The HMS Thunder Child
Martians vs. Thunder Child..1898
Constructed: 1896
Destroyed: 1898
Weight: 2,600 Tons
  • Bow Cannons
  • Deck Guns
  • Sunk by Second Martion Fighting Machine, Sacrifices Itself, Refuggess Escape England...

H.G Wells

HMS Thunder Child is the name of the fictional ironclad torpedo ram of the Royal Navy that is destroyed by Martian fighting-machines in H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds. It sacrificed itself to allow the refugee vessels to escape.

Historical basisEdit

Torpedo rams were constructed in the 1870s and 1880s after the ramming and sinking of the Re d'Italia at the Battle of Lissa in 1866 by the Austrian flagship, Ferdinand Max. Despite the Italian warship being stationary at the time, the successful attack influenced naval thinking for the next few decades.

The result was specially-designed low profile, fast, armoured vessels that could attack with a ram and/or torpedoes — in practice one or other of these weapons might be absent. They were intended for use in situations where it was possible to approach an enemy ship without being sunk, for example at night or in poor visibility, or where the enemy ship was stationary, disabled or lacked fire support from nearby ships. As late as 1896 the United States commissioned a ship whose only effective weapon was a ram, the harbour-defence ram USS Katahdin.

But very few torpedo rams were built by the world's navies. The Royal Navy's only example was HMS Polyphemus which entered service in 1882. Its primary armament was torpedoes, with four side-firing tubes and one forward-firing tube in the centre of the bow-mounted ram, like the eye of a Cyclops — hence the ship's name, after Polyphemus. The ram was fitted in case the then-novel underwater torpedo tubes failed to operate properly. After the ship successfully destroyed a harbour defence boom with her ram in 1885, the Royal Navy ordered two further ships of this class. However, neither ship was built, probably because the development of quick-firing traversing guns made these vessels vulnerable as they closed for attack.

Fictional descriptionEdit

In the novel, Wells gives only a rough description of the ship, describing her thus: “About a couple of miles out lay an Ironclad, very low in the water, almost, to my brother's perception, like a water-logged ship. This was the ram Thunder Child. A few paragraphs later, said that "It was the torpedo ram, Thunder Child, steaming headlong, coming to the rescue of the threatened shipping."

In Jeff Wayne's musical adaptation, the ship is described as an ironclad but not specifically a ram or a torpedo ram; the album cover illustration of Thunder Child clearly resembles a pre-dreadnought battleship such as the Canopus-class vessel HMS Ocean. The ship is also depicted in art in the Classics Illustrated comic book adaptation of the novel, also appearing as a typical pre-dreadnought battleship. The real torpedo ram HMS Polyphemus was a smaller type of ship (2,600 tons versus 13,000 tons for HMS Ocean) but fast, heavily armoured for her size and capable of operating in shallow coastal waters; her hull was low in the water with a raft-like superstructure mounting six 1-inch Nordenfelt guns, again very much unlike an ironclad battleship.

Battle Edit

On a Wednesday evening, immediately after the Martians conquered London and the surrounding areas, a large number of refugees attempted to escape by sea from Tillingham Bay on the Essex coast. Included in the rag-tag fleet of ships was a paddle wheel steamer laden with the brother of the narrator of the novel, his two female companions and other refugees from London.

In Wells' original novel the battle takes place off the mouth of the River Blackwater, Essex.

Three Martian tripod fighting-machines then decided to approach the vessels from the sea. HMS Thunder Child — a torpedo ram that had been patrolling about two miles away — raced to engage them but without firing. The novel states that since her guns remained quiet as she charged the tripods, she was probably not immediately seen as a threat, so she was not immediately destroyed by their Heat-Ray. In addition, the crowded and turbulent mass of refugee shipping stretching from Foulness to the Naze may have also influenced the captain's decision.

The Martians, whom the narrator suggests were unfamiliar with large warships, at first responded to Thunder Child's charge with only a gas attack, which was ineffective. After seeing the ship's continued advance, the Martians deployed their Heat-Ray, inflicting a great amount of damage upon Thunder Child. She was, however, able to ram one of the fighting-machines, destroying it.

In sinking condition but with steering and propulsion still functional, Thunder Child turned toward a second fighting-machine and began to use her guns. Although she appeared to score no significant hits and one of her misses sunk a nearby fishing smack, she was able to set a collision course with the second Martian tripod before its Heat-Ray found her. The resulting explosion of her boilers and ammunition magazines destroyed Thunder Child, but her flaming wreckage plowed into the second Martian machine and destroyed it.

Aftermath Edit

The attack by Thunder Child occupied the Martians long enough for three other Royal Navy ironclads to arrive. The fate of the third Martian fighting machine is not revealed by Wells, but the battle did enable the civilian shipping to escape.

As depicted in the book, Thunder Child is the only human artifact which can compete with the Martian fighting-machines on anything like equal terms, the battle clearly giving a morale boost to hard-pressed humanity.

In the novel the episode concerning HMS Thunder Child is in "Chapter Seventeen: The "Thunder Child"" ending Book One: The Coming of the Martians.

Thunder Child In RealityEdit

HMS New HoodEdit

Main article: HMS New Hood
Main article: The New England Evacuation


  • It was theorized by Scientists, that THunder Child was inspired by three Torpedo Rammers of her class, the first being the USS Intrepid, the second being the HMS Polyphemus, and the last being the USS Katahdin...
  • Jeff Waynes Musical version concerning Thunder Child was used as part of the United Nazi War Soundtrack, concerning the New England Evacuation, and New Hood's sacrifice...

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