This splendid book looks at the development of the Royal Navy's cruisers from the wooden frigates of the 1840s to the turret armed armoured turbine warships of 1906. This is a much more thoughtful book than many titles on warships. We begin with an introduction that looks at the strategic, political and technological developments of the period - what threats each generation of cruisers was designed to meet, how advances in technology caused problems for naval officers and ship designers, the results of the navy's annual exercises, and the impact of political changes and funding on naval developments. This contrasts rather starkly with many books that simply examine each class of warship in turn, looking at the physical changes between the classes without looking at the reasons for them. Here we discover why a class of fast frigates or long range sloops was ordered in a particular year (often to deal with a particular threat- an announcement of naval construction in France or the United States, a war scare or even a public campaign that forced the government to increase funding).
This was also a period of massive technological change - we start with wooden sailing ships with very early steam engines providing extra power for short periods and armed with muzzle loading cannon - effectively the frigates of the Napoleonic period but with low powered steam engines. We end with recognisably modern warships - armoured, with breach loading guns mounted in turrets, powerful engines and of course no sails. This process of change was not something that the Royal Navy was familiar with - the warships of the Napoleon Wars were little different from ships of the Seven Years War (and in some cases were the same ships). It was also not a simple steady development - in many cases it wasn't which one of a number of competing technologies would triumph, and entire types of warship (perhaps most famously the ram) had a brief moment of fame before disappearing completely. I was surprised to see small sails still being carried on some of the cruisers to the very end of the nineteenth century (at least in the plans).
The book is very well illustrated, with a mix of excellent photographs and high quality purpose drawn plans. I would have liked at least one of the plans to be labelled but that’s only a minor quibble. This is a superb book that provides us with a detailed insight into the design and development of a key part of the British fleet at a time when the Royal Navy could validly claim to rule the seas.
1 - Steam, Sail and Wooden Hulls
2 - Iron Hulls
3 - The First Armoured Cruisers
4 - Fast Steel Cruisers
5 - The Torpedo and Small Cruisers
6 - Big Cruisers to Protect Commerce
7 - The Fast Wing of the Battle Fleet
Appendix: Vickers Designs
8 - Epilogue: Fisher's Revolution
Author: Norman Friedman