British Adoption of Director Firing

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The Royal Navy's adoption of the director occurred in a blizzard of activity immediately prior to the war and throughout its duration. Priority was placed on the ships with the largest guns and those most likely to see front-line service in the face of the enemy: dreadnoughts, battle cruisers and monitors.


The earliest use of the word "director" in the Royal Navy appears to be tied to a firing circuit only, with one trigger firing more than just its single weapon, those other weapons involved firing at a fixed elevation as the sights rolled on. There is no mention of angles being transmitted.

In the Annual Report of the Torpedo School, 1881 there is mention of electrical firing of a broadside by a "directing gun", a concept approved in late 1880 and for which suitable a firing pistol was being sought.[1]

The Annual Report of the Torpedo School, 1890 has several pages and diagrams on these systems.[2]

The Annual Report of the Torpedo School, 1891 bemourned a multiplicity of different director schemes burgeoning in the fleet, illustrating the status quo as follows:[3]



It was further proposed that:[4]

1907 Trials in H.M.S. Africa

Directors of various forms had been tried for over twenty years, but the type used in the war traced its lineage to that proposed by Percy Scott in 1905.[5] H.M.S. Africa conducted the first tests of an elevation-only director in 1907.[6]

1910 Trials in Dreadnought and Bellerophon

Reginald Bacon oversaw the testing of a variant in Dreadnought.

Successes in the 1909 Battle Practice and thereafter fostered support for the concept, culminating in successful trials in May 1910 aboard Bellerophon. The system was not without faults, however. It was still elevation-only and the need to fire on the roll resulted in a rate of fire sufficiently low to inspire criticism. Bellerophon's commander, Hugh Evan-Thomas, reported, "In view therefore of the slowness of the system and the doubtfulness of the advantages to be gained by it, the system of Director Firing is not recommended for adoption in HM [His Majesty's] Service."[7].

Trials in H.M.S. Neptune

A final change to make the system work in elevation as well as training was tried aboard Neptune. By early 1911, confidence was sufficient that the Orion- and Lion-classes were to be completed with the extensive wiring required for the directors, but a further generation of refinement was to be tried in Thunderer to address issues of reliability and accuracy in the Neptune design.

Trials in H.M.S. Thunderer

Thunderer's refined system was subjected to a competitive shoot-out against Orion in the Channel off Portland on 4 December 1912 which finally clearly demonstrated the advantages and utility of director firing. The tests were reported in the papers as being of "the new apparatus".[8]

The acceptance of the Thunderer prototype in 1913 pushed the Royal Navy to the point it was ready to deploy the equipment in new construction and to retrofit its existing fleet.

Early Orders

At the outset of the program of equipping the fleet, a large number of suitable platforms for retrofit were on hand, and they were handled in sets as finances, dock time and equipment availability permitted. Vickers was to perform most of the work of manufacture and installation.

The "Twelve Ship Order" was to replace the prototype director in Thunderer with production gear, and to provide sets also for Monarch, Benbow, Emperor of India, Marlborough, Iron Duke, King George V, Ajax (which received the first production set), Centurion, Audacious, Queen Mary and Tiger.

The successive "Seventeen Ship Order" covered Orion, Colossus, Hercules, Neptune, St. Vincent, Collingwood, Bellerophon, Superb, Temeraire, Dreadnought, Lion, Princess Royal, Indefatigable, New Zealand, Invincible, Indomitable and Inflexible.

The combined result of these orders and the trial installations was that when the war started, 8 dreadnoughts were equipped with director firing for their main battery: Neptune possibly still with her prototype gear from 1911, Thunderer with her director from 1912 possibly updated, Ajax from 1913, and Iron Duke, Marlborough, King George V, Centurion and Monarch from earlier in 1914.[9]

In early 1913 Sir Percy Scott had informed the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, that, "With a big effort we could have 12 of our Dreadnoughts fitted by the Autumn."[10] This offer was clearly declined.


Once the director design was finalised, all successive dreadnoughts, battlecruisers and big-gun monitors were completed with an installation for the main battery. However, the number of unequipped vessels of these types were still considerable and beyond them, there were light cruisers and destroyers awaiting similar if less elaborate facilities, and secondary batteries of large vessels as well. Priorities were established.

Despite the overarching need to preserve wartime readiness of the fleet, the installed base of directors grew rapidly as refit opportunities permitted.

Director Installations for Main/Secondary Armament[11]
Battleships Battlecruisers Cruisers Light Cruisers Monitors Leaders &
1911 1
1912 1
1913 1
1914 8 1
1915 8 4 14
1916 14 5/2 2/2 2 2
1917 1/15 –/1 1/1 18
1918 –/3[12] 2 25 5 118[12]
Total 31/18 11/3 5/3 45 21 118

See Also


  1. Annual Report of the Torpedo School, 1881. pp. 19, 61. Plate X.
  2. Annual Report of the Torpedo School, 1890. pp. 91-93, Plates 16 and 18.
  3. Annual Report of the Torpedo School, 1891. pp. 123-4.
  4. Annual Report of the Torpedo School, 1891. p. 124.
  5. Brooks. Dreadnought Gunnery. p. 48.
  6. The Technical History and Index, Vol. 3, Part 23. p. 4.
  7. John Brooks. "Percy Scott and the Director". p. 159.
  8. "Gunnery Tests off Portland" The Times (London, England), Wednesday, Dec 04, 1912; pg. 12; Issue 40073.
  9. The Technical History and Index, Vol. 3, Part 23. pp. 4, 9-10.
  10. Scott to Churchill. Letter of 5 January, 1913. Churchill Papers. Churchill Archives Centre. CHAR 13/19/1.
  11. Progress in Naval Gunnery, 1914-1918. p. 37.
  12. 12.0 12.1 By 1st September, 1918.