HMS Chatham

HMS Chatham was the name ship of the Chatham class of light cruisers. She entered service in December 1912, with the 2nd Battle Squadron, before being sent to the Mediterranean. At the outbreak of the First World War she was part of the 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron of the Mediterranean Fleet.

In the days before the outbreak of the First World War the British Mediterranean Fleet under Admiral Milne concentrated at Malta. Its main role if war broke out would be to protect the French African Army as it crossed the Mediterranean. The biggest threat was expected to come from the German battlecruiser Goeben and the cruiser Breslau, both at large somewhere in the Mediterranean. Milne detached Chatham from his fleet at Malta to search the Strait of Messina and the southern Italian coast for the German ships. At the start of August, Milne was ordered to send Admiral Troubridge’s squadron to the southern entrance of the Mediterranean. Chatham was to join him once her search was complete.

Chatham narrowly missed the German ships off Sicily. They had been in the area, but were now heading west in an attempt to attack the French troop convoys. Instead, they ended up making a short bombardment of Bona and Philippeville, before turning east to make a run for Constantinople. This move caught the British out of place, and the two German ships were eventually able to reach Turkish waters in safety.

Chatham was next sent to the Red Sea, to help protect the ships carrying elements of the Indian Army to Egypt. There she captured the Austrian merchant ship Marienbad, later released because she had been captured too soon after the declaration of war, and before the period of “days of grace” had expired.

The main threat to the troop convoys was the German cruiser Königsberg, the station ship in German East Africa at the start of the war. In September Chatham was dispatched to search the east coast of Africa to find her (with help from the Dartmouth and Weymouth). On 19 October the Chatham captured the German liner Präsident, and discovered papers that suggested the Königsberg was in the Rufiji River. On 30 October the Chatham reached the river, and found the Königsberg. The German cruiser was in shallow water, and protected by mines in the river and gun batteries on land, so Captain Drury-Lowe settled into a blockade of the river. During November 1914 he sank the collier Newbridge in the best channel, trapping the Königsberg. It would take until July 1915 for the British to sink her, after two shallow draft Monitors, HMS Severn and HMS Mersey were sent to the Rufiji.

By then the Chatham had been moved. In early 1915 she was relieved by the Weymouth and went to Bombay for a much needed refit. In May she returned to the Rufiji for two weeks, before being sent to the Dardanelles on 16 May, after the end of a period of exceptionally high tides which might have allowed the Königsberg to attempt a breakout.

The Chatham took part in most of the Gallipoli campaign, providing artillery support at some times. She was present during the landings at Sulva Bay, and at one point the only line of direct communication between General Hamilton and Admiral de Robeck, the two commanders in chief, was via the radio sets in Chatham and Exmouth. Chatham was present at the end of the campaign, during the successful final evacuation, taking part in the bombardment of the abandoned Allied positions that followed the final withdrawal.

From 1916 until 1917 Chatham served as flagship of the 3rd Light Cruiser Squadron of the Grand Fleet. She struck a mine off the Norfolk coast on 26 May, and had to be towed stern first to Chatham to repairs, so missed Jutland. She was present on the fleet sortie of 19 August 1916 that saw both the High Seas Fleet and the Grand Fleet at sea, but failed to produce a battle. During that sortie the Chatham was close to the Falmouth when she was hit by torpedoes from a U-boat.

In the autumn of 1917 the Germans launched two successful attacks on the Scandinavian convoys (October and December 1917). On both occasions the Chatham with the 3rd Light Cruiser Squadron, was at sea, and on both occasions they failed to find the German raiders. 

After the war she spent two years in the Nore Reserve, before joining the New Zealand Naval Forces (1920) then the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy (1921-1924). In 1924 she was returned to the Royal Navy, but stayed in the east as flagship of the 4th Light Cruiser Squadron in the East Indies (1924-25). In November 1925 she was paid off at Devonport.

Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed



4,500 nautical miles at 16kts

Armour – deck

1.5in – 3/8in

 - belt

2in on 1in plate

 - conning tower





Eight 6in guns
Four 3pdr guns
Two 21in submerged torpedo tubes (beam)

Crew complement



9 November 1911


December 1912

Sold for break up

July 1926


Captain Sidney R. Drury-Lowe (1914, 1915)
Captain Bromley (1916)

The Coward? The Rise and Fall of the Silver King, Steve R. Dunn. A look at the life and mistakes of Admiral Ernest Troubridge, a British admiral best known for his failure to intercept the Goeben in the Mediterranean at the start of the First World War. The aim is to try and work out why Troubridge acted as he did in 1914, examining the late Victorian and Edwardian navy, his own career and decisions he made elsewhere in his life to try and work out what made him tick [read full review]
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Books on the First World War | Subject Index: First World War

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (18 October 2007), HMS Chatham ,

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