Background the Arethusa class :
By the end of the 1920s, Royal Navy policy regarding cruisers had solidified around two distinct types; large cruisers for trade protection on distant overseas stations, and smaller cruisers for working with the battle fleet.
The light cruisers of the Elizabethan and E classes fell into the large cruiser category, along with the new County class heavy cruisers and Leander class light cruisers. For fleet work, the Royal Navy was well served by the 35 surviving units of the C and D classes. Built with the benefit of war experience and displacing between 3,700 and 4,650 tons each, these ships were the ideal size for fleet work with low silhouettes, excellent manoeuvrability, and quick acceleration to top speed.
In 1929, with the design work completed on the light cruisers of the Leander class, attention shifted to a replacement for the C and D classes. These ships had all completed between 1914 and 1922 and faced block obsolescence by the mid-1930s.
The Washington Treaty of 1922 had placed a fixed upper limit on the total tonnage available for cruisers and the new County and Leander classes had eaten heavily into that upper limit. At 7,200 tons displacement, the Leander class could not be built in large enough numbers to replace all the C and D class ships. It was also felt that they were too large for fleet work and did not have the manoeuvrability required for working with destroyer flotillas.
A new fleet cruiser of reduced displacement would allow more to be built within the tonnage limit and would be cheaper than the Leanders. The lower cost would be welcome by the government of the day which was very interested in reducing the naval estimates. For these reasons, a requirement for a new light cruiser capable of working with the fleet and displacing less than 6,000 tons was given to the Director of Naval Construction in early 1929.
By 1931, the new design had solidified into a ship of 5,000 tons with 3 twin 6? turrets, 2 triple 21? torpedo tube mounts, a catapult, and a speed of 31 knots. This was met with considerable resistance from the government due to the world-wide economic downturn and approval was not given.
The non-approval turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The design had been badly cramped with minimal accommodation standards. Given the Royal Navys world-wide commitments, habitability was a major concern.
The Admiralty was also able to look at adopting the new unit system for machinery. Traditional power plants grouped multiple boiler and engine rooms in consecutive compartments; boiler room, boiler room, engine room, and engine room. This had the advantage of reducing the number of funnels and saving space as all the boilers were grouped together, but was very vulnerable to damage.
A hit that that would damage two consecutive compartments would leave the ship dead in the water, without boilers or without engines. The unit system alternated the boiler and engine rooms in consecutive compartments; boiler room, engine room, boiler room, engine room. A hit that would damage two consecutive compartments would still leave the other ones capable of moving the ship and providing power. The Leander class with their one funnel used the traditional power plant; the new Arethusa class with their 2 funnels used the unit system.
By adding 450 tons to the design, both the unit system and improved accommodation could be incorporated. This new design was submitted to government in February 1932 and was approved by the Treasury. The Arethusa class was born.
By reducing the number of the Leander class ships to 9 instead of the 10 planned, enough tonnage was left over to build at least 5 of the new Arethusa class. After the first two ships were ordered in 1931 and 1932, it was hoped to be able to order 3 each in 1933 and 1934 for a total of 8.
In 1933 it was discovered that the Japanese were building very large light cruisers armed with 15-6? guns, the Mogami class. This caused a dramatic revision of planned cruiser construction by both the Royal and US Navies which responded to the new Japanese ships with the Town and Brooklyn classes respectively. Construction of the Arethusa class was halted at four ships and the tonnage allocated to the much larger Town class.
The following ships were built:
.Arethusa ordered 1931 completed 28 May 1935
.Galatea ordered 1932 completed 25 August 1935
.Penelope ordered 1933 completed 13 November 1936
.Aurora ordered 1934 completed 12 November 1937
The new ships were 506 feet overall with a displacement of 5,200 tons. Armament consisted of six 6? guns in twin turrets, 2 forward and one aft. Four 4? single HA guns and 2 0.5? quad machine guns made up the anti-aircraft armament. Two triple 21? torpedo tubes mounts were also carried.
The unit system of machinery resulted in two widely separated funnels. A quadruple screw arrangement drove the ships at 32 knots at 64,000 SHP.
For surface targeting, a Mk IV director was installed on the bridge. A high angle director for AA fire was fitted directly behind and above the Mk IV director.
The armour scheme consisted of a 2¼ belt abreast the engineering spaces with a 1? deck and transverse bulkheads at the ends. A 2? platform deck covered the magazines which also had 3? longitudinal bulkheads fitted abreast. This scheme was deemed sufficient to deal with 6? gun fire.
Extensive use was made of welding to reduce weight.
The first 3 completed with a catapult and seaplane between the two funnels. Due to the small space available, the 46 foot lightweight catapult was chosen which limited the types of aircraft that could be carried. A crane was positioned forward of the catapult for handling the aircraft. Aurora was completed as a flagship for a Commodore of Destroyers and never carried a catapult but was fitted with the crane; an extra deckhouse for the Commodore and staff was installed in place of the catapult.
In keeping with tradition, the ships names reflected early Greek and Roman classical themes:
.Arethusa A Greek sea nymph changed by Artemis into a fountain
._Galatea _ Greek statue carved by Pygmalion which came to life after he fell in love with it
.Penelope Greek wife of Odysseus who remained faithful for 20 years while he was gone during the Trojan Wars.
.Aurora Roman God of the Dawn
On completion in 1935, Arethusa was found to be 150 tons underweight. This allowed for the fitting of 4 twin 4? HA guns and an associated crew shelter instead of the single guns as designed. Penelope and Aurora were modified while building to incorporate the new guns. They also shipped an additional high angle director at the aft end of the superstructure enabling them to engage two aircraft targets at the same time. Arethusa and Galateareceived their twin 4? guns during subsequent refits after the outbreak of war.
Arethusa and Galatea completed with a derrick on the starboard side of the rear funnel to handle a spare aircraft to be stored on the after deckhouse. Once in service, this arrangement proved impractical and Penelope completed without it. It was also removed from Arethusa and Galatea. Aurora, as noted earlier, never carried a catapult and did not have the extra derrick.
The ships proved very popular in service, having all the desirable characteristics for fleet work coupled with the acceleration of a destroyer. Because they were so new, few modifications were made to the ships prior to the war.
The catapult was removed from the first 3 ships by July 1941, being replaced with 2 quad pom-pom mounts. Aurora had her quad pom-poms fitted by June 1940. Subsequent upgrades were limited to additional AA weapons (both Arethusa and Aurora were fitted with UP mounts at one point), various types of radar, and tripod masts.
All four ships served in home waters and in the Mediterranean where they saw extensive service, accumulating 23 battle honours between them. Always in the thick of the action, they collectively became the most famous of all the Royal Navy cruisers that fought in WWII.
Arethusa participated in the Norwegian campaign along with patrol duty in the North Sea and North Atlantic. She operated with Force H and was present during the bombardment of the French fleet at Mers el Kebir in July 1940. Operating in support of Malta convoys and occasionally running supplies to the island herself, she returned to home waters to take part in the Lofoten raid in December 1941. Back in the Mediterranean she was badly damaged by an aerial torpedo in November 1942. Repairs took until December 1943 and were mostly carried out in Charleston, South Carolina. She was part of the bombardment force for D-Day in June 1944. She was sold for scrap in 1950.
Galatea served with the Home Fleet, taking part in the Norwegian campaign and in the evacuation of troops from France. In July 1941 she was transferred to the Mediterranean and became part of Force K operating from Malta. She was torpedoed and sunk by U-577off Alexandria on 15 December 1941.
Penelope and Aurora served as part of the famous Malta striking force, Force K, from October 21, 1941 until both were mined on December 19, 1941 in the disaster off Tripoli which also resulted in the loss of HMS Neptune and HMS Kandahar. During subsequent repairs at Malta, Penelope came under heavy and frequent air attack, being so badly riddled with shrapnel holes that she won the nickname HMS Pepperpot. Adopted by the City of Blackpool, Penelope went on to greater fame during the Battle of Sirte in March 1942, coming under fire from the Italian battleship Littorio. She also sailed in support of many Malta convoys. Penelope was torpedoed and sunk by U-410 off Anzio 18 February 1944.
Aurora served in the Norwegian campaign, carrying out various shore bombardments and troop movements. She participated in the Bismarck chase as an escort to HMS Victoriousand sank the German supply ship Belchen off Greenland and the minelayer Bremse off Norway. Prior to transfer to the Mediterranean she also carried out many patrols in the Arctic Ocean and covered landings at Spitzbergen.
After being mined on December 19, 1941, Aurora went into dock at Malta for repairs from January to February 1942, leaving for home on March 18. From May to June 1942 she was under major repair at Liverpool where tripod masts were fitted. She would also be fitted with a Type 273 radar lantern forward of the bridge by 1945.
Aurora supported the landings in North Africa during Operation Torch, destroying 3 Vichy French destroyers and was assigned to Force Q to intercept German shipping in the central Mediterranean as the North African campaign wound down. She provided shore bombardment for the Sicily landings and at Salerno. Taking part in naval operations in the Aegean in October 1943 she was hit by a 1,000 lb bomb and suffered heavy damage to the superstructure.
Aurora took part in the invasion of Southern France in the gunfire support role. She then saw out the war taking part in the invasion of several Greek islands.
She was sold to Nationalist China in November 1945, being handed over and renamed Chungking on May 19, 1948 at Portsmouth after a further refit. With her Chinese crew she sailed for her new home and arrived in Nanjing in August 1948, where she immediately saw action against the Communists. Her service with her new owners was destined to be short-lived as her crew mutinied on February 25, 1949 and handed her over to the Communists. Renamed Tchounking, she was scuttled after heavy air attacks in the port of Huludao, Northern China on March 20, 1949.
Salvaged in 1951, the hulk was stripped by the Russian salvors. She was given the new name Hsuang He but this was later changed to Pei Ching. She remained in use as a barracks ships under the name Kuang Chou until scrapped in the 1990s.