HMS Majestic, built at the Royal Portmouth Dockyard in Britain 1894-5, embodies the solid seaworthiness of Sir William White's design. The nine 15,000-ton Majestics heralded the culminating phase of Britain's naval dominance -- emphasized by so many identical, globe-girdling battleships coming into commission at one stroke. Britain's yards soon brought dozens of improved versions into being during the decade after Majestic appeared.
The Majestics were 421 feet long and 75 feet in beam. They followed the preceding Royal Sovereign class in having a high freeboard and side-by-side funnels, but differed from them in having armored gunhouses to protect the crews of the main guns rather than open barbettes, and in being armed with an improved 12"/35-calibre gun, the Mk VIII. The new 12-inch performed better than the 13.5-inch gun on the Royal Sovereigns, with reduced weight. Although the armored gunhouse arrangement was technically still a barbette mounting, the gunhouses were quickly dubbed "turrets". The development of battleship gun mountings, including those of the dreadnoughts and great battleships of WWII, evolved from this model through the first half of the 20th century. Majestic's big guns sat on oval redoubts, as shown in the schematic below (all other ships in the class followed this pattern except Caesar and Illustrious, which had circular barbettes, for reasons to be explained presently). On the Majestic and the Magnificent, the big turrets had to be swiveled back to fore-and-aft position for re-loading each round, then re-trained on the target, a situation which was remedied on the last two ships of the class, Caesar and Illustrious, which had circular barbettes with all-round loading capability (see the 40-calibre Mk VIII guns from HMS Canopus, 1899).
The Majestics' secondary armament consisted of a dozen 6"/40 cal. quick-firing (QF) guns housed in armored casemates: eight on the main deck and four at the corners of the boat deck. An array of QF 12-pounders, 3-pounders, machine-guns was furnished to beat off torpedo boat attacks. As usual for the time, the Majestic carried a full complement of 18" torpedoes and five tubes to launch them from any quarter. Harvey process armor protected the ship's vitals: a 9-inch belt on the hull, 10.5 inches on turret faces, 3-4 inches on decks, 14" on the barbettes above the armored deck. The armor belt covered only the amidships area from the fore turret to the aft turret, or 220 feet long by 16 feet tall. The ships had a moderate ram bow, and a cruiser stern with admiral's walk wrapping about it: the name ship is shown at right. For an enlarged view, click here.
Majestic and her sisters were driven by powerful inverted vertical triple-expansion steam engines (below left), supplying 10,300+ IHP to twin, four-bladed Griffiths propellers. They could all manage around 16 knots for short bursts; Hannibal produced 17.7 kts on her trials. These ships were visually identifiable by their side-by-side funnels, the last of many in the Royal Navy to adopt this arrangement. They were handsome and reliable vessels and formed the core of the fleet which formed up for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee review in 1897 -- only 4 years before the great queen's passing. This was to be the scene of the audacious testing of the Parsons steam turbine engine in the most public way possible: suddenly the experimental vessel Turbinia shot out from under a warship's counter and streaked between the lines of anchored warships, bobbing and weaving at speeds approaching 35 kts. Trailing a great plume of smoke, flame and foam, she was too fast to catch: a most indecorous display! The boat is now a permanent exhibit at the Discovery Museum in Newcastle-on-Tyne.
Specifications for the Majestic class:
Dimensions: 413' x 75' x 30' Displacement: 14,900 tons. Armament: (4) 12"/35 Mk VIII), 2x2; (12) 6"/40 wire-wound QF in casemates; (16) 12-pdr, and (12) 3-pdr. guns; (2) Maxim MG; (5) 18" torpedo tubes, 4 submerged and one (stern tube) above water. Armor: Harvey type. 9" belt, 10½" turrets, 14" conning tower and barbettes, 6" casemates, 4" deck, 14" bulkheads. Fuel capacity: 1,200 tons of coal std, 2,000 tons maximum; later fitted for 400 tons oil. Propulsion: 8 cylindrical boilers with 4 furnaces each; (2) 3-cyl inverted vertical triple expansion engines developing 13,500 HP, shafted to twin screw. Maximum speed: 15.9 kts (Magnificent) to 17.7 kts (Hannibal). Crew: 750 to 780. Initial cost: £1M each at 1895 values.
Ships in class: Majestic · Magnificent · Hannibal · Prince George · Victorious · Jupiter · Mars · Caesar · Illustrious
Dimensions: 126m x 22.9m x 9.15m Displacement: 14,900 tons. Armament: (4) 305 mm/35 Mk VIII (2x2); (12) 152 mm/40 wire-wound QF in casemates; (16) 12-pdr, and (12) 3-pdr. guns; (2) Maxim MG; (5) 450 mm torpedo tubes, 4 submerged and one (stern tube) above water. Armor: Harvey type. 228.6 mm belt, 267 mm turrets, 356 mm conning tower and barbettes, 152 mm casemates, 102 mm deck, 356 mm bulkheads. Fuel capacity: 1,200 tons of coal std, 2,000 tons maximum; later fitted for 400 tons oil. Propulsion: 8 cylindrical boilers with 4 furnaces each; (2) 3-cyl inverted vertical triple expansion engines developing 10,067 kW, shafted to twin screw. Maximum speed: 29.45 km/hr (Magnificent) to 32.78 km/hr (Hannibal). Crew: 750 to 780.
At left, one of the engines of HMS Majestic, photographed at Vickers prior to installation. The Majestics were the masterpiece of Sir William White, Director of Naval Construction from 1885-1902, and as he defined the pre-dreadnought era more than any other single person, his Majestics proved the prototypes of the pre-dreadnought battleship, forming the basis for battleship development in the Royal Navy for the next 10 years or more, through the King Edward VII class built at the end of White's tenure. During the period from 1890 - 1908, the Royal Navy commissioned 52 pre-dreadnought battleships to protect its colonial interests and trade, and to counter any possible rivalry, whether from France, Russia, Italy, Germany, or the United States.
Although they had been designed to defend the Pax Britannica, these pre-dreadnought vessels ended up fighting in WWI -- a war fought with weapons they had not been designed to cope with: improved submarines, torpedoes, mines, and newfangled "aeroplanes." Many of the older vessels ended up in supporting roles in the disastrous Gallipoli campaign. Eight British, one German, and four French pre-dreadnoughts were sunk during the war, as well as one German-built Turkish pre-dreadnought. Sadly, the beautiful Majestic was one of the losses, torpedoed twice while lying at anchor off West Beach, Gallipoli, and sinking in 9 fathoms of water, with the loss of 44 lives (737 survived). The onetime Mediterranean flagship fell victim to U-21 on May 27, 1915. This was the same U-boat that had sunk HMS Triumph two days earlier.
All eight of Majestic's sisters survived the War, many of them disarmed, their guns used to arm bombardment monitors; and two turned into maintenance hulks for the Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow. All the surviving Majestics were scrapped directly after the War.
HMS Majestic in an artist's conception, heading out to take over as flagship of the British Mediterranean Fleet, 1899. The artist has accurately depicted the standard Victorian colour scheme approved by the Queen herself.
The Caesar portrayed at anchor for the series of collector cards published as premiums by the Aiguebelle chocolaterie.
The flagship of Rear-Adm Nicholson, providing fire support to the ANZAC troops ashore, Majestic lists after taking two torpedos at West Beach, Gallipoli. A swarm of support craft gathers around the stricken ship to take off crewmen. The Navy appears to be attempting to fother a sail over the holes, but the serious list suggests the futility of the effort. Within seven minutes after the first torpedo hit at 0645, the ship capsized entirely and sank into the West Beach mud, where her hulk remains to this day. None of her eight sister ships became a casualty of war.
Variants of the Majestic model:
- HMS Renown (1897) - 2nd Class Battleship
Med. Fleet Flagship
- The Canopus Class (1899) - 6 Ships
- The Formidable Class (1901) - 3 Ships
- The London Class (1902) - 3 Ships
- The Duncan Class (1903) - 6 Ships
- The Queen Class (1904) - 2 Ships
- HIJMS Mikasa - London Class Clone (1902)
- Mark VIII 12-in/35 Cal. Main Guns