HMS Nelson (pennant number 28) was one of two Nelson-class battleships built for the Royal Navy between the two World Wars. She was named in honour of Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson the victor at the Battle of Trafalgar. The Nelsons were unique in British battleship construction, being the only ships to carry a main armament of 16 in (410 mm) guns and the only ones to carry all the main armament forward of the superstructure. These were a result of the limitations of the Washington Naval Treaty. Commissioned in 1927, Nelson served extensively in the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Indian oceans during World War II. She was decommissioned soon after the end of the war and scrapped in 1949. She was nicknamed "Nels-ol" from the resemblance in her outline to RN oilers, whose names ended in "-ol".
HMS Nelson (as was her sister, Rodney) was essentially a cut-down version of the G3 battlecruiser cancelled under the constraints of the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty. The design was to carry a main armament of 16 in (410 mm) guns to match the firepower of the American Colorado and Japanese Nagato classes in a ship displacing no more than 35,000 tons. The main battery was mounted in three turrets, all placed forward, speed was reduced and maximum armour was limited to vital areas, to meet the tonnage limit.
The three turrets from forward to aft were "A", "B" and "X". The guns received individual nicknames being known as Happy, Grumpy, Sneezy, Dopey, Sleepy, Bashful, Doc, Mickey and Minnie, sometime after the release of the film Snow White in 1937. The secondary armament was in turrets P1 to P3 on the port, S1 to S3 on the starboard. The six 4.7 in (119 mm) anti-aircraft mounts were named HA1 to HA6, the even numbers on the port side. The six pom-pom mounts were numbered from M1 (on top of B turret) to M7 at the extreme aft—there was no M2 position—the odd numbers 3 & 5 to the starboard with 4 & 6 to port to be consistent with the HA armament labels.
Nelson was laid down in December 1922 and built at Newcastle by Armstrong-Whitworth. Launched in September 1925, she was commissioned in August 1927 and joined by her sister ship HMS Rodney (built by Cammell Laird) in November. She cost £7,504,000 to build and made partial use of the material prepared for the cancelled Admiral-class battlecruisers HMS Anson and Howe, planned sister ships of HMS Hood.
She was the flagship of the Home Fleet from launch. In 1931 the crews of both Nelson and Rodney took part in the Invergordon Mutiny. On 12 January 1934 she ran aground on Hamilton's Shoal, just outside Portsmouth, as she was about to embark with the Home Fleet to the West Indies.
Nelson was modified little during the 1930s and was with the Home Fleet when war broke out in September 1939. On 25 and 26 September she performed escort duty during the salvage and rescue operations of the submarine HMS Spearfish. Nelson was first deployed in the North Sea in October against a German formation of cruisers and destroyers, all of which easily evaded her. On 30 October she was unsuccessfully attacked by U-56 under the command of captain Wilhelm Zahn near the Orkney Islands and was hit by three torpedoes, none of which exploded. Later she was again shown up for pace in the futile pursuit of German battlecruisers. In December 1939 she struck a magnetic mine (laid by U-31) at the entrance to Loch Ewe on the Scottish coast and was laid up in Portsmouth for repairs until August 1940.
Upon return to service she went to Rosyth in case of invasion and was then deployed in the English Channel. From April to June 1941 she was on convoy escort in the Atlantic. In late May she was in Freetown and was ordered to Gibraltar to stand by to take part in the chase of the German battleship Bismarck.
In June 1941 Nelson, then in Gibraltar, was assigned to Force H operating in the Mediterranean as an escort. On 27 September 1941 she was extensively damaged by a Regia Aeronautica torpedo strike and was under repair in Britain until May 1942. She returned to Force H as the flagship in August 1942, performing escort duties for supply convoys running to Malta. She supported Operation Torch around Algeria in November 1942, the invasion of Sicily in July 1943 and the Salerno operation (by coastal bombardment) in September 1943. The Italian long armistice was signed between General Dwight Eisenhower and Marshal Pietro Badoglio aboard the Nelson on 29 September.
The Nelson returned to England in November 1943 for a refit, including extensive additions to her anti-aircraft defences. Returning to action she supported the Normandy landings but hit two sea mines on 18 June 1944 and was sent to the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in Pennsylvania for repairs. She returned to Britain in January 1945 and was then deployed to the Indian Ocean, arriving in Colombo in July. She was used around the Malayan Peninsula for three months, taking part in Operation Livery. The Japanese forces there formally surrendered aboard her at George Town, Penang, on 2 September 1945.
Nelson returned home in November 1945 as the flagship of the Home Fleet until reassigned as a training ship in July 1946.
Nelson was decommissioned in February 1948 and used as a target ship for aerial bombing exercises for several months. She was sold to Thos W Ward for scrapping, arriving at Inverkeithing on 15 March 1949.