HMS Shannon (1875)


The eighth HMS ''Shannon'' was the first British armoured cruiser. She was the last Royal Navy ironclad to be built which had a propeller that could be hoisted out of the water to reduce Drag (physics), drag when she was under sail, and the first to have an armoured deck (ship), deck.


''Shannon'' was built in response to two threats. The instructions of the British Admiralty to the designer, Nathaniel Barnaby, were to design an ironclad "capable of competing with the second class Ironclads of foreign navies". This meant in particular the ten French armoured corvettes of the and classes,Beeler, p.183 though the ironclads of the smaller navies of Asia, and the Americas also featured. The British counter to these ships were the and classes of second-class ironclad of the 1860s. ''Shannon''s design was in the lineage of these ships, though the tactical landscape was changing. At the same time as ''Shannon'' was being planned, the Imperial Russian Navy launched the first armoured cruisers, and her sister . These ships were intended for the traditional cruiser mission of commerce raiding, but were armoured and armed on the same scale as a second-class ironclad. The existence of these ships meant that ''Shannon'' was now expected to act as a counter to them, and perform the commerce protection missions which had previously been the preserve of unarmoured cruisers, most recently the . ''Shannon'' was armed with two RML 10 inch 18 ton gun, 10-inch guns in armoured embrasures facing towards the Bow (ship), bow, six RML 9 inch 12 ton gun, 9-inch guns on the open deck amidships, and a seventh 9-inch gun facing astern. The astern gun could be fired from either of two unarmoured embrasures, one on each side of the ship. She was also equipped with an unusual detachable ram, which was meant to be removed in peacetime to reduce the risk of accidentally ramming another warship. The ram was supposed to be stowed on board and attached in wartime; however this proved to be a very impractical arrangement. ''Shannon'' was armoured in an unconventional manner. An armoured belt tall and between thick ran for most of the length of the ship, but stopped from the bow. Above the belt was an armoured Deck (ship), deck thick, the first such armoured deck on a British warship.Parkes, pp.236–7 At the point the belt ended, a 9 in armoured Bulkhead (partition), bulkhead ran across the ship, the top of which formed the embrasures for the 10-inch guns on the upper deck. From the bottom of this bulkhead, a thick armoured deck extended to the bow, at a level below the waterline. The space above this forward armoured deck was filled with coal bunkers and stores to limit any flooding. The 9-inch guns were unarmoured (though the armoured bulkhead did protect them against raking fire from ahead) and would have been very exposed in combat. In an action, it was hoped to attempt to ram the enemy while firing with the forward guns and preparing the 9-inch broadside. The crews could then retreat into the armoured part of the ship. If the ramming failed then the guns could be fired electrically as ''Shannon'' passed her target. ''Shannon'' could use both sail or steam power. While steam was much preferred for combat, sail propulsion was considered vital for a ship intended to operate worldwide.Beeler, p.186 She was given a lifting screw in order to increase her efficiency under sail, the last Royal Navy warship to be so equipped. She had three Mast (sailing), masts, and was initially given a Full-rigged ship, ship rig with of sail, a point insisted on by the Director of Naval Operations, Arthur Hood, 1st Baron Hood of Avalon, Captain Hood. In service, this was reduced to a barque, barque rig with . She was equipped with Laird two-cylinder compound steam engine, compound engines, the high-pressure cylinders being in diameter and the low-pressure cylinders . Steam came from eight cylindrical boilers at pressure. Her design top speed was , but her best actual speed was . To reduce fouling, she had zinc and wood copper sheathing, sheathing on her hull.


''Shannon'' was something of a failure as a warship. While she accomplished more than ''Swiftsure'' or ''Audacious'' on a more limited displacement, and was the equal of a foreign 'station ironclad', she turned out to be far too slow to be an effective cruiser. While her heavy reliance on sailing efficiency was inevitable given her role, this was incompatible with the speed required to catch a foreign cruiser. These problems meant that ''Shannon'' spent very little time on the overseas stations she was designed for. She was commissioned in July 1877, but she was found to be over-weight and there were problems with her engines, which kept her in dock until March 1878, when she went on a shakedown cruise with the Channel Fleet. In April 1878 she departed for the China Station but was recalled from there in July, and went into dock for further changes. In December 1878 she was commissioned again, serving in Channel and Mediterranean fleets, and was despatched to the Pacific in July 1879, returning in July 1881 when she was refitted. In the Pacific, ''Shannon'' was the only ship equipped with 10-inch guns, and no spare ammunition of this calibre was kept at Esquimault; since the expense of moving ammunition to a base that remote was prohibitive, she was prohibited from practicing with her 10-inch guns. This problem could have been addressed by replacing the 10-inch guns in the 1881 refit, but there was little purpose to doing so as ''Shannon'' never saw overseas service again. In May 1883 she briefly became a Tender ship, tender to and then was relegated to being a Her Majesty's Coastguard, coastguard ship. During the Panjdeh Incident in 1885 she was briefly readied for operations. From May 1895 she was in Reserve fleet, reserve, and she was sold for Ship brekaing, breaking up in December 1899 for £10,105.Parkes, p.238

Building Programme

The following table gives the purchase cost of the members of the ''Shannon''. Standard British practice at that time was for these costs to exclude armament and stores. In the table: *''Machinery'' meant "propelling machinery". *''Hull'' included "hydraulic machinery, gun mountings, etc."Brassey's Naval Annual, The Naval Annual 1895 , pp.192-200



* John Beeler, ''Birth of the Battleship – British capital ship design 1870–1881'', Chatham Publishing, 2001 * Thomas Brassey, 2nd Earl Brassey, Brassey, T.A. (ed) Brassey's Naval Annual, The Naval Annual 1895 * * * * David Lyon, ''The Ship – Steam, steel and torpedoes'', National Maritime Museum, 1980, * * * Sondhaus, Lawrence ''Naval Warfare 1816–1914''. Routledge, London, 2001. {{DEFAULTSORT:Shannon (1875) Cruisers of the Royal Navy Ships built in Pembroke Dock 1875 ships