Light cruiser

Light cruiser

A light cruiser is a warship. The term is a shortening of the phrase "light armoured cruiser", describing a small ship that carried armour in the same way as an armoured cruiser; a protective belt and deck. Prior to this smaller cruisers had been of the protected cruiser model, possessing armoured decks only.


The first small steam powered cruisers were built for the British Royal Navy with HMS "Mercury" launched in 1879. Such second and third class protected cruisers evolved, gradually becoming faster, better armed and better protected. Germany took a lead in small cruiser design in the 1890s, building a class of fast cruisers copied by other nations. Such vessels were powered by coal-fired boilers and reciprocating steam engines and relied in part on the arrangement of coal bunkers for their protection. The adoption of oil-fired water-tube boilers and steam turbine engines meant that older small cruisers rapidly became obsolescent. Furthermore, new construction could not rely on the protection of coal bunkers and would therefore have to adopt some form of side armouring. The British "Bristol" group of Town class cruisers (1909) were a departure from previous designs; with turbine propulsion, mixed coal and oil firing and a 2 inch protective armoured belt as well as deck. Thus, by definition, they were armoured cruisers, despite displacing only 4,800 tons; the light armoured cruiser had arrived. The first true modern light cruisers were the "Arethusa" class (1911) which had all oil-firing and used lightweight destroyer-type machinery to make convert|29|kn|km/h|0.

The term light cruiser was given a definition by the Washington Naval Treaty of 1921. The treaty, which sought to limit an arms race in warships, restricted the construction by nations of all large warships. Among its terms, cruisers could displace no more than 10,000 tons standard and light cruisers could be armed with guns of a calibre not exceeding 6.1 inches (155 mm) guns.

By World War I, British light cruisers often had either two 6 inch (152 mm) and perhaps eight 4 inch (100 mm) guns, or a uniform armament of 6 inch (152 mm) guns on a ship of around 5,000 tons, while German cruisers progressed during the war from 4.1 inch (105 mm) to 5.9 inch (150 mm) guns.

In the London Naval Treaty of 1930, light cruisers were defined as cruisers having guns of 6.1 inch (155 mm) or smaller, with heavy cruisers defined as cruisers having guns of up to 8 inch (203 mm). In both cases, the ships could not be greater than 10,000 tons.

In the World War II era, light cruisers had guns ranging from 5 inch (127 mm), as seen in the Atlanta-class anti-aircraft cruiser, to 6.1 inch, though the most common size by far was 6 inch. Heavy cruisers usually had a battery of 8 inch (203 mm) guns. Armament based on convert|6|in|mm|0|sing=on guns was considered to be superior to that using convert|8|in|mm|0|sing=on guns. The former fired faster and more of them could be carried for the same weight as for the 8 inch. The heavier shell of the 8 inch was little advantage because ships that could withstand a 6 inch hit were well-protected against 8 inch shells, though only the US 6-inch and the Japanese convert|6.1|in|mm|0|sing=on guns had the power to reliably penetrate treaty-cruisers. [ [] ] In the years leading up to World War II, with the London Naval Treaty making it impossible to build a balanced heavy cruiser design within tonnage limits, this led to the construction of a great number of light cruisers of 10,000 ton with twelve to fifteen convert|6|in|mm|0|sing=on guns that were otherwise identical to heavy cruisers.

Heavy cruiser construction was phased out in Britain, France and Italy during the mid 1930s. However, the breakout of World War II allowed nations to skirt the London Treaty and exceed the 10,000 ton limit. By the end of the war, the US Navy's ships classed as "large cruisers" with displacements of nearly 30,000 tons (the Alaska class cruiser), while light cruisers stayed in the region of 10,000 tons (although sometimes reaching 12,000 or 13,000 tons). Most modern guided missile cruisers have a similar displacement (10,000 tons for "Ticonderoga", 12,000 for "Slava", 28,000 for "Kirov").

Four light cruisers are still in existence as museum ships, and one is still used in active service by a navy - BAP "Almirante Grau" of the Peruvian Navy. The four ships preserved as museum ships are: HMS "Belfast" (1938) in London, HMS "Caroline" (1914) in Belfast, USS "Little Rock" in Buffalo, New York, and the more modern "Colbert" in Bordeaux. Similar ships include the protected cruisers "Aurora" (St Petersburg) and "Olympia", and the bow of the "Puglia" (Italy).

United States Navy classification

In the United States Navy, light cruisers have the hull classification symbol CL. Both heavy cruisers and light cruisers were classified under a common CL/CA sequence after 1931, hence there are some missing hull numbers, see List of light cruisers of the United States. After the development of seaborne guided missiles in the 1950s, all remaining cruisers armed solely with guns, regardless of calibre were redesignated as "Gun Cruisers" (hull classification symbol CA), with guided missile cruisers (which generally carry some gun armament) gaining the new hull classification symbol CG. By the 1975 fleet realignment, all gun cruisers were out of the fleet.

See also

* Protected cruiser
* Armored cruiser
* Cruiser
* Heavy cruiser
* Battlecruiser


External links

* [ British Light Cruisers of the First World War]
* [ German Light Cruisers of the First World War]
* [ World War 2 Cruisers]

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