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Leander Class Light Cruiser

a good view of Neptune in 1941
a good view of Neptune in 1941
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The cruisers of the Leander class were the result of the London Conference of 1930, ending the 8-inch gun programme. The treaty allowed Great Britain to build a further 91,000 tons of cruisers up to the end of 1936. The intention was to spread this over 14 ships of 6,500 tons each, to be known as the Leander class. However, the Leanders were heavy and at their reassessed tonnage of 7,140, the 91,000-ton package was altered to 8 Leanders, three Arethusa class (6,250 tons) and two Minotaur class (9,100 tons) which became, with a later decision to rename them after British cities, the Southampton class.

The Leander class of 8 ships including 3 for Australia and 1 for New Zealand, were armed with four twin 6-inch turrets and, later, with 4-inch AA guns in twin mountings. Many features were adapted from the Exeter class, including the break of the forecastle deck abreast the bridge, which was of the enclosed type, first fitted in York. Improved boiler design enabled the numbers to be reduced so that uptakes could be led to a single, ducted, funnel which became the distinguishing feature of the class. For the last three a unit system was adopted for the machinery by which the boiler rooms and engine room for the two outer shafts were separated from those for the two inner ones. This arrangement, already common practice in most other navies, had the obvious advantage of reducing the risk of total loss of power from action damage. In the case of these three Australian ships it had the bonus of a symmetry with two widely separated funnels, one for each set of boilers, making 'the most handsome ships ever built by the Royal Navy'.

Like the Kent class, the design of these ships was largely determined by the speed (31 knots under full load) and main armament, but, unlike the former, treaty considerations did not impose the need to save weight wherever possible in order to keep within a rigid tonnage ceiling. Consequently, Leander, the first of the class, was nearly 1,000 tons overweight. Much of this was pared off the later ships. Though lightly armoured, both the British and Australian ships of this class stood up well to damage by shell and bomb, of which between them they were destined to have more than their share.

Improvements to the AA battery were made during WWII with Leander and Achilles having their X turret removed as in the Londons (replaced by 4 quad 2 pdr).

Displacement: 6,985 to 7,270 tons standard ; 8,950 to 9,200 tons full load
Dimensions: 522 pp, 554.25 oa x 55.75 (55.25 Leander) x 16 feet
Propulsion: 4 shaft Parsons geared turbines, 6 Admiralty 3-drum boilers, 72,000 shp. = 32.5 knots
Range: 10,300 miles at 14 knots ; 1,800 tons fuel oil
Complement: 570
Armament: 4 dual 6-inch / 50 Mk 23 ; 4 single 4-inch / 45 QF Mk 5 HA (later replaced by 4 dual 4-inch / 45 QF Mk 16 HA) ; 3 quad 0.5-inch MG ; 2 quad 21-inch TT. ; 1 seaplane
Armour: 1 to 3.5 inch magazine box protection ; 4 inch belt ; 1.25 inch deck ; 1 inch turrets ; 1.5 inch bulkheads


An early modification was the plating-in of the ship's side as far aft as the second 4in gun because of chronic wetness. Before the war, other alterations were limited to the replacement of the single 4in by twin Mk XIX between 1936 and 1938, but this did not include Achilles. However, both this ship and Leander were transferred to New Zealand in 1936/37 and were fitted to operate the larger Walrus for use in the Pacific. The others retained the lighter seaplane but re-equipped with the somewhat unsatisfactory Fairey Seafox from 1937. Leander received her after control position during the 1936/37 refit, and had her crane repositioned on the centreline at the same time.

During the war, Leander had her catapult and aircraft removed in June 1941, shipping in its place a quadruple 2pdr. Later the same year the 2pdr was landed and the aircraft installations refitted. Five single 20mm were added. Radars were added in mid-1942 to the director and type 291 at the mast head. In 1943 the aircraft fittings were finally landed and four single 20mm were fitted. Radar 273 was installed amidships. By April 1944 X turret had been landed, to be replaced by single 20mm (port and starboard) with a power-operated twin on the centreline. Two quadruple 40mm Bofors were fitted on the former motorboat platform, the remainder of the 20mm outfit consisting of two power-operated twins and two singles. The HACS on the bridge was replaced by two, port and starboard on the lower signal deck. By 1946 all single 20mm had been landed and the quadruple 40mm had been replaced by twin Mk V. Three single 40mm Mk III replaced the single and twin 20mm on X gun deck.

Neptune had her .5in MGs replaced by three single 2pdr in 1941 and radars 281, 284 and 285 were fitted. No other changes were made before her loss.

Orion lost her catapult in 1941, as well as the her .5in MGs, and received seven single 20mm and two quadruple 2pdrs. Radars 279, 284 and 285 were fitted. Type 273 radar was added in 1942.

Achilles landed all the single 4in and shipped an unknown number of 20mm in their stead in 1942, presumably as a temporary measure. In 1943/44 twin 4in were fitted, X turret and the catapult were removed and four quadruple 2pdr were fitted. The 20mm now totalled eighteen, in seven power-operated twin and four single mountings. Two HACS were fitted on the lower signal deck, the bridge HACS having been supplanted by a radar aerial. In April 1945 the light AA consisted of four single 40mm Bofors, five 20mm twin and five single, in addition to the 2pdr. Ajax received a heavier catapult and a Walrus aircraft in 1940, and was fitted with radar 279. In 1941 the catapult was replaced by a quadruple 2pdr. Six single 20mm were added early in 1942 and, later the same year, the quadruple 2pdr on the catapult structure was landed, as were the .5in MGs. In their place the ship received two quadruple 2pdr on the boat platform, three more 20mm singles, two HACS on the lower signal deck and radars 272, 282 and 285. In April 1944 the light AA comprised two quadruple 40mm Bofors and four power-operated twin 20mm.

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