Warship Wednesday Sept. 21, 2016: HMs Devastating muzzle-loading turret ship

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday Sept. 21, 2016: HMs Devastating muzzle-loading turret ship

All photos: IWM

All photos: IWM unless noted.

Here we see the early ironclad battleship HMS Devastation pier-side and high in the water sometime after 1890. She was the leader of her two-ship class and an important, if quickly surpassed, step in capital ship development.

Dating back to HMS Warrior in 1860, an armored frigate that mounted 40-guns, the Royal Navy was an early advocate of iron-sheathed warships that could take as much punishment as they could give. Over the next ten years the RN built some 35 armored vessels ranging from broadside ironclads such as the 6,000-to HMS Defense to the central-battery ironclad HMS Royal Alfred (with an impressive 10 9-inch guns) and the massive 8,500-ton turret ship HMS Monarch who carried four 12 inch guns in two rotating armored mounts.

However, reflecting the engineering of their day, they all carried hybrid sail/steam propulsion rigs.

HMS Devastation broke this mold and was the first Royal Navy ironclad that was mastless– relying on a pair of coal fired Penn trunk engines alone to generate over 6600 ihp, capable of propelling the 9,500-ton beast to nearly 14-knots.

When you consider that this was a 1869-era design, just four years past the U.S. Civil War, and was a large 307-foot oal (theoretically) ocean-going fighting warship and not some river or coastal monitor, Devastation was indeed worthy of her name. It could be argued that she was the HMS Dreadnought of 1869.

By comparison, the U.S. Navy’s nominally ocean going wooden-hulled Miantonomoh-class monitors (the most advanced completed during the Civil War) were 3,400-tons, 258-feet oal, and had an armament of four smoothbored muzzle-loading 15-inch Dahlgren guns, were slower at 9 knots, had less armor and just 31-inches of freeboard.


Laid down at the Portsmouth Dockyard 12 November 1869, Devastation commissioned 19 April 1873.

Her armament was a new version 11.6-inch muzzle-loading gun of some 25-tons in weight mounted in two twin steam powered above deck turrets fore and aft– which were protected by a stout 14 inches of armor.

hms_devastation_1871_12-inch_gun_turret_interior print-1879-gun-practice-h-m-s-thunderer-ship-thirty-eight-gun

These guns were later bored out to 12-inches while Devastation was still on the builder’s ways and was capable of firing a 600-pound shell propelled by a 100-pound charge of black powder. As such, the four guns mounted on Devastation were unique as her follow-on sistership HMS Thunderer was given modified 12.5-inch 38-ton guns (which Devastation was subsequently upgraded with).

A 12 inch 38 ton Rifled Muzzle Loader (RML) as used by British Coastal Artillery, image via Scientific American, Nov 1875

A 12 inch 38 ton Rifled Muzzle Loader (RML) as used by British Coastal Artillery, image via Scientific American, Nov 1875. Several of these shore pieces are still in existence though they were withdrawn from service in the 1890s.

These were also mounted in coastal artillery batteries at Hurst Castle on the Solent, Fort Nelson protecting Portsmouth, Fort Albert on the Isle of Wright and Fort Delimara in Malta as well as the follow-on but unrelated turret ships HMS Dreadnought (1879) HMS Agamemnon (1883) and HMS Ajax (1885) and as such were the last large caliber muzzle loading pieces built for the Royal Navy.

Though she had 14 inches of wrought iron on her turrets, her conning tower was only sheathed by six inches of wrought iron. Drawing from The Illustrated London News, 16 November 1878

Though she had 14 inches of wrought iron on her turrets, Devastation’s conning tower was only sheathed by six inches of wrought iron. Drawing from The Illustrated London News, 16 November 1878

No matter how impressive, Devastation only had a freeboard of about five feet and spent most of her career in coastal service in the Home Islands and the Med just in case, though she did reportedly ship fairly well on two brief forays into the Atlantic.

h-m-s-devastation h-m-s-devastation-7 h-m-s-devastation-6

Late in her career

After 1890, she carried an all-white scheme such as seen in the first image of this post

In 1890, her muzzleloaders thoroughly obsolete, they were replaced with Elswick 10″/32 (25.4 cm) Mark I guns which could fire a 500-pound AP shell to 11,552 yards and penetrate 20 inches of armor of the time at point-blank range as her machinery was replaced by inverted triple-expansion steam engines and cylindrical boilers, upping her speed a tad.

This kept the aging battlewagon in service for another decade, paying off in 1902.

Late in her career with battleship gray. Note her stubby 12-inch RMLs have been replaced with 10-inch 35 cals

Late in her career with battleship gray. Note her stubby 12-inch RMLs have been replaced with 10-inch 35 cals

Retained as a tender for a bit, she was disposed of in 1908.

Her sister Thunderer, who had hydraulic powered turrets, was marred by accidents including a boiler explosion that killed 45 of her crew in 1876, followed by a turret explosion during gunnery practice in the Sea of Marmora in 1879, killing 11 and injuring a further 35. She was taken out of service in 1907 and sold for scrap in 1909.

Few if any remnants of Devastation remain, and the Royal Navy has not reused her name.

The two ships, however, endure in maritime art.


"The turret armour-clad ship Devastation at Spithead on the occasion of the Naval Review in honour of the Shah of Persia's visit 23rd June 1873"

“The turret armour-clad ship Devastation at Spithead on the occasion of the Naval Review in honour of the Shah of Persia’s visit 23rd June 1873”


A print of the above painting.

Bumford, Frederick W.; HMS 'Thunderer' Devastation Class, 1877; Britannia Royal Naval College; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/hms-thunderer-devastation-class-1877-94679

Bumford, Frederick W.; HMS ‘Thunderer’ Devastation Class, 1979; Note this shows Thunderer post 1890 with 10-inch guns Britannia Royal Naval College;

HMS Devastation by William Fredrick Mitchell

HMS Devastation by William Fredrick Mitchell, note early 12 inch guns



Displacement: 9,330 long tons (9,480 t)
285 ft. (87 m) pp
307 ft. (94 m) oa
Beam:     62 ft 3 in (18.97 m)
Draught:     26 ft. 8 in (8.13 m)
Two coal fired Penn trunk engines, 2 screws,
6,640 ihp (4,950 kW) (Devastation)
1,750 long tons of coal
Speed:     13.84 kn (25.63 km/h; 15.93 mph)
Complement: 358
As built: 4 × 12-inch (305 mm) rifled muzzle-loading guns mounted in two turrets
From 1890: 4 × BL 10-inch (254.0 mm) guns
6 × 6-pounder QF guns
8 × 3-pounder QF guns
Belt: 8.5–12 in (220–300 mm) with 16–18 inches (410–460 mm) wood backing
Breastwork: 10–12 in (250–300 mm)
Turrets: 10–14 in (250–360 mm)
Conning tower: 6–9 in (150–230 mm)
Decks: 2–3 in (51–76 mm)
Bulkheads: 5–6 in (130–150 mm)

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

Nearing their 50th Anniversary, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has it place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

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About laststandonzombieisland

Let me introduce myself. I am a bit of a conflict junkie. I am fascinated by war and warfare, assassination, personal protection and weaponry ranging from spud guns and flame throwers to thermonuclear bombs and Soviet-trained Ebola monkeys. In short, if it’s violent or a tool to create violence it is kind of my thing. I have written a few thousand articles on the dry encyclopedia side for such websites as Guns.com, University of Guns, Outdoor Hub, Tac-44, History Times, Big Game Hunter, Glock Forum, Firearms Talk.com, and Combat Forums; as well as for print publications like England Expects, and Strike First Strike Fast. Several magazines such as Sea Classics, Military Historian and Collector, Mississippi Sportsman and Warship International have carried my pieces. Additionally I am on staff as a naval consultant and writer for Eye Spy Intelligence Magazine. Currently I am working on several book projects including an alternative history novel about the US-German War of 1916, and a biography of Southern gadfly and soldier of fortune Bennett Doty. My first novel, about the coming zombie apocalypse was released in 2012 by Necro Publications and can be found at Amazon.com as was the prequel, Chimera-44. I am currently working on book two of that series: "Pirates of the Zombie Coast." In my day job I am a contractor for the U.S. federal government in what could best be described as the ‘Force Protection’ field. In this I am an NRA-certified firearms, and less-than-lethal combat instructor.

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