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12 NAVY NEWS, JANUARY 2011 CLASSIC SHIPS of the ROYAL NAVY No. 1 rarely lived up to it.

Invincible No.1: sank in the Solent. No.2: wrecked off Norfolk. No.3: brief career in the Napoleonic Wars, then served as a hulk. No.4: sank in a storm.

‘Every shot is telling’ T

HE word means unbeatable, but ships bearing the name HMS Invincible have

that day. For until that calamitous explosion, the battle-cruiser fought as well as any British warship that Wednesday.

As for Invincible No.5, her fate is the most chilling of all. Her demise provides us with the definitive image of the greatest clash of warships ever witnessed in European waters: Jutland. At 6.34pm on Wednesday May 31 1916, the fifth Invincible was simply torn apart by a cataclysmic explosion which left all who saw it at once shocked and awestruck. When the tongues of flame died out and the smoke cleared, all that was left of the flagship of 3rd Battle-cruiser Squadron were her bow and stern, raised out of the water in a V-shape “like two large tombstones suddenly raised in honour”.

But beyond this haunting image there is a brief but glorious story

In a devastating eight-minute spell, Invincible landed eight shells on the faster and more heavily-armoured German battle-cruiser SMS Lützow at a range of 9,000 yards – five and a half miles. “Your firing is very good,” 3rd Battle-cruiser Squadron’s commander Rear Admiral Horace Hood told Cdr Hubert Dannreuther, directing Invincible’s gunnery from her foretop. “Every shot is telling.” They were: the hits would prove fatal – Lützow was scuttled that night, the only German capital ship sunk at Jutland. By then, however, her foe was also at the bottom of the North Sea.

For in the middle of her ferocious duel with the High Seas Fleet, Invincible suddenly emerged from the veil of mist, smoke and cordite drifting across the water. She was, recalled Lützow’s

the gunnery officer of sister Derfflinger, “clear

and sharply silhouetted” against the horizon.

turrets proved a failure).

Indeed, so useless were Invincible’s turrets that she was incapable of taking her place in the battle lines of the Grand Fleet for the first five years of her life. Only when the turrets were replaced with traditional hydraulic ones on the eve of the Great War was the battle-cruiser a truly operational warship.

New turrets could not, however, resolve poor gunnery. At Invincible’s baptism

of cruisers

● HMS Invincible as she appeared early in her fi rst commission The guns of both German battle-

flagship. A shell from one – probably Lützow – smashed through the weak roof of ‘Q’ turret. The resulting fire raced into the magazines and in an instant, Invincible was torn in two as a succession of explosions ripped through the ship. In 90 seconds she was gone, and with her all but six of the 1,032 men aboard.

The Germans cheered. So too a few Britons, until they saw the red name plate on the shattered stern as

now trained on Hood’s fire, the battle of

they sailed past the wreck. Invincible’s career is brief and, to be honest, mixed.

Lord Admiral Sir Jacky Fisher as a ‘super cruiser’ – a vessel with the firepower of a capital ship, the speed and agility of a cruiser. For that speed and agility, however, she sacrificed armour. “Speed,” Fisher determined, “is the best protection.”

Her early years were dogged by mechanical problems (her revolutionary

Heligoland Bight in August 1914, not one of the 18 shells she fired at her German adversary hit – and this from a range of just 5,000 yards. It was little better four months

She was conceived by First Sea

later off the Falklands. Fewer than two dozen shells – out of more than 500 fired – struck the ships of von Spee’s squadron.

When he raised his flag in Invincible the following year, Horace Hood was determined to improve his flagship’s gunnery. In May 1916 she carried out nine days of trials which were ‘highly satisfactory’.


The gunnery practice ended on May 30. Barely 24 hours Invincible was no more.


St Vincent ..................1780 St Kitts .......................1782 First of June ...............1794 Alexandria ..................1882 Heligoland ..................1914 Falkland Islands.........1914 Jutland .......................1916

Class: Invincible-class armoured cruiser (later re-designated battle-cruiser) Builder: Armstrong & Whitworth, Elswick Cost: £1,767,515 (roughly £100m today) Laid down: April 2, 1906 Launched: April 13, 1907 Commissioned: March 20, 1909

Displacement: 20,750 tons Length: 567ft Beam: 78ft 6in Draught: 30ft Speed: 25 knots Complement: up to 1,050 Propulsion: 4 x Parsons direct-drive steam turbines powered by 31 Yarrow boilers generating 41,000shp Armament: 8 x 12in Mk X guns in four twin turrets; 16 x 4in guns; 7 x Maxim machine-guns; 5 x 18in torpedo tubes Armour: belt 4-6in; decks 1½-2½in; turrets 7in; barbettes 7in

HEROES OF THE ROYAL NAVY No.81 – Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser

FROM the defi ning clash of dreadnoughts (above) to the very last ‘big gun’ battle in European waters: the Battle of North Cape. From the extensive photographic archive of the Imperial War Museum, the posed shot (right) shows the torpedo trainer and his shipmate at their action stations on the cruiser HMS Jamaica, safely back in Scapa Flow at New Year 1944. Less than a week before their ship had played a pivotal role in eliminating Hitler’s last real surface threat

cruiser Scharnhorst in the midwinter gloom off the northernmost point in Europe.

to the Royal Navy: the battle-

Jamaica was a veteran of these waters – she had survived a clash with superior German forces 12 months before in the Barents Sea and spent 1943 shepherding convoys to and from northern Russia.

spotted JW55B, another that Scharnhorst was at three hours’ notice to sail. Sail she did. The ‘lucky’ Scharnhorst put to sea

With the German Army still on Russian soil, Christmas 1943 saw no let-up in convoy traffic to the USSR. Returning home from Russia was Convoy 55A. And heading in the opposite direction, bound for the Kola Inlet, 19 merchantmen, convoy JW 55B.

– more than a dozen Allied warships between them. But also at sea were two far more potent British task groups: a cruiser group (Force 1), and a battleship-cruiser sucker punch (Force 2). The latter – Jamaica and flagship HMS Duke of York – were directed by the Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet, Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser. Fraser epitomises the ‘band of brothers’ who led the Royal Navy in WW2: bright (he was among the best gunnery officers in the Fleet), brave (he led a raiding party into Russia at the height of its Civil War and volunteered to take part in a Malta convoy “just for the experience”), and above all personable. Fraser was convinced of the supremacy of the Royal Navy, that every man, whatever his rank, whatever his age, belonged “to the finest Service in the world”. He spent his afternoons devising ways to get at the enemy, chewing over schemes and plans, running through imaginary battles in his head. He embraced new technology – aircraft (he had captained carrier HMS Glorious pre-war) and realised the potential radar brought to battle at sea.

The admiral was aided by a fine staff of equal mind and temperament, among them the future First Sea Lord Michael Le Fanu. And he was aided by Bletchley Park. By late 1943 there was a regular supply of ‘Ultra’ information – decrypted and translated German radio messages. The decrypts were voluminous, their

movements and troop transfers, to the discovery of the massacre at Katyn.

subject matter everything from U-boat

And on December 22 1943, amid the latest flurry of intercepts, one reported that the Luftwaffe had

Both convoys enjoyed substantial protection

on orders from Berlin. With the Red Army driving the Germans inexorably back, something had to be done. The Kriegsmarine’s Commander-in- Chief Karl Dönitz ordered his only operational capital ship to sail from its Norwegian fjord and wipe out the convoy. “Do not end the battle with a half-success,” he told Scharnhorst’s admiral, Erich Bey. “I believe in your attacking spirit. Sieg und heil.” Barely had Scharnhorst sailed, than the Admiralty signalled Fraser in Duke of York. Erich Bey never found JW55B – Fraser diverted it safely out of Scharnhorst’s grasp. He did, however, run into the first of the RN’s task groups, the three cruisers of Force 1 on the morning of Boxing Day. The British salvoes knocked out Scharnhorst’s radar; the Germans, in return, achieved nothing. In the half-light and almost impenetrable snow

flurries, however, Bey escaped. He escaped for much of the day until HMS Belfast picked up the battle-cruiser on her radar. By the late afternoon of December 26, Force 2 had joined Force 1. Scharnhorst was trapped and outgunned.

Her final battle lasted a little under three hours. She fought valiantly, but always at a disadvantage. Fraser’s first salvo knocked out one of the German’s turrets. Bey, in response, managed to hit Duke of York at least twice. He might even have fled thanks to Scharnhorst’s superior speed, but a shell from Fraser’s flagship wiped out a boiler room. That meant the end. A succession of shells

Bruce Fraser looked upon his foe as he looked upon his own men. That evening he gathered his staff to thank them for their service. “I hope that if any of you are ever called upon to lead a ship into action against an opponent, many times superior, you will command your ship as gallantly as Scharnhorst was commanded today.” The admiral would go on to command the British Pacific Fleet – he represented his nation in Tokyo Bay when Japan surrendered – and to serve as First Sea Lord from 1948-51. He died at the age of 93 in 1981. ■ THIS photograph (A 21174) – and 9,999,999 others from a century of war and peace – can be viewed or purchased at www.iwmcollections., by emailing, or by phoning 0207 416 5333.

from the cruisers and Duke of York pounded Scharnhorst; more than 30 14in shells from the British flagship alone hit. At least two dozen torpedoes were fired by the cruisers and escorting destroyers. The result was a hulk blazing from end to end which occasionally responded. At 7.45pm the dull glow shrouded by a smoky cloud which hugged the Barents Sea disappeared. Scharnhorst sank. Only 36 of the 1,968 men aboard were saved.


Facts and figures

Battle Honours

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