French Aircraft Carrier Bearn modernized?

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by Fearless Leader, Jan 13, 2010.

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  1. Fearless Leader Otto Skorzeny Look Alike

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    After thinking about an alternate history in which the Bearn, France's only aircraft carrier during WWII, decided to join up with the Free French Navy. It got me thinking...

    Now in OTL the Bearn was rather useless due to the fact that she's incredibly obsolete by the time the war breaks out (also incredibly slow! only 21 knots on a good day!) This makes my TL problematic as her participation in the war would be incredibly limited due to her obsolescence and the lack of funds to modernize her. After considering a modernization in the States during the war I began to wonder...

    What if, the French Navy, instead of opting to build the Joffre class carriers, decided to modernize the old Bearn? Let's say the French navy refuses to spring for the new carriers, but is forced to concede that the Bearn is rebuilt so that it can serve on for the next few decades. (There's precedent for this in the IJN with the Kaga and Akagi).

    So say around 1936-38 this happens, the Bearn is laid up, she's given a new, oil fired powerplant far superior to her original one (obsolete when it was installed!) probably some kind of torpedo protection, and her flight deck is redesigned along with the elevators to accommodate modern aircraft. The ship is relaunched in and around the vicinity of the war's beginning and is capable of 28-31 knots, and carrying 35-40 aircraft.

    Does this sound reasonable? Any of you naval shipbuilding buffs wanna help me out? (Springsharp?) How would having a decently modern aircraft carrier affect the French Navy's performance in WWII? Let's also say for the sake of argument that the alt-Bearn joins the Free French in TTL.
     
  2. HMS Warspite Well-Known Member

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    The problem with the carrier Bearn, was that she was not only too slow, but also based on a battleship's hull, that was not very long and rather bulky, compared to the more volumeous hulls of the other converted capital ships, except HMS Eagle, who suffered the same problems. No refit could therefore make Bearn a more capable carrier, as her airgroup would not be much larger than it already was, around some 30 to 40 aircraft at best, depending on the types operated.

    Money could therefore better be put in new construction of a more purposely built design. The Joffre Class would not be too large, given the limmited size of French dockyards, but would be much faster and propably fitted with a slightly larger airgroup, of around 40+ aircraft. Bearn was a prototype adn gave the French a very good experience with Naval Aviation, prior to WW2. After the war, they continued to operate carriers, due to the experience gained from Bearn especially.
     
  3. Wolfman Tomcat Fanatic

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    So Bearn was the French Langley?
     
  4. HMS Warspite Well-Known Member

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    Technically speaking, Yes. She was the first throughdeck carrier and was needed for learning, rather than fighting (for this the Joffre class was designed, as was the plan to convert the two Duquense Class heavy cruisers.)
     
  5. Wolfman Tomcat Fanatic

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    Okay, thanks for clarifying that.
     
  6. Bill Cameron Banned

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    Wolfman,

    More like a combination of Langley and Ranger. While Ranger designed as a carrier from the first, unlike Langley and Bearn, she provided the US with much more operational experience and allowed many more experiments than Langley ever did, even taking over the "test bed" role by 1934 and allowing the old collier to be converted to a seaplane carrier in '36.

    Langley was more a case of "We need a carrier quickly" while Ranger was more a case of "Let's build a carrier with which we can then train/experiment".

    Getting back to the French carrier, the hull that became Bearn was laid down in January of 1914 and wasn't launched until 1920 for obvious reasons. The Normandie-battleship design was meant to have both triple expansion engines for economical cruising and turbines for high speed runs. Bearn only recieved turbines and then not the entire propulsion plant because portions of it were used in wartime construction of other ships.

    Between being launched in 1920 and completed in 1927, Bearn's design went through numerous blueprint changes. For a good period it was thought that she should be completed as an "aviation cruiser" or "through-deck cruiser", concepts that had great currency during the 1920s and 1930s.

    In the end, Bearn did provide France with good service in the same role Ranger filled for the US. It was only financial reasons that saw her still afloat in 1939 because the initial plan was to replace her by the mid-30s with the Joffre-class.

    Rebuilding Bearn especially considering her engineering issues would not be cost effective.


    Regards,
    Bill
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2010
  7. Bearcat Banned

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    Agreed. If you want WW2 French CVs to play with, you're better off accelerating the development and actually building a couple of Joffre's.
     
  8. Wolfman Tomcat Fanatic

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    Not according to Friedman, though even he says Langley was never considered an operational carrier. Ranger was designed with only the operational experience from Langley becuase they hadn't had a chance to gain much operational experience with Lexington and Saratoga.
     
  9. Bill Cameron Banned

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    Wolfman,

    I have Friedman too.

    I also wrote about operational experience and didn't write that Langley was an operational carrier.

    Between roughly 1922 and the arrival of Lexington and Saratoga in 1927, Langley was the only way for the US to train carrier pilots in actual ship landings and the only way for the US to train other personnel in other aspects of carrier operations. The ship was a regular part of fleet problems up through it's conversion in the mid-30s too.


    Bill
     
  10. Fearless Leader Otto Skorzeny Look Alike

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    From what I've read the major problem with the Bearn was not her limited aircraft capacity, but rather her poor speed and her obsolete flight deck (her flight elevators couldn't accommodate newer aircraft). After all poor aircraft capacity never stopped the RN from using the Eagle or the Hermes etc. Furthermore the Japanese carrier Kaga was an old Battleship hull and was successfully modernized in the late 30's. What makes the Bearn so different from the Kaga?

    Do you have any good sources for the Bearn? Because from what I've read, she was supposed to be built with just the turbines (which would have given her a speed of 25 kts) but instead received the mixed triple expansions/turbine powerplant of her sistership Normandie making her only capable of 21.5 kts.

    It seems to me that a partial rebuild of the Bearn, giving her large oil-fired powerplants and a better flight deck, could give the French a decent carrier for less cost and effort than building the Joffre class.
     
  11. CalBear Your Ursus arctos californicus Moderator Moderator

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    One major difference is the Bearn was biult from a 1912 hull design meant for a 25,000 dreadnought with a top speed of 20 knots while Kaga was built from a 1918 design for a 26.7 knot 44,000 ton super-dread.

    BTW: Kaga and Akagi were no bed of roses. They had very poor elevator placement (among other compromises) and their aircraft capacity was around 1/3 less than the U.S. converted designs.
     
  12. Snowman23 Well-Known Member

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    Speaking of the Langley, what if for some reason the US never converts to a sea plane carrier? What use could it have in WWII?
     
  13. Bill Cameron Banned

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    Fearless,

    When I wrote my original post I was going on what I remember reading in the UNH stacks and, perhaps, something from an Osprey book. The planned triple-expansion/turbine engineering combination and the lack of the same in Bearn was odd enough to remain in my memory.

    Checking Preston's World's Worst Warships shows that my little gray cells haven't all gone senile yet...

    So Bearn neither received the Normandie-class' full engineering plant or as even "large" an engineering plant as she should have thus limiting her speed.

    CalBear has already pointed out that hull differences exist between a 20 knot 1912 semi-dreadnought and a 27 knot 1918 super-dreadnought. Rebuilding Bearn's hull for better speed characteristics would be very costly.


    Regards,
    Bill
     
  14. Markus Banned

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    She had to be converted as total CV tonnage was limitied by Naval Treaties and US laws. No AV-3, no CV-7(Wasp). If Langley had been converted back by late 41 and survived the first month of the war, she would have most likely served as an aircraft ferry or training carrier like Long Island.
     
  15. Wolfman Tomcat Fanatic

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    My apologies, then.:eek:
     
  16. Bill Cameron Banned

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    Wolfman,

    There is no need to apologize whatsoever.

    If my first post had been more clearer, you wouldn't have posed the question you did. My composition faults directly led to your well-founded questions which then required my further explanation.

    If I'd bothered to do it right the first time I wouldn't have had to do it a second time. :(


    Regards,
    Bill
     
  17. Snowman23 Well-Known Member

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    Oh ok, so that's why It was converted in the first place? :eek:

    Sigh, stupid Washington Naval Treaty, why couldn't t just collapse!
     
  18. Wolfman Tomcat Fanatic

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    All right, the issue is closed.
     
  19. zoomar Curmudgeon

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    One minor teminological quibble. Bearn was not a "semi-dreadnought". She was a second generation dreadnought. Kaga can be refferd to as a "super dreadnought", but if memory serves, this term came into use with the Iron Duke class - in many ways equivalent to Bearn.

    All this being said, one only needs to compare scale drawings of Bearn and Kaga to realize that, at best, Bearn would have been too short and slow to be an effective carrier even if she was reconstructed to the most effective design
     
  20. Bill Cameron Banned

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    Zoomar,

    My error.

    Squinting at Preston again:

    Normandies were 170.6m pp, 175.6m wl, 176.6m oa x 27m x 8.65m.

    Bearn a carrier was 559' 7" pp, 598' 11" oa x 115' 5" x 30' 6" (I don't know why Preston jumped from metric to imperial either!)

    Bearn was the least complete of the five Normandies when construction was suspended with 8-10% of her hull complete, 25% of her engines, 17% of her boilers, and 20% of the moving parts of the turrets. Hence her selection for conversion.

    Also, France toyed with completing the Normandies until late 1919.


    Bill
     
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