Protected cruiser

The protected cruiser is a type of naval cruiser of the late 19th century, so known because its armoured deck offered protection for vital machine spaces from fragments caused by exploding shells above. Protected cruisers are similar to armoured cruisers, which also had a belt of armour along the sides.

Protected cruiser schematic
A schematic section of a protected cruiser illustrating the protection scheme. Red lines are the armoured deck and gun shield and grey areas are the protective coal bunkers. Noteworthy are that the deck is thickest on the slopes, the upper coal bunker is divided longitudinally to allow the outer layer of coal to be maintained while the inner bunker is emptied, and the watertight double-bottom.


Japanese cruiser Izumi at Sasebo 1908
The protected cruiser ship Esmeralda, built by the shipyard of the Armstrong House for the Chilean Navy, was the first warship of its kind in the world.

From the late 1850s, navies began to replace their fleets of wooden ships-of-the-line with armoured ironclad warships. However, the frigates and sloops which performed the missions of scouting, commerce raiding and trade protection remained unarmoured. For several decades, it proved difficult to design a ship which had a meaningful amount of protective armour but at the same time was capable of the speed and range required of a 'cruising warship'. The first attempts to do so, armoured cruisers like HMS Shannon, proved to be unsatisfactory, generally being too slow for their cruiser role.

During the 1870s, the increasing power of armour-piercing shells made armouring the sides of a ship more and more difficult, as very thick, heavy armour plates were required. Even if armour dominated the design of the ship, it was likely that the next generation of shells would be able to pierce it. The alternative was to leave the sides of the ship vulnerable, but to armour a deck just below the waterline. Since this deck would only be struck very obliquely by shells, it could be less thick and heavy than belt armour. The ship could be designed so that the engines, boilers and magazines were under the armoured deck, and with enough displacement to keep the ship afloat and stable even in the event of damage.[1] Cruisers with armoured decks and no side armour became known as protected cruisers, and eclipsed the armoured cruisers in popularity in the 1880s and into the 1890s.[2]

Shannon was the first warship to incorporate an armoured deck; hers stretched forward from the armoured citadel to the bow. However, Shannon principally relied on her vertical citadel armour for protection. By the end of the 1870s ships could be found with full-length armoured decks and little or no side armour. The Italian Italia class of very fast battleships had armoured decks and guns but no side armour. The British used a full-length armoured deck in their Comus class of corvettes started in 1878; however the Comus class were designed for colonial service and were only capable of a 13-knot (24 km/h; 15 mph) speed, not fast enough for commerce protection or fleet duties.

The breakthrough for the protected cruiser design came with the Chilean cruiser Esmeralda, designed and built by the British firm Armstrong, at their Elswick yard. Esmeralda had a high speed of 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph) (dispensing entirely with sails), and an armament of two 10-inch (254 mm) and six 6-inch (152 mm) guns. Her protection scheme, inspired by the Italia class, included a full-length protected deck up to 2 inches (51 mm) thick, and a cork-filled cofferdam along her sides. Esmeralda set the tone for cruiser construction for the years to come, with "Elswick cruisers" on a similar design being constructed for Italy, China, Japan, Argentina, Austria and the United States.[3]

The French Navy adopted the protected cruiser wholeheartedly in the 1880s. The Jeune École school of thought, which proposed a navy composed of fast cruisers for commerce raiding and torpedo boats for coast defence, was particularly influential in France. The first French protected cruiser was Sfax, laid down in 1882, and followed by six classes of protected cruiser – and no armoured cruisers.

The Royal Navy was equivocal about which protection scheme to use until 1887. The large Imperieuse class, begun in 1881 and finished in 1886, were built as armoured cruisers but were often referred to as protected cruisers. While they carried an armoured belt some 10 in thick, the belt only covered 140 feet (43 m) of the 315-foot (96 m) length of the ship, and the belt was also submerged below the waterline at full load. The real protection of the class came from the armoured deck 4 inches (100 mm) thick, and the arrangement of coal bunkers to prevent flooding. These ships were also the last armoured cruisers to be designed with sails. However, on trials it became clear that the masts and sails did more harm than good. The masts, sails and rigging were removed and replaced with a single military mast with machine guns.[4]

The next class of small cruisers in the Royal Navy, the Mersey class, were protected cruisers, but the Royal Navy returned to the armoured cruiser with the Orlando class, begun in 1885 and completed in 1889. However, in 1887 an assessment of the Orlando type judged them inferior to the protected cruisers[5] and thereafter the Royal Navy only built protected cruisers, even for very large first-class cruiser designs, returning to armoured cruisers only in the late 1890s with the Cressy class, laid down in 1898.

The sole major naval power to retain a preference for armoured cruisers during the 1880s was Russia. The Imperial Russian Navy laid down four armoured cruisers and one protected cruiser during the decade, all large ships with sails.[6]

Around 1910, armour plate began to increase in quality and steam turbine engines, lighter and more powerful than previous reciprocating engines, came into use. Existing protected cruisers became obsolete as they were slower and less well protected than new ships. Oil-fired boilers were introduced, making side bunkers of coal unnecessary but losing the protection they afforded. Protected cruisers were replaced by "light armoured cruisers" with a side armoured belt and armoured decks instead of the single deck, later developed into heavy cruisers.

Protected cruisers in service

United States

Atlanta (protected). Port bow, 1891 - NARA - 512894
USS Atlanta in 1891

The first protected cruiser of the United States Navy's "New Navy" was USS Atlanta,[7] launched in October 1884, soon followed by USS Boston in December, and USS Chicago a year later. A numbered series of cruisers began with Newark (Cruiser No. 1), although Charleston (Cruiser No. 2) was the first to be launched, in July 1888, and ending with another Charleston, Cruiser No. 22, launched in 1904. The last survivor of this series is USS Olympia, preserved as a museum ship in Philadelphia.

The reclassification of 17 July 1920 put an end to the U.S. usage of the term "protected cruiser", the existing ships designated as plain "cruisers" with new numbers (so that the armored cruisers could retain their numbers unchanged).[7]


The Royal Navy rated cruisers as first, second and third class between the late 1880s and 1905, and built large numbers of them for trade protection requirements. For most of this time these cruisers were built with a "protected", rather than armoured scheme of protection for their hulls. First class protected cruisers were as large and as well-armed as armoured cruisers, and were built as an alternative to the large first class armoured cruiser from the late 1880s till 1898. Second class protected cruisers were smaller, displacing 3,000–5,500 long tons (3,000–5,600 t) and were of value both in trade protection duties and scouting for the fleet. Third class cruisers were smaller, lacked a watertight double bottom, and were intended primarily for trade protection duties, though a few small cruisers were built for fleet scout roles or as "torpedo" cruisers during the "protected" era.

The introduction of Krupp armour in six inch thickness rendered the "armoured" protection scheme more effective for the largest first class cruisers, and no large first class protected cruisers were built after 1898. The smaller cruisers, unable to bear the weight of heavy armoured belts retained the "protected" scheme up to 1905, when the last units of the Challenger and Highflyer classes were completed. There was a general hiatus in British cruiser production after this time, apart from a few classes of small, fast scout cruisers for fleet duties. When the Royal Navy began building larger cruisers (less than 4,000 long tons, 4,100 t) again around 1910, they used a mix of armoured decks and/or armoured belts for protection, depending on class. These modern, turbine powered cruisers are properly classified as light cruisers.


SMS Hertha 1 1909
Hertha on a visit to the United States in 1909

The German Imperial Navy (Kaiserliche Marine) built a series of protected cruisers in the 1880s and 1890s, starting with the two ships of the Irene class in the 1880s. The Navy only completed two additional classes of protected cruisers, comprising six more ships: the unique Kaiserin Augusta, and the five Victoria Louise-class ships. The type then was superseded by the armored cruiser at the turn of the century, the first of which being Fürst Bismarck. All of these ships tended to incorporate design elements from their foreign contemporaries, though the Victoria Louise class more closely resembled German battleships of the period, which carried lighter main guns and a greater number of secondary guns.[8]

These ships were employed as fleet scouts and colonial cruisers.[9] Several of the ships served with the German East Asia Squadron, and Hertha, Irene, and Hansa took part in the Battle of Taku Forts in 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion.[10] During a deployment to American waters in 1902, Vineta participated in the Venezuelan crisis of 1902–1903, where she bombarded Fort San Carlos.[11] Long since obsolete by the outbreak of World War I, the five Victoria Louise-class vessels briefly served as training ships in the Baltic but were withdrawn by the end of 1914 for secondary duties. Kaiserin Augusta and the two Irene-class cruisers similarly served in reduced capacities for the duration of the war. All eight ships were broken up for scrap following Germany's defeat.[9]


The Italian Regia Marina (Royal Navy) ordered twenty protected cruisers between the 1880s and 1910s. The first five ships, Giovanni Bausan and the Etna class, were built as "battleship destroyers", armed with a pair of large caliber guns. Subsequent cruisers were more traditional designs, and were instead intended for reconnaissance and colonial duties. Some of the ships, like Calabria and the Campania class, were designed specifically for service in Italy's colonial empire, while others, like Quarto and the Nino Bixio class, were designed as high speed fleet scouts.

Most of these ships saw action during the Italo-Turkish War of 1911–1912, where several of them supported Italian troops fighting in Libya, and another group operated in the Red Sea. There, the cruiser Piemonte and two destroyers sank or destroyed seven Ottoman gunboats in the Battle of Kunfuda Bay in January 1912. Most of the earlier cruisers were obsolescent by the outbreak of World War I, and so had either been sold for scrap or reduced to subsidiary roles. The most modern vessels, including Quarto and the Nino Bixio class, saw limited action in the Adriatic Sea after Italy entered the war in 1915. The surviving vessels continued on in service through the 1920s, with some—Quarto, Campania, and Libia, remaining on active duty into the late 1930s.

The Netherlands

HNLMS Noord-Brabant (1900)
Dutch protected cruiser Noord-Brabant as an accommodation ship

The Royal Netherlands Navy built several protected cruisers between 1880 and 1900.[12] The first protected cruiser was launched in 1890 and called HNLMS Sumatra, it was a small cruiser with a heavy main gun; four years later a larger and more heavily armed protected cruiser was commissioned, which was called HNLMS Koningin Wilhelmina der Nederlanden. In addition to these two cruisers, the Dutch also built six protected cruisers of the Holland class. The Holland-class cruisers were commissioned between 1898 and 1901, and featured, besides other armaments, two 15 cm SK L/40 single naval guns.

The Dutch protected cruisers have played a role in several international events. For example, during the Boxer Rebellion two protected cruisers (Holland and Koningin Wilhelmina der Nederlanden) were sent to Shanghai to protect European citizens and defend Dutch interests.[13][14]

Surviving examples

A few protected cruisers have survived as museum ships:

See also


  1. ^ Beeler, pp. 42–44
  2. ^ Parkinson, p. 149
  3. ^ Roberts, p. 107
  4. ^ Parkes, pp. 309–312
  5. ^ Parkinson, p. 151
  6. ^ Roberts, p. 109
  7. ^ a b Early American cruisers from the Naval Historical Center. Excluding the larger armored cruiser type, these warships were "protected cruisers", with a steel armored deck covering machinery and ammunition magazines.
  8. ^ Gardiner, pp. 249–254
  9. ^ a b Gröner, pp. 47–53, 95
  10. ^ Perry, p. 29
  11. ^ "German Commander Blames Venezuelans; Commodore Scheder Says That Fort San Carlos Fired First". The New York Times. 23 January 1903.
  12. ^ Kimenai, Peter (5 August 2012). "Nederlandse pantser- en pantserdekschepen". p. 3.
  13. ^ Ministerie van Buitenlandsche Zaken. Diplomatieke bescheiden - behoorende bij de Staatsbegroting voor het dienstjaar 1901, p. 11.
  14. ^ Nordholt, J. W. Schulte; van Arkel, D., eds. (1970). Acta historiae Neerlandica: Historical studies in the Netherlands. IV. Brill Publishers. pp. 160–161, 163–164.


  • Beeler, John, Birth of the Battleship: British Capital Ship Design 1870–1881. Caxton, London, 2003. ISBN 1-84067-534-9
  • Gardiner, Robert, ed. (1979). Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships 1860–1905. Greenwich: Conway Maritime Press. ISBN 0-8317-0302-4.
  • Gröner, Erich (1990). German Warships 1815–1945. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-87021-790-9.
  • Parkes, Oscar (1990). British Battleships. first published Seeley Service & Co, 1957, published United States Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-55750-075-4.
  • Perry, Michael (2001). Peking 1900: the Boxer Rebellion. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84176-181-7.
  • Parkinson, Roger (2008). The late Victorian Navy: the pre-dreadnought era and the origins of the First World War. Boydell Press. ISBN 1-84383-372-7.

Further reading

  • Gardiner, Robert; Lambert, Andrew (2001). Steam, Steel and Shellfire: The Steam Warship, 1815–1905. Book Sales. ISBN 0-7858-1413-2.
  • Sondhaus, Lawrence (2001). Naval Warfare 1815–1914. London. ISBN 0-415-21478-5.
Apollo-class cruiser

The Apollo class were a class of second-class protected cruisers built for the Royal Navy in the late 19th century that served during the Boer War and the First World War.

Latona, Apollo, Intrepid, Iphigenia, Andromache, Naiad and Thetis were converted into minelaying cruisers around 1907.

Battle of Antivari

The Battle of Antivari or Action off Antivari was a naval engagement between the mainly French, British and two small ships of the Austro-Hungarian navy at the start of World War I. The old Austrian protected cruiser SMS Zenta and the destroyer SMS Ulan were blockading the Montenegrin port of Antivari, when on 16 August 1914 they were surprised and cut off by a large Anglo-French force that had sortied into the Adriatic. The Austrian warships were forced to fight an engagement in an attempt to let the destroyer escape. Although Zenta was destroyed, Ulan escaped and those ships of the Austrian fleet which were at Cattaro, unaware of events, did not come out of port to meet the Allied fleet. After blockading the Adriatic for a short while the French were forced to withdraw due to lack of supplies.

Battle of Kunfuda Bay

The Battle of Kunfuda Bay was a naval battle of the Italo-Turkish War between small squadrons of the Italian and Ottoman navies. On 7 January 1912, the Italian protected cruiser Piemonte and the Soldato-class destroyers Artigliere and Garibaldino, cruising the Red Sea, discovered six Ottoman gunboats, a tugboat, and a yacht in the harbor at Kunfuda. The vessels engaged for over three hours and five Ottoman vessels were sunk and four dhows were captured. Three of the gunboats were damaged during the battle and grounded on the beach to prevent them from sinking. The following morning, the Italian vessels returned to destroy the remaining three vessels; the yacht, which had been sunk, was later salvaged and seized by Italy. After the battle, the Italian squadron in the Red Sea was able to proclaim a blockade of Ottoman ports in the Red Sea and frequently bombarded Ottoman positions for the rest of the war.

Blake-class cruiser

The Blake class was a two-ship class of first-class protected cruiser built around 1890 for the Royal Navy.

Chikuma-class cruiser

The three Chikuma-class cruisers (筑摩型防護巡洋艦, Chikuma-gata bōgojun'yōkan) were protected cruisers operated by the Imperial Japanese Navy. They participated in numerous actions during World War I.

The Chikuma class was the final class of protected cruiser in the Imperial Japanese Navy, and was followed by the Tenryū class of light cruisers.

Destrées-class cruiser

The Destrées class was a type of protected cruiser of the French Navy, built in the late 1890s and which operated during the First World War.

Edgar-class cruiser

The Edgar class was a nine-ship class of protected cruiser built around 1891 for the Royal Navy. Nine ships were completed, all of which participated in the First World War. One, HMS Hawke, was lost during the war, with the other eight being scrapped in the 1920s.

Etna-class cruiser

The Etna class was a series of protected cruisers that were built in the late 1880s for the Regia Marina (the Royal Italian Navy). The four ships built were slightly enlarged copies of the Elswick Works' design for the protected cruiser Giovanni Bausan. Etna, the lead ship of the class, was the only ship still in service when World War I began, although she served as a stationary headquarters ship for the Navy Commander-in-Chief in Taranto for the duration of the war. The three later ships all participated in putting down the Boxer Rebellion as part of the Eight-Nation Alliance. The three were struck from the Navy List before 1912, but Etna was not sold for scrap until 1921.

French cruiser Amiral Cécille

Amiral Cécille was a protected cruiser of the French Navy, named in honour of Jean-Baptiste Cécille.

She replaced Dubourdieu in the station of the Caribbean. In late January 1900 she left Fort-de-France, Martinique, for the West Coast of Africa.From 1907, she was used as a school ship for mechanics in Toulon.

French cruiser Châteaurenault (1898)

Châteaurenault was a protected cruiser of the French Navy intended for commerce raiding. She was the first ship of the French Navy named in honour of François Louis de Rousselet, Marquis de Châteaurenault. Launched on 24 March 1898, Châteaurenault was commissioned in October 1902. In 1904, she was damaged after hitting a submerged rock. In 1910, she ran aground on Spartel, and had to be taken in tow by French cruiser Victor Hugo. From 1913, she was used as a school ship in Toulon.

Recommissioned at the outbreak of the First World War, Châteaurenault patrolled the Mediterranean. In 1917, she was used as a troopship, ferrying soldiers from Taranto to Itea. On 5 October 1917, she rescued survivors of the liner Gallia, torpedoed by the Imperial German Navy submarine U-35, and saved 1,200 men.

French cruiser D'Entrecasteaux

D'Entrecasteaux, later ORP Bałtyk was a French protected cruiser laid down in June 1894 and launched on 12 June 1896, she was completed in 1898. She was constructed at Forges et Chantiers de la Méditerranée, La Seyne. Created as protected cruiser and used as French flagship in the Far East. Polish school hulk, altered from French cruiser D’Entrecasteaux in 1927. Largest warship in Second Polish Republic's Navy and the only cruiser in it. Scrapped in 1942 by Germans.

French cruiser Jurien de la Gravière

Jurien de la Gravière was the last protected cruiser built for the French Navy, named in honour of Edmond Jurien de la Gravière and his father, Pierre Roch Jurien de La Gravière.

HNLMS Sumatra (1890)

The Dutch cruiser HNLMS Sumatra was a small protected cruiser with a heavy main gun. The ship was named after the island of Sumatra in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). It was discarded in 1907.

Irene-class cruiser

The Irene class was a class of protected cruisers built by the Imperial German Navy (Kaiserliche Marine) in the late 1880s. The class comprised two ships, Irene and Prinzess Wilhelm; they were the first protected cruisers built by the German Navy. As built, the ships were armed with a main battery of fourteen 15 cm (5.9 in) guns and had a top speed of 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph). They were modernized in 1899–1905, and their armament was upgraded with new, quick-firing guns.

Both ships served in the East Asia station with the East Asia Squadron; Prinzess Wilhelm played a major role in the seizure of the Kiautschou Bay concession in November 1897. Both ships returned to Germany at the turn of the 20th century, and remained in European waters until 1914, when they were removed from active service. They were reduced to secondary roles then, and continued to serve until the early 1920s, when they were sold for scrap.

Light cruiser

A light cruiser is a type of small- or medium-sized warship. The term is a shortening of the phrase "light armored cruiser", describing a small ship that carried armor in the same way as an armored cruiser: a protective belt and deck. Prior to this smaller cruisers had been of the protected cruiser model, possessing armored decks only. While lighter and smaller than other contemporary ships they were still true cruisers, retaining the extended radius of action and self-sufficiency to act independently across the world. Through their history they served in a variety of roles, primarily as convoy escorts and destroyer command ships, but also as scouts and fleet support vessels for battle fleets.

List of cruiser classes of the Imperial Japanese Navy

This is a list of cruisers of the Imperial Japanese Navy. There are currently no active ships.

Pelorus-class cruiser

The Pelorus-class cruiser was a "third-class" protected cruiser class of eleven Royal Navy warships designed by Sir William White (Director of Naval Construction 1885 – 1902), based on the earlier Pearl-class cruisers. They were ordered in 1893 under the Spencer Programme, and laid down 1896–1900. The first, HMS Pelorus, was commissioned in 1896.

Unprotected cruiser

An unprotected cruiser was a type of naval warship in use during the late Victorian or pre-dreadnought era (about 1880 to 1905). The name was meant to distinguish these ships from “protected cruisers” which had become accepted in the 1880s. A protected cruiser did not have side armor on its hull like a battleship or “armored cruiser” but had only a curved armored deck built inside the ship – like an internal turtle shell – which prevented enemy fire penetrating through the ship down into the most critical areas such as machinery, boilers, and ammunition storage. An unprotected cruiser lacked even this level of internal protection. The definitions had some gray areas because individual ships could be built with a protective deck that did not cover more than a small area of the ship, or was so thin as to be of little value (the same was true of the side armor on some armored cruisers). An unprotected cruiser was generally cheaper and less effective than a protected cruiser, while a protected cruiser was generally cheaper and less effective than an armored cruiser (with some exceptions in each case).

Victoria Louise-class cruiser

The Victoria Louise class of protected cruisers was the last class of ships of that type built for the German Imperial Navy. The class design introduced the combined clipper and ram bow and the blocky sides that typified later German armoured cruisers. The class comprised five vessels, Victoria Louise, the lead ship, Hertha, Freya, Vineta, and Hansa. The ships were laid down in 1895–1896, and were launched in 1897–1898 and commissioned into the fleet over the following year.

The first three ships were 110.60 meters (362 ft 10 in) long and displaced 6,491 metric tons (6,388 long tons) at combat load; Vineta and Hansa were a slightly modified design. They were 110.50 m (362 ft 6 in) long and displaced 6,705 t (6,599 long tons) at full load. All five ships were armed with a main battery of two 21-centimeter (8.3 in) guns and eight 15 cm (5.9 in) guns. The first three ships had a top speed of 19.5 knots (36.1 km/h; 22.4 mph); the last two were slightly slower, at 18.5 knots (34.3 km/h; 21.3 mph). Problems with the Niclausse boilers installed on Freya prompted the Navy to standardize boiler types in future warships.

The ships of the class served in various units in the German fleet, including on the America Station, in the East Asia Squadron, and with the home fleet. Hertha and Hansa participated in the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion in China in 1900, and Vineta was involved in the Venezuela Crisis of 1902–1903. All five ships were modernized between 1905 and 1911, after which they served as training ships for naval cadets. They were mobilized into the 5th Scouting Group at the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, but were quickly withdrawn from front-line service. They served in various secondary roles for the rest of the war. After the end of the conflict, Victoria Louise was converted into a merchant ship, but was broken up in 1923. The other four ships were scrapped in 1920–1921.

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