Abercrombie class monitors

The four monitors of the Abercrombie class were built to take advantage of four twin 14in turrets, offered to Great Britain by Charles M. Schwab, president of the American company Bethlehem Steel. This was a breach of American neutrality early in the First World War, and the deal would result in a protest from the US State Department, but Winston Churchill, the first lord of the Admiralty, gladly accepted the guns.

Design work began on the monitors on 4 November 1914, the day after the offer was accepted. The first of them was laid down on 1 December, less than a month after work began, and all four were launched in April 1915. The resulting ships were much slower than expected, reaching a top speed of 6.5kts, despite having been designed to reach 10kts. They were very distinctive ships, with very few structures visible on the main deck other than a tripod mast, the funnel and of course a massive battleship turret. The secondary guns were hidden below hinged bulwarks, below and in front of the main turret.

The monitors were originally names M 1 to M 4, then renamed with American names (Admiral Farragut, General Grant, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson). These names then had to be abandoned, as they were a rather too blatant reminder of the breach of American neutrality. 

All four ships were capable of carrying seaplanes during the war – Abercrombie, Roberts and Havelock when built, and Raglan by 1917 when she was carrying a seaplane off the coast of Palestine. Amongst the aircraft carried were the Short 166, Sopwith Schneider and Short 184 seaplane.

As the four ships entered service, they were dispatched to the Dardanelles, arriving during July 1915. There they made up for the recall of the dreadnought HMS Queen Elizabeth, needed back in Britain. HMS Abercrombie became the flagship of the supporting forces at Gallipoli. In September 1915 the four Abercrombie class monitors were formed into the 1st Division of the Special Squadron. During the Gallipoli campaign, they were used to attack Turkish guns on the Asiatic shore of the Dardanelles, to support infantry attacks, and finally to help cover the evacuation.

After the end of the Gallipoli campaign, the four ships were scattered. HMS Abercrombie remained in the Aegean until the end of the war. She took part in intermittent attacks on Turkish positions, and was used at Salonika. At the end of the war she was part of the fleet that passed through the Dardanelles after the armistice.

Both HMS Havelock and HMS Roberts were returned to Britain, where they were used as guard ships, at Lowestoft and Yarmouth respectively. HMS Roberts was moved to the Tyne in June 1917, and then to the Thames Estuary, where she formed part of a force allocated to support possible landings on the Belgian coast. She remained in service longer than any of her sister ships, acting as a trials ship until her sale in 1936.

HMS Raglan remained in the Aegean in 1916. In September she was moved to Port Said, and took part in the campaign in Palestine. In October 1917 she bombarded Turkish positions during the third battle of Gaza.

In January 1917 she returned to the Aegean to guard against a rumoured sortie of the German ships Goeben and Breslau, then officially serving with the Turkish fleet. On 20 January she was part of a small detached squadron at Kusu Bay, Pyrgos. The squadron contained the small monitor M 28, four destroyers and the cruiser HMS Endymion. The cruisers was absent at Malta and the destroyers were either on patrol or escorting an oiler. That morning the German cruisers appeared off Kusu Bay and opened fire on the two monitors. The Raglan briefly fired back, before all of her control gear was put out of action. She sank in shallow water, with the loss of 127 men. 

Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

Designed speed 10kts
Actual speed 6-6.5kts

Armour – deck


 - belt


 - bulkheads


 - barbette


 - turret face



334ft 6in


Two 14in guns
Two 12pdr quick firing guns
One 3pdr anti-aircraft gun
One 2pdr anti-aircraft gun
Four .303in Maxim machine guns

Crew complement






Ships in class

HMS Abercrombie
HMS Havelock
HMS Raglan
HMS Roberts

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

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (27 October 2007), Abercrombie class monitors , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_abercrombie_class_monitors.html

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