Robert C Stern, The Modern Cruiser (Seaforth Publishing, 2020)
In warship designations, what is, or rather was, a Cruiser? Robert Stern is here to tell you, though he too finds them hard to define because there was no one size fits all ship for that classification. Stern’s narrative survey follows the full cycle of the Cruiser’s operational life from the 19th to the 21st Century in a lavishly illustrated, coffee-table sized book that is a must for modern naval history enthusiasts.
Cruisers came from those ships in the 19th Century that performed tasks not assigned to ships of the line. In the later 19th Century, there were three classes of Cruiser based on size. They retained their masts but were iron-hulled and coal-powered. Steel replaced iron and sailing rigs were discarded as they were built for speed and firepower. These Protected Cruisers met in battle during the First Sino-Japanese War at the Yalu River in 1894. A watershed in Cruiser design with two new types, including the light Cruiser, took place in 1897. This generation of Cruisers started to look like modern Cruisers with turret guns and a more elegant streamlined design. But could they fight? World War I would test them as they chased each other all over the oceans. Stern expertly describes the subsequent engagements, including the Battles of Coronel, the Falklands, and of course Jutland. Of all the different Cruiser types, only the light Cruiser emerged with its reputation intact into the 1920s where further developments awaited. Stern describes how the Washington Treaty affected that through its limitation of Capital shipbuilding. Cruisers now had a maximum size, which meant putting as much as possible on them; a designer’s nightmare. Nevertheless. Cruiser construction accelerated, requiring two further treaties to try and slow production, but by the mid-1930s those efforts had been abandoned. By then the Germans were ignoring the rules anyway and a Cruiser arms race followed. That would continue into World War II. Stern examines Cruiser performance in three engagements in that war, including Savo Island in 1942. Cruisers became an anachronism in the post-war world but not immediately. They were transformed into guided-missile Cruisers though some kept their guns. Stern concludes that there is still a role for Cruisers, but sadly none are still afloat.
The Modern Cruiser is a very detailed book covering every aspect of those vessels from drawing board to combat performance. Stern examines individual ships and classes throughout, highlighting improvements but also their problems. The result is a real sense of evolution, befitting the book’s subtitle. Stern’s discussion of the politics of Cruiser building is well-balanced and informative, particularly the chapters on between-the-wars initiatives. A superb collection of photographs illustrates Stern’s thoroughly researched and well-written book. Anyone interested in 20th Century warships will enjoy this book.