HMS Queen Elizabeth

HMS Queen Elizabeth was the name ship of the Queen Elizabeth class of battleships. She was the most powerful battleship in the British fleet when completed, and continued to provide valuable service with the Royal Navy during the Second World War, where she served as the flagship of Admiral Andrew Cunningham in the Mediterranean.

She was built with sixteen 6in guns. However, the four guns below the quarterdeck proved to be useless and were replaced by two guns above the midships battery, a layout that was copied on the rest of the class.

First World War

HMS Queen Elizabeth was commissioned in December 1914. Unlike just about every other dreadnought, she did not immediately join the Grand Fleet. Instead, she was sent to the Dardanelles, to take part in the naval attacks on the Turkish forts. Despite the power of the 15in guns, she was not particularly effective at the Dardanelles. She was too new and too valuable to risk inside the straits without massive precautions, and so had to fire across the Gallipoli peninsula in most attacks. Her captain was under orders not to wear out his guns – battleship guns had an estimated lifespan of around 300 fully charged shots, and so she only fired 86 15in shells, only just over ten full salvoes.

HMS Queen Elizabeth between her two refits
HMS Queen Elizabeth
between her two refits

In May 1915 she returned to the Grand Fleet. Between 22 May and 4 June 1916 she was in dock, having two 6in guns replaced with 3in Mk I anti-aircraft guns, and so missed the battle of Jutland. In February 1917 she was re-commissioned as the fleet flagship for Admiral Beatty, who selected her because of her high speed. On 15 November 1918 the surrender of the High Seas Fleet was signed onboard.

She was modernised twice. In 1926-1927 her two funnels were merged into one and she was given anti-submarine bulges. Her second refit was more extensive. She was the fourth (and last) of her class to be given this second refit, at Portsmouth (August 1937-December 1940, then at Rosyth at the start of 1941). She was given a modified bridge and forward superstructure, improved armour, improved engines (an increase of 5,000hp), maintaining her speed. Her secondary armament was extensively modified – all of her 6in and 4in guns were replaced by twenty 4.5in dual purpose guns, in ten turrets, controlled by four high angle directors. She was equipped with a hanger for three aircraft and a catapult (removed in 1943).

Second World War

HMS Queen Elizabeth early in 1942
HMS Queen Elizabeth
early in 1942

Once her refit was complete, she was sent to join Admiral Cunningham in the eastern Mediterranean. She accompanied the “tiger” convoy, carrying tanks through the Mediterranean to Egypt, along with the modern carrier HMS Illustrious. The convoy passed Gibraltar on 6 May, and met Admiral Cunningham fifty miles south of Malta on 9 May.

HMS Queen Elizabeth from above
HMS Queen Elizabeth from above

She was almost immediately called into action. On 20 May the German invasion of Crete began. The naval forces around Crete soon began to take heavy damage. On 25 May HMS Queen Elizabeth, HMS Barham and HMS Illustrious left Alexandria to support the evacuation. On the next day the Illustrious was damaged in an air attack, and forced to turn back. Barham and Warspite were also damaged during the evacuation, and on 1 June Cunningham only had two battleships – Queen Elizabeth and Valiant.

That changed dramatically on 19 December. Six frogmen from the elite Italian 10th Flotilla (Decimo MAS) were dropped off from a submarine one and a half miles outside the harbour, each armed with a single torpedo. They were able to enter the harbour while the nets were opened to allow some destroyers into the harbour. They then planted their torpedoes under Valiant and Queen Elizabeth, badly damaging both ships. Admiral Cunningham managed to keep the damage secret, conducting business from the decks of Queen Elizabeth as normal, but for some time there were no British battleships in the eastern Mediterranean.

HMS Queen Elizabeth was one of the ships allocated to the British Eastern Fleet towards the end of the war, taking part in an attack on Sabang, Sumatra. In the summer of 1945 she was paid off into the reserve after an active career of thirty years.


As built

After 1937-41 refit

Displacement (loaded)

31,500t (design)
34,050t (as built)


Top Speed

23kts (eventual design)
24kts (overload)
23.5kts (after second refit)



4,500 nautical miles at 10kts


Armour – deck



 - belt



 - bulkheads



 - barbettes



 - turret faces



 - conning tower




645ft 9in



Eight 15in Mk I guns
Fourteen 6in Mk XII guns
Two 3in Mk I AA guns
Four 3pdr saluting guns
Four 21in submerged torpedo tubes

Eight 15in Mk I gins
Twenty 4.5in quick firing guns
Thirty Two 2pdr pompons
Fifty four 20mm Oerlikon AA guns

Crew complement




16 October 1913


January 1915


Captain Hope

Sold for break up


HMS Queen Elizabeth - Picture Gallery

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

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (9 November 2007), HMS Queen Elizabeth ,

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