HMS Commonwealth (1903)

HMS Commonwealth in 1907–1908
United Kingdom
Name: HMS Commonwealth
Namesake: The Commonwealth of Australia
Ordered: 1903 naval programme
Builder: Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, Govan
Cost: £1,471,527[1]
Laid down: 17 June 1902
Launched: 13 May 1903
Completed: March 1905
Commissioned: 9 May 1905
Decommissioned: February 1921
Nickname(s): The King Edward VII-class battleships were known as "The Wobbly Eight"
Fate: Sold for scrapping 18 November 1921
Notes: Served as seagoing gunnery training ship 1918–1921
General characteristics
Class and type: King Edward VII-class pre-dreadnought battleship
  • Standard 15,630 tons,
  • Full draft 17,000 tons (As built)
Length: 453 ft 8 in (138.28 m)
Beam: 78 ft (24 m)
Draught: 25 ft 6 in (7.77 m)
Installed power: 18,000 ihp
Propulsion: 16 coal-fired (with oil sprayers) Babcock & Wilcox water-tube boilers, two 4-cylinder vertical compound expansion steam engines, two screws
Speed: 18.5 knots (34.3 km/h)
Range: 2,000 nautical miles (3,704 km) at 18.5 knots (34 km/h); 5,270 nautical miles (9,760 km) at 10 knots (18.5 km/h)
Complement: 777
  • Belt amidships: 9 inches tapering to 8 inches (203 mm)
  • Bulkheads: 12 inches (305 mm) to 8 inches (203 mm)
  • Barbettes: 12 inches (356 mm)
  • Main turrets (gunhouses): 12 inches (356 mm) to 8 inches (203 mm)
  • 9.2 inch (234 mm) turrets: 9 inches (229 mm) to 5 inches (127 mm)
  • 6 inch (152 mm) battery: 7 inches (178 mm)
  • Conning tower: 12 inches (305 mm)
  • Armoured deck: 2.5 inches (63.5 mm) to 1 inch (25.4 mm)
Notes: Provided with many advanced fittings during her 1917–1918 reconstruction, bringing her in line with modern dreadnought battleship standards

HMS Commonwealth, was a King Edward VII-class battleship of the British Royal Navy. Like all ships of the class (apart from HMS King Edward VII) she was named after an important part of the British Empire, namely the Commonwealth of Australia. After commissioning in 1905, she served with the Atlantic Fleet until she was involved in a collision with HMS Albemarle in early 1907. While being repaired, she was transferred into what would become known as the Home Fleet. Following a reorganisation of the fleet in 1912, she, along with her King Edward VII-class sister ships formed the 3rd Battle Squadron, which served in the Mediterranean.

When World War I broke out, the 3rd Battle Squadron was assigned to the Grand Fleet, with Commonwealth conducting operations around Scotland and the North Sea as part of the Northern Patrol. In 1916, the squadron was detached to the Nore Command. In 1917, the Commonwealth was updated, the only ship of her class to receive technology equivalent to that of the dreadnoughts. She ended the war as a gunnery training ship, continuing in this role until February 1921, at which time she was decommissioned and disposed of.

Technical characteristics

HMS Commonwealth was built at Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company at Govan. She was laid down on 17 June 1902, launched on 13 May 1903, and completed in March 1905.

Although Commonwealth and her seven sister ships of the King Edward VII class were a direct descendant of the Majestic class, they were also the first class to make a significant departure from the Majestic design, displacing about 1,000 tons more and mounting for the first time an intermediate battery of four 9.2-inch (234-mm) guns in addition to the standard outfit of 6-inch (152-mm) guns. The 9.2-inch was a quick-firing gun like the 6-inch, and its heavier shell made it a formidable weapon by the standards of the day when the Commonwealth and her sisters were designed; it was adopted out of concerns that British battleships were undergunned for their displacement and were becoming outgunned by foreign battleships that had begun to mount 8-inch (203-mm) intermediate batteries. The four 9.2-inch were mounted in single turrets abreast the foremast and mainmast, and Commonwealth thus could bring two of them to bear on either broadside. Even then, Commonwealth and her sisters were criticised for not having, a uniform secondary battery of 9.2-inch guns, something considered but rejected because of the length of time it would have taken to design the ships with such a radical revision of the secondary armament layout. In the end, it proved impossible to distinguish 12-inch and 9.2-inch shell splashes from one another, making fire control impractical for ships mounting both calibres, although Commonwealth had fire-control platforms on her fore- and mainmasts rather than the fighting tops of earlier classes.[2]

Mounting of the 6-inch guns in casemates was abandoned in Commonwealth and her sister ships, the 6-inch instead being placed in a central battery amidships protected by 7-inch (178-mm) armoured walls. Otherwise, Commonwealth's armour was much as in the London class battleships, although there were various differences in detail from the Londons.[2]

Commonwealth and her sisters were the first British battleships with balanced rudders since the 1870s and were very maneuverable, with a tactical diameter of 340 yards (311 m) at 15 knots (27.75 km/h). However, they were difficult to keep on a straight course, and this characteristic led to them being nicknamed "the Wobbly Eight" during their 1914–1916 service in the Grand Fleet. They had a slightly faster roll than previous British battleship classes, but were good gun platforms, although very wet in bad weather.[2]

Primarily powered by coal, Commonwealth had oil sprayers installed during her construction, as did all of her sisters except HMS New Zealand, the first time this had been done in British battleships. These allowed steam pressure to be rapidly increased, improving Commonwealth's acceleration. The eight ships between them were given four different boiler installations for comparative purposes; Commonwealth's outfit of 16 Babcock & Wilcox boilers allowed her to exceed her designed speed on trials,[2] during which she exceeded 19.5 knots (36 km/h).[3]

Commonwealth was a powerful ship when she was designed, and completely fulfilled the goals set for her at that time. However, she was unlucky in that the years of her design and construction were ones of revolutionary advancement in naval guns, fire control, armor, and propulsion. She joined the fleet in mid-1905, but quickly was made obsolete by the commissioning of the revolutionary battleship HMS Dreadnought at the end of 1906 and the large numbers of the new dreadnought battleships that commissioned in succeeding years. By 1914, Commonwealth and her King Edward VII-class sisters were, like all predreadnoughts, so outclassed that they spent much of their 1914–1916 Grand Fleet service steaming at the heads of divisions of the far more valuable dreadnoughts, protecting the dreadnoughts from naval mines by being the first battleships to either sight or strike them.[4]

Commonwealth, however, was reconstructed in 1918 with all the trappings (such as updated fire control systems) of modern dreadnought battleships, so as to provide an adequate gunnery training platform. She served in this capacity until 1921, leaving service as the last seagoing British predreadnought still armed with her guns and the second-to-last British predreadnought in active service (outlasted only by HMS Agamemnon, which served as a disarmed seagoing radio-controlled target ship until 1926).

Operational history

Pre-World War I

Upon completion, HMS Commonwealth was delivered to Portsmouth Dockyard on 14 March 1905, where she was placed in reserve. She went into full commission on 9 May 1905 at Devonport Dockyard for service in the Atlantic Fleet. She collided with battleship HMS Albemarle near Lagos on 11 February 1907, sustaining hull and bulkhead damage. She began repairs at Devonport Dockyard later that month.[5]

HMS Commonwealth in heavy seas, 1912

While under repair, Commonwealth transferred to the Channel Fleet in March 1907, recommissioning for actual service with that fleet on 28 May 1907 after completion of her repairs.[5] She suffered another mishap in August 1907 when she ran aground.[6] Under a fleet reorganization on 24 March 1909, the Channel Fleet became the 2nd Division, Home Fleet, and Commonwealth became a Home Fleet unit in that division. She underwent a refit at Devonport from October 1910 to June 1911.[5]

Under a fleet reorganization in May 1912, Commonwealth and all seven of her sisters of the King Edward VII class (Africa, Britannia, Dominion, Hibernia, Hindustan, King Edward VII, and Zealandia) were assigned to form the 3rd Battle Squadron, assigned to the Home Fleet. The squadron was detached to the Mediterranean in November 1912 because of the First Balkan War (October 1912 – May 1913); it arrived at Malta on 27 November 1912 and subsequently participated in a blockade by an international force of Montenegro and an occupation of Scutari. The squadron returned to the United Kingdom in 1913 and rejoined the Home Fleet on 27 June 1913[5]

World War I

Upon the outbreak of World War I, the 3rd Battle Squadron was assigned to the Grand Fleet. It was used to supplement the Grand Fleet's cruisers on the Northern Patrol. On 2 November 1914, the squadron was detached to reinforce the Channel Fleet and was rebased at Portland. It returned to the Grand Fleet on 13 November 1914.[5]

Commonwealth served in the Grand Fleet until April 1916.[5] She underwent a refit from December 1914 to February 1915.[6] As of 1 July 1915, she was 2nd flagship of the 3rd Battle Squadron for the rest of the year. During sweeps by the fleet, she and her sister ships often steamed at the heads of divisions of the far more valuable dreadnoughts, where they could protect the dreadnoughts by watching for mines or by being the first to strike them.[4]

On 29 April 1916, the 3rd Battle Squadron was rebased at Sheerness, and on 3 May 1916 it was separated from the Grand Fleet, being transferred to the Nore Command. Commonwealth remained there with the squadron until August 1917.[5]

Gunnery training ship

Commonwealth left the 3rd Battle Squadron in August 1917 and paid off to undergo an extensive refit at Portsmouth Dockyard, during which she became the only King Edward VII-class ship fitted with updated features common among dreadnoughts, including torpedo bulges, a tripod foremast, and a director and fire control system; she also had her 6-inch (152-mm) gun batteries removed and four 6-inch (152-mm) guns installed one deck higher.[6] When her refit was completed in April 1918, she was in effect the most advanced predreadnought battleship in the world. She recommissioned on 16 April 1918 for service on the Northern Patrol, then transferred to the Grand Fleet on 21 August 1918, where she made full use of her updated equipment in service as a seagoing gunnery training ship based at Invergordon.[5] The last seagoing British predreadnought still armed with her guns, she continued in this service after World War I ended, training crews in the use of all weapons used on the modern dreadnought battleships.


After three years of this service as a training ship, Commonwealth paid off in February 1921. She was placed on the disposal list at Portsmouth Dockyard in April 1921 and was sold to Slough Trading Company for scrapping on 18 November 1921. She then was resold to German scrappers and towed to Germany to be broken up.[5]


  1. Burt, p. 233
  2. 1 2 3 4 Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships, 1860–1905, p. 38
  3. Burt, p. 241
  4. 1 2 Burt, p. 235
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Burt, p. 255
  6. 1 2 3 Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships, 1906–1921, p. 9


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