HMS Inflexible: Scion of the Mediterranean Fleet

HMS Inflexible:

Scion of the Mediterranean Fleet


Lithograph of Inflexible, 1880.1

The ironclad battleship displaced between 11,407 and 11,880 tons.2 Propelled by twin screw compound expansion engines fired by 12 boilers, the warship developed 8407 horsepower for a top speed of 14.75 knots.3 Coal bunkers provided for 1200 tons of coal for a range of 5200 miles at 10 knots.4 As complete, Inflexible featured a full sailing rig.5 The rig was replaced with masts between 1885 and 1887 when Inflexible was recommissioned.6


Drawing showing Inflexible‘s formidable citadel armour.7

Built 16 years after HMS Warrior, the ironclad was protected by a belt 24 to 16 inches thick, turrets 17-18 inches thick and a deck covered in 3 inches of plate. The plate of the central citadel was applied as two layers of 12 inch compound armour, wrought iron and steel.8 440 sailors and officers crewed the ship.9 Inflexible was the first RN ship lit by electricity.10 Inflexible was further protected by 135 watertight subdivisions and 12 bulkheads.11 Inflexible served mainly in the Mediterranean Fleet during the 1880s and 1890s, after November 1893 becoming the Portsmouth Port Guard ship until 1897. Placed in reserve in November 1901, Inflexible was broken up for scrap in 1903.12


Painting of Inflexible with sailing rig.13

Planned as a counter to the heavy ironclads being developed by Italy (the famous Duilo and Dandolo),14 Inflexible was to carry 60 ton muzzle-loading cannon.15 In response to the Italian plan to purchase larger calibre Armstrong cannon (eventually settling on 100 ton guns), Inflexible was up-gunned to 81 ton muzzle-loaders and laid down on 24 February 1874.16 When complete, the Inflexible carried four 81 ton 16.25 inch bore muzzle-loading cannon in twin turrets, capable of firing about one round every 11 minutes, although they had been rated at a shell every two to five minutes.17 Inflexible was also the first British battleship to feature torpedo tubes, one mounted on both port and starboard bows.18 Two auxiliary torpedo tubes were carried one a piece aboard Inflexible‘s steam launches.19 Supporting this powerful main armament were four 6 lb QF guns, eight 4.7 inch cannon and a pair of 3 lb guns.20 Like all ironclad battleships of this period, the Inflexible also carried a prow ram.


Sir John Fisher, as Captain Royal Navy (RN), commanded Inflexible at the bombardment of Alexandria.21 Fisher as Captain HMS Inflexible22

Inflexible was commissioned on 5 July23 and fully ready for sea by October 1881.24 Sir Edward Reed, former Secretary and later Chief Constructor of the Institute of Naval Architects and by 1880 a liberal MP, felt the design deficient, leading to the formation of a government committee resulting in delays to completion.25 As a result of these maneuverings, Inflexible required seven and a half years to complete.26 Selected as a choice commander for the RN’s newest, heaviest warship, John Fisher was the first to command Inflexible.27


Model of Inflexible as complete.28

The bombardment of Alexandria: Egyptian General Ahmed Arabi led a revolt against the European backed Khedive government of Egypt, and besieged the government palace at Alexandria. Arabi then moved to strengthen Alexandria’s harbour defence.29

At the time, the Mediterranean Fleet was under the command of Vice-Admiral Sir Frederick Seymour.

Seymour had at his disposal, in addition to HMS Inflexible: Alexandria, Invincible, Sultan, Superb, Temeraire, Penelope, Monarch, and gunboats Beacon, Bittern, Condor, Cygnet, and Decoy. Reinforcements from the Channel Squadron were dispatched including Achilles, Agincourt and Tamar.30


Drawing of naval squadron between 1870-5 including HMS Penelope (1867), and Invincible (1869) ships that took part in the 1882 attack against the Alexandria fort complex.31

Following the British defeat in the First Boer War of 1881, the Gladstone administration was under significant pressure to prevent a repeat.32 The government thus authorized Seymour to issue an ultimatum (set for 11 July 1882) for Arabi’s forces to stop work on the development of Alexandria’s fort defences.33 A “massacre” of Europeans by a mob likely influenced Seymour to issue his ultimatum.34 To attack the Alexandria fort complex Seymour placed his flag aboard HMS Invincible and along with Penelope and Monarch planned to close to decisive range against the Res el Tin forts. Inflexible would stand-off and shell the forts with its heavy cannon.35 A detachment of gunboats led by Charles Beresford in the Condor would attack the Marabout forts. A large squadron of international vessels stood by to evacuate non-Egyptian subjects. All told, Seymour could employ ninety heavy guns.36


Plan for the bombardment, showing disposition of RN ships along coast and International Squadron to north west.37

On 11 July 1882 at 0700 Seymour launched his ten and a half hour attack.39 Alexandra fired the first salvo and at 0830 the Monarch detonated an Egyptian magazine.40 Inflexible and Temeraire moved to attack the forts at Pharos and Ada while Condor attacked the forts at Marsa.41 When firing ceased at 1730, Inflexible had fired 88 of its 16 inch shells.42 The fleet poured in over 3000 shells, silencing ten of the 44 Egyptian cannon and inflicting hundreds of causalities.43 American observers described Temeraire‘s fire as the most accurate.44 The RN suffered fifty-three casualties.45 Seymour ordered Fisher to land marines to secure the forts on 13 July.46 Fisher deployed 150 sailors and 450 marines for this purpose.47 Fisher and the Inflexible moored at Alexandria and later Port Said before returning to Malta, Fisher suffering from dysentery no doubt worsened by a heavy prescription of opium. Fisher developed malaria and was thus invalided to England.48 He returned to duty in April 1883.49


Bombardment of Alexandria, 11 July 1882, painting by De Simone (1883).38

Following the naval demonstration, a conference was arranged at Constantinople, although the Ottoman Empire refused to intervene. Britain then dispatched Sir Garnet Wolseley in a unilateral fashion, whose army defeated General Arabi at the battle of Tel-el-Kebir in September 1882.50 Although Arabi had been defeated, Britain had interjected into an Egypt beset by internal crisis- namely the Mahdi’s rebellion in the Sudan.


Edinburgh, slightly smaller battleship of similar configuration to Inflexible in 188751

Inflexible would be the last British battleship built to carry a full sailing rig.52


Inflexible in 1887.53

3 Tony Gibbons, ed., The Encyclopedia of Ships., San Diego, CA.: Thunder Bay Press, 2001, p 259

4 <;; Gibbons, ed., The Encyclopedia of Ships, p 259

5 Massie, Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War, Toronto: Random House of Canada Ltd., 1991, p 390

8 Gibbons, ed., The Encyclopedia of Ships, p 259; Archibald Hurd, “Her Majesty’s Navy, 1837-1897” in The Ludgate no. 4 (June 1, 1897): 161–166, p 163

9 Gibbons, ed., The Encyclopedia of Ships, p 259

15 Eric Grove, The Royal Navy Since 1815, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005, p 53

16 Grove, The Royal Navy Since 1815, p 53

17 Gibbons, ed., The Encyclopedia of Ships, p 259; John Leather, World Warships in Review 1860-1906, Purnell Books Services, London: Purnell Book Services Limited, 1976, p 13; Grove, The Royal Navy Since 1815, p 53; Massie, Dreadnought, p 419

18 Leather, World Warships in Review 1860-1906, p 13

19 Massie, Dreadnought, p 420

21 James Morris, Pax Britannica: The Climax of an Empire, vol. 2. 3 vols., Reprinted 1981., Bungay, Suffolk: Penguin Books, Ltd., 1968, p 241

25 Grove, The Royal Navy Since 1815, p 42, 59; <;

26 Massie, Dreadnought, p 419

27 Massie, Dreadnought, p 151

29 Massie, Dreadnought, p 420-1

30 Grove, The Royal Navy Since 1815, p 66-7

32 J. F. C. Fuller, The Conduct of War: 1789-1961, New Brunswick, N. J.: Da Capo Press, 1992, p 132

33 Massie, Dreadnought, p 421

34 Ramsay Muir, A Short History of the British Commonwealth, vol. 2., 2 vols., Third edition, London: George Philip & Son, Ltd., 1924, p 655

35 Grove, The Royal Navy Since 1815, p 66-7

36 Massie, Dreadnought, p 421

39 Grove, The Royal Navy Since 1815, p 66-7; Massie, Dreadnought, p 421

40 Arthur Herman, To Rule The Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World, New York: HarperCollins’ Publishers, 2004, p 468

41 Herman, To Rule The Waves, p 468

42 Massie, Dreadnought, p 421

43 Massie, Dreadnought, p 421

44 Herman, To Rule The Waves, p 469

45 Herman, To Rule The Waves, p 468

46 Grove, The Royal Navy Since 1815, p 67

47 Massie, Dreadnought, p 422

48 Massie, Dreadnought, p 422-3

49 Massie, Dreadnought, p 424

50 Muir, A Short History of the British Commonwealth, p 655

51 Leather, World Warships in Review 1860-1906, p 28

52 Massie, Dreadnought, p 419