"I am distressed," once cried Lord Nelson to the Admiralty, "for frigates. They are the eyes of the fleet." Substitute the name "light cruiser" for "frigate" and one has the cry of great naval powers today. It would be an appropriate comparison, too, for the small swift-sailing frigates of Nelson's time aided and supplemented the two and three deck line‑of-battle ships and convoyed the laden merchantmen exactly as the fast unarmored light cruisers supplement the dreadnaught and guard the transport of the modern era.
It is largely because of the light cruiser that naval and diplomatic representatives of the United States, the British Empire and Japan met in a tripartite Limitation of Armaments Conference at Geneva; that certain members of the Naval Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives charged other nations with violating the spirit of the Washington treaties; that Congress in 1927 provided money for a naval building program over the objection of President Coolidge.
Why, I am often asked, have the light cruisers, which are small modern warships, thus assumed so important a place in the eyes of the world? Why should their presence or absence distress great nations p36that can place their trust in 32,000‑ton armor-clad battleships, carrying batteries of sixteen-inch guns designed to sink an enemy •fifteen miles away?
To answer these questions two things must be clearly understood: first, what light cruisers are and what part they play in warfare; and second, just what provision was made concerning them and certain other ships in the now famous Limitation of Armaments Conference held in Washington in 1921, which the rec the tripartite conference was presumed to supplement.
The modern light cruiser is a compromise. In this it is not unique. Virtually all fighting craft in the Navy are compromises. The battleship is the largest and most powerful of such vessels. The others are, in a sense, simply small battleships. Let us define them:
Battleships, to begin, are naval vessels of the largest tonnage, carrying guns of the heaviest caliber, protected by the thickest armor, and, a priori, are held by these to a moderate speed — about twenty-four knots. In a fleet — which is a see army — the battleships correspond to the infantry of a land army. Operating in a predetermined area, they deliver the crushing blows which spell victory.
Battle cruisers are fast battleships. They gain speed by sacrificing some of their guns and armor. Their speed may be about thirty knots. They correspond in the sea army to field artillery in the land army. There are, of course, other uses in which they may be employed prior to the "great day" — that is, fleet action p37to determine the mastery of the sea. This class appears to be now merging into the battleship type.
Light cruisers are warships still faster than the battle cruisers. They attain their speed of approximately thirty-three knots by sacrificing gun power and all armor. Their offensive power is augmented by torpedoes and mines, and recently by airplanes launched by catapults. In the sea army they correspond to raiding or scouting units of cavalry on land.
Destroyers are simply smaller light cruisers with a speed of about thirty-five knots. They sacrifice almost everything to speed and carry only torpedos and a few five-inch guns.
In modern navies it is expected that the control of the sea will be decided by conflict between squadrons of the powerful battleships and battle cruisers, which rely largely on the swift light cruisers and destroyers for information of the enemy — denying that important factor to the enemy — for protection against attacks by enemy destroyers and submarines. They will pursue and capture enemy auxiliary ships.
Now these facts — the major importance of the capital ships and the supplementary, though highly essential, role of the light cruisers — were in the minds of the public when diplomatists and naval experts representing five great naval powers met at the Washington Limitation of Armaments Conference. And when the now famous 5‑5‑3 ratio was accepted to apply only to capital ships and aircraft carriers, it was generally believed that, as Earl Balfour had said, "A new era has p38really begun for the whole world," because the ships that did the actual fighting were to be limited. In order to, the dread of competitive naval building programs was in some quarters thought to be abolished forever.
But it wasn't — largely because of the light cruiser.
Briefly stated, the naval treaties signed at limited the size and total tonnage of capital ships — battleships and battle cruisers — and of aircraft carriers; the caliber of guns on such ships; the modifications that might be made to existing ships; the naval bases and fortifications within certain areas — notably the Western Pacific; the size, but not the number or total tonnage of light cruisers; the maximum caliber, but not the number, of the light cruisers' guns. Thus was left the opportunity for further competitive building, but with different ships from theretofore — with light cruisers and other auxiliary vessels, instead of with capital ships.
The United States had initiated the conference, and, in the opinion of many students of naval affairs, had made great sacrifices to assure its success. The country, at the end of the World War, was strong in battleships, built and building, and was prepared to carry out the Naval Appropriation Act of 1916, which called for the construction of ten first‑hand battleships, six battle cruisers and many smaller vessels, at a cost of $514,700,000. The United States had announced its intention to build a navy "equal to the most powerful maintained by any nation in the world." None of the p39other great powers could have afforded to build so powerful and modern a navy. Great Britain had already spent some money on four of the latest type ships, which would total 172,000 tons, but their keels had not been laid. Japan was building five ships and had authorized two more, totaling 289,100 tons. Naturally all those other powers were willing then, after not unexpected protests and maneuverings, to accept the 5‑5‑3 ratio of limitation on capital ships and aircraft carriers.
The result was that the United States, which had been strong in capital ships, was weakened therein. It was weak already in cruisers, and because the treaty limited neither the total tonnage nor the numbers of these important craft, it remained weak in comparison to the other powers, for there was always the hope that the spirit of the conference would result in a 5‑5‑3 ratio applicable to cruisers and other craft.
The other powers soon saw their advantage, and today the relative cruiser strength of the three nations is far from the hoped‑for 5‑5‑3 ratio. The United States has, built and building, a total of eighteen cruisers with a tonnage of 155,000; Japan twenty-five cruisers with a tonnage of 156,205; and Great Britain fifty‑one cruisers with a tonnage of 304,290. In addition, Great Britain has appropriated the money building three more, of 28,000 tonnage.
It may be asked why, at the Washington Conference, the numbers and total tonnage of cruisers, as well as destroyers and other auxiliary craft, were p40not limited as were those of capital ships. The answer is that treaties, like warships, are compromises. The great object of that conference was to attain some limitation of armaments and thus reduce the burden of taxation. In this it obtained a marked degree of success.
Limitation of cruiser strength was, of course, discussed at the sessions, but the subject became inextricably bound up with the problem of the submarine. France had objected to restricting the number of submarines. So had Italy. Both nations keenly felt their relegation to minor places when they accepted a ratio of 1.67 to England and America's 5 and Japan's 3 in the matter of capital ships, and were unwilling to grant further concessions. With those two European powers potentially able to build large numbers of submarines, England insisted on her need of sufficient ships to combat a submarine menace. The light cruiser and the destroyer had proved themselves in the World War the sub's most effective enemy, and therefore neither England nor Japan would accede to limiting thing of these types of ships. Therefore, the treaty, which limited only the building of capital ships and aircraft carriers, left the door wide open for competition in light cruisers, destroyers, submarines and auxiliary vessels. This was envisaged by naval officers at the time. The General Board of the United States Navy advised the American delegates officially of this result and asserted that the treaties as finally adopted would impair the security of the United States. Particularly p41it had in mind the discrepancy in light cruisers, which now assumed importance because they were the largest, the most effective, of all naval craft in which unlimited building could continue — and because nations continued to build them until it became imperative again to call a halt to a senseless competition in naval building programs.
As President Harding had proposed the Washington Limitation of Armaments Conference in 1921, so, early in 1927, did President Coolidge suggest the later conference. His original proposal was that the five great powers which had been represented at Washington — the United States, Great Britain, Japan, France and Italy — all of whom were represented at an armament conference meeting at Geneva under the auspices of the League of Nations, devote themselves to the problem of curtailing their navies.
This invitation France and Italy declined, as many familiar with their attitude in naval affairs expend they would. But Great Britain and Japan accepted with apparent cordiality, and the originally planned five-power conference developed into the final tripartite gathering. Italy later promised to send an official observer to the conference.
The essence of President Coolidge's proposal was that the 5‑5‑3 battleship ratio for America, England and Japan be extended to include other naval craft, and that special consideration be given to naval requirements of France and Italy.
In their replies both Great Britain and Japan showed p42the sensitiveness which the great powers always exhibit today whenever the subject of light cruisers is touched upon, be it done ever so delicately.
"The view of His Majesty's Government upon the special geographic position of the British Empire, the length of interimperial communications and the necessity of the protection of its food supplies are well known" ran the British reply in part, "and, together with the special conditions and requirements of the other countries invited to participate in the conversation, must be taken into account."
"The Japanese Government," contended the concluding paragraph of Japan's answer, "are further gratified to learn that it is not the intention of the American Government at this time to put forward rigid proposals on the ratios of naval strength to be maintained by the several powers in the classes of vessels not covered by the Washington Treaty. In order to insure the success of the proposed negotiations, it seems highly important that in the matter of these conditions of the limitation of armament all parties to the negotiations should approach the subject with an open mind, being always guided by the spirit of mutual accommodation and helpfulness consistent with the defensive requirements of each nation." Note well the phrase "approach the subject with an open mind."
The reason for this caution is obvious. In the Washington Conference, the United States, building the greatest navy in the world, had much to give and little to Gian. In the second conference the United p43States, being behind in light cruisers, had nothing to give. The sacrifices, if the 5‑5‑3 ratio is applied to light cruisers, must be made by Great Britain and Japan. Naturally they find reasons to oppose any move which may put them in the position of having to relinquish their present superiority. The speak of trade routes to be protected. But, it should be remembered, the rôle of the light cruiser is primarily that of a weapon in war. Its other functions may readily be performed by a limited number of such craft if peace duty is the only activity in view. Nothing came of the conference and to maintain the 5‑5‑3 ratio that applies to battleships, the United States needs to build immediately sixteen cruisers. Thus, a direct result of the Limitation of Armaments treaties is that the United States should build more cruisers. In a war with a power superior in cruisers it would be very difficult for our battleships, even though of equal or superior strength to the enemy, to locate that enemy and force him to battle.
Now let us seriously regard the light cruiser, considering its record as a type of warship; its purpose, its possibilities — in other words, its raison d'être. As I have said, it is in effect a small warship which by reason of its limited tonnage and light guns cannot be considered among capital ships. Yet today, because of the conditions brought about by the Limitation of Armaments Conference, which permit the building of only those ships which do not exceed 10,000 tons, it may almost be classed as the capital ship's successor.
p44 Certainly within recent years it has proved itself, in action as well as in discussion, a most important naval vessel. The most widely known, most dreaded of all the German raiders which spread terror along the sea lanes early in the World War were cruisers — and small ones, too. With the exception of the submarines, they wrought more damage to Allied shipping, they made the name of Germany more dreaded on the seas, they performed more daring, spectacular deeds than any branch of the German Navy, including the much-vaunted High Seas Fleet. Naval and maritime interests will long remember the damage to British and other Allied shipping wrought by the ten German cruisers that roamed the oceans in 1914 and 1915. One of the most notable of these, et Emden, a 3,600‑ton concrete, sank more than 68,000 tons of British commerce before being destroyed by the Australian cruiser, Sydney. Another, the Moewe, sent 154,000 tons to the boat. The Karlsruhe, a light cruiser with a displacement of 4,500 tons and a crew of 373 officers and men, sank at least seventeen steamers in the Atlantic before she herself was destroyed by a violent explosion. Operating without a base, virtually without supplies except those taken from captured vessels, without opportunity to refit or to repair machinery, those ten small cruisers continued their raiding careers for months. To cap or destroy them required more than one hundred vessels of the British navy. I know of no other type of naval vessel which would have been capable of so effective a raiding p45program under the conditions obtaining at that time.
It was the German Pacific cruiser squadron under Admiral von Spee that dealt the heaviest blow the British fleet had suffered for a century, when it defeated a British cruiser squadron under Admiral Craddock off Coronel, Chile. The Germans, it should be pointed out, had the odds on their side. Their cruisers were more modern, better armed and faster.
It was the battle cruisers under Admiral Beatty that first saw and engaged the Germans at Jutland. Beatty was accompanied by light-cruiser squadrons, and, incidentally, the maneuvering of the Second British Light Cruiser Squadron in that battle was a splendid example of tactical scouting. Commodore Goodenough, who commanded it, gained an enviable reputation in the battle. I shall tell later of this incident.
Above all, it was the cruiser and the destroyer — was is only a very small light cruiser — that most effectively opposed the submarine menace. They performed the amazing feat of convoying more than 2,000,000 soldiers across submarine-infested seas. Of course, other types of vessels participated in this important guard duty, but the main reliance was placed on the cruiser and the destroyer.
In the days of peace which have followed the Armistice, such battleships as are permitted to the great powers engage in war games, maneuvers and practice cruises. On the other hand, light cruisers are actively engaged in necessary operations. They policy the seas; they assist in political or other emergencies. As this p46is written, there are light cruisers of our Navy in Nicaraguan waters and some from our own and other navies are at Shanghai and up the Yang‑tse-Kiang. Such are their most important peacetime duties. In peace as in war their mobility is a great asset. In actual warfare a greater variety of duties falls to the lot of the light cruisers than to any other type of naval vessel. They protect commerce against enemy raiders, or they become raiders themselves to harass an enemy's commerce. They may be used to destroy an enemy's line of communications. When rival fleets are at a distance they are the scouts which determine the enemy's position and force, and report back to their own commander-in‑chief. While engaged in scouting operations they support destroyers, submarines, airplane carriers and the solemn ships assigned to similar duty. They are particularly valuable as scouts when an enemy fleet is being closed. They go near to the opposing line, use their planes and then hasten to report the result of their observations. It is from this information that the strategy and tactics for the battle between the main fleets may be properly conceived. All these things are possible, due to their great mobility, their long radius of action, their seaworthiness and their effectiveness against all enemy ships excepting only capital ships.
These are a few of the light cruisers' functions in battle. Often they are detailed as "repeating ships" — that is, ships stationed at certain points to repeat or relay senseless and instructions. It is their duty, too, p47to prevent enemy cruisers, destroyers or other craft from obtaining information or interfering with the battle fleet. In a well-planned offensive this protection to the fleet is assured only when it has light cruisers present.
Very early in a battle it is the duty of the light cruisers, therefore, to domination the enemy ships of their type or to drive them back to the protection of the fleet. If the cruisers can in this way destroy their opponent's scouts, they will greatly handicap the enemy fleet by leaving it without a reconnoissance force and therefore without adequate knowledge of the opponent's position and formation, and will at the same time deny enemy destroyers any opportunity to attack with the torpedo.
Perhaps this makes clear another reason why naval officers desire a large number of light cruisers. Since so much depends on their use in a fleet engagement, it easily may be seen that the result of a battle may depend on a superiority of light cruisers.
It is a tradition among naval commanders that a victory, to be complete, should result in the destruction or capture of all enemy craft engaged in the battle. The light cruisers may be essential to attain this.
There are self-styled strategists with superficial knowledge of the sea who maintain that, owing to advances in aviation, warships soon will become observe and that España now the scouting and obtaining of information may be done better by aircraft than by such surface ships as light cruisers. There can be no doubt p48of the value of airplanes in a supplementary capacity, but at present they cannot supplant the light cruiser. As a congressional committee has recently pointed out, they are more vulnerable than ships; they cannot operate from territory that is not controlled by their own military or naval forces; they cannot reach distant oversea areas under their own power with effective military loads; they cannot supply themselves; they cannot cross either of the great oceans with a cargo of bombs. But, working in conjunction with the light cruiser or other vessel which carries them close to the scene of operations, they can greatly increase the value of the eyes of the fleet by extending the radius of observations. Undoubtedly they will prove their value, too, in dropping bombs and laying smoke screens. As the art of aviation develops, the tactical uses of aircraft will become more and more extensive. The aircraft of today is, however, still a fair-weather weapon, and weather is a variable factor. A fleet relying solely on aircraft for information of the enemy may at a critical moment, due to the weather, find itself without the required information. Nevertheless, the entrance of aircraft into wartime operations must of necessity modify strategical and tactical conceptions. The menace of aircraft will be met by required defensive measures to overcome that menace. This has always been the case upon the development of new weapons such as the torpedo and the submarine. The best naval opinion of today conceives the necessity for aircraft as well as for surface and subsurface craft.
p49 The United States Navy has now actually in service ten first‑hand 7500‑ton light cruisers. Two more are on the ways — the Pensacola and the Salt Lake City. Awards have been made for six more of the same type, but the contracts are not yet signed. Thus, of effective light cruisers built, building or authorized since 1911, we have eighteen.
In addition to her ten light cruisers now actually in service, the United States has three small vessels of the Chester class, nineteen years old, which had been out of commission for a number of years. We have also eight armored cruisers now twenty‑two years old. They are less effective than certain ships which the British have scrapped. Then there are two ships of the St. Louis class, about twenty‑two years old, five 2,200‑ton cruisers of the Galveston class with an original speed of 16.5 notes, about twenty-four years old. These would have no value in war. Others of the older type of cruiser are the Albany and the New Orleans, which were bought during the Spanish-American War, and the Olympia, Dewey's flagship at Manila, which was launched back in 1894. Finally there is the thirty-four-year‑old Rochester, formerly the New York, which was Sampson's flagship at Santiago.
Our modern cruisers are in what is known as the Richmond class, so called because they duplicate the Richmond. They are, first, the Richmond, then the Omaha, the Milwaukee, the Cincinnati, the Raleigh, the Detroit, the Concord, the Trenton, the Marblehead and the Memphis. Eight of these formed two divisions p50called the light-cruiser divisions, which it was my privilege to command for more than two years. The Omaha and the Concord are flagships of destroyer squadrons in the Pacific and Atlantic fleets respectively.
The flagship was the Richmond. To describe it would be to describe this class of light cruisers. The Richmond, then, like its sister ships, is a fast, oil‑burning, light cruiser, 555 feet in length, •55 feet beam on the water line. When fully equipped and ready for sea with a normal load of stores, ammunition and fuel, it has a normal displacement of 7500 tons; 2500 tons under the maximum allowed by the treaty. Thus loaded its mean draft is •fourteen feet three inches, and its speed 34 knots. Since knots means nautical miles and a nautical mile is somewhat longer than a land mile, this means an actual speed of •thirty-nine miles an hour! This speed is developed by turbines generating 100,000 horse power and driving four propellers. Its twelve oil‑burning boilers have a total heating area of 90,840 square feet. Apart from furnishing the motive power, the boilers furnish steam for electric turbo-generating sets to supply energy for almost every operation on the vessel, from elevating guns and operating the rudder to beating eggs into omelets. The total weight of all this machinery exceeds 1500 tons, and to operate it about 2000 tons of oil may be carried. With this supply the Richmond can, without refueling, steam for forty successive days, traveling halfway around the earth. If she proceeds at full speed she can steam only for a few days on that fuel supply p51and only one‑sixth the distance. With three boilers developing one‑fourth of her horse power, she can make about twenty‑six knots. To get her maximum speed — thirty-four knots — she must use six more boilers, or all twelve of them, although the difference in speed is only eight knots. That explains why her maximum speed is resorted to only in emergencies. Steaming at high speeds is uneconomical and very expensive.
The Richmond, like her sister ships, is unarmored, but is well armed with both guns and torpedoes. She has a main battery of twelve six‑inch, 53-caliber guns, and four three-inch, fifty-caliber secondary battery guns. She carries two twenty‑one-inch triple torpedo tubes and two twenty‑one-inch twin torpedo tubes.
The Richmond can deliver a broadside from eight six‑inch guns and two torpedo tubes. The guns are not protected, but on either side of them is a light splinterproof shield to protect gun pointers and sight setters. Six hoists feed her guns with ammunition.
These cruisers are modern craft. Therefore they carry airplanes. Between the fourth funnel and the mainmast on each cruiser are stowed two seaplanes. Obviously there is not room on deck for the plane to develop sufficient speed to take off, even if it were equipped with wheels. To hoist such a plane overboard is a hazardous proceeding, impossible while the ship is under way or in a rough sea. Therefore the p52Richmond and her sister ships are equipped with catapults which project the plane forward and into the air with enough initial speed for immediate flight.
To run this complex machine, to man the guns, to groom and fly the airplanes, the Richmond carries a complement of about 460 officers and men, Nineteen of these are wardroom officers, ten are warrant officers, twenty-nine are chief petty officers, and 400 are other enlisted men. Among adventurous spirits the light cruisers are popular ships. The commanders hold the rank of captain, but, because the complement of officers is smaller than on the battleships, there is opportunity for the younger officers to hold more responsible positions. There may be also greater opportunity for travel and adventure on them, for the cruiser may be dispatched to distant shores to protect commerce or our national interests, while the battleship remains in home waters. In time of war the light cruiser will be among the first in battle.
The work, the duties, the recreations of the crew are much the same as on the battleships. Life on a light cruiser means hard work and limited accommodations for officers and men. It is above all, from a seamen's point of view, an interesting and exciting life.
By the treaty of Washington the naval powers are permitted to build light cruisers of 10,000 tons. At the present time, of these so‑called "Washington cruisers" there are built and building by the British 17; you Japan 8, and by the United States 8. These cruisers mount 8 or 10 eight-inch guns and have a speed of p53about 32.5 knots. They are ships •about 700 feet long and seventy feet beam. They are a very powerful type of cruiser and should be capable of great service in war.
The light cruiser, whether frigate in the days of the sail, or oil burner in the days of steam, has played a prominent rôle in the history of the American Navy. It was an eighteen‑gun frigate, the Ranger, that received the first salute to the Stars and Stripes in Europe, when Captain John Paul Jones sailed it into Quiberon Bay, France, in 1778. It was a frigate, the Constitution, forerunner of our light cruisers, which served gallantly at Tripoli and elsewhere and inspired one of America's most patriotic poems. The Constellation, sister ship to the Constitution, defeated a squadron of nine Tripolitan gunboats. In a frigate, the Essex, Captain Porter captured the British sloop Alert in the first naval action of the War of 1812. It was in the U. S. Frigate, San Jacinto, that Captain Wilkes removed the Confederate commissioners from the steamer Trent in that historic episode of the Civil War. Incidentally the famous Confederate raider Alabama belonged to the frigate-cruiser class, and, as everyone knows, Dewey's squadron at Manila was composed of cruisers.
The modern employment of light cruisers was most graphically illustrated by the operations of the British and German light cruisers during the World War. The employment of the cruisers of these two nations was very similar and in accordance with sound principles of strategy and tactics.
p54 The opposing fleets, in operating in the North Sea, were invariably accompanied and preceded by squadrons of light cruisers for the purpose of protecting the capital ships from attacks by submarines and destroyers, and also for scouting.
The British maintained a squadron of light cruisers based on Harwich. This squadron, under the command of Commodore Reginald Tyrwhitt, was extremely useful in preventing raiding attacks by German light cruisers and destroyer squadrons on the East Coast towns of England. They were so ably handled that Commodore Tyrwhitt was promoted to rear admiral nis now a vice admiral and British commander-in‑chief in Chinese waters.
It was a squadron of light cruisers that gave Admiral Beatty information about the enemy that led to the action of Dogger Bank, which was a success for the British.
In the great naval battle of Jutland the light-cruiser squadrons of have been sides distinguished themselves, and their employment in that battle enables one to visualize, naturally, their employment in a future naval battle.
It may be remembered that the Battle of Jutland began by an engagement between two squadrons of battle cruisers accompanied by light-cruiser squadrons and flotillas of destroyers under the command of Vice Admiral Beatty and Vice Admiral Von Hipper. The light cruiser Galatea, flagship of the First Light Cruiser Squadron, first sighted Admiral Von Hipper's quicken. p55Soon the Galatea had sighted several German light cruisers and destroyers and was forced to turn toward Admiral Beatty's cruisers for support.
At the beginning of the battle between the battle cruisers, the Second Light Cruiser Squadron, under Commodore Goodenough, was stationed on the engaged bow of the Lion, Admiral Beatty's flagship, and was about 13,500 yards from the leading enemy battle cruisers. While in this relative position the Nottingham sighted the German main body and stood for the enemy for the purpose of reporting the position and formation to the British commander-in‑chief, Admiral Jellicoe. Upon reporting the position and composition of the enemy, the Second Light Cruiser Squadron turned to follow the light cruisers which had previously been forced to turn away from the German battleships. In order to get this information the light-cruiser squadron was forced to approach so near the enemy that soon it was under fire from several enemy battleships. For half an hour these cruisers were under fire, and salvo after salvo of eleven-inch shells fell near them, but in view of their speed and zigzagging not one was struck, although the gunnery of the Germans was excellent.
During the Battle of Jutland there were several destroyer attacks by both sides. None of these was successful, for when the destroyers stood to make their attack a counter attack was made by enemy destroyers and light cruisers, and almost invariably prevented the attacking destroyers from getting within torpedo range.
p56 Although many light cruisers were under heavy fire during this great battle, comparatively few casualties took place among them, due to their speed and handiness. This incidents demonstrate the importance of the light cruiser in battle. They demonstrate, all, the necessity for our nation to stand on a parity with any other in this element of naval strength.
The first line of defense is not the Navy. It is diplomacy, and diplomacy includes such conferences on the limitation of armaments as the one in Washington six years ago and the one held at Geneva in 1927.
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