Apologies for ‘bumping’ this thread but I was searching the greater SHIPBUCKET forum for other snippets regarding the ships of the British Grand Fleet and stumbled across this thread which immediately caught my attention.
Forgive the long-winded verbal diahorrea here enclosed but I felt moved to contribute thoughts on several points I hope will be of interest;
1. British Super-Dreadnoughts [as-conceived Vs as-built]
Details regarding the nature of the Admiralty’s pre-war plans for the Queen Elizabeth Class [QE’s] are shrouded in both myth and controversy. As far as I've been able to determine, this is in large part due to many of the records documenting the design process for the ships being ‘lost’ as early as 1914!
We know from the historical records available [quoted in a great many books on the subject] that prior to the outbreak of WW1, within Parliament, Treasury, the Foreign Office and at the Admiralty, serious concerns existed about Britain’s ongoing part in the naval arms race. The construction cost of capital ships was rising steeply with each new order placed and with it, fears that the white-hot pace of tit-for-tat technological development would mean that older dreadnoughts [all - including HMS Dreadnought
herself - being less than 10 years old, most less than 5 years] would be all too quickly outclassed and rendered obsolete. Most misgivings had their roots in the leadership and ideas of the new First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill [author of the policy to outbuild the germans by at least 60%], and the mercurial former First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Jackie Fisher. The disappearance/destruction of a significant portion of the naval records of this time [a time that roughly coincides with Fishers retirement from the Admiralty and Churchill’s appointment as First Lord/Navy Minister] suggests there were some key decisions made surrounding the final design and capabilities of the QEs that were controversial and [without the benefit of hindsight] less than attractive.
British planning at the time Churchill became First Lord of the Admiralty [October, 1911] still assumed that Germany was committed to matching British strength in the North Sea and the Atlantic and as such, DNC’s design work on new ships for the 1912/13 Naval estimates logically took the form of a batch of three BBs and one BC that were incremental advances on the ships that preceded them. The numbers of ships ordered between 1912/13 and the outbreak of war [5 QE’s + 5 Revenge’s - not including the Canadian-sponsored trio and ‘Agincourt’ that were never built] are in keeping with this policy. However, we know that by the time construction of the QE’s began Germany had all but admitted defeat in the Dreadnought Race, accepting that Britain’s lead was unassailable and that Her greater priority should be preparedness for a likely large land conflict against the ‘Triple Entente’ in the near future.
Against this backdrop, with the British still operating on long-held assumptions about the Germans naval strategy and having reasonably good intelligence about forthcoming German construction it appears Fisher had convinced Churchill [soon after the latter took office at the Admiralty] that what the Navy needed after the Iron Duke Class and HMS Tiger
[1911/12 ordered ships] was not more of the same [or incremental improvements thereupon], but yet another game-changer. Fisher believed the new ships should be armed with [as yet undeveloped] 15” guns and meld BB-level protection with BC-level speed in order to create a fast capital squadron capable of a sustained fleet speed of 25-26 knots and therefore able to defend the main British battle line against a T-Crossing manoeuvre by the German fast wing [Hipper’s Battlecruisers]. Norman Friedman’s fantastic book on British Battleships suggests that Churchill was wrong in believing [as he later wrote in ’The World Crisis’, His famous memoir of WW1] that the QE’s - as eventually built - were the answer to this question, especially since the great man referred to the class repeatedly in His recollections as being capable of 26 knots! Whilst the eventual specification for the Queen Elizabeth Class certainly called for a design capable of 25 knots or better [on a 27,000 Tonne displacement], by the time they entered service they were overweight [32,250 Tonnes], underpowered [70,000 SHP] and only capable of 23 knots on a flat calm sea with a tail wind. Compare this to HMS Hood, launched in 1917 whose specification took the armament, armour and engine power of Queen Elizabeth as a baseline and successfully sought to achieve a design speed in excess of 30 knots - albeit achieving this on a deep displacement of 45,470 tonnes and a machinery package that put out over 144,000 SHP.
Oh what could have been!
Fisher obviously intended the QE’s to be ‘Fast Battleships’, perhaps a belated realisation of His ‘battleship X’ concept which he initially campaigned for in 1907/8 whilst HMS Invincible was still on the builders stocks. But although even Churchill later admitted that the ‘Fast Battleships’ were meant to render Battlecruisers obsolescent before WW1 had even begun [see Norman Freidman’s book], compromises in the gestation of their design robbed them of this potential. After the war, former DNC, Phillip Watts [by then chief naval architect at Armstrong Whitworth], the man that had lead the design design team responsible for the majority of the WW1 British battlefleet, publicly made the claim that had small tube boilers and geared turbines been used for the class, then the QE’s would have been able to achieve speeds of up to 28.5 knots - although he gave no indication of the shaft horsepower he thought this would require, nor did he mention if improvements to Hull hydrodynamics would have been necessary. The Admiralty Board asked Watt’s successor, E.T. d’Eyncourt for comment and the latter broadly agreed with Watts assessment of the QEs ‘on-paper’ potential. The reason they weren’t constructed this way likely resulted from several contributing factors.
- Reticence about Increasing Cost: The small tube boilers and geared turbines required to make 100,000+ shaft horsepower in order to accelerate 32,250 tonnes to 26 knots [let alone 28 knots!] in fair seas would have made the ships significantly more expensive, limiting the eventual number that could be built [remember the Naval Arms race was as much about quantity as quality].
- Fuel Security and strategic mobility: Small-tube marine boilers ran only on oil fuel which Britain had to import at greater expense and far greater effort than the extraction of coal from the Welsh mountains or the Yorkshire dales. In addition to this, oil-fuelled ships at this time were effectively limited to operations in the north sea and mediterranean as beyond this area there were little to no oil storage options, either on Royal Navy overseas bases, or in ports of friendly nations that regularly gave succour to HM Ships patrolling the far reaches of the Empire.
- Hullform compromises: I don’t pretend to understand the exact science of hydrodynamics as applied to the hull of a ship, but the most rudimentary comparisons between the QEs and Rs and what later became [from the same starting point - albeit significantly redesigned during construction] the Battlecruisers HMS Renown and Repulse, suggest to me that as a key design driver, speed was secondary to stability as a gun platform and the ability to host a greater weight of armoured protection. A great deal more horses under the bonnet than what was eventually supplied would have been necessary to overcome these detractions and spur a QE on to a sustained 26 knots, even on a flat calm day on the Solent.
- ‘The Dreadnought Effect’: production of a 26-28 knot Heavy Battleship with 8 x 15” guns [essentially HMS Vanguard 30 years before her time] would have effectively made all previously built Dreadnoughts and Battlecruisers obsolete at a stroke. This is not withstanding Churchill and Fishers’ previously quoted intent for the QE’s to render all Battlecruisers obsolescent, as I cannot believe that in their wildest machinations that either of them conceived of the QE’s rendering all Dreadnoughts built to date obsolete as well! If this were so, the prodigious effort and expense of the previous decade’s quest to outbuild the Germans in capital ships would have been a highly questionable endeavour and both men would have surely become victims of a first class political scandal!
In the end, the QE’s, whilst arguably the most formidable and capable battleships of WW1 were, in light of their high conception, a bit of a disappointment. Whilst still a highly capable design that provided sterling service over 30 years and two world wars, they weren’t fast enough to manoeuvre and fight separate to the Battle Fleet in a genuinely valuable capacity and as such, weren’t repeated or improved on in subsequent orders - design development reverting to the 21 knot fleet standard for a revised [and more affordable] ‘R’ Class in 1913/14. When at Jutland the 5th Battle Squadron was employed as a heavy chaperone to Admiral Beattie’s Battlecruiser force it wasn’t anywhere near fast enough to keep up with the latter and therefore did not have the impact it should have been able to levy - although Admiral Sheer did comment later that the range [up to 19,000 yards - beyond the range of german battlecruiser ‘s ability to hit back], rapidity and accuracy with which the QE’s engaged Admiral Hippers battlecruisers provided some very concerning moments.
All this promts some hypothetical musings;
Q: What if 26-28 knot QE’s had been built? How would it have effected the outcome of the naval war?
A: This is a hard one to tease out, but the history books do provide some foundations. Before it’s cancellation on the outbreak of war, the 6th ‘R’ [‘Agincourt’] was being mooted as an improved Queen Elizabeth - perhaps an intermediate step between the QEs [23 knots] and Hood
[30-32 knots]. If what was being suggested for Agincourt
is true to what the QE’s were meant to be then building Queen Elizabeth
etc this way from the get-go certainly changes the picture. All of a sudden you have the best armed and protected ships in the world to date capable of keeping pace with the fastest of Germany’s Battlecruisers and being able to soundly outmanoeuvre the bulk of their High Seas Fleet at will! The major North Sea Battles certainly change if this is added to the computations, as the QEs of Admiral Evan-Thomas’ 5th Battle Squadron can now easily keep pace with Beatty's Battlecruiser force (assuming no command or deployment changes, or other variances). The likely result of this is compelling. Knowing that the newly comissioned HMS Queen Elizabeth is just as fast as His Splendid Cats
[and far more powerful!], Beatty appropriates the newly commissioned Queen Elizabeth
as His flagship for the action at Dogger Bank. Her Battlecruiser speed, better armour and far superior main battery means that in all probability Admiral Hippers’ Battlecruiser Squadron is very roughly handled, losing not only Blücher
in the process of their retreat, but quite possibly others [perhaps Lützow
?] as well. Those ships of Hipper’s command lucky enough to survive that exchange then most likely cop another bollocking in the initial phases of Jutland, or, Hipper turns tail and runs for home as soon as he realises the QE and Her sisters of 5th Battle Squadron are in company with Beatty - caution being the better part of valour and all that. Thus the battle between the main fleets at Jutland either doesn’t happen at all, or, thanks to the 5th Squadron [and possibly the 'R's as well] having the speed to outmanoeuvre the German line at will, results in a resounding British victory rather than a hollow one marked by the loss of many great ships and thousands of men. [I say this because in this scenario there wouldn't have been the pressure or temptation to add Beatty's underarmoured ships to the main battleline]
After that things could go in many directions, providing many points of inspiration for Shipbucketeer fanboys of the Royal Navy everywhere to explore ad-nausium;
- Would Repulse, Renown and Hood been built at all?
- Would the ‘R’ class BBs have become what we know them to be? or would the QE’s have justified perpetuation into a second batch of 26 knot ships?
- Is ‘Agincourt’ built or is she still cancelled? If built, what form does she eventually take?
- What role do the 12”-armed First Generation Dreadnoughts and Battlecruisers play in this scenario? are they cascaded to supercede the Pre-dreadnoughts in the Med because they are outclassed in the North Sea?
- Would these developments have meant that Fishers Follies [Glorious, Courageous, Furious] have turned out differently? If so, Why?
- How would a undisputed British victory at Jutland and the superiority of the QEs/Rs have changed the postwar naval scene?
- Do the American and Japanese construction programmes [begun during the war] change their nature in light of a British fleet with up to 4 squadrons of ships [1-2 x BBs and 2 x BCs capable of 26 knots]
- Does the WNT take a different form to that we know from history?
- Does HMS Tiger survive WNT or does the Battlecruiser [in the absence of Repulse, Renown and Hood] die out by 1923?
- Does the G3/N3 +WNT saga produce the NelRods? or does a WNT-compliant British battle fleet take a different form? Say, for example: up-to-10 x 26 knot [Queen Elizabeths and 'Rs'] & 7-8 x 21 Knot [Iron Dukes and Orions] Battleships being regarded as sufficient to see Britain through to the 1930 London conference with relative parity maintained?
- What form do the eventual replacements for the Iron Dukes and King George Vs take [keeping in mind the British desire to have firepower parity with USA and Japan’s 16”-armed ships]? 26-28 knot Design 16A anyone?
- How are the QE’s upgraded/rebuilt throughout their life and how long do they serve?
Phew! Long one. But hopefully it's of interest. DISCLAIMER: I don't claim to be an expert [although I have read a lot over the years] and as such welcome constructive corrections or critisism.
I hope to post more contributions in the coming days re: WNT, Battlecruisers and HMAS Australia
etc. I might even throw together a drawing or too!