Cruiser Birmingham - detailed in the original builder’s plans, Conrad Waters

Cruiser Birmingham - detailed in the original builder’s plans, Conrad Waters

This is one of a series of books based around the original builder’s plans of British warships, in this case the town class cruiser HMS Birmingham, a half sister of the more famous HMS Belfast. These plans were working documents, but despite that are remarkably attractive colourful documents, produced with a great deal of care and attention.

We start with a good account of the development of the Town class cruisers and a summary of the Birmingham’s career. This is followed by two fold-out pages that contain large profile plans from three stages in her career. The fold-out pages are used rather cleverly here – on the middle we get the original profile from 1937, which thus gets four full pages. On the front is the 1943 version and on the rear the 1952 version, both with three full pages.

Next come a series of enlarged profile and section plans from 1937, in each case matching an enlarged part from the overall profile with a representative section cutting across the ship. This is where many of the finer details can first be seen, with the plans enlarged enough for most of the original notations to be legible. The images are supported by useful notes, explaining what we are looking at. This large section is followed by a rigging plan and 3D incident boards produced in the 1950s, before the profile and sections are repeated but from the 1952 plans, again complete with notes on what we are seeing and the main changes.

The last section of the book directly compares the deck plans from 1937 and 1952, section by section, commenting both on the original layout and the changes. The side-by-side layout is useful, and these detailed plans are also the best place to tease out some of the fine details of the ship’s layout – this is where I was able to locate the Rum store for example. This section also shows that some surprisingly major changes were made to her in 1952, including a sizable reconstruction of the bridge (partly intended to improve its ability to survive nuclear blasts!).

I found this book interesting for two different reasons. The first is the obvious one – looking at the detailed layout of the major systems of the cruiser – exactly how the guns and their supply systems worked, how the engines were laid out and so forth. The second is the fascinating trivialities of live on these warships – from the Rum store to an entire room dedicated to storing the instruments for the ship’s bands, or the constant attempts to find more places for the crew to sling their hammocks. These two threads also reflect the two competing aspects of warship design – these ships were both powerful weapons of war and floating communities. In the case of cruisers floating communities that were expected to be self sufficient, so we see large workships and stores of spares to allow her to keep operating away from base for long periods of time, and impressive Admiral’s quarters, to allow the ship to act almost as a floating British Embassy. This book really helps bring this ship to life, allowing us a glimpse inside her that is rarely possible with photographs.

Profile Plans
Deck Plans, 1937 and 1943
Enlarged Profile and Sections, 1937
Detail Plans, 1952
Enlarged Profile and Sections, 1952
Enlarged Decks, 1937 and 1952 compared

Author: Conrad Waters
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 144
Publisher: Seaforth
Year: 2018

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