Books on British Battlecruisers?

From the birth of the Dreadnought to the period immediately after the end of World War I.
Byron Angel
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Re: Books on British Battlecruisers?

Post by Byron Angel » Wed Mar 10, 2021 1:39 am

Report of the Committee on Mercantile Cruisers
Presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of His Majesty
Printed for His Majesty’s Stationery Office
By Eyre and Spottiswoode,
Printers to the King’s Most Excellent Majesty

This article is a detailed presentation of the huge costs involved in providing subsidies to Cunard and White Star for construction and operation of liners capable, in wartime, of operating as high-speed merchant cruisers; the cost of construction plus subsidy expenses over the standard ten year contractual subvention period for a single high-speed liner capable of traversing the Atlantic at a sustained 26 knots was approximately 2x the cost of building an Invincible-class battlecruiser.

- - - - -

From the following essay, also by Professor Matthew Seligmann, come quotes directly from qualified contemporary personalities either giving testimony before Parliament or presenting facts and recommendations in official reports.

"New Weapons for New Targets:
Sir John Fisher, the Threat from Germany,
and the building of HMS Dreadnought and
HMS Invincible, 1902-1907"

> Beresford testimony before Parliamentary committee, 22 July 1902:
“We are third on the list of speedy ships, and we ought to be first.” He was echoed by Lord Brassey, who explained that of the eleven ships built since 1895 capably of steaming at twenty knots or more, only one, the Oceanic, flew the British flag. Britain’s merchant navy, however impressive, lacked the ‘ocean greyhounds’ Germany was building.

> Beresford, asked by committee whether he could name ‘any company which requires to work steamers at a 23-knot speed’, replied: ”No, I cannot tell you any company in England; I can tell you one or two in Germany, which is a matter of great consideration for us.”

> Lord Brassey added that in the Deutschland, Kaiser Wilhelm II, and the Kronprinz Wilhelm, Germany had three of the fastest vessels afloat. The Deutschland, which could exceed twenty-three knots, could evade every British warship – “no vessel of war has ever yet crossed the Atlantic at any speed approaching the speed of the Deutschland – [ which ] even ‘lightly armed” - would be a very formidable assailant to our own defenceless merchant steamers.”

> Extracted from the final report of the Dreadnought/Invincible Design Committee –
The speed of modern cruisers absolutely precludes the use of any vessels for trade protection or destruction not possessed of very high speed.
The only ships with the necessary speed are the two new Cunarders. But as the Admiralty is liable to the extent of one million pound in the event of the loss of either, it appears uneconomical to use for this purpose vessels not designed to fight, provided men of war have sufficient speed to undertake the duties.
When the Invincible-class armoured cruisers are completed, this will be the case, but, for the present moment, no other vessels are capable of overtaking the German armed mercantile cruisers.

We therefore recommend that until the Invincible class are completed, these two ships be fitted as armed cruisers … but that after the Invincibles are ready, their retention in the capacity of armed merchant cruisers should be reconsidered.”

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> A further Admiralty report from Feb 1906, addressing the use of civilian vessels as fleet auxiliaries, supported the above as follows –
We do not consider that the general use of armed merchant steamers is advisable. Until the Invincible-class cruisers are ready, however, we shall have no war-vessels capable of overtaking the fast German armed mercantile cruisers, and, therefore in the meantime, it is imperative that the two new Cunarders should be retained as armed auxiliaries.”

Readers are invited to draw their own conclusions.


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Re: Books on British Battlecruisers?

Post by wadinga » Tue Mar 16, 2021 8:58 pm

Hello All,

After a little further "honest homework" I have some more evidence as to the real origin of the Battlecruiser concept.

As I indicated in a previous post, the British Government had been giving subsidies to various British shipping companies to ensure the availability of liners for service as AMCs for many years before the German four-funnel flyers were even laid down. This included the installation of structure to support the easier installation of guns and ammunition. In addition some were in receipt of generous payments for service as mail carrying ships (hence the RMS - Royal Mail Steamer) prefix. Foreign governments, French, German and US were also subsidising their shipping lines in order to ensure capability and technological development.

The British White Star Line, received subsidies but they had become something of a disappointment in that they built Oceanic in 1899, to be bigger and more luxurious than the German vessels, but somewhat slower. True she attracted a Government subsidy to be available as an AMC, but WSL had decided there was more money in capacity rather than in outright speed. The Blue Riband was, for them, a pointless competition as there was no benefit in improved receipts. Would arriving a few hours earlier make that much difference? No. Then they fell into the clutches of J P Morgan's empire, and the British Govt was scared to death their ships might be reflagged, replacements built in overseas yards and new turbine technology developed outside of their control. In time of war, Morgan might renege on agreements and the AMCs not be available.

So, two House of Commons commissions were started. One in April 1901 to estimate how much foreign competitors were getting in subsidies, helping them in competition with British companies, and a second to see how British companies could be induced to develop ships which would fulfill the Admiralty's requirements, but might not be commercially viable. This outstanding paper by Dr Steven Cobb ... auretania

Has all the detail. This second "Camperdown" commission, using expertise from shipping companies, the Admiralty and academia attempted to estimate how much would have to be given in government grants to get somebody to create the 25 knot liners the Navy wanted access to. I suspect this where Beresford and Brassey gave their evidence. However the most important factor was how to tie a major company, which turned out to be Cunard, to the British Flag, ensure they would not pass into foreign control, and that they would continue to create the high power turbine demand to keep Parsons active and developing the installations which would be required for the Dreadnought fleet. This highly political deal took another two years until it was pushed through Parliament as I described above, steamrolling along behind a camouflage screen of the "necessity" of matching the German liners, and avoiding Winston's awkward question about the similarity between British cruiser speed and that of the German liners.

The subterfuge was in suggesting that because a 23 knot cruiser could not, potentially, sail across the entire Atlantic at maximum speed due to coal stocks or reciprocating engine reliability or seaworthiness it was not a danger to a 23 knot raider. Interestingly, according to Dr Cobb the German ships ceased operating during Atlantic winters, presumably because they did not like bad weather, whereas British liners kept operating.
“We are third on the list of speedy ships, and we ought to be first.”
no vessel of war has ever yet crossed the Atlantic at any speed approaching the speed of the Deutschland
Ringing phrases, designed for a lay audience, but are they relevant?

This argument took no account of the strong likelihood an encounter within or close to gun range might occur due to visibility, at night or when the ocean greyhound could not develop full speed, with cold boilers or poor coal or even exhausted stokers. Under such circumstances, even a modest regular warship would blast the Gin Palace to shreds in short order.

So, for a number of very important reasons, Cunard received its subsidy and loan under the current Admiralty administration, although when Jacky Fisher took over (20th Oct 1904) he was unhappy with such deals, seeing these as funds wasted, as not being spent on his real warships. He was required to create savings and ruthlessly culled all those old obsolete vessels, including many from the 1889 expansion, rendered useless by the rate of development. With these savings he would build his new fleet, but not acknowledging how commercial demand was helping develop the high power turbines he would rely on for Dreadnoughts. The RN had built some experimental turbine destroyers, but the high power installations were in liners like Victorian, Virginian and Carmania.

Now to Dreadnought and the Battlecruisers. These hugely expensive vessels were very controversial and an official Admiralty Board "Strictly Secret" document was created to justify them and is quoted , at length, in Dreadnought Battleship by Chris McNab:
The Invincibles are larger and more costly than other armoured cruisers to be built by foreign powers, but the speed of the latter is inferior to that of many of the cruisers now afloat, and such vessels would be of little use attached to a fleet of Dreadnoughts, whereas the three Invincibles, with their fine speed and great gunpower, will ensure an unwilling enemy being brought to action, or should the enemy be anxious to fight, they will be able to choose the most advantageous position from which to attack the enemy and support the Battle Fleet.

My emphasis. Nothing about chasing liners. These ships are to work with the battlefleet of Dreadnoughts and need the same speed advantage over them as the previous armoured cruisers had over the Pre-dreadnoughts.

And the last word goes to Jacky Fisher, unambiguously stating the reason for the battlecruiser, written in his warplans 1906-7, quoted in Infighting Admirals by Geoffrey Penn:
The commonest aspect of our old naval wars is a British Fleet endeavouring to force an unwilling enemy to action by an attack in general chase. It is superior speed that is the essence of success in such warfare, and no probable superiority in tactics can ever give so great an advantage as superior speed.....However venerable may be the maxim that the speed of a fleet is that of its slowest ship, it is not universally true. It is broadly true of a fleet trying to avoid action but for a chasing fleet it is the converse of the truth.....for a chasing fleet the speed is that of the fastest ships. By their means-provided they have enough battle strength to hold their own for a while - a battle fleet of lesser speed can reach out and grasp the flying enemy by the tail, and hold him until it has time to get him firmly in his grip. For this purpose no ship was ever designed so deadly as the Invincibles...It is the very type that all the old men from Hawke to Nelson sighed for, but never obtained.
"Enough battle strength", Fisher knew the ships were under-armoured, given who they would be fighting, but the speed he wanted meant that it had to be paid for somewhere. He hoped their strength would be sufficient. At Dogger Bank it was, but Beatty only caught one ship by the tail, and let the rest get away.

All the best

"There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today!"

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