17 Feb 23

This is the fourth book by Brian Lane Harder in which he describes the design, development and operational history of different classes of US Navy warships in service between 1886 and 1945.  The focus of this particular book are the 12 armoured cruisers commissioned by the US Navy between 1893 and 1908 (the New York, Pennsylvania and Tennesseeclasses), followed by the three ‘semi-armored’ vessels of the St Louis class. All of these ships proved to be controversial, in comparison to the battleships of the time, as they sacrificed armament and armour for speed, but without any appreciable cost-saving. Indeed, with a main propulsion comprising Vertical Triple Expansion engines, armoured cruisers became technically obsolescent in 1909, with the introduction by the Royal Navy of heavily-armed battlecruisers with their superior steam turbine propulsion.

This was a period of great change for the US Navy, as it struggled to adapt to an increasing role on the world stage, at the same time as there were rapid advances in machinery, gunnery and armour and, latterly, the genesis of naval aviation. For the casual reader, the picture is further confused by the American propensity to rename their ships (originally, they were named after US States, but latterly they were renamed after cities) and also to reorganise their Fleet structures.

The concern over the survivability of armored cruisers when confronted with superior fire power was not, in the end, put to the test. The ships actually appear to have been gainfully employed, with service of note during the Spanish-American War in 1898 and in the Asiatic and Pacific between 1899 and 1917. During WWI, many of the ships were deployed escorting the American Expeditionary Force to France in 1917 – and then transporting them back again in 1919. The USS Pennsylvania has a particular claim to fame as the first ship ever landed on by an aircraft, when Eugene Ely achieved the feat, on 18 January 2011, in his Curtiss Model D pusher biplane.

Three armoured cruisers were lost: USS Memphis remains the largest active US warship lost to a natural disaster (run ashore at Santo Domingo in 1916); USS Milwaukee ran aground in 1917 during a submarine recovery operation; and USSSan Diego was sunk in 1918 by a mine laid by U-156. The last of the ships, the USS Rochester (ex-USS New York) was decommissioned in April 1933, making her both the first and the last active US armored cruiser.

The book is an authoritative, well-written and entertaining read. Illustrated with black and white photographs and some excellent coloured line drawings, it is published in a paperback format (7in x 10in). Priced at just £11.99, it is a fascinating insight into the emergence of the US Navy as a major force; it is well worth a read.