HMS Swiftsure (1903)

HMS Swiftsure (1903)
HMS Swiftsure
Career (United Kingdom) Royal Navy Ensign
Name: HMS Swiftsure
Ordered: 26 February 1902 (by Chile)
Builder: Armstrong Whitworth, Elswick
Yard number: 733
Laid down: 26 February 1902
Launched: 12 January 1903
Completed: June 1904
Acquired: 3 December 1903
Commissioned: 21 June 1904
Decommissioned: April 1917
Fate: Sold for scrapping 18 June 1920
Notes: Laid down for Chile as Constitución; renamed HMS Swiftsure on 7 December 1903
General characteristics
Displacement: 11,800 tons
Length: 436 ft 0 in (132.9 m) waterline, 479 ft 9 in (146.2 m) overall
Beam: 71 ft (21.64 m)
Draught: 25 ft 4 in (7.72 m)
Installed power: 12,500 ihp
Propulsion: 12 large-tube Yarrow boilers
3-cylinder triple expansion steam engines
2 shafts[1]
Speed: 19 knots (35.2 km/h)
Range: 6,210 nautical miles (11,501 km) at 10 knots (18.5 km/h)
Complement: 800

4 × BL 10-inch (254.0 mm) 45-caliber Mark VI guns (2 x 2)
14 x BL 7.5-inch (190.5 mm) Mk III 50-caliber guns
14 x QF 14-pounder guns
2 × 12-pounder quick-firing guns
4 x 6-pounder quick-firing guns

2 × 18-inch (457-mm) submerged torpedo tubes[1]
Armour: Belt: 7 inches (178 mm)to 3 inches (76.2 mm)
Bulkheads: 6 inches (152 mm) to 2 inches (51 mm)
Decks: 3 inches (76.2 mm) to 1 inch (25.4mm)
Gun houses: 10 inches (254 mm) to 8 inches (203 mm)
Barbettes: 10 inches (254 mm) to 2 inches (51 mm)
Battery: 7 inches (178 mm)
Casemates: 7 inches (178 mm)<
Conning tower: 11 inches (279 mm)[2]
Notes: Coal: 840 tons normal; 2,048 tons maximum

HMS Swiftsure was the lead ship of the Swiftsure class of British predreadnought battleships.


Technical Characteristics

HMS Swiftsure was ordered by Chile as Constitución and laid down by Armstrong Whitworth at Elswick on 26 February 1902 and launched on 12 January 1903. Chile put her up for sale in early 1903; to prevent a possible purchase by Russia, the United Kingdom purchased her on 3 December 1903 and renamed her HMS Swiftsure on 7 December 1903. She was completed in June 1904.[3]

Swiftsure was a second-class battleship, lightly constructed, armed, and armored by British standards; in fact, she suffered from structural weakness while in service and required hull stengthening. Chile had required her to fit into its graving dock at Talcahuano, so she had to be longer and narrower for her displacement than ships built to British standards. She had a noticeably foreign appearance, with taller, narrower funnels than standard on British battleships and a pair of heavy cranes amidships. Details in mast and anchor arrangements as well as the arrangement of magazines and shell-handling rooms also were different from British standards.[4]

HMS Swiftsure at gunnery practice on the East Indies Station in the summer of 1913.

Swiftsure and her sister ship HMS Triumph were the first British battleships since the Centurion-class ships Centurion and Barfleur to mount a main battery of 10-inch (254-mm) guns and the last to do so. Swiftsure mounted the Mark VI 10-inch, while Triumph had the Mark VII. The ships followed the standard British practice of the time of mounting the main battery in two double turrets, one forward and one aft. The Royal Navy believed that the 10-inch guns were too light to be effective against modern battleships—they could penetrate the armor of the latest German and Russian battleships, but not that of the better-armored French battleships—but that they could be useful against foreign cruisers, although Swiftsure and Triumph were not fast enough to catch cruisers. They had a powerful secondary battery, being the only British battleships to mount 7.5-inch (190.5-mm) guns; these were of a different type than the 7.5-inch mounted on British cruisers. Ten of the 7.5-inch were mounted in a central battery on the main deck, where they were criticized for taking up too much deck space; the other four were in casemates abreast the fore- and mainmasts on the upper deck. The ships mounted 14-pounders, again a heavier battery than the 12-pounders of most British battleships, although in practice the 14-pounders proved no more effective than the 12-pounders.[5]

The armor of Swiftsure and Triumph compared favorably with that of the Duncan-class battleships, but would not have stood up well against the main battery rounds of foreign first-class battleships. About the same percentage of their displacement was devoted to armor as in the Duncans, with much of its rearrangement from that of the Duncans having to do with most of the secondary guns being mounted in a central battery, rather than casemated as in the Duncan class.[6]

The Swiftsures had balanced rudders and an improved hull form, making them quite maneuverable.[1] They received the latest in British boiler technology when built, and Swiftsure was the fastest predreadnought ever built, achieving 20.87 knots (38.65 km/h) on trials, although this was during a short sprint under ideal conditions. Operationally, Swiftsure and Triumph averaged a top speed of 19 knots (35 km/h), slightly faster than the battleships of the Duncan class, and this still was enough to qualify them as the fastest predreadnoughts.[7]

Swiftsure and Triumph were the last British battleships to enter service with bow crests. They also were the last to be equipped with ventilation cowls.[8]

Purchased solely to deny her acquisition by other navies, Swiftsure met no outstanding Royal Navy requirement when purchased, did not match British standards in many ways, required the manufacturing of her own, special 10-inch (254-mm) ammunition, and was problematic for the British to employ, being too weakly armed and protected to face modern enemy battleships and too slow to catch enemy cruisers. Like all predreadnoughts, she was made obsolete by the completion of the revolutionary new battleship HMS Dreadnought at the end of 1906 and the many dreadnought battleships commissioned in succeeding years. She nonetheless had a useful and eventful career, playing an active role in British operations on foreign stations during the first half of World War I.

Operational history

Pre-World War I

HMS Swiftsure commissioned at Chatham Dockyard on 21 June 1904 for service in the Home Fleet. Under a fleet reorganization in January 1905, the Home Fleet became the Channel Fleet, and Swiftsure became a Channel Fleet unit. She collided with her sister ship Triumph on 3 June 1905, suffering propeller, sternwalk and hull damage. She was repaired at Chatham in June-July 1905. She was reduced to the commissioned reserve at Portsmouth Dockyard on 7 October 1908.[8]

Swiftsure returned to full commission on 6 April 1909 for service in the Mediterranean Fleet. Under a fleet reorganization in May 1912, she transferred to the Third Fleet, Home Fleet, with a nucleus crew in reserve at Portsmouth. She underwent a refit from September 1912 to March 1913.[8]

Her refit complete, Swiftsure commissioned at Portsmouth on 26 March 1913 to serve as Flagship, Rear Admiral, East Indies Station, and she was serving in this capacity when World War I began in August 1914.

World War I

Swiftsure escorted Indian troop convoys from Bombay to Aden from September to November 1914, when the destruction of the German light cruiser Emden, which had been raiding in the Indian Ocean, made this escort duty unnecessary. On 1 December 1914 Swiftsure was reassigned to the Suez Canal Patrol, although she remained East Indies Station flagship while at Suez. From 27 January 1915 to 4 February 1915, she took part in repelling an Ottoman Turkish attack on the Suez Canal in the Kantara area.[9]

HMS Swiftsure firing on Ottoman Turkish positions while covering the landings at W Beach, Cape Helles, 25 April 1915.

Swiftsure was relieved as East Indies Station flagship by armored cruiser HMS Euryalus later in February 1915 and transferred to the Dardanelles for service in the Dardanelles Campaign. She joined the Dardanelles Squadron on 28 February 1915.[9]

Swiftsure took part in the attack on Fort Dardanos on 2 March 1915. She and Triumph were detached from the Dardanelles on 5 March 1915 for operations against forts at Smyrna, returning to the Dardanelles on 9 March 1915. She participated in the main attack on the Narrows forts on 18 March 1915 and supported the main landings at West Beach at Cape Helles on 25 April 1915 and subsequent landings, including the attack on Achi Baba on 4 June 1915. On 18 September 1915 a German submarine unsuccessfully attacked her while she was on a voyage from Mudros to Suvla Bay. She took part in the bombardment of Dedeagatch on 18 January 1916.[10]

Swiftsure left the Dardanelles in February 1916, departing Kephale on 7 February 1916 for Gibraltar, where she was attached to the 9th Cruiser Squadron for service on the Atlantic Patrol and convoy escort duty in the Atlantic. She was photographed in Freetown on 30 January, 1917, by New Zealand soldiers en route to England. She transferred out of the 9th Cruiser Squadron in March 1917, departing Sierra Leone on 26 March 1917 and arriving at Plymouth on 11 April 1917.[10]

Decommissioning and subsidiary duties

The partially dismantled Swiftsure laid up awaiting disposal in 1919.

Swiftsure paid off at Chatham on 26 April 1917 to provide crews for antisubmarine vessels. She then went into reserve, undergoing a refit at Chatham in mid-1917 and being employed as an accommodation ship beginning in February 1918. In the autumn of 1918 she was partially dismantled for use as a blockship in a proposed second attempt to block the entrance to the harbor at Ostend, but World War I ended on 11 November 1918 before this operation could take place. Instead, she was used as a target ship briefly.[10]


Swiftsure was placed on the sale list at Portsmouth in March 1920. She was sold for scrapping to Stanlee Shipbeaking Company of Dover on 18 June 1920.[10]


  1. ^ a b c Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships, 1860-1905, p. 39
  2. ^ Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships, 1860-1905, p. 37
  3. ^ Burt, pp. 259, 261-262
  4. ^ Burt, pp. 262, 264
  5. ^ Burt, pp. 264, 267-268
  6. ^ Burt, p. 269
  7. ^ Burt, p. 271-272
  8. ^ a b c Burt, p. 274
  9. ^ a b Burt, pp. 274-275
  10. ^ a b c d Burt, p. 275


  • Burt, R. A. British Battleships 1889-1904. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1988. ISBN 0870210610.
  • Chesneau, Roger, and Eugene M. Kolesnik, eds. Conway's All The World's Fighting Ships, 1860-1905. New York: Mayflower Books, Inc., 1979. ISBN 0831703024.
  • Dittmar, F. J. & J. J. Colledge. British Warships 1914-1919. London: Ian Allen, 1972. ISBN 0-7110-0380-7
  • Gibbons, Tony. The Complete Encyclopedia of Battleships and Battlecruisers: A Technical Directory of All the World's Capital Ships From 1860 to the Present Day. London: Salamander Books Ltd., 1983.
  • Gray, Randal, Ed. Conway's All The World's Fighting Ships 1906-1921. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1985. ISBN 0870219073.
  • Pears, Randolph. British Battleships 1892-1957: The Great Days of the Fleets. G. Cave Associates, 1979. ISBN 978-0906223147.

External links

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