Anonymous H.M. Ship "Thunderer"
Medium Albumen print from wet plate negative
Mount on original mount
Photo Date 1870s Print Date 1870s
Dimensions 10-9/16 x 8-1/4 in. (268 x 210 mm)
Photo Country United Kingdom (UK)
Photographer Country United Kingdom (UK)
Contact Alex Novak and Marthe Smith
About This Image
The fifth HMS Thunderer was an ironclad turretship designed by Edward James Reed with revolving turrets, launched in 1872. The Royal Navy introduced, with the sister-ships HMS Devastation and Thunderer, the world's first mastless battleships, with a modern central superstructure layout which has lasted to this day. Armed with four 12 inch guns in rotating turrets, these ships represent the greatest single step forward ever taken in Naval design; they are really the prototypes of all subsequent warships, and are of far greater significance than the much-vaunted Dreadnought of thirty years later. With 12 inches of ironclad armor from end to end, they weighed over 6,000 tons despite a length of only 285 feet. Their hydraulic turret machinery and twin screw propulsion put them in the forefront of mechanical design, and with sufficient coal to provide a range of 4,700 miles, they were "veritable fighting coal-mines". At a time when the bulk of the fleet consisted of wooden square-riggers, they were regarded with some suspicion, and this was partly justified when two unfortunate incidents clouded the success of Thunderer's design: in 1876 she suffered a boiler explosion which killed 36 crew members, and in 1879 one of her 50-ton muzzle-loading turret guns was double-charged, and burst killing 11 gun crew. Both disasters had important repercussions: the boiler explosion signalled the end of box-boilers in favour of the modern cylindrical type, and it led directly to the writing of the first official Steam Manual in 1879, as it was poor operating procedures which had caused the problem; the safety valves had been screwed down for a pressure test, and then left in this condition. The gun explosion was equally significant, as it led to improved loading and handling procedures, and ultimately to the demise of the muzzle-loading gun in favor of breech-loading. Thunderer herself was re-equipped with long-calibre 10" breech-loaders, and settled down in her old age to become a favorite of the Fleet: King George V served in her for a while as Lieutenant Prince George of Wales. With her broad beam she was a fine gun-platform, and the phrase "As steady as the old Thunderer" was high praise for any newcomer to the Navy.
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