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Southampton Class Light Cruiser

Sheffield in late 1942
Sheffield in late 1942
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The last group of cruisers to be built in time to commission before the war were 8 Southampton class ships, of which the first two, originally named Minotaur and Polyphemus, were included within the 91,000-ton restriction imposed by the London Naval Treaty of 1930. They were renamed Newcastle and Southampton respectively and the others of the class, launched between 1936 and 1938 were Glasgow, Sheffield, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, and Gloucester. They were originally conceived as a triple turret version of the Leander class and the earlier ships had twelve 6-inch guns arranged in four triple turrets. However, changes altered their profile considerably with the shelter deck forward extended to the rear of the fore funnel to form a hanger. A raked fore funnel was necessary and the second funnel and masts followed suit.

Southampton class - anyone know which ?
Southampton class - anyone know which ?
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It was expected that these ships would sooner or later be pitted against 8-inch gun cruisers of a similar size and the balance of advantage between the two types was a subject of much debate. While the weight of a 6-inch shell was less than half that of an 8-inch one (100 lb/ 250 lb) this disadvantage was outweighed by the larger number of guns and the more rapid rate of fire giving the 6-inch gun cruiser a superiority in weight of broadside per minute over its larger gunned adversary of almost three to one (7,200/2,500 lb/min). But, on the other hand, the smaller gun would be outranged and, to gain the advantage, the 6-inch cruiser would therefore have to shorten the range with all speed. To put the balance firmly in favour of the 6-inch ships they should have both higher speed and improved armour protection. It being impractical to provide both, the Southampton cruisers were given the latter while their maximum speed was held at 32 knots. Much would depend on the visibility at the time, though less with the introduction of radar, and a night engagement was expected to favour the smaller-gunned ship. But the expected seldom occurs in war and the nearest thing to such an encounter that ever took place was against the Italians off Cape Spartivento in 1940 but this was a chase at extreme range in which the Italian ships used their margin of speed to escape.

Sheffield escorting a convoy to North Africa
Sheffield escorting a convoy to North Africa
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There were plenty of opportunities on the other hand to judge the performance of these ships against air attack, as all saw arduous service in the protection of critical convoys both in the Arctic and in the Mediterranean seas. Profiting by this experience modifications were incorporated during the war in those of the class that survived, to improve their AA armament, particularly the short-range weapons. X turrets were removed from Glasgow, Sheffield and Newcastle in exchange for AA armament.However, their ammunition supply arrangements were never entirely satisfactory.

Sheffield enjoyed the distinction of being the first ship in the Royal Navy to be fitted with an operational radar, an air warning set fitted in 1938. Southampton and Gloucester were both sunk by bombing in the Mediterranean within a few months of each other in 1941, and Manchester succumbed to torpedo attack in the following year.

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Displacement: 9,100 tons standard ; 11,350 tons full load
Dimensions: 558 pp, 591.5 oa x 61.75 x 17 feet
Propulsion: 4 shaft Parsons geared turbines, 4 Admiralty 3-drum boilers, 75,000 shp. = 32 knots, Liverpool 82,500 = 32.5 knots
Range: 12,100 miles at 12 knots ; 2,075 tons fuel oil
Complement: 750
Armament: 4 triple 6-inch / 50 Mk 23 (one turret later removed) ; 4 dual 4-inch / 45 QF Mk 16 HA ; 2 quad 2 pdr ; 2 quad 0.5-inch MG (later replaced by 8 40 mm AA) ; 2 triple 21-inch TT. ; 2 seaplanes
Armour: 1 to 4.5 inch magazine box protection ; 4.5 inch belt ; 1.5 inch deck ; 1 inch turrets ; 2.5 inch bulkheads


Little or no alterations of any consequence were made to these modern ships pre-war, except that Sheffield was fitted with the first British radar set, type 79Y, in 1938. Newcastle had two UP mountings fitted in April/May 1940, which were eventually landed in November 1941, at which time she also lost the .5in MGs and radar 286, receiving in lieu nine single 20mm and radars 273 and 291. In October/November 1942 the aircraft fittings and type 291 radar were removed and ten single 20mm were added and the radar suite updated. Six of the single 20mm were exchanged for four twin 20mm power-operated in July/September 1943. This remained her outfit in April 1944, and was unchanged in May 1945, but she began a major refit at this time which extended until October. In the course of this, X turret was removed. Further modernisations were carried out in the 1950s.

Southampton, as an early war loss, had little modification. Radar 279 was fitted in May 1940, but it is unlikely that the AA outfit was modified.

Sheffield had radars 284 and 285 fitted in the summer of 1941, and that September she was fitted with six single 20mm and landed the .5in MGs. Between April and July 1942 the type 279 radar was removed and replaced by types 281, 282, 283 and 273. Three more 20mm singles were added. Five additional 20mm were shipped between March and June 1943, and in the first months of 1944 the aircraft fittings were removed and eight more 20mm singles fitted. Finally, during a refit in the USA between July 1944 and May 1945, X turret, fifteen single 20mm and the type 273 radar were removed. Four quadruple 40mm Bofors and ten twin power-operated 20mm were added and type 277 radar fitted. Further changes were made postwar. Glasgow received two UP mountings and radar 286 in the early summer of 1940, the former being removed a year later. In the summer of 1942 the quadruple .5in MGs and the type 279 radar were landed and nine single 20mm fitted, together with radars 273, 281, 282, 284 and 285. Five single 20mm were removed in December 1942 and eight twin 20mm fitted. Two more 20mm singles were fitted in the autumn of 1943. By April 1944 her outfit consisted of eight power-operated twin 20mm and seven singles. During repairs and refit between June 1944 and May 1945 she landed X turret, two twin and four single 20mm, the aircraft fittings and radars 273,281 and 293. In their place she received two quadruple 2pdr, four single 2pdr and radars 281, 274 and 293.

Birmingham received a single UP mounting in June 1940, which was landed in July 1941. In March 1942 the .5in MGs were removed and seven single 20mm fitted, as well as radars 284 and 291. Between April and August 1943 the aircraft fittings, five 20mm singles and the type 291 radar were removed and eight twin 20mm plus types 281 and 273 radar fitted. X turret was removed between July and November 1944, when four quadruple 40mm Bofors, two twin and five single 20mm were added.

an impressive photo taken before the war - battleships with Southampton class cruisers forming a screen
an impressive photo taken before the war - battleships with Southampton class cruisers forming a screen
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nice stern view of Glasgow
nice stern view of Glasgow
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good view of the midships and hanger area, Sheffield 1940
good view of the midships and hanger area, Sheffield 1940
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