During the two world wars cruisers played the same role than frigates had played in the times of the age of sail: they were the eyes of the fleet, specially during the Great War. They were fast enough to avoid the fire from the battleships and powerful enough to chase and destroy even the fastest destroyers. They protected their own convoys and attacked the enemy ones, and sometimes they were sent in groups to fight against more powerful adversaries. In the first times they were classified as protected or unprotected cruisers, depending on whether they were armored in both vertical and horizontal surfaces or only in the latter. But with the introduction of battlecruisers, which were a modified form of battleship rather than cruisers properly said, protected cruisers were rendered obsolete.

After the Great War the new classification was that of heavy or light cruisers, depending on their displacement and main armament. Given that during the interwar years the fastest battleships and battlecruisers reached speeds above 30 knots, heavy cruisers lost importance in comparison with the light types. A smaller number of heavy cruisers was built, being a very representative example of these the German cruisers of the Deutschland and Admiral Hipper classes, more armored than usual. But in fact every important contender on the Second World War built heavy cruisers, and during that conflict cruisers in general had actually a more prominent actuation than battleships.

Unlike those, cruisers did not disappear from the shipyards after the war, but during the Cold War they would suffer great changes to adapt to the new times. Conventional artillery and armor was deemed outdated and the ideal of the new cruiser embraced the precision of the new missile weapon and also the incredible endurance of nuclear propulsion in some exceptional models, such as the USS Long Beach, the surface warship propelled by nuclear energy and also the first cruiser built from the beginning with a missile armament. This ship was intended to operate independently from other units and to repel attacks from any type of aircraft, guided projectile, surface ship or submarine. After her, many other ships of this polyvalent type would be built, specially in United States and the Soviet Union, with improved characteristics on each new model until reaching the highest levels of sophistication.

Ticonderoga class missile cruiser

American missile cruiser of the TICONDEROGA CLASS (1981-1992)

Virginia class missile cruiser

American missile cruiser of the VIRGINIA CLASS (1974-1978)

USS Long Beach missile cruiser

American missile cruiser USS LONG BEACH circa 1960

USS Indianapolis heavy cruiser

American heavy cruiser USS INDIANAPOLIS in 1945

HMS Sheffield cruiser HMS Manchester cruiser

British cruisers of the TOWN CLASS during the Second World War and afterwards

HMS Abdiel minelayer cruiser

British minelayer cruiser HMS ABDIEL in 1943

HMS Exeter heavy cruiser

British heavy cruiser HMS EXETER in 1939

De Ruyter light cruiser

Dutch light cruiser DE RUYTER in 1936

Prinz Eugen heavy cruiser

German heavy cruiser PRINZ EUGEN in 1942

Admiral Graf Spee heavy cruiser

German heavy cruiser ADMIRAL GRAF SPEE in 1939

SMS Emden light cruiser

German light cruiser SMS EMDEN before 1914

Zara heavy cruiser

Italian heavy cruiser ZARA in 1941

Giovanni dalle Bande Nere light cruiser

Italian light cruiser GIOVANNI DALLE BANDE NERE during Second World War

Slava class missile cruiser

Soviet/Russian missile cruiser of the SLAVA CLASS (1979-1983)

Kara class missile cruiser

Soviet/Russian missile cruiser of the KARA CLASS (1969-1976)

Kresta II class missile cruiser

Soviet/Russian missile cruiser of the KRESTA II CLASS (1968-1976)

Sverdlov class cruiser

Soviet cruiser of the SVERDLOV CLASS (1950-1955)

Mogami heavy cruiser

Japanese heavy cruiser MOGAMI before and after 1943

Chokai heavy cruiser

Japanese heavy cruiser CHOKAI during Second World War

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