“The maggot’s in the apple,’ comes to mind. When the Exeter made her signal to the Commodore, in H.M.S. Ajax, who had told her to investigate smoke on the port beam, ‘I think it is a pocket battleship,’ the stage was set for more than a naval battle.” The King’s Cruisers, Hodder and Stoughton , London 1947, by Gordon Holman, at page 26.

For several months after the Armistice of November 11, 1918 the British government kept the Grand Fleet at full strength. They were still uncertain times and it was thought that the war could flare up again. By mid 1919 it was clear that there was peace and the threat of the German High Seas Fleet was no more. Britain no longer needed the Grand Fleet and so it was dissolved. The political leaders said that Britain no longer needed the hundreds of ships that made up the greatest fleet that Great Britain ever possessed. They cost too much money to man and maintain and besides the Great Threat had been defeated and they too, were no longer needed. In that year and the few that followed, rapid naval disarmament was the order of the day issued by the politicians to their Lordships of the Admiralty. 

In this period Britain disposed of 83 cruisers. Almost every cruiser of pre-war construction was removed, sold or scrapped. It was a fire sale to end all fire sales. The remainder of the RN cruiser force that survived this gutting, amounted to 49 ships and nine of those were still on the stocks with work on them slowed to a glacial pace. Admiral Jellicoe had calculated that the Royal Navy needed a minimum force of 70 cruisers to adequately defend the far-flung trade lanes and possessions of the British Empire . Now the RN had only 72% of that minimum requirement. Through the 1920s and early 1930s the Admiralty hung on to the 70-ship minimum and unsuccessfully tried to lobby the politicians to increase the quantity of RN cruisers. However, the political and popular criticism of increased naval budgets and the shaky financial condition of the Exchequer precluded any meaningful attempt to bridge the gap. 

A new naval building race erupted between Japan and the United States and though it was in terms of capital ships, it effected the views on the cruisers that the RN still possessed. The wartime cruiser construction of the RN concentrated on cruisers with speed and gunpower but of short range. They were designed for combat in the North Sea not for cruising the huge distances of the British trade routes. Only the four Elizabethans, the four 9,750 ton cruisers named after Queen Elizabeth’s great sea captains had the range and size for sustained operations in the deep ocean. Only four of 49 were truly capable of the new mission that was mandated with the peace. 

When it was realized that the ambitious USN construction program had only triggered a new arms race, all the major naval powers were invited to Washington to enter a Treaty that would limit naval construction. Britain jumped at this because she was in no financial position for a new arms race and although Japan was less eager, that country was near bankruptcy because of the tremendous tempo of new construction. Before the conference, a brief was prepared by the Admiralty for the British negotiators. In cruisers it emphasized that parity between the USN and RN was unacceptable. As a minimum the RN needed a 3 to 2 quantitative superiority. As a back up position, if parity in numbers had be granted, cruiser size limitations were to be limited to a maximum of 10,000 tons. This size limitation was based solely on the RN’s desire to retain the four Elizabethans, which were just under this limit. This provision, generated solely on a short-term outlook, would come back to plague the Royal Navy throughout the 1920s and 1930s.

The 10,000 limitation was also exactly what the USN desired, as that was the size of cruiser designs that were being explored for new construction. One additional provision was inserted that mandated a maximum gun size of 8-inches, slightly more than the 7.5-inch armament carried by the Elizabethans. The terms on cruiser construction were quickly agreed upon and it was only later in the decade that their full implications to the RN came home to roost.

The result was almost instantaneous, the maximum also became the minimum and every naval power started building 10,000 ton cruisers armed with 8-inch guns. Although there was no quantitative limitation in the treaty to cruiser construction, there was a de facto monetary limitation. The British government did not have the funds to build to the 70-ship level and every pound spent on RN cruisers went into the big, expensive County Class heavy cruisers. By 1925 it was clear to the Admiralty that British interests would be far better served by more numerous, smaller cruisers. With more and more budget cuts the RN had to do something to get more cruiser construction. The first solution was the Type B heavy cruiser. The big County Class cruisers were designated as Type A cruisers and two smaller cruisers, mounting six 8-inch guns was designed and became York and Exeter , sometimes called the Cathedral Class because of the two major cathedrals located in those cities. Coming in at 8,230 tons, they were cheaper and lighter than the 10,000-ton cruisers. However, that still was not the answer. The RN needed lighter and more numerous cruisers than the quantity that could be afforded by the Type B cruiser. 

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Concurrently with the Type B design and construction, the RN looked into the ideal 6-inch gun light cruiser that could give the service the numbers she needed for trade route protection. However, heavy cruiser construction still absorbed the entire cruiser budget. In 1927 at Geneva there was a new conference in which a new individual ship size limitation on cruisers was suggested by the British delegates. The new limit would be 7,500 tons, armed with guns no greater than 6-inches. Although the Japanese seemed agreeable, the Americans adamantly refused the new size limitations and the conference broke up with no agreement. 

In 1928 the need for a modern RN light cruiser was again discussed. Still the heavy cruiser dominated discussions and one early proposal was for a Convoy Cruiser of 7,500 tons, six 8-inch guns and a maximum speed of 21-knots. That idea was quickly shot down. Another proposal was for cruisers of around 5,000-tons armed with four 8-inch guns but that also was killed because of the lack of firepower and limited ability to operate with the fleet. However, the ideal characteristics for a new light cruiser were identified in a 6-Inch Gun Cruiser Conference in January 1929. Initial debate revolved around the gun size, should it be 6-inch or 5.5-inch? The 6-inch gun won and five sketches were prepared. The designs varied from five 6-inch singles in open mounts at 5,995 tons to eight 6-inch guns in twin mounts at 6,410 tons. The later design was selected as the basis for new construction. This design, approved on June 3, 1929, became the Leander Class light cruiser. However, this was only the starting point as the design was continuously modified with the resulting upward creep in displacement. By June 1931 displacement had zoomed upwards by over 700-tons to 7,154-tons. 

It was the Mk XXIII 6-inch gun that was carried, which used a 112lb (50.8kg) shell with a maximum range of 25,480 yards (23,300m). Original plans called for two directors but in a typical “penny wise and pound foolish” move the government decided to save a few bob by deleting the aft controller. As a result only one target could be engaged at a time and fire aft would be greatly hampered without a director. The secondary armament was a sparse four 4-inch Mk V DP guns. One high angle director on the bridge provided for AA fire for these secondary guns, as well as for the three quadruple Vickers .50 machine gun light AA mounts. Armament was rounded out with two quadruple 21-inch torpedo mounts. Armor was designed to withstand 6-inch gun fire above 10,000 yards to critical areas with a three-inch belt to machinery spaces, 3.5-inch side and 2-inch crown armor to magazines, 1-inch armored deck and 1-inch turret crown protection. The layout for the machinery spaces provided three boiler rooms with a total of six Admiralty three drum boilers and two turbine rooms housing the four Parsons geared turbines. The plant provided 72,000shp for the four shafts, providing a maximum speed of 32.5-knots. Another limitation in the design was a limited range. The class carried a maximum 1,720-tons of fuel oil and had a cruising range of 5,730nm at 13-knots. 

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The Leander proved to be a handsome ship with one massive trunked funnel. It was obvious that cruisers operating individually on the trade routes would need their own aerial reconnaissance assets, so a large 53-foot catapult was worked into the design. This catapult design was chosen as the minimum size necessary to carry the newly designed Fairey 111F three seat reconnaissance aircraft. Initial plans called for one Fairey 111F and one lighter Hawker Osprey but the Fairey proved too heavy for the light cruiser design and only the Osprey was shipped. Hangars were ruled out because of space limitations. The Leander became part of the 1929 program. Three more, Achilles, Neptune and Orion were part of the 1930 program and Ajax was part of the 1931 program. The last four were redesigned to add one more foot to the beam for stability. Although the RN finally had the cruiser that was best suited for their needs, the country was in the depths of the depression and the required numbers could not be built.

The London Treaty of 1930 went further in restricting cruisers than the Washington Treaty. The Washington Treaty only put a maximum on displacement and gun size with no restrictions on the number of cruisers that could be built. The London Treaty imposed an overall cruiser tonnage restriction. The RN could have a maximum total tonnage of cruisers of 339,000 tons by December 31, 1936. It further broke the cruisers into two categories based on weapons. Cruisers with a main armament of 6.1-inch or smaller (light cruisers) and cruisers of 6.11 to 8-inch (heavy cruisers). The allowable tonnages of each country varied between the two. Under the London Treaty the limits by navy were: Heavy Cruisers; USN, – 180,000 tons: UK & Commonwealth – 146,000 tons; Japan – 108,400 tons: Light cruisers; USN – 143,500 tons; RN & Commonwealth – 192,200 tons; Japan – 100,450 tons. That left 91,000 of new cruiser tonnage for the RN to add in the light category. The RN pressed on with the 7,000 ton cruiser, in spite of the fact that both Japan and the USN had decided to build 10,000 ton light cruisers. Again, the RN wanted numbers, rather ships of the maximum possible displacement. It was anticipated that the RN would expend all 91,000 tons in the construction of 13 Leanders. However, those plans changed with the development of the even lighter, Arthusa fleet cruiser design. 

Last in line of the Leander class, the HMS Ajax was laid down at Vickers (Barrow) on February 7, 1933, 2 ½ years after Leander and only one month before Leander was completed. Launched March 1, 1934 and completed April 12, 1934,one could predict that Ajax would have a rich future with the heritage of her famed Vickers builders. There has been a HMS Ajax in service in the Royal Navy since 1767. Named after the Greek hero in the Iliad, second only to Achilles in strength and ability, the ship’s motto was “Nee Quisquam Nisi Ajax”, (None But Himself Can Overcome Ajax). Prior to the Leander class Ajax the name was carried by a super dreadnought but with the diminishment of the size of the Royal Navy from World War Two to present, the proud name as been bequeathed to smaller and smaller ships, with a frigate in 1962 and a training barge in 1987. From battleship to barge, what a descent in a proud Royal Navy name! However, it is the light cruiser Ajax that is arguably the most glorious of ships to carry the name. After completion the Ajax was placed into service with the Americas and West Indies Station. Her single 4-inch secondary guns were replaced by twin mounts by 1938. When World War Two started in September 1939 the Ajax was part of the South America Division. In the first month of the war Ajax took two German merchantmen off the River Plate, the Carl Fritzen and Olinda

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At this time the Admiralty did not know that Germany already had two panzerschiffes at sea. Dispatched in late August in anticipation of hostilities with the planned invasion of Poland , the Deutschland and Admiral Graf Spee were held remote release points. It was hoped that after Poland fell peace could be arranged with the Western democracies so Hitler ordered that they initially remain inactive. By late September it was clear that Great Britain and France were not going to end hostilities and the panzerschiffes were released to start their raids. Graf Spee claimed her first victim on September 30 and Deutschland sank her first merchant on October 5. Since Deutschland was commissioned the Royal Navy recognized the threat posed by the panzerschiffe. They were faster than anything that could out-gun them and were more powerful than anything that could catch them, except for battle cruisers and there were only five of those, three British and two French. Even two County class heavy cruisers were given little chance against one of the “Pocket Battleships” as they were dubbed by the British. The Deutschland class was one of the best commerce raider designs ever produced. For more than a century France had tried to develop the perfect commerce raider to attack the huge merchant of Great Britain , her traditional enemy, but never found it. Yet the victorious allies of World War One unwittingly forced Germany into developing the perfect raider by the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles, limiting displacement of future German battleships to 10,000-tons. Since Germany couldn’t develop a standard battleship, the new design was innovative and far different than any standard type of warship. By using diesel engines instead of the standard steam plant, the Deutschland design had the phenomenal range of 10,000nm at 19-knots. With propositioned supply ships, the raiders could stay at sea for months. The German theory was that these ships would not only destroy merchant shipping but also, and more importantly, totally disrupt British merchant traffic. With two on the prowl, that is exactly what happened.

The hunt for the two raiders absorbed a huge amount of allied warship tonnage. On October 5 nine hunting groups were organized with areas of operation from the North Atlantic, running all the way to the Cape of Good Hope, and then into the Indian Ocean. Force G, comprised of Cumberland, Exeter, Ajax and Achilles operated from Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands and patrolled the eastern coast of South America. Exeter flew the broad pennant of the commander of Force G, Commodore Henry Harwood. The Graf Spee had claimed victims in the Indian Ocean, followed by victims off the western coast of Africa . Harwood realized that it would be fruitless to race to the location of the last sighting, as the Graf Spee would be long gone. Instead, he decided to concentrate Force G at the most target rich environment for the raider and that was the Plate estuary. With heavy merchant traffic streaming out of Argentina , Uruguay and Rio de Janeiro , Great Britain depended upon this traffic for a great portion of her beef, as well as many other raw resources necessary to prosecute the war. On December 5, 1939 in company with the heavy cruiser Cumberland , Ajax seized the German steamer Ussukuma. On December 7 Harwood transferred his flag to Ajax , as Exeter had to temporarily remain at Port Stanley for some minor repairs. However, by December 12 Exeter had rejoined Ajax and Achilles about 150 miles east of the river mouth. Cumberland was back at Port Stanley for repairs. Months earlier Harwood had prepared battle plans in case his command encounter a panzerschiffe. He would divide his cruisers to force the German ship to divide her fire. After arriving on the 12th the cruisers again practiced Harwood’s tactics with Exeter coming in from one side and Ajax and Achilles from a different direction.

Almost to the day, a quarter of a century earlier, a British force arrived at a location one day before a German force arrived, In December 7, 1914 the battle cruisers of Doveton Sturdee arrived at Port Stanley the day before the German Asiatic Squadron under the command of Admiral Graf von Spee appeared at the same location. Sturdee had been tasked to hunt for von Spee’s force just as Harwood had been tasked to hunt for the panzerschiffe Graf Spee. It is ironic that on December 13, 1939 it was the ship named in honor of the German Admiral, which repeated history and appeared the day after the British arrived at a location not far removed from the Battle of the Falklands 25 years earlier. At 6:08 AM on December 13, smoke was sighted from Ajax and Harwood ordered the Exeter to investigate. Eight minutes later Exeter signaled “I think it is a pocket battleship. Exeter would attack from the south while the two Leander class light cruisers would come in from the east. The light cruisers opened fire at 6:18 at a range of 19,000 yards and Graf Spee replied at once. Initially Graf Spee did divide fire but soon concentrated on Exeter . Graf Spee quickly acquired range of the Exeter and the heavy cruiser soon began to suffer. Two quick 11-inch shell hits were quickly scored and B turret was knocked out. A third hit temporarily disabled Exeter ’s steering. Meanwhile Graf Spee used her 5.9-inch armament against the light cruisers, which had continued to close. With multiple opponents Graf Spee started using smoke screens to hinder British fire. Ajax managed to catapult one of her Seafox float plane before it was damaged by German fire or by the blast of her own guns. The aircraft climbed to 3,000-feet and started spotting for the British cruisers and stayed aloft for 2 ½ hours and was then recovered by Ajax

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As the light cruisers continued to close, the German smoke screens deceived Harwood. At one time Graf Spee seemed to be listing to starboard and the next time it seemed to be listing to port. What was actually glimpsed was the Graf Spee in the midst of making zig-zag turns when the ship would heel during the turn. Exeter continued to be pummeled at A turret was then put out of action, leaving Exeter with only her solitary stern turret. When Graf Spee tried to close with Exeter to finish her, the light cruisers charged and Graf Spee again divided fire. Shortly thereafter an 11-inch shell knocked out X and Y turrets of Ajax . By 7:30AM Exeter ’s aft turret was flooded and the heavy cruiser, with no 8-inch guns operable, turned away, leaving only the Leanders, which had closed range to four miles. During the engagement all four ships fired their torpedoes but no hits were scored by either side. The light cruisers had already fired 75% of their ammunition and Graf Spee had not received any significant damage as the British 6-inch shells could not penetrate the Graf Spee’s armor. Now, Graf Spee had overwhelming superiority over Harwood’s force but battles, whether on land or sea, are more than just weight of broadside or material superiority. It is equally a matter of psychology, nerve and the will to win. Harwood had that attribute and was continuing the fight. In contrast Langsdorf, the commander of Graf Spee, not realizing that at that point had the battle all but won, decided to turn west and make for the coast. Ajax followed on port quarter and Achilles on the starboard quarter. The two British terriers continued to nip at the heels of the German tiger and from time to time Graf Spee would turn on her antagonists in order to shake them off. Gunfire from each side was inconclusive during this period from both sides. By midnight Graf Spee pulled into Montevideo .

  The Ajax and Achilles waited outside the port and by the evening of December 14 were joined by Cumberland , which had left Port Stanley , as soon as the first sighting report had been received the day before. On the 16th Harwood received a message that in recognition of his actions on the 13th he had been made a Knight Commander in the Order of the Bath and had been promoted to Rear Admiral effective December 13. All three cruiser captains were also knighted. When on the evening of December 17 Harwood received news that Graf Spee was leaving port, Ajax , Achilles and Cumberland prepared to resume the battle. This ended at 8:54PM when signal that Graf Spee had scuttled herself was received. The cruiser closed to the wreck of Graf Spee and Harwood reported, “It was now dark, and she was ablaze from end to end, flames reaching almost as high as the top of the control tower, a magnificent and most cheering sight.” As a result of the heavy damage caused by the seven shell hits received from Graf Spee, the Ajax, who lost seven men in the battle, spent the balance of December 1939 to July 1940 under repair, first local repairs and then at the Chatham Dockyard. A heavier catapult was fitted that could operate the Walrus and Ajax also received the 279 radar.

Then it was off to a new area of operations, the Mediterranean . As part of the 7th Cruiser Squadron, Ajax played a crucial role in the hard fought Mediterranean campaign. In September Ajax and York escorted four fast transports delivering tanks to the British Army in North Africa . The RN had to keep Malta supplied and used fast convoys closing at night to supply the island fortress, so close to the Italian mainland and air bases. On October 11 the Italian Navy sortied to intercept one of these convoys. For night operations the British forces had deployed a screening line, one of whose units was Ajax . On the night of October 11-12, 1940 a force of three Italian torpedo boats of the 1st Torpedo Boat Squadron and four destroyers of the 11th Destroyer Squadron spotted Ajax . Not to be confused with small MTBs, the Italian torpedo boats were more akin to destroyer escorts. The Italian torpedo boat Alcione closed to 1,900 yards and launched torpedoes at 1:54AM but in spite of the close range, they missed. One minute later Ajax discovered her opponent. Next the Airone came in and at 2,000 yards launched torpedoes at Ajax and opened fire with her 3.9-inch guns. Again there were no torpedo hits but Ajax did take three 3.9-inch shell hits, two on the bridge and one on the hull. For the next 20 minutes Ajax methodically destroyed Airone. Next Ajax chased down a third torpedo boat the Ariel and only took a few minutes to dispose of this second ship. So far Ajax had sunk 2/3 of the 1st Torpedo Boat Squadron but now she went after the 11th Destroyer Squadron. Ajax hit the Aviere and then badly damaged the Artigliere, putting her out of action after only two minutes at 2:32AM. In return Ajax was hit four times and had her radar and one 4-inch mount disabled. Ajax was still spoiling for a fight when two Italian light cruisers were sighted but Ajax was ordered to return to the main fleet by Admiral Cunningham, who also ordered the 3rd Cruiser Squadron to go to the support of Ajax . York polished off the disabled Artigliere at 9:05AM. In this small night action Ajax had single handedly attacked two Italian squadrons, sunk two ships, disabled a third and damaged two more. She had fired 490 6-inch rounds, 342 from her forward turrets and lost 13 men killed and 22 wounded. 

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In November, in conjunction with the carrier attack on Taranto , Ajax with Orion, Sydney and the Tribal class Mohawk and Nubian became Force X to mount a raid between Italy and Albania at the mouth of the Adriatic Sea . At 1:15AM on November 12 Force X encountered an Italian convoy of four merchant ships, escorted by an old torpedo boat and an auxiliary cruiser. Force X damaged the escorts and sank all four merchantmen before withdrawing with no damage and no casualties. As 1941 dawned British fortunes in the Mediterranean were rosy. Although U-Boats were ravishing shipping in the Atlantic and heavy surface raiders were an ever present danger, things were different in the Middle Sea . The night Swordfish raid against the Italian fleet in Taranto had crippled the Italian battleship force, making the Italians even less likely to come forth and challenge the British. The British had Italian African army on the run and the British army in Greece was doing pretty much the same with the Italians in the Balkans. The Italian threat and proven to be a chimera, the Basilisk was a tadpole. There was no reason to believe that 1941 would be different. Yet if the British saw this, they were not alone, as the picture was obvious in Berlin as well. Up to now Ajax had been successful in every endeavor, from taking on the Graf Spee, tackling two destroyer squadrons and convoy interception but in 1941 Ajax would face a new and very formidable foe, the Luftwaffe.

Hitler had intended to invade the Soviet Union in spring 1941 but he had to delay this crucial date to allow the Wehrmacht to intervene in the Mediterranean . When Italy invaded Greece , Britain had quickly responded by not only sending troops to Greece but also seizing Crete . British bombers flying from Crete could reach the crucial oil fields in Ploesti Romania . As a result it was decided to send forces into the Balkans and this may have had incalculable effects to the war, as the delay in launching Operation Barbarossa proved crucial and a severe Russian weather shut down the German offensive just short of Moscow . Actual preparations started in November 1940 with meetings between Italian and German representatives. The first wave of Luftwaffe support actually came into Italy early in 1940 but these were Ju52 transports. Later in the month fighters and bombers of the X Fliegerkorps started arriving from their transfer from Norway . In early January 1941 the Luftwaffe demonstrated that it was a new ball game in the Med. Operation Excess was a supply convoy from Gibraltar to Malta . On January 10 attacks on the convoy started with the expected Italian air attacks but then a large group of aircraft was picked up by radar approaching at high altitude. It was the X Fliegerkorps with its inaugural attack. The Illustrious was hit by five bombs from Stukas and staggered out of action, saved by her armored deck.

On March 27, 1941 Force B with the 7th Cruiser Division, which included Orion (f), Ajax, Gloucester and Perth, sailed from Greece and headed for Crete. The day before, the Italian fleet had sortied and headed east. The scene was being set for the Battle of Matapan. On the 28th Force B discovered the Italian fleet. An officer on the bridge of Orion turned and asked, “What’s that battleship over there? I thought ours were miles away.” Thirty seconds later the Vittorio Veneto opened up 15-inch fire on Orion and Gloucester . The Italians chased after the British cruisers but Force B was drawing the Italian fleet towards the British battleships, 90 miles away. To take pressure off Force B an air attack was launched from Formidable. By 12:30PM Force B had linked up with the main force and tables had turned. The Italians turned and made for port but in an evening air attack the heavy cruiser Pola had been hit by a torpedo and was dead in the water. Zara and Fiume stood by their sistership and at 8:15PM the radars from Ajax and Orion picked up the Pola six miles to port. At 10:27 the Italian cruisers were caught by total surprise as they were illuminated by searchlight and Warspite, Valiant and Barham opened fire. At close range the Italian cruisers had no chance as 15-inch shells slammed into them. 

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On April 6, 1941 the Wehrmacht came boiling south into the Balkans and the Luftwaffe turned its attention to that arena. On April 20 Ajax , with Orion (f) and Perth were escorts for Formidable on a raid on Tripoli . On the night of 7-8 May Ajax and three destroyers bombarded Benghazi . However, the situation in the eastern Mediterranean was terrible as Greece was collapsing and an airborne attack was launched in Crete . On May 21 the Royal Navy intercepted axis convoys bound for Crete . Ajax , along with Orion, Dido and four destroyers were now Force D. This cruiser force had used the bulk of its AA ammunition as it steamed north of Crete . Ajax , at 42% off AA shells, had more than the other two cruisers. The next day a near miss sprung some plates and started a fire on Ajax and she was sent back to Alexandria for repairs. In June 1941 Ajax supported the invasion of Vichy French Syria. The French submarine Caiman fired torpedoes at Ajax and barely missed. In 1941 the catapult was landed in order to provide room and weight for a quadruple pom-pom. Clearly more AA was needed and the Walrus was not. Six 20mm Oerlikons were added early in 1942. From May to October 1942 Ajax went through a refit at Chatham Dockyard until being sent back to the Mediterranean . In the refit the single quad pom-pom was replaced by two quad mounts. Another three Oerlikons were added as were two HACS and type 272, 282 and 285 radars. On January 1, 1943 Ajax was at anchor when she was hit by a 1,000lb bomb in an air attack. Badly damaged, she was sent to New York City for repairs. This went from March 4, 1943 into October 1943. 

After the American refit and a work up at Scapa Flow Ajax went back to the Mediterranean and bombarded the Island of Rhodes , not to be confused with Rhode Island . With the end of naval opposition in the Mediterranean, the Ajax supported Operation Overlord. On June 6, 1944 her 6-inch guns opened up on German positions in Longues in support of the Gold Beach landing. It took only eight minutes in her first fire mission to destroy a coastal battery. After two weeks and firing 2,587 rounds during 56 fire support missions, the 6-inch gun tubes were worn out at the cruiser went back to Portsmouth to have her tubes replaced. In August 1944 her guns also provided fire support for Operation Avalanche, the invasion of southern France . Single Oerlikons were replaced by four power-operated twin 20mm guns. In October Ajax received the surrender of the Aegean Island of Santorini, north of Crete . In December 1944 Ajax and Orion were back in Greek waters but instead of fighting Germans or Italians they helped foil a Communist revolution in Greece . While anchored near Athens , on December 25, 1944 Ajax received a surprise from some distinguished visitors. Winston Chirchill and Anthony Eden, who had flown to Athens , boarded the Ajax on Christmas Day and made the ship their headquarters for several days. After the war ended Ajax was initially kept on duty, first as flagship for Admiral Cunningham in August 1945 celebrations in southern France, then in transporting the Regent of Iraq to Istanbul, where she was the first British ship through the Dardanelles since before the war. Her last mission was entirely in keeping with the noble career of Ajax . In January 1946 Ajax was tasked to return to the River Plate. She was escort to the merchant Highland Monarch, which was repatriating the crew of Graf Spee after their long internment, since Ajax played such an active role in the cause of their internment. Placed into reserve until scrapped at Newport in 1949. 

The Iron Shipwright Ajax
Why are you down in Mouth? Are you depressed by the arrival of 1:350 scale injected plastic Graf Spees? Cheer up Bunky, now you can guffaw at the Graf, laugh at Langsdorf and chortle at the Chermans because Iron Shipwright has the perfect antidote with a 1:350 scale HMS Ajax. How can a brutish plastic Graf stand up against a spanking new resin and brass Ajax , manned with men with Hearts of Oak? For coverage of the hull casting, you of course have to start with the classic British knuckle. The knuckle at the bow was the British solution to keep the forecastle dry. Using the Mk I eyeball, actually one Mk I and a spiffy new Mk II (cataract surgery in July), I compared the knuckle with photographs of the Leander class cruisers. The knuckle looks right as to where it starts and where it ends and also as to distance below the deck. I cannot say the same with the hull anchor hawse. Again, comparing to photographs, it appears that the hawse are a little bit too far forward and little bit high on the hull. They can easily be moved with sanding for replacement but then you’ll have to problem of duplicating them at the correct spot. To me it’s not worth the effort, as their location is not that far off. The armor belt over the machinery spaces is sharply indicated and considering the thinness of the actual belt may be slightly over-scale. I actually prefer this as the belt doesn’t disappear after the hull is painted. Location and shape of the belt appear to be spot on. One large vertical strake is found amidship on each side of the hull. Iron Shipwright provides locator lines for the bilge keels but separate keels are not provided. The reason ISW doesn’t cast the bilge keels as part of the hull is that their casting process, where the hull is cast upside down, bilge keels were a natural air trap, as air bubbles rise upward in the settling process. At the bottom of the stern are the four shaft housing as the shafts exit the hull. The bulk of the clean up is along the centerline of the hull bottom. There are two resin pour plugs to be removed, a casting seam to be smoothed and numerous pinhole and a few larger air voids to be filled. Again, these are the result of the casting process in which the air bubbles tend to rise to the highest part of the casting, which is the keel. These small voids do not appear when the model is mounted on pedestals. This is another area where the effort is not worth the result. It is a different story for removing the casting plugs and sanding the seam, as that needs to be done. 

Box Art, Decals & Instructions
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The bulk of the superstructure is cast integral with the hull with the 01 level and block bridge superstructure forward, centerline deck houses and two level superstructure aft. There are numerous access doors and shuttered square windows that add relief and detail. A very nice feature are the windows running along the top level of the bridge. There is very thin film in each window easily removed with a hobby knife but once this is done, will present a really nice relief appearance. All four barbettes are rather high but these appear to match photographs. Deck detail is good with a metal anti-skid pattern on the forecastle, which also has nice anchor gear detail with deck hawse, windlasses, deck chain plates and fittings where the chain goes into the chain locker. For the rest of the deck there is fine wooden panel detail but the paneling lacks butt-ends. The breakwater is excellent, which is admirably thin with nicely done base and support gussets along the forward face. There are two truncated breakwaters on either side of the aft end of the superstructure. Another high point is the asymmetrical fittings clustered in front of and along A barbette. Aft of B barbette is another cluster of deck fittings with deck access hatches and other fittings. The aft superstructure has larger but fewer fittings and with one of these fitting that I found the solitary casting void outside the hull bottom. Clearly one truant air bubble was trapped at the bottom of the mold and unconscionably refused to migrate upwards to the centerline keel along with all its brethren. Another cluster of deck fittings are found fore and aft of Y barbette and at the stern is two Oerlikon gun tubs as the model is of Ajax as she appeared in 1941, although the reference I used mention addition of Oerlikons in early 1942.

Larger Superstructure Resin Parts
Since so much of the superstructure is cast with the hull, there are just a limited number of larger resin parts. Number one on the list is the magnificent, massive trunked funnel, which gave the Leanders a profile totally different from other classes of British cruisers. The stack detail includes steam pipes forward, a top grate apron and side fittings. The largest of the parts is the shelter deck with a metal deck and wooden paneled decks at the secondary mount positions. There are many fine casting details with this part including, ventilation louvers, numerous equipment lockers and deck access hatch. The catapult
turntable and boat skids is another of the larger parts. The kit provides optional parts for the larger catapult and Walrus of 1940 or a quadruple pom-pom fitted after the catapult was landed in 1941. There is an aft boat position with more boat skids and two more Oerlikon tubs, which fits on top of the forward edge of the aft superstructure. Two additional decks for the bridge are also provided. One is for the 01 level aft of the block superstructure, which slides into a slot on the rear face of the bridge but the most notable is the navigation bridge at the top of the block superstructure. The front face overhangs the bulkhead below and has nice support braces underneath. There are locator holes for two rangefinders and a single HA tube but the most significant feature is the circular base for the gun director. Other smaller superstructure parts are two searchlight platforms, a mainmast platform, a radio house and two bridge signal lamp platforms.

ISW provided five twin 6-inch gun turrets in my sample and it is certainly nice to have a spare. At first I was concerned with the shape of the turrets in that the turret sides curved and photographs initial appeared to show angles on the sides and no curves. However, I did find some very clear photographs, which showed curving side. I still think the front face slope is too long and at too great of angle. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find my copy of the Raven and Roberts British Cruisers of World War Two to check the drawings. Hey David, did you borrow my copy? The bottoms of the turrets will needed to be sanded to remove excess resin. Six twin 4-inch gun mounts were provided when only four are required. The three piece mount is nicely detailed with vision ports on the open back gun shields and well done guns and mounts. With these guns, as well as with most of the smaller parts resin casting sprues/tubes will need to be snipped off and the contact point cleaned up. Three quadruple pom-pom bases and four pom-pom gun assemblies are provided. Each mount has seven pieces, four in resin and three in brass. The pom-poms are very nice. For a 1940 fit you don’t need any, for the 1941 fit you only need one (in lieu of the catapult), and for the post refit 1942 fit you need only two mounts, so you have spares in any event. For light AA you receive five quad Vickers MGs and fifteen Oerlikons, which is more than enough for any fit. There was significant flash on these AA sprues, so clean up is required. Three good quadruple torpedo mounts were provided when only two are needed. 

Smaller Fittings
Even with the superstructure in place and all of the armament in place, there is still miles to go with all of the smaller resin fittings. One main gun director and two HA directors are provided. I especially like the detail on the main director. There is a two-part crane/boat crane base but one part had some voids. Other fittings and equipment includes, extra lockers, galley stack, rangefinders, mainmast searchlight support, signal lamps, and searchlights. An assortment of ships boats from cutter, gig, motorboats, whaler, dinghy, as well as a balsa raft is included. For the 1940 fit, there is a four part Walrus. Mast details include fore and main masts, braces (tripod legs) and mast tops. Running gear includes shaft V-supports, propellers, anchors and rudder. A separate brass rod is provided for the shafts. 

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Brass Parts
There are actually three types of brass parts included. As mentioned above brass rods are included for shafts and masts, if desired. Especially nice are the turned brass barrels manufactured by B&B Barrels. It doesn’t get any better. A large brass fret is included. The parts are well done but there is no relief etching. The largest parts are the catapult and crane. This is the 1940 catapult for the Walrus as the Ajax carried a smaller catapult when she encountered Graf Spee and the catapult was removed in 1941. The crane was retained, which also comes with rigging, block and tackle. The fret is radar heaven as well with Type 279, Type 281, Type284, Type 285 and Type 291 radars included. Ship specific parts include the stack grate, boat rack supports, searchlight platform support bracing, pom-pom railing and sides, Walrus detail, aircraft cradle, funnel siren platform, HF/DF loop, boat davits, and Oerlikon shields. Generic parts include railing, vertical ladder and assorted inclined ladders with trainable treads.

For some time ISW has been criticized for sparse instructions. Granted, in the past the adjective “sparse” might be charitable. ISW instructions have been getting better and better. Now, they are not the epic as presented by WEM but as good example of the significant improvement made by ISW would be those provided with their Ajax . There are 13 single sided pages included. Page one is just an introduction and pages two and three show drawings of the resin and brass parts. Page four starts the assembly with the profile of bridge forward. Page five provides the plan of the same location. With insets for upper deck and navigation bridge. Pages six and seven have the amidship assembly, followed by mast assembly on page eight. Pages nine and ten have profile and plan assembly of the stern. Pages eleven and twelve have subassembly instructions for: secondary guns, pom-poms, Oerlikons, inclined ladders, Walrus, catapult, crane, and radar arrays. The last page is a profile and plan drawing of the ship. All in all, the instructions are very serviceable, although unspectacular.

For over two centuries the name HMS Ajax has appeared in the Royal Navy lists. Although the name appeared on ships of the line to a super-dreadnought, no HMS Ajax won more renown or glory than the Leander class light cruiser. Don’t look for an injected plastic Ajax , there is none. If you want a 1:350 scale Leander class light cruiser, the Iron Shipwright HMS Ajax is the only game in town but that is what they said about the New York Yankee and Philadelphia Phillie games earlier this month.