Auxiliary Cruiser
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Basic Information

Prior to the 20 century, Auxiliary cruisers would have been mostly referred to as privateers.

During World War I, Germany used several modified civilian ships as auxiliary cruisers. Their task was to operate in all oceans of the world and attack allied merchant shipping there.
There were three different kinds of auxiliary cruisers used by the Imperial German Navy. Before the war, the fast passenger ships were seen as the ideal auxiliary cruisers, therefore many of the new passenger ships build after 1900 were prepared to be equipped with guns from the beginning. But wartime proved that those ships were too vulnerable. although being fast, their high silhouette and unique look made them easy targets for British warships.
The next group of ships used as auxiliary cruisers were captured allied vessels that were refitted in overseas bases, by using the guns of older gunboats stationed there. Only a few ships were modified this way.
The most successful kind of auxiliary cruisers were modified transport ships. Being slow but not very easy to be recognized as a warship those ships operated very successful in the second part of the war. Because of those successful operations, the idea of modified transport ships was again used during World War II. From:

The British used a large number of "Armed Merchant Cruisers" (AMC) for patrolling the north sea blockade, and other areas of the worlds oceans, including the east cost of the United States until the US entered the war. The AMC's took over the North Sea after it was found early in the war that older navy cruisers were wearing out on these patrols. They also used them for convoy protection. They were of limited use for this, lacking armour, ASW ability and having limited guns and poor fire control. Most of these AMCs were small to medium sized passenger liners.

Probably the most noteworthy - although least credible - engagement involving this class of ship was the Battle of Trindade in 1914, when the German Auxiliary Cruiser Cap Trafalgar, disguised as the British Cunard liner Carmania encountered and fought a British AMC … the Carmania … somewhat ironically disguised as the Cap Trafalgar. The battle was a marginal British victory that sank the Cap Trafalgar and left the Carmania scarcely better off. The battle is more notable for its irony than its military significance. By contrast in WW2 the Auxiliary Cruiser Komoran engaged and sank the Australian light cruiser HMAS Sydney in a brief but ferocious battle that left the victor in a sinking condition as well1 and the British AMC HMS Jervis Bay is best known for her sacrificial (and extremely one-sided) attack on the commerce raider Admiral Scheer.

By contrast, probably the most ignominious defeat for an auxiliary cruiser was that of the Stier - a German raider from WW2 - which was lost in a mutually fatal battle2 with the Liberty Ship SS Stephen Hopkins, a vessel armed with a single 4" gun and belonging to a class with a reputation for falling apart without outside assistance.

The Japanese auxiliary cruisers Aikoku Maru and Hokoku Maru fared only a little better, losing an engagement against the petrochemical tanker Ondina and the corvette HMS Bengal3 in which the Hokoku was sunk and the Aikoku and Bengal both retired damaged, leaving the Ondina abandoned and apparently in a sinking condition. She was later re-boarded, stabilised and managed to return to port under her own steam, converting an embarrassing defeat for the Japanese into a humiliation.

1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Especially in World War I, you have ships traveling thru a world of strife and adventure, with limited communications to the rest of the world. They make port calls around the world, posing as neutrals, even as they enemy. Or, the hero (heroine) could be taken prisoner from their ship and have to escape from their captors, notify the world of what's happening, or even sink the raider they have been taken by.
  • These have quite a lot in common with q-ships as some of the Auxiliary Cruisers in particular were built with concealable weapons to allow them to attempt to disguise themselves as merchantmen.
  • As noted, they are not to be relied upon as warships to any sensible degree. They were not even that good at commerce raiding…
  • A big part of the problem - especially for the German raiders - was the growing weight of allied naval supremacy and their cutting off from home and from re-supply and re-fit. Recycle them in an environment where the seas are less tightly controlled, and/or there are more ports of call available and they might play a much larger part.
    • Recycled in space is an obvious gambit, especially where hostilities continue in areas where neither combatant - and perhaps no-one at all - has definitive control.
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