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.
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 and in January 1929, 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.
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. Hangars were ruled out because of space limitations. More changes were made to the design so that the displacement crept up to 7,154-tons. 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.
British Cruisers of World War Two by Alan Raven and John Roberts is the best single source on the topic bar none. Nowhere, short of Admiralty records, can you find the depth of analysis and totally thorough coverage of each class of cruiser operated by the Royal Navy during World War Two. In its 444 pages the title covers each class from the Arthusa Class of 1912 through the post war Swiftsure and Tiger. Through multitudes of photographs, excellent line drawings and data tables, all developmental information on each cruiser class is presented. Long out of print and generally more expensive than the companion volume, British Battleships of World War Two, the volume is expensive but is an absolute necessity for any serious student of British cruiser design.
There was actually a sixth Leander planned. In addition to Ajax, the 1931 program called for another Leander to be named Amphion. However, it was decided to redesign the machinery layout for this last Leander to a "unit layout" used by the USN, rather than an "inline layout" previously used for British cruisers. The "unit layout" separated boilers and engines far more than the "inline system". Ships with the "unit layout" were far less susceptible to loose all power through one lucky hit. The disadvantage was that a unit layout required more machinery space than an inline layout. This system had already been approved for the small fleet cruisers of the Arthusa Class but they had half the range of the trade route Leanders. Amphion would be the guinea pig for the new layout for the larger cruiser designs. The Amphion appears to have been reordered to the new specifications in the 1932 program and was called a "Modified Leander". 1944 figures showed a far smaller difference in range. Modified Leanders were shown with a range of 10,700 nm at 12 knots with the Arthusas at 8,200nm at 12 knots.
Although the new machinery plan resulted in saving 60-tons, this was more than lost by the increase in length an armor because of the length of the machinery spaces increasing by nine feet. The new layout precluded the single trunked funnel design of Leander. Two widely separated funnels would be necessary. This in turn resulted in shipping a smaller catapult. The 53-foot version could not be efficiently worked into the design in the space between the funnels, so a 46-foot version was installed. Theoretically, the Amphion would have to do with smaller, lighter aircraft than the Leanders. Two more of the class were part of the 1932 program, Apollo and Phaeton.
All three were laid down in the summer of 1933, Amphion at Portsmouth Dock Yard on June 26, 1933. Phaeton at Wallsend by Swan Hunter on July 8, 1933, and Apollo at Devonport Dock Yard on August 15, 1933. In early 1934 it was arranged to transfer the Phaeton to the Royal Australian Navy. The RAN made two requests for changes. First the ship was to be renamed HMAS Sydney. Second that a 53-foot revolving catapult be installed in lieu of the planned 46-foot version. In spite of the fact that the 53-foot catapult was originally thought too large for the space available, it was mounted on the now – Sydney. The RAN wanted the larger catapult in order to operate the new Seagull Mk V seaplane, which became more commonly known as the Walrus.
Work on the Sydney proceeded much faster with the private builder, Swan Hunter, than the two sisters being built in Royal Dock Yards. Apollo completed January 13, 1936 and Amphion, ordered first and laid down first, lagged until July 6, 1937, when she was finally completed. After trials Apollo and Amphion joined the Royal Navy. Sydney came in heaviest of the three at 7,198 tons standard or legend but that was still short of the estimated displacement of 7,250 tons. It is interesting to note that before she was completed, it was estimated that Sydney would displace 6,830 tons and this was the weight reported under the terms of the London Treaty. Now under-reporting 368 tons doesn’t equate with the false figures being reported by the Japanese Navy or later the German or Italian navies, but it does show one occasion in which Britain broke the rules of the Washington/London Treaties.
Sydneyran her trials in July 1935. In trials in a loaded condition at 8,138 tons, she achieved 32.137 knots with 71,972 shp of the designed 72,000 shp. In trials a little under standard or legend displacement at 7,105 tons, Sydney produced 72,340shp and hit 33.05 knots. Other bonuses of the design were her very responsive handling and the almost absence of vibration. She was completed on September 24, 1935 and after trials, left for Australia, per British Cruisers of World War Two. According to Cruisers of World War Two, An International Encylopedia, Sydney went to the Mediterranean Fleet until August 2, 1936 when she arrived in Australia. Later both Apollo and Amphion joined the RAN. Apollo received a refit in 1938 and then became HMAS Hobart. Amphion received her refit in 1939 and in July 1939 became HMAS Perth. These two ships received twin HA 4-inch mounts in lieu of the single 4-inch guns, a crew shelters for these guns amidships, and installation of the revolving 53-foot catapult on a deck house in lieu of the fixed 46-foot deck catapult. Because of world conditions, Perth received the catapult deck house and supports but the actual catapult was not fitted. She still did not have it when she was torpedoed and sunk during the Battle of Sunda Strait on March 1, 1942. Sydney never received a refit and therefore kept the original 4-inch HA singles.
HMAS Sydney Goes to War
Dimensions: Length - 555 feet (oa), 530 feet (pp); Beam
- 56 feet 8 inches; Displacement - 6,701 tons
(light); 8,940 tons (deep)
Battle of Cape Spada
The Italians turned away and fired ineffectively with their stern turrets. One lucky shell hit the aft funnel of Sydney without any significant damage. The Italians retired behind a smoke screen and the range was opened to 21,000 yards when the smoke cleared. The Italian cruisers should have been able to outrun the Sydney but they were rolling heavily in the rough sea. At 0824 a salvo from Sydney squarely hit Colleoni. This jammed the rudder in its center position but now Sydney had the range. The next salvo hit again. The conning tower and amidships were hit, starting many fires. The speed of Colleoni fell rapidly until the five RN destroyers were in range. The combined gunfire of Sydney and the five destroyers caused Colleoni to go dead in the water. By 0830 Colleoni was a burning wreck and abandon ship was ordered. The Colleoni was polished off by three torpedoes from RN destroyers off Cape Spada, the western tip of Crete, as Sydney chased after Bande Nere. Sydney chased Bande Nere until 0926 when she broke off due to the speed of the Italian cruiser and more importantly due to the exhaustion of ammunition of Sydney’s forward turrets. She had four rounds left for A turret and one round for B turret, which had been the only turrets firing during the long chase. She had struck Bande Nere with one more 6-inch round, for a total of four hits, without causing any significant damage.
"Little that was new was learned from the Cape Spada encounter, but much was confirmed about the differences between the two nation’s light cruisers. As at the River Plate the British had not hesitated to close with a superior opponent and tackle them head-on. The long patient training between the wars had been reflected in the accuracy of the Sydney’s long-range gunnery against a fast flying target and was most commendable." Cruisers in Action 1939-1945, 1981, by Peter C. Smith and John R. Dominy, at page 91.
A Riotous Night
With the advent of World War Two came the realization that the AA defenses of the ships of the RN were totally inadequate. The pom-poms proved less than successful and the quad Vickers machine gun mount was totally ineffective. Starting with Galatea in January 1941, the Oerlikon 20mm gun was mounted. Originally, there were very few of these mounts to go around. The first production batch arrived in September 1941 and were earmarked for the Dido and Southampton Classes. By this time Sydney was already back in Australian waters. British Cruisers of World War Two, 1980, by Alan Raven and John Roberts has an appendix, which lists the modifications that each cruiser received during the war. For Sydney it simply states, "No information available for repairs, refits and modifications." Page 433. M.J. Whitley in Cruisers of World War Two, An International Encylopedia at page 19, states that Sydney received a "few" Oerlikons, however these would have had to be fitted in Australia, since the first Oerlikon fitted, to Galatea, was done in January 1941, the same month Sydney departed the Mediterranean. It is unlikely that the RN would have fitted a rare Oerlikon to a ship scheduled to leave the area of combat.
From Australia she cruised the oceans around Australia and New Zealand with occasional forays into the Indian Ocean. On November 11, 1941 Sydney had left Freemantle, escorting the troopship Zealandia. On the 17th the cruiser Durban took up the escort mission and Sydney radioed that she was returning to Freemantle, which she expected to reach on the 19th or 20th.
Sydney and the Kormoran
"The range continued to come down and the cruiser ’ … came up steadily with an unchanging bow wave..’ and was obviously still uncertain; she had brought her six-inch turrets to bear on the raider but that was the only indication of readiness and as the two ships got closer it was possible to see ‘…pantrymen in white coats lining the rails to have a look at the supposed Dutchman.." Cruisers in Action 1939-1945, 1981, by Peter C. Smith and John R. Dominy, at page 119.
To confuse Sydney, Kormoran radioed an emergency QQQ signal, which was acknowledged by Perth. Sydney closed range to a point-blank 1,000 yards steering a parallel course. At 1730 Kormoran lowered the Dutch flag she had been flying and raised the German battle ensign. She immediately opened up with everything she had. Hits were immediately achieved on the bridge of the Sydney. Sydney immediately returned fire but as Kormoran continued to pump out the shells, the firing from Sydney’s forward turrets ceased. Kormoran fired two torpedoes. One missed but the other hit under B turret of Sydney. The turret was blown overboard, either as a result of the torpedo explosion or as the result of a secondary magazine explosion. "The fifth salvo from the raider set the Walrus aircraft afire but despite the hail of fire directed at her, the cruiser managed to bring her two after turrets into action and Y turret in particular, was fired with ‘.. considerable accuracy…the first salvo was too high and it ripped through the funnel at about bridge height but its next hit amidships and set the engine room on fire…" Cruisers in Action 1939-1945, 1981, by Peter C. Smith and John R. Dominy, at page 122.
Sydneycrossed the stern of Kormoran but apparently all of her guns were out of action as the barrels pointed at a number of awkward angles. At 1800 Kormoran tried to follow but lost her main engines. Sydney apparently fired torpedoes, which missed and Kormoran also fired another torpedo, which missed. However, the damage had been done. Sydney was a mass of flame "…from the forebridge to the stern mast…" At 1825 Kormoran ceased firing as Sydney slowly opened range to 10,000 yards.
"The stricken cruiser continued to move away at very slow speed. The Sydney now little more than ‘…a flaming hulk…’ faded into the gathering darkness but the glow from her was still visible at 2100 at which time the ‘…flames suddenly darted up even higher as though from an explosion…’ and after that nothing more was seen of her from the Kormoran which herself was so badly damaged that with no hope of escape she was finally scuttled at midnight, though she did not finally sink until 0035." Cruisers in Action 1939-1945, 1981, by Peter C. Smith and John R. Dominy, at pages 122-123. The most probable explanation is that the fires aboard Sydney finally reached one or more of her magazines. There were no survivors from Sydney. (Bulk of History from British Cruisers of World War Two, 1980, by Alan Raven and John Roberts, especially on design history; The Cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni, Anatomy of the Ship, 1987, by Franco Gay and Valerio Gay; Cruisers of World War Two, An International Encylopedia; 1995, by M.J. Whitley; Cruisers in Action 1939-1945, 1981, by Peter C. Smith and John R. Dominy, especially on operational history)
If you have ever purchased a kit produced by NNT, you will know what to expect with the NNT HMAS Sydney. You’ll get a very cleanly cast model with zero defects, no damage and excellent detail. Starting with the deck, the steel forecastle deck really jumps out in its detail. It is a crosshatched deck that looks very nice. The grid pattern is incised, rather than raised, but at 1:700 scale it presents a very detailed and pleasing appearance. Accentuating this detail are the capstans, set of bollards, set of cleats and hawse found on this metal deck. The different textures of the grid deck, smooth fixtures and indentation of the anchor hawses promote a lot of visual interest.
For the wooden deck spaces, you still get the well done bollards and cleats but additionally there are plenty of deck hatches, fittings and a crisp breakwater. There are a number of cable reels cast integral to the deck that are adequate but don’t excel. This detail is carried over to the plank decking of the superstructure sections. The same types of hatches, fittings and reels are found at these positions.
When looking at the sides of the hull casting, the number one thing that jumps out are the typical British cruiser knuckles found on each side of the bow. The knuckles are very nicely executed and almost shout British Cruiser. NNT has cast the boat booms, abreast of the forward superstructure, as part of the hull casting. These items break up the flatness of the hull sides and add texture and interest. The armored belt is clearly defined, as are a couple of vertical strakes on each side. The superstructure levels are very interesting, primarily because of their number and shapes, but also because of the square windows of the sides. Only a couple of the structures are rectangular. The rest vary from the circular catapult base to tapering six to eight sided structures. Throw in the platform bases and the superstructure arrangement is very busy. There were minute traces of a resin pour sheet along the bottom edge of the hull but this is totally insignificant and easily cleaned. The casting from NNT has faint locator outlines on decks that are to receive additional structures. This should be of material help in placement of these structures but it is still probably best to use a slower drying adhesive than CA, such as white glue, in attaching these parts since they still have to be maneuvered into position.
Torpedo tube mounts are well done. The eight-inch and four-inch barrels all come on one sprue. There was no warp in the pieces. The stacks are nice but have solid caps with the grate design executed over the solid top. There is certainly nothing wrong with this approach, as it will all be painted black, but my preference would be to have hollow stacks with photo-etched gratings. The turrets are nicely shaped but don’t have much small detail, other than the gun openings. Holes for the guns are not predrilled, so it is advisable to use a pin vise to add the holes before attaching the gun barrels. NNT includes a small sprue with what appears to be four 20mm Oerlikons. The guns are detailed with shoulder rests included in the castings. However, I couldn’t ascertain where they are placed in the instructions. This probably due to the absence of information on their fitting on Sydney. As noted earlier Raven and Roberts reported that no information was available on war time additions to Sydney, while M.J. Whitley reported that Sydney received a few Oerlikons but did not state where they were placed. To be on the inclusive side of the house, NNT has provided the Oerlikons.
Other items of special note include a large steam pipe array for the forward edge of the front stack and a piece with galley pipes. Two piece anchors, assorted davits and three one-piece quad Vickers mounts round out the ship specific parts on the fret. The Vickers mounts are rather basic and don’t have the detail found on the WEM multiple piece 1:700 scale Vickers mounts but they are more than sufficient to portray this inefficient piece of ordnance. To finish out the fret NNT supplies anchor chain and runs of vertical ladder. However, you will still need to use third party railing and inclined ladders, as none is included in the fret.
Decals & Instructions
The instructions come in two back-printed sheets. Sheet one has a short history of the Sydney written in German on the front side and in English on the reverse. The backside also features a nice black and what full-hull quarter view of the ship. The second sheet has an 1:700 scale plan and profile, which will assist in the assembly of the model. The plan is actually a series of plans of the individual decks and levels. Both profile and plans show placement locations for inclined ladders but the multiple level plans are the most clear on these features. The profile also provides a basic rigging plan for the vessel. The rear of this sheet has the assembly drawing. It has an isometric view and shows the placement of the resin and photo-etched parts, except the Oerlikons. The drawing is fairly basic but does the job intended. I didn’t see any pitfalls to be encountered in following the drawing. Also included are templates for the fore and main masts. These need to be built from suitably thin rod and wire.