The Mar Caribe-class light cruisers
Design and Construction:
In 1944, the navy was looking to acquire surface vessels that were powerful enough to contend with modern designs from around the world. In the mid-30's, CCCN naval designers had produced a design based around a 3 x 3 layout of 6-inch pattern 1938 guns. The design team assembled in the late 1940's had adapted this design to 2 different versions. Option A had 12 6-inch pieces in a 4 x 3 arrangement, while Option B went for the more conventional 3 x 3 layout. The dockyards at the time could handle ships up to 15,000 tons, which is how much Option A weighed, but there were no repair dry-docks capable of handling anything above 13,500. Therefore, option B was chosen, and minor design changes were introduced. In total, 3 ships of the class were to be laid down, 2 in Port-Au-Prince and 1 in Havana. The majority were laid down in Hispaniola to take advantage of the huge armaments complex in Santo Domingo. The plan was to fit the 2 ships building in Haiti with guns shipped by rail from the foundries, and then sail the third unit from Havana after it came of the slipways to receive it's complement of guns. However, the navy had seriously underestimated the amount of time it would take to manufacture and ship the guns, turrets, and armor plating, and the ships were still building when the war ended in 1945. They were finally fitted with guns and turrets in 1946, but no armor had been produced in suitable amounts, so only the turrets, conning tower, and deck initially received their plating. The ship in Havana had been fitted with engines and boilers, but it was moored at a floating dock awaiting the completion of the other two units before it could be towed to Haiti. More issues surfaced when the navy cut it's budget even further after the war. The two units building in Haiti were finished by 1947, and the unit building in Havana was just entering the dry-dock to be fitted with the next batch of guns and turrets. By 1950, all of them were commissioned and in service. They were on par with nearly every cruiser design around the world, but encountered serious stability issues in rough weather.
The main battery was a very hotly-debated subject during the construction and design phase. There were various parties vying for supremacy over the design, including those that wanted to mount a pair of quad turrets carrying American-made weapons, and those who wanted to use captured weapons from Germany and Japan. However, there was really no question as to which faction would win; The Russians made serious efforts to sell the design for their M1938 Pattern 152-millimeter naval gun to the navy. They naturally obliged, and the plans for the gun were transferred to the ordnance department in preparation for production. In total, 6 x 85-millimeter Russian-type guns were provided for dual-purpose actions, firing a locally-developed fragmentation rounds that were reported to have a favorable effect on aerial targets. As far as light flak was concerned, the vessels came with a comprehensive array of artillery. This included a pair of 37-millimeter semi-automatic guns placed on platforms aft, and 9 x 2 mountings for 25-millimeter guns. These were of the same model in service with the Russian navy, and had a good rate of fire coupled with decent range and accuracy. A pair of triple 21-inch torpedo tubes were considered, but were dropped from the design after the budget cuts and the unjustified expense it would take to import the plans from Russia. Mountings were, however, provided for additional tubes in case they were to be fitted at an alternative time, though none ever were.
The Mar Caribe-class were designed around a new locally-developed lightweight powerplant intended to provide up to 95,000 horsepower. The plant consisted of a pair of turbines manufactured in Havana, powered by 8 x Yarrow 3-drum type boilers burning oil. The plant was geared to two shafts, with a turbine driving each one, powered by four boilers in a room behind the turbine compartment. Each compartment had watertight doors and pumping gear in it. Instead of Yarrow boilers, the last ship (Cuba) was fitted with locally made boilers with experimental superheating/pressure-firing gear for additional power output. It proved successful and was fitted to many steam-powered vessels in the future. During trials they made nearly 36 knots, but during typical service they made a maximum of 32 knots.
Armor and protection:
Besides the main armament, armor was also a big issue during the construction and design phase. Initially, a belt of up to 5 1/2" was planned, but the nation proved unable to manufacture suitable plates that didn't crack or display poor protective qualities. During testing, it was shown that some of the new plates produced in the nation were able to be penetrated even by a mere 3 or 4-inch piece! Thus, only a small quality of high-tensile strength steel was produced rather than the experimental armor that had been planned. It displayed much better qualities, and ultimately a 2 1/2 belt was fitted to the last vessel only. Otherwise, the first two ships carried armor only on their conning tower, deck, and turrets. This armor was, of course, not the experimental kind, and had been imported from foreign contractors in Asia, South America, and Eastern Europe to a design from the Soviet Union. Some was manufactured locally, but not enough to armor the entirety of the ship.
All units were in commission by 1951, and served varying duties with the home fleet. These included patrols between Cuba and Florida, over the course of which they had several run-ins with American ships and Helicopters. Otherwise, they mostly just patrolled and escorted high-value cargo and targets. They were laid up in Havana, before they were slated for a major reconstruction in 1985, and in this form their service lives would be much more exciting...
-Next up: the refitted version of this cruiser, intervention in Nicaragua history and even a national map for the front page!