HMS Dreadnought

Four ships of the Royal Navy have borne the name HMS Dreadnought in the expectation that they would "dread nought but God."

As quarantine ship, mid-1800s

Table of contents
1 HMS Dreadnought (1801-1857)
2 HMS Dreadnought (1875-1908)
3 HMS Dreadnought (1906-1922)
4 HMS Dreadnought (1960-1980)

HMS Dreadnought (1801-1857)

The first HMS Dreadnought, 98, was launched from Portsmouth on midday Saturday, 13 May 1801, after 13 years on the stocks. She was the first man of war launched since the 1801 Act of Union created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and at her head displayed a lion couchant on a scroll bearing the Imperial arms as emblazoned on the Standard.

The launching was a spectacle; it was reported that at least 10,000 people witnessed Commissioner Sir Charles Saxton break a bottle of wine over her stem, and that after the launch Sir Charles gave a most sumptuous cold collation to the nobility and officers of distinction.

After the launch, Dreadnought was brought into dock for coppering, and a great number of people went on board to view her. The following day, due to the exertions of Mr Peake, the builder, and the artificers of the dockyard, she was completely coppered in six hours and on Monday morning she went out of dock for rigging and fitting.

Her first commander was Captain James Vashon. After cruising for some time in the Channel he proceeded off Cadiz and Minorca where he continued until the summer of 1802.

Her first master was Mr. Banks followed by Joseph Foss Dessiou (1769-1853), who was paid off on 15th July 1802.

In 1803, Captain Edward Brace briefly took command as Flag-Captain to Sir William Cornwallis, until he was relieved that same year by Captain John Child Purvis.

Purvis served under the orders of Admiral Cornwallis until he was promoted to Rear Admiral in April 1804. At that time, Captain John Conn assumed command, now as Flag-Captain to Vice Admiral Collingwood. The winter gale weather off the French coast badly damaging five of the major warships maintaining the blockade. Dreadnought lost most of her powder when water poured into the magazine.

In the spring of 1805, Admiral Cornwallis was replaced by an ailing Lord Gardner who allowed the close blockade to be slackened. On 30 March the French fleet escaped from Toulon and reached Cadiz on 9 April. The French and Spanish squadrons sailed separately from there and joined forces in Martinique on 26 May. On 15 May Collingwood and his squadron of seven ships received orders from the Admiralty to sail for Barbados. Before they could depart; however, Horatio Nelson arrived from the Mediterranean Sea in pursuit of the French, and Dreadnought remained off Cadiz. At the beginning of October, Collingwood moved his flag to Royal Sovereign, leaving Conn in command of Dreadnought.

At the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805, Dreadnought was the eighth ship in the lee division to enter the action. She started firing on San Juan at two o'clock and fifteen minutes later ran her on board and forced her to surrender. She then attempted to engage Principe de Asturias but the Spanish ship hauled off. During the battle Dreadnought lost seven killed and 26 wounded.

Dreadnought continued to patrol the Channel and the Baltic for another seven years, until 1812, when she was taken out of commission at Portsmouth. In 1827, she became a lazaretto (quarantine ship) at Milford. HMS Dreadnought was broken up in 1857.



HMS Dreadnought (1875-1908)

The second HMS Dreadnought, a turret ironclad battleship, was built at Pembroke Dockyard, England. Begun as Fury in 1870, the original design was recast and the renamed ship was laid down in 1872, launched in March 1875 and finally completed in 1879. She carried her four muzzle-loading guns in two twin turrets, and had a very heavily armored hull, low freeboard, and no sailing rig. Her secondary armament was very light, though it varied in detail throughout her career. Despite their obsolescence, she retained her muzzle-loading big guns to the end of her days.

After completion, Dreadnought remained in reserve until 1884, when she was commissioned for service in the Mediterranean Sea. The battleship returned to British waters in 1894 and, after refit, served in 1895-1897 as a coast guard ship at Bantry Bay, Ireland. Dreadnought was partially modernized in 1897-1899 and took part in British fleet maneuvers in 1900 and 1901 as a second-class battleship. From 1902, she served as a tender and depot ship. She was placed out of service in 1905, and sold for scrapping in July 1908.

General characteristics

  • Displacement: 10,886 tons
  • Armament: four 12.5-inch 38-ton muzzle-loading guns in two twin turrets

HMS Dreadnought (1906-1922)

The third HMS Dreadnought was the first battleship to be entirely armed with only the largest guns available, instead of having secondary and sometimes tertiary batteries of smaller guns. She was also the first large warship to be powered by steam turbines. The swiftness of her construction was remarkable. Laid down in October 1905, she was launched in February 1906, after only four months on the ways. Dreadnought was commissioned for trials a year after her keel was laid and was completed in December 1906.


Her building, trials and early service were closely watched by the world's naval authorities, including the U.S. Navy's Office of Naval Intelligence. She made all prior battleships obsolete and became the first in a new series of battleships built in the Anglo-German naval race. Her design so thoroughly eclipsed earlier types that subsequent battleships were generically known as "dreadnoughts" and previous ones disparaged as "pre-dreadnoughts."

Dreadnought served as flagship of the Home Fleet from 1907 to 1912 and remained part of that fleet thereafter. The new battleship saw only limited action in World War I. For the first two years of the war, she served in the Fourth Battle Squadron in the North Sea. Her most significant action was ramming and sinking the German submarine U-29 on 18 March 1915. From May 1916, Dreadnought was flagship of the 3rd Battle Squadron, based on the Thames to counter the threat of bombardment by German battlecruisers. Placed in reserve in 1919, the once-revolutionary warship was sold for scrapping in 1922.

See also: Dreadnought Hoax

General characteristics

  • Displacement: 21,845 tons full, 18,110 tons standard
  • Length: 527 feet overall
  • Beam: 82 feet
  • Draught: 26 feet
  • Propulsion:
    • Boilers: 18 Babcock & Wilcox 3 drum type
    • Turbines: 4 Parsons geared steam turbines
    • Horsepower: 22,500 shp
    • Bunkerage: 900/2,900 tons coal, 1,120 tons oil
  • Endurance: 6620 miles at 10 knots, 4910 miles at 18.4 knots
  • Speed: 21 knots
  • Armament: ten 12-inch guns
  • Protection:
    • Belt: 4-11 inches midship, 2.5 inches at ends
    • Deck: up to 3 inches
    • Turrets: 11 inches
    • Barbettes: up to 11 inches
    • Conning Tower: 11 inches
  • Armament
    • Main Battery: ten 12-inch/45 cal in five dual turrets (one forward, two aft, two amidships)
    • Secondary: 27 12-pounders
    • Torpedoes: five 18" submerged tubes
  • Complement: 695-773 officers and men


The fourth HMS Dreadnought (S101) was Britain's first nuclear-powered submarine, built by Vickers of Barrow-in-Furness.

HMS Dreadnought (1960-1980)

In 1955 the United States Navy completed USS Nautilus, the world's first nuclear-powered submarine. During subsequent exercises with the Royal Navy, Nautilus ran rings round British anti-submarine forces. The Admiralty decided to build nuclear-powered submarines.

Instead of developing an all-British nuclear submarine, much time and money would be saved by accepting the American lead and taking advantage of US nuclear technology. The excellent relations between Admiral Lord Louis, Earl Mountbatten, the First Sea Lord, and Rear Admiral Hyman Rickover, in charge of the American naval nuclear power program, expedited obtaining that help. Dreadnought was thus assembled from American parts in a Vickers-built hull. In particular, the reactor compartment and engineroom are almost entirely of US Navy design and construction and are known as the "American Sector".

Dreadnought was laid down on 12 June 1959, and launched by Her Majesty the Queen on Trafalgar Day, 21 October 1960. Dreadnought made her first dive, in Ramsden Dock, on 10 January 1963. At the time of her commissioning on 17 April 1963, she was one of the most formidable attack submarines in the world.

In the mid-1960s, Dreadnought's visits included trips to Norfolk, Virginia, Bermuda, Rotterdam, and Kiel. She was at Gibraltar in 1965, 1966, and 1967, and on 19 September 1967, she left Rosyth, Scotland for Singapore on a sustained high-speed run. The round trip finished as 4640 miles surfaced and 26545 miles submerged.

During her career, Dreadnought performed many varied missions. On 24 June 1967, she was ordered to sink the wrecked and drifting German ship Essberger Chemist. Three torpedoes hit along the length of the target, but the gunners of HMS Salisbury finished the job by piercing the tanks, which were keeping Essberger Chemist just afloat.

Apart from minor hull-cracking problems, Dreadnought proved to be a reliable vessel, popular with her crews. On 10 September 1970, she completed a major refit at Rosyth, Scotland, in the course of which her nuclear core was refuelled and her ballast tank valves were changed to reduce noise.

On 3 March 1971, Dreadnought became the first British submarine to surface at the North Pole. In 1973 she took part in the Royal Navy's first annual Group Deployment, when a group of warships and auxiliaries would undertake a long deployment to maintain fighting efficiency and "show the flag" around the world.

Together with the frigates Alacrity and Phoebe, Dreadnought was deployed to the South Atlantic in 1977 to deter possible Argentine aggression against the Falkland Islands. Due to machinery damage and the limited refit facilities then available for SSNs, Dreadnought was withdrawn from service in 1980.

Dreadnought is now at Rosyth Naval Dockyard, laid up indefinitely while her radioactive contamination decays. Her nuclear fuel has been removed and she has been stripped of useful equipment.

During Dreadnought's construction, Rolls Royce and Associates, in collaboration with the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, developed a completely new nuclear propulsion system. On 31 August 1960, Britain's second nuclear-powered submarine was ordered from Vickers and, fitted with Rolls Royce's nuclear steam-raising plant, Valiant was the first all-British nuclear submarine.

General characteristics


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