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Here is a story of an unusual and unlucky battleship class that failed to revive the Great Armada glory.

Of course the term "pocket battleship" was invented to label the German Deutschland class. But two lesser sea powers can claim the copyright: one of them is Greece with its ill-fated Salamis (eight 15-in guns on a displacement of only 19,500 t), and the other is Spain.

Following disastrous losses in the Spanish-American War of 1898, Spain lacked the money to rebuild its navy, so it was not until the Navy Law of 7 January 1908 that a new program authorizing three new battleships (España, Alfonso XIII, and Jaime I), along with other ships, was passed. The delay enabled Spain to take advantage of experience gained by Britain with the world's first commissioned dreadnought, Dreadnought, and by the United States with its first dreadnought, USS South Carolina. As Spain was incapable of building the España class herself, Armstrongs were contracted for the design and John Brown for the construction of the shipyard and ships themselves.

In order to avoid rebuilding existing docks, the units of the España class were constructed with a shorter hull than a purely rational design required, and they were the smallest dreadnought-type battleships ever built. Freeboard amidships was only 15 feet (4.6 m), and the main battery guns were 24 feet 6 inches (7.5 m) above the waterline. The vessels had a single stack amidships, two tripod masts, and small superstructure.

Their main armament was eight 12-inch (305 mm) guns, each weighing 67.1 tons, firing an 850-pound (385 kg) shell at a muzzle velocity of 2950 ft/s (902 m/s) with a maximum range of 23,500 yards (21,500 m), at a rate of fire of one round per minute. These guns were housed in four twin turrets, arranged with "A" and "Y" on the centerline, the others en echelon on the wings, similar to the British Invincible class battlecruisers ("B" to starboard, "Q" to port). This was done in preference to superimposed turrets (as in the South Carolinas), to save weight and cost.

In June 1914, España first tested her main battery, demonstrating she was able to fire a full broadside of all eight rifles, and (unusually) employ six guns in pursuit or retirement. The secondary battery was poorly laid out in casemates along the hull too close to the waterline. Such heavy armament in a small-displacement battleship, however, result in a tiny armour protection and low speed.

Although the lead unit, España, was built in less than four years, her sisters, and particularly the third unit, Jaime I, were held up by a lack of materials from Britain as a result of the outbreak of World War I.

Built for defense of naval bases and national pride more than for combat, the España class provided Spain with formidable ships at reasonable cost. Unfortunately, due to rapid technological change at the time and lengthy delays in completion of the later units of the class, the España class was obsolescent before completion. The ships saw active service, including action against Rif insurgents in Morocco, during which one was wrecked. The two survivors fought on opposite sides in the Spanish Civil War, and both were lost during that conflict.

España

Laid down on 6 December 1909 and launched on 5 February 1912, she was completed on 23 October 1913. She visited Chile, becoming the first Spanish Navy ship to transit the Panama Canal during the voyage.

Her only overseas combat service was in Morocco in the Rif War in the early 1920s, during which she ran aground and was wrecked on 26 August 1923.

Alfonso XIII (later renamed España)

Named for the reigning King Alfonso XIII of Spain, she was laid down on 23 February 1910, launched on 7 May 1913, and completed on 16 August 1915. After the abolition of monarchy, she was renamed España in April 1931.

By 1934 she was laid up at Ferrol awaiting disposal, but was refitted in 1936 and fought on the Nationalist side in the Spanish Civil War. España, along with the cruiser Almirante Cervera, was a key player during the Nationalist blockade on the Republican ports in northern Spain, specially Bilbao. She struck a Nationalist mine and sank off Cape Peñas, near Santander, on 30 April 1937.


Jaime I

Named for James I of Aragon, she was laid down on 5 February 1912 and launched on 21 September 1914. The onset of World War I in August 1914 meant a shortage of materials for her construction from the United Kingdom, and she was not completed until 20 December 1921.

She saw action against Rif insurgents in Morocco in the early 1920s. She was on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War. She shelled a number of rebel ports, among them Ceuta, Melilla and Algeciras. In Algeciras she hit the Nationalist gunboat Dato, which was burned down to the waterline.

After enduring a number of air attacks, Jaime I was eventually wrecked while docked for repairs at Cartagena on 17 June 1937. The cause of her loss was a magazine explosion and subsequent fire, apparently due to sabotage.

They were the first and last dreadnoughts built in Spain, the only dreadnoughts ever operated by the Spanish Navy, and the smallest dreadnoughts ever built.

Text: Wiki

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Comment by lord_k on March 5, 2012 at 1:52pm

My pleasure, James.

Comment by James C on March 5, 2012 at 12:20pm

Absolutely first class article! Thoroughly enjoyed reading it and found it most informative.

All the best!

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