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HMS Warrior 1860: Victoria’s Ironclad Deterrent* by Andrew Lambert** is an impressive history both of the first iron hulled seagoing warship HMS Warrior, and of her restoration from little more than a hulk.

I picked up this rather attractively packaged hardcover at Portsmouth, and basically most of what I wrote about Warrior based on personal observations was pretty much wrong. 😜

Origins

The book itself covers the origins of Warrior, placing her design in the context of a Great Britain that was reluctant to abandon the wooden fleet but was rapidly reaching the limits of wooden construction (both in capability and supply). The Origins chapter also deals with the deterrent impact of Warrior in what passed for 19th century diplomacy. For example:

…the last of the long ironclads was named Northumberland, ‘in honour of the ship that carried the Emperor Napoleon to his captivity on St. Helena’.

Emphasis added.

Yeah, I reckon that would have gotten Louis Napoleon III’s attention.

What intrigued me about the origins of Warrior was the line of descent not from Victory but instead from the frigates, and the indications that Warrior may have been the first iteration of the battlecruiser concept, albeit one with a solidly armoured citadel. That Jackie Fisher served on one of Warrior‘s early commissions as a gunnery officer is, I think, possibly significant in shaping his later thinking***.

In Service

The service history of Warrior highlights both the successes and limitations of Warrior. Fast, but slow to the helm, Warrior was ill suited to squadron or line work. Similarly her length and iron hull mostly confined Warrior to the Channel Fleet or other “local” deployments for want of adequately sized dry docks to defoul her hull.

Against that, as the intended counter to a French invasion scare generally and to Gloire specifically, that’s where Warrior was mostly needed.

Warrior was also, in many ways, a victim of her own success. By redefining the concept of capital ships, Warrior opened an age of uncertainty and ever changing/advancing designs that rendered her obsolete within a decade or two. Her full sister Black Prince survived longer in active service due to iron masts that Warrior never received – a last commission was effectively cancelled when it was discovered that Warrior’s wooden masts had rotted.

Never seeing action, Warrior eventually ignominiously ended her service career as the Oil Fuel Hulk C77, and “never resumed her original name.” Due to a reuse by Fleet Headquarters she is officially known as HMS Warrior (1860).

Reconstruction and Return

The remaining chapters cover the Reconstruction process in general, including the organisation and funding, before moving on to specific sections of the ship. Each of the specific chapters deals with how that section of the ship would have looked or been used in service, before moving on to how that section was restored. These chapters include significant technical details and specifications, particularly of the plans/schematics used by the restoration teams to recreate the fittings of Warrior as she would have been in 1860-1861.

Chapters are provided for:

  • Hull and Armour
  • Guns
  • Machinery (including photos of models of the steam engines and boilers)
  • Rig
  • Detail
  • Warrior‘s return to Portsmouth

The latter includes details of ongoing restoration works, and an appendix with the original specification for Warrior is also included.

Conclusion

HMS Warrior (1860) is definitely worth a visit in Portsmouth if you ever get the chance. But if you can’t visit her, this book will serve as the next best thing. If you have been on board, then this book will enhance the experience (and possibly inform future visits). Recommended.

*This is the second edition of the book. The first edition in 1987 was published under the title Warrior: Restoring the World’s First Ironclad.

**I’ve previously reviewed Admirals: The Naval Commanders who Made Britain Great by Andrew Lambert, both are recommended.

***Or what passed for Admiral Fisher’s later thinking….