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Résumé of the 9 Ships 

The Old “Superb”

Part of a great tradition  . . . . . . . .


The First (1710)

The French Superbe, a 64-gun (third rate) ship of 1,000 tons was captured in the channel on 29th July 1710, by H.M.S. Kent. She was commissioned for the Royal Navy in September of the same year. After serving in the Mediterranean and the Baltic, she was present at the Battle of Cape Passarro on the 31st July 1718, under the command of Captain Streynsham Master. In the Battle the Spanish Fleet, which threatened Italy, was destroyed by Admiral Byng’s fleet. She was taken out of active service in 1733


Between 1733 and 1736 the Superb was completely refitted, this time as a 60 gun, fourth rate and in 1745, flying the broad pennant of Commodore Peter Warren, she served in the West Indies and was present at the capture of Louisbourg on the 18th June. After 47 years’ service she was broken up in 1757. Some historians deem this to be the second Superb but there is no evidence that the alterations were any more than a major refit as subsequent ships of that name have had I consider this to be the first ship.


Second (1760)

Built at Deptford in 1760, a 3rd rate of 1600 tons with 74 guns, the second Superb was a flagship at Portsmouth from 1763-70. She took part in 5 actions in the East Indies as flagship to Admiral Hughes, during 1782/83 when the French Squadron, under Admiral Suffren, challenged our supremacy in those waters.

Between February and September 1782 she was in action four times with the enemy, and two of her commanding officers were killed in action. On 3rd September, 1782, under the command of Captain James Watt, she earned the ship’s battle of honour of Trincomalee. The following year she was wrecked at Telicherry on the 3rd November. Her crew were saved, including Captain Harry Newcome, who had relieved Captain Watt.



The Third (1795)

Was a 22 gun sixth rate ship.  She was previously a French ship captured by HMS Vanguard in 1795 and then used as a prison ship from 1796.  She was sold in 1798.


Fourth Superb (1798)

War with France over some pretext or other was normal form in the 18th century, and after the French Revolution of 1789-93 and with the unsuccessful intervention of other European Powers in 1793, Britain faced the rising tide of the French Republic. Their Lordships decided another Superb must be built and in 1798 a 74-gun frigate of 1,900 tons was launched on the Thames and named Superb. With Captain R.G. Keats in command, this fine ship saw enemy action in July of 1801 off Algeciras and at the entrance to the Straits. After two years of uneasy peace, was broke out again in 1803 and the Superb sailed for a foreign commission in the Mediterranean. Under Lord Nelson, she took part in the wearisome blockade of Toulon, from 1803-1805, and then when the French slipped the blockade, was in the famous long chase of Admiral Villeneuve’s fleet to the West Indies and back.

It was Superb’s part in the chase that inspired the words of the song “The Old Superb”. (see the full poem)


The ship overdue for a refit was the ‘lame duck’ and only her Captain’s determination and the spirit of her company kept her with the fleet.

Lord Nelson, ever conscious of the welfare of his officers and men, wrote to Captain Keats: “ . . . I am fearful that you may think that the Superb does not go as fast as I would wish. However that may be (for if all went 10 knots, I should not think it fast enough) yet I would you assured that I know and feel the Superb does all that is possible for a ship to accomplish and I desire that you will not fret on the occasion”. (How we fretted none but Nelson knew.)

Superb missed the Battle of Trafalgar because of the need for a refit but had the honour of returning to Portsmouth with Lord Nelson’s Victory in August 1805. Captain Keats, as a close friend of the Admiral, spent much of his leave with him at Merton Place and heard how his Commander-in-Chief was going to attack the enemy fleet in a novel two division formation. The success of the plan was admirably demonstrated at Trafalgar a few weeks later.

In the year after Trafalgar, with Captain Keats still in command, Superb was flagship to Sir John Duckworth when he achieved victory over a French squadron at San Domingo in the West Indies. In this action two French men-o’-war were wrecked and another captured. In 1807, Superb took part in an expedition to Copenhagen and in the same year became her old Captain’s flagship.

Rear Admiral Keats flew his flag in the Superb until 1810 and the ship served with distinction in the Channel and the Baltic. After further service in the Channel and on the South Atlantic Station, 1813-1824, the war with America (1812-1814) led her to coast of North America where, in 1814, she served under the command of Captain Charles Paget. In 1816, with other ships of the Mediterranean Fleet, she bombarded the port of Algiers, then a pirates’ stronghold. In 1826 this splendid ship was finally broken up having added illustriously to her great name.


The end of the Napoleonic Wars ended an era for the Royal Navy, and Britain’s supremacy at sea was virtually unchallenged from 1805 until 1916.


The Fifth Superb (1845 )

Was an 80-gun ship of 2,500 tons launched in 1845 – the middle of this period. Her service was uneventful and after nearly ten years as a floating hospital, including two years as a cholera hospital at Sheerness, she was broken up in 1869.


Superb or not!

Naval actions in the American Civil War had demonstrated the value of armoured ships and the next Superb was built in 1873 was a 9,500 ton “Ironclad”. This ship was renamed Alexandria shortly before the launching in April, 1875, and never served under the name of Superb so doesn't count in this list.


Sixth Superb (1875)

In 1875 another “Ironclad” of 9,000 tons was launched at Blackwell for the Turkish government as the Hamidieh. In February, 1878, however, she was purchased for the Royal Navy at the cost of £443,000 and was renamed the Superb. (It was in 1878 that the Turks awarded Britain the Island of Cyprus in recognition of Premier Disraeli’s services to Turkey at the treaty of Berlin).

In 1882, the Superb was present at the bombardment of Alexandria under the command of Captain Le Hunte Ward. Between 1893 and 1896 she was reconstructed at Portsmouth and rated a 2nd class Battleship. Her armament, after construction, consisted of 8 x 10-in.. 4 x 9-in.  4 x 7-in.  guns. Ten years later she was sold and a new Superb was laid down.   


Seventh Superb (1907)

The new ship was a Battleship of 18,600 tons armed with 10 x 12-in. 11 x 4-in. guns and with a speed of nearly 21 knots.

HMS Superb was a Bellerophon-class battleship of the British Royal Navy. She was built in Elswick at a cost of £1,744,287, and was completed on 19 June 1909.

She was only the fourth dreadnought-type battleship to be completed anywhere in the world, being preceded only by HMS Dreadnought and by her two sister ships HMS Bellerophon and HMS Temeraire.

Commissioned in May 1909 for the Home Fleet she served with the First and Fourth Battle Squadrons of the Grand Fleet during the Great War and was present at Jutland on the 31st May 1916.

In October, 1918, she became flagship to the C-in –C Mediterranean and during the next few months, in the course of operations in South Russia, visited Sebastopol. In 1919 she became the gunnery training ship and was finally sold to the breakers’ yard in December 1922.


Eighth Superb (1943)

The Cruiser Superb, built by Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson Ltd. was first commissioned on October 30th 1945. In March 1946, she had the honour of conveying Her Majesty the Queen, then H.R.H Princess Elizabeth, on an official visit to Belfast. Serving on the Mediterranean and Home Stations from 1946 to 1950, at one time in 1947 she was the only operational cruiser in the Royal Navy. After participating in many Western Union, and later, N.A.T.O exercises, she relieved H.M.S. Glasgow as flagship on the America and West Indies Station and in 1951 cruised extensively around South America and on the East Coast of North America being relieved by H.M.S. Sheffield in October that year.


In 1952 she returned to the Mediterranean on a Home Fleet Cruise as Flagship to Rear Admiral Robson, Flag Officer Flotillas, who had been her first Captain. Later, in 1952, she was transferred to the America and West Indies Station as Flagship to Vice Admiral Sir William Andrewes, returning to Spithead in June for the Coronation review. After the Review, there followed a cruise in North American waters and a return to  Chatham for leave and a docking period in November.


After a refit in 1954, Superb once more sailed for the West Indies under the command of Commodore Donald-Fuller. She relieved H.M.S. Sheffield and spent a year showing the flag in both the south and north Atlantic sailing through the Panama Canal 3 times; steaming around South America and the west coast of the United States and Canada as well as many West Indian islands. 


On her return to Chatham in 1955 she once again refitted and preparing for her General Service commission of 1956-57 under command of her Captain,The Earl Cairns when she took  up station in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Gulf States, East Africa and was present at the Home Fleet review at Spithead in May 1956 .


She was laid up in Gareloch in late 1957 and on 8th August, 1960 she arrived at Dalmuir to be broken up.


The Ninth (1974)

The last Royal Navy H.M.S. Superb (as at 2014) was a nuclear-powered fleet submarine of the Swiftsure class and She was built by Vickers Shipbuilding Group, subsequently a division of BAE Systems Submarine Solutions.

Superb was launched on 30 November 1974 at Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria and commissioned on 13 November 1976. After being damaged in May 2008 in the Red Sea, she returned to HMNB Devonport where she was decommissioned slightly ahead of schedule on 26 September 2008.

She was the first British submarine to visit the Arctic Ocean and sail under the polar ice caps.

During the Falklands War, Superb was spotted sailing from Gibraltar, which prompted press speculation that she was sailing to the South Atlantic to enforce a maritime exclusion zone.

In fact, only HMS Spartan was sailing south at that time but the speculation was useful to promote the apparent threat of the Royal Navy in the South Atlantic and was not corrected by the Navy or Ministry of Defence.

Superb operated in the Indian Ocean in 2001, in support of the War in Afghanistan.

In January 2008 a sentry was found sleeping while on watch; the reprimand to the crew was caught on video.

On 26 May 2008 Superb hit an underwater pinnacle in the Red Sea, 80 miles south of the Suez Canal. She remained watertight, and none of the 112 crew were injured; however, she was unable to re-submerge due to damage to her sonar. 

After undertaking initial repairs at the Soudan Bay NATO base on Crete on 10 June 2008, she passed through the Mediterranean, with a pause (at night) some miles off Gibraltar to disembark some less critical crew. 

Superb then continued back to the UK, arriving at Devonport Dockyard on 28 June 2008. After surveying the damage, the Royal Navy decided to decommission her slightly ahead of schedule on 26 September 2008.

Nearly two years after the grounding, Superb's commanding officer at the time of the accident, Steven Drysdale and two other officers, Lieutenant Commander Andrew Cutler and Lieutenant Lee Blair, were reprimanded for their roles in the collision.

All three pleaded guilty to the charges of neglecting to perform their duty in failing to notice that the submarine was travelling towards the pinnacle. Despite the incident, all three officers were still serving in the Royal Navy at the time of the court-martial.



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