatplane
July 1938 Refit including addition of 79Y type radar
9 April 1940 Damaged by 500kg armour-piercing bomb
27 May 1941 Engagement with Bismarck
June 1941 Extra AA guns, new fire control systems and radar for 16" guns fitted. Radar upgraded to 281 surface warning set.
Early 1942 16" barrels replaced. 20mm Oerlikons fitted and radars type 282, 283 and 285 installed
September 1942 Further AA weapons added
January 1944 Taken into dry dock to repair serious leaks
May 1944 Engaged in Normandy landings
May 1945 Effectively taken out of active duties due to condition
January 1946 Laid up in reserve at Rosyth
26 March 1948 Arrived at Inverkeithing for scrapping

Image Credits

  1. By courtesy of 'Stein'
  2. By courtesy of MaritimeQuest.
  3. By courtesy of Steve Woodward
  4. From Brian Watson's postcard collection
  5. By courtesy of the Imperial War Museum