Ships of the Royal Navy in World War II
Battleships, Aircraft Carriers, Cruisers
By Stephen Sherman, June, 2007. Updated January 27, 2012.
The Royal Navy, still the largest in the world in September 1939, included 15 battleships, 7 aircraft carriers, 66 cruisers, 184 destroyers, 60 submarines, and many smaller craft. This section of the website includes descriptions and pictures of many of the larger ships of His Majesty's Navy.
For each ship of the Royal Navy shown in the recognition manual (typically the lead ship of the class), you can see a summary description and images -- profile, plan view, and photograph -- of the ship.
BattleshipsHMS King George V
HMS Queen Elizabeth
Aircraft CarriersHMS Furious
15 Battleships & battlecruisers
- of which only two were post-World War 1.
Five King George V class battleships were building
The 'King George V' class battleships were the penultimate class of battleships completed for the Royal Navy (RN). Five ships of the class were commissioned: King George V (1940), Prince of Wales (1941), Duke of York (1941), Howe (1942), and Anson (1942).
Five Ships of the Revenge class
Ramillies took part in the Battle of Cape Spartivento in World War II. She was torpedoed by a Japanese minisub in 1942. She took part in the bombardment of German positions during the Normandy Landings. She was scrapped in 1948. One dual 15 inch gun was preserved and is now on show at the Imperial War Museum in London.
Resolution took part in convoy duty early in World War II. Was torpedoed by a Vichy French submarine, receiving little damage. She then joined the Far East Fleet, before becoming a training ship in late 1944. She was scrapped in 1948. One dual 15 inch gun was preserved upon scrapping and takes pride of place, along with the gun from Ramillies, at the Imperial War Museum.
Revenge took part in the Battle of Jutland, sustaining no damage and receiving no casualties. In World War II, Revenge undertook a number of operations, though by 1944 she become a training ship. She was scrapped in 1948. * Royal Oak fought at the Battle of Jutland. In 1939, during World War II, Royal Oak was sunk by three torpedoes from U-47, with the loss of 833 of her crew. She is now an official war grave.
Royal Sovereign had a relatively quiet career, missing the Battle of Jutland. She took part in convoy duty in the early part of World War II. She was loaned to the USSR in 1944 and renamed Arkhangelsk, escorting Arctic convoys for the remainder of the war. Returned after the war, she was scrapped in 1949 in the UK.
Two ships of the Nelson class were battleships of the British Royal Navy built shortly after the Washington Naval Treaty in 1922. They were the first British battleships built since the Revenge class of 1913, and the last until the King George V class of 1936. Because of the limitations of the treaty the structure of the ships had to be revised, which resulted in unusual design compromises. Two ships of the class were produced, named after famous British admirals: HMS Rodney after George Brydges Rodney, 1st Baron Rodney of the Battle of Cape St. Vincent and Nelson after Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson of the Battles of the Nile and Trafalgar.
Five Ships of the Queen Elizabeth class
Barham received five hits at Jutland, suffering 26 dead and 46 wounded and fired 337 shells. In World War II, she fought at Cape Matapan. On 25 November 1941 she was struck by three torpedoes from U-331 and sunk.
Malaya was hit eight times at Jutland, suffering 63 dead and 68 wounded and fired 215 shells. In World War II she escorted convoys and was damaged by a torpedo from U-106 in 1941.
Queen Elizabeth missed Jutland, but took part in the Dardanelles Campaign in World War I. In World War II she was mined and sunk by Italian frogmen at Alexandria in 1941. She was subsequently raised, repaired, and served in the far east until 1945.
Valiant astonishingly received no hits at Jutland but suffered one wounded and fired 288 shells. In World War II, she took part in the destruction of the French Fleet at Mers-el-Kebir, and was mined and sunk at Alexandria in 1941. She was subsequently raised, repaired, and served in the far east until 1944.
Warspite had perhaps the most distinguished career of any Royal Navy ship of the 20th century. She suffered severe damage at Jutland and nearly foundered (hit by 15 heavy shells). She lost 14 dead and 32 wounded, firing a total of 259 shells. In World War II, she took part in many battles, including Narvik, Cape Matapan, Crete, and Salerno, where she was hit by a glider bomb. She was never fully repaired, and became a coastal bombardment ship, covering the Normandy landings, and further operations in other parts of France.
Sunk by the Bismarck in 1941 in the North Atlantic. The Bismarck put a shell right in a weak point amidships, and the Hood, the pride of the Royal Navy, sank within minutes. Only a handful of survivors out of a crew of over 1,000.
The Renown class
This was a class of two battlecruisers of the Royal Navy built during the First World War. They were originally going to be the last ships of the Revenge-class of battleships. The initial expectation of a short war led to their construction being suspended on the grounds they would not be ready in time. Admiral Fisher, upon becoming First Sea Lord, restarted the building as battlecruisers that could be built and enter service quickly. Eustace Tennyson-D'Eyncourt as Director of Naval Construction had designed the Revenges, and the Renowns were produced by lengthening the hull, reducing the number of turrets from four to three, and providing thinner armour. As a result build time was reduced and they were delivered not long after the battle of Jutland in 1916. The two ships were HMS Renown, and HMS Repulse. A third ship, Resistance, was cancelled before construction started. They were the world's largest capital ships upon completion, until the commissioning of HMS Hood. The ships were notorious maintenance hogs and widely derided as "HMS Refit" and "HMS Repair". Both ships served in World War I and World War II. Repulse was sunk on 10 December 1941 in the South China Sea off Kuantan, Pahang by Japanese aircraft. Renown survived the war, to be scrapped in 1948.
7 Aircraft carriers.
One was new and five of the planned six fleet carriers were under construction. There were no escort carriers.
Three HMS Illustrious class
The Illustrious-class was a class of aircraft carrier of the Royal Navy that were some of the most important British warships in World War II. They were laid down in the late 1930s as part of the rearmament of British forces in response to the emerging threats of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan. Each of these ships played a prominent part in the battles of WWII. Victorious took part in the chase of the Bismarck, Illustrious and Formidable played prominent parts in the battles in the Mediterranean during 1940 and 1941 and all three took part in the large actions of the British Pacific Fleet in 1945. The Illustrious class comprised three vessels: HM Ships Illustrious, Formidable and Victorious. Three further similar ships were built as the war progressed, to modified designs in order that they could carry larger air wings. HMS Indomitable (R92) had a second half-length hangar deck below the main hangar deck and the two ships of the Implacable class, Implacable and Indefatigable, had two hangar levels, albeit with a limiting 14 feet head room.
HMS Indomitable (pennant number 92) was a modified Illustrious class aircraft carrier of the British Royal Navy. # Eagle (1918) # Hermes (95) (1923) - first purpose-designed aircraft carrier # Ark Royal (91) (1938)
The Royal Navy built two Implacable-class aircraft carriers, HMS Implacable and HMS Indefatigable, to succeed the Illustrious-class carriers during the Second World War and launched in 1942. They were modifications of the HMS Indomitable (R92) design with double-level hangars. Unfortunately the hangars were only 14 ft in height and thus limited the aircraft types that these ships could operate. A modernisation plan was considered after the end of the war, which would have involved replacing the double-level hangar with a single 20 ft high structure. Funds were not available and the ships were retired after relatively brief careers.
These were mainly post-World War 1 with some older ships converted for AA duties. Including cruiser-minelayers, 23 new ones had been laid down.
In the Second World War, the Caledon, Ceres and Carlisle class ships participated, despite their age. Calypso caught the German blockade-runner Konsul Hendrik Fisser in 1939. That same year, Caradoc intercepted the German tanker Emmy Friedrich, whose crew subsequently scuttled her. A number of ships took part in the Norway Campaign in 1940. The C-class were also extensively used in the Mediterranean Sea; the first notable engagement by a ship of the class being's Coventry's participation in the Battle of Cape Spartivento in 1940. In 1941, Calcutta and Carlisle took part in the Battle of Cape Matapan, in which a number of Italian warships were sunk. C-class cruisers also took part in the campaign and evacuation of Crete, coming up against heavy German opposition from the air. In 1942, Carlisle took part in the Second Battle of Sirte. In 1942/43 Colombo and Caledon went in for their refits - getting 40 mm Bofors and 20 mm Oerlikons alongside the twin mounts. In 1943, Carlisle was heavily damaged by German aircraft, though did not sink. The damage did, however, knock the ship out of the war. In 1944, Cape Town provided support to the Normandy Landings, bombarding German positions.
Six ships of the C-class were lost during the war: Cairo was sunk in 1942 by the Italian submarine Axum during Operation Pedestal; Calcutta was attacked and sunk by German aircraft during the evacuation of Crete; Calypso was sunk by the Italian submarine Bagnolini in 1940; Coventry was heavily damaged by German aircraft while covering a raid on Tobruk in 1942, forcing Zulu to scuttle her; Curacoa was sunk after colliding with the ocean liner RMS Queen Mary in 1942; and Curlew was sunk by German aircraft during the Norwegian Campaign in 1940.
* Danae — built by Sir W. G. Armstrong Whitworth and Company, High
Walker, laid down 11 December 1916, launched January 26, 1918,
completed July 18, 1918, to Free Polish Navy 1944–1946 as ORP Conrad,
sold for scrapping 1948 * Dauntless — built by Palmers Shipbuilding and
Iron Company, Jarrow, laid down January 3, 1917, launched 10 April
1918, completed 2 December 1918, sold for scrapping 1946
* Dragon — built by Scotts Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, Greenock, laid down 24 January 1917, launched 29 December 1917, completed 16 August 1918, to Free Polish 1944, damaged by German Neger manned torpedo off Caen 9 July 1944, written off and expended as breakwater off Normandy beaches 20 July 1944
* Delhi — built by Armstrong Whitworth, laid down 29 October 1917, launched 23 August 1918, completed 7 June 1919, sold for scrapping 1948
* Dunedin — built by Armstrong Whitworth, laid down 5 November 1917, launched 19 November 1918, completed by Devonport Royal Dockyard October 1919, torpedoed and sunk by [German U-boat U124 off Saint Paul's Rock November 24, 1944
* Durban — built by Scotts, laid down 22 June 1918, launched 29 May 1918, completed by Devonport Royal Dockyard September 1, 1921, expended as breakwater off Normandy beaches 9 June 1944
* Despatch — built by Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, Govan, laid down July 8, 1918, launched September 24, 1919, completed Chatham Royal Dockyard 2 June 1922, sold for scrapping 1946
* Diomede — built by Vickers Limited, Barrow-in-Furness, laid down June 3, 1918, launched 29 April 1919, completed Portsmouth Royal Dockyard 24 February 1922, sold for scrapping 1946
The Emerald or E class
This was a class of two light cruisers built for
the Royal Navy. Following the Cavendish Class, Three ships of new class
were ordered towards the end of World War I designed to emphasize high
speed at the cost of other qualities, for use against rumored new high
speed German cruisers, and particularly minelayers, in the North Sea.
The E class were based on the preceding Danae class, but had a very
high ratio of length to beam, and only one more gun despite being much
bigger and more expensive
* Emerald (1926)
* Enterprise (1926)
This was a class of eight light cruisers built for the Royal Navy in the early 1930s that saw service in World War II. They were named after mythological figures, and all ships were commissioned between 1933 and 1936. The three ships of the second group were later transferred to the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) and renamed after Australian cities.
Leander group: HMNZS Leander, HMNZS Achilles, HMS Ajax, HMS Neptune, HMS Orion
Amphion/Sydney group: HMS Amphion/HMAS Perth, HMS Apollo/HMAS Hobart, HMS Phaeton/HMAS Sydney
The Arethusa class
This was a class of four light cruisers built for the Royal Navy between 1933 and 1937 and that served in World War II. It had been intended to construct six ships, but the last pair, Polyphemus and Minotaur were ordered in 1934 as the 9,100 ton Town class Southampton and Newcastle
184 Destroyers of all types.
Over half were modern, with 15 of the old 'V' and 'W' classes modified as escorts. Under construction or on order were 32 fleet destroyers and 20 escort types of the 'Hunt' class.
60 Submarines, mainly modern with nine building.
45 escort and patrol vessels with nine building, and the first 56 'Flower' class corvettes on order to add to the converted 'V' and 'W's' and 'Hunts'. However, there were few fast, long-endurance convoy escorts.
Commonwealth Navies - Included in the Royal Navy totals were:
Royal Australian Navy - six cruisers, five destroyers and two
Royal Canadian Navy - six destroyers;
Royal Indian Navy - six escort and patrol vessels;
Royal New Zealand Navy, until October 1941 the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy - two cruisers and two sloops.