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
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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)
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