HMS Glasgow

HMS Glasgow was a Bristol class light cruiser, launched in 1909. The Bristol class cruisers were the first light cruisers built for the Royal Navy after a period when armoured cruisers had dominated construction. The Glasgowwas thus one of a small number of modern cruisers available to the Royal Navy at the start of the First World War to deal with the emerging threat from German commerce raiders.

HMS Glasgow
HMS Glasgow

HMS Glasgow - side guns
HMS Glasgow - side guns

The Bristol class cruisers suffered from a number of minor design flaws. They had been built with a high metacentric height (the distance between the metacentre and the centre of gravity). A high metacentric height increases the stability of a ship, especially when damaged, but when the ship is undamaged too much stability can produce a ship that snaps back to the upright position after heeling over. This potential for rapid movement back to the vertical made the Glasgow a difficult gun platform.

Pre-war tests also revealed that the armour on the Bristol class cruisers was inadequate against high explosives. The Glasgow had 2 inches of armour over the magazines and machinery spaces and ¾ inches of armour over the rest of the deck. High explosive shells were able to penetrate the sides of the ship and could also punch their way through the thinner desk armour.

At the battle of Coronel the Glasgow would be the heaviest of the light cruisers, with a clear advantage over the Nürnberg and the Dresden, but she would be dramatically outclassed by the two German heavy cruisers, the Gneisenau and the Scharnhorst, each of which was twice her size. The British heavy cruisers at that battle, the Good Hope and the Monmouth, were both older ships, and were both outgunned and slower than the two German ships.

The Glasgow spent most of her active career overseas. She served with the 2nd Battle Squadron of the Home Fleet during 1910-11, before being sent to the South American Station (1911), then the West Atlantic (1913) and back to the South American in 1914. At the start of the war she was part of Admiral Cradok’s squadron. Early in the war she captured the German SS Catherian on 16 August.

In October Cradok learned that Admiral Maximilian von Spee, at the head of a powerful squadron of five cruisers, including the Gneisenau and the Scharnhorst, was intending to break into the South Atlantic from the Pacific. Cradok decided to take his cruisers into the Pacific in an attempt to prevent this.

Cradok sent the Glasgow ahead of the squadron to the Chilean port of Coronel. Von Spee learnt of the presence of the Glasgow, and decided to ambush the main squadron. The resulting Battle of Coronel (1 November 1914) was a disastrous defeat for the British. Both the Good Hope and the Monmouth were sunk. Glasgow escaped to carry a warning to the last survivor of the squadron, the elderly battleship HMS Canopus.

The Glasgow remained at the Falklands and joined Sturdee’s squadron, sent to catch von Spee. On 8 December von Spee’s squadron made an ill judged raid on the coaling station on the Falklands. While Sturdee’s two battle cruisers, HMS Invincible and HMS Inflexible, dealt with von Spee’s heavy cruisers, the Glasgow helped to sink the smaller cruiser Leipzig.

The Glasgow, along with the cruiser HMS Kent and the Armed Merchantman Orama, trapped the last survivor of von Spee’s fleet, the Dresden, at the island of Mas a Fuera, off the coast of Chile. On 14 March 1915 the British squadron shelled the Dresden, forcing her crew to scuttle her before she could be captured.

By 1916 the Glasgow had been transferred to the Mediterranean. There she took part in two hunts for the German raider commerce Möwe, in February and September 1916. In 1917-18 she was part of the 8th Cruiser Squadron, operating in the Adriatic.

After the war the Glasgow served as a training ship (1921-26) before being sold off to be broken up in April 1927.

Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed



5,070 nautical miles at 16kts

Deck Armour

2in- ¾in




Two 6in guns, one aft and one forward.
Ten 4in guns, five on each side
Four 3pdrs.
Two 18 submerged torpedo tubes (beam)


30 September 1909



Sold for break up

April 1927

The Scapegoat: The life and tragedy of a fighting admiral and Churchill's role in his death, Steve R. Dunn. Fascinating biography of Admiral Kit Cradock, the defeated commander at the battle of Coronel in 1914. Also serves as a history of the late Victorian and Edwardian Navy, looking at its strengths and flaws in the period leading up to the First World War, the Royal Navy's first serious trial since the Napoleonic Wars. [read full review]
cover cover cover


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

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (20 August 2007), HMS Glasgow ,

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