Armored cruiser: Wikis


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Schematic section of a typical armored cruiser with an armored upper and middle deck and side belt (red), lateral protective coal bunkers (gray) and a double-bottom of watertight compartments. The machinery was arranged in the protected internal void.

The armored cruiser, or armoured cruiser (see spelling differences), is a type of cruiser, a naval warship. The armored cruiser is protected by a belt of side armor, in addition to the armored deck and protective coal bunkers that define the protected cruiser.

Armored cruisers were the chief combatants in two naval battles—the Battle off Ulsan in the Russo-Japanese War, and the Battle of Coronel in World War I—and played important supporting roles in other battles of the period.

The development of the explosive shell in the mid-1800s made the use of armored warships inevitable, despite the cost and weight. Armored cruisers began to appear in large Western navies around 1873 and the type continued to be built until 1908. Around this time they were rapidly being outclassed by the new 'all big gun' dreadnought-type warships, notably battlecruisers, which compared favorably in all aspects and thus succeeded armored cruisers.


Evolution and designs


Early types

The first large armored cruiser-type ships were the Russian General-Admiral (1873) and the British Shannon (1875), although the latter was initially known as an ironclad frigate.

Modern armored cruisers

Chiyoda (1890)

The first true armored cruiser was the French Navy Dupuy de Lôme, launched in 1887.[1] That same year, the Russian Ryurik entered service. The first ship in the form that came to be accepted as the pattern for the armored cruiser was the Clyde-built Chiyoda of the Imperial Japanese Navy.[2] The advances made in the Chiyoda were centered around the adoption of the vertical triple-expansion reciprocating engine.[2] Unlike the horizontal triple-expansion (TE) type, which occupied the width of the ship, the vertical TE engine could be kept close to the centerline of the ship and surrounded by a protective blanket of belt armor and coal bunkers to the sides and deck armor on top. This provided a large protected zone inside the ship in which the machinery was protected from exploding shell and which maintained watertight integrity.[2] Chiyoda is too small to be thought of as a true armored cruiser, but she set a mold that would be closely followed by subsequent ships.

The last armored cruisers were built around 1910 . At this time they were rapidly being outclassed by new technological developments such as the 'all big gun' dreadnought battleship powered by steam turbine engines, and the adoption of oil firing meant that new construction could no longer rely on the protection afforded by coal bunkers. Armored cruisers were directly replaced in battle fleets by the larger, faster and better-armed battlecruisers. The large armored cruiser was therefore rendered obsolete and only light cruisers were built from that point on. Remaining armored cruisers were used in patrolling and minor roles until the end of World War II.

It should be noted that the British Royal Navy classified both armored cruisers and protected cruisers of equivalent size and armament as 'first class cruisers'. Thus, the first class cruisers built between the Orlando class (1886) and the Cressy class (1897) were—strictly speaking—protected cruisers, as they lacked an armored belt.


German Blücher (1908)

Early armored cruisers generally displaced 6,000–12,000 tons with a speed of 18–20 knots (33–37 km/h). The type reached its zenith in 1906–1908 with displacements of 14,000–16,000 tons and speeds of 22–23 knots (41–43 km/h). Typical armament was two or four large-caliber guns at the ends of the ship, usually between 7.5–10 inches (190–254 mm), and some dozen guns of 6 in (152 mm) caliber or similar along the sides.

For example, the first Russian Rurik (1892) had four 8-in (203 mm) guns, sixteen 6-in (152 mm) guns and six 4.7-in (120 mm) guns; the French Victor Hugo (1904) had four 7.6-in (194 mm) guns and sixteen 6.5-in (164 mm) guns. The numerous British Monmouth class (1901) was an exception, the design of these ships giving emphasis to the class's trade protection role over fleet duties, with a uniform armament of fourteen 6-in (152 mm) guns. Later armored cruisers had increased armaments, for example the British HMS Warrior (1905) with six 9.2-in (234 mm) guns and four 7.5-in (190 mm) guns; the German SMS Blücher (1909) with twelve 210-mm (8.2 in) guns and eight 150-mm (5.9 in) guns; and the second Russian Rurik (1906, built by Vickers) with four 10-in (254 mm) guns, eight 8-in (203 mm) guns, and twenty 4.7-in (120 mm) guns.

Argentinian ARA Garibaldi (unknown date)

In 1893, Italy designed and built the Giuseppe Garibaldi-class, which comprised 10 ships: 3 served in the Regia Marina and the rest were exported:

For its time, this was considered a quite long production run for this size of ship.

Armored cruisers in the United States Navy

Brooklyn (1898)

The first armored cruiser of the United States Navy was the USS Maine, whose explosion in 1898 triggered the Spanish-American War. Launched in 1889, she had 7 to 12 inches (178 to 305 mm) of armor around the sides ('belt armor'), and 1 to 4 inches (25 to 102 mm) on the decks. She was redesignated as a 'second class battleship' in 1894, an awkward compromise reflecting slowness compared to other cruisers, and weakness versus the first-line battleships of the time.

New York, launched in 1895, was less well protected than Maine, with 3 inches (76 mm) of belt armor, and 3 to 6 inches (76 to 152 mm) of deck armor. The Brooklyn was an improved version of the New York and Olympia designs.

Shortly after the Spanish-American War, the Navy built six Pennsylvania-class armored cruisers, almost immediately followed by four of the Tennessee class. Collectively these ten ships were referred to as the 'big ten'.

The Battle of Tsushima

Nisshin (1905)

Armored cruisers were used with success in the line of battle by the Japanese at the Battle of Tsushima in 1905. Of the battle damage received by the Japanese, the armored cruiser Nisshin received the second-most hits after the battleship Mikasa. Nisshin was hit 13 times, including one 9-inch (230 mm) and six 12-inch (300 mm) hits. Nisshin managed to stay in line throughout the battle, validating the hopes of the designer: a cruiser able to stand in the line of battle. The performance of the Japanese armored cruisers during the Battle of Tsushima, and that of Nisshin in particular, likely led to a boom in the construction of armored cruisers in the world's navies.


O'Higgins (1898) was the Chilean flagship until 1931.
Portuguese Navy armored cruiser Vasco da Gama (1901).

Armored cruisers were already considered obsolete by 1907, when the Royal Navy introduced the Invincible-class battlecruisers. The previous year, the British had launched the revolutionary 'all big gun' HMS Dreadnought. The Invincibles also had a main battery of all uniform large caliber guns and higher speed at the cost of reduced armor; nonetheless they compared favorably in firepower, speed, and protection to armored cruisers.

The last German armored cruiser built was the SMS Blücher. Though it was perhaps the best of that type of ship, it still fell short, in part because the British had misled the Germans on the Invincibles' specifications.

World War I

When armored cruisers met modern capital ships in World War I, the deficiencies of the type were cruelly exposed; SMS Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were sunk by the battlecruisers HMS Invincible and Inflexible at the Battle of the Falkland Islands. Vice-Admiral Maximilian von Spee had already considered the Royal Australian Navy flagship HMAS Australia superior to his force of armored and light cruisers. At the Falkland Islands, while the German gunnery was mostly accurate, they failed to inflict serious damage on the British battlecruisers, which turned the tide of battle once they started hitting von Spee's ships.

The Battle of Coronel, which had occurred shortly before the Falkland incident, was one of the last battles involving armored cruisers as the chief adversaries; all subsequent engagements were dominated by dreadnought-era battleships and battlecruisers.

During the Battle of Dogger Bank, the SMS Blücher was crippled by a shell from a British battlecruiser, which dropped her speed to 17 knots. This forced Admiral Hipper to make the decision to sacrifice the armored cruiser (which was sunk with great loss of life) and let his more modern and valuable ships escape.

HMS Warrior, Defence and Black Prince were lost at the Battle of Jutland when they engaged the German Navy's battle line, which included several battlecruisers and dreadnought battleships.

End of the armored cruiser

On 17 July 1920, when the standard naval hull numbering nomenclature was adopted, all existing US armored cruisers were merged with protected cruisers in a single type 'cruiser' with the hull classification symbol 'CA', bringing to an end the use of the term 'armored cruiser' in the US. The London Naval Treaty of 1930 essentially abolished the term 'armored cruiser', and adopted the terms heavy cruiser and light cruiser. After this, the symbol 'CA' was used to designate 'heavy cruiser'.

One late-design armored cruiser still exists: Georgios Averof, constructed in 1909–1911, is preserved as a museum in Greece.


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c Chiyoda (II): First Armored Cruiser of the Imperial Japanese Navy, Kathrin Milanovich, Warship 2006, Conway Maritime Press, 2006, ISBN 1-01844-86030-2

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