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CL Light Cruiser

A Light Cruiser was a naval vessel of moderate displacement carrying a battery of guns of medium size, light protection and having high speed. These vessels are intended for scouting, blockade, and convoy work.

Initially the term "Light Cruiser" was used to designate a ship with smaller guns than an "Armored Cruiser" or "Battle Cruiser", though of signficantly larger displacement than smaller vessels such as torpedo boat destroyer. At first the torpedo was regarded by the naval authorities of this country as essentially or, at least, pre-eminently the weapon of the weaker naval belligerent, of an enemy who, acting on the defensive, was specially solicitous for the defence of his coasts and harbors. Hence it was not taken very seriously by a Power which never can shrink from blue-water conflict, and for this reason our provision of torpedo craft was comparatively meagre at the outset, and the boats were of very limited sea-going capacity. Some of them, described as "second-class" torpedo-boats, were even carried as part of the equipment of a battleship, to be hoisted out as occasion required. Even the "first-class" boats were hardly expected to take the sea in very heavy weather.

But the experience gained in naval maneuvers from 1885 onwards showed that the torpedo-boat was by no means a negligible quantity even in the open sea. It showed also that the best defence against its attacks was an offensive defence designed to hunt it down and compel it to lead the life of a fugitive. This was the genesis of the torpedo-gunboat or so-called "torpedo catcher." But the defect of the torpedo catcher was that it could not catch the torpedo-boat. Hence it was soon superseded by the destroyer. But the destroyer, after all, was only an enlarged torpedo-boat, a "torpilleur de haute mer" as the French called it, and soon in turn its primary function as a destroyer was merged in that of a torpedo-boat proper, that is, of a vessel designed not so much to catch torpedo-boats as to use its torpedoes rather than its gun armament in any and every form of naval conflict. As the range of the torpedo increased its gun armament began to suffer from the disabilities inherent in its type.

The size of the vessel, though steadily increasing, did not admit of the fitting of those appliances for the control and direction of gunfire which are indispensable for accurate shooting at long ranges. The light cruiser is, in fact, a "destroyer of destroyers" in one of its aspects, and would be used to escort torpedo boats. And in another it provides the immediate support on which destroyers can fall back when they are too hardly pressed Thus the evolution is continuous from the puny torpedo-boat of the early days of the locomotive torpedo to the light cruiser, the "destroyer of destroyers".

The needs of different nations in the matter of commerce protection and in the distances over which their fleets may have to operate were so various prior to the Great War that it was hopeless to look for any common rule in the construction of light cruisers and scouts. Moreover, the perfecting of wireless telegraphy and the arrival of the aeroplane fundamentally altered the conditions of the question, in the opinion of many naval officers. In the years preceeding the Great War, Great Britain, Germany, Japan, Italy, Austria-Hungary and Brazil alone built light cruisers.

The only striking variation in type was made by Great Britain, a new class of "light-armoured cruiser," designed for a special tactical reason. Of these ships, eight were laid down. They were of 3,700 tons displacement, carried 6-6 inch guns (or ten 4 inch); were protected with four inches of special vanadium steel armour; speed 31 knots. Their special function was to repel attacks by torpedo craft on the battle fleet during a fleet action. Apart from these ships, the cruiser construction of Great Britain was under two heads: - (i) Protected cruisers designed for light and general service, (2) unprotected cruisers designed for service with the torpedo flotillas.

If cruisers in general were to be kept relatively small to maintain naval presence over huge areas, speed, rather than more armor and/or guns, was needed so that they could retreat when presented with an overwhelming threat like a battlecruiser. Accordingly, shortly before and during World War I, the armoring of cruisers decreased in favor of higher speeds. Some cruisers were produced with no armor at all; in many navies these were called "light cruisers."

However, armor of limited thickness still had a place in cruiser design. Performing the gunboat function, a ship might be exposed to small-arms fire or light artillery that could disable a ship far away from dockyards and supplies before much defensive action could be taken. Also, a cruiser must not be disabled by a single hit from destroyer-size guns.

On the eve of the Great War, the light cruiser was something of a connecting link- between those vessels that were specifically denominated torpedo craft and the larger cruiser type which came under the heading of protected cruisers. Leaving on one side earlier specimens of the genus, one may mention the Blanche and Blonde in the UK, the date of completion of which was 1910 and 1911 respectively. They are 3,350 tons, their turbine engines develop 18,500 horse-power, their speed is 25.43 knots, and their armament consists of ten 4in. guns, four 3-pounders, one machine gun, and two submerged torpedo tubes.

Light Cruisers, at the time of the Great War, included cruisers with light side armor of 2 or 3 ins. and with a protective deck, and those without any side armor and with only a protective deck. The heaviest gun usually carried was a 6-inch. Light cruisers ranged from about 3,000 to 10,000 tons displacement, are speedy and are primarily for preying on merchant vessels, while in times of peace they are largely used for official business, such as representing their Government at a celebration at a foreign port.

Light Cruisers usually operated with the fleet, especially in the preliminary stages of contact with the enemy. It was their function to keep touch with the enemy, reporting his movements, his forces, etc., to the commander-in-chief and driving back the opposing cruisers and destroyers if these attempt an attack. Their armament, especially designed for stopping other cruisers and destroyers, consisted of a large number of light rapid- firing guns ; and as they carry torpedoes and have high speed and great flexibility of maneuvering, they have a wide range of usefulness within limits which do not take them far from base or from support.

Maneuvers conducted in January 1915 made it clear that the US Atlatntic Fleet lacked the fast cruisers that were necessary to give information of the position of the enemy as well as to deny the enemy information of our position and to screen friendly forces. In department's strategical problem No. 1, played May 18-25, 1915; the lack of heavily armored fast vessels and light cruisers was especially felt. For seven days, from the start of the problem until it ended, the Blue commander in chief has no reliable information of the position or movements of the enemy, while the enemy, due to superior cruiser force, was well informed of Blue movements and dispositions at all times. The winter's work made it evident that destroyers were quite unsuited for scouting except under very favorable circumstances. Their radio communication was reliable for short distances only. Their reliance for safety was based entirely on their speed and in moderately rough seas their speed was so much reduced as to render them a prey to fast enemy cruisers. Aside from the reduction of the speed there was a loss in efficiency of destroyer personnel subjected for several days to rough weather. Destroyers in no sense could be relied upon to take up the duties of fast cruisers.

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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 12:42:38 ZULU