US Navy Armored Cruisers 1890-1933, Brian Lane Herder

US Navy Armored Cruisers 1890-1933, Brian Lane Herder

New Vanguard 311

We start with a look at the development of the armoured cruiser and the controversy that surrounded the type almost from the start. These ships were as large and as expensive as contemporary battleships, but sacrificed armour and firepower for speed. The basic problem was that it wasn’t clear what purpose these ships served – as with the later battlecruisers they were powerful enough to defeat anything faster than them and fast enough to run away from anything more powerful than them, but the same could be said of far less expensive types of lighter cruisers. The reputation of the armoured cruiser also suffered from their being obsolete by the outbreak of war in 1914, when the battlecruisers Invincible and Inflexible were able to sink the relatively modern German armoured cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau without suffering any damage themselves. However earlier in their cruise the German cruisers had proved to be equally superior to older British cruisers, suggesting that if the war had been fought a decade earlier then the armoured cruiser might have a very different reputation.

The design and development chapter starts with a look at the engine technology, armour and guns of the period, before moving onto a class by class examination of the type. In a familiar pattern from this period, each class was more expensive and more heavily armed than the previous, leading to the Tennessee class, which was armed with four 10in guns and sixteen 16in guns and was longer, heavier and faster than the last US pre-dreadnought battleships of the Mississippi class. In terms of firepower they were soon outclassed by the first battlecruisers of the Invincible class, which carried eight 12in guns, but they key difference was that these first turbine driven battlecruisers were already 2 knots faster, so the armoured cruisers were no longer fast enough to escape from anything that could sink them.

Unlike their British equivalents, the American armoured cruisers were used in combat while they were still seen as being state of the art warships. This came during the Spanish-American War, and in particular at the battle of Santiago, where they used their speed to catch Spanish cruisers attempting to escape along the coat of Cuba. However that was the high point of their military careers. There are sections on their service in the Atlantic and Pacific between the end of the Spanish American War and 1917, where two were lost to misadventure. Their most important role here was the part they played in the development of naval aviation, which saw the Pennsylvania turned into an experimental aviation ship. On 18 January 1911 Eugene Ely became the first man to land an aircraft on a ship, landing the landing platform on the Pennsylvania.

The surviving armoured cruisers did play a significant role in the US war effort during the First World War, in particular as escorts for the troop convoys that carried the American Expeditionary force to Europe. Only one was lost, the San Diego, which hit a submarine laid mine off the US East Coast and sank in only twenty minutes, making her the only large US warship lost to enemy action during the war. Next comes a look at their post-war careers, which in most cases started with them serving as ferries to help move US servicemen home from Europe. By this point they were obsolete, and most went in the early 1930s. The only one to survive into the Second World War (Washington/ Seattle) spent the last fifteen years of her life moored at New York.

This is a useful history of these warships, painting a picture of a group of ships that were well designed and effective within the confines of their controversial category, and that performed well in combat in their heyday, despite quickly being outclassed by the battlecruiser.

Design and Development
Operational History

Author: Brian Lane Herder
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 48
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 2022

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