HMS King George V (BB-13)

Royal Navy Battleship of World War Two

By , June, 2007. Updated March 1, 2012.

The King George V class battleships (KGV) were completed for the Royal Navy early in World War Two. Five ships of the class were built: King George V (1940), Prince of Wales (1941), Duke of York (1941), Howe (1942), and Anson (1942). They carried one quadruple and one high "super-firing" twin turret forward and one quadruple turret aft. In this unique layout, she carried ten 14-inch guns. Her secondary armament consisted of sixteen 5.25 inch guns clustered amidships in eight double turrets.

Two widely spaced tall, flat-sided stacks distinguished the ships of this class. Designed by the Admiralty in 1936 under the restrictions of the Washington Treaty. She was laid down at the Walker Navy Yard, Newcastle-upon-Tyne by Vickers-Armstrong Ltd. Originally, she was to have been named HMS King George VI following the tradition of naming the first capital ship of a new reign after the monarch. The King requested that the ship be named in honour of his late father, King George V, after whom an earlier class of battleships had been named in 1911. A later member of this class of battleship was named HMS Duke of York in honour of the King instead.

HMS King George V, British Battleship

Her main armament of ten 14 inch main guns in three turrets, was relatively weaker than the 16-inch guns mounted by HMS Nelson and Rodney, or the 15-inch guns of Bismarck or Tirpitz. After supporting the Lofoten Islands commando raids on March 4, 1941, King George V became the flagship of the Home Fleet under Admiral Sir John Tovey. In late May she was involved in the pursuit of Bismarck, and on the morning of the 27th, she and Rodney poured endless rounds into the doomed battleship. Earlier in the chase, lack of fuel had forced home Prince of Wales and aircraft carrier Victorious, but destruction of the German ship was of such paramount importance to Prime Minister Winston Churchill that he ordered the following extraordinary—and irresponsible—message sent: "We cannot visualize the situation from your signal. Bismarck must be sunk at all costs and if to do this it is necessary for King George V to remain on the scene she must do even if it subsequently means towing King George V." As it happened, the message was not received until after Bismarck was sunk, and Tovey later asserted that he would have ignored it anyway.

While escorting convoy PQ-15 to Murmansk on 1 May 1942, King George V collided with the destroyer HMS Punjabi, resulting in the sinking of the latter ship with 49 crew, and bow damage to the battleship.

In 1943 she was temporarily detached to duties in the Mediterranean, and was involved in the invasion of Sicily and attack on Taranto, as well as transporting the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, back to Britain from the Tehran Conference. From 1944 until the surrender of Japan, King George V served with the British Pacific Fleet, and was present off Japan during the official surrender ceremony.

HMS King George V, British Battleship

In 1944 she was redeployed to the new British Pacific Fleet as the flagship of the fleet's second-in-command, Rear Admiral Sir Bernard Rawlings. Although both she and her sister ship HMS Howe had a much reduced role compared with the North Atlantic campaign, often providing anti-aircraft cover for the fleet's aircraft carriers, they were both involved in the bombardments of Okinawa and southern Honshu, where the King George V last fired her main armament in anger.

Following the end of World War Two, the battleships of the King George V Class had become obsolete and expensive to run. Refitted in 1946/47, she was reduced to a training role in Portland. In 1950 the class was laid up in reserve in Gareloch. After the scrapping of the class was approved in 1957, she was broken up at Dalmuir and Troon the following year.