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AS our mother the Frigate, bepainted and fine,
Made play for her bully the Ship of the Line;
So we, her bold daughters by iron and fire,
Accost and decoy to our masters' desire.

(from) Cruisers Rudyard Kipling

Basic Information

In the beginning, cruisers were not a type of ship, but ships (normally frigates) assigned to operate independantly of the fleet, patrolling and hunting for enemy shipping. With the coming of the age of steam, and the term "frigate" being appropriated for single decked ironclads, the cruiser then became a purpose built type, designed specifically for the sort of patrolling work the name implied.

In time, these too were built of metal, but remained lighter, faster and longer ranged than other classes. The basic design was tinkered with in various ways, and cruiser hulls were used for the first aircraft carriers. Finally, with the demise of the Battleship cruisers became the last true capital ships in service.

Varieties of cruiser include the following:

  • Protected Cruiser: An early design, made of either wood or metal but armoured only around vital systems - popular in the late C19 and early C20 but proved to be pretty much doomed against another warship of almost any class when tested in warfare and so was quickly abandoned.
  • Armoured Cruiser: Generally one of the heavier "pre-dreadnaught"1 designs of cruiser of the types that predominated in WW1 (generally as opposed to a light or protected cruiser in period).
  • Light Cruiser: The smallest and least well armed and armoured designs of cruiser in a given period (generally as compared to an armoured cruiser in WW1 or a heavy cruiser in WW2).
  • Heavy Cruiser: Very crudely, a "post-dreadnaught" version of an armoured cruiser (taking account of the footnote), such as might have appeared in WW2.
  • Battle Cruiser: Initially at least a cruiser armed with battleship guns - the idea being that it could outrun anything that could match its firepower and outshoot anything that could match its speed. Not entirely sucessful as a concept - the early versions were far too fragile (sometimes described as "eggshells armed with hammers") and the later ones leviathans that were fast battleships in all but name.
  • Large light cruiser: The ultimate expression of the battlecruiser concept - tiny ships, barely armoured and massively overgunned. Few were built and all were converted into prototype aircraft carriers before seeing action.
  • Aviation cruiser: Anything that combines operating aircraft and being a general warship - rarely doing either job well.


1. full source reference

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