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Royal Navy 60s Carrier options: I should know the answers to these

uk 75

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I know this subject has been done to death but can indulgent readers please remind me of the answers:


Why was the Royal Navy so keen on a Hermes sized carrier when the size of NA37 Buccaneer should have made it clear that only Ark Royal, Eagle and Victorious were big enough to ship
60s fighters (Phantom etc)?

Why was Hermes not turned into a CVS Anti Submarine carrier as NATO wanted? She was clearly too small for a Buccaneer/Phantom air group and was new enough to be a substitute for the postponed Escort Cruiser and the awful Blake conversions.

How much worse shape was Victorious in than Ark and Eagle? If the Royal Navy had been realistic in ditching less useful ships and not so greedy about CVA 01 it could have had at least a two carrier Phantom/Buccaneer fleet by 1972.

Why did noone tell the RN that it was more sensible to build a straightforward flattop in the 21st Century than the ski jump VSTOL CVF? France has operated the Charles DeGaulle for years.

Maybe Admiral Varyl Begg was right in 1961 when he suggested that missile equipped submarines were the way to go...
 

Thorvic

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Why was the Royal Navy so keen on a Hermes sized carrier when the size of NA37 Buccaneer should have made it clear that only Ark Royal, Eagle and Victorious were big enough to ship
60s fighters (Phantom etc)?


Well the Phantom guff made out that the Phantom would be able to operate from Carriers of that size, it wasn't till the mid 60s that it was apparent that wouldn't happen, although HL and FVS versions may have made it more practical


Why was Hermes not turned into a CVS Anti Submarine carrier as NATO wanted? She was clearly too small for a Buccaneer/Phantom air group and was new enough to be a substitute for the postponed Escort Cruiser and the awful Blake conversions.

The Vickers 583, P1154 and finally the AFVG were all intended to match the Phantom and Buccaneer in the Interceptor and strike capability useing the same weapons but using smarter designs, smaller more powerful engines and avionics rather than the rather big and heavy 50s designs. The Phantom was actually a stop gap as was the S2 Buccaneer

How much worse shape was Victorious in than Ark and Eagle? If the Royal Navy had been realistic in ditching less useful ships and not so greedy about CVA 01 it could have had at least a two carrier Phantom/Buccaneer fleet by 1972.

Mostly beacuse they need to cover the East of Suez station and that took four Carriers, although that scope would have reduced somewhat with the withdrawal from the Empire. Victorious was probably slightly better material condition than Ark Royal, it was only the fire in the mess that gave the govt the excuse for a quick disposal. They needed new carriers, all other hulls were assembled during the war to wartime designs. The build and steel quality was average at best and not really suited for the jet era carrier based operations - hanger size and access, electrical systems, accomodation etc.

Why did noone tell the RN that it was more sensible to build a straightforward flattop in the 21st Century than the ski jump VSTOL CVF? France has operated the Charles DeGaulle for years.

Because it wasn't up to the RN, they had to appease the RAF and the Army too, and after the RAF had killed off the fixed wing Fleet Air Arm they would not let it rise again especially when they were looking to get Tranch 2 Typhoons authorised and Tranch 3 developed, the last thing they wanted was to see their T3 version being reassigned to become Sea Typhoons and the FOAS refocused to be carrier capable !


Maybe Admiral Varyl Begg was right in 1961 when he suggested that missile equipped submarines were the way to go...

You should probably pick up Hobb's new book on the British Carrier Strike fleet since 1945 as that should cover the history quite well
 

uk 75

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Geoff


Thanks for the helpful summaries.


Waterstones in Oxford have the Hobbs book. I was browsing it yesterday. A lot of material, but much stuff that is well trodden and belongs in other books. Hardly any useful illustrations. He really dislikes the RAF (reminds me of the serving RN officers I came across when I was a civil servant). I might still buy, as rather like Desmond Wettern's book on British Seapower, it has a lot of small bits of info that are unique to the book. Also, Waterstones deserve the support for getting this book in.
 

JFC Fuller

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It seems that the RN didn't realise Phantom's on Hermes wasn't possible until the late 60s, after it was never going to happen. Choosing when to replace carriers was based on the ships condition rather than how many aircraft they could operate.

Neither the Buccaneer or the Phantom were "stopgaps", this has come up here before and there is no evidence to support the idea. Of course people in the RN were considering possible replacements but that doesn't make those aircraft stopgaps. I don't know where this "converted into a CVS" thing comes from because it had always been intended (from at least 1957 onwards) that the airwings of British carriers operating WoS would be ASW focussed. Thus Hermes was and could be an ASW carrier when required.

Victorious was older, she was in line to be replaced before the other ships, thats really all there is to it. The 1957 plan was for four carriers in the operational fleet with three airwings. At some point in the early 60s this was cut to three carriers. Only one was intended to be EoS and thus equipped as a strike carrier (see above) at any one time.

The last one is even easier, your basic premise is wrong. A CTOL carrier would have been more expensive, JSF STOVL offered a quantum leap in capability over the Harrier anyway. Nobody in 1997 realised there would be a serious prospect of the UK being down to just six fast jet squadrons by 2020 so having three different types of aircraft in service still seemed logical. DeGaulle has had her own farcical history, not least there only being one of her.
 

uk 75

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JFC


Thank you for your input.


To try and simplify what I understand to be the problem, and how it could have been solved in the 60s.


The Royal Navy had 4 old carriers which in 1965 were still able to operate its front line Aircraft (Sea Vixen FAW2, Buccaneer S2, Gannet AEW, Wessex ASW and SAR).


By 1965, it was clear that the only practical solution to the Fighter replacement for Sea Vixen was the Phantom. No other aircraft were possible to enter service by 1970 when the Sea Vixen would be hopelessly obsolete.


Only 2 of the 4 carriers could carry a working load of aircraft (Eagle and Ark Royal). Victorious would be too old by 1970. Hermes could only cope with Buccaneers.


Even if CVA01 were ordered in 1966 as proposed, it was unlikely to be in service until 1973 at the earliest. By converting both Eagle and Ark Royal to Phantom operations by 1973 and postponing CVA 01 until it was clearer what the 1970s Fighter/Bomber (AFVG then MRCA) would look like, the Royal Navy would have been meeting its NATO commitments and maintaining a carrier force into the 70s. Hermes should have been offered up as a saving to the Treasury.


As for CVF I find the idea that the present ships which can only operate one type of fighter strike aircraft as better value than straightforward catapult carriers which could operate F18, Rafale M and F32C curious.
 

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uk 75 said:
I know this subject has been done to death but can indulgent readers please remind me of the answers:


Why was the Royal Navy so keen on a Hermes sized carrier when the size of NA37 Buccaneer should have made it clear that only Ark Royal, Eagle and Victorious were big enough to ship
60s fighters (Phantom etc)?

Why was Hermes not turned into a CVS Anti Submarine carrier as NATO wanted? She was clearly too small for a Buccaneer/Phantom air group and was new enough to be a substitute for the postponed Escort Cruiser and the awful Blake conversions.

How much worse shape was Victorious in than Ark and Eagle? If the Royal Navy had been realistic in ditching less useful ships and not so greedy about CVA 01 it could have had at least a two carrier Phantom/Buccaneer fleet by 1972.

Why did noone tell the RN that it was more sensible to build a straightforward flattop in the 21st Century than the ski jump VSTOL CVF? France has operated the Charles DeGaulle for years.

Maybe Admiral Varyl Begg was right in 1961 when he suggested that missile equipped submarines were the way to go...


OK
If you look at available drydocks in RN possession you can see why they would prefer an original limit of something like the Colossus Majestic during the 1950's.
Once you go beyond that a ship of about Hermes size is something that can fit a reasonable number of the remaining larger drydocks.


Now look at propulsion and again once you go down to a two shaft solution using UK machinary, props etc... you end up looking at a ship roughly similar to Hermes in size and/or displacement.


Hermes herself, could if need be used as a pure ASW ship, the retention of her as a nuclear capable for a limited number of Buccaneers is a product of the limited number of carriers able to operate the Buccaneer.


The Victorious question is a good one, the short answer is, it was convenient to dispose of her when they did, as she was the least cost effective of the 'moderised' CVs available and the longterm plan at this stage was to run on the remaining CVs (Ark Royal and Eagle), but not replace them.


CVF is, quite frankly the best outcome we could get and even now it's not certain we actually will despite the sunk costs.
It is true to say it could be better.
And it is true to say we could have had something not quite as good much earlier.
But neither of these options was going to make it through the tortured realm of politics.
 

uk 75

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JFC Zen


Thank you as ever for putting me straight. Your answers are very helpful.


Only one point. NATO has always set annual force goals for its members (Defence Planning Requirements or something similar). I had always assumed that the UK was down to provide carriers for the NATO Striking Fleet Atlantic. Indeed, leafing through the new Hobbs book he suggests that hanging on to a SACLANT Deputy Command slot was a strong factor for the RN in keeping carriers.
 

JFC Fuller

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NATO didn't set its force goals in a vacuum, they were based on what the member states could offer.

The UK contributed NATO Carrier Strike Group 2 to the NATO striking fleet. For most of the 50s this notionally consisted of two heavy carriers (SACLANT asked for a third, SACs always asked for more). The NATO striking fleet was to be a multinational striking fleet intended for a range of roles that is best summarized as maintaining sea control in Northern waters and supporting the land battle in Northern Norway. This role included nuclear strike against land targets.

Sandys was always highly dubious about this activity, including well before he became defence minister. Thus in 1957 he went for the carriers, only to be met with and convinced by the Admiralty's suggestion that they instead be refocused as EoS power projection assets with a residual ASW role WoS and this became the basis of the planning assumptions. The title, and associated command, Carrier Strike Group 2 survived until Ark Royal retired when it was replaced with Anti-Submarine Group 2. The RN still seems to have generated carriers with strike wings to support exercises in this role (planned well in advance) right up to the end but the real capability got ever more tenuous from 1958 onwards when the FAA strike assets were geared EoS along with the carriers and then the fleet began to shrink.
 

uk 75

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JFC


Thank you for helping me through this. I should have gone back to Grove and Friedman before asking, but it is good to share on this site.


The late Denis Healey deserves a lot more credit for sorting out this mess than I had given him until recently.
The Royal Navy and Royal Air Force that emerged in the 70s and 80s able to cope with the Soviet threat with ASW assets, Nimrods and Tornados for the theatre role needed this break with hankering for past glories with carriers and TSR2.
 
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