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US Navy Protected Cruisers 1883-1918

29 Aug 23


(Osprey Publishing – £12.99)

ISBN 978 1 4728 5703 3

48 pages

Protected cruisers were designed with a curved armoured deck to protect the machinery spaces and magazines from oblique shellfire. This was a compromise between displacement, speed and armour, and the ships were built by many of the world’s navies over this period. Brian Lane Herder, as an experienced researcher and author specialising in the US military and naval warfare, is, however, particularly well-placed to write an account of the 11 protected cruisers commissioned into the US Navy at the end of the 19th century.

With the US Navy in disrepair, the decision was taken, in 1883, to fund the first four ships of what was to become known as the New Navy. Constructed of steel (after much debate), three of these ships were to be the first of the protected cruisers. Further ships followed, culminating with the large and powerful Olympia, commissioned in 1895. At this point, 11 vessels had been completed, with rapidly evolving designs applied, as the United States sought to catch up with the technologically more advanced European navies. The last of the ships had modern machinery and, unlike the earlier vessels, were designed without sailing rigs.

Following brief introductory chapters on propulsion, protection and weapons, the key characteristics of each of the vessels is set out, comprising a narrative, tables and black and white images. The book then finishes with a chapter on the operational history of the protected cruisers, with perhaps their finest hour being their contribution to the United States’ victory in the Spanish-American War of 1898, at the decisive action at the Battle of Manila Bay. By the turn of the century, the protected cruisers were all but obsolescent, although six of them were reactivated for service during World War I.

The protected cruisers were the start of a new technological era for the United States and, as the first all-steel ships, were the beginning of the modern US Navy. The Olympia has retained a special place in history, as the world’s oldest surviving steel warship, and is moored at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia, as a well-preserved museum ship.

This is a short, soft-backed book which provides a useful summary of the design and operation of the US Navy’s protected cruisers – a category of warship which epitomises the changes from sail to steam and from wood to steel. Whilst thoroughly researched, it does not seek to usurp the place of earlier books on this subject, but it does claim to fill in some of the gaps. It is a well-written and illuminating read on a topic perhaps not familiar to many UK maritime enthusiasts.