Wednesday, 1 May 2013

HMS Warrior at Portsmouth

After ships like HMS Victory had won an almost permanent peace in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars, the next major innovation in warship design delicately embraced the possibilities of steam. Early examples followed the French who began to iron clad wooden ships and install steam engines. However, HMS Warrior, berthed at the historic Portsmouth naval Dockyard near to HMS Victory, was designed from scratch as a true iron hull with thick armour plating. It is still a hybrid vessel, using both conventional sail and steam power. This does not reflect conservative ambivalence on the part of naval commanders but the technical reality of the relative inefficiency of early Victorian steam engines. Fully coaled, Warrior had a range of only about 2000miles, not enough to cross the Atlantic. In addition the navy had not then established its worldwide network of coaling stations. Long journeys were done under sail, using the engines for close work and in harbour. When sailing, the telescopic funnels were lowered and the large propeller raised clear of the water.
When accepted into the navy in in 1861, Warrior was the most advanced battleship in the world, making all others obsolete. Napoleon III described her as 'a black snake among the rabbits.'  This advantage stemmed from her firepower, ten new 110-pounder breech-loading guns firing shells capable of piercing iron clads, and her own thick armour plating. These guns were supplemented by twenty six 68-pounders of conventional design but with 5 times the destructive power of Nelson's 32-pounders. The guns were placed along a single gun deck, 100 feet longer than in any previous warship. The gun deck was also home to 600men. Such was the deterrent value of HMS Warrior that her guns were never fired in anger by the time she was retired from active service after less than 20 years.
The preservation of the warrior owes much to luck. After various harbour navy roles she served as an oil terminal at Milford Haven in Wales for nearly 40 years, by which time she really was unique and a candidate for restoration, which took nearly ten years before her return to the Portsmouth Naval Dockyard in 1987.   
While the cramped conditions of the crew were little better than those of Nelson's time, the officers quarters were more spacious with a splendid wardroom where they relaxed and took their meals. The Captain's quarters were spacious with a day cabin/dining room, an office, pantry and sleeping quarters. Her first captain was a Cochrane, grandson of the famous Admiral Lord Thomas Cochrane, the model for Jack Aubrey in Patrick O'Brian's famous novel series including Master and Commander.
The next major innovation in Naval warfare came in 1906 with the launch of the HMS Dreadnought in 1906. Her high speed and deck mounted 12 inch guns rendered all other battleships obsolete including those of Great Britain, many of which were less that ten years old. This started an arms race with Germany which ended in a huge indecisive sea battle off Jutland in 1916. However after that the German fleet stayed at home so a tactical victory was won by the British.
The Glorious Twelfth by Alan Calder - Buy Links

Also by Alan Calder, The Stuart Agenda published by Willowmoon



  1. Interesting blog, as ever, Alan. Have you ever fancied writing a sea-faring story?

  2. Thanks Lindsay
    I think the genre is probably exhausted after Patrick O'Brian's stories, Hornblower etc and the potential male readership knocking on a bit.

  3. I was interested to read about the limited range of the Warrior and how the sails were used to save fuel. I think I remember reading about an idea to fix sails of some kind to big modern ships for the same reason. Presumably they would only have been used to supplement the engines, given the weight of modern vessels. I don't know whether anything was ever developed.

  4. Thanks Keith
    I remember reading about that as well but have not seen anything in practical application. When you look at the height of some of the container ships, the whole superstructure must act as a sail, or not if the wind is in the wrong direction.