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The Ocean class after just a couple of months in service showed the shortcomings of the design. While it had lots of guns (14) they were only 7.5" which proved too small a calibre to defeat the armour of the other armoured cruisers being built in, Japan, US, Britain, France, Germany, in fact anybody who was building big cruisers.
A complete new class of gun was instituted to be fitted into a new type of ship. The gun was to be a new 9.5" 45 calibre weapon firing a 450 pound shell 25,000 yards at 28 degrees. The type of ship was to be a dreadnought cruiser. Like a lot of other countries, Atlantis fell for the disinformation that Britain put out that the Invincibles would be armed with 9.2". The ship was to follow the layout of the new Poseidon class dreadnoughts, with superfiring guns fore and aft, but the Helios type took it one step more with three superfiring turrets aft. Two ships of the class were laid down in 1904, with another pair in 1905, with completion dates in 1908-09.
Displacement: 18,000 tons normal, 23,600 tons full load
Dimensions: 585 x 76 x 25 feet
Machinery: 2 shaft, turbines, 56,000shp
Speed: 27 knots
Endurance: 6,700 miles at 15 knots
Armour: 7" belt, 2" deck, 6"/4" turrets
10 x 9.5" (5x2)
4 x 4" (4x1)
4 x 2pd (4x1)
6 x 21" torpedo tubes (2x3)
By 1914 the four ships had received many upgrades that changed the layout and look of the ships. New director firing equipment had been fitted, more secondary armament guns, stronger masts etc.
The four ships were sent to Britain and dispersed to the Battlecruiser Fleet, Grand Fleet and one even went to join the Dreadnought in the Channel Fleet for a time. Tethys joined Defence in the 1st cruiser squadron and participated in the chase of the Goeben, Tirpitz, and Breslau. The Tethys duelled with the Goeben and Tirpitz (second of the Blucher class), being the only cruiser to be able to fire the same distance as the German cruisers. The Tirpitz being the slowest of the three German ships slowly came within range of the Tethys guns and started to take damage at 20,000 yards range. One hit proved decisive as with a gout of steam the Tirpitz lost the use of a boiler room and fell into the clutches of the chasing British cruisers. Defence took a hit from Goeben and had fallen behind while Commodore Troubridge tried to run the battle from five miles distance. The signals were misread and the cruisers fell on the damaged Tirpitz, letting the Goeben and Breslau to escape. The Tirpitz lasted long enough to ensure their escape. The Tethys and the 1st CS then transferred to the Grand Fleet and went into Jutland as a crack Squadron. By the end of the battle only one of the cruisers remained above water. Tethys, Defence, Black Prince, and Warrior were all sunk when they got themselves out of position and came under the guns of the High Seas Fleet.
Atlas and Helios were with the Battlecruisers and were placed with the Panacea in the 2nd Battlecruiser Squadron. Being at the rear of the line they never got a shot away at Doggerbank except to fire a broadside each at the Blucher as that poor ship was hammered by the entire Fleet. Jutland and the ships were again placed at the end of the line and fired at various German ships as they came within range, but spent much of the day playing follow-my-leader. The Atlas received damage from one 5.9" shell hit, the Helios remained undamaged.
The Styx fought a few night actions with the Channel Fleet. Damaging the G85 which was finished off with torpedoes by HMS Broke. Hit the S13 which then exploded as its torpedo warheads sympathetically detonated.
The end of the war saw the three ships return to Atlantis and join the two Ocean class in the Training Fleet. 1923 and their fate was sealed by the Washington Treaty. The ships either had to be counted as capital ship tonnage because of their size, reduced to second class units or scrapped. The two Ocean class were scrapped. The three Helios class were to be reduced to seaplane carriers and training ships (2) and the Atlas would become the Fleet Trials ship.
The ships had been altered with the engines being upgraded to fuel oil to run the turbines so the cadets never had the pleasure of answering the cry 'coal ship'. Little was done to the ships after their conversion, money was tight and better spent on the more modern and new ships. The ships were still providing their valuable service. training cadets for the fleet, when WW2 broke out. The ships were looked at to see if they were capable of being useful seagoing units but their 30 year old machinery would not be capable of the sustained high speed cruising they would need to do as ocean escorts. Their lot was to be placed at anchor around islands where they could act as tenders to their own floatplanes and mothership to the big Sunderlands and Catalinas. Both ships saw out the war in this more than valuable service, being sold for scrap in 1946 after being used to repatriate Atlantean troops from Europe to Atlantis.
It was the Atlas that had the most exciting war. Having been used as a trials ship, it was Atlas that trialled the dual purpose 5" and then the automatic 40mm guns, and still had those mountings aboard when war broke out. A further refit in 1939 filled out a second DP 5" turret, and four more twin 40mm mountings. With that armament the ship was sent to join Force H and act as an AA cruiser to help screen the carriers. The Atlas carried out this duty for all of 1940. The first half was fairly quiet but with the Fall of France and the Italians joining the war certainly livened things up. The Atlas was part of the Fleet that sank the French ships at Mers-el Kebir. The next action saw the Atlas watch the big ships fire at each other outside the range of the ships vintage guns at Calabria. This was Atlas' last fleet action, the ships engines were too old and unreliable for the high speed running required for keeping up with Force H. Atlas became a convoy Commanders Flagship and operated with a Captain D aboard running convoy defence. Atlas operated on the Gibraltar to UK run, which was one of the most heavily fought convoy runs. The Atlas fought many convoys to and from Gibraltar, and watched many innovations come to be, joint action of the escorts, one holding the U-boat in Asdic beam while the other ran over the U-boats position. Hedgehog, where the escorts could run down the asdic beam capturing the U-boat and firing a broadside of mortar bombs ahead of the ship when the U-boat was within range. The Atlas' most important convoy was acting as AA ship protecting HMS Audacity on that ship proving of the Escort carrier concept. HG76 being the Audacity's fourth convoy and again the Atlas was acting as close AA support ship. Unfortunately while the two ships were manouvering to allow Audacity to fly off aircraft, some idiot on a merchant ship fired off a flare which highlighted the ships for the waiting U-boats. The Audacity received three torpedo hits and heeled over and sank. Atlas received two hits from torpedoes and slowly settled by the stern. Escorts from the convoy recovering 512 of the crew of 840.
The Helios had been placed at St Helena to act as Area Defence Vessel to launch and recover its own aircraft and act as mothership to squadrons of Sunderlands and Catalinas. Helios' placement at St Helena put the Allies in the position of being able to put the Central South Atlantic under aerial surveillance. Submarine activity dropped away in the area as the U-Boats were forced to travel through the area underwater in daylight, and as the Air-to-Surface surveillance techniques and Radar improved the surfaced night transits also became dangerous. Surface ships also found it difficult to transit the area without being spotted. While it did not participate itself, the aircraft operating from the Helios spotted and sunk 5 U-Boats, spotted and tracked 2 German blockade runners that were intercepted with ships from Sierra Leone Force, one being captured and one sunk. The crown jewel of the aircrafts achievements was the spotting and tracking of the Admiral Scheer which was intercepted by forces based at Simonstown.
The first consideration of an airport on St Helena was made in 1943 by the South African Air Force, which undertook a survey on Prosperous Bay Plain from October 1943 until January 1944, but concluded that, while technically feasible, an airport was not a practical proposition. So the Helios spent most of the war at St Helena servicing the big rigs.
Even though the Helios was considered to be in a back water (unless I consider Thiaria) it was returned to Atlantis on several occasions for updates and refits, being relieved by the Styx. Below is the final 1944 version. With the South Atlantic under control, the Styx and Helios were transferred to the Pacific to undertake the same duties around the many atolls and islets of the central Pacific. The ships were replaced at the front line by the big US Currituck-class seaplane tenders. The Helios and Styx quietly collected all of the excess Atlantean personnel and slowly returned to Atlantis. Placed in reserve on arrival, the ships now 37 years old had proved how useful even obsolete ships could be when a bit of thought was given to what might be needed in time of war.
4 x 9.5" (2x2)
4 x 4" (2x2)
12 x 40mm (6x2)
8 x 25mm (4x2)
Aircraft: Space in hangar for 6 single engine seaplanes.
British Supermarine Spitfire MkV 1943+.
Atlantean Fletcher Cormorant Bomber/Reconaisance aircraft 1938+.
AWS Helios - Service/Fate: Scrapped 1946
AWS Styx - Service/Fate: Scrapped 1946
AWS Tethys - Service/Fate: Sunk by High Seas Fleet, at Jutland May 1916.
AWS Atlas - Service/Fate: Sunk 1941, torpedoed by U-Boat.
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