HMS Formidable

On this day, 104 years ago. A pre-Dreadnought Battleship was built by Portsmouth Royal Dockyard. She was laid down on the 21st of March, 1898 and then had her official launch on the 17th of November in 1898 even though the official completion date was in September, 1901 and then commissioned on the 10th of October, 1901. The HMS Formidable had been in the service for just under 15 years before she was sunk by a German U-boat 24 just under 40 miles off the coast of Devon.

She was the first of the British ships to be sunk in the first world war.

HMS Formidable started her journey as a battleship in the Mediterranean Sea, where she served as part of a fleet till April, 1908, and after that she became part of the English Channel fleet, which was the 5th battle squadron that was based in the Channel to guard against any possible German assault.

The Life-belt that washed up on the Dutch coast during WW1

The commander of the German U-boat 24 was a man called Rudolf Schneider, he had spotted the British squadron, tracked them during their gunnery exercises and commanded the first attack on HMS Formidable.

Even though it was a British squadron that is meant to protect from any possible invasions, the given procedure at the time was that if they were approached/attacked by an enemy submarine, all of the unaffected vehicles were to return to port.

It was at 2:20am on New Year’s day, HMS Formidable with a crew ranging between 730 – 780, was struck by a torpedo launched from the German submarine. The launch of the first torpedo had landed on the number one boiler side of the battleship. Once she was struck, Formidable immediately began taking on water and unfortunately… the terrible weather didn’t help… causing large waves to hit the battleship, and then adding the rain, hail and strong winds off the British coastline, just added more to the chaos and destruction of the ship.

Starboard bow view of HMS Formidable

Even though the rest of the sister ships were making their way back to Portland, two cruise ships stayed behind to try and rescue crewmen from the sinking battleship. The two cruiser ships were known as the ‘Diamond‘ and ‘Topaze‘.

There was still hope in their eyes that the ship may still be saved along with the rest of the surviving crew, however… the German commander with his crew had a different plan in mind.

Just after 3am, a second torpedo was launched from the German submarine… sealing the fate of the HMS Formidable and many crew member lives in the bottom of the ocean, by 4:45am the battleship sank.

Amidst all the darkness of this event, with 547 members lost to the sea or due to exposure from the attack… some of the crewmen managed to survive, reaching the coast or even rescued by the lifeboats and more, even though one lifeboat wasn’t found for about 22hrs. It is said that about 200 – 233 crew members managed to survive the attack, but among the brave crewmen that never made it back home, were the ships Captain Loxley and his brave dog Bruce… both were last seen on the Bridge.

When it comes to the wreck site of the HMS Formidable battleship, she currently lies upside down, around 180ft under water. The area is classed as a controlled site under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986, which means that things like diving cannot be done.

Painting of the HMS Formidable battleship, 1898

Details of the HMS Formidable

Length: 431ft 9″     Draught: 25ft 11″     Beam: 75ft     Speed: 18 knots (33km/h)

Installed Power: 20x Water-tube boilers (11,000 kW)

Propulsion: 2x Triple-Expansion Steam Engines & 2x Shafts


2x vertical triple expansion engines

20x Belleville water tube boilers

dual shafts

2 screws

Armament Details

4x BL 12″ (305mm) MKIX Guns

12x BL 6″ (152mm) MKVII Guns

10x QF 12-pounder Guns

6x QF 3-pounder Guns

4x 8″ (457mm) Torpedo Tubes


Belt: 9″ (229 mm)

Bulkheads: 9–12″ (229–305 mm)

Barbettes: 12″ (305 mm)

Turrets: 10″ (254 mm)

Casemates: 6″ (152 mm)

Conning tower: 14″ (356 mm)

Deck: 1–3″ (25–76 mm)

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