HMS Chester

HMS Chester was a Birkenhead class light cruiser, originally ordered by the Greek government as the Lambros Katsonis. In early 1915 the two ships in the class were taken over by the Royal Navy. The Lambros Katsonis was renamed HMS Chester, and joined the Grand Fleet as part of the 3rd Light Cruiser squadron in May 1916, just in time to participate in the battle of Jutland.

HMS Chester, February 1917
HMS Chester, February 1917

Before the battle HMS Chester was attached to Rear-Admiral Hood’s battlecruiser squadron. This unit was normally part of Admiral Beatty’s battlecruiser fleet, but just before the battle it had been sent to Scapa Flow for gunnery practise, and so was with the Grand Fleet. As Admiral Hood approached the battlecruiser battle, the Chester was five miles to his west, on his starboard flank), placing her nearest to the battle. At 5.27 Captain Lawson heard gunfire and went to investigate, running into the German 2nd Scouting Group. The German cruisers opened fire on the Chester, and inflicted heavy damage on her – three of her 5.5in guns were destroyed, as was her aft control station. She was hit by 17 small projectiles, and suffered heavy casualties – 35 dead and 42 wounded. She escaped by fleeing back towards Admiral Hood’s battlecruisers, and in the short battle that followed the German cruiser Wiesbaden was so badly damaged that she later sank.

Amongst the dead was Jack Cornwell, one of the ships’ boys. Aged only 16 he was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions during the battle.  He was stationed at one of the ship's guns, a vulnerable spot because of the limited protection offered by the gun shields for the 5.5in guns.

The Chester was not fully repaired until 25 July, making her the last of the cruisers or larger ships damaged at Jutland to be repaired. She remained with the 3rd Light Cruiser Squadron for the rest of the war. She took part in the fleet sortie of August 1916, and was working with HMS Falmouth when that ship was torpedoed. Chester remained with the then-floating Falmouth for an hour, before she was ordered away, and so was not present when Falmouth was hit by two more torpedoes, sinking her.

Some confusion is caused in October 1917 by the arrival of the American cruiser USS Chester at Gibraltar, where she carried out convoy protection duties. The American ship is incorrectly indexed in the Official History of the War as her British namesake, but in October 1917 HMS Chester was in the North Sea, taking part in a cruiser deployment designed to catch German ships known to be at large. The ships in question attacked the Scandinavian convoy before escaping back to Germany in safety.

After the war the two Birkenhead class cruisers were surplus to requirements – their non-standard main guns made them more expensive to run than standard 6in gun cruisers. Chester entered the Nore Reserve in 1919, was paid off in 1920 and sold for scrap in 1921.

Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed




Armour – deck

1 ½in over steering gear
3/4in over machinery
3/8in elsewhere

 - belt

2in armour on 1in plate

 - conning tower





Ten 5.5in guns
One 3in AA gun
Two 21in submerged torpedo tubes (beam)

Crew complement



8 December 1915


May 1916

Sold for break up



R. N. Lawson (1916)

Books on the First World War | Subject Index: First World War

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (25 October 2007), HMS Chester ,

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