HMS Orion – a super dreadnought


HMS Orion –  laid down HM Dockyard Porstmouth  November 1909, launched August 1910, commissioned January 1912 – the lead ship of her class of 4 super-dreadnought battleships, the others being Monarch, Conqueror and Thunderer.

c. 43 x 36 cm (17 x 14 inches)

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The stern of HMS Revenge striking the bow of HMS Orion (foreground) in Portsmouth Harbour on 12th January 1912.
The stern of HMS Revenge  striking the bow of HMS Orion (foreground) in Portsmouth Harbour on 12th January 1912..

H.M.S. Orion was one of eight armoured vessels authorised in 1909 incuding four Orion Class Battleships known as the ‘super-dreadnoughts’.  Her keel was laid at Portsmouth Royal Dockyard on 29 November 1909, she was launched on 20 August 1910 and commissioned on 2 January 1912.  Less than a week later, on January 12, 1912, she was struck by HMS Revenge who had slipped her moorings by HMS Excellent (a “stone frigate” – i.e. a shore base) in Portsmouth harbour.  Dropping anchors as she was blown across the harbour slowed Revenge‘s progress so that the collision, when it happened, caused only minor damage to OrionRevenge was a sister ship to HMS Royal Sovereign, the lead ship in her class and another vessel in our collection that you can see here.

Orion was laid down when the Government had pledged to reduce spending on armaments. But Germany was building dreadnoughts so quickly its battle fleet would soon approach the size of the British. The “two power standard” declared in the 1889 Defence Act had called for the Royal Navy to “maintain a preponderance of 10 per cent over the combined strengths in capital ships of the two next strongest Powers, whatever those Powers may be and wherever they may be situated” – (per House of Commons debate London 26 May 1909). The Admiralty was thus able to force the new Orion class dreadnoughts through Parliament over the objections of Lloyd-George and Winston Churchill.
The Orion class of vessels were treated as “clean-slates” – the design of the Class was to start from scratch.  Orion was the first dreadnought and the class was the first where all the main guns were positioned on the centreline of the hull in superfiring turrets (one turret stepped back and above another). The idea had been pioneered by the US Navy in their South Carolina class, but the RN was slow to adopt the concept. Germany had been producing large calibre naval guns so in Britain it became necessary to increase the calibre of guns to 13.5 inches which significantly increased the size of the ship as a gun-platform by up to 2,500 tons.
The Orion class dreadnoughts each had 10 breech-loading (BL) 13.5-inch (343 mm) Mark V guns in five hydraulically powered twin-gun turrets. The turrets were designated ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘Q’, ‘X’ and ‘Y’, front to rear.  Maximum ammunition stowage was one hundred rounds per gun.  Secondary armament consisted of 16 BL 4-inch (102 mm) Mark VII guns. These guns were split evenly between the forward and aft superstructure, all in single mounts. The number of guns was reduced to thirteen during the War, and a 4-inch anti-aircraft gun was installed on the quarterdeck.  Four 47 mm (1.9 in) saluting guns were also carried.  They were also equipped with three 21-inch (533 mm) submerged torpedo tubes, one on each broadside and another in the stern, for which 20 torpedoes were provided.

hms orion
HMS Orion – apparently at Portsmouth in 1913. If this is Portsmouth she must be outside the harbour in the Solent since there is no sign of Portsmouth harbour in the background of this picture.

Orion was protected by a waterline 12-inch (305 mm) armoured belt that extended between the end barbettes (gun turret armour casings). Their decks ranged in thickness between 1 inch (25 mm) and 4 inches with the thickest portions protecting the steering gear in the stern. The main battery turret faces were 11 inches (279 mm) thick, and the turrets were supported by 10-inch-thick (254 mm) barbettes.
She was propelled by four Parsons turbines driving  four screws that were provided with steam by eighteen Babcock and Wilcox boilers. The designed shaft horsepower (SHP) was 27,000 and the design maximum speed was 21 knots. Normal fuel load was 900 tons, but up to 3,300 tons could be stowed, together with 800 tons of fuel oil. Radius of action was 6,730 nautical miles (12,460 km) at ten knots, or 4,110 nautical miles (7,610 km) at nineteen knots.  In her trials on completion she achieved 29,108 SHP, which produced a measured speed of 21.02 knots; her best measured speed was 22.3 knots.
Orion spent the bulk of her career assigned to the Home and Grand Fleets, generally serving as a flagship.  Her participation in the failed attempt to intercept the German ships that bombarded Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby in late 1914 was undistinguished as her commanding officer refused to open fire on the light cruiser SMS Stralsund without an order from above. At the Battle of Jutland in May 1916 she fired 51 rounds with one known hit (on the battleship SMS Markgraf).  Her remaining service during the war generally consisted of routine patrols and training in the North Sea although she was present at Rosyth when the High Seas Fleet surrendered n 21st November 1918.  Her fate was sealed by the 1922 Washington Treaty that limited large ship numbers among the allied nations following the War to limit another arms race.  She was sold for scrap  in 1922 and broken up at Upnor on the Medway in Kent in 1923.
For a more detailed description of the Orion Class see here.


Additional information

Weight 0.023 kg
Dimensions 44.5 × 33.8 cm