HMS Lion

The battlecruiser HMS Lion was built in Devonport Dockyard,; she was laid down November 1909, launched 6th August 1910, completed May 1912, and cost £2,083,999.

During WWI HMS Lion took part in three famous battles:
  • 28 August 1914, The Battle of Heligoland Bight, where She sank the German light cruiser Cöln .
  • 31 May 1916, The Battle of Jutland.
  • 24 January 1915, The Battle of Dogger Bank.
  • She was also part of covering force at the second Battle of Heligoland Bight 1917.
  • The ship was decommissioned on 30 May 1922 and sold for scrap in 1924. [1]

    HMSs Lion
    Early 20th century postcard of HMS Lion

    At launch Lion was the largest warship in the Royal Navy. This was a period when the British Navy was supreme and had enjoyed a century of domination of the seas; when Devonport was launching ships almost every year - sometimes two a year, and when eleven thousand persons worked in the Yard. The town was quite simply used to ship launches. Launches were expected, anticipated and enjoyed by everyone - this was what Devonport was all about - her raison d'être .

    The launch saw nearly the entire town join in the ceremony, with even more persons travelling from further afield to attend, altogether around 80,000 persons were present. The 1910 newspaper article below describes the launch ceremony in wonderful detail, enabling you to feel the flavour of the day and understand what it meant to Devonport; the author almost lets you smell the river, his words are so descriptive. Ship launches really are something special .....

    QUOTE from The Strait Times 1910 [2]

    HMS Lion
    Scene At Devonport

    The giant cruiser Lion, the largest warship in the Navy, was launched at Devonport on August 6, the naming ceremony being performed by Viscountess Clifden. The weather was anything but ideal for a launching ceremony from a spectacular point of view, heavy rain falling all the afternoon, but this did not prevent some 80,00 persons from assembling to witness the great vessel take the water.

    In other respects the conditions were favourable, there being an absence of wind and a smooth sea. It was originally intended that a member of the Royal family should launch the Lion, but the court mourning preventing this Viscountess Clifden, of Lanhydrock, wife of the Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire, was asked to perform the duty.

    The Naming

    At five o’clock Viscountess Clifden, accompanied by Lord Clifden, Admiral Sir Wilmot Fawkes, Admiral Charles Cross, and a little party of distinguished visitors, ascended the launching platform. A bugle range out the Attention! and the dockyard chaplain proceeded with the usual religious service which precedes the launch of one of his Majesty’s ships of war. On the completion of the Benediction, Lady Clifden received from Admiral Cross the flagon of Colonial wine suspended by a bunch of tricoloured ribbons against the stern of the ship. With a dexterous twist of her wrist she shivered the glass against the steel nose of the vessel, and in a very firm voice said: I name you Lion. God bless you and those who sail in you. A ripple of hand-clapping ran through the spectators, and then followed a hush of expectancy, broken only by the dull booming of the workmen knocking away the dog shores from under the vessel’s bonds. Mr. Richards, the managing constructor of Devonport Dockyard, presented Lady Clifden with an oak casket, carved and wrought out of wood at least three centuries old, and a handsomely framed oil painting of the Lion as she will appear when completed. Opening the casket, Mr. Richards drew forth the silver chisel and ivory mallet with which the giantess was to be liberated. The crowd stood on tiptoe and held its breath in the tension of restrained excitement. But there was to come a pause, whilst the chief constructor eyed the dial showing the height of the tide, and took a last anxious glance down the sloping ways, smothered with sixteen tons of tallow. Then he made a signal to a blue jumpered attendant, and a clarion-tongued bell range out. Up from under the bilge of the ship workmen warmed in a hasty stampede. The signal had gone to stand clear.

    Placing the silver chisel with its edge upon a stout silken cord, Mr Richards smilingly bade Viscountess Clifden strike. She brought the mallet down with a smart rap, followed by another, and another, then – crash! The highly tensioned guy ropes flew asunder like parted harp strings. For the space of a single heart beat the colossal hull paused; then crept; then went gliding steadily down the slip to the accompaniment of the crushing, rending and splintering of wood and the cascading of parted waters. The band of the royal Marines burst forth in to Rule Britannia, the multitude gave throat in a tempest of cheering and afloat hooters screamed, whistles tootled and bells rang with furious clangor. Indeed, it was one of the most magnificent launches Devonport has ever witnessed. At 14 knots the Lion left her cradle whilst tugs darted towards her. Out on to the broad breast of The Hamoaze she swam, drawing out her length as she slowly swung the tide as though she would blot out the whole of the Cornish shore opposite with her colossal proportions. Then a burst of foam at the bows announced that an anchor had been let go; the band played God Save the King, and the ceremony was over.

    A little later, whilst Admiral superintendent Cross was entertaining hundreds of guests at an At Home upon the Dockyard Terrace, the yellow funnelled tugs slowly bore the magnificent ship out of sight up the stream, to be docked in the Keyham basin, where she will be completed. According to programme she is to be ready by December 1911, to take her place as principal flagship in the Home fleet, with a complement of 950 officers and men.

    It is generally understood that the Lion will displace no fewer than 26,350 tons, steam 28 knots with engines of 70,000 horsepower, and carry as her armament eight 18.5 inch and twenty four 4 inch guns. Her protection will consist of a belt of Simpson steel 9 ¾ in. thick, but this will not be carried to the extremities of the ship, where reliance will be placed upon a minute water-tight sub-division of the hull.

    HMS Lion

    [1] A Wikipedia page
    [2] The Strait Times published 7 September 1910, Page 11.
    Available from the digital archive of the national library of Singapore.

    (page added 24 May 2013)