Canopus class battleships

The Canopus class of pre-dreadnought battleships are best known for the absence of their name ship HMS Canopus from the battle of Coronel (1914). They are often rather unfairly described as smaller versions of the previous Majestic class, but a closer examination of the ships does not support that. Physically they were very similar in size to the Majestics, coming in six inches longer but one foot narrower. They carried the same main and secondary armament as the earlier ships – four 12in and twelve 6in guns, although did carry a smaller number of 12pdr guns.

The Canopus class ships were over 1,000 tons lighter than the Majestics. This reduction in weight was the result of two significant advances in their design. The Canopus class ships were the first British ships to use Krupp steel for their armour. This was significantly more effective than a similar amount of the previous Harvey steel. On the Canopus class the Krupp steel was used to reduce the thickness of the armoured belt from 9in on the Majestic class to 6in on the Canopus class. However, 6 inches of Krupp steel was seen as the equivalent of 8 inches of Harvey steel, and the Canopus class ships carried a wider belt, increasing the area of the ship protected.

HMS Vengeance before 1904
HMS Vengeance before 1904

They were also the first British battleships to be powered by Belleville water-tube boilers. These provided the same power as the previous larger lower pressure boilers at a much lower weight. These two weight savings combined to give the Canopus class ships a speed of 18kts, two knots faster than the Majestic class ships at natural draft.

The 12in guns on the Canopus class ships were carried on round barbettes and allowed all-round loading, just as on the last two members of the Majestic class. HMS Vengeance made a further advance, featuring a gun mounting that allowed its 12in guns to be loaded at any elevation.

The Canopus class ships spent most of their early careers on the China Station (apart from HMS Canopus herself). They returned to home waters in 1905, after the Anglo-Japanese alliance removed the need to keep a squadron of battleships in the Far East to guard against the Russians.

Plans of Canopus Class Battleships
Plans of Canopus Class Battleships

At the start of the First World War all six Canopus class ships were brought together to serve in the 8th Battle Squadron of the Channel Fleet. While serving together they helped to protect the BEF as it crossed the channel to France, forming part of the force guarding the western entrance to the channel. This was a very short lived concentration, and by the end of the month they had begun to be scattered. In 1915 all but HMS Glory came back together at the Dardanelles. Here two of the class were sunk – HMS Ocean by a mine during the attempt to force a way through the Dardanelles on 18 March 1915 and HMS Goliath by a Turkish torpedo boat.

Before and after their time off the Dardanelles, the Canopus class ships served in a wide range of stations.

HMS Albion served at the Cape of Good Hope and off East Africa.

HMS Canopus served as the Cape St. Vincent guardship, before being posted to the South American Station, taking part in the first phase of the battle of the Falklands.

HMS Glory was used to escort the first Canadian troop convoy, and was then posted to the North American and West Indies station, before serving on the Suez Canal and at Archangel.

HMS Goliath was used as a guardship at Loch Ewe, transported Marines to Ostend and served off East Africa.

HMS Ocean served at Queenstown (southern Ireland) and in the East Indies before being lost at the Dardanelles. 

HMS Vengeance served off West Africa, in Egypt, at Cape Verde, in the East Indies and East Africa. 

Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed


Armour – belt


 - bulkheads


 - barbettes


 - gun houses


 - casemates


 - conning tower


 - deck



421ft 6in


Four 12in guns
Twelve 6in quick firing guns
Ten 12pdr quick firing guns
Six 3pdr guns
Four 18in torpedo tubes, four submerged

Crew complement






Ships in class

HMS Albion
HMS Canopus
HMS Glory
HMS Goliath
HMS Ocean
HMS Vengeance

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 (31 October 2007), Canopus class battleships ,

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