Drake-class Armoured Cruiser, HMS Leviathan (P.28, P.73, P.1A) (1918)

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Drake-class Armoured Cruiser, HMS Leviathan (P.28, P.73, P.1A) (1918)


Ship design history

The Drake class of armoured cruisers were an enlarged and improved version of the previous Cressy class, designed by Sir Willian White, who was at the time the Chief Constructor of the Royal Navy. The class was designed to counter the new French armoured cruiser Jeanne d’Arc. To fulfil this requirement the Drake class’s overall length was increased to 553 feet 6 inches (168.7 m), with a beam of 71 feet 4 inches (21.7 m) and a deep draught of 26 feet 9 inches (8.2 m). This new vessel displaced 14,150 long tons (14,380 t) and would overall prove to be rather good seaboats after they entered service. When in service the ship had a crew of 900, up from 760 from the previous Cressy class.

In order to power this larger vessel, the ships of this class were equipped with two 4-cylinder triple-expansion steam engines, each driving one shaft, using steam provided by 43 Belleville boilers over the previous 30 of the Cressy class. With these engines producing a combined total of 30,000 indicated horsepower (22,000 kW) the Drakes were easily able to reach their designed speed of 23 knots (43 km/h; 26 mph). This in combination with their ability to carry a maximum of 2,500 long tons (2,500 t) of coal gave them both respectable speed and range.

The main armament of the Drake-class consisted of two breech-loading (BL) 9.2-inch (234 mm) Mk X guns in single gun turrets, one fore and one aft of the superstructure. These were capable of firing the 380-pound shells to a maximum range of 15,500 yards (14,200 m). The ships also came with a strong secondary armament of sixteen BL 6-inch Mk VII guns which were arranged double stacked in castmates amidship. The 8 central guns could only be used in calm weather and could be retracted into the ship during storms. These guns had a maximum range of approximately 12,200 yards (11,200 m) with their 100-pound (45.4 kg) shells. In addition to these larger guns, the Drake class also came with a dozen quick-firing (QF) 12-pounder 12 cwt guns which were fitted for defence against possible torpedo boat attacks, along with three 3-pounder Hotchkiss guns and two submerged 17.7-inch (450 mm) torpedo tubes, giving the ships of this class a versatile armament.

The class had a waterline armoured belt was a maximum thickness of 6 inches (152 mm), closed off by 5-inch (127 mm) transverse bulkheads. The armour for the gun turrets and their barbettes were also 6 inches thick, with the side castmates being 5 inches thick, as they were moulded into the existing armour belt. The protective deck armour varied across the ship with a thickness of 1–2.5 inches (25–64 mm) being the standard, with the conning tower protected by 12 inches (305 mm) of armour.

Ship service history:

HMS Leviathan was named for the Biblical sea monster, and was the third ship in Royal Navy service to share this name. She was laid down by John Brown and Company at their shipyard in Clydebank on 30 November 1899 and would be launched on the 3rd of July 1901 by Lady Inverclyde, wife of George Burns, the 2nd baron Inverclyde, then the chairman of the Cunard Steamship Company, though his final ambition for the construction of the Lusitania is a story for another time. After being launched the ship sailed for Portsmouth for armament and engine tests in March of 1902, which would continue until completion on the 16th of June 1903. Upon completion HMS Leviathan was initially assigned to the China Station, where she would serve until being transferred to the Mediterranean fleet in 1905. She would then be assigned to the 5th Cruiser squadron after a refit when she returned to the UK at the end of 1906. She would then go on to be placed in reserve in 1908, only to be recommissioned in 1909 for service in the 4th Cruiser squadron, though this would not last long, with the ship again being placed in reserve in 1913. This relegation to reserve was common for some of the ageing armoured cruisers in the British fleet, as the advancement of technology had left a lot of ships outdated within a year or two of being launched, which in combination with the larger orders of ships in the Monmouth and Devonshire-class cruisers meant that during peacetime these smaller ships could be relegated to reserve to minimise wear and tear as the expense of their operation was not necessary for the British empire to maintain maritime dominance.

This would change with the outbreak of the First World War, when reactivated HMS Leviathan on the 15th of July 1914, and she was recommissioned and immediately assigned to the 6th Cruiser Squadron. In this role, she would participate in the fleet review held on the 18–20 July at Spithead. HMS Leviathan was tasked with hunting down German commerce raiders, and was sent to the Azores in early August in response to a false report of German ships operating there. Upon not finding the enemy, she would then be sent to ST Helena to rendezvous with a group convoy from South Africa. During the return voyage, she encountered engine problems and put in at Gibraltar for repairs on the 17th of September.

She was soon repaired and on the 11th of October, she escorted a convoy from Gibraltar to Milford Haven. On the 2nd of December, she was selected as the flagship for Rear Admiral Archibald Moore, commander of the 1st Cruiser Squadron whilst she was at Cromarty Firth, but this would not last long with Moore changing his flagship to the Battlecruiser New Zealand on the 17th of January 1915. Due to this HMS Leviathan returned to the 6th Cruiser squadron, and continued her normal patrols. During one such patrol on the 9th of March she came under unsuccessful attack by the German U-boat U-12 whilst en route to Rosyth to pick up Vice Admiral George Patey, who would be the new Commander-in-Chief for the North America and West Indies Station.

After picking up the Admiral, the ship sailed to Bermuda on the 26th of March, after which stopping over at Halifax, where Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, Governor General of Canada, came aboard and inspected the ship’s crew on 16 June. By August though Patey would transfer his flag to her sister ship HMS Drake, whilst both ships were still moored in Halifax. Vice Admiral Montague Browning would relieved Patey and assume command of the vessel on the 25th of August at Greenock Scotland and he would maintain the position until the 8th of January 1918, when he was relieved. In march of that same year HMS Leviathan began escorting convoys from Halifax to New York, to Clye and Liverpool, before switching to a convoy from New York to Devonport. I was upon mooring in devon that Mutiny would strike, as the Captain was displeased with how the coal had been loaded, along with a bit of tardiness from the crew resulting in him denying shore leave, resulting in understandable discontent from the crew. A band of around 150 stokers proceeded to stage a mutiny and pushed their way off the dock, though notably, they did not damage the ship, bar a piano they liberated and removed from the vessel. Due to the war at the time, this was mostly covered up, but for the full details of those curious, a link can be found in the sources section.

After this one last eventful highlight, Leviathan was quietly put into reserve in early 1919 like most of the aging armoured cruiser fleet, and would soon be sold for scrap on the 3rd of March 1920, to Hughes Bolckow of Blyth, Northumberland, where she was broken up that same year.

Ship specification:


Taken from Jane’s Fighting Ships 1914

Additional historical photos: