Town-class cruiser (1936)

For the Town class of World War I, see Town-class cruiser (1910).
Class overview
Name: Town class
Operators:  Royal Navy
Preceded by: Arethusa class
Succeeded by: Dido class
  • Southampton
  • Gloucester
  • Edinburgh
Completed: 10
Lost: 4
Retired: 5
Preserved: 1
General characteristics
Class and type: Light cruiser
  • Southampton class: 11,540 long tons (11,730 t)
  • Gloucester class: 11,930 long tons (12,120 t)
  • Edinburgh class: 13,175 long tons (13,386 t)
  • Southampton and Gloucester classes: 591 ft 7.2 in (180.3 m)
  • Edinburgh class: 613 ft 7.2 in (187.0 m)
  • Southampton class: 62 ft 3.6 in (19.0 m)
  • Gloucester and Edinburgh classes: 64 ft 10.8 in (19.8 m)
  • Southampton class: 20 ft (6.10 m)
  • Gloucester class: 20 ft 7.2 in (6.28 m)
  • Edinburgh class: 22 ft 7.2 in (6.89 m)
Installed power:
  • Southampton class: 75,000 shp (55,900 kW)
  • Gloucester and Edinburgh classes: 82,500 shp (61,500 kW)
  • 4 × Parsons steam turbines
  • 4 × Admiralty 3-drum boilers
  • 4 × shafts
  • Southampton class:32 kn (36.8 mph; 59.3 km/h)
  • Gloucester and Edinburgh classes:32.25 kn (37.1 mph; 59.7 km/h)
Range: 5,300 nmi (6,100 mi; 9,800 km) at 13 kn (15 mph; 24 km/h)
Capacity: 1,325 short tons (1,202 t) fuel oil
Complement: 750
Sensors and
processing systems:
Aircraft carried: 2 × Supermarine Walrus flying boats (removed in the latter part of WWII)
Aviation facilities: 1 × catapult

The Town class was a 10-ship class of light cruisers of the Royal Navy. The Towns were designed to the constraints imposed by the London Naval Treaty of 1930. The ships were built in three distinct sub-classes, the Southampton, Gloucester and Edinburgh classes respectively, each sub-class adding on further weaponry.


Mk XXII turret with rounded contours mounted on Southampton and Gloucester sub-classes
Mk XXIII turret with squared-off contours mounted on the Edinburgh sub-class

Like their US and Japanese counterparts of that era, the Town-class cruisers were "light cruisers" in the strict terms of the Treaty. The London Treaty defined a "light cruiser" as one having a main armament no greater than 6.1 in (155 mm) calibre, all three major naval powers sought to circumvent the limitations on heavy cruiser numbers by building "light cruisers" that were equal in size and effective power to heavy cruisers. These ships made up for their smaller calibre guns by carrying larger numbers of them.

All of these ships carried BL 6-inch Mk XXIII guns in triple turrets, with the centre gun mounted 30 in (76 cm) behind the two outer guns to prevent interference between the shells in flight and to give the gunners more room to work in.[1] The turret roofs had cutouts at the front to allow extreme elevation, originally intended to give the guns an anti-aircraft capability. In practice the guns could not be trained or manually loaded quickly enough for continuous anti-aircraft fire, so the Royal Navy designed the ABU, which allowed the guns to be preloaded with time-fuzed shells and then fired when the target aircraft reached the preset range. These ships were equipped with the HACS AA fire control system for the secondary armament and the Admiralty Fire Control Table for surface fire control of the main armament.

The secondary armament consisted of four twin XIX 4-inch turrets, and two quad pom poms.[2] Additional light antiaircraft weapons were added during the war and the 4-inch mounts were converted to RPC.[3] Postwar the Birmingham and Newcastle were partially reconstructed in 1949-51 with enclosed bridges, new lattice masts, improvement of already good surface fire control and long range radar, and an improved but still unreliable version of the Glasshouse Directors with 275 lock and follow radar, with flyplane control [4] for the Twin 4 inch guns which elevation speed was increased to 15-20 degrees per second to engage faster jet aircraft. Similar electronic alterations were made to Sheffield, but it received less structural alteration, Liverpool was put into reserve in 1952 to preserve it for potential modernisation and Glasgow minimal improvement,to allow use if required in the Suez, Middle East crisis of 1956. Birmingham, Newcastle and Sheffield had the pom pom and 20 mm armament replaced by 40mm Bofors mounts.[5] Belfast was fitted with MRS 8 HACDT to combine 40mm and twin 4 inch AA fire and capable of updating if the L70 proximity fused 40mm used by the British Army became available.

Southampton class

The Southampton class was the first and the subsequent two sub-classes were also known as modified or improved Southamptons. They had originally been built in response to the US Brooklyn and Japanese Mogami-class light cruisers.

Uniquely, the final Southampton class cruiser, HMS Birmingham, was built with a fully flared bow and is easily distinguished by the lack of the prominent knuckle found on her sister-ships. This modification was not continued in the follow-on "Gloucester" class.

Gloucester class

The subsequent Gloucesters had a redesigned deck and received thicker armour on the gun turrets.

Edinburgh class

The Edinburgh class were longer at 614 ft (187 m) compared to 592 ft (180 m), initially to allow an increase in the main armament from twelve 6 in (152 mm) guns in four triple turrets as in the two previous sub-classes, to sixteen 6 in guns in four quadruple turrets. The idea was soon shelved however, due to the difficulties in actually manufacturing an effective quadruple 6 in turret, and so the class reverted to the original main armament design, although improved through a "long trunk" Mk XXIII turret design, which reduced the crew requirements and increased the speed of the ammunition hoists.[6] Four extra 4 in (102 mm) "High Angle Low Angle" guns and eight extra 2-pounder (40 mm) guns and further armour protection were added instead.

Later improvements

All were heavily modified during the Second World War and after the Korean War; Glasgow, Sheffield and Newcastle had one aft turret replaced by two quad 40 mm Bofors guns during the Second World War, since there was insufficient space to fit the needed extra anti-aircraft guns and retain the turret. This was not a problem in the Edinburghs, because they were longer and had more room. They still had substantial modifications to their weaponry, including addition of 40 mm Bofors guns. The addition of radar equipment during the Second World War aided the ships' combat effectiveness.


The first Town-class ship was launched in 1936 and commissioned in 1937, just two years before the outbreak of war. The Town class saw much service during the Second World War and took part in many famous actions, such as the sinking of the German battleship Scharnhorst. Four were sunk during the war, Edinburgh, Gloucester, Manchester, and Southampton. Many of the surviving ships saw successful service during the Korean War and continued in active service to the end of the 1950s. The last Town-class ship to be scrapped was Sheffield in 1967. One Town-class warship — Belfast — remains, moored on the River Thames in London as a museum-ship of the Imperial War Museum, a role she has performed since 1971.


Name Pennant Builder Laid down Launched Commissioned Fate
Southampton class
C76 Vickers-Armstrongs, Newcastle 4 October 1934 23 January 1936 5 March 1937 Broken up at Faslane, 1959
C83 John Brown, Clydebank 21 November 1934 10 March 1936 6 March 1937 Scuttled following air attack off Malta, 11 January 1941
Sheffield C24 Vickers-Armstrongs, Newcastle 31 January 1935 23 July 1936 25 August 1937 Broken up at Faslane, 1967
Glasgow C21 Scotts, Greenock 16 April 1935 20 June 1936 9 September 1937 Broken up at Blyth, 1958
Birmingham C19 HM Dockyard, Devonport 18 July 1935 1 September 1936 18 November 1937 Broken up at Inverkeithing, 1960
Gloucester class
Liverpool C11 Fairfields, Govan 17 February 1936 24 March 1937 2 November 1938 Broken up at Bo'Ness, 1958
Manchester C15 Hawthorn Leslie, Hebburn 28 March 1936 12 April 1937 4 August 1938 Scuttled following torpedo attack off Cap Bon, 13 August 1942
Gloucester C62 HM Dockyard, Devonport 22 September 1936 19 October 1937 31 January 1939 Sunk following air attack off Crete, 22 May 1941
Edinburgh class
Belfast C35 Harland and Wolff, Belfast 10 December 1936 17 March 1938 5 August 1939 Preserved as museum ship in London
Edinburgh C16 Swan Hunter, Newcastle 30 December 1936 31 March 1938 6 July 1939 Scuttled following torpedo attack, 2 May 1942

See also


  1. DiGiulian
  2. Friedman
  3. Friedman
  4. N.Friedman. Naval Anti Aircraft Guns and Gunnery. Seaforth. Barnsley. 2014
  5. Friedman
  6. Campbell, Naval Weapons of WWII, p.35-36.


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