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Pennant Number: 00
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.
QUEEN ELIZABETH was commissioned in December, 1914, and sent to the Mediterranean in February, 1915, for service in the Dardanelles. While of great service in bombardment against land fortifications, she was hampered by not only a lack of ammunition for her new 15" guns, but an Admiralty order that her guns were "not to be worn out". ("CONWAY'S ALL THE WORLD'S FIGHTING SHIPS: 1906-1921", p.34; see Bibliography.) Returned to Home waters at Scapa Flow in May, 1915, and joined the 5th Battle Squadron. QUEEN ELIZABETH was refitted at Rosyth from 22 May through 4 June 1916, and was not present at the Battle of Jutland. In June 1916, QUEEN ELIZABETH was temporarily named flagship of the 5th BS. In July, 1916, she was taken in for another refit -- this one for conversion to Fleet Flagship. She returned to service in February, 1917. At the end of World War I, the surrender of the German High Seas Fleet was signed aboard the QUEEN ELIZABETH (on 15 November 1918).
QUEEN ELIZABETH was made flagship of the Atlantic Fleet in July, 1919, and she served in that role through July, 1924, when she was made flagship of the Mediterranean Fleet. During the early 1920's, the 3" AA guns were removed and four single 4" AA were added, as was a catapult and a single aircraft, fitted atop "X" turret. QUEEN ELIZABETH underwent a major rebuild in 1926-27; the funnels were trunked into one, torpedo bulges were added (which increased beam to 104' and reduced her top speed to 23.5 knots). Two of her underwater torpedo tubes were removed in a 1931 refit; the last two were removed and two 8-barreled 2-pdr. "pom-poms" were added in 1935, as was a cross-deck catapult and hangars for two aircraft. QUEEN ELIZABETH was once again taken in for a major rebuild in 1937-40 she was reboilered with eight Admiralty 3-drum boilers (despite the increase to 80,000shp, her top speed remained at just below 24 knots); deck armor was increased from 2.5" to 5"; all of her weapons except for the main battery were removed and replaced by 20 - 4.5" / 45 cal. QF guns in ten twin mounts, 32 - 2-pdr. "pom-poms" in four octuple mounts, and 54 - 20mm AA guns.
At the outset of World War II, QUEEN ELIZABETH was with Home Fleet; in 1941, she was transferred to the Mediterranean Fleet and based at Alexandria. On the night of 18 December 1941, three Italian two-man submarines penetrated the harbor defenses at Alexandria and placed explosive charges under the QUEEN ELIZABETH, VALIANT, and the tanker SAGONA. Between 06:00 and 06:25 the following morning, the charges detonated; sinking all three ships (and badly damaging the destroyer JERVIS, moored alongside the SAGONA). QUEEN ELIZABETH had an area of 190' by 60' damaged, but she (and the VALIANT) sank on an even keel in the shallow harbor. Both were repaired and subsequently raised, and QUEEN ELIZABETH sailed to the United States for repairs. She did not return to action until the latter part of May, 1943, having been out of service for nearly eighteen months. She was assigned to the Eastern Fleet, and saw action in the Pacific and Indian Oceans through the end of World War II. QUEEN ELIZABETH returned to England, was was sold for breaking up and scrapped in July, 1948.