Astraea class second class cruisers

Despite their age, the seven surviving members of the Astraea class of light cruisers performed valuable service during the First World War. HMS Astraea, HMS Charybdis and HMS Fox served on the front line, with both Astraea and Fox remaining in service on overseas stations to the end of the war.

The eight ships of this class had been built under the Naval Defence Act of 1889. They were 25% larger than the previous Apollo class ships, and were significantly more seaworthy. They were criticized when built because despite the increase in size, their firepower was only increased by two 4.7in guns. Their wartime service would suggest that the criticism was misplaced.

HMS Cambrian, HMS Flora and HMS Forte had been placed on the sale list before the First World War, but only the Forte was actually sold, going for break up in Holland.

HMS Astraea spent the entire war on the Cape of Good Hope and West Africa Station. This squadron’s initial job was to protect South African commercial shipping, but it soon became involved in the attacks on the German colonies. The Astraea bombarded Dar-es-Salaam on 8 August 1914, destroying the radio station. In the panic that followed the attack, the Germans sank their floating dock in the harbour entrance to prevent a British landing, but also preventing the Königsberg from using the harbour.

In May 1915 she replaced HMS Challenger as the senior naval officer’s ship in the squadron supporting the invasion of the Cameroons. Her captain (W. S. Nicholson) swapped commands with Captain C. T. M. Fuller, who had been cooperating with the army in the Cameroons.

HMS Bonaventure served as a submarine depot ship from April 1907.

HMS Cambrian was on the sale list from early 1914. She was reactivated in August 1914, and converted for use as a stokers training ship. In March 1916 she was renamed Harlech to free the name for a new Calliope class cruiser.

HMS Charybdis was part of the 12th Cruiser Squadron in August 1914, acting as the flagship of Admiral Wemyss. The squadron put to sea on 4 August, and formed part of the Western Patrol, together with a French cruiser squadron. During August the Western Patrol helped to protect the BEF as it crossed the channel. From 25 August Admiral Wemyss had sole command of the squadron, as the French pulled ships away to help with the fighting on the coast of Belgium. On 12 September the squadron was sent to the St. Lawrence River, to escort the first Canadian troop convoy across the Atlantic. The convoy sailed on 3 October and reached Britain without incident. In January 1915 the Charybdis was damaged in a collision, and laid up at Bermuda. In 1917 she served as a depot ship, while in March 1918 she was converted to act as a commercial cargo carrier.  

HMS Flora was on the sale list in 1914. At the start of the war she was retained for harbour service. In April 1915 she was remained HMS Indus II although the name was not reused.

HMS Fox was recommissioned at Aden in July 1912. At the start of the war she was part of the East Indies Station, under Rear-Admiral Sir R. H. Pierse. This was a small squadron, containing the battleship Swiftsure, the Fox and the cruiser Dartmouth. Its job was to protect the trade routes between Aden and Singapore, a vast area. It was believed that the forces on the China station and in the Australian fleet would prevent the German East Asian cruisers reaching this area.

In August 1914 the Fox was ordered to Colombo, to guard against the perceived threat from armed liners. While there she captured the Deutsch-Australische steamer Australia (10 August) and the Hansa liner Motkefels (11 August), in the period before news of the war had reached every ships captain.

In January 1917 she was based at Port Sudan. By March she was on escort duties between Aden, Colombo and Bombay. By November, during the cruiser of the German commerce raider Wolf, she was at Aden, and was part of the Red Sea Patrol, remaining there until the end of the war.

HMS Hermione was a guardship at Southampton at the start of the war. In December 1916 she was converted to act as a headquarters ship for motor launches and coastal motor boats. In December 1917 she was one of the ships considered for use as a blockship in the Zeebrugge raid, but was not used.

Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

18kts natural draft
19.5kts forced draft


7000 nautical miles at 10kts

Armour – deck


 - conning tower


 - 6in gunshields


 - engine hatch



339ft 6in


Two 6in quick firing guns
Eight 4.7in quick firing guns
Ten 6pdr quick firing guns
One 3pdr quick firing gun
Four 18in submerged torpedo tubes

Crew complement






Ships in class by 1914

HMS Astraea
HMS Bonaventure
HMS Cambrian
HMS Charybdis
HMS Flora
HMS Hermione

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

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (10 November 2007), Astraea class second class cruisers ,

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