The C Class cruisers of the Royal Navy have their genesis before the First World War. The Arthusa design had just been finalized when design started on the C Class. Different proposals were made, especially concerning armament. The Arthusa Class mounted ten 4-inch guns but with an eye towards the larger cruisers of the Imperial German Fleet, it was felt that the new design needed to carry 6-inch guns, at least in part. Although there was a party that desired an all six-inch armament, including Beatty and Jellicoe, the final design mounted two six-inch guns aft and eight 4-inch, four per side from amidships forward. The theory was that the six-inch guns were to be used defensively to ward off German cruisers and the quicker firing four-inch battery to be used offensively to engage German destroyers. The final design was finalized in March 1913 and became the Caroline and Calliope Classes. Two more classes were added with the 1914-1915 Programme, which became the four ship Cambrian and two ship Centaur Classes. However, with the two ships of the Centaur Class, the fundamental design diverged from the other early C Classes, in finally adopting an uniform 6-inch armament with five 6-inch guns.

HMS Ceres 1917 - Ceres Class as Built
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By late 1915 it was obvious that more cruisers were needed, as they served many roles. Five were with the battle squadron, 12 as destroyer flotilla flagships, leaving only 24 for trade route protection and service as fleet scouts. In December 1915 the four ships of the Caledon Class were ordered and were repeats of the earlier Centaur Class. A few months later it was decided to add five more cruisers of the same design but in the summer of 1916 a major change occurred to the design directly as the result of the design of the D Class. Rather than have a single 6-inch gun forward, it was decided to mount a second gun in a super-firing position, as was chosen for the D Class. To incorporate this in the pre-war C design required a complete redistribution of internal arrangements and superstructure. To move the second gun from its previous position between the bridge and funnels, required that the bridge be further aft to allow space for the super-firing second gun. However, moving the bridge aft also required moving the tripod foremast aft. Since the base of the tripods were based inside the hull, the boilers would have to be moved 18-feet further aft. This design became the basis for the Later C Classes. Although the Caledon Class is also considered to be a later C Class, those ships were too far along to incorporate the changes and the new 1916 design became the Ceres Class, comprising Ceres, Cardiff, Coventry, Curacoa, and Curlew.

HMS Capetown 1922 - Carlisle Class
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In July 1917 five more cruisers were ordered to be repeat Ceres Class designs but here again there was a significant change in the design. The Ceres Class, along with the earlier C Classes had a fairly low forecastle with the stem at 23-feet 6-inches above waterline and were wet ships. With the new design, called the Carlisle Class comprised Cairo, Calcutta, Capetown, Carlisle, and Colombo, this was changed. The height of the stem was raised to 28-feet 6-inches and sloped downwards from there to meet the original deck level just behind the first gun. This heighten forecastle was basically added atop the earlier forecastle design of the preceding C Classes. One other consideration addressed in raising the forecastle sheer was the threat of damage to the bow from water pressure caused by the flared bow pushing water out and away from the ship when pitching into heavy seas. If the flare was continued outwards on the heightened forecastle, the pressure would be increased and could result in bow damage. Therefore, the vertical design of the bow changed at the line of the forecastle of the previous C Classes. The bow retained the same flare as the earlier classes except once the bow hull height reached 23-feet 6-inches, the bow went straight up, rather than to continue to flare outward. This created a prominent knuckle, which became a design feature of subsequent British cruiser designs. Throughout their long careers, the Carlisle Class could always be distinguished from the Ceres Class, by the presence of the knuckle, heightened bow and sharp sheer of the forecastle.

HMS Cairo 1939 - Carlisle Class AA Cruiser with Twin 4-Inch HA
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By late war modifications had come to the Ceres Class. Searchlight platforms were added, AA guns were added, the bridge of Coventry and Curacoa were enlarged and Coventry was given a revolving aircraft flying off platform amidships. With the Carlisle Class it was also decided to add an aircraft hangar to the superstructure forward with a flying-off platform over the second gun position. Only Carlisle was given this ungainly feature and it was removed when it was decided that light cruisers would not mount aircraft. All of the Carlisle Class also had enlarged bridges as found in Coventry and Curacoa. Throughout the remainder of the 1920s there was some modifications made but nothing really major. However, by 1934 major changes were contemplated. It was decided to convert all 13 cruisers of the later C-Classes, Caledon, Ceres and Carlisle Classes, into anti-aircraft cruisers. Coventry and Curlew served as prototypes in their conversion from 1935 to 1936.

Evolution of HMS Coventry - 1918 with Aircraft Turntable; 1936 as AA Cruiser; and 1940 at War
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In this AA conversions all armament was removed and ten 4-inch HA guns in single mounts and two eight-barreled pom-pom mounts added. All gun directors were removed and two HACS Mk III directors added. The foremast was shortened and topmast removed, as well as shortening the main mast and moving it 40-feet aft. As minimal cost was a major factor, structural changes were minimized, other than adding platforms and required bracing. In 1938 the after pom-pom mount was removed because they were in very short supply and it was given to another ship. In its place two quad Vickers machine gun mounts were added. The new AA design was considered very successful and plans were put in hand to convert the other eleven cruisers. The program was delayed and it was not until 1938 when the next two, Cairo and Calcutta, entered the dockyard for the same conversion but with a change. Instead of single guns, the new plan used twin four-inch HA mounts at every 6-inch position except 2 mount, where quad pom-pom was positioned, plus some other changes. In May and July 1939 Carlisle and Curacoa went in for the conversion but with the outbreak of World War Two the conversions ceased as again the Royal Navy found herself desperately short of cruisers.

Ceres Class Cruiser Profiles - Curlew 1936; Curacoa 1940; Cardiff 1943
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The Colombo received a refit from June 1942 to March 1943 but again it varied from earlier conversions. Six-inch guns at 1,2, and five mounts were removed for twin 4-inch HA mounts. Bofors 40mm twin mounts Hazemeyer were placed on either side of the aft funnel and twin and single 20mm Oerlikon mounts added. Caledon was the last to receive an AA fit from September 1942 to December 1943. Because this design was the oldest and did not originally have a super-firing 6-inch gun at number two mount forward of the bridge, the entire superstructure had to be altered to resemble that found in the Ceres and Carlisle Classes.

Carlisle Class Cruiser Profiles - Calcutta 1939; Cairo 1942; Carlisle 1942; Colombo 1943
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The history and detail on the later C-Classes found in this article are found in the standard reference on British cruisers, British Cruisers of World War Two by Alan Raven and John Roberts. As the above is a distillation of the much greater amount of information found in that volume, to see all of the changes made to the Ceres and Carlisle Classes, please consult that volume. All drawings shown are by John Dominy, who retains copyright to them. John Dominy with Peter C. Smith, have published another volume on British Cruisers during World War Two. Entitled Cruisers in Action 1939-1945, this volume, which was published in 1981 by William Kimber & Co., features many of the line drawings of Mr. Dominy of all British cruiser classes. All of the drawings, which have come via Alan Raven, are from official Admiralty material.