cruiser, large, fast, moderately armed warship, intermediate in type between the aircraft carrier and the destroyer. During World War II, battle cruisers operated as small battleships, combining in one vessel maximum qualities of gun caliber, armor protection, and speed. Upon the retirement of the battleship from the major navies of the world, the cruiser became the largest of the conventionally armed warships in commission. The cruiser's primary mission in modern warfare is to provide antiaircraft defense and gunfire support for aircraft carriers. Light cruisers, lightly armed and very fast, are often employed in scouting, police duties, and other jobs where speed rather than defensive strength is important. The advent of guided missiles as the primary offensive weapon of modern warfare has led to the conversion of many cruisers into guided-missile cruisers. The guided-missile cruiser Long Beach (completed 1961) was the first ship since World War II to be constructed for the U.S. navy from keel up as a cruiser; it was also the first nuclear-powered surface fighting ship in the world.
See Jane's Fighting Ships (pub. annually since 1897); study by S. L. Poole (1970).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.