Lord Nelson class battleships

The Lord Nelson class battleships were the last pre-dreadnought battleships built in Britain. Their construction overlapped with that of HMS Dreadnought, with the result that by the time they were complete they were already obsolete. They were the first British battleships for 30 years not to carry a battery of 6in or 4.7in guns. Instead their secondary armament was provided by ten 9.2in guns, carried in two double and one single turret on each side of the ship. The only smaller guns carried were twenty four 12pdr guns for use against torpedo boats, carried on a flying deck above the level of the main armament.

9.2in guns of HMS Lord Nelson
9.2in guns of
HMS Lord Nelson

There had been some pressure to equip the Lord Nelson class ships with an all-big-gun armament but the idea had been rejected on cost groups. The two ships were laid down in May 1905, but by then it had already been decided to construct the Dreadnought. She was laid down in October, only five months after the Lord Nelsons. The Dreadnought was given the highest priority. Eight of her ten 12in guns and their mountings were taken from the Lord Nelsons, helping to achieve her record building time. As a result, the Dreadnought was launched in February 1906, four months before HMS Agamemnon and seven months before HMS Lord Nelson. She was complete in December 1906. It would take another eighteen months to finish the Agamemnon, by which time four more dreadnought class battleships and the three Invincible class battlecruisers had already been launched.

The two Lord Nelson class ships were excellent sea boats, combining stability and manoeuvrability. However, their mixed big gun armament was less successful as it was difficult to tell apart the splashes caused by the 12in and 9.2in shells (in the event most of the salvoes they fired in anger were against land targets at the Dardanelles).  

The two Lord Nelson class ships spent their peacetime career with the Home Fleet. In 1913 they temporarily joined the 4th Battle Squadron of dreadnought battleships. In the period before the outbreak of the First World War, HMS Agamemnon was still with that squadron, but at the start of the war she joined the Lord Nelson in the Channel Fleet. Lord Nelson was the flagship of Admiral Sir Cecil Burney, while Agamemnon formed part of the 5th Battle Squadron. In this capacity they helped to protect the BEF as it crossed the channel to France.

At the start of 1915 both ships were still with the Channel Fleet, but it was then decided to send HMS Agamemnon to join the fleet off the Dardanelles. The most powerful member of that fleet, HMS Queen Elizabeth, was then damaged in an accident that reduced her speed, and the Lord Nelson sent out as well. Agamemnon set sail on 9 February 1915, and Lord Nelson on 15 February.

HMS Agamemnon actually arrived at the Dardanelles during the first bombardment of the forts, on 19 February, joining in the attack. She also took part in the bombardment of 25 February.

Plans of Lord Nelson Class Battleship
Plans of Lord Nelson Class Battleship

By the start of March Lord Nelson had also arrived at the Dardanelles, and the two ships were placed together to form the 2nd sub-division of Division 1 of the battleship fleet. Both ships supported the landings of 4 March and the naval bombardment of 6 March.

On 7 March they were sent inside the straits to bombard the forts. During this attack, the Agamemnon was hit by a 14in shell, which penetrated the quarter deck, wrecked the ward room and the gun room below it, and sent splinters from the deck armour into the maintop 100 yards above. Another shot sent splinters into the conning tower of the Lord Nelson, wounding Captain McClintock in the head. During the attack the Agamemnon was hit eight times by heavy shells and the Lord Nelson seven times, but despite this only slight wounds were inflicted on the crew.

For the attack on the narrows on 18 March, the two ships formed the 2nd Sub Division of the First Division of the fleet. The First Division was first to enter the straits, bombarding the Turkish forts from long range. The next squadron of four French battleships then passed through the gaps in their line to bombard the forts from closer range. The attack began to go wrong when the French ships were withdrawing from the straits. The battleship Bouvet hit a mine and sank with the loss of most of her crew. Three of the British battleships involved were also hit, with two of them sinking. Agamemnon and Lord Nelson survived largely unscathed, although Agamemnon was hit by twelve 6in howitzer shells during the attack.

Both ships supported the Gallipoli landings of 25 April. HMS Lord Nelson was part of the First Squadron, supporting the landings at the tip of the peninsula. HMS Agamemnon was part of the Fifth Squadron, containing destroyers and minesweepers. Her job was to protect those ships as they operated inside the straits.

After the evacuation of Gallipoli, both ships remained in the Mediterranean. In January 1917 all other British battleships were returned home so that their crews could be used to man new destroyers and cruisers. They spent most of the war at either Mudros, guarding against a possible breakout by the German battlecruiser Goeben, or at Salonika, supporting the Allied forces in the Balkans.

On 12 January 1918 Rear Admiral Hayes-Sadler raised his flag on HMS Lord Nelson, and four days later he sailed in her to Salonika to confer with General Milne. The Agamemnon was at Mudros. On 20 January the Goeben and the Breslau finally made their long awaited sortie. They were steaming towards Mudros, and a clash with the Agamemnon when they both hit mines. Goeben escaped back to safety, but the Breslau was lost.

The Turkish Armistice agreement was signed onboard HMS Agamemnon. The two ships then passed through the Dardanelles to Constantinople. Agamemnon then returned home, while the Lord Nelson spent a short time in the Black Sea. After the war the pre-dreadnought battleships were no longer needed. HMS Lord Nelson was sold off in 1920 while the Agamemnon survived until 1927, but only as a radio-controlled target ship.  

Displacement (loaded)

Lord Nelson: 17,820t
Agamemnon: 17,683t

Top Speed


Armour – deck


 - belt


 - bulkheads


 - citadel


 - barbettes


 - gun houses


 - 9.2in gun houses


 - coning tower



443ft 6in


Four 12in guns
Ten 9.2in guns
Twenty four 12pdr quick firing guns
Two 3pdr quick firing guns
Five 18in submerged torpedo tubes

Crew complement







HMS Lord Nelson
HMS Agamemnon

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 (7 November 2007), Lord Nelson class battleships , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_lord_nelson_class_battleships.html

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