HMS Cornwallis

HMS Cornwallis was a Duncan class pre-dreadnought battleship that fired the first shells of the Dardanelles campaign on 19 February 1915. Prior to the First World War she had served in the Mediterranean twice before (1903-1905 and 1910-1912) as well as with the Atlantic and Channel Fleets. At the start of August 1914 she was part of the 6th Battle Squadron of the Channel Fleet. With the rest of her class she then moved to Scapa Flow to join the 3rd Battle Squadron of the Grand Fleet (August-November 1914), before returning to the Channel Fleet in November 1914 to form a new 6th Battle Squadron.

Plans of Duncan Class Battleships
Plans of
Duncan Class

In January 1915 she was detached from that squadron, and sent to the Dardanelles, arriving early in February. At 9.51am on 19 February 1915 she fired the first shell of the first naval bombardment of the Turkish forts, firing at Fort Orkanie. After an hour she had to withdraw because a faulty capstan meant she couldn’t anchor in deep water, but she returned later in the day when the attacking ships moved closer inland. After that she was involved in every major operation during 1915.

On 26 February she supported the first landings by marines. She played a minor support role during the attempt to force the narrows on 18 March, supporting the mine sweepers. 

During the Gallipoli landings of 25 April she had two duties – first to act as a landing ship for the troops going to Morto Bay and then to support the River Clyde. The Morto Bay landing was carried out by three companies of the 2nd South Wales Borderers. It was hoped that they could capture De Tott’s Battery on the right flank of the Allied attack, but it was seen as something of a forlorn hope. The troops were taken close to land on HMS Cornwallis and then transferred to small boats towed by trawlers for the actual landings. The Cornwallis stayed close inshore at Morto Bay providing artillery support for the troops, who achieved their main objective, and captured the battery. However, she stayed so long at Morto Bay that she was unable to support the landing from the River Clyde.

The level of naval support for the fighting at Gallipoli was seriously reduced by the threat from torpedoes. On 13 May HMS Cornwallis was operating with HMS Goliath when that ship was sunk by a Turkish destroyer, helping to rescue survivors. By December she was posted inside anti-submarine nets at Suvla Bay. On 18-19 December she stood by during the evacuation of Suvla, with her guns trained on possible Turkish targets, but did not need to fire.

In January 1916 Admiral Wemyss was offered the East Indies command, which included Egypt. One of his first duties was to allocate two battleships to defend the Suez Canal now that the importance of the Dardanelles was fading. He chose HMS Cornwallis and HMS Glory. The Cornwallis remained in the Mediterrancean for the next year, until on 9 January 1917 she was sunk by U 32 east of Malta. She stayed afloat for long enough for all but 15 of her crew to be rescued.

Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed


Armour – deck


 - belt


 - bulkheads


 - barbettes


 - gun houses


 - casemates


 - conning tower





Four 12in guns
Twelve 6in quick firing guns
Ten 12pdr quick firing guns
Six 3pdr guns
Four 18in torpedo tubes

Crew complement



13 July 1901


February 1904


A. P. Davidson (1915)

Sunk by U-32

9 January 1917

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cover cover cover

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

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (5 November 2007), HMS Cornwallis ,

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