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Sunday Battleship Blogging: HMS Royal Sovereign

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The Royal Navy followed up its outstanding Queen Elizabeth class battleships with five of the “R” class. Royal Sovereign was second of the class, carrying 8 15″ guns, displacing 27500 tons, and capable of 21 knots. Royal Sovereign and her sisters were a step down from their predecessors, being slightly smaller and quite a bit slower. Although commissioned in April 1916, Royal Sovereign missed the Battle of Jutland.

Royal Sovereign and her sisters were retained under the terms of the London Naval Treaty, but, unlike most other battleships of the interwar period, were not subjected to an extensive modernization. The design had three major design flaws that limited their expected future effectiveness. First, the slow speed, while also characteristic of American battleships, left them incapable of performing many of the missions that would be necessary in the Second World War. The “R” class would rarely conduct a mission other than shore bombardment or convoy escort. Second, the armor scheme was obsolete almost as soon as the ships were completed, as it left the ships vulnerable to long range plunging shells. Winston Churchill referred to the R class as “coffin ships”, and the Admiralty strove to keep them as far away from enemy ships as possible. Finally, the ships were designed with reduced stability in order to induce a rolling motion conducive to good gunnery. Unfortunately, this made reconstructing them almost impossible. All in all, I suspect that the Royal Navy would have been much better served by disposing of one of the R class in favor of the battlecruiser HMS Tiger, which at least could have hunted raiders and escorted fast carriers.

Royal Sovereign had a remarkably dull career. The early part of her war was taken up with convoy escort, and she never got terribly close to an enemy ship. From 1942 on, one of the major duties of the Royal Navy was to escort convoys to Murmansk against German surface ships and submarines. After the destruction of Tirpitz in 1944, the German Navy could pose little threat to the convoys. Some of the older battleships, like Royal Sovereign, were placed in reserve even before the war ended because of a manpower crisis. Instead of retiring Royal Sovereign, it was decided to transfer her to the Soviet Navy in an effort to give the Russians some responsibility for protection of the northern convoys.

I haven’t found any account of why Royal Sovereign specifically was chosen for transfer, but I would like to think that Churchill or someone in the Admiralty, evincing a particularly dark sense of humor, thought that there was some amusement to be had in the tranfer of a ship named Royal Sovereign to a nation that had massacred its last monarch and his family. In any case, Royal Sovereign was renamed Arkhangelsk, assigned to the Northen Fleet, and served in the Red Navy until 1949, when she was replaced by Giulio Cesare. Upon her return to the United Kingdom, she was almost immediately sold for scrap.

Trivia: What Japanese battleship was once operated by an American crew?

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