March 21, 2018

The Early Battlecruisers

The battlecruiser is perhaps the most misunderstood and maligned warship in history. Conventional wisdom states that they were the result of Jackie Fisher’s bizarre belief that “speed is armor” and that they were ultimately a mistake, as evidenced by the loss of three at Jutland and Hood'⁣s death against Bismarck⁣. In fact, the term battlecruiser applies to at least three different types of ship, which filled critical roles in the fleets of a century ago.


The battlecruisers Australia, New Zealand and Indomitable

The battlecrusier has its origins in the large armored cruisers of the late 19th century. These were approximately the same size as contemporary battleships, trading guns and armor for speed and range. They were intended for trade protection, commerce raiding or working with the battlefleet, depending on doctrine. Krupp Armor allowed them be armored effectively against 6″ QF guns, which meant that they were often proposed as a fast wing of the battlefleet. Their armament bore this out. They had a few guns of 8″-10″, and an armament of 6″ QF guns nearly equal to that of contemporary battleships.1 The US Navy, after the Spanish-American war, built 10 large armored cruisers and gave them state names, a convention reserved by law for battleships, in recognition of their status and importance. The Royal Navy agreed, classifying them as battleships. It was generally recognized that the armored cruiser and battleship would eventually merge into a fast capital ship.


Armored cruiser HMS Minotaur

This posed a serious problem for the British. As the power most dependent on worldwide trade, they decided they needed a 2:1 ratio in armored cruisers over the largest other naval powers (and their likely rivals), France and Russia. But a ship as big as a battleship costs as much as a battleship, and the Boer War was a serious drain on the Exchequer. To stop the bleeding, Jackie Fisher was installed as First Sea Lord, the professional head of the Royal Navy.


Armored cruiser USS Montana

His plan to reduce the number of ships required to protect British trade had two parts. First, he would revolutionize how his forces were used. Instead of dispatching ships to search for raiders on their own, raiders would instead be tracked using information gathered from a wide variety of sources2 and analyzed centrally,3 and ships would then be routed to intercept via radio.


HMS Warrior

The second part was new ships, faster and more heavily armed than anything that had come before. Turbines meant that they could reach the unprecedented speed of 25 kts, and could sustain high speeds over long distances in response to radio cues. The need for good radio performance lead to very tall topmasts being fitted. And they were fitted with an all-big-gun armament, giving them an edge in long-range firepower over anything else afloat. Some initial plans had them fitted with 9.2" guns, but these were soon replaced with 12" for the express purpose of giving them the capability to stand in the line of battle when necessary.4


The initial design for the Invincible class

Of course, sacrifices in armor were necessary to keep the ship's size under control, and the first battlecruisers were no more heavily armored than the last armored cruisers. It was believed that by staying at long range and using their speed to throw off the enemy's fire control, Fisher's dictum of "speed is armor" would actually prove true. Fisher also argued that they were unlikely to fight enemies directly on the broadside, and that the increased angle of incidence on the belt would increase its effectiveness dramatically. Oddly, neither he nor anyone else seemed to have considered what would happen when other nations began building similar ships.


HMS Invincible

As a sign of how seriously the raider threat was taken, the 1905-1906 program contained only one battleship, Dreadnought, but three battlecruisers5 of the Invincible class. This is often overlooked because of the speed of Dreadnought's construction, but it does reveal Fisher's priorities.


Diagram of the Invincible class6

The resulting ships were the same displacement as Dreadnought, although the need for high speed meant that they were 40' longer. They were armed with 4 twin 12" turrets, one forward, one aft, and two amidships, staggered to give at least a theoretical capability to fire 4 guns ahead and an 8-gun broadside. In practice, neither capability worked very well due to blast interference, although it remained an option in battle. The 6" armor belt was a major step down from Dreadnought’s mix of 11" and 8" belt armor, and the deck armor was slightly reduced, too. At the time, battle ranges were still relatively short, and recent improvements in guns and shells had made it impossible to armor a ship against AP projectiles. Over the next decade, increasing battle ranges made armor a practical choice again, leaving the early battlecruisers very vulnerable. The Invincibles were also fitted with 4" secondary guns, instead of the 12 pdr (3") guns of Dreadnought, a reflection of the growing size and toughness of destroyers.


SMS Von der Tann

On the other side of the North Sea, the Germans responded by laying down battlecruisers of their own, starting in 1908.7 The first of these, SMS Von der Tann, was slightly larger than Invincible, and the result of a very different set of tradeoffs. The Germans could not afford to build enough ships to match the British, and decided to prioritize armor over guns to allow their ships to stand in the line of battle with the battleships. Von der Tann's armament was laid out much like that of Invincible, but she was armed with 11" guns instead of 12" weapons. She also had 10 5.9" guns, intended as secondary weapons in a fleet battle.8 Her belt at its thickest was 9.8", less than an inch thinner than the belt of the contemporary Nassau class battleships. She was also considerably faster than the Invincibles, making 27.8 kts on trials, although in service her performance was limited by low-quality coal.


Diagram of Von der Tann

The following figures of displacement percentage for each system type9 show the differing practices of British and German battleships and battlecruisers early in the dreadnought era:

ShipHullArmorMachineryWeapons
Dreadnought34.027.911.117.3
Invincible36.019.919.714.6
Nassau33.635.27.314.3
Von der Tann31.732.714.811.1

After the 1905-1906 program, the British built no battlecruisers under the next two programs, due largely to Fisher's inability to communicate his vision. In 1908, it was planned to order two mini-battlecruisers, essentially a reduced Invincible with 8 9.2" guns. However, the discovery of the second German battlecruiser meant that a half-sister of the earlier ship was ordered instead. The major difference between Indefatigable and Invincible was the greater fore-and-aft separation between the two midships turrets, to give them wider arcs of fire across the ship.


HMS Indefatigable

Indefatigable was followed by two more ships, HMAS Australia and HMS New Zealand. Australia was bought as part of Fisher's attempt to build forces among the Dominions10 and was owned by the Australian government. These forces, each centered around a battlecruiser, would have fulfilled the anti-raider mission around the world while the British fleet concentrated in European waters. No other Dominion bought ships, but the government of New Zealand gifted a battlecruiser to the British.


SMS Moltke

The second class of German battlecruiser was slightly more of an improvement on its predecessor than the Indefatigable was. The extra 3,600 tons allotted was used to buy an extra 11" twin turret, superfiring aft,11 an extra pair of 5.9" guns, and slightly improved armor. Two ships of the Moltke class were built, the name ship and the Goeben, later famous for her part in bringing Turkey into the war.


SMS Seydlitz as she appeared at Jutland

The last of the early German battlecruisers, Seydlitz, was a minor improvement on the Moltke. Another inch of belt and a knot of speed were added, but the armament remained at the 11" guns.

Both the British and German battlecruisers were fascinating ships, in many ways well ahead of their time. The British style was an ingenious response to a difficult convergence of strategic and financial problems, and only has the reputation it does due to an operational mistake. The German battlecruiser was in many ways the first fast battleship, although in many ways it was not rooted in basic strategy like its British counterpart.12

Next time I return to battlecruisers, I'll look at the later and more heavily armed battlecruisers: British, German, and Japanese.


1 Remember that many at the time saw QF guns as the main armament of battleships, so a ship armored against them and armed with lots of them was capable of full-scale combat.

2 Britain controlled the vast majority of the world's undersea cables and the commercial information network centered at Lloyd's of London, giving them unparalleled knowledge of shipping.

3 This is in fact the genesis of what we today know as net-centric warfare, and it's a subject I plan to discuss at some point.

4 After Jutland many would claim that they had never been intended for this role, but a study of the documents produced at the time of their design flatly contradicts this.

5 It's worth noting that the term battlecruiser wasn't officially applied to these ships until 1911. Before that, nobody was quite sure what to call them, candidates including "dreadnought cruiser" and "cruiser-battleship". The Germans used the term Grosse Kreuzer, "Large Cruiser" for both their armored cruisers and their battlecruisers.

6 The caption says Australia and New Zealand, but the midships turrets are close together, as in Invincible.

7 SMS Blucher, a sort of hybrid between the traditional armored cruiser and the proper battlecruiser, was built under the previous year's program. The specifics of the Invincible class arrived in Berlin a week after she was ordered. Before that, the Germans had assumed the Invincibles had 9.2" guns.

8 This was a uniquely German feature, particularly at the time.

9 From Battleship Design and Development by Norman Freidman. They won't add up to 100%, as there are items which fall outside these categories.

10 The term for the semi-independent territories like Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and India.

11 It's slightly difficult to understand why the Germans didn't go for 8 12" instead, as they introduced 12" guns in their battleships at about this point.

12 In fairness, this was true of the entire German fleet.

Comments

  1. March 21, 2018Andrew Hunter said...

    Wait, the Lion class doesn't count as an early BC?

    (I just started reading Castles of Steel and finished the chapter on the battle of the helgoland bight, so Beatty's squadron is of quite some interest right now.)

  2. March 21, 2018bean said...

    My dividing line was when caliber began to escalate, and Lion had 13.5″ guns. There was also a substantial jump in armor, and a change in armament layout. The Germans had a break at about the same point in time, so I split it there.

  3. March 22, 2018Eric Rall said...

    The later-model German 11-inch guns (specifically the L/45 and L/50 models) had a higher muzzle velocity than the British 12-inch Mk X guns and Mk XI guns (855 vs 823 m/s for the L/45 vs Mk X, and 880 vs 861 for the L/50 vs Mk XI and Mk XII), which German naval planners considered to make up for the smaller shells. This may have been compounded by Germans comparing their latest guns to the previous generation of British guns, since German shipyards took considerably longer to build battleships than the British did.

    I suspect a large investment in tooling for manufacturing 11-inch guns was a factor as well, since those were used in several generations of German BBs and BCs, and the German Army also used the same caliber for several railway gun models.

  4. March 22, 2018bean said...

    Note, though, that the Germans went for 12″ on their battleships at about the point Moltke was built. I think some of it was Tirpitz trying to hold down the size of his ships because of the way his budgeting was structured (long story, and one I will tell eventually), but there’s some of it I haven’t put in the time or effort to understand.

    Yes, the German guns were better than their British counterparts (and I’ve actually just finished writing about this in the context of main guns) but there were other things going on. For instance, the Germans never had an intermediate gun between 12″ and 15″, and they went to 15″ before they found out about the British decision to do so.

    On the other hand, the German battlecruisers were almost always an inch or so down on their contemporary battleships in terms of guns. They went for 15" on the Bayern class, and 14" on the Mackensen class. This is not a decision I would have made (logistical reasons, if nothing else), but it does sort of fit with traditional German defense procurement. See most of WWII.

  5. March 22, 2018Eric Rall said...

    I'm sure Tirpitz was constrained in his designs by the German Naval Laws, but another part of the decision to stick with smaller guns was the Kiel Canal. There was a project underway to enlarge the canal to accommodate dreadnought-type battleships, which completed in 1914, but that project was based on the footprint of early dreadnought designs. The larger ships designed around 15" guns were too big for the enlarged canal, and Tirpitz was reluctant to bite the bullet and accept building bigger ships that would require a second canal-enlarging project in order to be able to pass between the Baltic and the North Sea without passing through Danish or Swedish water.

  6. March 22, 2018bean said...

    I checked Fighting the Great War at Sea, and Friedman attributes most of it to Tirpitz being trapped by the Navy Laws, which specified both ship numbers and ship cost. He couldn't simply say "we'll order three instead of four ships, and make each ship bigger", because they'd be written for pre-dreads. This resulted in lots of budgetary games, and things like heavily cutting the training ammo budget. The Kiel Canal isn't mentioned except in connection with the Nassaus. But I'm not an expert in the German navy.

  7. March 23, 2018Tony Zbaraschuk said...

    I've noticed a lot of people tend to obsess over (a) gun caliber and (b) armor, whether the concept is tanks or battleships, but it seems to me that sensors/fire control (and the training to make proper use of it) is a huge issue that gets very little love, mostly because it's complicated to properly understand. But fire control makes for big differences (e.g., Renown vs. Scharnhorst/Gneisanu off Norway where the German BCs' shooting just got worse and worse during the fight).

    Ammo design, too -- the British probably would have won Jutland in a big way if their shells had actually exploded upon hitting at the rate they were supposed to. Shells are actually complicated and powerful mechanisms for making things go boom, and there are lots and lots of ways for them to not work (admittedly a 16" AP shell can still wreck your day because it punches a hole a foot and a half wide through your ship even if it doesn't explode), but dud percentages are high enough to be noticeable even in WW II (e.g., the 15" shell from Bismarck that found its way into Prince of Wales' bottom spaces; had it exploded near the magazines, well, ouch).

  8. March 23, 2018bean said...

    @Tony

    I’m certainly not unaware of those issues, and there’s a reason that Naval Gazing started with a discussion of fire control, and that I harp on it at every opportunity. My favorite thing to do on the Iowa was to ambush guests and talk about fire control. It’s a topic I do intend to get back to, but not until I’ve gotten the other basic technical topics updated. I’m working on main guns now, which more or less finishes the major topics, so expect that in the next couple months.

    WRT this specific instance, for a variety of reasons, big guns are better than small ones, and I do think that I’d have looked very very hard at going to 8x12″ over 10x11″. I don’t have the precise numbers to know what would have happened, but at the very least, it means you’re using the same guns and ammo as the battleships.

  9. March 26, 2018Andrew Hunter said...

    I thought this was as good a place as any to point out another accomplishment of Jacky Fisher: he (may have) coined the term "OMG". http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/11/29/omg-first-use-of-abbreviation-found-in-a-letter-to-winston-churchill/

  10. March 26, 2018bean said...

    @Andrew

    I'm somehow completely unsurprised by this. I still can't quite make up my mind of Fisher. He was clearly a genius, but also unstable. For every very good idea, he also had a bad one. One of these days, I'm going to write a post on him, so I can link to it instead of wiki.

Comments from SlateStarCodex:

  • bean says:

    Naval Gazing looks at the early battlecruisers this week.

    • bean says:

      Also, a reminder that I’m looking at doing a print version of the Jutland posts with good maps and pictures. However, this is only going to happen if I see enough people who seem willing to buy, and I haven’t seen that yet. An electronic version may be available (haven’t decided yet).

    • gbdub says:

      Have there been (m)any battles where the outcome was largely decided by differences in design between opposing ships of roughly similar theoretical class? What if we exclude differences in fire control?

      In general it seems like most of the major sea battles were decided less by the design choices of the opposing naval architects, and more by factors like “overwhelming numbers”, “blind luck”, or “superior gunnery/seamanship”.

      Please prove me wrong so I don’t feel like my interest in the intricacies of ship design is pointless.

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        Ship design does matter, to a certain degree.

        One example that comes to my mind is the difference between British carriers on the one hand and American/Japanese carriers on the other. The British intended to operate theirs in European waters, so close to land based aviation at all times. They armored their flight decks, accepting that it meant a much smaller total load of planes. The Japanese and Americans, on the other hand, built their carriers for greater range and greater striking power for the vast distances of the Pacific, and their carriers were consequentially more easily damaged and sunk.

        In the closing months of the war, when the British finally sent large naval units into the Pacific, their carriers took much lighter losses from kamikazes off Okinawa than the US did. As one USN officer put it, “When a kamikaze hits a US carrier, it’s six months repair at Pearl. In a Limey carrier, it’s ‘Sweepers, man your brooms’.”

        • bean says:

          Yes, but look at how many American and how many British carriers got hit. We were running something like 4x the carriers, and took the same number of hits in the last ~3 months of the war. This was primarily because of the greater number of fighters the American carriers could carry. Ultimately, the Americans got carrier operation right, and the British, for a whole host of reasons, got it wrong. But yes, US carriers, even the early ones, were significantly more effective per ton/per unit than either the British or the Japanese. There’s a reason our methods were adopted by the British for what would have been their postwar carriers.

      • yodelyak says:

        The only example I know of is also the only major point of nautical warfare I know of, which is that ship navigational speed is extremely important. In my head, the way this works is like this:

        If it’s 50ish of my best boats versus 50ish of your best boats, but my boats’ top speed is 60 knots and your boats’ top speed is 50 knots, then I can ensure that all 50 of my boats are moving at top speed in a way that makes them difficult to hit at the same time that they are all entering firing range of just a handful of your boats, which they overwhelm and sink thanks to far superior numbers and the fact your boats are easier to hit. My 50 boats can rinse and repeat this to steadily defeat even a potentially much larger fleet of yours.

        That’s how things work in my head, so you can bet it’s not even wrong. There are also things related to artillery shell speed–it’s easier to hit a target that can change direction quickly if your shell travels quickly. I don’t really think I understand why engine power is critical.

        But, identifying the ship-speed-is-critically-important is one of 10 different ways that Winston Churchhill is credited (in a very hagiographic book I read in one sitting and can’t remember the title of… but looked up and it’s Churchill by Paul Johnson) with single-handedly reversing the fate of Britain in WWII. Well before the war, Churchill was the minister in charge of naval readiness, or armed forces readiness, or something, and pressed very hard on learning about the actual strategic imperatives behind different ship designs, and then pressed very hard against having coal-fired ships (England has no shortage of coal; you can understand the counterargument) in favor of petroleum ones (England had *no* petrol supply at the time that wasn’t vulnerable to being cut off in wartime) because, even given the risk, there was such a strong advantage to being fast in the water, and petroleum has better energy density and easier fuel delivery and okay I don’t know if I understood that either, but apparently a petroleum engine is just going to have much more forgiving trade-offs in terms of size, fuel weight, and horse power. And apparently the difference was dispositive in the Atlantic, such that the Germans were reduced to submarines or nothing.

        So, overall I think the reason this may *seem* true–that architects or overwhelming numbers or blind luck are more important is that actually nobody even tries to win a naval battle if the opposing naval architects have already won it. E.g., the only attacks on U.S. big gun boats in my lifetime has been stuff like the U.S. Cole… because nobody has a boat, or a set of them, that they want to try against the U.S., because at the moment, that arms race is won.

        • bean says:

          That’s how things work in my head, so you can bet it’s not even wrong.

          This is the correct way to bet. There was quite a bit of dispute about the importance of speed during that era. Certain elements among the British, Churchill and Jackie Fisher prominent among them, were big on speed. The USN, on the other hand, thought that it was mostly irrelevant, although that was changing slightly by the end of WWI. Speed can be helpful, but there’s lots of other elements, and sacrificing everything else for speed may not work all that well. Depends on how you use the ships.

          But, identifying the ship-speed-is-critically-important is one of 10 different ways that Winston Churchhill is credited (in a very hagiographic book I read in one sitting and can’t remember the title of… but looked up and it’s Churchill by Paul Johnson) with single-handedly reversing the fate of Britain in WWII.

          Not really. You (or Johnson) seem to be mixing up WWI and WWII, and adding bad history, too. Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty before WWI, and was partially responsible for the Queen Elizabeth-class, which were faster than previous British dreadnoughts. They were also oil-burning, the advantages of which I’ve explained elsewhere. But that came at about the time the German dreadnought program was faltering, and the QEs were designed with coal in mind anyway. Crediting that decision with singlehandedly saving the British is more than a bit extreme. Their high speed was useful at Jutland, but they didn’t win the battle (draw the battle?) single-handed or anything like that. And the policy of naval superiority long predates Churchill.

          He was First Lord again at the beginning of WWII, but the question of fuel was long settled by then. There had been an attempt to reopen it between the wars, but it didn’t get very far. Primarily because it was stupid.

          • yodelyak says:

            Okay, well, I’m going to update in favor of “when I feel like advising people to bet against me, I’m probably right about the fact that I’m wrong.”

            I think I’m not wrong that Johnson put Churchill and speedy oil-based boats on his list of ten (shoot, was it only five? I can’t remember more than a few…) ways Churchill saved England.

          • bean says:

            I think I’m not wrong that Johnson put Churchill and speedy oil-based boats on his list of ten (shoot, was it only five? I can’t remember more than a few…) ways Churchill saved England.

            I’m not claiming that you’re wrong about what Johnson said, I’m claiming that Johnson is flat-out wrong about that Saving England, at least in the sense that someone else in Churchill’s place taking a different decision would have not Saved England. Churchill was important in the Queen Elizabeth story, and they were some of the finest battleships of their day, but I can’t see the British being likely to lose WWI if improved Iron Dukes had been built instead.

          • Lillian says:

            Certain elements among the British, Churchill and Jackie Fisher prominent among them, were big on speed. The USN, on the other hand, thought that it was mostly irrelevant, although that was changing slightly by the end of WWI. Speed can be helpful, but there’s lots of other elements, and sacrificing everything else for speed may not work all that well. Depends on how you use the ships.

            The US Navy realized something obvious: a battle line moves at the speed of its slowest ship. So they standardized all their dreadnought battleships at 21 knots starting with BB-28 Delaware and ending with BB-48 West Virginia (BB-47 was not built). By the end of the First World War the United States had 21 dreadnoughts, of which 19 all had the same top speed. This gave the Navy a nice consistent battle line with no wasted engine capacity on the newer ships.

          • bean says:

            The US Navy realized something obvious: a battle line moves at the speed of its slowest ship.

            That is indeed obvious. What’s not obvious is that 21 kts is the right speed, or that there’s not much value in a faster squadron for detached operations. One of the concepts behind the Queen Elizabeths was that they would be useful in turning the head of the enemy line. The BCs had been seen as a fast division for a while, and the QEs were sort of a hybrid between them and the battleships. It’s also worth noting that the USN bought 10 large armored cruisers right before the dreadnought era kicked off, and they were apparently seen as an effective fast wing until the Japanese acquired the Kongos, at which points plans for the Lexingtons began.

            So they standardized all their dreadnought battleships at 21 knots starting with BB-28 Delaware and ending with BB-48 West Virginia (BB-47 was not built).

            And every RN battleship from Dreadnought to Emperor of India also had a top speed of 21 kts. I’m not saying that the USN was wrong (if I had to bet, I’d bet they weren’t, because their record of getting this sort of stuff right in war was better than anyone else), but I don’t think you’ve proved they were right.

            By the end of the First World War the United States had 21 dreadnoughts, of which 19 all had the same top speed.

            Yes, and the last two were assigned with the pre-dreadnoughts because of their lower speed. I’m aware of all this.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            I’m aware of all this.

            This seems unnecessarily snarky. At least some of us in the peanut gallery appreciate the back-and-forth introducing (and correcting) new trivia.

          • bean says:

            This seems unnecessarily snarky. At least some of us in the peanut gallery appreciate the back-and-forth introducing (and correcting) new trivia.

            You’re right. I have a tendency to interpret stuff as being directed at me, when this was probably meant more for everyone else.

          • Lillian says:

            Yeah i was directing my comments at the audience, adding some extra trivia. On the note of which, the last twelve of the 21 knotters were called the Standard Battleships sinc theu were designed to a similar template with only incremental improvements. Again because USN valued having a uniform battleline.

            All twelve fought in the Second World War and indeed eight of them formed Battleship’s Row at Pearl Harbour. Arizona and Oklahoma were complete losses of course, but dying in the war still counts as fighting in the war.

          • bean says:

            On the note of which, the last twelve of the 21 knotters were called the Standard Battleships sinc theu were designed to a similar template with only incremental improvements. Again because USN valued having a uniform battleline.

            You’re mistaking the results of politics for the results of policy. Josephus Daniels (or Congress, it’s been a while since I read that chapter) consistently refused to let the Navy buy anything more than a minor, incremental upgrade to the previous class. The USN was asking for different ships, they just didn’t get them. Don’t get me wrong, the Standards were the best battleships of the day except maybe the QEs, but it was mostly a happy accident.

            All twelve fought in the Second World War and indeed eight of them formed Battleship’s Row at Pearl Harbour. Arizona and Oklahoma were complete losses of course, but dying in the war still counts as fighting in the war.

            Actually, only seven of them were on Battleship Row, because Pennsylvania was in drydock.

      • cassander says:

        The battle of midway could be cited as one such. The Japanese built carriers that were severely lacking in terms of protection. Not much armor, not much protection for fuel and bomb lines, and not enough AA fire. When they got caught by american fighters, they went up in flames, quite literally. Had the american carriers been caught by the japanese fighters in the same position, they would not have suffered nearly as badly.

        The japanese also designed their carriers to arm and refuel aircraft in the hangars, not on the decks. this had a few consequences. One, it meant that they could carry fewer aircraft. The 3 US carriers at midway brought about as many planes as the 4 japanese carriers. Two, it slowed down their deck cycle operations. This probably didn’t make much of a difference. Three, it made firefighting a lot harder, because once the carriers got bombed, they had massive fires burning inside the ship in an enclosed space instead of outside.

        Intricacies of ship design definitely matter, but the intricacies that end up mattering most are often the ones that get the least attention paid. The US and japanese spent an immense amount of time debating and studying how big/fast/well armed their carriers should be, very little on how many fire hoses they should have, but that ended up mattering a lot more than if they went 32 or 34kts.

      • bean says:

        I can’t point to a specific battle where relatively evenly matched ships had this kind of fight and I can point to specific design details for reasons of victory. About the best I can come up with is River Plate, where the Graff Spee was ultimately killed by damage to her raw fuel processing system. Even there, it was much more a strategic/operational than a tactical matter.
        But when you look strategic/operational, it gets really big, really fast. Damage control is the classic example. The US routinely saved and returned to service carriers that would have sunk if they were Japanese. Better seakeeping, better fuel economy, these are the things that win wars. And not making stupid mistakes in your design (see Graff Spee or the Yamato’s TDS) is important.
        As cassander points out, it’s more important on the carrier side, but I’m still learning the details there.

        • John Schilling says:

          Limiting it to battleship-on-battleship action, I’d say 2nd Guadlcanal was pretty evenly matched (if we count four IJN cruisers as roughly equal to one USN battleship); that one was decided by radar plus the fact that SoDak could stand up to a couple dozen major-caliber hits and Kirishima couldn’t.

          Calabria was similarly even if we trade a few extra Italian cruisers against the third British battleship, that appears to have been decided by the RN’s superb long-range gunnery. But the Italians were faster and so able to disengage safely.

          Denmark Strait shouldn’t count as Prince of Wales’ deficiencies were due to being rushed into service, not fundamental design issues.

          Jutland was a draw insofar as the battleships were concerned, but if we split out the battlecruiser actions the Germans score a clear win on the basis of being nigh-indestructable by design and fast enough to pull away from battleships.

          Lemnos (1913) saw three Ottoman and three Greek pre-dreadnoughts face off; it’s not clear whether it was the design of the fire control systems or the training of the crews that let the Greeks shoot so much more accurately.

          Yalu River favored the Chinese in tonnage and firepower, but they couldn’t score hits with their heavy guns while the Japanese could with their smaller ones.

          General observations, not just from these incidents:

          Fire control, including radar, and also including well-trained crews, probably matters more than anything. You can’t miss fast enough, or with heavy enough shells, to win a fight, and scoring hits is much harder than you think it will be.

          Toughness is a close second to fire control, and well ahead of firepower. speed, etc. Toughness is not the same as impenetrability; the enemy will find ways to get shells, bombs, torpedoes, etc, inside your ship, and you need to be able to take a great many of them and keep on fighting.

          Not really a matter of ship design, but make sure your fuzes work. Yes, statistically significant live-fire testing under realistic conditions is expensive, but as noted above it’s really hard to actually hit the enemy in combat and you really need for the shells, torpedoes, etc to explode when you do get the rare hit.

          Speed makes almost no difference in a fair fight. In an unfair fight, the side with the faster ships decides whether there is going to be a fight at all and if so whether it will be to the death. And if you’re planning on fair fights you’re not really planning to win wars.

          • bean says:

            Limiting it to battleship-on-battleship action, I’d say 2nd Guadlcanal was pretty evenly matched (if we count four IJN cruisers as roughly equal to one USN battleship); that one was decided by radar plus the fact that SoDak could stand up to a couple dozen major-caliber hits and Kirishima couldn’t.

            Yes and no. I counted radar under “fire control”, particularly as it was an add-on to those ships, and Kirishima was much, much older than SoDak. She was as old relative to her adversaries as Royal Sovereign would have been at Jutland. (Not the one that was almost at Jutland, but the one that started the pre-dreadnought.)

            Calabria was similarly even if we trade a few extra Italian cruisers against the third British battleship, that appears to have been decided by the RN’s superb long-range gunnery. But the Italians were faster and so able to disengage safely.

            Again, fire control.

            I’m with you on Denmark Strait.

            Jutland was a draw insofar as the battleships were concerned, but if we split out the battlecruiser actions the Germans score a clear win on the basis of being nigh-indestructable by design and fast enough to pull away from battleships.

            I’d say that wasn’t a design issue, actually. If we split out Beatty’s gunnery problems (which are fire control, and thus excluded) and the fact that the British appeared determined to kill themselves with their magazine procedures, their ships held up pretty well. Lion took a lot of damage and was still combat-effective.

            I can’t speak very much to Lemnos or Yalu River, having not gotten around to examining those incidents in detail.

            General observations, not just from these incidents:

            I’m mostly in agreement with you on these, although I do think that you may underrate armor.

        • Protagoras says:

          Musashi was hit by 19 torpedoes, and Yamato by 11-13, according to the reports I can find. Are there battleships which wouldn’t have sunk under that kind of attack?

          • bean says:

            There weren’t, and it was slightly unfair to include it, but it was a serious deficiency.

          • Philistine says:

            WRT the TDS of Yamato & Musashi, the interesting incident isn’t April 1945 or October 1944 but rather December 1943: Yamato ate a sub-launched torp (from USS Skate) which defeated her TDS, resulting in serious damage and flooding.

    • bean says:

      For Friday, I have a discussion of why the USN needs so many ships, based on a conversation I had with Le Maistre Chat here.

  • Leave a comment

    All comments are reviewed before being displayed.


    Name (required):


    E-mail (required, will not be published):

    Website:

    You can use Markdown in comments!


    Enter value: Captcha