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Kent Class Heavy Cruiser

deck games aboard Kent, 1941
deck games aboard Kent, 1941
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aka County Class

The first RN Cruisers built within the confines of the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, limiting standard displacement for heavy (8-inch gun) cruisers to 10,000 tons. Compared to other powers the 10,000 ton Kents were somewhat inferior in firepower and armour, but had an unrivalled radius of action of 10,400 miles at economy speed. They were designed for overseas service in peacetime and for hunting down commerce raiders in war on the long trade routes of the distant oceans. They were built to be lived in as well as fought and had seakeeping qualities and living standards unequalled before or since in any class of warship anywhere. Their high freeboard allowed for spacious decks, but they were inclined to roll. Throughout the 1930s they became a familiar sight over the vast stretch of territory from Batavia to Japan that comprised the China station. They were the emblem and the symbol of British supremacy in Hong Kong, and in the roads off the Shanghai and Hankow bunds they stood guard over the British presence.

During the war they logged up immense distances and were to be found, in all the oceans of the world, encountering arctic blizzards, the doldrums of the tropic seas and everything in between. Ubiquitous as they were, they seldom made the headlines but played a part behind the scenes of vital consequence.

The design was determined by the priorities of the main armament and speed, with a long hull and high freeboard to aid speed and secure seaworthiness. Side armour was abandoned to provide increased air defence with a protective deck. This was an improvement over earlier classes, but was still not effective against bombs. The height of the funnels were increased by 15ft following trials.

Modifications shortly before WWII increased the displacement to 10,300 tons standard. The class was reconstructed between 1935 and 1938, with additional armour being installed and the anti-aircraft armament being improved. The after superstructure was replaced with a conspicuous large hangar for 3 amphibians, but not in Kent. Further additions during the war (including various combinations of light AA guns) increased displacement to 10,900 tons standard and 14,500 tons full load.

They were mainly employed on the trade routes away from heavy air attack.

Two other ships of this class, Australia and Canberra were built for the Royal Australian Navy.

Displacement: 9,750 tons standard ; 13,450 tons full load
Dimensions: 590 pp, 630 oa x 68.25 x 16.25 feet
Propulsion: 4 shaft Parsons geared turbines (Brown Curtis in Berwick), 8 Admiralty 3-drum boilers, 80,000 shp. = 31.5 knots
Range: 3,100 miles at 31.5 knots, 13,300 miles at 12 knots ; 3,400 tons fuel oil
Complement: 700
Armament: 4 dual 8-inch / 50 Mk 8 ; 4 single 4-inch / 45 QF Mk 5 HA (later replaced by 4 dual 4-inch / 45 QF Mk 16 HA) ; 2 quad 2 pdr ; 2 quad 0.5-inch MG (added 1936-1939) ; 2 quad 21-inch TT (later removed from all but Kent) ; 1 seaplane from 1930 (later 3)
Armour: 1 to 4 inch magazine box protection ; 1.375 inch deck ; 1 inch side-plating, turrets and bulkheads (4.5 inch narrow belt and 4 inch internal boiler room sides added 1936-1940)


By 1932 all ships had received an HACS and a catapult, while Cornwall, Kent and Berwick were fitted with two quadruple .5in MGs by 1934. Kent had also received an extra two single 4in abreast the fore funnels in 1932/33. In September 1934 an increase in the protective scheme was agreed which would comprise a) a 4.5in armour belt abreast the machinery and magazine spaces, a similar thickness belt in the way of the dynamo space and TS as well as 4in armour to the boiler room fans; b) the removal of the old aircraft equipment, to be replaced by a fixed, athwartships catapult and a hangar; and c) the replacement of the single 4in by 4in twins.

Cornwall and Berwick both received a major refit between July 1936 and December 1937 (Cornwall) and August 1937 to November 1938, when the extra armour was fitted, the single 4in were replaced by four twin 4in Mk XIX mountings, two eight-barrel 2pdr mountings replaced the quadruples and the forward director was replaced by a DCT. The bridge structure was modified and reduced in height, with 1in protection being fitted to the control positions. The quarterdeck was not cut down in these two ships.

When Cumberland and Suffolk underwent their major refits (Cumberland from February 1935 to July 1936, and her sister from August 1935 to October 1936), their modifications included the additional armour, catapult, hangar and extra 4in guns but Cumberland only received twin 4in in place of the after 4in singles, while Suffolk had four single shielded versions of the 4in Mk XIX added in lieu of the older guns. Both had two quadruple 2pdr fitted and two HACS. Torpedo tubes and single 2pdr were landed. Both had their quarterdecks cut down to save weight.

Kent was reconstructed between 1937 and July 1938, but as she had less available spare weight she was not given the athwartships catapult, merely a more powerful one which could take the Walrus aircraft that was now standard. This ship was not cut down aft. During the war, Cumberland received five single 20mm and radars 281, 285 and 273 in the latter half of 1941, and in February 1943 had her .5 MGs and one single 20mm removed and replaced by five twin 20mm. By April 1944 her light AA comprised two quadruple 2pdr, five twin power operated 20mm and four singles. Two further single 20mm were added before the end of the war. Suffolk, while under repair in 1940/41, landed two single 4in and received two twin 4in in lieu and four single 20mm, plus radars 279 and 285. In 1942 the .5in MGs and the radar 279 were removed, the ship receiving in exchange four single 20mm and radars 279 and 285. Her catapult and aircraft were removed in 1943, but the hangar was retained. Five single 20mm were exchanged for an equal number of 20mm. Three further single 20mm had been added by April 1944. Cornwall had few modifications, if any at all. Kent had six single 20mm fitted in 1941, together with radars 281, 284 and 285. Her aircraft arrangements were removed in 1942 and the quadruple .5 MGs as well, to be replaced by six single 20mm. In 1943 these were replaced by three twin 20mm, and by April 1944 her outfit was two eight-barrel 2pdr, three twin power-operated 20mm and six singles. Berwick received radars 281, 284 and five single 20mm in 1941. In 1942 the aircraft fittings and the .5in MGs were removed and radar 273 and six single 20mm added. In the latter half of 1943 she received seven twin 20mm in exchange for the same number of singles. However, by April 1944 she is recorded as having only two single 20mm in addition to the twins.

Kent in September 1931
Kent in September 1931
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Cornwall and Hermes, Singapore 1935
Cornwall and Hermes, Singapore 1935
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a really good photo thought to be Suffolk, Berwick and Cumberland, prewar in the Far East
a really good photo thought to be Suffolk, Berwick and Cumberland, prewar in the Far East
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nice photo of Kent, after late 1942
nice photo of Kent, after late 1942
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