Monday 11 December 2017

The smallest dreadnoughts?

Although HMS Dreadnought was the first of her type to enter service – and thus give a whole new generation of battleships a new name – other nations had already begun to design and built 'all big gun' battleships.

Amongst these was the US Navy's South Carolina-class, which carried their main armament on the centreline, with two of the four turrets superimposed.

These two ships – USS South Carolina and USS Michigan – were smaller than HMS Dreadnought, and remained the smallest ships of their type until Spain began to build its first and only dreadnoughts, the España-class.

Although they were obsolete by the time they entered service, they served the purpose for which they were built. In other words they had sufficient firepower to 'show the flag' and defend Spain's coastline from any potential enemy, but were relatively inexpensive to build and operate.

Of the three built, two survived to serve in opposing navies during the Spanish Civil War.

ESPAÑA (formerly Alfonso XIII)


The class’s characteristics were:
  • Displacement: 15,452 tons normal; 15,700 tons maximum
  • Dimensions: 459’ 2” x 78’ 9” x 25’ 6” (140m x 24m x 7.8m)
  • Maximum Speed: 19.5 knots
  • Armour:
    • Belt: 8” to 4” (203mm to 102mm)
    • Barbettes: 10” (254mm)
    • Gunhouses: 8” (203mm)
    • Deck: 1.5” (38mm)
  • Armament: 8 x 12” (305mm) (4 x 2) guns; 20 x 4” (102mm) (20 x 1) guns; 4 x 3 pdr (47mm) (4 x 1) anti-aircraft guns
  • Complement: 854
  • The British companies Vickers, Armstrong Whitworth, and John Brown & Company submitted the winning design for these battleships, and provided the builders (Sociedad Española de Construcción Naval, El Ferrol, Spain ... which they owned!) with many of the major specialist components.
  • The completion of Jaime I was delayed by the non-delivery of material – including the main armament – from Britain due to the outbreak of the First World War.
  • España was originally named Alfonso XIII. The original España sank in August 1923 whilst bombarding Rif positions near Cape Tres Forcas. The second España served in the Nationalist Navy during the Spanish Civil War and sank after hitting a mine on 30th April 1937.
  • Jaime I served in the Republican Navy during the Spanish Civil War. She was damaged by Nationalist bombing whilst at Cartagena, and was subsequently scuttled there on 17th June 1937 following a fire that was caused by an accidental magazine explosion.
During the period between the First and Second World Wars there were several proposals to limit the size of newly-built battleships. Although not as small as the España-class, they would have not been as large as the dreadnoughts that had been designed and built during the First World War.

For example, the French Navy developed a design for a fast battleship of less than 25,000 tons that was armed with 12" (305mm) guns, had armour designed to resist 11" (280) guns, and a speed of 30 knots. It was never built, but formed the basis of the design that evolved into the Dunkerque-class battleships.


  1. Hi Bob,

    There is a kind of synchronicity in action here - I mentioned SCW naval and your new book on my blog and lo and behold, Spanish dreadnoughts appear, as if by magic!

    Great article old chap and I am really looking forward to getting your book.

    All the best,


    1. David Crook,

      The blog entry about small dreadnoughts and the publication of LA ULTIMA CRUZADA are linked by the fact that I had read a section of a book about the early dreadnoughts on the same day that I checked my book’s text before it was published. The two things got intermingled in my head, hence this blog entry was written.

      All the best,


  2. Hi Bob,

    A really interesting post..thank you. I think there's loads of imaginations naval potential with these smaller dreadnoughts, especially in the interwar period.


    1. J Jackaman,

      I am pleased that you enjoyed this blog entry. Between the wars a lot of navies had plans that never came to fruition, some of which included small dreadnoughts. It is a treasure trove of possibilities for those who want to build navies for their imagi-nations.

      All the best,


  3. I am reaching for my 1/3000 Navwar order form for those Spanish ships .. reto fitting the US to the Spanish American war is tempting too!

    1. Geordie an Exiled FoG,

      I have often wondered what the two small US dreadnoughts would have looked like if they had been retained and modernised instead of scrapped. Perhaps that is a paper design exercise that I will do one day!

      All the best,



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