battlecruiser, or battle cruiser, was a large capital ship built in the first half of the 20th century. They were similar in size and cost to a battleship, and typically carried the same kind of heavy guns, but generally carried less armour and were faster. The first battlecruisers were designed in the United Kingdom in the first decade of the century, as a development of the armoured cruiser, at the same time as the dreadnought succeeded the pre-dreadnought battleship. The original aim of the battlecruiser was to hunt down slower, older armoured cruisers and destroy them with heavy gunfire. However, as more and more battlecruisers were built, they increasingly became used alongside the better-protected battleships.

Battlecruisers served in the navies of BritainGermany, the Ottoman Empire,Australia and Japan during World War I, most notably at the Battle of the Falkland Islands and in the several raids and skirmishes in the North Seawhich culminated in a pitched fleet battle, the Battle of Jutland. British battlecruisers in particular suffered heavy losses at Jutland, where their light armour made them very vulnerable to large-caliber shells. By the end of the war, capital ship design had developed with battleships becoming faster and battlecruisers becoming more heavily armoured, blurring the distinction between a battlecruiser and a fast battleship. The Washington Naval Treaty, which limited capital ship construction from 1922 onwards, treated battleships and battlecruisers identically, and the new generation of battlecruisers planned was scrapped under the terms of the treaty.

From the 1930s, only the Royal Navy continued to use 'battlecruiser' as a classification for warships, for the WWI-era capital ships that remained in the fleet. (While Japan's battlecruisers remained in service, they were significantly reconstructed and re-rated as battleships.) Nevertheless, the fast, light capital ships developed by Germany and France of the Scharnhorst and Dunkerque classes, respectively, are sometimes referred to as battlecruisers.[Note 1]

World War II saw battlecruisers in action again, only one of which survived the war. There was also renewed interest in large "cruiser-killer" type warships, but few were ever begun, as construction of capital ships was curtailed in favor of more-needed convoy escorts, aircraft carriers, and cargo ships. In the post–Cold War era, the Soviet Kirov class of large guided missile cruisers have also been termed "battlecruisers".

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