York-class cruiser

Class overview
Name: York class
Operators:  Royal Navy
Preceded by: County class
Succeeded by: None
Planned: 7
Completed: 2
Cancelled: 5
Lost: 2
General characteristics - York[1]
Type: Heavy cruiser
Displacement: 8,250 tons standard / 10,350 tons full load
  • 540 ft (160 m) p/p
  • 575 ft (175 m) o/a
Beam: 57 ft (17 m)
Draught: 17 ft (5.2 m)
Speed: 32.25 knots (59.73 km/h) (30.25 knots (56.02 km/h) full load)
Range: 1,900 tons oil fuel; 10,000 nmi (20,000 km) at 14 knots (26 km/h)
Complement: 623
  • Main belt
    • 3 in
    • 2 12-1 in enclosing bulkheads
  • Lower deck
    • 1 14 in over machinery
    • 1 12 in over steering gear
  • Magazine box citadels 4-1 in
  • Transmitting Station 1 in
  • Turrets
    • 1 in face, rear, crown
    • 2 12 in base
    • 1 in barbette
    • 2 in hoist
Aircraft carried: One x Fairey Seafox
Aviation facilities: rotating catapult
General characteristics - Exeter[1]
Displacement: 8,390 tons standard / 10,410 tons full load
Beam: 58 ft (18 m)
Complement: 630
  • as York, except;
    • Magazine box citadels 5-1 in
Aircraft carried: Two x Fairey Seafox, later Supermarine Walrus
Aviation facilities: Two fixed catapults
Notes: Other characteristics as per York

The York class was the second and final class of 8-inch (203 mm)–gunned heavy cruisers built for the Royal Navy under the terms of the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty. They were essentially a reduced version of the preceding County class, scaled down to enable more cruisers to be built from the limited defence budgets of the late 1920s.

It was initially planned to build seven ships of this class, though in the end only two were constructed—HMS York, started in 1927, and HMS Exeter, started in 1928. Exeter differed in appearance from York because of late changes in her design. The remaining ships were delayed due to budget cuts, and then following the London Naval Treaty of 1930 the Royal Navy decided its cruiser needs were best met by building a greater number of yet smaller cruisers with 6–in guns.[2]

While both ships served vigorously in the first few years of World War II, it was Exeter that had the more lively career. Most famously, Exeter took part in the Battle of the River Plate against the German raider Admiral Graf Spee, and was badly damaged, though later she was repaired and extensively modernized. She escorted a convoy to the Pacific in late 1941, and was again heavily damaged in the Battle of the Java Sea, then caught and overwhelmed a few days later by four Japanese heavy cruisers. York was sunk in Suda Bay, Crete, by Italian MT boats in 1941, and was raised in 1952 and towed away to be scrapped in Italy.


The Royal Navy had a need for smaller cruisers than the County class, the largest design possible under the Washington limits, in order that more could be built under the strict defence economies of 1920s Britain. From 1925 the Royal Navy planned a "Class B" cruiser (as against the 10,000-ton cruisers of Class A, such as the Counties.)[2]

The new design was to have a displacement of 8,500 tons, as opposed to the 10,000 tons of the County class. This weight saving was mainly to be accomplished by reducing the armament to six 8-in guns (as opposed to the 8 guns on the County class), and also by using a new Mark II mounting for the guns. Otherwise the new ships were to share all the main features of the preceding class.[2]


The economies in size allowed for a 50-foot (15 m) reduction in length and 9 feet (3 m) in beam over the Counties. Their engines were identical - four boilers in two boiler rooms providing steam for four Parsons geared turbines, generating 80,000 shaft horsepower. The design speed was 32.5 knots (60.2 km/h), one knot faster than the County class.[3]


As the preceding County-class cruisers had virtually no armour, protection was added into the design and included a 3-inch-thick (76 mm), 8-foot-deep (2 m) main belt and an armoured lower deck joining at its top edge. Over the magazine spaces, the belt thickened to 4 inches (100 mm), and the armour extended above the belt, with a 2.5-inch (64 mm) magazine crown The turrets had 2-inch (51 mm) armour to the face and crown, 1.5 inches (38 mm) on sides and rear, and the barbettes on which the turrets sat had 1-inch (25 mm) armour. The transmitting station was also covered by 1-inch armour.[2] To shorten the belt length, the amidship magazine found on the Counties was removed (reduced armament required less magazine space anyway). This armour scheme was generally equivalent to that of the County class, though thicker over the machinery spaces.


The six 8-inch (203 mm) Mark VIII guns were mounted in three turrets. York used the Mark II mounting, which was intended to be 20 tons lighter than the Mark I mounting used on the earlier County-class ships; however, in fact it turned out to be heavier.[4] The Mark II mounting was capable of firing at up to 80 degrees elevation for anti-aircraft barrage fire. However, this feature, which was also shared with the Mark I mounting, turned out to produce more mechanical headaches than were justified by its very marginal military utility.[5] Exeter used a modified Mark II* mounting, limited to 50 degrees elevation.[6]

The secondary armament consisted of four 4-inch (102 mm) QF Mark V guns and two 2-pounder guns. Two triple 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes were carried. This was similar to the County class, with the exception that the Yorks carried two fewer torpedo tubes, because of the narrower beam.


As a result of the magazine changes, and to keep the funnels distant from the bridge, only two funnels were required; the forward boiler room uptakes trunked up into a large fore-funnel. This was raked in York to clear the flue gasses from the bridge, but was straight in Exeter owing to an altered bridge design and more extensive trunking. To maintain homogeneity of appearance, York stepped raked masts and Exeter vertical ones. York had a tall "platform" style bridge as seen in the Counties, which was somewhat distant from 'B' turret. This was because it had been intended to fit a catapult and floatplane to the roof of the turret, which needed clearance distance and required a tall bridge to provide forward view. The roof of the turret, however, was not sufficiently strong to carry this catapult and it was never fitted. Exeter was ordered two years later and the bridge was redesigned in light of this, being lower, further forward and fully enclosed, as later seen in the Leander and Arethusa classes.

York eventually received a rotating catapult amidships behind the funnels, and Exeter had a fixed pair in the same location, firing forwards and angled out from the centreline. A crane for recovery was located to starboard and one aircraft could be carried, initially a Fairey Seafox and later, in Exeter, a Supermarine Walrus.

Compared to the Counties, the Yorks saved 1,750 tons in net weight, but the reductions in cost of £250,000 and manpower of 50 was something of an uneconomical saving.


Name Pennant Builder Laid down Launched Completed Fate
York 90 Palmers Shipbuilding & Iron Company, Jarrow 16 May 1927 17 Feb 1928 6 June 1930 Scuttled following sustained sea assault and air attacks 22 May 1941. Salvaged and scrapped Feb 1952.
Exeter 68 HM Dockyard, Devonport 1 August 1928 13 July 1929 31 July 1931 Sunk in surface action, 1 March 1942.


  1. 1 2 British and Empire Warships of the Second World War, H. T. Lenton, Greenhill Books, ISBN 1-85367-277-7
  2. 1 2 3 4 Marriott, p.35
  3. Marriott, p.29, p.35
  4. Marriott, p.35
  5. Marriott, p.21
  6. Marriott, p.36
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