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H.M.S. Dreadnought: The Ship That Changed the World

Jeffrey Syken

“Fear God and Dread Nought”

Perhaps it was appropriate that the name given to the ship that would spark an arms race and change the face of naval warfare forever was based on the family motto of the man most responsible for it. That man was Admiral of the Fleet, The Right Honourable John Arbuthnot Fisher, First Baron Fisher, G.C.B., O.M., G.C.V.O., R.N. (1841-1920). Better known as “Jacky” Fisher, he was one of the most celebrated officers in the history of the Royal Navy, actively involved in naval service for over sixty years, having starting his career during the Crimean War and ending during WWI. Indeed, Fisher’s creation need “Fear Nothing” since she was the best armed, best protected and fastest battleship the world had ever seen when she was launched by King Edward VII on February 10, 1906. So advanced was the design of the ship, that all battleships that came before her would be considered “pre-Dreadnought.” The “Age of Battleships” had begun, culminating in the Battle of Jutland in mid-1916.

The idea for an “All Big-Gun Battleship” took root in Fisher’s fertile imagination in the aftermath of the Battle of Tsushima during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05). At Tsushima, the Japanese fleet, consisting mainly of British-built battleships, vanquished the Russian Pacific Fleet, mainly with large caliber guns at great range. That lesson was not lost on Fisher and the result would be the ten 12-inch guns of H.M.S. Dreadnought. She wasn’t the first, nor the last, Royal Navy ship to be named “Dreadnought.” In fact, there were several that preceded it (one having fought with Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar) and in service with the Royal Navy (as a nuclear attack submarine). Immediately, friends and foes alike took note of the ship that had relegated their fleets impotent by comparison and they began building Dreadnoughts of their very own lest they be found wanting. In particular, the Imperial German Navy took special notice, given the Kaiser’s ambitions to compete directly with the Royal Navy for mastery of the seas.

Considering its island geography and dependence on international trade, the Royal Navy served as guardian of the sea lanes which served the vast British Empire. For other nations, a powerful Navy was a luxury, for Great Britain it was an absolute necessity. For a time in the late 19th Century, it appeared that the torpedo had relegated the battleship to the scrap heap of history, but countermeasures (i.e. torpedo nets, blisters, sonar etc.) reduced the threat and the battleship remained supreme throughout WWI. The Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 reduced the size and number of battleships nations could build with the hope of avoiding another naval arms race such as the one that had preceded WWI. Alas, it was not to be and battleships only got bigger and more powerful during the interwar years. It would be the rise of the aircraft carrier to prominence that foretold the demise of the battleship but even so, the battleship played an important role in WWII (i.e. aerial defense, shore bombardment). Reactivated in the 1980s, the four Iowa-class battleships are now museum pieces, icons of the days when mighty dreadnoughts ruled the waves.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

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