HMS Repulse

HMS Repulse

Repulse, 1939. Rangefinders, searchlight and anti-aircraft artillery stands can be seen

Origins of the ship’s design
Early years of the 20th century saw the emergence of a new breed of British warships – battlecruisers. The new ships were direct descendants of the armored cruiser class vessels, although their design was based on somewhat different principles.

The new ships were to be large and fast: the lack of heavy armor and/or armament would be offset by the installation of powerful machinery allowing the battlecruisers to achieve impressive speeds. In practice a battlecruiser’s armament was comparable to that of a battleship, although the armored protection was greatly reduced – the hull could be easily breached by shells of the same caliber as used by a battlecruiser’s own guns. The new warships were tasked with several types of missions. Their speed allowed them to perform scouting and pursuit duties and, during a sea battle, they could be easily dispatched to the area were their guns would be most urgently needed. The speed advantage was especially useful while employing the classic “capping the T” or “crossing the T” tactic (crossing a battle line formation of enemy vessels and firing a broadside, which denied the enemy any opportunity to respond).
One of the most fervent supporters of the battlecruiser concept in the Royal Navy was John “Jackie” Fisher. The first three warships representing the new breed (the Invincible class) were introduced in the first decade of the 20th century. Soon the Germans and the Japanese followed suit and built their own battlecruisers. The new design’s baptism of fire would come during World War I. In combat operations the new vessels performed very well (victories in the first battle of the Heligoland Bight and the Falkland Islands), which seemed to prove the viability of a battlecruiser concept. These early success stories gave Admiral Fisher the necessary leverage to convince the Admiralty to shelve the construction of the sixth and the seventh Revenge class battleships (also known as the Royal Sovereign or R class) in favor of two battlecruiser units. Design stage and the actual construction of the ships progressed at a record pace, since the Royal Navy wanted the new vessels to join the fleet before the war’s end (which, according to many at that time, was just around the corner). A decision was made to keep the names previously reserved for the battleships: Renown and Repulse. The new ships’ hulls were 50 m longer than the previously planned battleships and required longer slipways, which meant that the entire construction process and the stock of materials already in place had to be moved to new locations. As a result the battlecruisers were built in Scottish shipyards at Govan (Renown) and Clydebank (Repulse).
The outcome of the Battle of Jutland was a dramatic wake-up call for the enthusiastic supporters of the battlecruiser concept. Three Royal Navy vessels of that type (HMS Queen Mary, HMS Indefatigable and HMS Invincible) exploded and sank quickly with a massive loss of lives after being hit by German ships. Their fate demonstrated that eliminating adequate armored protection on ships of that size was indeed a fatal mistake. Although the Royal Navy tried to rectify the problem by installing additional armor on both Renown and Repulse during numerous refits and modernizations, the final outcome was still far from sufficient. When the two ships entered service they were almost identical. Over the years and after countless refits (which gave rise to rather unflattering nicknames of HMS Refit and HMS Repair) the ships’ characteristics became more and more divergent. In keeping with the Royal Navy tradition HMS Repulse received her official badge and motto: Qui Tangit Frangatur (“Who touches me is broken”).

HMS Repulse in 1939. The ship’s silhouette was dramatically altered following the major refit in 1933 – 1936. Aircraft facilities were added amidships: athwartship catapult, two hangars for Fairey Swordfish seaplanes and aircraft cranes. Surrounding the stacks was a boat deck and AA artillery gun stations. The forward stack is taller than the aft one to reduce the exhaust fumes impact on the forward superstructure – a problem that was first noticed during the sea trials back in 1916. Prior to the royal family’s voyage planned for 1939 special VIP quarters were added on the upper deck on each side of the aft superstructure. The voyage was eventually cancelled and later single-mounted 4” cannons were installed on the VIP quarters’ roofs [Visualization 3D Stefan Dramiński]



Machinery installed on Repulse remained unchanged throughout her service life. The huge boiler room (over 58 m long) housed as many as 42 Babcock-Wilcox boilers distributed among six compartments. There were 3 boilers in compartment A, seven in compartment B and eight in each of the stern compartments (C, D, E and F). The boilers generated steam for four Brown-Curtis turbine units located in two engine room compartments. The turbines drove four-bladed propellers via main drive shafts. The ship’s machinery developed 112 000 SHP (112 400 after modifications) which translated into a top speed of almost 32 knots. Following various refits which significantly altered the hull’s hydrodynamic characteristics and increased the ship’s weight (addition of armor plating and installation of anti-torpedo bulges) the battlecruier’s top speed dropped to a little over 28 knots. Repulse featured a set of auxiliary generators delivering a total of 750 kW. Two of the generators were piston-powered (200 kW each), one was a turbine powered set (200 kW) and one was a hydraulic unit (150 kW). In total the machinery weighed in at 5 100 t. The ship carried 720 t of boiler water and 150 t of potable water.

In keeping with an adage: “speed is armor” Renown class battlecruisers featured limited armored protection which was to be offset by a powerful propulsion system. The Battle of Jutland proved beyond any doubt that the concept was fundamentally flawed (the British lost three battlecruisers in the engagement). Later attempts to provide the ships with improved armored protection were, unfortunately, not entirely successful.
When Repulse first entered service her citadel featured very thin 6” side armored protection, which was also very narrow (only 2.74 m with the lower section extending just one and a half feet below the waterline). The armor belt was only 4” thick in the area around turret A and 3” thick around turret Y. 2” armored strakes were located directly behind the main armor belt. Upper sections of the hull’s sides were protected by 1.5” armor plating. The front of the citadel was protected by a 4” bulkhead set at an angle (upper and lower edges were closer to the stern of the ship, while the mid section extended towards the bow). The stern bulkhead was 3” thick. Horizontal protection was based on two decks: lower deck (beginning at the lower edge of the main side armor belt – 2.5” thick and increasing to 3.5” above the steering gear compartment) and main deck (upper edge of the main armor belt, 0.75” to 3” thick). Upper and forecastle decks featured lighter protection (up to 1.25”). The main battery turrets and barbettes were better protected (but only just!): the turrets were covered by 7” to 11” plates (4.25” on their roofs), while the barbettes had 7” armored protection in the upper sections and 4” plating around the lower sections. Sides of the conning tower were protected by 10” armor, while the roof and floor featured 6” and 3” protection, respectively. Armor protection particulars can be found in the tables. Below the waterline the ship’s hull was protected by anti-torpedo bulges, which additionally provided storage for fuel oil. Directly behind the anti-torpedo bulge, in the amidships section, was a narrow air-filled compartment enclosed by two thin, longitudinal bulkheads. The design weight of the entire protective armor was 4 770 t.

The cross section of the Repulse’s hull. Clearly visible are 6” and 9” armor belts, 4” armored strakes, as well as lightly armored forecastle, upper and main decks. Additional “blisters” were added to the original anti-torpedo bulges. The new additions were split inside by a single longitudinal bulkhead and covered the 9” vertical armor. There were two additional, thin longitudinal bulkheads behind the bulges with empty space between themRepulse’s armor was modified and upgraded on several occasions during her 25 years of service. Some of the most significant modifications included increasing the main armor belt thickness to 9”, increasing the side armor plating between the main and upper decks to 6”, addition of 2” plates to the armor strakes above the ammunition magazines and 1” plates to the main deck, as well as the installation of much beefier anti-torpedo bulges, which covered the main armor belt. From 1936 Repulse featured strengthened lower deck protection (up to 3.5”) and additional plating on the main deck (up to 5.75”).


Armament (1916)
6 x 15’’/42 (381 mm) Mk I installed in Mk I* turrets (3 x II)
17 x 4’’/42 (102 mm) BL Mk IX on Mk I mounts (5 x III, 2 x I)
2 x 3’’/45 (76.2 mm) 20cwt QF HA Mk I on Mk II mounts (2 x I)
2 x Hotchkiss 3-pdr (1.85’’/40. 47 mm) QF Mk I on Mk I mounts (saluting guns)
5 x 0.303’’ (7.7 mm) Maxim machine guns (5 x I)
2 x fixed underwater 21’’ (533 mm) Mk II torpedo tubes (2 x I)

Armament (1936)
6 x 15’’/42 (381 mm) Mk I installed in Mk I* turrets (3 x II)
12 x 4’’/42 (102 mm) BL Mk IX on Mk I mounts (4 x III)

4 x 4’’/45 (102 mm) QF Mk XV on Mk XVIII mounts (2 x II)
4 x 4’’/45 (102 mm) QF Mk V on Mk III mounts (4 x I)
2 x Hotchkiss 3-pdr (1.85’’/40. 47 mm) QF Mk I on Mk I mounts (saluting guns)
16 x 2-pdr (40 mm/39) Mk VII pom-poms on Mk VI mounts (2 x VIII)
8 x 0.50’’/62 (12.7 mm) Mk III on Mk II mounts (2 x IV)
8 x fixed above water 21’’ (533 mm) Mk IV torpedo tubes (4 x II)

Armament (1939)
6 x 15’’/42 (381 mm) Mk I installed in Mk I* turrets (3 x II)
12 x 4’’/42 (102 mm) BL Mk IX on Mk I mounts (4 x III)
6 x 4’’/45 (102 mm) QF Mk V on Mk III mounts (6 x I)
16 x 2-pdr (40 mm/39) Mk VII pom-poms on Mk VI mounts (2 x VIII)
16 x 0.50’’/62 (12.7 mm) Mk III on Mk II mounts (4 x IV)
8 x fixed above water 21’’ (533 mm) Mk IV torpedo tubes (4 x II)

Armament (1941)
6 x 15’’/42 (381 mm) Mk I installed in Mk I* turrets (3 x II)
9 x 4’’/42 (102 mm) BL Mk IX on Mk I mounts (3 x III)
6 x 4’’/45 (102 mm) QF Mk V on Mk III mounts (6 x I)
24 x 2-pdr (40 mm/39) Mk VII pom-poms on Mk VI mounts (3 x VIII)
16 x 0,50’’/62 (12,7 mm) Mk III on Mk II mounts (4 x IV)
8 x 20 mm/70 Oerlikon Mk II (6 x I)
8 x fixed above water 21’’ (533 mm) Mk IV torpedo tubes (4 x II)

The Renown class ships carried 15”/42 (381 mm) main guns mounted in twin Mk I* turrets. The gun was a very long-lived design and it was carried by as many as 22 Royal Navy vessels. The weapon was designed by Vickers-Armstrong back in 1912 and the first examples entered service in 1915. In total 186 guns of that type were manufactured between 1912 and 1915 along with 58 turrets. The main gun battery on HMS Repulse was mounted in two fore turrets (A and B) arranged in a superfiring position. Turret Y was located aft of the aft superstructure. Mk I* turrets were upgraded versions of the Mk I design and featured improved projectile and powder charge feed mechanism. Externally the Mk I* turret differed from the Mk I in that the former had a rounded front armor plate, while the latter featured a multi-angular plate.
By the 1930s the 15”/42 gun was an outdated design, so the British decided to update the existing examples rather then embark on a costly gun replacement program. Under the upgrade program the gun’s poor effective range was to be raised by increasing the maximum elevation angle from 20 to 30 degrees and the use of new, more streamlined projectiles. The changes were introduced on HMS Renown during the ship’s modernization in 1936 – 1939. Her sister ship, however, would never undergo the weapons modernization program (partially, perhaps, because she was sunk in the early stages of the war).

15”/42 Mk I main guns mounted in Mk I* turrets
Caliber    15’’ (381 mm)
gun weight    101 605 kg
Gun length oa    16.52 m
Bore length    16.002 m (42 calibers)
Grooves    76
Chamber volume    502.3 dm3
Breech mechanism    Welin type
Rate of fire    around 2 rounds per minute
Ammunition    World War I APC Mk Ia – 871 kg (27.4 kg Lyddite bursting charge)
HE – 871 kg (98.2 kg bursting charge)
World War II
APC Mk XIIa – 879 kg (22 kg Shellite bursting charge)
APC Mk XIIIa – 879 kg (22 kg Shellite bursting charge)
Propellant charge    World War I 194 kg MD45
World War II
196 kg SC280
Barrel life    up to 350 rounds
Ammunition stowage    120 rounds per gun
Range    21 702 m
Turret weight    770 t
Elevation    -5° to +20°
Train    -150° to +150°

When she first entered service Repulse’s medium battery consisted of 17 relatively light caliber 4” guns (BL Mk IX). The weapons were installed in five tripple Mk I shielded mounts (two on each side of the forward stack, three on the aft superstructure along the ship’s centerline) and in two single mounts (each side of turret B on the shelter deck). The guns proved to be a big dissapointment. Training and elevating the weapons was a highly laborious exercise, not to mention that each triple set required a large crew (28 – 32 men). Not surprisingly the guns were gradually phased out from use aboard the ship: during the 1918 – 1921 refit the single-mounted cannons were removed, followed by triple installations that disappeared from in front of the mainmast during the 1933 – 1936 modernization and another triple mount that was removed in 1940. In 1941 only nine guns of that type still remained on Repulse’s deck.
1924 saw the installation of much improved and more modern 4” guns – 4”/45 QF Mk V single-mounted on unshielded Mk III mounts. Two such installations were placed on each side of the aft stack, while two more were added to the forecastle deck in the fore stack area. At the same time two sets of very similar 4”/45 (102 cm) QF Mk XV guns twin-mounted on Mk XVIII mounts were installed on the aft superstructure, each side of the mainmast. Mk XVIII mounts were experimental BD (between decks) type units. The guns’ rate of fire proved to be inadequate and during the 1939 refit they were replaced with 4”/45 QF Mk V models, which increased the total number of these weapons to six.

4”/45 QF Mk V guns on Mk III mounts
Caliber    4’’ (102 mm)
Gun weight    2.138 t (without breech mechanism)

Gun length oa    4.77 m
Bore length    4.572 m
Grooves    32
Chamber volume    7.325 dm3
Breech mechanism    horizontal sliding breech block
Rate of fire    10-15 rounds per minute
Ammunition    fixed, HE – 24.26 kg
Barrel life    about 850 rounds
Magazine capacity    150 rounds per gun
Range    15 000 m
AA ceiling    9 450 m
Mount weight    7 t
Elevation    -5° to +80°
Train    360°

From the beginning of her service life HMS Repulse’s AA capability was very poor indeed. In 1916 the ship’s AA protection consisted of five Maxim machine guns and only two 3”/45 (76.2 mm) 20cwt QF HA Mk I guns on unprotected Mk II mounts (placed on each side of the smoke stack). The guns were the first weapons purpose built as naval AA pieces, but they were also widely used by ground units during World War I. By 1922 two more guns of that type were added (they replaced obsolete 4”/42 BL Mk IX weapons). Two years later all 3” guns were removed and replaced by the 4” units. From 1936 the ship carried two eight-gun stations equipped with 2- pdr (40 mm/39) Mk VII guns, better known as pom-poms due to the characteristic sound they made while firing. The guns were mounted on each side of the fore stack, just aft of the triple 4” gun mounts. In 1940 Repulse received a third pom-pom station, which replaced a 4”  mount behind the mainmast. Although the work on pom-pom design began as early as 1921, the guns were not installed on the Royal Navy vessels until 1930. At the time of their service entry pom-poms were considered very advanced weapons: their multiple mount arrangement and 14-round linked ammunition stowed in 140 round magazines provided very good rate of fire. However, the weapon had its weaknesses, too. The gun’s internal mechanisms were very complex and required a lot of specialized care and attention. Stoppages and jams were not infrequent. The weapon’s greatest drawback, however, was its very low muzzle velocity (due to a short barrel design) and completely ineffective ammunition. By the 1940s rapid improvements in aircraft design rendered the guns obsolete.

2-pdr (40 mm/39) Mk VII (pom-pom) guns mounted on octuple Mk VI mounts. [Visualization 3D Stefan Dramiński]

2-pdr (40 mm/39) Mk VII guns on Mk VI mounts

Caliber    40 mm

Gun weight    259.5 kg
Gun length oa    2.606 m
Bore length    1.575 m
Grooves    12
Chamber volume    0.165 dm3
Rate of fire    96-115 rounds per minute
Ammunition    fixed, HE 1.34 kg (including a 2 lb projectile)
Barrel life    about 5 000 rounds
Magazine capacity    1800 rounds per gun
Range    3 475 m
AA ceiling    1 555 m
Mount weight    15.68 t
Elevation    -10° to +80°
Train    360°



Repulse’s AA armament was supplemented by Vickers 0,50’’/62 (12.7 mm) Mk III machine guns on quad Mk II mounts. The first two sets were installed in 1936 and placed on two small platforms each side of the stack, above the pom-poms. Two more stations were added in 1939 (mounted on platforms in the lower part of the mainmast). Although the Vickers guns were manufactured in large numbers and used on virtually all RN warships during World War II, they proved utterly ineffective against ever faster and more resilient aircraft.0.5”/62 Mk III Vickers machine guns on quad Mk II mounts

0,50’’/62 (12.7 mm) Mk III machine guns on Mk II mounts

Caliber    0,5’’ (12.7 mm)
Gun weight    25.4 kg
Gun length oa    89 cm
Bore length    79.4 cm
Rate of fire    600-700 rpm (in practice 150-200 rpm)
Ammunition    fixed, 0.08 kg
Magazine capacity     2 500 rounds per gun
Range    730 m
Mount weight    1 310 kg
Elevation    -10° to +80°
Train    360°


During her last modernization in 1941 the ship received eight 20 mm/70 Mk II AA guns manufactured by Oerlikon (4 on each side of the conning tower, 2 on each side of the aft superstructure and 2 on the roof of turret Y). The weapon was a very successful design and was perhaps the most widely used AA gun of World War II. The Oerlikons were very effective at close range against virtually all aircraft types. The full combat potential of the guns was limited on Repulse due to a small number of installed weapons.

20 mm/70 Mk II guns
Caliber    20 mm

Gun weight    68.04 kg
Gun length oa    2.21 m
Bore length    1.4 m
Grooves    9
Chamber volume    34.855 cm3
Rate of fire    450 rpm (in practice 250-320 rpm)
Barrel life    about 9 000 rounds
Ammunition    fixed, 0.241 kg
Range    4 300 m
AA ceiling    3 000 m
Mount weight    520 kg
Elevation    -5° to +85°
Train    360°

From the service entry until the 1939 modernization the ship carried four Hotchkiss 3-pdr (47 mm) QF Mk I saluting guns on Mk I mounts.
In 1916 Repulse was equipped with two fixed 21” Mk II*** torpedo tubes (533 mm, 234 kg TNT bursting charge, range of 4 110 m at 45 kt) installed forward of turret A, below the waterline. The ship could carry a supply of ten torpedoes. In 1922 the torpedo launchers were removed and replaced with eight fixed above water tubes (installed in twin sets on each side of the hull, abaft of the stack and the mainmast). Installation of that sort of weapons on a large capital ship did not make much sense, especially when the torpedoes were to be launched from fixed tubes, which further degraded their effectiveness. Nonetheless, the torpedo tubes on Repulse were retained until the ship’s sinking in 1941.


Main artillery fire control centered around two gun directors placed on the conning tower and on a platform located on the foremast. Additionally, each main gun turret was equipped with a 15 foot (4.57 m) rangefinder. During the ship’s service life optical fire control equipment was constantly upgraded and by 1936 Repulse carried the following types of rangefinders:
30 foot (9.14 m) – rear of turret A, in a revolving dome on the conning tower and roof of turret Y,
15 foot (4.57 m) – roofs of turrets A and B and a rotating dome on the conning tower,
12 foot (3.65 m), AA fire control – top of the foremast, platforms of the forward superstructure (one on each side) and top of aft superstructure, abaft the mainmast,
9 foot (2.74 m) – each side of the forward superstructure, below the 12 foot rangefinder stations.
During the last modernization in August 1941 the ship received the newest model of main gun fire control radar – Type 284. The set utilized 50 cm wavelength (600 MHz) and featured 25 kW power output, which allowed the “blind” tracking of a target. The radar sets of that type were successfully used for main gun fire control on cruisers and capital vessels until the introduction of centimeter wavelength units later during the war. Two radar Type 284 antennas were installed in a rotating dome on the conning tower and placed in a position that would not interfere with the rangefinders. In November 1941, while the ship was in transit to the Far East, she was probably fitted with Type 286P air surveillance radar (1.4 m wavelength, 6 kW power output).
Initially the battlecruiser was equipped with as many as 10 searchlights (one on each side of the superstructure, two on platforms on the fore stack, four on platforms on the aft stack and one on each side of the mainmast). After the 1917 refit only eight searchlight remained and by 1936 the number was reduced to six 36” units (superstructure, aft stack and the mainmast). Additionally two 24” signal lights were installed on superstructure platforms.
The Admiralty had a keen interest in exploring the possibilities of cooperation between the air and naval components, which gave rise to the idea of embarking aircraft aboard capital ships. In 1917 Repulse became the first Royal Navy heavy warship to carry embarked aircraft. First trials were performed using a single-seat Sopwith Pup aircraft launched from a catapult installed on the roof of turret B (the launch would be in the direction of the gun barrels). Later trials used a catapult mounted on top of turret Y (launching in the direction of the turret’s rear wall). Make-shift canvas hangars were erected on the ship’s deck. All experimental aircraft facilities were removed by 1933 and in 1936 Repulse received permanent aircraft handling equipment. Two seaplane hangars were installed abaft the aft smoke stack, complete with 7 ton cranes. A D(II)H type catapult was installed across the deck. The facilities could handle up to 4 seaplanes, although in practice that number would be most likely reduced to two. Initially the ship was equipped with Blackburn Sharks, replaced in 1939 by Fairey Swordfish seaplanes. Towards the end of her career Repulse carried Supermarine Walrus flying boats.

Fairey Swordfish Mk I on floats (No. 093), ready for launch, 1939. [Visualization 3D Stefan Dramiński]

Supermarine Walrus flying boat
Length    10,2 m
Wingspan    14 m
Height    4,6 m
Take-off weight    3 265 kg
Powerplant    Bristol Pegasus VI radial engine, 680 HP
Maximum speed    215 km/h
Range    600 miles
Ceiling    5 650 m
Armament    2 x Vickers K, up to 345 kg bombs/depth charges
Crew    3-4

In May 1940 a degaussing cable was installed on the ship as a countermeasure against magnetic naval mines. The cable ran along the external section of the hull.

Summary of construction timeline and service history

30.12.1914 Order placed for the ship’s construction.
01.1915 Transportation of material earmarked for the unfinished battleship project from Palmers shipyard at Jarrow to John Brown & Company Shipyard & Engine Works in Clydebank, Scotland (the former could not handle the construction due to the ship’s size).
25.01.1915 Laying down ceremony.
12.04.1915 Ship’s technical documentation is finished.
22.04.1915 Technical documentation approved.
08.01.1916 Hull is launched.
15.08.1916 Sea trials begin.
18.08.1916 Live weapons trials of all caliber guns. Repulse officially enters service with the Royal Navy in a record-breaking time (a little over a year and a half after construction had begun).
08-09.1916 Sea trials and crew work-ups.
21.09.1916 Joined the Grand Fleet as flagship of 1st Battlecruiser Squadron.
10-12.1916 Modernization at Rosyth (forward stack’s height increased by several meters, armor strakes’ thickness increased to 4”, additional 2” plating added to the main deck above the engine room, 2” armor plating added to the upper deck above the ammunition magazines, upper armor forward of turret A and aft of turret Y increased to 2.5”).
09.1917 Searchlight platforms rebuilt, launch platforms installed on turrets B and Y.
01.10.1917 Successful launch of a Sopwith Pup from a launch platform on turret B.
08.10.1917 Successful launch of a Sopwith Pup from a launch platform on turret Y.
16.11.1917 Deployed with 1 BCS in support of operation by light cruisers to intercept German minesweeping off Heligoland.
17.11.1917 The second battle of Heligoland: having fired 54 15” shells the Repulse crew score two hits against an enemy ships. Light cruiser Frankfurt suffers damage, while another light cruiser – Königsberg – sustains heavy damage. The battle’s result is inconclusive.
12.1917 Return to Grand Fleet base at Scapa Flow.
05.03.1918 Unsuccessful attempt to launch a two-seat aircraft from a platform on turret B.
21.11.1918 Present at formal surrender of German Hochseeflotte at Scapa Flow.


Read more…

3D06 Repulse CMYK


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