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On the Wikipedia page of HMS Dreadnought it is mentioned that during firing trials against HMS Hero there were some vulnerabilities of its fire control systems revealed: namely, wiring and voice tubes were cut by splinters, and key positions hit.

Firing trials against HMS Hero in 1907 revealed this system's [ie fire control] vulnerability to gunfire, as its spotting top was hit twice and a large splinter severed the voice pipe and all wiring running along the mast.

This strikes me as very odd. Were RN ships supposed to actually fire at each other during trials? Were they using some sort of practice shells? (Even without explosive load, these would do serious damage) Or had they some other method of simulating hits?

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    The HMS Hero trial was part of a series of live firing trials. The target vessels were unmanned, and IIRC, armour-piercing rounds weren't used on HMS Hero, although they may have been on the other vessels used as targets in the trial. I'm pretty sure the results are in the 1915 Manual of Gunnery for His Majesty's Fleet. If a copy is not available online, the UK National Archives at Kew certainly have a copy. – sempaiscuba Feb 3 at 12:58
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    Oh. Good to know. And they risked the Dreadnought in such a trial when it was new? – b.Lorenz Feb 3 at 13:48
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    HMS Hero wasn't a new vessel. She had been launched in 1885. The vessels firing at HMS Hero were new. I'll post an answer when I can locate sources – sempaiscuba Feb 3 at 13:52
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    Wait. Am confused. I understand that Hero was an obsolate ship. But the wikipedia entry about the damage seemed to indicate that it was Dreadnought that was hit. – b.Lorenz Feb 3 at 14:11
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    I believe the spotting top on HMS Hero was hit, which wiped out communications from there to the rest of the ship. Since the control positions for the main armament on Dreadnought were located on the spotting top, the implications were obvious, so the system on Dreadnought was upgraded. – sempaiscuba Feb 3 at 14:19
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No, firing trials of pre-WW1 British Dreadnoughts didn't actually involve firing at them.


The HMS Hero trial mentioned in the Wikipedia article was part of a series of live firing trials carried out by the Royal Navy at the beginning of the 20th century. The target vessels were unmanned, and included:

Note that these trials were intended to investigate the effects of British guns on their targets. The trials actually began before HMS Dreadnought was launched in 1906, and continued right up until the start of the First World War.

It is worth noting that the Dreadnoughts would be the ships firing at the target vessels. They would not be targets themselves.


HMS Hero was a Conqueror-class ironclad battleship, and had been launched in 1885. She was considered to be outdated when the decision was made to use her as a live-firing target in 1907/1908.

HMS Hero

She was sunk on 18 February 1908, and her wreck site lies off the Thames estuary. The results of the trials are in the Navy's 1915 Manual of Gunnery, but I haven't yet found a copy of that online.

I did, however, locate this description of the HMS Hero trial in Norman Friedman's Naval Weapons of World War One:

Although the Hero trials were intended mainly to test fire control, she was attacked with live shells, so the results were of interest from a fire effect point of view. The shells were common and Lyddite, rather than AP [armour piercing], delivered by ships steaming at 15kts and opening fire at 8000 yds (note the much greater range [compared with the earlier trial using HMS Belleisle as target]) using 12in (Common) and 9.2in and 6in (Common and Lyddite). Because the target settled on the bottom, it was impossible to examine the effect of fire except above the lower deck. Damage was so extensive that it was nearly impossible to distinguish the effect of any particular hit. Only the main armament and conning tower survived unscathed. It was clear that a 12in shell striking the ship about 3ft below water had made a large dent and had started a plate. A 9.2in Lyddite shell entering above the main deck wrecked the upper deck and blew it upward, but most of the damage was below the main deck and below water. Some coal (usually imagined as protection against shell fire) caught fire. It was the only serious fire.

(Lyddite is a form of picric acid)

In amongst this damage, HMS Hero's spotting top was hit, which wiped out communications from there to the rest of the ship. Since the control positions for the main armament on HMS Dreadnought were located on the spotting top, the implications of that damage were obvious, so - as noted in the Wikipedia article - the system on Dreadnought was upgraded.


The results of the trials were reported in the 1915 Manual of Gunnery for His Majesty's Fleet, (Volume I). If you cannot find a copy online, the UK National Archives at Kew *Ref: ADM 186/171), and the Admiralty Library at Portsmouth (ref: AL Ja 254), certainly have copies.

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    I'll try to add some further details from the report in the 1915 manual of gunnery if I can find a copy online, or if I have time next time I'm at one of the archives that hold a copy. – sempaiscuba Feb 3 at 14:13
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    It's probably worth noting that the use of decommissioned ships as targets in live-fire exercises continues into the modern era. For example, the UK Royal Navy used six retired Leander-class frigates for this in the 1980s; others were sold to other countries and Pakistan and Chile eventually retired them and sunk one each for target practice (source: Wikipedia). The US did several tests to see what damage nuclear weapons would cause to decommissioned WWII-era warships. – David Richerby Feb 4 at 16:37

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