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The design of the battleships of the King George V class was heavily constrained from the outset by political considerations. In the London Treaty of 1930 Britain, the USA and Japan had agreed to a five-year moratorium on new construction. This meant that no new British battleships could be laid down before January 1937. Moreover, the British were still hoping to obtain agreement at the next conference, due to take place in 1936, on a 14in (356mm) maximum gun caliber for new construction. In the event both the USA and Japan refused to accept this limitation, and subsequently laid down ships with 16in (406mm) and 18in (460mm) guns. Britain, however, could not afford to wait for the results of the negotiations because of the lead already established by her European rivals. If the new battleships were to be begun in January 1937, their guns would have to be ordered prior to this date in order to ensure early completion. The British therefore opted for the 14in (356mm) gun in anticipation of an agreement.
The design process had begun as early as 1934, the year in which the Italian Littorios were laid down. The emphasis was on a heavy main armament comprising either 9 x 16in (406mm), 9 x 15in (381mm) or 12 x 14in (356mm) guns - and protection against 16in (406mm) shells. A speed of only 23kt was initially favored, as this was deemed adequate for ships that would form a homogeneous battle-line with the older British ships, some of which were being reconstructed. However, concern about the high speed of the new Italian and German capital ships led to a revision of the design to give a speed of 27-28kt, and since displacement was fixed at the Treaty maximum of 35,000 tons standard, the additional horsepower had to be bought by a reduction in the number of 14in (356mm) guns from twelve to ten; this in turn meant that a new twin turret had to be designed, which was to cause further delays.
When the Treaty moratorium finally expired, the entire class of five ships was laid down in the space of six months, and the first ship was completed in less than four years. The 14in (356mm) Mk VII gun fired a heavyweight shell (1,590Ib, 720kg) at a modest velocity, and at the maximum 40 degrees elevation it had a range of 36,000yds (32,900m). The design of the mountings was based on that of the World War I 15in (381 mm) mounting, except that the magazines were located below the shell rooms. This complicated the hoist arrangements, but a rate of fire of two rounds per minute was still achieved. The complexity of the mounting was also increased by the desire to make it as flash-tight as possible. Frequent breakdowns in the guns and mountings occurred when the early ships were first completed, notably aboard the brand new Prince of Wales during the Bismarck engagement, when both A and Y turrets jammed. However, these initial problems had been ironed out by 1942, and the gun subsequently proved very effective in service.
The King George V class were unique among the newly built European capital ships in mounting a dual-purpose secondary armament, which comprised eight of the new twin 5.25in (133mm) mountings. To enable them to continue firing even after the failure of the ship's own generators, the turrets were self-contained with their own power supply. Although the guns elevated to 70 degrees, high-angle engagements were not up to expectations because of the low rate of fire (10-12rpm designed, but in practice only 7-8rpm) and of training (only 10-11 degrees per second).
Protection was on the same all or nothing scheme as in Nelson, but was revised as a result of testing in the 1920s and 1930s. There was a greater armored reserve of buoyancy, improved protection against diving shells, a reduction in the unarmored structure above the citadel, and some protection for the soft ends of the ship. The depth of the main belt was a full 24ft (7.5m) - a figure which compared favorably with all foreign construction. There was a single thick armored deck, and the underwater protection system was designed to withstand a 1,000lb (450kg) torpedo warhead. The layout of the machinery was on the same unit system employed in contemporary British cruisers, with two independent groups of turbines and boilers which could be cross-connected in the event of action damage.
When completed all ships were initially deployed with the Home Fleet. Anson and Howe did not enter service until late 1942 because of a 3-6 month suspension of their construction in May 1940 to free shipyard resources for the building of much-needed escorts. King George V, at that time the flagship of the C-in-C Home Fleet, played a leading role in the final destruction of the German battleship.