HMS Pallas (1865)

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Career (UK) RN Ensign
Name: HMS Pallas
Builder: Woolwich Dockyard
Laid down: 19 October 1863
Launched: 14 March 1865
Completed: 6 March 1866
Fate: Sold on 20 April 1886
General characteristics
Displacement: 3,661 tons light,
3,794 tons deep load
Length: 225 ft (69 m)
Beam:   50 ft (15 m)
Draught:   19 ft (5.8 m) light,
  24 ft 3 in (7.39 m) deep load

Humphreys & Tennant compound horizontal

I.H.P. = 3,580
Sail plan: Ship-rigged, sail area 16,716 sq ft (1,553.0 m2)
Speed: 13 knots (24 km/h) under power,
  9.5 knots (18 km/h) under sail
Complement: 253

2 × 7-inch 110-pounder Armstrong breech-loaders

4 × 7-inch muzzle-loading rifles
Armour: Belt, battery & bulkheads 4.5 inches (110 mm)

HMS Pallas was a purpose-built wooden-hulled ironclad of the Royal Navy, designed as a private venture by Sir Edward Reed, and accepted by the Board of Admiralty because, as an economy measure, they wished to use up the stocks of seasoned timber held in the Woolwich Dockyard. The fact that Woolwich was not equipped to build iron ships was also relevant.

She was designed and built at a time when, in the aftermath of the battle of Lissa, it was believed in many quarters that the main weapon of future battleships would be the ram, with gunfire capability filling only a secondary or subordinate role. Pallas, of limited dimensions, low displacement and limited armament but a relatively high speed for the period, was seen as an embodiment of this principal and was believed at the time of her design to have outstanding military value. By the time of her launch it had become recognised that a powerful gun armament and adequate armour were indispensable requirements for a first-line warship, and her role was re-defined as being at best a second-line supporting warship.

She was built as a box-battery ship, with two of her big guns on either broadside and the others mounted in the extreme bow and stern as chase guns. It was possible to achieve axial fire from the battery guns by traversing them to fire fore or aft through recessed embrasures at the corners of the battery. As with similar arrangements in contemporary box-battery ironclads, moving the guns in anything other than calm water would have been extremely hazardous. The small number of guns, and the low weight of the broadside, was excused on the basis that the ship's primary weapon was the ram.

Pallas was the first warship in the Royal Navy to be fitted with compound expansion engines, and a high performance was expected from them; her specification claimed a speed under power of fourteen knots, which was necessary if she were to ram enemy ships who were themselves under way. On her trials, however, riding light, she achieved only 12.5 knots (23.2 km/h), while piling up an enormous bow wave. After her bow contour was hastily modified she was able to just reach 13 knots (24 km/h), which in the event of armed conflict would have been insufficient to allow her to fulfil her designed ramming function against any enemy ship with an operational power plant.

Service history

HMS Pallas was commissioned at Portsmouth, and served with the Channel Fleet until September 1870, when she was paid off for a long (and very early) refit. She served in the Mediterranean Fleet from 1872 to 1879, and was paid off. She was retained in fourth class reserve at Devonport until sold.


  • Oscar Parkes, British Battleships ISBN 0-85052-604-3
  • Conway, All the World's Fighting Ships ISBN 0-85177-133-5

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