Warship Wednesday, Aug 9, 2017: The King’s most curious battlecruiser
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 their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, Aug 9, 2017: The King’s most curious battlecruiser
Here we see the modified Courageous-class battlecruiser HMS Furious (47) of the Royal Navy as she appeared extensively camouflaged in 1942, during her Second World War. By the time this image was taken, she had come a long way and still had many miles to travel.
One of the last developments of Adm. Jackie Fisher’s love affair with the battlecruiser, the shallow draft Courageous-class vessels (25 feet at a deep load, which isn’t that bad for a ship with an overall length of 786-feet) were fast and were the first large warships in the Royal Navy to use Parsons geared steam turbines with Yarrow small-tube oil-fired boilers to generate a speed of 32+ knots. They were designed to carry a quartet of BL 15-inch Mark I guns in two twin turrets recycled from Revenge-class battleships, along with 18 BL 4-inch Mark IX guns in six mounts.
While this was significantly less than some other battlecruisers and battleships, these boats were meant to be more of a super cruiser that could eat German armored cruisers for breakfast. As such, they only had a smattering of armor– a coupled inches of high-tensile steel in the belt and as much as 10-inches Krupp cemented armor in turrets, barbettes, and tower.
Three were laid down in 1915, with class leader Courageous and Furious at Armstrong’s storied works at Elswick, and Glorious at Titanic builder Harland and Wolff in Belfast.
Our subject was the fifth and last HMS Furious on the Royal Navy’s list since 1797 to include two different 12-gun brigs that served in Nelson’s era, an 1850s paddle frigate, and an Arrogant-class second class protected cruiser that had just been hulked in 1915– while our battlecruiser was on the way.
The thing is, while they were under construction a few realizations came about battlecruisers– look up Jutland and the “Chatfield, there seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today,” moment.
Glorious and Courageous were finished just after Jutland and were both modified with a dozen torpedo tubes, the latter ship also equipped to sow mines in quantity, and both assigned to the 1st Cruiser Squadron with Courageous as the flag.
Furious received a more extensive modification.
Her forward 15″ turret was ditched and a hangar for 10 single-engine biplanes was fitted on her foredeck with a 160-foot long wooden flight deck affixed to the top of the structure. On the rear, her remaining twin 15″ turret was swapped out for a single 18″/40 (45.7 cm) Mark I gun for which she would carry 60 massive 3,320-pound shells. Instead of the 18 4-inchers in 6 turrets as designed, she received 11 5.5-inch singles.
In such condition, she was commissioned on 26 June 1917
Then came the flight experiments.
The most important of the time was when Squadron Commander Edwin Harris Dunning, a 25-year-old aviator who had already earned the DSC, became the first pilot to land an aircraft on a moving ship when he placed his Sopwith Pup aboard Furious while she was sailing just off Scapa.
While he made a second landing five days later (100 years ago this week), on his third an updraft caught his port wing, throwing his plane overboard. Sadly, the daring young man was knocked out on impact and drowned.
This led to a further change in how Furious did business and she was reconstructed for the second time after the accident, removing the rear 18-inch single and fitting another 300 feet of deck to allow launches forward and landings aft in November. When she emerged in March 1918, she was significantly different.
How they were catapulted:
On how they were trapped:
An early experiment made in FURIOUS designed to stop aircraft from slithering over the side. Parallel rows of wires acted as guides to the undercarriage, while collapsible barricades helped to slow the aircraft. The aircraft is a Parnell “Panther”, two-seater reconnaissance biplane. It had a folding fuselage instead of the usual folding wings. The hinge can be seen just below the back edge of the rear of the cockpit, the rear half of the fuselage folding to a position parallel with the starboard wings. The Hydrovanes ahead of the wheels assisted “landings in the drink”. The fore-and-aft elongated sausages on landing gear struts could be inflated with CO2 gas to support the aircraft right way up in the water. The dog-lead catches on the axle picked up the fore-and-aft deck wires.
In July 1918, Furious sailed towards Denmark as part of Operation F.7, attached to a force of Revenge-class battleships and fast cruisers, with seven Sopwith Camel 2F.1a’s aboard.
The mission: strike Tonder airfield, home to three German Naval Airship Division zeppelin sheds. The daring pre-dawn raid on 19 July by the small force of Camels destroyed the airships L.54 and L.60 on the ground and damaged the base and sheds. Of the Camels, four ditched at sea after either running out of gas or experiencing engine trouble and three were interned in Denmark.
One pilot, Lieut. W.A. Yeulett, drowned and his body was recovered on the beach nine days later. He received the DFC.
After the war, Furious was laid up and, in 1924, her two battlecruiser sisters were converted to aircraft carriers. To keep up with the class, Furious herself underwent a serious reconstruction which involved scraping off her superstructure, masts, funnel, and existing landing decks and replacing them with an upswept 576×92 foot deck with an island. A double-decker hangar deck was installed under the roof. Her armament was updated with some QF 2-pounder “pom-poms” and eventually, her older 5.5-inchers were replaced by new QF 4-inch Mk XVI guns.
Putting back to sea, she made several other important carrier milestones including the first carrier night-landing while testing and operating more than a dozen different model carrier planes that came and went over a decade-long expansion of the Fleet Air Arm. During this interwar period, as more flattops joined the RN, she was increasingly used for training purposes.
Then came her next war.
As noted by Gordon Smith, Furious was “extensively deployed during WW2 until withdrawn from operational use when modern Fleet Carriers became available supplemented by several Light Fleet and Escort Carriers. She took part in operations off Norway throughout the war, carried out deliveries of aircraft to Malta and to the Middle East via West Africa as well as providing air cover for Atlantic and Malta convoys and supporting the allied landings in North Africa.”
Sadly, both of Furious‘ sisters were lost before the war was a year old. HMS Courageous (50) was sunk by U-29, on 17 September 1939, taking over 500 of her crew with her. HMS Glorious was destroyed in a surface action with the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau in the North Sea on 8 June 1940 while evacuating Norway, with the loss of over 1,200.
Furious had more luck.
Notably, she was involved in escorting precious cargo to and from Canada to the UK including £18,000,000 in gold bullion going to Halifax and the bulk of the 1st Canadian Division heading the other way. Armed with such dated aircraft as Swordfish and Sea Gladiators, she ran the North Atlantic on five different convoys.
She carried nearly 300 RAF Hurricanes and Spitfires into the Med where flying from shore, they helped keep Rommel at bay and the thin thread of lifeline to Montgomery intact.
Then came the Torch Landings in November 1942 where Furious‘s Seafires strafed Vichy French airfields and covered the landings at Oran. She later served as a diversion to the landings in Sicily by appearing off the coast of Norway to menace the Germans there beforehand.
And Norway would be the focus of the rest of her war. Between April-August 1944, she was involved in no less than three different operations (Tungsten, Mascot, and Goodwind) in which her composite air wings of Barracudas, Seafires, Hellcats, and Swordfish made attempts with other carriers to sink the battleship, KMS Tirpitz.
While they did not bag Tirpitz (though several of Furious‘ bombs did hit her), the carrier’s airwing sank the ore hauler Almora and the tanker Saarburg in Kristiansund North on 6 May.
Her last operation was in laying minefields off Vorso Island in September 1944, Tirpitz turned over to the RAF to kill.
Furious finished the war in Home Waters, performing training and testing services. She was laid up after VE-Day, not needed for the war in the Pacific, and was sold for scrap in 1948.
She lives on in maritime art as well as wherever ski jumps, catapults, and arresting wires are enjoyed.
Also, earlier this month, Commander Dunning and his Sopwith Pup were honored at a ceremony at Scapa, on the 100th anniversary of their famous flight.
In attendance was R. ADM. Fleet Air Arm Keith Blount, Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Aviation, Amphibious Capability, and Carriers), who said “Those of us in the Fleet Air Arm that are still proud to serve are standing on the shoulders of giants, and Dunning was one of the greats, there is no questions about that.”
22,500 long tons (22,900 t)
26,500 long tons (26,900 t) (deep load)
735 ft. 2.25 in (224.1 m) (p/p)
786 ft. 9 in (239.8 m) (o/a)
Beam: 88 ft. (26.8 m)
Draught: 27 ft. 3 in (8.3 m)
Installed power: 90,000 shp (67,000 kW)
4 shafts, 4 Brown-Curtis geared steam turbines
18 Yarrow boilers
Speed: 32 knots as designed, 28 by 1939
Range: 7,480 nmi (13,850 km; 8,610 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)
Complement: 795 plus up to 400 airwing
Belt: 2–3 in (51–76 mm)
Decks: .75–1 in (19–25 mm)
Bulkhead: 2–3 in (51–76 mm)
Torpedo bulkheads: 1–1.5 in (25–38 mm)
1 × single 18-inch (457 mm) gun
11 × single 5.5-inch (140 mm) guns
2 × single QF 3-inch (76 mm) 20 cwt AA guns
2 × 21 in (533 mm) torpedo tubes
10 × single 5.5-inch guns
6 × single QF 4-inch Mark Vs
12x QF 4-inch Mk XVI guns
6x QF 2-pounder
22x 20mm Oerlikon
Aircraft carried: 10 as completed, 36 by 1925, as many as 50 during WWII
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