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Heavy Cruiser

In the later part of the 18th Century a heavy cruiser might be a 50-gun ship passing out of the line of battle, as it were, and becoming a heavy cruiser for distant and detached service. She would be then accompanied not by ships in a regular descending scale, as she would have been during the period of the Dutch wars, but by a group of very much lighter cruisers, the heaviest of which has not, perhaps, half her force. In 1793, just as the old nineties of the Royal Navy had been converted into seventy-fours, some of the still existing old sixty-fours were cut down a deck, or "razeed" (a term that now came into use) into forty-fours. With the 5O-gun two-deckers, of which there were still a number, these forty-fours formed a class of heavy cruiser, by themselves, a link between the line-of-battle ship and the frigate, that was useful for convoy and general service in distant seas.

By the end of the 19th Century it difficult to draw exact lines of demarcation among the multitudinous classes of ships; for every great nation has experimented with exceptional types of craft, and every great nation is apt to build along its own particular lines, even in the ship classes which are common to nearly all nations. Certain clearly recognized types, however, had appeared. The battleship was the mainstay of the navy; it was the ship which must gain control of the seas by helping to destroy the adversary's fleet; it was the only ship which can be put against his powerful ships or powerful fortresses. The heavy cruiser was handier and more seaworthy. It may fight in the line, but was more apt to be used against ships of its own class. Its cheapness and mobility, as compared with the battle-ship, were supposed to make amends for its inferiority in fighting power.

The protected cruiser was usually much smaller, although in exceptional instances vessels of this type were as large as the largest battle-ships. These vessels usually had some armor in the shape of turrets, barbettes, sponsons, or gun-shields. A commerce-destroyer was simply a large cruiser of great speed and coal endurance, but comparatively light armament, built primarily to run away rather than to fight, the purpose being to make war on an enemy's commerce, and to run from his battle-ships and fighting cruisers.

The armored cruiser represented another type, smaller than the battle-ship, with lighter armor and a lighter main battery, although her secondary battery may be even more formidable. Armored cruisers were among the earliest new ships built for the "steel navy" of the later 1880s and the 1890s. In accordance with contemporary practice, these were grouped serially in an "Armored Cruiser" number series (informally abbreviated "ACR") that ultimately encompassed thirteen ships. These ships were initially named after States of the Union, as were battleships. Indeed, the Maine was laed down as an Armored Cruiser but launched as a second-class battleship.

Heavy Cruiser Origins

Armored CruiserHeavy Cruiser
ACR 1 MaineCA-1not assigned
ACR 2 New YorkCA-2Rochester
ACR 3 BrooklynCA-3Brooklyn
ACR 4 PennsylvaniaCA-4Pittsburgh
ACR 5 West VirginiaCA-5Huntington
ACR 6 CaliforniaCA-6San Diego
ACR 7 ColoradoCA-7Pueblo
ACR 8 MarylandCA-8Frederick
ACR 9 South DakotaCA-9Huron
ACR 10 TennesseeCA-10Memphis
ACR 11 WashingtonCA-11Seattle
ACR 12 North CarolinaCA-12Charlotte
ACR 13 MontanaCA-13Missoula
Protected Cruiser
C20Saint LouisCA-18Saint Louis
CA-20not assigned
CA-21not assigned
CA-22not assigned
CA-23not assigned
Light Cruiser
CL-25Salt Lake CityCA-25Salt Lake City
CL-32New OrleansCA-32New Orleans
CL-38San FranciscoCA-38San Francisco
Following World War I, and the confusion experienced in mailing correspondence and shipping spare parts to ships, Acting Secretary of the Navy Robert E. Coontz approved General Order No. 541 (July 17,1920) which established a standardized system of alpha-numeric symbols to identify ship types (e.g., CA Cruiser, first line, CL for Light cruiser, first line, CV for Aircraft carrier, first line). Linked with a consecutive number, the use of which now became general for all types of naval ships, these classification symbols provided positive and individual identification of both named and unnamed ships, many of which might not be readily identifiable by name alone. The surviving Armored Cruisers were given "Cruiser, first line" (CA, possibly "Cruiser, Armored" though this may be a retronym) series numbers which corresponded to their original ACR numbers. Over a period of years, these units were progressively renamed after major cities of the states for which they had originally been named. At the same time, several larger protected cruisers were also given new numbers in the same series, rather than retaining their prior numbers.

In 1926, construction began on a new group of light cruisers, armed with eight-inch guns instead of the six-inch or smaller weapons carried by the existing CLs. Eight of these were completed between late 1929 and early 1931 as CL-24 through CL-31. In July 1931, the US Navy redesignated its 8-inch gun cruisers as heavy cruisers. Consequently, at the beginning of July 1931, the eight Pensacola class ships were redesignated as "heavy cruisers" (CA), based on warship classifications established by the London Naval Treaty of 1930, but their hull numbers were not changed. However these were simply a continuation of the same ships' previous light cruiser numbers and were not part of the earlier "ACR"/CA series, which became extinct with the scuttling of the old USS Rochester (CA-2) on Christmas Eve 1941, soon after the outbreak of the Pacific War.

The fate of four heavy cruisers that would have been designated CA-20 through CA-23 remains obscure. It would appear that these numbers were simply skipped so that the eight light cruisers that were reclassified in 1931 as heavy cruisers could retain their original light cruiser hull numbers.

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Page last modified: 22-07-2011 17:36:33 ZULU