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Before the Battlecruiser (Hardback)

The Big Cruiser in the World's Navies 1865–1910

Seaforth Royal Navy Naval

By Aidan Dodson
Seaforth Publishing
Pages: 304
Illustrations: 450
ISBN: 9781473892163
Published: 16th October 2018



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The battlecruiser is perceived by many as the most glamorous of warships, remembered for its triumphs and tragedies in both world wars. Often forgotten are its lineal ancestors, the big cruisers that were constructed as capital ships for distant waters, as commerce raiders, and as fast scouts for the battlefleet during the last decades of the nineteenth century and the first years of the twentieth.

In this new book by bestselling author Aidan Dobson, the 200 or so big cruisers that were built for the world’s navies from 1865 are described and analysed in detail. The type came into being in the 1860s when the French built a series of cruising ironclads to project its power in the Far East. Britain followed suit as did Russia. By the 1890s the general adoption of these fast, heavily-armed and moderately armoured vessels ushered in the golden age of the big cruiser. These great ships would go on to be key combatants in the Spanish-American and Russo-Japanese wars, the Japanese employing them within the battlefleet in a manner that heralded later battlecruiser tactics.

In Britain, in reply to the launch of the big Russian Rurik in 1890, there was spawned the freakishly huge HMS Powerful and HMS Terrible, ships that underlined the public’s view of the glamour of the ‘great cruiser’. Indeed, the two ships’ cap-tallies became ubiquitous on the sailor suits of late Victorian British children. In some navies, particularly those of South American republics, the big cruiser became the true capital ship, while the Italians built the Giuseppe Garibaldi as a more affordable battleship. By the beginning of the twentieth century the type became yet bigger and guns approached battleship size; with HMS Invincible the British created what was, in 1912, officially dubbed the ‘battlecruiser’. Despite their growing obsolescence in the new century some had remarkably long careers in patrol and other subsidiary roles, the Argentine Garibaldi still sailing as a training ship in the 1950s.

The design, development and operations of all these great vessels is told with the author’s usual attention to detail and depth of analysis and will delight naval enthusiasts and historians of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

It is a work of high level, at the same time introductory, which does not disdain however to present characters of completeness on a topic of great interest: the protected and armored cruisers in service since second half of the nineteenth century up to the years before the First World War, until they were replaced in their primary role by the innovative (and controversial) battlecruisers.

STORIA militare no. 311 (August 2019

Reviewed by Charles Ross Patterson II Yorktown, Virginia for

The Northern Mariner, Summer 2018

Featured in Military History Monthly's round-up of the latest military history titles

Military History Monthly, June 2019

As featured by

Mercator Magazine, May 2019

As featured by

Warship World

Riveting photographs enhance this well-written book’s nautical narrative ranging around the globe.

Toy Soldier & Model Figure magazine issue 240 - reviewed by Gordon Nelson

This is a interesting examination of a type of warship that I didn’t know much about, and certainly fills a gap in my library. These ships were some of the most powerful and advanced of their time, and their story is well worth telling, even if they had been superseded by the time most of them were put to the test of a major war.

Read the full review here

History of War

This remarkably researched and well-presented book is an essential for naval enthusiasts and historians of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Model Boats, January 2019 - reviewed by John Deamer

Dodson deserves credit for an extraordinary feat of research, evidenced by the comprehensive and informative bibliography, the whole presented with great lucidity and elegance.

Read the full review here

Army Rumour Service (ARRSE)

The book discusses the Big Cruiser in war and peace and it is this coverage, together with the ships’ design features through their relatively short reign, and the reasons for their decline, make this book well worth acquiring.

Read the full review here

Australian Naval Institute
 Aidan Dodson

About Aidan Dodson

Aidan Dodson is Hon Professor of Egyptology in the Department of Anthropology & Archaeology at the University of Bristol, where he has taught since 1996. He has also maintained parallel research interests in naval history, and worked as a civil servant in defence procurement for 25 years, including  project leader for the offshore patrol vessel HMS Clyde. He is the author of more than 300 articles and reviews, plus some twenty books, including The Kaiser’s Battlefleet: German capital ships 1871–1918 ,Before the Battlecruiser: the big cruiser in the world’s navies 1865–1910 and Spoils of War: the fates of the ex-enemy fleets after the two World Wars, with Serena Cant, all published by Seaforth.

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