HMS Agamemnon (1906)

HMS Agamemnon (1906)

HMS "Agamemnon" was one of two "Lord Nelson"-class predreadnought battleships launched in 1906 and completed in 1908. She was the Royal Navy's penultimate predreadnought battleship.

Technical Characteristics

HMS "Agamemnon" was ordered in 1904 and was the first warship order for the William Beardmore and Company's Dalmuir Naval Construction Works. She was laid down on 15 May 1905 and launched on 23 June 1906 before the construction works themselves were completed; she was launched by the Countess of Aberdeen in an event which was so significant locally that two special trains were recruited to transport people from Glasgow, Scotland, to increase the size of the crowd. [ [ TheClydebankStory: Launch of HMS Agamemnon, 1906 ] ] Her completion was greatly delayed by labor troubles and by the diversion of the 12-inch (305-mm) guns intended for her to expedite completion of HMS "Dreadnought", and she was not finally completed until June 1908, six months before her sister ship HMS "Lord Nelson".

A first-class battleship, "Agamemnon", together with her sister ship "Lord Nelson", was designed in the very early years of the twentieth century, at a time when the standard battleship armament in the Royal Navy and in many other navies was four guns of 12-inch (305-mm) calibre and a number of guns, usually twelve, of 6-inch (152-mm) calibre. There were already in existence proposals for all-big-gun ships, promoted largely by Admiral Jackie Fisher, but at the time of the laying-down of the "Lord Nelson" class these plans were at an early stage. It was, however, recognised that with increasing thickness of armour and prospective increases in combat ranges, a heavier armament than had heretofore been carried in battleships was necessary.

The "Lord Nelson" class were the first battleships for which Sir Phillip Watts was responsible. Although they followed the predreadnought pattern established in the "Royal Sovereign"-class battleships in the early 1890s of having two twin main battery mounts, one fore and one aft, and mounted a main battery of four 12-inch (305-mm) guns, as had every predreadnought since those of the "Majestic" class in the mid-1890s, they otherwise were a major departure from previous British predreadnought designs; they might have marked a new era in predreadnought design had not the rise of the dreadnoughts snuffed out the predreadnought era.

In order to match increases in firepower seen in foreign battleships of similar displacement, the preceding "King Edward VII" class had introduced a 9.2-inch (234-mm) intermediate battery into British battleships in addition to the 6-inch (152-mm) secondary battery they long had mounted, but "Agamemnon" and her sister ship "Lord Nelson" carried this further by mounting an all-9.2-inch (234-mm) secondary battery; they were the first British battleships not to mount 6-inch (152-mm) guns since HMS "Inflexible", which joined the fleet in 1881. (The "Trafalgar" and "Centurion" classes had joined the fleet with 4.7-inch (120-mm) secondaries but had later had them replaced by 6-inch (152-mm) guns.) Also, the 9.2-inch (234-mm) battery, made up of more powerful guns than on the "King Edward VII"-class ships, was mounted in turrets (four double and two single) on the upper deck, rather than on the main deck in a central battery or casemates; this eliminated the problem of being unable to work the secondaries in a seaway, a problem in the many classes of British battleships with main-deck-mounted secondaries which were washed out in all but the calmest weather. [Burt, p. 229-238, 281-288]

Watts had wanted to include twelve 9.2-inch (234-mm) guns in three twin turrets amidships on each beam. This gun, which he had included in the "Warrior" and "Minotaur" classes of armoured cruisers, was very well thought of in Royal Naval service. Unfortunately, the Controller (the Fourth Sea Lord) decreed that the ships must be able to dock at number 9 dock at Chatham and number 5 at Devonport. These stipulations necessitated shortening the designed length by eleven feet, and restricting the beam to 79.5 feet (24.2 m). It was therefore necessary to re-work the design with the central 9.2-inch (234-mm) turret on each beam holding a single gun only, and limitations on the size of their turrets meant that the turrets were cramped, which impaired the rate of fire of the 9.2-inch (234-mm) guns. The design requirements imposed also made "Agamemnon" and her sister rather cramped overall in service, but the requirements also made the ships both flat-sided and fairly flat-bottomed; this and the mounting of the heavy 9.2-inch (234-mm) guns and their turrets had the useful side-effect of making the "Lord Nelsons" resistant to rolling and therefore both good seaboats and good gun platforms. [Burt, p. 286-287]

was held to have absolute priority, the 12-inch (305-mm) gun turrets being produced for "Agamemnon" and "Lord Nelson" were diverted to "Dreadnought", and the "Lord Nelsons" had to wait for further production, and where therefore not completed until 1908, nearly two years after "Dreadnought".

In the end, the mixed-caliber heavy armament proved unsuccessful, as gunnery officers found it impossible to distinguish between 12-inch (305-mm) and 9.2-inch (234-mm) shell splashes, making fire control impractical. ["Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships, 1860-1905", p. 40] This finding further pushed the navies of the world to move to all-big-gun dreadnought battleship designs. Indeed, an all-big-gun design had been considered for the "Lord Nelsons" in January 1905, but their design was too far advanced by then to be changed, and the all-big-gun layout had to await HMS "Dreadnought". [Burt, p. 284]

For anti-torpedo-boat defense, "Agamemnon" retained a battery of 12-pounders. These were mounted on a large flying deck amidships, where they had good command. However, this innovative mounting scheme also was critcized because it made a good target and because falling debris due to damage might foul the 9.2-inch (234-mm) turrets below in combat. In addition, some officers believed that the all-12-pounder battery was too light to deal with larger, modern torpedo boats. [Burt, pp. 284-288]

Larger gun calibers becoming common in foreign battleships, it was also recognised that greater protection was needed than had been thought to be the case in previous classes, and her main armour belt was twelve inches (305 mm) thick over the machinery spaces and magazines; the armour belt in the "King Edward VII"-class battleships, the immediately preceding class, was nowhere more than nine inches (229 mm) thick. "Agamemnon" and "Lord Nelson" were more heavily armored than any other British predreadnoughts, and more heavily armored in terms of area and thickness than any of the dreadnoughts prior to the "Orion" class of 1909. They were the first British battleships to have solid watertight bulkheads, penetrated by no doors or pipes, intended to contain flooding, with access across the bulkheads being via lifts (elevators). The solid bulkheads proved unpopular in service because of the inconvenience they imposed on the crew and were not repeated in the early British dreadnoughts, although Russian experience in the Russo-Japanese War suggested that such bulkheads were useful in keeping predreadnoughts from sinking. As further protection, each compartment in "Agamemnon" had its own ventilation and pumping arrangements, eliminating the need for a single main drainage system as employed in previous British battleships and seen as a possible weakness during flooding. [Burt, p. 289] The underwater defenses of "Agamemnon" never were tested in combat, although it is likely that she would have performed better than British predreadnought battleships of other classes, which usually sank due to progressive flooding after only a single torpedo or mine hit.

"Agamemnon" and "Lord Nelson" were the last British battleships to have reciprocating engines and the last with twin screws, future classes having turbines and quadruple screws. They also were the last with inward-turning screws, which allowed greater propulsive force and slightly higher speeds and slightly less fuel consumption, but were unpopular in service because they made ships less maneuverable at low speeds or when going astern. It was decided to stop using mixed boiler types in the same ship, and "Agamemnon" had 15 Yarrow large water-tube boilers. Although primarily coal-powered, she and "Lord Nelson" were the first British battleships designed to carry oil, earlier ships having been retrofitted to carry oil; "Agamemnon" had five oil spayers, and the use of these extended her range considerably. The boiler arrangememts were very successful in service, and she easily made her design speed of 18 knots (33.33 km/h); on trials, in fact, she made 18.5 knots (34.25 km/h). ["Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships, 1860-1905", p. 40]

"Agamemnon" and "Lord Nelson" were the last British battleships to have an armored ram built into her bow. [Burt, p. 286-287]

As completed, "Agamemnon" was homely but intimidating in appearance, and looked more like French battleships than the previous British predreadnought pattern. [Burt, p. 293-294] Like all predreadnoughts, "Agamemnon" was made obsolete by the commissioning of the revolutionary HMS "Dreadnought" at the end of 1906 and the many other dreadnought battleships commissioned in succeeding years; indeed, "Dreadnought" commissioned 18 months before "Agamemnon".

However, her obsolescence often is overstated. While clearly outgunned by any dreadnought battleship or battlecruiser at ranges of over 10,000 yards (9,144 m), she probably could have more than held her own in engagements under that range, as might occur at night or in fog or bad weather, especially if paired with "Lord Nelson"; she was better armored than the early dreadnoughts or any battlecruiser, and the all-9.2-inch (234-mm) secondary battery gave her a powerful broadside with a higher rate of fire than the all-big-gun ships could manage. Thanks to their excellent armor and powerful secondary battery, "Agamemnon" and "Lord Nelson" remained in active front-line service right to the end of World War I, something that could not be said of any other British predreadnought or even of HMS "Dreadnought" herself.

Operational History

HMS "Agamemnon" commissioned on 25 June 1908 at Chatham Dockyard for service in the Nore Division of the Home Fleet. On 11 February 1911 she grazed an uncharted rock in the harbor at Ferrol, sustaining bottom and frame damage. [Burt, p. 298] She was temporarily attached in September 1913 to the 4th Battle Squadron. [Burt, p. 298, and "Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships, 1906-1921", p. 10]

After World War I began in August 1914, "Agamemnon" was assigned to the 5th Battle Squadron in the Channel Fleet and was based at Portland. With other ships, she covered the safe transport of the British Expeditionary Force, under the command of Sir John French, to France. On 14 November 1914 she transferred to Sheerness to guard the English coast against the possibility of a German invasion. She returned to Portland on 30 December 1914 and was employed in the defence of the southern ports of England and patrols of the English Channel until February 1915 [Burt, p. 298]

In February 1915, "Agamemnon" was ordered to the Dardanelles to participate in the Dardanelles Campaign. She departed Portland on 9 February 1915, and joined the British Dardanelles Squadron at Mudros on 19 February 1915. That was the second day of the opening bombardment of the Ottoman Turkish entrance forts on 19 February, ad she immediately joined the attack. She also took part in the subsequent bombardment of the inner forts later in February; the guns of the Ottoman Turkish forts hit seven times with 9.4-inch (240-mm) shells in ten minutes on 25 February 1915 and was holed above the waterline, suffering three dead. [Burt, p. 298]

and wrecked a wardroom and a gun room. She also took several hits by light shells that day, and, although she suffered damage to her superstructure her fighting and steaming capabilities were not seriously impaired. [Burt, p. 298]

"Agamemnon" also participated in the main attack on the Narrows forts on 18 March 1915. This time a 6-inch (152-mm) howitzer battery took her under fire and hit her 12 times in 25 minutes; five of them hit her armor and did no damage, but the seven that hit outside her armor protection did considerable stuctural damage and temporarily put one of her 12-inch (305-mm) guns out of action. [Burt, p. 298]

On 25 April 1915, "Agamemnon" supported the main landings as part of the 5th Squadron, and after that she patrolled to protect Allied minesweeping and netlaying vessels operating in the Dardanelles. In action against Ottoman field batteries, she took two hits between 28 April 1915 and 30 April 1915, and she provided fire support during a Turkish counterattack against Allied troops on 1 May 1915, and bombarded Ottoman artillery batteries on 6 May 1915 prior to the Second Battle of Krithia. [Burt, p. 298]

. [Burt, p. 298]

With the end of the Dardanelles Campaign in January 1916, British naval forces in the area were reorganized, and "Agamemnon" became part of the Eastern Mediterranean Squadron, which was redesignated the Aegean Squadron in August 1917; under either name, the squadron was dispersed throughout the area to protect Allied-held islands, support the British Army at Salonika, and guard against any attempted breakout from the Dardanelles by the German battlecruiser "Goeben" and light cruiser "Breslau". "Agamemnon" spent the remainder of the war based at Salonika and Mudros, alternating between the two bases with her sister ship HMS "Lord Nelson"; "Agamemnon" was based mostly at Mudros, "Lord Nelson" mostly at Salonika. While carrying out these duties, "Agamemnon" shot down the German Zeppelin "LZ85" on 5 May 1917 at Salonika with a 6-pounder. [Burt, p. 298, states that the airship involved was "L85", while "Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships, 1906-1921", p. 10, says the airship was "LZ-85" and was shot down on 5 May 1916]

Of all the responsibilities given the two ships, the most important was to guard the Eastern Mediterranean against a breakout by "Goeben". When "Goeben" and "Breslau" finally made their breakout attempt on 20 January 1918, "Lord Nelson" was away at Salonika and "Agamemnon" did not get steam up to depart Mudros in time to to participate in the resulting Battle of Imbros; after both German ships struck mines, "Breslau" sank and "Goeben" returned to the Dardanelles before "Agamemnon" could arrive on the scene. [Burt, p. 298]

"Agamemnon" underwent a refit at Malta in 1918. On 30 October 1918 the Ottoman Empire signed the Armistice of Mudros on board "Agamemnon" while she was anchored at Lemnos in the northern Aegean Sea. She was part of the British squadron that went to Constantinople in November 1918 following the armistice. She returned to the United Kingdom in March 1919, where she paid off at Chatham Dockyard and went into reserve on 20 March 1919. [Burt, p. 298]

Target Ship [Most sources say that "Agamemnon" served as a target ship from 1923 to 1926, and Burt, p. 298, says that she underwent conversion to a radio-controlled target ship September 1922-April 1923. However, Burt, p. 295, provides specifics about her conversion to a radio-controlled target ship in 1920-1921, as well as specifics about her use as a target in 1921. It is possible that the conversion took place in 1920-1921 and is often confused with a 1922-1923 refit, but this confusion will have to be sorted out by future research.]

In September 1918, the Commander-in-Chief,, Grand Fleet, Admiral David Beatty, called for a large target to be provided which would allow the battleships of the Grand Fleet, which had seen little action since the Battle of Jutland in 1916, realistic gunnery practice. Tests against armor plate in 1919 demonstrated that firing 15-inch (381-mm) guns at any predreadnought would sink her quickly, but the use of a predreadnought for target practice and tests by guns of 6-inch (152-mm) caliber or smaller seemed practical. At first the predreadnought HMS "Hibernia" was suggested for target duties, but ultimately "Agamemnon" became available and was selected instead. [Burt, p. 295]

"Agamemnon" was modified at Chatham Dockyard for use as a target ship between 6 December 1920 and 8 April 1921. She was rewired for radio control and stripped; The 12-inch (305-mm) turrets remained aboard, but all of her 12-inch (305-mm) guns, and her 9.2-inch (234-mm) and 12-pounder guns and their equipment were removed, as were her torpedo equipment, flying deck, sea cabins, main derrick and boat equipment, lower conning tower, masts and yards, most of her crew amenities, and other unnecessary equipment. Unnecessary hatches, coamings, scuttles, and lifts (elevators) were removed and plated over, and she was ballasted differently than she had been as a battleship. It was not intended to sink her, so she was assigned a crew of 153 to maintain and operate her when she was not under fire. [Burt, p. 295]

Her first target service took place before her modifications were completed. On 19 March 1921, she was exposed to a cloud of poisonous gas to determine the effect of gas on a battleship. It was found that gas could penetrate the ship via her various openings, but "Agamemnon" had not been sealed against gas before the trial and no accurate results applicable to a commissioned battleship could be obtained. [Burt, p. 295]

On 21 September 1921, she was subjected to machine-gun fire by strafing aircraft. These trials showed that such strafing could harass an battleship, but could not impair her fighting or steaming capabilities, and helped to determine protection for bridge personnel. [Burt, p. 295]

while she maneuvered under radio control. These tests showed that ships protected as well as "Agamemnon", such as the later dreadnoughts, would suffer damage to their upper works if struck by such shells, but would not have their steaming or fighting capability seriously impaired even by numerous smaller-caliber hits. [Burt, p. 295]

"Agamemnon" was relieved as target ship by the dreadnought HMS "Centurion" in December 1926.She was sold to Cashmore of Newport on 24 January 1927 for scrapping, and departed Portsmouth Dockyard on 1 March 1927 for scrapping at Newport. [Burt, p. 295]



* [ Lord Nelson class battleships]
*Burt, R. A. "British Battleships 1889-1904". Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1988. ISBN 0870210610.
*Chesneau, Roger, and Eugene M. Kolesnik, eds. "Conway's All The World's Fighting Ships, 1860-1905". New York: Mayflower Books, Inc., 1979. ISBN 0831703024.
* Dittmar, F.J., and J. J. Collegde. "British Warships 1914-1919". London: Ian Allan, 1972. ISBN 0-7110-0380-7.
*Gibbons, Tony. "The Complete Encyclopedia of Battleships and Battlecruisers: A Technical Directory of All the World's Capital Ships From 1860 to the Present Day". London: Salamander Books Ltd., 1983.
*Gray, Randal, Ed. "Conway's All The World's Fighting Ships 1906-1921." Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1985. ISBN 0870219073.

External links

* [ Picture gallery of HMS Agamemnon]
* [ info page]
* [ Clyde Built Warships info page]
* [ MaritimeQuest HMS Agamemnon pages]

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