The battlecruiser, or battle cruiser, was a type of capital ship of the first half of the 20th century. They were similar in displacement, armament and cost to battleships, but differed slightly in form and balance of attributes. Battlecruisers typically had slightly thinner armour and a lighter main gun battery than contemporary battleships, installed on a longer hull with much higher engine power in order to attain greater speeds. The first battlecruisers were designed in the United Kingdom in the first decade of the century, as a development of the armoured cruiser, at the same time as the dreadnought succeeded the pre-dreadnought battleship. The goal of the design was to outrun any ship with similar armament, and chase down any ship with lesser armament; they were intended to hunt down slower, older armoured cruisers and destroy them with heavy gunfire while avoiding combat with the more powerful but slower battleships. However, as more and more battlecruisers were built, they were increasingly used alongside the better-protected battleships.
Battlecruisers served in the navies of the UK, Germany, the Ottoman Empire, Australia and Japan during World War I, most notably at the Battle of the Falkland Islands and in the several raids and skirmishes in the North Sea which culminated in a pitched fleet battle, the Battle of Jutland. British battlecruisers in particular suffered heavy losses at Jutland, where their crews' poor fire safety and ammunition handling practices left them vulnerable to catastrophic magazine explosions following hits to their main turrets from large-calibre shells. This dismal showing led to a persistent general belief that battlecruisers were too thinly armoured to function successfully. By the end of the war, capital ship design had developed, with battleships becoming faster and battlecruisers becoming more heavily armoured, blurring the distinction between a battlecruiser and a fast battleship. The Washington Naval Treaty, which limited capital ship construction from 1922 onwards, treated battleships and battlecruisers identically, and the new generation of battlecruisers planned was scrapped under the terms of the treaty.
Improvements in armor design and propulsion created the 1930s "fast battleship" with the speed of a battlecruiser and armor of a battleship, making the battlecruiser in the traditional sense effectively an obsolete concept. Thus from the 1930s on, only the Royal Navy continued to use "battlecruiser" as a classification for the World War I–era capital ships that remained in the fleet; while Japan's battlecruisers remained in service, they had been significantly reconstructed and were re-rated as full-fledged fast battleships.[Note 1]
Battlecruisers were put into action again during World War II, and only one survived to the end. There was also renewed interest in large "cruiser-killer" type warships, but few were ever begun, as construction of battleships and battlecruisers was curtailed in favor of more-needed convoy escorts, aircraft carriers, and cargo ships. In the post–Cold War era, the Soviet Kirov class of large guided missile cruisers have also been termed "battlecruisers".
The first armoured cruisers had been built in the 1870s, as an attempt to give armour protection to ships fulfilling the typical cruiser roles of patrol, trade protection and power projection. However, the results were rarely satisfactory, as the weight of armour required for any meaningful protection usually meant that the ship became almost as slow as a battleship. As a result, navies preferred to build protected cruisers with an armoured deck protecting their engines, or simply no armour at all.
In the 1890s, technology began to change this balance. New Krupp steel armour meant that it was now possible to give a cruiser side armour which would protect it against the quick-firing guns of enemy battleships and cruisers alike. In 1896–97 France and Russia, who were regarded as likely allies in the event of war, started to build large, fast armoured cruisers taking advantage of this. In the event of a war between Britain and France or Russia, or both, these cruisers threatened to cause serious difficulties for the British Empire's worldwide trade.
Britain, which had concluded in 1892 that it needed twice as many cruisers as any potential enemy to adequately protect its empire's sea lanes, responded to the perceived threat by laying down its own large armoured cruisers. Between 1899 and 1905, it completed or laid down seven classes of this type, a total of 35 ships. This building program, in turn, prompted the French and Russians to increase their own construction. The Imperial German Navy began to build large armoured cruisers for use on their overseas stations, laying down eight between 1897 and 1906.
The cost of this cruiser arms race was significant. In the period 1889–1896, the Royal Navy spent £7.3 million on new large cruisers. From 1897 to 1904, it spent £26.9 million. Many armoured cruisers of the new kind were just as large and expensive as the equivalent battleship.
The increasing size and power of the armoured cruiser led to suggestions in British naval circles that cruisers should displace battleships entirely. The battleship's main advantage was its 12-inch heavy guns, and heavier armour designed to protect from shells of similar size. However, for a few years after 1900 it seemed that those advantages were of little practical value. The torpedo now had a range of 2,000 yards, and it seemed unlikely that a battleship would engage within torpedo range. However, at ranges of more than 2,000 yards it became increasingly unlikely that the heavy guns of a battleship would score any hits, as the heavy guns relied on primitive aiming techniques. The secondary batteries of 6-inch quick-firing guns, firing more plentiful shells, were more likely to hit the enemy. As naval expert Fred T. Jane wrote in June 1902,
Is there anything outside of 2,000 yards that the big gun in its hundreds of tons of medieval castle can effect, that its weight in 6-inch guns without the castle could not effect equally well? And inside 2,000, what, in these days of gyros, is there that the torpedo cannot effect with far more certainty?
In 1904, Admiral John "Jacky" Fisher became First Sea Lord, the senior officer of the Royal Navy. He had for some time thought about the development of a new fast armoured ship. He was very fond of the "second-class battleship" Renown, a faster, more lightly armoured battleship. As early as 1901, there is confusion in Fisher's writing about whether he saw the battleship or the cruiser as the model for future developments. This did not stop him from commissioning designs from naval architect W. H. Gard for an armoured cruiser with the heaviest possible armament for use with the fleet. The design Gard submitted was for a ship between 14,000–15,000 long tons (14,000–15,000 t), capable of 25 knots (46 km/h; 29 mph), armed with four 9.2-inch and twelve 7.5-inch (190 mm) guns in twin gun turrets and protected with six inches of armour along her belt and 9.2-inch turrets, 4 inches (102 mm) on her 7.5-inch turrets, 10 inches on her conning tower and up to 2.5 inches (64 mm) on her decks. However, mainstream British naval thinking between 1902 and 1904 was clearly in favour of heavily armoured battleships, rather than the fast ships that Fisher favoured.
The Battle of Tsushima proved conclusively the effectiveness of heavy guns over intermediate ones and the need for a uniform main caliber on a ship for fire control. Even before this, the Royal Navy had begun to consider a shift away from the mixed-calibre armament of the 1890s pre-dreadnought to an "all-big-gun" design, and preliminary designs circulated for battleships with all 12-inch or all 10-inch guns and armoured cruisers with all 9.2-inch guns. In late 1904, not long after the Royal Navy had decided to use 12-inch guns for its next generation of battleships because of their superior performance at long range, Fisher began to argue that big-gun cruisers could replace battleships altogether. The continuing improvement of the torpedo meant that submarines and destroyers would be able to destroy battleships; this in Fisher's view heralded the end of the battleship or at least compromised the validity of heavy armour protection. Nevertheless, armoured cruisers would remain vital for commerce protection.
Of what use is a battle fleet to a country called (A) at war with a country called (B) possessing no battleships, but having fast armoured cruisers and clouds of fast torpedo craft? What damage would (A's) battleships do to (B)? Would (B) wish for a few battleships or for more armoured cruisers? Would not (A) willingly exchange a few battleships for more fast armoured cruisers? In such a case, neither side wanting battleships is presumptive evidence that they are not of much value.
Fisher's views were very controversial within the Royal Navy, and even given his position as First Sea Lord, he was not in a position to insist on his own approach. Thus he assembled a "Committee on Designs", consisting of a mixture of civilian and naval experts, to determine the approach to both battleship and armoured cruiser construction in the future. While the stated purpose of the committee was to investigate and report on future requirements of ships, Fisher and his associates had already made key decisions. The terms of reference for the committee were for a battleship capable of 21 knots (39 km/h; 24 mph) with 12-inch guns and no intermediate calibres, capable of docking in existing drydocks; and a cruiser capable of 25.5 knots (47.2 km/h; 29.3 mph), also with 12-inch guns and no intermediate armament, armoured like Minotaur, the most recent armoured cruiser, and also capable of using existing docks.
Under the Selborne plan of 1902, the Royal Navy intended to start three new battleships and four armoured cruisers each year. However, in late 1904 it became clear that the 1905–1906 programme would have to be considerably smaller, because of lower than expected tax revenue and the need to buy out two Chilean battleships under construction in British yards, lest they be purchased by the Russians for use against the Japanese, Britain's ally. These economies meant that the 1905–1906 programme consisted only of one battleship, but three armoured cruisers. The battleship became the revolutionary battleship Dreadnought, and the cruisers became the three ships of the Invincible class. Fisher later claimed, however, that he had argued during the committee for the cancellation of the remaining battleship.
The construction of the new class was begun in 1906 and completed in 1908, delayed perhaps to allow their designers to learn from any problems with Dreadnought. The ships fulfilled the design requirement quite closely. On a displacement similar to Dreadnought, the Invincibles were 40 feet (12.2 m) longer to accommodate additional boilers and more powerful turbines to propel them at 25 knots (46 km/h; 29 mph). Moreover, the new ships could maintain this speed for days, whereas pre-dreadnought battleships could not generally do so for more than an hour. Armed with eight 12-inch Mk X guns, compared to ten on Dreadnought, they had 6–7 inches (152–178 mm) of armour protecting the hull and the gun turrets. (Dreadnought's armour, by comparison, was 11–12 inches (279–305 mm) at its thickest.) The class had a very marked increase in speed, displacement and firepower compared to the most recent armoured cruisers but no more armour.
While the Invincibles were to fill the same role as the armoured cruisers they succeeded, they were expected to do so more effectively. Specifically their roles were:
Confusion about how to refer to these new battleship-size armoured cruisers set in almost immediately. Even in late 1905, before work was begun on the Invincibles, a Royal Navy memorandum refers to "large armoured ships" meaning both battleships and large cruisers. In October 1906, the Admiralty began to classify all post-Dreadnought battleships and armoured cruisers as "capital ships", while Fisher used the term "dreadnought" to refer either to his new battleships or the battleships and armoured cruisers together. At the same time, the Invincible class themselves were referred to as "cruiser-battleships", "dreadnought cruisers"; the term "battlecruiser" was first used by Fisher in 1908. Finally, on 24 November 1911, Admiralty Weekly Order No. 351 laid down that "All cruisers of the “Invincible” and later types are for the future to be described and classified as “battle cruisers” to distinguish them from the armoured cruisers of earlier date."
Along with questions over the new ships' nomenclature came uncertainty about their actual role due to their lack of protection. If they were primarily to act as scouts for the battle fleet and hunter-killers of enemy cruisers and commerce raiders, then the seven inches of belt armour with which they had been equipped would be adequate. If, on the other hand, they were expected to reinforce a battle line of dreadnoughts with their own heavy guns, they were too thin-skinned to be safe from an enemy's heavy guns. The Invincibles were essentially extremely large, heavily armed, fast armoured cruisers. However, the viability of the armoured cruiser was already in doubt. A cruiser that could have worked with the Fleet might have been a more viable option for taking over that role.
Because of the Invincibles' size and armament, naval authorities considered them capital ships almost from their inception—an assumption that might have been inevitable. Complicating matters further was that many naval authorities, including Lord Fisher, had made overoptimistic assessments from the Battle of Tsushima in 1905 about the armoured cruiser's ability to survive in a battle line against enemy capital ships due to their superior speed. These assumptions had been made without taking into account the Russian Baltic Fleet's inefficiency and tactical ineptitude. By the time the term "battlecruiser" had been given to the Invincibles, the idea of their parity with battleships had been fixed in many people's minds.
Not everyone was so convinced. Brassey's Naval Annual, for instance, stated that with vessels as large and expensive as the Invincibles, an admiral "will be certain to put them in the line of battle where their comparatively light protection will be a disadvantage and their high speed of no value." Those in favor of the battlecruiser countered with two points—first, since all capital ships were vulnerable to new weapons such as the torpedo, armour had lost some of its validity; and second, because of its greater speed, the battlecruiser could control the range at which it engaged an enemy.
Between the launching of the Invincibles to just after the outbreak of the First World War, the battlecruiser played a junior role in the developing dreadnought arms race, as it was never wholeheartedly adopted as the key weapon in British imperial defence, as Fisher had presumably desired. The biggest factor for this lack of acceptance was the marked change in Britain's strategic circumstances between their conception and the commissioning of the first ships. The prospective enemy for Britain had shifted from a Franco-Russian alliance with many armoured cruisers to a resurgent and increasingly belligerent Germany. Diplomatically, Britain had entered the Entente cordiale in 1904 and the Anglo-Russian Entente. Neither France nor Russia posed a particular naval threat; the Russian navy had largely been sunk or captured in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905, while the French were in no hurry to adopt the new dreadnought-type design. Britain also boasted very cordial relations with two of the significant new naval powers: Japan (bolstered by the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, signed in 1902 and renewed in 1905), and the US. These changed strategic circumstances, and the great success of the Dreadnought ensured that she rather than the Invincible became the new model capital ship. Nevertheless, battlecruiser construction played a part in the renewed naval arms race sparked by the Dreadnought.
For their first few years of service, the Invincibles entirely fulfilled Fisher's vision of being able to sink any ship fast enough to catch them, and run from any ship capable of sinking them. An Invincible would also, in many circumstances, be able to take on an enemy pre-dreadnought battleship. Naval circles concurred that the armoured cruiser in its current form had come to the logical end of its development and the Invincibles were so far ahead of any enemy armoured cruiser in firepower and speed that it proved difficult to justify building more or bigger cruisers. This lead was extended by the surprise both Dreadnought and Invincible produced by having been built in secret; this prompted most other navies to delay their building programmes and radically revise their designs. This was particularly true for cruisers, because the details of the Invincible class were kept secret for longer; this meant that the last German armoured cruiser, Blücher, was armed with only 21-centimetre (8.3 in) guns, and was no match for the new battlecruisers.
The Royal Navy's early superiority in capital ships led to the rejection of a 1905–1906 design that would, essentially, have fused the battlecruiser and battleship concepts into what would eventually become the fast battleship. The 'X4' design combined the full armour and armament of Dreadnought with the 25-knot speed of Invincible. The additional cost could not be justified given the existing British lead and the new Liberal government's need for economy; the slower and cheaper Bellerophon, a relatively close copy of Dreadnought, was adopted instead. The X4 concept would eventually be fulfilled in the Queen Elizabeth class and later by other navies.
The next British battlecruisers were the three Indefatigable class, slightly improved Invincibles built to fundamentally the same specification, partly due to political pressure to limit costs and partly due to the secrecy surrounding German battlecruiser construction, particularly about the heavy armour of SMS Von der Tann. This class came to be widely seen as a mistake and the next generation of British battlecruisers were markedly more powerful. By 1909–1910 a sense of national crisis about rivalry with Germany outweighed cost-cutting, and a naval panic resulted in the approval of a total of eight capital ships in 1909–1910. Fisher pressed for all eight to be battlecruisers, but was unable to have his way; he had to settle for six battleships and two battlecruisers of the Lion class. The Lions carried eight 13.5-inch guns, the now-standard caliber of the British "super-dreadnought" battleships. Speed increased to 27 knots (50 km/h; 31 mph) and armour protection, while not as good as in German designs, was better than in previous British battlecruisers, with nine-inch (230 mm) armour belt and barbettes. The two Lions were followed by the very similar Queen Mary.
By 1911 Germany had built battlecruisers of her own, and the superiority of the British ships could no longer be assured. Moreover, the German Navy did not share Fisher's view of the battlecruiser. In contrast to the British focus on increasing speed and firepower, Germany progressively improved the armour and staying power of their ships to better the British battlecruisers. Von der Tann, begun in 1908 and completed in 1910, carried eight 11.1-inch guns, but with 11.1-inch (283 mm) armour she was far better protected than the Invincibles. The two Moltkes were quite similar but carried ten 11.1-inch guns of an improved design. Seydlitz, designed in 1909 and finished in 1913, was a modified Moltke; speed increased by one knot to 26.5 knots (49.1 km/h; 30.5 mph), while her armour had a maximum thickness of 12 inches, equivalent to the Helgoland-class battleships of a few years earlier. Seydlitz was Germany's last battlecruiser completed before World War I.
The next step in battlecruiser design came from Japan. The Imperial Japanese Navy had been planning the Kongō-class ships from 1909, and was determined that, since the Japanese economy could support relatively few ships, each would be more powerful than its likely competitors. Initially the class was planned with the Invincibles as the benchmark. On learning of the British plans for Lion, and the likelihood that new U.S. Navy battleships would be armed with 14-inch (360 mm) guns, the Japanese decided to radically revise their plans and go one better. A new plan was drawn up, carrying eight 14-inch guns, and capable of 27.5 knots (50.9 km/h; 31.6 mph), thus marginally having the edge over the Lions in speed and firepower. The heavy guns were also better-positioned, being superfiring both fore and aft with no turret amidships. The armour scheme was also marginally improved over the Lions, with nine inches of armour on the turrets and 8 inches (203 mm) on the barbettes. The first ship in the class was built in Britain, and a further three constructed in Japan. The Japanese also re-classified their powerful armoured cruisers of the Tsukuba and Ibuki classes, carrying four 12-inch guns, as battlecruisers; nonetheless, their armament was weaker and they were slower than any battlecruiser.
The next British battlecruiser, Tiger, was intended initially as the fourth ship in the Lion class, but was substantially redesigned. She retained the eight 13.5-inch guns of her predecessors, but they were positioned like those of Kongō for better fields of fire. She was faster (making 29 knots (54 km/h; 33 mph) on sea trials), and carried a heavier secondary armament. Tiger was also more heavily armoured on the whole; while the maximum thickness of armour was the same at nine inches, the height of the main armour belt was increased. Not all the desired improvements for this ship were approved, however. Her designer, Sir Eustace Tennyson d'Eyncourt, had wanted small-bore water-tube boilers and geared turbines to give her a speed of 32 knots (59 km/h; 37 mph), but he received no support from the authorities and the engine makers refused his request.
1912 saw work begin on three more German battlecruisers of the Derfflinger class, the first German battlecruisers to mount 12-inch guns. These ships, like Tiger and the Kongōs, had their guns arranged in superfiring turrets for greater efficiency. Their armour and speed was similar to the previous Seydlitz class. In 1913, the Russian Empire also began the construction of the four-ship Borodino class, which were designed for service in the Baltic Sea. These ships were designed to carry twelve 14-inch guns, with armour up to 12 inches thick, and a speed of 26.6 knots (49.3 km/h; 30.6 mph). The heavy armour and relatively slow speed of these ships made them more similar to German designs than to British ships; construction of the Borodinos was halted by the First World War and all were scrapped after the end of the Russian Civil War.
For most of the combatants, capital ship construction was very limited during the war. Germany finished the Derfflinger class and began work on the Mackensen class. The Mackensens were a development of the Derfflinger class, with 13.8-inch guns and a broadly similar armour scheme, designed for 28 knots (52 km/h; 32 mph).
In Britain, Jackie Fisher returned to the office of First Sea Lord in October 1914. His enthusiasm for big, fast ships was unabated, and he set designers to producing a design for a battlecruiser with 15-inch guns. Because Fisher expected the next German battlecruiser to steam at 28 knots, he required the new British design to be capable of 32 knots. He planned to reorder two Revenge-class battleships, which had been approved but not yet laid down, to a new design. Fisher finally received approval for this project on 28 December 1914 and they became the Renown class. With six 15-inch guns but only 6-inch armour they were a further step forward from Tiger in firepower and speed, but returned to the level of protection of the first British battlecruisers.
At the same time, Fisher resorted to subterfuge to obtain another three fast, lightly armoured ships that could use several spare 15-inch (381 mm) gun turrets left over from battleship construction. These ships were essentially light battlecruisers, and Fisher occasionally referred to them as such, but officially they were classified as large light cruisers. This unusual designation was required because construction of new capital ships had been placed on hold, while there were no limits on light cruiser construction. They became Courageous and her sisters Glorious and Furious, and there was a bizarre imbalance between their main guns of 15 inches (or 18 inches (457 mm) in Furious) and their armour, which at three inches (76 mm) thickness was on the scale of a light cruiser. The design was generally regarded as a failure (nicknamed in the Fleet Outrageous, Uproarious and Spurious), though the later conversion of the ships to aircraft carriers was very successful. Fisher also speculated about a new mammoth, but lightly built battlecruiser, that would carry 20-inch (508 mm) guns, which he termed HMS Incomparable; this never got beyond the concept stage.
It is often held that the Renown and Courageous classes were designed for Fisher's plan to land troops (possibly Russian) on the German Baltic coast. Specifically, they were designed with a reduced draught, which might be important in the shallow Baltic. This is not clear-cut evidence that the ships were designed for the Baltic: it was considered that earlier ships had too much draught and not enough freeboard under operational conditions. Roberts argues that the focus on the Baltic was probably unimportant at the time the ships were designed, but was inflated later, after the disastrous Dardanelles Campaign.
The final British battlecruiser design of the war was the Admiral class, which was born from a requirement for an improved version of the Queen Elizabeth battleship. The project began at the end of 1915, after Fisher's final departure from the Admiralty. While initially envisaged as a battleship, senior sea officers felt that Britain had enough battleships, but that new battlecruisers might be required to combat German ships being built (the British overestimated German progress on the Mackensen class as well as their likely capabilities). A battlecruiser design with eight 15-inch guns, 8 inches of armour and capable of 32 knots was decided on. The experience of battlecruisers at the Battle of Jutland meant that the design was radically revised and transformed again into a fast battleship with armour up to 12 inches thick, but still capable of 31.5 knots (58.3 km/h; 36.2 mph). The first ship in the class, Hood, was built according to this design to counter the possible completion of any of the Mackensen-class ship. The plans for her three sisters, on which little work had been done, were revised once more later in 1916 and in 1917 to improve protection.
The Admiral class would have been the only British ships capable of taking on the German Mackensen class; nevertheless, German shipbuilding was drastically slowed by the war, and while two Mackensens were launched, none were ever completed. The Germans also worked briefly on a further three ships, of the Ersatz Yorck class, which were modified versions of the Mackensens with 15-inch guns. Work on the three additional Admirals was suspended in March 1917 to enable more escorts and merchant ships to be built to deal with the new threat from U-boats to trade. They were finally cancelled in February 1919.
The first combat involving battlecruisers during World War I was the Battle of Heligoland Bight in August 1914. A force of British light cruisers and destroyers entered the Heligoland Bight (the part of the North Sea closest to Hamburg) to attack German destroyer patrols. When they met opposition from light cruisers, Vice Admiral David Beatty took his squadron of five battlecruisers into the Bight and turned the tide of the battle, ultimately sinking three German light cruisers and killing their commander, Rear Admiral Leberecht Maass.
The German battlecruiser Goeben perhaps made the most impact early in the war. Stationed in the Mediterranean, she and the escorting light cruiser SMS Breslau evaded British and French ships on the outbreak of war, and steamed to Constantinople (Istanbul) with two British battlecruisers in hot pursuit. The two German ships were handed over to the Ottoman Navy, and this was instrumental in bringing the Ottoman Empire into the war as one of the Central Powers. Goeben herself, renamed Yavuz Sultan Selim, fought engagements against the Imperial Russian Navy in the Black Sea before being knocked out of the action for the remainder of the war after the Battle of Imbros against British forces in the Aegean Sea in January 1918.
The original battlecruiser concept proved successful in December 1914 at the Battle of the Falkland Islands. The British battlecruisers Inflexible and Invincible did precisely the job for which they were intended when they chased down and annihilated the German East Asia Squadron, centered on the armoured cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, along with three light cruisers, commanded by Admiral Maximilian Graf Von Spee, in the South Atlantic Ocean. Prior to the battle, the Australian battlecruiser Australia had unsuccessfully searched for the German ships in the Pacific.
During the Battle of Dogger Bank in 1915, the aftermost barbette of the German flagship Seydlitz was struck by a British 13.5-inch shell from HMS Lion. The shell did not penetrate the barbette, but it dislodged a piece of the barbette armour that allowed the flame from the shell's detonation to enter the barbette. The propellant charges being hoisted upwards were ignited, and the fireball flashed up into the turret and down into the magazine, setting fire to charges removed from their brass cartridge cases. The gun crew tried to escape into the next turret, which allowed the flash to spread into that turret as well, killing the crews of both turrets. Seydlitz was saved from near-certain destruction only by emergency flooding of her after magazines, which had been effected by Wilhelm Heidkamp. This near-disaster was due to the way that ammunition handling was arranged and was common to both German and British battleships and battlecruisers, but the lighter protection on the latter made them more vulnerable to the turret or barbette being penetrated. The Germans learned from investigating the damaged Seydlitz and instituted measures to ensure that ammunition handling minimised any possible exposure to flash.
Apart from the cordite handling, the battle was mostly inconclusive, though both the British flagship Lion and Seydlitz were severely damaged. Lion lost speed, causing her to fall behind the rest of the battleline, and Beatty was unable to effectively command his ships for the remainder of the engagement. A British signalling error allowed the German battlecruisers to withdraw, as most of Beatty's squadron mistakenly concentrated on the crippled armoured cruiser Blücher, sinking her with great loss of life. The British blamed their failure to win a decisive victory on their poor gunnery and attempted to increase their rate of fire by stockpiling unprotected cordite charges in their ammunition hoists and barbettes.
At the Battle of Jutland on 31 May 1916, both British and German battlecruisers were employed as fleet units. The British battlecruisers became engaged with both their German counterparts, the battlecruisers, and then German battleships before the arrival of the battleships of the British Grand Fleet. The result was a disaster for the Royal Navy's battlecruiser squadrons: Invincible, Queen Mary, and Indefatigable exploded with the loss of all but a handful of their crews. The exact reason why the ships' magazines detonated is not known, but the plethora of exposed cordite charges stored in their turrets, ammunition hoists and working chambers in the quest to increase their rate of fire undoubtedly contributed to their loss. Beatty's flagship Lion herself was almost lost in a similar manner, save for the heroic actions of Major Francis Harvey.
The better-armoured German battlecruisers fared better, in part due to the poor performance of British fuzes (the British shells tended to explode or break up on impact with the German armour). Lützow—the only German battlecruiser lost at Jutland—had only 128 killed, for instance, despite receiving more than thirty hits. The other German battlecruisers, Moltke, Von der Tann, Seydlitz, and Derfflinger, were all heavily damaged and required extensive repairs after the battle, Seydlitz barely making it home, for they had been the focus of British fire for much of the battle.
In the years immediately after World War I, Britain, Japan and the US all began design work on a new generation of ever more powerful battleships and battlecruisers. The new burst of shipbuilding that each nation's navy desired was politically controversial and potentially economically crippling. This nascent arms race was prevented by the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, where the major naval powers agreed to limits on capital ship numbers. The German navy was not represented at the talks; under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was not allowed any modern capital ships at all.
Through the 1920s and 1930s only Britain and Japan retained battlecruisers, often modified and rebuilt from their original designs. The line between the battlecruiser and the modern fast battleship became blurred; indeed, the Japanese Kongōs were formally redesignated as battleships after their very comprehensive reconstruction in the 1930s.
Hood, launched in 1918, was the last World War I battlecruiser to be completed. Owing to lessons from Jutland, the ship was modified during construction; the thickness of her belt armour was increased by an average of 50 percent and extended substantially, she was given heavier deck armour, and the protection of her magazines was improved to guard against the ignition of ammunition. This was hoped to be capable of resisting her own weapons—the classic measure of a "balanced" battleship. Hood was the largest ship in the Royal Navy when completed; thanks to her great displacement, in theory she combined the firepower and armour of a battleship with the speed of a battlecruiser, causing some to refer to her as a fast battleship. However, her protection was markedly less than that of the British battleships built immediately after World War I, the Nelson class.
The navies of Japan and the United States, not being affected immediately by the war, had time to develop new heavy 16-inch (410 mm) guns for their latest designs and to refine their battlecruiser designs in light of combat experience in Europe. The Imperial Japanese Navy began four Amagi-class battlecruisers. These vessels would have been of unprecedented size and power, as fast and well armoured as Hood whilst carrying a main battery of ten 16-inch guns, the most powerful armament ever proposed for a battlecruiser. They were, for all intents and purposes, fast battleships—the only differences between them and the Tosa-class battleships which were to precede them were 1 inch (25 mm) less side armour and a .25 knots (0.46 km/h; 0.29 mph) increase in speed. The United States Navy, which had worked on its battlecruiser designs since 1913 and watched the latest developments in this class with great care, responded with the Lexington class. If completed as planned, they would have been exceptionally fast and well armed with eight 16-inch guns, but carried armour little better than the Invincibles—this after an 8,000-long-ton (8,100 t) increase in protection following Jutland. The final stage in the post-war battlecruiser race came with the British response to the Amagi and Lexington types: four 48,000-long-ton (49,000 t) G3 battlecruisers. Royal Navy documents of the period often described any battleship with a speed of over about 24 knots (44 km/h; 28 mph) as a battlecruiser, regardless of the amount of protective armour, although the G3 was considered by most to be a well-balanced fast battleship.
The Washington Naval Treaty meant that none of these designs came to fruition. Ships that had been started were either broken up on the slipway or converted to aircraft carriers. In Japan, Amagi and Akagi were selected for conversion. Amagi was damaged beyond repair by the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake and was broken up for scrap; the hull of one of the proposed Tosa-class battleships, Kaga, was converted in her stead. The United States Navy also converted two battlecruiser hulls into aircraft carriers in the wake of the Washington Treaty: USS Lexington and USS Saratoga, although this was only considered marginally preferable to scrapping the hulls outright (the remaining four: Constellation, Ranger, Constitution and United States were scrapped). In Britain, Fisher's "large light cruisers," were converted to carriers. Furious had already been partially converted during the war and Glorious and Courageous were similarly converted.
In total, nine battlecruisers survived the Washington Naval Treaty, although HMS Tiger later became a victim of the London Naval Conference of 1930 and was scrapped. Because their high speed made them valuable surface units in spite of their weaknesses, most of these ships were significantly updated before World War II. Renown and Repulse were modernized significantly in the 1920s and 1930s. Between 1934 and 1936, Repulse was partially modernized and had her bridge modified, an aircraft hangar, catapult and new gunnery equipment added and her anti-aircraft armament increased. Renown underwent a more thorough reconstruction between 1937 and 1939. Her deck armour was increased, new turbines and boilers were fitted, an aircraft hangar and catapult added and she was completely rearmed aside from the main guns which had their elevation increased to +30 degrees. The bridge structure was also removed and a large bridge similar to that used in the King George V-class battleships installed in its place. While conversions of this kind generally added weight to the vessel, Renown's tonnage actually decreased due to a substantially lighter power plant. Similar thorough rebuildings planned for Repulse and Hood were cancelled due to the advent of World War II.
Unable to build new ships, the Imperial Japanese Navy also chose to improve its existing battlecruisers of the Kongō class (initially the Haruna, Kirishima, and Kongō—the Hiei only later as it had been disarmed under the terms of the Washington treaty) in two substantial reconstructions (one for Hiei). During the first of these, elevation of their main guns was increased to +40 degrees, anti-torpedo bulges and 3,800 long tons (3,900 t) of horizontal armour added, and a "pagoda" mast with additional command positions built up. This reduced the ships' speed to 25.9 knots (48.0 km/h; 29.8 mph). The second reconstruction focused on speed as they had been selected as fast escorts for aircraft carrier task forces. Completely new main engines, a reduced number of boilers and an increase in hull length by 26 feet (7.9 m) allowed them to reach up to 30 knots once again. They were reclassified as "fast battleships," although their armour and guns still fell short compared to surviving World War I–era battleships in the American or the British navies, with dire consequences during the Pacific War, when Hiei and Kirishima were easily crippled by US gunfire during actions off Guadalcanal, forcing their scuttling shortly afterwards. Perhaps most tellingly, Hiei was crippled by medium-caliber gunfire from heavy and light cruisers in a close-range night engagement.
There were two exceptions: Turkey's Yavuz Sultan Selim and the Royal Navy's Hood. The Turkish Navy made only minor improvements to the ship in the interwar period, which primarily focused on repairing wartime damage and the installation of new fire control systems and anti-aircraft batteries. Hood was in constant service with the fleet and could not be withdrawn for an extended reconstruction. She received minor improvements over the course of the 1930s, including modern fire control systems, increased numbers of anti-aircraft guns, and in March 1941, radar.
In the late 1930s navies began to build capital ships again, and during this period a number of large commerce raiders and small, fast battleships were built that are sometimes referred to as battlecruisers. Germany and Russia designed new battlecruisers during this period, though only the latter laid down two of the 35,000-ton Kronshtadt class. They were still on the slipways when the Germans invaded in 1941 and construction was suspended. Both ships were scrapped after the war.
The Germans planned three battlecruisers of the O class as part of the expansion of the Kriegsmarine (Plan Z). With six 15-inch guns, high speed, excellent range, but very thin armour, they were intended as commerce raiders. Only one was ordered shortly before World War II; no work was ever done on it. No names were assigned, and they were known by their contract names: 'O', 'P', and 'Q'. The new class was not universally welcomed in the Kriegsmarine. Their abnormally-light protection gained it the derogatory nickname Ohne Panzer Quatsch (without armour nonsense) within certain circles of the Navy.
The Royal Navy deployed some of its battlecruisers during the Norwegian Campaign in April 1940. The Gneisenau and the Scharnhorst were engaged during the Action off Lofoten by Renown in very bad weather and disengaged after Gneisenau was damaged. One of Renown's 15-inch shells passed through Gneisenau's director-control tower without exploding, severing electrical and communication cables as it went and destroyed the rangefinders for the forward 150 mm (5.9 in) turrets. Main-battery fire control had to be shifted aft due to the loss of electrical power. Another shell from Renown knocked out Gneisenau's aft turret. The British ship was struck twice by German shells that failed to inflict any significant damage. She was the only pre-war battlecruiser to survive the war.
In the early years of the war various German ships had a measure of success hunting merchant ships in the Atlantic. Allied battlecruisers such as Renown, Repulse, and the fast battleships Dunkerque and Strasbourg were employed on operations to hunt down the commerce-raiding German ships. The one stand-up fight occurred when the battleship Bismarck and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen sortied into the North Atlantic to attack British shipping and were intercepted by Hood and the battleship Prince of Wales in May 1941 in the Battle of the Denmark Strait. The elderly British battlecruiser was no match for the modern German battleship: within minutes, the Bismarck's 15-inch shells caused a magazine explosion in Hood reminiscent of the Battle of Jutland. Only three men survived.
The first battlecruiser to see action in the Pacific War was Repulse when she was sunk by Japanese torpedo bombers north of Singapore on 10 December 1941 whilst in company with Prince of Wales. She was lightly damaged by a single 250-kilogram (550 lb) bomb and near-missed by two others in the first Japanese attack. Her speed and agility enabled her to avoid the other attacks by level bombers and dodge 33 torpedoes. The last group of torpedo bombers attacked from multiple directions and Repulse was struck by five torpedoes. She quickly capsized with the loss of 27 officers and 486 crewmen; 42 officers and 754 enlisted men were rescued by the escorting destroyers. The loss of Repulse and Prince of Wales conclusively proved the vulnerability of capital ships to aircraft without air cover of their own.
The Japanese Kongō-class battlecruisers were extensively used as carrier escorts for most of their wartime career due to their high speed. Their World War I–era armament was weaker and their upgraded armour was still thin compared to contemporary battleships. On 13 November 1942, during the First Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, Hiei stumbled across American cruisers and destroyers at point-blank range. The ship was badly damaged in the encounter and had to be towed by her sister ship Kirishima. Both were spotted by American aircraft the following morning and Kirishima was forced to cast off her tow because of repeated aerial attacks. Hiei's captain ordered her crew to abandon ship after further damage and scuttled Hiei in the early evening of 14 November. On the night of 14/15 November during the Second Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, Kirishima returned to Ironbottom Sound, but encountered the American battleships South Dakota and Washington. While failing to detect Washington, Kirishima engaged South Dakota with some effect. Washington opened fire a few minutes later at short range and badly damaged Kirishima, knocking out her aft turrets, jamming her rudder, and hitting the ship below the waterline. The flooding proved to be uncontrollable and Kirishima capsized three and a half hours later.
Returning to Japan after the Battle of Leyte Gulf, Kongō was torpedoed and sunk by the American submarine Sealion II on 21 November 1944. Haruna was moored at Kure, Japan when the naval base was attacked by American carrier aircraft on 24 and 28 July. The ship was only lightly damaged by a single bomb hit on 24 July, but was hit a dozen more times on 28 July and sank at her pier. She was refloated after the war and scrapped in early 1946.
A late renaissance in popularity of ships between battleships and cruisers in size occurred on the eve of World War II. Described by some as battlecruisers, but never classified as capital ships, they were variously described as "super cruisers", "large cruisers" or even "unrestricted cruisers". The Dutch, American, and Japanese navies all planned these new classes specifically to counter the heavy cruisers, or their counterparts, being built by their naval rivals.
The first such battlecruisers were the Dutch Design 1047, designed to protect their colonies in the East Indies in the face of Japanese aggression. Never officially assigned names, these ships were designed with German and Italian assistance. While they broadly resembled the German Scharnhorst class and had the same main battery, they would have been more lightly armoured and only protected against eight-inch gunfire. Although the design was mostly completed, work on the vessels never commenced as the Germans overran the Netherlands in May 1940. The first ship would have been laid down in June of that year.
The only class of these late battlecruisers actually built were the United States Navy's Alaska-class "large cruisers". Two of them were completed, Alaska and Guam; a third, Hawaii, was cancelled while under construction and three others, to be named Philippines, Puerto Rico and Samoa, were cancelled before they were laid down. They were classified as "large cruisers" instead of battlecruisers, and their status as non-capital ships evidenced by their being named for territories or protectorates. (Battleships, in contrast, were named after states and cruisers after cities.) With a main armament of nine 12-inch guns in three triple turrets and a displacement of 27,000 long tons (27,000 t), the Alaskas were twice the size of Baltimore-class cruisers and had guns some 50% larger in diameter. They lacked the thick armoured belt and intricate torpedo defence system of true capital ships. However, unlike most battlecruisers, they were considered a balanced design according to cruiser standards as their protection could withstand fire from their own caliber of gun, albeit only in a very narrow range band. They were designed to hunt down Japanese heavy cruisers, though by the time they entered service most Japanese cruisers had been sunk by American aircraft or submarines. Like the contemporary Iowa-class fast battleships, their speed ultimately made them more useful as carrier escorts and bombardment ships than as the surface combatants they were developed to be.
The Japanese started designing the B64 class, which was similar to the Alaska but with 310-millimetre (12.2 in) guns. News of the Alaskas led them to upgrade the design, creating Design B-65. Armed with 356 mm guns, the B65s would have been the best armed of the new breed of battlecruisers, but they still would have had only sufficient protection to keep out eight-inch shells. Much like the Dutch, the Japanese got as far as completing the design for the B65s, but never laid them down. By the time the designs were ready the Japanese Navy recognized that they had little use for the vessels and that their priority for construction should lie with aircraft carriers. Like the Alaskas, the Japanese did not call these ships battlecruisers, referring to them instead as super-heavy cruisers.
In spite of the fact that most navies abandoned the battleship and battlecruiser concepts after World War II, Joseph Stalin's fondness for big-gun-armed warships caused the Soviet Union to plan a large cruiser class in the late 1940s. In the Soviet Navy, they were termed "heavy cruisers" (tjazholyj krejser). The fruits of this program were the Project 82 (Stalingrad) cruisers, of 36,500 tonnes (35,900 long tons) standard load, nine 305 mm (12 in) guns and a speed of 35 knots (65 km/h; 40 mph). Three ships were laid down in 1951–1952, but they were cancelled in April 1953 after Stalin's death. Only the central armoured hull section of the first ship, Stalingrad, was launched in 1954 and then used as a target.
The Soviet Kirov class is sometimes referred to as a battlecruiser. This description arises from their over 24,000-tonne (24,000-long-ton) displacement, which is roughly equal to that of a First World War battleship and more than twice the displacement of contemporary cruisers; upon entry into service, Kirov was the largest surface ship (aside from aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships) to be built since World War II. The Kirov class lacks the armour that distinguishes battlecruisers from ordinary cruisers and they are classified as heavy nuclear-powered missile cruisers (tyazholyy atomnyy raketny kreyser) by Russia, with their primary surface armament consisting of twenty P-700 Granit surface to surface missiles. Four members of the class were completed during the 1980s and 1990s, but due to budget constraints only the Petr Velikiy is operational with the Russian Navy, though plans were announced in 2010 to return the other three ships to service. As of 2012 one ship was being refitted, but the other two ships are reportedly beyond economical repair.
The Admiral-class battlecruisers were to have been a class of four British Royal Navy battlecruisers designed near the end of World War I. Their design began as an improved version of the Queen Elizabeth-class battleships, but it was recast as a battlecruiser after Admiral John Jellicoe, commander of the Grand Fleet, pointed out that there was no real need for more battleships, but that a number of German battlecruisers had been laid down that were superior to the bulk of the Grand Fleet's battlecruisers and the design was revised to counter these. The class was to have consisted of HMS Hood, Anson, Howe, and Rodney — all names of famous admirals — but the latter three ships were suspended as the material and labour required to complete them was needed for higher-priority merchantmen and escort vessels. Their designs were updated to incorporate the lessons from the Battle of Jutland, but the Admiralty eventually decided that it was better to begin again with a clean-slate design so they were cancelled in 1919. No more battlecruisers would be built due to the arms limitations agreements of the interbellum.
Hood, however, was sufficiently advanced in construction that she was completed in 1920 and immediately became flagship of the Battlecruiser Squadron of the Atlantic Fleet. She served as the flagship of the Special Service Squadron during its round-the-world cruise in 1923-24. Hood was transferred to the Mediterranean Fleet in 1936 and spent much of the next few years on Non-Intervention Patrols during the Spanish Civil War, returning to the United Kingdom before the beginning of World War II and the Battlecruiser Squadron of the Home Fleet.
Hood spent most of the early part of the war patrolling against German commerce raiders and escorting convoys. Flagship of Force H, based at Gibraltar, she bombarded French ships during the attack on Mers-el-Kébir. In May 1941 Hood and the battleship Prince of Wales were ordered to intercept the German battleship Bismarck and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen as they attempted to break out into the North Atlantic. In the subsequent Battle of the Denmark Strait, the aft magazines of Hood exploded, sinking her within five minutes of opening fire.Alaska-class cruiser
The Alaska class was a class of six large cruisers ordered before World War II for the United States Navy. They were officially classed as large cruisers (CB), but others have regarded them as battlecruisers. They were all named after territories or insular areas of the United States, signifying their intermediate status between larger battleships and smaller heavy and light cruisers. Of the six planned, two were completed, the third's construction was suspended on 16 April 1947, and the last three were cancelled. Alaska and Guam served with the U.S. Navy for the last year of World War II as bombardment ships and fast carrier escorts. They were decommissioned in 1947 after spending only 32 and 29 months in service, respectively.
The idea for a large cruiser class originated in the early 1930s when the U.S. Navy sought to counter Deutschland-class "pocket battleships" being launched by Germany. Planning for ships that eventually evolved into the Alaska class began in the late 1930s after the deployment of Germany's Scharnhorst-class battleships and rumors that Japan was constructing a new battlecruiser class. To serve as "cruiser-killers" capable of seeking out and destroying these post-Treaty heavy cruisers, the class was given large guns of a new and expensive design, limited armor protection against 12-inch shells, and machinery capable of speeds of about 31–33 knots (57–61 km/h; 36–38 mph).Amagi-class battlecruiser
The Amagi class (天城型, Amagi-gata) was a series of four battlecruisers planned for the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) as part of the Eight-eight fleet. The ships were to be named Amagi, Akagi, Atago, and Takao (initially named Ashitaka), after the mountains Amagi, Akagi, Atago, and Takao. The Amagi design was essentially a lengthened version of the Tosa-class battleship, but with a thinner armored belt and deck and a modified secondary armament arrangement.Limitations imposed by the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty prevented the class from being completed as designed. However, the treaty had a limited allowance for hulls already under construction to be converted into aircraft carriers. Amagi and Akagi were both intended for conversion, but an earthquake damaged the hull of Amagi so extensively that the ship was scrapped. Akagi was reconstructed as an aircraft carrier and served with distinction as part of the Kido Butai during the Second World War, participating in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor before being sunk at the Battle of Midway.Borodino-class battlecruiser
The Borodino-class battlecruisers (Russian: Линейные крейсера типа «Измаил») were a group of four battlecruisers ordered by the Imperial Russian Navy before World War I. Also referred to as the Izmail class, they were laid down in late 1912 at Saint Petersburg for service with the Baltic Fleet. Construction of the ships was delayed by a lack of capacity among domestic factories and the need to order some components from abroad. The start of World War I slowed their construction still further, as the imported components were often not delivered and domestic production was diverted into areas more immediately useful for the war effort.
Three of the four ships were launched in 1915 and the fourth in 1916. Work on the gun turrets lagged, and it became evident that Russian industry would not be able to complete the ships during the war. The Russian Revolution of 1917 halted all work on the ships, which was never resumed. Although some consideration was given to finishing the hulls that were nearest to completion, they were all eventually sold for scrap by the Soviet Union. The Soviet Navy proposed to convert Izmail, the ship closest to completion, to an aircraft carrier in 1925, but the plan was cancelled after political manoeuvring by the Red Army led to funding not being available.Derfflinger-class battlecruiser
The Derfflinger class was a class of three battlecruisers (German: Schlachtkreuzer) of the Imperial German Navy. The ships were ordered for the 1912–13 Naval Building Program of the German Imperial Navy as a reply to the Royal Navy's three new Lion-class battlecruisers that had been launched a few years earlier. The preceding Moltke class and the incrementally improved Seydlitz represented the end of the evolution of Germany's first generation of battlecruisers. The Derfflinger class had considerable improvements, including a larger primary armament, all of which was mounted on the centerline. The ships were also larger than the preceding classes. The Derfflinger class used a similar propulsion system, and as a result of the increased displacement were slightly slower.
The class comprised three ships: Derfflinger, Lützow, and Hindenburg. All three of the ships saw active service with the High Seas Fleet during World War I. Derfflinger was commissioned shortly after the outbreak of war, and was present at most of the naval actions in the North Sea, including the battles of Dogger Bank and Jutland. Lützow was commissioned in August 1915, and participated only in the raid on Yarmouth before being sunk at Jutland. Hindenburg was commissioned into the fleet in May 1917, and saw no major action. Derfflinger and Hindenburg were interned at Scapa Flow following the armistice in November 1918. Rear Admiral Ludwig von Reuter, who was in command of the interned High Seas Fleet, ordered the ships to be scuttled in an attempt to prevent their possible seizure by the Royal Navy.Design 1047 battlecruiser
Design 1047, also known as Project 1047, was a series of plans for a class of Dutch battlecruisers prior to the Second World War. The ships were intended to counter a perceived threat posed by Imperial Japanese aggression to the Dutch colonies in the East Indies. Dutch intelligence believed that the Imperial Japanese Navy would deploy its capital ships (aircraft carriers and battleships) against their counterparts of the United States Navy and the British Royal Navy, leaving heavy and light cruisers, along with seaplane carriers, as the largest ships available for an advance into the East Indies. As such, the 1047s were shaped by the need to be able to fight their way through a fleet composed of these ships and smaller destroyers. It was hoped that this capability would allow the battlecruisers to act as a fleet in being.
After a recommendation from high-ranking Dutch naval officers that the Koninklijke Marine (Royal Netherlands Navy) be bolstered so any attacker would have to deploy a significant amount of their fleet to the East Indies, keeping it from other theaters of war, the Minister of Defense ordered the Navy to prepare designs for a two or three-member class of battlecruisers. As they had not previously designed a modern capital ship, and the only information available on modern designs came from public literature and editions of Jane's Fighting Ships, the Dutch turned to Germany. This initially bore no results, as the two sides were unable to come to terms. During this time, a preliminary plan was drawn up without foreign assistance; completed on 11 July 1939, it was missing many of the post-First World War advances in warship technology. In particular, the armor protection was completely outmoded.
Germany and the Netherlands were eventually able to reach an agreement where Germany would release plans and drawings based upon their ideas for a battlecruiser, in return for a guarantee that all needed equipment would be ordered from German firms. With their assistance (mainly through NV Ingenieurskantoor voor Scheepsbouw), a rough design was formulated by February 1940. A visit to Italy prompted a rethink of the internal layout, which led to a set of drawings dated 19 April 1940. This is the last known design produced prior to Germany's invasion and occupation of the Netherlands. Final plans for the ships were never completed, and the ships were never constructed.German battleship Gneisenau
Gneisenau was a German capital ship, alternatively described as a battleship and battlecruiser, of Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine. She was the second vessel of her class, which included one other ship, Scharnhorst. The ship was built at the Deutsche Werke dockyard in Kiel; she was laid down on 6 May 1935 and launched on 8 December 1936. Completed in May 1938, the ship was armed with a main battery of nine 28 cm (11 in) C/34 guns in three triple turrets, though there were plans to replace these weapons with six 38 cm (15 in) SK C/34 guns in twin turrets.
Gneisenau and Scharnhorst operated together for much of the early portion of World War II, including sorties into the Atlantic to raid British merchant shipping. During their first operation, the two ships sank the British auxiliary cruiser HMS Rawalpindi in a short battle. Gneisenau and Scharnhorst participated in Operation Weserübung, the German invasion of Norway. During operations off Norway, the two ships engaged the battlecruiser HMS Renown and sank the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious. Gneisenau was damaged in the action with Renown and later torpedoed by a British submarine, HMS Clyde, off Norway. After a successful raid in the Atlantic in 1941, Gneisenau and her sister put in at Brest, France. The two battleships were the subject of repeated bombing raids by the RAF; Gneisenau was hit several times during the raids, though she was ultimately repaired.
In early 1942, the two ships made a daylight dash up the English Channel from occupied France to Germany. After reaching Kiel in early February, the ship went into drydock. On the night of 26 February, the British launched an air attack on the ship; one bomb penetrated her armored deck and exploded in the forward ammunition magazine, causing serious damage and a large number of casualties. The repairs necessitated by the damage were so time-consuming that it was determined to rebuild the ship to accommodate the 38 cm guns as originally intended. The 28 cm guns were removed and used as shore batteries. In 1943, Hitler ordered the cessation of conversion work, and on 27 March 1945, she was sunk as a blockship in Gotenhafen (Gdynia) in German-occupied Poland. She was eventually broken up for scrap in 1951.German battleship Scharnhorst
Scharnhorst was a German capital ship, alternatively described as a battleship or battlecruiser, of Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine. She was the lead ship of her class, which included one other ship, Gneisenau. The ship was built at the Kriegsmarinewerft dockyard in Wilhelmshaven; she was laid down on 15 June 1935 and launched a year and four months later on 3 October 1936. Completed in January 1939, the ship was armed with a main battery of nine 28 cm (11 in) C/34 guns in three triple turrets. Plans to replace these weapons with six 38 cm (15 in) SK C/34 guns in twin turrets were never carried out.
Scharnhorst and Gneisenau operated together for much of the early portion of World War II, including sorties into the Atlantic to raid British merchant shipping. During her first operation, Scharnhorst sank the auxiliary cruiser HMS Rawalpindi in a short engagement (November 1939). Scharnhorst and Gneisenau participated in Operation Weserübung (April–June 1940), the German invasion of Norway. During operations off Norway, the two ships engaged the battlecruiser HMS Renown and sank the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious as well as her escort destroyers Acasta and Ardent. In that engagement Scharnhorst achieved one of the longest-range naval gunfire hits in history.
In early 1942, after repeated British bombing raids, the two ships made a daylight dash up the English Channel from occupied France to Germany. In early 1943, Scharnhorst joined the Bismarck-class battleship Tirpitz in Norway to interdict Allied convoys to the Soviet Union. Scharnhorst and several destroyers sortied from Norway to attack a convoy, but British naval patrols intercepted the German force. During the Battle of the North Cape (26 December 1943), the Royal Navy battleship HMS Duke of York and her escorts sank Scharnhorst. Only 36 men were rescued, out of a crew of 1,968.HMS Hood
HMS Hood (pennant number 51) was the last battlecruiser built for the Royal Navy. Commissioned in 1920, she was named after the 18th-century Admiral Samuel Hood. One of four Admiral-class battlecruisers ordered in mid-1916, Hood had design limitations, though her design was revised after the Battle of Jutland and improved while she was under construction. For this reason, she was the only ship of her class to be completed. Despite the appearance of new and more modern ship designs over time, Hood remained the largest and most powerful warship in the world for 20 years after her commissioning, and her prestige was reflected in her nickname, "The Mighty Hood".
Hood was involved in several showing-the-flag exercises between her commissioning in 1920 and the outbreak of war in 1939, including training exercises in the Mediterranean Sea and a circumnavigation of the globe with the Special Service Squadron in 1923 and 1924. She was attached to the Mediterranean Fleet following the outbreak of the Second Italo-Abyssinian War. When the Spanish Civil War broke out, Hood was officially assigned to the Mediterranean Fleet until she had to return to Britain in 1939 for an overhaul. By this time, advances in naval gunnery had reduced Hood's usefulness. She was scheduled to undergo a major rebuild in 1941 to correct these issues, but the outbreak of World War II in September 1939 forced the ship into service without the upgrades.
When war with Germany was declared, Hood was operating in the area around Iceland, and she spent the next several months hunting for German commerce raiders and blockade runners between Iceland and the Norwegian Sea. After a brief overhaul of her propulsion system, she sailed as the flagship of Force H, and participated in the destruction of the French fleet at Mers-el-Kebir. Relieved as flagship of Force H, Hood was dispatched to Scapa Flow, and operated in the area as a convoy escort and later as a defence against a potential German invasion fleet. In May 1941, the battleship Prince of Wales and she were ordered to intercept the German battleship Bismarck and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, which were en route to the Atlantic, where they were to attack convoys. On 24 May 1941, early in the Battle of the Denmark Strait, Hood was struck by several German shells, exploded, and sank within 3 minutes, with the loss of all but three of her crew. Due to her perceived invincibility, the loss affected British morale.
The Royal Navy conducted two inquiries into the reasons for the ship's quick demise. The first, held soon after the ship's loss, concluded that Hood's aft magazine had exploded after one of Bismarck's shells penetrated the ship's armour. A second inquiry was held after complaints that the first board had failed to consider alternative explanations, such as an explosion of the ship's torpedoes. It was more thorough than the first board and concurred with the first board's conclusion. Despite the official explanation, some historians continued to believe that the torpedoes caused the ship's loss, while others proposed an accidental explosion inside one of the ship's gun turrets that reached down into the magazine. Other historians have concentrated on the cause of the magazine explosion. The discovery of the ship's wreck in 2001 confirmed the conclusion of both boards, although the exact reason the magazines detonated is likely to remain unknown since that area of the ship was destroyed in the explosion.HMS Queen Mary
HMS Queen Mary was the last battlecruiser built by the Royal Navy before the First World War. The sole member of her class, Queen Mary shared many features with the Lion-class battlecruisers, including her eight 13.5-inch (343 mm) guns. She was completed in 1913 and participated in the Battle of Heligoland Bight as part of the Grand Fleet in 1914. Like most of the modern British battlecruisers, the ship never left the North Sea during the war. As part of the 1st Battlecruiser Squadron, Queen Mary attempted to intercept a German force that bombarded the North Sea coast of England in December 1914, but was unsuccessful. The ship was refitting in early 1915 and missed the Battle of Dogger Bank in January, but participated in the largest fleet action of the war, the Battle of Jutland in mid-1916. She was hit twice by the German battlecruiser Derfflinger during the early part of the battle and her magazines exploded shortly afterwards, sinking the ship.
Her wreck was discovered in 1991 and rests in pieces, some of which are upside down, on the floor of the North Sea. Queen Mary is designated as a protected place under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 as it is the grave of 1,266 officers and ratings.Indefatigable-class battlecruiser
The Indefatigable class were the second class built of British battlecruisers which served in the Royal Navy and the Royal Australian Navy during World War I. The design represented a modest reworking of the preceding Invincible class, featuring increased endurance and an improved cross-deck arc of fire for their midships wing turrets achieved by a lengthening of the hull. Like its predecessor, the design resembled the contemporary dreadnought of the Royal Navy, but sacrificed armour protection and one turret from the main battery for a 4-knot (7.4 km/h; 4.6 mph) speed advantage.
Originally Indefatigable was the only ship of the class, but Australia and New Zealand were later built as part of a scheme to improve the defence of the Dominions by having each Dominion purchase a 'fleet unit' of one battlecruiser, three light cruisers and six destroyers. Only Australia fully acceded to the idea, forming the Royal Australian Navy, but New Zealand agreed to fund one battlecruiser. A modified Indefatigable design was chosen rather than the Lion-class battlecruiser then building for the Royal Navy.
They spent most of the war patrolling the North Sea, and participated in most of the battles there, although only New Zealand was in the United Kingdom when the war began. Indefatigable was in the Mediterranean where she pursued the German warships Goeben and Breslau as they fled towards Turkey and Australia was flagship of the Royal Australian Navy in Australian waters where she helped to secure the German Pacific colonies and searched, unsuccessfully, for the German East Asia Squadron before sailing for the United Kingdom in December 1914. New Zealand participated in a number of the early actions in the North Sea including the Battle of Heligoland Bight and the inconclusive Scarborough Raid. Australia was still under repair after a collision with New Zealand before the Battle of Jutland so only Indefatigable and New Zealand were present where the former was destroyed by a magazine explosion. Both Australia and New Zealand spent much uneventful time at sea after Jutland waiting for the next appearance of the High Seas Fleet, but that had been forbidden by the Kaiser. New Zealand conducted Admiral Jellicoe on his tour of India and the Dominions after the war while Australia returned home where she again became the flagship of the Royal Australian Navy. New Zealand was sold for scrap in 1922 while Australia only lasted two years more before being scuttled to comply with the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty.Kirov-class battlecruiser
The Kirov class, Soviet designation Project 1144 Orlan (sea eagle), is a class of nuclear-powered guided missile cruisers of the Soviet Navy and Russian Navy, the largest and heaviest surface combatant warships (i.e. not an aircraft carrier or amphibious assault ship) in operation in the world. Among modern warships, they are second in size only to large aircraft carriers, and of similar size to a World War I era battleships. The Soviet classification of the ship-type is (Russian: тяжёлый атомный ракетный крейсер, "heavy nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser"). The ships are often referred to as battlecruisers by Western defence commentators due to their size and general appearance.The appearance of the Kirov class played a key role in the recommissioning of the Iowa-class battleships by the United States Navy in the 1980s.The Kirov class hull design was also used for the Soviet nuclear-powered command and control ship SSV-33 Ural.Kongō-class battlecruiser
The Kongō-class battlecruiser (金剛型巡洋戦艦, Kongō-gata jun'yōsenkan) was a class of four battlecruisers built for the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) immediately before World War I. Designed by British naval architect George Thurston, the lead ship of the class, Kongō, was the last Japanese capital ship constructed outside Japan, by Vickers at Barrow-in-Furness. Her sister ships Haruna, Kirishima and Hiei were all completed in Japan.
During the late 1920s, all but Hiei were reconstructed and reclassified as battleships. After the signing of the London Naval Treaty in 1930, Hiei was reconfigured as a training ship to avoid being scrapped. Following Japan's withdrawal from the London Naval Treaty, all four underwent a massive second reconstruction in the late 1930s. Following the completion of these modifications, which increased top speeds to over 30 knots (56 km/h; 35 mph), all four were reclassified as fast battleships.
The Kongō-class battleships were the most active capital ships of the Japanese Navy during World War II, participating in most major engagements of the war. Hiei and Kirishima acted as escorts during the attack on Pearl Harbor, while Kongō and Haruna supported the invasion of Singapore. All four participated in the battles of Midway and Guadalcanal. Hiei and Kirishima were both lost during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal in November 1942, while Haruna and Kongō jointly bombarded the American Henderson Field airbase on Guadalcanal. The two remaining Kongō-class battleships spent most of 1943 shuttling between Japanese naval bases before participating in the major naval campaigns of 1944. Haruna and Kongō engaged American surface vessels during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Kongō was torpedoed and sunk by the submarine USS Sealion in November 1944, while Haruna was sunk at her moorings by an air attack in Kure Naval Base in late July 1945, but later raised and scrapped in 1946.Kronshtadt-class battlecruiser
The Kronshtadt-class battlecruisers, with the Soviet designation as Project 69 heavy cruisers, (Russian: "Тяжёлые крейсера проекта 69"), were ordered for the Soviet Navy in the late 1930s. Two ships were started but none were completed due to World War II. These ships had a complex and prolonged design process which was hampered by constantly changing requirements and the Great Purge in 1937.
They were laid down in 1939, with an estimated completion date in 1944, but Stalin's naval construction program proved to be more than the shipbuilding and armaments industries could handle. Prototypes of the armament and machinery had not even been completed by 22 June 1941, almost two years after the start of construction. This is why the Soviets bought twelve surplus 38-centimeter (15.0 in) SK C/34 guns, and their twin turrets, similar to those used in the Bismarck-class battleships, from Germany in 1940. The ships were partially redesigned to accommodate them, after construction had already begun, but no turrets were actually delivered before Germany invaded.
Only Kronshtadt's hull survived the war reasonably intact and was about 10% complete in 1945. She was judged obsolete and the Soviets considered converting her into an aircraft carrier, but the idea was rejected and both hulls were scrapped in 1947.Lexington-class battlecruiser
The Lexington-class battlecruisers were officially the only class of battlecruiser to ever be ordered by the United States Navy. While these six vessels were requested in 1911 as a reaction to the building by Japan of the Kongō class, the potential use for them in the U.S. Navy came from a series of studies by the Naval War College which stretched over several years and predated the existence of the first battlecruiser, HMS Invincible (a series of proposed battlecruiser designs was in fact submitted to the General Board in 1909 but was not approved for construction). The fact they were not approved by Congress at the time of their initial request was due to political, not military considerations.
The Lexingtons were included as part of the Naval Act of 1916. Like the South Dakota-class battleships also included in the 1916 Act, their construction was repeatedly postponed in favor of escort ships and anti-submarine vessels. During these delays, the class was redesigned several times; they were originally designed to mount ten 14-inch guns and eighteen five-inch guns on a hull with a maximum speed of 35 knots (65 km/h; 40 mph), but by the time of the definitive design, these specifications had been altered to eight 16-inch guns and sixteen six-inch guns, with a speed of 33.25 knots (61.58 km/h; 38.26 mph) to improve hitting power and armor (the decrease in speed was mostly attributed to the additions of armor).
The design challenges the Navy's Bureau of Construction and Repair (C&R) faced with this class were considerable, as the combined requirements of optimum hitting power, extreme speed and adequate protection taxed the knowledge of its naval architects and the technology of the time. The desired speed of 35 knots had been attained previously only in destroyers and smaller craft. To do so with a capital ship required a hull and a power plant of unprecedented size for a U.S. naval vessel and careful planning on the part of its designers to ensure it would have enough longitudinal strength to withstand bending forces underway and the added stresses on its structure associated with combat. Even so, it took years between initial and final designs for engine and boiler technology to provide a plant of sufficient power that was also compact enough to allow a practical degree of protection, even in such large ships.
While four of the ships were eventually canceled and scrapped on their building ways in 1922 to comply with the Washington Naval Treaty, two (Lexington and Saratoga) were converted into the United States' first fleet carriers. Both saw extensive action in World War II, with Lexington conducting a number of raids before being sunk during the Battle of Coral Sea and Saratoga serving in multiple campaigns in the Pacific and the Indian Ocean. Though she was hit by torpedoes on two different occasions, Saratoga survived the war only to be sunk as a target ship during Operation Crossroads.Moltke-class battlecruiser
The Moltke class was a class of two "all-big-gun" battlecruisers of the German Imperial Navy built between 1909–1911. Named SMS Moltke and SMS Goeben, they were similar to the previous battlecruiser Von der Tann , but the newer design featured several incremental improvements. The Moltkes were slightly larger, faster, and better armored, and had an additional pair of 28 centimeter guns.
Both ships served during World War I. Moltke participated in several major battles with the rest of the High Seas Fleet, including the battles of Dogger Bank and Jutland in the North Sea, and the Battle of the Gulf of Riga and Operation Albion in the Baltic Sea. At the end of the war, Moltke was interned with the majority of the High Seas Fleet at Scapa Flow while the ships' fate was being discussed during peace treaty negotiations. The ships were scuttled on 21 June 1919 to prevent their seizure by the Allies.
Goeben was stationed in the Mediterranean at the start of the war; she escaped from pursuing Royal Navy ships to Constantinople. The ship, along with the light cruiser Breslau, was transferred to the Ottoman Navy soon after arrival. Strategically, Goeben played a very important role: she helped bring the Ottoman Empire into the war as a member of the Central Powers, and by acting as a fleet in being the ship prevented Anglo-French attempts to force the Bosporus, and similarly stymied a possible advance by the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Goeben was retained by the new Turkish government after the war. Only slightly modified from her original configuration, the ship remained on active service with the Turkish Navy until being decommissioned on 20 December 1950; she was stricken from the Navy register on 14 November 1954. Two years earlier, when Turkey joined NATO in 1952, the ship was assigned the hull number B70. The ship was unsuccessfully offered for sale to the West German government in 1963. Without a group willing to preserve her as a museum, the ship was sold to M.K.E. Seyman in 1971 for scrapping. She was towed to the breakers on 7 June 1973, and the work was completed in February 1976.Renown-class battlecruiser
The Renown class comprised a pair of battlecruisers built during the First World War for the Royal Navy. They were originally laid down as improved versions of the Revenge-class battleships. Their construction was suspended on the outbreak of war on the grounds they would not be ready in a timely manner. Admiral Lord Fisher, upon becoming First Sea Lord, gained approval to restart their construction as battlecruisers that could be built and enter service quickly. The Director of Naval Construction (DNC), Eustace Tennyson-D'Eyncourt, quickly produced an entirely new design to meet Admiral Lord Fisher's requirements and the builders agreed to deliver the ships in 15 months. They did not quite meet that ambitious goal, but they were delivered a few months after the Battle of Jutland in 1916. They were the world's fastest capital ships upon their commissioning.
Repulse was the only ship of her class to see combat in the First World War when she participated in the Second Battle of Heligoland Bight in 1917. Both ships were reconstructed twice between the wars; the 1920s reconstruction increased their armour protection and made lesser improvements, while the 1930s reconstruction was much more thorough, especially for Renown. Repulse accompanied the battlecruiser Hood during the Special Service Squadron's round-the-world cruise in 1923–24 and protected British interests during the Spanish Civil War between 1936–39. Renown frequently conveyed royalty on their foreign tours and served as flagship of the Battlecruiser Squadron when Hood was refitting.
Both ships served during the Second World War; they searched for the Admiral Graf Spee in 1939, participated in the Norwegian Campaign of April–June 1940 and searched for the German battleship Bismarck in 1941. Repulse was sunk on 10 December 1941 in the South China Sea off Kuantan, Pahang by Japanese aircraft. Renown spent much of 1940 and 1941 assigned to Force H at Gibraltar, escorting convoys and she fought in the inconclusive Battle of Cape Spartivento. She was briefly assigned to the Home Fleet and provided cover to several Arctic convoys in early 1942. The ship was transferred back to Force H for Operation Torch and spent much of 1943 refitting or transporting Winston Churchill and his staff to and from various conferences with various Allied leaders. In early 1944 Renown was transferred to the Eastern Fleet in the Indian Ocean where she supported numerous attacks on Japanese-occupied facilities in Indonesia and various island groups in the Indian Ocean. The ship returned to the Home Fleet in early 1945 and was refitted before being placed in reserve after the end of the war. Renown was sold for scrap in 1948.SMS Goeben
SMS Goeben was the second of two Moltke-class battlecruisers of the Imperial German Navy, launched in 1911 and named after the German Franco-Prussian War veteran General August Karl von Goeben. Along with her sister ship, Goeben was similar to the previous German battlecruiser design, Von der Tann, but larger, with increased armor protection and two more main guns in an additional turret. Goeben and Moltke were significantly larger and better armored than the comparable British Indefatigable class.Several months after her commissioning in 1912, Goeben, with the light cruiser Breslau, formed the German Mediterranean Division and patrolled there during the Balkan Wars. After the outbreak of World War I on 28 July 1914, Goeben and Breslau bombarded French positions in North Africa and then evaded British naval forces in the Mediterranean and reached Constantinople. The two ships were transferred to the Ottoman Empire on 16 August 1914, and Goeben became the flagship of the Ottoman Navy as Yavuz Sultan Selim, usually shortened to Yavuz. By bombarding Russian facilities in the Black Sea, she brought Turkey into World War I on the German side. The ship operated primarily against Russian forces in the Black Sea during the war, including several inconclusive engagements with Russian battleships. She made a sortie into the Aegean in January 1918 that resulted in the Battle of Imbros, where Yavuz sank a pair of British monitors but was herself badly damaged by mines.
In 1936 she was officially renamed TCG Yavuz ("Ship of the Turkish Republic Yavuz"); she carried the remains of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk from Istanbul to İzmit in 1938. Yavuz remained the flagship of the Turkish Navy until she was decommissioned in 1950. She was scrapped in 1973, after the West German government declined an invitation to buy her back from Turkey. She was the last surviving ship built by the Imperial German Navy, and the longest-serving dreadnought-type ship in any navy.Stalingrad-class battlecruiser
The Stalingrad-class battlecruiser, also known as Project 82 (Russian: Тяжёлые крейсера проекта 82), was a Soviet battlecruiser design from 1941. It was a smaller and less-expensive counterpart to the Kronshtadt-class battlecruisers of 1939. The original role was for a light, fast ship intended to break up attacks by British fast-cruiser forces that might attempt bombardment of Russia's northern ports. In keeping with the battlecruiser design concept, they would have been able to outgun any ship with similar speed, or outrun anything more heavily armed. Design work had just started when the German invasion of the Soviet Union opened and the design was put on hold.
The design was reimagined in 1944, intended to operate along with the Sverdlov-class cruisers and proposed aircraft carriers to make up powerful task forces able to challenge the American fleet. In this role it would need to be a more powerful ship than the original design, taking over for the now-cancelled Kronstadts. They were intended to fend off enemy attacks and protect the carriers when bad weather prevented flying. A series of at least four were planned, and Stalingrad finally began construction in 1951.
Supported primarily by Joseph Stalin and opposed by a considerable part of the naval staff, the project came to an abrupt end with his death in 1953. By this time a second example was under construction and abandoned on the slipway, while a third was never started. The partially completed Stalingrad ended as a target ship for testing anti-ship missiles, before being broken up around 1962.
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