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Pennant Number: 85
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.
ORION served with the 8th Cruiser Squadron in the West Indies, until she was transferred to the Mediterranean in 1940 and became flagship of the 7th Cruiser Squadron. ORION was present at the action off Calabria on 9 July 1940, where she was undamaged. During the rest of 1940, ORION served as a convoy escort in the Mediterranean. On 28 March 1941, ORION took part in the Battle of Cape Matapan, where she was again undamaged. During the evacuation of Crete on 28 May 1941, ORION took more than 1,200 evacuees aboard. While trying to make her escape, ORION was strafed by German aircraft, and a bomb hit on her forward turret mortally wounded her commanding officer, Captain Back. Moments later, ORION was hit by a bomb dropped by a German Ju-87 dive bomber; the bomb penetrated her bridge and exploded between decks. It is estimated that 260 men were killed and 280 more were wounded. Despite the damage, ORION successfully made the return trip to Alexandria, arriving with a mere ten tons of fuel and only two rounds of 6" ammunition. Temporary repairs were made to ORION, which then sailed to Mare Island Naval Shipyard in the United States for full repairs. During those repairs, her catapult and aircraft were removed, and she was fitted with two quadruple "pom-poms" and seven single 20mm AA guns. ORION returned to the Mediterranean in 1943, in time take part in the invasion of Sicily. For the rest of the war, ORION was stationed in the Mediterranean, but took part in the invasion of Normandy in June, 1944. Following World War II, ORION was sold for breaking up in July, 1949.
(Additional information from "The LEANDER and SYDNEY Class Cruisers" by Keith McBride; WARSHIP 1997-1998, pp. 167-181.)