Light cruiser

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A light cruiser is a type of small- or medium-sized warship. The term is a shortening of the phrase "light armored cruiser", describing a small ship that carried armor in the same way as an armored cruiser: a protective belt and deck. Prior to this smaller cruisers had been of the protected cruiser model, possessing armored decks only. While lighter and smaller than other contemporary ships they were still true cruisers, retaining the extended radius of action and self-sufficiency to act independently across the world. Through their history they served in a variety of roles, primarily as convoy escorts and destroyer command ships, but also as scouts and fleet support vessels for battle fleets.

Contents

Origins and development

HMS Mercury HMS Mercury (1878).jpg
HMS Mercury

The first small steam-powered cruisers were built for the British Royal Navy with HMS Mercury launched in 1878. [1] Such second and third class protected cruisers evolved, gradually becoming faster, better armed and better protected. Germany took a lead in small cruiser design in the 1890s, building a class of fast cruisers—the Gazelleclass—copied by other nations. Such vessels were powered by coal-fired boilers and reciprocating steam engines and relied in part on the arrangement of coal bunkers for their protection. The adoption of oil-fired water-tube boilers and steam turbine engines meant that older small cruisers rapidly became obsolete. Furthermore, new construction could not rely on the protection of coal bunkers and would therefore have to adopt some form of side armoring. The British Bristol group of Town-class cruisers (1909) were a departure from previous designs; with turbine propulsion, mixed coal and oil firing and a 2-inch protective armoured belt as well as deck. Thus, by definition, they were armoured cruisers, despite displacing only 4,800 tons; the light armored cruiser had arrived. The first true modern light cruisers were the Arethusaclass (1911) which had all oil-firing and used lightweight destroyer-type machinery to make 29 knots (54 km/h).

History

World War I

HMS Gloucester, one of the Town class, in 1917 HMS Gloucester at anchor at Brindisi, Italy, 1917 - IWM SP 459.jpg
HMS Gloucester, one of the Town class, in 1917

By World War I, British light cruisers often had either two 6-inch (152 mm) and perhaps eight 4-inch (102 mm) guns, or a uniform armament of 6-inch guns on a ship of around 5,000 tons, while German light cruisers progressed during the war from 4.1-inch (104 mm) to 5.9-inch (150 mm) guns. Cruiser construction in Britain continued uninterrupted until Admiral "Jacky" Fisher's appointment as First Sea Lord in 1904. Due in part to the desire to curtail excess expenditures in light of the increasing cost of keeping up with German naval production and in part because he felt the type to be outdated, Fisher authorized few new cruisers and scrapped 70 older ones. Fisher's belief that battlecruisers would take the place of light cruisers to protect commercial shipping soon proved impractical, as their high construction cost precluded their availability in sufficient numbers to do so, and destroyers were too small for scouting duties. The group of 21 Town-class cruisers begun in 1910 proved excellent in scouting in all types of weather and could carry enough fuel and ammunition to guard the shipping lanes. The Arethusaclass, launched three years later, was also successful. British designers continued enlarging and refining subsequent cruiser designs throughout the war. [2]

SMS Bremen SMS Bremen 1907.jpg
SMS Bremen

The Germans built a number of light cruisers in the belief that they were good multi-purpose vessels. Unlike the British, who built both long-range cruisers like the Town class for commerce protection and short-range "scout" cruisers for fleet support, the Germans built a single series of light cruisers for both functions. Compared to the British "scout" type the German ships were bigger, slower and less manoeuvrable but, through a successive series of classes, improved consistently in seagoing qualities. However, the Germans were very late in adapting 5.9-inch guns (not doing so until the Pillauclass of 1913); Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz's recalcitrance over the issue overrode the desires of others in the German Navy. For about a three-year period after the British Weymouth class of the Town series, completed with a uniform armament of 6-inch guns, and before the German Pillau class, German light cruisers (such as the Magdeburg and Karlsruhe-classcruisers) were faster but maintained a lighter 104 mm main armament compared to their British Town-class counterparts. With the Pillau and Wiesbaden-class cruisers the Germans followed the British example of heavier guns.

Earlier German light cruisers were in competition with a series of British scout cruisers which had a higher speed of 25 knots, but smaller 3-inch 12 pounder guns or 4-inch guns. The Germans completed the last two of their Bremen-class cruisers in 1906 and 1907 and followed them up with four Königsberg-class and two Dresden-classcruisers between 1905 and 1908. These last two classes, larger and faster than the Bremens, were armed the same (ten 4.1-inch guns) and carried less deck armor. Other major powers concentrated on battleship construction and built few cruisers. [3] The United States, Italy, and Austria-Hungary each built only a handful of scout cruisers while Japan and Spain added a few examples based on British designs; France built none at all.

During World War I, the Germans continued building larger cruisers with 150 mm guns while the British Arethusa class and early C-classcruisers reverted to an emphasis on superior speed with a more lightly-armed design for fleet support.

Between the wars

USS Raleigh, an Omaha-class cruiser, in 1942. Note casemates at bow. USS Raleigh (CL-7) off the Mare Island Naval Shipyard on 6 July 1942 (19-N-30916).jpg
USS Raleigh, an Omaha-class cruiser, in 1942. Note casemates at bow.
Argentine cruiser ARA General Belgrano ARA General Belgrano underway.jpg
Argentine cruiser ARA General Belgrano

The United States resumed building light cruisers in 1918, largely because the ships it then had in service had become obsolete. The first of these, the ten Omaha-class ships, displaced 7,050 tons and were armed with twelve 6-inch (152 mm) guns. Eight of these guns were mounted in double-story casemates at the bow and stern, a reflection of the US prewar preference for heavy end-on fire. Fast and maneuverable, they were well-liked as seaboats despite being very wet in rough weather. [4]

The term light cruiser was given a definition by the London Naval Treaty of 1930. Light cruisers were defined as cruisers having guns of 6.1-inch (155 mm) or smaller, with heavy cruisers defined as cruisers having guns of up to 8-inch (203 mm). In both cases, the ships could not be greater than 10,000 tons.

USS Brooklyn USS Brooklyn (CL-40) in the Hudson River, in 1939 (80-G-1023215).jpg
USS Brooklyn

After 1930, most naval powers concentrated on building light cruisers since they had already built up to the maximum limitations for heavy cruisers allowed under the Washington treaty. Japan laid down its four Mogami-classcruisers between 1931 and 1934. [5] The political climate from 1936 to 1939 gave the renewed building of light cruisers an added urgency. The British built 11 during this period, which culminated in the two Town-class ships, armed with 12 6-inch (152 mm) guns. The new ships were larger and better armored than other British treaty cruisers, with a 4.5-inch (114 mm) belt in the Towns and were capable of 32.5 knots, but for the most part tried to stay within past treaty limitations. The US also attempted to follow treaty limitations as it completed seven of its nine Brooklyn-classcruisers between 1938 and September 1939. These ships were an answer to Japan's Mogamis and were an indication of rising tensions in the Pacific theater. Japan, now considering itself under no restrictions, began rearming its Mogamis with 10 8-inch (203 mm) guns. [6]

World War II

USS Atlanta USS Atlanta (CL-51).jpg
USS Atlanta

In World War II light cruisers had guns ranging from the 5 inch (127 mm) of the US Atlanta-class and 5.25 inch of the British Dido-class anti-aircraft cruisers, up to 6.1 inch, though the most common size by far was 6 inch. The Atlantas and Didos were borne out of the tactical need for vessels to protect aircraft carriers, battleships and convoys from air attack. [7]

The United States would move into full wartime production of the light cruisers of the Cleveland-class of which 27 would be produced. Unwilling to do anything to slow production, the ships of the class would be seriously overweight. They provided AA screening for the fast carriers, shore bombardment, and anti-destroyer screening for the US fleet. They traded a main gun turret for additional AA, fire control, and radar installations, over the Brooklyn Class. [8]

Light cruisers today

HMS Belfast as she is today. She carries 12 x 6-inch guns and displaced 11,553 tons - "light" in World War II referred to gun size, not displacement. HMS Belfast 1 db.jpg
HMS Belfast as she is today. She carries 12 x 6-inch guns and displaced 11,553 tons – "light" in World War II referred to gun size, not displacement.

BAP Almirante Grau of the Peruvian Navy was the last light cruiser in service, being retired in 2017, and will become a museum ship in Lima. Another four are preserved as museum ships: HMS Belfast in London, HMS Caroline in Belfast, USS Little Rock in Buffalo, New York, and Mikhail Kutuzov at Novorossiysk. Similar ships include the protected cruisers Aurora (St. Petersburg) and USS Olympia (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), and the bow of the Puglia (Italy).

United States Navy classification

In the United States Navy, light cruisers have the hull classification symbol CL. Both heavy cruisers and light cruisers were classified under a common CL/CA sequence after 1931, hence there are some missing hull numbers, see List of United States Navy cruisers. After the development of seaborne guided missiles in the 1950s, all remaining cruisers armed solely with guns, regardless of caliber were redesignated as "Gun Cruisers" (hull classification symbol CA), with guided missile cruisers (which generally carry some gun armament) gaining the new hull classification symbol CG. By the 1975 fleet realignment, all gun cruisers were out of the fleet.

See also

Related Research Articles

Battlecruiser Large capital warship

The battlecruiser, or battle-cruiser, was a type of capital ship of the first half of the 20th century. They were similar in displacement, armament and cost to battleships, but differed slightly in form and balance of attributes. Battlecruisers typically had slightly thinner armour and a lighter main gun battery than contemporary battleships, installed on a longer hull with much higher engine power in order to attain greater speeds. The first battlecruisers were designed in the United Kingdom in the first decade of the century, as a development of the armoured cruiser, at the same time as the dreadnought succeeded the pre-dreadnought battleship. The goal of the design was to outrun any ship with similar armament, and chase down any ship with lesser armament; they were intended to hunt down slower, older armoured cruisers and destroy them with heavy gunfire while avoiding combat with the more powerful but slower battleships. However, as more and more battlecruisers were built, they were increasingly used alongside the better-protected battleships.

Cruiser Type of large warships

A cruiser is a type of warship. Modern cruisers are generally the largest ships in a fleet after aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships, and can usually perform several roles.

Heavy cruiser type of cruiser warship

The heavy cruiser was a type of cruiser, a naval warship designed for long range and high speed, armed generally with naval guns of roughly 203 mm (8 inches) in caliber, whose design parameters were dictated by the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 and the London Naval Treaty of 1930. The heavy cruiser is part of a lineage of ship design from 1915 through the early 1950s, although the term "heavy cruiser" only came into formal use in 1930. The heavy cruiser's immediate precursors were the light cruiser designs of the 1900s and 1910s, rather than the armoured cruisers of the years before 1905. When the armoured cruiser was supplanted by the battlecruiser, an intermediate ship type between this and the light cruiser was found to be needed—one larger and more powerful than the light cruisers of a potential enemy but not as large and expensive as the battlecruiser so as to be built in sufficient numbers to protect merchant ships and serve in a number of combat theaters.

Armored cruiser Type of cruiser in the late 19th and early 20th centuries

The armored cruiser was a type of warship of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was designed like other types of cruisers to operate as a long-range, independent warship, capable of defeating any ship apart from a battleship and fast enough to outrun any battleship it encountered. Varying in size, it was distinguished from other types of cruiser by its belt armor—thick iron plating on much of the hull to protect the ship from shellfire much like that on battleships. The first armored cruiser, the Imperial Russian Navy's General-Admiral, was launched in 1873 and combined sail and steam propulsion. By the 1890s cruisers had abandoned sail and took on a modern appearance.

Protected cruiser type of naval cruiser of the late 19th century, so known because its armoured deck offered protection for vital machine spaces from fragments caused by exploding shells above

The protected cruiser is a type of naval cruiser of the late 19th century, so known because its armoured deck offered protection for vital machine spaces from fragments caused by exploding shells above. Protected cruisers are similar to armoured cruisers, which also had a belt of armour along the sides.

Scout cruiser type of cruiser

A scout cruiser was a type of warship of the early 20th Century, which were smaller, faster, more lightly armed and armoured than protected cruisers or light cruisers, but larger than contemporary destroyers. Intended for fleet scouting duties and acting as a flotilla leader, a scout cruiser was typically armed with six to ten destroyer-type guns of 3-inch (76mm) to 4.7-inch (120mm) calibre, plus two to four torpedo tubes.

Town-class cruiser (1936) class of light cruisers of the Royal Navy, 1936

The Town class was a 10-ship class of light cruisers of the Royal Navy. The Towns were designed to the constraints imposed by the London Naval Treaty of 1930. The ships were built in three distinct sub-classes, the Southampton, Gloucester and Edinburgh classes respectively, each sub-class adding on further weaponry.

<i>Brooklyn</i>-class cruiser 1937 class of light cruisers of the United States Navy

The Brooklyn-class cruiser was a class of nine United States Navy light cruiser built between 1935 and 1938. Armed with five triple 6-inch (150 mm) gun turrets, they mounted more main battery guns than any other standard U.S. cruisers. The Brooklyns were all commissioned between 1937 and 1939, in the time between the start of the war in Asia and before the outbreak of war in Europe. They served extensively in both the Pacific and Atlantic theaters during World War II.

<i>Arethusa</i>-class cruiser (1934) ship class

The Arethusa class was a class of four light cruisers built for the Royal Navy between 1933 and 1937 and that served in World War II. It had been intended to construct six ships, but the last pair, Polyphemus and Minotaur, were ordered in 1934 as the 9,100-ton Town-class Southampton and Newcastle.

SMS <i>Pillau</i> light cruiser ordered by the Imperial Russian navy

SMS Pillau was a light cruiser of the Imperial German Navy. The ship, originally ordered in 1913 by the Russian navy under the name Maraviev Amurskyy, was launched in April 1914 at the Schichau-Werke shipyard in Danzig. However, due to the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, the incomplete ship was confiscated by Germany and renamed SMS Pillau for the East Prussian port of Pillau. The Pillau was commissioned into the German Navy in December 1914. She was armed with a main battery of eight 15 cm SK L/45 (5.9-inch) guns and had a top speed of 27.5 kn. One sister ship was built, Elbing.

SMS <i>Frankfurt</i> ship

SMS Frankfurt was a light cruiser of the Wiesbaden class built by the German Kaiserliche Marine. She had one sister ship, SMS Wiesbaden; the ships were very similar to the previous Karlsruhe-class cruisers. The ship was laid down in 1913, launched in March 1915, and completed by August 1915. Armed with eight 15 cm SK L/45 guns, Frankfurt had a top speed of 27.5 knots and displaced 6,601 t at full load.

<i>Chester</i>-class cruiser

The three Chester-class cruisers were the first United States Navy vessels to be designed and designated as fast "scout cruisers" for fleet reconnaissance. They had high speed but little armor or armament. They were authorized in January 1904, ordered in fiscal year 1905, and completed in 1908. In 1920 all scout cruisers were redesignated as "light cruisers" (CL).

<i>Tennessee</i>-class cruiser class of armored cruisers

The Tennessee-class cruisers were four armored cruisers built for the United States Navy between 1903 and 1906. Their main armament of four 10-inch (254 mm) guns in twin turrets was the heaviest carried by any American armored cruiser. Their armor was thinner than that of the six Pennsylvanias which immediately preceded them, a controversial but inevitable decision due to newly imposed congressional restraints on tonnage for armored cruisers and the need for them to be able to steam at 22 knots. However, the fact their armor covered a wider area of the ship than in the Pennsylvanias and their increased firepower caused them to be seen by the Navy as an improvement.

<i>Königsberg</i>-class cruiser (1915) class of 1910s German light cruisers

The Königsberg class of light cruisers was a group of four ships commissioned into Germany's Imperial Navy shortly before the end of World War I. The class comprised Königsberg, Karlsruhe, Emden, and Nürnberg, all of which were named after light cruisers lost earlier in the war. The ships were an incremental improvement over the preceding Wiesbaden-class cruisers, and were armed with a main battery of eight 15 cm SK L/45 guns and had a designed speed of 27.5 knots.

<i>Pillau</i>-class cruiser ship class

The Pillau class of light cruisers was a pair of ships built in Germany just before the start of World War I. The class consisted of SMS Pillau and Elbing. The ships were initially ordered for the Imperial Russian Navy in 1912, and were built by the Schichau-Werke shipyard in Danzig. After the outbreak of World War I, however, the German Kaiserliche Marine confiscated the ships before they were completed. The ships were similar in design to other German light cruisers, although they lacked an armored belt. They were the first German light cruisers to be equipped with 15 cm SK L/45 guns, of which they carried eight. The two ships had a top speed of 27.5 knots.

<i>Gazelle</i>-class cruiser ship class

The Gazelle class was a group of ten light cruisers built for the Imperial German Navy at the turn of the 20th century. They were the first modern light cruiser design of the Imperial Navy, and set the basic pattern for all future light cruisers in Imperial service. The design of the Gazelle class attempted to merge the fleet scout with the colonial cruiser. They were armed with a main battery of ten 10.5 cm (4.1 in) guns and a pair of torpedo tubes, and were capable of a speed of 21.5 knots.

Torpedo cruiser warship type

A torpedo cruiser is a type of warship that is armed primarily with torpedoes. The major navies began building torpedo cruisers shortly after the invention of the locomotive Whitehead torpedo in the 1860s. The development of the torpedo gave rise to the Jeune École doctrine, which held that small warships armed with torpedoes could effectively and cheaply defeat much larger battleships. Torpedo cruisers fell out of favor in most of the great power navies in the 1890s, though many other navies continued to acquire them into the early 1900s.

<i>Yodo</i>-class cruiser class of high-speed dispatch ships of the Imperial Japanese Navy

The two Yodo-class dispatch ship were a class of small, high-speed, dispatch ships built for the Imperial Japanese Navy. Although classified officially rated as a tsūhōkan, meaning dispatch boat or aviso, the class were essentially small protected cruisers. The Yodo class was followed by the larger, more conventional Chikuma class.

References

  1. Beeler, John (2001). Birth of the Battleship: British Capital Ship Design 1870–1881. Naval Institute Press. p. 40. ISBN   1-55750-213-7.
  2. Conroy's, p. 2.
  3. Conway's, pp. 152–53; Osborne, p. 73-75.
  4. Conway's, pp. 119–20.
  5. Osborne, pp. 112–13.
  6. Osborne, pp. 116–17.
  7. Osborne, p. 117.
  8. US Cruisers: An Illustrated History Friedman, Norman pg 259–265

Bibliography