HMS Nelson and HMS Rodney were the only two battleships in the British Royal Navy with 16 inch guns.
All three main batteries were in the forefront of the ship before the bridge giving them an unusual appearance and the only battleships designed this was. During testing the Royal Navy discovered that if the turret closest to the bridge was traversed abeam to the maximum extent, then firing it broke all the windows on the bridge.
Built to the limitations of the Washington Naval Treaty, the ships had heavy guns and heavy armour but had to reduce engine capacity to stay within the treaty limits. Unfortunately, their maximum speed was only 23 knots and that was on commissioning in the 1920s. They had a difficult time making that speed in World War Two although on occasion they made that speed and even higher such as when Rodney was trying to close with the Bismarck.
HMS Rodney had severe problems with water leaking into the ship due to defective riveting. In spite of extensive repairs made in the US Navy shipyard in Philadelphia the ship continued to have significant problems with water leaks–not a problem one wants in a man o’ war.
In her clash with the Bisarck, HMS Rodney fired 340 16-inch shell. While most firing was done in salvos, that is one barrel per turret would fire, the Rodney did fire a few broadsides. This meant all nine 16 inch guns fired at the same time. While designed for this, a full broadside was tough on the ship.
While the photo above is of HMS Rodney’s sister ship, HMS Nelson, you can see just how big were these 16 inch guns. HMS Nelson was the first of the ships constructed so they were known as “Nelson class” battleships. These were the only two battleships which carried main battery guns actually larger than than the Bismarck’s 15 inch guns.
Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website:
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