Tiger-class cruiser

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HMS Tiger (C20) in 1963.jpg
HMS Tiger before conversion
Class overview
Name: Tiger-class cruiser
Operators: RN Ensign Royal Navy
Preceded by: Minotaur class
Succeeded by: None
In commission: 1959-1979
Completed: 3
Retired: 3
General characteristics
Class & type: Light cruiser
Displacement: 11,700 tons (12,080 tons after conversion of Blake and Tiger)
Length: 555.5 ft (169 m)
Beam: 64 ft (19.5 m)
Draught: 23 ft (7.0 m)
Installed power: 80,000 shp (60 MW)
Propulsion: Four Admiralty-type three drum boilers
Four shaft Parsons steam turbines
Speed: 31.5 knots (58.3 km/h)
Range: 8,000 nautical miles (15,000 km) at 16 knots (30 km/h)
Complement: 716 (885 after conversion of Blake and Tiger)

As built:

As helicopter cruisers (Blake & Tiger):

  • 1 × twin 6 in guns QF Mark N5 with RP15 (hydraulic) or RP53 (electric) RPC
  • 1 × twin 3 in guns QF Mark N1
  • 2 × quad GWS.21 Sea Cat missile launchers
  • Belt 3.5 in - 3.25 in
  • Bulkheads 2 in - 1.5 in
  • Turrets 2 in - 1 in
  • Crowns of engine room and magazines 2 in
Aircraft carried: 4 × helicopters (originally Wessex then Sea King)

The Tiger-class cruisers were the last cruisers built for the Royal Navy. These ships were the first and last helicopter cruisers to serve in the Royal Navy.[Note 1] By 1979 the last of them had been withdrawn from service.

Design and commissioning[edit]

Original Minotaur design[edit]

The Tiger-class cruisers were originally designed to be Minotaur-class light cruisers, but they were laid down in 1942-3 with Light Fleet Carrier construction the priority, and accordingly only three were completed. Three other ships of the Minotaur class had their construction either suspended or cancelled in 1947; these later became the Tiger class and by the end of 1946 were in an advanced stage of construction with nine main turrets for the three ships 75-80% complete. These turrets were a more advanced version of the Mk 23 wartime triple 6 inch. The new Mk 24 6 inch mounts were interim turrets which had remote power control and power worked breech. Theoretically the heavier Mk 24 offered a Dual purpose capability with greater 60° elevation. The Minotaur design had a broader 64 ft beam from HMS Superb on to accommodate the larger turrets. The 1947 Tiger design would have had 4 STAAG 40mm, CIWS in which the 262 radar control was built into the gun mounts and more modern AIO and electrics.

Another two Tiger-class cruisers were cancelled. The more advanced, HMS Hawke,was broken up in 1947, a controversial decision, for although she was still on the slip in the Portsmouth dockyard, her boilers and machinery were complete and her new six inch guns nearly so.[1] The decision not to complete the new Tigers in the late 1940s was due to the higher priority given to Battle-class destroyers, and new aircraft carriers, Centaur, Eagle and Ark Royal, allocated the reliable US supplied medium range A/A, Mk 37/275 directors. The 1947-9 period saw a peace dividend and frigate construction was the priority in the Korean War.[2] However, by 1949 two alternative fits for the Tigers had been drawn up, one as a pure a/a cruisers with 6 twin of the new 3 inch 70 calibre design and the later fit, ultimately adopted of two twin Mk 26 automatic 6 inch and three twin 3/70s. In historical term this was a light cruiser armament and similar US weapons introduced on the USS Worchester had experienced considerable problems with jamming and had performed below expectation. . A third lower cost option of fitting two Mk 24 turrets in A and B position and the Daring class semi automatic Mk  twin 4.5s in Q and Y and P1 and S1 on the flanks, was seriously considered during the Korean War.[3] However completing them to the 1946 plans or the mix of Mk 24 triples and Mk 6 4.5 mounts required 150 more crew, than fully automatic DP armament. Significant work and trial would be required to bring the first 6 Mk 24 turrets and cruisers into service by 1953.[Note 2] However much of the original dc circuits the Mk 24 turrets used had been stripped from the Tigers in 1948, there was a strong desire the new cruisers have ac power not dc or dual.[6]

There was great doubt of the merits of completing the Tigers given Soviet jets from 1950 in the Korean War, were faster than anticipated, meaning missiles and small 40/57 mm with modern fuses would be more useful for a/a. While the 1945 names finally selected for the class Lion, Tiger, Hawke and Blake, suggest strong Admiralty support for the class, many of the leading RN naval architects, strongly favoured scrapping them all in 1947, because they were structurally complete enough to make fundamental modernization impossible[7] and the later war priority of heavy six inch turrets and close range a/a to counter the Japanese air threat, meant they were the least suitable RN cruiser class for modernization. Unlike the Colony class the Minotaur class could only be rearmed, with three ( 100 ton 5.25 main turrets), due to weight and internal volume restrictions,[8] were all the other cruiser types could be refitted with four modern medium turrets on the centreline. A decision to approve rearming the Tigers with fully automatic Mk 26s made late 1954. Of the suspended Minotaurs, Bellerophon was completed as Tiger, the name ship of the new Tiger class, Blake was completed under her own name,[Note 3] and Defence was completed as Lion. Conversion of Blake and Tiger to helicopter cruisers in the 1960s left no money to convert Lion, and she was scrapped in 1975, after 8 years in reserve.

Revised design[edit]

Construction of the three suspended ships resumed in 1954, to a revised design known as the Tiger class, as a platform to mount new automatic 6 inch and 3 inch guns. A controversial decision reflecting concern about a large Soviet Navy programme of cruisers and evidence of battlecruiser construction and modernisation of an Italian battleship acquired as war reparations and old Tsarist battleships, with 12 inch mounts still refittable. Royal Navy plans to replace the cruiser and destroyer construction programme with 6,000 ton cruiser/destroyers with an advanced automatic twin or single 5 inch DP guns to overwhelm Sverdlovs and air targets with 60 rpm fire, was problematic and expensive, so the prototype Mk 26 twin 6 inch and 3 inch/70 mounts were used on the Tigers. In the previous decade British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had promoted Battle and Daring destroyers as a substitute, but 3000 ton displacement, lacked space.[Note 4] In his final 1951-55 spell as Churchill, with the support of Minister of Defence, Harold MacMillan and son in law Duncan Sandys, reverted to his late 1920s opposition to the Navy and plans of rising Sea Lord Mountbatten.[9] At the crucial 5 Nov 1954 Cabinet after hours of debate [10] the Tigers were approved with the new automatic Mk 26 twin, with the very expensive completion of HMS Hermes and reconstruction and reboilering of the old Victorious, both with 984 3D radar. The update of the old Tigers and carriers, was the alternative to two new 35,000 ton strike aircraft carriers. The hours of Cabinet debate resulting in the worst cabinet decision on the RN in 20C. Most of the Cabinet would have rather scrapped the Tigers and HMS Victorious and put Eagle or Ark Royal in reserve. Both Churchill and Macmillan wanted only small carriers with a/s aircraft and Vixen interceptors with no strike capability. Therefore the work on the Tigers proceeded, the Towns Belfast and Liverpool had space for three new Mk 26 Turrets, but were too old. The Tiger's appeared newer, but largely complete within a tight citadel, were impossible to really modernise and were corroding fast, particularly, HMS Lion.

All RN gun cruisers would be out of service by 1967, due to cuts and manpower shortages. The need for them ended with the Indonesian confrontation and Wilson's decision not to involve the RN in Vietnam. As a gun cruiser, Tiger served 7.5 years. Lion 4.25 years and Blake 2 years. A modest refit would have allowed the World War 2 completed HMS Newfoundland, Ceylon and Belfast to run till 1966. The maintenance problems with the Tiger's guns meant that in 1965, HMS Lion and HMS Blake were in reserve and the HMNZ Royalist, with many RN crew was reactivated as an a/a and surface escort for Carrier Groups in SE Asia. The Crown Colony- and Town class cruisers with their more reliable guns, suitable for plugging away in fire support, might have been adequate to counter the Sverdlov, if lacking the speed and power really needed in Arctic waters.

The Tigers, improved Fiji, standard 6 inch gun cruisers built for surface gun action and bombardment did represent innovation in being fitted with much better AIO and more automated weapon control for surface and later air engagement. The design structurally differed from the Swiftsure design in a broader beam for larger main turrets semi auto Mk 24 triple 6 inches or the later fully automatic automatic 6 inch twin Mk 26 inch the Tigers used 3 twin mount 3-inch (76 mm) guns, also designed for the Tigers, and which saw service in only the Tigers and the Canadian Restigouche-class destroyers. In reality the Tigers are no more than broad beam Crown Colony-class cruiser can be seen clearly in the British Pathe film of the Tiger on commissioning trials in 1959. The real advance of Tiger on its sister, the Superb, commissioned in 1945 which had almost as much surface throw weight, and 960, 275, 293 radar, was more accurate radar and C3.

The first ship to be commissioned was HMS Tiger in 1959, with HMS Lion in 1960 and HMS Blake the following year, nearly two-decades after the ships had been laid down. The decision to finish them was controversial throughout their construction. The 1957 Defence Review, decided after the political and logistic failure of the 1956 Suez operation, no more cruisers would be modernised but work on the Tigers and HMS Swiftsure would continue, to provide interim anti aircraft support for the fleet until the new County-class GMD's were ready. By 1957 HMS Superb after 12 years hard use was too worn to modernise, cost of structural modernisation inclined to double in cost after more than ten years at sea.[Note 5] The Tigers were obsolete with large crews and no missiles, and by early 1959 had already cost 35 million pounds.[11] Other ship classes that were close to entering service, such as the Leander-class and 4 Tribal-class frigates were armed with the Sea Cat missile system, from 1965. As all three ships required large crews, they were decommissioned into maintained reserve, starting in 1963 with Blake, followed by Lion in the autumn of 1965, and in December 1966, Tiger too was placed in reserve, to await modernisation.


By 1964 the Conservative Government saw, the Tigers as no longer affordable or credible in the surface combat or fleet air defence role and approved their conversion into helicopter carriers, with a large ungainly hangar replacing Y turret, and A and B turrets retained for GFS of amphibious operations. To retain large units primarily, for command and flagship roles and cruiser names and tradition, the RN and MOD asserted, 3 Tiger cruisers would add antisubmarine capabilities, in theory providing twelve dipper sonar equipped helicopters (4X3). This increased the possibility, one might be available to threaten, nuclear depth charges use and freed space on small carriers like Hermes and Victorious for strike and AW aircraft. In 1964 the Conservative Government provisionally approved a new carrier, CVA01 [12] there was little prospect it would have gone ahead under either party, as the design was too innovative and untested and costly,[13] and not justified by the RN Admirals at 40,000 ton plus, while the other carriers, Hermes and Eagle, planned to operate, East of Suez in the 1970s were not sustainable or effective.[14] The Wilson Labour Government, continued the HMS Tiger conversion, to retain residual a/s nuclear and flagship capability after deciding on a rapid phase out of carriers in 1968. The low priority given to deterrence of Soviet subs in the Northern Atlantic, by MOD is reflected by the decision to convert the most suitable a/s helicopter platform Hermes into an amphibious carrier. The suggestion of the Captain of HMS Bulwark in 1966 that Bulwark and the other light fleet carriers be developed for the 'cruiser' role carrying P1127 Harriers and a/s helicopters as well as troops and marine carrying helicopters, was rejected, despite the argument there capacity was underutilised.[15] The Hermes and Bulwark were larger and offered better silencing and hangar capacity than the 6 new gas powered 16,000 ton helicopter cruisers proposed in 1966 by the Sea Lords to replace the Tigers and Light Fleets. The Labour Governments priority was to arm, tactical aircraft in West Germany with tactical and thermo nuclear weapons and secondly,amphibious support of the British Army in Norway. Provision of nuclear depth charges for a/s carriers and destroyers was limited and late. The proposed class of four T82 escort destroyer/cruisers with nuclear Ikara a/s missiles would have been a more reliable nuclear deterrence to Soviet subs in the Atlantic at sea, than the Tigers or Invincibles, but were too expensive and plagued by problems,like the Tigers, common with dated and complex steam propulsion.[16] Therefore in 1965, work began on Blake to convert her to a helicopter cruiser while Tiger began her conversion in 1968. The structural modernisation work on these very old cruisers was immensely difficult and expensive for those forced to do the refitting and repair. Working in the yards on HMS Tiger in the early 1970s was one of the most painful, costly modernisation works ever done in RN yards, disrupted by fires, breakages and rust and should probably never have been attempted. But they did serve as prototype helicopter command cruisers and provided an argument to justify construction of their replacement, the Invincible class cruisers. While some funding had been assembled, not enough could be pulled together for Lion's conversion, and hers was cancelled, though she remained operational until the end of 1965. Conversion of two or three County class GMD's as anti submarine helicopter cruisers would have provided a quite effective anti submarine vessel, as Chile did with 2 of its second hand County Class. The conversion of HMS Devonshire proposed for Egypt in 1978 would have had both a deck hangar and below deck hangar in the area of the former Seaslug missile chain and might have produced an anti submarine helicopter cruiser, which was good enough to be counter productive to the case for the Invincible. The Tigers as half heavy gun cruiser and half flawed short life anti submarine carrier suited the RN politically. One aft twin mount 6 inch gun was removed to allow the addition of a large helicopter hangar and helicopter pad that would be capable of handling four helicopters. The mid-ship mounted two twin mount 3 in guns intended to be maintained for close air defence and GFS were finally also removed, when it was decided to replace the Westland Wessex helicopters with the much larger Westland Sea King. Three of the Sea Kings could barely be accommodated in a further enlarged hangar,[17] which intruded too far into the 3-inch mounts arc of fire. The guns were replaced with two much lighter quad Seacat missile launchers. The forward 3 inch mount was retained for GFS and as a useful CIWS against Soviet anti ship missiles, but the 3 inch guns were slowed from 120 rpm to 90 rpm to reduce servicing and shell use. The cruisers in reality had less self-defence capability. More modern sensor equipment and command and control facilities were also added that would enable them to perform as a flagship for task groups. However, from the point of adding to RN antisubmarine capability, it was immensely unsuccessful as maintenance and operation of the Sea Kings was difficult from ill-suited cramped cruisers. Sea King a/s helicopters would have more sensibly operated from the Commando Carriers as extra squadrons or from specialised conversions of more light fleet carriers to antisubmarine carriers. Centaur and Bulwark could have been so converted.

The conversions left Tiger and Blake some 380 tons heavier with a full displacement of 12,080 tons and their crew complements increased by 169 to 885. During conversion they had lost their much loved sleek cruiser lines and their new appearance was criticised for being an ungainly and inelegant 'push me-pull me' design, and both vessels were soon nicknamed 'Ugly Ducklings'. Originally Lion was also to have been converted, although this never materialised: Blake's conversion had been more expensive than envisaged (£5.5 million) and so funds were no longer available. Ironically Tiger's conversion cost even more (£13.25 million), such was the level of inflation at the time. After much material was stripped off her for use as spares for her sisters, Lion was subsequently sold for breaking up in 1975.

Conversion of Swiftsure and Superb to the Tiger-class standard was seriously planned in 1953-54 and remained the officially announced policy as late as the 1957 Defence Review. in the case of the broader bean Superb it was feasible to reconstruct as a full Tiger and given that it was in better physical condition in 1954 than the unmaintained Lion/Defence in might have been a better choice as a third Tiger modernisation, but the political reality even in 1954 was four Tigers were unaffordable. The actual modernisation planned and approved for Superb and Swiftsure in 1955-56 was different and limited, similar to HMS Belfast refit but in some ways reflecting thinking a decade in advance of the Tigers with the Swiftsure and Superb intended to have a larger more modern bridge and AIO 'potentially' able to accommodate modern 965 radar and the AIO, C3 and data links to carriers and the ability to process and prioritise 8/15 air surface targets at once. However the hulls were too old, in physical age, damage and mileage and Swiftsures refit was cancelled after much of the conversion work was completed (new superstructures and masts were fitted, but not her new weaponry), in 1959 at the time it was decided to sell Ceylon and Newfoundland which had been updated, close to the same level as the equipment actually installed in Belfast and Swiftsure, while Superb's never started.

Obsolescence and decommissioning[edit]

In 1969, Blake returned to service followed by Tiger in 1972. However, the large crews and limited helicopter capacity made Tigers' further fleet service limited to less than nine years. After spending seven years in reserve, the decision was made in 1973 to strip Lion for spares to maintain Blake and Tiger, and Lion was sold for scrap in 1975. Completely unsuitable for anti submarine helicopter operations and servicing with their cramped low hangars, the cut-back in operating funds and manpower that the Royal Navy faced in when the New Conservative Government limited fuel and operating allowances in a policy of tight monetary control and belief in the economy of Nimrod aircraft and submarines for a/s quickened their demise.[citation needed] The recommissioning of the carrier Bulwark and conversion of Hermes able to carry twice as many Sea Kings as Tigers' in antisubmarine warfare, vital against the Soviet Union submarine threat in the Atlantic, decreased the importance of the Tigers even further.

In April 1978, Tiger was withdrawn from service, followed by Blake in 1979; both ships were laid up in reserve at Chatham Dockyard. When Blake decommissioned in 1979, she had the distinction of being the last cruiser to serve the Royal Navy and her passing was marked on 6 December 1979, when she ceremonially fired her 6-inch guns for the last time in the English Channel. Just a few days after the Falklands War started, both Blake and Tiger were rapidly surveyed to determine their condition for reactivation. The survey determined both ships to be in very good condition and were dry-docked (Blake at Chatham, and Tiger at Portsmouth) and round the clock reactivation work immediately begun. By mid-May it was determined the ships would not be completed in time to take part in the war and the work was stopped.[citation needed] Given they had been in unmaintained reserve for a couple of years, it would have taken at least 6 months to a year to properly prepare them for deployment.[Note 6] Retaining a couple of the first group County class GMDs at Chatham dockyard half manned and permanently maintained might have allowed a heavier GFS capability to actually fight in the Falklands war. Though Chile showed some interest in acquiring both ships, the sale did not proceed and the ships sat at anchor in an unmaintained condition until sold.[citation needed] Blake was then sold for breaking up in late 1982, followed by Tiger in 1986.

Construction Programme[edit]

Pennant Name (a) Hull builder
(b) Main machinery manufacturers
Ordered Laid down Launched Accepted into service Commissioned Decommissioned Estimated building cost[18]
C20 Tiger (ex-Bellerophon) [19] (a) & (b) John Brown and Co Ltd, Clydebank.[20] 1 October 1941 [19] 25 October 1945 [19] March 1959 [20] 18 March 1959 [19] 20 April 1978 [19] £12,820,000 [20]
C34 Lion (ex-Defence) [19] (a) Scotts Shipbuilding & Engineering Co Ltd, Greenock (to launching stage)
(a) Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson Ltd, Wallsend-on-Tyne (for completion)
(b) Scotts Shipbuilding & Engineering Co Ltd, Greenock
(b) The Wallsend Slipway & Engineering Co Ltd, Wallsend-on-Tyne (for completion).[21]
24 June 1942 [19] 2 September 1944 [19] July 1960 [21] 20 July 1960 [19] December 1972 [19] £14,375,000 [21]
C99 Blake (ex-Tiger, ex-Blake) [19] (a) & (b) The Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Co Ltd, Govan, Glasgow.[21] 17 August 1942 [19] 20 December 1945 [19] March 1961 [21] 8 March 1961 [19] December 1979 [19] £14,940,000 [21]


  1. ^ The Invincible-class aircraft carriers were described as "through-deck cruisers" during the procurement process, partly to avoid the impression of buying aircraft carriers
  2. ^ With 2 pairs of 274 and 275 directors. The first UK sourced accurately machined and reliable 275M directors were fitted in 1956,in Royalist and Type 12 frigates, 14 yrs after the US Mk 37 DCT was introduced.Correlli Barnett[4] confirms in late 1951 UK Industry could still not build precision bearings or work to the fine tolerances needed for accurate naval a/a fire and fire control box components, had to ordered, again from the US. However by 1953, US Mk 63 directors in the MRS 8 directors for close in defence had been fitted at US expense in most major RN units and cruisers. Newfoundland was reconstructed to a pattern very similar to that planned for HMS Hawke and Tigers with 2/274 surface DCTs with the unreliable, UK glasshouse 275 offset. On exercise a/a firing Royalist outshot HMS Newcastle easily.[5]
  3. ^ Although she had been named Tiger halfway through the process, then renamed Blake.
  4. ^ Destroyers in the 1950s lacked the space for armoured magazines and adequate DCT and AW/AD or the ops room to process data
  5. ^ Note the cf rising cost of RN ship reconstruction, nb Leander-class frigatewith age, nb HMS Dido, Penelope and Sirius.
  6. ^ Refitting the Tigers in the 1980s would have been difficult,dangerous and expensive work to get them remotely seaworthy if hardly operational, too late for the Falklands and unlikely to have been operable for more than a year or two. The likely result would have been similar to Ark Royals Refit in 1975 or Bulwarks refit in 1978; worn out, rusted relics that would have been all right for about a year and then suffered a further 1.5 years of unreliable, broken-down service with continuous electrical failure. The claim in 1980 that they were capable of 15-20 years further operation would have been debatable. The limited life achieved by the postwar USN Cleveland class missile conversion cruisers such as USS Galveston can be taken as a cue; with Galveston's conversion completed in 1958, she was operational for only 11 years and all six were decommissioned by 1979. The ships, like the Tigers, required large crews, with their missile systems needing updating and the ships themselves needing heavy repairs to the machinery and rewiring. Attempts to maintain, more modern hulls Intrepid and Fearless for emergency reactivation was a failure, though both acquitted themselves well during the Falklands conflict.


  1. ^ Brown, D.K; Moore, G. (2012). Rebuilding the Royal Navy. Warship Design since 1945. UK: Seaforth. p. 19. 
  2. ^ Friedman, N. (2010). British Cruisers Two World Wars and After. UK: Seaforth. 
  3. ^ Brown & Moore 2012, p. 47
  4. ^ Barnett, Correlli (2001). The Verdict of Peace. London: MacMillan. pp. 47, 321. 
  5. ^ Pugsley, C. (2003). From Emergency to Confrontation, Malaysia & Borneo 49-66. NZ/Au: OUP. 
  6. ^ Muffin., D. (2010). AA to AA. The Fiji's Turn Full Circle. London: Warship. p. 57. 
  7. ^ N.Freidman. British Cruisers (2010)
  8. ^ D.Muffin, AA to AA, The Fiji's, Warship 2010
  9. ^ Van der Vat, Dan (2001). The Standard of Power. The Royal Navy in the 20c. Hutchinson. 
  10. ^ Thorpe, D. R. The Life of Harold MacMillan. SuperMac. p. 292. 
  11. ^ British Pathe/film-Tiger, 1959
  12. ^ E.Hampshire. East of Suez to East Atlantic. British Naval Policy 1964-70. Maritime Policy Study. Sandhurst, UK, p3.
  13. ^ Lord Hill Norton & J.Decker. Sea Power. Faber & Faber. London.1982 and D.K Brown. Rebuilding the RN Warship Design since 1945. Seaforth. 2012.
  14. ^ D. Healy. The Time of My Life. Micheal Joseph. London.1989, p275-6 and unappreciated comment by Minister, Lord Carrington at the Admiralty board 1964, 'the 42,000 ton carrier, was about right.' N. Freidman. British Carriers.
  15. ^ E. Hampshire. East of Suez to East Atlantic.
  16. ^ Ships Nostalgia- HMS Tiger (2014) Admiral Lewin, and the biographical accounts of the earlier, First Lord Lewin's, unfortunate and regretted command of Tiger. Other, common RN, crew factors may have contributed to the failures in Tiger and Type 82, HMS Bristol.
  17. ^ Friedman 2010
  18. ^ "Unit cost, i.e. excluding cost of certain items (e.g. aircraft, First Outfits)."
    Text from Defences Estimates
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Gardiner, Robert Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships 1947-1995, pub Conway Maritime Press, 1995, ISBN 0-85177-605-1 page 504.
  20. ^ a b c Navy Estimates, 1959-60, pages 230-1, List and particulars of new ships which have been accepted or are expected to be accepted into HM service during the Financial Year ended 31st March 1959
  21. ^ a b c d e f Navy Estimates, 1961-62, pages 220-1, List and particulars of new ships which have been accepted or are expected to be accepted into HM service during the Financial Year ended 31st March 1961

External links[edit]