Naval cruisers were developed over the period of several hundred years and evolved considerably in materials used and armament by the time of World War 2 (1939-1945). By and large, they still retained their given role of covering many different mission types while being designed for the rigors of ocean travel and to operate either as part of the fleet or independently. Prior to the war, the British Royal Navy joined other world powers in expanding their naval prowess and adopted ordered a new light cruiser as HMS Manchester (C15).
Manchester form part of the 10-strong Town-class which included three sub-classes as the Southampton-class, the Gloucester-class (to include the Manchester), and the Edinburgh-class. These vessels were lightly armored but fast and considerably armed through use of twelve 6-inch guns. Like other ships of the prewar period, the Town-class was designed and built to the agreed-upon limits set forth by the London Naval Treaty of 1930 installed to help prevent a naval arms race.
HMS Manchester was laid down by shipbuilder Hawthorn Leslie of Hebburn in northeast England on March 28th, 1936. She was launched on April 12th, 1937 and commissioned on August 4th, 1938. World War 2 then began on September 1st, 1939 with the German invasion of Poland.
As built, HMS Manchester displaced at nearly 12,000 tons under full load. Her length measured 591.5 feet with a beam of 64.8 feet and draught of 20.5 feet. Her machinery included four Admiralty three-drum boiler units coupled with four Parson geared steam turbines developing 82,500 horsepower to four shafts. Her top straightline speed reached 32 knots in ideal conditions and range was out to 7,320 nautical miles when steaming at 13 knots. Her full crew complement numbered 750 personnel.
As a military cruiser, HSM Manchester was well-armed through a primary battery of 12 x 6" (152mm) main guns seated across four turrets, two over the forecastle and two near the stern. This offered tremendous broadsides and still allowed at least six guns to engage forward and rear targets at any one time. Secondary armament was made up of 8 x 4" (102mm) guns for added power. There were 8 x 40.5mm cannons for closer-ranged work and, finally, up to 4 x 0.50 caliber Vickers machine guns for basic defense and boarding actions. Like other surface vessels of the period, Manchester was also fitted with torpedo-launching equipment, this in the way of 6 x 21" (533mm) tubes as two "triple" launchers.
For over-the-horizon work, Manchester was outfitted with a launch catapult for supporting its pair of Supermarine Walrus floatplane reconnaissance aircraft. These could be retrieved for reuse by an included crane facility at midships.
On the whole, HMS Manchester was a conventional design with a rather traditional profile. Her bridge superstructure was fitted aft of the forward main gun turret pairing. A pair of smoke funnels were fitted near amidships and used to exhaust the machinery within the hull. Two masts were used, one aft of the bridge superstructure and the other aft of the second smoke funnel yet forward of the aft main gun pairing facing the stern. Armor protection ranged from 2 inches along her decks to 4.9 inches at her sides.
HMS Manchester was completed with a full radar suite. This included the Type 279 air warning radar as well as the Type 273 surface warning radar - these components giving tremendous situational awareness to the crew and her captain. Additionally, the Type 284 and Type 285 designs were used in fire control for more accurized ranged firing of her main guns.
As soon as Britain went to war, HMS Manchester was put into action, arriving in home waters from the East Indies in November of 1939. She operated with the Home Fleet out of Scapa Flow for a time and was able to capture a German merchantman in February of 1940. On April 9th, 1940, Germany enacted its campaign to take Norway and this pressed Manchester into support for Allied forces there to no avail - the nation ultimately joined other European players in falling to the Germans. Convoy escort duties then greeted the career of the Manchester. During November of 1940, she took part in the Battle of Cape Spartivento in the Mediterranean - the engagement proving inconclusive for both sides.
From December 1940 to April of 1941, Manchester was given a refit. She resumed patrol actions and was part of the hunt for KMS Bismarck until a torpedo hit on her port side in July forced her sailing to Gibraltar. From there, she steamed for Philadelphia for additional work until February 1942 before resettling in home waters at Portsmouth by the end of April. In May, she rejoined the forces of the Home Fleet and took on more convoy escort sorties. For August, she was sent to Mediterranean waters.
From June 1940 to November of 1942, the strategically-located Mediterranean island of Malta was under siege from the Axis made up by a combined Italian-German force. It was decided to form a convoy and sail to the island to bring much needed supplies to the beleaguered forces. HMS Manchester formed a portion of the protective net around the convoy which numbered a total of fourteen ships. The operation was known as Operation Pedestal.
During August of 1942, HMS Manchester and the flotilla sailed towards the island and were met with attacking Italian aircraft and patrol boats. Manchester suffered a torpedo hit and her engines damaged while fifteen of her crew were killed. Now drifting and powerless, the vessel was ordered by Captain Harold Drew to be abandoned and scuttled by way of explosives - in an effort to save her important radar technology from falling under enemy control. The vessel, heavily listing with limited engine power, low on ammunition and night falling, was blown up under order on August 13th, 1942.
The remaining crew were largely rescued by Allied ships with a few exceptions. Upon his return, Captain Drew was court-martialled for his order to blow up the valuable British warship and never given another command in Royal Navy service. Despite this stain, his crew supported him to the end.