HMS Tiger (C20)

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Engels vlootbezoek aan Rotterdam De Engelse kruiser Tiger loopt binnen, Bestanddeelnr 915-5467.jpg
HMS Tiger before her conversion
United Kingdom
Name: HMS Tiger
Ordered: 1942 Additional Naval Programme
Builder: John Brown Shipyard
Cost: £12,820,000 [1]
Laid down: 1 October 1941
Launched: 25 October 1945
Commissioned: 18 March 1959
Decommissioned: 20 April 1978
Fate: Scrapped, starting October 1986
General characteristics
Class and type: Tiger-class light cruiser
  • as built: 9,550 tons standard, 11,700 tons deep load
  • after conversion: 9,975 tons standard, 12,080 tons deep load[2]
  • 555.5 ft (169.3 m) overall
  • 538 ft (164 m) between perpendiculars
Beam: 64 ft (20 m)
Draught: 21 ft (6.4 m)
Speed: 31.5 knots (58 km/h)
Complement: 698 (885 after conversion)
Sensors and
processing systems:
  • as built: Types 277Q, 903 (x5), 960, 992Q radars, Types 174, 176 and 185 sonars
  • after conversion: Types 278, 903 (x4), 965M, 992Q radars, Types 174, 176 and 185 sonars
  • As built:
  • Four × QF 6 inch Mark N5 guns (2 × 2)
  • Six × 3-inch (3 × 2)
  • After conversion:
  • Two × 6-inch (1 × 2)
  • Two × 3-inch (1 × 2)
  • Two × Sea Cat GWS22 quad missile launchers
Aircraft carried: After conversion: Four helicopters (originally Westland Wessex, then Sea King HAS 2 )

HMS Tiger was a conventional cruiser of the British Royal Navy, one of a three-ship class known as the Tiger class. Ordered during World War II, she was completed only after its end. The cruiser was later converted to a helicopter-carrying and guided missile cruiser in the early 1970s. She remained in service as such until placed in reserve in 1978 and was discarded in 1986.

Construction, redesign and commissioning[edit]

Tiger started out as Bellerophon; she was laid down in 1941 at the John Brown Shipyard as part of the Minotaur class of light cruisers. These vessels had a low construction priority due to more pressing requirements for other ship types during World War II, particularly anti-submarine craft. Bellerophon was renamed Tiger in 1945, and was launched, partially constructed, on 25 October 1945. She was christened by Lady Stansgate, the wife of William Benn, the Secretary of State for Air, and mother of MP Anthony Wedgewood Benn. Work on Tiger was suspended in 1946, and she was laid up at Dalmuir.

Construction of Tiger resumed, but to a new design, with Tiger becoming the name ship of the class. The new design was approved in 1951, but construction did not resume until 1954. The ship had semi-automatic 6-inch (152 mm) guns in twin high-angle mounts with each gun capable of shooting 20 rounds per minute, and a secondary battery of fully automatic 3-inch (76 mm) weapons which delivered 90 rounds per minute per gun. Each 6 inch and 3 inch mounting had its own director, linked to a dedicated radar on the director. Her "automatically controlled" guns were "capable of firing at more than twice the speed of manned armament' was claimed by the Cruisers, few final defenders in the House of Lords at a time of rapid reduction of cruiser numbers in operation and reserve, by veteran Sea Lords, like Viscount Hall, from 1929-1931 that the improvement in guns was ten times better than if the ship had been with the original gun armament."[4] However while true in 1948-9 when the Tigers revised weapon fit was designed,particularly against Kamikaze type targets, by the time Tigers legend was approved in 1954 let alone with its long delayed completion, the Tigers guns offered little advantage in surface action, and only two 6 inch turrets was insufficient to guarantee surface fire and less effectiveness in AA with improvements in missiles and aircraft [5] and the fact the basic fit of three, twin 3 inch turrets no longer gave effective, reliable coverage of the fire arcs [6] with the ultimate omission of the close in twin L60 or approved, twin L70, 40mm which were close to the twin 3 70 in performance and essential to effective close in defence. Excessive manning required and lack of space and weight available in an essentially pre-war design [7] meant, HMS Tiger had no lighter anti-aircraft armament or torpedo tubes. Air conditioning was fitted throughout the ship, and a 200-line automatic telephone exchange was installed. Her first captain (Captain Washbourn) "said that H.M.S. Tiger had been designed to cope with nuclear attacks, in that she can steam for up to a fortnight through radio-active fall-out with remotely controlled boiler and engine and armament operating with re-circulating purified air below decks, and could operate as a fighting unit even if a nuclear bomb were dropped near by."[4] It was said that their "fire power, endurance, and self-sufficiency will make them very effective ships for a long period to come, and especially is this true east of Suez, where distances are so gigantic."[8]

As completed, the Tiger carried:

  • a Type 992Q surface search radar at the top of the foremast,[9] with a range of 30 nautical miles (56 km),[2]
  • a Type 960 air warning radar at the top of the mainmast,[9] with a range of 170 nautical miles (310 km),[2]
  • a Type 277Q height-finding radar halfway up the mainmast,[9] with a range of 120 nautical miles (220 km),[2]
  • five MRS 3 fire control directors (one for each turret), each fitted with a Type 903 gunnery radar.[9]

Her sonars were:

  • Type 174 medium range search,[10]
  • Type 176 passive search, which shared the same dome as the Type 174,[10]
  • Type 185 underwater telephone.[10]

The Tiger's complement was officially stated as 698 (53 officers and 645 ratings) in peacetime, and 900 in wartime.[11]

The Navy Estimates for 1959-60 gave her initial costs as £12,820,000,[1] whereas Jane's Fighting Ships gave her initial cost as £13,113,000.[11][3]

Tiger was accepted by the Navy in March 1959,[1] and commissioned on 18 March 1959.[12][a]

Early career[edit]

HMS Tiger April 1965. Note how the Type 960 radar's dipole array at the top of her mainmast, differs in appearance from the single bedstead aerial of the Type 965M radar that replaced it during her 1968-72 refit.[14]

The early part of Tiger's first commission was spent, under Captain R. E. Washbourn, on trials of her new armament. After workup, now under Captain R. Hutchins, Tiger went on a round of autumn flag-showing visits to Gdynia, Stockholm, Kiel and Antwerp. At the end of 1959 she deployed to the Mediterranean for a year as the flagship of the Mediterranean Fleet. By late 1960, they had "overcome the teething troubles with the 3" armament",[13] but the ship had "difficulty in achieving sustained bursts of fire with her 6" guns",[13] and it was planned to resolve this at her first refit at the end of 1960.[13] During a visit by the First Lord of the Admiralty (Lord Carrington), the Naval Secretary Rear-Admiral Frank Twiss "made the unpardonable error of shooting down a very expensive target aircraft, to the cheers of the ship's company but to a stinging rebuke from their Lordships of the Admiralty."[15] The ship took part in operations in the Far East during the Indonesian Confrontation in the early 1960s. The Navy in the early 1960s suffered manpower shortages, which resulted in a "shortfall in technical personnel" in the Tiger,[16] as a consequence some "items of its equipment could not be operated",[17] and "some of its equipment was not operational".[17] In September 1963, the Glasgow Herald said that the "Tiger already has a much-reduced crew and is virtually a floating office."[17] During the 1964 general election campaign, the leader of the opposition, Harold Wilson, criticised the government for this during a speech at Plymouth.[18]

Rear-Admiral Michael Pollock flew his flag in her as Flag Officer, Second-in-Command, Home Fleet, from 1965 – 1966. On 10 August 1966 one of the guns accidentally fired a practice shell into Devonport Dockyard during material tests of the equipment. "One member of the ship's company was slightly grazed, but there were no other casualties."[19] In October 1966, the ship was visiting Cardiff at the time of the Aberfan disaster. The crew assisted with the rescue and recovery operation.[20]

From 2 to 4 December 1966, she hosted talks between Prime Ministers Harold Wilson (UK) and Ian Smith of Rhodesia.[21][22] The latter had unilaterally declared independence from Britain due to Britain's insistence on the removal of white minority rule. Twenty officers (including all twelve midshipmen) were put ashore at Gibraltar before the talks to "make room for the three delegations of the Prime Minister, the Governor of Rhodesia and Mr. Smith."[18] When the Rhodesian delegation arrived, the Tiger was a few miles off shore, and the delegation was ferried out in a small craft. The Tiger then moved out to sea, but moved close to harbour when the Rhodesian delegation disembarked.[22] Wilson was later criticised because the British delegation were assigned better quarters on the ship than the Rhodesian delegation.[22] The British delegation had one competent member, Marcia Williams, who was always available and able to deal with problems.[22] On Wilson's orders, the British and Rhodesian delegations were "separated in all activities outside the conference room".[21] However, the officers and crew made Smith feel most welcome.[22]

Conversion and later career[edit]

Tiger was placed in reserve on 18 December 1966,[23] before undergoing conversion to a "helicopter and command cruiser" from 1968–72 in HMNB Devonport. This reconstruction included removing the after 6 inch mount and 3 inch mounts, installing two Seacat GWS 22 mounts,[2] and building a flight deck and hangar to operate four Wessex (and later Sea King HAS 2) helicopters. The Tiger was given much taller funnels with squared off caps, which was such an improvement that the Blake was given similar funnels in 1977.[2]

Once converted, the Tiger carried:

  • a Type 992Q surface search radar at the top of the foremast,[14] with a range of 30 nautical miles (56 km),[2]
  • a Type 965M air warning radar with an AKE-1 single bedstead aerial at the top of the mainmast,[14][2] this had a narrower beam than the Type 960, which was needed for air direction and was now the Royal Navy standard.[24]
  • a Type 278 height-finding radar halfway up the mainmast,[2] which was similar to the Type 277Q, but easier to maintain,[24][b]
  • four MRS 3 fire control directors (one for each turret and Seacat mounting, each fitted with a Type 903 gunnery radar.[14][3]

She had excellent command, control, and communications facilities installed, and found use as a flagship to task groups.

When plans were announced to Parliament in March 1964, it was said that the Navy did "not expect this conversion work to be difficult or particularly expensive".[17] The reconstruction of Blake and Tiger was examined in the third report of the Public Accounts Committee for 1972. Michael Barnes said in parliament that the refits "show too lax an attitude towards the way in which the taxpayers' money is being spent".[25] "The refits were planned to take 18 months and to cost £5 million each... The Tiger refit took over five years and cost over £13 million."[25][c] Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles suggested bringing HMS Eagle back into commission instead of manning the Blake and Tiger, which he said were "among the worst abortions which have ever been thrust on the Royal Navy."[26]

The ship's helicopter squadron increased the ship's peacetime complement to 885 (85 officers and 800 ratings),[3] which put a strain on accommodation for the crew.[14]

During reconstruction and in the following years, material cannibalised from Lion was used to patch both Tiger and Blake. Tiger reportedly had so much material from Lion that her crew nicknamed her "HMS Liger".

She was recommissioned on 6 May 1972.[23] Her large crew made her an expensive ship to operate and maintain. When the economic difficulties of the late seventies came around, this led to a defence manpower drawdown that resulted in manpower shortages;[2] although Tiger remained in service long enough to take part in the 1977 Silver Jubilee Fleet Review in celebration of Queen Elizabeth II.[27]

The de-activated HMS Tiger at Portsmouth Navy Days in 1980, showing the Type 965M radar with single bedstead AKE-1 aerial on her mainmast, the large flight deck and the hangar added in 1968–72.

Decommissioning and disposal[edit]

In 1978 Tiger was placed in reserve, and decommissioned on 4 May 1979.[28] She was put on the disposal list in 1979. Both Tiger and her sister-ship Blake were listed as part of the Standby Squadron. Blake inactive at HMNB Chatham.

When the Falklands War broke out in early April 1982, both ships were rapidly surveyed and it was determined both were in very good material shape, and both were immediately drydocked (Tiger in Portsmouth and Blake at Chatham) and recommissioning work was begun.

Whilst there was speculation that their 6-inch guns would be useful for shore bombardment, the real reason for their potential deployment was the size of their flight decks (the third largest in the Royal Navy at that time after the aircraft carriers Hermes and Invincible), and the potential to use them as mobile forward operating and refuelling bases for Task Force Harriers. (Blake had already operated RAF Harriers briefly for proving trials in 1971, and Harriers had refuelled on Tiger). Their benefit would be more as platforms to extend the range and endurance of the Harriers and as a refuelling stop on the way back to the carriers, rather than as somewhere to operate offensive missions from, or as somewhere to place a pair of Sea Harriers as an extended-range CAP (Combat Air Patrol) ahead of the two carriers (and reducing their own exposure to air strikes), but the need to take off vertically rather than the use of a ski-jump severely reduced the Harriers' endurance and weapons carrying capability, and in late May 1982 after the loss of the destroyer Sheffield and the Argentian cruiser General Belgrano the refits were stopped.

There were also doubts about the two ships' self-defence capabilities, (the 6-inch and 3-inch armament had never been reliable) and this coupled with the large complement (and potential loss of life were one of the cruisers to be lost), caused much anxiety in the Admiralty. That, along with where to find 1,800 capable and qualified crew in a hurry at a time when the Royal Navy was already downsizing, sealed the two ships' fate. The UK simply could not afford its own Belgrano disaster, either materially or politically.

Although Chile showed a faint interest in acquiring Tiger (and sister-ship Blake), this did not get past the discussion stage, and Tiger lingered on, tied to a mooring buoy in Portsmouth harbour. Tiger existed in a slowly deteriorating condition until mid-1986, and following competitive tendering she was sold for scrap to Desguaces Varela of Spain.[29] She was towed to Spain and scrapping started in October 1986.

Commanding officers[edit]

From To Captain[30]
March 1959 July 1959 Captain Richard E Washbourn DSO OBE RN [d]
July 1959 April 1961 Captain Ronald E Hutchins RN
April 1961 March 1963 Captain William Wilberforce Graham RN
March 1963 March 1965 Captain Hardress L Lloyd DSC RN
March 1965 December 1967 Captain Geoffrey J Kirkby RN
1968 1972 Conversion
August 1971 April 1973 Captain Dudley T Goodhugh RN
April 1973 August 1975 Captain Michael L Stacey RN
1975 1976 In refit
April 1976 January 1978 Captain Simon Cassels CBE RN
January 1978 June 1978 Captain George M K Brewer RN


  1. ^ On 26 October 1960, the Civil Lord of Admiralty, Ian Orr-Ewing, stated in the House of Commons that the Tiger first commissioned in June 1959.[13]
  2. ^ Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships 1947-1995 page 504 and British Cruisers, Two World Wars and After page 319 state that the Tiger had a Type 278 after conversion.
    Royal Navy Aircraft Carriers 1945-1990 page 110 and Jane's Fighting Ships 1975-76 page 349 state that the Tiger had a Type 277Q after conversion.
  3. ^ Jane's Fighting Ships gives the cost of conversion as £13,250,000.[3] In the mid-1960s a Leander-class frigate cost about £5 million, which had risen to about £6​12 million by 1972 when the Tiger's refit was complete. The £13.25 million cost of the Tiger's refit would have built two modern frigates.
  4. ^ The source cited for this spells his name "Richard E. Washbourn".[30] Whereas Hansard for 6 May 1959 spells his surname "Washburn".[4]


  1. ^ 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
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Gardiner, Robert, ed. (1995), Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships 1947-1995 (2 ed.), Conway Maritime Press, p. 504, ISBN 0-85177-605-1
  3. ^ a b c d e Moore, John E, ed. (1975), Jane's Fighting Ships 1975-76, Macdonald and Jane's & Co, p. 349, ISBN 0-354-00519-7
  4. ^ a b c House of Lords Debates, The Navy Estimates, Hansard, 6 May 1959, vol 216 para.147, retrieved 31 May 2017
  5. ^ C.Bell. Churchill and Seapower. OUP (2013)p 315 & 392
  6. ^ D. Brown &G. Moore. Rebuilding the RN Warship Design since 1945,Chatham, (2003) p 46-51
  7. ^ D. Brown & G Moore. Rebuilding the RN (2003)p 45-6
  8. ^ House of Commons Debates, Vote A Numbers, Hansard, 9 March 1959, volume 601 para. 891, retrieved 31 May 2017
  9. ^ a b c d Marriott, Leo (1985), Royal Navy Aircraft Carriers 1945-1990, Ian Allan Ltd, pp. 109–110, ISBN 0-7110-1561-9
  10. ^ a b c McClearn, Sandy, "Tiger class cruiser", Haze Gray & Underway, retrieved 1 June 2017
  11. ^ a b Blackman, Raymond V B, ed. (1961), Jane's Fighting Ships, 1961-62, Sampson Low, Marston & Co Ltd, p. 252
  12. ^ Gardiner, Robert Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships 1947-1995, pub Conway Maritime Press, 1995, ISBN 0-85177-605-1 page 504.
  13. ^ a b c d House of Commons Debates, H.M.S. "Lion" and "Tiger" (Gun-Turrets and Control Gear), Hansard, 26 October 1960, volume 627 para. 278-9W, retrieved 31 May 2017
  14. ^ a b c d e Marriott, Leo (1985), Royal Navy Aircraft Carriers 1945-1990, Ian Allan Ltd, p. 110, ISBN 0-7110-1561-9
  15. ^ House of Lords Debates, Tributes to Sir Frank Twiss, Hansard, 17 January 1978, volume 388 para. 1-5, retrieved 31 May 2017
  16. ^ House of Commons Debates, Vote 1. Pay, etc., of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, Hansard, 18 March 1963, volume 674 para. 132, 140, retrieved 31 May 2017
  17. ^ a b c d House of Commons debates, Vote A. Numbers, Hansard, 2 March 1964, vol 690 para. 935, 955, 979, 1051, 1084, retrieved 31 May 2017
  18. ^ a b House of Commons Debates, H.M.S. "Tiger", Hansard, 1 March 1967, volume 742 para. 497-8, retrieved 31 May 2017
  19. ^ House of Commons Debates, H.M.S. "Tiger" (Firing Accident), Hansard, 12 August 1966, volume 733 para. 2011-2, retrieved 31 May 2017
  20. ^ Jenkins, David (2013) [1993]. Shipping at Cardiff: Photographs from the Hansen Collection (2nd ed.). Cardiff: University of Wales Press. ISBN 9781783163229. OCLC 935680065. Retrieved 25 October 2016.
  21. ^ a b "Obituary, Ian Smith, Prime Minister of Rhodesia", Zimbabwe Today, 6 April 2017, retrieved 31 May 2017
  22. ^ a b c d e Smith, Ian (1997), The Great Betrayal, Blake Publishing, pp. 127–131, ISBN 1-85782-1769
  23. ^ a b UK National Archives catalogue, search results for: adm 53 Tiger, retrieved 31 May 2017
    The last log for the Tiger for 1966 is ADM 53/166530, which covers 1–18 December 1966. The next log is ADM 53/176104, which covers 6–31 May 1972.
  24. ^ a b Friedman, Norman (23 August 2012), British Cruisers, Two World Wars and After (1 ed.), Seaforth Publishing, p. 319, ISBN 1848320787
  25. ^ a b House of Commons debates, Public Accounts Committee (Reports), Hansard, 7 December 1972, volume 847 para. 1735-1737, retrieved 30 May 2017
  26. ^ House of Commons debates, Defence, Hansard, 23 February 1972, volume 831 para. 1344, retrieved 31 May 2017
  27. ^ Official Souvenir Programme, 1977. Silver Jubilee Fleet Review, HMSO
  28. ^ House of Commons Debates, HMS Tiger, Hansard, 12 November 1997, volume 300 para. 581-2W, retrieved 31 May 2017
  29. ^ House of Commons Debates, HMS Tiger, Hansard, 30 June 1986, volume 100 para. 441W, retrieved 31 May 2017
  30. ^ a b Mackie, Colin, "British Armed Forces (1860-), Royal Navy - Captains Commanding Warships",, p. 257, retrieved 1 June 2017