Military Wiki
HMS Barham (04)
HMS Barham
Career (UK)
Name: HMS Barham
Namesake: Admiral Charles Middleton, 1st Baron Barham
Builder: John Brown & Company, Clydebank
Yard number: 424
Laid down: 24 February 1913
Launched: 31 October 1914
Commissioned: 19 October 1915
Identification: Pennant number: 04
Fate: Sunk by U-331 on 25 November 1941 north of and off the coast of Sidi Barrani, Egypt
General characteristics
Class & type: Queen Elizabeth-class battleship
Displacement: 29,150 tons (standard)
33,000 tons (full load)
Length: 643 ft 3 in (196.06 m)
Beam: 104 ft (32 m)
Draught: 33 ft (10 m)
Propulsion: 24 Babcock & Wilcox 3-drum boilers, 4 parsons geared turbines, 4 shafts
Speed: 25 knots (46 km/h) (when commissioned)
Range: 8,600 nautical miles (15,900 km) at 12.5 knots (23.2 km/h)
Complement: 1,124–1,184

As built:
8 × BL 15-inch Mk I guns (4 x 2)
16 (Queen Elizabeth) or 14 (other ships) × single BL 6-inch Mk XII guns
2 × single QF 3-inch 20cwt anti-aircraft guns
4 × single 3-pdr (47 mm) saluting guns
4 × 21-inch (530 mm) submerged torpedo tubes 1916 : 2 6-inch guns removed from forecastle deck
After 1930-1934 refit :
8 15-inch guns (4 x 2)
8 single six-inch guns

8 4-inch Mk XVI anti-aircraft guns (4 x 2)
Armour: 6–13in (152–330 mm) midships belt
2.5–5in (64–127 mm) deck
13 in (330 mm)turret face
11 in (279 mm) conning tower sides

HMS Barham was a Queen Elizabeth-class battleship of the Royal Navy named after Admiral Charles Middleton, 1st Baron Barham, built at the John Brown shipyards in Clydebank, Scotland, and launched in 1914. She was sunk during the Second World War on 25 November 1941 by the German submarine U-331.


First World War

Barham was commissioned in August 1915,[1] joining the 5th Battle Squadron of the Grand Fleet based at Scapa Flow as flagship on 2 October 1915.[2] On 1 December 1915, she collided with her sister ship Warspite, with both ships receiving significant damage. After temporary repair at Scapa, Barham was sent to Invergordon for more permament repairs, these continuing until 23 December.[1][3]

At the Battle of Jutland on 31 May to 1 June 1916, Barham was Admiral Hugh Evan-Thomas's flagship of the 5th Battle Squadron, attached to Admiral David Beatty's battlecruiser fleet.[4] Barham fired 337 15-inch shells and 25 6-inch shells during the battle.[5] The number of hits cannot be confirmed, but it is believed that she and her sister ship Valiant made 23 or 24 hits between them, making them two of the most accurate warships in the British fleet.[6] She received six hits during the battle, five from 12-inch shells and one from an 11-inch shell,[7] suffering casualties of 26 killed and 46 wounded.[8]

Following Jutland, Barham was under repair until 5 July 1916.[1] She was refitted at Cromarty between February and March 1917, being fitted with a pair of 12-pounder anti-aircraft guns that year, and was again refitted in February 1918.[1][9]

Between the wars

Barham became flagship of the 1st Battle Squadron of the Atlantic Fleet in 1920, and joined the Mediterranean Fleet in 1924.[1] Among her captains was Percy Noble.[10] Her 12-pounder anti aircraft guns were replaced by two 4-inch guns in 1924–25, with a further two 4-inch anti-aircraft guns added in 1925 with improved anti-aircraft fire control.[11] During the 1926 general strike she and Ramillies were sent to the River Mersey to land food supplies.[citation needed] Barham served with the Mediterranean fleet until 1929, rejoining the Atlantic Fleet in November 1929.[12]

Between January 1931 and January 1934, Barham underwent a major refit. Her two funnels were replaced by one large funnel and anti-torpedo bulges fitted, while armour deck protection over the magazines and behind the 6-inch casemates was increased. Short-range anti-aircraft firepower was supplemented by fitting two eight-barrelled 2-pounder pom-pom mounts, one each side of the funnel, together with two four-barrelled Vickers .50 machine gun mounts on the roof of B turret. An aircraft catapult was fitted to the roof of X turret with a Fairey IIIF floatplane, and two of the four torpedo tubes removed. These changes increased her displacement to 35,970 long tons (36,550 t) deep load.[13][14] On completion of this refit, Barham joined the Home Fleet, but rejoined the Mediterranean Fleet in August 1935.[12]

While the other four ships of the Queen Elizabeth class were given a second, more extensive refit in the mid-to-late 1930s (which for Warspite, Valiant and Queen Elizabeth amounted to a compete reconstruction with new machinery and superstructures),[15] changes to Barham were relatively minor. Her single 4-inch anti-aircraft guns were replaced by four twin Mark XIX mountings for QF 4 inch Mk XVI naval guns, the remaining two torpedo tubes removed and provision to operate a Fairey Swordfish instead of the elderly IIIF floatplane made during 1938.[16]

Second World War

Barham remained part of the Mediterranean Fleet at the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939. On 12 December 1939, while sailing to join the Home Fleet, she collided with the destroyer HMS Duchess in thick fog nine miles west of the Mull of Kintyre. Duchess capsized and sank, killing 124 of her crew.[12][17][18]

Barham and the battlecruiser HMS Repulse and the destroyers Fame, Icarus, Imogen, Isis and Nubian were on patrol off the Butt of Lewis to protect against a possible breakout into the Atlantic by German surface warships when they were spotted by the German submarine U-30, commanded by Fritz-Julius Lemp, on 28 December 1939. Lemp fired four torpedoes at Barham and Repulse, and one struck Barham on her port side, adjacent to the shell rooms for A and B turrets. The anti-torpedo bulge was destroyed adjacent to the strike, with four men killed and two wounded. Despite the damage, Barham was able to proceed under her own power to Liverpool for repair.[12][18][19]

Barham in the Mediterranean.

She was under repair until April 1940,[12] and two more eight-barreled pom-pom mounts, additional quadruple .50 in machine gun mounts and a Unrotated Projectile (i.e. anti-aircraft rocket) launcher were added.[13][16]

In September 1940, she took part in Operation Menace, a British naval attack on Dakar, Senegal, prior to a planned landing by the Free French. Barham engaged French warships, including the battleship Richelieu, and shore batteries from 23 September. Barham was struck by 240 mm (9.4 in) and 155 mm (6.1 in) shells from shore defences on 24 September, while on 25 September Richelieu hit Barham with a single 380 mm (15 in) shell, although little damage was caused. The French submarine Bévéziers hit the battleship Resolution with a torpedo the same day, causing Operation Menace to be abandoned.[12][18][20] Barham towed the damaged Resolution to Freetown, Sierra Leone, for repair, before returning to Gibraltar.[18]

In November 1940, Barham was assigned to the Mediterranean Fleet, taking part in Operation Coat, one of a complex series of fleet movements in the Mediterranean, leaving for Gibraltar on 7 November and arriving on 11 December where she disembarked 750 troops and stores. (On the same day, in another part of the same series of operations, Swordfish torpedo-bombers from the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious attacked Taranto, damaging three Italian battleships.) Barham, together with a number of other reinforcements for the Mediterranean Fleet, then sailed for Alexandria, reaching there on 14 November.[18][21]

Barham escorted the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle on a strike against Tripoli on 26 November and together with HMS Malaya carried out shore bombardments in support of the army in eastern Libya in December.[18][22] On 3 December, Barham with Warspite and Valiant bombarded Bardia as a prelude to the Battle of Bardia.[23][24]

She covered a convoy to Malta later that month and took part in the escort of another in March.[18]

She took part in the Battle of Cape Matapan in March 1941 and receiving bomb damage off Crete in May.

On 21 April 1941, under the command of Admiral Andrew Cunningham, Barham, with battleships Warspite and Valiant, the cruiser Gloucester and various destroyers, attacked Tripoli harbour.[25]


On 25 November 1941 at 4.25pm, while steaming to cover an attack on Italian convoys with the battleships Queen Elizabeth, Valiant and an escort of eight destroyers, Barham was hit by three torpedoes from the German submarine U-331, commanded by Lieutenant Hans-Dietrich von Tiesenhausen. Leading Telegraphist A.R. Bacon remained at his station following the first attack to alert accompanying ships of the presence of U-331, which greatly aided the search and rescue. The torpedoes were fired from a range of only 750 yards providing no time for evasive action, and struck so closely together as to throw up a single massive water column. As she rolled over to port, her magazines exploded and she quickly sank with the loss of nearly two thirds of the crew. The explosion was caught on camera by Gaumont News cameraman John Turner, who was on the deck of the nearby Valiant. Out of a crew of approximately 1,184 officers and men, 841 were killed. The survivors were rescued by the other British ships.


Main magazines exploding, 25 November 1941.

The Admiralty was immediately notified of the sinking. Within a few hours they also learned that the German High Command did not know the Barham had been sunk: Tiesenhausen had not reported the sinking, as he had been forced to dive to evade the escorting ships before Barham exploded, and heard only the detonation of the torpedo.[26] He could not be sure whether he had sunk Barham, or if she had merely been damaged and left the scene before he resurfaced.[26] It was not until the Admiralty's admission on 27 January 1942 that Barham had been sunk and described the circumstances that Tiesenhausen knew that he had sunk her.[26] He was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross that day.[26]

In an effort to conceal the sinking from the Germans and to protect British morale, the Admiralty censored all news of Barham's destruction.[citation needed] After a delay of several weeks the War Office notified next of kin, but they added a special request for secrecy: the notification letters included a warning not to discuss the loss of the ship with anyone but close relatives, stating it was "most essential that information of the event which led to the loss of your husband's life should not find its way to the enemy until such time as it is announced officially..."[citation needed]

By late January 1942, the German High Command had realised Barham had been lost. The Admiralty informed the press on 27 January 1942 and explained the rationale for withholding the news.[citation needed]

A Royal Navy Court of Enquiry into the sinking ascribed the final magazine explosion to the detonation en masse of 4-inch anti-aircraft ammunition stored in wing passages adjacent to the main magazines, which would have detonated the contents of the main magazines. Experience of prolonged air attacks in earlier operations had shown that the stowage capacity of the AA magazines was inadequate, hence extra ammunition was shipped in any convenient void spaces.[citation needed]

Film of the sinking

The sinking was captured on film. In consideration of public morale and in order to protect the families who had lost loved ones, the Admiralty decided to keep the film secret until the end of hostilities in 1945.

The film has been used many times as stock footage in documentaries. It has also been used fictionally in films such as Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (as an American destroyer), Task Force (as a Japanese carrier), The Guns of Navarone, and The Battle of Okinawa (as Yamato). It featured in the music video for the Red Hot Chili Peppers cover "Higher Ground".

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Gardiner and Gray 1985, p. 34.
  2. Jellicoe 1919, p. 251.
  3. Jellicoe 1919, p. 260.
  4. Campbell 1998, pp. 14–16.
  5. Campbell 1998, pp. 346, 358.
  6. Campbell 1998, pp. 354–355.
  7. Campbell 1998, p. 349.
  8. Campbell 1998, p. 340.
  9. Whitley 2001, p. 95.
  10. Sir Percy Lockhart Harnam (1880-1955), Admiral. King's Colledge London: Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives. Retrieved 11 November 2012.
  11. Whitley 2002, p. 98.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 12.5 Whitley 2002, p. 103.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Gardiner and Chesneau 1980, p. 7.
  14. Whitley 2002, pp. 98, 100.
  15. Gardiner and Chesneau 1980, p. 8.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Whitley 2002, p. 100.
  17. English 1993, p. 60.
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 18.4 18.5 18.6 Mason, Geoffrey B. (27 April 2011). "HMS BARHAM - Queen Elizabeth-class 15in gun Battleship". Service Histories of Royal Navy Warships in World War 2. Retrieved 17 November 2012. 
  19. Blair 2000, p. 125.
  20. Barnett 2000, pp. 204–205.
  21. Rohwer and Hümmelchen 1992, pp. 40–41.
  22. Rohwer and Hümmelchen 1992, pp. 44–45.
  23. Rohwer and Hümmelchen 1992, p. 47.
  24. Barnett 2000, p. 218.
  25. Winston S. Churchill, The Grand Alliance. p.241.
  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 26.3 Williamson. Knight's Cross Oak-Leaves Recipients 1941-45. pp. 10–11. ISBN 1-84176-642-9. 


  • Barnett, Correlli (2000). Engage The Enemy More Closely. London: Penguin. ISBN 0-141-39008-5. 
  • Blair, Clay (2000). Hitler's U-Boat War: The Hunters 1939–1942. London: Cassell & Company. ISBN 0-304-35260-8. 
  • Campbell, John (1998). Jutland : An Analysis of the Fighting. London: Conway Maritime Press. ISBN 0-85177-750-3. 
  • English, John (1993). Amazon to Ivanhoe: British Standard Destroyers of the 1930s. Kendal, England: World Ship Society. ISBN 0-905617-64-9. 
  • Gardiner, Robert; Chesneau, Roger (1980). Conway's All The World's Fighting Ships 1922-1946. London: Conway Maritime Press. ISBN 0-85177-146-7. 
  • Gardiner, Robert; Gray, Randal (1985). Conway's All The World's Fighting Ships 1906-1921. London: Conway Maritime Press. ISBN 0-85177-245-5. 
  • Jellicoe, John (1919). The Grand Fleet 1914-1916: Its Creation, Development and Work. London: Cassell and Company. 
  • Rohwer, Jürgen; Hümmelchen, Gerhard (1992). Chronology of the War at Sea 1939–1945. London: Greenhill Books. ISBN 978-1-86176-257-3. 
  • Whitley, M. J. (2001). Battleships of World War Two: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. London: Cassell. ISBN 0-304-35957-2. 
  • Williamson, Gordon (2005). Knight's Cross Oak-Leaves Recipients 1941-45. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-84176-642-9. 

External links

Coordinates: 32°34′N 26°24′E / 32.567°N 26.4°E / 32.567; 26.4

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