The Models

HMS Vengeance

Maritime Innovation In Miniature

HMS Vengeance: For a Moment in Time


HMS Vengeance was a battleship built by Vickers Sons & Maxim Ltd in Barrow in 1899. Her construction was a major innovation in the history of shipbuilding as, for the very first time, she was the first warship of her kind to be built, engineered, armed and armoured by a single company in a single location.

She was immensely powerful and yet, at 12,950 tons and 418 feet long, was small, light and fast in comparison with previous battleships. Designed for service in East Asia, at a time when the growth of Japanese naval power was a major concern for the British government, she needed to be able to stand up to the power of the Japanese Fuji class battleships but also be able to transit the Suez Canal, a vital link in Britain’s global empire, which led to restrictions in size and draught.

She was powered by two sets of triple expansion vertical inverted engines that could create a top speed of 18.5 knots, a very high speed for the era, a full two knots faster than the previous class of battleship. So much steam was required that she was equipped with no fewer than twenty Belleville boilers. This was a major innovation. These were water-tube boilers, which gave them faster steam rising, higher power and better economy than the traditional fire-tube boilers, but at no expense in weight. To fire those she could carry up to 2,300 tons of coal and consumed ten tons of coal per hour at top speed. 

These new boilers were responsible for her increase in speed but were plagued with problems throughout the ship's career. They also allowed the ship’s funnels to be arranged fore-and-aft, rather than the side-by-side funnel arrangement used in previous British battleships. This made her appearance radically modern. With so much machinery and with a crew of 680 there was the necessity for immense amounts of ventilation below decks, which led to a huge number of ventilators

She had twin propeller shafts mounting two inward-turning screw propellers. These inward-turning screws also provided an increase in speed, since they could be operated at higher revolutions than the outward-turning screws used in earlier ships, but they made steering difficult at low speed or when steaming in reverse. 

Vengeance was a battleship of the Canopus Class, smaller and faster than the previous Majestic Class of battleship though equipped with a similar weight of armament. She had four 12-inch guns, twelve 6-inch guns, ten 12-pounder guns, six 3-pounder guns, two machine guns, two 12-pounder guns in boats, and four torpedo tubes, submerged. The largest 12-inch (305 mm) 35-calibre guns were mounted in twin-gun turrets fore and aft; these guns were mounted in circular barbettes that allowed all-around loading

Her twelve 6-inch 40-calibre guns were mounted in casemates. The torpedo tubes are not visible on the model, but the hatches for loading torpedoes to their broadside launchers are clearly shown, two on each broadside near the forward and aft barbette. This varied armament was characteristic of her era 

The provision of small guns for anti- torpedo boat guns is particularly interesting as, at the time, torpedo boats posed the biggest threat to battleships in 1899; this was the era immediately before the effective mass introduction of submarines into theatres of naval warfare. The poles arranged on the outside of her hull are for rigging anti-torpedo nets when at anchor in harbour. These were effective against early torpedoes, but ineffective against the torpedoes used in the First World War.

Her armament included significant innovations. The mountings for her main guns permitted the gun barrels to be loaded at any elevation. This increased the rate of fire because it meant that the barrels did not have to be lowered between rounds.

Her steel armour-plating was made using the innovative Krupp hardening process which gave which meant that the armour plating could be thinner than on previous battleship: six inches in her armoured belt, rather than nine, a major saving in weight. 

The ships were fitted with two masts, each with a fighting top, an enlarged top equipped with several light guns and a searchlight. The fighting tops are each fitted with a derrick in order to winch ammunition up, highlighting the impracticality of such armament in such a location. Four lights, for spotting torpedo boats and other threats or signalling, were mounted on the bridges.

Her bow is of a very distinctive shape. This was a reinforced bow designed to ram another warship: the hull itself was a weapon. This was a hangover from warship design in the first half of the nineteenth century when ships’ guns were insufficiently powerful to damage heavily armoured ships decisively. Ramming was therefore considered the most effective tactic. By this period however, enormously powerful new guns such as those on HMS Vengeance had already changed the dynamic of naval warfare. Close combat was now extremely unlikely.

This ram, therefore, although included in the design on one of the most modern warships in the world, was already obsolete. Indeed, the gravest threat that rams like these posed was to other vessels in the same navy: station keeping and collisions was always difficult when operating in large fleets, but with ram bows could be disastrous. 

This warship also harks back to far more distant periods in history. The captain had an elaborate personal walkway at the stern, reminiscent of the ornamental galleries and balconies of wooden ships of the line. She even has a bowsprit, a design element with no function on such a battleship, but which, along with her useless masts and yards, harks back to the great age of sail. This was a warship designed to by symbolic – to project power – as much as to wield it.

Vengeance was equipped with an immense variety of ship’s boats, all essential for the day-to-day operations of a battleship on a foreign station. Each ship of her class carried a number of small boats, including two steam pinnaces and one sail pinnace, one steam launch, three cutters, one galley, one whaler, three gigs, two dinghies and one raft. 

It is interesting that the portholes near the bow have been reinforced, designed to protect the glass from the swinging anchors when they were retracted. Anchoring safely was still a problem yet to be solved.

The role for which she was initially intended was rendered redundant by an Anglo-Japanese treaty in 1902, a milestone in the history of international relations. All British battleships were subsequently removed from the China station and Vengeance maintained British naval power in home waters until the breakout of the first world war.

Vengeance had a busy war. Her guns covered the landing of the British expeditionary force in France at the start of the war. She went on to serve in the Cameroons in West Africa, the Dardanelles, the Eastern Mediterranean, East Africa and the East Indies. The model clearly shows her awning supports for shades – which would have been crucial during these tropical postings. At the end of the war Vengeance became a depot ship and in 1922 was sold for scrap.