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Pennant Number: 20
Notes: The LEANDER class light cruisers were the first single-funneled cruisers to have been built by the Royal Navy since the 1880's. This single streamlined funnel not only helped to reduce backdraught, but made it more difficult for an enemy to identify and acquire a good range. They were also the first cruisers in the Royal Navy to make extensive use of welding in the hulls, which reduced weight considerably. The 6" were capable of 60° of elevation, and were hand-loaded. The single 4" mounts replaced by twin 4" DP mounts in 1938, while the saluting guns removed early in World War II. Two 4-barreled "pom-poms" added in 1941; those were replaced by two quad 40mm Bofors AA mounts in 1943, and various single 20mm AA added. The LEANDER class were regarded as good sea boats, but very wet -- a problem that plagued them throughout their careers.
NEPTUNE was stationed in the South Atlantic at the beginning of World War II, but was soon transferred to the Mediterranean and was present at the action off Calabria on 9 July 1940. She was hit by a single shell from the light cruiser GIUSEPPE GARIBALDI, which hit her catapult and damaged it and one of NEPTUNE's aircraft. In 1941, NEPTUNE was manned by a crew from the Royal New Zealand Navy. During 1941, NEPTUNE was sent to Malta to reinforce the units based there. On 18 December 1941, "Force K", consisting of the light cruisers NEPTUNE, AURORA and PENELOPE and the destroyers HAVOCK, KANDAHAR, LANCE and LIVELY, were sent to intercept German and Italian convoys reinforcing Rommel's Afrika Korps in North Africa. On the 19th, 20 miles north of Tripoli, "Force K" sailed into a minefield laid by Italian forces in August. The first to be struck was NEPTUNE, whose paravanes exploded a mine. She went full astern, but soon hit a second mine, which wrecked her propellers and steering gear. AURORA soon struck a mine; a destroyer had reached NEPTUNE and attached a towline, but the damage to AURORA seemed more urgent, so the line was cast off and the destroyer went to assist AURORA (and safely towed her to Malta for repairs). Soon, NEPTUNE drifted into a third mine and began settling into the Mediterranean. The destroyer KANDAHAR entered the minefield to attempt to assist NEPTUNE, but she soon struck a mine herself and was disabled. With daylight quickly approaching, the remainder of the British forces knew they had to withdraw out of the range of land-based aircraft. About four hours after striking the first mine, NEPTUNE hit a fourth mine and capsized. Only one of her crew members, Leading Seaman Norman Walton, survived, being picked up five days later by an Italian torpedo boat.
(Additional information from "The LEANDER and SYDNEY Class Cruisers" by Keith McBride; WARSHIP 1997-1998, pp. 167-181.)