Meh, I was bored and felt like doing this, so:
The United Baltic Duchies, the 1-2-3-Programs and the Riga-class
Since its birth in the waning days of the Great War, the United Baltic Duchies had it rough: A melting pot of several different ethnics forcefully placed under the leadership of German nobles, troubles were sure to arise. Placed between to struggling giants added to the turmoil: Russia to the east was embroiled in a bloody civil war and Germany to the west was also fighting with internal unrest and only had limited resources to deal with its new vassals. However, as the years progressed, the internal conflicts were slowly put to rest (or at least suppressed) and both neighbours stabilized (for better or worse) and in the late 1920s, it seemed for a moment that the future of the Duchies was indeed a bright one.
Naturally, such optimism also called for military modernization and expansion. So far, the military had been almost constantly employed, fighting against above mentioned troubles and practical solutions were preferred over long-term planning. With said internal strife, the Navy naturally had to play a secondary role: So far the fleet consisted of a small score minesweepers and coastal torpedo boats, war-time leftovers from Germany and had been used to clean the Baltic waters from mines. Now, with things looking up, the Navy would be expanded massively with the infamous 1-2-3-Programs.
The program was very simple: The Duchies would acquire 1 battleship, 2 cruisers and 3 destroyers in the first run, followed by the same number and types of ships in the second run. These two runs would be followed by the less well-known 1-2-Programs, which included 1 battleship and 2 destroyers, for an overall strength of 4 battleships, 4 cruisers and 10 destroyers. The Navy could therefore employ a full battleship division plus escorts and scouts, therefore either reinforcing the German Navy or freeing up German units in case they were needed elsewhere. If completed, these programs would have elevated the Duchies’ Navy from ‘minor asset’ to ‘junior partner’ in the eyes of their German masters.
Despite the ambitious plans, it was clear from the start that these ships could – and would – not be the size as the same types you would expect from a major power. Reduced, minimal, yet effective designs were required, which played right into the kind of thinking that had emerged after the Second Washington Accords. Ever since warship construction had been limited in size and numbers, Germany (and other nations as well) had been obsessed with saving weight by any means necessary; that included pioneering new welding and construction methods as well as generous rounding in weight calculations. German think tanks around this time obsessed with the concept of a ‘Minimal Washington Battleship’, that would be as close to the 10,000t minimal weight limit for battleships set by the Accords. Other requirements set by the German Navy were a minimum calibre of 305mm (the second main calibre currently employed), diesel engines, aircraft and torpedo facilities. While the German Navy was still under mandatory moratorium, this did not apply to the Duchies, which was not a signatory power of the Accords.
However early design studies clearly showed that all those set requirements only produced bad to unpractical designs, but staff and politics were adamant that such a ship would be built for Duchies to gain practical experience with the design concept and the required technologies. In the end once of the many design studies was chosen for the battleship design and further developed as a real design. In the end, to get a ship half worth-while, several requirements were dropped, while others were retained.
As construction was started on the battleship and designs for the cruisers and destroyers were drawn up, the internal stability of the Duchies deteriorated as fast as it had stabilized. With focus again shifted to the interior, it became clear that the ambitious naval programs would not come to reality. It was only at the insistence of the German Navy (and more importantly, their funding), that the ship was finished in the first place. Even a second ship was started, although construction proceeded very slowly. The final design had a length of around 150 meters a weight of 12,000t and only minimal armour The main battery were of three 305mm twin turrets (one fore, two aft) and secondaries of four 127mm DP guns and five 20mm FlaMG. The most memorable feature was the off-center arrangement of the two aft main turrets, to increase the forward firing arc. Torpedoes armament was not included, as were aircraft facilities; drive was provided by experimental diesel engines for a top speed of 22kn. Also included was a Temos C/19 Orkan
-C radar installation, an upgraded version of Germany’s first post-war radar design, but already almost a decade behind current designs. It did not fulfil all requirements, but was considered a step in the right direction for the ‘minimal battleship’ that was envisioned.
When launched the ship was named Riga
, after the capital city of the Duchies and designated the first her class, but at this point it was already clear that she would remain the only ship not only of her class, but the whole naval program of the Duchies. The fate of her unfinished sister would remain uncertain for the time being.
Once in service, the results were sobering: The engines were a constant source of trouble and the off-center aft turrets put an over proportional amount of stress on Riga
’s structure, a fact that was only increased by the general weak internal workings, a result of rigorous attempts to save weight. Despite immediate attempts at reinforcement, the stress could never be fully compensated. Eventually instructions were given to only fire the aft guns when absolutely necessary, which meant that Riga
’s combat capability and performance could never be fully evaluated. Also a problem was the personnel: Critics and observers were not tired of pointing out that the ship was essential a German ship, despite flying under the flag of the Duchies – and they were not wrong: Aside from the fact that the Duchies were effectively a German puppet, Riga often sailed with a large amount of German ‘volunteers’ and ‘advisors’ on board. That was an unfortunate necessity: As much as the Germans would have handed off things to their allies, Riga
required the attention of several engineers to keep her engines running, specialists to evaluate the stress caused by the aft turrets and sailors support the manpower-starved navy of the Duchies. As mentioned before, the Navy had not been large and would have required a large expansion of recruitment, housing, training and logistics to support all the new ships, but those plans had been scrapped together with the ships themselves.
In the troubling years that swept the Baltics it was often questioned whether or not Riga
should remain in service at all, but many leading heads were too proud to admit that they could have potentially wasted a lot of money. Nevertheless, as many historians and naval experts will point out, the collapse of the 1-2-3-Programs would lead to the more rational and modest modernization of the Navy in the form of the Odinsholm
-class avisos, a design that would prove its usefulness time and time again in the conflicts to come.