Abdiel-class minelayer

The Abdiel class were a class of six fast minelayers commissioned into the Royal Navy and active during the Second World War. They were also known as the Manxman class and as "mine-laying cruisers".

These ships were armed with a wide variety of defensive weapons from 0.5-inch (12.7mm) machine guns to 4.7-inch (120 mm) main armament. They were also equipped with a wide array of radars, along with their normal complement of mines. They were easily mistaken for destroyers.

Half the class was lost through enemy action during the Second World War; the others saw post-war service, the last example was scrapped in the early 1970s.

Country Name Origin Year
United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) 1941
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
Libya 1941 1941 View
Malta 1942 1942 View

The Royal Navy ordered the first four ships in 1938, with a further two acquired as part of the War Emergency Programme. They were specifically designed for the rapid laying of minefields in enemy waters, close to harbours or sea lanes. As such they were required to be very fast and to possess sufficient anti-aircraft weaponry to defend themselves if discovered by enemy aircraft.

A large mineload of up to 150 mines was required to be carried under cover, therefore a long, flushdecked hull with high freeboard was required. The mines were laid through doors in their sterns; the ships carried their own cranes for loading.

In size these ships were almost as long as a cruiser, but laid out much like a large destroyer. However, the three straight funnels were an instant identifying feature. Top speed was specified as 40 knots (74 km/h). To achieve this they were given a full cruiser set of machinery and with an installed output of 72,000 shaft horsepower (54,000 kW) on two shafts, they made 39.75 knots (73.62 km/h) light and 38 knots (70 km/h) deep load. To put this into perspective, the contemporary Town-class cruisers had 80,000 shp (60,000 kW) and a full load displacement of 12,980 tons, just short of four times that of the Abdiels.

The ships were initially to be armed much as destroyers, with three twin CP Mark XIX mounts for the QF 4.7-inch (120 mm) Mark XII gun (which had a maximum elevation of only 40°) in 'A', 'B' and 'X' positions, a quadruple "multiple pom-pom" mounting Mark VIII for the QF 2-pounder Mark VIII and a pair of quadruple 0.5 inch Vickers machine guns.

Wartime modifications involved adding a Type 279 Radar at the masthead, a primitive metric wavelength air warning set, later replaced by a Type 286 then a Type 291, as they became available. A Type 285 Radar was fitted to the rangefinder-director on the bridge, this was a metric set and could provide target ranging and bearing information. The centimetric Type 272, a target indication radar with plan position indicator (PPI), was fitted to the front leg of the foremast. Following the loss of Latona to air attack, the surviving ships were re-armed with three twin HA/LA Mark XIX mounts for the QF 4-inch (100 mm) L/45 Mark XIV gun with an elevation of 70° to remedy the shortcomings in anti-aircraft defence. Those on the stocks were armed with these mountings from new, but 'B' mount was suppressed and replaced (in Ariadne only) by a twin Mark IV "Hazemeyer" mounting for the 40 mm Bofors. Both Ariadne and Apollo had two such mountings sited amidships, replacing the pom-pom in 'Q' position, and these mounts carried their own Type 282 Radar for target ranging. Six single 20 mm Oerlikon guns were initially added on P Mark III pedestal mountings, although these were later replaced by powered twin Mark V mountings. In 1945 Ariadne was refitted in the United States in July 1945 for far eastern service, when the Bofors mounts were replaced by American pattern models (Mark I) with off-mounting "simple tachymetric directors" (STD) fitted with Type 282 Radar and the Oerlikon mounts regunned with Bofors guns (this combination was known as the "Boffin").

Although they were effective ships in their intended role, the combination of high internal capacity and exceptionally high speed meant that they were equally valuable as fast transports. As such, for much of their service, they were used for running supplies, particularly men and matériel, to isolated garrisons such as during the siege of Tobruk and Malta in Operation Harpoon. With three funnels and the outline of a destroyer, Welshman was camouflaged to appear like the Vichy French "contre torpilleurs" (large destroyer) Le Tigre. For this, a false bow was fitted, funnel caps were added, the mine chutes were plated over and a false deckline was painted on to camouflage the high flush-deck. Manxman received a similar disguise to pass for the Vichy cruiser Leopard so she could pass Corsica and mine the approaches to Livorno.

On 25 October 1941, Latona was hit by a 250-pound bomb in the engine room, causing a serious fire that spread to the munitions she was carrying and caused her loss. Welshman was torpedoed and sunk by U-617 in 1943. Manxman took a torpedo in her engine room but survived, although repairs took two years.

Apollo, Ariadne and Manxman survived the war and saw post-war service, with their pennant numbers changed from "M" to "N". Apollo served as a despatch vessel and Manxman as a mine warfare support ship. In 1953, Manxman was used to depict a German raider in the re-made film of C. S. Forester's novel Brown on Resolution; for this her funnels were enlarged to alter her outline, dummy 6-inch barrels were fitted over her 4-inch guns, and her bow was painted to indicate 'torpedo damage'.

Class overview
Name: Abdiel class
Operators: Royal Navy
In service: 1941
In commission: 1941 - 1972
Completed: 6
Active: 0
Lost: 3
Retired: 3

General characteristics
Type: Minelayer
Displacement: 2,650 tons standard

3,415 tons full (1938 group) / 3,475 tons (WEP group)
Length: 400 ft 6 in (122.07 m) (p/p)

418 ft (127 m) (o/a)
Beam: 40 ft (12 m)
Draught: 11 ft 3 in (3.43 m)

14 ft 9 in (4.50 m) (full)
Propulsion: 4 × Admiralty 3-drum water-tube boilers

Parsons geared steam turbines

2 shafts

72,000 shp (54,000 kW)
Speed: (39.75 knots (73.62 km/h), (38 knots (70 km/h) (full)
Range: 1,000 nmi (1,900 km) at 38 knots (70 km/h)
Complement: 242
Armament: (1938 group)

6 × QF 4-inch (100 mm) Mark XVI guns on twin mounts HA/LA Mk.XIX

4 × QF 2-pounder (40 mm) Mk.VIII on quadruple mount Mk.VII

8 × 0.5-inch (12.7 mm) Vickers machine guns on quadruple mount Mk.I (later up to 12 × 20 mm Oerlikons on single mounts P Mk.III or twin mounts Mk.V)

156 mines

(WEP group)

4 × QF 4 in Mark XVI on twin mounts HA/LA Mk.XIX

4 (Apollo) / 6 (Ariadne) × 40 mm Bofors on twin mounts "Hazemeyer" Mk.IV

Up to 12 × 20 mm Oerlikons on single mounts P Mk.III or twin mounts Mk.V (later up to 6 × 40 mm Bofors on single mounts Mark V "Boffin"

156 mines

End notes