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The Post Treaty Super Dreadnought Battleships: Introduction

Line Drawing of the German H-39 Class Battleship

Note: This is the introductory article for a series of 8 articles on the classes of battleships built or planned by the major powers following the expiration of the Second London Naval Treaty. A previous series of articles dealt with the battleships constructed in compliance or close compliance with the treaty. This series will cover the Japanese Yamato Class, the British Lion Class and the Vanguard, the German Bismarck Class and H39 Class, the Soviet Sovyetskiy Soyuz Class and the American Iowa and Montana classes.

Model of the Montana Class

All of these ships were designed and built or designed in the late 1930s and early 1940s and with the exception of the Sovietetskiy Soyuz Class built on each navy’s experience. The Japanese had constructed no treaty battleships in the 1930s so the Yamato’s were the first battleships constructed by Japan since the Nagato Class which had been completed in the 1920s and the incomplete Tosa Class.

The Bismarck

The Second London Naval Treaty of 25 March 1936 was signed by France, Britain and the United States. Japan walked out on the conference and the Italians did not sign because of the outcry that their invasion of Abyssinia had evoked.  The treaty called for ships to have a standard displacement of no more than 35,000 tons and main armament of 14” guns, a reduction in size of armament from the previous London and Washington treaties. When the Japanese pulled out and the Italians refused to sign the United States invoked the escalator clause which permitted them to disregard treaty limitations.

USS Iowa lead ship of the Iowa class

The Americans who invoked only the armament part of the clause on the North Carolina and South Dakota classes but took full advantage of it to construct the 45,000 ton Iowa class. The Montana Class of 65,000 tons mounting twelve 16” guns and protection proof against that type of shell. Those ships were never laid down but will be covered in this series of articles.

Line Drawing of the Lion Class

The British Royal Navy planned the Lion Class which was in essence an enlargement of the King George V Class armed with nine 16” guns.  The Lion class of which 4 ships were to built was cancelled early in the war and only one further battleship the 44.500 ton HMS Vanguard would be completed by the Royal Navy but not until 1946.

HMS Vanguard

The Germans, who were not a signatory to the treaty but had an agreement with Britain to limit their total naval tonnage to 35% of Britain’s had build the Scharnhorst Class Battlecruisers in the mid 1930s and began the Bismarck Class the largest capital ships completed in Europe. These were to be followed by the H39, H41, H42, H43 and H44 classes ranging in displacement from 56,444 tons to 131,000 tons with armament ranging from eight 16” to eight 20” guns. Only two of the H39’s were laid down and cancelled while in the early stages of construction and I will only discuss the H39 class in this series.

Sovyetskiy Soyuz Class

The Soviet Union which was never a signatory to any of the naval treaties and had not built a battleship since the First World War planned the massive Sovyetskiy Soyuz Class which would have displaced 58,220 tons and mounted nine 16” guns. The four initial ships of the class but were never completed.

Yamato

The Japanese Yamato Class, the largest battleships ever constructed of 69,998 tons standard displacement armed with nine 18” guns, the largest main battery ever installed on battleships were the largest capital ships built before the second generation of U.S. Navy super carriers.

The first article I write will be about the Bismarck Class and that will appear later this week.

 

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The Next Generation: The North Carolina Class Battleships

This is the fourth in a series of six articles on the battleships built under the provision of the Washington and London Naval Treaty limitations in the 1930s. I am not including the ships which were completed in the immediate aftermath of the Washington Treaty limitations. This series looks at the modern battleships that the World War II combatants would produce in the 1930s which saw service in the war. Part one covered the Italian Vittorio Veneto class entitled The Pride of the Regina Marina: The Vittorio Veneto Class Battleships. Part two French Firepower Forward: The unrealized potential of the Dunkerque and Richelieu Class Battleships covered the French Dunkerque class and Richelieu class Battleships. Part three covered the British Royal Navy King George V Class battleships entitled British Bulwarks: The King George V Class Battleships Part Five which was to be a subsection of this article will be on the South Dakota Class. I have already published the final part which covers the German Scharnhorst Class entitled Power and Beauty the Battle Cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau . The German Bismarck, Japanese Yamato, British Vanguard and American Iowa Classes will be covered in a subsequent series.

Turret base of USS Washington being lowered into barbet

The United States finished the First World War as the rising economic and potential military power in the world. The British Empire was economically reeling beset by massive debts, heavy loss of life and an empire which was beginning to smell the fresh breezes of independence.  The United States retreated into isolationism and a naïve and unfounded optimism that war could be outlawed while turning its back on the one organization that might have helped bring nations together, the League of Nations. In this environment the United States sponsored the Washington Naval Conference of 1922 which produced the Washington Naval Treaty.  The treaty stipulated limitations on total battleship tonnage, main armament and the maximum tonnage allowed per ship. Ships already in existence could not be replaced until they reached the age of 20 years. A battleship “building holiday” of 10 years was mandated with the major signatories allowed to complete a few ships that were already under construction. Whole classes of new construction were cancelled and many ships under construction were scrapped on the ways or completed only to be scrapped or sunk as targets. The Royal Navy completed two ships of the Nelson Class, the United States completed the 3 ship Maryland Class using a 4th vessel the incomplete USS Washington as a target and the Japanese were allowed to complete two ships of the Nagato Class. The Royal Navy completed the Battleship Eagle and Battle Cruisers Furious, Glorious and Courageous as Aircraft Carriers, the U.S. Navy the incomplete Battle Cruisers Lexington and Saratoga and the Japanese the Battle Cruiser Akagi and Battleship Kaga as carriers. The treaty limits of the Washington Conference were renewed in the London Treaty which also sought to limit the main batteries of new battleships to 14 inch guns.

North Carolina Class 16″ Gun Turret

The U.S. Navy began a study of new designs for a fast battleship class to comply with the treaty restrictions in May to July of 1935.  A minimum of 35 different designs were submitted and reviewed by the Navy and also reviewed by the faculty of the Naval War College. After a considerable amount of debate a design called the Type XVI was selected. The design originally called for twelve 14” guns mounted in three quadruple turrets. Other designs considered called for twelve 14″ guns in triple turrets. When the Japanese opted out of the treaty and the Italians began building the Vittorio Veneto Class with 15” guns the U.S. Navy adopted the “escalation clause” and the design was modified to mount nine 16” guns in triple turrets primarily due to the expectation that the Japanese Imperial Navy would mount larger guns in its new ships.

Initial Type XVI design with 14″ guns

The Navy worked to achieve the maximum speed, armament and protection that it could within the 35,000 ton treaty limitations. There was debate among Admirals and designers as to how to solve the problem with some factions leaning toward greater speed and lighter armor and armament and others weighing in on a slightly slower ship with greater firepower and protection. The Type XVI (modified) design original called for twelve 14” guns in quadruple turrets but this was changed to nine 16” guns in triple turrets. The main armor belt was 12” inclined 15 degrees with 16” armor on the turret faceplates and barbets having 16” side armor.  Their conning tower was also protected by 14” armor.  This gave them heavier armor than the Italian Vittorio Veneto Class. They had a lighter belt than the British King George V Class but more protection accorded to their turrets, barbets and conning tower while they had slightly less armor than the French Richelieu class due to those ships all guns forward and all or nothing armor protection.

View of USS Washington Conning Tower showing Mk 38 5″ gun directors and SG Surface Search Radar

Their top speed of 27 knots was slower than their European counterparts but their range was far superior to all being able to steam over 20,000 miles at 15 knots and 6,610 miles at 25 knots. Their top speed and ranged decreased slightly during the war with the addition of more anti-aircraft guns and sensors.  Most of the designs considered had speeds from 27-30 knots depending on whether the designers sacrificed speed for armament and protection or protection and firepower for speed. One design, the Type VII resembled earlier classes of battleships with a speed of only 23 knots in favor of much heavier protection on a shorter hull.

USS North Carolina BB-55

The North Carolina Class was comparable in many ways with the Japanese Nagato Class in speed, protection and armament but with a far greater cruising range.

The North Carolina’s also were superior to their contemporaries in their anti-aircraft armament as well as their electronics, radar and fire direction suites which were all continuously upgraded throughout the war.

The construction of the ships was slow due to material shortages, the design change to 16” guns and labor issues which not only lengthened the length of their construction but raised their cost from $50 million to $60 million dollars each.

North Carolina during underway replenishment in the Pacific

USS North Carolina was laid down on 27 October 1937 launched on 13 June 1940 and commissioned 9 April 1941 though it was months before she was operational due to severe longitudinal vibration of her propeller shafts which was corrected by a modified propeller design.  Despite the efforts to keep to the treaty limitations the ships displaced 36,600 long tons and had a full load displacement of 44,800 long tons. By 1945 the ships full load displacement had increased to 46,700 long tons for North Carolina and 45,370 long tons for Washington.

Torpedo Damage to North Carolina

When she completed her shakedown cruise she was sent to the Pacific where she joined Task Force 16 and the USS Enterprise on 6 August 1942.   She defended Enterprise during the Battle of the Easter Solomons on 24 August and during an 8 minute period she shot down between 7 and 14 Japanese aircraft. On 15 September she was badly damaged by a torpedo from the Japanese submarine I-15 which necessitated her withdraw to Pearl Harbor for repairs. The gravity of the hit sparked great debate in the Navy regarding her protection with some wondering if too much had been sacrificed in her design.  Upon her return to service she operated with TF 38 and TF 58 protecting the carrier task forces in their operations against the Japanese as well as with TF 34 the Fast Battleship Task Force under the command of Vice Admiral Willis Lee.  Serving throughout the Pacific campaign she took part in every major operation in the Central Pacific except Leyte Gulf and against the Japanese mainland.  Her Marines and Sailors took part in the initial occupation of Japan.  She was decommissioned and placed in reserve on 1 June 1960 and survived scrapping to be bought by the State of North Carolina for $250,000 and turned into a memorial at Wilmington North Carolina.  She remains a National Historic Landmark and is maintained by the USS North Carolina Battleship Commission. She is exceptionally well maintained and much of the ship is open for tours.

USS Washington BB-56 on high speed run in 1945

The USS Washington was laid down 14 June 1938 launched on 1 June 1940 and commissioned 15 May 1941 though like North Carolina had propeller shaft vibrations which delayed her operational availability.  She became the first U.S. Navy Battleship to take an active part in the war when she joined the British Home Fleet in March 1942 operating with the Royal Navy escorting Arctic convoys bound for the Soviet Union against possible forays of the Battleship Tirpitz and other heavy German surface units until 14 July when she returned to the United States for a brief overhaul.  She then was deployed to the South Pacific to join U.S. Forces operating against the Japanese at Guadalcanal and became the Flagship of Rear Admiral Willis Lee.  During the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal on the night of 14-15 November she and the USS South Dakota sailed with 4 destroyers to intercept a Japanese task force.  The Japanese force led by the Battleship Kirishima included 2 heavy and 2 light cruisers as well as 9 destroyers.  The Japanese hit the Americans hard early in the battle sinking 3 of the 4 American destroyers and inflicting significant topside damage to South Dakota which caused a power outage and knocked her out of the action.  Washington sailed on undetected by the Japanese and opened a devastating barrage against Kirishima scoring hits with 9 16” shells and 40 5” shell. Kirishima was mortally wounded and was scuttled by her crew the following day.  Washington then drove off the other Japanese ships sparing Henderson Field from certain damage.

Washington blasting Kirishima at the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal 14-15 November 1942

Washington’s victim the IJN Battleship Kirishima

Washington continued operations in the South and Central Pacific until she was damaged in a collision with USS Indiana which resulted in her losing nearly 60 feet from her bow on 1 February 1944. She received temporary repairs before returning to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard to receive a new bow and other modernizations returning to action in May 1944. She remained in operation against the Japanese the rest of the war. She was decommissioned in 1947 and struck from the Naval Register on 1 June 1960 and sold for scrap.

Various improvements and ideas were suggested while the ships remained in reserve as some in the Navy wished to reactivate them to include lightening them to increase their speed and conversion into Helicopter Carriers all of which were rejected.

Fireworks over the North Carolina in Wilmington (US Navy Photo)

Though the North Carolina’s were a compromise design they performed admirably throughout the war.  They and their brave crews are remembered in Naval History and the preservation of North Carolina has ensured that they will never be forgotten.

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The Battle Fleet that Never Was: The USS Washington, the South Dakota Class and the Lexington Class Battle Cruisers

Artist depiction of the Lexington as Battle Cruiser

Note: This is the first of a series of articles on what might have happened if the Washington Naval Treaty had not been signed. This article is a look at the American fleet that never was, the following articles will be in the alternative history genre looking at a war breaking out in the Pacific in 1937.

Historians almost always muse on what might have been.  One of the most significant events of the years following the First World War was the Washington Naval Conference and Treaty. The treaty called by the President Harding and conducted under the auspices of the League of Nations was the first international disarmament conference and attended by none nations having interests in the Pacific. The major players in the conference from the naval power perspective were the British, Americans, Japanese, French and Italians.  Each nation had an agenda for the conference, for the United States it was to break the Anglo-Japanese naval accord and to limit the Japanese naval build up.  The British, exhausted and financially reeling from the effects of the First World War had a number of goals.  Though they had the largest navy and the most Dreadnaught type battleships and battle cruisers of any Navy many of its ships were obsolete or worn out from wartime service.  They had little capital to put into new ship construction, especially considering the vast resources of the United States which was already well into a vast naval buildup including ships that would be among the largest and most heavily armed in the world.  It was in the interest of Britain to limit the both the number, tonnage and armament of these ships.

Artist impression of South Dakota Class

The treaty which was ratified in 1922 limited the United States and Great Britain to a maximum of 525,000 tons in their battle ship fleets and 125,000 tons in aircraft carriers.  The Japanese agreed to a limit of 315,000 tons and the French and Italians 175,000 tons each.  Tonnage for battleships was limited to a maximum of 35,000 tons with a limitation on guns size to 16 inches.  Since the bulk of the ships planned or being built by the US and Japan exceeded those limits they would be effected more than the British whose post war shipbuilding program had not begun in earnest. For the US this had a dramatic effect on its planned fleet, which if built would have become the dominant Navy of the 1920s and 1930s.  It is fascinating to think what might have happened if the treaty had not been signed and what the battle fleets of the various nations would have looked like in 1941 had war not come sooner.

Plans for South Dakota Class

The American Navy went to war in 1941 with 18 battleships, the most modern of which were the new North Carolina and Washington and the rest averaging over 20 years old in 1941. The most modern of these ships were the Colorado class composed of the Colorado, Maryland and West Virginia each mounting eight 16”/50 guns.  The fourth ship of the class the Washington was sunk as a gunnery target when 75% complete under the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty.

The incomplete USS Washington sinking

However it was a battle force that could have been much larger and far more capable, a force that may not been regulated to convoy escort duties and shore bombardment but instead may have taken on the Imperial Navy on the high seas in battleship combat not seen since Jutland.  Yet this was not to be, the great fleet of super-battleships was never built and only two hulls completed the Lexington and Saratoga which instead of being completed as battle cruisers were completed as aircraft carriers.

Artist impression of South Dakota Class

The Americans had set out to build the largest, most modern and powerful battleships and battle cruisers afloat.  The Navy had already produced the Colorado class super-dreadnaughts which were equal to or superior to any battleships of their era.  The Navy planned for a class of six battle cruisers which would be superior to any similar ship afloat, the Lexington class and a class of six battleships, the South Dakota class mounting twelve 16”/50 guns in triple turrets.

Artist impression of South Dakota Class as they might have appeared in 1938

The two classes were leviathans and to counter them the British made plans for a four ship 48,000 ton class of battleships, the N3 project mounting nine 18” guns and a class of battle cruisers mounting nine 16” guns.  The ships of both classes were designed with their main battery mounted forward in order to save weight on armor.  Both classes were canceled with the signing of the treaty and none were laid down.  It is suggested by some that the G3 battle cruiser design was a ploy to get the United States to agree to the cancellation of its capital ship projects. The guns planned for the G3 class were mounted on the Nelson class battleships which complied with treaty limits.  Although powerful ships they suffered from engineering problems which often reduced their speed from what was designed.  Along with the HMS Hood, the sole ship completed of the four ship Admiral class the Nelson and Rodney were the most modern battleships in the Royal Navy until the King George V class entered service in 1941.  The Japanese planned for eight battleships and eight battle cruisers centered on the two existing Nagato class battleships and 4 Kongo class battle cruisers to be joined by the two ship 40,000 ton Tosa class battleships, the Tosa and the Kaga, of which Kaga was completed as an aircraft carrier. They were to be joined by the 4 improved Tosa class or Kii class fast battleships of 42,000 which were ordered but never laid down.  These were to be joined by the four ship Amagi class battle cruiser class.  Amagi was destroyed during the Tokyo earthquake of 1922 and scrapped and Akagi completed as an aircraft carrier.  All of the planned Japanese ships were to mount ten 16” guns in five twin turrets.

Lexington Class final design drawing

The American ships were to be powerful and based on main battery, protection and speed they would have acquitted themselves well had they been built.  The Japanese ships would have had a speed advantage over the South Dakota’s but this would have been offset by the gun power and protection of the latter.  The American Lexington class would have been faster than any of their competitors.

South Dakota Class Design Specifications
Displacement: 43,200 tons normal
Dimensions: 684 x 106 x 33 feet/208.5 x 32.3 x 10.1 meters
Propulsion: Turbo-electric, 12 285 boilers, 4 shafts, 50,000 shp, 23 knots
Crew: 1191
Armor: 8-13.5 inch belt, 3.5 inch deck, 4.5-13.5 inch barbettes, 5-18 inch turrets, 8-16 inch CT
Aviation: none
Armament: 4 triple 16″/50cal, 16 6″/53cal, 8 3″/50cal AA, 2 21 inch torpedo tubes (submerged)

The six ships in the Class, South Dakota, Indiana, Montana, North Carolina, Iowa and Massachusetts were all scrapped in accordance with the treaty when partially complete, the North Carolina being in the most advanced stage of construction, 37.8% when construction was halted.

Lexington class Battle Cruiser Design Specifications

Displacement 43,500 Tons, Dimensions, 874′ (oa) x 105′ 5″ x 31′ (max).
Armament 8 x 16″/50 16 x 6″/53 4 x 3″8 x 21″ torpedo tubes
Machinery, 180,000 SHP; G.E. Geared Turbines with Electric Drive, 4 screws
Speed, 35 Knots, Crew 1500

The ships with the exception of the Lexington and Saratoga were scrapped incomplete.  All were to be named after famous warships or battles, and the Constellation, Constitution, Ranger and the United States were to be named after some of the most illustrious ships ever to serve in the US Navy.

If all of the ships, including the Washington of the Colorado class been completed the US Navy would have had eight battleships and six battle cruisers mounting 16 inch guns to compliment the nine battleships of the Nevada, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and California classes which all mounted 14 inch batteries.  The fleet would have been superior to either the Royal Navy or the Imperial Japanese Navy even with the ships planned by those navies.  Economically the United States was the only nation in the world capable of sustaining a naval arms race of this magnitude, the British economy and political will would have been unable to sustain it and the limited industrial capacity and dependence on the United States for raw materials and machine tools needed to construct their ships would have limited their ability to produce such a fleet. Without the conversion of the Lexington, Saratoga and their Japanese counterparts the Akagi and Kaga into aircraft carriers the development of the carrier would likely have gone slower and that type of ship may not have risen to the prominence that they gained during the Second World War.

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