Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 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, July 10, 2019: The Slayer of Victoria
Here we see the Royal Navy’s Admiral-class early barbette-type pre-dreadnought ironclad battleship HMS Camperdown via The Engineer in 1893. A very modern ship when she was designed, she did, in fact, quickly and easily send another period battlewagon to Neptune’s cold embrace– just not as you would think.
Britain’s first barbette ships, a class that would provide the basic format for all the Victorian and Edwardian battleships right up until HMS Dreadnought broke the mold in 1906, the so-called Admiral-class vessels were, in actuality, six fairly different vessels.
While all six had roughly the same hull, running about 330 feet in length with a 68-foot beam (although even this varied a few feet between sisters), the class weighed in between 9,500 and 10,600 tons. Armor at its thickest was an impressive 18-inches of iron plate backed by another 20-inches of timber. Each had two centerline funnels and a deep (27+ foot) draft with a relatively low freeboard, a facet common on front-line capital ships of the age. Speed was 16 to 17 knots depending on the ship, which made their ram bows, popular ever since the 1866 Battle of Lissa, deadly at close quarters (more on this later!)
Each had their main armament split fore and aft with secondary and tertiary batteries arranged along the waterline in broadside while five early torpedo tubes were also carried.
When it came to armament, things got wild.
Collingwood mounted two pair of 12″/25cal BL Mk V rifles
Benbow, the final ship of the class, meanwhile, mounted two single Armstrong 16.25″/30cal BL Mk I guns
As for the middle four ships– Anson, Rodney, Camperdown, and Howe— they mounted four 13.5″/30 caliber (34.3 cm) Mark I “67-ton” guns, often regarded England’s first successful large breechloading naval rifle.
Capable of firing a 1,200-pound Palliser shell to 12,260 yards when at a maximum elevation of 13 degrees (!) these guns could switch to AP shells and penetrate up to 11-inches of Krupp steel at 3,000 yards or a whopping 28-inches of vertical iron plate at point blank distances.
As a negative, the ship’s magazines were shallow, carrying just 81 (20 AP, 12 Palliser, 39 common and 10 shrapnel) shells per gun while a trained crew could only keep up a rate of fire of about one round every other minute. Additionally, the open barbette construction gave said crew about 30 seconds of life expectancy when exposed to a naval engagement against an opponent firing more than just spitballs and coconuts.
While all six of Admirals carried a half-dozen BL 6″/26cal BL Mk IV guns as secondaries, their small batteries often varied, with Camperdown and Anson at least toting 12 57mm (6pdr) Hotchkiss Mk Is and a further 10 47mm (3pdr) Hotchkiss anti-boat guns.
Laid down at HMs Naval Dockyard in Portsmouth on 18 December 1882, Camperdown was the only member of the class constructed there with the other five being built at Pembroke, Chatham, and Blackwall. She was, of course, the third such British warship named after the epic sea clash at Camperdown in 1797 off the coast of the Netherlands in which Admiral Adam Duncan bested the Dutch fleet under Vice Adm. Jan de Winter.
While not very well known outside of the UK or Holland, the engagement was one of the largest of the Napoleonic era prior to Trafalgar and is a key point in British naval history.
Completed in May 1889, HMS Camperdown served first as the flag of the RN’s Mediterranean Fleet and then the Channel Fleet while passing in and out of reserve status for the first several years of her life.
By all accounts, she was a happy and proud ship during this time.
Then came a fateful day in the summer of 1893.
While in the Med on summer exercises under the eye of the Ottoman Turks, Camperdown was in close maneuvers with the rest of the line and struck the brand-new battleship HMS Victoria in broad daylight. In short, Victoria sank following a bizarre order from Vice-Admiral Sir George Tryon– a career officer with some 45 years at sea under his belt– to perform a difficult turning order at close range to Camperdown which brought his flagship in collision to Camperdown, the latter of which flew the flag of Tyron’s second-in-command, Rear Admiral Sir Albert Markham.
Tyron was last seen on the bridge of Victoria, as she sank with the loss of over 350 men in something like 13 minutes, largely due to the fact that most of the ship’s hatches were open on the hot summer day in the Med. Tyron’s last words were said to be, “It is entirely my fault.” An RN inquiry into the affair was happy to let Tyron carry the blame.
In true Victorian gothic fashion, the good Admiral’s ghost is said to have appeared that night, to friends attending a party thrown by his wife back in London.
As for Camperdown, her bow ram was almost pulled completely off when she backed out of the sinking Victoria just before that stricken ship capsized, only narrowly missing joining her on the seafloor.
After extensive repairs, Camperdown returned to the Med where she was part of the six-power International Squadron in 1897 that was involved in what was termed the “Cretan Intervention” which ultimately led to the semi-independent Cretan State (before that island was annexed by Greece), separated from Ottoman rule.
The squadron included not only British ships but those sent by the Kaisers of Austro-Hungary and Germany as well as the French Republic, Royal Italian Navy and units sent by the Tsar. Camperdown, as well as other vessels of the task force, engaged insurgents ashore and landed armed tars and Royal Marines to mop up.
The gunboat diplomacy was to be Camperdown‘s swan song.
After but 10 years with the fleet, by September 1899 she was in reserve and would spend the next decade alternating between mothballs and service as a coast guard vessel and submarine tender at Harwick. During this period, she carried a haze gray scheme, her days as a flagship long gone. Notably, she also carried a second mast.
She would be sold in 1911 for her value in scrap, a fate shared by all five of her sisters before her. Camperdown was just 22 years old but was hopelessly obsolete.
Her name would be reissued to HMS Camperdown (D32), a Battle-class destroyer commissioned on 18 June 1945.
In a twist of fate, in 1953, at Plymouth, this subsequent Camperdown was accidentally rammed by the former Flower-class corvette HMS Coreopsis (K32), the latter of which was owned by Ealing Studios at the time and was being used as a floating set for the British WWII film “The Cruel Sea.” Unlike the 1889 crack-up, both Camperdown and Coreopsis survived the encounter.
Since D32 was sold for scrap in 1970, the RN has not issued the “Camperdown” name to any other vessel.
As for the original Camperdown‘s tragic victim, HMS Victoria stands famously upright off the Lebanon coast today, with her bow stuck in the seafloor. She is a very popular wreck for skin divers.
Displacement: 10,600 long tons
Length: 330 ft
Beam: 68 ft 6 in
Draught: 27 ft 10 in
2 3-cyl Maudslay coal-fired steam engines, 12 cylindrical boilers, twin screws
11,500 indicated horsepower at a forced draught
Range: 7,000nm at 10 knots with 1,200 tons coal
4 x 13.5″/30 caliber (34.3 cm) Mark I “67-ton” guns
6 x BL 6″/26cal BL Mk IV guns
12 x 6-pounder (57 mm) Hotchkiss guns
10 x 3-pounder (47 mm) Hotchkiss guns
5 × 356mm tubes for Whitehead 14-inch torpedos
1 x very deadly bow ram
Compound Belt: 18–8 in (457–203 mm) with 178mm timber backing
Bulkheads: 16–7 in (406–178 mm)
Barbettes: 11.5–10 in (292–254 mm)
Conning Tower: 12–2 in (305–51 mm)
Deck: 3–2 in (76–51 mm)
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