The Admiral Class - 1887
decorative flourish
HMS Anson at anchor, 1888

Ships in Class:    Anson Benbow Camperdown Howe Rodney

Collingwood served as the model for a class of five battleships, the Admiral class: Howe, Rodney, Anson (shown above), Camperdown, and Benbow. Their hull shape and specifications were almost identical to those of Collingwood and will not be repeated here except in citing the points of difference from the prototype. These departures included deeper draft in the first two (10,300 tons); even larger size -- 5 feet longer and 6 inches wider for an additional 300 tons -- on the last three of the class; and increase in the size of the main armament from 12"/25 to 13.5"/30 in these four. The final member of the class, the Benbow, mounted a single monster 16.25" gun in each barbette; this difference is so pronounced that our editorial staff have given Benbow its own page.

If not identical, the six ships were at least homogeneous, marking a big change from the many one-offs and spinster sisters of the so-called "Age of Indecision" -- the 1860s through the early Eighties. They pointed the way forward in battleship development with a new confidence. Naval officers and muckraking journalists were soon to manufacture the political consensus to fully fund dramatic naval expansion. The financial commitment and technical dedication that went into the 1890s arms race can be likened to the devotion inspired by the "Space Race" of more recent times.

But to return to the 1880s. All five of the Admiral class vessels were held up by delays in completing their guns. They were considered quite successful ships once they hit the waves -- admittedly, after the Ajax and the Glatton, the bar had been set low. The Admirals were widely admired in foreign navies: in Italy, Navy Minister Benedetto Brin ordered three enlarged copies with identical guns and mountings -- the Re Umberto class. The Umbertos' guns were manufactured by Armstrong Whitworth in Britain, the firm which had produced the ordnance for the Admirals and was arming the Royal Sovereigns even as it worked to fill the Italian order. The effectiveness of the Admiral class's rams was proven beyond doubt by the most notorious of the group: HMS Camperdown, which sank the Mediterranean fleet flagship HMS Victoria in a deadly accident in 1893.

Photo Gallery

HMS RODNEY of 1887
HMS Rodney, stern quarter view, around 1890. Enlarge

Crane lowers a 13.5in gun into battleship's forward mount

HMS Camperdown receives her main armament in the Royal Dockyard at Malta. A work detail is busy repainting the bow, standing on floating planks lowered from the forecastle deck.


Target practice in the secondary battery aboard an 1880s battleship. Fine period illustration shows the 6-inch gunners firing their pieces by electricity -- a novelty at the time.  Enlarge

British 13.5-in barbette mounting, 1892

Barbette mounting on HMS Royal Sovereign of 1892. 13.5"/30 guns rest on a turntable that rotates inside a better than one foot-thick armored breastwork; gun crews work below to reload and train guns, in a space known as the "gun pit," their heads and shoulders at times protruding over the parapet and vulnerable to shellburst and shrapnel. Shells and propellant charges travel up from the magazines in hoists that run inside the armored barbette tube. Diagram

13.5in barbette mount - 2 views

More views of the barbette mounting on HMS Royal Sovereign. With their lower freeboard, the Admirals relied on a taller, more slope-shouldered barbette to achieve elevation for the guns and keep them dry.

HMS Camperdown on maneuvers, pre-1893 crash.

HMS Camperdown in the Mediterranean fleet, c. 1891.

a handsome bow view of the Howe, 1890.


Few photos of the class together have come down to us. This is one of the few, showing them at the 1889 Fleet Review, when they were the most advanced warships in the world's greatest navy. Benbow nearest the camera.    Enlarge

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