Saturday, 17 June 2017

The Ships Named Ajax & Their Battle Honours

Chronology of the Ships Named Ajax and their Battle Honours

HMS Ajax (V)  1880-1904
At Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Naval review 1887
This is a brief overview of the lineage and Battle Honours of the eight  Royal Navy warships which over the past 250 years have borne the name “Ajax” after the hero of Greek mythology and the new nuclear submarine now on order to be named “Ajax” which will continue the lineage. 

A contemporary Royal Naval 74 gun
frigate in action
(Note 8)
Of those, five ships have between them won seventeen Battle Honours with the 1934 built “Seventh Ajax”, the subject of this painting and website, winning nine of those. A remarkable record. The Battle Honours are noted in the following list after the respective ships which won them.

This chronology is intended to detail the design, type, specifications, date of launch together with the date and fate of each ship. It is not intended to be a complete record of each ship's career history as to where it served or fought but rather to include those more interesting pieces of it for each vessel.

The primary sources of the information contained herein are arguably the most authentic available. For ships in the days of sail it is Rif Winfield's encyclopaedic four volume "British Warships in the Age of Sail" covering the period from 1603 to 1863. Listing well over 5,000 vessels there is no other comparable work of either the Royal Navy or of any other Navy. For the Cruiser Ajax VII, the biblical work "British Cruisers of World War Two" by Alan Raven & John Roberts. Both sources supported by the indispensable "Ships of the Royal Navy" by JJ Colledge and Ben Warlow" which lists every warship with a skeletal specification from the earliest days of the Royal Navy, then the Navy Royal, until the book's most recent revision in 2010, some 18,000 vessels. For a full listing of other sources refer to this website's Bibliography.

In this chronology a sailing ship's tonnage is stated in terms of the "Builders Measurement", denoted by "(bm)" from a formula developed in 1582 used to calculate the volumetric carrying capacity of the hull. The formula was attributed to leading Master Shipwright Matthew Baker, prior to that calculating a ship's tonnage had been chiefly a matter of opinion at best, guesswork at worst (Note 13). Tonnage in this listing is rounded to nearest whole number whereas it was actually calculated to an accuracy of 94 parts of a bm . 

Porcelain Figurine
by Royal Doulton of
Figurehead from Ajax (III)
1809 - 1864
(Note 7)

Dimensions are "as built" as opposed to "designed",  all given in imperial feet and inches and similarly as defined from the above sources but rounded to nearest inch.

Following further research the specifications and particulars for the first five Ajax's have recently been rewritten. The ships' dimensions are now given as length x breadth (beam) x depth in hold being the perpendicular distance between the floor of the hold and underside of the lower deck x draught . Two lengths are given separated by a slash (/), the first is of the gundeck, the second of the keel to use in the rather complicated formula to calculate tonnage. For powered ships dimensions are quoted as length x beam x draught.

For ships after 1873 displacement tonnage is quoted, in turn changed in 1926 to standard displacement and taken from "Ships of the Royal Navy" except for the seventh “Ajax” which are derived from “British Cruisers of World War 2” (Ibid - Bibliography).

For sailing ships those unfamiliar with how ships were “rated” should note that this has nothing to do with them being judged as either “first”, “second” or “third class” in terms of quality or capability; it was purely a definition of the ship’s firepower in terms of the number of guns each had. Thus a “first rate” would typically have 100 guns although the French and Dutch were up to 130 and the Americans were up to 120 by the end of the War of 1812 (Note 11).  A "second rate" had between 80 and 90 guns, a "third rate" 60 to 80, a "fourth rate" 50 to 60, a "fifth rate" 30 to 44 , a "sixth rate" 20 to 24 and a "Sloop" 8 to 18. The number of guns had some flexibility as ships mostly carried a mix of sizes, the gun size being determined by the weight of the shot it could fire (3, 4, 6, 9, 12, 18, 24,  32 or 42 pounds). Improvements in gun design resulted to changes total gun weight and where appropriate these are shown in "cwt". Just to complicate the matter further the number of guns in a "rate" changed over certain eras depending upon when the ship was built, whether in 1677, after 1716, after 1746 (Note 17), after 1757 or after 1792. The number of gun decks varied between one to four. In this listing I have again used “British Warships in the Age of Sail" as the authority. The Royal Navy's ratings were changed again in January 1817 by which time there were 5 ships in the fleet with 120 guns, 2 with 112 and two with 100. Also under construction were two more with 120, two with 112 and one with 100.

For “Battle Honours” the prime source is Ben Warlow’s “Battle Honours of the Royal Navy” (Ibid - Bibliography), the authorised book based upon the official records of the Royal Navy Historical Branch. Prior to that book’s publication in 2004 the only official publication was an Admiralty Fleet Order issued in 1954.

THE FIRST "AJAX", 1767 - 1789

HMS Ajax (I), Portsmouth Harbour, 1767
A 74-gun third-rate ship of the line
Modified Suffolk Class
Ordered: 4 December 1762
Builder: Portsmouth Dockyard
              Master Shipwright Thomas Bucknall
Named: 18 April 1763
Laid down: 6 September 1763
Launched: 23 December 1767
Completed: 5 October 1770
Commissioned: May 1770
                          Under Capt. John Carter Allen
Dimensions: 167' 10"/138' 5" x 46' 10" x 20' 3"
Draught: 11' 8" / 18' 8"
Tonnage: 1,615bm
Guns: Gundeck 28 x 32pdrs
           Upper Deck 28 x 18pdrs
           Quarter Deck 14 x 9pdrs
           Foc'sl 4 x 9pdrs
Crew: 600
Cost:  £28,248.6.0d + £7,657.10.1d for fitting out (including December 1770 refit)
Fate:  Sold for £1,020 on 10 February 1783. Refer text below.

The design of this Ajax by William Bateley, approved 20 January 1763, was modified from that for the Suffolk but with very sharp underwater lines and a mid section similar to the design of  Thomas Slade who had been appointed joint Admiralty Surveyor. She was designed under amendments to the 1755 Design Establishment producing a new generation of ships which became known as the 74-gun Dublin Class of which this was one. These were of significantly increased size than hitherto. She saw extensive action in the War of American Independence and won three Battle Honours against Spanish and French fleet actions in the East Indies.

She was paid  off on  8 August 1783. Sold for £1,020 on 10 February 1783 presumably for breaking up but no precise record has yet been found after this date.

Battle Honours
St Vincent 1780      St Kitts 1782      The Saints 1782

The Battle of St Vincent, 16 January 1780.

THE SECOND "AJAX", 1798 - 1807

A 74-gun third-rate ship of the line
Ajax Class. Lead ship of the two ships in this class, second being Kent
                   A lengthened version of the  Invincible 
Ordered: 30 April 1795
Builder: John Randall & Co., Rotherhithe
              Master Shipwright  ???
Laid down: September 1795
Launched: 3 March 1798
Completed: 3 March 1798 at Deptford, to 13 July 1798 at Woolwich 
Commissioned: June 1798 under Capt. John Holloway
Dimensions**: 182’ 5”/149’ 10” x sin x 49’ 6” x 21’ 3”
Draught: 13' 2" / 18' 2"
Tonnage: 1,953bm
Guns: Gundeck 28 x 32pdrs
           Upper Deck 28 x 24pdrs
           Quarter Deck 14 x 9pdrs plus 8 x 32pdr carronades
           Foc'sl 4 x 9pdrs
Crew: 690
Cost:  £57,556 including fitting out
Fate: Completely destroyed 14-15 February 1807 by accidental fire. Refer text below.

** The design of both ships changed while on the stocks by their midsection being lengthened 11 feet. This provided an extra pair of gunports on both the gundeck and lower deck but no increase in the number of guns

HMS Ajax (II)
The National Maritime Museum
Water Colour by an unknown artist 
These two ships were were a lengthened version of the Invincible with 28 x 32 pndr guns on the gun deck rather than the normal 18 pndrs of the middling and more common classes third rate frigates. This Ajax became embroiled in an unusual incident when in 1802 the Admiralty Commissioners of Enquiry established by Lord St Vincent (Sir John Jervis) to investigate wide spread corruption throughout the service prosecuted her builders in a one-day trial for over-charging or not building her to specifications (Note 12). Unfortunately this author has yet to find what verdict was handed down.

On 22 July 1805, Ajax commanded by Captain William Brown, was one of 15 British ships of the line under Vice Admiral Robert Calder when he fought an indecisive naval battle against the combined Franco-Spanish fleet of Vice Admiral Villeneuve.

Neither side was happy with their flag officer in this action. For the British Calder failed to prevent the French fleet joining a Spanish squadron from Ferrol thus losing the opportunity to free Great Britain from the threat of invasion. Calder was later court-martialled and severely reprimanded for his failure and for avoiding the renewal of the battle on 23 and 24 July. Ajax had lost 2 dead with 16 wounded, she was recorded with her rigging being “much torn” and a topsail and spar shot away. On the French side Napoleon Bonaparte a few weeks later on 8th September said of this action “If Admiral Villeneuve, instead of entering Ferrol, had contented himself with rallying at the Spanish squadron, and had sailed for Brest to join Admiral Ganteaume, my army would have landed; it would have been all over with England."  (Note 10),

An interesting historical parallel exists between this second Ajax and the subject of this website the seventh Ajax. At the much celebrated Battle of Trafalgar on 21st October 1805 this second Ajax was one of the 27 Royal Navy ships of the line under the command of Admiral Lord Nelson and stationed in the Weather column of the fleet's formation. It was at this battle where the combined French and Spanish fleet was decimated by losing 22 of their 33 ships without the loss of a single British ship (Note 1). the next in line to Ajax in that battle was the Orion, also a 74-gun third-rate vessel; Ajax assisted Orion in forcing the surrender of the French 74-gun ship Intrépide. At the time of an incident at the Battle of Crete, 136 years later, an Ajax was again joined in action by an Orion they being the seventh and fifth of their respective names and sister ships of the Leander Class commissioned into service just over a year apart. Even more curious was that both the Trafalgar action and the 1941 action, which is the subject of this website, each occurred on the 21st of the month.
Sir Henry Blackwood
Vice Admiral, 1st Baronet Blackwood, GCH, KCB
28 Dec 1770 – 17 Dec 1832
Captain HMS Ajax (II) ,14 Feb 1806 – 15 Feb 1807

One aspect which came to light in exploring this ship's records was the habit of the time for a Royal Navy ship about to go into action to dispose of over the side any equipment which either hindered her from clearing for action or would be an impediment to her fighting efficiency. One record shows that preparatory to the Battle of Trafalgar Ajax threw overboard 6 wooden ladders, 10 cot frames, 6 stanchions, a grinding stone, a set of berth screens, 4 weather sails, 30ft of copper funnelling for the galley stove plus many other items (See Note 15).

While at anchor off the island of Tenedos on February 14th 1807 during the Dardanelles Campaign this Ajax was lost to an accidental fire which started in the bread-room and spread rapidly. Burning overnight she had drifted ashore by next morning onto the island where she blew up "in a thunderous cataclysm" (see Note 18). Of her crew 350 were reported as being saved but 252 were said to have lost their lives. Some commentators still regard this incident as "one of the greatest tragedies the Royal Navy has suffered" (see Note 18). 

Her then Captain, Henry Blackwood, faced the incident’s obligatory court martial and was cleared, subsequently having a successful career being made Captain of the Fleet to the Duke of Clarence (later King William IV) for the grand fleet review held at Spithead. He was promoted Rear Admiral (4 June 1814), rewarded with a baronetcy (1 Sept 1814), promoted Vice Admiral (1825) with his final appointment (1827) being Commander in Chief of the Nore. He died in 1832.

Early accounts relate that Blackwood had joined the Navy in April 1781 at age 10 or 11 but more recent research questions that by several years. What is not questioned is that he became a member of the group of Captains known as the “Band of Brothers” who had served under Nelson. On the morning of the Battle of Trafalgar (21 October 1805) and before the action Nelson had actually signalled Blackwood, who was then Captain of the Euryalus a 36 gun 5th rate, to attend his flagship the Victory to witness Nelson signing the codicil to his will.

Three Royal Naval warships have since been named Blackwood, the last being a frigate launched on 4 October 1955 and broken up at Troon in November 1976.

Battle Honours
Egypt 1801      Trafalgar 1805

 The Battle of Trafalgar 
Royal Sovereign rakes the Spanish flagship Santa Anna with double shotted fire

THE THIRD "AJAX", 1809 - 1864

A 74-gun third-rate ship of the line
              Armada Class**
Ordered: 1 July 1807 as one of 19 ships comprising the Second (1807) Batch to be ordered of this class.
Designers: Peake and Rule
Builder: Perry, Wells & Green, Blackwall
Named: ???
Laid down: August 1807
Launched: 2 May 1809
Completed: 15 June 1809
First Commissioned: June 1809
Dimensions: 144' 11"/sin x 47' 9" x 21' 0"
                    Draught: 13’ 0” / 18’ 3”
Tonnage: 1,615bm
Guns: Lower Deck 28 x 32pdrs
           Upper Deck 28 x 18pdrs
           Quarter Deck 4 x 12pdrs plus 10 x 32pdr carronades
           Foc'sl 2 x 12pdrs plus 2 x 32pdr carronades
Crew: 590
Cost:  £57,383 to builder + £8,544 dockyard costs + £27,400 for fitting out 
Admiralty Order made 20 October 1885 to convert to a screw driven blockship by White at Cowes November 1845 – September 1846, £15,908 paid to White. Conversion completed at Portsmouth Dockyard September 1846– May 1847. Fitted out for sea at cost of £55,975.   

** Became known as the “Surveyors Class” colloquially were referred to as the “Forty
Thieves” due to their alleged excessive cost. Numerically the largest class in number of warships ever built to one design by any navy except for the French Temeraire Class at that time.

Conversion of Ajax to auxiliary steam screw propulsion
Conversion ordered on Portsmouth Dockyard: 2 September 1845 as part of Blenheim Group of 4 ships (others were Blenheim, Hogue & Edinburgh)
Order shifted to Thomas & John White, Cowes 23 October 1845
Machinery:  By Maudslay Sons & Field
                     Steam, 4 x 55” diameter 2’ 6” stroke cylinder horizontal single expansion 450hp,
                     846ihp = 7.1 knots. Single screw. Twin funnels. When under sail her screw and funnels 
                     were retracted (a device generally adopted). 
Work Begun: 17 November 1845
Undocked: September 1846
Altered (at Portsmouth): September 1846 – May 1847
Completed: 28 September 1848 at Portsmouth
Fitted for sea: June 1850
First Commissioned: 29 April 1850
Dimensions: 176' 0"/144’ 11” x 48' 6" x 2' 0" (Stern unaltered)
Tonnage: 1,761bm, 2,828 displacement
Guns: Gun Deck 28 x 32pdrs
           Upper Deck 26 x 8”/68pdrs (52cwt) shell
           Quarter Deck / Foc’sl 4 x 10”(67cwt) + 2 x 68pdrs (95cwt)
Crew: 600
Cost:  £15,908 paid to Whites, plus £55,975 fitted for sea
Fate:  Broken up 1864

HMS Ajax (III)  

In 1813 she was commanded by Admiral (then captain) Sir Robert Waller Otway when off Toulon in Sir H. Blackwood's partial engagement with a French squadron, then subsequently participated in the force covering the siege of San Sebastian.

This raises an aspect regarding the Battle Honour awarded her being in action at the Battle of San Sebastian. In the very conferring of the Honour the implications that the word evokes is open to question by a modern sceptic enjoying the distance of time that history provides.

San Sebastian is a Spanish coastal city situated on the Bay of Biscay and is now incorporated within the Basque Autonomous Community. In 1813, during the Peninsular Napoleonic War (1808 – 1814), it was occupied by the French and besieged for over two months before it fell to the combined English and Portuguese armies on August 31, 1813.

The Battle itself was one of a number of combined naval and military operations which took place during this war against an apparent all conquering Napoleon Bonaparte. While there were heroic acts by the English and Portuguese in the taking of the city what befell the defeated French troops and even more so, the local populace, was nothing short of a litany of atrocities. That the English and Portuguese committed the foulest acts of the utmost barbarity imaginable, butchery, mass rape and murder, plunder and the utter destruction wreaked upon the city cannot be disputed.

In his contemporary book, “History of the War in the Peninsular” 1836, the eminent British historian, General Sir William Napier (1785-1860), wrote of it being far from heroic “… A signal of hell for the perpetration of villainy which would have shamed the most ferocious barbarians of antiquity, intoxication and plunder (previously in the campaign) had been the principal object; (then) lust and murder were joined in rapine and drunkenness; but at San Sebastian, the direct, the most revolting cruelty was added to the catalogue of crimes”.

Napier wrote “that immediately after the events the town council, cathedral chapter and inhabitants’ of San Sebastian compiled a report or ‘manifesto’ which they sent to the ‘Spanish nation’ describing what happened. Its full title is: "Description of the atrocities committed by the Anglo-Portuguese troops in Saint Sebastian, 31 August 1813 and in the following days, exposed to the eyes of the Spanish nation by the municipality, chapter and inhabitants of the town. (Tolosa 1813)”. After their fill of exerting such incredible suffering and misery the Anglo Portuguese sacked the city then thoroughly destroyed it, of over 600 homes within the city walls only 36 survived.

What is in doubt is did the Royal Navy land a force from within their ship’s own crews? There seems to be no record of this occurring but it is more than reasonable to assume that the Royal Marine detachments from the ships may have been landed to supplement the military and possibly took part in these atrocities.

It is too late to ask if this Battle Honour was indeed heroic?  

As for the ship, around this period the Royal Navy had been experimenting with small steam powered screw propeller type ships. Between 25 October 1845 and 26 September 1846 this Ajax was converted by Thomas & John White of Cowes, to a Steam Guard Ship with screw propulsion and reduced to 56 guns (some records indicate 60 guns), her resulting displacement increased to 2,828bm. She thus became the first line-of-battle ship with screw propulsion. (Note 14).

HMS Ajax (III) in 1809 before conversion.
Identity of ship on horizon not known

Later she participated in the Baltic campaign during the Crimean War by bombarding Bomarsund in Finland and later being part of the blockade of Finland.

On 11 August 1853 she was part of the fleet commanded by the Commander-in-Chief Portsmouth, Vice Admiral Sir Thomas Cochrane KGB, at its Royal Review at Spithead by H.M Queen Victoria who was accompanied by Russia's Czar Nicholas's two elder daughters Maria Nikolayevno and Olga Nikolayevno (Note 16).

In 1858 she was posted to Kingstown in Ireland’s Dublin Bay where she was present over 8th and 9th February 1861 when one of the worst storms ever recorded there resulted in the loss of many ships around the Bay. Ajax under the command of Captain John McNeil Boyd from County Derry, went to the assistance of two in particular, the Neptune and the Intrepid. Both ships were lost despite heroic attempts with not only their crews but also taking with them six men from Ajax including Captain Boyd who in one of the ship's boats were attempting a rescue. This became known as the “Boyd Disaster”.

She was decommissioned and broken up in 1864.

Battle Honours
San Sebastian 1813
Baltic 1854 - 1855 


THE FOURTH "AJAX", 1867 - 1875

This ship had two distinct phases in its life:
1. Originally built as Vanguard, an 80 gun second rate
2. Ship’s name changed in 1867 to Ajax, to allow the Vanguard name to be allocated to another ship.

As built originally as Vanguard (6th of her name)
A 80-gun second-rate ship of the line
              Vanguard Class, lead ship
Ordered: 29 June 1832
Designer: Sir William Symonds
Design approved: 27 November 1832
Builder: Pembroke Dockyard
Named: ???
Laid down: May 1833
Launched: 25 August 1835
Completed: 19 September 1835 – 5 July 1836 at Portsmouth
First Commissioned: 18 March 1836
Dimensions: 190' 0"/155’ 0” x 56' 3" x 23' 4"
Tonnage: 2,609bm
Guns: Lower Deck 28 x 32pdrs (56cwt) plus 4 x 68pdrs carronades
           Upper Deck 26 x 32pdrs (50cwt) plus 4 x 68pdrs carronades
           Quarter Deck 14 x 32pdrs (42cwt)
           Foc'sl 2 x 32pdrs (42cwt)
Crew: 640 – 720, peacetime 630
Cost:  £56,983 + £20,756 for fitting out 
Renamed Ajax 20 October 1867.Vanguard on that date had been laid up at Sheerness since March
Fate: Breaking up completed at Sheerness on 26 June 1875. Records appear to indicate that after  
         being renamed to Ajax she had  remained laid up at Sheerness until being broken up there. 

HMS Ajax (IV)
Shown as when originally named HMS Vanguard (VI)
The fourth Ajax was so named on 20 October 1867 when she had already served in the Royal Navy for 35 years but under the name of HMS Vanguard, the sixth of that name. The Vanguard name was passed to a new 6,010 ton ironclad battleship under construction and ultimately completed 3 March 1870.

The sixth Vanguard  had been the first of eleven vessels of a new type of warship built to a then revolutionary design by William Symonds and approved 27 November 1832. They were the last to be designed without auxiliary steam propulsion. Becoming known as the "Symondite" design it had three distinctive features, very broad beam at that time the broadest of any ship built in England, a “V” shaped hull as opposed to the hitherto “U” profile and an excessively raked stern. Initially ordered on 29 June 1832 as a 78 gun Third Rate it was quickly respecified as an 80 gun Second Rate. She was built at the Royal Navy Dockyard Pembroke Dock, Wales, Yard No. 063, launched on 25 August 1835 and first commissioned 18 March 1836.

Still as Vanguard she was laid up at Sheerness in March 1862. A conversion was ordered 7 July 1859 but cancelled during 1860 and was still unconverted when renamed to Ajax on 20 October 1867.

The "Symondite" design ultimately proved singularly unsuccessful. Their construction required up to a fifth more timber and took almost a third longer to build. At sea the ships had a propensity to roll more quickly and much heavier leading to greater wear on rigging and making them poor gun platforms.  

This Ajax was broken up in June 1875 at Sheerness.

THE FIFTH "AJAX", 1880 - 1904

THE FIFTH "AJAX", 1880 - 1904

An ironclad battleship (also known as a Dreadnought and  as “Turret Ships”)
Clas: Ajax

Ordered: As Lead ship of the two ships in this class, the other being Agamemnon.
Designer: Nathaniel Barnaby
Ajax and her sister ship Agamemnon were cut down versions of the Inflexible Class with their displacement reduced to give a shallow draught  considered necessary for possible deployment against the Russian’s Baltic and Black Sea Fleets. Their design was a major point of change as they  were the of the last of the Royal Navy’s capital ships to be built with Muzzle loading armament and the first to have a secondary armament of two 6 Inch guns, one over the stern the other forward of the mainmast.
They proved to be unsuccessful ships being found to be bad sea boats with erratic steering particularly at high speed.

Builder: Pembroke Dockyard. Agamemnon was built at Chatham Dockyard.
Yard No: 199
Named: by Mr George Parkin, wife of the Dockyard’s Captain Superintendent
Laid down: 21 March 1876
Launched: 10 March 1880
Completed: 30March 1883
First Commissioned: 30 April 1885
Dimensions: 300' 9"Length oa  x 66' Beam x 23' 6" Draught
Propulsion Machinery: John Penn & Sons, Two  3-cylinder Inverted, vertical  Compound steam engines, each driving a single shaft.
                                     10 tubular boilers
                                     2 shafts, 6,000hp
                                     13 knots (24 km/hr)

Tonnage: 8,660 displacement at full load
Performance: 13knots (24.1 Km /Hr)
Armament: 2  x twin 12.5” Rifled muzzle loading
           2 x 6” BL
           6 x 6pdr QF
           2 x torpedo carriages 

Range: 3,900 Km at 9 Knots (17 Km/hr) consuming 960 long tons (986 tons)  of coal.
At waterline side thickness  18” (457mm) with a 19” (483) timber backing. The side thickness’ reducing to 15” (38mm) above and below the waterline.
Crew: 345
Cost:  ???
 Decommissioned November 1901,

 Sold March 1904 to Castle, River Thames, broken up at Charlton.

HMS Ajax (V)
Ajax and Agamemnon were designed as cut down versions of the successful Inflexible Class during a period of severe economies to the naval budget and were comparatively small vessels. They were distinctive in that they were the first British battleships to be designed without any sailing rig whatsoever and were the last major British ships to have muzzle loading main armament but the first to have secondary armament both being equipped with two six inch breach loading guns.

HMS Ajax (V) as at 1884

Their design lends to their sometimes being referred to as "Turret Ships". Archibald (Note 19) described them as having “strong claims as the ugliest battleships ever to serve in the Royal navy”. Their sea going qualities also were criticised as being poor sea ships and steered so badly that at near full speed they were barely controllable such that on 19 August 1885 Ajax's then commander, Captain Kennedy, in a report on her steering qualities stated she was “an eccentric ship
(ADM226/4).  The main armament proved deficient as the fields of fire of the turrets were restricted. Both ships only actively served for quite short periods, Ajax just six years before being placed in the Devonport Reserve in 1891, further reduced to Fleet Reserve in 1893 then in 1901 to Dockyard Reserve. Finally she was sold in March 1904 to Castle, River  Thames. Her sister served for only ten years before suffering the same fate except interestingly being broken up in Germany in January 1903.

  THE SIXTH "AJAX", 1912 - 1926

HMS Ajax (VI)
Royal Navy Photo taken 1912
Launched on 21 March 1912 at Scotts Shipyard, Greenock, displacing 23,000 tons, 597.75(oa) x 89ft, commissioned 31 October 1913, was the last of the four large ''King George V'' class battleships (Dreadnaughts) that served in World War I.

HMS Ajax (VI)
Port Said 1923
She participated in 1916 in the Battle of Jutland and in the Mediterranean and Black Seas in 1919, the latter in actions against Bolshevik and Turkish nationalists. When the Sultan of Turkey was deposed in 1923 he was carried by this Ajax to Mecca.

Decommissioned in 1924 and placed in the Nore Reserve, she was sold 9 November 1926 to Alloa Shipbreaking Company, Rosyth, arriving 10 December and broken up.

Battle Honours
Jutland 1916

THE SEVENTH "AJAX", 1934 - 1949

HMS Ajax (VII)
After World War 2 (Believed to be in 1949)

HMS Ajax (VII)
Mediterranean Gale
The most famous of her name, (Pennant Number 22), was launched on 1 March 1934, of 7,259 (Light) tons, length 554.59ft (oa) x 55.8ft beam at Vickers Armstrongs, Barrow-in-Furness and first commissioned on 15 April 1935. She was a ''Leander'' Class light cruiser which served in World War 2 where she won fame by taking part in the Battle of the River Plate leading to the sinking of the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee. Flowing from this fame the community of a town in Ontario, Canada, chose to name their town Ajax after this ship (Note 2).

The last to be built of her Class, her sister ships were in order of building Leander 1931, Orion 1932, Achilles 1932 and Neptune 1933. After a relatively short but illustrious 13 years of service she was decommissioned in February 1948. Reputedly Sir Winston Churchill, then Leader of the Opposition, personally intervened and stopped government to government negotiations to sell her to Chile he believing her illustrious historical place both in World War 2 and the Royal Navy should not be put at risk of being sullied. Consequently she was towed away from being laid up in the River Fal to Newport, Monmouthshire, where she arrived on 13 November 1949 and was broken up.

Her bell and anchor was later presented to the City of Montevideo, Uruguay's capital and chief port .

Sir Winston Churchill, 1874 - 1965
In the uniform of Lord Warden and Admiral of the Cinque Ports and 
Constable of Dover Castle (Note 3)
Portrait by Bernard Hailstone
“Prevented the illustrious name of HMS Ajax and the Royal Navy from possibly being sullied”

HMS Ajax (VII)
Aground River Usk, Newport, Monmouthshire prior to being broken up, 1949
(Refer Note 9)

Battle Honours
River Plate 1939       Mediterranean 1940-1941      Matapan 1941      Greece 1941
Crete 1941      Malta Convoys 1941      Aegean 1944      Normandy 1944      South France 1944 

THE EIGHTH "AJAX", 1962 - 1988

HMS Ajax (VIII) laying off Port of Oshawa, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
during her official visit to the Town of Ajax, 25 - 31 August 1976. 

The frigate Ajax (Pennant Number F114) 2,650 tons, 372ft (oa) x 41ft beam, launched on 16 August 1962 by Cammell Laird s was originally laid down as a Rothesay Class ship destined to be named HMS Fowey but  but while on the stocks was changed to a Batch 1 Leander Class (Type 12M "Leander" Class frigate) together with a change in her name to Ajax. She was commissioned 16 August 1963.  The "Leander" class eventually comprised 36 ships spread over three Batches (1, 2 & 3) constructed between 1961 and 1971 to a general purpose design which is now acknowledged as the modern Royal Navy's most successful frigate. Nine of these were sold to foreign governments - Chile (2), Ecuador (2), India (1), New Zealand (2) and Pakistan (2).

In 1974 she assisted in the evacuation of British citizens following the invasion of Cyprus by Turkey. As the designated Dartmouth Training Ship she visited  in 1976 the Town of Ajax located in Ontario, Canada, a town so named after the seventh Ajax (Note 2) where she was accorded the honour of being granted the freedom of the city. During May 1985 she escorted the Royal Yacht, HMY Britannia on a royal tour of Italy.

Decommissioned 31 May 1985, she replaced HMS Salisbury as the Devonport Harbour Training Ship on 11 July 1985 until 1987. On 3 August 1988 she arrived at Port Millom, Cumbria where she was broken up.

Her bell and anchor were presented to the Town of Ajax, Ontario, Canada, (named after the 7th Ajax) where they are now exhibited.

THE UNADOPTED "AJAX", 1956 - 2005

HMS Ajax
The most unlikely ship to bear the name and wear the badge Ajax was the 150ft long ex Admiralty Barge 851(F), built by Ailsa Shipbuilding at Troon, in 1956. Moored at Jupiter Point, Plymouth, she was used by the shore establishment HMS Raleigh for seamanship training. That she was named Ajax in 1987, reputedly to perpetuate the name, is in itself a conundrum (Note 6). During 2008 she was sold for a private conversion to a houseboat having been replaced by ex - HMS Brecon, former Pennant Number M26, a Hunt Class mine countermeasures vessel which herself had been decommissioned on 19 July 2005. 

The above photo (Note 4) appeared in a 1987 magazine with the description “Not a Chinese river gun boat from years past but the new seamanship training barge “Ajax” now moored in the River Lynher near Devonport. The former 150ft Avcat (Note 5) has been fitted with a classroom and has booms, ladders, anchor gear, RAS equipment, a crane and a full set of towing gear. New entry recruits will use the training barge to gain practical seamanship experience before going to sea for the first time. The barge replaces (the frigate pennant F114) HMS Ajax which lies close by – awaiting her final voyage to the scrapyard” 

THE NINTH "AJAX", Under construction.

HMS Ambush
Second Astute Class Fleet Submarine
On sea trials December 2012
Planned to hold the name the next Ajax (Pennant Number S125) will be the seventh and final boat to be built of the “Astute” Class nuclear powered Fleet Submarines (Note 6). The order was confirmed in 2010 for the Barrow in Furness yard of BAE Systems Submarine Solutions to commence building her in 2014 for entry into service in 2024. Reports indicate that the cost of the first three is about GBP 1.22 Billion each.

Her principal design features are - displacement tonnage 7,400 tonnes (dived), length 97 mtrs, beam 11.3 mtrs, speed submerged 30 knots (56+ kms /hr), crew 98. These are the first Royal Navy submarines to have a bunk for each member of the ship's company, ending the hitherto practice of 'hot bunking', whereby two sailors on opposite watches share the same bunk. A dramatic “first” is that this Ajax will be the first Royal Navy submarine to carry female crew members.  If it were not for the fact that it would need to restock its supplies every three months the Astute Class could travel around the world underwater for 25 years without ever refuelling thanks to their Rolls-Royce nuclear reactor, sonar systems and ability to convert salt water into oxygen and drinking water”.

All seven boats will be based at HM Naval Base Clyde.

HMS Astute
Lead Boat - Astute Class Fleet Submarine building programme
Pre Launch June 2007
Rear Admiral Simon Lister, OBE, CB, Director Submarines 2009 – 2013, said ‘The Astute Class will become the jewel in the crown of the Royal Navy’s Submarine Service and boasts much greater firepower and more advanced sonar and communications than ever before’.

T.he lead boat of this construction programme HMS Astute (Pennant S119) was launched on 8 June 2007, commissioned into service August 2010 and delivered on 18 July 2013. While expected to be fully operational by the end of 2013 various problems caused delay such that it was well into 2014 before she started out on her maiden deployment.

The second boat, Ambush (S120) was launched on December 16th 2010 at BAE Systems Barrow-in-Furness Shipyard the ceremony being sponsored by Lady Anne Soar, wife of the Royal Navy's Commander-in -chief Admiral Sir Trevor Soar, and commissioned on March 1st 2013. Ambush left Faslane on July 4 2014 on her first operational deployment to sail across the Equator to visit Rio de Janeiro in Brazil before heading for the North Atlantic and the United States. She visited Rio in August and joined delegates from 34 other nations, including France, the United States and Peru, where she helped mark the Brazilian navy’s submarine forces’ centenary celebrations. Upon her return to base on 10 October 2014 Commander Justin Codd, her Commanding Officer, speaking of the deployment said: “HMS Ambush is one of the most capable submarines in the world and the successful deployment has proven that she is now ready for deployment anywhere".

Of the next four boats Artful (S121) was launched in a two day process over 16 and 17 May 2014 being rolled out from BAE Devonshire Dock Hall into the basin.Systems Barrow-in-Furness . She is the first of the class to be fitted with the Common Combat System (CCS) which utilises commercially available of-the-shelf hardware and software as opposed to the tailor made systems installed in Astute and Ambush. This is intended to make updates and maintenance easier and more economical. Artful underwent a series of  Harbour trials to prove systems safety and operalbility with her maiden dive completed in BAE Systems basin on 7 October 2014 when she was submerged to a depth of 15 metres. On 13 August 2015 she left her construction site and headed out to sea on her initial sea trials programmer. In August 2015 she sailed from Barrow-in-Furness for her new home at HM Naval base Clyde and was handed over to the Royal navy on 14 December 2015. Then carried out sea trials to prove her systems and equipment. Further trials included the firing of six training variants of the Royal Navy's heavyweight Spearfish torpedo on the British Underwater Testing and evaluation Centre near the Isle of Skye. Artful continued those trials until mid March 2016 when she was commissioned at a ceremony on the 18 March 2016**.
** Ref: Australian Warship Magazine, No' 93

 The fourth vessel (S122) which is expected to be in service by 2018 was launched on 16 December 2016 in the  Devonshire Dock Hall at BAE Systems English Barrow in Furness Shipyard. She was named Audacious  by Lady Elizabeth Jones, wife of the First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Philip Jones*** Of the remaining three vessels all are currently are at varying stages of construction, Anson (S123) is expected to commission 2020 and construction of the sixth, Agamemnon (S124), started in July 2013 when her first components were laid down in the construction hall at the same BAE Systems yard. She is expected to commission in 2022.
*** Ref:.Sea Breezes Magazine, March 20217.

Ajax (S125) will be the last of the class expected to commission in 2024. In June 2012 the order was placed for the manufacture of her nuclear reactor.  A contract was then signed with BAE Systems on 10 September 2013 for four sets of high efficiency heat exchangers for the Agamemnon and Ajax. This followed on the heels of a contract placed on 25 May placed with Applied Integration of Stokesley, North Yorkshire, for a four year programme to design the design and develop control systems for both boats. The company already held a similar contract for Audacious and Anson.

See also Note 6.

Two other vessels are listed in Admiralty records as having born the name Ajax. Neither rate as warships but are best described as coming under the definition of “Navy-built or requisitioned vessels, hired or purchased in the two world wars together with hired vessels of earlier periods”. These miscellaneous vessels include trawlers, drifters, whalers, tugs, coastal forces craft, landing craft and other miscellaneous types. Neither have been considered by the Naval Historical Branch to be appropriate for inclusion within the Ajax lineage. (Refer also Note 6).

Both are listed (“Ships of the Royal Navy” Vol 2. J.J. Colledge, P14) as:
  1.   Ajax. Tug 273/94 hired in July 1914. Passed to the War Department on 7 August 1914.
  2. Ajax II. Drifter 81/09. Hired 1914, sunk, British Isles, 27 October 1916 by a German torpedo. 


1.Some Royal Navy ships were, however, seriously damaged. As an example,
   the third rate 74 gun Belleisle was literally reduced to a floating manned hulk       with all her masts shot away drifting helplessly on the edge of the battle from       where she was rescued by HMS Naiad (Ibid "Trafalgar, The Men, The Battle,       The Storm" P321) and towed away. Later repaired she remained in service
   until being broken up in August 1814. This ship had originally been the                 French Formidable captured by the Royal Navy in June 1795 at Bell Isle and       taken into Naval service, a not unusual event in those days by either side,             occasionally not even changing the ship’s name. – “Town of Ajax”.

3.Portrait - Oil on canvas, 36” x 28”, (91.4 x 71.1 cms) by Bernard Hailstone.          Sir Winston Churchill held the appointment of Lord Warden and Admiral of 
    the Cinque Ports and Constable of Dover Castle between 1941 and 1965.              Then and now purely an honorary and ceremonial position it has
     been in historical terms one of the most powerful positions in England. It is         known that King Edward the Confessor (1042 – 1066) granted specific rights       to certain of England’s south eastern ports in return for their establishing a           defensive naval force. From this the Confederation of Cinque Ports is                   believed to have evolved from the ancient union of these ports, they being
     Sandwich, Dover, Hythe, Romney and Hastings. In 1995 the Courts of                 Brotherhood and Guestling of the Confederation of Cinque Ports                           commissioned Bernard Hailstone to paint a portrait of their
     Lord Warden and Admiral.
     The portrait was presented to Churchill by the Cinque Ports on 7th September       1955. It is now in the collection of the Imperial War Museum, London.
     The artist Bernard Hailstone  (1910 - 1987) was an English painter better              known for his portraits completed during  the second world war in Britain.            The original shows Churchill standing in his full drsss uniform. Much of              Hailstone's work will be found in the Imperial War Musum, the Brirish                  Government Art Collection and the National Portrait Gallery.

4.Photo, source and description provided courtesy of Malcolm Collis, Archivist,        HMS Ajax & River Plate Veterans Association.

5.Avcat: aviation fuel.

6.Interestingly, the Royal Navy are ignoring this ship in the "Ajax" naming                  lineage by referring to the projected seventh ‘Astute’ Class nuclear                        submarine  as the ‘ninth Ajax’ not as the “tenth Ajax’,
      obviously wishing to overlook the fact that the name had previously been              given to such a mundane vessel as ex Admiralty Barge 851(F). Certainly the        Royal Navy’s Historical Branch are seemingly in harmony with that thinking        as according to Colledge, who worked very closely with them
      (Bibliography - “Ships of the Royal Navy Vol 2”), the name is not even                listed by them under "Miscellaneous Vessels" as having been held by                    Admiralty Barge 851(F).   It is not listed here as the ninth Ajax purely to              follow the Admiralty's naming policy despite this ex barge being granted use        of  the badge.

7.From Royal Doulton porcelain figurine series “Ship’s Figureheads” (ibid –           “Ajax Collectables”)

8.The Royal Navy 74gun frigate HMS Hercule fighting the French Poursuivante      a 40 gun Romaine class frigate, on 28 June 1803, at the Blockade of Saint-            Domingue.  Poursuivante escaped and reached harbour. Hercule was                    originally a two year old French ship captured 21 May 1798 off Bec du Raz          by HMS Mars and taken into RN service; she was eventually broken up at            Portsmouth in 1810. Image is a detail from the right hand side of a painting by      Louis Philippe Crepin (1772- 1851), a French naval painter, now in the                collection of the Musee National de la Marine, Paris.   

9.Broke adrift while under tow from River Fal and ran aground.

10.Villeneuve displayed a propensity for timidity as a fleet commander in                 several critical similar battle occasions thus losing the opportunity to either           "win the day" or to make the best of an adverse situation. Captured at the             Battle of Trafalgar along with his flagship Bucentaure", he was
     allowed to attend Nelson's funeral, was repatriated back to France in late               1805 where his requests to return to duty were ignored by Napoleon. On 22         April 1806 he was found dead in his Rennes hotel room. While it was                   officially stated as being a suicide his body actuallyu showed he had been 
     stabbed several times thus leading to popular suspicion that he had been                murdered on Napoleon's orders. Nevertheless, his name is etched on the Arc        de Triomphe in Paris. (Ibid - Bibliography "Broadsides, The Age of Fighting         Sail 1775-1815", P388).

11.By the time the War of 1812 ended the British had a 102 gun ship and the             Americans had two three-deckers being built each of 120 guns. (Ibid -                   Bibliography, "Broadsides, The Age of
     Fighting Sail 1775-1815", P350").

12.Sir Andrew Snape Hamond v. Messrs Brents Shipbuilders, 23 February 1804.       (Ibid - Bibliography, "Cochrane, Britannia's Sea Wolf" P80 & 355). In the             absence of an authoritative and thorough biography of Sir John Jervis, 1st             Earl of St Vincent and his attempts over many years to stamp out corruption         at considerable personal cost to his reputation I would refer the 
     reader to the Wikipedia article under "Sir John Jervis, 1st Earl of St Vincent".

13.The definition used here is that used by Rif Winfield in his  "British Warships        in the Age of Sail".
      Colledge in "Ships of the Royal Navy" uses the same formula but refers to            "bm" being called "tuns", namely it being a capacity measurement derived             by calculating the number of wine casks (tuns) that the ship could carry.               The bterm "Tuns" was created under Henry VII's Navigation Act of 1495,
       where a Tun was defined as a "monstrous barrel to carry wine". The Act               decreed that henceforth all English ships were to be measured by Tonnage,           i.e., that being the number of Tuns a ship could carry in their holds (Ibid -             Bibliography "The Naval Side of British History 1485 - 1945, P26-27").

14."Steam guard ships" were also defined in Royal Navy parlance as "Block               Ships". Details of the conversion were described in "The Times" newspaper         of 30 October 1845 thus "Workmen are engaged in removing housing over           her and preparing her for cutting down to a block ship for that port" . (Ibid -         Bibliography "Maritime History of Britain and Ireland, P199").   

15.Ibid - Bibliography, "Nelson's Navy - The Ships, Men & Organisation 1793 -        1815", P72.

16."The Times" newspaper reports 6 through 15 August 1853.
17. In 1746, Rear Admiral Lord Anson, then a junior member of the Board of             Admiralty, introduced a reclassification of ship's ratings that would truly               indicate its role in the service. This defined the ship's rating, by the number           of guns and gun decks, its class (Battleship or Cruiser) and tonnage.
       (Ibid -Bibliography "Admiral Lord Anson", P141-142).

18.Ibid - Bibliography, "Pasha", Pages 208 & 364, by Julian Stockwin. Stockwin         is very highly regarded for his meticulous research and scholarship to                   ensure the accuracy of the technical and  historical content of his "Thomas           Kydd" series of novels set in the Nelsonian era of the Royal Navy. In reality         there have been quite a number of much more  horrendous Royal Naval               losses in both world wars. Just one such loss on 24 May 1941 was of the               battleship HMS Hood sunk with the loss of all but three of her 1,418  crew           in an action with the German battleship Bismarck and the German cruiser             Prinz Eugen. In a coincidence this author worked for several years in 
       Western Australia in the early 1970's with the son-in-law of one of those               three survivors thus frequently meeting socially with that survivor's                       daughter and her family. 

19.Ibid - Bibliography "The Fighting Ship in the Royal Navy from 897 to                    1984" P122 by Archibald.