British Cruisers of the Victorian Era

This is another beautiful Seaforth naval history. The level of detail is immaculate and the ship drawings are well-executed. A classic reference work that is unlikely to be equalled – Most Highly Recommended.


NAME: British Cruisers of the Victorian Era
FILE: R2523
AUTHOR: Norman Friedman, ship plans A B Baker III
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword, Seaforth
BINDING: hard back 
PAGES:  352
PRICE: £45.00
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: warship classes, warship types, cruisers, Victorian Era, sea 
lanes, convoy protection, commerce raiding, steam-powered, armoured, 
naval guns, torpedoes, naval architecture

ISBN: 978-1-8432-099-4

IMAGE: B2523.jpg
DESCRIPTION: This is another beautiful Seaforth naval history. The 
level of detail is immaculate and the ship drawings are well-executed. 
A classic reference work that is unlikely to be equalled – Most 
Highly Recommended.

The origins of names applied to types of warship is one of the most 
confusing aspects of naval history for the novice and even the 
seasoned professionals and enthusiasts. The term 'cruiser' is a 
classic example, covering warships similar in size to 'fleet 
destroyers', through to warships that are as powerful as some 

During the Napoleonic Wars, heavy frigates were sometimes referred 
to as 'cruisers' and 'commerce cruisers'. These ships were used for 
some of the standard tasks allocated to frigates, but were also used 
to roam freely across the oceans and take actions at the discretion 
of the captain, who could be weeks, or sometimes months, away from 
the last Admiralty instructions issued to him. These tasks were 
suited to the large frigate that included some guns equal to those 
carried by line-of-battle-ships. It enjoyed the advantage of a 
frigate's speed, to run from heavier warships, but equipped, at 
least for close quarters engagements, with some powerful Carronades, 
or smasher, slide mounted, short-barrel, guns firing balls of up to 
64 pounds, as the warship closed for boarding. The newly formed US 
Navy began with the four President Class frigates, of which the USS 
Constitution remains in commission and is capable of operating under 
her own sails, that could be described as cruisers and which had a 
primary role of anti-piracy patrols to protect US merchant ships, 
particularly in the Mediterranean.

At the start of the Victorian Era, the Royal Navy faced no direct 
fleet opposition, but was responsible for projecting power as the 
Empire expanded and as the volume of shipping on the long sea routes 
of Empire steadily grew. This was an ideal application for a cruiser 
because it was clearly a powerful warship, but could also be moved 
rapidly to a new location. It coincided with the introduction of 
steam power. The reliability of early steam engines, and the space 
required to bunker coal, meant that these first Victorian cruisers 
retained a full sailing rig and travelled much of the time under 
sail, looking very much like a pre-steam warship. They were also in 
the vanguard of the new designs of guns and gun mountings. The 
breach-loading cannon was starting to be introduced for progressively 
larger calibre weapons. It demanded a much better mounting than the 
traditional four-wheel truck that had served the RN since Elizabethan 
times. By the end of the Victorian Era, British cruisers were 
frequently armoured warships with guns mounted in barbettes and 
turrets, while torpedo tubes below the waterline gave considerable 
punch. The sailing rig had gone and the masts reduced, with larger 
funnels, and often with multiple funnels, as the steam engines 
increased in power with multiple boilers to power the fastest larger 

The smaller cruisers were still not much larger than the largest 
destroyers that were becoming increasingly more numerous and powerful. 
This cruiser group was tasked with countering torpedo boats and 
destroyers, providing communications and scouting ships and being 

prized for their flexibility, in many ways the equal of the Napoleonic 
War frigate that was always in high demand. The largest cruisers were 
most commonly armoured and one armoured cruiser could claim to be the 
first RN aircraft carrier in 1903, when it was used for the start of 
the extensive trials with Cody man-carrying kites. These trials 
continued until 1908 as the RN began to move its attention to powered 
aircraft. The early trials were very successful and as confidence grew, 
the RN used a very wide range of boat and ship types to trial the kites 
in a very wide range of wind and sea state conditions, from whalers, 
open pulling boats with a single sail, operating kites in storm 
conditions, to torpedo boats, destroyers cruisers and battleships.

The author already enjoys a strong reputation for his studies of warships 
and their history. There are many fine photographs, but the ship drawings 
by Baker complete the supportive illustrations. The book is competitively 
priced for the quality it achieves but the cover price may deter some 
readers who would greatly value it. This is a growing problem as the 
number of well-stocked lending libraries is reducing, but the book is also 
available in electronic formats which may prove the solution to making 
quality books available to the widest readership.