Powerful Class first class protected cruisers

The two Powerful Class first class protected cruisers were built in response to the public reaction to the rumoured capacity of two new Russian cruisers, the Rurik and the Rossiya. When the Russian ships were eventually launched, they were not as powerful as had been feared, and the Powerful class ships were without a real role almost as soon as they were built.

Bows of a Powerful Class Cruiser
Bow of a
Powerful Class

The Powerful class ships were designed to have a maximum speed of 22 knots and an endurance of 7,000 nautical miles at the unusually high speed of 14 knots. This meant that they needed large engines – four cylinder triple expansion engines, compared to the three cylinder engines used in the Blake class – and extra capacity for coal. As a result the Powerful class ships were the longest warships then in existence, at 538 feet – in comparison the Majestic class first class battleships were only 412 feet long.

The Powerful class ships did include some useful innovations. They were the first large Royal Navy ships to use watertube boilers instead of cylindrical boilers. The Belleville boilers used in these ships allowed the ships to steam at high speeds for long periods of time, but as new technology were inevitably unreliable when first installed. They were taller ships than earlier first class cruisers, carrying a full length boat deck, which allowed some of the 6in guns to be sited higher than normal. They were also the first cruisers to carry all of their guns in fully armoured mountings, turrets for the 9.2in guns and barbettes for the 6in guns.

Powerful Class Cruiser after 1904
Powerful Class Cruiser after 1904

The twelve 6in guns were carried six on each side, four on the main deck and two on the boat deck above the first and fourth positions, creating two storey barbettes. During a 1902-4 refit four more 6in guns were added by adding second storeys to the two central barbettes.

Powerful and Terrible served on the China station, then took part in the Boer War. After their refits they were moved to the reserve, as they were expensive ships to run. During the First World War the Terrible was used as a troop ship and then as an accommodation ship, roles for which her size made her well suited. Powerful spent most of the war as a training ship. 

Despite its flaws the next three Cruiser classes were developments of the Powerful class. The Diadem class (eight ships) was a smaller version, the Cressy class (six ships) an armoured Diadem class and the Drake class (four ships) an enlargement of the Cressy class. At 14,150 tonnes and 533 feet, carrying two 9.2in guns and sixteen 6in guns in eight two-storey barbettes and powered by Belleville boilers these ships were remarkably similar to the Powerful class.

Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed



7,000nm at 14kts

Armour – deck


 - casemates


 - barbettes


 - casemates


 - ammo hoists


 - conning tower





Two x 9.2in guns
Twelve x 6in quick firing guns
Sixteen 12pdr quick firing guns
12 3pdr quick firing guns
Four 18in submerged torpedo tubes

Crew complement






Ships in class

HMS Powerful
HMS Terrible

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 (10 September 2007), Powerful Class first class protected cruisers , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_powerful_class_cruisers.html

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