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Alt History: cruiser vs carrier controversy in early 1920s


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Dec 29, 2008
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I got a question about cruisers. We are all familiar with the Battleship vs carrier controversy prior to WWII. Wouldn't there have been a cruiser vs carrier controversy earlier, say the early 20s? While carrier aviation did not prove itself as an attack weapon until WWII, it would seem that carriers would have shown superiority (and less expense) than cruisers when it came to scouting.


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Sep 6, 2006
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royabulgaf asked about
a cruiser vs carrier controversy earlier, say the early 20s?
Some thoughts, rather than a well worked out reply:
Which carriers did you have in mind? Apart from the Royal Navy, no-one had any then. The Washington Treaty was allowing 27,000 ton ships with limits of 135,000tons (5 ships)for RN and USN. Other classes of ships were then built to the Treaty limits, so new carriers probably would be, and a 27,000 ton ship is not cheap. Carriers have to carry stores and munitions and workshop facilities for their aircraft, as well as the planes themselves. A small carrier is not cost effective, if you want it fast enough to stay with the fleet. Lexington commissioned in 1927, and was hardly cheap. Lex and Sara took over half the USN tonnage allowance, which is one reason why the next US carriers were small. The RN was converting Glorious and Courageous, ditto. The RN saw carrier aircraft as a means to attack an enemy fleet in harbour, and was planning such an attack on the German High Seas Fleet in 1918.
But RN was putting aircraft on cruisers and battleships to get enough aircraft with the fleet.
Do you mean scouting for the fleet, (which was being done by RN in WWI, but not very successfully)
or searching for raiders in the distant oceans? In the latter case, what do you hit the raider with? You still need a hunting group with cruisers for quite a long time after the early 20s.
But with the aircraft of that time, bad weather is the chief reason for still needing cruisers.
An RN fleet review in 1942 confirmed that carriers should take over scouting, except in certain seas where bad weather prevailed ie the Arctic. Several cruisers were cancelled to build Light Fleet carriers, Colossus class.

Since posting this I've read the "concern for the future" thread,and I have had second thoughts. The danger is that posts like these two start a speculative discussion of what might have happened in the 1920s, rather than what did happen. That is not about any project secret or otherwise. But that is the way naval discussion boards seem to go. This one has tended to keep to recent projects. Older topics are well covered elsewhere in the sense that they are thoroughly discussed, but tend to get wrapped up in the sort of things Hoo-2b-2day mentions. I think part of the problem is that there are far fewer little known ship designs than little known aircraft (or even tank etc) designs so forums reach that mature stage sooner - unless you are a real enthusiast able to search for original material in old-fashioned paper archives.

If this discussion should 'take off' I suggest it is locked and moved to the bar.