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Sister ships: INDOMITABLE, INFLEXIBLE
Notes: As time progressed, the armored cruiser had increased in size and gunpower, until it outstripped many of the 2nd and 3rd class battleships in service. The Royal Navy in particular had built a series of large (and expensive) cruisers, and in the years before the construction of the DREADNOUGHT, each class of battleship had its "similar" armored cruiser; for example, the MINOTAUR class armored cruisers had many of the same features of its corresponding LORD NELSON class battleships. Therefore, it is only logical that as plans were in the works for the DREADNOUGHT that the Royal Navy would consider "the next step" in armored cruiser design. The initial designs called for a ship armed with four 9.2" guns in twin turrets and six 7.5" guns, and 6" of armor, capable of 25 knots; Admiral Fisher thought that they were too slow.
The Russo-Japanese War gave a boost to the continuation of these ships, as it had appeared that armored cruisers could stand in the line of battle without suffering unduly. The appalling inefficiency and the tactical ineptitude of the Russian fleet were apparently overlooked, and Fisher was not alone in thinking that speed equaled protection. The Committee on Designs, as soon as they had finished with the DREADNOUGHT design, turned to its armored cruiser equivalent. What emerged was a ship with similar armor and speed, but with 12" guns (as in DREADNOUGHT) instead of the previous "standard" of 9.2" guns. With a much longer hull needed to accommodate the boilers and machinery, it was possible to locate the main battery turrets en echelon, which (in theory, anyway) permitted the entire battery to fire on broadsides. (In practice, there was a considerable strain on the hull and substantial blast effect, and cross-deck firing was rarely done.)
The main drawings and detailed work were completed by 22 June 1905, and the first of the class was laid down the following February. Although there was no question of matching the rapid building time of the DREADNOUGHT, they were completed in 26-32 months, a credible time for such large and novel ships. They were good steamers, and with their twin balanced rudders, they were very maneuverable and had a small tactical radius. All three had relatively short funnels, following Fisher's insistence on reducing the silhouette to a minimum; all three had their fore funnels raised (INVINCIBLE in 1915). Refitted from March-August, 1914; the turrets were converted from electrically driven to hydraulic power, the torpedo nets were removed, a 3" anti-aircraft gun was added, the control platforms aloft were enlarged.
The INVINCIBLE class were later condemned as a badly conceived and poorly executed design. However, this is an unfair judgment on the men who carried out Admiral Fisher's instructions. They produced a logical successor to the previous armored cruiser designs, with all-around improvements in speed, gunpower and range, and with no sacrifice in protection. The trials were an outstanding success, showing that they met or exceeded all specifications. If there is a valid criticism of the class, it would be that they were 50% more expensive than the MINOTAUR class. What was wrong with the INVINCIBLE class (and most battlecruisers in general) is how the were used by the admirals who commanded them. Their main battery armament and overall size matched that of the "ships of the line", which often prompted their use in that role -- while their "weaker" armor (designed to stand up to armored cruisers, not battleships) often led to disastrous results. The error was compounded in 1912 with the introduction of the term battlecruiser, and their inclusion into the term of "capital ship". It is further noted that the loss of three battlecruisers at Jutland was due to the improper handling of the cordite charges, used as propellant for the shells, rather than any major deficiencies in armor. While the armor did not defeat the incoming shells, the German battlecruisers withstood many similar hits without the catastrophic results suffered by their British counterparts -- again, due to the relative stability of the German cordite charges, which burned but did not "flash".
INVINCIBLE was commissioned into the 1st Cruiser Squadron, attached to the 1st Division, Home Fleet. She went through a refit in 1909-10, and in March, 1911, was reduced to a nucleus crew at Portsmouth for further refit, which lasted until May. Joined the 1st Battle Cruiser Squadron in January, 1913. In March, INVINCIBLE collided with submarine C 34, but there was no serious damage to either ship. On the outbreak of World War I, INVINCIBLE was ordered to Queenstown to guard against a German breakout; then joined with the BC NEW ZEALAND to form the 2nd Battle Cruiser Squadron. She took part in the Battle of Heligoland Bight on 28 August 1914, supporting British light forces. INVINCIBLE was ordered to the Falklands on 4 November 1914 (with INFLEXIBLE), and arrived at Port Stanley on 7 December, as Admiral Sturdee's flagship. The following day, INVINCIBLE and INFLEXIBLE (and supporting cruisers) sunk most of German Admiral von Spee's Far East Squadron, including the armored cruisers SCHARNHORST and GNEISENAU -- one of the very few times that battlecruisers were properly used in their intended role. During the battle, INVINCIBLE fired 513 12" shells. INVINCIBLE was hit three times; twice below the waterline, and had the foreleg of her tripod shot away. INVINCIBLE docked at Gibraltar on 1 January 1915 for a two-month refit. Following the refit, she joined the Battlecruiser Force at Rosyth, and was joined by her sister ships to form the 3rd BCS. Following a refit in early May, 1916, they were detached to Scapa Flow for gunnery practice and to replace the 5th Battle Squadron in the Grand Fleet. At Jutland on 31 May 1916, INVINCIBLE flew the flag of Rear Admiral Horace Hood. She is generally credited with disabling the light cruisers WIESBADEN and PILLAU and scored two serious hits on the LÜTZOW (which eventually sank), but was the main target of both the DERFFLINGER (which scored three hits) and the LÜTZOW, which scored two hits from her 12" guns -- the last of which blew the roof off of the "Q" turret and set fire to the cordite propellant. The flash fire quickly reached "Q" turret's magazine; the resulting explosion almost certainly caused "P" turret's magazine to explode, and INVINCIBLE was literally blown in half and sank within 15 seconds. 1,027 British sailors, including Rear Admiral Hood, were killed -- only three members of her crew survived.