The Cruiser (part 5): US light cruisers and other allies

An Omaha class cruiser, the USS Milwaukee (CL-5)

The oldest class of light cruisers still in service with the US Navy at the time of the American entry into World War II was the ‘Omaha’ class of 10 ships. This had been planned in the aftermath of World War I as the first light cruiser class designed in the USA for more than 10 years. The light cruiser had fully proved its worth in World War I, and as the starting point for its new type the US Navy took the British ‘Danae’ and ‘Delhi’ classes as well as the German ‘Dresden’ class. These classes had a speed of 29 and 28.5 kt respectively for the British and German types, which had a main armament of six 6-in (152-mm) and seven 5.9-in (150-mm) guns respectively, so the US Navy decided that its new class should have a speed of 35 kt and an armament of eight 6-in (152-mm) guns on a displacement of 7,100 tons. The guns were in casemated mountings fore and aft, and included four guns that could bear on either beam: it was therefore decided to add four more 6-in (152-mm) guns in two twin turrets located fore and aft, although this meant an increase of 400 tons in displacement, a 9-in (0.23-m) increase in draught, a 1-kt decrease in speed, and the trimming of the belt to a length on each beam alongside the machinery spaces. It was then decided that the originally planned torpedo armament of two submerged tubes should be replaced by 10 tubes above the waterline, and that two catapults and aircraft should be added, so the further increase in weight resulted in the omission of the after 6-in (152-mm) casemated guns in half of the class for improved stability.

The ships were launched between 1920 and 1924, and during World War II were generally used in the South Atlantic and a few secondary actions in the Pacific as well as for the gunfire support role in a number of secondary amphibious landings. As completed, the ships had a full-load displacement of 9,150 tons, an armament of 12 or 10 6-in (152-mm) guns including four in twin turrets, eight 3-in (76-mm) anti-aircraft guns in single high-angle mountings and 10 21-in (533-mm) torpedo tubes, protection in the form of a 3-in (76-mm) belt and 1.5-in (38-mm) deck, and a speed of 33.5 kt on the 90,000 hp (67105 kW) delivered to four shafts by steam turbines.

With an arrangement of four tall funnels grouped in two pairs, the ‘Omaha’ class light cruisers were not visually attractive, but the same cannot be said of the ‘Brooklyn’ class that followed the last ‘Omaha’ class ships after an interval of more than 10 years. The spur for the development of this classic class was the Japanese ‘Mogami’ class of large light cruisers that began to appear in 1935 in response to Japan’s completion of its quota of 12 heavy cruisers permitted under the limitations of the Washington Naval Treaty. Japan’s answer to this limitation was the ‘Mogami’ class, which was planned as a light cruiser type able to offer heavy cruiser capabilities through the combination of a large hull and an armament of no fewer than 15 6.1-in (155-mm) guns in five centreline turrets (three forward, including one super-firing pair, and two aft in a super-firing pair). In the days before radar, when the maximum effective firing range was limited by visibility, the advantage in nocturnal and indifferent weather operations lay with the ships that could deliver the higher volume of aimed fire, and here the Japanese felt that the advantage would generally lie with the ‘Mogami’ class light cruisers even in engagements with heavy cruisers.

The Americans responded to the ‘Mogami’ class ships with a type of basically similar concept but greater displacement, thicker armour (to the same basic levels as the ‘Astoria’ class of heavy cruisers with the exception of a slightly thinner but longer belt) and shorter overall length: the hull was of the flush-decked type, and the main armament of 15 6-in (152-mm) guns was carried in five triple turrets arranged in the same manner as those of the Japanese ships with the exception that in the American ships it was ‘B’ rather than ‘C’ turret that was the super-firing unit of the forward trio. The nine units of the ‘Brooklyn’ class were launched between 1936 and 1938, and their details included a full-load displacement of some 12,700 tons, an armament of 15 6-in (152-mm) guns in five triple turrets, eight 5-in (127-mm) dual-purpose guns in eight single mountings or, in the case of the last two units, four twin turrets, and 16 1.1-in anti-aircraft guns in four quadruple mountings, protection in the form of a 5-in (127-mm) belt and 3-in (76-mm) deck, and a speed of 32.5 kt on the 100,000 hp (74560 kW) delivered to four shafts by steam turbines. Modifications that were effected to the ships of the ‘Brooklyn’ class during World War II included a strengthening of the anti-aircraft armament by 16 40-mm guns in four quadruple mountings and between 20 and 24 20-mm cannon in single mountings. The ‘Brooklyn’ class ships saw very extensive and successful service in World War II, in which only one of the vessels was lost, and in the early 1950s six of the ships were passed in pairs to three US allies in South America, where some of the ships survived in fully serviceable form until the end of the 20th century.

The USS Atlanta, around November 1941The ‘Atlanta’ class, which was the US Navy’s next class of light cruisers, was completely different from the ‘Brooklyn’ class and, indeed, from any other type of American light cruiser. This resulted from the fact that the ships of the ‘Atlanta’ class were intended for service as anti-aircraft and flotilla leader types, a role which indicated that their inspiration was the British ‘Dido’ class of anti-aircraft cruisers. Although the four ships of the ‘Atlanta’ class, launched in 1941, shared a commonality of role with the ships of the ‘Dido” class, they were wholly American in the way in which their role should be achieved. The class had the armament (including two banks of torpedo tubes) and speed required for co-operation with destroyer flotillas operating round the edges of a carrier task force, but was really too large for this role: wartime experience revealed that more success might have been achieved by a reduction in the number of main-calibre guns to allow the incorporation of more than just two high-angle directors, which limited each ship’s ability to the engagement of just two aircraft at any one time. As completed, the ships had a full-load displacement of 8,100 tons, an armament of 16 5-in (127-mm) dual-purpose guns in eight twin turrets, 12 or 16 1.1-in anti-aircraft guns in three or four quadruple mountings, eight 20-mm cannon in single mountings and eight 21-in (533-mm) torpedo tubes, protection in the form of a 3.5-in (89-mm) belt and 2-in (51-mm) deck, and a speed of 33 kt on the 75,000 hp (55920 kW) delivered to four shafts by steam turbines.

Next came the 27 light cruisers of the ‘Cleveland’ class, which was to have numbered 39 including three ships that were cancelled and nine that were converted into aircraft carriers. The ‘Cleveland’ class was an improved version of the ‘Brooklyn’ class with one 6-in (152-mm) triple turret sacrificed to make space for a much improved anti-aircraft armament. Launched between 1941 and 1944, the ships had a full-load displacement of 13,755 tons, an armament of 12 6-in (152-mm) guns in four triple turrets, 12 5-in (127-mm) dual-purpose guns in six twin turrets, between eight and 28 40-mm anti-aircraft guns in four twin to four quadruple and six twin mountings, and between 10 and 21 20-mm cannon in single mountings, protection in the form of a 5-in (127-mm) belt and 2-in (51-mm) deck, and a speed of 33 kt on the 100,000 hp (74560 kW) delivered to four shafts by steam turbines.

There followed the seven anti-aircraft light cruisers of the ‘Oakland’ class, which were completed in two groups of two ships launched between 1942 and 1944 as well as three ships launched between 1945 and 1946. The ‘Oakland’ class was a further development of the “Atlanta’ class with a full-load displacement of 8,200 tons, armour protection in the form of a 3.75-in (95-mm) belt and 2-in (51-mm) deck, and a speed of 33 kt on the 75,000 hp (55920 kW) delivered to four shafts by steam turbines. The two groups differed principally in their armament: the four ships of the first group had 12 5-in (127-mm) dual-purpose guns in six twin turrets, 16 40-mm anti-aircraft guns in eight twin mountings, 16 20-mm cannon in single mountings, and eight 21-in (533-mm) torpedo tubes; while the three ships of the second group had 12 5-in (127-mm) dual-purpose guns in six twin mountings, 32 40-mm anti-aircraft guns in six quadruple and four twin mountings and 20 20-mm cannon in single mountings.

Comprising only two out of a planned 13 ships, the ‘Fargo’ class was a further development of the ‘Cleveland’ class with modifications to improve the efficiency of their guns’ fire: these changes included a more compact superstructure and the two uptakes trunked into a single funnel to give the guns larger firing arcs. The details of the two ships, which were launched in 1945, included a full-load displacement of 13,755 tons, an armament of 12 6-in (152-mm) guns in four triple turrets, 12 5-in (127-mm) dual-purpose guns in six twin turrets, 28 40-mm anti-aircraft guns in six quadruple and two twin mountings, and 28 20-mm cannon in 14 twin mountings, protection in the form of a 5-in (127-mm) belt and 3-in (76-mm) deck, and a speed of 33 kt on the 100,000 hp (74560 kW) delivered to four shafts by steam turbines.

The last American light cruiser design created during World War II was the ‘Worcester’ class, of which only two out of a planned 10 units were completed only well after the end of the war. The design was in essence a development of the ‘Oakland’ class with 6-in (152-mm) guns in fully automatic twin turrets replacing 5-in (127-mm) guns in manually operated twin turrets, resulting in a longer hull and a larger displacement. The details of the class included a full-load displacement of 18,000 tons, an armament of 12 6-in (152-mm) dual-purpose guns in six twin turrets and 24 3-in (76-mm) dual-purpose guns in 11 twin and two single turrets, protection in the form of a 6-in (152-mm) belt and 3-in (76-mm) deck, and a speed of 32.75 kt on the 120,000 hp (89470 kW) delivered to four shafts by steam turbines.

The other two other naval powers involved in World War II on the Allied side were France and the USSR, neither of which played a major part in naval hostilities. The French cruiser force included the three light cruisers of the ‘Duguay Trouin’ class launched in 1923 and 1924 with a full-load displacement of 9,350 tons and a main armament of eight 6.1-in (155-mm) guns in four twin turrets, the two heavy cruisers of the ‘Duquesne’ class launched in 1925 and 1926 with a full-load displacement of 12,200 tons and a main armament of eight 8-in (203-mm) guns in four twin turrets, the four heavy cruisers of the ‘Suffren’ class launched between 1927 and 1930 with a full-load displacement of 12,780 tons and a main armament of eight 8-in (203-mm) guns in four twin turrets, the single but outstanding heavy cruiser of the ‘Algérie’ class launched in 1932 with a full-load displacement of 13,900 tons and a main armament of eight 8-in (203-mm) guns in four twin turrets, the single light cruiser of the ‘Emile Bertin’ class launched 1933 with a full-load displacement of 8,480 tons and a main armament of nine 6-in (152-mm) guns in three triple turrets, and the six excellent light cruisers of the ‘La Galissonnière’ class launched between 1933 and 1935 with a full-load displacement of 9,100 tons and a main armament of nine 6-in (152-mm) guns in three triple turrets.

The USSR operated a number of obsolete and obsolescent cruisers in the 1920s and 1930s, and the only truly modern type available in World War II was the ‘Kirov’ class, of which six were completed before and during the war with a full-load displacement of 11,500 tons and a main armament of nine 7.1-in (180-mm) guns in three triple turrets.

 

The Cruiser (part 4): US heavy cruisers

USS NorthamptonThe Americans disposed of most of their World War I cruisers during the 1920s and 1930s, but at the time of the USA’s entry into World War II as a result of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 the Americans had a total of 37 cruisers in the form of 18 heavy cruisers and 19 light cruisers. The size of this total was fortunate, for after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the loss, permanent or temporary, of many of its battleships, the US Navy in general and its Pacific Fleet in particular was forced to rely on its cruiser force as its primary surface warfare capability at a time when the surviving battleships were used for the escort of vital troop convoys. The intensity of this surface warfare in the period up to the middle of 1943 is attested by the fact that all of the pre-war cruisers involved in the protracted Solomons campaign (August 1942/February 1943) were either sunk or damaged, and after the middle of 1943 the surviving cruisers were generally used for the gunfire support of amphibious landing and for the escort of carrier task forces.

In common with their British counterparts, the American cruisers exploited every extensive stay in port, either for refit or repair, for enhancement of their fighting capabilities: radar was fitted and the anti-aircraft armament was considerably enhanced by the adoption of both greater firepower and specialised fire-control systems. The former was based on the lighter type of weapons (of 20- and 40-mm calibres for the most part) designed to provide a high volume of fire for short-range defence against mass air attacks. The type of enhancement provided in cruisers, which played a key part in US naval thinking in World War II, is exemplified by the revisions to the ‘Northampton’ class ships, which each received 16 40-mm guns in four quadruple mountings and about 27 20-mm cannon in single mountings.

The addition of so much additional topweight sometimes led to a severe loss of stability, but even so the ships displayed a remarkable ability to survive battle damage. This was a testament to the ships’ good basic design and excellent construction, which emphasised extreme sturdiness. Even so, there were some structural failures as a result of poor welding: for example, Pittsburgh lost 90 ft (27.4 m) of her bow in a typhoon after the failure of a poor weld.

In common with most other navies of the period, the US Navy standardised two types of cruiser during the 1920s. These were the heavy cruiser with an armament of 8-in (203-mm) guns and moderately thick armour, and the light cruiser with an armament of 6-in (152-mm) guns and comparatively thin armour. The oldest class of heavy cruiser to see service during World War II was the ‘Pensacola’ class, whose two units were launched in 1929. These were built in accordance with the dictates of the Washington Naval Treaty and were flush-decked ships with a low freeboard. The USA was the last of the treaty signatories to start on the construction of new heavy cruisers, and was therefore able to capitalise on its perceptions of the heavy cruisers that had already been built by other signatories: the French and Italians had both opted for high speed at the expense of protection in the ‘Duquesne’ and ‘Trento’ class ships respectively. The Japanese had been influenced by initial reports of very heavy gun armament on proposed US ships and had therefore opted for an additional main gun turret as well as good protection and a high turn of speed in the ‘Myoko’ class that in fact exceeded the treaty displacement limit by some 1,000 tons. The British had in the ‘Kent’ class decided for a design that was altogether lighter than its contemporaries in firepower, protection and speed but which, as events were to prove, was extremely robustly built and possessed excellent sea-keeping qualities. After assessing these classes, the Americans opted for an approach similar to that of the Japanese with a main armament of 10 8-in (203-mm) guns located not in five twin turrets, as in the Japanese ships, but in super-firing pairs of triple and twin turrets located fore and aft of the superstructure. This primary armament was complemented by eight 5-in (127-mm) dual-purpose guns in single mountings, and the other details of these ships included a full-load displacement of 12,050 tons, protection in the form of a 3-in (76-mm) belt and 2-in (51-mm) deck, and a speed of 32.5 kt on the 107,000 hp (79780 kW) delivered to four shafts by steam turbines. A notable feature of the basic design was the considerable weight saving that the Americans managed to achieve in the design and construction of these fine ships, which had a displacement some 900 tons under the treaty standard displacement limit of 10,000 tons and therefore represented better value than the considerably heavier Japanese ships.

USS PensacolaThe ‘Pensacola’ class set the pattern for the following heavy cruiser classes, which began with the six ships of the ‘Northampton’ class launched in 1929 and 1930. This class was in effect a development of the ‘Pensacola’ class with a raised forecastle for improved seaworthiness and reduced wetness forward, and with further weight saving effected by the replacement of the ‘Pensacola’ class’s primary armament of 10 8-in (203-mm) guns in four turrets with a primary armament of nine 8-in (203-mm) guns in three triple turrets located as a super-firing pair forward and a single turret aft. The ships initially displayed a tendency toward severe rolling, but this was cured by the installation of deeper bilge keels, and the primary details off these ships included a full-load displacement of some 12,250 tons, armament of nine 8-in (203-mm) guns and eight 5-in (127-mm) dual-purpose guns, protection in the form of a 3-in (76-mm) belt and 2-in (51-mm) deck, and speed of 32.5 kt on the 107,000 hp (79780 kW) delivered to four shafts by steam turbines.

The sea battles fought around the Solomon Islands during the second half of 1942 comprised a bloody series of six short, sharp engagements that were often dominated by cruisers. The battles often took place at night as the Japanese believed that they had a decisive advantage in night fighting. The early stages of the fighting for the island of Guadalcanal, on which the Japanese had landed during July 1942, were characterised by serious setbacks for US and Australian naval forces in several stunning blows, particularly in the Battle of Savo Island on the night of 8/9 August 1942. After the strategic defeat of the Japanese in the Battle of Midway in June 1942, the Americans switched over to the offensive in the Pacific. This resulted, among other operations, in the landing on Guadalcanal and neighbouring Tulagi islands as a first stage in the reconquest of the Solomons. The 1st Marine Division landed on 7 August, and within hours gained control over the yet poorly established Japanese garrison. This early example of an amphibious assault entailed the presence offshore of a considerable number of transports, which would need an estimated four days to discharge. In addition to local naval cover, the ships of the American invasion force had the distant support of Vice Admiral Frank J. Fletcher’s carrier task force. These three carriers comprised virtually all the flight decks remaining to the USA in the Pacific theatre and, anxious not to hazard them a moment longer than necessary, Fletcher decided to withdraw after only 36 hours. Initially off-balance at the time of the American landings, the Japanese reacted swiftly.

Vice Admiral Gunichi Mikawa departed from Rabaul within hours of the American landing to cover the 700 miles (1125 km) to Guadalcanal with a force centred on his flagship, the heavy cruiser Chokai, and including two light cruisers and a destroyer. By 14.00 hours the Japanese squadron had covered 200 miles (320 km) and rendezvoused near Bougainville with a powerful reinforcement of four more heavy cruisers. Pressing on to the south-east, Mikawa used the passage between the double island chain of the Solomons, a passage that was soon to become known as ‘The Slot’. The north-west was the direction from which the Americans expected any Japanese riposte to come, and they had therefore covered this quadrant with reconnaissance flights, which twice spotted the advancing Japanese ships during the morning of 8 August. The reconnaissance reports were poorly worded and took considerable time to trickle though the official system, so Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner, commanding the amphibious force, learned on between 18.00 and 19.00 hours that a Japanese force was approaching and also that Fletcher’s carriers were leaving. The latter was alarming, but the former was not treated with undue concern as the report indicated that the enemy force consisted largely of seaplane tenders: this accorded fully with the type of base that the Japanese had been establishing on Tulagi, and such ships posed no direct threat. With imminent attack not anticipated, no special precautions were taken as the Allied force was thought generally superior as it comprised six heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and four destroyers, a mixed American and Australian force under the command of an Australian officer, Rear Admiral Crutchley. This force could not be concentrated, however, because of the geography of the approaches to the landing area. Between Guadalcanal and the islands of Florida and Tulagi to the north there is a deep channel between 15 and 25 miles (24 and 40 km) wide. At the wider end, to the north-west, which Mikawa was now approaching, the sound is divided by Savo Island, about 5 miles (8 km) wide. Between Guadalcanal and Savo, Crutchley had established a southern force comprising his Australian flagship Australia, her sister ship Canberra and the US Chicago, and between Savo and Florida/Tulagi was a complementary northern force of the US heavy cruisers Astoria, Quincy and Vincennes. Across the approaches to the north-west, and serving as pickets to warn of the Japanese approach, were two radar-equipped American destroyers. The south-eastern approach to the area, which was thought a less likely avenue of Japanese advance, was allocated to two light cruisers and two destroyers.

In overall terms, Crutchley’s disposition of his force was tactically sound, at least in theory. The evening of 8 August was very dark, with low cloud and periods of heavy rain. Turner was distinctly worried by the withdrawal of Fletcher’s carriers, and summoned Crutchley to a meeting. Crutchley covered the 20 miles (32 km) to the area off Lunga Point on Guadalcanal’s northern shore in the Australia, leaving the southern force to his deputy in the Chicago. Crutchley arrived off Guadalcanal at 22.30 hours, and at this time the Japanese force was only some 50 miles (80 km) distant but closing rapidly and undetected. At 00.43 hours on 9 August the Japanese, in line ahead with the Chokai in the van, sighted an American destroyer at the distance of more than 5 miles (8 km) despite the darkness. This was Blue, which was covering the approach to the southern channel past Savo Island as another US destroyer, Ralph Talbot, was covering the northern approach.

Despite its extended length and approach from the expected direction, the Japanese force was not detected visually or by radar, and passed between the two ships at about 26 kt. Anxious to deliver his attack and withdraw before any air strike from Fletcher’s carriers, which he believed still to be present, Mikawa risked the loss of surprise by launching reconnaissance aircraft. These were seen by the Americans but the significance was not appreciated. By 01.25 hours the Japanese had Savo Island abeam, and soon after this sighted the two remaining cruisers of the southern group. At 01.38 hours the Japanese ships opened their attack with the typical ploy of a salvo of torpedoes and, only minutes later, the peace of the night was shattered by the impact of two torpedoes on Canberra just as air-dropped flares bloomed overhead. Chicago was equally surprised and, even as the alarm was sounded, a torpedo shattered the ship’s bow. The battle was only four minutes old, and the Japanese ships had still not been seen. The two crippled cruisers nonetheless attempted to reply as the Japanese forces swept by them and started a turn to port round the south-eastern side of Savo Island. This disrupted the Japanese line to the extent that the Japanese now advanced in two parallel columns which, by a chance favourable to the Japanese, nicely enclosed the northern group of cruisers. Chicago had not alerted them, and they had not responded to the sounds of the first engagement only 5 miles (8 km) away. The three US cruisers, steaming in line ahead at a mere 10 kt with their guns unmanned and trained fore-and-aft, now found themselves lit up at close range by searchlights. At a range of barely 400 yards (365 m), the Japanese opened fire with every weapon at their disposal. The engagement lasted a mere 10 minutes, and ended with the three US cruisers on fire, mainly as a result of the fuel for their floatplanes leaking from shattered tanks and catching fire. Nothing stood between Mikawa and his primary target, the transport ships of the American assault forces. Yet at 02.00 hours Mikawa ordered a retirement, in the course of which the two radar pickets were fired upon. Allied losses were four heavy cruisers sunk and one, Chicago, severely damaged together with more than 1,000 men killed, while the Japanese had lost only 38 men killed when limited damage was inflicted on Chokai and Aoba.

By the time the ‘Northampton’ class was under construction, the other signatories of the Washington Naval Treaty had produced their second generation of heavy cruisers, and the Americans were yet again able to profit from a survey of these vessels: the primary lesson learned from this survey was that the French and Italians had decided that their first-generation heavy cruisers had sacrificed too much protection in an effort to secure the highest possible speed, and the new ‘Suffren’ and ‘Zara’ classes, together with the ‘Canarias’ class designed for Spain in the UK, were notable for improved protection at a modest sacrifice in speed. The British and Japanese did not follow the same course as they had already opted for a better balance of protection and speed, and the Americans felt that this was the best option for the ‘Indianapolis’ class of two ships, which were very similar to the preceding ‘Northampton’ class except for a redistribution of the armour to provide additional protection amidships. The details of the ships, which were launched in 1931 and 1932, therefore included a full-load displacement of 12,575 tons, an armament of nine 8-in (203-mm) guns and eight 5-in (127-mm) dual-purpose guns, protection in the form of a 4-in (102-mm) belt and 2-in (51-mm) deck, and a speed of 32.75 kt on the 107,000 hp (79780 kW) delivered to four shafts by steam turbines.

The final American heavy cruisers built to the constraints of the Washington Naval Treaty were the seven ships of the ‘Astoria’ class, which were in every way superlative ships matched in overall combat capability only by the single ship of the French ‘Algérie’ class and the three ships of the German ‘Admiral Hipper’ class. The principal changes from the ‘Indianapolis’ class were the rearward lengthening of the forecastle for improved seaworthiness, pole rather than tripod masts, and improved protection in the form of a longer belt and thicker armour for the decks, turrets and conning tower. The details of the ships, which were launched between 1933 and 1936, therefore included a full-load displacement of 13,500 tons, an armament of nine 8-in (203-mm) guns, eight 5-in (127-mm) dual-purpose guns and 16 1.1-in anti-aircraft guns, protection in the form of a 5-in (127-mm) belt and 3-in (76-mm) deck, and a speed of 32.75 kt on the 107,000 hp (79780 kW) delivered to four shafts by steam turbines.

The one unit of the ‘Wichita’ class, launched in 1937, had been planned as the eighth ‘Astoria’ class ship but in the event was completed to a standard resembling that of the ‘Brooklyn’ class of light cruiser except in its armament details. The ship had a full-load displacement of 13,700 tons, an armament of nine 8-in (203-mm) guns and eight 5-in (127-mm) dual-purpose guns, protection in the form of a 5-in (127-mm) belt and 3-in (76-mm) deck, and a speed of 32.5 kt on the 100,000 hp (74560 kW) delivered to four shafts by steam turbines.

This similarity between the ‘Wichita’ and ‘Brooklyn’ classes provides clear evidence of the gradual merging of American heavy and light cruiser design concepts, the heavy cruiser generally having slightly greater length and the light cruiser having five turrets each carrying three 6-in (152-mm) guns rather than the heavy cruiser’s standard arrangement of three turrets each carrying three 8-in (203-mm) guns. The Japanese also followed this concept, although not to so standardised a degree, and were therefore able to upgrade the ‘Mogami’ class light cruisers to heavy cruiser standard by the replacement of the triple 6.1-in (155-mm) turrets by twin 8-in (203-mm) turrets.

USS BaltimoreThe tendency towards the use of a conceptually similar design for light and heavy cruisers became fully evident with the ‘Baltimore’ class of 17 ships launched between 1942 and 1945 (only 14 being completed before the end of World War II) with an eighteenth following in 1951. The design was derived from that of the ‘Cleveland’ class of light cruisers with the hull lengthened by 65 ft (19.6 m) and widened by 4 ft (1.2 m), and with the main armament revised to heavy cruiser standard. By the time of the earlier ships’ completions, all but the German navy had in effect abandoned the heavy cruiser concept, but the US Navy still believed that with large oceans off its eastern and western seaboards there was still a need for heavy cruisers offering a combination of firepower, protection, speed and range that was unrivalled by anything but a capital ship. The ‘Baltimore’ class heavy cruisers were superb examples of this concept, which certainly retained a full validity up to and indeed after the end of World War II. The primary features of the ‘Baltimore’ class design were a considerable deck area to allow the siting of large numbers of short-range anti-aircraft weapons in addition to the turrets carrying the primary and secondary armaments, a shorter but thicker length of belt armour to provide enhanced protection for the ship’s ‘citadel’ region, and the absence of all side scuttles so that all interior spaces had to be artificially ventilated and illuminated. The details of these fine warships included a full-load displacement of 17,070 tons, an armament of nine 8-in (203-mm) guns in three triple turrets, 12 5-in (127-mm) dual-purpose guns in six twin turrets, 48 40-mm anti-aircraft guns in 11 quadruple and two twin mountings, and up to 28 20-mm anti-aircraft cannon in single mountings, protection in the form of a 6-in (152-mm) belt and 3-in (76-mm) deck, and a speed of 33 kt on the 120,000 hp (89470 kW) delivered to four shafts by steam turbines.

To complete the story of American heavy cruisers with 8-in (203-mm) guns, it is necessary to mention two classes that were designed during World War II but completed after the end of hostilities and then only in small numbers and in different forms. The ‘Oregon City’ class was planned as eight ships, but only four of these were completed to an improved ‘Baltimore’ class standard with a single rather than twin funnels to give the guns improved arcs of fire. The ‘Des Moines’ class was planned as 12 ships, but only three of these were completed to an improved ‘Oregon City’ class standard with automatic 8-in (203-mm) guns, a tertiary battery of 24 3-in (76-mm) anti-aircraft guns in 12 twin turrets to replace the 40-mm guns of the preceding classes, and a longer and thicker belt of waterline armour.

So far as any account of American heavy cruiser thinking is concerned, mention must also be made of the magnificently elegant ‘Alaska’ class of large heavy cruisers, often but wrongly called battle-cruisers. The origins of the class are to be found in the report before the USA’s involvement in World War II that Japan was following the German lead and building a class of ‘pocket battleships’. The US Navy responded with the ‘Alaska’ class projected at six large heavy cruisers of which only three were laid down and two actually completed to what was basically an enlarged version of the ‘Baltimore’ class design with a primary armament of nine 12-in (305-mm) rather than 8-in (203-mm) guns in three triple turrets and the protection scaled up to approximately the same extent. With a full-load displacement of 34,250 tons and a length of 808 ft 6 in (246.4 m), the large heavy cruisers of the ‘Alaska’ class carried a primary armament of nine 12-in (305-mm) guns in three triple turrets including a super-firing pair forward, a secondary armament of 12 5-in (127-mm) dual-purpose guns in six twin turrets, and a tertiary armament of 56 40-mm guns in 14 quadruple mountings and 34 20-mm anti-aircraft cannon in single mountings. The ships were protected by extensive but only moderately thick armour that included an 8-in (203-mm) belt and 3.75-in (95-mm) deck, and the highly impressive sustained speed of 33 kt was attained on the 150,000 hp (111840 kW) delivered to four shafts by steam turbines.

The Cruiser (part 3): the British in the inter-war period

For the previous installment, see The Cruiser (part 2): Emden
Black and white photo of HMS Coventry, cruiser warship of the British navy, on a glassy sea and under a grey sky

The main implication of World War I, as far as cruiser design was concerned, was that the naval reconnaissance role was better undertaken by aircraft than by the cruiser, which was thereafter operated mainly in alternative roles such as escort of major convoys, commerce protection and raiding, and gunfire support of amphibious operations. This had become evident to the British in the later stages of World War I, when they had started to build cruisers somewhat larger than the standard light cruisers that had proved so effective in the earlier part of the war. Many of these latter were still comparatively new ships and were retained in service during the 1920s and 1930s, increasingly for second-line tasks such as the protection of trade routes. The oldest classes to survive into World War II were the ‘Caledon’, ‘Carlisle’ and ‘Ceres’ classes, which totalled three, five and five ships respectively. The ‘Caledon’ class ships were altered little in real terms from the standard in which they fought in World War I, but the three of the ‘Ceres’ class and all of the ‘Carlisle’ class ships were modified considerably in overall capability by their conversion to an anti-aircraft cruiser standard. Coventry and Curlew were prototype conversions with a primary armament of 10 4-in (102-mm) anti-aircraft guns in single high-angle mountings and 16 2-pdr anti-aircraft guns in two octuple mountings, but the definitive standard adopted for the other six ships was eight 4-in (102-mm) anti-aircraft guns in four twin high-angle turrets and four 2-pdr anti-aircraft guns in a quadruple mounting.

Four of the five ‘Improved Birmingham’ class cruisers survived for limited service in World War II, and in basic terms these larger and generally more effective ships had a displacement of some 9,700 tons, an armament of seven or five 7.5-in (191-mm) guns in single mountings and four or five 4-in (102-mm) anti-aircraft guns in single high-angle mountings and, reflecting the increased threat posed by aircraft in World War II, eight 2-pdr anti-aircraft guns in two quadruple mountings and 10 20-mm anti-aircraft cannon, protection in the form of a 3-in (76-mm) belt and 1.5-in (38-mm) deck, and a speed of 30.5 kt on the 65,000 hp (48465 kW) delivered to four shafts by steam turbines. Another survivor from World War I and its immediate aftermath was the ‘D’ class of eight light cruisers originally built in the ‘Danae’ and ‘Delhi’ classes, and the two cruisers of the ‘E’ class completed in the early 1920s with a displacement of some 7,550 tons, an armament of seven 6-in (152-mm) guns and three 4-in (102-mm) anti-aircraft guns, protection in the form of a 2.5-in (64-mm) belt and 1-in (25-mm) deck, and a speed of 33 kt on the 80,000 hp (59650 kW) delivered to four shafts by steam turbines.

The completion of these ships preceded the limitation treaties agreed in the 1920s and 1930s. These treaties placed no limit on the numbers of cruisers that could be built, but did impose qualitative and, later, total tonnage restrictions while at the same time granting the right to replace elderly ships. In combination with analysis of operational experience in World War I, the conditions imposed by the treaties paved the way for the evolution of the cruiser into two forms differentiated primarily by gun calibre: the light cruiser was generally a smaller type with guns of up to 6-in (152-mm) calibre and only limited armour protection, while the heavy cruiser was a larger type with guns of up to 8-in (203-mm) calibre and relatively more effective armour protection.

In British service, the first of these modern cruiser classes was the ‘Kent’ class of seven heavy cruisers, including two for the Royal Australian Navy, with a displacement of some 9,800 tons, an armament of eight 8-in (203-mm) gun in four twin turrets, eight 4-in (102-mm) anti-aircraft guns in four twin high-angle turrets, eight 2-pdr anti-aircraft guns in two quadruple mountings, and eight 21-in (533-mm) torpedo tubes, protection in the form of a 5-in (127-mm) belt and 4-in (102-mm) turrets, and a speed of 31.5 kt on the 80,000 hp (59650 kW) supplied to four shafts by steam turbines. The same basic pattern of armament was followed in the ‘London’ class of three heavy cruisers and the ‘Norfolk’ class of two heavy cruisers, but the number of 8-in (203-mm) main guns was reduced to six in three twin mountings in the two smaller heavy cruisers of the ‘York’ class that followed in the late 1920s. The service life typical of a British heavy cruiser in the first half of World War II is exemplified by that of Exeter which, as noted below, had been designed and built in the 1920s as a cheaper counterpart to the high-quality but costly ‘County’ class cruisers. In a relatively brief career in world War II, Exeter was a participant in victory against the odds and then catastrophic defeat, but in the process acquired a superb reputation as a fighting ship. Though successful in its primary aim of preventing expensive and politically destabilising competition in the construction of capital warships, the Washington Naval Treaty of 1921 had exactly the opposite effect on cruiser construction, for the treaty’s limits of a 10,000-ton displacement and an 8-in (203-mm) calibre armament rapidly became the standard into which naval architects crammed as much capability as they could. In the case of the UK, however, the Admiralty wanted not so much a few very powerful ships but rather a larger number of individually less capable ships possessing the endurance to allow them to patrol British maritime trade routes and ‘show the flag’ in distant parts of the empire and the world.

It was thus with some reluctance that the Admiralty did agree to the production of a class of 8-in (203-mm) heavy cruisers as an answer to such ships in service or under construction for other navies. This agreed type was the ‘A’ or ‘County’ class of 13 ships starting with the four vessels of the ‘London’ subclass in the 1925/26 estimates and following with the seven and two ships of the ‘Kent’ and ‘Norfolk’ subclasses respectively. The ships had powerful armament, excellent endurance, high speed and a good standard of habitability, but these features were bought only at the expense of protection. The ships also cost £2 million each, which was seen as a very high unit price at a time when all national expenditure was being trimmed. The inevitable result was the creation of the very much smaller ‘B’ class cruisers with a standard displacement reduced from about 9,900 tons to less than 8,400 through the reduction in the hull length from 630 ft (192 m) to 515 ft (157 m): this meant the reduction of the main battery from eight 8-in (203-mm) guns in four twin turrets to six 8-in (203-mm) guns in three twin turrets, and the reduction of the bunkers from 3,200 to a mere 1,900 tons resulting in a considerable reduction in range. The three funnels of the ‘A’ class were reduced to two by the trunking of the two forward uptakes into only one casing, which was therefore thicker than the after unit. Protection was very light, with a 2-in (51-mm) horizontal deck to protect against long-range plunging fire and a 2/3-in (51/76-mm) vertical belt over the machinery spaces to protect against short-range flat fire.

Black and white photograph of HMS Exeter, cruiser warship of the British Navy, moored off the coast of SumatraAlthough a class of seven ‘B’ class cruisers was originally planned, financial cutbacks meant that in the event only two were built. The first of the class was York, followed into service during 1931 by Exeter, the fourth ship to carry that name and constructed, appropriately, at Devonport Dockyard. On the outbreak of World War II Exeter, the ‘County’ class heavy cruiser Cumberland and the ‘Leander’ class light cruiser Ajax constituted the South American Division of the forces available to the Royal Navy’s Commander-in-Chief South Atlantic. This enormous area of water was important mainly for being crossed by several very important trade routes. The German naval high command understood full well the vulnerability of the UK’s maritime trade and had constructed ships designed specifically for the decimation of the shipping plying these routes. Among these ships were the three Panzerschiffe or ‘pocket battleships’. These were well protected, had Diesel engines for great endurance, and possessed a nicely balanced armament including six 11-in (280-mm), eight 5.9-in (150-mm) and six 4.1-in (105-mm) guns. The German rationale was that these ships could outfight what they could not outrun, and outrun what they could not outfight. Shortly before the outbreak of war, two of the ‘pocket battleships’ moved into the Atlantic. One of these was Admiral Graf Spee with orders, in the event of hostilities, to disrupt British trade but at the same time to avoid action with warships that could cause damage far from dockyard facilities. The ‘pocket battleship’ started work in earnest near the end of September 1939, sinking the liner Clement off the Brazilian coast. To catch the Admiral Graf Spee the French and British assembled no fewer than eight separate hunting groups. Of these Force G comprised the South American Division reinforced by the Royal New Zealand Navy’s Achilles, a sister ship of Ajax. Led by Commodore Henry Harwood, this division had a huge operational area, but despite Admiral Graf Spee’s activities over a large part of the South Atlantic and even the Indian Ocean, Harwood was of the firm belief that the German ship would eventually attempt to disrupt the important shipping routes to and from the estuary of the River Plate between Argentina and Uruguay. That Harwood was right in his assessment was confirmed on 13 December, when Admiral Graf Spee was sighted off the coast of Uruguay. At this time Harwood has only three of his cruisers, Cumberland being near the Falklands. Harwood had carefully discussed his tactical thinking with his captains, and the British plan to divide the fire of the German ship went smoothly into operation as the cruisers deployed with Exeter on one side and the two light cruisers on the other side. The action began at a range of more than 19,000 yards (11315 m) as Admiral Graf Spee initially fired on the two light cruisers, which could put up a greater volume of fire. however, as Exeter’s salvoes began to straddle Admiral Graf Spee, Captain Hans Langsdorff ordered the fire of his ship to be switched to the British heavy cruiser. Turning nearly 180° from its initial south-easterly course, Admiral Graf Spee had Exeter slightly abaft her port beam, with the six 11-in (280-mm) guns of her primary battery bearing, but was able at the same time to engage the two light cruisers with the 5.9-in (150-mm) guns of her secondary battery. The Germans had the advantage of radar which could pass ranges to the gunlayers, and Exeter was soon hit by three 11-in (280-mm) shells, losing a turret and the steering. The heavy cruiser, now under emergency control, pressed on and launched its starboard torpedoes without effect. Hit again, Exeter started listing to starboard and turned in that direction to fire her port torpedoes, which Admiral Graf Spee again evaded. By this time the damage was beginning to tell on Exeter’s accuracy and rate of fire. The pocket battleship secured two more hits on the heavy cruiser, this time putting another turret out of action and starting a fire that soon became serious. Exeter was now forced to pull out of the fight, disengaging and steaming to the south. The two light cruisers, which had not yet suffered any significant damage, now manoeuvred to create the threat that would deter Admiral Graf Spee from pursuing Exeter. But the German ship now seemed unwilling to press home her tactical advantage and tended to the west, with Ajax and Achilles shadowing, to reach the roads off Montevideo.

Admiral Graf Spee had suffered only modest casualties (including 36 killed by comparison with Exeter’s 61 killed), and the physical damage she had suffered from 21 hits was superficial. Nevertheless, in the belief that very much more capable Allied forces were about to reach the area and so prevent any chance of a return to Germany, Langsdorff ordered the scuttling of his ship, after which he committed suicide. Thus the British tactical reverse of the Battle of the River Plate became a major operational victory. After receiving temporary repairs at Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands, Exeter returned to the UK for a considerable time in dockyard hands for major repairs.

Once these had been completed, the ship proceeded to the Far East, where the situation was worsening in a most threatening way. In December 1941 the Japanese committed themselves to World War II, and as part of their initial moves to extend their empire into south-east Asia and defensive perimeter in the Pacific, swept into Malaya and Burma before falling on the Dutch East Indies. An extemporised assembly of Australian, British, Dutch and American warships made up the so-called ABDA force which, by the end of February 1942, had been badly mauled as it tried without success to check the Japanese amphibious advances. In February 1942 Singapore fell and Java remained the last Allied bastion before Australia, which at the time was though to be a Japanese objective. On 21 February 1942 it was reported that two Japanese forces were approaching Java: the larger, eastern group comprised 41 merchant ships carrying the main invasion force and covered by four cruisers and 13 destroyers under the command of Rear Admiral Takeo Takagi. Under a Dutch officer, Rear Admiral Karel Doorman, a force of five cruisers (including Exeter) and 10 destroyers sailed to intercept this invasion fleet. Measured in terms of firepower, there was little difference between the forces of the Allies and the Japanese, but the latter were superior in the size and armament of their individual cruisers, and in the morale of its men. Battle was joined on 27 February, and after an opening gunnery duel the Japanese launched a determined torpedo attack at the moment when Exeter, lying second in the Allied cruiser line, was hit in the boiler room by an 8-in (203-mm) shell from Nachi. On fire and her speed reduced to a mere 5 kt, Exeter pulled out of line and the ships astern of it were thrown into confusion. Covered by four destroyers making smoke, Exeter turned south, in the process taking the liaison officer and the code books through which the Dutch-speaking Doorman communicated with the English-speaking remainder of his force. Successive probes by Doorman’s reorganised force against the Japanese transports were successfully parried by the Japanese warships, the Allied ships being driven back to the point at which the crippled Exeter once again became embroiled. Harried by Japanese light cruisers and destroyers, the British heavy cruiser was saved only by the spirited defence of the escorting destroyers, of which Electra was lost. The battle now moved off to the north once more in a number of short but sharp little engagements. After nightfall disaster struck the Allies as Doorman was killed when both his Dutch cruisers were sunk, but Exeter and her remaining screen meanwhile reached at least temporary safety at Surabaya. Patched and partially refuelled, the little group set off during the evening of the following day in an effort to reach Ceylon.

Fire and smoke on the sea, as British Navy cruiser HMS Exeter comes under attackThe ABDA combined force had ceased to exist, for the Battle of the Java Sea had cost the Allies not only their two Dutch cruisers but also all but five of their destroyers. Exeter’s little flotilla was spotted by Japanese reconnaissance aircraft as it left Surabaya, and even though it was capable of 23 kt by daybreak on 1 March, Exeter found herself confronted by a Japanese force of four heavy cruisers and four destroyers. In a wholly unequal battle that lasted for more than two hours and was typified by determined attacks by the destroyers Encounter and US Pope, Exeter finally succumbed to gun and torpedo hits, rolled over to starboard and sank. The two destroyers were also sunk in the following 30 minutes.

Construction during the 1920s gave the Royal Navy a strong force of heavy cruisers, and in the 1930s the service’s focus switched to the replacement of the light cruiser types surviving from World War I with more advanced ships designed to complement the new generation of heavy cruisers. The first result of this effort was the ‘Leander’ class of light cruisers of which eight were constructed as five for the UK and three for Australia. The British ships had a displacement of some 7,200 tons, an armament of eight 6-in (152-mm) guns in four twin turrets, eight 4-in (102-mm) anti-aircraft guns in four twin high-angle turrets, eight 2-pdr anti-aircraft guns in two quadruple mountings, and eight 21-in (533-mm) torpedo tubes, protection in the form of a 4-in (102-mm) belt and 2-in (51-mm) deck, and a speed of 32.5 kt on the 72,000 hp (53685 kW) delivered to four shafts by steam turbines. The three Australian ships differed in their displacement of some 6,900 tons and lack of 2-pdr ‘pom-pom’ anti-aircraft guns. The following ‘Arethusa’ class of four ships was somewhat smaller with a displacement of some 5,250 tons, an armament of six 6-in (152-mm) guns in three triple turrets, eight 4-in (102-mm) anti-aircraft guns in four twin high-angle turrets, eight 2-pdr anti-aircraft guns in two quadruple mountings and six 21-in (533-mm) torpedo tubes, protection in the form of a 2-in (51-mm) belt and deck, and a speed of 32.25 kt on the 64,000 hp (47720 kW) delivered to four shafts by steam turbines.

The next class to come out of British yards was a hybrid type combining the size and most of the protection of the heavy cruiser with a beefed-up version of the typical light cruiser armament. This was the ‘Southampton’ class, of which 10 examples were built in three subclasses totalling five, three and two ships respectively. The first two subclasses had displacements of 9,100 and 9,400 tons respectively, an armament of 12 6-in (152-mm) guns in four triple turrets, eight 4-in (102-mm) anti-aircraft guns in four twin high-angle turrets, eight 2-pdr anti-aircraft guns in two quadruple mountings and six 21-in (533-mm) torpedo tubes, protection in the form of a 4-in (102-mm) belt and 2-in (51-mm) deck and turrets, and a speed of 32 and 32.5 kt on the 75,000 or 82,500 hp (55920 and 61510 kW) respectively delivered to four shafts by steam turbines. The ships of the last subclass had a displacement of 10,000 tons, an armament of 12 6-in (152-mm) guns in four triple turrets, 12 4-in (102-mm) anti-aircraft guns in six twin high-angle turrets, 16 2-pdr anti-aircraft guns in two octuple mountings and six 21-in (533-mm) torpedo tubes, improved protection in the form of a 4.5-in (114-mm) belt and 2-in (51-mm) deck, and a speed of 32 kt on the 80,000 hp (59650 kW) delivered to four shafts by steam turbines. The ships proved remarkably resilient in service, and saw very extensive use.

When the ships of the ‘Southampton’ class were being laid down in the mid-1930s, it had already become clear that the warplane was rapidly becoming one of the most potent weapons faced by naval forces, and the British responded to this increasing threat with a classic class of dedicated anti-aircraft cruisers, the ‘Dido’ class, of which 16 examples were completed in 11- and five-ship subclasses with a displacement of 5,450 and 5,770 tons respectively and an armament in the first subclass of 10 5.25-in (133-mm) dual-purpose guns in five twin turrets, eight 2-pdr anti-aircraft guns in two quadruple mountings and six 21-in (533-mm) torpedo tubes, or in the second subclass of eight 5.25-in (133-mm) dual-purpose guns in four twin turrets, 12 2-pdr anti-aircraft guns in three quadruple mountings and six 21-in (533-mm) torpedo tubes. Features common to both subclasses were protection in the form of a 3-in (76-mm) belt and 2-in (51-mm) deck, and a speed of 33 kt on the 62,000 hp (46225 kW) delivered to four shafts by steam turbines.

Next in British construction came the ‘Fiji’ class that reverted to the standard light cruiser concept, and these 11 ships were completed in eight- and three-ship subclasses whose common features included protection in the form of a 3.25-in (83-mm) belt and 2-in (51-mm) deck, and a speed of 33 kt on the 72,500 hp (54055 kW) delivered to four shafts by steam turbines. The first subclass had a displacement of 8,000 tons and an armament of 12 6-in (152-mm) guns in four triple turrets, eight 4-in (102-mm) anti-aircraft guns in four twin turrets, nine 2-pdr anti-aircraft guns in two quadruple and one single mountings and six 21-in (533-mm) torpedo tubes, while the second subclass had a displacement of 8,800 tons, and an armament of nine 6-in (152-mm) guns in three triple turrets, 20 2-pdr anti-aircraft guns in five quadruple mountings and 20 20-mm anti-aircraft cannon in 10 twin mountings.

The last British cruiser class of World War II was the ‘Minotaur’ class, of which six examples were completed in three-ship subclasses during or immediately after the war to a design based on that of the second ‘Fiji’ subclass. The features that the two types shared were principally the hull and the protection, the latter in the form of a 3.5-in (89-mm) belt and 2-in (51-mm) deck and turrets. The ships of the first ‘Minotaur’ subclass had a displacement of 8,800 tons, an armament of nine 6-in (152-mm) guns in three triple turrets, 10 4-in (102-mm) anti-aircraft guns in five twin turrets, 16 2-pdr anti-aircraft guns in four quadruple mountings, eight 40-mm anti-aircraft guns in eight single mountings and six 21-in (533-mm) torpedo tubes, and a speed of 32.5 kt on the 72,500 hp (54,055 kW) delivered to four shafts by steam turbines, while the ships of the second ‘Minotaur’ subclass, whose construction had been suspended at the end of World War II and resumed only at a later time, had a displacement of 9,550 tons, an armament of four 6-in (152-mm) dual-purpose guns in two twin turrets and six 3-in (76-mm) anti-aircraft guns in three twin turrets, and a speed of 31.5 kt on the 80,000 hp (59650 kW) delivered to four shafts by steam turbines. It should be noted, however, that reduction in the number of guns carried by the ships of the second subclass was more than counterbalanced by the incorporation of the latest fire-control methods, which included extensive radar equipment.

In World War II existing cruisers were extensively modified as they underwent refits or major repairs after suffering battle damage. The major part of this improvement effort was devoted to the upgrading of the ships’ anti-aircraft capability by the addition of 20-mm cannon in place of the original machine-guns, the later replacement of these 20-mm cannon by 40-mm weapons, the boosting of fire control by the addition of radar systems to the original fit of optical systems, the removal of aircraft (between one and three depending on the specific class) together with their associated hangar and catapult facilities as long-range warning of ships and aircraft was increasingly and more reliably provided by radar, and in many ships the removal of one of the after main gun turrets to provide additional deck area for anti-aircraft weapons and radar equipment.

The Cruiser (part 2): Emden

For the first installment, see The Cruiser (part 1): classic multi-role warship

Black and white image of German cruiser SMS Emden at Tsingtao, 1914, smoke coming from its funnelsThe most celebrated cruiser of World War I, and the ship that most successfully exploited the cruiser’s capability in the ‘guerre de course’ role, was the German ship Emden, one of the two light cruisers of the ‘Dresden’ class. The ship had been completed in 1908 after construction at the Danzig Dockyard, and at the beginning of World War I was part of the East Asiatic Squadron commanded by Vizeadmiral Maximilian von Spee at the German treaty port of Tsingtao in China. After considering and then rejecting plans for his whole squadron to undertake a raid into the Indian Ocean before crossing the Pacific Ocean to round Cape Horn before passing north up the Atlantic Ocean to return to Germany, von Spee decided to seek the most direct route home via Cape Horn, but detached Emden under Fregattenkapitän Karl von Müller to undertake an independent cruise supported by the collier Markomannia. From Pagan island, where von Spee had made his decision to split the squadron, the two ships steamed along the eastern side of the Mariana islands in the Pacific, on 13 August in the direction of the East Indies. Two days later, von Müller was unable to raise the German radio station on the island of Yap, north-east of the Palau island group and despatched a cutter to investigate what turned out to be the wreckage of the radio station that had been shelled into total destruction by three British cruisers. Von Müller next steamed toward Angaur island in the Palau island group, which had been leased by a German phosphate company and where he hoped for a meeting with the collier Choising. There was no sign of the collier, but Emden did meet the steamer Prinzessin Alice. von Müller took on extra men from Prinzessin Alice and also Markomannia, and sent a letter to his mother by Prinzessin Alice, which he ordered to a port in the neutral Philippines.

Von Müller then took Emden toward the Molucca islands with the idea of entering the Indian Ocean via the eastern side of Mindanao and the Dutch East Indies. On the night of August 20 von Müller was trying to radio Tsingtao, when he received a radio message from the old German light cruiser Geier. During the British bombardment of Yap, Geier’s captain had hidden his ship and her accompanying collier in a cove, and von Müller now recommended that the two head for internment in the Hawaiian islands. Emden then departed to the south-west once more, crossing the equator on 22 August and on the following day establishing radio contact with the German steamer Tannenfels, with which von Müller agreed a rendezvous at the Dutch and Portuguese island of Timor to take on coal and food. Emden and the Markomannia reached the rendezvous and waited half a day on 25 August without any sight of the Tannenfels, and von Müller therefore took on some 470 tons of coal from Markomannia, seriously denting the collier’s reserve. At this point the Tromp, a Dutch battleship, arrived and instructed the two German ships to sail as they were in contravention of international neutrality laws, and it was later established that the same Dutch warship had previously ordered Tannenfels out of the area. The Dutch ship escorted the German vessels to the edge of the 3-mile (4.8-km) limit, where von Müller headed west in an effort to persuade the Dutch captain that the Germans were heading toward the Pacific. As soon as the Dutch ship had sunk below the horizon, however, von Müller reversed course and headed for Bali and the Lombok Strait into the Indian Ocean. As the Germans ships waited for the fall of night before trying the strait, von Müller’s second-in-command came up with a simple yet effective plan to disguise Emden’s identity: three funnels were the trademark of German light cruisers whereas their British opponents had four funnels, and Mücke recommended that the funnel pattern of Yarmouth (one oval and three round funnels) be copied with batten and canvas. With this disguise in place, Emden passed into the Indian Ocean and began looking for ‘trade’.

On 3 September Emden was approaching Simalur island off the southern coast of Sumatra when the ship’s crew spotted Hampshire, a British cruiser powerful enough to destroy the German ship at long range. Von Müller escaped detection, however, and then managed to take on board nearly 1,000 tons of Markomannia’s coal before being warned off by an official yacht of the Dutch East Indies’ government. On 8 September Emden met the 4,049-ton Greek steamer Pontoporos carrying 6,500 tons of coal from Calcutta. After careful consideration of the legal situation (the Greek ship was a neutral but carrying contraband cargo) and an examination of the papers on board the Pontoporos that revealed the sailing times and destinations of several ships outward-bound from Calcutta, von Müller headed Emden, Markomannia and Pontoporos toward the shipping route linking Calcutta and Colombo in Ceylon.

On 10 September Emden intercepted and boarded the 3,393-ton Indus, a British passenger-carrying freighter en route from Calcutta to Bombay, sent all on board to the Markomannia, and then sank the captured ship. On the following day Emden encountered the 6,102-ton Lovat, an English ship bound for Bombay to pick up troops, took off all on board and then sank the ship. The tide of success was still running with von Müller, and on the following day Emden came up with the 4,657-ton Kabinga, an English merchant ship carrying jute to New York. The sinking of this ship would make Germany financially responsible for the cargo, so von Müller put the personnel from Indus and Kabinga on the ship together with a prize crew. During the night of the same day, Emden captured and sank the 3,512-ton Killin, a Scottish collier making for Bombay from Calcutta with 6,000 tons of coal. Just a few hours later, the German cruiser intercepted and sank the 7,615-ton liner Diplomat carrying 1,000 tons of tea.

During the afternoon of the same date, however, Emden’s position was accurately broadcast by a neutral ship, the Italian Loredano. Late in the afternoon of 14 September Emden sank the 4,014-ton collier Trabboch, which was sailing in ballast. Later that afternoon von Müller ordered Kabinga, now carrying the crews of Killin, Diplomat and Trabboch, to the nearby port of Calcutta. Soon after this the cruiser seized and sank the 4,775-ton Scottish freighter Clan Matheson making for Calcutta with a shipment of Rolls-Royce cars, steam locomotives, typewriters and thoroughbred racehorses, the last of which were shot before the ship was sunk. Clan Matheson’s crew were transferred to a neutral Norwegian ship on the following day.

On 15 September Emden, Markomannia and Pontoporos cruised and coaled south of Calcutta, and Pontoporos was then dispatched to a rendezvous at Simalur island. Two days later Emden searched the upper Bay of Bengal, in the process crossing the shipping lane between Madras and Rangoon and between Calcutta and Singapore, but sighted no ships. It was clearly time for a change, and a raid on Madras recommended itself to von Müller for four reasons: it was a long way from the location given by Loredano; it would disturb the British supremacy in India, which had received no real challenge for more than half a century; the Madras port installations were easily accessible from the sea; and one of Emden’s crew had once worked in Madras and thus knew its geography. Madras harbour was protected by Fort St George, which mounted a battery of 5.9-in (150-mm) guns at least 30 years old. In the evening of 22 September Emden fired 125 shells into the port area from a range of some 3,550 yards (3250 m), scoring hits on the tanks of the Burmah Oil Company, which burned fiercely, as well as other parts of the port. None of the return fire hit Emden, which now headed south past the old French colony of Pondicherry and then south-east round Ceylon to reach the great port of Colombo.

Bombardment of Madras by Emden: oil tanks on fire, black smoke filling the skyBy this time there were 14 major Allied warships looking for Emden: this force included the British ships Empress of Asia, Empress of Russia, Gloucester, Hampshire, Minotaur, Weymouth and Yarmouth; the Australian ships Melbourne and Sydney; the French ship Montcalm; the Japanese ships Chikuma, Ibuki and Yakagi; and the Russian ship Askold. Despite this search effort, Emden encountered and sank the 3,650-ton King Lud and 3,314-ton Tymeric, the latter carrying a cargo of sugar, before seizing the 4,437-ton Gryfevale to carry their crews. Emden now needed high-quality coal to fire her boilers, and discovered more than 6,000 tons of this commodity on board the 4,350-ton British Buresk, destined for the British naval base at Hong Kong but now added to Emden’s little flotilla of supporting ships. Von Müller now headed south, capturing and sinking the 4,147-ton British Foyle and 4,147-ton British Ribera before Emden reached the Maldive islands and then the Chagos archipelago, where her crew had the unpleasant task of changing the boiler tubes and overhauling the condensers. Von Müller now directed his ship’s course toward Diego Garcia, where the Germans were welcomed by the French assistant manager of the island’s oil company, who had heard no news for three months and therefore did not know of the outbreak of war.

At Diego Garcia the Germans heeled their ship over, cleaned the bottom of barnacles and other growth, and applied a coat of paint. From Diego Garcia Emden returned north toward the south-western coast of India, and here her next prizes included Clan Grant on 13 October with a miscellaneous cargo including cattle, the 4,806-ton Benmohr carrying machinery, and on 19 October the 7,526-ton Troilus carrying valuable metals and rubber. As von Müller was gaining these successes, however, the Markomannia had been sunk. Coaling from Pontoporos off Pulo Topak, an island off the western coast of Sumatra, during 12 October, Markomannia was surprised by the cruiser Yarmouth and sunk with 1,300 tons of coal aboard, while the Pontoporos was captured with 5,000 tons of coal in her holds. Buresk was therefore Emden’s only surviving source of coal.

The German cruiser’s most unusual victim was the 473-ton ocean-going dredger Ponrabbel, a British vessel bound for Tasmania but intercepted and sunk on 16 October. The number of prisoners for whom he was responsible was now becoming a burden on von Müller’s freedom of action, and the German officer solved this problem by capturing the 5,526-ton British St Egbert, bound for New York. Two other sinkings in the same period were the 4,542-ton British collier Exford and the 5,146-ton British freighter Chilkana.

Early on the morning of 20 October Emden had a close encounter with possible destruction when she came close to Hampshire and Empress of Russia, but was not seen. Six days later Emden and Buresk reached Nancowrie in the Nicobar islands to coal in preparation for the dawn raid that von Müller was planning against Penang harbour for 28 October.

Entering the harbour on the western side of the Malayan peninsula, Emden saw the Russian light cruiser Jemtchug and launched a torpedo that struck the Russian vessel amidships, causing severe damage. There followed heavy and accurate salvoes from Emden’s guns. Jemtchug was on fire and going down fast, but some of her men were returning Emden’s fire. The French destroyer d’Iberville also opened fire. Emden put a second torpedo into Jemtchug, which completed the destruction of the Russian ship, and then made for the harbour mouth. A short time later Emden seized Glenturret, a British ship carrying explosives, but did not sink this wholly legitimate target, instead sending her into Penang with a message from von Müller apologising to the survivors of the Jemtchug for not picking them up and to the crew of the pilot boat on which Emden had fired as she was leaving the harbour in the erroneous belief that this was a warship.

Black and white image (turned pinkish) of the small French destroyer warship, Mousquet, on the sea with land in the backgroundNext on the scene was the small French destroyer Mousquet, which manoeuvred as though about to launch a torpedo. Emden fired three salvoes, causing the French ship’s magazine to explode, but even so Mousquet fired two torpedoes which Emden evaded without problem even as the French destroyer was sinking. The Germans picked up over 30 survivors, two of whom died during the night of 29 October and were buried at sea. Meanwhile Fronde, sister ship of Mousquet, was following Emden but making sure that she did not come within range of the German cruiser’s guns. On 30 October Emden seized the 3,000-ton British freighter Newburn carrying salt to Singapore but then sent it off with the French prisoners for hospital treatment at Khota Raja. During the following day Emden met Buresk near North Pageh island in the Nassau island group, and the next two days were consumed in coaling, cleaning, repairs and recuperation. During this time a Dutch patrol boat arrived on the scene to ensure that Emden was outside the 3-mile (4.8-km) limit, and her captain also informed von Müller that Portugal had entered the war on the Allied side. Von Müller arranged his next rendezvous with Buresk, and steamed for the Sunda Strait dividing Java from Sumatra and thus constituting a natural chokepoint for northbound and southbound traffic. There were no pickings in the area, though, and von Müller therefore decided to attack the British telegraph and radio installation on Direction Island in the Cocos (or Keeling) island group, where the Australian, African and Indian cables met. Early on the morning of 9 November Emden anchored off the island, Leutnant Hellmuth von Mücke then taking ashore his landing party of 50 men in a steam launch towing two cutters. The Germans landed at 06.30 and encountered no opposition, and after all the people living in the area had been assembled in the square near the telegraph building the German destroyed the installation, using explosives to drop the radio mast but finding it an arduous job to find and cut the undersea cables.

On board Emden a look-out reported a vessel with a single funnel and two masts, a description which fitted the Buresk, whose arrival was expected. But the ship was in fact the protected cruiser Sydney, an opponent considerably larger, faster and more heavily armed than the German cruiser. The arrival of the Australian ship was no coincidence, for the island’s radio station had broadcast news of Emden’s arrival before the Germans landed. The broadcast has been picked up by a convoy carrying Australian and New Zealand troops, with Sydney sailing in advance of the main force of ships. The fate of Emden was now in effect sealed. Von Müller was forced to abandon the landing party as he made for the open sea, and at 09.40 the first German salvoes bracketed the Sydney while the fourth salvo hit the Australian ship and knocked out her fire-control system. Sydney now pulled back to a range of 7,000 yards (6400 m), out of range of Emden’s guns but within the range of her own 6-in (152-mm) weapons, which soon hit the German cruiser’s radio compartment, bridge, one of the after guns and the fire-control position. With his ship increasingly heavily damaged and on fire in several places, von Müller refused to give up and used the superior agility of his ship to try to manoeuvre into a position for a torpedo attack. It was all in vain, and amid a welter of other shell hits that inflicted yet more damage and started additional fires Emden was crippled and her crew had sustained large numbers of dead, wounded and injured. Von Müller decided that he must run the ship aground, and shortly after 11.00 hours the German light cruiser struck the coral reef south of North Keeling Island. For the rest of the day the German survivors suffered the agonies of heat and thirst, several men being killed as they tried to swim through the surf. Meanwhile Sydney had raced off to capture Buresk, and on her return opened fire on Emden once more as the German ship’s colours were still flying. As soon as von Müller had ordered a white flag to be run up, the Australian ship ceased fire. Sydney now freed one of Buresk’s boats, which it was towing with members of the collier’s German prize crew, who reached Emden to offer what aid they could. Sydney turned and headed for Direction Island to take von Mücke’s raiding party, and it was almost 24 hours before the Australian ship returned and finally took off Emden’s survivors, of whom von Müller was the last to leave the ship. The German cruiser had suffered 141 men killed and 65 wounded, and only 117 men were unhurt.

In her three-month independent cruise Emden had covered some 30,000 miles (48,280 km), sunk or captured 23 merchant ships, destroyed one cruiser and one destroyer, caused £15 million of damage, and occasioned an Allied naval search involving, at one time or another, nearly 80 vessels.

Wreck of SMS Emden: burnt and twisted metal sunk in the seaFrance, Italy and Russia followed basically the same course of development at slightly later dates and to smaller overall numbers of ships. The same was basically true of the US Navy, which entered the 20th century with just two armoured cruisers, 15 protected cruisers and three unprotected cruisers, but then began a major programme of development and construction that saw the delivery of more advanced cruisers at an increasing rate. On the outbreak of World War I, when the USA was still neutral, the most modern type of armoured cruiser was the ‘Tennessee’ class of four ships launched between 1904 and 1906 with a displacement of 14,500 tons, an armament of four 10-in (254-mm) guns in two twin turrets, 16 6-in (152-mm) guns in casemated mountings, 22 3-in (76-mm) guns, 12 3-pdr guns and four 21-in (533-mm) torpedo tubes, protection in the form of a 5-in (127-mm) belt and 9-in (229-mm) turrets, and a speed of 22 kt on the 23,000 hp (17150 kW) delivered to two shafts by triple-expansion steam engines. Roughly contemporary was the ‘St Louis’ class of three protected cruisers with a displacement of 9,700 tons, an armament of 14 6-in (152-mm) and 18 3-in (76-mm) guns, protection in the form of a 4-in (102-mm) belt and 5-in (127-mm) conning tower, and a speed of 22 kt on the 21,000 hp (15660 kW) delivered to two shafts by triple-expansion steam engines. The only unprotected cruisers were three wholly obsolete ships of the ‘Montgomery’ class launched in 1891 and 1892, and the American cruiser force was completed by the three scout cruisers of the ‘Chester’ class launched in 1907 with a displacement of 3,750 tons, an armament of two 5-in (127-mm) guns, six 3-in (76-mm) guns and two 21-in (533-mm) torpedo tubes, no protection, and a speed of 24 kt on the 16,000 hp (11930 kW) delivered to two shafts by steam turbines.

Japan followed basically the same course as its Western counterparts, its last armoured cruisers being the two ships of the ‘Kasuga’ class originally ordered from an Italian yard by Argentina, which sold the two units to Japan in 1903. The ships had a displacement of some 7,650 tons, an armament of one 10-in (254-mm) and two 8-in (203-mm) or four 8-in (203-mm) guns in one single and one twin or two twin turrets, 14 6-in (152-mm) guns, 10 3-in (76-mm) guns, six 3-pdr guns and four 18-in (457-mm) torpedo tubes, protection in the form of a 5.9-in (150-mm) belt, barbettes and conning tower, and a speed of 20 kt on the 13,500 hp (10065 kW) delivered to two shafts by triple-expansion steam engines. The equivalent protected cruiser type was the ‘Chikuma’ class of three ships completed in 1912 with a displacement of 4,400 tons, an armament of six 6-in (152-mm) guns, eight 12-pdr guns and four 21-in (533-mm) torpedo tubes, protection in the form of a 3-in (76-mm) deck and 4-in (102-mm) conning tower, and a speed of 26 kt on the 22,500 hp (16775 kW) provided to two shafts by steam turbines.

In the course of World War I Japan kept a close watch on warship developments by the UK, its ally and still the world leader in warship design, and in 1916 felt confident enough of the utility of the new light cruiser concept to order an initial class of two ‘Tenryu’ class light cruisers modelled closely on the British ‘C’ type that included the closely related ‘Caroline’, ‘Cambrian’, ‘Centaur’, ‘Caledon’, ‘Ceres’ and ‘Carlisle’ classes. These two Japanese ships were completed only after the end of World War I, but paved the way for future Japanese light cruiser developments.


[First photo from Deutsches Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archive)]

The Cruiser (part 1): classic multi-role warship

Black and white photo of HMS Caroline, a British Navy warship, on the seaIn its original guise as a sailing ship, the cruiser (sometimes rendered cruizer) was a fourth-rate ship or large frigate that was generally detached from the main fleet to sail independently in search of the enemy, whose position was then reported back to the fleet so that a major engagement could be brought about. The term cruiser was also employed for frigates and smaller vessels operating independently against the enemy’s maritime lines of communication in what is generally known as the ‘guerre de course’ role. In both these tasks, the essential requirement of a successful cruiser was its ability to sail better than any prospective enemy, especially in terms of speed and ability to point high into the wind. All this changed with the advent during the middle part of the 19th century of steam propulsion, and of iron (later steel) construction and protection. At this time cruiser ceased to be a generic name for any warship acting independently of the main fleet and became a type of warship in its own right. The pure cruiser came into existence during the middle and later parts of the 19th century in four basic types, namely the armoured cruiser with a displacement of up to 14,600 tons and a high level of protection matched by an armament of powerful guns, and the protected cruiser that was built in three subclasses with horizontal deck armour but no vertical belt armour, as well as the supplementary protection and survivability offered by the arrangement of the coal bunkers on the sides of the ship along the waterline and the compartmentalisation of the hull’s interior spaces. In descending order of size, these three subclasses were the first-, second- and third-class protected cruisers with maximum displacements of 14,200, 6,000 and 3,000 tons respectively.

The British built a total of 136 cruisers of these ‘pre-Dreadnought’ types in the form of 35 examples of the armoured cruiser and 21, 51 and 29 examples respectively of the first-, second- and third-class protected cruisers. The armoured cruisers were intended to provide a scouting capability within sight of the Royal Navy fleets to which they were attached, and also to serve as the flagships of overseas squadrons in areas that did not need the combined political and naval power represented by a battleship, while the tasks of the three subclasses of protected cruiser were the protection of British merchant shipping as it plied the seas of the world, the escort of convoys of troopship on their way to and from various parts of the British empire, and the provision of a ‘naval outpost’ capability in less advanced parts of the world. By the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, 51 of these older ships had been deleted or reduced to non-combatant status, and another seven had been converted into minelayers. It is also worth noting that the Royal Navy also possessed 10 small cruisers with a displacement of up to 1,850 tons.

The evolution of the cruiser through the second half of the 19th century paralleled that of the battleship. The type started as a wooden vessel: to this core were first added both a layer of protective armour and steam machinery to supplement the three-masted ship rig with its full complement of sails; then came a progression of interim stages in which iron and then steel became the primary structural medium and the steam propulsion system gradually superseded the sailing rig; and finally the cruiser reached the point at which the masts survived only in vestigial form to provide the means of hoisting flags and carrying control tops, and the main armament comprised a mixed assortment of breech-loading weapons in which the largest-calibre guns were carried in trainable turrets, the intermediate-calibre guns were installed in casemates, and the smallest-calibre weapons were carried on open mountings with perhaps a shield as the only protection for the gun’s crew. The three main weapons carried by British cruisers were the 9.2-in (234-mm) gun firing a 380-lb (172-kg) shell, the 7.5-in (191-mm) gun firing a 200-lb (91-kg) shell, and the 6-in (152-mm) gun firing a 100-lb (45-kg) shell.

Typical of the British cruiser types before the advent of the ‘Dreadnought’ era in 1906 were the first-class cruisers of the ‘Warrior’ armoured and ‘Diadem’ protected classes, the ‘Challenger’ second-class cruisers, and the ‘Pelorus’ third-class cruisers. The ‘Warrior’ class, of which four were launched in 1905, had a full-load displacement of 13,550 tons, an armament of six 9.2-in (234-mm) guns, four 7.5-in (191-mm) and 23 3-pdr quick-firing guns, armour protection up to a maximum thickness of 6 in (152 mm), and a speed of 23 kt on the 23,000 hp (17150 kW) provided to two shafts by triple-expansion steam engines. The ‘Diadem’ class, of which eight were launched between 1896 and 1898, had a full-load displacement of 11,000 tons, an armament of 16 6-in (152-mm), 14 12-pdr and three 3-pdr quick-firing guns, armour protection up to a maximum thickness of 4.5 in (114 mm), and a speed of 20.25 kt on the 16,500 hp (12300 kW) provided to two shafts by triple-expansion steam engines. The ‘Challenger’ class, of which five were launched in two subclasses between 1898 and 1902, had a full-load displacement of 5,880 tons, an armament of 11 6-in (152-mm), nine 12-pdr and six 3-pdr quick-firing guns, armour protection up to a maximum thickness of 3 in (76 mm), and a speed of 21 kt on the 12,500 hp (9320 kW) provided to two shafts by triple-expansion steam engines. The ‘Pelorus’ class, of which 11 were launched between 1896 and 1900, had a full-load displacement of 2,135 tons, an armament of eight 4-in (102-mm) and eight 3-pdr quick-firing guns, armour protection up to a maximum thickness of 3 in (76 mm) on very limited areas, and a speed of 20 kt on the 7,000 hp (5220 kW) provided to two shafts by triple-expansion steam engines.

Black and white photo of HMS Dreadnought, a British Navy battleship, on the sea, steam coming out of its funnels. These ships were rendered obsolete by the development of the ‘Dreadnought’ type of capital ship and comparable evolution in the warships of smaller types, but were still in extensive service on the outbreak of World War I. The armoured cruisers were generally retained for service in home waters until their losses up to and including the Battle of Jutland in May 1916 revealed their terrible weakness against the longer-ranged and considerably heavier shells of more powerfully armed opponents. The protected cruisers, on the other hand, had already served a useful function, and continued to do so, in their activities in overseas waters in the pursuit and destruction of Germany’s merchant raiding force. The ships of this type were also very useful later in World War I, when they were used for the convoy escort role in the North Atlantic. A major turning point in the design of cruisers came in 1904/05 with the advent of the ‘River’ class of light warships, in which the torpedo boat and torpedo boat destroyer finally came of age as a single type offering a genuine ocean-going rather than merely coastal or at best sea-going capability. The new ocean-going destroyer was a far greater threat to major surface forces than the earlier coastal or even sea-going torpedo boat, and the commanders of major surface forces now had to take into consideration the possibility of massed attacks by torpedo-firing ships using their speed and agility to evade destruction and thus close to torpedo range. The growing threat posed by the destroyer in the early part of the 20th century therefore called for the development of a new type of light cruiser that was light and fast enough to work with destroyer flotillas, for which it provided a command capability, and also fast enough and sufficiently well armed with quick-firing guns to operate in the defensive screen that provided the squadrons of larger warships with a first line of defence against attacks by the enemy’s destroyer flotillas.

The first results of this new requirement were the 15 ships of the ‘Scout’ type that were built between 1904 and 1912 with a displacement in the order of 2,700 to 3,500 tons, and the 21 ships of the ‘Town’ type that were built between 1909 and 1915 with a displacement in the order of 4,800 to 5,500 tons with a much greater endurance and the ability to operate semi-independently from remote bases. There were in fact six classes of ‘Scout’ type light cruisers, of which the last was the three-strong ‘Active’ class with a displacement of 3,440 tons, an armament of 10 4-in (102-mm) guns and two 21-in (533-mm) torpedo tubes, no protection, and a propulsion arrangement of steam turbines delivering 18,000 hp (13420 kW) to two shafts for a maximum speed of 26 kt. There were five classes of the ‘Town’ type light cruisers, of which the last was the two-strong ‘Birkenhead‘ class with a displacement of 5,200 tons, an armament of 10 5.5-in (140-mm) guns and two 21-in (533-mm) torpedo tubes, protection in the form of a 3-in (76-mm) belt, and a propulsion arrangement of steam turbines delivering 31,000 hp (23115 kW) to four shafts for a speed of 26.5 kt.

Early experience with the ‘Scout’ and ‘Town’ types of light cruiser indicated that they were useful types of warships, but that a hybrid type would be best suited to the requirements of working with major surface forces in the North Sea, which was the area in which the Grand Fleet intended to secure a climactic victory over the German High Seas Fleet in the event of an outbreak of war between the UK and Germany. This hybrid type combined features of the ‘Scout’ and ‘Town’ types with a more potent propulsion arrangement for the higher speed required for effective use in conjunction with the Grand Fleet and its fast destroyer flotillas. The first of the new classes, which eventually totalled nine including the five ships of the ‘Delhi’ class completed after the end of World War I, was the ‘Arethusa’ class of eight ships that entered service just before the outbreak of the war. As built, the ships had a displacement of 3,512 tons, an armament of two 6-in (152-mm) and six 4-in (102-mm) guns as well as eight 21-in (533-mm) torpedo tubes, protection in the form of a 3-in (76-mm) belt and 1-in (25-mm) deck, and a speed of 30 kt on the 40,000 hp (29825 kW) provided to four shafts by four sets of steam turbines. Wartime changes included a revision of the gun armament to three 6-in (152-mm) and four 4-in (102-mm) guns as well as one 4-in (102-mm) or two 3-in (76-mm) anti-aircraft guns, the latter reflecting the first stage of the aeroplane’s developing impact on naval operations; at the same time the original pole foremast was replaced by a tripod foremast. The ships were somewhat cramped but soon proved themselves very well suited to their task, and were therefore used as the basis for steadily improved successor classes whose main changes were a larger number of 6-in (152-mm) guns in replacement of 4-in (102-mm) weapons. The details of the ‘Delhi’ class included a displacement of 4,650 tons, an armament of six 6-in (152-mm) guns and two 3-in (76-mm) anti-aircraft guns as well as 12 21-in (533-mm) torpedo tubes, protection in the form of a 3-in (76-mm) belt and 1-in (25-mm) deck, and a speed of 29 kt on the 40,000 hp (29825 kW) provided to four shafts by four sets of steam turbines.

As the leading maritime power in the world during the last years of the 19th century, the UK was generally followed rather than led in the basic shape of naval developments, although rivals such as Germany sought to offset British numerical superiority with qualitative superiority in matters such as firepower and speed. At the beginning of World War I, the German navy had six armoured cruisers, of which the most advanced were the two ships of the ‘Scharnhorst’ class with a displacement of 11,600 tons, an armament of eight 8.2-in (210-mm), six 5.9-in (150-mm) and 20 3.4-in (88-mm) guns as well as four 17.7-in (450-mm) torpedo tubes, protection in the form of a 6-in (152-mm) belt and 2-in (51-mm) deck, and a speed of 22.5 kt on the 26,000 hp (19385 kW) provided to three shafts by triple-expansion steam engines. Germany, it should be noted, also produced just one example of a what may be regarded as a heavy armoured cruiser. This was Blücher designed to provide a capability comparable to that of the ‘Invincible’ class, which were the Royal Navy’s first battle-cruisers and originally described for disinformation purposes as being armed with 9.2-in (234-mm) guns. The Germans therefore responded to their first perception of the ‘Invincible’ class ships with a design based on that of the ‘Westfalen’ class of ‘Dreadnought’ battleships but scaled down and fitted with a primary armament of 8.2-in (210-mm) guns. This resulted in a vessel characterised by a displacement of 15,500 tons, an armament of 12 8.2-in (210-mm), eight 5.9-in (150-mm) and 16 3.4-in (88-mm) guns as well as four 17.7-in (450-mm) torpedo tubes, protection in the form of a 6.75-in (170-mm) belt and turrets, and a speed of 26 kt on the 44,000 hp (32805 kW) provided to three shafts by triple-expansion steam engines. Inevitably Blücher was too lightly armed and armoured to be a real battle-cruiser, and paid the penalty at the Battle of the Dogger Bank in 1915, when she fought alongside the German battle-cruisers and was completely overwhelmed.

The German navy also operated 17 protected cruisers approximating in overall capabilities to the British second-class protected cruisers, and of these it was the 10 ships of the closely related ‘Gazelle’, ‘Nymphe’ and ‘Frauenlob’ classes that were the most modern, all having been completed between 1899 and 1903 with a displacement of between 2,645 and 2,715 tons, a primary armament of 10 4.1-in (105-mm) guns and two 17.7-in (450-mm) torpedo tubes, protection in the form of a 2-in (50-mm) deck, and a speed of 21.5 kt on the 8,500 hp (6340 kW) delivered to two shafts by triple-expansion steam engines.

In the first part of the 20th century Germany decided, like the UK, that the protected cruiser was conceptually obsolete and that the immediate future lay with the light cruiser. Germany therefore undertook a major design and production effort, resulting in the construction of no fewer than 14 light cruiser classes in the period up to the end of World War I. The first of these, completed in 1904, was the ‘Bremen’ class of five ships typified by a displacement of 3,250 tons, an armament of 10 4.1-in (105-mm) guns and two 17.7-in (450-mm) torpedo tubes, protection in the form of a 2-in (50-mm) deck, and a speed of 23 kt on the 11,000 hp (8200 kW) delivered to two shafts by triple-expansion steam engines. The last, completed in 1918 and therefore reflecting the very considerable changes that had taken place in light cruiser thinking as a result of operations in World War I, was the second ‘Dresden’ class of two ships typified by a displacement of 6,150 tons, an armament of eight 5.9-in (150-mm) guns, two or three 3.4-in (88-mm) anti-aircraft guns, and four 19.7-in (500-mm) torpedo tubes, protection in the form of a 2.5-in (65-mm) belt and a 0.75-in (20-mm) deck, and a speed of 28.5 kt on the 45,000 hp (33550 kW) delivered to two shafts by steam turbines. The remarkable thing about these two classes, and this was also evident in comparable British classes, was their conceptual similarity: the ships of the later class were larger, were armed and protected more heavily, and possessed a higher speed as a result of a more powerful propulsion arrangement based on steam turbines rather than triple-expansion engines, but in overall terms the design of the ships was just that of the earlier class’s units on a larger scale and incorporating improvements suggested by more extensive operational experience.

To be continued…

Hawker Tempest – a late-generation British piston-engined fighter (Part 2)

Dark, black and white photograph of the Hawker Tempest II aircraft, in amongst other planes at the College of Aeronautics, Cranfield, BedfordshireIn the second half of 1943 manufacture of the Tempest Mk V began to get into its stride and weapons trials resulted in the qualification of the type for the carriage on its two underwing hardpoints of loads that could comprise two 1,000 or 500 lb (454 or 227 kg) bombs, or two 45 Imp gal (54 US gal; 204.6 litre) napalm tanks, or up to eight 3 in (76.2 mm) air-to-surface unguided rockets each carrying a 60 lb (27 kg) warhead; a 90 Imp gal (108.1 US gal; 409.1 litre) drop tank, better streamlined than the tank carried by the Typhoon, was also developed.

The Tempest Mk V was cleared for service use in April 1944, and in that month 50 Tempest Mk V Series 1 fighters were delivered to RAF Newchurch in Kent as the equipment of Nos 3 and 486 Squadrons, which were the constituent elements of No. 150 Wing led by Wing Commander Roland Beamont, who had earlier been instrumental in the evolution of the Typhoon as a fighter-bomber and then in the service trials of the Tempest Mk V. The wing’s third element was No. 56 Squadron, which did not receive its first Tempest Mk V fighters until July 1944. The task allocated to the first two squadrons was participation in the Allied tactical air force attacks on German communications and airfields in the period leading up to the Normandy invasion of North-West Europe on 6 June 1944, but two days after this the Tempest Mk V had its blooding in the air-to-air role, when aircraft of Nos 3 and 486 Squadrons tangled with a group of Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters, of which they claimed four destroyed and two damaged for no loss to themselves.

Only eight days later the two squadrons were diverted to another task, namely the interception of the Fieseler Fi 103 (otherwise V-1) flying bombs with which the Germans now started to bombard south-eastern England. The Tempest’s combination of good performance and manoeuvrability at low altitude made it ideal for this task: on their first day of operations against the V-1, Tempest fighters destroyed eight V-1 flying bombs, and as they gained experience the squadrons steadily improved their success rate. Another four Tempest squadrons were committed to the effort as they re-equipped, although the pace of such re-equipment was slowed by strike action in the Hawker plant, and by the end of the Germans’ main V-1 offensive in September 1944 the six squadrons had accounted for 638 of the 1,771 V-1 flying bombs destroyed by the RAF.

At this time one unit, No. 501 Squadron, was kept in the UK to continue operations against the limited numbers of V-1 flying bombs still being launched, but the other five were transferred to European airfields from August 1944. The first two units to be moved were Nos 80 and 274 Squadrons that, together with a Spitfire unit, constituted No. 122 Wing. No. 150 Wing’s three squadrons moved in September to operate from airfields in Belgium and the Netherlands. The Tempest units were part of the 2nd Tactical Air Force, which was bolstered before the end of the war by two more Tempest units, Nos 33 and 222 Squadrons. During the period between August 1944 and May 1945, the European-based Tempest squadrons were highly successful in both of their main tasks, namely ground-attack work in support of the advancing Allied land forces and, when opposition was available, air combat against Germany’s rapidly declining air capability. The Tempest even proved successful against the Messerschmitt Me 262 turbojet-powered fighter, the pilots of No. 122 Wing claiming eight destroyed and 15 damaged.

The Tempest Mk V was, in the event, the only version of the fighter to see operational service in World War II. As this conflict reached its closing stages, the Tempest Mk V was operational with eight units in the form of No. 501 Squadron in the UK and Nos 3, 33, 56, 80, 222, 274 and 486 Squadron in Europe. No. 501 Squadron was disbanded in April 1945, and of the seven other squadrons then grouped in Germany as part of the British commitment to the occupation forces, the only two that survived to 1948 – when the Tempest Mk V was withdrawn from service – were Nos 3 and 80 Squadrons.

As the Tempest Mk V was entering production and service, Hawker was pressing ahead with the development of improved models, most especially the Tempest Mk II with the powerplant of one Centaurus radial engine. In September 1942, the month that the Tempest Mk V prototype first flew, the Ministry of Aircraft Production placed an order with Gloster (like Hawker a member of the Hawker Siddeley Group) for 500 examples of the Tempest Mk II. It was nine months before the first of the two Tempest Mk II prototypes recorded its maiden flight on 28 June 1943 with the powerplant of one rigidly mounted Centaurus IV engine and the standard Typhoon-type tail unit, although the newer one-piece sliding canopy was fitted. The rigid engine mounting proved problematical, and a five-blade Rotol propeller replaced the original four-blade unit for a time, while the use of a less-rigid six-point engine mounting was considered. The second prototype made its maiden flight on 18 September 1943, and was flown mainly for powerplant development, in its career flying with the Centaurus IV, V, XII, XV and XVIII engines.

Gloster was preoccupied at this time with development and production of its own Meteor, which was the first and only Allied fighter of the turbojet-powered type to enter service in World War II, so production of the Tempest Mk II was transferred, by a decision of August 1943, to Bristol and the number specified was increased to 600, later supplemented by a further 30. The first of these Tempest Mk II fighters off the production line made its maiden flight at the airfield beside Bristol’s Filton plant on 4 October 1944 with a tail unit similar to that of the Tempest Mk V, short-barrelled Hispano V cannon, and the powerplant of one Centaurus V radial engine rated at 2,590 hp (1931 kW) for take-off, 2,530 hp (1886.5 kW) at 1,000 ft (305 m) and 2,225 hp (1659 kW) at 11,000 ft (3355 m), and driving a four-blade Rotol propeller of the constant-speed type with a diameter of 12 ft 9 in (3.89 m).

In the event Bristol completed only 50 airframes including 20 sets of components for assembly by Hawker. The parent company itself had meanwhile received contracts for a total of 900 Tempest Mk II fighters and completed 402 (in addition to the 20 assembled from Bristol components) to make a Tempest Mk II total of 452. The last 300 or so of these aircraft were delivered after the end of World War II to a fighter-bomber standard with underwing hardpoints for bombs or rockets.

The Tempest Mk II was generally superior to its Tempest Mk V half-brother as a fighter, as indicated by the fact that the machines completed in World War II were outfitted only for the interceptor role, and the other details of the mark included a fixed armament of four 20 mm Hispano Mk V cannon with 162 and 156 rounds per gun for the weapons of the inboard and outboard pairs respectively, disposable armament of up to 2,000 lb (907 kg) in the form of two 1,000 or 500 lb (454 or 227 kg) bombs or eight 80 lb (27 kg) air-to-surface unguided rockets, span of 41 ft 0 in (12.49 m) with an area of 302.00 sq ft (28.06 m²), length of 34 ft 5 in (10.49 m), height of 14 ft 6 in (4.42 m), wheel track of 14 ft 10.5 in (4.54 m), empty weight of 9,300 lb (4218 kg), normal take-off weight of 11,800 lb (5352 kg), maximum take-off weight of 13,900 lb (6305 kg), maximum speed of 382 kt (440 mph; 708 km/h) at 17,000 ft (5180 m) declining to 348 kt (401 mph; 645 km/h) at sea level, initial climb rate of 4,520 ft (1378 m) per minute, climb to 20,000 ft (6095 m) in 5 minutes 36 seconds, service ceiling of 37,000 ft (11280 m), maximum range of 1,476 nm (1,700 miles; 2736 km) with drop tanks and typical range of 673 nm (775 miles; 1247 km) with standard fuel.

The Tempest Mk II entered service toward the end of 1945, when No. 54 Squadron became the first unit equipped with the improved fighter. Nos 54 and 247 Squadrons operated the Tempest Mk II only in the UK, but the mark saw more extensive service overseas, in Germany and the Far East. In the course of 1946, Nos 16 and 33 Squadrons in Germany traded in their mix of Tempest Mk V and Mk VI fighters for Tempest Mk II machines, and were supplemented by No. 26 Squadron that had just transitioned to the mark. Operational use of the Tempest Mk II in Germany continued briefly after the establishment in that occupied country of the 2nd Tactical Air Force, and ended in 1949 when No. 33 Squadron flew out to Hong Kong as part of the Far East Air Force. Transferring to Malaya, the squadron flew its Tempest Mk II warplanes on anti-terrorist missions, primarily with air-to-ground rockets, until 1951, being the last RAF unit to fly the Tempest operationally.

Grainy black and white photograph of a late production Tempest II in flight, with the pilot's face visible in the cockpit, and looking towards the camera Meanwhile, four RAF squadrons had been allocated the Tempest Mk II for service in India: these units were Nos 5, 20, 30 and 152 Squadrons. With the exception of the last-mentioned, which was No. 136 Squadron renumbered, these had been operating in Burma in the final stages of the war against Japan and transitioned to the Tempest Mk II after returning to India, but all had been disbanded or transferred to the UK by the late summer of 1947.

The third and final development of the Tempest was the Tempest Mk VI, but this too arrived too late to see operational service in World War II. The Tempest Mk VI was a sub-variant of the Tempest Mk V featuring an uprated powerplant in the form of the Sabre V engine rated at 2,340 hp (1752 kW). Such an engine was first installed in the Tempest Mk V prototype, in which it first flew on 9 May 1944, and the installation could be distinguished by the inlets in the leading edges of the wing: a small inlet on each side supplied air to the carburettor, while a larger inlet in the starboard wing served the oil cooler, which was relocated in the wing from the centre of the nose radiator because the whole area of the latter was required for cooling the higher-powered Sabre V. A similar arrangement of carburettor air and oil cooler inlets had already been adopted in the Tempest Mk II.

Of the total of 1,149 Sabre-engined Tempest fighter contracted from Hawker, the last 300 were specified to the Mk VI standard, but only 142 of these were completed and the outstanding balance of 158 was cancelled at the end of World War II. Before the start of production deliveries, two Tempest Mk V fighters were adapted in 1945 to the Tempest Mk VI standard for service trials.

The data for the Tempest Mk VI included the same overall dimensions as the Tempest Mk V, normal take-off weight of 11,700 lb (5312 kg), maximum take-off weight of 13,740 lb (6238 kg), maximum speed of 380.5 kt (438 mph; 705 km/h) at 17,800 ft (5425 m), climb to 15,000 ft (4570 m) in 4 minutes 45 seconds, service ceiling of 38,000 ft (11580 m), maximum range of 1,355 nm (1,560 miles; 2510.5 km) with drop tanks, and typical range of 651 nm (750 miles; 1207 km) with standard fuel.

In its production form the Sabre V installation in the Tempest Mk VI was little different from that of the Tempest V, but Napier planned a more radical installation in the form of an annular radiator not dissimilar to that adopted for the Focke-Wulf Fw 190D that had a Junkers Juno 213 liquid-cooled V-12 engine in place of the earlier models’ air-cooled BMW 801 air-cooled 14-cylinder radial engine. Two Tempest Mk V machines were flown with this type of radiator installation, the second later being tested with a ducted spinner, bringing the air inlet forward of rather than behind the propeller blades. The experiments provided a basis for the later design of intakes for Napier turboprop engines but were not found to offer any advantages for the Tempest itself; they were also the only major modifications flown on Tempest aircraft during World War II.

The Tempest Mk VI entered service with a number of the RAF’s squadrons based in Germany, as either a replacement or a supplement to the Tempest Mk V. No. 39 Squadron flew the Tempest Mk VI briefly in India during 1949 before moving to the Middle East, where it also soon re-equipped. The Tempest Mk VI was operational with four units of the Middle East Air Force, namely Nos 6, 8, 213 and 249 Squadrons, between 1946 and 1950 at bases in the Middle East, including the Canal Zone and Aden, and the machines were committed in some of the skirmishes that occurred in that volatile area.

Tempest operations in the RAF came to an end in 1953, the last aircraft in service being about 30 Tempest Mk V and Tempest Mk VI machines adapted for target towing at the RAF Armament Training Station located on the island of Sylt off the north German coast. For this purpose, the aircraft carried under the port wing an ML pod from which a target could be streamed and, by means of a slipstream driven winch, recovered; targets could alternatively be snatched on take-off using a static tow line.

Shortly after the end of World War II, however, Hawker conducted an experiment on a late-production example of the Tempest Mk V fitted with a long-barrelled 40 mm Type ‘P’ cannon with 38 rounds under each half of the wing. First flown on 19 October 1945, this was a considerably more effective ground-attack and anti-tank warplane than the similarly armed Hurricane Mk IID, but the type received no production order.

During 1946 the Tempest was selected as the equipment for fighter squadrons of the Royal Indian Air Force. Sufficient examples of the Tempest Mk II were supplied from RAF stocks to equip first Nos 3 and 10 Squadrons, and then Nos 1, 4, 7, 8 and 9 Squadrons. These machines were supplemented by 89 ordered from Hawker, which supplied machines refurbished after service with the RAF. It is not certain, therefore, exactly how many Tempest Mk II fighters were delivered to the Royal Indian Air Force which, like the rest of the viceroyalty’s armed forces, were partitioned in August 1947 as India became independent and was divided into India and Pakistan. Nos 1 and 9 Squadrons were allocated to the newly created Royal Pakistan Air Force, which designated them as Nos 1 and 9 Squadrons. Pakistan then contracted with Hawker for a further 24 Tempest Mk II fighters, delivered as refurbished ex-RAF aircraft, and these were used to create No. 14 Squadron.

The Tempest Mk II fighters in Indian and Pakistani service saw action against each other in 1947, and while India retired its surviving aircraft in 1953, Pakistan kept its machines operational to 1954, a year in which the Tempest Mk II saw its final operational service against dissident tribesmen on the North-West Frontier.

Specification

Hawker Tempest Mk V

Type: fighter and fighter-bomber

Accommodation: pilot in the enclosed cockpit

Powerplant: one Napier Sabre IIA, IIB or IIC liquid-cooled H-24 piston engine rated at 2,180 hp (1625.5 kW) for take-off, 1,830 hp (1364.5 kW) at 11,500 ft (3505 m) and 2,260 hp (1685 kW) at optimum altitude

Performance: maximum level speed ‘clean’ 378 kt (435 mph; 700 km/h) at 17,000 ft (5180 m) declining to 340 kt (392 mph; 631 km/h) at sea level; cruising speed, maximum 339.5 kt (391 mph; 629 km/h) at 18,800 ft (5730 m) and economical 182 kt (210 mph; 338 km/h) at 5,000 ft (1525 m); initial climb rate 4,700 ft (1433 m) per minute; climb to 20,000 ft (6095 m) in 6 minutes 6 seconds; service ceiling 36,000 ft (10975 m); maximum range 1,129 nm (1,300 miles; 2092 km) with drop tanks; typical range 712 nm (820 miles; 1320 km) with standard fuel

Weights: empty 10,700 lb (4854 kg); normal take-off 11,510 lb (5221 kg); maximum take-off 13,640 lb (6187 kg)

Dimensions: span 41 ft 0 in (12.50 m); length 33 ft 8 in (10.26 m); height 16 ft 1 in (4.90 m); wheel track 14 ft 10.5 in (4.53 m); wing area 302.00 sq ft (28.06 m²)

Armament: four 20 mm Hispano Mk V fixed forward-firing cannon with 200 rounds per gun in the leading edges of the wing, and up to 2,000 lb (907 kg) of disposable stores carried on two hardpoints (both under the wing with each unit rated at 1,000 lb/454 kg), and generally comprising two 1,000 or 500 lb (454 or 227 kg) free-fall bombs or eight 60 lb (27 kg) air-to-surface unguided rockets

[First photo by RuthAS]

Hawker Tempest – a late-generation British piston-engined fighter (Part 1)

Black and white photograph of a Tempest V fighter plane prototype on the ground.The Tempest was the third and last of the fighters designed by Sydney Camm to enter operational service in World War II and, while perhaps not as well known as the preceding Hurricane and Typhoon, was nonetheless an excellent warplane that proved highly adaptable in terms of its production in variants with air-cooled and liquid-cooled engines. The Tempest was also one of the machines that characterised the very apogee of the piston-engined fighter design, and was one of the very few warplanes to have been both designed and placed in service during the course of the war.

Work on the concept that would mature as the Tempest began in March 1940 as part of the Hawker design office’s general studies to improve on the basic design of the Typhoon, whose prototype had started its flight trials in the previous month. One aspect of the core concept that secured initial attention was whether or not it was desirable to introduce a wing of reduced thickness/chord ratio and reduced area. As the initial results of the Typhoon’s flight test programme were assessed, the design team decided that a small and thinner wing was absolutely essential to the success of the new fighter as a high-performance type. The wing of the Typhoon had a thickness/chord ratio of 18% at the root, largely as a result of the need for considerable fuel capacity and the provision of heavy armament with a substantial ammunition load, and it was immediately clear that this was the primary reason for the Typhoon’s indifferent performance at medium and high altitudes, as well as a tendency toward buffeting and aileron reversal in high-speed dives.

The design team accordingly opted for a much slimmer wing, and in due course combined this with the result of an analysis that suggested the advantages of engine and oil coolant radiators located in the wing roots (and using air drawn through the leading edge) rather than in the type of large chin installation that constituted one of the most distinctive features of the Typhoon’s appearance.

Theoretical work on the aerodynamics of the desired wing continued during 1940, but little practical design work was possible because of the overridingly high priority accorded in May 1940 to the production and further development of the Hurricane in accordance with the orders issued by Lord Beaverbrook, the Minister of Aircraft Production, that design and production effort should be concentrated on only five British warplanes (the other four being the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley, Bristol Blenheim, Supermarine Spitfire and Vickers Wellington) at this moment of crisis following the Germans forces’ invasions of the Netherlands, Belgium and France on 10 May. This decision slowed the development of a number of important but forthcoming rather than immediately valuable warplanes, including the Typhoon, but full-scale work on more advanced designs was resumed after the crisis had passed with the British victory in the Battle of Britain. By the late summer of 1941, therefore, the design of leading-edge radiators for the original Typhoon wing had been completed with the project office designation P.1012 for what was at one time projected as the Typhoon Mk II.

It was then appreciated that a radiator installation buried in the original type of thick wing went only part of the way to overcoming the intrinsic problem of a wing of this type. After discussions between Camm and the Directorate of Technical Development at the Ministry of Aircraft Production, Hawker was authorised in March 1941 to embark on the full-scale development of a more advanced thin wing for the Typhoon Mk II. Specification F.10/41 was drawn for the proposed new fighter, which continued to be known in the project office as the P.1012, and detailed design work on the new wing began in September 1941.

The Hurricane and Typhoon had each employed a wing based on an American aerofoil created by the NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics), but for the new wing Hawker designed its own aerofoil with its point of maximum thickness moved considerably to the rear (37.5% chord). The root thickness of the new wing was 5 in (0.127 m) less than that of the Typhoon, and as a result of the need to carry the planned armament of four 20 mm Hispano cannon in the leading edges outboard of the disc swept by the propeller, the wing was given considerable chord, which resulted in a semi-elliptical planform with a thickness/chord ratio that decreased from 14.5% at the root to 10% at the tips. These last were originally quite pointed, resulting in a span of 43 ft 0 in (13.11 m), but it was later seen that little area would be lost but the rate of roll considerably enhanced by the adoption of cut-off tips that trimmed the span to 41 ft 0 in (12.50 m). Calculation also revealed that the buffet threshold for the new wing would be Mach 0.73 compared with the Typhoon’s figure of 0.64.

The main disadvantage of the thin wing was, of course, its reduced volume, and this translated into the limitation of the wing’s fuel tankage to a single small tank in the inboard section behind each wheel well. The need to provide adequate range therefore required that volume had to be provided in the fuselage for an additional tank, and the volume demanded near the centre of gravity position could be provided only by a lengthening of the fuselage: thus a new bay was inserted between the engine and the cockpit, increasing the length forward of the centre of gravity by 1 ft 9 in (0.53 m), and this had in turn to be balanced by an enlargement of the tail unit’s horizontal and vertical areas, although the new type was originally flown with the Typhoon’s standard tail unit.

A useful by-product of the removal of much of the fuel tankage from the wing to the fuselage was the provision of volume for the installation of the wing-root radiators, and it was with such a coolant installation that the type was schemed at the time that Hawker received the November 1941 order for two F.10/41 prototypes each with a powerplant of one Napier Sabre liquid-cooled H-type engine that was to be known in service as the Sabre IV.

The new fighter was clearly a development of the Typhoon, but as a succession of alterations were worked into the design, covering the full range of internal details, structure and external mould line, it became sensible to introduce a new name, and in January 1942 the designation Tempest Mk I was adopted for the F.10/41 fighter with the Sabre IV engine and leading-edge radiator installation, although it should be noted that Hawker was by this time seriously considering other powerplants as a result, largely, of the cancellation of the production programme for the Tornado, which was in essence a counterpart of the Typhoon with the powerplant of one Rolls-Royce Vulture liquid-cooled X-type engine.

At the time of the Tornado programme’s cancellation, Hawker had been contracted for additional Tornado prototypes with the alternative powerplant of one Bristol Centaurus air-cooled 18-cylinder two-row radial engine, with less advanced studies already under way for possible use of other engines, including the Wright R-3350 Duplex Cyclone air-cooled 18-cylinder two-row radial unit and the Fairey P.24 Monarch liquid-cooled H-24 engine comprising two vertically opposed 12-cylinder units. Only one Centaurus-engined prototype was built in addition to three Sabre-engined Tornado aircraft in the form of two prototype and one production machines.

Black and white image of an experimental version of the Tempest V fighter plane, on the ground.The sole production aeroplane made its maiden flight on 23 October 1941, just before the placement of the Tempest Mk I prototype contract, and it was now decided that five more airframes should be included in the F.10/41 development programme. Three of these five prototypes were to have the powerplant of one Centaurus IV radial engine, but one of them (originally known somewhat prosaically as the Typhoon Mk II with Centaurus) was deleted before the name Tempest was adopted, thus leaving two prototypes to undergo development as Tempest Mk II machines. The other two prototypes were intended to have the Rolls-Royce Griffon liquid-cooled V-12 piston engine in the form of either the Griffon IIB, in which guise they would be Tempest Mk III machines, or the Griffon 61 in a ‘power egg’ installation to become Tempest Mk IV machines. Neither of these prototypes was built as a Tempest, although one did later fly as part of the development effort for Hawker’s next-generation fighter, the Fury designed to meet Specification F.2/43.

In structural terms the Tempest followed the Hawker concept, updated in a number of respects, that had been proved in the Hurricane and Typhoon. The Tempest was therefore a cantilever low-wing monoplane of light alloy stressed-skin construction, and its core was the oval-section fuselage, which included a semi-monocoque rear section: from front to rear, this fuselage carried the powerplant (supported by bearers extending forward from the firewall that was the forward end of the fuselage structure proper), the oil and main fuel tanks, the cockpit with the pilot accommodated under a fixed canopy based on that of the Typhoon and therefore accessed by a car-type side door, and the tail unit. This last comprised single horizontal and vertical surfaces skinned with light alloy except on the rudder, which was covered with fabric. The horizontal surface included a tailplane and elevator halves each incorporating an inset trim tab controlled from the cockpit, while the vertical surface included a fin and a balanced rudder that also incorporated a trim tab controlled from the cockpit.

The low-set wing was a two-spar structure with ribs and light alloy skins stiffened by spanwise stringers, and the main and rear spars constituted the front and rear members of the main structural torsion box, aft of which there was no primary structure in the area of the gun bays, allowing the guns to be installed and rearmed from a point behind the rear spar. As noted above, the wing was of semi-elliptical planform and this tapered in thickness and chord to its tips which were only slightly rounded. The centre section was flat, largely to reduce the length and therefore the weight of the main landing gear units, and its halves extended from the lower fuselage to a heavy outboard rib that supported the main landing gear units as well as the dihedralled outer panels. Virtually the full span of the wing’s trailing edge was occupied by outboard ailerons (each incorporating an inset trim tab that could be altered only on the ground) and inboard four-section split flaps that were operated hydraulically. The airframe was completed by the landing gear, which was of the tailwheel type with a single wheel on each unit: all three units were retractable by a hydraulic system, and while the tailwheel unit retracted forward into the underside of the rear fuselage, the main wheel units retracted inward into wells in the underside of the centre section, where they were fully enclosed by the fairing attached to each leg and two other fairings hinged to the inboard ends of the wells.

As noted above, the powerplant was based on one Sabre H-type engine, and this was installed in the front of the fuselage inside a light alloy cowling, drove a four-blade propeller of the constant-speed type fitted with a neat spinner, and discharged its spent gases via a row of ejector exhaust stubs on each side.

As work on the two Tempest prototypes continued during 1942, the development of the 2,500 hp (1864 kW) Sabre IV engine and its associated buried radiator installation was beset by problems. In these circumstances it was thought sensible to complete the first prototype with the powerplant of the Typhoon, namely the Sabre II engine rated at 2,180 hp (1625.5 kW), driving a four-blade de Havilland propeller of the constant-speed type with a diameter of 14 ft 0 in (4.27 m) and cooled by an undernose radiator installation. This expedient was adopted so that the airframe could be used for trials as soon as possible, and this machine recorded the type’s maiden flight on 2 September 1942 with the designation Tempest Mk V and, for the first two months of its trials, the original type of Typhoon tail unit. The second prototype first flew on 24 February 1943 with the nicely streamlined Sabre IV installation including the wing leading-edge radiator arrangement, and was otherwise similar to the first prototype including the early type of cockpit enclosure and the Typhoon tail unit.

Early trials confirmed that the Tempest had considerably better performance and handling than the Typhoon and, as rightly predicted, that the second prototype offered better performance than the first as a result of its greater power and the lower drag of its cleaner powerplant installation. The better performance included a maximum speed of 405 kt (466 mph; 750 km/h) at 24,500 ft (7470 m). Taking off in normally laden condition at a weight of 11,300 lb (5126 kg), the Tempest Mk I had a range of 669 nm (770 miles; 1239 km), climb to 15,000 ft (4570 m) in 4 minutes 15 seconds, and service ceiling of 39,000 ft (11885 m).

This was all very impressive, but the fly in the ointment for the Tempest programme was the fact that the Sabre IV was still beset by major problems, and this jeopardised the batch of 400 Tempest Mk I fighters that had been ordered in August 1942, one month before the first prototype’s maiden flight. The Typhoon was proving inadequate in the medium- to high-altitude interceptor role for which it had been designed, and only just starting to be seen as the highly capable low-level fighter-bomber for the ground-attack task that was to become its forte, and as a result the Royal Air Force had an urgent need for a fighter offering a genuinely effective medium- to high-altitude interceptor capability. It was therefore decided to forget the Sabre IV and its leading-edge radiator installation from short-term production plans and instead to start production with the Tempest Mk V with the Sabre IIA powerplant and radiator installation of the Typhoon.

This decision made it possible for Hawker to start manufacture of the Tempest at its Langley plant, and the first Tempest Mk V from this production line made its maiden flight on 21 June 1943. Since the inboard ends of the wing no longer accommodated radiators, it became feasible to install an additional fuel tank in the leading edges of the port and starboard halves of the centre section (such a tank was in fact generally installed only in the port half of the centre section), and the production standard further differed from that of the prototypes in having a revised cockpit enclosure (fixed windscreen and rearward-sliding canopy section of the clear-view type) and the larger tail unit introduced during flight testing of the prototypes.

The first 100 aircraft were completed to the Tempest Mk V Series 1 standard with a fixed forward-firing armament of four 20 mm Hispano II cannon with 200 rounds per gun and their muzzles projecting some 8 in (0.203 m) ahead of the leading edge, but all later aircraft were finished to the Tempest Mk V Series 2 standard with 20 mm Hispano V cannon whose shorter barrels did not protrude forward of the leading edge. There were also a number of minor structural modifications in the wing, spring tabs were fitted in the ailerons to replace the ground-set tabs, and the standard powerplant was the Sabre II in three sub-variants that changed from the Sabre IIA rated at 2,180 hp (1625 kW) in the first aircraft, via the Sabre IIB rated at 2,200 hp (1640 kW) in later aircraft and finally to the Sabre IIC rated at 2,260 hp (1685 kW) in the last aircraft.

The original contract for 400 aircraft (ordered as Tempest Mk I machines but then changed to Tempest Mk V fighters) had included 300 Typhoon airframes ordered from the Gloster company but manufactured by Hawker as Tempest aircraft. By the end of World War II Hawker had been contracted for an additional 749 Tempest fighters, but at this time 207 of these were cancelled and another 142 completed to Tempest Mk VI standard, resulting on a Tempest Mk V production total of 800.

Operation ‘Forager’ – the US forces move into the Mariana Islands

Black and white photo of a Japanese plane falling from the sky in a blaze of fire, over the sea with a ship on it.Operation ‘Forager’ was the seizure of the northern part of the three largest of the Mariana islands within the overall ‘Granite’ and ‘Granite II’ plans in the period between 15 June and 10 August 1944. During the Pacific and South-West Asian campaigns of 1943 and the first half of 1944, the Allies had completed their seizure of the Solomon islands, captured the Gilbert islands (‘Galvanic’) and Marshall islands (‘Flintlock’ and ‘Catchpole’) and finished their recapture of the Papuan peninsula of New Guinea. In the Pacific this brought the Americans up against the main Japanese defence line, which was based on the Palau, Caroline, Palau and Mariana island groups, which were ex-German possessions occupied by the Japanese since the end of World War I and heavily fortified in the period between the two world wars.

The defence of the Mariana islands was the responsibility of Vice Admiral Chuichi Hara’s 4th Fleet, which was headquartered at Truk. The 5th Base Force had been established on Saipan before the outbreak of World War II, along with the 5th Communications Unit and 5th Defence Force, and these were directly responsible for the defence of the Mariana islands. Just before the war, moreover, the 5th Base Force had also been tasked with planning the seizure of the US island of Guam at the southern end of the Mariana islands. The 5th Base Force was redesignated as the 5th Special Base Force in April 1942, when it had only 1,500 personnel. Only the three largest islands (Saipan, Tinian and Guam, all at the southern end of the chain) played major roles in the war. Minor Japanese installations were located on Rota and Pagan islands.

As the US forces were planning their operation against the Mariana islands, Lieutenant General Hideyoshi Obata’s 31st Army on Truk was made responsible for the Japanese army elements in the Mariana islands, and this headquarters later moved to the Palau islands. While the 4th Fleet had overall responsibility for the area, it had also been decided that once any island was attacked, the senior army officer on that island would assume command of all available forces. A major reinforcement of the Mariana islands was undertaken between February and May 1944, and the comparatively large size of the islands allowed the Japanese to adopt new defensive tactics as, unlike the central Pacific atolls, they were large enough to open the possibility of defence in depth, though advantage of this fact was not always exploited to the full, and also some degree of manoeuvre. The islands were also small enough for all or most of the main landing sites to be defended, which was a situation which did not prevail on the larger islands of the South and South-West Pacific areas. Those islands too had limited the defenders’ ability to manoeuvre because of their size, dense vegetation and rugged terrain.

The Allies embarked on a pair of parallel campaigns to break through in the south-west and to penetrate the Pacific defence line. General Douglas MacArthur’s South-West Pacific Area command therefore advanced through New Guinea and onto Morotai island (‘Tradewind’) in the Halmahera islands of the Japanese-occupied Netherlands East Indies as it advanced toward the Philippine islands. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz’s Central Pacific Area command attacked the Mariana islands. The selection of the Mariana islands as a target was influenced by the introduction of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress heavy bomber, for in American hands the Mariana islands could accommodate the airfields that would provide the air bombardment springboard within B-29 range of Tokyo and other strategic targets in the Japanese home islands.

The Japanese were expecting an attack somewhere on their defensive perimeter, but thought an American onslaught on the Caroline islands, farther south, to be more probable. To reinforce and supply their garrisons they needed both naval and air superiority, so ‘A’ was prepared as a major aircraft carrier offensive for implementation as and when needed by June 1944. The Mariana islands lie some 1,000 miles (1600 km) to the north-west of the Marshall islands, and in World War II were ideally located as a strategic stepping stone for a Pacific Ocean Areas offensive toward the Japanese home islands. As noted above, it was also fully appreciated that these substantial islands would provide adequate bases for the fleet of B-29 bombers to be deployed by the US 20th AAF controlled initially from the continental USA by General Henry H. Arnold. There were already relatively small Japanese airfields on the islands, but the US planners were convinced that three huge air base complexes could swiftly be built to provide a platform from which the US bombers could destroy Japan’s cities and war-making potential, possibly removing the need for US forces to invade the Japanese home islands, which all agreed would be an exceptionally costly undertaking. For these reasons, therefore, the successful implementation of ‘Forager’ was wholly vital to US interests.

Initially the scheme did not secure the approval of all US commanders in the Pacific theatre: MacArthur’s South-West Pacific Area command desired reinforcements for its proposed recapture of the Philippine islands, and Nimitz’s Pacific Ocean Areas command was concerned about the threats posed to the US invasion force by lack of a good harbour in the islands and by Japanese land-based air attack in an operational area beyond the reach of any US land-based aircraft. In January 1944, MacArthur and Nimitz met at Pearl Harbor to agree a joint alternative plan for the B-29 bombers to be diverted to MacArthur’s 5th AAF commanded by Lieutenant General George C. Kenney, and for the naval effort in the central Pacific to be directed at the Caroline and Palau island groups rather than at the Mariana islands. Nimitz agreed with MacArthur that their forces should then combine for the invasion of the Philippine islands, starting with Mindanao island. Reports of the Pearl Harbor conference angered the US Joint Chiefs-of-Staff in Washington, and as a result Admiral Ernest J. King, the chief of naval operations, rebuked Nimitz in a letter which reminded Nimitz that in the ‘Granite’ overall strategic plan the Joint Chiefs-of-Staff had already directed the Pacific Ocean Areas command to work toward an invasion of the Mariana islands as any single drive west across the Pacific farther to the south, as envisaged by Nimitz with MacArthur’s support, would leave the US lines of communication open to a Japanese counterstroke from its northern flank. An often underestimated but nonetheless essential background feature of ‘Forager’, and indeed other parts of the central Pacific offensive, was the US Navy’s system of mobile supply and support ‘bases’ to keep the combat forces operational and fed with all the requirements of modern war. These floating bases (repair ships, supply ships, tenders, tugs, floating docks and salvage vessels etc) were designed to anchor in the lagoon of a large atoll in an area safe from Japanese submarine and land-based air attack. The floating base moved with the fleet it supported, and in the period from 1943 to 1945, this base thus shifted from Majuro atoll in the southern part of Marshall islands, to Eniwetok in the northern part of the same group, and then to Ulithi atoll in the Palau islands.

The whole of the ‘Forager’ campaign presented formidable operational problems, and powerful forces were assembled for the task, which was entrusted to Admiral Raymond A. Spruance’s 5th Fleet. Spruance assembled his command in the lagoon of Eniwetok atoll, and all was prepared for Vice Admiral Richmond K. Turner’s Task Force 51 (Joint Expeditionary Force) to assault the islands with the 127,000 men of Lieutenant General Holland M. Smith’s V Amphibious Corps after the defences had been softened by attacks delivered by the aircraft of Vice Admiral Marc A. Mitscher’s Task Force 58, which destroyed some 200 Japanese aircraft and sank 12 cargo ships. For this wide-ranging sweep, which lasted from 11 to 17 June, TF58 was disposed as Rear Admiral Joseph J. Clark’s Task Group 58.1 with the fleet carriers Hornet and Yorktown, light carriers Belleau Wood and Bataan, heavy cruisers Boston, Baltimore and Canberra, light cruiser Oakland, and destroyers Izard, Charrette, Conner, Bell, Burns, Boyd, Bradford, Brown and Cowell; Rear Admiral Alfred E. Montgomery’s TG58.2 with the fleet carriers Bunker Hill and Wasp, light carriers Monterey and Cabot, light cruisers Santa Fe, Mobile, Biloxi and San Juan, and destroyers Owen, Miller, The Sullivans, Stephen Potter, Tingey, Hickox, Hunt, Lewis Hancock and Marshall; Rear Admiral John Reeves’s TG58.3 with the fleet carriers Enterprise and Lexington, light carriers San Jacinto and Princeton, heavy cruiser Indianapolis (with Spruance on board), light cruisers Reno, Montpelier, Cleveland and Birmingham, and destroyers Clarence K. Branson, Cotten, Dortch, Catling, Healy, Cogswell, Caperton, Ingersoll, Knapp, Anthony, Wadsworth, Terry and Braine; and Rear Admiral William Harrill’s TG58.4 with the fleet carrier Essex, light carriers Langley and Cowpens, heavy cruiser Vincennes, light cruisers San Diego, Houston and Miami, and destroyers Lansdowne, Lardner, McCalla, Lang, Sterett, Wilson, Case, Ellet, Charles Ausburne, Stanly, Dyson, Converse, Spence and Thatcher. Vice Admiral Willis A. Lee’s TG58.7 (the ‘Battle Line’) was distributed initially among the other four task groups, and comprised the battleships Washington, North Carolina, Iowa, New Jersey, Indiana, South Dakota and Alabama, heavy cruisers Wichita, Minneapolis, New Orleans and San Francisco, and destroyers Mugford, Conyngham, Patterson, Bagley, Selfridge, Halford, Guest, Bennett, Fullam, Hudson, Yarnall, Twining, Stockham and Monssen: the Battle Line shelled Saipan on 13 June.

Black and white photo of battleship guns firing, with thick discharge of flame and smokeOn 11 June all four carrier task groups had carried their first fighter attack on all of the Mariana islands, and destroyed 36 Japanese aircraft. TG58.4 attacked a convoy which had just departed Saipan and sank the torpedo boat Ootori, three submarine chasers and 10 merchant ships (30,000 tons). On 12 and 13 June TG58.2, TG58.3 and TG58.4 attacked Saipan and Tinian while TG58.1 attacked Guam. However, on 14 and 15 June there were only individual sorties over the Mariana islands as the ships of TG58.2 and TG58.3 were replenished. Off to the north, TG58.1 and TG58.4 attacked Iwo Jima, Chichi Jima and Haha Jima in the afternoon of 15 June and on 16 June. On the way to the rendezvous with the rest of TF58, TG58.4 attacked the island of Pagan again on 17 June.

The US plan for ‘Forager’ involved two main groups of amphibious forces, namely TF52 and TF53. The former was the Northern Attack Force under Turner’s command, and would deliver onto Saipan (and then Tinian) the 66,800 men of the Northern Troops and Landing Force under Smith’s personal command and comprising Major General Thomas E. Watson’s 2nd Marine Division (2nd, 6th and 8th Marines plus the 10th Marine Artillery) and Major General Harry Schmidt’s 4th Marine Division (23rd, 24th and 25th Marines plus the 14th Marine Artillery), with Major General Ralph C. Smith’s 27th Division (105th, 106th and 165th Infantry) as floating reserve: Ralph Smith was replaced by Major General George W. Griner during the Saipan fighting at the express order of Holland Smith. The combined artillery for the ‘Forager’ operation was the responsibility of the US Army’s XXIV Corps as the III Amphibious Corps’s own artillery had been diverted to support the XXIV Corps for the cancelled operation against Yap.

US intelligence estimated that the defence force available on Saipan to Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo’s Central Pacific Area Fleet and Obata’s 31st Army amounted to some 20,000 men, though the actuality was 25,470 soldiers including those of Lieutenant General Yoshitsugo Saito’s 43rd Division (118th, 135th and 135th Regiments), Colonel Yoshiro Oka’s 47th Independent Mixed Brigade (ex-1st Expeditionary Unit) and two infantry battalions shipped in from other islands, plus 6,160 sailors and naval troops including the regimental-size 41st and 55th Base Forces, and the battalion-size Yokosuka 1st Special Naval Landing Force.

The campaign started with the aerial bombing and naval gunfire bombardment of Saipan from 13 June. The naval bombardment force included 15 battleships, and in the course of the bombardment 165,000 shells were fired. As this preliminary programme was pressed forward, the assault force closed on Saipan. Within TF52 were Rear Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf’s TG52.17 comprising the battleships Tennessee, California, Maryland and Colorado, heavy cruisers Indianapolis (allocated to TF58 until 14 June) and Louisville, light cruisers Birmingham, Montpelier and Cleveland, and destroyers Remey, Wadleigh, NormanScott, Mertz, Robinson, Bagley, Albert W. Grant, HalseyPowell, Coghlan, Monssen, McDermut, McGowan, Melvin, McNair, Yarnall, Twining and Stockham; Rear Admiral Walden L. Ainsworth’s TG52.10 comprising the battleships Pennsylvania, Idaho and NewMexico, heavy cruisers Minneapolis, NewOrleans, SanFrancisco and Wichita, light cruisers Honolulu and StLouis, and destroyers Anthony, Wadsworth, Hudson, Halford, Terry, Braine, Guest, Bennett and Fullam together with two APDs, two DMSs and one AVD; for the provision of air support Rear Admiral Gerald F. Bogan’s TG52.14 comprising the escort carriers FanshawBay, Midway, WhitePlains and KalininBay, and destroyers CassinYoung, Irwin, Ross, Porterfield, Callaghan and Longshaw; and also for the provision of air support Rear Admiral Harold B. Sallada’s TG52.11 comprising the escort carriers KitkunBay, GambierBay, Corregidor and CoralSea, and destroyers Laws, Morrison, Benham, Bullard, Kidd and Chauncey. On 14 June the battleship California and destroyer Braine were damaged off Saipan and Tinian respectively by the fire of shore batteries, while the battleship Tennessee, cruisers Indianapolis and Birmingham, and destroyers Remey and Wadleigh suffered lesser damage from near-misses. On 15 June Tennessee again and the cruiser StLouis were damaged, as were LCI(G)-451 and LCI(G)-726. On 22 June the battleship Maryland was struck and damaged by an air-launched torpedo, LST-119 by shore gunfire and the transport PrinceGeorges by a bomb near-miss.

On 15 June Captain Knowles’s TG52.3 transport group of 13 attack troop transports (APAs), five attack transports (AKs) and one dock landing ship (LSD) landed the 2nd Marine Division on the island’s western side just to the north of Afetna Point, and Captain Loomis’s TG52.4 transport group of 13 APAs, three auxiliary attack transports (AKAs) and three LSDs landed the 4th Marine Division farther to the south near Charan Kanoa. The two landing groups were escorted by the destroyers Newcomb, Bennion, Heywood L. Edwards, Bryant, Prichett, Philip, Cony, Mugford, Selfridge, RalphTalbot, Patterson, Bagley, Phelps, Shaw and Renshaw. Further assault waves arrived on landing ships and boats. In all, TF52 consisted of 551 ships, and a total of 67,451 men were disembarked. Within this overall effort, and supported by a feint landing to the north of Garapan, the landings began at 07.00 on 15 June as a force of more than 300 tracked landing vehicles (LVTs) and numerous landing craft delivered 8,000 marines onto eight beaches between points to the south of Garapan and to the south of Charan Kanoa on the southern end of Saipan’s western coast by about 09.00, with the 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions on the left and right of the beach-head respectively.

Careful Japanese preparation (including the placement of flags in the bay to indicate the range) allowed their artillery to destroy about 20 LVTs, but by nightfall the marines had a beach-head about 6 miles (10 km) wide and 1,100 yards (1000 m) deep. The Japanese counterattacked at night but were driven back with heavy losses. On 17 June units of the 27th Division landed to the right of the 4th Marine Division and advanced on Aslito airfield. Again the Japanese counterattacked at night, but again suffered heavy losses without unduly discomfiting the Americans. On 18 June Saito abandoned the airfield.

Although the invasion had surprised the Japanese, who had been expecting an attack farther to the south, Admiral Soemu Toyoda, commander-in-chief of the Japanese navy, nonetheless saw an opportunity to use the ‘A’ force to attack the US Navy forces around Saipan and on 15 June gave the order to attack. But the resulting Battle of the Philippine Sea was a disaster for the Japanese navy, which lost three aircraft carriers and hundreds of aircraft, effectively removing any opportunity for the reinforcement and resupply of the Japanese garrisons of the Mariana islands.

Without resupply, the defenders of Saipan faced a hopeless situation but determined to fight to the last man. Saito organised his troops into a line anchored on Mt Tapotchau in the defensible mountainous terrain of central Saipan. The nicknames given by the Americans to the features of the battle (such as ‘Hell’s Pocket’, ‘Purple Heart Ridge’ and ‘Death Valley’) indicate the severity of the fighting. The Japanese used the many caves in the volcanic landscape as the basis of strongpoints from which to delay the attackers: the defenders hid during the day and then sortied by night, but the Americans gradually developed tactics for clearing the caves by using flamethrower teams supported by artillery and machine guns.

The US operation was marred by inter-service controversy when the US Marine Corps’ Lieutenant General Holland Smith, unsatisfied with the performance of the 27th Division, relieved its commander, the US Army’s Major General Smith, and replaced him with Major General Griner.

Having pulled back to Marpi Point on the extreme northern tip of the island by 7 July, the Japanese had no further place to which they could retreat. Saito ordered his remaining able-bodied troops, totalling some 3,000 men, forward in a suicide charge, and then killed himself. By the time of the island’s capture on 9 July, Japanese losses were 23,811 dead with 1,780 men taken prisoner, and US losses were 3,426 dead and 13,099 wounded or, according to other sources, 3,126 US dead (out of total casualties of 14,111) and about 30,000 Japanese including Nagumo and Saito, the latter commanding in the absence of Obata who was on an inspection tour in the Palau islands at the time of the US invasion. Within the Japanese total were some 8,000 civilian dead, most of them ethnic Japanese who committed suicide in the last days of the battle, some jumping from ‘Suicide Cliff’ and ‘Banzai Cliff’ despite efforts by US troops to dissuade them.

The crew of the USS SOUTH DAKOTA sit with bowed heads, while Chaplain N. D. Lindner reads the benediction held in honor of fellow shipmates killed in air action off Guam After the battle, Saipan became an important base for further operations in the Mariana islands, and then for the invasion of the Philippine islands in October 1944. Bombers based at Saipan attacked targets in the Philippine islands, the Ryukyu islands and the Japanese home islands. The American forces’ next step was the ‘Stevedore’ descent on Guam from 21 July, and the final stage of ‘Forager’ proper was therefore the assault on Tinian, just to the south of Saipan, which was one of the reasons why the Saipan assault force was used for the Tinian operation. Holland Smith had been elevated to Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific Fleet, and command of the V Amphibious Corps had passed to Schmidt, Major General Clifton B. Cates assuming control of the 4th Marine Division.

The Japanese garrison on Tinian amounted to 4,700 soldiers of the 29th Division’s 50th Regiment and 4,110 naval troops and sailors of the 56th Guard Force as well as construction and service troops commanded by Colonel Kaishi Ogata and Captain Goichi Oya respectively under the overall direction of Vice Admiral Kakuji Kakuda, commander of the 1st Air Fleet. It is worth noting that the fighting on Tinian was characterised by the first use of napalm in battle. Of the 120 jettisonable tanks dropped by US warplanes during the operation, 25 contained the napalm mixture and the remainder an oil/petrol mix. Of the entire number only 14 failed, and eight of these were then ignited by strafing runs. Carried by Republic P-47 Thunderbolt fighter-bombers, the ‘fire bombs’ were used mainly to burn away foliage concealing Japanese positions.

Rear Admiral Harry W. Hill’s TF52 moved and landed the relevant formations of Schmidt’s V Amphibious Corps, whose 15,614 men were delivered by elements of TG52.4, LSTs and smaller landing craft. Fire support was provided by most of Oldendorf’s TG52.17 and Ainsworth’s TG52.10, and air support by Bogan’s TG52.14 and Sallada’s TG52.11. In the shelling, the battleship Colorado, destroyer NormanScott and LST-481 were hit and damaged by Japanese coastal artillery. Though the island was secured largely by men of the US Marine Corps, US Army aircraft, artillerymen, amphibian vehicles and engineers helped invaluably toward success of the Tinian operation.

Just 3.5 miles (5.6 km) to the south of Saipan across the Saipan Channel, Tinian saw the landings of the 4th Marine Division on the island’s north-western coast as the 2nd Marine Division feinted toward Tinian town in the south-west of the island before following the 4th Marine Division. The operation was supported, as usual, by a naval bombardment and, in this instance, artillery firing across the Saipan Channel from the southern portion of Saipan. The feint toward Tinian town was successful in diverting defenders from the actual landing site on the north of the island. The Japanese adopted the same stubborn defensive tactics as on Saipan, retreating during the day and attacking at night. The gentler terrain of Tinian allowed the attackers more effective use of tanks and artillery than in the mountains of Saipan, however, and the island was secured in only nine days of fighting as the attacking forces drove south with the 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions on the left and right respectively.

On 31 July the surviving Japanese launched a suicide charge, and the island was declared secure on 1 August. Even so, several hundreds of Japanese troops held out in the jungles for months, and the garrison on Anguilla island off the south-western cape of Tinian, commanded by Lieutenant Kinichi Yamada, held out until the end of the war, surrendering only on 4 September 1945. The US casualties totalled 389 killed and 1,816 wounded, while those of the Japanese were 6,050 killed and 236 taken prisoner. After the fighting had died down, Tinian was developed as an important base for further US operations in the Pacific War. Camps were built for 50,000 troops, and 15,000 Seabees turned the island into the busiest airfield of the war, with six 2,600-yard (2375-m) runways for B-29 bombers to attack targets in the Philippine islands, the Ryukyu islands and the Japanese home islands, the bombers directed at targets in the last generally taking off with incendiary bombs (oil, napalm and white phosphorus) and, in the case of the ‘Silverplate’ and ‘Centerboard’ attacks against Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August 1945, atomic bombs. Isely Field (ex-Aslito airfield) on Saipan was fully operational by mid-November.


[Photos from Marion Doss]

Operations ‘Brewer’ & ‘Beefsteak’ – closing the door on the Japanese base areas of Rabaul and Kavieng

Map with markings representing the US Army operations Brewer and Beefsteak in the Admiralty Islands.Starting with ‘Ringbolt’ and ‘Watchtower’ in August 1942 against the extreme south-east of the Japanese offensive/defensive perimeter at Tulagi and Guadalcanal in the Solomon islands, the US and allied forces had advanced steadily north-westward toward the local administrative and logistical bases of the Japanese forces seeking to isolate Australia from maritime communication with the west coast of the USA. By the end of 1943 formations of the US Marine Corps and US Army, supported by New Zealand elements, had advanced along the chain of the Solomon islands via the Russell islands (‘Cleanslate’), New Georgia (‘Toenails), Vella Lavella (‘Dogeared’), Choiseul (‘Blissful’) and Treasury islands (‘Goodtime’) to Bougainville (‘Cherryblossom’) during their approach to New Britain and New Ireland, where the primary Imperial Japanese army and navy bases had been established at Rabaul and Kavieng. Over the same period US Army and Australian forces had crossed the Owen Stanley mountains in Papua to retake Sanananda and Buna, and then made both land advances and amphibious landings to take Salamaua, Lae and Finschhafen (‘Postern’) in North-East New Guinea and then crossed the Vitiaz and Dampier Straits from New Guinea’s Huon peninsula to secure footholds in western New Britain at Arawe (‘Director’) and Cape Gloucester (‘Backhander’). This effectively prevented the Japanese from reinforcing their army and navy units farther to the west along the northern coast of the huge island of New Guinea.

By this time is had been decided that it would not be worth the matériel and manpower losses that would result from any attempt to reduce the Japanese base areas centred on Rabaul and Kavieng, which were now to be isolated and their garrisons left to ‘wither on the vine’. The vice was to be closed on Rabaul and Kavieng by the seizure of the Admiralty islands and St Matthias islands, some 200 miles (320 km) to the north of New Guinea and to the west of New Ireland, in ‘Brewer’ and ‘Beefsteak’. The Admiralty islands had been occupied from 7/8 April 1942 by the 51st Transport Regiment of Lieutenant General Hidemitsu Nakano’s 51st Division, detached from Lieutenant General Thrashing Sakai’s 23rd Army in China. The Japanese saw in Seeadler Harbour, in the fishhook-shaped bay formed by Manus and Los Negros islands, an ideal forward fleet base, and from a time late in 1943 strengthened Colonel Yoshio Ezaki’s garrison with elements of the 14th Naval Base Force as well as the 2/1st Independent Mixed Regiment and 1/229th Regiment.

‘Brewer’ was one of the two final offensives of the ‘Elkton’ plan to trap General Hitoshi Imamura’s 8th Area Army in New Britain and New Ireland. The schedule adopted by General Douglas MacArthur’s South-West Pacific Area command called for an invasion of the Admiralty islands in May 1944, but in January the pilots of aircraft attacking targets in these islands reported that there was virtually no evidence of any Japanese presence. Lieutenant General George C. Kenney’s 5th AAF thought that the invasion should be brought forward to give the US forces use of the airfield on Manus island to help complete the isolation of the Japanese on New Britain and New Ireland, and also to support further Allied movement to the north-west along the coast of New Guinea. The scheme was opposed by Brigadier General Charles A. Willoughby, MacArthur’s intelligence chief, on the grounds that they were in fact 4,000 Japanese troops on the islands. MacArthur decided to take the gamble using Lieutenant General Walter C. Krueger’s ‘Alamo’ Force (6th Army), and the operation was prepared in very short order under Vice Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid’s 7th Amphibious Force, which extemporised an attack force under Rear Admiral William M. Fechteler.

The operation began on 29 February 1944 as a reconnaissance in force of Los Negros island, just to the east of the somewhat larger Manus island, by a 1,000-man detachment of Brigadier General William C. Chase’s 1st Cavalry Brigade of Major General Innis P. Swift’s 1st Cavalry Division with the support of aircraft of the RAAF’s No. 73 Wing. Ezaki had deployed most of his defence (51st Transport Regiment, 2/1st Independent Mixed Regiment, and elements of the 14th Naval Base Force) to protect Seeadler Harbour, but even so the Americans were able to land against negligible opposition in Hyane Harbour on the other side of Los Negros, and within two hours had captured Momote airfield.

Black and white photograph of General Douglas MacArthur decorating the first man ashore on the Admiralty Islands, 2nd Lieutenant Marvin J. Henshaw, who is wearing a helmet and holding his rifle.Fechteler’s Task Force 76 had set out on 27 February with Captain Jesse H. Carter’s Task Group 76.3, comprising the destroyers Drayton, Reid, Flusser, Mahan, Smith, Bush, Welles, Stevenson and Stockton, escorting TG76.2, comprising Humphreys, Brooks and Sands, which were older destroyers adapted as APD high-speed troop transports, to land 1,026 troops of the 5th Cavalry Regiment in Hyane Harbour. Fire support was provided by Rear Admiral Russell S. Berkey’s TG74.2, comprising the light cruisers Phoenix (with MacArthur and Kinkaid on board) and Nashville, and destroyers Daly, Hutchins, Bache and Beale. During the evening the ships withdraw, and MacArthur decided that the situation was ripe for exploitation. As the necessary reinforcements were assembled, Chase pulled his men back into a well defended perimeter and fought off determined counterattacks during the next 48 hours. Bush and Stockton provided gunfire support for the landed troops in the face of strong counterattacks during the night 29 February/1 March. US reinforcements (1,500 more cavalrymen and 400 naval construction engineers) arrived on 2 March as the first part of a process increasing the US presence to two divisions (Major General William H. Rupertus’s 1st Marine Division and the 1st Cavalry Division, the latter including Brigadier General Verne D. Mudge’s 2nd Cavalry Brigade). The troops of the reinforcement landing were transported in and landed from 12 landing ships (six LSTs and six LSMs) accompanied by Captain Dechaineux’s destroyers Ammen, Mullany and Australian Warramunga, and minesweeper Hamilton. The embarked troops were able to land with support from the destroyers Bush, Stockton and Welles, and destroyer minesweeper Long.

Because the destroyers could not silence the Japanese batteries to the north of Seeadler Harbour, Rear Admiral V. A. C. Crutchley’s TF74, comprising the Australian heavy cruiser Shropshire, US light cruisers Nashville and Phoenix, and US destroyers Daly, Hutchins, Bache and Beale, bombarded the islands of Hauwei and Norilo on 4 March. On 5 March a third wave of 1,410 troops arrived with TG76.1, comprising the destroyers Flusser, Drayton, Smith, Wilkes, Swanson, Nicholson, Stevenson, Thorn and Australian Arunta, and APDs Humphreys, Brooks and Sands. On 6 March Nicholson was damaged by the still unsilenced batteries at the entrance of Seeadler Bay, and TF74’s ships again shelled the islands on 7 March, raining a total of 64 8-in (203-mm), 1,144 6- and 5-in (152-and 127-mm) and 92 4-in (102-mm) shell onto the Japanese positions.

On 9 March the new airfield at Lorengau was declared safe. On 12 March there arrived a fourth convoy, this comprising six LSTs and the destroyers Flusser, Reid, Kalk, Gillespie, Hobby and Warramunga. By 30 March the islands off Seeadler Harbour had been occupied in the face of resistance, often very determined, by the Japanese defence under Ezaki. By 25 March Los Negros and Manus islands had been taken, so closing the Japanese escape route to the east-north-east. Manus was declared secure only on 18 May after an operation which had cost the 1st Cavalry Division 1,515 casualties (326 killed and 1,189 wounded).

The route toward other Japanese positions was closed on 20 March when Major General Harry Schmidt’s 4th Marine Division landed unopposed on Emirau and Mussau islands in the St Matthias islands in ‘Beefsteak’, effectively trapping the 8th Area Army on New Ireland and the eastern end of New Britain, and Lieutenant General Harukichi Hyakutake’s 17th Army on Bougainville farther down the chain of the Solomon islands, where it was hotly engaged with Major General Oscar W. Griswold’s US XIII Corps.

To close the ring around the main Japanese base areas of Rabaul and Kavieng, already partially enclosed by a series of operations including ‘Cherryblossom’ (Bougainville), ‘Squarepeg’ (Green island), ‘Postern’ (Salamaua, Lae and Finschhafen), ‘Dexterity’ on North-East New Guinea, ‘Backhander’, ‘Director’ and ‘Appease’ (Talasea on New Britain) and ‘Brewer’, the Allies decided in February 1944 that Emirau island should be taken as the means of sealing the approaches to Kavieng in the north-west and north from the direction of the Caroline islands, which large Japanese air, land and sea forces were based. The occupation of Emirau island was preferred to a direct assault of Kavieng, which was subsequently cancelled. The Allied presence on Emirau island would, in the longer term, provide a base from which to patrol the Ysabel Channel and so keep watch on Kavieng and the approaches to it and also, in the shorter term at least, provide a flank guard for ‘Brewer’ that was still proceeding on the Admiralty islands.

‘Beefsteak’ was assigned to the newly reactivated 4th Marines, formed from the four existing marine raider battalions. Based on Major General Harry Schmidt’s 4th Marine Division, the Emirau Landing Force was formed by Major General Roy S. Geiger’s I Marine Amphibious Corps on Guadalcanal island and organised into Brigadier General Alfred H. Noble’s brigade-sized Task Group A. Commodore Lawrence F. Reifsnider’s Task Group 31.2 (Emirau Attack Group) sailed from Guadalcanal on 17 March with the fleet carrier Enterprise, light carrier Belleau Wood and escort carriers Coral Sea and Corregidor, and light cruisers Biloxi, Cleveland, Columbia, Montpelier, Oakland and Santa Fe. Fire support was provided by Rear Admiral Robert C. Giffen’s battleship group comprising Idaho, Mississippi, New Mexico and Tennessee, together with supporting warships, and these generated a diversion by firing more than 13,000 14- and 5-in (356- and 127-mm) shells into the Kavieng area. Local air cover was provided by the aircraft of the escort carriers Manila Bay and Natoma Bay, and escort was offered by a force of 15 destroyers.

The landing force arrived off Emirau island’s south-eastern end at dawn on 20 March in 19 destroyers and landing craft, and started to land four battalion landing teams. The 1 and 2/4th Marines landed unopposed on two beaches on the island’s south-eastern end as well as on nearby Elomusad islet. The island was swept, found unoccupied by the Japanese and, after all 3,727 men had landed, was declared secure by the fall of night. As the landing took place a battleship force shelled Kavieng and nearby airfields to give the Japanese the impression that a landing on New Ireland island was about to take place. On 23 March the Japanese navy seaplane base on Eloaue islet was shelled by destroyers. The garrison fled toward Kavieng in two large native canoes, one of which was detected and destroyed on the following day. ‘Seabee’ construction battalions arrived on Emirau island within days, and began work on the construction on two airfields and small naval base.

The 4th Marines were relieved by the 147th Infantry on 11 April. A PT-boat base was established on Eanusau Islet and operated patrols off New Ireland. Two bomber airfields, each with a 7,000-ft (2135-m) runway, were built at Inshore and North Cape. With Rabaul and Kavieng neutralised and left to ‘wither on the vine’, Emirau island declined in importance from December 1944, and the base was closed in March 1945.

‘Brewer’ itself could have been a disaster if the Japanese defence had been facing Hyane Harbour, but the success of MacArthur’s gamble had important longer-term implications. At this time the Joint Strategic Survey Committee was advocating that ‘the primary effort against Japan be made from the east across the central Pacific, with a view to the early seizure of the Formosa, Luzon, China coast area as a base to attack Japan’, and that the South-West Pacific Area should support the primary effort with whatever resources could be spared for it. Strategic thinking in Washington began to change after the success of ‘Brewer’, and MacArthur capitalised on this fact by proposing a few days later that his forces should bypass Hansa Bay, scheduled for attack in late April 1944, and instead made the 580-mile (935-km) jump straight to Hollandia, this ‘Reckless’ operation isolating 40,000 Japanese troops along the coast of New Guinea. The proposal was part of the far-reaching ‘Reno IV’ scheme which MacArthur submitted to Washington in early March 1944 through his chief-of-staff, Lieutenant General Richard K. Sutherland. This plan called for the South-West Pacific Area command to retain control of many of the resources of Admiral William F. Halsey’s South Pacific Area command, which was about to wind up its operations, and also enjoy the support of some of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz’s Central Pacific Area carrier task forces for the object of returning to Luzon in the Philippine islands by January 1945. Nimitz objected that this would destroy the impetus of his central Pacific offensive, but the Joint Chiefs-of-Staff on 12 March issued a directive ordering MacArthur to press ahead along the northern coast of New Guinea to the Vogelkop peninsula in preparation for an invasion of Mindanao in the Philippine islands during November 1944, and Nimitz to neutralise Truk in the centre of the Caroline islands, capture the Mariana islands in mid-June, and seize the Palau islands in mid-September to provide a base only 600 miles (965 km) to the east of Mindanao.

Sopwith Camel – another classic British fighter of World War I

Grainy black and white photo of a Sopwith Camel fighter plane on the groundThe Camel was without doubt the most successful fighter of World War I in terms of the number of aircraft it shot down, its long-established figure of 1,294 aerial victories in the period between July 1917 and November 1918 having been revealed by research in the 1970s as a gross underestimate of a figure that has since been revised upward to 6,500 or more. One of the reasons for the Camel’s success in air combat was its extraordinary aerial agility, perhaps matched only by the Fokker Dr I, which was smaller and had significantly lower performance, resulting from the concentration of the fighter’s major masses (propeller, engine, fuel and oil tanks, armament and ammunition tanks, and pilot) in the forward 7 ft 0 in (2.13 m) of the machine as close as possible to the centre of gravity position. This manoeuvrability was not without its problems, however, for these main masses’ concentration around the centre of gravity combined with the torque, small inertia, and gyroscopic effect of the rotary engine produced a very tight turning circle that to port resulted in the nose lifting and to starboard in the nose dropping and, unless considerable port rudder was then applied, a rapid entry into a tight spin.

Operational experience in the first genuine fighter-versus-fighter combats during World War I soon revealed that when all other factors such as pilot skill were equal, victory generally went to the fighter that possessed the best blend of parameters such as power/weight ratio, speed, climb rate, agility, structural strength, weight of armament, and pilot’s fields of vision. As far as the Royal Flying Corps was concerned, the aerial fighting of 1916 had revealed that while the Airco (de Havilland) D.H.2 and Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2b, both of which were sturdy but slow, had been adequate to combat the Fokker E-type monoplanes that had been the world’s first true fighters with fixed forward-firing armament, by mid-September of that year these pioneering British warplanes, both of the pusher-engined type, had been rendered obsolete by the advent of the Albatros D I and D II with their armament of two fixed forward-firing machine guns. The D.H.2 and F.E.2b had been supplemented and then supplanted as first-line fighters in British service by the Sopwith Pup and Triplane, whose beautiful flying characteristics and considerable agility had allowed the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service to gain a measure of parity with, if not actual superiority over, the units of the Imperial German air services, but these were essentially interim fighters with comparatively low-powered engines and an armament of only one machine gun, and it was clear that a faster and more heavily armed single-seater were needed urgently to give the British air services a fighter with which to match the inevitable developments of the Albatros fighters. As early as the late summer of 1916, however, Herbert Smith had started work on a new fighter to succeed his Pup and Triplane. Whereas these two important but limited types had been most notable for what might be described as their delicacy of concept and elegance of handling, even though both aircraft were in fact structurally strong, the new fighter was schemed as an altogether more aggressive machine with no greater size but fixed forward-firing armament that was twice as heavy and provision for a considerably more powerful engine. The resulting aeroplane was the F.1, a designation indicating Fighter no. 1, and this was a small biplane of conventional aerodynamics and structure but generally unprepossessing appearance. The first example of this new fighter, which was passed by Sopwith’s experimental department in December 1916, was powered by the Clerget 9Z air-cooled nine-cylinder rotary engine rated at 110 hp (82 kW). This F.1 was clearly a linear descendant of the Pup, but had a deeper fuselage with two 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers guns that had their breeches just forward of the cockpit, under a raised fairing that was soon likened to the hump of a camel and led to a nickname that soon became in effect the type’s name even though it was never officially adopted.

The airframe was completely conventional in structure, and was wholly typical of both its period and Smith’s design practices. As originally schemed, the F.1 was to have had equal dihedral on the upper and lower wings, but the engineer Fred Sigrist then decided that the upper wing should be flat so that it could be constructed in one piece and thus speed production and, by the rule-of-thumb thinking that characterised much of the design process in those days, the dihedral angle of the lower-wing panels was doubled to compensate for the lower of upper-wing dihedral. In the event, production aircraft had an upper wing that was constructed in three sections, but no attempt was ever made to restore equal upper- and lower-wing dihedral angles.

The F.1 was a very slightly unequal-span biplane of wooden construction covered mostly with fabric except on the extreme forward part of the fuselage, which was skinned with light alloy panels. The core of the structure was the fuselage, which was of rectangular section with a rounded upper decking and based on an internally wire-braced structure of four longerons and associated spacers. As noted above, from front to rear this fuselage carried the powerplant, oil tank, pilot’s open cockpit, fuel tank, and tail unit. This last was of wood and steel tube construction and comprised single horizontal and vertical surfaces, the former including a wire-braced tailplane carrying plain elevators, and the latter including a wire-braced fin carrying a plain rudder that was hinged at its lower end to the vertical knife-edge in which the fuselage terminated.

The staggered wing cellule was of wooden construction, and was based on upper and lower wings that were basically identical in planform with constant thickness and chord to their raked tips; wire-connected plain ailerons were fitted on the outboard ends of both wings’ trailing edges. The dihedralled halves of the lower wing extended from the lower longerons, while the outer panels of the flat upper wing extended from a centre section that incorporated a cut-out in its trailing edge above the pilot’s cockpit and was carried over the fuselage by two outward-canted sets of cabane struts. The upper and lower wings were separated on each side by a pair of parallel interplane struts, and the whole wing cellule was braced with the normal arrangement of flying and landing wires. The airframe was completed by the landing gear, which was of the fixed tailskid type with a main unit based on a two-wheel axle carried at the closed ends of two wire-braced V-type struts extending downward and outward from the lower longerons. As noted above, the powerplant was based on one rotary engine, of which many types were fitted during the course of the Camel’s extensive production: this engine was installed at the front of the fuselage inside a fully circular light alloy cowling, and drove a two-blade wooden propeller of the tractor type.

The exact number of the F.1 prototypes and the relationship of these to each other is not wholly clear, but it seems likely that the first four prototypes (F.1, F.1/1, F.1/2 and F.1/3) were built as private ventures, the F.1 making the type’s first flight with the powerplant of one Clerget 9Z engine, rated at 110 hp (82 kW), during January 1917 and in the hands of Harry Hawker. The F.1/1 was the so-called ‘Taper-Wing’ Camel, and had tapered rather than constant-chord outer wing panels separated on each side by one I-type interplane strut. The F.1/2 has not been identified positively, but may have introduced a cut-out panel in the upper-wing centre section to improve the pilot’s upward field of vision. The F.1/3 was powered by one Clerget 9B engine rated at 130 hp (96.9 kW). These four prototypes with a one-piece upper wing were followed by two additional prototypes ordered by the Admiralty for evaluation as a new fighter type for the RNAS. After these two machines had made their first flights, the F.1/3 was officially evaluated at Martlesham Heath during March 1917, and it was this that became the pattern for the first production aircraft even though this prototype was revised in May 1917 with the powerplant of one Le Rhône 9J air-cooled nine-cylinder rotary engine rated at 110 hp (82 kW) and then in July 1917 with the powerplant of one Clerget 9B engine rated at 130 hp (96.9 kW). In May 1917 the second prototype for the Admiralty was tested with the first example of the new Bentley AR.1 (Admiralty Rotary no. 1) air-cooled nine-cylinder engine designed by Lieutenant W. O. Bentley and rated at 150 hp (112 kW). This engine was the world’s first air-cooled aero engine to be made with aluminium as the material of its cylinders, and entered production as the BR.1 (Bentley Rotary no. 1).

The F.1/1 prototype was also tested at Martlesham Heath during May 1917 with the Clerget 9B engine rated at 130 hp (96.9 kW), but its landing speed was higher and its performance in no way superior to that of the prototype with the same engine and constant-chord wings. This marked the end of the ‘Taper-Wing’ Camel’s development especially as the manufacture of a series of steadily shorter-chord wing ribs was necessarily more time-consuming and costly than the mass production of identical ribs. As noted above, the top wing of production aircraft was produced in three sections, probably in an effort to ease the problems of assembly and maintenance, the ailerons were longer than those of the early prototypes, the standard engines were the Clerget 9B, Le Rhône 9J and Bentley BR.1 units, and the shaping of the aluminium panels behind the engine was of the modified shape that first appeared on the F.1/3 prototype.

With the Clerget 9B engine, the Camel had the same dimensions as the BR.1-engined variant with the exception of its slightly greater length of 18 ft 9 in (5.715 m), but differed in details such as its empty weight of 950 lb (431 kg), maximum take-off weight of 1,482 lb (672 kg), maximum speed of 97.5 kt (112.5 mph; 181 km/h) at 6,500 ft (1980 m) declining to 92 kt (106 mph; 170.5 km/h) at 15,000 ft (4570 m), climb to 6,500 ft (1980 m) in 6 minutes 0 seconds, service ceiling of 19,000 ft (5790 m), and endurance of 2 hours 45 minutes. With the Le Rhône 9J engine, the Camel had the same dimensions as the BR.1-engined variant with the exception of its slightly greater length of 18 ft 8 in (5.69 m), but differed in details such as its empty weight of 889 lb (403 kg), maximum take-off weight of 1,422 lb (645 kg), maximum speed of 106 kt (122 mph; 196 km/h) at sea level declining to 97 kt (111.5 mph; 179.5 km/h) at 15,000 ft (4570 m), climb to 6,500 ft (1980 m) in 5 minutes 10 seconds, and service ceiling of 24,000 ft (7315 m).

Later a number of aircraft were fitted with the Gnome Monosoupape rotary engine rated at 150 hp (112 kW), and this engine was provided with a ‘blipper’ switch allowing the ignition system to be cut so that the engine ran on one, three, five, seven or nine cylinders as conventional throttling was impossible with a rotary engine: this system did allow the power of the engine to be varied but, as it did not prevent fuel reaching any cylinder whose spark plug was deactivated, presented something of a fire hazard as the reactivation of the spark plug(s) could result in the detonation of any unburned fuel and was in any case almost always notable for the release of a large sheet of flame. With the Gnome Monosoupape engine, the Camel had the same dimensions as the BR.1-engined variant but differed in details such as its empty weight of 930 lb (422 kg), maximum take-off weight of 1,441 lb (654 kg), maximum speed of 98 kt (113 mph; 182 km/h) at 15,000 ft (4570 m), climb to 6,500 ft (1980 m) in 5 minutes 5 seconds, service ceiling of 22,000 ft (6705 m), and endurance of 2 hours 15 minutes.

Black and white photo of a German Gotha bomber plane on the ground, being inspected by two military menDelivery of the Camel by Sopwith began during May 1917, and BR.1-engined Camels of the RNAS’s No. 4 Squadron were in action for the first time at the beginning of July 1917, when five of the aircraft attacked 16 Gotha bombers to the north-west of Ostend. Flight Commander A. M. Shook submitted a claim for one Gotha shot down in flames and Flight Sub-Lieutenant S. E. Ellis put in a claim for another bomber driven down out of control. By the end of July 1917 the Camel equipped Nos 3, 4 and 6 Squadrons of the RNAS, while No. 9 Squadron of the same service received its first Camel on July and was completely re-equipped by the beginning of the following month. Other RNAS units that received the Camel at this time in replacement for the Triplane were No. 8 Squadron between July and September, and No. 10 Squadron during August.

The first production contract for the Camel placed by the War Office, which was responsible for the RFC, was allocated to Ruston Proctor & Co. in May 1917 and was for a total of 250 aircraft with the Clerget 9B engine, later orders adding a further 60 aircraft. The War Office’s second contract was placed with the Porthole Aerodrome Ltd. in June 1917 and was for a total of 50 aircraft later increased to 100 machines all with the Le Rhine 9J engine. Just one week later Sopwith received a War Office contract for an initial 200 aircraft that were later supplemented by another 250 machines, and these aircraft were powered by the Clerget 9B or Le Rhône 9J engine. A different engine apparently meant a different synchronisation system: the standard equipment of the Clerget-powered Camel was the Sopwith-Kauper No. 3, which was a mechanical interrupter gear, while aircraft with the Le Rhône engine used the somewhat better Constantinesco C.C., which was a hydraulically operated gear.

Pilots used to the viceless tractability of the Pup and Triplane fighters or to the stable 1½-Strutter found the Camel very different and, in the experience of many pilots, dangerous. The Camel’s response to control inputs was very rapid, the elevators being especially powerful, and as noted above very careful handling was required in the turn, although skilful pilots were able to exploit the fighter’s extraordinary turning capability to whip round onto the tail of an unwary opponent. In general, however, pilots who succeeded in mastering the aeroplane’s handling characteristics thought that the Camel was the ideal fighter. The Camel lacked the stability of the contemporary Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5a as a gun platform, but its almost incredible agility allowed it to hold its own as a warplane until the end of the war despite its comparative lack of power. The Camel’s optimum fighting altitude was about 12,000 ft (3660 m), and at that height a skilled Camel pilot could dictate fighting terms to virtually any German fighter.

Black and white photo of Lieutenant Colonel Raymond Collishaw as a young man, sitting in the cockpit of his fighter plane and smilingThe Camel was flown by such distinguished pilots as Lieutenant Colonel Raymond Collishaw (third on the British ‘ace’ list with 60 victories), Major Donald MacLaren (fifth equal on the British ‘ace’ list with 54 victories), Major William Barker (seventh on the British ‘ace’ list with 53 victories, and Captain Henry Woollett (19th on the British ‘ace’ list with 35 victories including six German warplanes shot down in one day during April 1918). The first unit of the RFC to be equipped fully with the Camel was No. 70 Squadron, which had replaced its 1½-Strutters by the end of July 1917. In that same month No. 45 Squadron began to re-equip with Camels, and many other fighter squadrons switched to the little Sopwith fighter in the following months.

As 1917 continued, production of the Camel gathered pace: by the end of March some 135 of the fighters had been delivered, another 471 machines left the factories in the next three months, and an additional 719 aircraft followed in the last three months of the year. The year’s total of 1,325 must have consisted almost entirely of F.1 Camels as deliveries of the 2F.1 Camel shipborne variant’s production model did not start until early 1918. In 1917 a total of 1,546 Clerget and 540 Le Rhône engines of British licensed manufacture passed inspection for the British flying services, and delivery was also made of another 879 Clerget and 1,314 Le Rhône engines of French manufacture. Deliveries of the Bentley BR.1 had reached 269 engines by the end of 1917. At the end of December 1917 contracts were given given to Ruston Proctor & Co. for 150 aircraft and to Boulton & Paul Ltd. for 200 aircraft: these orders brought the total of F.1 Camel fighters ordered in the course of 1917 to 3,450 aircraft. Hundreds more were going to be needed, and it must have seemed probable that engine deliveries would be outstripped by airframe production, for the types of rotary engine that were used to power the Camel were also in great demand for several other types of warplane. It may possibly have been in anticipation of this situation that one aeroplane was evaluated during August 1917 with a Gnome Monosoupape rotary engine rated at only 100 hp (74.6 kW) and driving a two-blade propeller of 8 ft 7 in (2.62 m) diameter, which was the type generally associated with the Airco (de Havilland) D.H.5 fighter. Despite the use of the larger-diameter propeller, the performance of this aeroplane did not compare favourably with that of the standard Camel of the RFC with the Clerget or Le Rhône rotary engine.

Although it is virtually certain that operational use was planned for the Camel with the Monosoupape engine rated at 100 hp (74.6 kW), for the trials aeroplane had full armament and was also evaluated with a primitive oxygen system for the pilot, but was in fact probably used only in moderately small numbers for training purposes because of its indifferent performance coupled with the fact that the engine was regarded as simpler to control than the Clerget or Le Rhône.

On all fronts the Camel was used until the Armistice ended World War I in November 1918. Just under two weeks before this occurrence the Royal Air Force, which had come into being at the beginning of April 1918 as an amalgamation of the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service, had 385 Camels with the Bentley engine, 1,342 Camels with the Clerget engine, and 821 Camels with Le Rhône engine of the standard or Monosoupape types. With the exception of the machines of the home defence variant described below, these Camels were not significantly different from those that had entered service some 18 months earlier, and by this time the little fighter had earned a redoubtable reputation as a truly martial machine wherever it had fought. In service many pilots made their own minor modifications to the type: some liked to have the windscreen forward of the gun breeches to facilitate jam clearing, the cut-out in the centre section was frequently enlarged to provide better upward fields of vision, and a rack for four 25 or 20 lb (11.3 or 9.1 kg) bombs was often added under the fuselage just to the rear of the main landing gear unit for improved capability in the ground-attack role, which was a task that the Camel undertook with increasing frequency and success during the Battles of Ypres and Cambrai in the second half of 1917.

The Camel was also operated by four squadrons of the US Air Service in France during 1918 after the USA had bought 143 examples of the Clerget-powered Camel in June. The USA had also bought a number of the Gnome Monosoupape engine rated at 150 hp (112 kW), and the Air Service contracted the task of installing these engines in the Camel to Boulton & Paul.

After World War I the US Navy had at least six Camels, two of which were allocated to the battleships Texas and Arkansas. These aircraft were flown from platforms above the guns of a main turret, and were fitted with a combination of jettisonable wheels and flotation gear. A small number of Camels also went to Canada, where the first of the total of at least four such aircraft survived to July 1927.

The Camel was also flown by four escadrilles (squadrons) of the Belgian army air service, which may have received as many as 36 examples of the Camel although this number remains unconfirmed. A few of these aircraft remained in Belgian service until 1922. During World War I some pilots of the Royal Greek naval air service also flew the Camel. Camels were also flown by the Slavo-British Aviation Group. Some of the 20 Camels given to Poland in 1920 also went into action again in August of that year, flown by the Eskadra Kosciuszkowska, based at Lwów, against the Russians in the Russo-Polish War (1919/21).

Some Camels went to Russia in 1918 with the British expeditionary forces aiding the White anti-communist forces against the Reds who had seized control of Russia after November 1917 and were seeking to consolidate the country into the USSR. The Camel remained operational in Russia up to 1920 with Nos 47 and 221 Squadrons of the RAF.

The Camel was introduced to the home-defence role during August 1917 with the task of intercepting and destroying any German airships and/or bombers that might attack the UK. At the beginning of the following month Captain C. J. Q. Brand and Lieutenant C. C. Banks of No. 44 Squadron proved that while it was a decidedly tricky proposition, the Camel could indeed be flown at night. Early night combats showed that pilots were momentarily blinded by the flash of their guns, and it was considered that there was danger in firing explosive and incendiary ammunition through the propeller.

A special version of the Camel was therefore developed for the night fighting role, and mainly involved the conversion of existing airframes: two 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis guns were installed on a double Foster mounting above the centre section, and the cockpit was moved slightly to the rear of the upper wing so that the pilot could operate the guns effectively as the reloading process involved drawing the weapon backward and downward on the quadrants of the Foster mountings so that the pilot could reach the upper part of the guns’ receivers to remove the empty drum magazines and fit fresh ones. Another change was effected in the fuel system: in the standard Camel the main fuel tank was located behind the pilot’s seat, but in the night fighter the standard tank of a Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2e was fitted between the cabane struts within the fuselage. Four other alterations were the removal of one of the upper horizontal spacers in the fuselage’s primary structure to permit the rearward movement of the cockpit; the reinforcement of the upper longerons with strengthening pieces glued and bound to the inboard sides of the longerons, which unfortunately rendered the cockpit somewhat more cramped than that of the standard Camel; the modification of the flying controls with a B.E.2e rudder bar instead of the standard Sopwith component; and the addition of navigation lights and flare brackets. The standard engine for this home-defence variant was the Le Rhône 9J unit.

In service there was some variation in the armament of the modified home-defence Camel, for some pilots kept one of the Lewis guns at a 45° upward angle, and others opted to retain one Vickers gun despite its disadvantages.

Losses of the standard Camel fighter when operated in the ground-attack role were high, and in an effort to overcome this problem Sopwith introduced during February 1918 an armoured trench-strafing development. This was the TF.1 Camel armed with two 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis guns in a fuselage installation designed to fire obliquely forward and downward, and a third 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis gun on the centre section. The TF.1 was powered by the Le Rhône 9J engine and was otherwise a simple modification of the standard F.1 Camel, but the type did not enter production. The development was nevertheless useful, for it provided much data useful in the design of the more advanced TF.2 Salamander.

The accident rate suffered by the Camel at training establishments was notably high, and many of these accidents resulted from the difficulty encountered by inexperienced pilots in effecting with sufficient speed and dexterity fine-adjustment fuel control of the engine after take-off, when their reaction to a sudden loss of power was not fast enough to prevent the Camel from entering a spin. A two-seat version of the Camel was therefore made, with the second cockpit in the same position as that of the night fighter. The flying controls, instruments, air speed indicator heads and landing wires were all duplicated, the fuel system was revised, and no armament was installed.

In overall terms, orders were placed for 5,695 examples of the F.1 Camel and its variants, but at least 100 of these aircraft were cancelled and others may not have been completed. In addition to the parent company, companies that built the Camel included Boulton & Paul Ltd., British Caudron & Co. Ltd., Clayton & Shuttleworth Ltd., Hooper & Co. Ltd., March, Jones & Cribb Ltd., Nieuport & General Aircraft Co. Ltd., Portholme Aerodrome Ltd., and Ruston, Proctor & Co. Ltd.

Black and white photograph of an unmanned Sopwith Snipe fighter plane resting on grass Camel aircraft were used for various experimental purposes at the Royal Aircraft Establishment: for spinning experiments one aeroplane was fitted with an enlarged rudder and elevators; two aircraft were fitted with self-sealing tanks in February 1920; and two other aircraft were extensively used in inverted-flight experiments. Production of the F.1 and 2F.1 variants of the Camel continued to the end of World War I and totalled 5,490 aircraft, of which 4,165 were produced in 1918. Had World War I continued into 1919, the Camel would have been replaced everywhere by the Sopwith Snipe, and in the peace that followed World War I the Snipe remained the RAF’s standard single-seat fighter for some years.

It is probable that a few examples of the F.1 Camel were operated from platforms on board Royal Navy warships, (the type was certainly used in this role by the US Navy, as indicated above), but a different version of the Camel was developed specifically for the shipborne role. This variant differed sufficiently from the F.1 to be given a new company designation, namely 2F.1 Camel. The prototype of the new configuration, was was produced as a conversion from F.1 standard with the powerplant of one Clerget 9B engine rated at 130 hp (96.9 kW), was first flown as early as March 1917 even before the F.1 entered operational service.

The 2F.1 was differentiated from the F.1 by a fuselage constructed in two parts, a centre section whose reduced span trimmed overall span by 1 ft 1 in (0.33 m), lower-wing panels of correspondingly reduced span, and a revised upper-wing centre section cabane arrangement with the struts canted outward considerably less sharply than in the F.1. The halves of the fuselage were joined at a point immediately to the rear of the cockpit, and the object of this change, which also required modification of the controls to the moving surfaces of the tail unit, was to allow the aeroplane to be stored more economically in separate pieces within the very limited hangar space available in the aircraft carriers of the period.

The need for a shipborne development of the Camel was spurred by a number of reasons, of which one of the most significant was the desire of the Royal Naval Air Service to engage and destroy the Imperial German navy‘s force of airships, which were used not only to undertake bombing attacks on the UK but also to provide a long-range reconnaissance capability for the surface units of the High Seas Fleet. For this task the RNAS expressed a preference for a gun armament disposed to fire obliquely forward and upward, and as a result the armament of the 2F.1 Camel comprised one 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers fixed forward-firing machine gun on the port upper side of the forward fuselage with synchronisation equipment to fire through the propeller disc, and one 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis gun installed over the centre section on a mounting which enabled the weapon to be swung back for reloading and for upward firing: for this reason the structure of the 2F.1’s centre section differed from that of the F.1 so that the gun passed through the central cut-out.

The other details of the 2F.1 Camel included a span of 26 ft 11 in (8.20 m) with area of 221.00 sq ft (20.53 m²), length of 18 ft 6 in (5.64 m), height of 9 ft 1 in (2.77 m), wheel track of 4 ft 5.125 in (1.35 m), empty weight of 956 lb (433 kg), maximum take-off weight of 1,523 lb (691 kg), maximum speed of 99 kt (114 mph; 183.5 km/h) at 10,000 ft (3050 m) declining to 90.5 kt (104 mph; 167 km/h) at 15,000 ft (4570 m), climb to 6,500 ft (1980 m) in 6 minutes 25 seconds, service ceiling of 19,000 ft (5790 m), and endurance of 3 hours 0 minutes.

Later aircraft were fitted with the Bentley BR.1 rotary engine rated at 150 hp (112 kW), and these aircraft differed from the baseline standard in details such as their length of 18 ft 8 in (5.69 m), empty weight of 1,036 lb (470 kg), maximum take-off weight of 1,530 lb (694 kg), maximum speed of 108 kt (124 mph; 200 km/h) at 6,500 ft (1980 m) declining to 101.5 kt (117 mph; 188 km/h) at 15,000 ft (4570 m), climb to 6,500 ft (1980 m) in 6 minutes 0 seconds, and service ceiling of 17,300 ft (5275 m).

Production of the 2F.1 Camel was entrusted to Beardmore Ltd. and amounted to only a comparatively few aircraft delivered from February 1918. Late contracts placed with the Fairey Aviation Co. Ltd. and Pegler & Co. Ltd. were later cancelled.

The 2F.1 Camel was operated from ships in exactly the same way as the Pup that it generally replaced in this role: a short runway, which was in fact little more than twice the Camel’s length, was built on the forecastle of some light cruisers, while others had a comparable platform built on top of a gun turret. A rather longer take-off run was possible on battle-cruisers, which had an enlarged version of the platform on one of their turrets. In all cases the tail-guide trestle first used for the Sopwith Pup was fitted. The 2F.1 was also flown from the aircraft carriers HMS Furious, Pegasus and, later, Argus, Eagle and Vindictive. The 2F.1 Camel was also used, most enterprisingly and daringly, from lighters towed at high speed by destroyers. Lighters of this type had been developed for the transportation of flying boats across the North Sea in order to increase their radius of action, but by using them to carry single-seat fighters the RNAS gave itself a method to make daylight attacks on Zeppelins over the North Sea, and on German seaplane bases.

The first attempt to fly a Camel from a lighter was made by Colonel C. R. Samson at the end of May 1918, shortly after the creation of the RAF as an amalgamation of the RFC and RNAS, and the effort nearly cost this experienced and highly capable airman his life. There was no proper flying-off deck as the take-off system comprised only a pair of troughs running the full length of the lighter. Samson’s 2F.1 had been specially adapted with its standard wheels replaced by a pair of skids that ran in the troughs. Samson opted for this expedient in part to enable the experiment to be conducted as soon as possible, and in part to provide some assurance that the aeroplane would keep straight and not topple off the side of the lighter before it was properly airborne. With the lighter towed by the destroyer Truculent, making 32 kt, Samson started his 2F.1 into motion but the aeroplane then jumped from the tracks, fell over the bows and was run over by the lighter. The wreckage surfaced some 400 yards (365 m) astern of the lighter, which was still being towed at high speed, and then an uninjured Samson bobbed to the surface.

Although unsuccessful in its primary purpose, the trials did yield useful information, however, in the fact that it was now appreciated that at high speed the lighter dropped its stern with the result that the aeroplane had in fact tried to take-off uphill. The track system was now discarded, a 30 ft (9.14 m) platform, higher at the back than the front, being installed so that it was level when the lighter was moving at speed. The first successful take-off was then made by Lieutenant S. D. Culley at the end of July 1918.

When the Harwich Force of light cruisers, destroyers and coastal motor boats set out for the Heligoland Bight in the evening of a day in August 1918, three of the destroyers were towing lighters carrying flying boats and Redoubt was towing a lighter with a 2F.1 Camel, with Culley as pilot, loaded on board. Early on the following morning the force was off Terschelling, and six CMBs departed in search of German ships. The flying boats could not take-off as a result of the long swell, the lack of wind, and an overload of fuel and ammunition. Soon after the CMBs had set off, four German seaplanes arrived on the scene to shadow the Harwich Force. Then just before 08.30 the Zeppelin L-53 was sighted at a height of some 15,000 ft (4570 m). The commander of the Harwich Force turned his ships out to sea and ordered a smokescreen to be laid, and this drew the airship in toward the ships. Then Culley lifted off in his 2F.1 Camel, reached an altitude of 18,000 ft (5485 m) with the airship 1,000 ft (305 m) above his fighter, manoeuvred so that the two craft were approaching head-on with the airship now only 300 ft (91 m) higher than the fighter, and pulled up the nose to fire. One of the guns jammed almost immediately, but the airship caught fire and broke into two sections. The L-53 was the last Zeppelin airship to be destroyed in World War I.

Detail from a stained glass memorial window to Sir Thomas Sopwith, face of an angel wielding a sceptre with cross on top; colours are white, blue, red and yellow.The 2F.1 Camel remained in service for a time after the Armistice, and at least one continued to fly operationally. Early in 1919 Vindictive was operating in the Baltic during the campaign against the Bolsheviks, and her 2F.1 Camel carried out many patrols over Baltic waters. The type was also used on aircraft carriers for experiments with arrester gear at a time when the arrester cables were longitudinal and had a wooden ramp under their forward ends. As the aircraft ran up the ramp the friction of the cables in the undercarriage hooks increased until the machine was brought to rest. The Camel had three hooks under the spreader bar of the undercarriage, and a special guard was fitted in front of the wheels to prevent damage to the propeller.

Specification

Sopwith F.1 Camel

Type: fighter

Accommodation: pilot in the open cockpit

Powerplant: one Bentley BR.1 air-cooled 9-cylinder rotary piston engine rated at 150 hp (112 kW) for take-off

Performance: maximum level speed ‘clean’ 108 kt (124 mph; 200 km/h) at 6,500 ft (1980 m) declining to 101.5 kt (117 mph; 188 km/h) at 15,000 ft (4570 m); climb to 6,500 ft (1980 m) in 6 minutes 0 seconds; service ceiling 17,300 ft (5275 m); endurance 2 hours 30 minutes

Weights: empty 977 lb (443 kg); maximum take-off 1,470 lb (667 kg)

Dimensions: span 28 ft 0 in (8.53 m); length 18 ft 6 in (5.64 m); height 8 ft 6 in (2.60 m); tailplane span 8 ft 2.5 in (2.50 m); wheel track 4 ft 8 in (1.42 m); wing area 231.00 sq ft (21.46 m²)

Armament: two 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers fixed forward-firing machine guns with 250 rounds per gun in the upper part of the forward fuselage with synchronisation equipment to fire through the propeller disc, and up to 100 lb (45 kg) of disposable stores carried on one hardpoint under the fuselage rated at 100 lb (45 kg), and generally comprising four 25 lb (11.3 kg) Hales bombs or 20 lb (9.1 kg) Cooper bombs

[Photo of memorial window by Sue Hasker]