Evolutions of the Cruiser Pt 1
A discussion on the continued need for and lack of cruisers in war at sea which began at the Information Dissemination blog, has spilled over here and is the subject of the following posts.
A brief definition of a cruiser would be a vessel of lighter construction than a battleship but heavier than a destroyer. What it couldn’t match in firepower it could run away from. Cruisers from the age of sail to World War 2 were essential for scouting and screening for a battlefleet, or in the guerre de course role against an enemy merchant fleet.
As a type Cruisers began disappearing during and after World War 2 (despite the name still existing in USN service. See below), with its primary function now that of a fleet screen, specifically for the new aircraft carrier battle groups. Its commerce role among others passed to various and newer types as detailed below:
- Fleet screen-Destroyers, Frigates, Submarines, and Aircraft.
- Scout-Destroyers, Submarines, and Aircraft.
- Commerce Hunter-Submarines
- Commerce Defense-Destroyer Escorts, Frigates, Corvettes
The bulk of the war-built ships remaining after WW 2 saw their gun-power greatly diminished with the introduction of guided missiles on warships. The only like-vessels constructed were single USS Long Beach class guided missile cruisers, the obsolete Sverdlov class guns cruisers by the Soviet Navy, and several European ASW cruisers. The latter designs are interesting as it showed a side evolution of the type as well, into light or auxiliary aircraft carriers. Here are some notable and air-capable war and post war vessels:
- USS Independence class Light Carriers (1943)
- British Invincible Class Through-Deck Cruisers (1980)
- British Tiger Class helicopter cruisers (Conversion) (1972)
- French Jeanne D’Arc helicopter/training cruiser (1964)
- Italian Andrea Doria class helicopter cruiser (1964)
- Kiev Class Hybrid cruiser/VTOL Carrier (1975)
With the expense of deploying a carrier arm already prohibitive to most nations, it proved more cost effective for navies to arm the large destroyer leaders of the 1950s as missile escorts. In American service, such vessels as the nuclear powered USS Bainbridge and USS Truxtun , to the smaller conventional Farragut class were dubbed “frigates” but still kept their official destroyer leader designation (DLGN), revealing their true lineage. Britain also built large destroyers of the County class to defend their diminishing attack carrier arm.
In 1975 the US Navy officially changed the designation of their large missile escorts to “cruiser”, perhaps as an homage to nostalgia, though the ships’ functions did not change. Smaller missile escorts like the Farraguts were called “guided missile destroyers”, while the frigate designation followed the European model of naming lighter ships geared toward ASW escorts.
At about the same time a large frigate entered Royal Navy service called the Broadsword class. Armed with the potent Sea Wolf anti-missile system, battle tested in the 1982 Falklands Conflict, the ships were nearly as large as the previous County class and larger than the newer Sheffield class (Type 42)destroyers. Such very lethal and versatile warships further blurred the distinction between cruiser, destroyer, and frigate.
Modern missile escorts, from the giant Russian Kirov class battlecruisers and American Ticonderoga class cruiser, Arleigh Burke class destroyers, British Type 42 and Type 45 destroyers, , and Franco/Italian PAAMS frigates, to the smaller Spanish Bazan Aegis Frigates bear no significant difference in their roles. In the mid-19th to the mid-20th Century, cruisers, destroyers, and frigates possessed clear and separate functions that set them apart in the fleet. Today missile firing warships bear no such distinctions, save in hull size or missile payload.