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HMS Devastation (1871)

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NameDevastationExplanation
TypeTurret ship   
Launched12 July 1871
HullIron
PropulsionScrew
Builders measure4406 tons
Displacement9387 tons
Guns4
Fate1908
Class 
Ships book
Note 
Snippets concerning this vessels career
DateEvent
1872
- 1873
Commanded by Captain William Nathan Wrighte Hewett
3 October 1873
- 10 May 1877
Commanded by Captain Frederick William Richards, Channel squadron, then Mediterranean
11 May 1877
- November 1878
Commanded by Captain Walter James Hunt-Grubbe, Mediterranean
30 April 1885
- 26 June 1885
Commanded by Captain Lord Walter Talbot Kerr
Extracts from the Times newspaper
DateExtract
Th 8 April 1869The Navy Estimates have now been all voted, and the moral of the whole discussion appears to be that in shipbuilding, as in every other matter, there is no such thing as finality. It seems but a few days — it is less than twenty years — since we heard of the launch of the French steamship NapoléonExternal link. That politic innovation of our powerful neighbour sealed the death-warrant of the sailing man-of-war. It seems but yesterday — it is just eleven years — since we heard that the French were constructing four ironclad frigates. From that day to this it has been one breathless struggle among our naval architects to adapt to the conditions of modern warfare the ancient type of broadside cruiser. The American War introduced to the seas a still greater novelty. Just as the necessity of carrying plates of iron over the side of a fighting ship, in order to exclude the terrible projectiles of modern science, forced us to banish from the service the beautiful old three-decker with her 120 guns, so, again, the increasing power of rifled and unrifled artillery moved our ingenious brethren beyond the Atlantic to lower still further — even to the water's edge — the sides of their armoured vessels. It was a wrench to the minds of sailors to accept as inevitable the new motive power and wall of defence which steam and armour-plating have supplied to our men-of-war. But how much greater is the dislocation of old ideas and associations if we are to banish from the line-of-battle ship masts and sails and fixed portholes altogether, reducing to a minimum the ship's side which has to be armoured, and placing amidships a few big guns in revolving turrets, which will sweep round the compass in search of the enemy, and never expose their portholes to the fire of his breech-loading small arms except when the revolving gun is ready to fire too! Is this the last result of modern science? Is this the conclusion to which experiment has driven us? If so it be, away with sentiment and idle lamentation. As wisely deplore, with the popinjay lord who moved the wrath of Hotspur [in Shakespeare's 'Henry IV Part 1'], the introduction of "villainous saltpetre" as grieve over the final departure from the Naval Service of the poetry of form and all the giddy pleasure of the eyes. "The old order changeth, yielding place to new." There is no finality in war. We are about to build such vessels as the British Navy has never seen. The House of Commons has voted the money, in spite of Mr. Corry's opposition, by a majority of three to one, and nothing remains for our constructors but to hurry the experiment to a conclusion.
Let no man think that, in any arguments or comments of ours which may have contributed to this result, we have been unjust to our naval architects. We know well the difficulties with which they have contended, and we rejoice to acknowledge that in several instances, and notably in Her Majesty’s ships Achilles, Minotaur, Bellerophon, and Hercules, they have attained a surprising amount of success. No one deplores more than we can do the necessity, if it be a necessity, that the most powerful class of our men-of-war should be forced to rely for motive power on steam alone. Obviously it will add largely to the cost of their maintenance in commission, and set limits to the services to which they can be applied. But, if the power of modern artillery is so far increased that the armour carried by these formidable and costly vessels will not exclude the shells which in the day of trial would certainly destroy their crews and burn or sink their hulls; if the power of the guns is still on the increase, and new metals and forms of construction may possibly add to their deadly effect, at the same time that it is impossible, without increasing the size of broadside ships beyond all reasonable proportions, to clothe them with iron-plating of sufficient defensive power, — there is but one conclusion. We must choose another type to carry the necessary armour. We must give to these warlike engines, the enormous cost of which, even in a wealthy Empire, must set some bounds to their number, defensive properties corresponding in some degree to their offensive force. We cannot trust the fortunes of England to ships which an hour's fighting may destroy, if there is a stronger type of fighting vessel, and other nations are likely to possess it.
All shipbuilding is a compromise. In merchantmen speed must be sacrificed to stowage, or stowage sacrificed to speed. If time be an object, it is gained by the addition of steam power, but the weight of the engine and its fuel is so much taken away from the cargo the ship can carry. In a man-of-war the problem is more complicated, in proportion as steadiness of platform for the firing of rifled cannon, and strength of armour as a protection to the sides, become necessary elements in the construction. The form which is the best adapted for speed is that which, by its length, needs the greatest weight of armour; and if, with Mr. Reed, we deliberately choose the slower form of hull, the balance must be redressed by the employment of more powerful engines, which weigh several hundred tons more, and so detract from the weight of coal and armour which the ship can carry. Again, the carrying of armour on the side of the ship aggravates largely her rolling propensities, and this at the very time when we wish, above all things, to secure a higher measure of steadiness than sufficed in the days of Nelson. Guns of precision need a steady platform for precise firing; the same guns necessitate that armour-plating which makes the broadside ship more unsteady than before. It is in the vortex of these conflicting elements that our naval constructors have whirled around. The wonder is, not that they have done so little, but that they have succeeded in doing so much. They have attempted the impossible. A steady broadside ship of moderate dimensions, carrying powerful guns well out of water, and clad in armour which shells from similar guns will not be able to pierce, with a high rate of speed and coal enough for an ocean passage, is an impossibility; and the sooner this truth is recognized the better it will be.
Mr. Childers is acting boldly and wisely in attempting the solution of a difficult problem. Can we, by a radical change in the form of hull, secure in a large degree what hitherto our ironclads have failed to attain? He would be a bold man who would predict with assured confidence the success of the experiment. But there is abundant evidence to justify the trial, and much ground for hope of its ultimate success. The only nations which have tried the experiment at all before us are the United States and Russia, and both of them believe in its feasibility. The Americans, since the conclusion of their great war, have reduced their naval expenditure to such a point that they can indulge no longer in experimental shipbuilding. With an annual outlay of 3,500,000l. sterling for the entire Naval Service, the construction of ironclads and the maintenance of foreign squadrons are together incompatible. They are leaving to European Powers the complete solution of the difficulty; but during the continuance of the war they applied themselves to it with their characteristic energy and accessibility to new ideas. They laid down at least ten distinct classes of turret-vessels with low freeboard — that is, with sides rising above the waterline not more than one or two feet — ranging in size from the SanduskyExternal link class, of 450 tons, to the DictatorExternal link, of 3,250 tons. The larger craft were intended for ocean service, but have never been tried; we believe they are still unfinished. The smaller were intended for coast service only, but two of these, the MonadnockExternal link and MiantonomohExternal link, have respectively rounded Cape Horn and crossed the Atlantic, and the general opinion of American seamen who have tried them is strongly in their favour. But it must always be remembered that these ships were not intended for ocean service. Their tonnage was not, as Mr. Childers is reported to have said, 3,300 tons, but 1,564 tons. They are far smaller than any seagoing ironclad we have afloat. The Pallas of our Navy is 2,372 tons, and the Penelope 2,998 tons, and these are the smallest of our broadside ironclads with any pretensions to cruise at sea. Our sailors have yet to learn the buoyant and steady properties of the low-lying vessel which carries her guns on a platform amidships. The Russians and Americans, so far as they have tried the experiment, assure us that much has yet to be learnt, while that which has been learnt surpasses all expectation. It would be anticipated that the sea would wash over a platform lying so low. It is found, on the contrary, that though the wave often laps over the side, the ship immediately rises to it, and the water rarely reaches the turret. During the attack on Fort Sumter in the American War, while the transports from stress of weather had often to run for safety, the Monitors lay like ducks upon the water, dry and seaworthy, and were never disabled from firing their guns. The ships we are about to construct [Devastation, Thunderer] are not to lie so low. They are to be of 4,400 tons, and to have a freeboard of four and a half feet. They are to carry two turrets, each covered with 14-inch armour, and their sides will be covered with 12-inch armour. Their guns will be the most powerful afloat, and they will have no masts or rigging to interfere with their fire. Our strongest broadside ships, the Hercules and the Bellerophon, exhaust their coal at full speed in less than three days. The new ships are designed to steam at full speed for ten days, so that they may lie in port, awaiting, if so it be, the declaration of war, and steam at a moment's notice in any weather direct to their destination. The crew of the new ships will be so small that we shall save in men if we spend in coal, and there will be an upper deck between if not above the turrets, on which the crew will move secure and dry. For defensive and offensive power such ships must be unrivalled; we trust that time will prove their performance on the ocean, in steadiness and capability for lengthened voyages, to be all or more than their projectors anticipate.
Ma 8 August 1870The Reports of Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Matthew Charles Symonds upon the Trials of Her Majesty’s ships Monarch and Captain, to which so many people have been looking forward with interest, have at length been published, and will well repay perusal. No such terse and practical Reports, so far as we can remember, have for a long time been laid before Parliament. Admiral Symonds points out drawbacks in either vessel, but is quick to recognize the superiority of both to all the broadsides under his command. Both ships, he says, are "very easy in a seaway, and can use their guns in any sea in which an action is likely to be fought." Instructed to watch carefully "the effect of a sea combined with force of double reefed topsail breeze on the ship with low freeboard, whether there would be a liability of the height of the wave interfering with the efficiency of the fire of the 12-inch guns of the Captain," he reports that "the ship of low freeboard has shown no failing on this point; . . . they hit a target (a small cask and flag) distant 1,000 yards to windward (at the third shot); and in a treble-reefed topsail breeze and sea, shot were dropped 1,000 yards to windward, the sea not interfering in any way." After a heavy gale on the night of the 29th of May "both ships were very steady;" on the 2d of June, in a long heavy swell from N.W., when the greatest rolling of the Warrior was 10 degrees, the greatest rolling of the Monarch was five, and of the Captain less than four degrees. On the 25th of May, when "the Minotaur's main deck was wet throughout by the sea entering the weather ports, and a great spray wet the poop" of the flagship, the turrets of the Captain were not in any way inconvenienced. Her hurricane deck was dry, although the sea washed freely over her main deck, "but in a far less degree than I anticipated." The Admiral recommends the Monarch to be altered by the removal of the forecastle, the bow guns, and their protecting ironplated bulkhead — on which, by the by, Mr. Reed, in his letter published by us to-day, particularly plumes himself — and then "the Monarch would have no equal among present ships of war;" and his verdict on the other vessel, as she now floats, without alteration, is, — "The Captain is a most formidable ship, and could, I believe, by her superior armament, destroy all the broadside ships of this squadron in detail." This sentence of the Admiral, who has never been known as a partisan of turret-ships, — whatever Mr. Reed may now think fit to assert in this respect, completely confirms the opinion of our Special Correspondent, who last year accompanied the combined squadrons under the Admiralty flag and startled the public mind by writing, — "There can be no manner of doubt that had the Monarch been an enemy, with her turret and four 25-ton guns in working order, she could have steamed down on the fleet from her windward position, and have sunk fully one-half of the ships before her own fire could have been silenced by her being sunk or blown up in turn.”
Such is the pith and substance of the Reports which have just been published. The reflections to which they give rise are very mixed, but we are sure the public, who are often puzzled by the disputes of rival inventors, but always ready to do justice to perseverance and successful ingenuity, will be prompt to recognize the merits of Captain Cowper Coles, whose efforts have at length been crowned with such indisputable success. In October, 1861, when we were commencing our broadside ironclad fleet, Captain Coles wrote to the Admiralty as follows: — "I will undertake to prove that on my principle a vessel shall be built nearly 100 feet shorter than the Warrior, and in all respects equal to her, with one exception — that I will guarantee to disable and capture her in an hour. She shall draw four feet less water, require only half her crew, and cost the country for building at least 100,000l. less." In season and out of season he has ever since maintained the same pretensions. In 1865 he obtained an Admiralty Committee to consider his challenge, and it was in consequence of the Report of that Committee that it was determined to build the Monarch. Captain Coles protested against the lofty freeboard which the Admiralty Constructors designed for her. He declared that it was of the essence of his invention that by concentrating the armament in turrets amidships a high freeboard might be dispensed with, to the great advantage of the ship, both offensively and defensively. He obtained at the close of 1866 permission to design a ship after his own idea, in conjunction with Messrs. Laird, of Birkenhead, and the Captain is the offspring of their united ingenuity. Every one at Whitehall declared that a ship with so low a freeboard would be swamped by the sea and unable to use her guns. The Captain was tried under all the disadvantages of a raw crew within a fortnight after she was commissioned, was tested by a most experienced Admiral in rougher weather than most actions have been fought in, and the result is given in the Reports from which we have quoted above. Seldom has it been given to an inventor to reap in his lifetime so gratifying and complete a success. The two ships which carry off the palm in our Navy are the two which represent the invention of Captain Coles; and it is easy to gather from the Reports of Admiral Symonds which of them, as he thinks, embodies the preferable type. There have been two eminent naval designers in Europe during the last ten years — M. Dupuy de Lôme, the advocate of broadsides, an eminent French engineer but no sailor, and Captain Coles, of our own Navy, the advocate of a rival system.
The Controller of our Navy proclaimed himself in 1865 a follower of the French designer. and he and Mr. Reed, in more than official antagonism, have for years opposed Captain Coles with an animus which is signally shown in the letter which we publish to-day. If it were wise or patriotic, we could point out hundreds of weak points in all the ships which Mr. Reed, with unlimited scope and skilled assistance, has added to the British Navy. We prefer to listen to the Admirals who command our squadrons — whether "sailing Admirals" or not, as Mr. Reed politely terms them — and rejoice that at length Mr. Reed, who is no sailor, is prohibited, as he tells us, from publishing controversial Minutes in defence of his own ships against the strictures of the recognized professional judges. He trumps up the old story that a shot fired with depression might stop the revolution of the turret. The experiment was tried with the guns of the Bellerophon at short range against the turrets of the Royal Sovereign, and the fear was shown to be groundless. Moreover, in action, when ships are moving and rolling from one side to another, it is no such safe or easy matter, as any artillerist will tell us, to fire a large gun with anything like the requisite depression. Mr. Reed exhibits in his letter all the disappointment of defeat. It is, indeed, no very pleasing reflection at the present moment that of the 40 ironclads which Mr. Childers lately mentioned only four are of the English type, which is now confessed to be the stronger and the better.
There is one point of great importance upon which the Admiral in command expresses himself with some doubt and hesitation. Are not the advantages of masts and sails too dearly purchased by the impediments they offer to an all-round fire from the turrets, and by the risks of accident or burning which attach to them in action? He admits that with the Captain as she is "he has never seen such a range of training before, and that the perfect clearance of her 600-pounder guns for action from a training of 60 degrees forward to 60 degrees aft is very satisfactory, particularly when compared with the 30 degrees of the 9-inch 250-pounder guns of the broadside ships." She has since extended her range of firing from 82 degrees forward to 80 degrees aft; but even so she does not meet the ideal of the Admiral, who is anxious to be able to fire right ahead with the turret guns, seeing that "attack in future actions will generally be end-on right ahead, the exposure of broadside or quarter to ramming being suicidal." The class of ships introduced by Mr. Childers, of the Devastation and Fury [renamed Dreadnought prior to launch] type, carrying on a low freeboard without masts or sails the heaviest ordnance invented, will undoubtedly for heavy fighting in line of battle have advantages to which no sea-going cruiser like the Captain or Monarch can pretend. But the British Navy will always require sea-going cruisers, and for that purpose it seems to be now admitted that both the Monarch and the Captain are far preferable to the Hercules or the Sultan. To us it appears that the Captain, which in all other respects is the equal of the Monarch, and which carries more and thicker armour, and can be cleared for action in five minutes, while the Monarch takes an hour and a half, is a ship unequalled up to the present date for the purposes of war by anything afloat, and well deserves to be repeated, with such improvements as can be suggested by the ingenuity of Captain Coles.
Fr 9 November 1888The Bacchante, unarmoured cruiser, which has been relieved by the Boadicea on the East India Station, has been paid out of commission at Portsmouth into the second division of the reserve. Under the new regulations the ship was restored by her own crew to nearly the same state as she was in before being dismantled. The men have been granted leave until the 27th prox. It is probable that the Bacchante will take the place of the Devastation at Queensferry, while the latter is having new engines placed on board.
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