Battlecruisers vs Cruisers

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Major General
Jun 29, 2009
Central Florida Highlands
Hunting down and killing cruisers is a battlecruiser function.
Yes, no, maybe?

SMS Emden

about 4,000 tons depending on load, 10 X 4.1in guns, 23.5 kts (in good condition)
Arguably German's most successful cruiser raider of WW I.

There was sort of a hierarchy going on. Light cruisers (3rd class?) were supposed to be hunted down by 2nd class cruisers. Light and 2nd class were supposed to be hunted down by 1st class protected and/or armored cruisers.
Battlecruisers were supposed to hunt down the big cruisers.
But just like modern times, everything kept growing. And just like cell phones advance today, propulsion systems and other things changed at very fast rates in the decades from the late 1800s to the end of WW II.
A 1908 light cruiser (3rd class) was as big as a 1892 2nd class cruiser, and faster, and had better guns (1892 was just seeing the introduction of smokeless powder).

At the end of WW II the US was laying down 3 big cruisers, the Des Moines class. They had been ordered in 1943.

almost 21,000 tons with full fuel.
A good part of her size was the fast semi-automatic 8in guns that could fire 10 rounds per minute. The guns had a max range of 17 miles and with the radar fire control they would have been very formidable opponents for any ship.
A "Battle cruiser" was no longer required to take out enemy cruisers.
Of course planes were doing a pretty good job of that anyway and after 1945 there weren't very many people building cruisers either.

However in 1930s when battleship construction began again the WW I "battlecruiser" was long dead. It had been dying even at the beginning of WW I (1912-14), until Jackie Fisher beat on it's chest and did CPR on it (and he should have let it go peacefully) By the 1930s the fast battleship had taken over. I don't believe anybody made a modern Battleship of less that 27kts and some of the modern "battlecruisers" were more like 2nd class fast battleships that the 1906-1909 Battlecruisers.
Of course as there were only 4 (7 if you count the Deutschland and sisters) before the the Alaskas show up it is a bit hard to generalize. The 1930s ships also had treaty restrictions and political considerations and were not totally governed by military needs and budgets.
I don't know anyone who regards the Deutschlands as battlecruisers. But even without them we have the three British BCs, and the Ugly Sisters by 1939. Of course missions evolve, and designs along with them. Destroyers too are a great example of this, and BBs in WWII went from conceptualized battle-line confrontations to shore bombardment/AA farms. Yet we still called destroyers "destroyers" and battleships "battleships".

The Brits call the Ugly Sisters "battleships" (and sometimes "battlecruisers") while calling the Alaskas (ships larger, faster, and better armed) "large cruisers". It's all very baffling to me, which why I don't fully agree with Drach's nomenclature and justifications for it.
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The Deutschlands were sort of a conceptual battlecruiser. In the late 1920s and early 30s they scared the crap out of lot of naval staffs.
The hype was that there were only a few ships that could both out run them or out fight them.

Of course the British didn't play fair and didn't engage them one on one.
It turned out they weren't that resistant to 8in shell fire.

The British BC were pre-Jutland and two of them were glorified light cruisers with 15in guns before the first of many (many many many) refits tried to get them into fitting trim.
The Hood was modified while building to incorporate some of the lessons of Jutland but there was only so much they could do without major changes.

The two French ships and the Ugly Sisters were the only "modern" battlecruisers built after 1922.
So we get into the argument as to if they were battlecruisers or 2nd class battleships.
Both classes devoted a lot tonnage to protection. Which is the opposite of the first battlecruisers.

The Repulse and Renown were not supposed to sacrifice armament for speed. Unless it is considered that they sacrificed armament for building speed. They were originally supposed to have eight 15in guns but they couldn't build the guns and turrets fast enough to keep up with the desired launch/completion dates so they were reconfigured for 3 turrets each.

Some may argue about the Kongos depending on how their "reconstruction/refit" is viewed.

With so few ships (classes) that don't fit together well it is hard to come up with a good definition of "battlecruiser".

IN WW I it was easier (although the cross over from BC to FAST BB was happening). After WW I with the rebuilding, treaty restrictions, and political considerations (British will accept 9 X 11 in guns but will go bonkers over 6 X 15in) it gets a lot harder.
One of the requirements (stated or implied) for a Battlecruiser was to be able to (potentially) chase down or run away from heavy and light cruisers. To do this the BCs had to be faster and or the same speed as the CA/CL, with better range and better seakeeping. Without the greater range the CA/CL could escape through simply having more fuel available at the time, and without the greater size allowing better seakeeping the BC would not be able to catch the CA/CL in heavier seas.

When properly designed the BC could maintain 25 knots in a headway where CA and larger CL would only be able to maintain 20 knots (at best). The Ugly Sisters and the Repulse/Renown had this kind of advantage over the CA/CL of the time, as did the original design of the Courageous class Large Cruiser (which were designed for the North Sea operating conditions).

IIRC, after the initial redesign incorporating what had been learned in WWI, the Hood was considered a Fast Battleship by the British?
Good point about the Kongos, I'd completely overlooked them.

I had thought the Deutschland's were designed and operated primarily as commerce-raiders, which is one of the classic missions of a cruiser.

The mission of the Deutschland's was primarily commerce raiding. But what upset the British and French were that at 26 kts they could out run all the old battleships and with their 6 X 11in guns they were supposed to outgun any of the treaty 8in cruisers. So the French had nothing and the British had 3 ships that could match them ship for ship.
The French laid down the Strasbourg & Dunkerque to counter them. However the Strasbourg & Dunkerque had both bigger guns and thicker armor than the Italian ex WW I battleships and even after the Italian reconstruction (about 40% of the structure was retained) and the elimination of the center turret it would be hard pressed to the say the Italian ships were any better than the French ones on a quick look.
So are the French ships battlecruisers or 2nd class fast battleships?
The Repulse and Renown were not supposed to sacrifice armament for speed. Unless it is considered that they sacrificed armament for building speed. They were originally supposed to have eight 15in guns but they couldn't build the guns and turrets fast enough to keep up with the desired launch/completion dates so they were reconfigured for 3 turrets each.
R&R were planned as R class battleships (along with an 8th R class ship plus a 6th Queen Elizabeth) as part of the 1914 Programme. Sets of 4 turrets were ordered for both R&R. All work on R&R was suspended on the outbreak of WW1 and the other pair cancelled. R&R were then quickly redesigned as 3 turret battlecruisers and laid down in Jan 1915.

There was then a shuffling of turrets ordered amongst the various ships in order to ensure that R&R plus Courageous & Glorious (the two large light cruiers) could be completed as soon as possible along with a number of monitors. There was also an extra pair of 15" turrets ordered for Furious as an alternative to the 2xsingle 18" turrets.

I looked into this and set out my findings in post #24 on this thread some 3 years ago

My research about the turrets is also confirmed in this article someone on the same thread referenced.
She was an armored cruiser.

But armored cruisers with 6-8in armor don't stand up well to 11-12in guns at 8,000yds.
According to the Wiki page she didnt have much armour anyway. An Armoured belt and turrets but little else
The Armored Cruiser was a strange creature born of the speed of technological change in the pre-dreadnaught era. That level of armor was standard at that time. The wiki articles on the ship types -

Only after the Washington treaties do we get the modern cruisers -

I find the history and development of the Cruiser much more interesting than that of Battleships with my favorite cruiser being the protected cruiser, USS Olympia.
I did about 40 years ago.

Also had the model when I was a kid :)
Me too! I actually painted it about as accurately as I thought and it looked pretty good. Did you build the U.S.S. "Maine". It was the same kit as Olympia with some extra bits thrown in.
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I was fortunate enough to stand on U.S.S. Olympia's deck.
Haven't had a chance to visit her; did build that kit though. I've thought about trying to track another copy down to do it as she was in WWI with open gun platforms and the two single 5"/51-caliber guns of 1917.
Haven't had a chance to visit her; did build that kit though. I've thought about trying to track another copy down to do it as she was in WWI with open gun platforms and the two single 5"/51-caliber guns of 1917.
Drachinifel has a "five minute guide" on her. I believe he has some shots of her during WW I. There must be an Olympia association on the web. They should have a few pictures.
Just a wee bit on the origins of the "Battlecruiser". In his influential works in the late 19th and early 20th Century describing and categorising warships for public consumption, Fred T Jane loosely used the definition "battle-cruiser" to describe what were considered Second-Class battleships in the very late 1800s, specifically, Jane refers to the Centurion and the Barfleur of 1890 as differing from the battleships of the (1889) Royal Sovereign Class.

The Centurions had less guns of a lower calibre, thinner armour, but were faster than the Royal Sovereigns.

Our modern understanding of the battlecruiser comes from Adm Sir John Fisher as we all know. His idea was in sacrificing protection for speed, but retaining heavy armament is also well known, but how they were to be used was the crux of the matter. Fisher envisaged the battlecruiser as being a replacement of sorts for ships carrying out the traditional cruiser role, such as armoured cruisers and light/second class/protected cruisers in far flung seas across the Empire, arguing that any ship these were likely to encounter would easily be defeated by the large calibre guns and not be able to run because of the battlecruiser's high speed. The lack of armour was not a concern, or certainly not as much against 8-in or lower calibre weapons, 10-in in armoured cruisers was also not an issue because the battlecruiser could easily out-range the opposition's guns, as did happen at the Battle of the Falkland Islands in 1914.

(The offset from Fisher's mad capital ship building programme before the war meant that smaller vessels fulfilling the light/second class cruiser role were treated as secondary and so the Admiralty found itself with a desperate shortage of this type of ship later in the war when it thought them useful for convoy protection against U boats.)

The Falklands engagement of course did nothing but cement the reputation of the type, because there were doubts about their efficacy, but the issues of the type in a fleet engagement were by and large after the 1914 battle, ignored. Of course, you couldn't blame any admiral for using them in a fleet engagement, as their big guns were certainly an asset and leaving them in port would not have been the thing to do. Sending them to the other side of the world to chase light cruisers was also not the done thing either, apparently, although that's what they were designed to do. This brings us to the other role Fisher saw the battlecruiser fulfilling. This was to lure the enemy fleet out of hiding to draw it into a trap, where the Grand Fleet would be waiting, as what was supposed to happen at Jutland, but Beatty's battlecruisers were getting a bit of a pounding by the Germans. Anyway, the term "battlecruiser" officially became a classification in Britain at least, in 1911.

For German ships, should we just use German classifications?

German description for ships that we consider battlecruisers, such as the Seydlitz and Goebens etc were nominally classified as "Grosser Kreuzer", which, was also the classification of what the British called armoured cruisers, such as von Spee's Scharnhorst and Gneisenau of 1906. I have seen the Seydlitz described as a "Schlacht-kreuzer", battlecruiser, but I suspect this might have been an extrapolation of the British definition for that class of ship. The big battleships during the Great War such as the Konigs and Bayerns were "Linienschiffe", from "Ships-of-the-Line" dating back to Nelson's days and three deck wooden monstrosities.

The Deutschlands were interesting. The Germans called them "Panzerschiffe", armoured ships, as that was what they were, essentially! As commerce raiders they did fulfil the roles that Fisher envisaged for his battlecruisers, operating in waters where it was unlikely they would encounter ships with bigger guns. The Panserschiffe were supposed to "outgun anything that could out run them and outrun anything that could outgun them", so they fit the description of Fisher's battlecruiser concept, if not the design credentials.

As for the Scharnhorst Class, they were considered by the Germans as "Schlachtshiffe", battleships in the same vein as the Bismarck and Tirpitz, it was only the allies that classed them as battlecruisers. The Germans did so because the intent was to arm them with Bismarck Class twin 15-in turrets and when Gneisenau went into port following the Channel Dash for repairs, the opportunity was taken to remove her 11-in turrets to fit the 15-in turrets. Two (I think) of Gneisenau's 11-in turrets survive in Norway at the Austratt Fort.
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