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Cruisers in World War I - 1900-1920

Many cruisers were designed and built with the intention of being commissioned for foreign stations ; and as the duties attached to these commissions vary greatly in importance, cruisers are of varying size and cost. There were three classes, which differ in the main elements of size and cost, so that the first class includes the largest and costliest.

An Armored Cruiser was the old pre-Washington Treaty term for a first class cruiser, a Protected Cruiser being a second class cruiser. Armored cruisers had hull and deck armor, while Protected cruisers had only deck armor. An Armored or First Class cruiser had larger guns and better armor than a Protected or Second Class Cruiser. Then there was the Third Class Cruiser (the USN Peace Cruiser: a fancy name for a gunboat assigned to foreign stations, typically in asiatic waters). Armored cruisers were intended to serve in fleet actions, meaning battles. Light cruisers, with their lighter armament and armor, could carry more coal and thus go further.

A few general features are common to all the classes, such as the protective deck, methods of subdivision, double bottom, arrangement of coal, bunkers, and the ammunition passage. Another method of protection which has been adopted extensively by some navies is the fitting behind the armour belt of a cofferdam, packed in some cases with corn pith cellulose. In the event of a shot penetrating the side the cellulose is expected to swell up on contact with the water and thus close up the hole and prevent the inrush of the sea. This cofferdam is usually 1 to 2 feet broad. This system was not approved in the British Navy, as the cellulose appeared to be of little use for this purpose after it had been some time on a ship. The practice of sheathing the hulls of second class cruisers was done with a certain proportion of battleships and cruisers that were intended for distant stations where dock accommodation is limited.

A first class cruiser is practically of the same design, and has the same armament as an armored cruiser, but its hull is protected mainly by means of a protective deck, similar to that of battleships. The addition of the protection of an armor belt to the hull constitutes the difference between an armored cruiser and what is known as a protected cruiser of the first class. It is necessarily of less displacement, about 11,000 tons in the 1890, than an armored cruiser of the same speed and gun-power, on account of the absence of the armoured belt.

In the 1870s the first-class cruiser constituted an uncommon type of which France and England had alone turned out examples necessarily few in number, on account of their enormous expense. With the high speed of seventeen knots - which had been realised within a tenth - the first-class cruiser was designed to prevent the escape of merchant vessels or mail steamers, however fast they may be. She may confidently reckon on being able to retreat from an armor-clad, while on the other hand her powerful armament mounted between decks will enable her to accept a combat with any hostile cruiser. By 1900 this class was not being built.

Second Class Cruiser were a stage below the first class in size and in cost. In speed and in armament vessels of this class were also inferior. The same principles of subdivision and other arrangements described for the previous vessels are carried out in the construction of the hull. By 1900 the length of vessels of this class was about 300 to 350 feet, and the displacement 3500 to 6000 tons. The speed is about 20 knots, and the coal supply 600 to 900 tons. New vessels of this class were more powerful and displaced protected ships of the first class.

Usually one 6-inch quick-firer is placed on the forecastle and two 6-inch on the quarter-deck, protected only by shields or howls of 6-inch armour which are fitted over the breach mechanism and revolve with the gun. The broadside batten is usually one 6-inch quick-firer and three 4-7-inch quick-firers on each side, but by around 1900 in some of the latest vessels four or more 6-inch quick-firer guns are mounted on each side. These guns were also protected by light shields or, as in some larger cruisers, by casemates. It was a very general practice to sheath the vessels of this class with teak and copper, as they were often commissioned for distant stations where there are no docking facilities, and the sheathing prevents excessive fouling and corrosion of the skin.

Third Class Cruisers were smaller and of less cost than the second class cruisers and had less speed, protection and armament. The general features in design are simpler than in the second class. By 1900 the average displacement of ships of this class is about 2,000 tons, with a speed of 19 knots. Their main armament consisted of twelve 4-inch guns, and their coal supply was about 500 tons. New vessels of this class are faster and of more displacement. With the third class cruisers may be considered the smaller gunboats and sloops intended for special service, such as on shallow rivers, but the main points in their design are based on the special circumstances to be met with in each case.

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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 12:43:03 ZULU