Invincible Class battlecruiser

The three Invincible class battlecruisers were the armoured cruiser equivalents of HMS Dreadnought. Each pre-dreadnought class of battleships had been matched with a class of cruisers, most recently the Minotaur class. Like the pre-dreadnought battleships they carried a mixed main armament – four 9.2in and ten 7.5in guns on the Minotaur class ships. They were generally four knots faster than the current battleships and had a 6in thick armoured belt. They were designed to support the main battle fleet, but not to form part of it.

As built the Invincible class ships were the logical next step in armoured cruiser design, adopting the all-big-gun armament and turbine power of the Dreadnought. Viewed in this way they were an outstanding design, faster and harder-hitting than the Minotaurs, but with the same level of armour protection. Unfortunately, they were not seen as simple cruisers for long. When completed in 1908-1909 they were officially designated as armoured cruisers. However, they had been given the same 12in guns as the Dreadnought, and because of their improved layout could fire the same eight-gun broadside as the early dreadnought type battleships. From 1912 they were reclassified as battlecruisers, and lumped together with the battleships as “capital ships”. They were now expected to actually join the battle fleet, forming a fast wing.

The Germans adopted a somewhat different approach to battlecruiser design. Their first true battlecruiser was the Von der Tann. She had thicker belt armour (10in compared to 6in) and more powerful engines (43,600shp compared to 41,000shp) but was nearly a knot slower (24.75kts compared to 25.5kts) than the Invincible class ships.

She also carried 11.1in guns instead of the 12in guns used on the British battlecruisers. It is often said that Germans traded firepower for armour, but this claim does not stand up to close examination. The eight 11.1in guns on Van der Tann each weighed 39 tons. The eight 12in guns on the Invincible class ships each weighted 58 tons, a total saving for the German design of 152 tons. The armour on Von der Tann weighted nearly 6,000 tons. The real weight savings on Von der Tann were made in her hull and her machinery.

The 12in guns of the Invincible class ships gave then a broadside of 6,800lbs, compared to the 5,238lb broadside of the Von der Tann. The small (8%) different in gun calibre produced a 22% difference in broadside.

The Von der Tann did demonstrate one problem with the British design – it was clearly possible to achieve the same high speed as the Invincible class ships, but without having to make such big sacrifices in armour.

Although the British battlecruisers are now normally criticised for their thin armour compared to their German equivalents, not one of the three battlecruisers lost at Jutland was sunk by shots that pierced the belt armour. The range at which the fighting took place meant that the ships were hit by plunging shot, hitting the armoured deck and turrets. It was the superior anti-flash precautions on the German ships that saved them from disaster – Von der Tann had two turrets disabled by British gunfire and survived intact.  After Jutland a series of changes were made on the British ships to prevent the same disasters occurring again but the lack of a second Jutland means there is no way to tell how effective they would have been.

HMS Indomitable was the first of the battlecruisers to enter service, in June 1908. At the outbreak of the First World War, the Indomitable and Inflexible formed part of the 2nd Battle Cruiser Squadron in the Mediterranean Fleet, taking part in the hunt for the Goeben and the early bombardments of the forts at the Dardanelles. She then returned to Britain to join the Grand Fleet, fighting at Dogger Bank (24 January 1915) and Jutland (31 May-1 June 1916).

HMS Inflexible was the flagship of Admiral Berkeley Milne, the Commander in Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet at the start of the First World War. She took part in the hunt for the Goeben, before being ordered home. In the aftermath of the battle of Coronel, Inflexible and Invincible were ordered south, to hunt von Spee’s squadron. At the battle of the Falklands the British battlecruisers sank von Spee’s two best cruisers, the Gneisenau and Scharnhorst. After the Falklands the Inflexible returned to the Dardanelles (February-March 1915). There she was badly damaged by a Turkish mine and needed two months of repairs. She then returned to the Grand Fleet, fighting at Jutland.

HMS Invincible began the war at Queenstown (Cobh), guarding against a possible German breakout into the Atlantic. She was then moved to the Humber, forming the 2nd Battle Cruiser Squadron (with HMS New Zealand). Together they took part in the battle of Heligoland Bight (28 August 1914). With the Inflexible she was dispatched south to catch von Spee, fighting at the Falklands before returning to the Grand Fleet. At Jutland she was the flagship of Admiral Horace Hood and formed part of the Grand Fleet. A 12in shell from Derfllinger hit the roof of “Q” turret, causing a flash that reached the magazine, destroying the ship in a massive explosion.

Displacement (loaded)

20,078t

Top Speed

25.5kts

Range

3,090 nautical miles at 10kts

Armour – deck

2.5in-0.75in

 - belt

6in-4in

 - bulkheads

7in-6in

 - barbettes

7in-2in

 - turret faces

7in

 - conning tower

10in-6in

 - decks

2.5in-0.75in

Length

567ft

Armaments

Eight 12in Mk X guns
Sixteen 4in Mk III guns
Seven Maxim machine guns
Five 18in submerged torpedo tubes

Crew complement

784

Launched

1907

Completed

1909-1909

Ships in class

HMS Indomitable
HMS Inflexible
HMS Invincible

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]
cover cover cover

Books on the First World War | Subject Index: First World War

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (15 November 2007), Invincible Class battlecruiser , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_invincible_class_battlecruisers.html

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