HMS Majestic

HMS Majestic was the name ship of the Majestic class of pre-dreadnought battleships. During the First World War she saw service with the Dover Patrol and at the Dardanelles, where she became the only member of the class to be sunk in action.

The Majestic was the flagship of the Channel Fleet from 1895-1903. She then served with the Atlantic Fleet (1906) before entering the Commissioned Reserve. From May 1912 she was part of the 3rd Fleet, a reserve formation.

Plans of Majestic Class Battleships
Plans of
Majestic Class Battleships

At the outbreak of the First World War, HMS Majestic was in the Devonport dockyard, but she was soon returned to active duty as part of the 7th Battle Squadron of the Channel Fleet. It had been intended to place all nine Majestic class ships into the squadron, but only two ever reached it, the rest being detached for other duties.

Even the Majestic did not remain with the squadron for long. In October 1915, the Majestic was detached from the Channel Fleet to strengthen the escort for the first Canadian troop convoy to cross the Atlantic, reaching the planned rendezvous spot on 7 October. It had been expected that this convoy would contain at most fourteen transport ships, but recruitment in Canada exceeded all expectations, and the convoy more than doubled in size. The convoy left Canada on 5 October, and met the Majestic on 9 October, reaching England on 14 October.

On her return from this duty, the Majestic rejoined the Channel Fleet, forming part of the Dover Patrol. In early November the Germans raided Gorleston and Yarmouth. At the time of the raid, the Majestic was at the Nore, with three other pre-dreadnought battleships. She was ordered to prepare to sail, but wasn’t used in the operations that followed.

In November she was sent to the Humber, to act as a guard ship for the secondary naval base in the estuary. This was the British naval base clossest to the German naval base at Wilhelmshaven, and was seen as potentially vulnerable. There she joined her sister ships Victorious and Mars, and was soon joined by the Jupiter.

This concentration was short-lived. In December the anti-submarine boom at Dover had been blown away in a gale. Until then the more modern Duncan class battleships had been based at Dover, but it was now felt to be too dangerous to keep them there, and they were moved away. HMS Majestic and HMS Mars were called south to replace them. There followed a period of some frustration, in which a number of plans were made to attack German positions on the Belgian coast, including one plan for a combined operation against Zeebrugge. Only one of the plans that involved the Majestic was actually carried out – a bombardment of German gun batteries on 15-16 December. Even then the Majestic was recalled after the first day, leaving only the even older battleship HMS Revenge to take part. She was then hit by two 8in shells and forced to return to dock for repairs.

In early 1915 HMS Majestic was sent to the Dardenelles to form part of the big Anglo-French battleship squadron that was involved in naval attacks on the Turkish forts at the entrance to the straits. On 26 February, along with HMS Albion and HMS Triumph she made the first opposed entry of warships into the Dardanelles for a century as part of a combined operation that also saw marines land on the Gallipoli peninsula. For this attack howitzers were mounted on the roofs of the 12in gun turrets.

The three battleships entered the Dardanelles at 8.00am. The Majestic’s first target was a bridge over the Mendere River, which was damaged but not destroyed. By noon she was using her big guns against Fort Dardanos. During the day the ships moved further into the straits, and came under increasingly heavy fire from hidden Turkish howitzers. The Majestic was hit by one 6in howitzer shell below the water line, which caused a minor leak. At 4.00pm the operation battleships were withdrawn from the straits.

The Majestic took part in the unsuccessful attempt to force the straits on 18 March 1915. She was then used to support the Anzac landings at Gaba Tepe at the start of the Gallipoli campaign.

In the early phase of the Gallipoli campaign the battleships were able to provide valuable support to the troops. However, in May the German submarine U 21 reached the area, and the situation soon changed. On 25 May HMS Triumph was sunk by U 21. The remaining battleships withdrew overnight, then took extra precautions. On 27 May the Majestic took up a position close to shore, protected by submarine nets and surrounded by a fleet of transport ships unloading supplied. It was hoped that this position would allow her to keep firing while protecting her against the submarine, which it was half-believed had been rammed on the previous day.

At 6.45am this optimisitic attitude was proved to be false. U 21 was spotted 400 yards from the ship. Moments later two torpedoes were fired through gaps in the lines of transports. Both hit the Majestic, and seven minutes she capsized. The loss of life was surprisingly low – it very quickly became clear that the ship was sinking, and the order to abandon ship was given. Of her crew of nearly 700, only 40 were lost, mostly in the initial explosion but some when they became entangled in the submarine nets. The loss of two battleships in three days had a serious impact on the Gallipoli campaign, seriously reducing the amount of support the navy could offer the army.

The Official History of War, when describing the sinking, described the Majestic as “the famous ship, the pride of the old Channel fleet, in whose design the whole thought and experience of the Victorian era had culminated”

Displacement (loaded)

15,730-16,060t

Top Speed

16kts natural draught
17kts forced draught

Range

 

Armour – belt

9in

 - bulkheads

14-12in

 - barbettes

14in

 - gun houses

10in

 - casemates

6in

 - conning tower

14in

 - deck

4in-2.5in

Length

421ft

Armaments

Four 12in guns
Twelve 6in quick firing guns
Sixteen 12pdr quick firing guns
Twelve 2pdr quick firing guns
Five 18in torpedo tubes, four submerged

Crew complement

672

Launched

1895

Completed

1895

Sunk by U 21

27 May 1915

Captains

H. F. G. Talbot (1914, 1915)

British Battleships 1889-1904 New Revised Edition, R A Burt. Magnificent study of the Royal Navy's pre-dreadnought battleships, amongst the most powerful ships in the world when built, but seen as obsolete by the outbreak of war in 1914. Traces the development of the 'classic' pre-dreadnought design and the slow increase in the power of the secondary armament, leading up to the all-big gun ships that followed. [read full review]
cover cover cover

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

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (29 October 2007), HMS Majestic , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_HMS_Majestic.html

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