H.M.S. Warrior - 1860

HMS Black Prince, identical sister ship of the famous Warrior. For an awesome enlarged view, click here.

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HMS Warrior was a landmark ship in naval history, the first large ironclad warship in the British or any other Navy, a full fleet unit capable of ocean voyages, armored to withstand any naval weapon then in existence, with powerful (for the time) steam engines, and a host of technological innovations such as watertight subdivision. This last took advantage of the inherent strength of iron construction, in a way the first French iron warships (iron copies of the wooden La Gloire) did not.

As a ground-breaking naval vessel of great cost, she was built by Thames Iron Works, a private yard (the royal dockyards not having the experience in iron construction to produce such a large vessel), but specified with conservative features such as a clipper bow and the sort of redundant systems of bracing then used to stiffen contemporary wooden ships of great length (but not necessary for an all-iron vessel. The yard complied with government specifications.) Those crutches of the past, and the wooden frigate hull form, were speedily abandoned or modified in follow-ons of the Warrior idea -- the Achilles and Minotaur classes of broadside ironclads. The clipper bow was the first to go, as the navy hastened to adopt the pronounced ram bow that said "modern" in the 1860s. These were all, nonetheless, essentially large ocean-going screw frigates, translated from wood into iron and given an up-sized armament and a hefty 4.5" wrought-iron armor belt. That belt was backed by a foot of solid teak as were the armored bulkheads.

Warrior measured 420 feet long by 58 feet in beam, drew 26 feet, and displaced 9,137 tons; was capable of 14.5 knots under steam alone or 17 under sail and steam combined. She was propelled by a Penn trunk engine shafted to single screw, with a steam plant of ten fire-tube boilers operating at 20 psi(!). Like most hybrid steamships of her time, Warrior was equipped with telescoping stacks and a retractable screw to reduce drag when operating under sail alone. With her heavy rig, comparable to that of an 80-gun sailing ship of the line, she could make 12-13 kts under sail alone -- an important consideration for fuel conservation in an era when coaling stations had yet to be developed throughout the Empire. In practice, however, Warrior and her immediate descendants spent their lives mostly in home waters, since there were as yet no graving docks in Britain's overseas bases capable of holding their enormous, easily fouled iron hulls for cleaning of marine organisms.

Black Prince and Warrior thus became highly visible symbols of Britain's naval pre-eminence in an age when France was making a determined effort to leapfrog Britain's superior numbers by adopting outlandish new designs and technologies. In fact, Warrior herself was an "reply" to the French ironclad La Gloire, built 1858-60 -- and a dashed effective reply too.

HMS WARRIOR gun deck - ironclad fo 1860Whereas La Gloire was an iron-armor-on wood construction, 255 feet long, with a cramped gun deck placed awkwardly close to the waterline, Warrior was an all-iron vessel. Capitalizing on the ability of iron to remain rigid at a much greater length than wooden construction, Warrior and her sister Black Prince (at top of page) were highly seaworthy, ocean-going vessels with a spacious and well-protected gun deck. They carried a mixed armament of 26 68-pounder muzzle loaders, 8 breech-loading Armstrong 110-pounders, and two 100-pounder 11" breech loaders. The technology used was an outgrowth of experience in the Crimean War, when France's iron-armored and (barely) self-propelled, flat-bottomed batteries had taken part in Black Sea sieges and had proven impervious to Russian round shot. Warrior and her immediate descendants, however, also harnessed British experience in iron shipbuilding and engineering to make a spectacular technological leap that the French could not follow at the time. The French iron industry in 1860 was barely up to producing one much smaller ship per year (La Gloire displaced 5,630 tons against the Warrior's 9,137, and the follow-on ship for the French was merely an all-iron copy of Gloire). Warrior is still afloat today (below), masterfully restored at Portsmouth, England, where she makes an interesting contrast to her predecessor, HMS Victory, Lord Horatio Nelson's flagship in the Napoleonic Wars (built 1765).

Armored with a 208-foot belt, Warrior was commissioned in 1862 and sailed with the Channel Fleet for two commissions, approximately ten years. Over Christmas 1867 she was detailed as a guard for H.M. Queen Victoria at Osborne, when Irish Fenian separatists were thought to threaten her person. Warrior's armament was reworked in an 1872 refit, and she was placed in reserve in 1875. There followed twenty years -- at first at Portland, then from 1882 on, on the Clyde -- as a stationary guardship with a few weeks' annual cruise under reservists. In 1902 she became part of the Royal Navy torpedo school, HMS Vernon. Her boilers and generators supplied power to the complex of old ships housing the school. In 1927, Warrior was converted to a mooring hulk at the navy's oil depot at Pembroke Dock. During this 50-year stint, the Royal Navy always kept her hull sound, and in the mid-1970s the idea of a full restoration was floated. A replica of her magnificent figurehead was made and displayed at boating conventions and sales events. Patriotic Britons opened their hearts and their cheque-books, and the shabby old ship, with her concrete-covered decks, scabs of rust, helicopter landing pad, and derricks and pipes for fueling, was towed from Wales around to Portsmouth and eventually to Hartlepool on the North Sea coast north of London. There a crew of 140 labored over her for eight years. Her original artillery was faithfully recreated in cast Fiberglas; her huge masts in steel tubing. No detail was too small to escape notice and careful reproduction. The result is a living museum the entire nation can be proud of -- one which brings Victorian naval life into the present with impressive realism. The old lady went on display at Portsmouth in 1987.

Soon found to be obsolescent after ten years as a wonder ship, Warrior had led the charge to iron shipbuilding and her features were used as a basis in developing further sail-steam combination warships in the late 19th century. The Warrior's identical sister ship, HMS Black Prince, had a long and eventful career. Her name was changed to 'Emerald' in 1903, and she served as training ship Queenstown (now Cóbh) until 1910. Later developments in what became known as a "central battery ship" included greater length, thicker armor, much experimentation with rig (Minotaur originally had a five-masted barque rig, later changed to three-mast and up again to five masts), and adoption of hull forms better suited to iron, to concentrate fire straight ahead, to ram enemy vessels, and to better protect the ships' rudders and propellers. We are indebted to Peter Milford for the excellent photographs of Warrior's interiors, for which he bears the copyright. The viewer is urged to take the complete virtual tour of the ship.

WARRIOR today, at her berth in PortsmouthIn parallel developments in iron shipbuilding, the Royal Navy built powerful steam cruisers with full sailing rig through the 1860s, such as the unarmored iron frigate Shah (6,250 tons, completed 1870) and the much smaller but still feisty iron corvettes such as the Bacchante class (4,070 tons, 1873) and the improved Calypso/Calliope class of 1876. Handy under sail and thus economical of fuel, their design reflected sailing-ship tradition over all, the later ships being built partly of steel and partly of iron (known to naval architects as composite construction). A different sort of composite construction was the colonial cruiser of this period, which often had an iron hull covered by wooden sheathing, with the bottom sheathed yet again with copper plates. The reason was that copper discouraged fouling by sea creatures and marine growths which readily fastened to iron hulls. This was most inconvenient for ships stationed in remote areas where there were no drydocks to grave the hulls regularly; the ships' speed could be severely impacted in short order by a coating of seaweed and barnacles. The auxiliary sailing ship model was further followed in the speedy dispatch vessels Iris and Mercury, all-steel screw ships completed in 1879 and achieving 18.5 knots, a dazzling speed for the 1870s. These sleek runners for the fleet in turn inspired the lightly-protected but formidably armed Leander class cruisers of the 1880s and their descendants, the protected cruisers and armored cruisers.

Historic Portsmouth, Britain's greatest home-island naval base over the centuries, is a must-see for all naval history buffs visiting the UK.

Plan and Specifications

Cutaway view of HMS WARRIOR

Cutaway View of HMS Warrior: Four decks of naval complexity.

Specifications for the Warrior:
Dimensions: 420' x 58' x 26' Displacement: 9,210 tons. Armament: (10) 110-pdr BLR, (26) 68-pdr SB, (4) 40-pdr SB. Armor: Wrought-iron type; 4½" belt over central 208 feet of battery. Fuel capacity: 850 tons of coal. Propulsion: (10) coal-fired boilers; 2-cyl horizontal Penn Trunk engine developing 5,387 ihp, shafted to single screw. Sail rig: Three-masted ship rig, 48,400 sf of sail. Maximum speed: 14.5 kts under steam alone; 13 kts under sail alone; 17 kts under sail and steam combined. Crew: 705. Endurance: 2,100 nm @ 11 kts.

Ships in Class: Warrior Black Prince

Metric specs:
Dimensions: 128m x 17.7m x 7.92m full load. Displacement: 9,210 tons. Armament: (10) 110-pdr BLR, (26) 68-pdr SB, (4) 40-pdr SB. Armor: Wrought-iron type; 114 mm belt over central 63.4 meters of battery. Fuel capacity: 850 tons of coal. Propulsion: (10) coal-fired boilers; 2-cyl horizontal Penn Trunk engine developing 4,762.8 kW, shafted to single screw. Sail rig: Three-masted ship rig, 4,490 sm of sail. Maximum speed: 26.67 km/hr under steam alone; 24 km/hr under sail alone; 31.5 km/hr under sail and steam combined. Crew: 705. Endurance: 38,892 km @ 20.37 km/hr.

A Warrior Picture Gallery


Launch of HMS Warrior, Dec. 29, 1860, as depicted in the American periodical Harper's Weekly. In the coldest winter in memory, the shipwrights had a difficult time of it getting the ship to slide down the ways; hundreds of men ran from side to side on the spar deck for 20 minutes to loosen her up, while tugs hauled on hawsers lashed to her stern bitts. At the end of the day the great ship joined her chosen element, as seen here.

WARRIOR at dock in Plymouth

The Warrior at Plymouth in a vintage photo from the 1860s.

WARRIOR under sail & steam, painting by Rex Phillips

Warrior under sail and steam, in a modern painting by Rex Phillips. After commissioning on Aug. 1, 1861, the great ship was skippered by Sir Arthur Cochrane for more than three years. Her performance under sail was excellent and her coal capacity limited; the steam engine was used primarily for extra power in a sprint to intercept, or to power the ship against contrary winds and currents; otherwise she was operated as a conventional sailing ship, albeit one of great size -- it took 30 men to reef her vast mainsail or maintopsail. This picture is offered by gracious consent of the Royal Naval Museum, Portsmouth.

WARRIOR at dock in Plymouth

The Warrior portrayed by that saltiest of British illustrators, Wilfred Mitchell, in her 1872 fit. The main is correctly shown furled while the engines are in use. But otherwise it's all plain sail set and drawing; 17 knots, sir!

HMS WARRIOR entering Portmouth on a summer evening

Warrior is pictured at the Spit Fort in Portmouth as the lowering sun takes on a pink color.

HMS WARRIOR in Dockyard, 1872
Main steering wheel, HMS Warrior.   

Section view of HMS WARRIOR

Section through Warrior's engine room shows Penn Trunk engine, details of iron construction.

Engine room of HMS WARRIOR
Depiction of Warrior's engine room shows crankshaft, size of compartment.

HMS WARRIOR in Dockyard, 1872
Warrior at Portsmouth's No. 10 Dock for a major refit, 1872.   

HMS WARRIOR today at her berth in Portsmouth, UK

HMS Warrior today at her berth in Portsmouth, England. The ship's stern was covered with an elaborate transom -- a dummy gallery containing small cabins and (at center) a working space for the ship's steering. The prominent stern windows did not let on the spacious captain's cabin within, as in the windjammers of yore, but were another nod to conventional sailing-ship design. As was the magnificent figurehead of a cavalier warrior of the 1600s (bottom). Both photos copyright © by Peter Milford.

HMS WARRIOR Captain's Day Cabin
Captain's cabin, HMS Warrior. Tea, anyone?   Enlarge

WARRIOR figurehead

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