The Royal Navy was the largest navy in the world until its gradual postwar decline. The Royal Navy has been the most vital part of Britain's military which has won countless naval battles, and even in more recent times it spearheaded Britain's victory in the Falklands. As such, Britain constructed many famous ships of various sizes. These are a few of the more famous ships of the Royal Navy.

The HMS Dreadnought

In the early 20th century, Britain's navy required a new generation of battleships. And so it was that construction of the HMS Dreadnought began in 1905. The battleship was laid down at the Portsmouth dockyard, and by 1906 the construction of the ship was complete. When it was unveiled, it was clear that it was not a standard battleship comparable to any constructed before it.

This battleship was larger than other Royal Navy ships. It had a displacement of some 20,730 tons. The expansion in size was largely down to the number of guns that it included. The Dreadnought had ten mounted in five twin turrets. This was more than double that of previous British battleships, which had more like four. That alone made any previous battleships somewhat outdated.

HMS DreadnoughtCredit: This image is a public domain photo.

The HMS Dreadnought was also the first to include steam turbines. Though added to destroyers, no battleships had previously included steam turbines. Combined with its lightweight engines the Dreadnought could reach 21 knots which eclipsed the vast majority of battleships. However, the ship was still coal based, requiring its crew to shovel coal into furnaces.

The notable expansion in armament and speed made the HMS Dreadnought the most advanced battleship constructed by 1906. Battleships constructed before it became pre-dreadnought warships. The world's foremost navies could not ignore this renowned battleship that made their own somewhat obsolete.

As such, the Dreadnought began a new dreadnought naval race. This further sparked the Anglo-German naval race before 1914. From 1906 onward both the Imperial German Navy and Royal Navy constructed an ever larger number of dreadnought battleships for their fleets. They were not the only navies either, as both the Imperial Japanese Navy and U.S. Navy also constructed new dreadnought battleships during the period.

After the war ended, Britain's navy scrapped the HMS Dreadnought in 1920. The ship began a new era for battleships which would get ever larger during the inter-war period. Thus, the battleships remained at the forefront of the world's navies until the 1940s.

The HMS Hood

The HMS Hood was a battlecruiser that was one of the flagships of Britain's navy. Construction of this battlecruiser began in 1916, although would not be completed until after the war. However, by 1920, the HMS Hood was complete, and was the largest warship afloat when she was first commissioned. Not until the emergence of the Yamato and Bismarck-class battleships was the HMS Hood eclipsed.

During the interwar period, the Hood was most active in the Mediterranean. In the 1920s, the ship made regular cruises to Spain and the Mediterranean. During the 1930s, the Hood was a part of the Mediterranean fleet stationed at Gibraltar during the Second Italo-Abyssinian War. The Hood was also in the Mediterranean during the Spanish Civil War and provided merchant ship escorts into Spanish harbors.[1]

The HMS HoodCredit: This is a public domain photo.

By the late 1930s, the Hood was somewhat outdated. The ship was due to be modernized in the early 1940s to ensure that it remained comparable to the more modern warships of the period. However, the re-emergence of war in Europe ensured that such modernization plans had to be postponed as the ship was soon called into service.

In the early months of this war, German Junkers bombed the Hood. As such, the ship had to return to port for refitting and repairs. When it returned, the French army had been all but defeated; and the French naval fleet was within reach of the Germans. The possibility of French warships joining German warships left Britain with little alternative other than to wipe out French warships in their harbors.

As such, the Hood was a part of the British fleet for Operation Catapult. During Operation Catapult, the Hood and other British warships opened fire at the port of Mers-el-Kébir, which was enough to sink one of the French battleships stationed there. Other French warships were also hit during the operation.

After the Bismarck's construction in 1941, the Hood set sail for the Norwegian Sea after false reports had filtered through that suggested the Bismarck had sailed there. However, it was not long before the Bismarck left its port in Germany. The Bismarck’s mission was to wipe out British merchant shipping, so Britain had to intercept it quickly.

As such, Britain's navy sent the HMS Hood and the Prince of Wales into the Denmark Strait. It was at the Battle of the Denmark Strait that the limitations of the HMS Hood became more apparent. Although the ship was quick, its armor was therefore more lightweight than the Bismarck’s armor. This gave the Bismarck the advantage at the Battle of the Denmark Strait, and the battleship's shells sank the HMS Hood.

After the battle, the loss of the Hood was reported back to Britain. The Germans had defeated one of the largest warships of the Royal Navy. Although, the Bismarck did begin to retreat to port after the battle before further RN ships intercepted it. Its operation had fallen apart because it was leaking fuel, and the Royal Navy pursued until the Bismarck joined the Hood at the bottom of sea.

The HMS Illustrious

The Illustrious class of aircraft carriers were perhaps the most important part of Britain's navy during the 1940s. The HMS Illustrious was one of the aircraft carriers added to the Royal Navy in 1939. The Illustrious would be vital in the Battle of the Mediterranean, and in 1940 won the Battle of Taranto naval battle. This was the first naval battle that included an aircraft carrier, and the planes of the HMS Illustrious ravaged the Italian battleships stationed at Taranto. This was effectively the beginning of a new era in which aircraft carriers would gradually eclipse battleships. The HMS Illustrious would also provide further naval support for land battles such as the Battle of Okinawa, which was effectively its final battle. The ship was decommissioned in 1954.[2]

These are three famous ships of the Royal Navy. The HMS Dreadnought, Illustrious and the Hood were three of Britain's great ships during the world wars.