The genesis of a cruiser navy : British first-class cruiser development 1884 – 1909

Doctoral thesis English OPEN
Lindgren, SM
  • Subject: other

From the middle of the 1880s until the commencement of the Great War 1914-’18 the first-class cruiser was an vital component of the British battlefleet. This was a period in which technology and tactics evolved at an extremely rapid pace, forming the material basis for Sir John Fisher’s ‘Dreadnought Revolution’, in which cruiser qualities of speed, range and offensive power were greatly prized. Throughout this era enormous sums were spent on such types: they were frequently longer than and cost almost as much as their battleship contemporaries, while carrying a near-equivalent armament and possessing significant advantages in both speed and endurance.\ud \ud Despite these capabilities, British first-class cruisers, especially those of the 1890s, are comparatively rarely examined by historians. This thesis fills the gap in the historiography by examining the place and development of the type in the Royal Navy from 1884-1909, and illustrates how they would progress from being a trade-defence vessel, to a genuine alternative to the battleship, and would ultimately form the basic inspiration for all of the service’s first all-big-gun capital ships. It begins by assessing the origins of the type in the mid-Victorian era and considers how the contemporary strategic position and materials drove vessel characteristics, resulting in the development of the first unofficially termed ‘battle-cruisers’ to counter the threat of a Franco-Russian guerre de course employing dedicated raiding types and armed high-speed liners. Following a dramatic advance in the protective capacity of armour that occurred in the mid-1890s, it is shown how the first-class cruiser would gain a fighting ability at least equal to their battleship contemporaries in addition to their continued utility in the trade-defence role, and how latterly, these characteristics would become the cornerstone of Sir John Fisher’s planned radical transformation of the service in the first decade of the 20th Century.
  • References (98)
    98 references, page 1 of 10

    1 The first major work is the recently published design-history by N. Friedman British Cruisers of the Victorian Era (Barnsley: Seaforth, 2012), which also covers 2nd & 3rd class types

    2 A. Marder The Anatomy of British Sea Power: A History of British Naval Policy in the Pre-Dreadnought Era, 1880-1905 (London: Frank Class & Co., 1964), D. Schurman The Education of a Navy: The Development of British Naval Strategic Thought 1867 - 1914 (London: Cassell, 1965), J. Sumida In Defence of Naval Supremacy: Finance, Technology and British Naval Policy, 1889-1914 (London: Routledge, 1993), J. Beeler 'Steam, Strategy and Schurman: Imperial Defence in the Post-Crimean Era, 1856-1905' in G. Kennedy and K. Neilson [eds.] Far Flung Lines: Studies in Imperial Defence in Honour of Donald Mackenzie Schurman (London: Routledge, 1996) N. Lambert Sir John Fisher's Naval Revolution (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2002), R. Parkinson: The Late Victorian Navy: The Pre-Dreadnought Era and the Origins of the First World War (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2008), S. Grimes Strategy and War Planning in the British Navy, 1887-1918 (London: Boydell, 2012). Notable design studies include the aforementioned work by Friedman, with sections on the vessels to be found in D. Brown Warrior to Dreadnought: Warship development 1860-1905 (London: Caxton, 2003), D. Brown The Grand Fleet: Warship Design and Development 1906-1922 (London: Caxton, 2003), R. Chesnau and E Kolesnik [eds.] Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships 1860-1905 (London: Conway Maritime Press, 2002), Gray, R. [ed.] Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships 1906-1921 (London: Conway Maritime Press, 1985)

    3 A. Gordon The Rules of the Game: Jutland and British Naval Command (London: John Murray, 1996) p.443 Further examples may be found in G. Bennett The Battle of Jutland (Ware: Wordsworth Editions, 1999), G. Gordon 'Jellicoe: Jutland, 1916' in E. Grove [ed.] Great Battles of the Royal Navy (London: Arms and Armour Press, 1994), E. Grove Fleet to Fleet Encounters (London: Arms and Armour Press, 1991), P. Halpern A Naval History of World War I (London: Routledge, 2005), R. Hough The Great War at Sea 1914-1918 (Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2000), N. Steel & P. Hart Jutland 1916: Death in the Grey Wastes (London: Cassel, 2004). The point made, that the first-class cruisers designed prior to 1905 were obsolete in the context of a First World War fleet action dominated by heavy artillery, taken purely in itself is reasonable. However, these negative connotations have coloured wider perceptions of the type, and likely resulted in the relative lack of interest in such vessels

    4 The big-gun armed types are what would later come to be officially termed, and are generally known to historians as, 'battlecruisers.' For the purposes of this thesis, heavy artillery (nee 'big-gun') is taken to

    8 Marder Op. Cit., E. Woodward Great Britain and the German Navy (Oxford: Cass, 1935). Ropp's thesis was later published as T. Ropp [ed. S. Roberts] The Development of a Modern Navy: French Naval Policy, 1871-1904 (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1987)

    9 Marder Op. Cit. p.85

    10 Ibid p.97 & 95

    11 O. Parkes British Battleships: A History of Design, Construction and Armament 1860 - 1950 (London: Leo Cooper, 1990) Since Parkes's work was written over a period of some 31 years, from 1925-1956, there is some question about whether he may have developed this view independently of Marder, or whether Marder influenced his thinking

    12 N. Rodger 'The Dark Ages of the Admiralty, 1869-85, Part I: Business Methods, 1869-74' Mariner's Mirror 61/4 (November 1975), 'The Dark Ages of the Admiralty, 1869-85, Part II: Change and Decay, 1874- 80' Mariner's Mirror 62/1 (February 1976), 'The Dark Ages of the Admiralty, 1869-85, Part III: Peace, Retrenchment and Reform, 1880-85' Mariner's Mirror 62/2 (May 1976), 'British Belted Cruisers' Mariner's Mirror 64/1 (February 1978). It must be said, however that Professor Rodger has recanted from some of his earlier critical views: see the remarks on his earlier work in the bibliographies to his monumental Naval History of Britain.

    13 S. Sandler The Emergence of the Modern Capital Ship (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1979)

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