Hawkins class cruisers (1917)

United Kingdom (1920)
Hawkins, Frobisher, Effingham, Cavendish, Raleigh

First and last heavy cruisers of ww1

In 1914, the Royal Navy aligned dozens of cruisers of the old 3rd, 2nd and 1st rate, protected and armoured, but after the launch of the Dreadnought in 1906, production focused on light cruisers, and this lineage would go through ww1 and beyond. Operations showed however the need for a more heavily armed cruiser type designed to counter German commerce raiders and be posted in far away overseas stations to deal with 170 mm-armed German cruisers (like Von Spee’s Scharnhorst class). Too late for ww1 (the five cruisers were completed 1917-18 for the first two, but operational in 1919), they inspired the model of heavy cruiser defined by the Washington treaty in 1922, had a quite active career in ww2, famously named after Elizabethan corsairs. They also inspired a new type of Interwar “colonial cruiser” known collectively as the “County” class.

HMS Effingham in 1940.


The main attention and focus turned to artillery as everything revolved around it, with an original combination of 190 and 102 mm pieces as designed. Efforts were made to boost their autonomy, for a final displacement of 9000 tons. In their final drawing in 1915, they were also able to face any cruiser of the time thanks to no less than seven 7.5-inch (191 mm) Mark VI guns under masks, distributed along the axis, with two side ones Almost in the center, for a six guns broadside. This was still a far cry to the next evolution (eight 8 in guns) but the path was there. They rendered obsolete armoured and protected cruisers overnight by using fuel instead of coal and were much faster. A new generation of cruisers, that would serve actively in the interwar, but still appeared as “ancestors” in 1939.

Brassey’s naval annual 1923


There were significant differences between the ships at the end prior to ww2. However their uniform design included a radical armament of only heavy pieces and light dual-purpose ones for some (with TB in mind as well as aircraft). In detail, these were all to be equipped with seven 7.5-inch (191 mm) Mark VI guns in single mounts CP Mk.V, eight × QF 12-pounder (76 mm) 12 cwt Mk.II guns in single mounts P Mk.I, four QF 3-inch (76.2 mm) 20 cwt Mk.I guns on single mounts HA Mk.II and two submerged and four fixed surface 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes.
They reached 31 knots thanks to four geared steam turbines fed by eight Yarrow oil-fired boilers, which developed a total of 70,000 shp (52,000 kW) although Frobisher and Effingham had Brow-Curtis ones, the former being fitted with two coal-fired boilers (removed 1929) for a total of 60,000 shp (45,000 kW). All the ships but Effingham (see later) were rearmed at completion by three QF 4-inch (102 mm) Mk.V guns in single mounts HA Mk.III or four QF 3-inch 20 cwt Mk.I guns on single mounts HA Mk.II (Hawkins), four QF 3-inch 20 cwt Mk.I guns on single mounts HA Mk.II and two QF 2-pounder (40 mm) Mk.II guns on single mounts HA Mk.I.

Protection was modeled on previous classes, albeit thicker, up to 76 mm. This comprised a main belt up to 2.5 in (38–64 mm) forward
and 3 in (76 mm) amidships, 2.25–1.5 in (57–38 mm) aft, and for the upper belt 1.5 in (38 mm) forward, 2 in (51 mm) amidships. The Upper deck was protected by 1 to 1.5 in (25–38 mm) over the boilers and the main deck was protected by 1 to 1.5 in (25–38 mm) armour thickness over the engines and 1 in (25 mm) over the steering gear.
All 190 mm Gunshields were 2 in (51 mm) thick at the front, 1 in (25 mm) top and sides.

HMS Vindictive as completed as an hybrid aircraft carrier with a capacity for six reconnaissance aircraft. She was briefly armed with four 7.5 in guns and six 12-pounder guns but in 1923 was converted back as a cruiser, only retaining a forward hangar and instead of ‘B’ gun a crane and catapult were fitted. Fleet repair ship in 1940 she was damaged by an airborne “Dackel” torpedo off Normandy. Repaired she served as a destroyer depot ship (reserve 1945, BU 1946).

The interwar

HMS Raleigh was lost on an unclassified reef of the Labrador coast in 1922, and the Vindictive was transformed into an hybrid aircraft carrier and converted as a fast supply ship in 1935. The other five ships were modernized in 1936-38, but it was planned to disarm them, but that was suspended when international tension grew. Their underwater torpedo tubes were removed, their old 76 mm AA pieces were replaced by four 102 mm quick-firing guns and ten 40 mm Bofors in quadruple and single mounts plus nine single 20-mm Oerlikon pieces.

They received even more AA guns during the war, plus were equipped with a type 273 centimeter radar, a 286 type aerial surveillance radar antenna, and a 275 electronic fire control systems. The Frobisher additionally received two types 282 For its Bofors mounts. The latter was also freed from her side 190 mm guns in favor of additional 102 mm guns in twin turrets. Their combined heaters went to oil only and their boilers were replaced by more modern models. Most of these ships has been used for escorting convoys. Effingham, for her part, was rebuilt in 1937: Her engine was modernized, chimneys truncated into a single one, artillery replaced by only 152 mm quick firing pieces under masks, three of which were superimposed on stepped gangways. In this configuration she was a bit in a way the prototype of the future “Dido” AA cruisers.

HMS Hawkins in the interwar

HMS Effingham

The Effingham was lost early in the war, in 1940, on a reef in Norway. But before that she had transported two million pounds of gold from the Bank of England to Nova Scotia, chased German raiders into the Atlantic, and then participated in the Norwegian campaign. Torpedoed by the U38, she survived, was repaired in record time and returned to operations, fighting in particular in Narvik. It was there that she met her destiny. For the anecdote, the map operator drawn a course so thick that it masked a reef off Navik’s passes. She struck this reef in right when racing in the middle of the night, opening an immense breach in her flanks which caused a rapid sinking. Fortunately, most of her crew escaped and swam back to shore. She was then achieved by friendly gunfire to prevent capture and reduced to the state of smoking wreck four days later.

HMS Effingham as rebuilt in 1938

HMS Frobisher

During her peacetime career, Frobisher served in India, the Atlantic and China. She had been disarmed in 1930, and served as a schoolship but was eventually modernized and rearmed between 1940 and 1942. She was sent rapidly to the Far East where the situation deteriorated and fought against the Japanese until his return in late 1943. She served as an escort in the Atlantic and provided fire support in Normandy in June 1944, covering Sword beach. She was torpedoed by night by an unidentified S-Boote in August 1944, repaired and finally partially disarmed to serve as a school ship again, a role she held until set aside, unlisted, sold and broken up in 1949.

HMS Frobisher in the Firth of Forth, 1945

HMS Hawkins

The Hawkins served in The southern Atlantic, based in the Falklands, to intercept potential German corsairs trying to pass Cape Horn. She was then sent to the Indian Ocean, where she carried out a raid on Mogadishu against Italian shipping, capturing a cargo ship. After an overhaul lasting until 1942, she was sent to the Far East to assist the Frobisher against the Japanese. Then she returned in time to participate in D-Day operations at Utah Beach. Afterwards she was broken up after the war in 1949.

HMS Hawkins in 1944

Hawkins specifications

Dimensions 184oa x18 x5.26 m (605 x58 x17 ft)
Displacement 9,750 tons Standard, 12,190 tons FL
Crew 712 or 750 as flagship
Propulsion 4 shafts and Parsons geared steam turbines, 10 Yarrow boilers, 70,000 hp
Speed 31 knots (57 km/h)
Range 5400 @14 knots (10,000 km)
Armament 7x 190mm, 3x 102 mm, 8x 76mm DP, 2 Bofors 40mm AA, 6 TT 533mm
Armor Belt 38-64 mm (1.5-2.5 in), decks & bulkheads 38-51 mm (2 in).


Conway’s all the world’s fighting ships 1922-1947


Frobisher in June 1944 off Normandy (author’s illustration).

HMS Raleigh at Pier D, Vancouver (prow)

HMS Raleigh at Pier D, Vancouver (side)

Raleigh sunk at Point Harbour, 1922.

Enterprise class cruisers

United Kingdom (1920)
Light Cruisers – Enterprise, Emerald

The little known “E” class

The two Enterprise (Enterprise and Emerald) or “E” class vessels were the last British light cruisers built during the Great War. However, the lack of manpower and shipbuilding priority given to destroyers meant that their launch only took place in 1920. They were only completed, with much revisions, in 1926. They were originally built to counter Fast cruisers, the German minelayer Brummer and Bremse, operating at the end of 1917. They could achieve 33 knots, using engines from the Shakespeare class flotilla leaders mounted in pairs, with classical artillery derived from “D” class.

Three ships has been laid down, the third called HMS Euphrates being laid down at Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, Govan in 1918 but cancelled shortly after on 26 November 1918. The first pencil lines had been laid in 1917 and much of their equipment was 1916 standard. With a complement of four sets of torpedo tubes, these ships were quite formidable for 1918, but in 1926 after their lengthy completion, this design was quite dated.


The two ships were thin, being longer without increase in beam. To afford the extended machinery and double the power available, reaching 33 knots (61 km/h; 38 mph), gaining 30 m in length at the expense of almost 50% more displacement. Four propellers were driven from two engine rooms, four boiler rooms, the 2 and 3 being arranged side-by-side and trunked into a common funnel, while the 1 and 4 each had their own funnel, but the 4 was much further aft, which gave this very recognizable and unusual silhouette. The truth was they emphasised high speed at the cost of other qualities.

The class would be reclassified as light cruisers thereafter. Their artillery comprised only one more gun than previous Danae class, with the last 152 mm single mounts: Seven pieces including port and starboard on the fore deck for the Emerald, and a twin turret for the Enterprise, the first to experiment one at that time for this light caliber. The twin turret was a prototype, successfully tested, that led to its adoption on the Leander, Amphion and Arethusa classes. In consequence the bridge was of a new design, and some features like a single block topped by a director tower would soon appear also on the ‘County’ class cruisers.

The two ships received a catapult for a seaplane in 1936, which will be deposited in 1944, because in the meantime they were equipped with efficient radars. Their torpedo tubes were replaced in 1929. Finally, their AA artillery was reinforced in 1940, with the addition of two quadruple Bofors 40 mm mounts, while in 1942 their benches of torpedo tubes were deposited in favor of 16 to 18 20 mm pieces Oerlikon AA. Until 1939 they were both stationed in the Far East and also in the Mediterranean.

Detail of the front twin turret, HMS Enterprise 1936

Career: HMS Enterprise

The HMS Enterprise served off the coast of France, carried out escort missions, participated in the Norwegian campaign, fought in Narvik and was badly hit there. After repairs, she joined H force in the Mediterranean, participating in operation “Catapult” against the French navy anchored at Mers-el-Kebir.

She then departed for the Indian Ocean and the Far East. later she returned to France for a refit and was assigned to the hunt for the German raiders. In December 1943 she engaged and destroyed a German destroyer and two torpedo boats, taking part in escort missions until June 1944, assisting the landing by battery cover. In January 1945 she was transferred to the reserve and made only secondary missions such as the repatriation of troops. She was disarmed and demolished in 1948.

Career: HMS Emerald

The HMS Emerald received radars and new tripod masts in 1940, losing a 152 mm piece. She crossed the North Atlantic, carrying the British gold reserves to Halifax (58 million pounds). She was then assigned to the Indian Ocean. She returned in 1941 to the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf. She operated on the Iraqi coast (to support the repression of a pro-German revolt in the summer of 1941) and the Red Sea. In December, she was part of famous Z force at Singapore (also Prince of Wales and Repulse). She did not departed with the ships of Tom Philips on their fatal raid, and became after their loss the only major ship left in the “Asian Gibraltar”. She had to leave nevertheless before the fall of Singapore and made it home despite Japanese lookouts and reconnaissance over the area.

HMS Enterprise in Haifa, 1936.

After her overhaul she returned in 1943 to attend the 4th cruiser squadron in the Indian Ocean. In the summer of 1944, at D-Day she assisted the landings by covering Gold Beach sector. After being paid to the reserve shortly thereafter, she was reduced to sub-divisional roles before being struck off and broken up in 1948.

HMS Emerald in the interwar. The livery would have been white/pale grey with dark sand superstructures

Considerations about the class

All in all, the Emerald class in 1939 could have been obsolete and costly compared to new classes, but they were still the fastest cruisers in the Royal Navy and the heaviest torpedo-armed at the outbreak of World War II.
They were made “bankable” in the interwar and still found their place in the Navy despite the arrival of the large “County” colonial cruisers and the modern “Town” class to chasing German raiders thanks to their long range.
They very much had the same fate and career as the “C” or Cavendish class, mainly employed on the ocean trade routes and the Far East in 1942-43 with the East Indies Fleet. The small but successful naval battle of the Enterprise against a well-armed German destroyer and torpedo boat force in December 1943 in the Bay of Biscay was considered a feat for such an old cruiser.

The HMS Emerald in the 1930s


The HMS Enterprise on wikipedia
British Light Cruisers 1939–45 By Angus Konstam
British Cruisers: Two World Wars and After. By Norman Friedman
Specs Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1921-1947.

HMS Enterprise in November 1943

Neptune specifications

Dimensions 173.7 x16.6 x6.6 m (570 x54 x16 ft)
Displacement 8250 tons S, 10220 tons FL
Crew 680
Propulsion 4 screws, 4 BC turbines, 8 Yarrow boilers, 80,000 hp
Speed 33 knots (61 km/h; 38 mph)
Range 1,350nm @32 knots to 8,000nm @15 knots
Armament 7x 152mm, 5x 102mm MK VIII AA, 8 Bofors 40mm AA, 16(4×4) TT 533mm
Armor Sides 38-76 mm (1.5-3 in), deck 25 mm (1 in).


Profile of the HMS Enterprise at Haifa in 1936

Same, port side view

HMS Enteprise in June 1944, operation Overlord.