The Treaty Cruisers: A Warship Review

Note: Since childhood I have loved naval history and the study of various types of warship design throughout history. My favorite period is really from the Spanish-American War through the mid 1970’s.  I find the leaps in Naval design and architecture, weapons and fire control systems and the diversity of the types of ships built absolutely fascinating.  Not only initial designs but the various modifications and modernizations of various ships or classes of ships went through during their service careers. The cruisers of the inter-war period were some of the most ascetically pleasing warships to ever grace the high seas. They were well proportioned, and graceful while still looking every part the warship.  This is something that many ships in our modern era lack, despite the fact that their armament despite limited gun power is formidable. With VLS launchers and Harpoon Missile tubes they pack a punch, but unlike the old cruisers, their offensive teeth are hidden. I had the privilege of serving aboard the USS HUE CITY CG-66 which is about the same size and displacement of the Chester Class

I think I actually began reading Naval history back in 2nd or 3rd grade, and it was not uncommon for me to spend hours at the public library going through reference stacks to read old issues of “Jane’s Fighting Ships” and the main collection to check out every book on Naval Warfare and warships that I could find. One of the most interesting types of ship to me was the Heavy Cruisers built under the restrictions of the Washington Naval Treaty. The treaty had several major provisions but today I only deal with the restrictions on Heavy Cruisers, the response of treaty nations to the limitations and the combat summary of each class.  This is all pretty much out of the deep recesses of my sometimes dark mind and tonight I didn’t have to crack a book to write this.  It’s thanks to having one of those phonographic memories that just keeps going around and around. This is another one of the things that I am passionate about.  Anchor’s Away! Peace, Steve+


IJN Atago

The Washington Naval Conference of 1921-1922 set a number of limits on warship construction and fleet composition.  One of the ship types limited by the treaties was cruisers, notably heavy cruisers.  These ships, descended from the Armored Cruisers developed by the navies of the great powers prior to the First World War were considered a major part of each of the navies of the signatory nations.  The armored cruisers had 8-10 inch guns and a relatively substantial armored belt.  The type was not particularly successful as with few exceptions they were used in fleet actions where they were under-gunned and under-armored.  They were most successfully used in overseas service against raiders or commerce.  The most famous of the type were the German Scharnhorst and Gneisenau of the German Far East Squadron.  Smaller and faster than a battleship, the type had developed by the 1920s into a ship that could be used for fleet screening and scouting as well as showing the flag in foreign waters where many were found.  The Washington treaty did not limit numbers of these ships as it did Battleships and Aircraft Carriers, but it did place maximums on the gun size and displacement of individual ships.   A heavy cruiser could be armed with 8 inch guns and were limited to 10,000 tons displacement.  Of course this led to compromises in the designs of the ships which frequently gave up protection for speed.

uss pensacolaUSS Pensacola

The Americans were the leaders in the development of the treaty cruisers.  The Japanese only built one class of cruiser, the Kako class which complied with the terms of the treaty.  They mounted 6- 8” guns and displaced about 8,600 tons.  They were fast but because of their light displacement were top-heavy.  Subsequent classes, the Nachi and Atago classes violated the tonnage limits by as much as 4,000 tons while the Japanese reported them as 10,000 tons. They were armed with 10-8”guns in five turrets, had good protection and also mounted 12 24” “Long Lance” torpedo tubes.  Two subsequent cruisers of the Kumano and Tone classes were built in the 1930s. The Kumano class of about 13,000 tons were initially classed as “light cruisers” mounting 15- 6” guns prior to being re-armed with 10-8” guns.  The Tone’s mounted 8- 8”guns in 4 turrets all mounted forward leaving the entire aft section for use as a seaplane launching area; the Tone class carried 8 float planes for fleet scouting.

hms exeterHMS Exeter

The British treaty cruisers abided by the limits included the York and Exeter, of the same displacement and armament as the Kako class except they were slower, a common feature of British ships which were generally slower than their American and Japanese counterparts.  The later County class ships were armed with 8- 8” guns and were distinctive looking having three funnels. The County class included such famous ships as the Norfolk, Suffolk and Dorsetshire which played critical roles in the chase and sinking of the German Battleship Bismarck. Australia had two Counties, the Australia and Canberra which did most of their service in the Pacific. The Counties were armed with 8- 8” guns and were distinctive with their three funnels.  They were slower than their Japanese or American counterparts.

uss houstonUSS Houston with President Roosevelt Aboard

The first American treaty cruisers the Pensacola and Salt Lake City of about 9,500 tons with an unusual arrangement of 10- 8” guns mounted in 4 turrets.  However it was the Chester class which was the quintessential U.S. Treaty Cruiser design.  These ships, and the later Astoria class, also displaced 9,500-10,000 tons and mounted 9- 8” guns in three turrets.  A further “treaty” cruiser was Wichita, converted from a St. Louis class light cruiser. All were fast but were lacking in armored protection and none mounted the torpedoes found in Japanese or British ships.  Some of the more notable ships in the U.S. treaty classes included the Houston which served as the Flagship of the Asiatic Fleet which was sunk at the Battle of the Java Sea. The Augusta which took Franklin D Roosevelt to Argentia for the signing of the Atlantic Charter in 1941; The San Francisco which helped stop the Japanese fleet in a point blank encounter in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal and Indianapolis which with just weeks left in the war having completed the secret mission to deliver the Atomic bomb was sunk by a Japanese submarine.

PrinzEugen-2Prinz Eugen

The Germans did not build true “heavy cruisers” until the late 1930’s and their ships, the Hipper, Blucher and Prinz Eugen mounted 8- 8” guns and displaced about 19,000 tons.  The German “Pocket Battleships” Deutschland, Graf Spee and Admiral Scheer, mounted 6-11” guns on a hull of about 11,000 tons (officially 10,000) in compliance with the Treaty of Versailles restrictions on German battleships.  They were designed to outgun and be more heavily armored than the heavy cruisers and be faster than battleships, much more in the Armored Cruiser tradition.  During the war the German Navy reclassified them as Heavy Cruisers. None of these ships were built under the treaty limits for cruisers.

hms suffolkHMS Suffolk

These ships saw distinguished service throughout the war.  The British ships remained their only heavy cruiser design throughout the war. The ships took part in the sinking of the Graf Spee and Bismarck. They also suffered heavily; York was sunk at Crete and Exeter in the Java Sea. Cumberland and Dorsetshire were sunk by Admiral Nagumo’s carriers which had attacked Pearl Harbor, in the Indian Ocean. Canberra was sunk at the Battle of Savo Island off Guadalcanal.  Some of the British Ships remained in service until the 1950s and all eventually we paid off and sent to the breakers.

The Japanese ships were involved in almost every major action of the Pacific war.  Fast, heavily armed and manned by well trained crews they dominated almost every surface action of the early war in the Pacific.  The were key at the Battle of Java Sea and Savo Island where they annihilated Allied or American cruiser and destroyer squadrons. In action so often they were destroyed leaving only two marginally operational at the end of the war. Three of the four Kako class were lost in the Solomon’s.  They were all involved at Savo Island, and the last survivor, Aoba was lost at in harbor to U.S. air strikes at Yokosuka at the close of the war.  The Nachi class saw considerable service and were the workhorses of the Japanese cruiser force. They were the principle executioners of the ABDA fleet in the Java Sea battles and continued their service until late 1944 and the end of the war. Nachi and Ashigara were sunk in the aftermath of Leyte Gulf while Haguro fought the last surface action of a major Japanese combatant in a surface action of the war against a British force in 1945 and was sunk. and Myoko survived the war in a damaged condition being surrendered in Singapore.  The Chokai class also served throughout the war and three of the four were lost at Leyte Gulf. The Atago and Maya were lost to the U.S. Submarines Darter and Dace, Chokai in the action at Samar to combined U.S. destroyer and air attacks from TAFFY-3. Takao survived the war in a damaged condition having been torpedoed at Leyte Gulf but making port.  Of the later cruisers Mikuma was sunk at Midway and Mogami survived almost unimaginable damage in that battle.  Mogami was sunk by the resurrected Pearl Harbor Battleships at the Battle of Surigo Strait while Kumano and Suzaya were lost off Samar.  Chikuma and Tone also served in many battles, it was Tone’s float plane which was delayed in launching and discovered the U.S. carriers at Midway too late. Chikuma too was lost at Samar; Tone was sunk at anchor at Yokosuka in 1945.  Leyte Gulf in a sense could be described as the “Death Ride” of the Japanese Cruiser force.

The U.S. cruisers fought valiantly in nearly every engagement of the Pacific war and a few in the Atlantic.  Houston was immortalized by her actions with ABDA in the Java Sea against hopeless odds.  Astoria, Vincennes and Quincy were sunk in the Savo Island debacle.  Northampton and Chicago lost also in later actions in the Solomon’s.  San Francisco and Portland fought toe to toe with the Japanese Battleships Hiei and Kirishima in the epic Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, inflicting so much damage on Hiei that she was later sunk by American Aircraft the following day.  Indianapolis met an unlikely fate at the close of the war being sunk by a Japanese submarine after returning from a secret mission delivering the Atomic bomb.  A series of unfortunate events led to her loss not being noted with the result that most of the survivors of the sinking being lost to the elements and shark attacks while waiting days for rescue.   Others survived horrific damage from “Long Lance” torpedoes and Kamikaze attacks.  Following the war the Pensacola’s were expended as targets and the remaining ships placed in “mothballs” until the late 1950s when all were scrapped.  Some artifacts of San Francisco including her mast are at “Land’s End” park in that city.

uss san franciscoUSS San Fransisco Returning After the  Naval Battle of Guadalcanal

Of all the navies involved only the United States Navy and German Kriegsmarine built or attempted to build new classes of heavy cruisers during the war.  The US Navy brought out the Baltimore Class which was highly successful and built upon lessons learned from the Treaty Cruisers and the follow on Oregon City class which incorporated design improvements based on experience with the Baltimore Class.  Some of these ships would be converted into the first US Guided Missile Cruisers. The later Des Moines Class the largest class of all gun cruisers ever built with fully automated 8″ gun systems.  Of these ships only Salem survives in Quincy MA as a museum ship, sadly the Des Moines which had been slated to become a Museum ship in Milwaukee was scrapped in 2007 .

No treaty cruiser survives today.  Their service, heroic, unceasing and tireless service is remembered only by their surviving crews and a few naval historians and buffs.  The epic damage control actions of the San Francisco are still taught at the Naval Surface Warfare School.  They have passed into history, of those sunk some have been rediscovered, the Ballard expedition discovered and photographed the wrecks of Astoria and Quincy and their Australian consort Canberra in the waters of “Iron Bottom Sound” off Guadalcanal.  The German “Prinz Eugen” though not a treaty cruiser survived the war and was expended as a target in the Atomic bomb tests.  Her wreck lies capsized and submerged at Bikini Atoll.  An attempt to salvage her by a German group was abandoned and one of her screws was brought back and placed on display near Kiel, Germany.

Though all had design drawbacks due to the treaties, the American and British ships performed magnificently and without their service, especially in the early days of the war history today might be different.  Here’s to gallant ships and steadfast crews. May they never be forgotten.




Filed under Loose thoughts and musings

13 responses to “The Treaty Cruisers: A Warship Review

  1. This is an interesting post, however, you are missing the most important cruisers of the WW2 era in this discussion, that is to say the early carriers that were built on cruiser hulls (designation CV, Cruiser hull (C) Heavier than air aircraft (V)), such as the first carrier Lexington (CV-2), Saratoga (CV-3), Ranger (CV-4) Yorktown (CV-5), Enterprise (CV-6), Hornet (CV-8), and Wasp (CV-7). Tonnage of these ships was carefully regulated under various treaties, which classified them as Cruiser hulls.

    In fact, carrier hulls are considered cruiser-class hulls until the Navy revamped its design designations in 1943. This created the new designation for carriers (CVB, Carrier, Heavier than air aircraft, large). Carriers of the Essex class and earlier were still considered cruisers according to their CV designations (though later, some, such as the second Hornet aircraft carrier (CV-12) would be given more specific CV designations, such as Hornet’s CVA, (Attack Carrier) and CVS for her work as an Anti-submarine (S) cruiser-class carrier.

    Though not relevant to this article, The Hornet CV-12 also had the dignity of being the recovery ship for the Apollo 11 mission, and CV-12 is a museum ship located at the former air station at Alameda, California, where she can be toured.

    • padresteve


      I thank you for your comments but must take issue as your assertion that carriers were classed as cruisers is just wrong. USS Langley CV-1 was converted from a Collier, a coal ship and auxiliary. She was given teh CV to marker her as an Aircraft Carrier, not a Cruiser. For purposes of this essay Carriers were not classified as cruisers under the Washington Accord. The Lexington and Saratoga were not cruisers as built. They were actually nearly 40,000 ton battle cruisers to be armed with 8 x16″ and 16x 6″ guns. They fell in the Battleship/ Battle Cruiser category before they were converted while building to carrier. A similar ship was the Japanese carrier Akagi. As Battle Cruisers they were considered Capital Ships limited under the treaty and the compromise was to allow them to be completed as carriers. Cruisers were not considered Capital ships and thier numbers were unrestricted by treaty. Lexington and Saratoga would have been roughly the equivalent of the HMS Hood. Had they been completed as Battle Cruisers they would have been the principle escorts to the fast carriers until the North Carolina class was built.

      The first 5 carriers built from the keel up were never classified by the US Navy as cruisers and in fact their displacement, of about 14,000 tons for Ranger and Wasp, and nearly 20,000 tons for the Yorktown class. The “C” in thier designation did not stand for cruiser as you assert but Aircraft Carrier and the V for fixed wing. Note the designation of their aircraft squadrons VS, VT, VB and VF. These are for fixed wing, scout, torpedo, bomber or fighter. CVA was a designation given in the 1950s as the Essex class was modernized and various ships specialized into Attack, ASW-CVS and Training CV-T platforms. When the CVS ships were removed from service the designation reverted to the pre-war moniker of CV and the nuclear power ship became CVN. My dad was in Naval Aviation and I got an early schooling on this. It is also verifiable in Jane’s and other reference sources. Hornet became a CVS ship, as did Yorktown (2) and Intrepid. Lexington (2) became a training carrier CVT. All are now museum ships. All the Essex class CVA’s have been either scrapped or in the case of Oriskany sunk as an artificial reef.

      Appreciate the effort, the carriers are great ships but a Naval Aviator would call an air strike on your assertion that they originally considered cruisers any day of the week and enjoy it.

      Peace, Steve+

    • ALEX

      Actually, the hulls of the Lexington and Saratoga were originally supposed to be battle cruisers (but the Washington Naval Treaty limited cruisers to no more than 10,000 tons displacement) and were changed during construction to become aircraft carriers. Until they were launched, we only had one carrier- USS Langley, which was originally a collier. The Yorktown was in its own class and had some Japanese pilots confused during the Battle of Midway, thinking it was sunk at the Battle of Coral Sea along with the Lexington. The Saratoga was laid up in Bremerton after taking a torpedo and couldn’t take part at Midway.

  2. ALEX

    Steve is totally correct. But the ‘V’ actually stands for heavier than air aircraft. The USS Forrestal has been redesignated from CVA to CVT (I served on it for a short time) and is used to qualify pilots for carrier duty out of Pensacola. It has suffered more than its share, with the major fire in 1967 (I was on it) and several crashes while being used to qualify pilots for carrier landings. The Essex Class made up the largest carrier force in US Navy history and were classified as Fast Attack Carriers, being capable of 30+ knots. And most were later designated CVS for Anti-Submarine Warfare- USS Bennington, Yorktown, Hancock, Intrepid, Antietam, Oriskany to name a few. Naval history is one of the subjects I write about and am currently building a 4 1/2 foot model of the destroyer USS Aaron Ward in 1/96 scale (it was sunk off of Guadalcanal in 1943).

  3. Sion Liscannor

    One of the things that must strike one when surveying the range of heavy cruisers (from between-war Treaty cruisers through to wartime cruiser construction) is the extraordinary variety of ships included under the term ‘cruiser’.

    One reason for this is that different navies conceived of the cruiser in connection with widely differing roles. More precisely, the tasks that navies had to fulfil differed significantly from one navy to another, and they consequently built very different ships.

    In the case of the Royal Navy, what the navy needed more than anything else was quantity – because the British needed ships for escort and for ‘policing’ duties on a huge number of sea-routes. The Royal Navy 8” gun cruiser was designed for an essentially defensive role – to provide protection for merchant convoys and to ‘contain’ threats by patrolling and shadowing more powerful enemy ships till they could be intercepted by major units. (The hunt for the Graf Spee and Bismarck, and the pursuit of the Scharnhorst are typical cases of the latter kind of action.) British cruisers did not need a great range (as they had plentiful logistical support), but they needed a high degree of availability – the ability to stay at sea for long periods with a minimum of maintenance. In consequence the British built rather unglamorous ships, with an unimpressive array of armament, short range, flimsy protection, and mediocre speed. Their chief virtue was their doggedness and reliability – and the fact that they were available in large numbers. Significantly, the British built no 8” gun cruisers after the last of the pre-war Treaty cruisers – because they discovered that the tasks their cruisers were called on to perform could be adequately met by 6” gun cruisers.

    In contrast, the Kriegsmarine had no prospect of providing escorts for merchant shipping – it simply did not have the necessary overseas bases to provide logistical support. German cruisers from 1933 onwards were thus conceived as raiders (or as support for coastal operations in the North Sea and Baltic). German shipyards could never hope to outbuild British shipyards, so they aimed instead for a small fleet of qualitatively superior ships – in essence, a class of cruiser that could operate on its own as a raider, and with sufficient armament and speed to out-gun or out-run a numerically superior enemy. German cruisers needed a great range to fulfil this role, and they were provided with heavy armour in order to survive battle damage – hence their very high displacement.

    When you compare British 8” gun cruisers (with a displacement of 10,000 tons) with their German counterparts (with a displacement of 19,000 tons) I think you have to wonder whether the term ‘cruiser’ is at all useful. They were essentially quite different categories of ships – because they were designed to perform quite different tasks.

  4. Sion Liscannor

    A couple of detail points:

    1) Re: ‘The British treaty cruisers abided by the limits included the York and Exeter, of the same displacement and armament as the Kako class except they were slower, a common feature of British ships which were generally slower than their American and Japanese counterparts. The later County class ships were armed with 8 x 8” guns…’

    Actually the larger (10,000 ton) County class cruisers came first. York and Exeter were a follow-on to the original, larger County class cruisers. They were built to use the remaining tonnage allowance allotted to the Royal Navy under the naval treaties – and the Royal Navy managed to build two more cruisers by ‘cutting down’ the County class to 8,000 tons and reducing armament to 6 x 8” guns. As I stated above, the main thing for the Royal Navy was quantity, not quality! They might have gone further, but a broadside of six guns was the minimum considered necessary for observing the fall of shot.

    2) It would be interesting to make a comparison of Royal Navy and US navy interwar cruiser designs from the perspective of US war planning – bearing in mind that till the mid thirties the US navy considered its most likely enemy in a future conflict to be the Royal navy, and that US cruiser construction in particular was tailored to fight a ‘commerce war’ against the British Empire.

  5. ARS

    Well informed. So you really do like Cruisers after all!

    You should check out the Osprey titles for Japanese Cruisers, very interesting. Also highly recommended is anything Jim Hornfischer, especially Ship of Ghosts (about the Houston) and Neptune’s Inferno (Guadalcanal). Also very good is Tassafaronga by Russell Crenshaw that details the shortcomings of the US ships in general.

    The problem with many of these treaty cruisers is everything. Their guns had high dispersion. Most of the US main guns build from WW1 until the 1930’s all operated from the same pointing mechanism, so one gun was contingous with the others which meant that firing them in unison would disturb the salvo and create high dispersion and terrible accuracy. Radar fixed this only somewhat. But impressive was the USS Salt Lake City’s last stand at Komandorskie straits.

    That was another problem for US ships in general, even destroyers built before WW-2: the fire rooms were together, as were the engine rooms. I think I might have posted elsewhere, but basically if you had four machinery spaces, two boiler rooms followed by two engine rooms, a hit close to the bulkead of the two contigous boiler or engine rooms would leave both spaces flooding. This is exactly what happened to many US Cruisers that went dead in the water and sank. The USS Salt Lake City was saved at the last minute by using that tiny little bit of pressurized steam left in her pipes, but it was close because they were wading chest deep in oily, brackish and freezing water trying to restart the bilges with power failing on them. Also these ships lacked auxiliary diesel generators which in a pinch like this could mean saving your vessel or not.

    Another problem was doors in the bulkheads. This was a problem in all US ships until the Midway class or the Salem class. Basically the rubber seals would almost always fail, and if a hit was suffered near the bulkhead or an explosion went off in the compartment, the doors would often fail. Actually, even the stress of taking on water might warp the hull enough to cause the doors to leak. It happened on the ironclad/pre-predreadnought HMS Victoria in the 1880’s, which suffered a collision from the HMS Camperdown. It tore a hole forward of the citadel, but some doors were not closed in time. While many doors indeed were closed, what happened was that the rubber failed, the sinking/listing warped the doors and caused them to leak, and she ship sank. But the Royal Navy, while putting a policy that exists to this day whenever doing maneuvers or nearing port to close doors, did not realize that doors are unreliable. The Salem which I love (heh heh) is actually a pain in the ass to navigate compared to the North Carolina or the Massachusetts. Once you’re below second deck, you have to go up to second deck, and then find the trunk down to the other compartment, there is no other movement possible as there are no doors past second deck.

    Lastly, that beauty of the “hangar in the middle” as I might have mentioned on another post was a bad, bad idea. 20 years of having avgas and oil sitting there made the surrounding structures and teak a naval molotov cocktail. Hits in that amidships area created such deadly fires that one cruiser basically collapsed all the way into her engine rooms from that blaze, I believe it was the Quincy or the Astoria or the Vincennces or one of those Savo Island victims. After that the Americans put that hangar in the rear, and the avgas area all the way back. Actually, the avgas compartment was supposed to be flooded with CO2, and you can see those pumps in the Salem if you go down that hatch at the stern behind the hangar. So poorly ventilated is that space (on purpose), that as a museum ship the area risked corrosion so they had to cut in the bulkhead with a torch a hole 3 feet by 2 feet to make it ventilate into the hangar and allow air to pass. Well, now you can get into the hangar by crawling that back hatch, it makes for a fun spelunking expedition if the lights in the hangar are off!

    Japanese cruisers were NOT well protected. 5″ shells could easily knock out a turret and did at the battle of Samar. Often their armor belts were barely 2″ thick. And like the Iowa’s, they suffered one horrible defect: ahead/astern bulkheads. This is dangerous because while you’d think it limits flooding to one area, when that one area is one side, it makes it very easy to start capsizing the ship, and this is why so many Japanese cruisers were lost. It is better to just have a bigger compartment side to side and have more of them, you will capsize the ship. Also, their guns were even more useless than the American guns. At Savo Island, I believe it took 1 hour of firing time for each gun to score the equivalent of one hit. They were basically oversized, over ranging destroyers or torpedo boats. IMHO the IJN would have been better off building 10 Fubuki destroyers for each CA.

    British Cruisers actually were excellent. They had radar controlled gunnery from early on, and while fragile, were probably the most effective in terms of cost and deadliness in surface combat, especially once you take the torpedo out of the equation.

    The one exception is the Brooklyn class…………. which inspired the 8″ 55 calibre rapid fire guns of the Salem. Want 8″ hitting power, need 6″ tracking speed and firing rate etc. They were absolutely devastating in those night battles and the admirals wanted every single one they could find. However, the design of later cruisers was changed for less big guns and extra 5″ mounts for air defence. Notice all the WW-2 era as opposed to treaty era cruisers had a 5″ between the gun houses and the superstructure area both aft and forward.

    Happy new year, happy to have discovered your blog!

  6. ARS

    Oh, and one more thing, the Exeter and York came after the Suffolk type county cruisers. Also the Arethusa type cruisers came after those as well, because the British had X amount of tonnage left in the treaties, but wanted more ships than the X tonnage would allow, so they sacrificed quality for quantity and made these ships as 3/4 ships.

  7. Dave Wolfy

    British cruisers actually had long range for European warships because they had to patrol between the distant British bases , Gibraltar to Egypt to Singapore to Hong Kong for example.
    This showed when the Far Eastern bases were taken and the British did not have a replenishment at sea capability. The US , Japan and even Germany all had at-sea replenishment abilities !
    Also , these British Treaty cruisers were so long so as to have appropriate radio aerials for the frequencies used.

  8. Robert Miles

    My own view is that the RN’s County and Exeter classes were the best Rn cruisers of WW2 and the 1940’s The large British 6 inch Southhamptons and the economy 6 inch Colony class were very much a product of the disarmament treaties and the appeasement policies of Chamberlain. The argument was made that the higher general fire rate of the 6 inch gun of about 6rpm would make it much more effective than the twin 8 inch which produced 2.5 rpm per gun ( 5rpm) per turret or 20 rpm for the 4 turrents of a County class. In reality this proved not to be the case. In the Graf Spree action it was the pint size 8 inch gunned Exeter that really did the damage while the Archilles and Ajax with 6 inch were really matadors hovering around and complicating the picture. In the Bismark action it was the lightly armoured County class Norfolk and Suffolk that managed to keep pace with the Bismark thru the Arctic waters and significantly it appear to be an 8 Inch shell from the Prinz Eugen possibly not even a surface armouring piercing one that ignited the Hood. In the Schnarhorst action it was the 256LB shells of 8 inch gunned 13 year old Norfolk that did critical early damage to the Scharhorst. The 6 inch Belfast and Sheffield operating under radar and radio silence with the knowledge of communication intercept were able to close up to 7 mile range before opening up on the Schnarnhortst but neverless thheir 112lb 6 inch shells would have been lucky to do significant damage heavily armoured German battlecruiser. The economy sized Colony 6 inch Jamaica helped finish the Schnarhorst off with the Duke of York but it did not have the large 12,000-14,000 ton speed of the 8 inch Norfolk or the large 6 inch cruisers Sheffield and Belfast which could outflank the German battlecrusiers.
    Even in the late 1940s the last fully operational RN County class cruisers Norfolk , Suffolk and London were regarded as the most powerful RN cruisers by the Rn naval staff and the Londons fight down the Yangzee battling shore gun emplacements was the last great RN 8 inch action. When the RNavy was told after the damage to the London and the mechanical wear on the Norfolk that it was impossible to refit them for furthur action, they stood around and balled out the way the USN staff did when they told after order the Newport News into the dockyard for another refit , that it is impossible to refit it for furthur service. In terms of treaty obligations the RN should jsut have build small 5.25 and 8 inch cruisers the 80lb 5.25 shells were close enough to the RN Mk 23 112lb to mean the 6 inch offer no useful advantage and had minimal DP capability.

  9. Gareth R

    I believe the idea that the RN Counties were defensive in design displays tradition British reserve. They were built with that in mind but their long endurance derived from the need at design stage to operate as commerce raiders in the South China Sea (Friedmans “British Cruisers”) against Japanese trade. The RN kept three or four of them in the Far East throughout the interwar period supported by a carrier (either Hermes or Eagle).

    • padresteve

      I find nothing really wrong with them. Like most of the treaty cruisers where the countries didn’t cheat, they had their strong points and week points. I wish that Norfolk had been persevered. So many dramatic actions, such a remarkable ship and crew. I have always had a soft spot for the County Class. They had a unusual dignity to their design. I think I fell in love with them when I read “Sink the Bismarck” in 4th Grade in 1969.

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