The forgotten battleships: The Royal Navy’s R-class battleships

After designing and building the Queen Elizabeth-class fast battleships, the British Admiralty built the R-class battleships. Although they were just as well armed as the Queen Elizabeths (and had a secondary armament that was located in a far better position), they were slower and never, ever seemed to enjoy the reputation of their faster sisters.

Whilst the Queen Elizabeths were reconstructed during the 1930s and – as a result – retained their front-line role, the R-class were updated with better anti-aircraft armament and little else. With the exception of HMS Royal Oak (which had the distinction of being the most modern of the R-class and which may well have played a fairly active role during the Second World War had she not been torpedoed with heavy loss of life in Scapa Flow) the R-class served in secondary roles for most of the war.

HMS Royal Sovereign survived the War (and the rest of her sister ships) because she was transferred to the Soviet Navy in August 1944. She served with the Soviet Baltic Fleet as Arkhangelsk until she was returned to the UK in February 1949, after which she was almost immediately scrapped.

Three of the R-class were allocated to be part of Operation Catherine, Churchill’s plan to force the Narrows and send a British fleet into the Baltic Sea … but in the end this came to nothing. If they had been used, the R-class ships would have been modified so as to make them very difficult to sink … but at the possible cost of a much reduced main armament and very slow speed. (The ships were intended to have caissons attached to either side of the hull, which would have reduced their draught by 9 feet and enabled them to pass through a 26-foot deep channel. This would have increased their beam to 140 feet and reduced their speed to 14 knots. Additional deck armour and anti-aircraft guns were also to be added, and one plan shows two of the main turrets removed to make way for additional anti-aircraft guns.)

It has always struck me that these ships could have played a much more active, front-line role in the Royal Navy if money had been available to reconstruct them during the 1930s. Using other reconstructions as a guide, the following changes should have been possible:

  • New boilers
  • New turbines
  • Improved anti-torpedo bulges
  • Removal of the existing 6-inch secondary armament, plating in their casemates, and extending the deck over the newly plated-in area
  • Increasing the anti-aircraft armament to 8 x 2 4-inch guns
  • Re-modelling of the superstructure and bridge
  • Improvements to the bow to reduce spray from head seas

The resulting ships might have looked something like this:


8 Comments on “The forgotten battleships: The Royal Navy’s R-class battleships”

  1. Jim Duncan says:

    My father-in-law served on the Revenge for a while as a boy sailor.

  2. Gonsalvo says:

    Interesting post on a subject that I was completely ignorant of previously. Thanks!

  3. Jim Duncan,

    Revenge is a good name for a warship. I hope that your father-in-law enjoyed his time aboard her.

    All the best,


  4. Gonsalvo,

    I am pleased to read that you found this blog entry interesting. Many years ago Frog produced a model kit of this class, but I never managed to buy one … and I have always regretted that.

    All the best,


  5. Tsold9000 says:

    I`m surprised the Soviets gave the ship back.

  6. Tsold9000,

    The Soviets were reluctant to hand her back until their share of the surrendered Italian and German fleets was handed over.

    All the best,


  7. Jim Duncan says:

    Bob, my father-in-law must have enjoyed his time in the Royal Navy, entered as a boy sailor, was docked somewhere in China as the Japanese invaded via the next dock, was in the Med at the first battle of Calabria, served in sloops on the North Atlantic convoys, sunk, sent back out and sunk again, was on board a carrier (Indefatigable) in the Pacific Fleet, visited the Falklands after the war and came out as a CPO. Must have been 'fun' some of the time.

  8. Jim Duncan,

    That is a very eventful naval career!

    My uncle served aboard the 'Indefatigable' in the Pacific as well. I understand that she was attacked and hit by a kamikaze, and that the damage was so slight that she was back in action in less than an hour.

    All the best,


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