- HMS Centurion during the Great War -
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HMS Centurion was the second super-dreadnought battleship of the King George V class. Her sister ships were: HMS King George V, HMS Audacious, HMS Ajax. She was built at HM Dockyard, Devonport, laid down on the 16th of January 1911, launched 18 November 1911 and commissioned in May 1913. She had a displacement of 25,500 tonnes, Length: 598 ft (182.3 m), Beam: 89 ft (27.1 m), Draught: 28 ft (8.5 m) Her propulsion was 18 boilers with 4 Parsons turbines and direct drive to 4 shafts producing 27,000 shp (20,100 kW) which gave her a top speed of 21 knots (39 km/h; 24 mph) The ships complement was 782 officers and ratings. Her armament consisted of 10 × BL 13.5-inch (343 mm) Mk V guns, 16 × BL 4-inch (102 mm) Mk VII guns, 4 × 3-pounder (47-mm) guns and 3 × 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes. Her armour dBelt was 8 to 12 in (203 to 305 mm), Decks: 1 to 4 in (25 to 102 mm), Barbettes: 3 to 10 in (76 to 254 mm) and Turrets: 11 in (279 mm)
HMS Centurion was attached upon completion to the 2nd Battle Squadron, led by sister ship HMS King George V. She was present at the Battle of Jutland as part of the main body of Grand Fleet under the command of Captain Michael Culme-Seymour but was only lightly engaged, firing four salvos of her main armament at the German Battlecruiser Lützow before HMS Orion blocked Centurion's line of fire to Lützow.
After duty in the North Sea, where she was commanded for a time by Roger Keyes, she was sent to the Eastern Mediterranean in 1918 with HMS Superb to oversee the capitulation of the Ottoman Empire. In 1919, Centurion was dispatched to the Black Sea in the Allied Intervention in the Russian Civil War.
With the signing of the Washington Naval Treaty Centurion was decommissioned and made a target ship to replace HMS Agamemnon in 1924. She remained in this role at Portsmouth Harbour until April 1941, where she was fitted with a false superstructure so as to resemble the battleship HMS Anson then building at HM Dockyard, Portsmouth.
On 4 April 1941, the Admiralty suggested that a heavy naval bombardment of the Libyan city of Tripoli should be made by the Mediterranean Fleet and followed up by blocking the port with a block ship, the Centurion. Admiral Andrew Cunningham declined the offer due to her slow speeds and heavy enemy air cover, so this idea was shelved. In June 1942, she sailed with Operation Vigorous in the eastern Mediterranean to simulate an operational battleship. Between 1942 and 1944 Centurion was stationed off Suez as an anti-aircraft ship and to give pause to Regia Marina action in the area—the Italians thought that her false wooden 13.5-inch guns were real and kept their super-dreadnoughts away. Her final act after a long and somewhat understated career was to be sunk as a breakwater off the Normandy beaches after D-Day. Reportedly the Germans thought that the old vessel had been sunk by shore batteries of the German 352nd Division with great loss of life when only 70 crewmen were observed leaving the sinking vessel; in fact the 70 men were the entire crew.John Doran
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