Battlecruisers originated as an experimental type during the naval arms race of the years immediately previous to the First World War. Since in that time battleships were too slow to chase cruisers, the Royal Navy introduced warships with a firepower equivalent to that of a battleship but with lighter protection levels, to ensure speed. A warship built like this should be able to easily chase and destroy cruisers. The initiative of the Royal Navy was soon contested by the German Navy, which built equivalent ships of similar and sometimes even better qualities. However the Battle of Jutland demonstrated that speed alone was not sufficient protection and after the First World War the construction of new battlecruisers was discontinued.

However after the war a number of battlecruisers continued existing and some even served during the Second World War. In that time they were however in disadvantage, since the modern battleships were able of speeds comparable to those of a battlecruiser, while wearing a heavier protection. Still, the distinction between battlecruisers and battleships can be vague, and some battlecruisers have been often referred as battleships, for example, the HMS Hood or the Scharnhorst. As a rule, we can consider that a battleship can be considered as battlecruiser when her horizontal protection is notably inferior than what is normal for her type.

Indeed the Second World War showed no mercy for the limitations of battlecruisers: the HMS Hood, the Kirishima or the Scharnhorst are dramatic examples of this. After the war battlecruisers, like battleships, disappeared from the scene; there was no place for large naval guns in a modern fleet and warships should no longer be impressive, but merely practical. But in the 1980s the Soviet Union launched a new type of cruiser which by size and destructive power outclassed any other warship in the world. These were really impressive warships for their type and this is why the missile cruisers of the Kirov class have been referred as battlecruisers, even if only symbolically, for they have little in common with the traditional concept of battlecruiser.

HMS Hood battlecruiser HMS Hood battlecruiser

British battlecruiser HMS HOOD in 1941 and as built

HMS Queen Mary battlecruiser

British battlecruiser HMS QUEEN MARY in 1916

HMS Lion battlecruiser

British battlecruiser of the LION CLASS circa 1916

Scharnhorst battlecruiser

German battlecruiser SCHARNHORST in 1942

SMS Derfflinger battlecruiser

German battlecruiser SMS DERFFLINGER circa 1918

SMS Seydlitz battlecruiser

German battlecruiser SMS SEYDLITZ in 1916

Kirov class battlecruiser Kirov class battlecruiser

Soviet/Russian battlecruisers of the KIROV CLASS (1977-1989)

Kongo battlecruiser

Japanese (British) battlecruiser KONGO in 1944

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