Chatham class light cruisers

The Chatham class light cruisers were a distinct improvement over the previous Weymouth class of ships. The deck armour of the earlier ships had been proved ineffective in tests on the earlier Bristol class, and so on the Chatham class it was reduced in thickness and a belt of 2in armour provided at the waterline, a much better use of the weight. This armour was attached to a 1in shell of armour that made up part of the structure of the ship, saving weight and increasing the effective thickness of the armour.

One 6in gun on HMAS Sydney
HMAS Sydney - 6in gun

HMAS Melbourne
HMAS Melbourne

The same number and size of guns were carried as on the Weymouth class, but the high velocity Mk XI 6in guns used on the earlier ships were replaced with lower-velocity Mk XII guns, which despite having a slightly shorter maximum range were more accurate at that range, as well as being lighter.

The Chatham class ships were more seaworthy than their predecessors, with a slight increase in beam and an extended forecastle that ran along two thirds of the length of the ship. This also raised the two central 6in guns up one deck, making them easier to use in rough seas.  

Three ships were built for the Royal Navy as part of the 1911 programme, while three were built for the new Royal Australian Navy. Of these two were built in Britain, while the third, HMAS Brisbane, was built at the Cockatoo Yard (Sydney), with British help. Laid down in 1913, she was completed in 1916, having taken one year longer to complete than her sister ships.

During the war the Chatham class cruisers were all given tripod masts and director fire equipment. Dublin, Melbourne, Sydney and Southampton were all given aircraft platforms during 1917-18, which were removed after the war.

HMS Southampton from the right
HMS Southampton from the right

At the start of the First World War HMS Chatham was sent to the Red Sea. While serving off the east coast of Africa she discovered the German raider SMS Königsberg in the Rufiji Delta (30 November 1914). In May 1915 she was sent to the Dardanelles. From 1916 to 1918 she was flagship of the 3rd Light Cruiser Squadron with the Grand Fleet. After the war she served with the Royal New Zealand Navy (1920-1924).

HMS Dublin began her career with the 1st Battle Squadron. In February 1915 she was sent to the Dardanelles, and in May 1915 to Brindisi. From 1916-1918 she served with the Grand Fleet, taking part in the battle of Jutland.

HMS Southampton served as flagship of the First Light Cruiser Squadron, with the Home Fleet and then the Grand Fleet, from 1913-1915. In that role she took part in the battles of Heligoland Bight and Dogger Bank. From 1915-1917 she was flagship of the Second Light Cruiser Squadron, fighting at Jutland, where she torpedoed and sank the German cruiser Frauenlob.

HMAS Sydney is the most famous member of the class. On 9 November 1914, while escorting an ANZAC convoy, she came within range of the German raider Emden, and engaged her in a gun battle that ended with the German ship aground. Sydney spent the next two years on the North American and West Indies Station (1914-1916), before joining the Grand Fleet, where she remained until the Armistice. In 1919 she returned to Australia. From 1924-1927 she served as flagship for the Royal Australian Navy.

HMAS Melbourne was in the Pacific at the outbreak of the war. Like the Sydney she spent 1914-1916 on the North American and West Indies Station and 1916-1918 with the Grand Fleet, with the 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron. She succeeded the Sydney as flagship of the Royal Australian Navy from 1927-1928.

HMAS Brisbane was commissioned in 1916, and spent most of the war in southern waters, around Australia and in the East Indies. In 1918 she escorted convoys from Australia to Britain. At the end of the war she spent a short period in the Aegean.  

Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed



4,500 nautical miles at 16kts

Armour – deck

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

 - belt

2in armour on 1in plate

 - conning tower





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

Crew complement






Ships in class

HMS Chatham
HMS Dublin
HMS Southampton
HMAS Sydney
HMAS Melbourne
HMAS Brisbane

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

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (18 October 2007), Chatham class light cruisers ,

Help - F.A.Q. - Contact Us - Search - Recent - About Us - Privacy