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HMS Thunderer (1872)

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TypeTurret ship   
Launched25 March 1872
Builders measure4407 tons
Displacement9330 tons
Ships book
Snippets concerning this vessels career
1 May 1877
- 1 October 1878
Commanded (from commissioning at Portsmouth) by Captain John Crawford Wilson
1 October 1878Commanded by Captain Alfred John Chatfield, Mediterranean
- 1881
Commanded by Captain Philip Howard Colomb, Mediterranean
Extracts from the Times newspaper
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.

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