HMS Indefatigable

HMS Indefatigable was the nameship of the Indefatigable class of battlecruisers. She took part in the hunt for the German battlecruiser Goeben in August 1914 and the first bombardment of the Dardanelles, before being lost at Jutland. She was commissioned into the 1st Cruiser Squadron of what became the Grand Fleet in February 1911. Two years later this squadron was renamed the 1st Battle Cruiser Squadron, marking a change in the perception of the ships.

In December 1913 the Indefatigable was posted to the Mediterranean. At the start of the Precautionary Period before Britain officially declared war on Germany, the Indefatigable was at Alexandria, with the Mediterranean fleet under Admiral Sir Berkeley Milne (flagship HMS Inflexible). This was a confused period. It was possible that Britain would soon be at war with Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Italy. This would have placed the Mediterranean fleet in a very dangerous position, but it soon became clear that Italy was likely to remain neutral. Not only did this remove the Italian fleet as a threat, it also made it much easier to keep the Austro-Hungarian fleet pinned in the Adriatic.

Milne’s main problem now became the German battlecruiser Goeben, known to be at large in the Adriatic. This was a powerful ship whose destination was unknown. The two most worrying possibilities were that she would either attack the French troop convoys crossing from Algeria to southern France, or that she would break out of the Mediterranean to attack British shipping in the Atlantic. Milne was ordered to take up a position at Malta, while the two battlecruisers were assigned to reinforce Admiral Troubridge’s 1st Cruiser Squadron and ordered to watch the southern entrance of the Adriatic.

A confused period now followed. On 3 August Troubridge was ordered to turn west and sail along the southern coast of Sicily. Later on the same day the Indefatigable and the Indomitable were detached from Admiral Troubridge’s squadron, and ordered to rejoin Milne, north east of Malta. Finally, at 8.30pm the Admiralty ordered them to head for the straits of Gibraltar at maximum speed to make sure the Goeben couldn’t escape into the Atlantic.

From the Adriatic the Goeben, with the light cruiser Breslau, had sailed west with orders to bombard France’s Algerian ports. After a fairly ineffective bombardment, they then turned east, and early on 4 August ran straight into the British battlecruisers. War had not yet been declared, and so the four ships carefully circled each other, before the Germans headed east at high speed. The Indefatigable and the Indomitable attempted to keep up, but the two British ships were overdue a refit, and were unable to reach their maximum speed, while the Goeben’s engines had recently been overhauled, and she made more than her expected top speed. She then put into Messina, eluding the British ships, who had ordered not to approach within six miles of the Italian coast.

At 1.15am on 5 August Admiral Milne was informed that war had been declared. His first duty was to protect the French troop convoys, and so the Indefatigable was pulled back to patrol a line between Sardinia and the African coast. The Goeben and the Breslau were able to escape to Turkey. At first this was seen as a British victory, with the Germans seen as having been chased out of the Mediterranean, but the German ships were then transferred to Turkey, and it became clear that the Turks were close to entering the war on the German side.

On 20 August the Indomitable was ordered back to Malta. Admiral Troubridge transferred his flag to the Indefatigable and sailed to the Dardanelles, to begin the long blockade of the straits. On 3 November the Indefatigable took part in a 10 minute long range bombardment of the Turkish forts at the mouth of the Dardanelles, ordered in the vain hope that it might make the Turks realise the danger of entering the war. Once this failed, the Admiralty wanted to withdraw the British fleet from the Mediterranean, and leave it to the French, as agreed, but the French insisted that at least one British battlecruiser remained off the Dardanelles in case the Goeben made a sortie. The Indefatigable performed that duty until January 1915, when she was relieved by the Inflexible. She was then ordered to return to Britain, reaching Rosyth on 24 February 1915, after undergoing a brief dockyard refit at Malta.

At the battle of Jutland the Indefatigable became involved in a one-on-one duel with the Von der Tann. At 4.00pm two 11in shells hit her upper deck, causing an explosion in X magazine. She staggered out of line, sinking at the stern. At 4.05 she was hit by another salvo which caused a much bigger explosion. She sank immediately, with the loss of all but two of her crew.

Displacement (loaded)

22,110t

Top Speed

25kts

Range

6,330 nautical miles at 10kts

Armour – deck

2.5i-1in

 - belt

6in-4in

 - bulkheads

4in

 - barbettes

7in-3in

 - turret faces

7in

 - conning tower

10in

Length

590ft

Armaments

Eight 12in Mk X guns
Sixteen 4in Mk VIII guns
Four 3pdr guns
Three 18in torpedo tubes

Crew complement

800

Launched

28 October 1909

Completed

April 1911

Captains

S. H. Radcliffe
Captain Sowerby

Sunk

31 May 1916

The Coward? The Rise and Fall of the Silver King, Steve R. Dunn. A look at the life and mistakes of Admiral Ernest Troubridge, a British admiral best known for his failure to intercept the Goeben in the Mediterranean at the start of the First World War. The aim is to try and work out why Troubridge acted as he did in 1914, examining the late Victorian and Edwardian navy, his own career and decisions he made elsewhere in his life to try and work out what made him tick [read full review]
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British and German Battlecruisers - Their Development and Operations, Michele Cosentino & Ruggero Stanglini. A useful volume that covers the development, design and construction of British and German battlecruisers, their wartime deployments and both side's plans for the next generation of battlecruisers, of which only HMS Hood was ever completed. Having all of this material in a single volume gives a much better overview of the two Navy's battlecruisers, their advantages and flaws, and their performance in and out of battle. Concludes with a look at other nation's battlecruisers and battlecruiser designs [read full review]
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Books on the First World War | Subject Index: First World War

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (15 November 2007), HMS Indefatigable , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_HMS_Indefatigable.html

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