Launched in 1906, the Royal Navy battleship HMS Dreadnought served as such a step change in warship design, construction and operation that the name passed into common usage to define an entire class of similar vessels rapidly built by other maritime nations as the First World War loomed.
Author: Gerald Toghill
Gerald Toghill’s concise (125-page) but insightful history of the dreadnought phenomenon explains the remarkable scale of the revolution wrought by the Admiralty in producing a ship that was unmatched by anything else at sea – and not least because of its turbine propulsion.
Two things made the battleship possible: the harnessing of steam for propulsion and Britain’s vast industrial power in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. With these two massive powerhouses available to ship designers, it was inevitable that change would come to the seas.
For a short while France led the way with the launching of the Gloire, but Britain soon stole the limelight with the launch of HMS Warrior in 1863. The moment her keel hit the water the naval world was turned upside down and all other warships were rendered obsolete. But that event was as nought compared to the astonishing revolution in warship building caused by the launch in 1906 of the mighty Dreadnought. If Warriorhad caused a great upheaval, the impact of Dreadnought was positively Krakatoan.
Such was her impact on the naval world that her very name became generic. All battleships built before her were classed as ‘pre-Dreadnought’ and all battleships built post-1906 came to be known as ‘Dreadnoughts’. This is their story.