Washington Naval Treaty never happens - does naval AirPower get sidelined?

The Brits wanted G3s, but couldn't afford them, even without a Treaty,and got Nelsol and Rodsol instead.
I think thats very questionable, did not want to pay for them (like the US Gov and most of the rest of the world in the 1920s) but couldnt....?

They did pay for N&R and paid extra to build them slow and paid compensation for the 2 other cancelled not built G3s and subsidies to keep capacity in heavy weapons and armour plate due to WNT.....and built 13x 8" 10,000t heavy cruisers.....?

We are still talking very small sums compared to the 2nd largest economy on earth...... I think GB could easily afford to build say 2-4 G3 slowly every 2-3 years in a nice orderly build schedule with the yards competing for the work to keep the cost down and all still in business like pre WWI.

I could add that RN would be forced to agree to send to reserve two old BB and a BC for each new G3 so the crew costs will save money long term as well?
 
Last edited:
In a sane world the budgets are not much more so choices need made. The USN starved the rest to get Battleships. Cruisers likely continue to be deferred or penny packet built. Naval aviation early on gets about the same but has less certainty and less extra money for development. The RN might still go as it did or trim a carrier or two, not much change but then what happens over 20 years with a little cut here and another thing deferred there? From 1919 to 1929 not a lot might be deeply different, aviation is coming, it has value, but it might be just a little less.
Starving the rest to get battleships can make some (perhaps not a lot) of sense if war isn't coming for a while. The USA can build destroyer-sized PEZ dispensers easily enough, if the zillions of four pipers in reserve aren't enough. Cruisers can take somewhat longer, but battleships--they take a LONG time.
 
The WNT kicked the funding can down the road 10 years and then LNT a further 5. At this point the major navies had to replace aging Battleships more urgently than expanding the carrier forces. The USN was looking at carrier conversions in the event of war as an expedient (later morphed to the CVE program) but you can't 'extemporize' a Battleship.
 
At this point the major navies had to replace aging Battleships more urgently than expanding the carrier forces.
Let’s say the US Navy has a vision that building new battleships is a waste of time/resources, especially after Billy Mitchell’s demonstrations. Instead they focus on building carriers. Is the US in a better or weaker position (perceived or actual) by 1940?

Other than possibly the Denmark Strait engagement, were battleships anything more than mobile artillery at the start of WW2?

ric350
 
Oh boy.

Okay. That was unfair.

This is a starting point.

There is a genuine argument that none of the 1939 carrier aircraft were up to the task. Certainly not in a European context. Don't confuse the USN and IJN aircraft of 1941 with those of two years before. For example the USN fighter was a biplane (Grumman F3F) arguably inferior to a Skua.
 
Last edited:
Then I guess I don’t understand what happened IOTL. With the treaty in place, and as you say plans were already in the works for big carriers, then why did the Naval powers continue down the build big battleship path? Why did the US navy feel the need for the Iowa class ships, and the British with the Nelsons?
Then the Japanese building the Musashi/Yamato, and the Germans the Bismarck/Tirpitz, when all that steel could have been used for tanks and subs.
If they all knew that large carriers were the way forward, why the new bigger battleships, especially with the treaty in place?

ric350

The carrier for most of the interwar period was a very immature weapon. Aircraft in general were rather limited. They got a great boost in development from World War I, but things wouldn't quite accelerate until the 1930, then accelerate even faster with World War II.

In addition, the USN was exploring the potential of the aircraft carrier with the the interwar Fleet Problems. You can read more about the Fleet Problems here:


A number of conclusions came out of the Fleet Problems; carriers were very vulnerable to first strikes, they didn't last long in a surface action (see Problems IX and XIV, IIRC) but most importantly was the Balanced Fleet concept, and the Task Force concept. Balanced Fleet saw the carrier and battleship as co-capital ships. Task Force saw limiting deployments to only the ships required for a specific task (hence the name). The problem for Balanced Fleet was the USN didn't have any fast battleships to fully test the concept alongside the fleet carriers until after World War II started.

World War II came about at just about the perfect time for the aircraft carrier. Planes were gaining payload, range and speed, radar was coming into its own making detection and direction of aircraft much easier and the weapons they carried were gaining lethality (the advent of Torpex, for example.) It's easy to say with hindsight the carrier was going to be the future, but it was not obvious at the time. Somewhat analogous to drones in the late 1980s or early 1990s. There seemed to be potential there, but it wasn't quite obvious how far they would go or how useful they would be, so the production of manned aircraft continues. Take a look at the carrier complements of the powers in the mid-1930s. Ranges were rather short; I'd argue ridiculously so for the IJN. But then they got the Val, the Kate and Zeke and those ranges vastly improved.

Continued production of battleships in the 1930s was securing the naval future with the established measure of naval power. Remember, at its core, the treaty allowed the continued the development of EVREY other type of warship EXCEPT for battleships. The RN alone was able to complete new capital ships in the late '20s, but only two of them. The bulk of the capital ships were wartime (World War I time) designs.

Battleships had to be properly escorted to be most useful. Just as that came to include the Torpedo Boat Destroyer in the previous generation, air cover became part of the equation. Consider the modern deployment of aircraft carriers. Part of their escort is a nuclear submarine or two, because the best anti-submarine warfare weapon is another submarine.

My thoughts,
 
Its also worth remembering that the main role of carriers in WW2 is shore bombardment. Carrier v carrier or carrier v surface ship actions are very rare and two of the most famous carrier naval actions are actually shore bombardment.

Which means the carrier has to approach close to land and that means land based air forces can attack the fleet which means you need fleet defence from air attack.

The Carrier clearly has utility in a variety of other situations but the Pacific war 1942/3 is something of an anomaly historically there are two roughly equal carrier navies, one of which does not have the option of risking a fleet gunline action. And the determining factor in where battles are fought is the locations of airfields.

The basic debate all along is between many smaller carriers ( CVE/ SCS) or fewer larger carriers unless you are really rich and can afford both. The USN interwar looks at more smaller carriers as does the RN and the IJN has them as experimental ships from early on. One of the distortions this POD would change is the early Battleship conversions give large carriers so you end up developing tactics on how to use large carriers.

If the BB/BC are completed as intended you probably get more of a mix in more navies between smaller carriers and larger with some having the speed to scout and others only needing to accompany the battleline.

And then everyone moves to larger fleet carriers with much smaller escort types. Which are easier and faster to make than BB, also easily upgradeable with new aircraft every year.

World War II came about at just about the perfect time for the aircraft carrier. Planes were gaining payload, range and speed, radar was coming into its own making detection and direction of aircraft much easier and the weapons they carried were gaining lethality (the advent of Torpex, for example.)

There is also the issue that the great Pacific carrier battles were fought between navies with poor to very poor detection, AA and Interception capability. Also poor surface search (visual only).

When you have an air defence that can put a large interceptor force up and high enough to intercept an incoming raid far from the carrier ( i.e. radar and FDC) in the time available and a powerful medium to close AA system ( 20mm, 40mm. 4-5'' AA with ideally VT fuzes) the calculus changes.
 
I think thats very questionable, did not want to pay for them (like the US Gov and most of the rest of the world in the 1920s) but couldnt....?

They did pay for N&R and paid extra to build them slow and paid compensation for the 2 other cancelled not built G3s and subsidies to keep capacity in heavy weapons and armour plate due to WNT.....and built 13x 8" 10,000t heavy cruisers.....?

We are still talking very small sums compared to the 2nd largest economy on earth...... I think GB could easily afford to build say 2-4 G3 slowly every 2-3 years in a nice orderly build schedule with the yards competing for the work to keep the cost down and all still in business like pre WWI.

I could add that RN would be forced to agree to send to reserve two old BB and a BC for each new G3 so the crew costs will save money long term as well?
Also with no Washington Treaty Britain can sell off ships it no longer has a need for. The RN may not need the early Super Dreadnoughts but the Royal Netherlands Navy could find a use for a couple.
 
Also with no Washington Treaty Britain can sell off ships it no longer has a need for. The RN may not need the early Super Dreadnoughts but the Royal Netherlands Navy could find a use for a couple.
Im not that sure they would get more than say 3-4 sold at very low price? Post WWI sentiment was very anti-war everywhere and also once the G3 and later ships started to arrive any Super Dreadnoughts would be very obsolescent?

But on the other hand, maybe with the Kanto quake stopping IJN and an unofficial agreement by USN/RN to slow down and be responsible and stay at 50% ratio over IJN at a 16" max gun size (post SDs/Lex/G3s...) the Iron Dukes look worth buying to keep the Kongos and other 14" ships from coming south to DEI and they can cheaply replace all the very old existing CDS? Maybe a few other nations pick up one or more, and the rest would just go to very cheap reserve storage?
 
One of the distortions this POD would change is the early Battleship conversions give large carriers so you end up developing tactics on how to use large carriers.

I am not so sure. By the mid 30s everyone was playing around with massed carrier strikes. Hindsight means we always hear about the USN fleet problems, but the Kido Butai didn't come from nowhere and the 30s training for Taranto involved multiple carriers.
Even under the Treaty no one was building up to their limit until the mid 30s. Fleet exercises cost money so I don't know how much more they will learn if no one wants to spend.
 
There's no question that the development of naval aviation won't be stopped by the absence of a naval treaty.

IMHO the problem will be that with battleship evolution allowed to go un checked, the capacity of the capital ships to defend themselves from aerial treaths will grealty improve. So will their ability to survive a successful attack.

Combine this with the greater availability of modern battleships and It may result in a situation where the carrier is kept as a support unit for a slightly longer period than OTL.
 
I am not so sure. By the mid 30s everyone was playing around with massed carrier strikes. Hindsight means we always hear about the USN fleet problems, but the Kido Butai didn't come from nowhere and the 30s training for Taranto involved multiple carriers.
Even under the Treaty no one was building up to their limit until the mid 30s. Fleet exercises cost money so I don't know how much more they will learn if no one wants to spend.

But you have to get to the early thirties in the first place. I would agree that the logic is fewer larger carriers if you can manage them but thats as much economic as tactical. Ryujo has a compliment of 900 odd for 15 aircraft Soryu 1100 for 63 aircraft, Independence 1400 for 33 , Yorktowns 2,000 for 90 aircraft and so forth. If manpower is a limit, and it is in peacetime then bigger ships for a relatively small increase in manpower make sense. With no treaty limits you still have the manpower issues.

But moving around a ship that needs 1500 men to give in effect a scouting group of 60+ aircraft may not be seen as a good investment unless you already have the hull ( Akagi or Lex) Courageous has about the same compliment but a 48 place group. Bearn again is a converted BB.

I suspect without the treaties the BB will get built ( and Courageous converted) and people will be looking at smaller experimental carriers probably on the 10kt range ( like Hermes and Hosho) and then decide thats pointless.
 
Oh boy.

Okay. That was unfair.

This is a starting point.

There is a genuine argument that none of the 1939 carrier aircraft were up to the task. Certainly not in a European context. Don't confuse the USN and IJN aircraft of 1941 with those of two years before. For example the USN fighter was a biplane (Grumman F3F) arguably inferior to a Skua.
Skua was two years newer, an eternity in aircraft development in the late '30s.
The Skua was twice as heavy, with less installed power.
The Grumman was 37mph faster, and 560 miles more range, with a 13,000 foot higher ceiling.
Rate of climb was 1200 fpm better.
The Skua had more .30 class MGs, and was set to carry a bomb, the only two areas it was superior.
Let compare to a same type, the Curtiss Helldiver.
Same year of introduction.
Skua was 600 pounds heavier for less HP, but SBC was 10mph slower, and 150 miles more range. Slightly higher ceiling and rate of climb for the SBC.
SBC had twice the bomb load of the Skua., but fewer machine guns.

Skua was terrible.
 
No matter how prophetic the believers are, aircraft simply cannot fully deliver on the promises to sink a battleship until nearly 20 years later. They are certainly invaluable for scouting, fire observation and harassing an enemy, fitting into the scouting vanguard. Whether one goes for multiple ships with larger combined air groups or larger ships with large groups the intervening years will see the carrier battle the battle cruisers for pride of place in that role, especially as we should see the fast battleship come into being sooner. And I feel that the RN will always face the prospect of being in range of land-based aircraft, thus some form of protected carrier is obvious to them. We can say the same for France, Italy, Germany or Russia. Japan and the USA are mostly moving over open ocean and they challenge is finding the enemy and striking first, thus bigger hulls, bigger groups and less protection.

We should see the RN shift to aircraft that can compete with land-based aircraft as soon as possible. But the RN also has to operate in the dismal North Sea and North Atlantic, so that favors the big gun battleship longer, handicaps deck parks and drives two seat aircraft with navigators. I think the RN looks rather like it did. Settling on a big armored carrier more about scouting, fleet air defense and anti-ship strike as a third priority, operating as the center of the scouting vanguard supported by heavy cruisers to screen and breech the opposing scouts, light cruisers to go scouting and harass the enemy destroyers. The USN and IJN look similar but do with less protection and can use deck parks, might lay off fleet air defense longer, push strike up equal with scouting and we know Japan adds the cruisers as a long-ranged torpedo element. That should converge us to about 1938 looking rather the same.

Having read Genda's thoughts I think the carrier and land-based aircraft by about 1938 truly offer an alternative to the battleship and the decisive battle, from thereafter the choices should have been to buy carrier and aircraft and move to quality on battleships, faster the better, but never buy one if you need more airpower. Reality is that a generation of surface officers must retire to get us there so it would not be much before 1948 before the carrier becomes the capital ship and land-based air becomes the rock of defense. I do not think the WNT could alter it and having none accelerates things, it takes time to get the airplane lethal enough and the mindsets poised to shift.
 
We can say the same for France, Italy, Germany or Russia
I agree with most but with the smaller European powers in a none WNT world the RN is simply too large to play with if they are thinking clearly, but they might not be until they have spent too much simply for prestige against each other?

With say 12 G3s like ships ready by 1940 (and the 13 old 15" ships working up back into service from inactive reserve, if not any 13.5" ships and any more new construction building?) any surface raiding into the Atlantic is seriously questionable....... S&G might not want to even come play off Norway?

Historically, RN built N&R and 5 KVGs + Vanguard building 12 G3s slowly without a WNT might even be cheaper if they do it in 20s/early 30s without paying overtime and very achievable over more than a decade and half? USN would have 6 SD, 6 Lex (maybe 3 as CVs?) and at least 1 more class or two to match, so it's not that inflammatory and IJN is bankrupt?
 
Last edited:
Interesting stuff, thanks! However let me take a different tack, regarding something I alluded to earlier. Looking back on WW2, did the battleship prove to be anything more than ocean-going artillery? If Germany hadn’t built Bismarck/Tirpitz, (think of all the things Germany could have built instead - like lots of trucks!), would the RN have anything to do with their battleships? The RN put Sea Lion in the realm of fantasy, but wouldn’t that still have been true if the largest ship the RN had been a cruiser? (hell, a tug boat with large fire hose would be a serious threat)

So what if the WNT did happen, but in an effort to really rein in rearmament, it was much stricter. No new ship larger than a cruiser was allowed (10000 tons/8 inch guns). Or maybe something along the lines of the Deutschland class at most. Carrier/aircraft development continues as OTL. Would this change significantly impact any OTL WW2 campaigns? The only things I can think of are shore bombardment actions missing the larger caliber guns.

Or is this ASB because Admirals (and politicians) believe “only size matters”?

ric350
 
Interesting stuff, thanks! However let me take a different tack, regarding something I alluded to earlier. Looking back on WW2, did the battleship prove to be anything more than ocean-going artillery? If Germany hadn’t built Bismarck/Tirpitz, (think of all the things Germany could have built instead - like lots of trucks!), would the RN have anything to do with their battleships? The RN put Sea Lion in the realm of fantasy, but wouldn’t that still have been true if the largest ship the RN had been a cruiser? (hell, a tug boat with large fire hose would be a serious threat)

So what if the WNT did happen, but in an effort to really rein in rearmament, it was much stricter. No new ship larger than a cruiser was allowed (10000 tons/8 inch guns). Or maybe something along the lines of the Deutschland class at most. Carrier/aircraft development continues as OTL. Would this change significantly impact any OTL WW2 campaigns? The only things I can think of are shore bombardment actions missing the larger caliber guns.

Or is this ASB because Admirals (and politicians) believe “only size matters”?

ric350
Assuming the Germans have nothing larger than Graf Spee at any point from 1939-1945, the RN would still be using their battleships to seize sea control in the Med against the Italians. There were several surface actions of the RN v RM battleships, so if the RN could reinforce either Force H or the Med Fleet with more and likely more modern battleships that had been kept in Home Fleet to deal with the KM, the Admiralty would be very happy to not have a force generation challenge.
 
Interesting stuff, thanks! However let me take a different tack, regarding something I alluded to earlier. Looking back on WW2, did the battleship prove to be anything more than ocean-going artillery? If Germany hadn’t built Bismarck/Tirpitz, (think of all the things Germany could have built instead - like lots of trucks!), would the RN have anything to do with their battleships? The RN put Sea Lion in the realm of fantasy, but wouldn’t that still have been true if the largest ship the RN had been a cruiser? (hell, a tug boat with large fire hose would be a serious threat)

So what if the WNT did happen, but in an effort to really rein in rearmament, it was much stricter. No new ship larger than a cruiser was allowed (10000 tons/8 inch guns). Or maybe something along the lines of the Deutschland class at most. Carrier/aircraft development continues as OTL. Would this change significantly impact any OTL WW2 campaigns? The only things I can think of are shore bombardment actions missing the larger caliber guns.

Or is this ASB because Admirals (and politicians) believe “only size matters”?

ric350
Basically ASB, no one is going to agree with that. Even if you somehow get the original proposal (say Mutsu burns on the ways, so only Colorado, Hood and Nagato are kept for post Jutland ships), people are still going to want to replace their battleships eventually because nothing else can do the job at the time, because ships do get old

The presence of battleships mattered a lot even if they didn't engage that often, they shaped the engagements. Their presence was more felt by what commanders did to react to them, IE battleships did not engage during Operation Vigorous but the presence of the Italain battleships made the British turn back, the threat of the Japanese battleships kept the USN from following up as vigorously at Midway, etc.

This ignores some of the actual battleship actions and use, IE Naval Battle of Guadalcanal ,Cape Matapan, North Cape, etc.
 
Interesting stuff, thanks! However let me take a different tack, regarding something I alluded to earlier. Looking back on WW2, did the battleship prove to be anything more than ocean-going artillery? If Germany hadn’t built Bismarck/Tirpitz, (think of all the things Germany could have built instead - like lots of trucks!), would the RN have anything to do with their battleships? The RN put Sea Lion in the realm of fantasy, but wouldn’t that still have been true if the largest ship the RN had been a cruiser? (hell, a tug boat with large fire hose would be a serious threat)

So what if the WNT did happen, but in an effort to really rein in rearmament, it was much stricter. No new ship larger than a cruiser was allowed (10000 tons/8 inch guns). Or maybe something along the lines of the Deutschland class at most. Carrier/aircraft development continues as OTL. Would this change significantly impact any OTL WW2 campaigns? The only things I can think of are shore bombardment actions missing the larger caliber guns.

Or is this ASB because Admirals (and politicians) believe “only size matters”?

ric350
The RN battleships were built to face the Japanese as much as Germany. The Counties were aimed at Japan in the 20s and Ark Royal is a Pacific carrier. The Illustrious were Mediterranean carriers. The RN was a global fleet in a way no one else was at the time.


Anyway. Bigger is better. That is why ship types consistently grow over time. Fundamentally no one is going to limit themselves to cruisers from tactical to economic to national development reasons. But why on earth would carriers be limited in tonnage when the OLT treaty recognised their threat enough to see them limited too.
 
I agree with most but with the smaller European powers in a none WNT world the RN is simply too large to play with if they are thinking clearly, but they might not be until they have spent too much simply for prestige against each other?

With say 12 G3s like ships ready by 1940 (and the 13 old 15" ships working up back into service from inactive reserve, if not any 13.5" ships and any more new construction building?) any surface raiding into the Atlantic is seriously questionable....... S&G might not want to even come play off Norway?

Historically, RN built N&R and 5 KVGs + Vanguard building 12 G3s slowly without a WNT might even be cheaper if they do it in 20s/early 30s without paying overtime and very achievable over more than a decade and half? USN would have 6 SD, 6 Lex (maybe 3 as CVs?) and at least 1 more class or two to match, so it's not that inflammatory and IJN is bankrupt?
I believe four G3 are about as much spent on subsidies, Nelrod, and some other waste. After that the programme slows or another treaty/holiday ensues. But yes, they wanted 4 G# 4 N3 and 4 more of one or the other. With just 4 they overmatch the rest, including Japan, the old 15-inch are good enough, the 13.5-inch go into reserve and the rest can still be scrapped. Japan goes bust and the USA loses steam for much beyond the 16 South Dakota, Colorado and Lexingtons. Both USN and RN built tit for tat. Japan claws forward. The big question I ponder is if any better sustained building program softens the Depression, a back door intervention, not because they believe Keynes but because they buy ships.

But back to carriers, I think France can buy the Joffre and make them work. Italy really needs a RIKKO naval air arm, so does Germany, their naval war is still very close to home. By 1938 the carrier replaces the battle cruiser, fast battleships up the mean fleet speed to 25 knots or so, some going 30. The USN still needs cruisers. Once it pulls back from the Philippines the Army tries to get into the RIKKO business. Nasty fight ensues.
 
Top