One design standard that arose in the 1880s was the belted cruiser, featuring a relatively thick, but narrow belt of armor. That was the main protection, although there would have been some deck armor, as well. The question of the best method of protecting cruisers was a subject which caused a considerable amount of discussion in the 1880s. a vessel of much greater size and increased powers of offence and defence can be built for the same money of the internally protected type than of the belted type. The belted ship had the advantage of the reduced length and draft, but this can be also had in the internally protected type, as in the smaller size, with the additional advantage of a greatly reduced cost.
The belted type of protection may be described os a belt or strip of vertical armor, forming the side of the ship in the vicinity of the water line, and surmounted by a flat deck of about one-fifth of the thickness of the belt, forming with the belt a shield over the machinery and magazines of a ship. The internal type of protection is usually represented by a steel deck extending from side to side of the ship, but, instead of ending with a belt of armor, it is eloped down at the side, joining the outside bottom at approximately the same point that the bottom of the armor does. The slooping patt of the deck at the side of the ship is usually thicker than at the middle.
If the thickness of the internal deck be properly chosen, it is evident that the protection of iho machinery and magazines from the effects of shot and shell fire may be made equal to that of the belted type. But the essential difference between these two types lies in the fact that in the vicinity of the water-line, for a small height, the belted ship offers resistance to penttration, which would be followed by the admission of water, while the protected ship practically offers none.
Critics of the Belted Cruiser asked, if the money is to be spent, is the belt worth the sacrifice of speed, protection, and armament which is entailed in its adoption? The protection of the machinery and magazines from shot and shell fire is not very different, I venture to think, in the two canea. The only other question is that of protecting the buoyancy and stability by armor. But critics argued that it was extremely difficult to see how a narrow strip of armour projecting, on an average, a foot and a-half out of the water, and four feet under it, can be said to be likely to help to exclude water from a ship, in which the side both above and below these points, will hardly keep a rifle bullet out. The sea is not so respectful to a naval architect's load line as to make its surface conform to it at all times; and critics thought it was difficult to understand how any naval officer would agree to sacrifice anything in order to have the assurance that his ship's side might not hare a hole in it at the average still water load line, but was liable to have one that a horse and cart could drive through at a foot and a-half above that line.
It was to the Russian admiralty that the credit is due for the introduction of the first belted cruiser in the early 1870s. They built the first vessel in which the vital part, i.?., the water-line only, was protected by armor, leaving the guns and crew unprotected. In 1890 considerable attention was attracted to the fact that Russia had been building, without the fact attaining any degree of publicity, a belted cruiser, the Rurik, which seemed to some to be superior in almost every to the new first-class British cruiser Blake.
Between 1877-1880, the British completed three large cruisers, the Shannon, Nelson, and Northampton which had partial belts on the water-line and athwartship bulkheads. They may be described as dismal failures - large, costly, slow, and vulnerable. In 1884 the Armstrong company launched the famous Esmeralda, a vessel which on a very small displacement, carried a tremendous armament. Her speed on the mile reached the figure of 18'28 knots, phenomenal at that time. She had an end-to-end steel deck 1 inch thick, curving up amidships. The four second-class cruisers of the Mersey type, launched in 1885-6, were an improvement. They were larger, had far stronger end-to-end decks, and an armament in which, whiled the heavy guns were not so large, the auxiliary guns are much more numerous. In 1885, too, were commenced seven "belted cruisers, " which might again be called greatly enlarged and improved Esmeraldas. The new belted cruisers of the Aurora type were of 5600 tons, and were more heavily armed than the Merseys. They carried amidships, a belt of lo-inch armour, and were protected by bulkheads against raking fire.
In the British Navy, for first-class cruisers designed for ocean work, with a powerful armament to fight all comers, the Blake succeeded the "belted cruiser." She was far larger, far faster, and is heavily armed, whilst some of her guns are behind thin armor. The only protection on the water-line was a stout armor deck. She and her sister Blenheim were followed by the nine Edgars, a little smaller and slower, but none the less splendid ships. The belted cruisers of the Aurora class were of an older epoch in design, and could not face battleships of their own date. Their armament was unprotected, their gunners exposed to every shell, and in a hot or close action their batteries could not be fought.
In other navies, the "belted cruiser" persisted and developed. Russia had in hand, or completed, three huge vessels of this type. As reported in The New York Times of July 6, 1893, the Russian Czar's fine belted cruiser, the Admiral Nachimeff, was an object of general admiration yesterday, as she rode at anchor in the North River off the foot of Thirtieth Street. She is a magnificent specimen of modern naval architecture, with a low black hull and wickedly graceful lines. Although not so large as Great Britain's Blake, her armament was almost twice as powerful, though her heels are by no means slippery, her horse power being 8,000. and her speed about 16 knots an hour.
By 1895 cruisers might be though to fall into three classes, (i) The medium or small cruiser, unfit for the line of battle. (2) The very large cruiser which may fight in the line but at considerable risk. (3) The armoured cruiser with water-line protection as well as armour on her guns, fit for the line. The belted cruiser of Aurora type will fall somewhere between the first and second class, and was unfit for the line.
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