Named in honor of the recently deceased ruler of the United Kingdom, HMS King George V was laid down on New Year’s Day 1937, launched on February 21, 1939, and commissioned on October 1, 1940, thus becoming the second warship to bear the monarch’s name, the first one being a 1911 vintage battleship. She was built by Vickers-Armstrongs & Co. Ltd. at Walker Naval Yard, Newcastle upon Tyne.
The warship had a displacement of 42,200 tons, a hull length of 745 feet, a beam width of 103 feet, and a draught of 32.6 feet. Crew complement was anywhere from 1,314 to 1,631 commissioned officers and enlisted sailors. Maximum speed was 28 knots. Armament consisted of ten Mark VII 14-inch main guns – divvied amongst a four-barrel turret fore and aft and a two-barrel forward turret – sixteen MK 1 5.25-inch guns, and sixty-four 2-pounder “pom-pom” 40mm antiaircraft guns. The main belt armor was 15 inches thick.
Killing the Bismarck
The HMS King George V had a prestigious career. The vessel’s most famous accomplishment was being one of the killers of the feared Nazi German battleship Bismarck.
The sinking took place on May 27, 1941, with King George V working in tandem with the battleship HMS Rodney and the cruisers HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Norfolk. Of course for the sake of accuracy and completeness. It should be noted that by the time these four British warships had caught up with Bismarck, the German battleship had already been damaged and slowed down by torpedo hits from Fleet Air Arm Fairey Swordfish warbirds.
In any event, the final ship-to-ship engagement began at 08:47 that morning, with Rodney firing the opening salvo and King George V following suit one minute thereafter, firing her main gun battery at 25,500 yards. Five minutes later, the operator of the Type 284 radar finally obtained an accurate range of 20,500 yards and King George V obtained her first straddle. In a 90-minute span, the four British ships fired roughly 2,800 shells with around 400 hits, and at 10:40 the Bismarck slipped beneath the waves with over 2,000 Kriegsmarine seamen killed.
Alas, neither royal namesake of the King George V nor her famous role in battleship vs. battleship history was enough to make her a candidate for preservation and conversion to floating museum status. Though she did have a bit of a last hurrah by conveying the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester on an official visit to Australia in January 1946 and holding status as flagship of the Home Fleet until December 1946. By June 1950 she was decommissioned and mothballed, and in 1957 she was stricken from the Royal Navy roster and sold for scrap.
Today, the memory of HMS King George V lives on in the 1960 motion picture “Sink the Bismarck!” and Johnny Horton’s hit song of the same name (though the song doesn’t actually mention King George V by name). She also lives via plastic model kits such as Tamiya’s 1/700 scale offering.
Christian D. Orr is a former U.S. Air Force Security Forces officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon). Chris holds a B.A. in International Relations from the University of Southern California (USC) and an M.A. in Intelligence Studies (concentration in Terrorism Studies) from American Military University (AMU). He has also been published in The Daily Torch and The Journal of Intelligence and Cyber Security. Last but not least, he is a Companion of the Order of the Naval Order of the United States (NOUS).