Résumé of the 9 Ships 

The Old “Superb”

Part of a great tradition  . . . . . . . .


The First (1710)

The French Superbe, a 64-gun (third rate) ship of 1,000 tons was captured in the channel on 29th July 1710, by H.M.S. Kent. She was commissioned for the Royal Navy in September of the same year. After serving in the Mediterranean and the Baltic, she was present at the Battle of Cape Passarro on the 31st July 1718, under the command of Captain Streynsham Master. In the Battle the Spanish Fleet, which threatened Italy, was destroyed by Admiral Byng’s fleet. She was taken out of active service in 1733


Between 1733 and 1736 the Superb was completely refitted, this time as a 60 gun, fourth rate and in 1745, flying the broad pennant of Commodore Peter Warren, she served in the West Indies and was present at the capture of Louisbourg on the 18th June. After 47 years’ service she was broken up in 1757. Some historians deem this to be the second Superb but there is no evidence that the alterations were any more than a major refit as subsequent ships of that name have had I consider this to be the first ship.


Second (1760)

Built at Deptford in 1760, a 3rd rate of 1600 tons with 74 guns, the second Superb was a flagship at Portsmouth from 1763-70. She took part in 5 actions in the East Indies as flagship to Admiral Hughes, during 1782/83 when the French Squadron, under Admiral Suffren, challenged our supremacy in those waters.

Between February and September 1782 she was in action four times with the enemy, and two of her commanding officers were killed in action. On 3rd September, 1782, under the command of Captain James Watt, she earned the ship’s battle of honour of Trincomalee. The following year she was wrecked at Telicherry on the 3rd November. Her crew were saved, including Captain Harry Newcome, who had relieved Captain Watt.



The Third (1795)

Was a 22 gun sixth rate ship.  She was previously a French ship captured by HMS Vanguard in 1795 and then used as a prison ship from 1796.  She was sold in 1798.


Fourth Superb (1798)

War with France over some pretext or other was normal form in the 18th century, and after the French Revolution of 1789-93 and with the unsuccessful intervention of other European Powers in 1793, Britain faced the rising tide of the French Republic. Their Lordships decided another Superb must be built and in 1798 a 74-gun frigate of 1,900 tons was launched on the Thames and named Superb. With Captain R.G. Keats in command, this fine ship saw enemy action in July of 1801 off Algeciras and at the entrance to the Straits. After two years of uneasy peace, was broke out again in 1803 and the Superb sailed for a foreign commission in the Mediterranean. Under Lord Nelson, she took part in the wearisome blockade of Toulon, from 1803-1805, and then when the French slipped the blockade, was in the famous long chase of Admiral Villeneuve’s fleet to the West Indies and back.

It was Superb’s part in the chase that inspired the words of the song “The Old Superb”. (see the full poem)


The ship overdue for a refit was the ‘lame duck’ and only her Captain’s determination and the spirit of her company kept her with the fleet.

Lord Nelson, ever conscious of the welfare of his officers and men, wrote to Captain Keats: “ . . . I am fearful that you may think that the Superb does not go as fast as I would wish. However that may be (for if all went 10 knots, I should not think it fast enough) yet I would you assured that I know and feel the Superb does all that is possible for a ship to accomplish and I desire that you will not fret on the occasion”. (How we fretted none but Nelson knew.)

Superb missed the Battle of Trafalgar because of the need for a refit but had the honour of returning to Portsmouth with Lord Nelson’s Victory in August 1805. Captain Keats, as a close friend of the Admiral, spent much of his leave with him at Merton Place and heard how his Commander-in-Chief was going to attack the enemy fleet in a novel two division formation. The success of the plan was admirably demonstrated at Trafalgar a few weeks later.

In the year after Trafalgar, with Captain Keats still in command, Superb was flagship to Sir John Duckworth when he achieved victory over a French squadron at San Domingo in the West Indies. In this action two French men-o’-war were wrecked and another captured. In 1807, Superb took part in an expedition to Copenhagen and in the same year became her old Captain’s flagship.

Rear Admiral Keats flew his flag in the Superb until 1810 and the ship served with distinction in the Channel and the Baltic. After further service in the Channel and on the South Atlantic Station, 1813-1824, the war with America (1812-1814) led her to coast of North America where, in 1814, she served under the command of Captain Charles Paget. In 1816, with other ships of the Mediterranean Fleet, she bombarded the port of Algiers, then a pirates’ stronghold. In 1826 this splendid ship was finally broken up having added illustriously to her great name.


The end of the Napoleonic Wars ended an era for the Royal Navy, and Britain’s supremacy at sea was virtually unchallenged from 1805 until 1916.


The Fifth Superb (1845 )

Was an 80-gun ship of 2,500 tons launched in 1845 – the middle of this period. Her service was uneventful and after nearly ten years as a floating hospital, including two years as a cholera hospital at Sheerness, she was broken up in 1869.


Superb or not!

Naval actions in the American Civil War had demonstrated the value of armoured ships and the next Superb was built in 1873 was a 9,500 ton “Ironclad”. This ship was renamed Alexandria shortly before the launching in April, 1875, and never served under the name of Superb so doesn't count in this list.


Sixth Superb (1875)

In 1875 another “Ironclad” of 9,000 tons was launched at Blackwell for the Turkish government as the Hamidieh. In February, 1878, however, she was purchased for the Royal Navy at the cost of £443,000 and was renamed the Superb. (It was in 1878 that the Turks awarded Britain the Island of Cyprus in recognition of Premier Disraeli’s services to Turkey at the treaty of Berlin).

In 1882, the Superb was present at the bombardment of Alexandria under the command of Captain Le Hunte Ward. Between 1893 and 1896 she was reconstructed at Portsmouth and rated a 2nd class Battleship. Her armament, after construction, consisted of 8 x 10-in.. 4 x 9-in.  4 x 7-in.  guns. Ten years later she was sold and a new Superb was laid down.   


Seventh Superb (1907)

The new ship was a Battleship of 18,600 tons armed with 10 x 12-in. 11 x 4-in. guns and with a speed of nearly 21 knots.

HMS Superb was a Bellerophon-class battleship of the British Royal Navy. She was built in Elswick at a cost of £1,744,287, and was completed on 19 June 1909.

She was only the fourth dreadnought-type battleship to be completed anywhere in the world, being preceded only by HMS Dreadnought and by her two sister ships HMS Bellerophon and HMS Temeraire.

Commissioned in May 1909 for the Home Fleet she served with the First and Fourth Battle Squadrons of the Grand Fleet during the Great War and was present at Jutland on the 31st May 1916.

In October, 1918, she became flagship to the C-in –C Mediterranean and during the next few months, in the course of operations in South Russia, visited Sebastopol. In 1919 she became the gunnery training ship and was finally sold to the breakers’ yard in December 1922.


Eighth Superb (1943)

The Cruiser Superb, built by Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson Ltd. was first commissioned on October 30th 1945. In March 1946, she had the honour of conveying Her Majesty the Queen, then H.R.H Princess Elizabeth, on an official visit to Belfast. Serving on the Mediterranean and Home Stations from 1946 to 1950, at one time in 1947 she was the only operational cruiser in the Royal Navy. After participating in many Western Union, and later, N.A.T.O exercises, she was relieved by H.M.S. Glasgow as flagship on the American and West Indies Station and in 1951 cruised extensively around South America and on the East Coast of North America. In 1952 she returned to the Mediterranean on a Home Fleet Cruise as Flagship to Rear Admiral Robson, Flag Officer Flotillas, who had been her first Captain. Later, in 1952, she was transferred to the America and West Indies Station as Flagship to Vice Admiral Sir William Andrewes, returning to Spithead in June for the Coronation review. After the Review, there followed a cruise in North American waters and a return to  Chatham for leave and a docking period in November. After a refit in 1954, Superb once more sailed for the West Indies under the command of Commodore Donald-Fuller and spent one year abroad. On her return to Chatham in 1955 she once again refitted and preparing for her General Service commission of 1956-57 under command of her Captain,The Earl Cairns when she took  up station in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Gulf States, East Africa and was present at the Home Fleet review at Spithead in May 1956 .


She was laid up in Gareloch in late 1957 and on 8th August, 1960 she arrived at Dalmuir to be broken up.


The Ninth (1974)

The last Royal Navy H.M.S. Superb (as at 2014) was a nuclear-powered fleet submarine of the Swiftsure class and She was built by Vickers Shipbuilding Group, subsequently a division of BAE Systems Submarine Solutions.

Superb was launched on 30 November 1974 at Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria and commissioned on 13 November 1976. After being damaged in May 2008 in the Red Sea, she returned to HMNB Devonport where she was decommissioned slightly ahead of schedule on 26 September 2008.

She was the first British submarine to visit the Arctic Ocean and sail under the polar ice caps.

During the Falklands War, Superb was spotted sailing from Gibraltar, which prompted press speculation that she was sailing to the South Atlantic to enforce a maritime exclusion zone.

In fact, only HMS Spartan was sailing south at that time but the speculation was useful to promote the apparent threat of the Royal Navy in the South Atlantic and was not corrected by the Navy or Ministry of Defence.

Superb operated in the Indian Ocean in 2001, in support of the War in Afghanistan.

In January 2008 a sentry was found sleeping while on watch; the reprimand to the crew was caught on video.

On 26 May 2008 Superb hit an underwater pinnacle in the Red Sea, 80 miles south of the Suez Canal. She remained watertight, and none of the 112 crew were injured; however, she was unable to re-submerge due to damage to her sonar. 

After undertaking initial repairs at the Soudan Bay NATO base on Crete on 10 June 2008, she passed through the Mediterranean, with a pause (at night) some miles off Gibraltar to disembark some less critical crew. 

Superb then continued back to the UK, arriving at Devonport Dockyard on 28 June 2008. After surveying the damage, the Royal Navy decided to decommission her slightly ahead of schedule on 26 September 2008.

Nearly two years after the grounding, Superb's commanding officer at the time of the accident, Steven Drysdale and two other officers, Lieutenant Commander Andrew Cutler and Lieutenant Lee Blair, were reprimanded for their roles in the collision.

All three pleaded guilty to the charges of neglecting to perform their duty in failing to notice that the submarine was travelling towards the pinnacle. Despite the incident, all three officers were still serving in the Royal Navy at the time of the court-martial.




PASSERO    11 August, 1718

Conflict - War for Sicily (War of the Quadruple Alliance); 1718-20


The battle took place off Cape Passero on the southern tip of Italy.


Following the Spanish invasion of Sicily in 1718 and subsequent formation of the Quadruple Alliance. A British fleet under Admiral Sir George Byng, was sent to the Mediterranean.


Contact was made with a Spanish squadron comprising 12 ships-of-the-line plus smaller vessels on 10-Aug. Due to the lack of wind, the Spanish ships were towed by accompanying galleys during the night. However the British caught up with the Spanish the next day.


As a result the small Spanish vessels were sent inshore, but eight British frigates followed o chase them out. By the evening of the 11th the Spanish were in full flight and had suffered badly during the day.


Spanish losses are uncertain but could have been 7 ships-of-the-line plus 9 frigates, plus many smaller vessels captured or burned.

Admiral Byng was awarded the title 'Viscount Torrington'.


LOUISBURG   April 16 to June 23.

Conflict - War of Austrian Succession

The War of Austrian Succession had begun in 1740 and eventually drew France and England, once again, into conflict.




By the spring of 1745 the New England colonies were busy preparing to launch an expedition against the French fortress of the Atlantic, Louisburg on Cape Breton Island. Louisburg was the capital of the colony of Ile Royale and Ile St Jean.


The British had established forts at Annapolis Royal and Canso in Nova Scotia and were somewhat vulnerable to the French in Louisburg. The Micmac Indians were also encouraged to cause trouble for the British. The French struck at Canso, which was sixty miles from Louisbourg, 350 soldiers under Captain Francois Du Pont Duviver. The British with only 87 soldiers quickly faltered and surrendered who were interned at Louisburg.

Although the number of casualties was relatively minor from combat, for the colonists, the number that died over the next year from garrison duty was almost 600. This made the news that the peace treaty, the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, to end the war had given Louisburg back to the French in exchange for Madras in India. The British did take action to counter the presence of Louisburg after this war by building the great naval base of Halifax, a short distance along the Nova Scotia coast. The war had not solved the tense situation but had only put it off until the next war which was to come soon.


SADRAS      17 February, 1782

Conflict - American War of Independence; 1775-83


The battle was the first of a series of four actions awarded a battle honour in the East Indies between the British Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Hughes and the French Admiral Pierre Suffren, to establish naval supremacy in the Indian Ocean.

The battle took place off Madras about 9 miles SE of Sadras. The French squadron of 11 ships-of-the-line plus a small convoy of transports were sighted and the British squadron of 9 ships-of-the-line set off in pursuit.

The French had the wind advantage and concentrated on the rear five British ships. Then the wind shifted and the British van was able to engage. The battle ended when the French withdrew having failed to turn their initial advantage into victory.


PROVIDIEN   12 April,1782

Conflict - American War of Independence; 1775-83


The battle was the second of a series of four actions awarded a battle honour in the East Indies between the British Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Hughes and the French Admiral Pierre Suffren, to establish naval supremacy in the Indian Ocean.

Hughes with 11 ships-of-the-line was reinforcing Trincomalee in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) which had been captured earlier in the year. Suffren with 12 ships-of-the-line encountered the British, while they were on a lee shore, 12 miles NE by E of Providien rock of the east coast of the island.

During the battle the British HMS Monmouth was carronaded almost to a wreck, but refused to strike her colours. Each side suffered about 500 casualties and the fighting continued until both were exhausted. They then anchored for the night, and next morning neither side wanted to continue the action.

They lay in sight of each other for a week, when the French sailed north and the British sailed south for Trincomalee.


NEGAPATAM   6 July,1782

Conflict - American War of Independence; 1775-83


The battle was the third of a series of four actions awarded a battle honour in the East Indies between the British Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Hughes and the French Admiral Pierre Suffren, to establish naval supremacy in the Indian Ocean.


The French intended to capture the British base at Negapatam and Hughes sailed from Trincomalee on Ceylon's (Sri Lanka) north-east coast to intercept. The two squadrons each comprised 11 ships-of-the-line.


The battle was fierce and casualties heavy but no ships were taken or sunk. However, while the captain of the French ship Severe (64) struck his colours to HMS Sultan, his crew refused to surrender, fought off the British and rejoined their squadron.


In the evening both squadrons anchored inshore to lick their wounds. The French were later able to retire to the north but their attempt to take the British base was abandoned.


TRINCOMALEE     3 September, 1782

Conflict - American War of Independence; 1775-83


This was the fourth of a series of four actions awarded a battle honour in the East Indies between Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Hughes and the French Admiral Pierre Suffren. It took place off Sri Lanka's (Ceylon) North East anchorage of Trincomalee. One of the worlds largest natural harbours.


When Hughes arrived off Trincomalee with 12 ships-of-the-line and six frigates, the French weighed anchor with 14 ships-of-the-line and action took place 25 miles south east of Trincomalee.


During the 3 hour battle not all French ships engaged and the Flagship Heros (74) lost her mainmast; Illustre (74) and Ajax (74) were badly damaged. Later L'orient (74) hit a reef and was wrecked. Despite this the French managed to return to Trincomalee and the British retired north to Madras.


GUT OF GIBRALTAR   6 & 12/13 July, 1801

Conflict - French Revolutionary War 1793-1802


The honour was awarded for two separate actions fought within a week off Gibraltar, between a British squadron of six ships-of-the-line plus two smaller ships, and a squadron of French and Spanish ships-of-the-line.


On 6 July Rear Admiral Sir James Saumarez engaged a smaller Spanish squadron of 3 ships-of-the-line plus a frigate, under Rear Admiral Durand-Linois, lying at anchor in Algeciras Bay. The Spanish were forced to run their ships aground to avoid destruction and gain the protection of shore batteries. HMS Hannibal also ran aground and was forced to surrender by the shore batteries. The remaining British ships retired to Gibraltar to repair their damage.


Six days later the British ships sailed and engaged a joint Franco-Spanish fleet comprising 8 ships-of-the-line and 3 frigates at dusk on 12 July. About midnight two Spanish first rates, each of 112 guns, collided and caught fire. Later they both foundered with heavy loss of life. After this the French St. Antoine (74) was captured.


Although several British ships were damaged, (HMS Venerable badly damaged), all reached Gibraltar safely.



Conflict – The Napoleonic War


From the outset, Nelson's time as Commander-in-Chief was beset with problems, but he dealt with them all remarkably.  One that he complained about often in his letters to the Admiralty was the condition of his ships.  Victory had just had a refit in England before he took her to the Mediterranean, and he was happy with her, Canopus, Donegal, and Belleisle.  But on the 24th of August, he wrote to Henry Addington about the poor condition of the Triumph, Superb, Monmouth, Agincourt, Kent, Gibraltar and Renown, and that he wished them back in England for a complete refit.  They needed constant maintenance, which was difficult so far from England and with very few suitable ports available to Nelson.  The Admiralty expected him to use Malta, but he was disdainful of it, as it was too far away.  So he kept his battleships together, and only sent his frigates to look into Toulon almost daily.


Nelson's fleet was the same size as the French one in Toulon, so he couldn't afford to send any of his ships-of-the-line to any port for supplies.  So he arranged for store ships to travel between the ports and his fleet.  This might seem an obvious solution, but it wasn't common practice at the time. He set up reliable supply networks at various ports around the Mediterranean, one important one being at Roses in Spain.  His contact there, Mr Gayner, was a British wine merchant, and also provided Nelson with onions and beef.  He also established good intelligence networks in Spain, and elsewhere, and so didn't need to waste ships by having them watch the ports there.  He also got lucky in managing to capture a French ship which had documents, charts and signal codes.


For the next two years, Nelson achieved an impressive yet underestimated feat.  He kept a fleet of damaged ships together, well-supplied, and as well-maintained as they could be.  His aim was always to keep his ships with five weeks' worth of supplies, so they were ready to leap into a long chase of the French at a moment's notice.


He of course also had to keep the men who manned his ships in working order.  When he first boarded the Victory, he complained about the inexperience of most of the crew.  But during the time of the blockade, the crews of all his ships were drilled every day.  They were also, considering the length of time they went without setting a foot on shore, remarkably healthy, at times with not a single man ill.  This meant that they were ready for all eventualities - to chase, to fight, or to continue at sea.


SAN DOMINGO      6 February, 1806

Conflict - Napoleonic War; 1803-15


          The action took place at Occa Bay at the eastern end of San Domingo in the West Indies.


A French squadron of 5 ships-of-the-line plus 2 frigates and smaller vessels had evaded the blockade at Brest and headed for the West Indies. They were followed by a British squadron of 6 ships-of-the-line plus 2 frigates.


The two squadrons met at San Domingo while the French ships were re-provisioning. During the action which followed 2 French ships-of-the-line were driven ashore and burned to avoid capture, the other 3 were captured and the 2 frigates escaped.




Conflict - 19th Century Anti-Slavery Operations


Description  The part of the North Africa coast from the Strait of Gibraltar to Cape Bon was known as the Barbary Coast, and was a centre for piracy.


Barbary pirates had operated to a greater or lesser extent for hundreds of years and reached far outside the Mediterranean. Including England and Ireland where they even landed to capture slaves from south coast villages. Ships crews were also taken as far as the Grand Banks off Newfoundland.


After the Napoleonic war, the British decided to deal with the problem of the Barbary pirates.


A joint Anglo-Dutch operation patrolled the coast and included land forces comprising troop, sappers and miners. A treaty was offered to the Beys of Tunis, Tripoli and Algiers if they would prohibit the taking of Christians for slaves. This was rejected by the Bey of Algiers who thought his defences too powerful to be taken.


The well defended town and harbour was bombarded to near ruins, 1,200 slaves released and the Bey surrendered his jewel-studded scimitar as a symbol of his complete surrender.



Conflict - 19th Century Colonial Wars


The action took place at Alexandria, and was intended to quell anti-Foreign riots which were taking place.


The port and installations were bombarded by the British Mediterranean Fleet, comprising eight armoured ships plus other smaller vessels.


A VC was earned by a gunner on board the flagship Alexandra, when he picked up a live shell and put it into a bucket of water to render it harmless.



JUTLAND    31-May, 1916   

Conflict - World War 1; 1914-18


The action took place in the North Sea off Jutland, Denmark between the main Battle Fleets of the British and German Navies. The first sight enemy in sight position made by HMS Galatea  at 1410 hrs was at 56º 48N 5º 51E.

The German plan was to draw the British Battle Cruiser Fleet based at Rosyth onto the superior numbers of the Main German Fleet. But the previous afternoon the German signal to prepare to leave port had been intercepted and decoded. At 1728hrs the Admiralty signalled for the Grand Fleet raise steam.


So the Battle Cruiser Fleet at Rosyth began to leave port shortly after 2200hrs on the 30th. With the main Battleship Squadrons leaving from Scapa Flow and Invergordon.


The British Battle cruisers engaged the German Scout Group about 1600hrs  with all ships moving in a south-east direction and soon 2 British battle cruisers had been sunk. The rest continued to the south-east and by 1700hrs the main German battle fleet was in sight ahead of them. The British then turned to the north and headed towards the main British battle Fleet chased by the German ships.


At 1800 hrs the main British Battle Fleet sighted their battlecruisers and were advised the main German Fleet was close behind. So the Battle Fleet began manoeuvring from the cruising formation of six columns in line abreast each with four ships; to a single column in line ahead with 24 ships following one another, six miles in length.


The British battleships opened fire as the German ships became visible, and by 1830 hours all were engaged. At 1835 hrs the German Fleet was ordered to turn away having scored no hits on the main British Battle Fleet. In the poor visibility caused by mist, funnel-smoke, fires and cordite it was not readily clear where the Germans had gone and by 1845 hrs the British battleships having no clear targets had ceased fire. A confusing action continued as destroyers fired torpedoes causing ships to make evasive maneuvers and soon after night fell. However the action between mainly destroyers and cruisers continued into the night.


The British tried to position themselves between the German ships and their home port at Wilhelmshaven, but there were two possible routes through the minefields.


So the Germans made port claiming victory as they had sunk more British ships than they had lost. But many German ships had been damaged.


The British Fleets returned to port during Friday 02-June, the morning for ships at Rosyth and the middle part of the day at Scapa Flow. By evening the British had 24 battleships ready for sea, the Germans could only muster 10.


(The German High Seas fleet only set out beyond the minefields off the German coast on three more occasions, twice in 1916 and once in 1918. On the 18/19-August-1916 they intended to bombard Sunderland and draw the British Battlecruiser Fleet onto the main High Seas Fleet. Again Room 40's intelligence reported this and the Grand Fleet sailed in response. But about dawn HMS Nottingham was torpedoed by U-52 and the Grand Fleet thinking she had hit a mine, reversed course for two hours until the situation clarified. By 1400Hrs the British Battle Fleet with 29 battleships was at action stations and steaming south. However at 1435 hours the German Fleet with half that number turned for home as U-53 reported the Grand Fleet 65 miles to their north.


So another decisive battle never took place. But the German Fleet knew the British Grand Fleet was unbeatable.)


So Jutland was, and will forever remain, the only battle ever to take place between opposing battleship fleets.



Information gathered from the following sites

Britain’s Navy UK Ships



Admiral Nelson




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