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The Pinnacle Of Obsolescence: The Unbuilt Battle Cruisers Of the 1920s and the Supercarriers of the 2020s?

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Artists Depiction of G3 Battlecruiser 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This weekend I will be reflecting on the old year and the coming new year, but tonight I decided to tweak and republish an article from about four years ago dealing with the battle cruisers being built by Great Britain, Japan, and the United States after the First World War. They represented the pinnacle of naval design for their era and would have been far superior to their adversaries had technology and war remained static. As Admiral Ernest King noted:

“Nothing remains static in war or military weapons, and it is consequently often dangerous to rely on courses suggested by apparent similarities in the past.”

As the First World War ended a new Naval Race was heating up. The United States had announced its intention during the war to build a navy second to none while Imperial Japan was making plans for a fleet that would give it superiority in the Western Pacific. The British, though still be far the largest naval power in the world were burdened by the massive costs of war and empire, but also seeking to maintain their naval dominance and to that end they were in the process of building a class of massive super-Dreadnought battleships, and Battle Cruisers.

The ships known as battle cruisers were first built by the British Royal Navy as a compliment to the all big gun Dreadnought battleships. The Battle Cruiser concept was for a ship of roughly the same size and firepower as a Battleship but sacrificing protection for greater speed, endurance and range.  and Japan joined in the Battle Cruiser race before and during the war. Unlike Britain the United States had concentrated on building battleships but following the war began to design and build its own class of massive battle cruisers.

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HMS Invincible Blowing Up at Jutland 

During the war the weaknesses of the type were exposed during the Battle of Jutland where three British Battle Cruisers, the HMS InvincibleHMS Indefatigable and HMS Queen Mary blew up with the loss of most of their crews; of the 3311 officers and sailors on the ships only 26 survived. The HMS Lion was almost lost in a similar manner but the heroic actions of her crew saved her from her sisters fate. The British ships had glaring deficiencies in armor protection and the arrangement of their ammunition magazines and hoists which certainly contributed to their loss. Their German counterparts on the other hand proved much tougher and though all sustained heavy damage while engaging British Battleships and Battle Cruisers, only one the Lützow was lost. She absorbed over 30 hits from large caliber shells and only lost 128 crew members.

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HMS Hood

As the war progressed other Battle Cruisers were built, the British launched the HMS Repulse and HMS Renown and completed the HMS Hood shortly after the war was over. The Japanese built the four ship Kongo class from a British design, the first of which, the Kongo was completed in a British yard. As the powers embarked on the next Naval Race planners and naval architects designed ships of massive firepower, better protection and higher range and speed. All would have been better classed as Fast Battleships.

The British designed and began construction on the G3 class in 1921, while the Japanese began work on the Amagi Class, and the United States the Lexington Class. However the construction and completion of these ships as Battle Cruisers was prevented by the Washington Naval Treaty.

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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, in fact the G3 Class had just been approved for construction.

The G3 class would have comprised four ships and been similar to the N3 Class Battleships. They were very well balanced ships and would have mounted nine 16” guns in three turrets on a displacement of 49,200 tons and deep load of 54,774 tons. They had an all or nothing protection plan meaning that the armored belt was concentrated in vital areas around the armored citadel, conning tower, turrets and magazines and engineering spaces. Their armor belt would have ranged from 12-14 inches, deck armor from 3-8 inches, conning tower 8 inches, barbettes 11-14 inches, turrets 13-17 inches and bulkheads 10-12 inches. Their propulsion system of 20 small tube boilers powering 4 geared steam turbines connected to 4 propeller shafts would have produced 160,000 shp with a designed speed of 32 knots.

The four ships, none of which were named were ordered between October and November of 1921. Their construction was suspended on November 18th 1921 and they and the N3 Battleships were cancelled in February 1922 due to the limitations of the Washington Naval Treaty. Many concepts of their design were incorporated in the Nelson Class battleships which were a compromise design built to stay within the limits of the treaty.

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Amagi Class as Designed, Akagi as Completed (below) 

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The four planned Japanese Amagi Class ships would have mounted ten 16” guns on a displacement of 47,000 tons at full load. Their propulsion system 19 Kampon boilers powering four Gihon turbines would have given them a maximum speed of 30 knots, They would have had less protection than the G3 ships being more of a traditional Battle Cruiser design. As a result of the Washington Naval Treaty the Japanese elected to convert two of the ships, the Amagi and Akagi to aircraft carriers. Amagi was destroyed on the ways during the great Tokyo earthquake and Akagi was completed as a carrier. The other two vessels were scrapped on the ways.

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The United States Navy planned the six ship Lexington Class. These ships would have mounted eight 16” guns on a ship measuring 874 feet long and 105 feet in beam, displacing 43,254 tons at full load, or nearly the size of the Iowa Class battleships. They would have had a maximum speed of 33 knots being powered by 16 boilers which drove 4 GE electric turbines producing 180,000 shaft horse power. Theirs was a massive engineering plant and while the class did not have as heavy armor protection as either the G3 or Amagi classes, they were superior to them in speed as well as endurance. Upon ratification of the Washington Naval Treaty four of the six ships were cancelled and the remaining two, the Lexington and Saratoga competed as aircraft carriers.  Had any of the ships been completed as Battle Cruisers it is likely due to their speed that they would have operated primarily with the the carriers that the US Navy built during the 1930s.

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One can only speculate what the navies of World War II would have looked like had the Washington and the subsequent London Naval Treaties not been ratified. One can also only imagine how the war at sea would have been different had the ships completed as carriers been completed as Battle Cruisers.

However that was not to be, of the planned 14 ships of these three classes only three were completed, all as aircraft carriers, ships that helped to forge the future of naval operations and warfare for nearly a century. Thus the uncompleted ships are an interesting footnote in naval history yet have their own mystique.

HMS Queen Elizabeth 

Yet nothing remains static. The massive aircraft carriers which have ruled the seas since the Second World War are not necessarily invincible and depending on how technology progresses could be heading into obsolescence, and end up serving in support roles or being paid off. Perhaps to meet some missions smaller and cheaper carriers will be developed, or existing platforms modified to carry more capable aircraft as the Japanese are doing with their Izumo Class “Helicopter Destroyers.” 

JMSDF “Helicopter Destroyer” Kaga 

Thus, one might wonder if the large new aircraft carriers currently being built by the United States, Britain, China, India, and other nations will also be displaced by advancing technology as were the battlecrusiers of the 1920s. It is a question that must be asked. There are certainly arguments for them, but what would the effect be on the United States Navy if one of the Nimitz Class carriers was sunk by the Chinese? My guess is that it would be the same kind of shock that hit the Royal Navy after Jutland, and the U.S. Navy after Pearl Harbor.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Stuff of Dreams: The Montana Class, H-Class and Super-Yamato Class Battleships

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“It was a warship, after all. It was built, designed to glory in destruction, when it was considered appropriate. It found, as it was rightly and properly supposed to, an awful beauty in both the weaponry of war and the violence and devastation which that weaponry was capable of inflicting, and yet it knew that attractiveness stemmed from a kind of insecurity, a sort of childishness. It could see that–by some criteria–a warship, just by the perfectly articulated purity of its purpose, was the most beautiful single artifact the Culture was capable of producing, and at the same time understand the paucity of moral vision such a judgment implied….” Iain M. Banks 

None ever sailed the high seas and only two even began construction but they are the stuff of dreams for those fascinated with the history of battleships and their development. I happen to be one of those who are fascinated about warships, especially the all gun battleships and cruisers of the first half of the 20th Century.

One of the amazing aspects of the Battleships after the launching of the HMS Dreadnought in 1906 how they impacted every major power and were in some part a reason that England went to war with Germany in 1914. The great naval arms races, especially that of the race to build the most powerful battleships were expensive and after the First World War, nations exhausted by war and bankrupted by the costs attempted, for a bit longer than a decade to dictate limits on their construction and size. However in the mid-1930s with the threat of war again in the air nations once again began to build bigger, faster and more powerful Battleships.

Most of the ships described here were already on the drawing board by the late 1930s, even as the Super-Dreadnaught Battleships of the Bismarck, Yamato and Iowa classes were under construction. But that was before the vulnerability of battleships to carrier based aircraft brought about a revolution in naval warfare as Fast Carrier Task Forces supplanted the traditional battle line of battleships.

Had they been built they would have been some of the largest and most heavily armed ships ever seen. The guns to be mounted ranged from 16” guns on the Montana’s and the initial German H-39 class, to 20” guns aboard the Super Yamato’s and the H-44. the latter would have been the largest artillery ever mounted aboard ship.

When war came work and planning was suspended on the ships. The simple reason was that their construction would have consumed vast amounts of raw materials, labor and industry which was needed for other types of vessels. The Germans chose the path of U-Boats, the Japanese and Americans Aircraft carriers and their escorts.

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Montana Class

The Montana class would have been comprised of 5 ships, each armed with 12 16” guns displacing over 72,000 tons at full load. They would have had a speed of 28 knots as designers chose firepower and protection over speed. Thus they would have been 5 knots slower than the preceding Iowa’s which were designed to keep up with the fast carriers. The class was suspended in May of 1942 and cancelled after the battle of Midway.

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A-150 or Super Yamato Class Battleship 

The Super Yamato’s or the A-150 class as their design was known would have been comprised of 2 vessels each armed with 6 20.1” guns displacing over 70,000 tons with a speed of 30 knots. Initially the designers called for 8-9 20.1” guns but tests indicated that the ships would then displace over 90,000 tons making them too large and costly.

However as grandiose as the plans of the Americans and Japanese were the German proposals grew from ships somewhat larger than the Bismarck and Tirpitz to ships that would have dwarfed any warship ever built, including the US Navy Nimitz Class Aircraft Carriers.

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H Class Battleship

The H-39 class, the direct successor to the Bismarck Class came closest to fruition of any of these ships. They were designed to carry 8 16” guns, displace over 55,000 tons and steam at 30 knots powered by diesel engines. 2 of the 6 planned ships were actually laid down and several of the main guns were completed and used as coastal defense artillery along the Atlantic Wall.

Atlantikwall, Batterie "Lindemann"

However Hitler ordered his Naval Staff to design even larger and more powerful battleships. The H-41 class would have have displaced 68,000 tons and mounted 8 17” guns, the H-42 class over 96,000 tons full load and mount 8 19” guns, the H-43 118,000 tons full load  and 8 19” guns while the H-44 would have displaced over 139,000 tons full load and mount 8 20” guns. One innovative feature of the last three designs would have been the use of a combined diesel/steam turbine power plan which would have given the ships good speed as well as tremendous range.

However since none of the ships from any of the nations was ever built one can only speculate how they might have performed operationally or how they might have fared had they ever met in battle.

They would have been an amazing sight to behold, massive power and beauty, but the kind of deadly beauty that one wishes never had to be employed.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

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The Navy is the Future of National Security

USS HUE CITY CG 66 in the Arabian Gulf 2002.  “I wish to have no Connection with any Ship that does not Sail fast for I intend to go in harm’s way.” John Paul Jones 

“Without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious.”  President George Washington

“A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guaranty of peace.” President Theodore Roosevelt

“A powerful Navy we have always regarded as our proper and natural means of defense; and it has always been of defense that we have thought, never of aggression or of conquest. But who shall tell us now what sort of Navy to build? We shall take leave to be strong upon the seas, in the future as in the past; and there will be no thought of offense or provocation in that. Our ships are our natural bulwarks.” President Woodrow Wilson

“Events of October 1962 indicated, as they had all through history, that control of the sea means security. Control of the seas can mean peace. Control of the seas can mean victory. The United States must control the seas if it is to protect your security….” President John F. Kennedy

There are a great many debates in Congress and the Pentagon regarding the current and future military budgets in light of the massive budget deficits and economic crisis facing the nation.  Complicating the issue is our massive commitment to land campaigns that contribute little to the long term national security of the United States and its friends. These wars constrain our diplomatic military and economic ability to respond to other crises at home and around the world be they military threats, terrorism or natural or man made disasters.

Until the mid 20th Century theUnited States viewed the land forces when used abroad as expeditionary forces which were employed overseas for relatively short periods of times of combat.  The mission and strategy was to fight the war, bring all or most of the forces home, assist with security as needed and depend on a naval presence to show the flag without a continued large “boots on the ground” presence.   The two times that we have elected to fight protracted ground wars with no definable condition of victory we have come out weaker than we went in.  This was the case inVietnam a war which badly divided the nation and nearly destroyed the military as a viable force.  The present campaign in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq which is close to ending have the potential to do the same.

In the prosecuting the Global War on Terror which was launched in response to the attacks of September 11th 2001 we have for the most costly and historically flawed ways to use an American Army.  In doing so we have had to invest a huge amount of our expenditures simply to maintain a force to keep the status quo in a country that will turn on us as soon as it convenient to do so.

In the process of focusing on these aspects of this war we have forgotten the more crucial long term aspects of national security which can only be addressed by maritime power.  This power includes the military might of the Navy and Marine Corps team but also includes our Merchant Marine and Coast Guard.

Ninety percent of world trade is transported by ship via sea lanes that have choke points such as the Strait of Hormuz,Strait of Malacca, the Bab El Mendeb and the Horn of Africa, and the Strait of Gibraltar.  Likewise other traffic must pass through the South China Sea, the Taiwan Straits or around Cape Horn.  Then there are the two major maritime canals the Panama and Suez Canals.  Terrorists, pirates, rogue nations and ascending Naval powers such asChinapose real threats in all of these critical maritime commerce choke points.

Real and potential threats to the choke points: Iranian Naval and Revolutionary Guard Naval forces, Somali pirates, the new Chinese aircraft carrier and a Pakistani Navy that may become an enemy overnight 

Most of the world’s population lives in what are called the littorals, the areas of land adjacent to oceans and major waterways.  Likewise most industry is located in these areas. Most of these populations and industries are also in areas under the same type of threats as the sea lanes and choke points.  Simply put the sea and the littorals are much more important to this country and the world than landlocked Afghanistan.  They also are much more easily influenced by naval power that is not bound to land bases in nations where governments and their policy to the United Statesand our friends can change overnight and which large land armies would have minimal impact.

The United States Navy has been and still is the world’s preeminent naval power. It will likely remain so for the foreseeable future but the navy is strained.  Since 2001 it has shrunk in size, shed some 52,000 sailors and seen its scope of responsibility and operational tempo increase putting greater strain on the ships, aircraft and personnel remaining.  Ships are aging, maintenance was deferred and the planned new construction has not materialized.  The Ticonderoga Class Guided Missile Cruisers are nearing an average age of 20 years, our carriers average 23 years old, many of our submarines are nearing the end of their projected service lives and some other ships are far older.

Ship classes like the Freedom and Independence class Littoral Combat Ships (LCS), San Antonio Class Landing Ships (LPD) and the DD-1000 Zumwalt Class are badly over budget, plagued with technical and workmanship issue and are behind in production.

USS Freedom (above) and USS Independence Littoral Combat Ships

The LCS in particular seems like a bad investment, the ships are undermanned and under armed, planned weapons modules are not in production and they are not designed for survivability.  In effect they are large fast ships with almost no offensive or defensive capabilities that would be hard pressed to survive in a fight with any current or future Corvette or Frigate fielded by an opposing naval force. In order to be effective they need heavier armament and larger crews and need a redesign to improve their survivability. It makes no sense to spend more than half a billion dollars each on ships that are not survivable and cannot fulfill their intended missions.  A better choice would be something similar to the Dutch De Zeven Provincien  German Sachsen or the French Lafayette Class frigates which have a heavy armament and good endurance or the smaller and cheaper German Braunschweig class Corvettes.

DD-1000 the Zumwalt Class

The Zumwalts are 14,000 ton “Destroyers” that were designed as a replacement for the battleship.  Originally 32 were planned but the high cost and multiple problems associated with the design. These issues have included such things as seaworthiness due to their hull form and other hull issues, its integrated advanced electro-magnetic propulsion system and its surface and air warfare capabilities.  Their armament has been an issue since the beginning as they cannot meet the standards of the Aegis equipped Cruisers and DDGs and cannot support the Ballistic Missile Defense capabilities of those ships.  Their naval gunfire support capability which was advertised as one of their main selling points is woeful. They are to be equipped with two 155mm long range naval guns designed to use a “smart” munitions. The ships will carry a limited supply of shells for these guns and because of the need for extended range and guidance capabilities the shells will have a smaller charge than their land based counterparts.   They will have only two-thirds of the VLS cells than Ticonderoga class ships meaning that they can carry few missiles of all types.  It is likely that the Tomahawk cruise missile will comprise the bulk of their missile armament but if one wants a ship that’s only significant capability is launching Tomahawks then there are many other ideas which are more economical and can carry far more missiles than the Zumwalts. One of these was the Arsenal ship which was designed to carry 500 Tomahawks on a stealthy platform that requires a small crew and had an estimated cost of 500-800 million dollars.  It was cancelled in favor of the project that eventually turned into the Zumwalt class. The DD-1000 program began with the DD-21 program in 1994 and the first ship may not enter service until 2015. The cost of just two of these ships has grown exponentially to 6.6 billion as of 2011.  The two ships under construction have little place in the current or future Navy and would likely serve as technology test beds.

The Arsenal Ship

While we have increased the numbers and continued the production of the highly successful Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyers (DDG) and Wasp class Amphibious Assault ships (LHD) it is not enough to compensate for the continued attrition.  If worst case budget projections occur the Navy could experience massive cuts without any decrease in maritime threats or operational commitments.  The Coast Guard is in even worse shape.

The USS John S McCain DDG 56

The most important aspect of national defense, free trade and humanitarian assistance in the coming years are America’s Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine.  Without a strong Navy and the other components of maritime power we are at the mercy of tin-horned dictators, pirates and terrorists who live and operate in the most vital areas of the world’s maritime transportation network.

Humanitarian assistance: USNS Comfort off Haiti 

As our political leaders meet in the coming weeks and months decisions will be reached in matters of national security.  They will be based budget considerations alone as we have not operated on a clearly defined national security strategy since the end of the Cold War.  Force structure has to be decided based on the over arching national strategy and broad brushed and un-thought out cuts are a recipe for disaster.

History tells us this. Following our Revolution the nation was deep in debt and eliminated the Navy.  Since our merchant shipping was no longer protected by the Royal Navy and the treaty withFrancewas allowed to lapse American ships became easy prey for the Barbary Pirates.  Rather than build a navy to protect American citizens and shipping the nation paid “tribute” to dictators which amounted to tens of millions of dollars until Thomas Jefferson sent the new re-established Navy to counter the threat.   Our history and that of other maritime powers such asGreat Britainand theNetherlandsprovide many precedents for this use of power.

What needs to happen now is for the LCS ships and Zumwalt class production to end with the current ships building.  No carriers except the 50 year old USS Enterprise should be decommissioned until a full up national strategy review is completed and agreed to by both political parties.  That strategy needs to actually prioritize the most important areas of engagement that the military should focus its efforts.  The Middle East will remain important but will fade as Asia continues to gain importance.

Regarding other ship classes much needs to happen.  DDG production should be stepped up and an affordable yet fully capable replacement to the Ticonderoga class designed, to include the ability to conduct ballistic missile defense.  A diesel electric attack submarine needs to be fielded to complement the Virginia Class attack boats.  A Light Fleet Aircraft Carrier design should be designed and produced to compliment the Nimitz and Ford Class Carriers now in commission or building. The Navy should design or take an off the shelf Corvette or small Frigate type ship to fill the role envisioned by the LCS.  Such ships should be designed for specific tasks to avoid the massive cost overruns and simplify production.  When one remembers that it as the United States Navy that first developed the Destroyer Escort type ship to fill a specific role such an undertaking should be well within ship designer and capabilities so long as they do not try to “gold plate” the type and make it a jack of all trades and master of none ship.  Other types of ship should be studied to include smaller but still capable aircraft carriers and new amphibious ships to support the Marine Expeditionary forces.

Ships need to be designed with combat power, survivability as the first priorities and they need to be affordable and easy to mass produce.  Designs do not need to be over thought.  George Patton’s adage “a good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan next week” applies today for this nation and the Navy.  To adapt Patton’s adage I say that “a combat effective and survivable ship class that we can afford and mass produce now is better than a perfect ship that bankrupts us and cannot be produced in the numbers needed to secure the seas.” 

The Navy is the American Armed Force of the Future. Of all the Armed Services the Navy offers the United States the ability to protect its interests abroad and homeland security without the need to base large numbers of ground forces overseas.  Naval forces are flexible, are easily sustainable and conduct security, combat and humanitarian operations better and more affordably than any armed service in the world. When coupled with the expeditionary capability of the Marines offer a force that affordably provides national security.  George Washington, John Adams, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt all knew this.  I do hope that the current Administration, Congress and their successors will not allow the current superiority that we enjoy on the high seas to decay just as our greatest economic and military competitors build up their naval capabilities and the threat of terrorists, pirates and the small but dangerous navies of rogue states threaten the sea lanes that are absolutely vital to our economy and national security.

The Navy is also the least provocative armed service and history has repeatedly shown that naval forces are a deterrent to war and guarantee of peace.

On that last note…

Peace

Padre Steve+

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