Armored Cruiser H.M.S. Terrible - 1898

British cruiser POWERFUL setting out from port

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In the mid-1890s intelligence spoke of two deadly cruisers being constructed in Russia, faster and more heavily armed than anything the Royal Navy could field against them. In the reactive mode typical of the time, the British built two enormous cruisers to "answer" the Russian threat (Rossia and Rurik), which proved to have been greatly exaggerated. HMS Terrible and her sister HMS Powerful were laid down in 1894 and completed in 1897 and 1898, respectively. At 14,200 tons and 500 feet they proved too long and too fuel-hungry for economical operation, even after much "tweaking." They were initially sent to the China Station, where they helped to crush the Boxer Rebellion in 1900-01. Soon after, both ships served with distinction in the Boer War, landing their guns with carriages designed by the captain of the Powerful and volunteer crews to assist in the relief of Ladysmith, a mining town beseiged by the Boers.

HMS POWERFUL in the Channel, returning from the Boer WarAfter 1904 both vessels spent most of their time laid up: they were simply too expensive to operate when smaller ships would do, and the Royal Navy was building more advanced models in quantity. After experimenting with the Diadem design (which replaced the 9.2" singles with two 6" guns mounted side-by-side bow and stern), the four-funnel look and original armament layout of the Terribles were adapted into more seaworthy and ergonomic vessels beginning with the 12,000-ton, 21-knot Cressy class of six ships built between 1896 and 1902. The Drakes built on the success of this prototype, restoring nearly the full 14,000-ton size and 22-knot speed of the Terribles in a better-balanced package. Capacious as they were, the Powerful and Terrible became troop transports and accommodation ships, their armamant removed, during WWI and later. Powerful survived as an accommodation ship until scrapping in 1929; her sister Terrible was not broken up until 1932. Thus, these two white elephants had a long service career, even though much of it was spent far from the firing line.


Plans and Specifications

Schematic of the cruiser TERRIBLE

Specifications for the Terrible class:
Dimensions: 500' x 71' x 27'    Displacement: 14,200 tons deep laden. Armament: (2) 9.2"/40, (12) 6"/40 QF, (16) 12-pdr, (12) 3-pdr guns; (4) 18" torpedo tubes. Armor: Harvey type. 4" belt, 6" gun shields and barbettes, 6"/2" deck. Fuel capacity: 3,000 tons coal. Steam plant: 48 Belleville water-tube boilers. Propulsion: (2) 4-cyl vertical inverted triple expansion engines developing 25,000 hp, shafted to twin screw. Endurance: 7,000 nm @ 14 kts. Crew: 894.

Ships in class: Powerful Terrible

Metric specifications:
Dimensions: 152.4 m x 21.6m x 8.2m    Displacement: 14,200 tons deep laden. Armament: (2) 234 mm/40, (12) 152 mm/40 QF, (16) 12-pdr, and (12) 3-pdr guns; (4) 45 cm torpedo tubes. Armor: Harvey type. 102mm belt, 152mm gun shields and barbettes, 152/50mm deck. Fuel capacity: 3,000 tons coal. Steam plant: 48 Belleville water-tube boilers. Propulsion: (2) 4-cyl vertical inverted triple expansion engines developing 18,643 kW, shafted to twin screw. Maximum speed: 41 km/hr. Endurance: 13,000 km @ 26 km/hr. Crew: 894.


A Terrible Class Treasury

Colourised postcard of the TERRIBLE

This colourised postcard of the great ship emphasizes the size and high freeboard of the class.

Photo of the TERRIBLE at victualing dock
The Terrible at the victualing docks at Portsmouth.

Photo of the TERRIBLE manned for inspection
The daunting face of the British lion: Powerful with the ship manned, c. 1900.

Profile drawing of cruiser TERRIBLE

HMS Terrible in profile, showing the general armament layout adopted by British armored cruisers for the next decade. The armament of two 9.2" and twelve 6" QF guns was to be quite standard until the Minotaur class of 1907. The Terrible twins had a designed speed of 23 kts, but completing somewhat overweight, could achieve this speed only with an unconscionable expenditure of coal. Unique among British ships was the peculiar stern, with its half-diamond shape: half cruiser stern, half counter. It bore a strong resemblance to the French Jeanne d'Arc's stern, itself unique in the French fleet. This "bustle" effect was not repeated; less ostentatious cruiser sterns became the norm, though on these large ships a miniature captain's walk was invariably supplied, just as on the larger battleships.

Quarter view photo of TERRIBLE, showing unusually shaped stern

A closeup showing the unusual stern of HMS Terrible, taken early in her career when she had her original short funnels. These were soon lengthened to improve draft to the boilers; subsequent classes of British armored cruiser came with tall stovepipes installed as original equipment.

Old lithograph of TERRIBLE at night

Terrible in her original guise, with short funnels, imaginatively pictured by moonlight, using her for'ard searchlight to detect trouble ahead.


Navigation Console


Derivatives From the Powerful Model
British Armored Cruisers, 1898 - 1901


I. The Diadem Class (1899)

HMS DIADEM, British armored Cruiser of 1898
HMS Argonaut shows her clear stylistic derivation from the Powerful class despite her lighter guns and armor.

Though with no belt armor these were not technically armored cruisers, they clearly represented an attempt by White and his staff to work out some of the fuel economy problems in the Terrible class. Their armored deck protection weighed 1,500 tons and all other armoring, 400. The first two ships were something of apilot project, produced in the 1895 programme; the remaining four ships and the Niobe (sold to Canada) were produced with improved model Belleville boilers and higher horsepower engines, giving an additional half-knot of speed.

Five of these vessels were still in commission at the start of WWI, the Argonaut as a stoker training ship and later a hospital ship. Their glory days were long over, however; with worn-out boilers and engines they were good for 17-18 knots on a good day. As more efficient and agile ships became available, they found use as floating barracks, guard ships, etc. for the duration.

Schematic of the cruiser HMS DIADEM of 1899

Specifications for the Diadem class:
Dimensions: 450' x 69' x 27'6"    Displacement: 11,000 tons deep laden. Armament: (16) 6"/40 QF, (12) 12-pdr 12 cwtm (2) 12-pdr 8-cwt, and (3) 3-pdr guns; (2) 18" torpedo tubes. Armor: Harvey type. No belt; 12" conn, 6" casemates, 4"/2" deck. Fuel capacity: 1,000 tons coal std, 2,000 maximum; 400 tons bunker oil. Steam plant: 30 Belleville water-tube boilers. Propulsion: (2) 4-cyl vertical inverted triple expansion engines developing 16,500 hp (18,000 in last three), shafted to twin screw. Speed: 19 kts. Endurance: 7,000 nm @ 14 kts. Crew: 677. Cost: £600,000 at 1900 valuation.

Ships in class: Diadem Europa Argonaut Ariadne Amphitrite Spartiate

Metric specifications:
Dimensions: 450' x 69' x 27'6"    Displacement: 11,000 tons deep laden. Armament: (16) 6"/40 QF, (12) 12-pdr 12 cwtm (2) 12-pdr 8-cwt, and (3) 3-pdr guns; (2) 18" torpedo tubes. Armor: Harvey type. No belt; 12" conn, 6" casemates, 4"/2" deck. Fuel capacity: 1,000 tons coal std, 2,000 maximum; 400 tons bunker oil. Steam plant: 30 Belleville water-tube boilers. Propulsion: (2) 4-cyl vertical inverted triple expansion engines developing 12,304 kW (13,423 in last three), shafted to twin screw. Speed: 35.2 km/hr. Endurance: 12,964 km @ 26 km/hr. Crew: 677. Cost: £600,000 at 1900 valuation.


II. The Cressy Class (1901)

HMS HOGUE in the Irish Sea, c. 1901

Narrative - Read on.    |    Specifications    |    Photos    |    The Live Bait Incident

The Bacchante or Cressy class of 1898 which served as a model for the Drake marked a return to the Powerful model, but again smaller and more economical to operate. The six Cressy class cruisers laid down in 1898 displaced 12,000 tons, had a 6" belt of KC armor, and the standard armored-cruiser armament of two 9.2" and twelve 6" QF guns. The class had a design speed of 21 kts, but due to long years of neglect while laid up in reserve, were only capable of 15-17 by the time they were reactivated for war. Jane's for 1914 includes the note, "Used to be very good steamers, but now getting worn out, and only good for short spurts." Because of their high coal consumption (18-19 tons per hour at 17 kts), they were ordered to steam at 8-11 knots while on patrol duty, making them sitting ducks for lurking submarines.

"Taken off the dockyard wall" (i.e. saved from scrapping at the eleventh hour), the ships were reactivated on the outbreak of war. They were hastily manned with whatever warm bodies naval bureaucrats could find, and despatched to perform patrol duty off the Netherlands North Sea coast. HMS Hogue (above) was one of the oldest armored cruisers in the Royal Navy in August 1914, pulled from the mothball fleet and crewed with green cadets and over-the-hill reservists. Together with her sisters Aboukir and Cressy, Hogue was sunk by a lone U-boat off the Hook of Holland on Sept. 22, 1914. The incident came with very great loss of life -- more than 1450 British servicemen -- amply justifying the unfortunate cruisers' Service nickname, the "Live Bait Squadron," which long predated the 1914 sinkings. The ships' permanent, longitudinal watertight bulkheads led all 3 ships to capsize soon after seawater was admitted, trapping crewmen below decks and making it impossible to launch boats.


A Cressy Class Collection

HMS CRESSY in the English Channel, c. 1902

HMS Cressy was the last of the Live Bait Squadron to be attacked and the last to sink. Her case was particularly appalling, as she had already lowered most of her boats to rescue sailors from the sunken Hogue and Aboukir. Here she is in the Channel on a happier occasion.

HMS ABOUKIR iat anchor, c. 1902

HMS Aboukir was the flagship and first of the Live Bait Squadron to be attacked and sunk. Here she is at anchor, c. 1904. Enlarge

HMS CRESSY in the English Channel, c. 1902

A grand view of the Aboukir gathering way as she departs the Grand Harbour at Malta, early 1900s.


Plans and Specifications

Schematic of the cruiser TERRIBLE

Specifications for the Cressy class:
Dimensions: 454' x 69'6" x 28'    Displacement: 12,000 tons std. Armament: (2) 9.2"/40 Mk VIII, (12) 6"/45 Mk VII QF, (12) 12-pdr 12-cwt, (1) 12-pdr 8-cwt, and (3) 3-pdr guns; (2) 18" torpedo tubes. Armor: Krupp throughout. 6"/2" belt, 6" turrets and barbettes, 5" casemates and bulkheads, 12" conn, 3" deck. Fuel capacity: 800 tons coal std; 1,600 tons maximum. Steam plant: 30 Belleville water-tube boilers. Propulsion: (2) 4-cyl vertical inverted triple expansion engines developing 21,000 hp, shafted to twin screw. Speed: 21 kts (1902), 15-17 kts (1914). Crew: 700 (745 as flagship). Cost: £800,000 at 1900 valuation.

Ships in class: Cressy Hogue Aboukir Euryalus Bacchante Sutlej

Metric specifications:
Dimensions: 138.4m x 21.2m x 8.5m    Displacement: 12,000 tons std. Armament: (2) 234 mm/40 Mk VIII, (12) 152 mm/45 Mk VII QF, (12) 12-pdr 12-cwt, (1) 12-pdr 8-cwt, and (3) 3-pdr guns; (2) 18" torpedo tubes. Armor: Krupp throughout. 152/50 mm belt, 152 mm turrets and barbettes, 127 mm casemates and bulkheads, 305 mm conn, 76 mm deck. Fuel capacity: 800 tons coal std; 1,600 tons maximum. Steam plant: 30 Belleville water-tube boilers. Propulsion: (2) 4-cyl vertical inverted triple expansion engines developing 15,660 kW, shafted to twin screw. Speed: 39 km/hr (1902), 27.8-31.5 (1914). Crew: 700 (745 as flagship). Cost: £800,000 at 1900 valuation.

For further armored cruisers following in this line of evolution, please consult our HMS Drake page.


The Live Bait Incident

HMS ABOUKIR capsizing

On September 22, 1914, U-9 under the command of Otto Weddigen torpedoed and sank three elderly Bacchante-class cruisers patroling off Holland, with a loss of 1,459 British lives; above, the Aboukir capsizes while HMS Cressy stops and lowers boats to pick up survivors, making herself a perfect target for the lurking sub. Capt. Drummond of Aboukir thought he had struck a mine.

HMS CRESSY capsizing
Another period print of the sinking of the Live Bait Squadron, showing the Hogue with keel out and the Cressy standing by. Enlarge

SMU-9, famous German submarine of World War I

It was in this rather primitive, kerosene-burning submarine that Capt. Weddigen accomplished his feat.

Live Bait Incident

This skillfully constructed tableau, apparently composited from photographic images of the ships, ocean foam, and the retoucher's invention. The shape of the bow on Aboukir will not deceive hardened BBB surfers; compare to schematic above. A cameo of Weddigen is cut into the upper quadrant, as was common in the period.

Live Bait Incident

Descending further into hero-worship, this German commemorative postcard succeeds in expressing commercial bathos and frank bloody-mindedness; the sub motoring calmly away from several well-armed, if mortally wounded, cruisers on the surface betrays a contempt for the enemy not shared by Imperial Navy officers. The card's graphics are considerably weaker too; aside from the dubious perspective, the ship labeled "Cressy" is a close match to the obsolete German cruisers Freya and Hertha and unlike anything ever commissioned in the Royal Navy.