World War I: HMS Queen Mary

HMS Queen Mary battleship
HMS Queen Mary. (Public Domain)

HMS Queen Mary was a British battlecruiser that entered service in 1913. The last battlecruiser completed for the Royal Navy prior to World War I, it saw action during the early engagements of the conflict. Sailing with the 1st Battlecruiser Squadron, Queen Mary was lost at the Battle of Jutland in May 1916.

HMS Queen Mary

  • Nation: Great Britain
  • Type: Battlecruiser
  • Shipyard: Palmers Shipbuilding and Iron Company
  • Laid Down: March 6, 1911
  • Launched: March 20, 1912
  • Commissioned: September 4, 1913
  • Fate: Sunk at the Battle of Jutland, May 31, 1916

Specifications

  • Displacement: 27,200 tons
  • Length: 703 ft., 6 in.
  • Beam: 89 ft., 0.5 in.
  • Draft: 32 ft., 4 in.
  • Propulsion: Parsons direct-drive steam turbines, 42 Yarrow boilers, 4 x propellers
  • Speed: 28 knots
  • Range: 6,460 miles at 10 knots
  • Complement: 1,275 men

Armament

  • 4 × 2 – BL 13.5-inch Mk V guns
  • 16 × 1 – BL 4-inch Mk VII guns
  • 2 × 1 – 21-inch Mk II submerged torpedo tubes

Background

On October 21, 1904, Admiral John "Jackie" Fisher became First Sea Lord at the behest of King Edward VII. Tasked with reducing expenditures and modernizing the Royal Navy, he also began advocating for "all big gun" battleships. Moving forward with this initiative, Fisher had the revolutionary HMS Dreadnought built two years later. Featuring ten 12-in. guns, Dreadnought instantly made all existing battleships obsolete.

Fisher next desired to support this class of battleship with a new type of cruiser that sacrificed armor for speed. Dubbed battlecruisers, the first of this new class, HMS Invincible, was laid down in April 1906. It was Fisher's vision that battlecruisers would conduct reconnaissance, support the battle fleet, protect commerce, and pursue a defeated enemy. Over the next eight years, several battlecruisers were constructed by both the Royal Navy and the German Kaiserliche Marine.

Design

Ordered as part of the 1910–11 Naval Program along with four King George V-class battleships, HMS Queen Mary was to be the sole ship of its class. A follow-on to the earlier Lion-class, the new ship featured an altered interior arrangement, a redistribution of its secondary armament, and a longer hull than its predecessors. Armed with eight 13.5 in. guns in four twin turrets, the battlecruiser also carried sixteen 4 in. guns mounted in casemates. The ship's armament received direction from an experimental fire-control system designed by Arthur Pollen.

Queen Mary's armor scheme varied little from the Lions and was thickest amidships. At the waterline, between B and X turrets, the ship was protected by 9" Krupp cemented armor.  This thinned moving towards the bow and stern. An upper belt of reached a thickness of 6" over the same length. Armor for the turrets consisted of 9" on the front and sides and varied from 2.5" to 3.25" on the roofs. The battlecruiser's conning tower was protected by 10" on the sides and 3" on the roof. Additionally, Queen Mary's armored citadel was closed off by 4" transverse bulkheads.

Power for the new design came from two paired sets of Parsons direct-drive turbines which turned four propellers. While the outboard propellers were turned by high-pressure turbines, the inner propellers were turned by low-pressure turbines. In a change from other British ships since Dreadnought, which had positioned the officers' quarters near their action stations amidships, Queen Mary saw them returned to their traditional location in the stern. As a result, it was it the first British battlecruiser to possess a sternwalk.

Construction

Laid down on March 6, 1911 at Palmer Shipbuilding and Iron Company in Jarrow, the new battlecruiser was named for King George V's wife, Mary of Teck. Work progressed over the next year and Queen Mary slid down the ways on March 20, 1912, with Lady Alexandrina Vane-Tempest serving as the Queen's representative. Initial work on the battlecruiser ended in May 1913 and sea trials were conducted through June. Though Queen Mary utilized more powerful turbines than earlier battlecruisers, it only barely exceeded its design speed of 28 knots. Returning to the yard for final alterations, Queen Mary came under the command of Captain Reginald Hall. With the completion of the ship, it entered commission on September 4, 1913.

World War I

Assigned to Vice Admiral David Beatty's 1st Battlecruiser Squadron, Queen Mary commenced operations in the North Sea. The following spring saw the battlecruiser make a port call at Brest before a voyage to Russia in June. In August, with Britain's entry into World War I, Queen Mary and its consorts prepared for combat. On August 28, 1914, the 1st Battlecruiser Squadron sortied in support of a raid on the German coast by British light cruisers and destroyers.

In the early fighting during the Battle of Heligoland Bight, British forces had difficulty disengaging and the light cruiser HMS Arethusa was crippled. Under fire from the light cruisers SMS Strassburg and SMS Cöln, it called for aid from Beatty. Steaming to the rescue, his battlecruisers, including Queen Mary, sank Cöln and the light cruiser SMS Ariadne before covering the British withdrawal.

Refit

That December, Queen Mary took part in Beatty's attempt to ambush German naval forces as they conducted a raid on Scarborough, Hartlepool, and Whitby. In a confused series of events, Beatty failed to bring the Germans to battle and they successfully escaped back the Jade Estuary. Withdrawn in December 1915, Queen Mary received a new fire control system before entering the yard for a refit the following month. As a result, it was not with Beatty for the Battle of Dogger Bank on January 24. Returning to duty in February, Queen Mary continued to operate with the 1st Battlecruiser Squadron through 1915 and into 1916. In May, British naval intelligence learned that the German High Seas Fleet had left port.

Loss at Jutland

Steaming in advance of Admiral Sir John Jellicoe's Grand Fleet, Beatty's battlecruisers, supported by the battleships of the 5th Battle Squadron, collided with Vice Admiral Franz Hipper's battlecruisers in the opening phases of the Battle of Jutland. Engaging at 3:48 PM on May 31, the German fire proved accurate from the outset. At 3:50 PM, Queen Mary opened fire on SMS Seydlitz with its forward turrets.

As Beatty closed the range, Queen Mary scored two hits on its opponent and disabled one of Seydlitz's aft turrets. Around 4:15, HMS Lion came under intense fire from Hipper's ships. The smoke from this obscured HMS Princess Royal forcing SMS Derfflinger to shift its fire to Queen Mary. As this new enemy engaged, the British ship continued to trade hits with Seydlitz.

At 4:26 PM, a shell from Derfflinger struck Queen Mary detonating one or both of its forward magazines. The resulting explosion broke the battlecruiser in half near its foremast. A second shell from Derfflinger may have hit further aft. As the after part of the ship began to roll, it was rocked by a ​large explosion before sinking. Of Queen Mary's crew, 1,266 were lost while only twenty were rescued. Though Jutland resulted in a strategic victory for the British, it saw two battlecruisers, HMS Indefatigable and Queen Mary, lost with nearly all hands. An investigation into the losses led to changes in ammunition handling aboard British ships as the report showed that cordite handling practices may have contributed to the loss of the two battlecruisers.