Turn of the Century

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The Era of the Dreadnoughts

HMS Dreadnought was completed in 1906, one year and a day after work began on her construction. This was a great achievement for the Dockyard, which had previously averaged 33 months to build a ship. HMS Dreadnought was the best-armed and fastest battleship in the world when completed. New steam turbines powered Dreadnought giving her a new top speed of 21 knots, she was three knots faster than other battleships. At a time when battleships usually mounted only four big guns and an array of smaller weapons, Dreadnought boasted ten big 305mm/16" guns making all other battleships out-of-date.

HMS Dreadnought
HMS Dreadnought (RNM)

Dreadnought was a result of the arms race between sea faring nations. The debate about what made the best ship revolved around guns, speed and armour. The more powerful the gun, the thicker the armour, the thicker the armour the heavier the ship and the slower she would be. Speed was an important element in sea battles as it allowed ships to move into and out of action quickly.

In 1906 HMS Dreadnought was the largest battleship afloat. Unfortunately, at Portsmouth Dockyard only one dry dock could accommodate her safely. The Dockyard drew up plans to adapt the docking facilities. These plans included:

  • Building C and D locks

  • Removing the walls between the three Victorian basins to form one large inner basin

  • Installing a large 250 ton hammerhead crane.

The work was completed on the eve of the First World War.

Removal of the wall between 4 and 5 basin 1913
Removal of the wall between 4 and 5 basin 1913 (RNM)

Flooding C lock 1913
Flooding the new C lock 1913 (RNM)