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A Royal Navy for the Far East 1942 Onwards

Volkodav

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It all comes down to needs matching windows of opportunity.

When there is the strategic need (and sufficient urgency), if there is sufficient time to order new turrets and guns this will happen, if there is time to build new ships this will happen, no modernisations of old ships, no reuse of turrets.

If there is time to build more new ships but the bottle neck is turrets, Vanguard like options and modernisations of the better old ships become the sensible way forward, in addition to new ships with new guns.

The worst case scenario is fight with what you have and build / complete what you can.

Japanese militarism and expansionism was an issue of concern to the European colonial powers pre WWI and was mitigated for a period by the Anglo Japanese alliance, the pending expiry of this alliance post WWI was the driving force behind RN plans in the Far East and various naval expansion plans within the affected Dominions. Prior to the rise of Nazi Germany, Japan was the primary international threat foreseen by the British.

Had Germany taken themselves out of the equation and become, neutral, non aligned or even friendly, Fascist Italy and Spain would still have remained, as would the elephant in the room, paranoid USSR. Through the well known and feared threat of Japan, in addition to the European threats, the UKs rearmament and modernisation would have continued, maybe at a slower pace, but it would have continued. Thus had the war been delayed until late 41 early 42, the RN would have been larger, more modern and much more capable, as would the French and possibly the Dutch, while the Japanese, who were already undertaking an economy breaking militarisation, would have remained the same as reality.

The only question is would the Japan have gone to war without the distraction of a European war, or would this simply have changed their objectives, i.e. an attack on Russia. Forget about the Battle of Ceylon, would Japan have been able to take Malaya if even a fraction of the British Empire forces employed in Africa were available in SEA? Possibly Japan and Italy ally and launch simultaneous attacks, the Italians assuming they will be able to dominate the Med and conquer the Balkans and North Africa, the Japanese believing the Italians would be successful use this as the distraction needed to attack through SEA.
 

uk 75

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Defanging Germany for this scenario is itself a pretty tall order. Arguably the Treaty of Versailles and France's use of Eastern European countries to try and contain Germany was asking for some kind of pushback.
Hitler and his criminal gang of street rowdys emerge from the economic woes of Germany.
But even a prosperous democratic Germamy would have felt humiliated by Versailles and bullied by France, who had occupied the Ruhr.
Mussolin on his own was no great threat A Taranto style punishment either from carriers or battleships as used on the French fleet in 1940 would have put him in his box. See also hisfarcical invasion of France.
Plans to defend Singapore were halfbaked and opposed at every turn by beancounters.
Putting together a force needed to cope with a Japanese air force blooded in Manchuria would have taxed a country basking in the silver glow of the Hendon Air Pageant.
Without the German naval buildup would theKGVs have ever got ordered or the new carriers.. More likely the RN would have made the best of Hood, Rodney and Nelson to give it an illusion of modernity. Imperial training cruises would have been the order of the day.
To get the goodies needed to eventually build a Pacific Fleet able to take onJapan you needthe massive rearmament caused byHitler but crucially US supplied Mustangs and Corsairs
 

kaiserd

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Defanging Germany for this scenario is itself a pretty tall order. Arguably the Treaty of Versailles and France's use of Eastern European countries to try and contain Germany was asking for some kind of pushback.
Hitler and his criminal gang of street rowdys emerge from the economic woes of Germany.
But even a prosperous democratic Germamy would have felt humiliated by Versailles and bullied by France, who had occupied the Ruhr.
Mussolin on his own was no great threat A Taranto style punishment either from carriers or battleships as used on the French fleet in 1940 would have put him in his box. See also hisfarcical invasion of France.
Plans to defend Singapore were halfbaked and opposed at every turn by beancounters.
Putting together a force needed to cope with a Japanese air force blooded in Manchuria would have taxed a country basking in the silver glow of the Hendon Air Pageant.
Without the German naval buildup would theKGVs have ever got ordered or the new carriers.. More likely the RN would have made the best of Hood, Rodney and Nelson to give it an illusion of modernity. Imperial training cruises would have been the order of the day.
To get the goodies needed to eventually build a Pacific Fleet able to take onJapan you needthe massive rearmament caused byHitler but crucially US supplied Mustangs and Corsairs
Largely agree - without the primary impetus you will see very different priorities and results.
You can’t realistically just make Germany disappear from any remotely likely scenario and if you could it would radically change everything, including likely greatly altering the size and nature of UK rearmament (including the RN). And that’s before considering the loss of the impact of “early” WW2 war experience.
And Italy’s and Japan’s decision making equally would be greatly different in greatly different circumstances. As would the US and USSRs, etc.
As opposed to a scenario rather skewed to create an unrealistically powerful and WW2-like RN fighting conveniently and compliantly weaker opponents. As opposed to the historical reality of very much playing second-fiddle to the US in this theatre.
 

JFC Fuller

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As opposed to a scenario rather skewed to create an unrealistically powerful and WW2-like RN fighting conveniently and compliantly weaker opponents. As opposed to the historical reality of very much playing second-fiddle to the US in this theatre.
The RN played a smaller role in the Pacific for most of the war because it was engaged in Europe, without being engaged in total war Europe it would have played a much larger role in the Far East. If Germany had not been perceived as threat the RN would still have built against Japanese rearmament, or at least their understanding of it. In the inter-war period the RN committed heavily, within the constraints of the Washington Treaty and others, to countering Japan in the Pacific as demonstrated by the investment in Singapore. This would have continued, and accelerated, as Japan progressively removed itself from the Treaty system and became more hostile.
 

EwenS

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By the mid1930s there is another driver in a battleship centric world towards, if not rearmament, then at least replacement.

The Treaty system from the early 1920s meant that by the mid 1930s all the large navies were facing block obsolescence of their Battleships. Reconstructions were not ideal but allowed numbers to be kept up in the short term. But warship hulls cannot go on forever. So all nations were looking towards new ships. The RN had similar problems with its carrier fleet.

So new ships would have to be built in the late 1930s regardless of what the Axis Powers were doing if Britain was to maintain her status as a World Power. The only question would be whether it would have been a KGV or something else. That would depend on whether another Treaty could be stitched together.
 

Purpletrouble

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Although with Germany butterflied out of this and Italy thus very weak (vs France & UK) then what is to suggest there would not have been further Treaties with further reductions thus removing ships?
Japan is isolated and must know it has no chance against undistracted Europe and America?
Had Nelson to Vanguard out and Brown mentions in 1937 the UK people had a large majority in favour of appeasment vs re-armament. Granted that is Europe focussed given memories of Western Front but Japan would be of even less interest to the population. The same drivers as in ‘22 and ‘30 to cut cost and avoid conflict would still be there. No-one really cared about Japan in China and I struggle to see the Japanese leadership moving to the hawks and doing what they with France/UK/Netherlands able to focus against them in parallel to the US.

The late 30s rearmament was overwhelmingly focussed towards Europe- fighters/bombers, tanks. For the RN, despite the talk of Japan, what actually comes out of the shipyards in terms of range/endurance is Europe optimised. Indeed - the only thing I can think of was the move to the Town class 6” in lieu of Arethusas. Even there it was Italian ships also driving that growth.
 

Hood

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A big factor in where the RN is in 1942 if WWII doesn't start in 1939 is why didn't it start? Basically is Germany still a threat or is the primary concern Italy, Spain, maybe USSR and, of course Japan.

With out war in 1939 would the RN have perfected the L and M class destroyers and repeated them instead of the N (repeat J) and War Emergency Flotillas that followed?
What about the Hunts, Steam Gun Boats, corvettes and frigates?
I left Germany's situation vague as I didn't want to get bogged down in the usual Z-Plan discussions and Nazis etc. etc. that have been done to death. Therefore they figure in the background and exert an influence on the Admiralty's reactions and options but I really wanted to explore other avenues.

The L & M's are an option, their gun mounts don't seem to have been very effective and weren't true DP mounts but perhaps were much closer to what was wanted than the J's. They might of formed the basis of a 3x2 4.5in ship with DB mounts perhaps, a slightly different Battle class.
I would see the Hunts as ordered in 1939-40 being continued, if anything to replace the old V&Ws at least and free newer fleet destroyers for redeployment East.

Reading on the Battle of Ceylon it appears that the Japanese didn't have as easy time as they did at Pearl Harbour or Darwin, in fact they were very nearly caught with their pants down as happened at Midway. This was when they had numerical and qualitive superiority over the opposing Eastern Fleet and RAF, and the RN was under specific orders only to engage if they assessed they had numerical advantage, which is why they withdrew once they had determined the size of the Japanese force.

Now recast the battle in terms of no Churchill (hence contradictory political interference), a fleet drawn from three or more armoured Fleet Carriers (Sea Hurricane II, plus possibly Seafire or equivalent), Ark Royal, plus the older converted carriers, modernised battle cruisers, KGVs Rodney and Nelson, and modernised QEs, verses the actual Hermes, and one armoured Fleet, one modernised QE and the Rs. It would not have been pretty but an early playout of the Midway scenario would surely be on the cards, especially as it is questionable how effective dive bomber would have been against the armoured fleet carriers. What chance would the Kongos have had protecting the carriers from Hood, Renown and Replulse, plus the KGVs had any of them been slowed by air attack?
I agree with several other posters here that the Pearl Harbour attack may never of happened. With more formidable naval power to overcome in theatre its likely that the IJN would have had to deploy its carriers to support its invasion fleets, my thinking is an overland invasion into Indochina and an amphibious assault in northern Malaya to cut their lines of communication plus the invasions of the Philippines and Wake etc. as historical. That would probably split the IJN carriers 5/4 into Western and Eastern fleets, the stronger Western fleet engaging the RN. With surprise I don't see any reason why they could not have caught the RN with its pants down as historical, the early battles would be messy but the IJN would have to rely on its carriers with land-based bombers based much further back in China and Formosa. But the RN would probably have felt a stronger necessity to try and reinforce Hong Kong. The results would have been messy. The armoured carriers might have withstood damage better but the older Eagle and Weird Sisters would have been easier targets. The Zero will still run rings around any Allied fighter so air superiority is not a given but where it could, RN carriers might have been able to inflict blows, probably not decisive one though.

Hmmmm.....
Without the threat of European War....

Wouldn't that RN have continued with the 4.7" L50?

What about the turret fighter?

I suspect a lot might be different by the time Japan triggers war.
The 4.7in L/50 is a strong contender to continue, but the scales between the 4.5in and 4.7in would continue to tip either way and my gut feeling is that the 4.5in would still win out in the end. It could be that the 4.5in doesn't really make an appearance on destroyers until at least 1944.

With no war in Europe, by the time of the Japanese Indian Ocean raid the Royal Navy would have been in possession of five modern fast carriers with another two close to commissioning, quite aside from the older conversions of WW1 construction, backed up by Unicorn as a maintenance carrier. At about that time Renown, and three KGVs would have been available to form a pair of Battlecruiser squadrons to support a force consisting of some combination of these fast ships. It is impossible not to conclude that the Royal Navy's Eastern Fleet would have looked very different, and different enough that its standing orders may have been very different as a consequence. Equally, it's leadership would have been different and would likely have acted differently.

As Volkodav correctly points out, whilst Japanese naval aviation was excellent in some respects it was certainly not without its imperfections and these were exposed in brutal fashion at Midway. Equally, the IJN's poor array of AA guns and associated fire control systems, all-too-often mounted on ships with significant shortfalls in passive protection and damage control consistently contributed to their loss of major warships.

To get back to Hood's original question. I wonder whether, without a major ASW campaign to fight in the Atlantic and the construction and design required to support that, the RN would have had greater scope to pursue carrier design and construction. Perhaps some of those designs that were intermediate between the original Implacable design and the ultimate Audacious class would have been built at a more regular drumbeat and the development of the Light Fleets would have moved forward at an accelerated pace. Equally, without the need to engage in a massive offensive air campaign against German the output of the British Aviation industry may have looked quite different too.

As a final point, pre-War editions of Progress In Naval Gunnery make it clear that RN AA weaponry and fire control would have continued to evolve. The Tachymetric System 1 (TS 1) was intended to replace HACS and entered development just prior to the War. In 1940 it was expected to be available by 1944, with hostilities delayed by two years it is entirely possible that it would have been accelerated rather than abandoned and may have become quite common in British ships in the latter stages of the conflict. Similarly, the quad .50 Vickers mountings were to be replaced by single 2pdrs. The Lion class were to receive additional Octuple 2pdr mountings compared to the KGVs even prior to the war so the need for enhanced AA firepower was understood even it the extent was not.
Agreed that the Eastern Fleet would have acted differently and would have been freed from some of the material constraints it found itself within.

The IJN was not invulnerable, if they could get through the Zeros then the Skua and Albacore might have inflicted some blows, but even the USN suffered badly at Midway. I can't see the RN pulling off blasting four carriers in 1942 in one battle, but they might have damaged or crippled some ships but losses would not have been pretty. The FAA never really faced severe naval AA barrages until 1941-42 in the Med, the Skua could hit cruisers in port easily enough and probably was ok in open waters against cruisers and the like. Swordfish did good against Bismarck but she was a lone ship, not a fleet. A night attack with Albacores would have been interesting, especially if some early ASV sets were availalbe by early 1942.

Carriers were probably fighting more with cruiser slips but certainly more steel and materials would have been freed for bigger ships. I feel the Light Fleets could have been accelerated at least 6 months in laying down.

I agree that TS 1 would have been closer and would have appeared on whatever the Battle and Weapon classes

As I understood it from Moore’s Building for Victory, the UK rearmament in the late 30s was financially a very close run thing. Start too early and Britain would be bankrupt before the war, start too late and lose it.
With Europe neutered, it seems hard to see Japan as being considered the existential threat Germany would always be, and thus hard to imagine anything like the funds that were expended.
This is true, but even if my scenario if somehow Hitler had fallen in late 1939 or whatever, or Stalin decided to have a ding dong with him instead or whatever took away an existential threat to Western Europe from Hitler, the ships ordered in the 1938 and 1939 Programmes were still likely to go ahead regardless. In my assumptions I have taken the 1940 and 1941 programmes to be lighter than the 1938/39 programmes in terms of new construction and even the reconstructions are limited. I'm thinking more now that Hood for example would have been pushed back to 1942 regardless due to the costs. The KGV refits would have been expensive too. Therefore I expect a lull in construction during 1941 itself, any wartime boost would probably begin in autumn 1942 before the shipyards are fully free to get mobilised again - as you say with no direct threat to the UK its harder to mobilise manpower in quite the same way as was acheived historically.

Defanging Germany for this scenario is itself a pretty tall order. Arguably the Treaty of Versailles and France's use of Eastern European countries to try and contain Germany was asking for some kind of pushback.
Plans to defend Singapore were halfbaked and opposed at every turn by beancounters.
Putting together a force needed to cope with a Japanese air force blooded in Manchuria would have taxed a country basking in the silver glow of the Hendon Air Pageant.
Without the German naval buildup would theKGVs have ever got ordered or the new carriers..
Well yes removing Germany takes some handwaving. But before 1933 the main foe was always Japan and that was where the RN was aimed at but was constantly hampered in that by the bean counters. In this scene whatever threat other nations posed has given new impetus to release the purse strings and Japan feels the end result rather than Germany or Italy.
I don't agree with your statement about the KGVs and new carriers, the need by the mid-1930s was obvious and the government needed to keep the shipyards badly hit by the Great Depression alive with new naval orders. And it was clear to the RN that the treaty system was dead.

Although with Germany butterflied out of this and Italy thus very weak (vs France & UK) then what is to suggest there would not have been further Treaties with further reductions thus removing ships?
Japan is isolated and must know it has no chance against undistracted Europe and America?
Had Nelson to Vanguard out and Brown mentions in 1937 the UK people had a large majority in favour of appeasment vs re-armament. Granted that is Europe focussed given memories of Western Front but Japan would be of even less interest to the population. The same drivers as in ‘22 and ‘30 to cut cost and avoid conflict would still be there. No-one really cared about Japan in China and I struggle to see the Japanese leadership moving to the hawks and doing what they with France/UK/Netherlands able to focus against them in parallel to the US.

The late 30s rearmament was overwhelmingly focussed towards Europe- fighters/bombers, tanks.
Japan would never have signed another naval treaty, the UK and US perfectly understood this. The whole point of the Treaties were to constrain Japan, if that could not be acheived than there was no point having them (France and Italy and Germany could never really challenge the Treaty limits in quite the same way).

Pacifist thought only takes public opinion so far, had Hong Kong and Singapore fallen as historical with thousands of troops lost and Japanese on the borders of India and threatening to destroy the entire Asian portion of the Empire, you can bet that Joe Bloggs would have been just as upset as the average American was after Pearl Harbour. I don't think many British people really took Hitler seriously until Dunkirk and when the bombs started to fall on British homes, cynically people are only interested in what affects them, they take the easy root to what they think promises them an easy life.

Agreed on the 1930s focus on Europe. But my main question is what would happen after 1942. Everybody has gotten rather hung up on the usual Hitler and Treaty system fixations. Maybe Japan wouldn't have done what it did historically but my scenario here is a means to explore what might have occurred had the RN had to refocus on the Far East that it had been forced to divert away from during 1936-41.
 

uk 75

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As ever when trying to improve on the types and availability of what if British forces the weakness of our economy and industrial base imposes a reality check.
However, I do understand what Hood (do check out Shipbucket for this subject) is trying to do.
There were interesting and imaginative options for UK weapons in this period.
Perhaps the key might have been a better relationship between the USA and UK earlier. Had the USA not been so isationist and supported a more robust League of Nations the UK and US could have built up their forces to deter and contain Japan.
 

Purpletrouble

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Yeah I apologise for getting too literal on the circumstances as it is an interesting what if.

You comment pre33 Japan was the threat, yet those ships and the ones after that, aside from the Towns, were still Europe focussed. UK spending ramped up from ‘35 in parallel with Hitler. I still struggle with that being done for Japan, notwithstanding Hong Kong, SE Asia and India. I really struggle with Japan “going South” knowing a united British-French-Dutch-US was almost inevitable. Japan was already on a war footing so they cant really increase their strength.

Treaty wise I get what you are saying - but Japan doesn’t have the opportunity here of European powers distracted and diverted by Germany, so will face in say ‘36, the same pressure as it did in ‘22 and ‘30. Hence my comment on the Hawks in Japan struggling to gain ascendency because of much greater odds. Focussing on China and seeking to split or neutralise others would be a better option?

I guess the UK would have put more into the defence of Malaya/Singapore in terms of troops, fighters and bombers.

Gun wise the RN really just needed to do what the USN did, pick an intermediate calibre, stick with it and develop a HA capable mount. But this has been done elsewhere.

Overall it needed larger, longer range and more habitable ships plus larger fleet train - as it found out with the BPF. The Australian capital ships becomes a potential here as well as a trade protection or even fleet carrier. Without the Emergency destroyers and with a decent DP gun then a Battle/Daring earlier seems possible drawing on Tribal/JKLMN types? A class subs earlier, or rather T class more like the A in terms of range.

A key aspect is control of naval aviation - without European build up but considering the air environment of the Far East (Japanese and US carriers plus lack of bases to cover given the distances and ac ranges, does that still return to RN? Can it do better than it did, I see beyond multiseat fighters?
Outside of Europe where intense land based air attack was expected would the armoured carrier still be seen as the optimum - or the “alpha strike” kind of Japanese/US approach emphasising numbers of ac carried.
I do think any Japanese attack would have failed with all these nations concentrating far more available resources, and uniting either upon war as per ABDA or more formally as the threat built up and they weren’t Europe focussed/distracted.
 

Volkodav

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The whole idea behind Singapore was that Hong Kong was indefensible and a secure base was required in which to assemble a fleet to retake lost territory, Singapore was chosen but other sites, including in Australia were considered.

Eight heavy cruisers (I'm not sure but possibly the two RAN ships were considered to be part of this number) were meant to be stationed in the Far East as a checking force to buy time for the Mediterranean fleet to deploy to Singapore, one of the reasons why the Swordfish had a float plane version and the RNs large cruisers were modernised and the Towns were built with hangars and powerful catapults was to provide a limited strike capacity against the Japanese fleet while waiting reinforcement (though in hindsight I don't know what could realistically be expected from so few biplane torpedo bombers). The final batch of Towns were a response to Japans 15 gun 6" cruisers, as in Edinburgh and Belfast, were intended to have had four quad 6".

The RAF may have been focused on Europe but the RN was well aware of Japan. Ark Royal and Vanguard were intended to reinforce the Far East, it was one of the reasons Ark was designed to carry so many aircraft, she was intended to carry many spare aircraft for long deployments. The Battlecruisers were considered vital for the defence of the Far East.

The Japanese Admirals knew they would lose the war while the Japanese political leadership assumed the US would sue for peace, the Navy followed orders and attacked, fully expecting to be defeated in the long run.

Malaya was a much closer run thing than many realise, allied forces out numbering Japanese, the difference is in the quality of the forces, there were Japanese regular soldiers verses forces that were very much greener and decidedly second string, the cream of the Commonwealths forces were in North Africa and the Middle East. Despite the myths and local biases, Bennet was far from Australia's best general and the 8th division was no where near as proficient as the 6th, 7th or 9th. Imagine Morehead commanding a division in Malaya instead of the defence of Tobruk.

If Germany is taken out of the equation in 1938 by a coup by the still vehemently anti communist general staff, Germany remains armed and the UKs rearmament is already underway. In fact taking Germany and the Luftwaffe out of the equation takes the RAF obsession with Goering obliterating London, and the need to spend every available cent (pence?) on bomber to obliterate Germany first. Less money on obsolete Fairey Battles means more money for the RN and Army, as well as the tactical fighters they so desperately needed the RAF to operate instead of cheap (as in ineffective and cheaper than medium and heavy bombers but more expensive than fighters) light bombers.
 

JFC Fuller

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Agreed that the Eastern Fleet would have acted differently and would have been freed from some of the material constraints it found itself within.

The IJN was not invulnerable, if they could get through the Zeros then the Skua and Albacore might have inflicted some blows, but even the USN suffered badly at Midway. I can't see the RN pulling off blasting four carriers in 1942 in one battle, but they might have damaged or crippled some ships but losses would not have been pretty. The FAA never really faced severe naval AA barrages until 1941-42 in the Med, the Skua could hit cruisers in port easily enough and probably was ok in open waters against cruisers and the like. Swordfish did good against Bismarck but she was a lone ship, not a fleet. A night attack with Albacores would have been interesting, especially if some early ASV sets were availalbe by early 1942.

Carriers were probably fighting more with cruiser slips but certainly more steel and materials would have been freed for bigger ships. I feel the Light Fleets could have been accelerated at least 6 months in laying down.

I agree that TS 1 would have been closer and would have appeared on whatever the Battle and Weapon classes.
I have always thought that a twelve gun 5.25" cruiser of Fiji size with a pair of TS 1's would make for an interesting and useful AA vessel, especially if based on the Fiji class it would have scope for a large number of quad 2pdrs. Just replacing the usual four twin 4", which would be redundant with true DP armament, would allow for a total of six quad 2pdrs to be carried. Does anybody know if Frobisher and Hawkins were to have had 2pdrs to supplement their six 5.25" mountings?

Without the war RN carriers would have been stuffed largely with Albacores and Fulmars; the latter was regarded as undesirable from the outset as it was derived from a land based light bomber and seen as too heavy, however the RN remained committed to two-seat fighters as a concept until early 1940, though were clearly having doubts by late 1939 when the performance limitations of the initial responses to N.8/39 (two-seat) and N.9/39 (turret) started to come in. It became apparent that the added weight wouldn't allow sufficient advantage over opposing bombers and escort fighters; thats how the Firebrand came about, this may well have happened irrespective of the war in Europe happening though with more effort put into fixing and delivering the Firebrand as a fighter, possibly at the expense of the Typhoon.

Japan was one of the key elements of RN planning in the interwar period, by the late 1930s planning for fleet strength included the need to send a fleet to the Far East. As Volkodav correctly points out some ships were built with the Japanese threat in mind specifically. It is perhaps not obvious for a couple of reasons, the RN rigidly sticking to the 1936 treaty limits resulted in small ships and a lack of detailed knowledge of Japanese plans hindered a specific response. It was much clearer what the Germans were doing as they had to share information about their construction under the terms of the Anglo-German naval treaty, they lied about displacements but the RN seems to have turned a blind eye.
 
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JFC Fuller

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To add a bit of a summary to this. We know precisely what the 1939/40 pre-war programme looked like and we have a reasonable understanding of how the 1940/41 programme was shaping up, probably two-three battleships (inc. Vanguard), four cruisers, a carrier and the usual array of submarines, destroyers and other vessels. For reference, the archive documents discussed here were part of a wider discussion about future fleet strength. This was important because under the terms of the Anglo-German naval agreement Britain had to communicate to Germany its future fleet strength, the discussions culminated in Cabinet approval of a 21 battleship fleet for 1942 in February 1939 and this was communicated to Germany. As is obvious from the documents, the possibility of war with Japan was given equal weight as a planning assumption to the potential for war with Germany. My own view is that the 1940/41 programme cruisers would have been Didos, or at least a majority of Didos, the desire looks to have been to keep the split between small (Dido) and medium (Fiji) cruisers relatively equal. A three battleship programme would have greatly strained the production of 5.25" mountings though; three battleships being the equivalent of 4.8 Didos in turret terms.

Following up from my point above about carrier based aircraft, whilst the production types at the outbreak of war in Hood's timeline would have been the Fulmar and Albacore, the developmental types would have most likely been the Firefly, Firebrand in original Sabre powered F.Mk.1 configuration and the Barracuda. I have never seen, but would very much like to, a drawing of the original Fairey Type 100 design as discussed here, it would be especially interesting to see it with the Exe engine installation. Without Churchill at the Admiralty, and the FAA slowly grasping that the two-seat fighter was not a viable prospect, it is possible that sanity may have prevailed and the Supermarine Type 338 navalised Spitfire of late 1939/early 1940 may have been pursued. In theory it could have been available to be a major player in Hood's Pacific War. Of course, it could equally have been cancelled as it was in reality, given the workload on Supermarine there would have been good reason to do so though with Germany considered less of a threat perhaps that load would have been lessened or differently prioritised. As it was, Churchill personally advocated continued production of the Fulmar instead of pursuing the Type 338, at least in part because he had been informed that building 50 Folding-Wing Spitfires would cost Fighter Command 200 Spitfires in output terms. An RN fleet of eight modern fast carriers, seven armoured, with Type 338s and Barracudas would have been a very potent force as it built up through 1942-4.
 
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Hood

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Better still, fit the Firebrand Mk.1 with a Griffon and avoid the delays waiting for the Sabre to mature.
Arguably being a flying boat producer, Supermarine had far more naval connections and the Spitfire was rather an outlier in that respect. So a naval Type 338 might have been a project to pursue.
I still feel that in the Pacific the Admiralty might have still preferred a two-seater fighter but a mix of Fulmars and Type 338 would have been good.
 

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It's a really interesting topic and not one that I had paid much attention too previously. Up until, inspired by your post at the start of this thread, I started looking into this I had always assumed that it was war experience that drove the FAA to pursue single seat fighters but I am coming to the view that it would have happened anyway. Fortunately the armoured carriers website reproduces some of the relevant documents on this, the most interesting to me being ADM 1/10752 from 22nd January 1940 and ADM 1/13488 from March 8 1940. The performance estimates are benchmarked against German aircraft but there is no reason to assume that similar performance would not be expected from Japanese aircraft. It's equally noteworthy that as early as January 1940 it is only the escort role that is still driving the requirement for two-seater fighters. In that context, the timing of the Type 338 offer, and the FAAs interest in it, seems much more deliberate.

Without the war there probably would have been a sustained debate but a single seater would almost certainly have been in the development programme.
 
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That mysterious proposed second Vanguard is interesting as well. Given that work on nine inch cruisers continued well after Vanguard was laid down, along with the fact she was an attempt to do an end run around shipbuilding bottlenecks (not very successfully, unfortunately), it seems likely that the claim that Vanguards would be a viable alternative to such cruisers was just a less than subtle ploy to try to get a second Vanguard-class battleship approved. But exactly what would her intended role have been, especially given construction on the first of class had gotten bogged down in part due to the obsession with large carriers? Does anyone have any documentation that would help narrow down the timeline of when this attempt to squeeze a second Vanguard into the shipbuilding program was underway, which may in turn help us to figure out where & how she would have been employed?
 

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Better still, fit the Firebrand Mk.1 with a Griffon and avoid the delays waiting for the Sabre to mature.
I don't think that this would help much for several reasons.

Firstly the Griffon was a new engine which didn't begin development until 1938 and ran for the first time in Nov 1939 with flight trials from 1940 (there was a 1933 Griffon I based on the Buzzard & R racing engine but it never flew and was completely redesigned to produce the Griffon II that started the Griffon series we all know from 1938).

Secondly the real problem with the Firebrand and the Sabre was that after the prototypes flew the MAP decided that the Typhoon would have priority, so the engine source dried up. And it wasn't just the engine causing problems. The airframe was as well.

To put a timeline on things:-

Firebrand - contract awarded to Blackburn 25/7/40. First flew 27/2/42. 19 months.
Firefly - contract awarded 23/4/40. First flew 22/12/41. 20 months.

To get either aircraft sooner the Admiralty need to have a much clearer picture in 1938/39 of what they want to allow the development to start sooner. But just how much time can be shaved of the development time of these aircraft? Then maybe without war they can be given a higher priority and got into service sooner. In that context then maybe the Type 338 would have been a better bet but for the wartime politics and priorities.
 

JFC Fuller

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I am not aware of any design work on 9.2" cruisers after Vanguard was laid down in October 1941.

Vanguard was not an attempt to get round a lack of shipbuilding capacity but an attempt to get round a lack of turret building capacity.

I am also not aware of specific plans for a second Vanguard, rather musings that the infrastructure built to modernise the turrets for her, and the anticipated availability of turrets from the R-class as they retired, would have enabled additional ships. This became impossible after the outbreak of war as the R-class were pressed into service for a variety of roles, such as convoy escort.

The heavy cruiser versus fast battleship question is an interesting one, Director Plans did state a preference for as many fast battleships as possible over new heavy cruiser construction. The question illuminates an interesting point, for a variety of reasons the relative cost difference between battleships and heavy cruisers had been closing. In the early 1920s Rodney and Nelson cost £6.15m and £6.52m respectively whereas an 8 gun County class came out at approximately £2m; three heavy cruisers for one battleship. By contrast, the 1940 9 gun heavy cruisers were estimated at £3.5m for the 12k ton design and £4.5m for the 15k ton design. Vanguard was initially estimated at around the same time at £7.9m and the various pre-war three turret Lion designs hovered around £9m; approximately two heavy cruisers for one battleship. The last pre-war cruiser fleet plan called for 20 heavy cruisers, out of a fleet of 100, in new construction terms those ships could have bought 9-10 additional fast battleships instead.
 
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Churchill returned to the Admiralty on 3 Sept 1939 and on 6th Sept asked for a design for a 14-15k ton cruiser with 9.2" guns. An outline design was created with either 12*8" or 9*9.2" on 21.5k tons. This was demolished by the DoP point by point including cost (including a new 9.2" gun and mountings requiring new manufacturing facilities), length of time to complete (1944 for the 8" and 1945 for the 9.2") usefulness of the design v a 15" battlecruiser. In Jan 1940 Pound (First Sea Lord) backed the 8" cruiser and the 15" gun ship. As Moore "Building for Victory" states "After this comment the 9.2" cruiser was never heard of again".

The 8" cruiser design was something that was revisited on a number of occasions from 1939 to 1942, growing in size each time but never received formal approval. It was effectively cancelled in Aug 1942 with the carrier programme getting underway.
 

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Building slips and associated shipyard capacity was in even shorter supply. Armor plate production in general was yet another victim of pre-war underinvestment and cutbacks. Strangely enough, at the start of the war there was actually a brief surplus of capital ship turrets, due to ship cancellations & delays which were imposed under the false belief that the new war would be a short one. Unfortunately the surplus was soon mostly expended on various dead end projects and programs, though a few did see useful employment, as part of coastal fortifications and on a few RN Monitors for examples.
 
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Having looked at some of the big naval yards, the problem was not shortages of building slips. The problem was lack of labour to work on the ships they had on the slips and particularly of certain trades (e.g. electricians, which persisted throughout the war, and fitters). The shortage of labour was a particular problem at Fairfield on the Clyde. In early 1941 it had as much work on its books as John Brown despite having half the workforce. At one point Swan Hunter had 18 electricians working on Gambia when 150 were needed.

For example virtually no work was done on Implacable between March 1940 and April 1941 because of priority being given to emergency repairs (note unlike Indefatigable she was never officially suspended). 2 R class destroyers were transferred to John Brown. No work was done on Bellona for 10 months (only part of which was due to official suspension).

By the way the turret for Abercrombie was a spare from the set ordered as a standby for Furious in case the 18" didn't work out. The turret for Roberts came from Marshall Soult.
 

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In relation to armour plate annual armour industry production capacity fell from c45k tons pa in 1925 from 5 main manufacturers to c18k tons in 1936 from 3 manufacturers after mergers and plant closures due to lack of Admiralty demand. What else could industry have done at the time when the Govt was not prepared to pay a subsidy to keep the capacity available? A capital ship building holiday that was agreed at 10 years in the Washington Treaty in 1922 became 15 years in the 1930 London Treaty.

But in 1936 the Admiraty persuaded the Treasury of the need to increase armour production again. The result was over £2.3m spent on extending the various facilities and bringing mothballed facilities back into production. But it took time to implement and some carrier and cruiser armour was bought in from abroad. After 1941 the Admiralty armour needs tailed off but by then there was demand for it in tank production.
 

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If the RN hadnt been distracted by Europe - would it have still gone armoured carriers for the Far East?

setting aside access to airframes it is notable both Japan and the US went for single seat fighters despite the same issue of them getting lost (more serious in the pacific) and lack of warning time pre radar and issues of CAP. AIUI, the RN was driven by concerns of heavy land based air attack hence the protection.
 

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It's a really interesting topic and not one that I had paid much attention too previously. Up until, inspired by your post at the start of this thread, I started looking into this I had always assumed that it was war experience that drove the FAA to pursue single seat fighters but I am coming to the view that it would have happened anyway. Fortunately the armoured carriers website reproduces some of the relevant documents on this, the most interesting to me being ADM 1/10752 from 22nd January 1940 and ADM 1/13488 from March 8 1940. The performance estimates are benchmarked against German aircraft but there is no reason to assume that similar performance would not be expected from Japanese aircraft. It's equally noteworthy that as early as January 1940 its only the escort role that is still driving the requirement for two-seater fighters. In that context, the timing of the Type 338 offer, and the FAAs interest in it, seems much more deliberate.
I would agree that there had been a shift in thinking, but even if we look back historically the FAA had exclusively used single-seat fighters without problems. Skua had a dual role and the Fulmar was a good fast scout and could have been used more extensively as a multi role type like the Firefly was. I think there was room for both concepts but whether there were money is another matter.

At some point I must work out how many FAA units there might have been in 1942 based on peacetime plans. I have a sneaky feeling there would have been more spaces in carriers than the FAA actually had units to equip them.

As to German benchmarks, intelligence on the latest IJN types was patchy but unlike the USN, the RN doesn't seem to have been fooled that they were using obsolete aircraft.

I don't think that this would help much for several reasons.

Firstly the Griffon was a new engine which didn't begin development until 1938 and ran for the first time in Nov 1939 with flight trials from 1940 (there was a 1933 Griffon I based on the Buzzard & R racing engine but it never flew and was completely redesigned to produce the Griffon II that started the Griffon series we all know from 1938).

Secondly the real problem with the Firebrand and the Sabre was that after the prototypes flew the MAP decided that the Typhoon would have priority, so the engine source dried up. And it wasn't just the engine causing problems. The airframe was as well.

To put a timeline on things:-

Firebrand - contract awarded to Blackburn 25/7/40. First flew 27/2/42. 19 months.
Firefly - contract awarded 23/4/40. First flew 22/12/41. 20 months.

To get either aircraft sooner the Admiralty need to have a much clearer picture in 1938/39 of what they want to allow the development to start sooner. But just how much time can be shaved of the development time of these aircraft? Then maybe without war they can be given a higher priority and got into service sooner. In that context then maybe the Type 338 would have been a better bet but for the wartime politics and priorities.
I agree that timing is the main issue and I have no illusion that an aircraft developed to 1940 specifications could be ready before 1942. My main reasoning for the Griffon was more to shorten the development to service entry phase rather than to first flight.
Firebrand - first flown 27/2/42 - service entry 1/9/1945 - 43 months (to be fair 708 NAS had some TF.IIs during mid-1943 so lets say 17 months = 36 months in total)
Firefly - first flown 22/12/41 - service entry 3/1943 - 15 months = 35 months total

Firebrand deck trials did not start until February 1943 so I agree that even in the best case it could not have entered service much before September 1943.
The Firebrand did have problems, the first unarmed prototype was already 32mph slower than forecast, even fitting the improved 2,305hp Sabre III only gave 358mph. With a Griffon the original F.I would have been underpowered but if the B-37 had been designed around the Griffon then it might have been slightly smaller and lighter - but that's no guarantee it would have been endowed with superb handling. Blackburn was no fighter firm, they were more suited to heavier aircraft and while I don't subscribe to them being the worst British manufacturer, there certainly was a tailing off in design quality during the 1930s that was never really made up thereafter.

As to Typhoon - maybe the Tornado would have succeeded more than Typhoon, would both even have been procured in numbers? Dare we even discount the Sea Typhoon?

Maybe I need a lie down but I just had the crazy notion of an Exe-powered Botha....
 

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I would agree that there had been a shift in thinking, but even if we look back historically the FAA had exclusively used single-seat fighters without problems. Skua had a dual role and the Fulmar was a good fast scout and could have been used more extensively as a multi role type like the Firefly was. I think there was room for both concepts but whether there were money is another matter.

At some point I must work out how many FAA units there might have been in 1942 based on peacetime plans. I have a sneaky feeling there would have been more spaces in carriers than the FAA actually had units to equip them.
By 4th September 1939 all in-commission carriers aside from Furious, being used for training new pilots and aircrew, had assigned squadrons though the mix between types varied according to role. RN planning envisaged carrier air wings as follows:

Fleet Carriers: 66% TSR + 33% FF
Trade Route Carriers: 100% TSR

There was an assumption that some specific detachments would have different air wing configurations, examples were certain roles in the North Sea and Mediterranean where 100% FF might be desirable or other unspecified roles that would require 100% TSR. At the outbreak of war carrier air wings were equipped as follows:

Ark Royal (Home Fleet): 42 TSR + 18 FF (very close to the envisaged ratio above)
Glorious (Mediterranean): 36 TSR + 12 FF
Eagle (China Station): 18 TSR (basically trade route)
Hermes (Channel Force): 12 TSR (basically trade route)
Furious: as mentioned above, no formed squadrons as she was being used to train new pilots

The force was considered strong enough to be self-sustaining but lacking a sufficient pool of resources to expand during wartime.
 

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"At some point I must work out how many FAA units there might have been in 1942 based on peacetime plans. I have a sneaky feeling there would have been more spaces in carriers than the FAA actually had units to equip them."


Control of the FAA only passed fully back to the Admiralty on 24 May 1939. At that point RN plans called for squadrons to be formed for each carrier 3 months before it came into service. The training regime therefore needed to provide pilots and observers to meet that schedule. In 1939 it had an aircrew shortage and had agreed to borrow pilots from the RAF but they had only provided half of those promised (50 v 100). Observers were an RN responsibility. Some frontline squadrons were disbanded into second line squadrons in 1939 to meet other fleet requirements including training. Squadrons planned to form in July 1939 for Courageous had to be delayed. When you look at the carriers on 4 Sept 1939, Courageous was short of 2 squadrons and Furious had none, being used as a training carrier. But they had a training plan that was generating additional aircrew and maintenance personnel from Jan 1940 onwards to allow the planned new squadrons to form - for example 25 pilots in Jan, 45 in Feb and 50 in Mar, and 40 observers in Jan and another 45 in March and more to follow with the prospect of 3 new carriers in carriers in 1940 with a 99 aircraft requirement.

On 3 Sept 1939 all these plans go out the window and the problems are exacerbated by the loss of Courageous and many of her aircrew in Oct 1939.

It is the same with aircraft. There are plans to procure aircraft for all the squadrons needed, with adequate reserves, but due to changing priorities they get delayed after the outbreak of war. For example Fulmar production (250 planned) was supposed to start in Nov 1939 and be complete in Mar 1941, but, other than the prototype, production didn't start until May 1940 (but did complete on schedule but more followed). It was to be followed in the factory by the Barracuda until April 1942. Similarly Albacores (400) were to follow Swordfish with production of the former to be complete by Aug 1941. The last Fairey built Swordfish left the factory in Feb 1940 with the first production Albacore leaving the factory in Oct 1939 but production of the new type was slow to begin with.

But if war with Germany isn't imminent then these plans would have been able to go much more smoothly. Possibly not completely trouble free (e.g. development problems with individual aircraft types) but smoother.

Most likely the types on the carriers for a Far East war at the end of 1941 would be Albacores and Fulmars. Later types such as the Barracuda, I can see arriving in the front line aboard Impacable & Indefatigable in your scenario.
 

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If the RN hadnt been distracted by Europe - would it have still gone armoured carriers for the Far East?

setting aside access to airframes it is notable both Japan and the US went for single seat fighters despite the same issue of them getting lost (more serious in the pacific) and lack of warning time pre radar and issues of CAP. AIUI, the RN was driven by concerns of heavy land based air attack hence the protection.
Good question and one where I've swung back and forth over the years. The armoured carrier came about because of an air defence problem. These are the days before radar so attacking aircraft had to be spotted with the Mk 1 eyeball. In the 1930s as bombers (especially land based bombers) got faster, the time between spotting them, if possible given the weather, and an attack got shorter. Fighter numbers were limited as the role of the carrier was seen as reconnaissance and torpedo attacks to slow down an enemy battleline. That limited the ability to use standing fighter patrols. Directing them from standby on the deck didn't seem to work as exercises showed enemy bombers and torpedo aircraft to be expected to penetrate the screen. So if you can't use fighters effectively you must rely on AA guns and you must seek to protect your own aircraft in case the enemy get through so that you can strike back. The armoured carrier achieved that.

So in 1936 the Illustrious class are ordered with repeats in 1937. The starting point for the 1938 carrier Implacable, was a faster Illustrious. Then it was changed to add more aircraft (increase from 33 to 48 all Albacores). Unarmored carriers aren't on the RN agenda until 1942 with the light carriers, which are too small to armour anyway, and then the Malta class when redesigned in mid-1944 as an open hangar ship.

Japan had been at war in China since 1931 but in 1937 things hot up and from then until 1941 Japan occupies a number of enclaves around ports on the Chinese coast and the island of Hainan. That gives them land for air bases. So any British fleet leaving Singapore to relieve/recover Hong Kong or to protect British commercial interests in Chinese ports is going to have to pass these bases during its passage through the South China Sea.

So just because war with Germany goes away the threat doesn't.

The US in the Pacific have a different problem. Their War Plan Orange provided that in the event of war with Japan the fleet would proceed from the west coast of the USA, across the Pacific to relieve the Philippines and defeat the Japanese fleet along the way. There were very few places for land bombers to be based. The role of the carrier was reconnaissance and to take out the enemy carriers. Also weather in the Central Pacific was generally better so aiding visual interception by fighters.

So while the RN clearly accepted that they needed more aircraft on each carrier they seem wedded to the armoured carrier as a concept. So I don't now think that they would go back to a developed Ark Royal in the 1930s. Radar changes everything. But it didn't go to sea experimentally until late 1937 and primitive radar direction of fighters didn't begin until mid 1940 off Norway when a chap with an aircraft observers plotting board began to sit in the corner of the bridge taking reports from radar equipped ships.
 
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Volkodav

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It's a really interesting topic and not one that I had paid much attention too previously. Up until, inspired by your post at the start of this thread, I started looking into this I had always assumed that it was war experience that drove the FAA to pursue single seat fighters but I am coming to the view that it would have happened anyway. Fortunately the armoured carriers website reproduces some of the relevant documents on this, the most interesting to me being ADM 1/10752 from 22nd January 1940 and ADM 1/13488 from March 8 1940. The performance estimates are benchmarked against German aircraft but there is no reason to assume that similar performance would not be expected from Japanese aircraft. It's equally noteworthy that as early as January 1940 it is only the escort role that is still driving the requirement for two-seater fighters. In that context, the timing of the Type 338 offer, and the FAAs interest in it, seems much more deliberate.

Without the war there probably would have been a sustained debate but a single seater would almost certainly have been in the development programme.
The entire multi role two seat fighter / something else seems to have been a response to the limited aircraft capacity of the Armoured Fleet Carriers as well as concerns over navigation, as prior to their advent the FAA pretty much always had some single seat fighters. An interesting topic and definitely worth some more research.

Perhaps by 1941 there could be an early hyperbolic radio navigation system deployed on carriers making it possible for longer range operations by single seat aircraft.
 

Volkodav

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Building slips and associated shipyard capacity was in even shorter supply. Armor plate production in general was yet another victim of pre-war underinvestment and cutbacks. Strangely enough, at the start of the war there was actually a brief surplus of capital ship turrets, due to ship cancellations & delays which were imposed under the false belief that the new war would be a short one. Unfortunately the surplus was soon mostly expended on various dead end projects and programs, though a few did see useful employment, as part of coastal fortifications and on a few RN Monitors for examples.
Armour plat was one area where the UK suffered badly in comparison to the US during the Battleship building holiday, the UKS primarily privately owned industries were starved of work and withered as a result, while the US was able to keep sufficient orders on the books for armour etc. to keep their facilities operating.
 

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Delving deep into speculation and perhaps even fantasy but I wonder with concerns over Japan and Italy for that matter, as well as the immediate threat of a European war receding and the treaties defunct, whether the RN may have revisited the Mobile Base concept that was proposed for Agincourt pre Washington? The Rs could be used for this, two or more turrets suppressed, barbettes and magazines turned over to equipment stowage, extra boats and cranes, massive increase in air defence armament and some 6" retained for shore bombardment.

The removed 15" turrets are then refurbished for use on follow on Vanguards.
 

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Better still, fit the Firebrand Mk.1 with a Griffon and avoid the delays waiting for the Sabre to mature.
Arguably being a flying boat producer, Supermarine had far more naval connections and the Spitfire was rather an outlier in that respect. So a naval Type 338 might have been a project to pursue.
I still feel that in the Pacific the Admiralty might have still preferred a two-seater fighter but a mix of Fulmars and Type 338 would have been good.
Remember, flying boats were the RAFs baby. I nev
Fighter numbers were limited as the role of the carrier was seen as reconnaissance and torpedo attacks to slow down an enemy battleline. That limited
 

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Trying to work out which is most likely/ unlikely:
(1) Nazi Germany enough of a threat at the right time to still primarily prompt the required re-armament spending and also completely disappearing at exactly the right time to facilitate the total shift of focus to Japan while not seeing associated reduced spending (including on RN) and,
(2) the RN having items (airborne radar on Albacores?, etc.) and changes to doctrine (single seat fighters now OK) that required early WW2 experience they wouldn’t have had in this scenario.
(3) the Firebrand somehow not being the garbage aircraft it most certainly was.
 

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Well the German High Command were ready to launch a coup if the UK and France drew the line at Czechoslovakia. While happy with the rearmament they didn't want war and didn't like Hitler, but when the major powers capitulated Hitler became too popular to move against. That's 1938 for you, a rearmed Germany, no Hitler, but still totalitarians in Spain, Italy and the USSR.
 

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Hmmmm a re-armed Germany without Hitler and the Nazi party....?
Almost ideal bulwark against the Soviets.
Any financial issues might be resolved by treaty with the British and French.
 

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Trying to work out which is most likely/ unlikely:
(2) the RN having items (airborne radar on Albacores?, etc.) and changes to doctrine (single seat fighters now OK) that required early WW2 experience they wouldn’t have had in this scenario.
(3) the Firebrand somehow not being the garbage aircraft it most certainly was.
ASV radar as a concept was first demonstrated at the Radio Research Station in August 1937. The first 24 ASV sets were ordered in July 1939 of which six were for trials installation in Fleet Air Arm aircraft including the Walrus and the Swordfish. Initial RN interest in ASV was for night and bad weather shadowing, to detect and track opposing fleets ahead of engagements. It is entirely plausible, if not probable, that Albacores with ASV would have been available in 1942 and onboard fleet carriers. The advantages of ASV being such that much of its value was recognised without any war experience.

There is a discussion, in this very thread, that has links to reproduced archive documents demonstrating that the Fleet Air Arm was reevaluating its use of two seat aircraft as Fleet Fighters as early as January-March 1940, at which point it had very little war experience. The reevaluation was based on responses to Air Ministry specifications that pre-dated the outbreak of war and estimates of enemy escort fighter and bomber performance that may have been available without the war. Thus, it is again reasonable to speculate that the pursuit of single seat Fleet Fighters, at least alongside two-seat Fleet Fighters, may well have occurred without the outbreak of war.

The Firebrand was certainly a disappointment and this was noted by mid-1942 when the decision was taken to commit to the Seafire in its place. It's aerodynamic issues were regarded as solvable but the FAA compared it to the Typhoon, large, heavy, less manoeuvrable than a Spitfire and more appropriate to the Fighter-Bomber role, which is why it lived on as a torpedo fighter. However, as pointed out earlier in this thread, an opportunity to pursue a navalised Spitfire came in early 1940 and was rejected by Churchill following a direct request by the Admiralty. Without the outbreak of war Churchill would not have been at the Admiralty and there would have been less urgency for Spitfires for Fighter Command use. Given that the availability of a navalised Spitfire emerges, not coincidentally, at about the same time as doubts to the viability of two-seat fleet fighters it again seems reasonable to speculate that in Hood's scenario such an aircraft could have been successfully picked up by the FAA.
 
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Volkodav

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Trying to work out which is most likely/ unlikely:
(2) the RN having items (airborne radar on Albacores?, etc.) and changes to doctrine (single seat fighters now OK) that required early WW2 experience they wouldn’t have had in this scenario.
(3) the Firebrand somehow not being the garbage aircraft it most certainly was.
ASV radar as a concept was first demonstrated at the Radio Research Station in August 1937. The first 24 ASV sets were ordered in July 1939 of which six were for trials installation in Fleet Air Arm aircraft including the Walrus and the Swordfish. Initial RN interest in ASV was for night and bad weather shadowing, to detect and track opposing fleets ahead of engagements. It is entirely plausible, if not probable, that Albacores with ASV would have been available in 1942 and onboard fleet carriers. The advantages of ASV being such that much of its value was recognised without any war experience.

There is a discussion, in this very thread, that has links to reproduced archive documents demonstrating that the Fleet Air Arm was reevaluating its use of two seat aircraft as Fleet Fighters as early as January-March 1940, at which point it had very little war experience. The reevaluation was based on responses to Air Ministry specifications that pre-dated the outbreak of war and estimates of enemy escort fighter and bomber performance that may been available without the war. Thus, it is again reasonable to speculate that the pursuit of single seat Fleet Fighters, at least alongside two-seat Fleet Fighters, may well have occurred without the outbreak of war.

The Firebrand was certainly a disappointment and this was noted by mid-1942 when the decision was taken to commit to the Seafire in its place. It's aerodynamic issues were regarded as solvable but the FAA compared it to the Typhoon, large, heavy, less manoeuvrable than a Spitfire and more appropriate to the Fighter-Bomber role, which is why it lived on as a torpedo fighter. However, as pointed out earlier in this thread, an opportunity to pursue a navalised Spitfire came in early 1940 and was rejected by Churchill following a direct request by the Admiralty. Without the outbreak of war Churchill would not have been at the Admiralty and there would have been less urgency for Spitfires for Fighter Command use. Given that the availability of a navalised Spitfire emerges, not coincidentally, at about the same time as doubts to the viability of two-seat fleet fighters it again seems reasonable to speculate that in Hood's scenario such an aircraft could have been successfully picked up by the FAA.
Such a scenario could have led to an improved Spitfire, i.e. wide track main undercarriage and the introduction of more powerful Merlins, despite the lack of incentive from combat experience in 39-40.

Many of the improvements to the Spitfire that were driven by need and experience could instead have been driving by evolving the design for carrier operation.
 

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So while the RN clearly accepted that they needed more aircraft on each carrier they seem wedded to the armoured carrier as a concept. So I don't now think that they would go back to a developed Ark Royal in the 1930s. Radar changes everything. But it didn't go to sea experimentally until late 1937 and primitive radar direction of fighters didn't begin until mid 1940 off Norway when a chap with an aircraft observers plotting board began to sit in the corner of the bridge taking reports from radar equipped ships.
Yes, it does take butterflying away lack of access to airframes. Your point on RN’s Far East war being different in nature and threat to the US’s is good.

However the RN had the same problem a few years earlier when it went for Ark Royal. It seems to have been the intensity of attacks in the Med and North Sea that led to the impetus for Armouring. Plus possibly knowing they didn’t have the numbers of airframes?

Subdivision and damage control excepted, Ark Royal seems to have been a much better pattern for the RN - then a larger and higher hangar emerging as Audacious ish ships in the 1940s.

Again it also seems a cultural thing, with the RAF having control there wasn’t the institutional knowledge and influence as the IJN/USN had both on single seat fighters and armouring. A great shame given how advanced the RN was in 1918, and when it was able to concentrate it’s ships it did exactly the same as the others in terms of using airwings to scout and destroy the other sides carriers.
 

Volkodav

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So while the RN clearly accepted that they needed more aircraft on each carrier they seem wedded to the armoured carrier as a concept. So I don't now think that they would go back to a developed Ark Royal in the 1930s. Radar changes everything. But it didn't go to sea experimentally until late 1937 and primitive radar direction of fighters didn't begin until mid 1940 off Norway when a chap with an aircraft observers plotting board began to sit in the corner of the bridge taking reports from radar equipped ships.
Yes, it does take butterflying away lack of access to airframes. Your point on RN’s Far East war being different in nature and threat to the US’s is good.

However the RN had the same problem a few years earlier when it went for Ark Royal. It seems to have been the intensity of attacks in the Med and North Sea that led to the impetus for Armouring. Plus possibly knowing they didn’t have the numbers of airframes?

Subdivision and damage control excepted, Ark Royal seems to have been a much better pattern for the RN - then a larger and higher hangar emerging as Audacious ish ships in the 1940s.

Again it also seems a cultural thing, with the RAF having control there wasn’t the institutional knowledge and influence as the IJN/USN had both on single seat fighters and armouring. A great shame given how advanced the RN was in 1918, and when it was able to concentrate it’s ships it did exactly the same as the others in terms of using airwings to scout and destroy the other sides carriers.
I cant remember where I read it but apparently Ark was able to meet her performance specifications using only the outer shafts, i.e. on two thirds power. Extrapolating that a two shaft version of Ark should have been possible, providing for better subdivision, torpedo protection and greater volume for fuel and stores.
 

EwenS

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So while the RN clearly accepted that they needed more aircraft on each carrier they seem wedded to the armoured carrier as a concept. So I don't now think that they would go back to a developed Ark Royal in the 1930s. Radar changes everything. But it didn't go to sea experimentally until late 1937 and primitive radar direction of fighters didn't begin until mid 1940 off Norway when a chap with an aircraft observers plotting board began to sit in the corner of the bridge taking reports from radar equipped ships.
Yes, it does take butterflying away lack of access to airframes. Your point on RN’s Far East war being different in nature and threat to the US’s is good.

However the RN had the same problem a few years earlier when it went for Ark Royal. It seems to have been the intensity of attacks in the Med and North Sea that led to the impetus for Armouring. Plus possibly knowing they didn’t have the numbers of airframes?

Subdivision and damage control excepted, Ark Royal seems to have been a much better pattern for the RN - then a larger and higher hangar emerging as Audacious ish ships in the 1940s.

Again it also seems a cultural thing, with the RAF having control there wasn’t the institutional knowledge and influence as the IJN/USN had both on single seat fighters and armouring. A great shame given how advanced the RN was in 1918, and when it was able to concentrate it’s ships it did exactly the same as the others in terms of using airwings to scout and destroy the other sides carriers.
I cant remember where I read it but apparently Ark was able to meet her performance specifications using only the outer shafts, i.e. on two thirds power. Extrapolating that a two shaft version of Ark should have been possible, providing for better subdivision, torpedo protection and greater volume for fuel and stores.
See Brown's "Nelson to Vanguard" p48/49. "In other words, she could have made the design speed with under three-quarters of the installed power. This is important; the lower power could have been put through two shafts with much less difficult run of uptakes and deeper torpedo protection". So a redesigned, lower power two shaft arrangement not simply running two shafts of her historical set up.

Ark Royal as designed 102000shp for 30.75kt on 22000 tons. On trials:-

May 1938 - 103055shp 31.733kts at 22381 tons
June 1938 - 103012shp 31.214kt at deep load 27525 tons.

Data taken from Friedman "British Carrier Aviation". I have trouble reconciling the two sets of figures given the increase in tonnage between trials, unless it was the machinery loosening up with use. Also for comparison:-

Illustrious 111000shp for 30kts at 23000 tons (29kts deep displacement) as designed
Indomitable 111000shp for 30.5kts at 23000 tons (30kts deep)
Implacable (1938 carrier as designed) 140000shp (152000shp forced) for 32.5/33kts 23450 tons (32.5/32kts forced deep)

While I have no doubt that Brown is correct in his assertion, I don't think that the Admiralty would have been unhappy with that outcome or would seek to change it in future ships. Ark ran her trials in May 1938. By that time the Admiralty had instructed that the 1938 carrier should be a repeat Illustrious but with higher power for higher speed, to be achieved by forcing the machinery and the first design had been tabled in Jan that year. E-in-C was of the opinion that for efficiency this was beyond 3 shafts so an entirely new machinery layout was required. See Friedman and Hobbs "British Aircraft Carriers".

Now nowhere have I seen any reasoning for this "instruction" to get more speed but they must have had something in mind. Perhaps they are looking to the Lion class and saying if they can do 29.25/30kts as designed then a carrier operating with them needs a few knots extra to cope with turning into wind etc. The Illustrious class had a 3 kt speed advantage over a KGV as designed.

Another limiting feature of the Ark was the size of her lifts and their location close to each other amidships. This was partially fixed with a larger forward lift in Indomitable & the Implacables but isn't really finally sorted until the light fleets in 1942.
 
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