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HMS Iron Duke in the Great War - The Wartime Memories Project -

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HMS Iron Duke



   

HMS Iron Duke

HMS Iron Duke was a dreadnought battleship of the Royal Navy, the lead ship of her class, named in honour of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. She was built by Portsmouth Dockyard, and her keel laid in January 1912. Launched ten months later, she was commissioned into the Home Fleet in March 1914 as the fleet flagship. She was armed with a main battery of ten 13.5-inch (340 mm) guns and was capable of a top speed of 21.25 knots (39.36 km/h; 24.45 mph).

In August 1914, after the outbreak of World War I, the Home Fleet was reorganised as the Grand Fleet; Iron Duke remained the flagship of the fleet, now under Admiral John Jellicoe, 1st Earl Jellicoe. On the evening of 22 November 1914, the Grand Fleet conducted a fruitless sweep in the southern half of the North Sea; Iron Duke stood with the main body in support of Vice Admiral David Beatty's 1st Battlecruiser Squadron. The fleet was back in port in Scapa Flow by 27 November. Iron Duke and most of the fleet remained in port during the German raid on Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby in December 1914, though the 3rd Battle Squadron was sent to reinforce the British forces in the area. Iron Duke went to sea with the 2nd and 4th Battle Squadrons for gunnery practice north of the Hebrides on 23 and 24 December. The following day, the rest of the fleet joined Iron Duke for a sweep in the North Sea, which concluded on 27 December.

Iron Duke and the rest of the fleet conducted gunnery drills on 10–13 January 1915 west of the Orkneys and Shetlands. On the evening of 23 January, the bulk of the Grand Fleet sailed in support of Beatty's Battlecruiser Fleet, but Iron Duke and the rest of the fleet did not become engaged in the ensuing Battle of Dogger Bank the following day. Upon returning from the operation, Iron Duke went to Invergordon for refit; while she was away, HMS Centurion acted as the temporary fleet flagship. The work was completed by 23 February, after which she returned to Scapa Flow. On 7–10 March, the Grand Fleet conducted a sweep in the northern North Sea, during which it conducted training manoeuvres. Another such cruise took place on 16–19 March. On 11 April, the Grand Fleet conducted a patrol in the central North Sea and returned to port on 14 April; another patrol in the area took place on 17–19 April, followed by gunnery drills off the Shetlands on 20–21 April.

The Grand Fleet conducted a sweep into the central North Sea on 17–19 May without encountering any German vessels. On 25 May, Iron Duke carried Jellicoe to Rosyth to meet with Admiral Henry Jackson, the new First Sea Lord. Iron Duke returned to Scapa Flow on 28 May, in time to participate in another sweep into the North Sea on 29–31 May. After returning to Scapa Flow, Iron Duke immediately departed for Cromarty. The fleet conducted gunnery training in mid-June. Iron Duke, the 2nd Battle Squadron, and the 1st Cruiser Squadron conducted gunnery training at Cromarty on 2 August; after completing the drills, the ships returned to Scapa Flow. On 7 August, the ship again took Jellicoe to Cromarty for another meeting, this time with the Prime Minister, H. H. Asquith. Iron Duke was back in Scapa Flow by 16 August.

On 2–5 September, the fleet went on another cruise in the northern end of the North Sea and conducted gunnery drills. Throughout the rest of the month, the Grand Fleet conducted numerous training exercises. Iron Duke went to Invergordon on 1 October for another period of refitting—the work lasted until 11 October. Two days later, the majority of the fleet conducted another sweep into the North Sea, returning to port on 15 October. On 2–5 November, Iron Duke participated in another fleet training operation west of the Orkneys. Another such cruise took place on 1–4 December. Later in the month, Iron Duke took part in gunnery drills, and during them, conducted an experiment of sorts to determine the accuracy of the ship's gunners. Jellicoe concluded that the "result was very satisfactory."

Iron Duke collided with the tanker Prudentia on 12 January 1916 while in Scapa Flow, and the latter sank. The tanker had come loose during a severe gale, which had winds of up to 80 miles per hour (130 km/h). Iron Duke was undamaged in the accident. The typical routine of gunnery drills and squadron exercises occurred in January. The fleet departed for a cruise in the North Sea on 26 February; Jellicoe had intended to use the Harwich Force to sweep the Heligoland Bight, but bad weather prevented operations in the southern North Sea. As a result, the operation was confined to the northern end of the sea. On the night of 25 March, Iron Duke and the rest of the fleet sailed from Scapa Flow to support the Battlecruiser Fleet and other light forces that raided the German zeppelin base at Tondern. By the time the Grand Fleet approached the area on 26 March, the British and German forces had already disengaged and a severe gale threatened the light craft. Iron Duke guided the destroyers back to Scapa while the rest of the fleet retired independently.

On 21 April, the Grand Fleet conducted a demonstration off Horns Reef to distract the Germans while the Russian Navy relaid its defensive minefields in the Baltic Sea. The fleet returned to Scapa Flow on 24 April and refuelled before proceeding south in response to intelligence reports that the Germans were about to launch a raid on Lowestoft. The Grand Fleet did not arrive in the area until after the Germans had withdrawn. On 2–4 May, the fleet conducted another demonstration off Horns Reef to keep German attention focused on the North Sea.

On the 31st of May she was in action at the Battle of Jutland as the flagship of the Grand Fleet. She inflicted significant damage on the German battleship SMS König early in the main fleet action. On 18th of August, the Germans again sortied, this time to bombard Sunderland; Scheer hoped to draw out Beatty's battlecruisers and destroy them. British signals intelligence decrypted German wireless transmissions, allowing Jellicoe enough time to deploy the Grand Fleet in an attempt to engage in a decisive battle. Both sides withdrew, however, after their opponents' submarines inflicted losses: the British cruisers Nottingham and Falmouth were both torpedoed and sunk by German U-boats, and the German battleship SMS Westfalen was damaged by the British submarine E23. After returning to port, Jellicoe issued an order that prohibited risking the fleet in the southern half of the North Sea due to the overwhelming risk from mines and U-boats.

In the aftermath of Jutland, the Royal Navy determined that horizontal protection, particularly over ammunition magazines, was insufficient. As a result, many ships in the Grand Fleet had additional armour installed; Iron Duke went into dock for this work in October. The work, which saw over 100 long tons (100 t) of armour added to the ship, was completed by December. On 28 November 1916, while she was still in dry dock, Admiral Beatty replaced Jellicoe as the commander of the Grand Fleet; Iron Duke served as his flagship until January 1917, when he transferred to Queen Elizabeth.[28] In 1918, flying-off platforms for aircraft were installed on Iron Duke's "B" and "Q" turrets.

In January 1917, she was relieved as fleet flagship. After the war, Iron Duke operated in the Mediterranean as the flagship of the Mediterranean Fleet. She participated in both the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War in the Black Sea and the Greco-Turkish War. She also assisted in the evacuation of refugees from Smyrna. In 1926, she was assigned to the Atlantic Fleet, where she served as a training ship.

Iron Duke only remained on active duty for a few more years; in 1930, the London Naval Treaty specified that the four Iron Duke-class battleships be scrapped or otherwise demilitarised. Iron Duke was therefore converted into a gunnery training ship; her armour and much of her armament was removed to render her unfit for combat. She served in this capacity until the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, when she was moored in Scapa Flow as a harbour defence ship. In October, she was badly damaged by German bombers and was run aground to avoid sinking. She continued to serve as an anti-aircraft platform for the duration of the war, and was eventually refloated and broken up for scrap in the late 1940s

John Doran


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