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

Colorized photo by Atsushi Yamashita/Monochrome Specter http://blog.livedoor.jp/irootoko_jr/

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.

How the class was designed to look via Conway’s

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

BRITISH SHIPS OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR (SP 89) HMS FURIOUS as originally completed, with 18′ gun aft and flight deck forward, 1917 Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205027917

Another view of the sweet 18. Note that these mountings used sighting ports in the glacis plate rather than sighting hoods. National Maritime Museum Photograph E13/276. Via Navweaps

THE ROYAL NAVY IN THE FIRST WORLD WAR (Q 74101) HMS Furious. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205318889

HMS Furious photographed when first completed in 1917, with a single 18-inch gun aft and flying-off deck forward. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 60606

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.

Squadron Commander Dunning making the first successful landing on a ship at sea in 1917. After “crabbing” in sideways above the deck built over the fore part of the cruiser FURIOUS, his brother pilots had to haul him down. IWM A 22497. Colorized photo by Atsushi Yamashita/Monochrome Specter http://blog.livedoor.jp/irootoko_jr/

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.

Commander Dunning goes over the side and is killed when attempting the third landing on HMS FURIOUS (7 August 1917).© IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205154698

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:

A Sopwith Pup being readied for take-off from the flying-off deck of HMS FURIOUS. Note the gear. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205092010

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.

The Panther with the above-mentioned trap means. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205154695

HMS FURIOUS at anchor, in dazzle camouflage at Scapa 1918. Note her 18incher has been landed and she has a new 300-foot deck aft. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205121875

HMS Furious, a converted cruiser serving as an aircraft carrier, viewed at “Dress Ship” when King George V inspected the Grand Fleet in September 1918. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205318369

Aerial view of the aircraft carrier HMS Furious at Scapa Flow, 1918. Note the large floatplane off her bow. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205213857

HMS Furious photographed in 1918, with palisade windbreaks raised on her flying-off deck, forward, and an airplane just behind her crash barrier, aft of the funnel. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 61098

HMS Furious shortly following its initial conversion and in dazzle paint scheme in 1918. An SSZ class blimp is on the after deck with her gondola inside the elevator. Note the walkways between the two flight decks

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.

HMS FURIOUS with Sopwith Camels on her flight deck, en route for the attack on the Zeppelin sheds at Tondern in Schleswig-Holstein, 19 July 1918. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205039749

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.

HMS Furious sketch, possibly prepared by the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence, showing her anticipated appearance after reconstruction, as understood in May 1923. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 60974

HMS Furious photographed after completion of her reconstruction, circa 1925. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 77035

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.

HMS Furious circa 1935-36 with 4 Blackburn Baffins flying over.

Blackburn Shark (in the foreground) and a Fairey IIIf flying over HMS FURIOUS. The Shark went into service in 1934 and was a torpedo-spotter-reconnaissance aircraft that was soon replaced by the Fairey Swordfish in 1937. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205085238

Ski jump! The forward end of the flight deck of HMS FURIOUS sloped upwards before she was finally reconstructed in 1939. The idea was to help pull up the aircraft, which in the early days were not fitted with brakes. The aircraft is a “Blackburn” 3-seat spotter-reconnaissance biplane. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205154697

The aircraft carrier HMS FURIOUS, photographed from an aircraft that has probably just taken off from the ship, note the unusual feature of a lower flying off the deck, this was disused before the start of the Second World War. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205021217

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.

Sea Hurricane on the deck of the aircraft carrier HMS Furious. Her battlecruiser hull is evident.

And more visits from the sovereign, here King George VI is inspecting the Furious, August 1941. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205138981

Bow-on shot Nov 2, 1942 Underway during Torch. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205120436

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.

The men and machines of HMS FURIOUS took part in the Fleet Air Arm attack on SMS TIRPITZ in Alten Fjord, Norway. Here Bob Cotcher, of Chelsea, chalks his message on a 1600-pound bomb just before the attack on 3 April 1944. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205186984

Commander S T C Harrison of the ship’s air staff briefing Fleet Air Arm crews in their flying gear onboard HMS FURIOUS with the aid of a relief map of the target area before the attack on the German Battleship TIRPITZ in Alten Fjord, Norway. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205186985

3 April 1944 Operation TUNGSTEN: 801, 830, 831 & 880 NAS (HMS Furious), 827, 829, 1834 and 1836 NAS (HMS Victorious), 881 and 896 NAS (HMS Pursuer), HMS Searcher (882 NAS) and 804 NAS (HMS Emporer) attacked the German Battleship Tirpitz in Kaa Fjord arm of Altenfjord, Norway, 50 miles inland from the open sea. (Ralph Gillies-Cole via FAA Museum)

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.

6 May 1944 Members of the crew of the FURIOUS have an early breakfast of ham sandwiches and cocoa during the operation. Note the pom poms. Aircraft from the carrier sank two enemy merchantmen that day. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205155280

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.

A view of the aircraft carrier HMS Furious at sea, shown port side on. Furious is painted in a dazzle camouflage scheme. The sea is choppy and there is a cloudy sky above. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/21413 By the great Charles Pears.

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)
(as completed)
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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