Thursday 8 September 2022

Jaime I

 Jaime I

Pride of the Republican Navy

Jaime I was the last of three Espana Class Dreadnought Battleships build by Spain between 1909 and 1923. The ships were part of an informal mutual defence treaty between France, Britain and Spain, the building of the ships was supported by Britain and the construction of Jaime I was much delayed due to Britains involvement in WW1 which caused supply difficulties, and even though she was virtually complete and ready for sea by May 1915, her main guns could not be delivered until 1919. The Espana class of Dreadnought were the only ones ever built by Spain and they were smallest Dreadnoughts built by any nation.

The class's limited displacement necessitated by the constraints imposed by the weak Spanish economy and existing naval infrastructure, requiring compromises on armour and speed to incorporate a main battery of eight 12-inch (305 mm) guns.

Jaime I as she appeared in 1932, note the AA guns on the fore and rear turrets

Layout of the Espana Class gun turrets

Displacement: Normal 15,700 tons, full load 16,450 tons

Length: 140m

Beam: 24m

Draft: 7.8m

Propulsion: 12 x Yarrow coal-fired boilers, 4 x Parsons steam turbines with 4 shafts

Speed: 19.5 knots

Range: 5,000 nautical miles @ 10 knots

Crew compliment: 854

Armament: 8 x 12 inch, 20 x 4 inch, 4 x 3-pounders, 2 machine guns

Armour: belt – 203mm, deck – 38mm, turrets 203mm, conning tower 254mm

Jaime I finally completed her sea trails and entered service with the Spanish Navy on December 20th 1921. Along with her sister ships she took part in the Rif War in Morocco, shelling enemy positions in support of ground troops. She was hit by Riffi shore batteries in 1924, but took part in and supported the amphibious landings at Alhucemas Bay on 8th September 1925 which eventually led to the end of the conflict. Some minor modifications were carried out in 1926, both Jaime I and her sister Alfonso XII gained a pair of Vickers 76.2mm (3 inch) AA guns, one each on top of turret numbers 1 and 2. In the 1930s, the foremast was reduced slightly on the two surviving ships

In 1931 with the proclamation of the Second Spanish Republic, Jaime I and her surviving sister Alfonso XIII (now renamed Espana) were reduced to reserve duty to save on costs. But in 1933 Jaime returned to the fleet as flagship with major plans to modernise her, but these were interrupted by the outbreak of the Civil War!

At the outbreak of the Nationalist revolt, wireless operators in the navy headquarters Madrid intercepted radio messages from General Francisco Franco to rebels in Morocco. Madrid immediately sent the follow telegram to all major vessels, this one to Jaime I (my English translation).

“Comrades Jaime I: all the true Spanish people are currently aware of the attitude of our fleet. The time has come to show that traitors have no place on our ships. I have never doubted your heroism and your loyalty. Follow the example of the Cruiser Libertad by doing your duty. Long live freedom, long live the revolution. Traitors die”

The crew mutinied against their rebellious officers and two officers and an ensign killed along with three “loyal” crewmen, plus there were at least a dozen more injured on both sides. But due to their shift action, they ensured the ship would remain under Republican control. Sadly due to loss and or imprisonment of most of the officer corps the vessel would be crippled by poor discipline for some time. (the same thing applied to most of the Republican fleet).

Photographs of sailors after the take-over

Once under Republican control Jaime I sailed to Tangier to take on coal and supplies and take any wounded and injured to the Spanish hospital there. Just off the coast she was attacked by a rebel Spanish aircraft, who it is claimed made loyal (raised fist) salutes to deceive the crew into thinking he was loyal to the Republic before dropping several incendiary bombs which caused some injuries among the crew.

During the first months of the war, some modifications were made and her armament enhanced with two Vickers 47 mm (1.9 in) 50-caliber anti-aircraft guns and a twin 25 mm (0.98 in) Hotchkiss mounting.

She shelled a number of rebel strongholds, among them Ceuta, Melilla and Algeciras.

On August 7th accompanied by the Cruiser Libertad, Jaime I entered the bay of Algeciras and bombarded the city and harbour. She hit Rebel gunboat Eduardo Dato, which was burned down to the waterline (although she was later repaired and returned to service). She also heavily damaged two transport vessels in the harbour which had been requisitioned by the Rebels. The Customs House and warehouses along the port were destroyed, the railway station, military headquarters, artillery barracks and the power plant all took hits! Fires and explosions engulfed the town. The naval bombardment was supported and enhanced by Republican aircraft that carried out bombing raids. Unfortunately did not take advantage of this successful raid and the Rebels continued using the port once the ships left.

Jaime I also tried (with little success) to act as an anti-aircraft barrier to those planes flying rebel troops from Morocco to the mainland.

On 13 August 1936 she was damaged by a rebel air attack by two German JU-52 aircraft from the Condor Legion at Malaga; a single, small bomb struck the ship in the bow and caused minimal damage, though did result in one crewman killed, two more missing presumed dead and five wounded! Rebel controlled Seville Radio claimed this air attack to have been a total success and actually sunk her!

In September 1936 in an attempt to disrupt the blockade imposed by her sister ship Espana on the northern ports Gijon, Santander and Bilbao, Jaime I sortied forth along with a pair of cruisers and four destroyers. Neither side seemed too inclined to engage each other so eventually the Republicans withdrew in October that year, having achieved nothing!

Then on 21 May 1937, she was attacked again while in dry-dock at Cartagena for repairs after a recent grounding. Five Savoia-Marchetti SM79 bombers of the Italian Aviazione Legionaria carried out the attack, reports of the damage inflicted are mixed; according to Albert Nofi the ship sustained minor damage but Marco Mattioli wrote the damage was more serious.

But on 17 June, still while at Cartagena, she was wrecked by an accidental internal explosion and fire which killed over 300 men and injured many others! (Sabotage is/was strongly suspected, but has never been proved). She was re-floated, but determined to be beyond repair.

Photos of the ship followingthe explosion and fire
She was officially discarded on 3 July 1939 and eventually broken up in 1941.

In 1940 all the ships guns were recovered, the front and rear twin turrets were used in the Gibralter Strait coastal defence batteries D9 and D10 - El Vigia and Casquebel respectively near the town of Tarifa in th eprovince of Cadiz. Abandoned in 1985, the twin turrets and guns are still in place, but have not been well cared for and look worse for wear. All the ships other main guns and secondary armaments were placed in single mounts in several locations along the coast.   

Wargaming with Jaime I

Now i am not  a naval wargamer, but it appears to me there are a couple of potential what if scenarios which present themselves.

1. The Republican attack on Algeciras - what if some Rebel cruisers try to intervene? Or the republic tried to land troops to seize Algeciras?

2. The September 1936 sortee - saw a face off between Jaime I and the Espana plus various cruisers, destroyers and other smaller surface vessels. As it happened no sea battle took place, but it may make and interesting tabletop action. I would penalize the Republicans for the lack of trained officers.  





  1. Richard, Another really interesting piece of history and covering two of my historical interests too: Rif War and Spanish Civil War. Thank you for posting it. Carl

    1. Cheers mate, i enjoyed the research putting it together

  2. Thanks, Richard, for the potted history. I didn't know anything of that time - quite exciting for wargaming, though, as always, one has to respect & remember the wounded and the dead on both sides. Cheers! 👍😊

    1. I think we wargamers and amateur historians have a greater understanding of the cost of war than the average man in the street.