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Monday, June 28, 2004

I think a Dreadnought cruiser would have been what John Paul Jones would have wanted if they had existed

John Paul Jones was one of those naval officers with a way with words. The usual quote of his: "Give me a fast ship for I intend to go in harms way" is apparently not correct. Still, it has a good ring to it. I imagine that he would have liked a Dreadnought cruiser, if he could have had one. It will outrun anything that could potentially destroy it, and could run down any lesser ship, if the seas were at all rough. Just because a destroyer or light cruiser might have a trial speed considerably in excess, once a substantial sea is running, that speed advantage vanishes. I still like my 1923 fast battlecruiser design that would be able to make 36 knots (at a great cost) and would carry 9-14inch guns. Frank Fox agreed that it was a good cruiser killer, although he thought something less would work as well.

Colonel Cuniberti's ship design

I have long been a fan of Jane's Fighting Ships, especially the early editions. I happen to have an original copy of the 1903 edition. The most interesting feature of this edition was Colonel Cuniberti's all big gun battleship design. The main features were a 17,000 ton displacement, 24 knots, 12-12inch guns, and a 12inch belt. My back of the envelope calculations indicated that it wasn't a viable design. Frank Fox cautioned me that I might be missing something, and that I shouldn't dismiss it out of hand.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

For some reason, Admiral Fisher liked extremely light secondary armaments

A quirk of Admiral Fisher was his desire for light secondary armaments. The Dreadnought was doomed to having 12pdrs, although in subsequent ships, the caliber was raised to 4inches. When 6inch guns returned in the Iron Duke and subsequent battleships and the Tiger, Admiral Fisher thought that this was a retrogressive step. He had fought to eliminate the 6inch gun secondary armament when he became First Sea Lord in 1904, and this defeated that move.

The new battlecruisers started after August 1914, the Renown class and the Courageous class went back to 4inch guns, although in the unwieldly triple mounts. After Admiral Fisher resigned over the Dardenelles fiasco, the new Admirals class battlecruisers were equipped with the sensible 5.5inch guns, as was the Furious.

In one sense, Admiral Fisher was "on to something", as it was generally realized that a lighter, dual-purpose gun was what was needed, by the mid-1930's. The Americans went down to 5inch guns while the British tried both 4.5inch and 5.25inch guns. The latter were a failure, as the guns and mounting were poor. They were not a good AA gun at all (at least according to my reading of D.K. Brown).

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Super large battleships

The other recurring theme I have been interested in for decades are the super-large battleships and battlecruisers (over 100,000 tons). I laugh, now, when I think about what I heard in 1965, at the University of Michigan: you can't build large ships over 100,000 tons, as the skin friction would be too great. Of course, for some decades, ships over over 200,000 tons have been built (admittedly, they are not fast).

The battleship type that I have envisioned is about 1100ft x 140ft x 40ft, with a displacement of about 105,000 tons. The armament would be 9-20in guns. The speed would be 28 knots. I would allow side armor of 15inches. This is actually on the small side. I suspect that a better ship could be built at least 130,000 tons.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Large destroyers instead of light cruisers

In 1971, a friend of mine decided to follow Admiral Fisher's ideas about ship types. His initial building program consisted of fast battleships of 24 knots and 6-12in guns and 12-inch side armor. His cruisers were the 32 knot light battlecruisers with 4-12inch guns and 4-inch side armor. His next largest ships were destroyer leader types, where some had torpedoe tubes and some did not. They all were lightly armed with 88mm guns (my friend figured if the 88 was good enough for Rommel, it was good enough for his ships). The gun armed ships were large gunboats while the torpedo and gun armed ships were destroyer leaders. The smaller destroyer types were all armed with 88mm guns, some with and some without torpedoes. Those armed with guns, only, were fast gunboats, while those with guns and torpedoes were destroyers. All ships were as fast as possible. The large destroyer types could make 35 knots while the smaller destroyer types could make 32 knots.

The Battleship Cruiser concept

In a ground-breaking paper, in the early 1900's, William Hovgaard wrote about the Battleship-Cruiser. The Japanese were the first to attempt to implement the concept, although as pre-Dreadnoughts. Their attempts were armored cruisers with 4-12inch guns and a heavy secondary armament.

The Invincibles were similar, except with an all-big gun armament and higher speed. What the Germans built, starting with the Moltke and Göben were more what William Hovgaard had in mind. He was ready to sacrifice some armament to get good armor and good speed. The first British ships to achieve this were the Queen Elizabeth class battleships. They really didn't have the needed speed, however. It was only with the cancelled 1921 battlecruisers that the British would have achieve the desired type. It was not until the latter 1930's that William Hovgaard's vision was actually implemented--in the form of "fast battleships". The North Carolinas gave up armor and underwater protection to achieve rather modest speed goals (27 knots). The best fast battleships actually completed were the Iowas. They had acceptable side armor and good speed (33 knots).

Monday, June 21, 2004

Frank Fox didn't think much of my battlecruisers with four 12inch guns

Frank Fox didn't like my 25,000 ton battlecruisers armed with 4-12inch/45 guns and 9-6in/50 guns. The originally intent was to have 4in side armor and a speed of 32 knots. Frank thought that they should have been smaller and armed with 9.2in guns.

Frank likes the concept of the "cruiser killer", and really likes the American Alaska class large cruisers. I did a series of sketch designs for this sort of ship, and I will write about them at some point.

I can see a use for a 9.2in gun cruiser, but not as the "cruiser killer". I want that to have a larger caliber and displacement. I had done a sketch for the 9.2in gun type, at Frank's urging, but was not happy with what I had.

My concept of a "Super Swift"

In 1971, I designed a "Super Swift" scout for the Germans, in my building program for the Germans. A friend designed the building program for the British. I designed both sets of ships, but at my friend's direction for the British.

I saw a "Super Swift" being about 2,350 tons displancement (legend) and 370ft long. I gave the design an armament of 5-4in QF. In 1971, I didn't bother with using authentic German calibers. Not only did the German and British ships look like they came out of the same shipyard, but they used the same guns.

In my "Super Swift", I allocated a patch of 2in side armor over the machinery spaces. The speed was planned as 36 knots. There were also 2-18in torpedo tubes, one on each side, in deck mounts, and there were three funnels. Presumably, there would also have been mine rails aft.

The "Super Swift", the "Super Blonde", and the "Super Lion"

In the planning for the 1912 building program, Winston Churchill had behind the scene correspondence with Admiral Sir John Fisher, who was in retirement and acting as an unofficial adviser to the Churchill. For the light cruisers, there were two designs that were being pursued. One was for an improved version of the large destroyer, the Swift. The other was for an improved version of the scout cruiser Blonde.

The "Super Swift" was originally proposed to be unarmored, have 6-4in QF guns and have a speed of 37 knots. The "Super Blonde" would have had 2-inches of HT steel over 1 inch hull plating. The original "Super Blonde" would have had 10-4in QF guns, and would have been capable of 30 knots. The "Super Blonde" (which became the Arethusa class) was finally given an armament of 2-6in QF guns and 6-4in guns. The cruiser admirals thought that a cruiser needed some 6inch guns to be taken seriously.

The "Super Swift" design was modified to include a patch of 2in HT steel over the machinery spaces, with a reduction in speed to 36.25 knots. Admiral Fisher advised Churchill that he should have the "Super Swift" (and he should forget the armor) and also build the "Super Lion" (10-15in guns and 30 knots), with relatively thin armor. They would have been like the Lion, but with a superfiring turret aft, so that the ship would have been symmetrical. The armor would have been restricted (but still perhaps to 9inches, maximum).

In the end, they went with fast battleships (the Queen Elizabeth class) rather than battlecruisers. The cruisers ended up being the "Super Blondes" (the Arethusa class). The Queen Elizabeth class were seriously overweight, and they gave disappointing performance on speed trials. Realistically, they were more like 23 knot ships rather than the 25 knot ships that was intended.

Admiral Fisher had to wait for the outbreak of war, before he could get the sort of ships he desired. As it was, the unexpected character of the war eventually stopped progress on large ships after 1916. Only the Hood was eventually completed, and then to a revised design that satisfied noone, certainly not her designers. They wanted to build the "Super Hood" type (the cancelled 1921 designs). They had lost faith in the Hood by the time she was completed.

D.K. Brown has much good material on this subject. The first volume of Winston Churchill's book, The World Crisis also has a great deal of good material, besides being a good read for WWI naval junkies like me.

The building program game

On occasion, I have "played a game" where the game consisted of designing ships and a shipbuilding program for two or more countries. They would have budgets and would have agreed upon building capacities. Usually, the start date was 1905.

This allowed me to indulge in "what if" scenarios. One game consisted of a scenario that was to lead to a naval war in the Southwest Pacific, starting in 1914, with Great Britain on one side and Japan on the other. The United States and Germany were neutrals.

A feature of the shipbuilding programs is that there were no battlecruisers built, early in then process. The early large cruisers were armored cruisers with uniform main armaments (the British used 9.2in guns).

The combatants also had squadrons of oceangoing cruisers (similar to the Bristol, Falmouth, and Southampton.

I only just barely started a paper war, starting in 1914, which I did not pursue very far. For me, the design of ships and building programs was more interesting than fighting a naval war. I guess that part of the problem was that I did not have a very interesting set of rules for fighting, and that was why I lost interest (that, and having to do solo gaming).

Sunday, June 20, 2004

David K. Brown says that the battlecruiser's performance in the war proved Admiral Fisher's concept was correct

Actually, the Invincible class battlecruisers proved the concept was successful. Their debut was at the Falklands, when they ran down and sank the German armored cruisers Scharnhorst and Geisenau. Their next action was against the head of the German line at Jutland. Their accurate 12-inch fire heavily damaged the German Lützow, so that the only thing the Germans could do was scuttle the ship. Of course the British had another problem: they were using Cordite as their propellant of choice for their guns. Cordite was nothing but trouble, and should have never been used.

The British should have been warned by the Dogger Bank action, but they did not realize that Cordite was as unstable as it was. Continued use of Cordite probably caused the loss of the Hood. Certainly, inadequate deck armor was a problem, but that alone should not have doomed the Hood. Instead, it was cascading explosions of Cordite that was the real cause of her loss.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Admiral Fisher's sayings

One of the features that endeared Admiral Sir John Fisher to me were his "sayings". He had a way with slogans, much as did John Paul Jones. Some of my favorites are:

  • Fear God and Dread Nought
  • Speed is armour
  • Armour is vision
  • Hit first, hit hard, and keep hitting
  • A new forum for naval history and gaming in the 1902-1927 period

    I have kept finding that I would like to be writing about the dreadnought period, prior to the rise of naval aviation. I want to write about the ships and people, and about "what if" ship design. I have been very fortunate to have Frank Fox as an advisor on doing "general design" of warships. I also greatly admire David K. Brown, the retired naval constructor and author.

    I have been engaged in the study of this period since I was a teenager and have been involved in sketch ship designs since shortly after I entered the navy "way back". You may have seen some of my drawings from that work at I still like my very fast dreadnought cruisers (read battlecruisers) that were originally designed in early 1971 for a naval wargame campaign (thumbnails for battleship and ultra-fast battlecruisers).

    I had hoped, during a design refinement in 1973, to be able to achieve over 40 knots, but the reality is that skin friction keeps that from being doable.

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