Built to the limitations of the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, Nelson class battleships HMS Nelson and HMS Rodney were unique in being the only battleships in the world with all main batteries mounted on the foredeck as well as being the only European battleships armed with 16 inch guns.
HMS Nelson during gunnery trials. Photo courtesy Imperial War Museum
In order to meet the restrictions something had to give. Hence Nelson and Rodney were given far less engine power than they needed and the ships were slow, their maximum speed being 23 knots vs King George V class battleships laid down in mid 1930s without treaty restrictions which could make 28 knots plus. KGV class had 14 inch guns. The Bismarck carried 15 inch guns as did HMS Hood and the other Royal Navy battlecruisers HMS Repulse and HMS Renown.
In spite of their efforts, the Admiralty had a difficult time making a workable design of the Nelson class battleships. One problem: if all main batteries were trained abaft the bridge structure and fired, then the explosive shock shattered the glass on the bridge.
You can see how massive these ships were even in their truncated state since they had the deck space required for a game of deck hockey, a popular sport in the Royal Navy of the era.
Built to the limitations of the Washington Naval Treaty, HMS Rodney and her sister ship, HMS Nelson, both had all three turrets of their main armament on the fore deck of the ship. As odd as these ships looked, their carried 16 inch guns, the largest in the Royal Navy.
HMS King George V enters Apra Harbor, Guam, with sailors in formation on deck. 1945.
(Official US Navy photograph)
From Hands to Actions Stations, the war memoir of Lt. Commander Peter Poland, RN.
In late May of 1941, Peter Poland found himself aboard the battleship HMS King George V while she was steaming to stop the Bismarck. Battleship HMS Rodney had steamed to join KGV and as the Rodney appeared and steamed past KGV to take up station astern, the sailors on the upper deck of the King George V began to bay like sheep at the Rodney.
Young Peter was quite surprised at this behavior. He was informed that one year past, a stoker from HMS Rodney had been discovered in a comprising position with a sheep on one of the small islands around the fleet anchorage in Scapa Flow.
Writes Peter, “rumour had it that at his subsequent court martial he had pleaded that he thought the sheep was a Wren in a duffle coat. (Wrens were women in the Royal Navy). Since then and for the rest of her life, any time either Rodney herself or one of her ship’s boats was sighted, it would be greeted with a chorus of ‘Baas’. Now, even though action was imminent, there was no exception.”
This is quite an interesting memoir. Poland was from a very wealthy and prominent family but suffered through what he found to be incredibly dull years at the naval training academy at Dartmouth. He went onto to serve aboard various ships and spent almost the entire war at sea.
HMS Rodney at sea. She was summoned by C-in-C Home Fleet, Sir John Tovey, during his pursuit of the Bismarck. Both HMS Rodney and her sister ship, HMS Nelson, were armed with 16 inch guns, the largest in the Royal Navy. Built to the limitations of the Washington Naval Treaty, and known as “treaty battleships” their main batteries were mounted in three turrets on the foredeck, an unusual configuration to say the least. The aft turret, just meters to the fore of the bridge structure, could not be fired at the furthest arc either port of starboard since the blast would shatter all the glass in the bridge structure. These were the only battleships in the Royal Navy ever designed in this manner.