British Cruisers of ww2

WW2 British Cruisers

United Kingdom (1931-35)
68 cruisers 1919-45

From the C-class to the Tiger

The history of development of British cruisers goes all the way back to 1912, when the standard “C” series were first designed. Unlike in the US Navy or IJN whose cruisers were ordered at the end of WW1 and essentially built in the interwar, the long lineage of British cruisers was the richest and most complex among the allies. Whereas the USN made a very long “pause” from the 1907′ Chester class, construction of cruisers went on before and during WWI in Great Britain, with the drive for standardization with gradual improvements, from the C to the D and finally E class, while the Hawkins created a brand new branch, pioneering the “heavy cruiser”. The Washington treaty then simply confirmed this evolution, cemented in two classes defined by their main caliber guns – 6 inches and 8 inches, already standards in the Royal Navy. The treaty of London in 1930 and in 1935 would also largely impact cruiser design worldwide, and interwar cruiser construction was never interrupted contrary to battleships, securing the interest of publication of the time and trigerring peacetime technological rivalries.

British cruisers, whatever their age or type, proved indispensable to the war effort during WW2, wether they escortted convoys or fought in the Mediterranean, Atlantic, Indian Ocean, Far east and Pacific. Many were lost as a result of continuous action, more in proportion than in the USN, but still far less than in the IJN: HMS Calypso, Curacoa, Coventry, Curlew, Cairo, Calcutta, Carlisle for the C class alone, HMS Effingham, Dunedin and two more scuttled for the D class, Cornwall, Canberra, and Dorsetshire for the County class, York and Exeter, Leander and Neptune, Perth and Sydney for the Commonwealth, Galatea and Penelope, Southampton, Gloucester, Manchester, Edinburgh for the “Town” class, Bonaventure, Charybdis, Hermione, Naiad, Spartan for the AA cruisers, Fiji and Trinidad for the “colony”, Abdiel, Latona and Welshman for the minelayer cruisers, so 34 cruisers lost in all during WW2, for 69 mobilized, an attrition rate of about 50%… If there was any doubt, that alone tells volumes about the Commitment of the RN.

County class cruisers
County class cruisers – HMS Devonshire as built

Overview: 69 cruisers

Heavy Cruisers

  • 13 County class heavy cruisers (1926-29): Three sub-classes classes and individual rebuilt like th HMS London. The counties made the bulk of the Royal Navy’ long range cruiser force, heavily engaged on all fronts.
  • 0 Surrey class heavy cruisers (1928): 8x 8-in heavy cruisers cancelled for the York class.
  • 2 York class heavy cruisers (1928-29) : Smaller, the York differed from the Exeter to the point they were sometimes separated, but only by appearance.
  • 10 Town class heavy cruisers (1936-1939): The 6-in treaty cruisers, with three sub-classes.
  • 3 Hawkins class heavy cruisers (1917-1921): Individual masked guns, obsolete configuration in 1939.

Light cruisers

  • 1 HMS Adventure minelayer cruiser (1924): 4x 4.7-in, 8,000 tons, 28 kts, but 280 mines.
  • 5 Leander class light cruisers (1931-34): “washington” cruisers armed with 8 x 152 mm (6 in).
  • 3 Perth class light cruisers (1934): Of a closed model, used by Australia.
  • 4 Arethusa class light cruisers (1934-36): One less turret.
  • 3 Caledon class light cruisers (1916-17): Oldest of the C-class in service. Modernized, escorts.
  • 5 Ceres class light crusiers (1917): C class mostly rebuilt as AA cruisers escorts during WW2
  • 5 Carlisle class light cruisers (1918-19): C-class cruisers
  • 8 Danae class light cruisers (1918-19): Modernised C-class, converted as AA cruisers in WW2
  • 2 Enterprise class light cruisers (1919-1920): First with a twin turret, modernized, active in 1939.

Wartime Cruisers

  • 10 Fiji (Crown Colony) class 1940-42 Light cruisers: 3×3 6in
  • 5 Abdiel class 1940 Minelayer cruisers: 3×2 4in, 150 mines
  • 6 Dido class 1939-41 AA cruisers: 5×2 4in dp
  • 4 Bellona class 1943-44 AA cruisers: 4×2 4in dp
  • 2 Swiftsfure class 1944-45 Light cruisers: 3×3 6in
  • 5 Tiger class 1945 Light cruisers: Completed postwar modified 6×2 6in dp

Influence of treaties

Contrary to the years preceding WW1, cruiser development was not done in a vacuum during the interwar years: Three dates are to be taken in consideration:

The 1922 Washington treaty:

This treaty defined a global tonnage, two types of cruisers based on tonnage and main gun armament (6 inches or 8 inches). Hughes proposed to limit cruisers in the same proportions as capital ships but both colonial empire of the time, the British and French refused. There was a British counterproposal, asked for a special allocation of 450,000 tons for cruisers in consideration of the Empire, the United States and Japan limited in that to 300,000 and 250,000 respectively. This trigerred vivid protestations and dicussions heating up until it was decided to drop any limitations in total cruiser tonnage to not having the whole treaty bogged down.

For pacifists (and anti-imperialists) it was nothing more than a betrayal of the original spirit of the treaty. The British delegates as a gesture however, suggested a qualitative limit for future cruiser construction, based on a maximal 10,000 ton standard displacement with 8-inch calibre guns (no limitations in numbers). This allowed the RN to keep the Hawkins class then still in construction and found a soft spot in American requirements looking for cruisers intended to serve in the Pacific Ocean operations. This also enabled the Furutaka class desgn for Japan. Therefore, like in many other signatory countries, the construction focus was soon put on heavy cruisers with the County class, once the WW1 designed cruisers were completed.

1930 treaty of London:

In 1930 was indeed signed the treaty of London, by Japan and original Washington delegations. For cruisers, it made a distinction between cruisers armed with guns up to 6.1 in (155 mm) as “light cruisers” from the heavy cruisers armed with 8 in, and it was limited this time: The RN was permitted 15 heavy cruisers, for a total of 147,000 tonnes, and no limitations for light cruisers, but also a global tonnage limits at 192,200 tons for the British (again the higest ration among signatories, based on the needs of the colonies). The acceptations were in part dictated by the economical crisis. The order of the day was now budget restrictions.

15 heavy cruisers represented the exact County class and the two York class, so this automatically shelved also the planned Surrey class. For light cruisers, this conducted exercizes in tonnage reduction and designs such as the Arethusa and later the Dido class. In 1932, there was another attempted naval arms control, the second Geneva Naval Conference which forced Italy to retired 130,000 tons of naval vessels but negotiations went on during the following years without a signature.

1935 second treaty of London:

Negociations started on 9 December 1935 and the treaty was signed on 25 March 1936 by previous delegations but Japan, which retired. For cruisers, the only implication was that light cruisers were restricted to 8,000 tons standard and 6.1-inch (155 mm) guns. By the time it was signed, the construction of the last two of the “Town class”, the Edinburgh group construction was just started (started December 1936). They escaped the tonnage limitations by a few days.

The next Dido was well withing limits, and the Fiji class, started in 1938-39 was declared “8,000 tonnes” standard but in reality were closer to 8,500, reduced versions of the ‘Town’ serie. On 1st September 1939, all limitations went by the window and this freed engineers to propose new cruisers worked out in 1940, the 8,800 tonnes Swiftsure and in 1941 the Bellorophon (Tiger) class, both repeats improved version of the ‘crown colony’ serie. But in 1942, more ambitious projects, well above 10,000 tonnes standards were proposed (see later), including heavy and “light” cruisers.

Nomenclature of British Cruisers

C-class Cruisers (1917)

HMS Carslisle
The HMS Caledon in 1944 in the mediterrannean

The Caledon class was ordered in December 1915 and the 6 class ships put into service in 1917. They retained the two-funnel silhouette of the previous two class “C” series (started in 1913 and which included the Carolina classes, Calliope, Cambrian, and finally Caledon and Ceres).

Their propulsion was slightly different, their superstructures were also slightly modified. They had a main armament at the origin of five 6-inch (152 mm) pieces and a two-3-inch (76 mm AA) secondary armament, reinforced with four anti-aircraft 3-pounder (45 mm). Three of the four Caledon class ships participated in the Second World War, with a number of modifications. The Cassandra was disarmed before the war. Five Oerlikon 20 mm AA were added to all ships, as well as new fire control equipment, masts and radars. Caledon was completely rebuilt in 1942-43 and converted into a pure AA cruiser, armed with six twin 4-in (102 mm) turret, two 40 mm Bofors guns (single mount) and eight 20 mm Oerlikon AA guns plus new rangefinder, radar, 200 tons ballast. The latter served in the North Atlantic, mediterranean in Alexandria, then in the Red Sea, and finally the Indian Ocean until 1942. She then returned to Chatham for this conversion, went to Scapa Flow, then in the Mediterranean, participating in the Anvil-Dragoon landings in provence. She ended her career in Greece, then returned to France at the end of the war. Put in reserve, she was BU in 1948.

HMS Calypso was first used to hunt down the German blockade runners (she captured two), and raiders like Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. Finally, she was sent mediterrannean sea, and sunk by the Italian sub. Bagnolini in November 1940. On her side, Caradoc exited reserve in 1939 to transport gold in New Scotland, track down German blockade runners and also captured two, escorted convoys in the Atlantic. In late 1942 she joined New York Ny for a short redesign, and then went in the Indian Ocean and South Africa, based in Durban. She served as a gunnery training ship and moved to colombo where she served as a floating headquarters until the end of 1944. In 1945 she was back home to be disarmed.

Characteristics (Caledon, 1943):

Displacement: 4200 t. standard -5320 t. full charge

Dimensions: 137.20 m long, 13 m wide, 5 m draft.

Propulsion: 4 shafts Parsons turbines, 6 Yarrow boilers, 40,000 hp.

Top speed: 29 knots.

Armament: 6 x 102 mm DP (3×2), 8 Bofors 40 mm (2×2, 4×1), 15 x 20 mm AA.

Crew: 470
HMS Curacoa
HMS Curacoa in 1942.

The Ceres succeeded the Caledon class, it was in fact the last of the long “C” series of standard light cruisers of the Royal Navy built during the great war. It consisted of 5 vessels, ordered in 1915, launched in 1916-17 and in service in 1917-18. Their bow was judged “wet” (they tended to plow in heavy weather), their superstructure was higher and their armament was still composed of 6 x 6 inches or 152 mm in simple mounts originally, but the footbridge and the wider hull allowed to install the front piece on a deckhouse. Their career was long since they participated in the Second World War. In 1935, Curlew and Coventry were taken in May for reconversion into antiaircraft cruisers, with 10 x 4 inches (102 mmp in single mounts, and 8 bofors. Curacoa followed the same reconversion in 1940, but with 4 twin turrets and a quadruple bofors placed on the front deckhouse. The other two served “in their own juice”, still receiving a huff-duff antenna and some modern amenities, as well as anti-aircraft 20 mm guns. Curlew was sunk in Norway, Cairo in front of Tobruk and Curacoa in October 1942, after a fatal collision with troop transport Queen Mary.

D-class Cruisers (1918)

Danae class cruisers
HMS Danae, Dauntless, Dragon, Delhi, Dunedin, Durban, Despatch, Diomede. Cancelled: Daedalus, Daring, Desperate, Dryad.

The “D” class, the larger C class

The Danaes or “D” class followed the long C series, lengthened by 20 feet (6 m) to allow an extra sixth 6-inch (152 mm) gun placed between the bridge and forefunnel. That was the only reason of this wartime design basically. This gae a total of six main artilery guns instea dof five, with torpedo tubes going from twin to triple banks for a grand total of twelve tubes, which was heaviest torpedo armament for any cruiser in WW1. Machinery and its layout were copied from the Ceres group but Danae, Dauntless and Dragon being ordered before the Capetown group of the C series, they missed the improved bow design, and were also very wet forward. The next generation would have the caracteristic sheer increased forwards with the knuckled “trawler bow” of all British cruisers to follow. Despatch and Diomede had a larger beam (by ½ foot or 15 cm) for better stability. HMS Dragon and Dauntless had also a hangardesigne dto carry a reconnaissance floatplane, built into the bridge with the compass on top.

This rather experimental configuration was never repeated. HMS Delhi, Dunedin, Durban, Despatch and Diomede all carried at completion a flying-off platform, for a wheeled model aft, in geneal a Sopwith Camel. HMS Despatch and Diomede also had two 4 inch AA guns instead of the 12 pounder of their sisters. HMS Diomede also had her ‘A’ gun was given a weatherproof housing Mark XVI, a nice touch for gun crews exposed to the north sea elements. Lessons of Jutland were applied during construction. Protection was improved and additional torpedo tubes were installed while depth charge throwers were lated added. The Mk XII 6-inch (152 mm) guns on Diomede received a new prototype gun house with better elevation, tested with success. The inter-war saw these cruisers having a better anti-aircraft armament, ultimately standardised by three QF 4 inch Mark V guns with Mark III mounts and with a QF 2 pdr Mk.II gun on the bridge’s wings. Aircraft equipment were discarded, Dragon and Dauntless having standardized bridges lik the rest of the “E class”.

WW2 service

When World War II broke out, these vessels were “virgins” in the sense they never experienced war, being completed after the war was over. It was decided to convert them as escorts. This included the addition of a foremast-mounted air warning Radar Type 286 and later a Type 273 centimetric target indication set (installed on the searchlight platform amidships). Up to eight 20 mm Oerlikon guns were added to boot AA protection, some replacing the 2 pdr-guns in the bridge wings. They were installed also alongside amidship turrets and on the quarterdeck. In 1942, HMS Dauntless, followed by HMS Danae the next year, saw their aft 4 in AA replaced by a quad 2 pounder Mark VIII. 1943 pushed this towards and had her ‘P’ gun and her forward pair of 4-in replaced by two quad 2-pdr AA plus a Radar Type 282 for its two fire directors. HMS Dragon and Danae in 1943 had their aft 4-in replaced by a twin Mark XIX mounts carrying the QF 4 inch Mark XVI gun. Danae also had a pair of Bofors 40 mm guns. Diomede saw her torpedo tubes removed, receiving a twin “Hazemeyer” Mark IV mounts plus two single Mark III Bofors 40 mm guns.

Delhi was rebuilt in the United States in 1941-42 as a pure anti-aircraft cruiser, with all armaments removed, five 5 inch L/38 Mark 12 guns/Mark 30 mounts installed and a pair of Mark 37 Fire Control Systems, all of US standard pattern. She also had her bridge rebuilt, and and new stepped light tripod masts installed with Type 291 air warning radar on top. She also received a Type 273 target indication radar, plus Type 285 target ranging system. Light AA comprised two quad 2-pdr mounts Mark VII assisted by the Radar Type 282 plus two twin Oerlikon mounts Mark V, six single Mark III.
HMS Dragon served with the Polish Navy for a time, and afterwards, with HMS Durban she was sank as breakwater in Normandy. The Free Polish Navy obtained in exchange the Danae, renamed ORP Conrad.

Characteristics (Caledon, 1943):

Displacement: 4200 t. standard -5320 t. full charge
Dimensions: 137.20 m long, 13 m wide, 5 m draft.
Propulsion: 4 shafts Parsons turbines, 6 Yarrow boilers, 40,000 shp.
Top speed: 29 knots.
Armament: 6 x 102 mm DP (3×2), 8 Bofors 40 mm (2×2, 4×1), 15 of 20 mm AA.
Crew: 470

Enterprise class Cruisers (1919)

Emerald class cruisers
Enterprise class cruisers – HMS Emerald as built

Emerald class cruisers
HMS Enterprise in June 1944, during Operation Overlord.

The two Enteprise class vessels (Enterprise and Emerald) or class “E” were the last British light cruisers built during the Great War. However, the lack of men and the priority given to the destroyers caused their launch only in 1920, and they were completed, after revision, in 1926.

They were originally built to counter Rapid minesweeper cruisers Germans Brummer and Bremse, operational late 1917. They were fast and could support 33 knots, using the engines of the class-leading Shakespeare flotilla engines, mounted in pairs, with a classic artillery largely above the “D” class. However, they will be reclassified as light cruisers thereafter. This classic artillery consisted of the last 152 mm (7 single pieces, one of which was at the front of the Emerald) and a double turret for the Enterprise, which was the first to have one at the front. With a complement of four tubes of torpedo tubes, these vessels were formidable, although in 1926, their design was dated or obsolete. The first pencil strokes were laid in 1917 and much of their equipment was the 1916 standard.

The two ships will receive a seaplane catapult in 1936, which will be deposited in 1944, because in the meantime they were equipped with high-performance radars. Their torpedo tubes were replaced in 1929. Finally their AA was reinforced in 1940, with the addition of two quadruple Bofors 40 mm benches, while in 1942 their torpedo tubes benches were deposited in favor of 16 to 18 20 mm Oerlikon AA pieces. Until 1939 they were both stationed in the Far East and also in the Mediterranean. Their career was quite active: Enterprise, returned to France, carried out escort missions, participated in the Norwegian campaign, fought in Narvik and was touched. After repairs, he joined force H in the Mediterranean, and participated in the operation “Catapult” against Mers-el-Kebir. Then it was the Indian Ocean, the Far East. He returned to the metropolis for recasting, then was assigned to hunt the German blockade force.

In December 1943 he hired and destroyed a destroyer and two German torpedo boats, then took part in escort missions until June 1944 when he participated in the landing. In January 1945 he was transferred to the reserve and did only secondary missions such as the repatriation of troops. He will be disarmed and BU in 1948. HMS Emerald received radar and new tripod poles in 1940, losing a 152 mm piece. He was escorted to the North Atlantic, transported the gold reserves to Halifax (58 million pounds sterling), and was assigned to the Indian Ocean. He returned in 1941 in the Mediterranean and in the Persian Gulf.

He operated on the Iraqi coast, and in the Red Sea. In December, he was part of the Z force (Singapore). He did not accompany the ships of Tom Philips during their fatal exit and became in fact the only major ship of this force, before having to evacuate the port before the fall of Singapore. After his revival in the metropolis, he returned in 1943 to assist the 4th squadron of cruisers in the Indian Ocean. In 1944, he attended the landing by shelling the beach of Gold Beach. After being put on the reserve shortly thereafter, he was reduced to sub-sidiary roles before being struck off and BU in 1948.

Characteristics (HMS Enteprise, 1944)

Displacement: 8250 t. standard -10 220 t. Fully Loaded
Dimensions: 173.70 m long, 16.6 m wide, 6.6 m draft (full load).
Propulsion: 4 propellers, 4 Brown-Curtis turbines, 8 Yarrow boilers, 80,000 hp.
Top speed: 33 knots.
Armor: Maximum (belt) 75 mm, masks of parts 100 mm.
Armament: 7×6 in (152 mm) (1×2, 5×1), 5x 4in (102 mm) MK VIII AA (4×1), 8x 40 mm AA (2×4), 18x 20 mm Oerlikon.
Crew: 680

Hawkins class Cruisers (1917)

hms Frobisher
HMS Frobisher on the Normandy coast in June 1944.

The Cavendish class, also sometimes called “Hawkins” was a class of heavy cruisers dating from the end of the Great War, and bearing the names of Elisabethan corsairs. They were designed by observing the success of the German raiders in 1914 (including the epic of Admiral Von Spee) but also a drawing of 1912 on distant stellar ships capable of countering German cruisers armed with 170 mm guns, thanks to a combination of 190 and 152 mm pieces of artillery. Efforts had been made on their autonomy, and a final displacement of 9000 tons. In their final design in 1915, they were also able to face any cruiser of the time thanks to their powerful 190 mm artillery with no less than 7 pieces under masks, distributed in the axis, with two broadside guns amidships which gave them a 6 heavy guns edge. They were not the true successor of the armoured cruiser however.

hms effingham
HMS Effingham in 1940

The class then counted only the Hawkins, the Frobisher, the Effingham, and the Cavendish, the Raleigh having been lost on an unlisted reef off the Labrador coast in 1922. The Vindinctive had been turned into a gate. -was then in fast supply ship in 1935. (See in Auxiliaries). These vessels, which were a model for the corresponding class of the Washington Treaty by the time the latter entered service (1922), were modernized in 1936-38, at the time of disarmament, because of international tension. Their submarine torpedo tubes were removed. Their old 76mm AA pieces were replaced by four 102mm quick-firing rounds, and 10 40mm quadruple and single carriage pieces and 9 Oerlikon 20mm pieces. They received much more AA coins during the war, and were equipped with a Type 273 centimeter radar, a Type 286 aerial radar antenna, and Type 275 electronic fire control systems.

In addition, the Frobisher received two types of 282 for his 40 mm mounts. The latter was also removed from its 190 side pieces in favor of additional x 102 mm turrets. Their blended heating was fuel-only and their boilers were replaced by more modern models. Most served to escort convoys. The Effingham on its side was rebuilt in 1937: Its engine was modernized and its funnels truncated in one, its artillery was replaced by 152 mm quick-fire parts under masks, three of which were superimposed on stepped bridges to the ‘before. He was in a way the prototype of the future “Dido”.

The Effingham was lost early in the war, in 1940, on a reef in Norway. But before that he had transported two million pounds of gold from the Bank of England to Nova Scotia, chased the German raiders into the Atlantic, and then participated in the Norwegian campaign. Torpedoed by the U38, he survived, was repaired in record time and returned to operations, fighting in particular in Narvik. This was there that she met his destiny. The operator of the cards for the anecdote, had made a route so thick that it masked a reef of the map of the Navik passes. It hit the reef in the middle of the night, opening a huge gap in its flanks, which caused a rapid shipwreck. Fortunately, most of his crew managed to escape and swim back to the shore. It was completed by friendly artillery fire to prevent it from being captured and reduced to a wreckage four days later.

During his peacetime career, the Frobisher served in India, the Atlantic and China. He had been disarmed in 1930, then serving as a naval school, but modernized and rearmed between 1940 and 1942. He was sent quickly to the Far East where the situation was deteriorating, and fought the Japanese until his return in late 1943. She served then escort in the Atlantic then made the fire support in Normandy in June 1944, especially in front of Sword Beach. He was torpedoed at night by an S-Boote in August, repaired at length and finally partially disarmed to serve as a school ship, a role he held until it was set aside and then BU in 1949.

On his side, the Hawkins served in the South Atlantic, based in the Malvinas, to intercept potential privateers from Germany wishing to cross Cape Horn. Then he was sent to the Indian Ocean, including a raid on Mogadishu against the Italian forces sinking several ships and capturing a cargo ship. After a redesign until the end of 1942, he was sent to the Far East to assist the Frobisher against the Japanese. Then he returned in time to participate in D-Day operations in Utah Beach. Afterwards, it was BU after the war.

Characteristics (HMS Hawkins, 1940)

Displacement: 9550 t. standard -13 160 t. Full Load
Dimensions: 184.40 m long, 19.8 m wide, 5.9 m draft (full load).
Propulsion: 4 propellers, 4 Brown-Curtis turbines, 8 Yarrow boilers, 65,000 hp. Maximum speed 30.5 knots, 7000 nautical RA at 12 knots.
Armor: Belt 3 in (75 mm), gun shiels 4 in (100 mm).
Arament: 7 x 190 mm (7×1), 4 x 102 mm MK VIII AA (4×1), 8-10 x 40 mm AA (2×4, 4×1), 8-10 x 20 mm oerlikon AA.
Crew: 760

Interwar British cruisers

Minelayer Cruiser HMS Adventure (1927)

HMS Adventure was probably the first true “interwar” British cruisers in the sense contrari to the C, D and E classes or even the Hawkins class she was not designed during the last war. However she proceed from an idea born during the war nonetheless. She was indeed inspired by German minelayer cruisers (four operated) and the seductive idea of a ship faster and better armed than a usual minesweepers to be able to lay a minefield, combat advanced patrols, and retire quickly before caught by bigger threats. The design was expressed at the end of 1917, but not worked out properly because of other priorities and on came back on the table in 1921. Approved, the design was based on a modified C-class design, which entire hull was rearranged to carry and lay a large number of mines. Her roomy flush-deck hull (not unlike the County class) authorized that, but to fill another requirement, a good range, she was the first British cruiser equipped with diesels, although internally arranged like for the C-class cruisers.

Another critical innovation -although short lived in that case- was the use of a transom stern for cruising efficiency. However tests showed after she was completed and trialled, that mines (dummy ones there) tended to swung back and broke their horns on the stern, when dropped in the dead water vortex created by this particular shape. The ship was straight back into drydock to be given a standard cruiser stern as a result and transom sterns would not return before the Fiji class.

Her armament was weak for cruisers standards: Only four 4.7 inch guns, same as an average destroyer of the time. Other aspects of the armour scheme was inspired by the Kent class, but with thinner figures. The mineload was carried completely internally also, so her tall hull had no less than four sets of rails running the length of the hull, down to the stern chutes. The internal space sacrificed to mines therefore reduced the all the rest. HMS Adventure was laid down in Devonport in November 1922, launched in June 1924 and completed on 2 October 1926. She replaced the old converted liner Princess Margaret and in 1928 saw service under command of Lord John H. D. Cunningham, head of the Mediterranean fleet in WW2 and future sea lord. Her wartie rome as minelayer was short: In 1940, she laid minefields in the Orkney Islands, St. George’s Channel. In 1941 however she was badly damaged by a mine while off Liverpool. No longer useful not active as minelayer in 1944 she was converted as a landing craft repair and accommodation ship and in 1945 reduced to reserve, BU in 1947.


Displacement: 6,740 t. standard -8,270t. Full Load
Dimensions: 158.49 m long, 17.98 m wide, 5.25 m draft (full load).
Propulsion: 4 shafts Parsons turbines + diesels, 6 Yarrow boilers, 40,000 shp.
Performances:Top speed 28 knots, 9,000 nautical mines/12 knots, oil 1500 tons.
Armor: Belt 1 in
Arament: 4x 4.7 in/40 Mk.7 (120mm), 4x 3-pdr, 4x 2-pdr, 280 mines.
Crew: 395

County class Cruisers (1926-31)

Kent, Berwick, Cornwall, Cumberland, Suffolk, Austrlia, Canberra, London, Devonshire, Shropshire, Sussex, Dorsetshire, Norfolk

hms Frobisher
HMS Suffolk in May 1941, during the chase of Bismarck.

hms Frobisher
HMS Norfolk in May 1941, also during the pursuit of Bismarck, their radar, although small in scope, were of great use.

hmas australia
The HMAS Australia of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), in 1942. In 1944 she will be attacked by suicide bombers and hit by six aircraft.

The HMAS Australia of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), in 1942. In 1944 he will suffer the attacks of suicide bombers and will be hit by six aircraft. The county class, named after parts of Britain (“counted”), was the largest and most used “standard” heavy cruiser class of the Royal Navy during the Second World War. They respected the limits of the treaty, being just under 10,000 tons, but with standard 8-piece 203 mm artillery in four double turrets.

Designed to operate in remote stations or where the presence of a camital ship was superfluous, they had a great autonomy and their large hull, solidly built and well protected that made them very roomy. They also had “tropical” equipment, water distiller, wooden fittings and good ventilation. Their crews therefore particularly appreciated them. A total of 15 units were produced, in three subclasses (Kent, London, Norfolk) carrying significant improvements, while maintaining their silhouette “three pipers” and their long flush-deck hull so characteristic. They were officially classified “A” treaty cruisers, and these were the only ones. With the following lightened B (1929 crisis), we moved on to a new, more modest stabdard, before arriving at the Southampton, a “heavy cruiser” (London Treaty 1930) fully armed with lighter 6-in (152 mm) for saturation fire. Of course, these vessels were modernized in the 1930s, receiving radars, sonars, more modern telemetry equipment and a more consistent AA, around the classic 40 mm bofor mounts (the famous “pom-pom”) and 20 mm Oerlikon guns, not counting additions during the war. This modernization consisting in an increase of the weight, to remain within the limits of the treaty, one operated a removal of a good part of the back of the hull on the Cumberland and Suffolk of the Kent class (see illustration above) a large hangar was added for Walrus seaplanes. The other units of the class (Berwick, Cornwal, Kent) were not modified in the same way, but in the end the limits were exceeded, with probably more than 10,600 tons of lees, which the admiralty did not bother to communicate. to the government, other emergencies being more pressing.

hms London
The London class also included the Devonshire, Sussex and Shropshire was amputated its side ballasts to save weight at the expense of the ASW protection, offset by the installation of a second internal belt partition. Their hull was slightly elongated, the saving a quarter of a knot. Their footbridge was moved further back and their funnels lengthened. In 1932 catapults were added for two aircraft.

They also gained 102 mm double mounts instead of their original single mount, but four were moved over all the Bofors quadruple funnels and mounts added, plus two 12.7 mm quadruple mounts. Between 1938 and 1941, the London was the only one in the class to be completely rebuilt and modernized (see image). The Norfolk class, which also included Dorsetshire, were the last of the series. Their superstructure was lowered and lightened, but their new turrets and 203 mm hulls were heavier in the end. Their AA was increased considerably and they were the first to be equipped with a type 283 radar. Losses during the war included Cornwall and Dorsetshire (sunk by the Japanese air force off Ceylon on 5 April 1942 at the same time). moment that the Hermes), and the Camberra (Australian), destroyed after an artillery duel off Savo and completed by the USS Ellet. None was lost in the Atlantic or the Mediterranean. They were scrapped in 1948-1955

Characteristics (HMS Suffolk 1940):

Displacement: 9550 t. standard -13 160 t. Full Load
Dimensions: 184.40 m long, 19.8 m wide, 5.9 m draft (full load).
Propulsion: 4 propellers, 4 Brown-Curtis turbines, 8 Yarrow boilers, 65,000 hp.

Top speed: 30.5 knots, 7000 nautical RA at 12 knots.
Armor: Maximum (belt) 75 mm, masks of parts 100 mm.
Armament: 7 x 190 mm (7×1), 4 x 102 mm MK VIII AA (4×1), 8-10 x 40 mm AA (2×4, 4×1), 8-10 x 20 mm oerlikon.
Crew: 760

York class Heavy Cruisers (1928)

HMS York, Exeter

hms York
HMS York in May 1941, Suda Bay (Crete).

hms Exeter
HMS Exeter lduring her epic duel against the Graf Spee in Southern Atlantic, september 1939

The York class was thought by the admiralty as a solution of economy in a context of global stock market crisis and resumption in 1929. The tonnage was the first concern. Exit the large hull very livable of the “County” precedent, it returned to a hull in more classic stall, shorter by more than almost twenty meters, and especially the sacrifice of a turret 203 mm. The tonnage saved (4000 tons), however, served to better concentrate and distribute the armor, which was ultimately thicker and more effective, although still too little face to the bombs of aircraft as the York demonstrated later.

HMS York (launched in 1928 and completed in 1930) was followed by HMS Exeter (1931). The latter differed in a hull wider than 2.5 cm. The two vessels were particularly distinguished by their superstructures, totally different. The class was followed by no sister ship. The Surrey class, which derived from the Yorks, and reconnected with 8 main pieces, was never broken. The York received in 1933 two x 40 mm and several in reinforcement of 20 mm in 1941. The Exeter was almost entirely rearmed after his duel with Graf Spee.
The York was assigned early in the hostilities to Force H to hunt down the German raiders. He intercepted and sunk the Arucus, a German blockade fortress in the Skagerrak Strait in March 1940, fought in Norway, then was sent mediterranean, to Malta and Alexandria. Anchored in the bay of Sude (North of the ridge) during the defense of the island in May 1941, it was attacked by stars MAT commandos Italian in full night, and sent by the bottom.

The bay being shallow he landed straight, the bulk of its hull remaining out of the water and its armament fully operational. It was then that the Luftwaffe took it to task the following days. Raid after raid the Stukas pounded him to death. The British themselves, deciding the general evacuation, blew it up on May 22, 1941. (See also the crest operations).
For his part, the Exeter, also in the Force H participated in the hunt for Graf Spee, accompanied by two light cruisers, and distinguished himself in the famous Battle of Rio de la Plata. Severely damaged, he struggled to Port Stanley for rough repairs, then the metropolis, where he remained in repairs and overhauled nearly 14 months.

It was used in 1941 with new tripod masts, rangefinders and firing lines, and a reinforced AA with 8 x 102 mm in double turrets, 16 of 40 mm in two octuplets, and an improved increase for its main parts of 203 mm. Thus parried, he quickly passed the Suez Canal to reach the Far East, and the Composite ABDA fleet under the command of Dutch Rear Admiral Karel Doorman fighting against the Japanese. After the fall of Singapore, he had joined Java, the last allied stronghold before Australia. would try to oppose the passage of a convoy of 40 ships of the Nippon invasion force, heavily guarded by 4 heavy cruisers and 15 destroyers. The challenge was to ward off the fall of java, potentially opening the doors of Australia.

During the first battle of the Java Sea, the Japanese, whose morale was excellent, began a duel of artillery while their destroyers were approaching for a massive torpedo attack. the Exeter received a large caliber shell from the Nachi in its engine room and was forced to move away at 16 knots, compromising the cohesion of the Allied force.
Two days later, he was again facing the Japanese heavy cruisers Nachi, Myoko, Ashigara and Haguro, each with 4 x 203 more than him, and he suffered a deadly fire. He was saved only by the resolute action of his escort, the destroyer HMS Electra. With the arrival of the night, the Dutch ships were sunk, and the Exeter forced to flee again, joining Surabaya. Temporarily repaired, he tried to rejoin with his destroyers the port of Ceylon.

But the Exeter, for lack of sufficient repairs, could only slip 23 knots, and on March 1 at dawn, when the value had been spotted by the IJN aviation, she was caught by the four Japanese cruisers. Exeter and her destroyers HMS Pope and Encounter faced each other for two hours before being destroyed all three. Exeter capsized but refused to sink, and it was decided to scuttle her. During these preparations, an IJN destroyer approached and torpedoed her at point-blank range. She exploded and sank, taking away the rest of her crew. Survivors were picked up by the enemy squadron and suffered the same terrible fate as other British forces trapped in the Far East.

Characteristics (HMS Exeter, 1941):

Displacement: 8390 t. standard -10 410 t. Full Load
Dimensions: 175 m long, 18 m wide, 5.2 m draft (full load).
Propulsion: 4 shafts Parsons turbines, 6 Admiralty boilers, 80,000 hp. Maximum speed 32.5 knots, RA 10,000 nautical at 14 knots.
Armor: Top (belt) 75 mm, turrets 60 mm, ammunition magazines, citadel 120 mm.
Armament: 6 x 203 mm (3×2), 8 x 102 mm MK VIII AA (4×2), 16 x 40 mm AA (2×8), 2 x 533 mm TTs, 8-10 x 20 mm oerlikon, 1 seaplane.
Crew: 630

Surrey class Heavy Cruisers (1929)

HMS Surrey, Northumberland

hms surrey
HMS Surrey as she would have look like, based on the last Y design approved in 1928.
At the origin, alongside the smaller B Type heavy cruiser (HMS York), the 1927-1928 Programme also planned a larger, “A” Type cruiser. The “Surrey class” as it was known because the name chosen early on, had an interesting development history: In May 1927, the Geneva Conference was undergoing as the DNC started to send sketch designs of a five twin turret County class variant. This fifth turret was admidships, another variant had it forward, interlocked with the two others like the 1930s IJN heavy cruisers. The first layout restricted arcs of fire while the forward arrangement threatened the bridge by the blast effect. John Roberts drawn the ‘C’ turret facing af but other layouts were possible. The First Lord then decided the cruiser would be cheaper as a simple repeat of the Dorsetshire, with increased protection. Its aviation combined a Fairey IIIF spotter and a Fairey Flycatcher to defend it of the cruiser against bombers and the 8in forward turret had a roof catapult mounted. It was given a 3.5in belt over the machinery spaces, 2in deck, 2in bulkheads, and 3in ammo box.

A variant of this “design X” was also reviewed in 1927, was evern better protected with a total of 1,620 tons of armour. There was a 5.75in thick belt alongside the machinery, create compartimented mini protected units and 2in bulkheads rearranged. The armour deck was 2.25in thick, magazines were protected by 5.75in down to 2.5in sides, 3in deck & bulkheads. As the others she was capable of 32kts. Newt, Design Y was an even better protected version, slightly smaller, but still with a 60,000hp machinery for 30kts. The 3in deck was designed near-immune against 8in shells to 20,000 yards and completely from 6in and had an extra foot of beam, torpedoes lowered. Discussions emphasised it was for trade protection duties and the loss of 2kts was not a reasonable compromise. In May 1928 the Admiralty approved the design with an extimated cost in excess of £126,500 compared to HMS Norfolk. It was sanctioned in November 1928 nevertheless.

The summer of 1928 worked out straight masts and funnels for visual symetry, approved for all forthcoming cruisers, including HMS Exeter’s design. Indeed raked funnels gave visually the direction of the ship. Other points discussed were an Exeter-style tower bridge, alower deck and no turret catapult, or a late County style bridge. Magazine armor strake went to 3in in 1929 as the design was refined. Later two fixed catapults angled outboard were shown in the modified 1929 Surrey design. HMS Northumberland and HMS Surrey were planned on the 1928-29 programme, with a completion set for May 1932, but they were never laid down. The 1929 crisis impacted Great Britain and immediately led to massive budget cuts, the Labour government being set on on disarmament. All work was suspended on 23 August 1929 in Devonport (Northumberland) and Portsmouth (Surrey), both being cancelled on 14 January 1930.

Characteristics (Surrey class 1929):

Displacement: 10,000 t. standard -12 662 t. Full Load
Dimensions: 182,87 m long, 19.51 m wide, 6.55 m draft (600 x 64 x 21 feets).
Propulsion: 4 shafts Parsons turbines, 6 Admiralty boilers, 60,000 hp, 30 knots, 2450t oil.
Armor: 5-3/4 in ammo space and citadel, 5-1/2 belt, bulkheads, turrets, barbetts 1 in.
Armament: 4×2 8-in (203 mm), 4×2 4-in/45 (102 mm), 4×3-pdr salut., 2×8 Pompom, 2×4 21 in(533 mm) TTs, 2 seaplanes.
Crew: 653

Leander class Cruisers (1931)

HMS Leander, Achilles, Ajax, Neptune, Orion

The 5 Leanders (completed in 1933-34) and the 3 Australian Perth (1934-35) were the first light cruisers built since the Enterprise class of 1920. With their twin 6-in turrets, they were more of an adaptation of the previous design of the York class rather than a new creation. They were immediately recognizable by their unique truncated funnel (whereas the second group had two), and fought on four oceans, seeing heavy action from the Mediterranean to Guadalcanal. Some became legendary such as the Ajax or HMAS Sydney with her epic duel with KMS Kormoran. They inspired the Arethusa class which were copies but “on budget” with one less turret.


Displacement: 7,200 t. standard, 9,500 t. Fully Loaded
Dimensions: 171,37 m long, 17,27 m beam, 5,80 m draft
Machinery: 4 shaft Parsons turbines, 4 Admiralty boilers, 72,000 shp
Top speed: 32,5 nœuds
Amor (max, belt): 90 mm.
Armament: 4×2 152mm (6 in), 4×2 102mm (4 in), 2×4 40 mm AA Bofors, 2×4 533 mm TTs (21 in), 1 seaplane
Crew: 570

Perth class Cruisers (1931)

HMAS Perth, Hobart, Sydney

The Australian light cruisers, (Perth, Hobart, Sydney) were built specifically for the Australian Navy. They were largely inspired by the Leander, but were distinguished by their two funnels reflecting another arrangement of boilers rooms. The armament was the same and they carried a reconnaissance seaplane. Their AA was modified in 1939: HMAS Hobart and Perth would receive four more modern twin 4-in dual-purpose turrets.

Their career was very active. In the Indian Ocean at first, searching for German raiders. It was during such a meeting that Sydney confronted KMS Kormoran, certainly the most powerful of these auxiliary cruisers of the Kriegsmarine. The fight began with a torpedo fired by the Germans in close quarters, hitting the forward turrets. Sydney replied with her aft turrets, still at close range. But the Kormoran unleashed a full broadside of her 150-mm guns, while Sydney retaliated with more artillery fire, including DP and AA, launched her torpedoes, and sent the corsair by the bottom. But at this point she was burning from stern to stem, listing and sinking, so she was evacuated and sank some time later. HMAS Perth was sunk in March 1942 during the battle of Sunda Strait, with the remains of the ABDA force. Another victim of seemingly invincible Japanese cruisers. HMAS Hobart sank after she took a torpedo in July 1943, and stayed 17 months in repairs. But she survived and soldiered on until the end of the war, and with the cold war RAN until 1962.

HMS Sydney in 1941
HMAS Sydney in 1941, shortly before his fight against the German raider Kormoran


Displacement: 7 200 t. standard, 9 500 t. Fully Loaded
Dimensions: 171,37 m long, 17,27 m beam, 5,80 m draft
Machinery: 4 shaft Parsons turbines, 4 Admiralty boilers, 72,000 shp
Top speed: 32,5 nœuds
Amor (max, belt): 90 mm.
Armament: 4×2 152mm (6 in), 4×2 102mm (4 in), 2×4 40 mm AA Bofors, 2×4 533 mm TTs (21 in), 1 seaplane
Crew: 570

Arethusa class Cruisers (1932)

HMS Arethusa, Galatea, Penelope, Aurora

hms Arethusa
HMS Arethusa in 1941

The Arethusa class fit within the confines of the Washington Treaty, on budget, with configuration derived from the Amphion group of the Leander class. The Admiralty wanted to save money (as for the York class) and deleted a turret, reducing artillery to 6 instead of 8 main guns of 6 inches. This saved tonnage and allowed to build an additional cruiser as it was thought, a valid proposition in peacetime, more discutable in wartime. For light cruisers in 1940 they were really undergunned.


The Arethusa class was designed to operate against enemy cruisers and protect trade routes. It was therefore considered that her main artillery was sufficient in this role. The emphasis was on speed, to the detriment of protection that was barely over 70 mm. The class consisted of Arethusa, Galatea, Penelope and Aurora, the first accepted in service in May 1935 and the last in November 1937. Of the six ships planned, only four were completed. Tonnage was used for other vessels of a redesigned configuration. Their AA range from secondary single mount (105 mm – Arethusa, Galatea) to double mounts on the other two pairs of cruisers. Subsequently Galatea was rearmed in 1940 with 2 quadruple bofors 40 mm (2pdr Mk.VIII), a type 284 radar and an aerial surveillance antenna type 280.

Wartime Modifications:

In August 1941, it was added four 20 mm Orerlikon, and modifications similar were undertaken on Galatea and Arethusa. These four ships had a catapult with a Fairey Fox or a Hawker Osprey, but it was landed so as not to overload with the addition of AA and because of the use of antennas standby and radar more efficient. At the end of the war, the addition of various equipment represented nearly 700 tons. Their hull was considered very satisfactory and was taken over for the construction of the Dido.

Operational career:

The four ships served in the middle of the year, and had a busy career. The Galatea was sunk in December 1941 by the U-557 in front of Alexandria, and the Penelope in front of Anzio in February 1944 (by the U-410). The other two survived the war. The Arethusa was scrapped in 1950, and the Aurora was transferred to China Nationalist in 1950 (renamed Chungkinh), but captured by the Communists, it was then served under several names and was scrapped in the sixties.


Displacement: 5520 t. standard – 6600 t. Full Load
Dimensions: 154 m long, 16 m wide, 5 m draft (full load)
Propulsion: 4 shafts Parsons turbines, 4 Admiralty boilers, 64,000 hp
Performances: Top speed 32.2 knots, RA 5300 nautical at 13 knots.
Armor: Maximum (belt) 60 mm, 60 mm turrets, ammunition magazines, citadel 90 mm.
Armament: 6 x 152 mm MkXXIII (3×2), 8 x 102 mm MK XVI AA (4×2), 8 x 12.7 mm AA (2×4), 8 x 13 mm Vickers, 6 x 533 mm TTs (2×3).
Crew: 500

‘Town’ class Cruisers (1936)

HMS Southampton, Glasgow, Newcastle, Sheffield, Birmingham, Glucester, Liverpool, Manchester, Belfast, Edinburgh

hms York
HMS Sheffield in May 1941, during the Bismarck hunt, she played a leading role in keeping in touch, but was almost sunk by Swordfish.

hms York
HMS southampton 1942 The HMS Southampton in Crete in 1941. This was one many British victims of the Stukas.

The Town class or officially “Southampton” named after the first cruiser launched of this type, was the subject of quite lengthy preliminary studies, stemming from both the experience gained with the “washington cruisers” and the (future) developments of the Treaty of London. The underlying idea was to build light cruisers within the meaning of the Washington Treaty, not exceeding 155 mm in size, while taking advantage of the absence of tonnage limitations. This gave, in Japan with the Mogami class, and in Great Britain, a generation of “light cruisers” with impressive armament (with 12 to 15 guns) to heavy cruiser tonnage. Four turrets (five Japanese), gave these vessels a capacity of “saturation fire” rather than a smaller volume of fire but with shells with greater penetrating power. The originality of the mounting of guns on these ships was the use of a shorter turret center piece to avoid visual interference for telemetryists.

In addition the top of the turrets was opened in front in an unusual way so as to allow an antiaircraft fire – which was used, with a mixed success because of the relative slowness of these parts (compensated by the use of the fast charging system ABU ), against the Luftwaffe. They also received the latest fire control equipment, HACS and Admiralty fire control Table for their secondary and main artillery. The Southampton class consisted of 10 vessels divided into three classrooms, Southampton (Southamtpon, Newcastle, Sheffield, Glasgow, Birmingham), launched in 1936 and completed in 1937, Gloucester (Liverpool, Manchester, Gloucester), launched in 1937 and completed in 1938-39. Edinburgh (Belfast, Edinburgh) launched in 1938 and completed in August and July 1939.

The latter were very different because they were 7 meters heavier, 1900 tons heavier, with a modified propulsion and catapults for 3 aircraft (against 2 on the others), resulting in the movement of the funnels to the rear, or their particular aesthetic, and finally a reinforced AA armament and TLT triple benches, superior armor, makes it the best ever designed for a cruiser of the Royal Navy… The idea behind was to equip them with quadruple turrets for their 152 mm, giving them a volley of 16 pieces, able to put them on par with the Japanese cruisers compared ables. But the technical difficulties and the imminence condemned the project in the first place.

During the conflict, they were all fights. The Southampton was sunk off Malta in May 1941, while the Manchester was very badly damaged in front of Malta by Italian MAS (Torpedo Launchers), and considered irrecoverable, scuttled by his commanding who then passed court martial… Finally, the Edinburgh was torpedoed in the North Atlantic on April 320, 1941, escorting one of the first convoys to Murmansk (the PQ17), by the U456. Severely hit, making water, but his leaks partially stopped by the closure of the affected sections, he was towed at a dramatically low speed to Murmansk, accompanied by destroyer HMS Foresight and three minesweepers, under constant threat from the Luftwaffe whose bombers torpedo boats succeeded one another without success.

But his fate was in fact sealed by the arrival of three German destroyers off the Isle of Bear, warned by a reconnaissance aircraft from Norway. The ship put to perform circles and defend themselves somehow. The fight, homeric but unequal because of its impossibility to maneuver properly, seemed a moment to turn to his advantage, she damaged the Z7 (Ernest Shoemann), and the Foresight and the draggers successfully kept the other two away, but unfortunately, one of the torpedoes she launched and missed the destroyers hit the cruiser exactly the opposite of the impact previously made by the German submarine. This time the ship was abandoned. 700 men were recovered, 56 had died as a result of the attacks. The Southampton had validated their idea of an imposing battery of light pieces, so that the following classes (Colony, Tiger and Swiftsure), resumed the same concept, but reduced because of economy and speed of construction with three turrets.

Town class Specifications

Displacement: 8,940 t. standard -11,540 t. Full Load (13,175 t Edinburgh class)
Dimensions: 180 m long, 18.9 m wide, 6.3 m draft (full load) (Edinburgh: 187×19,7×6,8 m).
Propulsion: 4 shaft Parsons turbines, 4 Admiralty boilers, 75,000 hp (82,500 Edinburgh).
Top speed: 32 knots, 6500 nautical RA at 13 knots.
Armor: Maximum (belt) 75 mm, turrets 60 mm, ammunition magazines, citadel 120 mm.
Armament: 12 x 152 mm MkXXIII (4×3), 8 x 102 mm MK XVI AA (4×2) (12 Edinburgh), 8 x 40 mm AA (2×4) (Edinburgh 16), 8 x 13 mm Vickers, 6 x 533 mm TTs (2×3), 2 walrus seaplanes (3 Edinburgh).
Crew: 750

Wartime British cruisers

Abdiel class Minelayer Cruisers (1940)

HMS Abdiel, Apollo, Ariadne, Latona, Manxman, Welshman

The Abdiel class comprised six fast minelayers of WW2. In addition to these official missions, another was to bring special cargoes of ammunition to Malta. The Abdiel class was just a retake on a much older design, the 1924 HMS Adventure. They shared the same flush-deck hull, carried their 100 to 156 mines internally, but on two sets or rails and not four. Their small dimensions and more classic machinery, cruiser stern with four dropping doors, vastly better speed (40+ knots on trials !) on half the displacement made them completely new animals. Laid down in 1939 (first batch) and 1941 (second batch, Apollo, Ariadne) and commission in 1941-1944. They were known also as the Manxman class and became the only Royal Navy “mine-laying cruisers” in service.

Small size did neant weak armament. They comprised a while battery, mostly aganst AA threats, with three twin dual purpose turrets (4 inches/45 Mk XVI) HA, fou 2-pdr pompom AA, and 0.5-inch (12.7mm) machine gunss. They were also equipped with many radars and carried 100, up to 150 mines. Barely heavier than large destroyers like the Cossak class. During the war they received eight 20 mm AA guns, while the second batch had fourteen of them. Very active, half were lost in action, Matona in October 1941, Welshman in February 1943 and Abdiel in September the same year. Maxman was the last in service, discarded n 1971.

Abdiel class Specifications

Displacement: 2,650 t. standard 4,000 t. Full Load
Dimensions: 127,4 m long, 12.19 m wide, 4.5 m draft (full load).
Propulsion: 2 shaft Parsons turbines, 4 Admiralty boilers, 72,000 hp.
Top speed: 39.75 knots, oil 750 tons.
Armor: None
Armament: 4x 5 in (102 mm), 4x 2-pdr, 150 mines.
Crew: 246

‘Crown Colony’ class Cruisers (1940)

hms colony
HMS Gambia in 1942, for the protection of convoys in the North Atlantic.

The “Colony” or “crown colony” all bore the names of colonies of the British Empire, perhaps to evoke their role of shepherd threatened maritime routes … Still, these heavy cruisers were to be at the beginning, when they were drawn in 1939, “Southampton” simplified for an accelerated construction. And in fact, while carrying the same main artillery (twelve x 152 mm) and a compact and reinforced AA (thanks to the “pom-pom” quadruple bofors), they were shorter, lighter, and better rationalized, in particular concerning the distribution of the shielding.

Design of the Crown Colony class

Their square stern was a first in the royal navy for ships of this tonnage. Subsequently, the Swiftsure and Tiger that followed remained in the same hull plan and arrangements. No fewer than 11 cruisers were launched in 1938-39 and completed between May 1940 and July 1943, including Fiji, Nigeria, Kenya, Mauritius, Trinidad, Gambia, Jamaica, Bermuda, Newfoundland, Uganda and Ceylon. Despite their exotic names evoking tropical lands, they were mostly deployed in the cold waters of the Atlantic and the North Sea. Despite the adoption of a forward radar, they had a catapult between the fireplaces and two Supermarine Walrus patrol seaplanes. Their AA was during the war, considerably reforced by simple 40 and 20 mm mounts.

The Crown Colony class in action

Their service was particularly active therefore, and quickly attached their crews for their robustness. They resisted in particular to torpedos and air attacks, even to naval engagements of surface bitter. HMS Fiji was thrown by the U 32. Although he survived enough to be towed to an arsenal for six-month repairs, he was attacked by the Luftwaffe in May 1941, badly hit but his crew managed to hold it afloat for five hours, allowing him to be evacuated. For its part HMS Trinidad, going to Murmansk, received one of his own torpedoes launched during a rough clash in March 1942, whose rudder was distorted. This “boomerang effect” put him out of action for some time in Kola. Again, he had survived, and summarily repaired, made way with the return convoy, to be attacked by the Luftwaffe in May 1942. Framed by several bombs and then hit, he caught fire and was finally evacuated before sinking, after scuttling ( to prevent it from being captured). Torpedoes and guided bombs also struck four other cruisers of this class, who also survived. These ships served well until the 1960s before being disarmed, but two continued their career under the Peruvian flag, and Nigeria under Indian flag.


Displacement: 8350 t. standard -10 450 t.
Dimensions: 169.3 m long, 19 m wide, 6 m draft.
Propulsion: 4 shaft Parsons turbines, 4 Admiralty boilers, 72,500 hp. Top speed: 31.2 knots.
Armament: 12 x 152 mm (4×3), 8 x 102 mm (4×2), 12 x 40 mm (3×4), 6 x 533 mm TTs, 2 seaplanes.
Crew: 920

‘Dido’ class AA Cruisers (1941)

HMS Argonaut, Bonaventure, Charybdis, Cleopatra, Dido, Euryalus, Hermione, Naiad, Phoebe, Scylla, Sirius

Dido class

The Dido class comprised in all sixteen light cruisers (with the Bellona group) all built during wartime. The first group of three was commissioned in 1940, followed by six and two, all commissioned in 1941-1942. The fourth group was sometimes called “Improved Dido” but better known as the Bellona class comprised five ships commissioned in 1943-1944. These groups differed in armament and even in function for the last one. The Dido class were essnetially a tailored version of the previous old C-seies conversions, for trade protection, with five turrets of a new model using twin 5.25 guns in high angle mountings. The idea, by offering elevation and quick loading up to 90° was to offer an efficient dual-purpose main armament, something never done for such large caliber. Reality however caught up wit the design, which was criticized. The turrets ceased to work in extreme North Atlantic conditions. The A, B and C positions were placed on an aluminium structure which was rare and some groups lacked the fifth turret while the Bellona had only four turrets, but they were all radar-guided and thus way more efficient, in addition to a larger light AA.

Thes new light cruisers in 1940 were considered a significant advance neverthelss and they proved effective in particular in the Mediterranean Sea, especially during the crucial convoys to Malta and did well in their duels with the Regia Marina. The 5.25-inch (133 mm) was intended to fire the heaviest shell possible for AA defence. Colectiovely the cruisers downed 23 aircraft and damaged or repeled far more. Four Dido-class ships were lost during the war. Specifically built for this war, these cruisers saw little service afterwards. The last was HMS Euryalus, decommissioned in 1954 and scrapped in 1959.

Characteristics (Dido)

Displacement: 5950 t. standard -7350 t.
Dimensions: 156 m long, 15.40 m wide, 5.4 m draft.
Propulsion: 4 shafts Parsons turbines, 4 Admiralty boilers, 62,000 hp.
Top speed: 32.2 knots.
Armament: 8 x 133 mm DP (4×2), 12 x 40 mm (3×4), 6 x 533 mm TTs.
Crew: 530

‘Bellona’ class AA Cruisers (1942)

Bellona, Black Prince, Diadem, Royalist, Spartan

hms bellona
HMS Bellona in 1943, Western Approaches camo.

These ships were derived from the previous “Dido” with a completely revised AA artillery, superstructures and lower funnels to clear the firing range. For the rest, they shared the same hull, facilities, the same turrets (notoriously slow for AA defense), and in the “C” position, a quad 40 mm Bofors. The Bellona class were mainly intended as picket ships for amphibious warfare operations. They were to provide support to aircraft carriers of the allies in the Pacific. HMS Spartan was sunk by a “missile”, a German Fritz X off Anzio. Two were to be modified as command ships for aircraft carrier and cruiser groups to deal against German battlecruisers, Scylla and Charybdis. But the latter was sunk and Royalist was selected instead. Post war modernisation proposals were limited inadequate space and weight. New, complex fire control and magazines for the new 3-4 3-inch/70 twin turrets were necessary but lacked space. It was comouinded by the mediocre performances of their mounts, in part due to heavy-to-handle 5.25-inch shells. However if modified, they were a potentially better long range AA weapon than the cold war 4.5-inch guns. HMS Royalist was rebuilt to serve alongside HMS Vanguard versus the Sverdlov and Stalingrad class cruisers. Loaned to New Zealand Navy (RNZN) she served until 1966.

These 5 eBellona class, the Dido fourth group technically, were started between November 1939 and February 1940 and completed between 1943 (for the first four, HMS Bellona, ​​Black Prince, Royalist, Spartan) and early 1944 for HMS Diadem. They served mainly as escorts in the North Atlantic. The only casualty of this class was HMS Spartan, sunk by a German guided Henschel Hs 293 jet guided bomb launched from a Dornier 17 on January 29 1944. Their career went on for years after the war, but Diadem was sold to Pakistan in 1956 and became INS Babur.

Characteristics (Bellona)

Displacement: 5,950 t. standard -7,350 t.
Dimensions: 156 m long, 15.40 m wide, 5.4 m draft.
Propulsion: 4 shafts Parsons turbines, 4 Admiralty boilers, 62,000 hp.
Top speed: 32.2 knots.
Armament: 8 x 133 mm DP (4×2), 12 x 40 mm (3×4), 6 x 533 mm TTs.
Crew: 530

Swiftsure class (1944)

Swiftsure, Minotaur

hms swiftsure

The Minotaur class were light cruisers, also known as the Swiftsure class and designed as modified Fiji class cruisers. They incorporated war modifications and were authorised for construction in 1941. Their construction howaver received relatively low priority and only two were completed, in June 1944 and May 1945 respectively. They played no significant part at that stage. HMS Swifsture became flagship of the British Pacific Cruiser Squadron under command of Admiral Cecil Harcourt, present for the the Japanese surrender at Hong Kong. HMS Superb, the third initial design was eventually completed to a slightly different design which became the base for the Tiger class. HMS Minotaur was resold to Canada and became HCMS Ontario, having a long career.

Characteristics (hms swiftsure)

Displacement: 8,800 t. standard -11,130 t. FL
Dimensions: 163,98/169,31m oa, 19.20 m wide, 6.3-6.4 m draft.
Propulsion: 4 shafts Parsons turbines, 4 Admiralty boilers, 72,500 hp.

Top speed: 31.5 knots.
Armament: 3×3 6-in (152 mm), 10x 4.5 in (102mm) DP, 4×4 40 mm AA, 2×3 21-in (533 mm) TTs.
Crew: 960

Tiger class (1944)

Superb, Bellerophon, Tiger, Blake, Defence, Hawke.

hms Tiger
HMS Tiger before conversion in Rotterdam in 1960

The Tiger-class cruisers were three post-WW2 cruisers and the very last of the Royal Navy, also last all-gun cruisers. Apart HMS Superb, initally of the Swiftsure class and later attached to the Tiger class, they were a modified version of the previous cancelled eight Minotaur-class heavy cruisers ordered in 1941–42. Work on the second group was suspended in mid-1944. All but Superb, completed in November 1945, stayed for years in completion on a completely, raddically modified design to the point they entered service in the 1960s. Amid cancellations in post-war austerity, three hulls were available but suspended for any work during the Korean War and Suez Crisis.

Final approval saw them modified as anti-aircraft escort cruisers in November 1954, after studies for guided missile conversions, which became eventually the County-class destroyers ordered two years later. In 1964 the Tigers were approved for helicopter cruisers conversions, carrying four Westland Wessex helicopters for amphibious operations or four Sea King for ASW combat. Only HMS Blake and Tiger were so converted between 1965 and 1972. The expensive work cancelled such conversion of HMS Lion, scrapped in 1975 and cannibalized. Tiger and Blake were decommissioned in the late 1970s but still extant when the Falklands War broke out in 1982. Eventually Blake was scrapped in 1982 and Tiger in 1986. Fortunately Belfast has been preserved as a museum ship, now an iconic place in London, not far from Westminster and the towers bridge.

Characteristics (hms Superb 1945)

Displacement: 8,885 t. standard -11,560 t. FL
Dimensions: 169,31 m long, 19.51 m wide, 6.43 m draft.
Propulsion: 4 shafts Parsons turbines, 4 Admiralty boilers, 72,500 hp.

Top speed: 31.5 knots.
Armament: 3×3 6-in/50 (152 mm), 10x 4.5 in (102mm) DP, 18x 2-pdr, 8x 40 mm AA, 2×3 21-in (533 mm) TTs.
Crew: 867

Neptune class (1942 project)

Neptune, Centurion, Edgar, Mars, Minotaur, Bellorophon

An impression of the Neptune (world of warhips rendition)

In 1942, work started at the British Admiralty to lay down requirements for the next cruisers class planned as a follow-on to the Minotaur class (later Swiftsure), and the Tiger-class cruisers, both derived from the prewar ‘Crown Colony’ design. With war lessons in hands, and seeing how the conflict became global, a first proposal came for a small anti-aircraft cruiser, a “super-dido” armed with six-eight 5.25 in (133 mm) dual-purpose guns from the new automated design, in July 1943. It was called design N2. It eveolved into a modified Bellona class, still four twin 5.25-inch turrets, 8,650 long tons standard, planned FY1944. However in October 1943, First Lord of the Admiralty sir Dudley Pound resigned. Andrew Cunningham replaced him and soon brushed aside the AA cruiser N2. He preferred a larger ship, an “improved Belfast” with four triple turrets, so twelve 6-inch guns and a better AA, rearranged protection. This was the base of the future “Neptune class”.

In short, because we will not dwelve in to much details about it, this new design was intended for the pacific because at that stage, the war in the Mediterranean was won, and the situation was already clearly reversed in favor of the allies. In short, Navies had less work on the western hemisphere (although major landing operations were planned, Italy was not conquered yet…) allowing to plan new assets for a probable Pacific fight. Therefore the new ships were tailored for this theater.


Very large at 662 feet (201.8 m) long overall, they had a generous beam at 76 feet (23.2 m) and 24 feet 9 inches (7.5 m) draught. Surpsisingly enough, the hull form was based on the Courageous-class battlecruisers, which has been extensively researched under Fisher for the optimal speeds back in 1914. Displacement reached 15,350 long tons standard, 18,700 long tons deep load calculated. They were devoid of onboard aviation, the bridge was lower but the two superstructure blocks were longer and narrow, with two relatively narrow and tall funnels. They almost looked like “British Clevelands”.

The initial design showed a long forecastle, extending beyond the aft funnel, but it was revised in 1946 for a flush-deck hull. They were also designed for a high top speed, with four new Admiralty 3-drum boilers fed rated at 400 pounds per square inch, mated to improved Parsons single-reduction geared steam turbines for a grand total of 108,000 shaft horsepower (81,000 kW), on four propellers. Such a large ship was still able of 33 knots and the entire powerplant was highly compartimented into small units to ensure ASW protection. The Director of Naval Construction (DNC) noted in June 1945 that the boiler rooms were still too close and risked to be knocked out by a single hit together. Range was “pacific-size”, at 7,500 nautical miles (13,890 km; 8,631 mi) under 20 knots.

The Armament stayed classic in what it rested on the same arrangement of twelve 6-inch (152 mm) guns in four triple turrets, at first using the high elevation Mark 24 mountings (Tiger-class) but since it was considered old fashioned, the new Mark 25 in development was chosen, carrying three QF 6 inch Mark V guns. They had each a rate of fire as high as 10–12 rounds per minute (6-8 for the Mark 24) while still able to elevate to 80° for AA fire. and still had a range of 25,000 yards for antiship combat. In addition, the Neptune class carried six QF Mark 6 4.5 in (113 mm) dual purpose twin turrets (same model as on the Daring-class destroyers) capable of 24 rpm. This was complemented by 20 Bofors 40 mm guns in ten “Buster” self-contained twin mounts plus 28 Oerlikon 20 mm cannon, also in twin mounts and the usual Four quadruple 21 inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes for closer engagements. Fire control was at its very best with two Low-Angle directors for (6-inch guns), four barrage AA directors, three combined HA/LA directors (4.5-inch guns) and integrated fire control radars for the Bofors, giving a capability to spot, pick and engage 17 aerial targets simultaneously.

For protectio, the main vertical belt was 4 inches tapered down to 1+1⁄2 inches with a 1-inch (25 mm) upper deck and 1-inch lower deck and additional stray over the steering gear. Main turrets were protected by 4-inch faces, 2-inch for the rest and the bulkheads were 4-inch. The crew was estimated to 1,351 as a flagship.


Five ships were planned, now officially called the “Neptune class”: Neptune, Centurion, Edgar, Mars and Minotaur. They were planned eventually for the 1944 construction programme. In addition, the completion of the suspended HMS Bellerophon (Tiger-class) was relaunched, but affected to the new design, and a completion in 1950 by the best estimates. The programme in fact was not cancelled altogether at the end of the war, but it was hoped that at least two would be laid down in November 1945. However this was not the case and in late February–March 1946, the 1947 ship programme saw the cancellation of the Neptune class altigether. Bellerophon already was cancelled again on 28 February 1946. The austerity of post-war Great Britain and divisions in the naval staff about the role of cruisers in joint operation with aircraft carriers did not helped to present a unified front either. Priority was now to air defence, and study of new autaumated long range AA guns with improved radars, and those under the USN Worcester, Mitscher and Juneau classes notably saw popularity. The Neptune-class was basically a pacific-oriented classic design. It was underlined by the new Director of Naval Construction, Charles Lillicrap in a memo in April 1946 already, saying “the new design failed to see the Royal Navy could not justify large cruisers (…)and box dimensions of a Tiger or N2 was the limit cost containable or justifiable(…) in the UK postwar reality”.

Development wotk on the new Mk 3, 5.25-inch turret (N2 class) went on until 1948 at Elswick, but scaled down to a more classic 5 inch/62 twin mount for NATO standards, but still no joint development with the USN. However this complex and costly design was abandoned in 1953 as well as the very final British cruiioser design ever planned, in March 1955: This was the conventional RN cruiser 85Z proposal or enhanced ‘Tiger/ N2 class’, a 8,000 tons vessel armed with 2 twin 5 inch and three twin 3-in/70, 4 STAAG Mk 2 and AD/AW 965 at first planned for the 1956 programme, but was vetoed by the Chief Naval Gunnery.

“Albermarle”, alternative to the Superb class.

Characteristics (1942)

Displacement: 16,100 t. standard -20,200 t. FL
Dimensions: 204,21 m long, 24.38 m wide, 7.32 m draft.
Propulsion: 4 shafts Parsons turbines, 4 Admiralty boilers, 120,000 shp.

Top speed: 32-1/2 knots, oil 3,500 tonnes.
Armament: 3×3 8-in/50 (152 mm), 16x 4.5 in* (102mm) DP, 16x 2-pdr*, 2×3 21-in (533 mm) TTs, 3 aircrafts.
Crew: 1350

Alternative “Drake”, 3×3 8 inches heavy cruiser project

“Goliath”, larger iteration of the class intended for the pacific and dealing with the planned Japanese B64 super-cruisers, with four triple 8-in turrets.

Minotaur class

Alternative minotaur project (“design Z”), with one extra twin turret forward

The Royal Navy’s requirements for new cruisers did not stopped with the end of WW2. After all, the concept of a cruiser was still valid, unlike battleships, on the pure standpoint of large, long range fleet escort for aircraft carriers. And missiles being in their infancy, automated AA guns with advanced radar guidance were all the rage. Such was Design Z also called in 1947 the “Minotaur class”. It was given five twin 6-inch dual purpose turrets (Mark 26 unlike the Tiger class, 20 rpm), eight twin 3-inch AA guns (40-50 rpm) replacing the 4.5 inch, 40 mm and 20 mm batteries with a “universal” mount very close to what was made in the USA. In 1947, however it was decided tof a five years moratory, due to financial difficulties. The requirement was still there in 1952, but by then the design was not completed, and the costly development of the armament and its new fire control led to a cancellation.

Characteristics (1947)

Displacement: 15,350 t. standard -18,700 t.
Dimensions: 199,64 m long, 23.16 m wide, 7.32 m draft.
Propulsion: 4 shafts Parsons turbines, 4 Admiralty boilers, 108,000 shp.

Top speed: 32-1/2 knots, oil 2,850 tonnes.
Armament: 4×3 6-in/50 (152 mm), 12x 4.5 in (102mm) DP, 20x 40 mm AA, 4×4 21-in (533 mm) TTs.
Crew: 1050

1950s last British cruiser designs

In the post war economical context, efforts switched to a smaller design, hoping it could be voted more easily. It was the “Cruiser/Destroyer” armed with three rapid-fire 5-inch (127 mm) guns (NATO standard), but it was abandoned in 1953. By then, inspired by efforts made in the USN, attention shifted to guided-missile cruisers. In July 1955 the admiralty settled on a 15,400 long tons (15,600 t) cruiser, partially conventional, because it was armed with two twin Mark 26 6-inch turrets, two 3-inch turrets and a single Seaslug SAM. It was as long as the 1951 Minotaur cruiser, 3 ft beamier and a single 984 3D radar plus two 901 control channels. The cruiser carried 48 Seaslug missiles with a conventional warhead and 16 tactical nuclear ones. The two Mk 26 twin turrets were forward and the twin 3-inch/70 guns were placed alongside the supestrcture while the aft part was reserved for the missile launched and massive reload magazine.

This was in effect, the very last RN cruiser design, called 96A GWA, evolving into a finalized 18,200 dispalcement. The new sea lord, Mountbatten, rejected it on 4 January 1957. It would have been a “british Galveston”, similar to the USN Talos cruisers conversions, crossed with USS Northampton command cruiser. Three of these “enhanced Minotaurs” were included in the 1956 construction programme, completion expected for 1962, and cancelled by the CNS after the Suez Crisis. Another factor was the revelation the Soviet Navy abandoned its Sverdlov-class cruiser construction line by order of Nikita Khrushchev. Mountbatten firmly believed large cruisers were too large and costly for practical use anymore. On 16 January 1957 not only that design, but also the entire cruiser design office was closed, as well as the conversion of HMS Superb (Tiger-class), however the 6 inches and 3-inch mounts ended on the Tiger-class as completed. The missile cruiser concept was transformed in the less costly County-class destroyers.

Author: naval encyclopedia

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