HMS Majestic - History

The Victorian Era was the peak of the British Empire, a time where Britannia truly ruled the waves. British dominance was made possible through the strength of the Royal Navy and its battleships. This was also a time when navies switched from sail to steam. Many rather odd warship designs appeared during this transitional period, but by the late Victorian era warship design had settled on the basic pattern established by the Royal Sovereign and Majestic classes of the Royal Navy: four large guns in two twin turrets or barbettes, secondary armaments in casemates along the sides. In the later years of the Pax Britannica these ships served as majestic symbols of a nation's might and imperial ambitions, and none were more majestic than the Royal Navy's Majestic-class battleships, the pride of Queen Victoria's navy.

HMS Majestic was the lead ship of the 9-ship Majestic-class of pre-dreadnought battleships. The Majestic class ships were designed around 1891-1892 as an improved Royal Sovereign with the then-new 12-inch guns and Harvey armor. These ships were widely admired around the world and set the standard for pre-dreadnought battleship construction for the next decade; the next twenty British battleships all followed similar designs and it influenced foreign designs like the Japanese Mikasa.

This model depicts HMS Majestic herself or one of her close sisters. The last three ships of the class (Caesar, Hannibal, and Illustrious) are markedly different in having the forward flying bridge mounted over the forward conning tower instead of supported on the foremast. The color scheme follows standard Victorian livery in the 1890s: black hull, red below the waterline, white superstructure, buff funnels and masts. This handsome color scheme was mandated by Queen Victoria herself and was widely copied (the ocean liner Titanic twenty years later still utilized this color scheme). This color scheme would be replaced by the standard "battleship grey" over 1903-1904 as the winds of war started blowing as the Kaiser began building his High Seas Fleet.

Majestic-class 1st class battleships

The particulars of the ship are as follows:

Displacement
145600-14890 tons (15730-16060 full load)
Length
421 overall, 399 waterline, 390 between perpendiculars
Beam
75ft
Draught
27.5ft
Propulsion
triple-expansion steam, 2 screws, 17kts
Crew
670

Armaments:

  • 4 12-inch (2 twin turrets)
  • 12 6-inch (12 single)
  • 16 12pdr
  • 12 3pdr
  • 2 QF
  • 2 MG
  • 5 18-inch torpedo tubes (1 above, 4 underwater)

Armor (all Harvey armor):

  • 9-inch side belt
  • 3-inch deck
  • 10-inch barbettes
  • 5-inch secondary turrets

HMS Majestic History

HMS Majestic was laid down at Portsmouth on February 5, 1894, and launched on January 31, 1895. She joined the Channel Fleet as fleet flagship on December 12, 1895. She was present at Queen Victoria's Jubilee Fleet Review in 1897 and for King Edward's Coronation Fleet Review in 1902.

She underwent a refit from February to July of 1904. In 1905, the fleet was reorganized, with the Channel Fleet becoming the Atlantic Fleet. She served there until October 1, 1906, when she was paid off and put in reserve.

Majestic would be reactivated on February 26, 1907 as the flagship of the Nore Division of the Home Fleet and would serve as such until January 1908. On July 14, 1912, she collided with HMS Victorious while on manouevers but suffered no serious damage.

With the outbreak of World War I, she would serve assorted duties as guardship or escort and paticipate in the occasional bombardment. As all pre-dreadnoughts were obsolete at this point, the more glamorous duties would be filled by the Royal Navy's battlecruisers and dreadnoughts. In 1915 she and numerous other older battleships would be rounded up for the assault on the Dardanelles.

The Dardanelles Campaign was an Allied attempt to open a sea route to Russia. At the outbreak of the war, the Germans gifted the battlecruiser Goeben and the light cruiser Breslau (complete with German crews) to the Ottoman Empire when Britain siezed Ottoman ships under construction in British shipyards. This left the Ottoman Empire in control of the Black Sea with posession of the most powerful ships in the region.

In October of 1914 the Ottomans closed the Dardanelles to Allied shipping, preventing the Allies from supplying Russia via Sevastopol. The Turkish fleet commenced hostilities against Russian assets, leading the Russians to request British aid by January of 1915.

Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, concocted a plan for using spare older battleships and minesweepers to force open the Dardanelles. A force was assembled consisting of 31 battleships, 3 battlecruisers, 24 cruisers, and assorted other ships, and sailed for the Dardanelles.

The plan was to use the battleships to destroy Turkish forts lining the straits, with the minesweepers clearing out mines ahead of the fleet. Unfortunately things did not go according to plan and the minesweepers, operating under fire from Turkish forts, were not able to adequately clear the inner line of mines at the Narrows (the narrowest part of the strait). Attempts to force through the Narrows resulted in the loss of 3 battleships to mines on March 18, 1915, with another four severely damaged (Majestic was mostly unharmed). The Royal Navy had suffered on that day its most disastrous losses in over a century and it was concluded that the Dardanelles would have to be taken by land, leading to the Gallipoli campaign, a bloody 10-month battle of attrition with 140,000 Allied and 250,000 Turkish casualties.

Majestic would remain on patrol in the Gallipoli area until May 27, when she took two torpedo hits from the German submarine U-21. Majestic capsized and sank in six minutes with the loss of 40 lives. She hit the bottom mast-first and her keel remained above the surface until the end of 1915, when a storm caused the wreck to settle.