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Pennant Number: 01
Notes: Under the 1912 Programme, three battleships and a battlecruiser were planned. Intended to be improved IRON DUKEs, growing unease about rumors that Germany was planning an increase in caliber, plus the certainty that American and Japanese capital ships were being armed with 14" guns, suggested that these new ships should be up-gunned. The gunmakers, the Elswick Ordinance Company, assured the Admiralty that a 15" gun, firing a 1,920-lb. shell, was feasible. Because no 15" gun had yet been made, it would be necessary to start the ships with no certainty that the new gun would be successful -- but the Director of Naval Ordinance had no doubts at all. It turned out the DNO's confidence was justified, as the new Mark I 15" / 42-cal. gun proved even more accurate than the IRON DUKE's 13.5" guns, with the same long barrel life and even greater hitting power. New designs were hurriedly prepared, initially for a five-turret, 21-knot battleship, similar to the IRON DUKE class in layout. It was soon realized that a reduction of one turret (mounting the new 15" guns) would still give a broadside of 15,000 lbs., compared to the 14,000 lbs. in the IRON DUKEs. The space thus saved could be used for additional boilers to give a speed of 24-25 knots. War College studies had shown that a fast wing to the battlefleet would be far more effective than a force of a battlecruisers. To achieve 25 knots on 27,000 tons would be impossible if the ship were coal-fired, but the greater thermal efficiency of oil would solve the problem, and at the same time, reduce weight. The only practical objection was that oil fuel was imported from the Middle East. After considerable thought, the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, made the decision to buy shares in the Iranian oil companies, and thus secure access to the oil fields. Now that a fast wing to the battlefleet was possible, there was little point in keeping with the battlecruiser in the 1912 Programme, and a fourth fast battleship was ordered to create a complete fast division. Then, the Federated Malay States offered to pay for a fifth unit. To commemorate the gift, she was named MALAYA. A sixth unit, AGINCOURT, was ordered under the 1914 Programme, but she was cancelled soon after the outbreak of World War I.
Although a great step forward, the QUEEN ELIZABETH class design attempted too much on too small a displacement; they were seriously overweight when built (nearly 34,000 tons), and the refusal once again to sanction small-tube boilers made 25 knots impossible to achieve. That speed was only intended to be reached at the overload rating of 72,000shp. In practice, they were good for nearly 24 knots. And they still "revolutionized" naval warfare by the creation of the "fast battleship", combining battlecruiser speed with battleship armor and armament.
MALAYA was commissioned at Newcastle in February, 1916, and joined the 5th Battle Squadron, Grand Fleet, as Scapa Flow. MALAYA was present at Jutland on 31 May 1916; she fired 215 rounds of 15" ammunition, 31 rounds of 6", and a single torpedo at German forces. It is thought that MALAYA's gun crews scored between one and five hits, but records are uncertain. In return, she was hit by seven 12" shells (in a period of approximately 15 minutes); 63 of her crew were killed, and another 68 were wounded. MALAYA took an 12" on the roof of "X" turret, but the armor there withstood the shell, as did another which hit her armored belt. Another 12" hit started a cordite fire in her secondary batteries, and the fire spread towards the 6" magazines. As the 6" magazines were directly adjacent to the 15" magazines, an explosion there could have set off a chain reaction which could have sunk her, but that fire was stopped by the quick action of two men before MALAYA suffered the same fate of three of the British battle cruisers and an armored cruiser at Jutland. MALAYA also suffered three hits below her waterline; one of those punctured a fuel tank, and contamination of the oil by sea water eventually put a boiler room out of action and reduced her top speed to 20 knots. While returning to port after the battle, MALAYA struck an object below the waterline which caused no appreciable damage; it was thought that this object might have been a German submarine, but this was never confirmed.
Repairs took a little over a month, and MALAYA returned to service on 11 July 1916. She was slightly damaged in a collision with the destroyer PENN on 22 November 1918. MALAYA visited Cherbourg for the Peace Celebrations in April, 1919; in 1920, she carried the Allied Disarmament Commission to inspect German ports. In 1921, MALAYA carried Prince Arthur of Connaught to India, and paid a courtesy visit to Malaya. From 1920-24, she was assigned to the Atlantic Fleet; in 1924, she was transferred to the Mediterranean Fleet. MALAYA was taken in for refit in April, 1924; a pair of 4" high angle guns were fitted, while the 3" guns and the searchlight platforms on the mainmast were removed. In July, 1926, a second pair of 4" guns were added to MALAYA. In September, 1927, MALAYA was taken in for a major refit; torpedo bulges and additional armor were fitted, the bridge was modified, and her funnels were trunked into a single funnel. This refit took nearly two years to complete. A second modernization was undertaken in 1934-36; more armor was added, a cross-deck catapult and hangars were added, the single 4" guns were replaced by twin 4" guns, and 16 2-pdr. "pom-poms" were added.
At the outbreak of World War II, MALAYA was with the Mediterranean Fleet, although she also served with the Atlantic Fleet as a convoy escort. On 7 July, 1940, while escorting a convoy to Malta, MALAYA suffered a near-miss from Italian high-level bombers; the splinter damage cut control cables to the forward 4" guns. Then on 9 July 1940 off the coast of Calabria, while escorting another convoy to Malta, MALAYA (in company with WARSPITE and ROYAL SOVEREIGN), came into action against an Italian force (including the battleships CONTE DI CAVOUR and GIULIO CESARE) escorting a convoy to North Africa. After WARSPITE's first salvo straddled the Italian flagship, CESARE, the Italian forces turned away under the cover of a smoke screen. In 1941, she served with Force "H". On 9 February 1941, while serving with Force "H" (along with the battlecruiser RENOWN, the carrier ARK ROYAL, the light cruiser SHEFFIELD and several destroyers), MALAYA bombarded the Italian port of Genoa. On 20 March 1941, while escorting a convoy to Sierra Leone, MALAYA was torpedoed and damaged by the German submarine U-106. Following temporary repairs at Trinidad, MALAYA sailed to the New York Navy Yard in the United States for refit, in preparation of receiving radar equipment. She returned to the Mediterranean for service in July. Following this, MALAYA returned to Britain to receive her new radars, and 11 20mm Oerlikon AA guns in single mounts; four more were added in September. In October, 1942, in a refit at Rosyth, MALAYA had her catapult removed and two more 4" twin mounts were added, along with two more eight-barreled "pom-poms" and two more 20mm Oerlikons. In June, 1943, MALAYA was placed in care and maintenance at Faslane, in order to release much of her crew for additional duties (many were transferred to the VALIANT). In September, 1943, MALAYA had her 6" guns removed, and the casemates were plated over. 20 additional 20mm Oerlikons (all in single mounts) were added. MALAYA was kept at three months' notice, and was re-commissioned for the Normandy landings in June, 1944, but was never activated. In 1945, she had most of her armament removed and was decommissioned. MALAYA then served as an accommodation and training ship at Portsmouth. MALAYA was sold to breakers and scrapped at Faslane in April, 1948.