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Warship Wednesday6th December 2023

HMS ROYAL OAK (1862) – IRONCLAD WARSHIP

HMS ROYAL OAK: Transition of the Royal Navy from Wooden Walls to Iron-Clads

HMS ROYAL OAK and other iron-clad ships were introduced as a direct response to the threat from France. In 1850 the Royal Navy’s line-of-battle ship remained unaltered from those of centuries ago. The world changed with the introduction of steam power and shell fire.

In March 1858, the world’s first sea going steam powered Ironclad were ordered by the French Navy. Of the four ships of the 1st Group, three were wooden-hulled ironclad. LA GLOIRE was the first to be completed, with armour between 4.3 – 4.7 inches thick, backed by 26 inches of timber. The fourth ship built was an iron-hulled Ironclad.

THE BRITISH RESPOND

The ordering of these ships gave rise to the “1858 Naval Scare”, the design of RN ships of the line had become obsolete. A Parliamentary Committee was formed to assess relative naval strengths of Britain and France.

The Admiralty was in a quandary with divided opinions:

It was decided that a further programme of wooden ships-of-the line would be put in hand; only those completed as Ironclads would ever be put to sea. A year later in 1859, the Navy suspended the building of all-timber ships in favour of iron-clad ships.

BRITISH IRON-CLADS

The first sea-going British ironclads were ordered and built in commercial shipyards. The first two were WARRIOR and BLACK PRINCE completed in 1861 and 1862 respectively followed by a further four ships.

ROYAL OAK IS CONVERTED

In May 1861, the Controller of the Navy proposed that the timbers of some of the wooden line-ships that had had their construction suspended later to be completed as wooden-hulled iron-clads. HMS ROYAL OAK was one of those ships that mid-build was converted into an ironclad from a wooden ship of the line. She would become the Navy’s seventh iron-clad ship.

She was the first British wooden-hulled ironclad warship. The original design for the ship was a 2nd rate, 91-gun, ship of the line.

About HMS ROYAL OAK

Dimensions

273ft long x 58ft wide

Armament

11 x 7inch-BLR (breach loading rifled barrel) and 24 x 68-pdrs (pounders).

Weight

Displaced weight of 6,360 tons with 3,997 tons from the hull and armour. Her ratio of weight of armament to displacement was greater than in any other British battleship of her day.

Rearmed in 1867

4 x 8inch-MLR (muzzle loading rifled barrel) and 20 x 7inch-MLR.

Armour

Fitted with 3 to 4½ inches thick armour protecting the battery (gun deck) and 3 to 4 inches along the lower deck. She was the first British ironclad to have end-to-end protection along battery, lower deck and waterline.

Power

The nominal horse power provided was 800, giving a max speed of 12½ knots.

Propulsion

Propulsion was by either sail or a Maudslay horizontal reciprocating steam engine driving a 19ft diameter hoisting propeller.

Ship’s Company

585 men.

Laid Down

1860

ROYAL OAK had been laid down in No 3 dock, Chatham.

CONversion

1861

Mid-construction, ROYAL OAK was converted into an iron-clad ship.

launch

1862

On 20th September HMS ROYAL OAK was launched at Chatham Dockyard.

Active Service

1863

Commissioned at Devenport in 1863. She briefly spent time with the Channel Fleet before transferring for service in the Mediterranean Sea, where she served the majority of her career.

collision

1867

After rearming in 1867 she re-joined the Channel Squadron where she collided with WARRIOR.

ROYAL OAK was taken to Devonport for hull repairs.

Return

1869

Returned to the Mediterranean Sea and was present for the opening of the new Suez Canal in November 1869. Whilst there she ran aground outside Port Said on an unchartered sandbank but did not sustain any damage.

In reserve

1871

Paid-off at Portsmouth in December 1871 for a refit but for economical reasons was placed in fourth class reserve.

Sold

1885

After 14 years, it was no longer financial viable to repair or refit ROYAL OAK. Instead she was sold out of service in September 1885 to Castle ship breakers.

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