This guide outlines the history of the ship HMS King George V, and the National Maritime Museum’s resources relating to this ship.
The official records of this ship are held at the National Archives, but the service records of the personnel after approximately 1920 are retained by the Ministry of Defence and may only be viewed by next-of-kin (see research guide B3).
History of HMS 'King George V'
The King George V battleships were designed by the Admiralty in 1936 under the restrictions of the Washington Treaty. She was laid down at the Walker Navy Yard, Newcastle-upon-Tyne by Vickers-Armstrong Ltd. Originally, she was to have been named HMS King George VI following the tradition of naming the first capital ship of a new reign after the monarch. The King requested that the ship be named in honour of his late father, King George V, after whom an earlier class of battleships had been named in 1911. A later member of this class of battleship was named HMS Duke of York in honour of the King instead – the other ships of this class were HMS Prince of Wales (sunk by Japanese torpedo bombers in the South China Sea, 10 December 1941), HMS Howe and HMS Anson.
The King George V was launched by King George VI on 21 February 1939 and following fitting-out and sea trials, she was commissioned into the Royal Navy on 1 October 1940. She was assigned to the Home Fleet at Scapa Flow, and this remained her principal base until 1944. From here, as flagship of the Home Fleet, she participated in several North Atlantic operations protecting the Arctic convoys. Alongside her sister ships, she provided a deterrent against the threat of the German capital ships Bismarck, Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, Prinz Eugen and Tirpitz. In May 1941 she led the fleet in the attack and sinking of the Bismarck in the North Atlantic, although she nearly had to turn for home before the end as she was running low on fuel.
In 1943 she was temporarily detached to duties in the Mediterranean, and was involved in the invasion of Sicily and attack on Taranto. In 1944 she was redeployed to the new British Pacific Fleet as the flagship of the fleet’s second-in-command, Rear Admiral Sir Bernard Rawlings. Although both she and her sister ship HMS Howe had a much reduced role compared with the North Atlantic campaign, often providing anti-aircraft cover for the fleet’s aircraft carriers, they were both involved in the bombardments of Okinawa and southern Honshu, where the King George V last fired her main armament in anger.
Following the end of World War Two, the battleships of the King George V Class had become obsolete and expensive to run. Refitted 1946–47, she was reduced to a training role in Portland. In 1950 the class was laid up in reserve in Gareloch. After the scrapping of the class was approved in 1957, she was broken up at Dalmuir and Troon the following year.
Timeline and battle honours
- 1 January 1937: Laid down at Walker Navy Yard, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
- 21 February 1939: Launched by HM King George VI
- 1 October 1940: Commissioned – pendant number 41
- 11 December 1940: Joins Home Fleet at Scapa Flow
- 1941–1944: Providing distant cover for Arctic convoys
- 15–25 January 1941: Conveys Lord Halifax to USA to take up his new position as British Ambassador. Returns with a Halifax convoy.
- 2–6 March 1941: Operation 'Claymore'. Home Fleet provides cover for successful Commando raid on fish oil factories in Lofoten Islands.
- 1 April 1941: Flagship of Home Fleet – Admiral Sir John Cronyn Tovey (to May 1943)
- 22–27 May 1941: Bismarck Action in North Atlantic culminating in the sinking of the German battleship at 10.35 on 27 May, 600 miles west of Brest.
- October 1941: Operation 'EJ’. In support of aircraft carrier HMS Victorious in action against German shipping along the Norwegian coast.
- December 1941: Home Fleet provides seaward cover for Commando raid on Vaagso Island.
- 1 May 1942: Collides in fog with HMS Punjabi. The destroyer is sliced in two by the battleship and sinks. Punjabi’s depth-charges explode, blowing 40 ft from the bows of the battleship, requiring repairs and refitting at Liverpool.
- July 1942: Returns to Home Fleet at Scapa Flow
- May–August 1943: Reinforces Force H, with HMS Howe, for operations supporting Operation 'Husky’, the Allied invasion of Sicily.
- 12 July 1943: HMS King George V and HMS Howe bombard Trapani, Sicily and Favigana, Island of Levanzo.
- 9 September 1943: Operation 'Slapstick'. Attack on Italian Naval base at Taranto at the same time as Operation 'Avalanche', the Allied landings at Salerno.
- October 1943: Returns to Home Fleet at Scapa Flow
- December 1943–January 1944: Returns to Gibraltar to collect Winston Churchill, following Cairo and Tehran Conferences.
- February–July 1944: Refit at Liverpool in preparation for re-deployment to the Eastern Fleet
- October 1944: Temporarily returns to Scapa Flow to cover possible threat from Tirpitz before the latter was sunk by the RAF on 12 November.
- 28 October–15 December 1944: Sails to Trincomalee, Ceylon, to join newly-formed British Pacific Fleet (BPF). Hoists flag of Rear-Admiral Sir Bernard Rawlings, second-in-command BPF and the fleet's tactical commander at sea.
- November 1944: Whilst on passage stopped at Alexandria – bombards German positions at the Lakida Battery, Milos in the Aegean.
- January–February 1945: Sails to Sydney. Whilst underway, completes her first at-sea refuelling, taking 12 hours.
- February–March 1945: Sails to Manus, Admiralty Islands (forward base of operations for the BPF) as part of Task Force 113.
- March 1945: Joins US Pacific Fleet under Admiral Chester Nimitz (CinC Pacific) for Operation 'Iceberg’ – the Allied invasion of Okinawa.
- 20 March 1945: Arrives at Ulithi (SW of Guam), base of the US 5th Fleet under Admiral Spruance. British fleet re-designated Task Force 57.
- 26–27 March 1945: Royal Navy task force attacks six Japanese airfields on the islands SW of Okinawa.
- July 1945: HMS King George V becomes first RN warship to refuel at sea abeam of the tanker (previously hoses were streamed astern of the tanker, but they were very susceptible to parting).
- 29 July 1945: Involved in bombardment of Hamamatsu, in the south of Honshu. Start 23.19, range to target 20,075 yards, fired 265 14” shells (of which only seven actually hit the target), firing ceases 23.56. This is the last time HMS King George V fired her main armament in anger.
- 15 August 1945: VJ Day
- 2 September 1945: Formal Japanese surrender signed on board USS Missouri – HMS King George V provided the chairs for the signatories.
- 2 March 1946: Returns to Portsmouth. Flagship of CinC Home Fleet
- December 1946: Refit at Devonport
- November 1947: Training battleship based at Portland
- July 1949: Admiralty announces that the King George V Class to be laid up in reserve
- June 1950: Towed to Gareloch where she is 'cocooned’ (i.e. 'mothballed’) alongside HMS Anson and Duke of York.
- April 1957: Approval of class to be scrapped.
- 17 December 1957: HMS King George V removed from Royal Navy List.
- 1958: Broken up by Arnott Young & Co at Dalmuir. Hull towed to Troon for breaking up.
- Atlantic 1941
- Bismarck Action 1941
- Arctic 1942–43
- Sicily 1943
- Okinawa 1945
Commanding Officers and Admirals
- 15 July 1940: Captain W R Patterson
- 1 April 1941: Admiral Sir J C Tovey – CinC Home Fleet
- 6 May 1942: Captain P J Mack
- 15 February 1943: Captain T E Halsey
- 10 April 1945: Captain B B Schofield
- June 1945: Rear-Admiral Sir H B Rawlings – 2iC British Pacific Fleet
- 24 November 1945: Admiral Sir E N Syfret – CinC Home Fleet
- 15 February 1947: Commander D G Clark
- 6 July 1948: Captain H Dalrymple-Smith (to November 1949 into Reserve)
NMM Collections Information
This is a selection of the books held in the Caird Library relating to HMS King George V, British and foreign battleships and warships in general, and other related subjects.
- Breyer, Siegfried, Battleships and Battle Cruisers, 1905–1970: Historical Development of the Capital Ship (London: Macdonald & Jane’s), 1973, 0356041913
- Burt, R A, British Battleships 1919–1939 (London: Arms & Armour, 1993), 1854090682
- Garzke, William H, Dulin, Robert O, Webb, Thomas G, British, Soviet, French and Dutch Battleships of World War II (London: Jane’s, 1980), 071060078X
- Raven, Alan & Roberts, John, British Battleships of World War Two (London: Arms & Armour, 1976), 0853681414
- Tarrant, V E, King George V Class Battleships (London: Arms & Armour, 1991), 1854090267
- Brooke, Geoffrey, Alarm Starboard!: a Remarkable True Story of the War at Sea (Cambridge: Patrick Stephens, 1982), 0850595789 (The author joined HMS King George V as a Sub-Lieutenant in January 1941.)
- Humble, Richard, Fraser of North Cape: the Life of Admiral of the Fleet Lord Fraser 1888–1981 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983), 0710095554 (Second-in-Command Home Fleet to Admiral Tovey, then CinC Home Fleet, later CinC British Pacific Fleet.)
- Vian, Philip, Action this Day: a War Memoir (London: Frederick Muller, 1960) (Commander of the aircraft-carrier squadron at Okinawa.)
- Mullenheim-Rechberg, Burkard, Baron von, Battleship 'Bismarck': a Survivor’s Story (Annapolis, MD: US Naval Institute Press, 1990)
- Richmond, Ray, Bismarck and those Fateful Months May–June 1941 (Garden Island, NSW: Naval Historical Society of Australia, 1987), [typescript]
- Winklareth, Robert J, The 'Bismarck' Chase: New Light on a Famous Engagement (London: Chatham, 1998), 1861760760
- Great Britain. Admiralty, The Chase and Sinking of the 'Bismarck' (London: Admiralty, 1950), BR1736(3/50)
- Forester, C S, Hunting the 'Bismarck' (London: Michael Joseph, 1959)
- Kennedy, Ludovic, Pursuit: the Chase and Sinking of the 'Bismarck' (Annapolis, MD: US Naval Institute Press, 2000)
- TOVEY, Lord, Admiral – papers, six albums, diaries [MSS/81/004]
- FRASER, Lord, of North Cape – gunner notebooks [MSS/82/076]
- FRASER, Admiral, British Pacific Fleet 1944–46 – papers [MSS/86/096]
Ship Plans and Historic Photographs
The National Maritime Museum holds a large collection of ships’ plans and photographs.
Plans of the King George V-class battleships
- 1936 sheer plans, profiles, deck plans, armour plans and other detailed plans – 19 plans
- 1941 plans relating to the refit of several decks and armament – 13 plans
Photographs of HMS 'King George V'
There are at least 13 photos of the ship in our collection taken between 1940 and 1947. Please contact the department, or search in the Historic photographs catalogue for further information.
The Museum holds two models of HMS King George V:
- Vickers-Armstrong Ltd model, builder’s full hull, scale 1:48, 5100x920x640mm [SLR1553]
- Design tank-testing model, 2422x320x338mm [SLR2681]
- Bone, Muirhead, 'HMS King George V at sea, edge of a storm', graphite/watercolour, [PAJ2887]
- Dring, William, 'Members of the crew of HMS King George', pastel, [PAJ2989]
- Dring, William, 'Portrait of Vice-Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser KBE', [PAJ3003]
- Eurich, Richard Ernst, 'Bombardment of the coast near Trapani, Sicily by HMS King George V and Howe, 12 July 1943', oil [BHC1566]
- Langmaid, Rowland, 'The surrendered Italian fleet with HMS King George V and Howe, 1943', oil [BHC2304]
Detailed ship statistics
- Builder: Vickers-Armstrong, Walker Navy Yard, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
- Laid down: 1 January 1937
- Launched: 21 February 1939
- Completed: 1 October 1940
- Fate: Deleted from list 17 December 1957. Scrapped by Arnott Young & Co, Dalmuir starting 1958 – hull broken at Troon.
- 1940 Standard: 38,031 tons – Deep load: 42,237 tons
- 1945 Standard: 39,100 tons – Deep load: 44,460 tons
- Length: 745ft 0.13in overall – 740ft 0.25in waterline – 700ft 0.25in between perpendiculars
- Beam: 112ft 4.25in max – 103ft 2.56in waterline
- Depth at side: 51ft 1.31in
- Draught (1940): Standard – 29ft (mean), Deep load – 32ft 6in (mean)
- Hull: 13,830 tons (36.4%)
- Outfit: 1,619 tons (4.3%)
- Machinery: 2,768 tons (7.3%)
- Armament: 7,401 tons (19.5%)
- Armour: 12,413 tons (32.5%)
- Turbines: 4 x Parsons single-reduction geared, 4 shafts
- Propellers: 4 x 3-bladed manganese bronze 14.5ft diameter
- Boilers: 8 x Admiralty 3-drum small-tube with superheaters
- Working pressure (max): 400lb/sq in
- 10 x 14in, 45 cal. Mk VII guns
- Length of bore: 45 calibres (630in)
- Length of gun: 52ft 6in breech to face muzzle – 54ft 2.8in overall
- Weight of gun (bare): 77tons 14 cwt 84lb
- Weight of gun (with counter-balance): 89tons 2cwt 84lb
- Weight of breech mechanism: 1ton 17cwt
- Rifling: polygroove, 72 grooves plain section uniform right-hand twist of one turn in 30 calibres
- Weight of shell: 1590lb
- Weight of charge: 338lb
- Muzzle velocity: 2475 ft/sec
- Muzzle energy: 67,520 ft/tons
- Barrel life: 375 rounds
- Gun mountings: 1x MkII twin gun turret (forward) – 2x MkIII quadruple gun turrets (1 forward, 1 aft)
- Maximum elevation: 40 degrees
- Rate of fire: 2 rounds per gun per minute
- Max rate of gun elevation: 8 degrees per second
- Max rate of gun training: 2 degrees per second
- Maximum range: 36,300 yards
- Shell stowage: 80 rounds per gun (100 max)
- 6 x 5.25in, 50 cal. Mk1 quick-firing guns
- Mounting: 8 x twin HA/LA Mk 1
- Length of bore: 50 calibres (262in)
- Weight of shell: 80lb
- Weight of charge: 18.6lb
- Muzzle velocity: 2600ft/sec
- Muzzle energy: 3750ft/tons
- Rate of fire: 10 to 12 rounds per gun per minute (nominal) [actual rate closer to 7–8 rounds as gunners could not load any faster]
- Maximum elevation: 80 degrees
- Max surface range: 23,400 yards at 45deg elevation
- Max altitude range: 29,544ft at 80deg elevation
- Shell stowage: 400 rounds per gun
Close-range AA weapons
- 1940 4 x 8-barrelled MkVI 2pdr pom-poms – 4 x unrifled projector (UP) rocket-launchers
- December 1941: 5 x 8-barrelled MkVI 2pdr pom-pom – 1 x 4-barrelled MkVII 2pdr pom-pom – 18 x single-barrelled MkIIIA 20mm Oerlikons
- Mid-1943: 5 x 8-barrelled MkVI 2pdr pom-pom – 1 x 4-barrelled MkVII 2pdr pom-pom – 38 x single-barrelled MkIIIA 20mm Oerlikons
- July 1944: 8 x 8-barrelled MkVI 2pdr pom-poms – 26 x single-barrelled MkIIIA 20mm Oerlikons – 6 x twin-barrelled MkV 20mm Oerlikons - 2 x 4-barrelled American MkII 40mm Bofors
- September 1945: 8 x 8-barrelled MkVI 2pdr pom-poms – 24 x single-barrelled MkIIIA 20mm Oerlikons – 6 x twin-barrelled MkV 20mm
- Oerlikons - 2 x 4-barrelled American MkII 40mm Bofors – 2 x single-barrelled RN pattern 40mm Bofors
- Shell weight 1.81lb
- Muzzle velocity: 2,300ft/sec
- Maximum range: 5,000 yds
- Maximum elevation: 80 degrees
- Rate of fire: 115 rounds per minute
- Shell weight 0.27lb
- Muzzle velocity: 2,770ft/sec
- Maximum range: 4,800yds
- Maximum elevation: 90 degrees
- Rate of fire: 450 rounds per minute
- Shell weight 1.98lb
- Muzzle velocity: 2,890ft/sec
- Max effective range: 2,500yds
- Max altitude range: 18,000ft
- Rate of fire: 120 rounds per minute
Other guides in the series which may be useful for researching the Royal Navy:
- Research guide B1: The Royal Navy: Tracing people
- Research guide B3: The Royal Navy: Sources for enquiries
- Research guide B5: The Royal Navy: Dockyards
- Research guide B6: The Royal Navy: Administrative records
For general research help see:
- Research guide A2: Principal records for maritime research at the National Maritime Museum
- Research guide A3: Tracing family history from maritime records
Although care has been taken in preparing the information contained in this document, anyone using it shall be deemed to indemnify the National Maritime Museum from any and all injury or damage arising from such use.