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Ships 3


Historic British Battleship Majestic

By James Donahue

When the HMS Majestic was commissioned by the British Navy in 1895 it was the first of a new breed of heavy battleships, a model for the great dreadnaughts that followed in the years that these great fighting ships ruled the high seas.

While a peanut in size at 421 feet compared to the giant battleships of World War II, the Majestic was considered among the finest and most powerful fighting ships on the high seas in its day. The was the protocol for six other Majestic Class battleships to follow, all of them finished and commissioned in time to participate in action during World War I.

Unfortunately the Majestic was the only one of these fine ships to be sunk during that war. It was torpedoed by a German U-boat during the battle of Gallipoli on May 27, 1915 and sank so fast it took 49 men down with it.

The Majestic was originally equipped with two 3-cylinder triple expansion engines powered by eight coal-fired boilers. By 1908, however, new oil-fired boilers were installed that eliminated the black give-away smoke from her stacks at sea. While the ship could maintain a top speed of 16 knots it was never fuel efficient. That was obviously because of its heavy armor plating designed to ward off attacks from enemy guns.

The Majestic was the first battleship to have enclosed protective gun turrets . . . originally called gun houses in that day. While the Majestic was equipped with twin 12-inch guns on both fore and aft barbettes, these big guns had a major flaw. They had to be swung away from the target and put in a forward position every time for reloading. This was corrected on the later Majestic Class battleships.

As a credit to the naval designers of this ship, the Majestic was also equipped with twelve six-inch guns, sixteen 12-pounder guns and twelve 2-pounder guns mounted on two gun decks amidships, five 18-inch torpedo tubes in the hull plus a deck-mounted mounted launcher for a small aircraft. With so many guns projecting from its heavy armored sides, it appeared as a formidable warship to all who gazed upon it.

The ship carried a crew of 672 officers and enlisted men.

The Royal Navy was a major part of the British Empire at the turn of the century, which then maintained colonial interests in virtually every continent in the world. The Majestic, perhaps because of its enormous appetite for fuel, rarely strayed far from home, however. It served as an admiral's flagship, participated in special public events that included The Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897 and the Coronation of King Edward VII in 1902.

When World War I broke out in 1914, Majestic was no longer the largest and most up-to-date battleship in the British fleet. By then the mighty dreadnauts had come into play. But Majestic, then a part of the Seventh Battle Squadron, underwent a refit and began service as an escort for the early Canadian troop convoys and patrols along the English coast.

As the war intensified, however, Majestic began to fire her guns in real wartime action. In December 1914 it joined the battleship Revenge in a bomardment of German coastal artillery on the Belgium coast. After participating in the Dardanelles Campaign to open the Turkish Straits, Majestic was placed under the command of Captain H. F.G. Talbot and joined the Mediterranean Fleet where the ship's guns were kept busy. The Majestic and battleships Albion and Triumph were the first Allied heavy ships to enter the Turkish Straits. They fired on land fortifications and supported early troop landings. Majestic took its first hit by enemy fire during this phase of the campaign, but remained on active duty.

The fighting intensified against the Ottoman Turkish positions in the spring of 1915. Majestic was hit by enemy fire four times resulting in one dead sailor and several other crew members wounded.

In April 1915 Majestic was back in action, supporting Allied troop landings at Gallipoli. She brought wounded troops aboard during the battle while continuing to fire her guns. The following month, Admiral Nicholson made Majestic his flagship while commanding the squadrons supporting troops asore at Cape Helles.

It was during this campaign that Majestic was sunk by a single torpedo fired from German submarine U-21, commanded by Otto Hersing. The torpedo was a lucky shot that passed through a defensive screen of destroyers and anti-torpedo nets to hit Majestic, apparently near a munitions storage locker. The great battleship exploded, listed immediately to port and within nine minutes capsized in 54 feet of water. Forty-nine crew members died that day with the ship.