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Tiger class cruiser

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Tiger class cruiser

HMS Tiger before conversion
Class overview
Name: Tiger-class cruiser
Operators: RN Ensign Royal Navy
Preceded by: Minotaur class
Succeeded by: None
In commission: 1959-1979
Completed: 3
Retired: 3
General characteristics
Class & type: Light cruiser
Displacement: 11,700 tons (12,080 tons after conversion of Blake and Tiger)
Length: 555.5 ft (169 m)
Beam: 64 ft (19.5 m)
Draught: 23 ft (7.0 m)
Installed power: 80,000 shp (60 MW)
Propulsion: Four Admiralty-type three drum boilers
Four shaft Parsons steam turbines
Speed: 31.5 knots (58.3 km/h)
Range: 8,000 nautical miles (15,000 km) at 16 knots (30 km/h)
Complement: 716 (885 after conversion of Blake and Tiger)

As built:

As helicopter cruisers (Blake & Tiger):

  • 1 × twin 6 in guns QF Mark N5 with RP15 (hydraulic) or RP53 (electric) RPC
  • 1 × twin 3 in guns QF Mark N1
  • 2 × quad GWS.21 Sea Cat missile launchers
  • Belt 3.5 in - 3.25 in
  • Bulkheads 2 in - 1.5 in
  • Turrets 2 in - 1 in
  • Crowns of engine room and magazines 2 in
Aircraft carried: 4 × helicopters (originally Wessex then Sea King)

The Tiger-class cruisers were the last cruisers built for the Royal Navy. These ships were the first and last helicopter cruisers to serve in the Royal Navy.[Note 1] By 1979 the last of them had been withdrawn from service.

Design and commissioning

Original Minotaur design

The Tiger-class cruisers were originally designed to be Minotaur-class light cruisers, but they were laid down in 1942-3 with Light Fleet Carrier construction the priority, and accordingly only three were completed. Three other ships of the Minotaur class had their construction either suspended or cancelled in 1947; these later became the Tiger class and by the end of 1946 were in an advanced stage of construction with nine main turrets for the three ships 75-80% complete. These turrets were a more advanced version of the Mk 23 wartime triple 6 inch. The new Mk 24 6 inch mounts were interim turrets which had remote power control and power worked breech. Theoretically the heavier Mk 24 offered a Dual purpose capability with greater 60° elevation. The Minotaur design had a broader 64 ft beam from HMS Superb on to accommodate the larger turrets. The 1947 Tiger design would have had 4 STAAG 40mm, CIWS in which the 262 radar control was built into the gun mounts and more modern AIO and electrics.

Another two Tiger-class cruisers were cancelled. The more advanced, HMS Hawke,was broken up in 1947, a controversial decision, for although she was still on the slip in the Portsmouth dockyard, her boilers and machinery were complete and her new six inch guns nearly so.[1] The decision not to complete the new Tigers in the late 1940s was due to the higher priority given to Battle-class destroyers, and new aircraft carriers, Centaur, Eagle and Ark Royal, allocated the reliable US supplied medium range A/A, Mk 37/275 directors. The 1947-9 period saw a peace dividend and frigate construction was the priority in the Korean War.[2] However, by 1949 two alternative fits for the Tigers had been drawn up, one as a pure a/a cruisers with 6 twin of the new 3 inch 70 calibre design and the later fit, ultimately adopted of two twin Mk 26 automatic 6 inch and three twin 3/70s. In historical term this was a light cruiser armament and similar US weapons introduced on the USS Worchester had experienced considerable problems with jamming and had performed below expectation. . A third lower cost option of fitting two Mk 24 turrets in A and B position and the Daring class semi automatic Mk  twin 4.5s in Q and Y and P1 and S1 on the flanks, was seriously considered during the Korean War.[3] However completing them to the 1946 plans or the mix of Mk 24 triples and Mk 6 4.5 mounts required 150 more crew, than fully automatic DP armament. Significant work and trial would be required to bring the first 6 Mk 24 turrets and cruisers into service by 1953.[Note 2] However much of the original dc circuits the Mk 24 turrets used had been stripped from the Tigers in 1948, there was a strong desire the new cruisers have ac power not dc or dual.[6]

There was great doubt of the merits of completing the Tigers given Soviet jets from 1950 in the Korean War, were faster than anticipated, meaning missiles and small 40/57 mm with modern fuses would be more useful for a/a. While the 1945 names finally selected for the class Lion, Tiger, Hawke and Blake, suggest strong Admiralty support for the class, many of the leading RN naval architects, strongly favoured scrapping them all in 1947, because they were structurally complete enough to make fundamental modernization impossible[7] and the later war priority of heavy six inch turrets and close range a/a to counter the Japanese air threat, meant they were the least suitable RN cruiser class for modernization. Unlike the Colony class the Minotaur class could only be rearmed, with three ( 100 ton 5.25 main turrets), due to weight and internal volume restrictions,[8] were all the other cruiser types could be refitted with four modern medium turrets on the centreline. A decision to approve rearming the Tigers with fully automatic Mk 26s made late 1954. Of the suspended Minotaurs, Bellerophon was completed as Tiger, the name ship of the new Tiger class, Blake was completed under her own name,[Note 3] and Defence was completed as Lion. Conversion of Blake and Tiger to helicopter cruisers in the 1960s left no money to convert Lion, and she was scrapped in 1975, after 8 years in reserve.

Revised design

Construction of the three suspended ships resumed in 1954, to a revised design known as the Tiger class, as a platform to mount new automatic 6 inch and 3 inch guns. A controversial decision reflecting concern about a large Soviet Navy programme of cruisers and evidence of battlecruiser construction and modernisation of an Italian battleship acquired as war reparations. Rumours of Royal Navy plans to replace the cruiser and destroyer construction programme with 6,000 ton cruiser/destroyers with an advanced automatic twin or single 5 inch DP guns to overwhelm Sverdlov-class cruiser''Sverdlov''s and air targets with 60 rpm fire are unreliable, and likely incorrect, nobody in the Royal Navy or Whitehall of the time anticipated sending a 'Tiger' against a much more heavily armed 'Sverdlov', especially given that there were likely to be 30 'Sverdlovs' and at best 5 'Tigers', this is nonsensical.

Allegedly, (but disputedly) against the opinion of Winston Churchill, The Tigers were approved with the new automatic Mk 26 twin, along with the very expensive completion of HMS Hermes and reconstruction and reboilering of Victorious, both with 984 3D radar. The update of the Tigers and Aircraft Carriers was the affordable alternative to two new 35,000 ton strike aircraft carriers. Allegedly most of the Cabinet would have rather scrapped the Tigers and HMS Victorious and put HMS Eagle or HMS Ark Royal in reserve. Both Churchill and Macmillan wanted only small carriers with a/s aircraft and Sea Vixen strike fighters (not 'interceptors'). Therefore the work on the Tigers proceeded, the Towns Belfast and Liverpool had space for three new Mk 26 Turrets, but were too old. The Tiger's appeared newer, and would be completed with limited nuclear warfare survivability due to their seal-able citadel's, something the older 'Town' and 'City' Class cruisers could not achieve.

As a gun cruiser, Tiger served 7.5 years. Lion 4.25 years and Blake 2 years. A modest refit would have allowed the World War 2 completed HMS Newfoundland, Ceylon and Belfast to run till 1966. The maintenance problems with the Tiger's guns meant that in 1965, HMS Lion and HMS Blake were in reserve and the HMNZ Royalist, with many RN crew was reactivated as an a/a and surface escort for Carrier Groups in SE Asia. The Crown Colony- and Town class cruisers with their more reliable guns, suitable for plugging away in fire support, might have been adequate to counter an unescorted single lone Sverdlov, but they had no nuclear survivability, and were even older than the hulls of the 'Tigers


By 1964 the Conservative Government saw the Tigers as no longer affordable or credible in the surface combat or fleet air defence role and approved their conversion into helicopter carriers, with a large hangar replacing Y turret, Sea Cat A/A missile system, long range Air Warning radar and A and B turrets retained for NGFS, offensive operations, and anti-surface vessel warfare. To retain large units primarily for command and flagship roles and cruiser names and tradition, the RN and MOD asserted, 3 Tiger cruisers would add antisubmarine capabilities, in theory providing twelve dipping-sonar and torpedo equipped helicopters (4X3) in a 30kt hull with considerable self-defense capability. This increased the possibility that one Tiger one might be available to threaten nuclear depth charge use and free space on carriers like 'Hermes' and 'Victorious' for Strike and Air Warfare aircraft.

The Wilson Labour Government continued the conversion of 'Tiger' and 'Blake', to retain residual anti-submarine, nuclear and flagship capability after deciding on a rapid phase out of carriers in 1968. The low priority given to deterrence of Soviet submarines in the Northern Atlantic by the MOD is reflected by the decision to convert a suitable a/s helicopter platform, the carrier 'Hermes' into an amphibious carrier. The suggestion of the Captain of HMS Bulwark in 1966 that Bulwark and the other light fleet carriers be developed for the 'cruiser' role carrying P1127 Harriers and a/s helicopters as well as troops and marine carrying helicopters, was rejected, despite the argument there capacity was under-utilised.[9] The later advent of the 'Invincible' Class carriers would seem to add weight to this proposal. The Hermes and Bulwark were larger, and offered better silencing and hangar capacity than the 6 new projected gas-turbine powered 16,000 ton helicopter cruisers proposed in 1966 by the Sea Lords to replace the Tigers and Light Fleets, which remained un-built. The Labour Governments priority was to arm tactical aircraft in West Germany with tactical and thermo-nuclear weapons, and secondly, amphibious support of the British Army in Norway. Provision of nuclear depth charges for a/s carriers and destroyers was limited and late. The proposed class of four 'Type 82' escort destroyer/cruisers with nuclear 'Ikara' a/s missiles could have been a more reliable nuclear deterrence to Soviet subs in the Atlantic at sea than the 'Tigers' or 'Invincible's', but never happened, were too expensive, flawed in the lack of airborne early warning or anti-submarine capability, and plagued by problems common with dated and complex steam propulsion.Other common RN crew factors may have contributed to the issues in 'Tiger' and the much later 'Type 82', 'HMS Bristol'. Therefore in 1965, work began on Blake to convert her to a helicopter cruiser while Tiger began her conversion in 1968. The structural modernisation work on these old hulls was difficult and expensive. However the ships successfully served as helicopter command cruisers and provided an argument to justify construction of their replacement, the 'Invincible' class 'through deck cruisers'. While some funding had been assembled, not enough could be pulled together for Lion '​s conversion, and hers was cancelled, though she remained operational until the end of 1965. It has been considered that conversion of two or three County class GMD's as anti submarine helicopter cruisers would have provided a quite effective anti submarine vessel, as Chile did with 2 of its second hand County Class. This is incorrect. The 'County's' beam was insufficient, their main armament was under-sized, and at best they could only ever accommodate two single-engined out-dated Wessex helicopters, or a navalized version of the RAF HC.1 Puma, which the Fleet Air Arm knew to be incapable of ship-borne ASW operations. The Royal Navy had the Sea-King, and a converted 'County' could not operate Sea-Kings!

The conversion of HMS Devonshire proposed for Egypt in 1978 would have had both a deck hangar and below deck hangar in the area of the former Seaslug missile magazine and might have produced a flawed anti submarine helicopter cruiser, which was good enough for an emerging nation, but not for a First World power. The Tigers as half heavy gun cruiser and half short life anti submarine carrier suited the RN politically. The aft twin mount 6-inch gun was removed to allow the addition of a large helicopter hangar and helicopter pad that would be capable of handling four helicopters.

Later, when it was decided to replace the Westland Wessex helicopters with the much larger Westland Sea King, three of the Sea Kings could easily be accommodated in a further enlarged hangar,[10] but as this restricted the 2 mid-ships 3-inch twin mounts arc of fire, the guns were replaced with two much lighter quadruple Sea-Cat GWS21 anti-aircraft missile launchers. The forward 3 inch twin mount was retained for NGFS, A/A defense, and close range anti-surface warfare action, and as a quick-firing CIWS against Soviet anti ship missiles, but the 3 inch guns were slowed from 120 rpm to 90 rpm to reduce servicing and shell use. More modern sensor equipment and command and control facilities were also added that would enable them to perform as a flagship for task groups, and equalled the radar and sensor fit of the Centaur Class aircraft carriers Hermes and Bulwark, in a much smaller platform.

The conversions left Tiger and Blake some 380 tons heavier with a full displacement of 12,080 tons and their crew complements increased by 169 to 885. Originally Lion was also to have been converted, although this never materialised: Blake '​s conversion had been more expensive than envisaged (£5.5 million) and so funds were no longer available. Ironically Tiger '​s conversion cost even more (£13.25 million), such was the level of inflation at the time. After much material was stripped off her for use as spares for her sisters, Lion was subsequently sold for breaking up in 1975.

Obsolescence and decommissioning

In 1969, Blake returned to service followed by Tiger in 1972. However, the large crews and limited helicopter capacity made Tigers' further fleet service limited to less than nine years. After spending seven years in reserve, the decision was made in 1973 to strip Lion for spares to maintain Blake and Tiger, and Lion was sold for scrap in 1975.

Rumours that they were completely unsuitable for anti submarine helicopter operations and servicing with their cramped low hangars are incorrect, their hangars were in fact taller than any other ship other than true aircraft carriers of their time, (especially when compared to the close to useless arrangements of the 'County Class' DLG's, who could only support one Wessex, in a hangar so cramped it took an hour to get the aircraft in and secure, or out again to fly, whilst the port Sea-Cat launcher was un-usable during this evolution), and their flight-decks were the largest of any in the RN at that time excluding true aircraft carriers or the non-frontline RFA Engadine. Simply, there was no other way to deploy three Sea-Kings at 30knots anywhere unless you had a carrier, the RN of the time did not.

The cut-back in operating funds and manpower that the Royal Navy faced into when the new Conservative Government limited fuel and operating allowances in a policy of tight monetary control, and belief in the economy of Nimrod aircraft and submarines for a/s quickened their demise. The recommissioning of the carrier Bulwark and conversion of Hermes able to carry twice as many Sea Kings as Tigers' in antisubmarine warfare, vital against the Soviet Union submarine threat in the Atlantic, decreased the importance of the Tigers even further. What was often overlooked however was the inability of 'Hermes' or 'Bulwark' to operate independently, and their lack of self-defence ability (total, in the case of 'Bulwark', who had no Sea-Cat provision, limited in the case of 'Hermes'). The 'Tigers' were faster, smaller, had the same radar fit, same A/A missile fit, and a substantial (even in the 1980s) ability to defend themselves in open water to surface and air threats. The Carriers could not be risked in blue water operations without an anti air and anti surface warfare escort of a minimum of one 'County Class DLG', or a 'Cat and Cathedral' Type 41/61 Frigate pairing, or preferably two 'Type 12's' or 'Leander's'. Thus their true manpower requirements for open water and power projection were far more costly in terms of fiscal coast and hulls than either Tiger or Blake, this point is often glibly overlooked. It is easy to overlook the fear the British Royal Navy had of the Second World War era ex-American cruiser 'General Belgrano' during the Falklands War, her main gun armament was a serious threat 40 years after her design. The rapid-firing twin 6" Mk.26 turrets of 'Tiger' and 'Blake', their flight-decks and speed, along with a virtually inexhaustible stock of 6" and 3" ammunition held for them in the 1970s were something that would have allowed a second strike force to be deployed North of the Falklands, and working with the SSN's 'Splendid' or 'Spartan' they could have ensured that the Argentine carrier 'Vienticinco de Mayo' stayed in port or was sunk. Additionally, both ships had the ability to re-fuel Sea Harriers, and whilst their flight decks would have buckled from continuous use they could have allowed longer and more aggressive 'CAP's' to be flown at further range from the carrier force, and also for damaged aircraft to be recovered away from the two British carriers.

An independent strike force of a 'Tiger' with a 'Type 42', 2 'Sea-wolf' and one 'Ikara' armed towed-array 'Leander' could have been formed without depleting the carrier escort or taking away either of the crucial 'Type 22' Goal-keepers, using just the ships already on station in the South Atlantic, (assuming 'Tiger' or 'Blake had been available), such a strike force would unquestionably have changed the balance of power and the opportunities available to Admiral Woodward at the time.

In April 1978, Tiger was withdrawn from service, followed by Blake in 1979; both ships were laid up in reserve at Chatham Dockyard. When Blake decommissioned in 1979, she had the distinction of being the last cruiser to serve the Royal Navy and her passing was marked on 6 December 1979, when she ceremonially fired her 6-inch guns for the last time in the English Channel. Just a few days after the Falklands War started, both Blake and Tiger were rapidly surveyed to determine their condition for reactivation. The survey determined both ships to be in very good condition and were dry-docked (Blake at Chatham, and Tiger at Portsmouth) and round the clock reactivation work immediately begun. By mid-May it was determined the ships would not be completed in time to take part in the war and the work was stopped. Ships, like the Tigers, required large crews, with their missile systems needing updating and the ships themselves needing heavy repairs to the machinery and rewiring. Attempts to maintain more modern hulls Intrepid and Fearless for emergency reactivation were expensive, and questionable, but one has to consider the fact that there was nothing else, and both acquitted themselves well during the Falklands conflict. Retaining a couple of the first group County class GMDs at Chatham dockyard half manned and permanently maintained might have allowed a heavier GFS capability to actually fight in the Falklands war, but their aircraft operating ability wa already obsolete, and the 'Tigers' Sea-Kings and main armament were worth two 'County's', and at a lesser manpower, so this suggestion is flawed.

Though Chile showed some interest in acquiring both ships, the sale did not proceed and the ships sat at anchor in an unmaintained condition until sold. Blake was then sold for breaking up in late 1982, followed by Tiger in 1986.

Construction Programme

Pennant Name (a) Hull builder
(b) Main machinery manufacturers
Ordered Laid down Launched Accepted into service Commissioned Decommissioned Estimated building cost[11]
C20 Tiger (ex-Bellerophon) [12] (a) & (b) John Brown and Co Ltd, Clydebank.[13] 1 October 1941 [12] 25 October 1945 [12] March 1959 [13] 18 March 1959 [12] 20 April 1978 [12] £12,820,000 [13]
C34 Lion (ex-Defence) [12] (a) Scotts Shipbuilding & Engineering Co Ltd, Greenock (to launching stage)
(a) Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson Ltd, Wallsend-on-Tyne (for completion)
(b) Scotts Shipbuilding & Engineering Co Ltd, Greenock
(b) The Wallsend Slipway & Engineering Co Ltd, Wallsend-on-Tyne (for completion).[14]
24 June 1942 [12] 2 September 1944 [12] July 1960 [14] 20 July 1960 [12] December 1972 [12] £14,375,000 [14]
C99 Blake (ex-Tiger, ex-Blake) [12] (a) & (b) The Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Co Ltd, Govan, Glasgow.[14] 17 August 1942 [12] 20 December 1945 [12] March 1961 [14] 8 March 1961 [12] December 1979 [12] £14,940,000 [14]


  1. ^ The Invincible-class aircraft carriers were described as "through-deck cruisers" during the procurement process, partly to avoid the impression of buying aircraft carriers
  2. ^ With 2 pairs of 274 and 275 directors. The first UK sourced accurately machined and reliable 275M directors were fitted in 1956,in Royalist and Type 12 frigates, 14 yrs after the US Mk 37 DCT was introduced.Correlli Barnett[4] confirms in late 1951 UK Industry could still not build precision bearings or work to the fine tolerances needed for accurate naval a/a fire and fire control box components, had to ordered, again from the US. However by 1953, US Mk 63 directors in the MRS 8 directors for close in defence had been fitted at US expense in most major RN units and cruisers. Newfoundland was reconstructed to a pattern very similar to that planned for HMS Hawke and Tigers with 2/274 surface DCTs with the unreliable, UK glasshouse 275 offset. On exercise a/a firing Royalist outshot HMS Newcastle easily.[5]
  3. ^ Although she had been named Tiger halfway through the process, then renamed Blake.


  1. ^ Brown, D.K; Moore, G. (2012). Rebuilding the Royal Navy. Warship Design since 1945. UK: Seaforth. p. 19. 
  2. ^ Friedman, N. (2010). British Cruisers Two World Wars and After. UK: Seaforth. 
  3. ^ Brown & Moore 2012, p. 47
  4. ^ Barnett, Correlli (2001). The Verdict of Peace. London: MacMillan. pp. 47, 321. 
  5. ^ Pugsley, C. (2003). From Emergency to Confrontation, Malaysia & Borneo 49-66. NZ/Au: OUP. 
  6. ^ Muffin., D. (2010). AA to AA. The Fiji's Turn Full Circle. London: Warship. p. 57. 
  7. ^ N.Freidman. British Cruisers (2010)
  8. ^ D.Muffin, AA to AA, The Fiji's, Warship 2010
  9. ^ E. Hampshire. East of Suez to East Atlantic.
  10. ^ Friedman 2010
  11. ^ "Unit cost, i.e. excluding cost of certain items (e.g. aircraft, First Outfits)."
    Text from Defences Estimates
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Gardiner, Robert Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships 1947-1995, pub Conway Maritime Press, 1995, ISBN 0-85177-605-1 page 504.
  13. ^ a b c Navy Estimates, 1959-60, pages 230-1, List and particulars of new ships which have been accepted or are expected to be accepted into HM service during the Financial Year ended 31st March 1959
  14. ^ a b c d e f Navy Estimates, 1961-62, pages 220-1, List and particulars of new ships which have been accepted or are expected to be accepted into HM service during the Financial Year ended 31st March 1961

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