Bristol Class light cruisers

The Bristol Class light cruisers were built to fill a gap left in the Royal Navy by the adoption of the battlecruiser. These powerful ships were simply too expensive to be built in sufficient numbers to fulfil the scouting, patrol and merchant protection duties normally performed by cruisers. The Indefatigable class battlecruisers of 1909-13 were 22,100t ships, carrying eight 12in guns, and by the end of the First World War battlecruisers were carrying 15in and 18in guns. The most recent classes of second class cruisers, the Highflyer and Challenger classes, had been designed in 1896-7, and only five had been built.

HMS Glasgow
HMS Glasgow

HMS Glasgow - side guns
HMS Glasgow - side guns

The Bristol class cruisers were armed with two 6in guns, one at each end of the ship. The 4in guns were equally spaced along each side of the ships. The deck armour was 0.75in thick in most places, thickening to 2 inches over the magazines and machinery spaces.

The Bristol class cruisers suffered from a couple of problems. 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 Bristol class ships difficult gun platforms. Tests during the construction of the ships suggested that the deck armour was too thin, and was vulnerable to shell splinters. Finally the mix of 6in and 4in guns added unnecessary complexity to the management of the ships, and the next three cruiser classes carried a single size of main gun

The Bristol class cruisers spent most of their service career on foreign stations. HMS Bristol and HMS Glasgow were involved in the clashes with Admiral von Spee around South America. All five ships survived the war. Four were scrapped in 1921, while the Glasgow was used as a training ship and survived until 1927. The next cruiser class, the Weymouth class, was essentially an improved Bristol class.

Displacement (loaded)

5300t deep load

Top Speed



5,070 nautical miles at 16kts

Armour – deck





Two 6in 50 calibre breech loading Mk XI
Ten 4in 50 calibre breech loading Mk VIII
Four 3pdr
Two 18in torpedo tubes (submerged)

Crew complement






Ships in class

HMS Bristol
HMS Glasgow
HMS Gloucester
HMS Liverpool
HMS Newcastle

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

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (5 September 2007), Bristol Class light cruisers ,

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