España-class battleship

The España class was a series of three dreadnought battleships built for the Spanish Navy between 1909 and 1921. The construction of the ships, particularly the third vessel, were significantly delayed due to shortages of materiel supplied by Great Britain during World War I, particularly armament. The class comprised España (Spain), Alfonso XIII, and Jaime I. The three ships were the only Spanish dreadnoughts ever built. They were also the smallest battleships of the type constructed, owing to the weak Spanish economy. The ships were armed with eight 12-inch (305 mm) guns, but their small displacement—only 15,700 metric tons (15,500 long tons; 17,300 short tons)—forced the designers to compromise on armor protection and speed.

Illustration of España in 1912
Class overview
Name: España
Builders: Sociedad Española de Construcción Naval, El Ferrol, Spain
Preceded by: None
Succeeded by: Reina Victoria Eugenia class (planned)
Built: 1909–1921
In commission: 1913 to 1937
Completed: 3
Lost: 3
General characteristics
Type: Battleship
  • Normal: 15,700 t (15,500 long tons)
  • Full Load: 16,450 t (16,190 long tons)
Length: 140 m (460 ft) o/a
Beam: 24 m (79 ft)
Draft: 7.8 m (26 ft)
Installed power:
Speed: 19.5 knots (36.1 km/h)
Range: 5,000 nmi (9,300 km) at 10 knots (19 km/h)
Complement: 854
  • 8 × 305 mm (12 in)/50 cal guns
  • 20 × 102 mm (4 in) guns
  • 4 × 3-pounder guns
  • 2 × machine guns

España, Alfonso XIII, and Jaime I served in the 1st Squadron of the Spanish Fleet, which became the Training Squadron in the 1920s. They all saw action during the Rif War in the early 1920s supporting Spanish ground forces in North Africa. España ran aground in August 1923 and the Navy could not salvage her; she instead broke up under tidal forces. Alfonso XIII was renamed España in 1931 after her namesake, King Alfonso XIII was forced into exile. The two surviving ships served on opposite sides of the Spanish Civil War, and both were destroyed during the conflict. España struck a naval mine laid by her own side in on 30 April 1937 and sank, and Jaime I was destroyed by an internal explosion in June 1937.


The Spanish public blamed the disastrous losses in the Spanish–American War of 1898 on the Navy, but recognized the need to modernize and rebuild it. The first attempt to rebuild the Navy came in the Fleet Plan of 1903, which called for a fleet centered on seven 15,000-metric-ton (15,000-long-ton) battleships and three 10,000-metric-ton (9,800-long-ton) cruisers. This plan proved to be far too ambitious for the weak Spanish economy, and an unstable Spanish parliament proved unable to provide funding. It was followed by the Fleet Plan of 1905, which proposed a fleet of eight 14,000 t (14,000 long tons) battleships along with a number of torpedo boats and submarines. It too fell victim to the weaknesses of the Spanish government. It was not until early 1907 that a strong cabinet led by Antonio Maura came to power that the question of naval construction was settled.[1] The Fleet Plan of 1907 proposed three 15,000 MT battleships along with several destroyers, torpedo boats, and other craft. The construction plan was to last for eight years. Debates over the plan took place in the Cortes Generales (General Courts—the Spanish legislature) through November, with a final approval vote on 2 December. The Fleet Plan was formally signed into law on 7 January 1908.[2][3]

The delay enabled Spain to take advantage of experience gained by Britain with the world's first commissioned all-big-gun battleship, HMS Dreadnought, and by the United States with its own new battleship, USS South Carolina.[3] The Spanish Navy was principally concerned with defending its three main naval bases: Ferrol, Cádiz, and Cartagena. Of secondary importance was the need to keep the new battleship design tightly constrained due to the frail Spanish economy and industrial sector.[4] A third constraint was the need to build ships small enough to fit in existing dockyard facilities, since there were insufficient funds to both build larger battleships and to enlarge the navy's dockyards.[5] As a result, the design requirements called for relatively heavy offensive power with minimal range and armor protection. The Navy began discussing the design requirements with Armstrong Whitworth and Vickers in 1907 well before the law was actually passed. On 5 September 1907, Vickers provided a proposed design for a 15,000-ton battleship armed with eight 12-inch guns. This design was the basis for the requirements for the design competition, which was issued on 21 April 1908.[4]

Four shipbuilders submitted bids: the Italian Gio. Ansaldo & C. led a group that also included the Austro-Hungarian Škoda Works and the French Marrel Freres Forges de La Loire et du Midi; the French Schneider-Creusot firm partnered with Société Nouvelle des Forges et Chantiers de la Méditerranée and Forges et Chantiers de la Gironde; the Spanish Sociedad Española de Construcción Naval (SECN), which was formed by Vickers, Armstrong Whitworth, and John Brown & Company; and a group of Spanish industrialists backed by Palmers Shipbuilding and Iron Company and William Beardmore and Company. Only the first three proposals were seriously considered, as the fourth was considered to be too vague. The Junta Superior de la Armada (the Navy Staff) and the Navy Minister were responsible for reviewing the three proposals. Ansaldo prepared two design variants; the first called for four twin gun turrets for the main battery, with one forward, one aft, and two offset amidships. The second proposal had two triple turrets, fore and aft, with a twin turret on the centerline amidships. Artillery experts in the Navy rejected the second variant. The SECN and Schneider designs also featured the same arrangement as the first Ansaldo proposal.[6]

In October 1908, the Artillery Committee met to make its recommendations to the Junta Superior. The Committee concluded the SECN and Schneider proposals were superior to the Ansaldo version, but neither had a marked advantage over the other. The following month, the Naval Construction Committee met to evaluate the proposals. It recommended the SECN design first, followed by Schneider, with Ansaldo last. The Office of the Navy Controller also evaluated the proposals in November, and advised the Junta Superior that only the SECN bid met the design requirements without any legal, administrative, or cost problems.[7] In February 1909, the Navy requested a revised design from SECN to incorporate several alterations, including an increased freeboard to improve seakeeping, an increased height and length of the main belt armor, and the addition of individual rangefinders for each gun turret. SECN agreed to make the changes on 20 March, and the company received the contract on 14 April.[8] Due to the constraints imposed by the Spanish economy, the resulting design produced the smallest dreadnought-type battleships ever built.[5] They were also obsolescent before completion due to rapid technological changemost significantly the rise of the superdreadnought battleshipsand lengthy delays in completion of the later units of the class.[9]

General characteristics

The ships of the class were 132.6 m (435 ft) long at the waterline and 140 m (460 ft) long overall. They had a beam of 24 m (79 ft) and a draft of 7.8 m (26 ft); their freeboard was 4.6 m (15 ft) amidships, much lower than was normal for battleships of the period. They displaced 15,700 metric tons (15,500 long tons) as designed and up to 16,450 t (16,190 long tons) at combat load. The vessels had two tripod masts and a small superstructure.[5] They were equipped with six 75 cm (30 in) searchlights.[10] The ships were reasonably stable compared to foreign designs, but they had a low metacentric height of 1.56 m (5 ft 1 in) at full loading. This caused them to have very low stability when damaged.[11]

Each ship had a crew of 854 officers and enlisted men.[5] The enlisted crew spaces were located forward in the upper deck, and were cramped and unhygienic. The cabins for non-commissioned officers were also located here. The superstructure included several cabins for senior officers.[12] The ships were initially painted black but in the 1920s they were repainted gray. Alfonso XIII wore a white identification band on her funnel and Jaime I wore two, though both ships had them removed after the start of the Civil War. Jaime I was also repainted dark gray at this time.[13]


Their propulsion system consisted of four-shaft Parsons steam turbines and twelve coal-fired water-tube Yarrow boilers.[5] The turbines drove three-bladed screw propellers that were 2.4 m (7 ft 10 in) wide in diameter. Two spare screws were kept aboard each ship.[14] The boilers were trunked into a single funnel that was placed amidships; the location of the funnel, far from the foremast, kept the latter's spotting top free from smoke interference, but still rendered the spotting top on the mainmast essentially useless.[15]

The engines were rated at 15,500 shaft horsepower (11,600 kW) and produced a top speed of 19.5 knots (36.1 km/h; 22.4 mph).[5] According to the design contract, the engines were to be capable of a normal maximum of 22,000 shp (16,000 kW) with a top speed of 19.9 knots (36.9 km/h; 22.9 mph) and up to 26,000 shp (19,000 kW) and 20.2 knots (37.4 km/h; 23.2 mph) at forced draft. All three ships exceeded 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph) on speed trials.[14] Each ship could store up to 1,900 t (1,900 long tons) of coal, which permitted a cruising radius of 5,000 nautical miles (9,300 km; 5,800 mi) at a speed of 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph).[5]


Their main armament consisted of eight 12-inch (305 mm) 50-caliber guns Vickers Mk H. Each weighed 65.646 metric tons (64.609 long tons) and fired an 850-pound (385 kg) shell at a muzzle velocity of 3,000 ft/s (914 m/s). The guns had a maximum range of 23,500 yards (21,500 m) and a rate of fire of one round per minute.[16] These guns were housed in four twin turrets, arranged with two on the centerline fore and aft, the others en echelon on the wings. The turrets were hydraulically operated, and could be loaded at any angle of elevation. The en echelon arrangement was chosen over superfiring turrets—such as those used in the American dreadnoughts—to save weight and cost. All four turrets could in theory fire on the broadside, and three could fire ahead or astern.[3][5] However, blast effects from the wing turrets generally prohibited firing them across the deck or directly ahead and astern.[15]

The secondary battery comprised twenty 4 in (102 mm) 50-caliber guns mounted individually in casemates along the length of the hull. They fired a 31-pound (14 kg) shell.[17] The guns were too close to the waterline, however, and were unusable in heavy seas; they also suffered from insufficient elevation, which limited their range. The guns were also too weak to be effective against contemporary destroyers, which were becoming increasingly powerful.[15] The ships also carried four 3-pounder guns, two machine guns, and two landing guns that could be taken ashore.[3][5]


The armor layout for the España class was essentially a scaled down version of that used in the British Bellerophon class.[18] The reductions were due primarily to the heavy armament in a vessel of such limited displacement.[19] The main belt armor was only 8 in (203 mm) thick, and tapered to 4 in (102 mm) on either end of the central citadel. The upper belt that protected the casemate guns was 6 in (152 mm) thick. Each turret, which had 8 in sides, sat on a barbette that was protected with 10 in (254 mm) thick plating. The conning tower also had 10-inch thick sides. Both the armored deck and the torpedo bulkhead were 1.5 in (38 mm) thick.[5] The ships' heavy armor plating consisted of Krupp cemented steel, with Krupp homogeneous steel used for armor thinner than 4 in (100 mm); both types were manufactured in Britain.[20]

Though the ships were poorly armored compared to foreign designs in general, the ships' underwater protection was the greatest weakness in the armor scheme. The torpedo bulkhead was placed too close to the outer hull, which reduced its ability to absorb damage. This weakness played a central role in the loss of both España to grounding in 1923 and the sinking of Alfonso XIII by a single mine in 1937.[20]


Top: Profile of España as she appeared in 1913
Middle: España as she appeared in 1923
Bottom: Jaime I as she appeared in 1937

Only limited modifications were possible due to technical constraints imposed by the need to keep displacement low and insufficient funds to effect a major reconstruction to free up tonnage for other uses.[21] The Navy considered proposals to modernize the three battleships in the early 1920s, but the Spanish military budget was being consumed by the costs of the Rif War in North Africa and so nothing came of the proposed modernization. These plans called for installing new fire control equipment with more effective rangefinders, along with additional, newer anti-aircraft guns, and building anti-torpedo bulges into the hull to improve underwater protection for a loss of one knot of speed. Deck armor was also to be strengthened.[22]

Ultimately, only minor modifications were possible. In 1926, both Jaime I and Alfonso XII had a pair of Vickers 76.2-millimeter (3 in) anti-aircraft guns installed, one each on top of turret numbers 1 and 2. And in the 1930s, the foremast was reduced slightly on the two surviving ships.[13] After she was seized by the Nationalists in 1936, España (ex-Alfonso XIII) had these two guns removed for use ashore. They were replaced with four German 8.8 cm (3.5 in) SK C/30 flak guns and two 2 cm (0.79 in) C/30 anti-aircraft guns. Jaime I, which remained with the Republicans, was reequipped with two Vickers 47 mm (1.9 in) 50-caliber anti-aircraft guns and a twin 25 mm (0.98 in) Hotchkiss mounting.[23]


A new 184 by 35 m (604 by 115 ft) drydock and two 180 by 35 m (591 by 115 ft) slipways were built at Ferrol to accommodate the construction of the three battleships. All material, save the armor plate, heavy guns, and fire control equipment, was manufactured in Spain. The contract specified a build time of four years for the first ship, five years for the second, and seven years for the third.[24] Despite the allowance for longer construction times for the later units, their completion, and particularly the third unit, Jaime I, was held up by a lack of materials from Britain as a result of the outbreak of World War I.[3] Most importantly, the main guns for Jaime I were not delivered until 1919.[24]

Name Builder[5] Laid down[5] Launched[5] Completed[5]
España SECN, Ferrol 6 December 1909 5 February 1912 23 October 1913
Alfonso XIII SECN, Ferrol 23 February 1910 7 May 1913 16 August 1915
Jaime I SECN, Ferrol 5 February 1912 21 September 1914 20 December 1921


España was the only member of the class completed by the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, though she did not see action, as Spain remained neutral for the duration of the war.[25] In August 1914, she participated in the opening ceremonies for the Panama Canal.[26] Alfonso XIII joined her in August 1915 in the 1st Squadron of the Spanish fleet. In late 1921, Jaime I was finally completed. Throughout the early 1920s, the three ships served in the Training Squadron.[25][27] During this period, Spain became involved in the Rif War in Morocco; all three ships saw action during the conflict, primarily by providing artillery support to Spanish ground forces engaging the Rif rebels.[28] In August 1923, while bombarding Rif positions, España ran aground off Cape Tres Forcas. A lengthy salvage operation failed to free the ship, and in November 1924, the stress of repeated tidal battering broke the wreck in half, rendering her a complete loss.[29]

In 1931, after the overthrow of King Alfonso XIII, his namesake battleship was renamed España.[5] In the mid-1930s, the Spanish Navy considered modernization programs for the two surviving battleships, but none came to fruition, primarily as a result of the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936.[30] The two ships found themselves on opposite sides during the conflict; España served on the side of Francisco Franco's Nationalists, and Jaime I fought for the Republicans.[31] España was used for coastal bombardment and to enforce the blockade of Republican ports, while Jaime I unsuccessfully attempted to disrupt the blockade, though neither ship engaged the other.[32] In August 1936, Jaime I was attacked and moderately damaged by Nationalist bombers;[33] while undergoing repairs in Cartagena, she was destroyed by an internal explosion in June 1937.[34] España was sunk on 30 April 1937 after striking a mine laid by her own side off the coast of Santander in northern Spain.[35]

Many of the guns from the first España were recovered and employed in coastal fortifications, some of which remained in service until 1999.[29] Six of Jaime I's 12-inch guns were also salvaged and similarly employed after she was broken up in the 1940sthey too remained in service until they were decommissioned in the mid-1990s. The second España was never raised, and her wreck was discovered in the early 1980s. Several expeditions to survey the wreck took place between February and May 1984.[36]


  1. Fernandez, Mituikov & Crawford, p. 63
  2. Fernandez, Mituikov & Crawford, pp. 63, 65
  3. Fitzsimons, p. 856
  4. Fernandez, Mituikov & Crawford, pp. 66–67
  5. Gardiner & Gray, p. 378
  6. Fernandez, Mituikov & Crawford, pp. 6768
  7. Fernandez, Mituikov & Crawford, pp. 6870
  8. Fernandez, Mituikov & Crawford, p. 72
  9. Fitzsimons, p. 857
  10. Fernandez, Mituikov & Crawford, p. 95
  11. Fernandez, Mituikov & Crawford, p. 77
  12. Fernandez, Mituikov & Crawford, p. 102
  13. Fernandez, Mituikov & Crawford, p. 104
  14. Fernandez, Mituikov & Crawford, p. 101
  15. Fernandez, Mituikov & Crawford, pp. 84
  16. Friedman, p. 65
  17. Friedman, p. 107
  18. Fernandez, Mituikov & Crawford, pp. 95
  19. Garzke & Dulin, p. 437
  20. Fernandez, Mituikov & Crawford, pp. 96
  21. Fernandez, Mituikov & Crawford, p. 76
  22. Fernandez, Mituikov & Crawford, pp. 104–105
  23. Fernandez, Mituikov & Crawford, pp. 91–93
  24. Fernandez, Mituikov & Crawford, p. 73
  25. Gardiner & Gray, p. 376
  26. Shepherd, p. 28
  27. Garzke & Dulin, p. 438
  28. Miller, p. 131
  29. Fernandez, Mituikov & Crawford, p. 106
  30. Garzke & Dulin, pp. 438–439
  31. Gardiner & Chesneau, p. 398
  32. Fernandez, Mituikov & Crawford, pp. 107108
  33. Nofi, p. 32
  34. Gibbons, p. 195
  35. Roskill, p. 381
  36. Fernandez, Mituikov & Crawford, pp. 108109


  • Fernandez, Rafael; Mitiukov, Nicholas & Crawford, Kent (March 2007). "The Spanish Dreadnoughts of the España class". Warship International. Toledo: International Naval Research Organization. 44 (1): 63–117. ISSN 0043-0374. OCLC 1647131.
  • Fitzsimons, Bernard, ed. (1979). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of 20th Century Weapons and Warfare. 8. Phoebus Publishing: London. pp. 856–57. ISBN 0-8393-6175-0.
  • Friedman, Norman (2011). Naval Weapons of World War One. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1-84832-100-7.
  • Gardiner, Robert; Gray, Randal, eds. (1985). Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships: 1906–1921. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-87021-907-3.
  • Garzke, William H.; Dulin, Robert O. (1985). Battleships: Axis and Neutral Battleships in World War II. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-0-87021-101-0.
  • Gibbons, Tony (1983). The Complete Encyclopedia of Battleships and Battlecruisers: A Technical Directory of the World's Capital Ships From 1860 to the Present Day. London: Salamander Books, Ltd. ISBN 0-86101-142-2.
  • Miller, David (2001). Illustrated Directory of Warships of the World. Osceola: MBI Pub. Co. ISBN 0-7603-1127-7.
  • Nofi, Albert A. (2010). To Train The Fleet For War: The U.S. Navy Fleet Problems, 1923–1940. Washington, DC: Naval War College Press. ISBN 978-1-884733-87-1.
  • Shepherd, R. C., ed. (February 1915). "Schedule of Operations of the Atlantic Fleet, and Preliminary Arrangements Incident to the Panama–San Francisco Cruise". Our Navy. New York: Our Navy Publishing Co. VIII (10): 28–29. OCLC 41114005.
  • Rodríguez González, Agustín Ramón (2018). "The Battleship Alfonso XIII (1913)". In Taylor, Bruce (ed.). The World of the Battleship: The Lives and Careers of Twenty-One Capital Ships of the World's Navies, 1880–1990. Barnsley: Seaforth Publishing. ISBN 0870219065.
  • Roskill, Stephen (1976). Naval Policy Between the Wars, Volume 1. London: Collins. ISBN 0-00-211561-1.

Further reading

  • Lyon, Hugh (1978). Encyclopedia of the World's Warships: A Technical Directory of Major Fighting Ships from 1900 to the Present Day. London: Salamander Books. ISBN 0-86101-007-8.
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