HMS Defence

HMS Defence was a Minotaur class first class armoured cruiser, sunk at the battle of Jutland with all hands when she came too close to the German battle ships. All three Minotaur class cruisers joined the 5th Cruiser Squadron as they were commissioned, but were soon split up. The Defence served with the 1st Cruiser Squadron from July 1909, as an escort for the Royal Yacht Medina in November-December 1912 and on the China station in early 1913, before rejoining the 1st Cruiser Squadron as flagship.

At the outbreak of the First World War she took part in the hunt for the Goeben and the Breslau in August 1914, then spent September outside the Dardanelles. She was then promised to Admiral Cradock, to take part in the hunt for Admiral von Spee’s cruiser squadron, then approaching South America. She was then diverted to the Cape of Good Hope, thus missing the battle of Coronel.

In the aftermath of Coronel she formed part of a squadron under Vice-Admiral H. G. King-Hall, which had been gathered at the Cape to protect against von Spee (with her sister ship HMS Minotaur, the light cruisers Astraea, Hyacinth and Weymouth and the Canopus class battleship Albion of 1901). After the battle of the Falklands had removed the danger from von Spee, Minotaur and Defence were sent to join the Grand Fleet.

Rear-Admiral Sir Robert K. Arbuthnot
Sir Robert K. Arbuthnot

The Defence became the flagship of Rear-Admiral Sir Robert K. Arbuthnot, commander of the First Cruiser Squadron. On 30 May 1916, the day before the battle of Jutland, the First Cruiser Squadron was at Invergordon, ready to act as the advance guard for the Grand Fleet.

On 31 May the squadron formed the starboard flank of the cruiser screen, sailing sixteen miles ahead of the main battle fleet. The Defence was just to the right of the centre of the line. On the evening of 31 May the Battlecruiser Squadron under Admiral Beatty was being chased by the main German High Seas Fleet, back towards the Grand Fleet, steaming at full speed towards the battle. Part of the First Cruiser squadron became entangled in the fighting around HMS Lion, Beatty’s flagship.

A German cruiser, the Wiesbaden, had been badly damaged in a clash ahead of the British battlecruisers. As Beatty came north, the Defence came in from the north west. Admiral Arbuthnot had orders to engage enemy cruisers, and so made for the Wiesbaden, coming so close to the Lion that the larger ship had to alter course to avoid her. Unfortunately for the Defence, the main German battle fleet was close behind Beatty, who had only just signalled sighting their battleships. Four minutes after passing Lion’s bows, the Defence was hit by two 12in salvoes from SMS Friedrich der Grosse, Admiral Scheer’s flagship.

HMS Defence from the right
HMS Defence from the right

Plans of Minotaur Class First Class Armoured Cruisers
Plans of Minotaur Class First Class Armoured Cruisers

The Defence was not designed to stand up to this sort of punishment. The German shells may have ignited the cordite charges in the ammunition tubes, or simply penetrated directly to the magazines, and the ship exploded, with the loss of 893 men. HMS Warrior had followed Arbuthnot into danger, and was so badly damaged that she sank on the following day.

Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed




Armour – deck


 - belt


 - barbettes


 - ammo tubes


 - turrets


 - conning tower





Four 9.2in guns
Ten 7.5in guns
Sixteen 12pdr quick firing guns
Five 18in submerged torpedo tubes

Crew complement



24 April 1907


9 January 1909

Sunk with all hands

31 May 1916


E. la T. Leatham (1914, 1915)
S.V. Ellis, 1916

Before the Battlecruiser - The Big Cruiser in the World’s Navies 1865-1910, Aidan Dodson. Looks at the development and careers of the ‘big cruiser’, the most heavily armed cruisers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and a type that eventually evolved in the battlecruiser. Covers the development of the type, its combat experience while still state of the art, its role in the First World War, as well as looking at the technical specifications of all of the ships that fell into this category (Read Full Review)
cover cover cover


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

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (14 September 2007), HMS Defence ,

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