Birkenhead class light cruisers

The two Birkenhead class light cruisers were originally ordered by the Greek government, and were based on the British Chatham class of cruisers. Work began on them for Greece in 1914, but early in 1915 they were taken over by the British government. In the early period of the war the Royal Navy gained a number of important ships in just this way.

HMS Birkenhead from the right
HMS Birkenhead from the right

The main difference between these two ships and their purely British equivalents was the use of a 5.5in gun instead of the 6in gun used on the Chatham class, a slightly lighter but faster firing gun. The only serious flaw with this gun would prove to be the inadequate gun shields, which left their crews vulnerable to splinters.

HMS Birkenhead joined the Grand Fleet as part of the 3rd Light Cruiser Squadron. HMS Chester also joined the Grand Fleet, in May 1916. Both ships fought at Jutland, where Chester suffered heavy casualties amongst the gun crews.

After the war the non-standard guns made these ships a prime target for the scrap heap. In both cases the possibility of a sale back to Greece was considered but rejected, and they were paid off in 1920. 

Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed




Armour – deck

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

 - belt

2in armour on 1in plate

 - conning tower





Ten 5.5in guns
One 3in AA gun
Two 21in submerged torpedo tubes (beam)

Crew complement






Ships in class

HMS Birkenhead
HMS Chester

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

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (25 October 2007), Birkenhead class light cruisers,

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