Seven Battles were commissioned before the end of World War II, but only saw action, with the British Pacific Fleet.
With these parameters accepted a sketch design was submitted and approved in the autumn of 1941 and orders for sixteen ships (two flotillas) were placed under the 1942 programme. Considerably larger than the standard fleet destroyer, these ships were seen as a replacement for the Tribal class which had already suffered very heavy losses. With an overall length of 379 feet they were two feet longer than the Tribals and with a beam of 40 feet 3 inches were just over three feet wider. It was decided to abandon the usual alphabetical naming of destroyer flotillas and name these ships after famous land and sea battles, thus these ships became known as the 1942 Battle class.
Experiences in the Pacific, in operations against the Japanese, pointed to the limited usefulness of the 4 inch gun abaft the funnel and only the first ships completed, Barfleur, Armada, Trafalgar, Camperdown, Hogue and Lagos were fitted with the gun. In all other ships the gun was replaced by two single 40/60 mm Mk VII giving a total of 14 Bofors, the heaviest light AA armament of any British destroyer and heavier than that carried in many cruisers. In time, all the ships fitted with the 4 inch gun had them removed and replaced with the two single 40/60 mm Mk VII Bofors
All ships were completed with a lattice foremast instead of the pole mast shown in the original plans. This enabled the ships to carry the latest radar and various IFF transponders and receivers on the foremast. Typical radar fit when built was the "cheese" of Radar Type 293 target indication at the masthead, Radar Type 291 air warning on the mainmast and the twin nacelles Radar Type 275 fire control on the Mk. VI director.
It was intended that the first eight ships would form the 19th Destroyer Flotilla with the British Pacific Fleet in the Far East, but only Barfleur made it to the Pacific in time to take part in operations against Japan. Barfleur was in Tokyo Bay during the Japanese surrender ceremony on 3 September 1945. After the end of hostilities she was joined by Armada, Trafalgar, Hogue, Lagos and Camperdown. In 1947 all six ships returned home and went into reserve.
The other two other ships destined for the 19th Flotilla, Solebay and Finisterre were retained in home waters, Finisterre became gunnery training ship for the Portsmouth command and Solebay leader of the 5th Destroyer Flotilla, Home Fleet, which consisted of six ships of the second flotilla, Cadiz, Gabbard, St. James, St. Kitts, Saintes (see below) and Sluys. The other two ships of the second flotilla Gravelines and Vigo going straight into reserve upon completion.
The ships of the second flotilla saw a change in the light AA armament. The tri-axially stabilised Dutch "Hazemeyer" mountings with their Radar Type 282 were regarded as unreliable and were replaced by an Admiralty designed Stabilised Tachymetric Anti Aircraft Gun (STAAG). The Hazemeyer's Radar Type 282 was metric and operated through a pair of Yagi antennae, and could therefore only supply target range. The British design utilised the Radar Type 262 centimetric radar with a small spinning dish aerial which gave range and bearing and was capable of "locking on" to a target and could train and elevate the guns as the target moved. The British design was more complicated than the Dutch design and weighed a massive 17 tons each (compared with the Hazemeyer's 7 tons). This meant that only two mountings could be installed in order to keep the top hamper within acceptable limits. These were fitted to the top of the after deckhouse. The middle gundeck, between the torpedo tubes, was left empty. In practice these mountings proved even less reliable than the ones they replaced and led to three ships Saintes, Camperdown and Trafalgar eventually having them replaced by Mk V "utility" mountings, each controlled by a Simple Tachymetric Director (STD) mounted on the top of the gun crew shelter. A further refinement saw the removal of the depth charge equipment and single 40/60 mm Bofors gun from the quarterdeck to be replaced by a Squid ahead throwing depth charge mortar. The after deckhouse was extended to contain a mortar handling room. This eventually became the standard weapons fit for all of the 1942 Battles.
A variation occurred when Saintes was completed with a 4.5 inch RP 41 Mark VI turret in the "B" gun position. Commissioned in September 1946 into the 5th Destroyer Flotilla Saintes spent most of the time in independent trials of the new gun. During these trials, whilst carrying out live firing exercises in the Solent, Saintes opened fire on a target towed by the Brigand class tug Buccaneer, missed the target and sank the tug. Upon completion of trials Saintes paid off and was refitted with the standard Battle class armament before being laid up.
Saintes recommissioned in 1949 when, as D3, and with Armada, Vigo and Gravelines, they replaced and the "V" class as the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla, Mediterranean Fleet. Barfleur replaced Gravelines in the 3rd Flotilla, but no major changes took place until 1953. The appearance of the Darings at this time spelled the demise of the 5th Destroyer Flotilla, and after the Coronation Review all six ships went into reserve. Only two,Solebay and St. Kitts saw further service with the Royal Navy. In 1956 Saintes headed home for a major refit at Rosyth, her crew transferring to Armada. Vigo also returning to home waters to replace Finisterre as gunnery training ship at Portsmouth. By late 1956 only four ships remained operational. Armada, Barfleur and St. Kitts with the 3rd Destroyer Squadron (as they had now been designated) and Vigo as Portsmouth Command gunnery training ship. All the other ships were either in reserve or undergoing refit. Most had the fire control system updated and new ASDIC fitted and those that still had the quarterdeck AA gun had it replaced by the Squid A/S mortar.
The late 1950s saw the Battles back in business. In 1957 the "Ch" destroyers of the 1st Destroyer Squadron were replaced by the newly refitted Solebay, Hogue and Lagos. Initially serving with the Mediterranean Fleet, in 1959 the squadron deployed to the Far East, where Hogue's career came to an abrupt end when she rammed the Indian cruiser Mysore (formerly ). She was towed to Singapore where she was laid up until scrapped in 1962. Upon the return home of the remaining ships in 1960 Hogue was replaced in the squadron by Finisterre.
In 1957 a newly refitted Camperdown, which had been in reserve since returning from the Far East with the 19th Destroyer Flotilla ten years previously, was brought back into service to relieve St. Kitts in the 3rd Destroyer Squadron. The following year Saintes having finished her major refit at Rosyth resumed command of the 3rd Squadron, relieving Barfleur in the Mediterranean. Five years later St. Kitts was broken up at Sunderland. Barfleur was laid up for several years before being broken up at Dalmuir in 1966.
One other Battle was given a new lease of life. Trafalgar also laid up in 1947 was refitted and commissioned in 1958 as leader of the 7th Destroyer Squadron. She continued in service, alternating between the Home and Mediterranean Fleets until she finally paid off in 1963. In 1970 she arrived at Dalmuir to be broken up.
Gravelines and St. James also commenced refit at Devonport in 1958 but these were stopped a few months later. Both ships were sent to the breakers in 1961.
Three other ships began a new lease of life in the late 1950s. In 1957 Cadiz and Gabbard were sold to Pakistan and renamed Khaibar and Badr. Khaibar was lost to a missile attack in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971.
Sluys ended 13 years in the Devonport reserve when she was sold to Iran in 1966. Renamed Artemiz she completed a three year refit at Vosper Thornycroft at Southampton. Her profile was radically altered. She was given a new, plated foremast to carry the parabolic aerial of a Plessey AWS 1 long range search radar. A fully enclosed bridge replaced the usual "open sundeck" above the forward superstructure. She retained her 4.5 inch main armament, but these were now controlled by a modern radar and fire control system. Her AA armament now consisted of four single 40/60 mm guns and a quadruple Sea Cat missile launcher on the after end of a new deckhouse which stretched from just aft of the funnel to the quarterdeck. She commissioned in 1970 as a training ship. During 1975/6 she was refitted at Cape Town and fitted with surface to surface missile launchers. During a later refit carried out by the Russians her main gunnery radar and control systems were again modernised, although she retained her original guns, and the Sea Cat system was replaced by a modern Russian surface to air missile system. She was still in existence in the early 1990s although believed to be non-operational.
In 1960 the 1st and 3rd Destroyer Squadrons were amalgamated to form a new 1st Destroyer Squadron. As a result Lagos and Armada paid off into reserve, Armada being broken up at Inverkiething in 1965 and Lagos at Bo'ness in 1967.
The new 1st Destroyer Squadron completed a very busy final two year commission before finally paying off in May 1962. Solebay became Portsmouth harbour training ship until being scrapped at Troon in 1967. Finisterre remained in Chatham reserve until being broken up at Dalmuir in 1967. Camperdown was laid up in the Hamoaze at Devonport for many years until finally being sent to the breakers yard at Faslane in 1970.
Now only Saintes remained. On paying off in 1962 a volunteer towing crew from her last commission took her to Rosyth, where she went into reserve. Here she was used as the training ship for Artificer Apprentices from HMS Caledonia who kept her engines and machinery in full working order. She was eventually replaced by the frigate in 1972 and she too headed for the breakers yard at Cairn Ryan, the last of the Royal Navy's 1942 Battle class destroyers.
Admiral Andrew Cunningham, whilst taking passage in the 1942 Battle Class ship , was rather unflattering in his description of these ships saying that they were "too large" and "had every damned weapon and gadget except guns". Modern naval architects feel this is unfair as the role of destroyers had changed since the admiral was a destroyer Captain at the battle of Jutland (Brown 2000) The original role was torpedo attack on enemy ships, but their role in the late 1940s was to protect the fleet (and themselves) from aircraft and submarines. The Battle Class were probably better at this task than any other Second World War British destroyer (Brown 2000).
A further criticism, not just of the Battle class design, but of British destroyers generally, was of the main machinery layout. Until 1936 all destroyers had a three boiler room layout, as the naval staff considered this the minimum requirement for battle damage survivability. In 1936 the head of the destroyer section of the Constructors Department came up with a radical new design for the "J" class. This included a new system of longitudinal framing to ease construction whilst at the same time increasing the integral strength of the ships. It also called for a two boiler layout with both boilers fitted back to back allowing them to vent up a single large funnel. This decreased the ships silhouette and gave improved firing arcs for the anti-aircraft armament. This layout and hull design proved very effective and made for good looking ships. The "J" class design was used in all following destroyer designs until the advent of the Weapon and Daring classes, however, the boiler room layout was a constant source of criticism as a single hit in the wrong place could cripple a ship completely.
In order to find a solution to these criticisms it was originally planned that 32 ships (four flotillas) of an improved design would be built under the 1943 and 1944 Naval Estimates and that there would be changes in armament and layout in the later ships. It was expected that the 4.5 in RP41 BD Mk VI turret, trialled by Saintes from 1946/48, would be available to arm the later ships. In the end 26 ships were ordered. These formed two distinct groups plus two ships of an expanded design.
The first 16 ships (two flotillas) were ordered in early 1943. They were based on a slightly widened version of the 1942 ships. They were to be fitted with the American Type 37 DCT which was now becoming available and which would be equipped with the British Radar Type 275 fire control set and Medium Range System (MRS) 9 fire control system. In an attempt to counter the criticisms that the ships were underarmed for their size, and were incapable of engaging a target right aft, a single 4.5 inch gun on a standard Mk V mounting would be positioned on the original 4 inch gun deck abaft the funnel. In the event these guns failed to provide a solution as they were restricted to firing on either beam because the midship positioning meant their arc of fire was fouled by the ships fore and aft superstructure. Their AA armament was reduced to eight 40/60 mm Bofors, two twin STAAG Mk. II mountings on top of the after deckhouse, one twin Mk. V on the middle deckhouse controlled by an STD mounted on top of the gun crew shelter, and a single mounting Mk. VII on either bridge wing. All ships would be fitted with a Squid Anti-submarine mortar on the quarterdeck and ten 21-inch torpedo tubes in two quintuple mountings.
The last flotilla of eight ships and two ships of an expanded design were ordered under the 1944 estimates. The first eight ships were to be fitted with two twin 4.5 inch guns forward in the new RP41 Mk VI turrets. These turrets offered improved ammunition handling and a faster rate of fire due to their semi-automatic breech action and it was thought that this was sufficient to preclude the fitting of the single gun amidships. The bridge structure was raised as earlier trials in Saintes had noted that the higher profile of the Mk VI turret obstructed visibility forward. The AA armament was increased in these ships as the weight saved by dispensing with the single 4.5-inch gun amidships meant that a third twin STAAG could be fitted together with five single 40/60 mm guns giving a total of eleven light AA guns.
Arguably, the most interesting design changes were incorporated in the two extended ships. These ships were intended to bury all the criticisms of the design once and for all. The hull dimensions were increased adding 10 feet in length and 2.5 feet to the beam. This allowed for a third 4.5 in Mk VI turret to be mounted aft. The main reason for the increase in length, however, was the planned change in the mechanical layout of these ships. Since the inception of the "J" class the boilers had been concentrated together, an arrangement which allowed a reduced hull length, however plans drawn up for the smaller Weapon class showed that this reduction was, in fact, minimal so a decision was made to employ a unit arrangement for the propulsion machinery in these ships, based on the same lines as that proposed for the Weapon class.
The two extended ships, Vimiera and Ypres were not scrapped at this time but eventually became a part of the Daring-class, programme authorised in 1946. The original order was for sixteen ships, but construction was a long drawn out affair and eventually the Admiralty cancelled eight of the ships. At this time Vimiera, which had been renamed Danae was scrapped but Ypres was finally commissioned into the Royal Navy as .
This left a flotilla of eight ships, Agincourt, Aisne, Alamein, Barrosa, Corruna, Dunkirk, Jutland (ex-Malplaquet) and Matapan to be completed for service in the Royal Navy and, as with other ships built after the end of hostilities, work proceeded at a very slow pace. The first ship Agincourt was laid down in December 1943 but not completed until the end of June 1947. Alamein, laid down less than three months behind her sister ship, was not completed until May 1948.
It was originally intended that all eight ships would form the 4th Destroyer Flotilla, but by 1947 the post-war manning crisis had reached its peak and so Alamein, Barrosa, Corunna and Matapan went into reserve. This left only Agincourt, Aisne, Jutland (the original Malplaquet which had been renamed Jutland after launching) and Dunkirk in service.
1948, however, saw all but Matapan back in service with the Home Fleet, but just over a year later another reduction took place. In 1950 a decision was made to pay off several destroyers in the Home and Mediterranean Fleets and replace them with Loch class frigates. Dunkirk, Barrosa and Alamein paid off into reserve and Aisne and Jutland were temporarily laid up for nearly a year.
In 1951 the 4th Destroyer Squadron was back in business. Consisting of Agincourt, Aisne, Jutland and Corunna and converted to General Service Commissions the squadron deployed between the Home and Mediterranion Fleets for the next few years. In 1953 Barrosa replaced Jutland and in 1957 Aisne was replaced by Alamein. In March 1959 there was a collision in the Bay of Biscay between Barrosa and Corunna. The following month the 4th Squadron was disbanded. Alamein went into reserve and was broken up at Blyth in 1964. Agincourt, Barrosa and Corunna were placed in dockyard hands for conversion to radar pickets.
In 1958 Jutland and Dunkirk recommissioned as part of the 7th Destroyer Squadron. Led by the 1942 Battle Trafalgar, the squadron completed two General Service Home / Mediterranean Fleet deployments before Jutland paid off into reserve in 1961. She was broken up at Blyth in 1965. Dunkirk did a further two year General Service deployment with the squadron before paying off in 1963. She was broken up at Faslane in 1965.
A new frigate, the Type 61, was designed to carry out this role, however, it became clear that with a top speed of only 24 knots these ships would not be able to keep up with a carrier group. Consideration was therefore given to converting existing ships to carry out this role with carrier groups. The latest long range radar available at that time was the Type 965. The Radar Type 965 came with two aerial configurations, the AKE-1, known as the bedstead, and the AKE-2, known as the double bedstead. The AKE-1 weighed in at almost two tons and the AKE-2 at a massive four tons. It soon became clear that only a large ship, like a "Battle" class destroyer would be able to carry such a load.
In 1955 a decision was made to convert four Battle class ships to Fast Air Detection Escorts, although the work was not started until 1959. The four ships chosen for conversion were Agincourt, Aisne, Barrosa and Corunna. On completion of the conversions only the hull, engines, funnel, forward superstructure and main armament remained of the original ships. A huge new lattice foremast was fitted immediately abaft the bridge. The base of this mast straddled the entire width of the ship and was surmounted by a large 4 ton Type 965 AKE-2 double bedstead aerial, with a Type 293Q mounted on a platform below. All torpedo tubes and light AA armament were removed and a large deckhouse containing generators and radar offices was built abaft the funnel. A new lattice mainmast carried a Radar Type 277Q height finder and an array of ESM and DF aerials. The after deckhouse was extended and a GWS 21 Sea Cat SAM system was mounted on top. The ships retained the Squid A/S mortar on the quarterdeck.
The conversions of Corunna at Rosyth Dockyard and Aisne at Chatham Dockyard were completed in 1962 and both ships joined the 7th Destroyer Squadron in the Mediterranean. On completion of her refit at Portsmouth, Agincourt joined the 5th DS in home waters. Corunna, however, ended up further afield. On completion of her refit at Devonport she joined the 8th Destroyer Squadron in the Far East. These arrangements were short lived as, in 1963, the Admiralty reorganised the frigate and destroyer squadrons into escort squadrons. Each escort squadron comprised a mix of ships of varying type in order to provide an increased capability within each group.
Corunna transferred to the 21st Escort Group which included a deployment to the Far East from September 1964 to August 1965. on returning home she began a refit at Rosyth in September 1965 and on completion in 1967 went into operational reserve at Portsmouth where she remained until put on the disposal list in 1972. In 1974 she was towed from Portsmouth to Sunderland for breaking but was then towed to Blyth and broken up in 1975.
Aisne transferred to the 23rd Escort Group and after a short spell joined 30th Escort Group in January 1964 and served in the Mediterranean from April to September 1964 and in the Far East from September to December 1964 and from July to December 1965. She recommissioned in January 1966 and served in the Far East from August 1966 to April 1967. In December 1967 she was sent to the West Indies, returning in March 1968. She paid off in August of that year and was broken up at Inverkeithing in 1970.
Agincourt spent four and a half years rotating between Home and Mediterranean waters, first as part of the 5th DS and then, after the reorganisation into Escort Squadrons, with 23ES and 27ES. Reduced to reserve at Portsmouth in October 1966 She was put on the disposal list in 1972. She was broken up at Sunderland in 1974.
Barrosa transferred to the 24ES and, apart from two spells at home between July 1966 and August 1967 and July to September 1968, spent all of her life as a radar picket serving in the Far East. She paid off into reserve at Devonport in December 1968. In 1971 she joined her sister ships at Portsmouth and was put on the disposal list in 1972. She was used as a stores hulk at Portsmouth until being towed to Blyth to be broken up in 1978.
The short life of these ships despite the enormous amount spent on their conversion was undoubtedly due to the policies of the Labour Government which came to power in 1964. They were committed to withdrawal from the Far East and a corresponding reduction in the size of the fleet. The decision to run down the carrier fleet and the cancellation of the new carrier build also meant that the need for fast air direction ships was reduced. The building of new general purpose frigates, such as the Leander class, fitted with 965 radar and modern operations rooms, meant that they could replace the 'Battles' in most circumstances.Armament summary
The original building programme for the 1943 ships included provision for the later ships, the third flotilla, to be armed with the new 4.5 Mk. VI turret. Although these ships were cancelled by the Admiralty two ships of this type had been ordered by the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) in Australia in 1945. Neither of these ships were cancelled and both ships were laid down in 1946, although, like the building programme in Britain, progress was slow. The first of the two ships HMAS Anzac was not completed by HMA Dockyard at Williamstown until 1950 and her sister HMAS Tobruk built at the Cockatoo Yard, Sydney was not completed until the following year. The only difference between these ships and those planned for the Royal Navy was a distinctive funnel cowl fitted to both ships.
Tobruk remained in service until 1960 when she was placed in reserve. Anzac had her STAAG mountings removed at about this time and continued in service as a training ship. She was further modified for this role in 1966 when 'B' turret was removed and replaced by a deckhouse. Another deckhouse was built aft. She was laid up in 1974. Both ships were broken up in 1975.Armament summary