AskDefine | Define cruiser

Dictionary Definition



1 a car in which policemen cruise the streets; equipped with radiotelephonic communications to headquarters [syn: police cruiser, patrol car, police car, prowl car, squad car]
2 a large fast warship; smaller than a battleship and larger than a destroyer
3 a large motorboat that has a cabin and plumbing and other conveniences necessary for living on board [syn: cabin cruiser, pleasure boat, pleasure craft]

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. (in the days of sail) A frigate or other vessel, detached from the fleet, to cruise independently in search of the enemy or its merchant ships.
  2. A class of fast warships of medium tonnage, having a long cruising range but less armour and firepower than a battleship
  3. A miniature aircraft carrier carrying VTOL aircraft
  4. A passenger ship used for pleasure voyages, where the voyage itself and the ship's amenities are considered an essential part of the experience; also cruise ship.
  5. Any of several yachts designed for cruising
  6. A police patrol vehicle.
  7. One who attends cruises


naval vessel detached from the fleet
class of warships
police patrol vehicle
miniature aircraft carrier
passenger ship designed for cruising
yacht designed for cruising
one who attends a cruise

Extensive Definition

A cruiser is a large type of warship, which had its prime period from the late 19th century to the end of the Cold War. The first cruisers were intended for individual raiding and protection missions on the seas. Over the years, the nature and role of the cruiser has changed considerably, and today the cruiser has largely been replaced by destroyers in its roles.
Historically a cruiser was not a type of ship but a warship role. Cruisers were ships—often frigates or smaller vessels—which were assigned a role largely independent from the fleet. Typically this might involve missions such as raiding enemy merchant shipping. In the late 19th century the term 'cruiser' came to mean ships designed to fulfill such a role, and from the 1890s to the 1950s a 'cruiser' was a warship larger than a destroyer but smaller than a battleship. For much of 19th century and the first half of the 20th, the cruiser was a navy's long-range "force projection" weapon, while the larger ships stayed nearer to home. Their main role was to attack enemy merchant vessels, so much so that this task came to be called cruiser warfare. Other roles included reconnaissance, and cruisers were often attached to the battlefleet. In the later 20th century, the decline of the battleship left the cruiser as the largest and most powerful surface combatant. However, the role of the cruiser increasingly became one of providing air defence for a fleet, rather than independent cruiser warfare. At the beginning of the 21st century, cruisers were the heaviest surface combatant ships in use, with only five nations (the United States, Russia, France, Italy and Peru) operating these at the time. Following the Italian Navy's 2003 decommissioning of , only four nations currently operate cruisers.

Early history

The term "cruiser" or "cruizer" was first commonly used in the 17th century to refer to an independent warship. "Cruiser" meant the purpose or mission of a ship, rather than a category of vessel. However, the term was nonetheless used to mean a smaller, faster warship suitable for such a role. In the 17th century, the ship of the line was generally too large, inflexible and expensive to be dispatched on long-range missions (for instance, to the Americas), and too strategically important to be put at risk of fouling and foundering by continual patrol duties. The Dutch navy was noted for its cruisers in the 17th century, while the British and later French and Spanish later caught up in terms of their numbers and deployment. The British Cruizers and Convoys Acts were an attempt by mercantile interests in Parliament to focus the Navy on commerce defence and raiding with cruisers, rather than the more scarce and expensive ships of the line.
During the 18th century the frigate became the pre-eminent type of cruiser. A frigate was a small, fast, long range, lightly armed (single gun-deck) ship used for scouting, carrying dispatches, and disrupting enemy trade. The other principal type of cruiser was the sloop, but many other miscellaneous types of ship were used as 'cruisers'; at this stage the designation meant a role rather than a type of craft.

Steam Cruisers

During the 19th century, as steam propulsion became the norm, fleets started to use the term 'cruiser' more descriptively to refer to some ironclad warships as well as a miscellany of unarmored frigates, sloops, and corvettes, most of which had mixed steam and sail propulsion.
The first ironclads were, because of their single gun decks, still referred to as "frigates", even though they were more powerful than existing ships of the line. The French constructed a number of smaller ironclads for overseas cruising duties, starting with the Belliqueuse, commissioned 1865. These were the first armored cruisers. By the 1870s, many other nations had produced ironclads specifically for fast, independent, raiding and patrol. These vessels were referred to as armored cruisers. Until the 1890s armoured cruisers were still built with masts for a full sailing rig, to enable them to operate far from friendly coaling stations.
Unarmoured cruising warships, built out of wood, iron, steel or a combination of those materials, remained popular until towards the end of the 19th century. The ironclad's armour often mean that it was limited to a short range under steam, and many ironclads were unsuited to long-range missions or for work in distant colonies. The unarmoured cruiser - often a screw sloop or screw frigate - could continue in this role. Even though mid- or late-19th century cruisers typically carried up-to-date guns firing explosive shells, they were unable to face ironclads in combat. This was evidenced by the clash between HMS Shah, a modern British cruiser, and the Peruvian monitor Huascar. Even though the Peruvian vessel was obsolescent by the time of the encounter, it stood up well to roughly 50 hits from British shells.

Steel Cruisers

In the 1880s naval architects began to use steel as a material for construction and armament. A steel cruiser could be lighter and faster than one built of iron or wood. The Jeune Ecole school of naval doctrine suggested that a fleet of fast unprotected steel cruisers were ideal for commerce raiding, while the torpedo boat would be able to destroy an enemy battleship fleet.
Steel also offered the cruiser a way of acquiring the protection needed to survive in combat. Steel armour was considerably stronger, for the same weight, than iron. By putting a relatively thin layer of steel armour above the vital parts of the ship, and by placing the coal bunkers where they might stop shellfire, a useful degree of protection could be achieved without slowing the ship too much.
The first protected cruiser was the groundbreaking Chilean ship Esmeralda. Produced by a shipyard at Elswick, in Britain, owned by Armstrong, she inspired a group of protected cruisers produced in the same yard and known as the Elswick cruisers. Her forecastle, poop deck and the wooden board deck had been removed, replaced with an armoured deck. Esmeralda's armament consisted of fore and aft 10-inch (25.4 cm) guns and 6-inch (15.2 cm) guns in the midships positions. It could reach a speed of , and was propelled by steam alone. It also had a displacement of less than 3,000 tons. During the two following decades, this cruiser type came to be the inspiration for combining heavy artillery, high speed and low displacement.

Torpedo cruisers

The torpedo cruiser was a smaller unarmoured cruiser, which emerged in the 1880s-1890s. These ships could reach speed up to and were armed with medium to small calibre guns, as well as torpedoes. These ships were tasked with guard and reconnaissance duties, to repeat signals and all other duties of a fleet, which were suited for smaller vessels. These ships could also function as the flagship of a torpedo boat flotilla. After the 1900s, these ships were usually traded for faster ships with better sea going qualities.

Pre-dreadnought armoured cruisers

Steel also had an impact on the construction and role of armoured cruisers. Steel meant that new designs of battleship, later known as pre-dreadnought battleships, would be able to combine firepower and armour with better endurance and speed than ever before. The armoured cruisers of the 1890s greatly resembled the battleships of the day; they tended to carry slightly smaller main armament (9.2-inch rather than 12-inch) and have somewhat thinner armour in exchange for a faster speed (perhaps 21 knots rather than 18). Because of their similarity, the lines between battleships and armoured cruisers became blurred.

Cruisers from 1900 to 1914

Main articles: battlecruiser and light cruiser
Shortly after turn of the 20th century there were difficult questions about the design of future cruisers. Modern armoured cruisers, almost as powerful as battleships, were also fast enough to outrun older protected and unarmoured cruisers. In the Royal Navy, Jackie Fisher cut back hugely on older vessels, including many cruisers of different sorts, calling them 'a miser's hoard of useless junk' that any modern cruiser would sweep from the seas.


The growing size and power of the armoured cruiser resulted in the battlecruiser, larger than the armoured cruiser with an armament similar to the revolutionary new dreadnought battleship, was the brainchild of British admiral Jackie Fisher. He believed that to ensure British naval dominance in its overseas colonial possessions, a fleet of large, fast, powerfully-armed vessels which would be able to hunt down and mop up enemy cruisers and armored cruisers with overwhelming fire superiority was needed. These vessel came to be known as the battlecruiser, and the first were commissioned into the Royal Navy in 1907. While, in spite of Fisher's lobbying, the concept never came to dominate naval warfare, Britain, Germany and eventually Japan all came to build squadrons of battlecruisers.

Light cruisers

At around the same time as the battlecruiser was developed, the distinction between the armoured and the unarmoured cruiser finally disappeared. By the British Town class cruiser (1910), it was possible for a small, fast cruiser to carry both belt and deck armour, particularly when turbine engines were adopted. These 'light armored cruisers' began to occupy the traditional cruiser role once it became clear that the battlecruiser squadrons were required to operate with the battle fleet.

Flotilla leaders

Some light cruisers were built specifically to act as the leaders of flotillas of destroyers.

Auxiliary cruisers

The auxiliary cruiser was a merchant ship hastily armed with small guns on the outbreak of war. Auxiliary cruisers were used to fill gaps in their long-range lines or provide escort for other cargo ships, although they generally proved to be useless in this role because of their low speed, feeble firepower and lack of armor. In both world wars the Germans also used small merchant ships armed with cruiser guns to surprise Allied merchant ships. Some large liners were armed in the same way. In British service these were known as Armed Merchant Cruisers (AMC). The Germans and French used them in World War I as raiders because of their high speed (around 30 knots (56 km/h)), and they were used again as raiders in World War II by the Germans and Japanese. In both the First World War and in the early part of the Second, they were used as convoy escorts by the British.

World War I

Cruisers were one of the workhorse types of ship of World War I.

Cruisers from 1919-1945

Naval construction in the 1920s and 1930s was limited by international treaties designed to prevent the repetition of the Dreadnought arms race of the early 20th century. The Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 placed limits on the construction of ships with a displacement of 10,000 tons or more and an armament of greater than 8 inch calibre. A number of navies commissioned classes of cruisers at the top end of this limit. The London Naval Treaty in 1930 then formalised the distinction between these 'heavy' cruisers and light cruisers: a 'heavy' cruiser was one with guns of 6.1in calibre or more. The Second London Naval Treaty attempted to reduce the tonnage of new cruisers to 8,000 or less, but this had little impact; Japan and Germany were not signatories, and navies had already begun to evade treaty limitations on warships.

The German pocket battleships

The German Deutschland class was a series of three panzerschiffe ("armoured ships"), a form of heavily armed cruiser, built by the German Reichsmarine in accordance with restrictions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles. The class is named after the first ship of this class to be completed (the Deutschland). All three ships were launched between 1931 and 1934, and served with Germany's Kriegsmarine during World War II.
The British began referring to the vessels as pocket battleships, in reference to the heavy firepower contained in the relatively small vessels; they were considerably smaller than battleships and battlecruisers, and although their displacement was that of a heavy cruiser, they were armed with guns larger than the heavy cruisers of other nations. Deutschland class ships continue to be called pocket battleships in some circles. The ships were actually two feet longer than the American Pennsylvania class battleships--although the latter was unusually stubby for a modern battleship.
Deutschland class ships were initially classified as panzerschiffe, but the Kriegsmarine reclassified them as heavy cruisers in February 1940.

Anti-aircraft cruisers

The development of the anti-aircraft cruiser began in the late 1920s and early 1930s when the Royal Navy re-armed several of their WWI light cruisers to provide protection against aircraft for the larger warships. As naval air power became more and more predominant during WWII, measures had to be taken in order to provide effective anti-aircraft defence. The first anti-aircraft cruisers were regular, light or heavy cruisers, which were modified to carry additional anti-aircraft artillery. The first purpose built anti-aircraft cruiser was the British Dido class cruisers, completed shortly before the beginning of WWII. Having sacrificed their medium artillery for more anti-aircraft armament, the anti-aircraft cruisers often needed protection themselves against heavier surface units.
Most post-WWII cruisers were tasked with air defense roles. In the early 1950s, advances in aviation technology forced the move from anti-aircraft artillery to anti-aircraft missiles. Therefore most cruisers of today are equipped with surface-to-air missiles as their main armament. The US Navy has operated a long line of classes of anti-aircraft cruisers (CLAA), starting with the Atlanta class. The modern equivalent of the anti-aircraft cruiser is the guided missile cruiser (CAG/CLG/CG/CGN).

Later 20th century

The rise of air power during World War II dramatically changed the nature of naval combat. Even the fastest cruisers could not steer quickly enough to evade aerial attack, and aircraft now had torpedoes, allowing moderate-range standoff capabilities. This change led to the end of independent operations by single ships or very small task groups, and for the second half of the 20th century naval operations were based around very large fleets able to fend off all but the largest air attacks. This has led most navies to change to fleets designed around ships dedicated to a single role, anti-submarine or anti-aircraft typically, and the large "generalist" ship has disappeared from most forces. The United States Navy, the Russian Navy, and the Peruvian Navy (with the Almirante Grau, an ex-Dutch cruiser built shortly after World War II) are the only remaining navies which operate cruisers. France operates a single cruiser, FN Jeanne d'Arc, which in the NATO pennant number system is classified as an aircraft carrier, but for training purposes only.
In the Soviet Navy, cruisers formed the basis of their combat groups. In the immediate post-war era they built a fleet of large-gun ships, but replaced these fairly quickly with very large ships carrying huge numbers of guided missiles and anti aircraft missiles. The most recent ships of this type, the four Kirovs, were built in the 1970s and 1980s, and, with the exception of the two newest in the class, RFS Pyotr Velikiy and RFS Admiral Nakhimov, are no longer in service today. Russia also operates one Kara-class and four Slava-class cruisers, plus one Kuznetsov-class carrier which is officially designated as a cruiser.
The United States Navy has centered on the aircraft carrier since WWII. The Ticonderoga-class cruisers, built in the 1980s, were originally designed and designated as a class of destroyer, intended to provide a very powerful air-defense in these carrier-centered fleets. The ships were later redesignated largely as a public relations move, in order to highlight the capability of the Aegis combat system the ships were designed around. In the years since the launch of USS Ticonderoga in 1981 the class has received a number of upgrades that have dramatically improved their capabilities for anti-submarine and land attack (using the Tomahawk missile). Like their Soviet counterparts, the modern Ticonderogas can also be used as the basis for an entire battle group. Their cruiser designation was almost certainly deserved when first built, as their sensors and combat management systems enable them to act as 'flagships' for a surface warship flotilla if no carrier is present, but newer ships rated as destroyers and also equipped with AEGIS approach them very closely in capability, and once more blur the line between the two classes.

Aircraft cruisers

From time to time, some navies have experimented with aircraft-carrying cruisers. One example is the Swedish HMS Gotland. Another variant is the helicopter cruiser. The last example in service was the Soviet Navy's Kiev class, the last unit of which has been converted to a pure aircraft carrier and sold to India. The Russian Navy's RFS Admiral Kuznetsov is nominally designated as an aviation cruiser but otherwise resembles a standard medium aircraft carrier, albeit with an SSM battery. The Royal Navy's aircraft-carrying Invincible-class vessels were originally designated 'through-deck cruisers', but have since been designated as small aircraft carriers.

Cruisers in service today

Few cruisers remain operational in the world navies. Those that do are:

The US Navy's "cruiser gap"

Prior to the introduction of the Ticonderogas, the US Navy used odd naming conventions that left its fleet seemingly without many cruisers, although a number of their ships were cruisers in all but name. From the 1950s to the 1970s, US Navy "cruisers" were large vessels equipped with heavy offensive missiles (including the Regulus nuclear cruise missile) for wide-ranging combat against land-based and sea-based targets. All save one—USS Long Beach—were converted from World War II Chicago, Baltimore and Cleveland class cruisers. "Frigates" under this scheme were almost as large as the cruisers and optimized for anti-aircraft warfare, although they were capable anti-surface warfare combatants as well. In the late 1960s, the US government perceived a "cruiser gap"—at the time, the US Navy possessed six ships designated as "cruisers", compared to 19 for the Soviet Union, even though the USN possessed at the time 21 "frigates" with equal or superior capabilities to the Soviet cruisers—because of this, in 1975 the Navy performed a massive redesignation of its forces:
  • CVA/CVAN were redesignated CV/CVN (although USS Midway (CV-41) and USS Coral Sea (CV-43) never embarked anti-submarine squadrons).
  • DLG/DLGN (Frigate/Nuclear-powered Frigate) were redesignated CG/CGN (Guided Missile Cruiser/Nuclear-powered Guided Missile Cruiser).
  • Farragut-class guided missile frigates (DLG), being smaller and less capable than the others, were redesignated to DDGs (USS Coontz was the first ship of this class to be re-numbered; because of this the class is sometimes called the Coontz class);
  • DE/DEG (Ocean Escort/Guided Missile Ocean Escort) were redesignated to FF/FFG (Guided Missile Frigates), bringing the US "Frigate" designation into line with the rest of the world.
Also, a series of Patrol Frigates of the Oliver Hazard Perry class, originally designated PFG, were redesignated into the FFG line. The cruiser-destroyer-frigate realignment and the deletion of the Ocean Escort type brought the US Navy's ship designations into line with the rest of the world's, eliminating confusion with foreign navies. In 1980, the Navy's then-building DDG-47 class destroyers were redesignated as cruisers (CG-47 Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser) to emphasize the additional capability provided by the ships' Aegis combat systems.


cruiser in Czech: Křižník
cruiser in Danish: Krydser
cruiser in German: Kreuzer (Schiff)
cruiser in Modern Greek (1453-): Καταδρομικό
cruiser in Spanish: Crucero
cruiser in Estonian: Ristleja
cruiser in Persian: ناو‌
cruiser in Finnish: Risteilijä
cruiser in French: Croiseur
cruiser in Hebrew: סיירת (אונייה)
cruiser in Croatian: Krstarica
cruiser in Hungarian: Cirkáló
cruiser in Italian: Incrociatore
cruiser in Japanese: 巡洋艦
cruiser in Korean: 순양함
cruiser in Malay (macrolanguage): Penjajap
cruiser in Low German: Krüzer
cruiser in Dutch: Kruiser
cruiser in Norwegian: Krysser
cruiser in Polish: Krążownik
cruiser in Portuguese: Cruzador
cruiser in Russian: Крейсер
cruiser in Serbo-Croatian: Krstarica
cruiser in Slovenian: Križarka
cruiser in Serbian: Крстарица
cruiser in Swedish: Kryssare
cruiser in Vietnamese: Tuần dương hạm
cruiser in Chinese: 巡洋舰

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Black Maria, LC, LSD, LSM, SC, adventurer, aircraft carrier, aircraft tender, almadia, alpinist, ammunition ship, ark, assault transport, astronaut, auxiliary, barge, battleship, bomb ketch, buss, cabin cruiser, camper, canoe, capital ship, caravel, cargo boat, carrier, carryall, cat, catamaran, climber, coast guard cutter, cockle, cockleshell, cog, comers and goers, communications ship, commuter, convoy, coracle, corvette, cosmopolite, cutter, depot ship, destroyer, destroyer leader, destroyer tender, dinghy, dispatch boat, dreadnought, drifter, dugout, eagle boat, escort carrier, escort vessel, excursionist, explorer, fare, ferry, ferryboat, fille de joie, fire ship, first-rate, fishing boat, flagship, flattop, frigate, fuel ship, funny, galley, gig, glider, globe-girdler, globe-trotter, goer, gondola, guided missile cruiser, gunboat, hajji, harlot, heavy cruiser, hooker, hospital ship, houseboat, hoy, hustler, hydrofoil, hydroplane, ironclad, jet set, jet-setter, jolly, jolly boat, journeyer, kayak, landing craft, launch, liberty boat, lifeboat, light cruiser, lighter, line-of-battle ship, longboat, mailer, mariner, mine sweeper, minisub, monitor, mosquito boat, motor launch, motorboat, mountaineer, nightwalker, outboard, outrigger canoe, paddy wagon, palmer, passenger, passerby, pathfinder, patrol boat, patrol car, patrol wagon, picketboat, pilgrim, pilot, pilot boat, pinnace, pioneer, piragua, pirogue, police van, pontoon, post boat, poule, power cruiser, powerboat, pram, privateer, protected cruiser, prowl car, punt, racer, racing shell, raider, ram, randan, receiving ship, reconnaissance ship, rocket boat, rowboat, rowing boat, rubberneck, rubbernecker, runabout, sailor, sampan, scooter, scout, scout cruiser, scow, scull, seaplane carrier, sedan cruiser, shallop, shell, ship of war, shipplane carrier, showboat, sightseer, skiff, small boat, sneakbox, speedboat, spy ship, squad car, steam launch, storeship, storm boat, straphanger, streetwalker, submarine, submarine chaser, submarine patrol boat, submarine tender, submersible, superdreadnought, surfboat, sweeper, tanker, tender, tomato, tourer, tourist, towboat, trailblazer, trailbreaker, transient, transport, traveler, trawlboat, trawler, trekker, trimaran, tripper, troopship, trow, tug, tugboat, turret ship, viator, visiting fireman, voortrekker, voyager, voyageur, wagon, wanigan, warship, wayfarer, whale-gig, whaleboat, wherry, whore, world-traveler, yawl, yawl boat
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