HMS Captain (1869)

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Painting of the Captain by William Frederick Mitchell

The HMS Captain was an ironclad ( tower ship ) of the Royal Navy and the seventh ship in the British fleet to bear this name. The ship was on 30 January 1867 the shipyard of Laird, Son & Co. in Birkenhead on down Kiel and ran on 27 March 1869 by stack . On April 30, 1870, the HMS Captain was put into service. She sank on her maiden voyage .


Already during the Crimean War (1853-1856) makeshift armored ships and floating platforms armed with a few heavy cannons had proven themselves against the Russian defensive positions, for example during the bombardment of Fort Kinburn on October 17, 1855, with the three newly built and armored French battery ships Lave , Tonnante and Devastation . Despite strong Russian defensive fire - the tonnante alone received 65 hits from Russian 15 cm guns - the French were able to crush the bulwarks.

The British Admiralty began to show a strong interest in the new ironclad ships in the years that followed. After the British inventor and naval officer Cowper Phipps Coles (1819-1870) had submitted the proposal to construct an armored ship with a low freeboard and rotating turrets during a lecture at the Royal United Service Institute on June 29, 1860, interest also grew the installation of the cannons in turrets: Instead of a battery deck with numerous guns set up broadly, the new ironclad ships should only have a few heavy guns, which were set up in one or more rotating turrets.

However, this revolutionary proposal brought with it some problems: On the one hand, the rigging of the ships with its numerous supports and struts restricted the angle of attack of the guns (because of the still widespread susceptibility to failure and the rather low efficiency of the ship's engines, the Admiralty was not inclined to abandon the rigging ), and on the other hand, the expected high weight of the towers caused concern, as it threatened to affect the stability of the ship. In order to achieve at least a halfway adequate sweep angle for the heavy artillery, it was almost imperative to set up the towers on the upper deck, which in turn increased the problems with the ship's stability .

First projects: Prince Albert and Royal Sovereign

When it became known that several smaller navies in Europe, such as the Danish and Prussian, were pursuing their own tower ship projects, the political pressure on the Admiralty also increased. After support for Coles' ideas came from the industry, the Royal Navy finally approved the construction of such tower ships. After a coastal armored ship equipped with turrets and around 3,700 ts in size ( Prince Albert ) had been commissioned in 1862 , the Admiralty - to defend the interests of the British empire also relied on deep-sea armored ships - under Coles' direction between 1862 and 1864 convert the ship of the line Royal Sovereign, which began in 1849, into a tower ship.

It was put into service in the summer of 1864, displaced about 5,100 ts and was armed with two 26.7 cm rifled muzzle loading guns in a rotating twin turret and three 170 pounder smoothbore cannons in a stand-alone configuration. The front sides of the towers were protected with armor plates 254 millimeters thick; the side armor was just under 140 millimeters. However, the ship only had a freeboard of around two meters and with its sparse rigging and its 2,500 PSi machine only reached a top speed of 10.5 knots with difficulty. After test drives it quickly became clear that the ship could not be used on the high seas without great risks. As early as 1865, the Royal Sovereign was therefore reclassified as a coast defense ship .

Another problem with the tower ships was revealed: All the units built were simply too small to be sufficiently stable despite the heavy armored turrets. The need to keep the freeboard as low as possible also minimized the ability to operate at sea. The solution was obvious: larger ships with a correspondingly greater water displacement had to be built. With this, however, Coles now encountered resistance from some naval experts.

Disputes over the concept of tower ships

In the meantime (1863) a new chief designer of the Royal Navy had been appointed: Sir Edward James Reed (1830-1906). Reed initially turned away from the tower ship concept, which was still fraught with problems, resorted to the idea of ​​setting up a central battery, which was derived from the tried and tested battery system, and in 1864 initially created the small armored ship Research , which was created by converting a wooden corvette of around 1,200 ts. The ship served mainly as an experimental vehicle and provided Reed with important information on roll behavior, stability and the sweep angle of the guns. The sea trials were not particularly satisfactory and the Royal Navy soon reverted to the tower ship design, although a significant increase in tonnage and freeboard was requested. Reed then designed a new type of tower ship design with a significantly increased freeboard and a water displacement increased to more than 8,000 ts.

In the meantime, Coles had submitted a new proposal to the Navy for a ship of around 3,700 tons with only one turret. 1864-1865 he realized his plan and built a one-turreted ironclad for the naval war against Spain, the Huáscar , which set out for South America in 1866 and proved to be unrestrictedly seaworthy during the crossing on behalf of the Peruvian Navy . The warship, which later proved itself in several sea and coastal battles and was captured by Chile in the Saltpeter War in 1879 , remained in service until 1897. Today it is moored as a museum ship in the Chilean port of Talcahuano .

A commission of the British Admiralty under the direction of the third sea lord responsible for the equipment, Vice Admiral Sir Robert Spencer Robinson (1809-1889), had turned against Coles' concept in 1865 and decided instead for Reed's new tower ship type, which had at least should have two towers and a larger tonnage as well as full rigging. A short time later, the Royal Navy gave the order to build the Reed draft, which was baptized Monarch .

Coles was disappointed with the decision and made allegations against Robinson and Reed and other members of the commission for what he saw as unfair competition. He claimed his proposal had been misunderstood. His contacts in Parliament and a press campaign he launched finally persuaded the Admiralty, especially the first Sea Lord, Admiral Hugh Childers , who were inclined to his ideas, to allow him to build his own ship in November 1866 after he had been in tough negotiations about changes to his The concept (among other things, his ship should now also have two towers).

The captain arises

Longitudinal scheme of the captain

The captain , laid down in Birkenhead in January 1867 , was equipped with four 30.5 cm muzzle loading guns, each weighing 25 tons, in two armored turrets and two individually positioned 17.8 cm muzzle loaders on the bow and stern platforms.

The forecastle and the entrenchment were connected by an approximately eight-meter-wide gangway, which also served as a drill deck, so that the crew could go over the gun turrets on the lower artillery deck, giving them a barely restricted field of fire. The ship was made entirely of iron - the side armor was 203 millimeters at its thickest point - and had full rigging with three masts and two expansion engines with a total of 5,400 PSi. The masts were a special construction by Coles: He did not have them supported by stays and shrouds, which would have hindered the guns when firing, but by two iron side struts each - with which he created a pre-form of the later tripod masts.

Problems with displacement of water

However, the struts and some deck conversions ultimately caused the captain's water displacement to be around 800 tons greater than planned. As a result, the freeboard , which at the beginning of construction was already extremely tight at around 2.5 meters, fell to only 1.97 meters when fully loaded. This fact led in the Royal Navy, especially with chief designer Reed and Vice Admiral Robinson, serious concerns about the ocean suitability. These objections were dismissed as irrelevant by Coles and also appeared to be unfounded in the test drives, which the ship completed with good results.

The maiden voyage into disaster

After the completion of the tests, the Captain ran under the command of Captain Hugh T. Burgoyne and with the creator Coles on board, in August 1870 for a first naval maneuver off the Spanish coast. As part of an association of eleven ships, she got into a severe hurricane on the night of September 6, 1870 not far from Cape Finisterre . Before part of the sails could be hauled in, the ship was hit by a heavy gust around midnight and was listed. Strong breakers struck the low gun deck and flooded the tower substructures. Within a few minutes the ship was full of water and capsized.

In the dark and stormy night, the armored captain sank almost like a stone and dragged 474 people, including Captain Burgoyne and her creator Cowper Phipps Coles, into the depths. Only 18 men survived and were rescued by the other ships in the squadron. Among the victims was the son of the first sea lord, midshipman Leonard Childers.

Committee of Inquiry and Consequences

After the captain's loss , which seriously shook confidence in the tower ships, a Royal Navy investigative committee was set up, which ultimately came to the conclusion that the sinking had been caused by strong winds and high seas, the low freeboard and the lack of stability . The battery deck already touched the surface of the water at a heel of only 14 degrees. In an expert opinion it says:

[...] HM Ship Captain was capsized by pressure of wind assisted by the heave of the sea and that the sail carried at the time of her loss (regard being had to the force of the wind and the state of the sea) was insufficient to have endangered a ship endued with a proper amount of stability […].
HMS Captain capsized on the morning of September 7th, 1870 due to wind pressure in combination with swell, and due to the fact that the sail area would not have endangered a ship with sufficient stability, considering the wind strength and swell.

The first sea lord, Admiral Childers, made the third sea lord, Vice Admiral Robinson, responsible for the loss of the captain (and thus also for the death of his son), although he had warned urgently of the dangers. These baseless and unjustified accusations resulted in Robinson losing his post as the third sea lord in February 1871. Childers himself, who was exposed to strong criticism for his behavior, resigned as the first sea lord in March 1871 "for health reasons".

Technical specifications

  • Displacement: 7,767 ts (planned: 6,950 ts).
  • Length: 97.54 meters.
  • Width: 16.23 meters.
  • Draft: 7.4 - 7.6 meters.
  • Propulsion: sails and 2 expansion machines with eight vessels and eight cylinders.
  • Sail area: 4,600 square meters.
  • Machine power: 5,400 PSi.
  • Top speed: 14.3 knots (planned: 15.2 knots).
  • Crew: 492 men (at the time of sinking).
Armor protection (armor scheme belt armored ship)
  • Waterline and side armor: 102 - 203 millimeters (maximum).
  • Gun turrets: 254 millimeters.
  • Navigating bridge: 178 millimeters.
  • Armored deck: 25 millimeters.


  1. ^ Oscar Parkes: British Battleships. Warrior 1860 to Vanguard 1950. A History of Design, Construction and Armament. Naval Institute Press, 1990, p. 143.


  • Siegfried Breyer: Battleships and battle cruisers 1905–1970. The historical development of the capital ship. Munich 1970, pp. 35-40.
  • Alfred Dudszus, Alfred Köpcke: The big book of ship types. Steam ships, motor ships and marine technology from the beginnings of machine-driven ships to the present day. Pietsch-Verlag, o.O. 1990.
  • Oscar Parkes: British Battleships. Warrior 1860 to Vanguard 1950. A History of Design, Construction and Armament. Naval Institute Press, 1990.

Web links

Commons : HMS Captain  - Collection of images, videos and audio files