Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by sts-200, Aug 10, 2019.
With such insight, your handle is well chosen...
R&R are taking up a couple more turrets, but Fisher isn't done yet.
Some people have all the luck...
Matching odd turrets to odd ships ... ideal.
Fisher’s First Follies
Once construction of the ‘Renown’ class was underway, Admiral Fisher turned his attention to other ways of building large warships. The ban on battleship construction could yet be lifted, but in January 1915, it was still in force with no immediate end in sight. However, while new construction of capital ships had been suspended, construction of cruisers had not, and so Fisher went back to an earlier version of ‘HMS Rhadamanthus’ and used this administrative loophole to build ‘large light cruisers’.
The first two of these, HMS Courageous and HMS Glorious, would be quite literally that; 770' long, with light framing and construction, and an armour belt no more than 3" thick. Their high speed and shallow draught were intended to make them useful in any future operations in shallow coastal areas, while their high speed would be ideal for catching German cruisers. Each ship would be armed with four American-built 14” guns, allowing Fisher to avoid the need for any ‘battleship’ type orders in the UK.
The official designation ‘large light cruisers’ meant that these ships would use cruiser-type machinery, copied from HMS Champion. After years of advocacy, the DNC was able to include small-tube boilers and geared turbines in a major warship. Instead of the 42 boilers of the Renowns, they would have just 18, although nominal power did fall from 98,000shp to 90,000shp.
Nevertheless, this lightweight machinery combined with a long, fine hull made for fast ships. On trials in 1916, Glorious achieved 31.56 knots at 91,200shp, even through her displacement had risen from a design load of 17,800 tons to a trial figure of 21,060 tons. With exhausts open to increase the accuracy of steam consumption measurements, this did not represent the maximum power available from the engines, and model tests suggested that the ships would be capable of 33 knots if pushed to their real limits.
The formal cancellation of the Royal-class battleship HMS Ramilles on 12th January 1915 provisionally made four more 15” turrets available, and three were initially earmarked for a third ‘very large light cruiser’. Tentatively named HMS Furious, she would have been an enlarged version of Glorious, with two turrets forward and one aft. Fisher proposed to fit her with 12 of a new type of 5” gun, which it was hoped would be easier to work in a seaway than the 6” guns fitted to pre-war battleship designs and more effective against destroyers than 4” guns. Her armour would apparently have been improved, but still relatively light.
However, by the end of February, the maverick Admiral was pursuing other ideas.
Someone should have really bapped Fisher round the head with a rolled up newspaper and gone "No!"
I can't wait for HMS Spectacular with Eight 21 inch guns and an inch and a half of steel as armor.
Not even the King would dare ...
Besides, it would have deprived the world of the most beautiful warships ever built, IMO.
Nearly useless, yes, but one of those designs that looks fast, even when it's standing still.
No, now that would be silly ...
... it's not nearly powerful enough.
The Soft Underbelly of Europe
Italy entered the war in May 1915 on the side of the Allies, following months of diplomacy by both sides. To put it more bluntly, it involved a bidding war between the Central Powers and the Allies. Once again, control of the seas had played its part, as Italy was certain that her colonies in Africa would be snatched by the British if they should choose to side with Germany and Austria.
There was a strong desire in the British establishment to take the fight to the enemy around the periphery of his territory, stretching his forces and relieving the pressure on the Western and Eastern Fronts. In naval circles, the ideal would be to defeat the German Fleet, allowing Russian troops to be ferried across the Baltic to attack Berlin. Alternatively, there were ideas for landings along the Belgian coast to turn the flank of the German army, a Black Sea mission to lend support to Russia in the south, a landing in the Adriatic to knock Austria out of the war, or a mission to the Aegean to support Serbia.
All these ideas were supported to varying degrees, with the ever-keen Churchill even expressing a desire to lead an expedition to recapture Antwerp, a city he’d wanted to hold in the autumn of 1914.
Relations with the Ottomans were still shaky, so a mission to support Russia in the Black Sea was inadvisable, while the prospect of any landing in the Baltic or North Sea depended on the RN winning a major battle with the German Fleet. However, the opportunity offered by the Italian entry into the war meant that a new ‘Serbian Scheme’ was devised.
The Serbs had successfully held off the Austrians through 1914. If they were reinforced, while the Russians continued their early successes against Austria, the two armies might break through to Budapest, knocking Austria-Hungary out of the war.
Furthermore, if the Austro-Hungarian Navy could be crushed or contained in the Adriatic (not a difficult task, it was assumed), then their entire coast would be open for an Italian army to land in Croatia or Bosnia, supported by Allied troops.
The first task was therefore to contain or destroy the Austrian Fleet, which had swiftly acted to bombard Italian east coast towns following the outbreak of war. The French were still worried about their northern coast following the Goeben’s escape at the start of the war and insisted on keeping three of their modern battleships in the Channel, much to the disgust of Churchill who wanted the French to commit them to this new mission.
However, the French did commit three ‘semi-dreadnoughts’, and there were three modern Italian battleships available and two more were nearly ready; an adequate match for the Austrian fleet of three powerful pre-dreadnoughts and three modern battleships, plus another nearly complete.
Since the beginning of the war, the Grand Fleet had been reinforced with two more ‘Iron Dukes’, two of the fast ‘Queen Elizabeths’ and HMS Newfoundland, the ex-Chilean Almirante Latorre. She had been under construction in Britain and was bought by the government shortly after the outbreak of war. However, the Germans too had received new ships, in the form of three ‘Konigs’ and the battlecruiser Derfflinger.
Britain therefore had 21 dreadnoughts and 8 battlecruisers in home waters against Germany’s 17 and 6. Admiral Jellicoe was therefore unwilling to part with even two modern ships, and so it was decided to send a single powerful unit. The new Queen Elizabeth could outrun and outfight anything in the Austrian Navy, and would reinforce the battlecruiser Inflexible which was already in the Med alongside a French squadron of pre-dreadnoughts.
By the end of May, the heavy ships were sailing north to bottle up the Austrian Navy, while numerous older British and French vessels, including twelve pre-dreadnoughts, were preparing for bombardment operations prior to landings on the Dalmatian coast.
Fur Kaiser und Konig!
At 1344 on the 17th June 1915, the British cruiser HMS Drake was steaming northeast in the Adriatic ahead of an Anglo-Italian battle squadron, when she spotted smoke to the West.
Twenty minutes later, both sets of battleships were within visual range, even though the weather was poor, with squalls and low cloud obscuring the horizon.
SMS Tegetthoff and Admiral Njegovan’s flagship Viribus Unitis were already returning to Pola, having unsuccessfully tried to evade Allied patrols and break through to Cattaro, where they would have stood a better chance of preventing reinforcements from entering the Adriatic.
The line of command for the allies was an awkward one, as the Italians had the largest number of ships. With the Austrian Fleet relatively weak, it had been decided to split the available forces into two squadrons, one Italian-led, one British-led.
When the Austrians were sighted, Admiral De Robeck was in command aboard his flagship HMS Queen Elizabeth. Just a mile ahead was the battlecruiser Inflexible, while behind him was the Dante Aligheiri, the fastest of Italy’s dreadnoughts. The mixed squadron caused De Robeck a problem, as the Dante’s performance was proving to be lower than expected. She could barely exceed 21 knots, and in an engagement he would therefore have to decide whether to leave her behind during the opening phase, or accept a slow rate of closure.
On sighting the Drake, the Austrian ships held course while the destroyer Tatra investigated. They soon hauled away to starboard and increased to maximum speed as the Drake opened fire on the destroyer with both her 9.2” and 6” guns, and heavier plumes of smoke were spotted behind the British cruiser. The Austrians could make only 20 knots, but they hoped to be able to avoid a fight, or at least fight a running action until they reached the relative safety of the islands closer inshore.
Unwilling to miss the chance to wipe out the naval threat in the Adriatic, De Robeck ordered Queen Elizabeth to catch up with Inflexible, and the two ships headed off at 24 knots, leaving the Aligheiri to slowly fall behind.
Both sides opened fire as soon as they could, although on a cloudy, misty day at ranges of up to 16,000 yards, there were no hits scored in the first few salvos. The British ships continued to close the range, allowing the Austrians to come close to crossing the ‘T’. Daft as it sounded, it could have been the right tactic; the British had the advantage of speed, and Inflexible’s guns could only reach out to 16,400yds, while shooting at maximum range in poor conditions was unlikely to produce a result. At 14,000 yards, the two British ships turned to port to expose their full broadside, while Aligheiri cut the corner to close as fast as she could. Over the next few minutes, both sides began to find the range, and Queen Elizabeth was hit, once ineffectively on the armour belt, and a near miss for’ard which only caused a few strained rivets.
After another few salvos, Unitis scored a hit on Queen Elizabeth’s X turret. The shot was kept out by the 13” faceplate, but splinters found their way into sighting hoods, killing the two gunlayers. The turret crew's training was good, and it was back in action within two minutes, taking replacements from the crew in the working space. Shots fell around Inflexible, and one punched a neat hole in her after funnel, but there was no real damage.
Queen Elizabeth's initial shooting was poor and she scored no hits for several minutes. By that time, Aligheiri had joined the battle from 17,000 yards, the weather having cleared slightly. She scored a lucky hit with her second salvo, although the shell struck Viribus Unitis's armour belt and did no damage.
The Austrian shooting continued to improve, and near misses caused small leaks near Queen Elizabeth’s bow and stern. With Aligheiri now in the fight, the two British ships concentrated on Tegetthoff, although the change of target and confusion over spotting meant slowed the battleship’s progress in finding the range. The Austrian ship suffered a few sprung rivets and dents to her armour, but the pair of 12” shells had done no serious damage. In return, Inflexible's belt caused an Austrian shell to fail on its way through, and she was peppered with splinters from near misses, but again there was little damage to her fighting ability.
At 1432, a 15” shell hit the face of Tegetthoff's X turret. It broke up as it penetrated the armour, but the explosion blew the roof off the turret, and charges in the hoist caught fire sending flames shooting up higher than the masts. Quick action by the magazine crew probably saved the ship from blowing up, but X and Y turrets were out of action with their magazines flooded. Y fired off 6 ready-use charges in the handling room but was then silenced.
Aboard Viribus Unitis, the bridge crew saw the stern of the Tegetthoff ahead covered in smoke and flame, but to their relief, the ship was still there when the smoke started to clear, and Tegetthoff's forward guns were seen to fire again a few seconds later. Clearly, she was not fatally injured. Just seconds later, they saw a puff of flame from the front of the leading British ship (the Inflexible). What just happened to the Tegetthoff now seemed to happen to their enemy, as a burst of flame shot from the area of the forward turret. The fire shot up higher than her masts and the ship was blanketed, but a few seconds later, she emerged from behind the pall of black smoke.
Their attention was distracted by a 12” hit from Aligheiri, but the Unitis's aft belt managed to keep it out with only minor damage to below-water plating.
What happened next changed the battle. Crews of the secondary guns on Queen Elizabeth’s disengaged side saw what one later described as; ‘a huge black jet; it looked like our main guns firing, but bigger and coming straight up out of the ship’.
Aboard the Unitis, Admiral Njegovan saw Inflexible once again covered in black smoke, which formed a towering cloud near the front of the ship. Her aft turret fired again and she continued to steam on, but was soon visibly slowing and was obviously in trouble.
Aboard Inflexible, the Gunnery Officer in the foretop felt the blast of heat as gas poured out in front and behind him. As later said, ‘the forefunnel [directly behind the top] was behaving as if it had a thousand boilers suddenly connected to it. Thick black smoke roared out of it, deafening all of us and scorching anything that was exposed. We dived for the deck, and even when the roaring stopped we could scarcely see a hand in front of our faces.’
On the bridge, men were a little scorched and stunned, but otherwise still in the fight. The voice-pipe to the Transmitting Station below had done a passable imitation of a firework, and thick black smoke continued to pour from it until the First Lieutenant kicked its cover shut. Below decks, the ship was ablaze from the forepeak back to No.1 Boiler Room, but water was gushing into the area around what was once ‘A’ magazine, and through cracked bulkheads into the Torpedo Flat, Boiler Room 1 and a dozen other compartments.
Ouch! Sounds like a magazine deflagration, which isnt' an explosion but a super quick burn. The Inflexible's probably doomed if that's spring all her seams round the blast.
I find the performance of the Austrian ships improbably good. The Tegetthoffs were complete garbage under the hood. Hang on, let me see if I can find the summary again...
Okay, so, basically, they couldn't fire for more than 15 minutes without suffocating the turret crews; they listed as much as 19 degrees on high-speed turns of more than ten degrees - when 25 degrees meant the ship was going to turn turtle; they could not make their design speed of 20 knots - Tegetthoff topped out at 19.75 knots on trials, and would have been even slower in service; they sprung rivets during firing trials; oh, and they were badly unstable. Not to the point of, say, Bouvet, but very bad.
The magazine detonation on Tegetthoff, for instance, probably should've sunk the ship outright. And their shooting definitely wouldn't improve with the gun crews slowly suffocating.
Also? The Austrians probably wouldn't open fire at 16,000 yards; doctrine was to open fire at 9000 after and during aggressively closing the range.
Now, I understand there needs to be certain outcomes for this part of the story, but as it stands, from what I know of those Austrian dreadnoughts this is highly implausible.
I don’t think they would have instantly sunk, the Austrians used similar solventless cordite and handling systems to the Germans, so they shouldn’t really explode or deflagrate, just burn.
I'm going by what was said in the chapter. An explosion of that size, plus the flooding of the magazine, probably should've completely destroyed what little reserve stability she had left. Or sprung open the bottom for catastrophic flooding.
I mostly meant from the powder alone, yeah the ships were total death traps even undamaged.
The British did not like the American built 14” gun whatsoever and would be extremely unlikely to put them on anything besides monitors as they did in our timeline. Fisher or not, the Admiralty and their ordnance experts were pretty adamant about this.
What didn't they like about them?
They thought the construction of the guns was shoddy and unsafe. The mountings also proved rather variable in their accuracy. The nitrocellulose charges were also not stored airtight, which led to consistency issues and thus finicky handling.
Just as importantly, while the British could manufacture more shells just fine, the nitrocellulose propellant was of limited stock, and when they switched to cordite after running out the guns suffered a major dropoff in muzzle velocity.
The two Bethlehem Mark II guns removed from Abercrombie in 1918 were closely examined by the British ordnance experts at Woolwich. The British were not impressed by the construction of these guns, noting that their poorly locked hoops and thin A tube gave them a low degree of safety. The general conclusion reached was that there was no particular advantage to copying USN practice in naval guns, mountings or propellant. ...
Although the British were unimpressed with the overall design of these guns and mountings, they did perhaps perform better under fire than did contemporary British designs. In January 1918, HMS Raglan was holed through the barbette by a 28.3 cm (11.1 in) shell from the former SMS Goeben, now the Turkish Yavuz Sultan Selim. This hit ignited charges in the hand-up chambers between the handling rooms and gunhouse, but the flash was contained and did not spread below to the magazines. This may also have been due to the fact that the propellant was USN nitrocellulose and not British cordite.
The accuracy of the Bethlehem guns varied from ship to ship. Abercrombie was noted for her accurate shooting, but Raglan's shots seemed to sometimes fall short. It was found that Roberts shot better after the guns had warmed up after a few shots. Late in World War I, British cordite was substituted for the US nitrocellulose propellant originally supplied. This resulted in a substantial loss of muzzle velocity and a matching reduction in maximum range.
It didn't help that they put the things too close together in the various 14" triple turrets in the standard class battleships which seriously hurt accuracy and rate of fire
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