Bellerophon Class Battleship HMS Superb



Royal Navy Ships Named Superb

HMS Superb was the third 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.

The Royal Navy named nine ships Superb as shown in the table below.

Date Brief History
1710 The first Superb was a French vessel captured in 1710 by HMS Kent of the Royal Navy. She was a 64-gun ship and was scrapped in 1732.
1736 The second Superb was a 60-gun 4th rate vessel launched in 1736 and scrapped in 1757.
1760 The third Superb was a 74-gun 3rd rate vessel of 1760 that was wrecked on the Indian coast in 1783.
1798 The fourth Superb was another 74-gun 3rd rate vessel launched in 1798 and scrapped in 1826.
1842 The fifth Superb was an 80-gun 4th rate vessel launched in 1842 scrapped in 1869.
1875 The sixth Superb was built in Britain by Thames Ironworks for the Turkish Navy. She was originally named Mahmudiye, and later Hamidiye but seized by Britain whilst under construction. She was a 9,700-ton battleship similar to HMS Hercules. She was heavily modified for use in the Royal Navy and scrapped in 1906.
1907 The seventh Superb is the subject of the page.
1943 The eighth Superb was a light cruiser of the Swiftsure class launched in 1943 and scrapped in 1960.
1974 The ninth Superb is still in use and is a Nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarine built by Vickers at Barrow in Furness.
Port side view of HMS Superb shortly after completion from Imperial War Museum image Q 40225 [10]

Basic Data

Item Value
Type Battleship
Class Bellerophon
Builder Armstrong Whitworth
Builder's Yard Elswick
Builder's Country UK
Displacement (Std) 18,596 tons
Displacement (Full load) 22,540 tons
Length 526 Ft.
Breadth 82.5 Ft.
Draught 31.5 Ft.
Engines Two Parsons direct drive steam turbines
Engine Builder Wallsend Company
Engine Builder Works Newcastle
Engine Builder Country UK
Power 23,000 SHP
Boilers 18 Babcock and Wilcox coal-fired boilers operating at 230psi
Propulsion Four Screws
Speed 21 knots
Complement Approx. 790-840

Additional Construction Information

Superb was built by Armstrongs at their Elswick works at Newcastle on Tyne. Laid down on the 6 February 1907 she was launched on 7 November 1907 and commissioned on 29 May 1909. She took much longer to complete than her sisters owing to labour disputes and strikes.

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 Superb 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.

Note: You will find further information about the engines on the page for Bellerophon HERE

Starboard side view of HMS Superb at unknown date from Imperial War Museum image Q 40227 [10]

Career Highlights

Date Event
16 February 1907 Keel said down
7 November 1907 Launched
29 May 1909 Completed
31 May - 1 June 1916 Took part in the Battle of Jutland
12 December 1922 Sold to breakers
1923 Broken up at Dover
HMS Superb - the location and date are not known. Imperial War Museum image Q 75226 [10]


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.

Copy of an Admiralty plan of Bellerophon showing the location of her main and secondary armaments [11]

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.

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.

Superb also carried four 3 pounder saluting guns.

Torpedo Armament

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


Plate thicknesses were:

  • Main belt - 10" tapering to 8"
  • Transverse Bulkheads - 8"
  • Longitudinal torpedo bulkheads 1-2" with 32in the vicinity of the midships wing turrets
  • Barbettes - 10" tapering to 9"
  • Turrets : faces - 11" crowns 3" , decks - 3" tapering to 0.5"
Image from an Admiralty manual showing the disposition of armour in black. [11]

Operational History

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

Aerial photograph of HMS Superb - the location and date are not known. Imperial War Museum image SP 2744 [10]

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.

HMS Superb at Scapa Flow during WW1 from Imperial War Museum image Q 68620 [10]

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.

HMS Superb in a heavy sea from Imperial War Museum image Q 75198 [10]


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.

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