December 22, 2017

Dreadnoughts of the Minor Powers

Besides the major naval powers, quite a few other countries bought or tried to buy dreadnoughts. Last time I discussed those built as part of the South American Dreadnought race. This time, we'll look at the Ottoman, Spanish, Austro-Hungarian, Greek, and Dutch battleships.

HMS Erin with a kite balloon for spotting

The Ottomans attempted to buy two battleships in the years before World War I. One of them, Sultân Osmân-ı Evvel, began life as the Brazilian Rio de Janeiro, and was discussed last time, while the other, Reşadiye, was ordered by the Ottomans directly, and armed with 10 13.5” guns. The design was similar to the British Iron Duke, although somewhat lighter.1 Like Sultân Osmân-ı Evvel, Reşadiye was seized by the British shortly after she was completed, for fear they would turn her over to the Germans. The ship, commissioned as HMS Erin, served at Jutland, where she fired a grand total of 6 rounds from her 6” secondary battery. Contrary to the experience of Agincourt, she was very cramped.2 After the war, Erin was scrapped under the Washington Naval Treaty.

Erin in a floating drydock

During World War I, the Ottomans were given the German battlecruiser Goeben, which they renamed Yavuz Sultan Selim. Her story, though interesting, is told elsewhere.

Espana, drawn by the legendary Oscar Parkes

Spain built the smallest dreadnoughts ever, ships the size of their pre-dreadnought predecessors. The three ships of the Espana class were only 15,700 tons, and carried 8 12” guns apiece. Their small size meant compromises in protection on the part of their British designers. The first unit, Espana, was commissioned in 1913, followed by Alfonso XIII in 1915. Jaime I, the third unit, was held up until 1921, as her British-built guns were delayed due to World War I.

Espana had a rather uneventful career until the early 20s, when she was assigned to provide fire support to the Spanish Army during the Rif War. While performing this duty, she ran aground off Cape Tres Forcas in 1923. The Spanish were unable to refloat her, and she broke in half in 1924. Her guns were used in shore batteries, some of which remained in service until 1999.

Alfonso XIII in 1931, after she was renamed Espana

Alfonso XIII also participated in the Rif War, and was renamed Espana in 1931, when the Second Spanish Republic began. She was laid up when the Spanish Civil War broke out, and was first sized by Republican-aligned sailors, who engaged in an artillery duel with shore batteries and a Nationalist-controlled destroyer. Significant damage was done to the harbor before she surrendered. The Nationalists took her over and used her as part of a naval task force to interdict merchant shipping. She eventually sank in April of 1937 after hitting a Nationalist-laid mine.

One of the turrets taken from Jaime I

Jaime I was also a participant in the Rif War, and was damaged by shore fire in 1924. She served with the Republicans in the Civil War, although she saw no combat at sea. She was damaged twice by Nationalist bombing, and then wrecked by an internal explosion in June of 1937. Her guns were salvaged, and some of them survived until 1985.

Units of the Tegetthoff class at Pula

Austria-Hungary built the first dreadnoughts commissioned with triple turrets (the Italians had laid down the first examples, but were second into service), the Tegetthoff class.3 These were intended as a counter to the dreadnoughts Italy had recently ordered, and each had four turrets with 12” guns. The turrets themselves were very poorly designed, with light armor, and no ventilation during an action, because it would have sucked in powder gasses. As it was, it is estimated that the crew would have had approximately 15 minutes of air.

The Austro-Hungarian navy didn’t do much during the war. Three of the Tegetthoffs bombarded Ancona in Italy shortly after Italy entered the war. They spent the rest of the war at Pula, not leaving again until June of 1918, in an attempt to attack the Otranto Barrage, a series of nets and mines placed to hinder U-boats leaving the Adriatic. Szent Istvan4 was sunk by an Italian motor-torpedo boat in June of 1918, the only battleship ever sunk by such a craft. The Viribus Unitis was handed over to the nascent Yugoslav navy (to keep her out of the hands of the Allies), but was sunk by Italian swimmers later the same day. The other two ships, Tegetthoff and Prinz Eugen were handed over to Italy and France respectively. Tegetthoff was broken up, while Prinz Eugen was sunk as a target.5

Szent Istvan sinking after being torpedoed

The Greeks ordered two battleships before WWI, Salamis and Vasilefs Kostantinos, to counter the ships ordered by Turkey. Salamis was ordered from AG Vulcan in Hamburg in 1912, to be armed with American-built 14” guns. She was suspended as a result of the war, and the guns were delivered to the British, who used them to arm monitors.6 The hull became the subject of a lawsuit after the war, which dragged on until 1932, when the Greek government was ordered to pay the builders the cancellation fee and hand over rights to the hull. Vasilefs Kostantinos was ordered from the French, but she was cancelled before being laid down when war broke out.

The hull of Salamis in Hamburg, some time around 1920

The Dutch twice planned to buy capital ships, first in 1914 and then in 1939, both times being interrupted by the outbreak of war.7 In both cases, the ships were intended to be part of the defense of the Dutch East Indies.8 The plan in 1914 was for an eventual total of 9 ships over the next 35 years, the first batch of ships being planned for 8 14” guns.

A sketch of the planned Design 1047 battlecruiser

The 1939 ships were intended to make a Japanese invasion of the Indies more difficult. Given the small number of Japanese capital ships available, they might well have greatly altered the early Pacific War. The ships that eventually emerged, known as Design 1047, were broadly similar to the Alaska class, and armed with 9 11” guns, although there were also plans to buy the plans and equipment for the Scharnhorst class from Germany, and the final design used the same guns.

None of these ships played a major role in the design history of the battleship, or in any of the wars they fought in. However, they do provide an interesting insight into the more obscure corners that battleships turned up in, and a look at some of the longest-lived ships of the breed.

1 The Ottomans were buying a new drydock, too, which meant that Reşadiye could be wider and use a better structural design.

2 This is common in export ships, even today, although the worst export ships have really good officer’s quarters and terrible enlisted quarters.

4 For reasons I don't understand, Szent Istvan had two shafts instead of the four of the other units.

5 Her German namesake would meet a similar fate in 1947, during the Bikini Atoll atomic bomb trials.

6 Shallow-draft ships for coastal bombardment.

7 Note to self: if the Dutch begin planning aircraft carriers, build a bomb shelter.

8 Modern-day Indonesia.


  1. January 06, 2021bobbert said...

    To be extra picky, Austria-Hungary was a Great Power throughout her existence, not a minor power.

  2. January 06, 2021bean said...

    As naval powers go, Austria-Hungary was pretty minor. As evidenced by the single class of dreadnoughts.

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