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Warship Wednesday6th March 2024

HMS AGAMEMNON (1879): Warship Wednesday

HMS AGAMEMNON (1879) – A Battleship with a Compromised Design and Tragic Launch

HMS AGAMEMNON was an Ajax-class Turret Ship, laid down on Nº 7 Slip at Chatham Dockyard, in May 1876, launched in September 1879 and was completed on 30 March 1883.

“The most unsatisfactory battleship(s) ever built for the Royal Navy.”

The launch ceremony was marred by tragedy because the battleship started to move down the slipway unexpectedly.

A boat carrying nine dockyard workmen was crossing the mouth of the slipway when the ship, without warning, launched itself into the river Medway and smashed into the small boat. One of the occupants of the boat was killed and five others were injured.

HMS AGAMEMNON was 280ft long x 66ft wide and displaced 8510 tons. Armed with 4 x 12.5inch M L R guns (Muzzle Loading Rifled), 2 x 6inch B L guns (Breach Loading) and 21 x smaller guns. The ship’s company was 345 – 405 men.

HMS INFLEXIBLE (1874, constructed at Portsmouth Dockyard) had been accepted as the model upon which future types of battle-ship were to be based. However, the Admiralty adopted a policy of ‘reaction to any increase in displacement, and confusing cheapness with ‘ability’; a policy that prevailed for 20 years.

The Admiralty decided that AJAX and AGAMEMNON would be smaller and cheaper versions of INFLEXIBLE. Unfortunately, this led to both ships being described as “two of the most unsatisfactory battleships ever built for the Royal Navy”.

List of Deficiencies:

HMS AGAMEMNON in Service

1883 – On commissioning at Chatham, ordered to Devonport as Drill Ship.
1884 – Commissioned at Devonport for service on the China Station.
Ran aground several times in the Suez Canal and held up traffic for some days.
1886 – March returned to the Mediterranean, and had modifications to stern in Malta to improve handling.
1889 – Feb – Nov; temporary duty on East Indies Station as part of the blockading fleet on anti-coastal slave traffic.
1892 – Until October; Rejoined Med Fleet then paid off at Devenport into Reserve.
1896 – Reduced to Fleet Reserve and made non-effective in Nov 1901.
1903 – January; Sold and broken up in Germany.

Sources:
British Battleships FRH/RR/22.7
Crawshaw FRH/RR/39.2 Vol 1, page 116.
Directory of the World’s Capital Ships FRH/RR/22.6.

Periscope, August 1980

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