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HMS King George V (41)
King George V class battleship 1945.jpg
HMS King George V enters Apra Harbour, Guam with sailors on deck in 1945
Name: HMS King George V
Builder: Vickers-Armstrong, Newcastle upon Tyne
Laid down: 1 January 1937
Launched: 21 February 1939
Commissioned: 11 December 1940
Decommissioned: 1949
Struck: 1957
Fate: Sold for scrap
General characteristics
Class & type: King George V-class battleship
Displacement: 42,200 tons (1941)
Length: 745 ft (227 m)
Beam: 103 ft (31 m)
Draught: 32.6 ft (9.9 m)
Propulsion: 8 Admiralty three-drum small-tube boilers with superheaters
4 Parsons single-reduction geared turbines
4 three-bladed propellers, 14 ft 6 in diameter (4.42 m)
125,000 shp
Speed: 28.0 knots (1941 trials)
Range: 5400+ nm at 18 knots (11.9 tons/hour fuel burn)
Complement: 1,314 to 1,631
Armament: 10 × BL 14-inch (360 mm) Mk VII guns
16 × QF 5.25-inch (133 mm) Mk I guns
64 × 2 pounder "pom-pom" (40 mm)
Armour: Main belt: 14.7 in (374 mm)
lower belt: 5.4 in (137 mm)
deck: up to 5.38 in (136 mm)
main turrets: 12.75 in (324 mm)
barbettes: 12.75 in (324 mm)
Aircraft carried: 4 Supermarine Walrus seaplanes, 1 double-ended catapult
Notes: Pennant number 41

HMS King George V (pennant number 41) was the lead ship of the five British King George V-class battleships of the Royal Navy. Laid down in 1937 and commissioned in 1940, King George V operated during the Second World War as part of the British Home and Pacific Fleets. Along with HMS Rodney, King George V severely damaged the German battleship Bismarck which led to the German vessel sinking in May 1941. On 1 May 1942 destroyer HMS Punjabi sank after a collision with King George V in foggy conditions. King George V took part in Operation Husky (the allied landings in Sicily) and bombarded the island of Levanzo and the port of Trapani. She also escorted part of the surrendered Italian Fleet, which included the battleships Andrea Doria and Caio Duilio, to Malta. In 1945 King George V took part in operations against the Japanese in the Pacific.

Following the war, King George V spent three years as the flagship of the British Home Fleet, was placed in reserve in 1949, and scrapped eight years later.


General characteristics

King George V was built by Vickers-Armstrong at Walker Naval Yard, Newcastle upon Tyne; she was laid down on 1 January 1937, launched on 21 February 1939 and commissioned on 11 December 1940.[1] The ship had an overall length of 745 ft (227.08 m), a beam of 112 ft (34.24 m) and a draught of 34 ft (10.41 m). She displaced 38,031 tons at normal load and 42,237 tons at full load. After her refit in 1944, she displaced 44,460 tons at full load.[2] She could also carry 3,918 tons worth of fuel oil, 192 tons of diesel oil, 256 tons of reserve feed water and 444 tons of freshwater.[3]


King George V was equipped with eight three-drum type small-tube boilers built to Admiralty specifications. This configuration was a little more conventional than the Nelson class, with boiler rooms placed side by side and with each pair associated with a turbine room astern of them. The total heating surface of the boiler plants in King George V was 78,144 sq. ft. The 416 ton boiler installation produced more than 100,000 shaft horsepower, giving a top speed of 28 knots. The eight boilers were more economic in space and fuel than the twenty-four boilers in the battlecruiser HMS Hood. Fewer, but larger, boilers lowered the weight per unit of heat delivered, as did increased boiler efficiency and consumption of fuel per unit area of heating surface. This made King George V the fastest battleship in the British fleet but slower than the German or Italian capital ships,[4] or the battlecruisers HMS Repulse and HMS Renown.

King George V had four sets of Parsons geared turbines. Two main turbines were arranged in series and drove a shaft through double helical gears. An astern turbine was incorporated in the exhaust casing of the low-pressure turbine, and a cruising turbine was coupled directly to the high-pressure turbine.[3] A speed of 28.5 knots was expected at standard displacement and 27.5 knots at full-load displacement on normal output; corresponding speeds at overload condition were 29.25 and 28.25 knots respectively. The turbine unit was a low-speed type (2,257 rpm) coupled to a single reduction gear which produced 236 rpm at the propeller shaft.[5][N 1]


Main battery

King George V mounted ten 14-inch (360 mm) guns. They were mounted in one Mark II twin turret forward and two Mark III quadruple turrets, one forward and one aft. They could be elevated 40 degrees and depressed 3 degrees. Training arcs were: "A" turret, 286 degrees; "B" turret, 270 degrees and "Y" turret, 270 degrees. Training and elevating was achieved through a hydraulic drive, with rates of two and eight degrees per second, respectively. A full gun broadside weighed 15,950 pounds, a salvo could be fired every 40 seconds. The quadruple turrets weighed 1,582 tons, the twin turret 915 tons.[8] The turrets were designed by the Vickers Armstrong's Elswick Works, but sets of each type of equipment were manufactured by Vickers Armstrongs in Barrow. A considerable amount of design effort was expended to make the turrets as flashtight as possible. This complicated the mechanical design of the turrets, particularly the quadruple mountings. Due to insufficient clearances and slightly distorted link mechanisms, failures in the intricate safety interlocks in the loading sequence for antiflash precautions caused jams during drills and practice firing.[9] King George V used an Admiralty Fire Control Table Mark IX to control her main armament.

Secondary battery

The secondary armament consisted of 16 x 5.25-inch (133 mm) guns in eight twin mounts, weighing 81 tons each. They were grouped at the four corners of the citadel, with a twin mount on the main deck and another superimposed above it nearer amidships. This disposition gave better arcs of fire, freedom from blast, more separation of the magazines and a better arrangement of the ammunition supply. The cupolas for these mounts revolved on either the upper or superstructure deck; between deck mountings travelled on roller paths on the armoured deck. This permitted a flat-trajectory or high-angle fire. Loading was semi-automatic, normal rate of fire was ten to twelve rounds per minute. The maximum range of the Mk I guns was 24,070 yards (22,009.6 m) at a 45-degree elevation, the anti-aircraft ceiling was 49,000 feet (14,935.2 m). The guns could be elevated to 70 degrees and depressed to 5 degrees.[9] However, the guns could only practically fire seven to eight rounds per minute, due to the heavy weight of the shell and the fact that the 5.25-inch round was semi-fixed, requiring much crew handling until it was rammed into the breech.[10] King George V introduced the High Angle Control System Mark IVGB anti-aircraft fire control system to the Royal Navy, which, along with the Mk IV Pom-Pom Director, pioneered the use of the Gyro Rate Unit.

Anti-aircraft battery

The King George V design had four 0.5-inch quadruple machine gun mounts, but in 1939 these were replaced by two Mark VI pom-pom mounts. In 1940, to combat air attack, four Unrotated Projectile mountings were fitted, on "B" turret, two on "Y" turret, one replaced a pom-pom mount added in 1939 at the stern. The pom-poms mounted in the King George V were designed and produced by Vickers Armstrongs as a result of a post-First World War requirement for a multiple mounting which was effective against close-range bombers or torpedo planes. The first model, tested in 1927, was superior to anything developed in other countries at the time and in 1938 the Mark VI* had a muzzle velocity of 2,400 feet per second, a 1.594-inch bore and a barrel length of 40 calibres. They fired a 1.8-pound shell at a rate of 96–98 rounds per minute for controlled fire and 115 rounds per minute for automatic fire.[11] The range of the Mark VI* was 6,800 yards, at a muzzle velocity of 2,300 feet per second.[11] The Mark VI octuple mount weighed 16 tons. The Mark VII quadruple mount weighed 10.8 tons if power operated; it could be elevated to 80 degrees and depressed to 10 degrees at a rate of 25 degrees per second which was also the rate of train. The normal ammunition supply on board for the Mark VI was 1,800 rounds per barrel.[10] King George V introduced the Mk IV Pom-pom director to the Royal Navy in 1940, becoming the first ship in the world to feature gyroscopic target tracking in tachymetric anti-aircraft directors.[12][13]

Operational history

The first of her class to be completed, King George V was commissioned at her shipyard and sailed for Rosyth in Scotland on 16 October 1940; there she took on board her ammunition and began her sea trials. By the end of the year she had joined the Home Fleet at Scapa Flow. She crossed the Atlantic early in 1941 to take Lord Halifax, the Ambassador to the United States, to Annapolis and covered an east-bound convoy on her return, arriving back at Scapa Flow on 6 February. Her next task was to provide distant cover for Operation Claymore, the Royal Marines raid on the Lofoten islands off the north-west coast of Norway. She escorted further Atlantic convoys, HX 104 and HX 115 during March.[14]

Action with Bismarck

When Bismarck broke out into the Atlantic Ocean, King George V sailed on 22 May with HMS Victorious and eleven cruisers and destroyers in support of the cruiser patrols off Iceland. King George V was the flagship of Admiral Sir John Tovey, who commanded the force. King George V was still 300 to 400 miles away on the morning of 24 May, when HMS Prince of Wales and Hood engaged Bismarck. Hood was sunk and Prince of Wales was damaged and forced to retire. The German ship, although damaged, continued south.[15]

The British re-located Bismarck at 10:30 on 26 May, when a Catalina flying boat of RAF Coastal Command sighted her, heading for the French port of Brest. Rodney and King George V were still about 125 miles away. The aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal was ordered to launch an air attack, and at 22:25 her torpedo bombers, a flight of Fairey Swordfishes damaged Bismarck, slowing her down and jamming her rudder, forcing her to turn back out into the Atlantic, away from the safety of port. At 15:00 Rodney joined King George V and they maintained 22 knots – which was nearly maximum speed for Rodney. King George V had only 32 percent of her fuel left, Rodney only had enough to continue the chase at high speed until 8:00 the following day.[15]

Admiral Tovey signalled his battle plan to Rodney just before sunrise on 27 May; she was free to manœuvre independently as long as she conformed generally to the movements of King George V. Both ships were to close the range to 15,000 yards as quickly as possible, then turn for broadside fire.[16]

At 08:15 HMS Norfolk spotted Bismarck and turned away out of range. She soon sighted the other British ships off her starboard quarter, and informed them that Bismarck was roughly 50,000 yards to the southwest. By 08:43 King George V had Bismarck in sight, at 20,500 yards. Four minutes later Rodney opened fire. King George V followed suit in less than a minute. Bismarck answered almost immediately, straddling Rodney on her second salvo. By 08:59 King George V had closed to 16,000 yards and all her 14-inch guns were firing; Rodney was firing full 16-inch salvoes. Bismarck concentrated all her remaining guns on King George V, but only an occasional shell came close. At 09:14 King George V, at 12,000 yards, had opened fire with her 5.25-inch guns, and Rodney had moved to 8,500–9,000 yards.[17]

At 09:27 a shell hit Bismarck, penetrating the hydraulic machinery in turret 'Anton' and disabled it, causing the guns to run down to maximum depression. Her topsides were wrecked, and a large fire burned amidships. By that time King George V was having trouble with her main battery, and every gun missed at least one salvo; due to failures in the safety interlocks for antiflash protection. Both Rodney and King George V had little fuel left and returned to port at very low speed, escorted by eleven destroyers to guard against German air or submarine attack. The next day, after the escort was reduced to three destroyers, four German aircraft did attack but scored no hits. Both King George V and Rodney returned to port safely, but the destroyer HMS Mashona, sent ahead to refuel, was bombed and sunk.[18]

HMS King George V, photographed with a huge hole in her bows, after the battleship had collided with HMS Punjabi in dense fog on 1 May 1942, at Seydisfjord, Iceland.

Collision damage

After repairs and adjustments to her guns, King George V attacked German shipping in the Glom Fjord, Norway, in October 1941. She then covered convoys to Russia. On 1 May 1942 she was operating with USS Washington as an escort to Convoy PQ 15, and collided with the destroyer HMS Punjabi, which had manoeuvred to avoid a mine and crossed her bow in dense fog. Punjabi was cut in two and King George V had 40 feet of her bow badly damaged. King George V entered the Gladstone Dock in Liverpool on 9 May for repairs by Cammell Laird, and returned to Scapa Flow on 1 July 1942 to resume convoy escort duty.[18]

Mediterranean operations

In May 1943, King George V was moved to Gibraltar in preparation for Operation Husky. King George V and her sister ship HMS Howe were allocated to the reserve covering group when the operation got under way on 1 July. The two ships bombarded Trapani in Sicily on 12 July and also helped defend against an air raid whilst in Algiers prior to departing for Operation Avalanche, (the Allied invasion of Italy).[14] The two ships also bombarded the islands of Levanzo and Favignana, after which they were in the reserve group for the Salerno landings (Operation Avalanche) which began on 9 September. King George V escorted part of the Italian Fleet, including the battleships Andrea Doria and Caio Duilio, to Malta after the armistice and with Howe provided cover for the 1st Airborne Division who were transported to Taranto in support of Operation Slapstick from 9 to 11 September by the cruiser USS Boise and the fast minelayer HMS Abdiel.[19][20] The battleship then escorted a naval force which occupied the Italian naval base at Taranto. She later escorted surrendered Italian ships from Malta to Alexandria. After bombarding German positions during the Salerno landings, King George V returned to the United Kingdom.[18]

Pacific operations

King George V was in Liverpool for an overhaul from March to June, 1944; it included the installation of additional radar gear, more anti-aircraft guns, improved accommodation and ventilation. On 28 October 1944 King George V sailed from Scapa Flow under the command of Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser to join other Royal Navy units assembling at Trincomalee in Ceylon. A stop at Alexandria en route enabled her to divert to Milos in the Aegean Sea to bombard German positions there. On 1 December she resumed her eastward journey, arriving in Trincomalee on 15 December. King George V got under way again on 16 January 1945. The flotilla, known as Task Force 63, comprised King George V, the aircraft carriers HMS Illustrious, Indomitable, Indefatigable and Victorious, four cruisers and ten destroyers. The first stage of the voyage was covering the 11,000 nautical miles to Sydney; en route the force attacked oil refineries on Sumatra in Operation Meridian. They also practised replenishment-at-sea and beat off a Japanese air attack, with King George V's anti-aircraft crews shooting down one Mitsubishi Ki-21.[20]

Joined by Howe and re-designated Task Force 57, the British Pacific Fleet was again involved in operations in late March 1945, when it launched attacks on the Sakishimo-Gunto airfields, a task it repeated in early May. On 4 May 1945 King George V led battleships and cruisers in a forty-five minute bombardment of Japanese air facilities in the Ryukyu Islands. As the Allies approached the Japanese homeland, King George V was dispatched in mid-July to join the US battleships in a bombardment of industrial installations at Hitachi. King George V fired 267 rounds from her 14-inch guns during this operation. The task force then moved on to Hamamatsu in southern Honshu, where it carried out a further bombardment of aviation factories.[20] During the Okinawa campaign, the battleship supported four fast carriers of the British Pacific Fleet. Her last offensive action was a night bombardment of Hamamatsu on 29 and 30 July 1945.[21]

HMS King George V in Tokyo harbour in 1945. USS Missouri is visible in the background.

With the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the surrender that followed, King George V moved with other units of the British Pacific Fleet into Tokyo Bay to be present at the surrender ceremonies.[20]

Post war

In January 1946 she conveyed the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester on an official visit to Australia, returning to Portsmouth in March. She was flagship of the Home Fleet until December 1946, when she became a training vessel.[21]

King George V's active naval career was terminated by the Royal Navy in June 1950, when she and her sister-ships went into reserve and were mothballed. King George V was the first large warship to be preserved in this fashion. This involved sealing the armament, machinery and boilers against damp and installing dehumidifiers throughout. In December 1955, she was downgraded to extended reserve[21] and in 1957 the decision was taken to scrap the four ships. The following year King George V was moved from her berth in Gareloch to the ship breaking firm of Arnott Young and Co. in Dalmuir to undergo dismantling.[22]


During her career, King George V was refitted on several occasions in order to update her equipment. The following are the dates and details of the refits undertaken:[23]

Dates Location Description of Work
Early 1941 A Type 271 Radar was added.
December 1941 Removal of UP mountings; the addition of one 4-barrelled 2 pdr "pom-pom" mounting, one 8-barrelled 2 pdr pom-pom, and 18 x Oerlikon cannon; the UP directors were replaced with pom-pom directors; the Type 271 radar was replaced by the Type 273; five Type 282 radars were also added.
May–June 1942 Liverpool Damage from the collision with HMS Punjabi was repaired; the external degaussing coil was replaced with an internal coil; four Type 285 radars added; FM2 MF D/F added.
Late 1943 20 x 20 mm Oerlikon cannon added.
February–July 1944 Liverpool Removal of one 4-barrelled 2 pdr pom-pom, 12 x 20 mm Oerlikon cannon, Type 273 radar and HF/DF; the addition of three 8-barrelled 2 pdr pom-poms, six 2-barrelled 20 mm and two 4-barrelled 40 mm Bofors guns; the Type 279 radar was replaced by the Type 279B, the Type 284 with the Type 274; addition of the Types 277, 293, 2 × 282, and 285 radars, and the RH2 VHF/DF; removal of aircraft and catapult equipment, replaced with new superstructure upon which the ship's boats were relocated.
1945 Removal of two 20 mm Oerlikon cannon, two 40 mm Bofors guns added.

Midships in 1945


  1. The King George V class battleships had their steam plant specifications revised during the building phase, and as built the ships actually produced 110,000 shp at 230 rpm, and were designed for an overload power of 125,000 shp, which was exceeded in service.[6][7]
  1. Chesneau (Conways) p. 15
  2. Garzke p. 250
  3. 3.0 3.1 Garzke p. 253
  4. Garzke p. 237
  5. Garzke p. 238
  6. Raven, p.284 and 304
  7. Garzke p. 191
  8. Garzke p. 227
  9. 9.0 9.1 Garzke p. 228
  10. 10.0 10.1 Garzke p. 229
  11. 11.0 11.1 Campbell, p.71.
  12. Campbell, p.33.
  13. Raven and Roberts, p.291
  14. 14.0 14.1 Chesneau p. 7
  15. 15.0 15.1 Garzke p. 209
  16. Garzke p. 210
  17. Garzke p. 211
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 Garzke p. 214
  19. Molony, pp. 242-243
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 Chesneau p. 10
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 Garzke p. 215
  22. Chesneau p. 10-11
  23. Chesneau p. 50
  • Campbell, John. (1985). Naval Weapons of World War Two. London: Conway Maritime Press. ISBN 0-87021-459-4. 
  • Chesneau, Roger. (2004). Ship Craft 2: King George V Class Battleships. Chatham Publishing. ISBN 1-86176-211-9
  • Chesneau, Roger, ed. (1980). Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships 1922–1946. Greenwich: Conway Maritime Press. ISBN 0-85177-146-7.
  • Garzke, William H., Jr.; Dulin, Robert O., Jr. (1980). British, Soviet, French, and Dutch Battleships of World War II. London: Jane's. ISBN 0-7106-0078-X.
  • Molony, Brigadier C.J.C.; Flynn, Captain F.C. (R.N.); Davies, Major-General H.L. & Gleave, Group Captain T.P. (2004) [1st. pub. HMSO:1973]. Butler, Sir James. ed. The Mediterranean and Middle East, Volume V: The Campaign in Sicily 1943 and The Campaign in Italy 3rd September 1943 to 31st March 1944. History of the Second World War, United Kingdom Military Series. Uckfield, UK: Naval & Military Press. ISBN 1-84574-069-6. 
  • Raven and Roberts. British Battleships of World War 2: The Development and Technical History of the Royal Navy's Battleships and Battlecruisers from 1911 to 1946. Weidenfeld & Nicholson. ISBN 978-0-85368-141-0. 

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