The York class was the second and last class of 8-inch (203 mm) gunned (heavy) cruisers built for the Royal Navy under the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922. They were essentially a reduced version of the preceding County class, scaled down in an effort to extract more, smaller ships from the treaty limits. They can be described as "treaty cruisers", the term "heavy cruiser" not being defined until the London Naval Conference of 1930. Two ships were constructed (HMSYork and Exeter), although three more were at one stage planned before the 8-inch gunned cruiser fell out of favour with the Royal Navy.
The Royal Navy had a need for smaller cruisers than the County Class, the largest design possible under the Washington limits, in order that more could be built under the strict defence economies of post-war, depression era Britain. The only way to afford such savings was to reduce either armament, armour or speed. As the latter two options were unnaceptable, the former was chosen, and as a result the Yorks suppressed 'X' turret to ship six 8-inch (203 mm) guns, judged to be the minimum number required to allow fall of shot to be accurately spotted. The economies in size allowed for a 50 feet (15 m) reduction in length and 9 feet (3 m) in beam over the Counties, although installed power was unchanged to maintain speed. The Yorks saved 1,750 tons in net weight, but the reductions in cost of £250,000 and manpower of 50 was something of an uneconomical saving.
Compared to the County class, protection was much improved, with a 3 inch thick, 8 feet (2 m) deep main belt and an armoured lower deck joining at its top edge. To shorten the belt length, the amidship magazine found on the Counties was removed (reduced armament required less magazine space anyway). The magazines were proteced by fore and aft "box citadels" extending beyond the belt. As the amdiships magazine had been removed, the secondary 4-inch (102 mm) guns were moved forwards to keep them closer to the supply of charge and shell provided from the forward magazine. It is believed that this additional armour was what saved the Exeter at the Battle of River Plate.
Armament was as per the Counties, excepting the suppression of 'X' turret, and owing to insufficient training space on the narrower beam, only triple torpedo tubes were carried. There was no provision in the original design for the then new QF 2 pdr multiple pom-pom leaving an inadequate anti-aircraft armament of only two quadruple 0.5 in Vickers machine guns (fitted eventually in 1935, single 2 pdrs being carried in lieu).
As a result of the magazine changes, and to keep the funnels distant from the bridge, only two funnels were required; the forward boiler room uptakes trunked up into a large fore-funnel. This was raked in York to clear the flue gasses from the bridge, but was straight in Exeter owing to an altered bridge design and more extensive trunking. To maintain homogeneity of appearance, York stepped raked masts and Exeter vertical ones. York had a tall "platform" style bridge as seen in the Counties, which was somewhat distant from 'B' turret. This was because it had been intended to fit a catapult and floatplane to the roof of the turret, which needed clearance distance and required a tall bridge to provide forward view. The roof of the turret, however, was not sufficiently strong to carry this catapult and it was never fitted. Exeter was ordered two years later and the bridge was redesigned in light of this, being lower, further forward and fully enclosed, as later seen in the Leander and Arethusa classes.
York eventually received a rotating catapult amidships behind the funnels, and Exeter had a fixed pair in the same location, firing forwards and angled out from the centreline. A crane for recovery was located to starboard and one aircraft could be carried, initially a Fairey Seafox and later, in Exeter, aSupermarine Walrus.
Specification 'York 'class
Displacement: 8,250 tons standard / 10,350 tons full load
Length: 540 ft (164.6 m) Beam: 57 ft (17.58 m) Draught: 17 ft (6.17 m)
Propulsion: Eight Admiralty 3-drum water-tube boilers Parsons geared steam turbines
80,000 shp (59700 kW) on four shafts
Speed: 32.25 knt (30.25 knots full load)
Range: 1,900 tons oil fuel; 10,000 nmi (20,000 km) at 14 knots (26 km/h)
Main belt 3 in 2½-1 in enclosing bulkheads
Lower deck 1¼ in over machinery 1½ in over stearing gear
Magazine box citadels 4-1 in
Transmitting Station 1 in
Turrets 1 in face, rear, crown; 2½ in base; 1 in barbette; 2 in hoist
- 6 x BL 8 inch Mk.VIII (203 mm, L/50), twin mounts Mk.II
- 4 x QF 4 inch Mk.4 (102 mm/L45)single mounts HA Mk.III
- 8 x QF 0.5 inch Mk.III Vickers (12.7 mm, L/50) machine guns, quad mounts Mk.I
- 6 (2x3) tubes for 21 inch (533 mm) topedoes
Aircraft carried: One x Fairey Seafox