George V was a resolute monarch who brought Great Britain through World War I, as well as help resolve a severe constitutional crisis in the British Parliament in 1910. His service to his country won him much respect across the political spectrum, much like his son, George VI. When he died on the 20th January, 1936, widespread public mourning was genuine.

He was immortalised in not just one but two mighty British warships. Though they did not have as a colourful career as some other vessels of their day, they were reliable and neither was ever sunk. Whenever HMS King George V arrived on the scene, her allies were reassured and her enemies disheartened.

Battleship HMS King George V
/ (1939-1958)

HMS King George V (1911-1926)

The first HMS King George V, was a King George V-class dreadnought. This battleship was built at Portsmouth dockyard, laid down in January 1911 and completed in October 1912. The total cost was £1,961,096, a huge sum of money in the early 20th century. Three other dreadnoughts in her class were built:

HMS Ajax (decommissioned by 1924)
HMS Audacious (sunk by a mine, October 1914, off the coast of Northern Ireland
HMS Centurion (decommissioned by 1924)



Displacement: 23,400 tonnes
Length: 182 m
Armour: 8"-12" belt, 3"-10" barbettes, 11" turret face, 1"-4" deck

Weapon Systems

Main Armament: 10 x 13.5" (twin turrets), 16 x 4"
Topedoes: 3 x 21" torpedo tubes


Propulsion: 4 Parsons shaft-turbines, 31,000 hp
Top Speed: 21 knots (22 in trials)
Crew: 870 (1,110 by 1916)

Operational History

The Battle of Jutland

For most of World War I, the Royal Navy saw little action. The German High Seas Fleet was effectively trapped at port in Wilhelmshaven as the British Grand Fleet covered the North Sea between the coast of Scotland and Norway (the English Channel had been mined). With Germany under naval blockade and the ground war bogged down after the initial victories of 1914, the German Navy was under pressure to act.

Admiral Reinhard Scheer, assumed command of the German High Seas Fleet in 1916. He decided to destroy parts of the British fleet one at a time, as it was much bigger than his. Attacks on the British coast had only inflicted limited damage on towns like Scarbrough, but had frightened the population enough to demand the fleet be re-deployed to be able to meet an attack anywhere on the East coast. Thus he decided to lead part of the Grand Fleet's most modern ships into a trap - the battlecruisers of Admiral Beattie.

Scheer decided to attack Sunderland, hoping to tempt Beattie out of port. He was confident that German naval codes were secure, so the main British battle fleet, at Scapa Flow, would not be able to intervene. As it was poor weather made zeppelin reconnaissance impossible, so he used his own battlecruisers as bait. They moved north ahead of the main fleet, threatening British patrols and merchant shipping. However, the German code had been cracked, - the British were well aware of Scheer's plan. When Scheer left port in May, he believed only Beattie's group, based on the Forth, could respond. Little did he know that the Grand Fleet had sailed only a few minutes after him. The hunter had become the hunted.

Impetuous Beattie nearly did Scheer's job for him. He met the German battlecrusiers at 1530, on 31st May and attacked. But he did not properly understand his ships' technology properly, and the Germans were thus able to sink HMS Indefatigable and HMS Queen Mary. At 1640, Scheer's main fleet appeared from the south, and Beattie turned north with his remaining ships. Scheer must have thought his plan was working - of course he was being led to Admiral Sir John Jellicoe's Grand Fleet.

Jellicoe turned his ships to port, readying broadsides. The Germans were able to withdraw but for some reason came back at the British. This time Jellicoe crossed his T. In a desperate bid to withdraw, taking heavy punishment from British guns, Scheer ordered his remaining destroyers to fire their torpedoes. Jellicoe turned away, lest he loose too many of his ships to the torpedoes - Scheer was able to use the failing light to escape. Though British losses were slightly more, the Germans stayed cooped up in port for the rest of the war. Jellicoe had not destroyed the German fleet but from then on, only U-boats played a part in the rest of the war.

HMS King George V was the lead ship of the 1st Division of the 2nd Battle Squadron of the Grand Fleet. She only fired 9 13.5" shells in the whole engagement, though no damage was received. Her record was unimpressive but she had fulfilled her task. She led her division with skill and daring against the German fleet and survived to tell the tale.

She was eventually decommissioned in 1919. From 1923-26 she was used as a training ship and scrapped in 1926.

HMS King George V (1939-1958)

The second (and last) HMS King George V is more well known than her predecessor (she is also referred to as the KGV). She was one of several King George V-class battleships built between World War I and World War II. She was built by Vickers-Armstrong on the Tyne and was laid down on the 1st January, 1937. Completed on the 1st October, 1940, she was still a powerful warship and one of the Royal Navy's best capital ships. Four other battleships of her class were built:

HMS Anson (decommissioned 1957)
HMS Duke of York (decommissioned 1957)
HMS Howe (decommissioned 1957)
HMS Prince of Wales (torpedoed by Japanese planes, 10th December, 1940)



Displacement: (standard) 38,030 tonnes, (full load) 42,240 tonnes
Dimensions: overall length 227 m, beam 34 m, maximum draft 9.9 m
Armour: main belt 15.4"-5", lower belt 3", deck 7", turrets 16" (face) 11"-12" sides, barbettes </=16", conning tower 15"

Weapon Systems

Main Armament: 12 x 14", 16 x 5.25"
Anti-aircraft guns: 32-48 x 2pounder Mk VIII pompoms, unknown no. of 40mm machineguns, </=18 x 20 mm machineguns
Aircraft: 2 x Supermarine Walrus


Propulsion plant: 8 boilers (Admiralty 3 drum type), 4 Parsins single reduction geared turbines, 111,700 hp
Top Speed: 28 knots
Range: 15,000 nautical miles at 10 knots, 6,300 nms at 20knts, 3,200 nm at 27 knts
Fuel capacity: 3,842 tonnes oil
Crew: 1,409


Many people have criticised the design of the KG5, claiming she was outclassed by many enemy capital ships. It is true that Bismarck had heavier guns and that Gneisenau and Scharnhorst were faster. But the KG5 class had her advantages as well. First she had thicker armour than the Bismarck and Gneisenau classes in most areas of her design. Second her guns were only 1" less than Bismarck's and she had more guns than both her German rivals (10 versus 8 and 9 respectively).

In terms of speed, the KG5 class was lacking a little bit. Bismarck could make 30 knots, the Gneisenau class 32 knots (Scharnhorst certainly was capable of that). However she was much faster than previous designs of British battleship (by as much as 6 knots), and in a direct confrontation the speed difference meant little, unless a ship wished to flee. All in all she provided a much more modern capital ship for the Royal Navy, one that provided decisive in many engagements when a slower or more lightly armed/armoured vessel might not have been able to hold her own.

Operational History

For most of WWII, the KG5 was stationed in Scapa Flow, serving with the British Home Fleet. Most of her work in the early years dealt with convoy duty, apart from supporting commando raids on the Lofoten Islands, on the 4th March, 1941. She was made flagship of Home Fleet under Admiral Sir John Tovey soon afterwards. However there was one engagement in which she was immortalised.

Bismarck and Operation Rheinbung

Following the surface vessel operations in the Atlantic Ocean against Allied shipping in the winter of 1940, German Naval High Command decided to continue this endeavour. Thus it was decide to send a powerful taskforce to attack merchant shipping in this area, using the battleships Bismarck, Tirpitz, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. However Gneisenau was damaged while escaping from Brest back to Germany, and Scharnhorst had to enter dry dock too, suffering from problems with her propulsion. Tirpitz was only recently completed and had not finished her trials. Thus it was decided Bismarck and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen alone would embark on Operation Rheinbung.

Weather was the German's chief ally for the early part of the operation. Having successfully travelled to Norway, they left the Korsfjord on the 21sth May, 1941, proceeding north to the Denmark Strait. The following day, at 2000, Admiral Tovey received news that the German warships had left. He immediately dispatched a group of warships to blockade the possible routes into the Atlantic. On the 23rd the heavy cruisers HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk began to shadow the German ships with their radar. On the 24th, the weather improved and the visibility increased. The Battle of the Denmark Strait was about to begin, HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales moving rapidly to engage her.

Vice-Admiral Holland was commanding the British ships on board the Hood. He knew his ship had weak deck armour, so he tried to close the range as fast as he could - then his main belt armour (on the side) would protect against German shells. Thus he ran full speed down Bismarck's gun barrels. The plan almost worked. However just as he was executing his last turn, one that would have lined his main armour belt up against the German fire, heavy shells from Bismarck landed on the deck at 0601 hrs. They tore through the thin armour and detonated one of her magazines. She had no chance. It only took her 20 minutes to sink. Prince of Wales put up a fierce fight but was forced to withdraw. However she had made a small but vital contribution to the fight - three heavy shells had hit Bismarck and she was leaking oil. She could now not accompany Prinz Eugen on the mission and had to return to port. This was to prove her undoing.

Yet it took one further engagement to seal her fate. Admiral Lutjens managed to shake the cruisers tailing him and kept the British guessing as to where he would go next. As it was, he made for Saint-Nazaire. Air sorties with Swordfish torpedo-bombers from the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious failed to damage Bismarck. Then, on the 26th May, a flight from HMS Ark Royal managed to damage her rudder. Bismarck was now unable to manoeuvre. She was doomed.

HMS King George V vrs Bismarck

The KG5 and HMS Rodney closed with Bismarck on the morning of the 27th May. The German battleship could only make 7 knots, sailing against the wind. Admiral Tovey lost no time in engaging Bismarck - Rodney opened fire at 0847 hrs, the KG5 at 0848 hrs. The German ship put up a valiant fight but unable to change course and outnumbered, the result was inevitable. The KG5 got closer and closer, Tovey on board demanding the crews fire faster. The whole Royal Navy wanted vengeance for the sinking of Hood, who had been the nation's pride. One by one, Bismarck's turrets were put out of action. By 0931 hrs, only a few secondary armaments were still working. HMS Dorsetshire, a County-class heavy cruiser, finished Bismarck with a volley of torpedoes at 1000 hrs and another at 1036 hrs - she went down 3 minutes later. Over 700 shells had been fired by the two British ships from their main guns. Tovey was a hero, restoring pride in the Royal Navy once more. The KG5 was jointly remembered, alongside Rodney, as the heroic ship that ended Bismarck's rampage.

From WWII to retirement

HMS King George V's career did not end in 1941. She supported the invasion of Sicily in May 1943, as well as the Salerno operation later than year. Between March and June 1944, she was refitted and was transferred to the British Pacific Fleet that October. She bombarded Japanese shore facilities on several occasions, as well as attending the formal Japanese surrender in Tokyo Harbour on the 2nd September, 1945.

With the close of the war, her career effectively ended. She was recommissioned as Home Fleet's flagship in 1946. A mere three years later she was decommissioned into the Reserve Fleet. Finally at Dalmuir, in 1957, she was scrapped. She had served her nation with distinction and valour - now her spirit won a well deserved rest. The story of HMS King George V moved into history.

Closing thoughts

HMS King George V was a survivor. In both World Wars, she provided the Royal Navy with a fast, modern battleship that could give as good as she got. The criticism levelled at the design of the second KG5 has persisted for quite some time. But, despite every defect, every quibble raised, it never affected her performance. The only KG5-class ship to be destroyed was HMS Prince of Wales, and only then by an overwhelming number of torpedo-bombers, when she was without destroyer escort.

The KG5-class also excelled at "righting wrongs". The sinking of HMS Hood by Bismarck had damaged British pride - if she had escaped, it would have been an open wound. Though, of course, the Royal Navy's Swordfish attack (and Prince of Wales' hits) helped ensure Bismarck could be caught, it was still up to someone to finish her guns off. The KG5 captured the public's imagination by dealing this fatal blow. Also, one of her sister ships, HMS Duke of York, sunk Scharnhorst, which had also hit British moral by destroying HMS Glorious in 1940.

For HMS King George V, it did not matter if her mission was as simple as convoy duty or as deadly as hunting enemy battleships. She discharged her duty with skill, determination and, above all, deadly efficiency. No matter how far technology moves on in future years, she will always be remembered with deep pride by future generations of the Royal Navy.


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