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 oversea 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 armor, ASW ability and having limited guns and poor fire control. Most of these AMCs were small to medium sized passanger liners.

Probably the most noteworthy - although least credible - engagement involving this class of ship was the Battle of Trindade in 1914, when the German Auxilary 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 Auxilary Cruiser Komoran engaged and sank the Australian light crusier 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 auxilary 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.

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 Auxilary Cruisers in particular were built with concealable weapons to allow them to attempt to disguise themselves as merchantmen.
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