HMS Lion

HMS Lion was the nameship of the Lion class of battlecruisers and served as Admiral Beatty’s flagship at the three main North Sea naval battles of the First World War. At Dogger Bank her armour was pierced repeatedly by German shells, demonstrating the weakness of the British battlecruisers, while at Jutland she came close to destruction after one of her turrets was hit by a 12in shell. She was commissioned into the 1st Cruiser Squadron in June 1912. In January 1913 that squadron was renamed the 1st Battle Cruiser Squadron, under the command of Rear-Admiral Beatty.

As Beatty’s flagship, the Lion led the battlecruisers at the battle of Heligoland Bight (28 August 1914), taking part in the sinking of the German cruisers Köln and Adriadne. She also took part in the unsuccessful attempt to catch the German ships that raided the Yorkshire coast in 16 December.

The Lion suffered badly at the battle of Dogger Bank (24 January 1915). For nearly an hour and a half she was the main target of three of the German ships, and was hit by sixteen 11in and 12in shells. Many of these shells penetrated her armour around the waterline, where it was at its thickest, beginning to justify the criticisms of the battlecruiser. The first hit came at 9.28am, penetrating the armour on the water line and threatening to flood a bunker before the damage was fixed with hammocks and mess stools.

HMS Lion
HMS Lion

The second hit came at 9.54am, when a shell hit the roof of “A” turret, smashing the roof and disabling one gun. The next hit came at 10.01 when an 11in shell from the Seydlitz pierced the armour, flooding the engineer’s workshop and the switch-board compartment, short-circuiting two dynamos and disabling the after fire control and secondary armament circuits. As the battle had developed into a stern chase, this was not a major blow, as the rear guns couldn’t be used and the secondary guns didn’t have the range required. However, the ship did begin to list to port.

At 10.18 the Lion was hit by two shells from the Derfflinger at 17,500 yards. They hit with such force that they were at first believed to have been torpedoes. One hit the armour below the water line, driving it through the wooden backing and flooding the foremost port bunkers while the other pierced the forward armour on the waterline, bursting into the torpedo body room and flooding all the adjacent compartments up to main deck level. At this point Beatty began to zigzag in an attempt to avoid further damage, but between 10.35 and 10.50 a number of further hits were recorded, piercing the armour and flooding more bunkers. One hit in the “A” turret lobby, causing a fire that was quickly put out. Finally, at just before 11.00 a shell pierced the armour on the water-line abreast of one of the boiler rooms, damaging its feed tank and the nearby engine room. The port engine had to be stopped, the No.1 Dynamo was short circuited and all light and power failed. The ship was now listing 10 degrees to port, and had to drop out of the line as she could only make 15kts.

Perhaps the worst result of this was that the radio was now useless. Beatty attempted to use signal flags to order the rest of the squadron to close on the German battlecruisers, but his flags were impossible to read from the rest of the fleet, and the British battlecruisers concentrated on the damaged armoured cruiser Blücher, allowing the German battlecruisers to escape.

Despite suffering such a severe pounding, the Lion only suffered eleven casualties, all wounded. During the battle she fired 243 shells at long range, recording one hit on the Blücher, one on the Derfflinger and two on the Seydlitz. The battle seemed to have proved two things – first, the armour was indeed vulnerable to German shellfire and second, the Lion could stand up to that punishment. Sadly, at Jutland three battlecruisers, including the Lions half sister Queen Mary, would be destroyed much more easily.

Plans of Lion Class Battlecruisers
Plans of
Lion Class

After the battle the starboard turbine also failed, and the Lion had to be towed to safety. It took most of two days to the Tyne. For a large part of the journey both the Lion and the Indomitable were felt to be in real danger from German submarines and a massive operation was mounted to protect them. After temporary repairs at Rosyth, she had to go to Palmers for full repairs.

The Lion was once again Beatty’s flagship at the battle of Jutland. She opened fire on the German battlecruisers at 3.45pm on 31 May, at what Beatty believed to be a range of 18,000 yards, but was probably significantly shorter. The German battlecruisers opened fire at the same time, and their somewhat shorter ranged guns had no problem hitting their targets. The Lion was hit by two shells that pierced her hull in the first ten minutes of the fight.

The most dangerous blow came at 4.03pm, when a heavy shell hit “Q” turret, entered the gun-house and exploded over the left gun. The explosion hilled most of the gun crew and caused a fire that threatened to spread to the magazine, destroying the ship. The Lion was only saved by Major F. J. W. Harvey, the Marine officer in charge of the turret, who despite being mortally wounded ordered the magazine doors to be shut and the magazine flooded. He was awarded a posthumous V.C. for his actions, which probably saved the Lion from the same fate as the Indefatigable, which exploded at almost the exact same time.

HMS Lion from the left
HMS Lion from the left

At 4.30 Beatty sighted the German battleships and the run to the north began. During this phase of the battle the Lion was hit again around “Q” turret, and was only saved by the flooded magazine. During the battle the Lion was hit by thirteen 12in shells from the Lützow, suffering 99 dead and 44 wounded.

After Jutland the Lion once again needed extensive repairs. “Q” turret had to be removed entirely and was repaired on land, leaving the Lion with three turrets from July to September 1917. In November 1916 Beatty was promoted to command the Grand Fleet and the Lion became the flagship for Rear-Admiral Pakenham. Although there were no major battles after Jutland, the battlecruisers did go to see on a number of minor operations during the last two years of the war, amongst them the action in Heligoland Bight on 17 November 1917. After the war she was retained until 1923 as flagship of the 1st Battle Cruiser Squadron, but was then sold off under the terms of the Washington Treaty, and sold for break up in 1924. Her main guns were removed and used as coastal defence guns.

Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed



5,610 nautical miles at 10kts

Armour – deck


 - belt


 - bulkheads


 - barbettes


 - turret faces


 - conning tower





Eight 13.5in Mk V guns
Sixteen 4in Mk VII guns
Four 3pdr guns
Two 21in submerged torpedo tubes

Crew complement



6 August 1910


May 1912


A. E. M. Chatfield

Sold for break up


British and German Battlecruisers - Their Development and Operations, Michele Cosentino & Ruggero Stanglini. A useful volume that covers the development, design and construction of British and German battlecruisers, their wartime deployments and both side's plans for the next generation of battlecruisers, of which only HMS Hood was ever completed. Having all of this material in a single volume gives a much better overview of the two Navy's battlecruisers, their advantages and flaws, and their performance in and out of battle. Concludes with a look at other nation's battlecruisers and battlecruiser designs [read full review]
cover cover cover


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

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (15 November 2007), HMS Lion ,

Help - F.A.Q. - Contact Us - Search - Recent - About Us - Privacy