The British, Part One
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
The Second Great War alternative-history story arc provides us with an excuse to add warships that were planned or proposed but never built to our Second World War at Sea series. It’s always been my objective to hold to actual plans or proposals wherever we can, or at least to make sure that the ships and planes we make up out of whole cloth follow their owners’ design practices.
In our own history, the naval limitation agreement reached at Washington in 1922 provided for a “battleship holiday” in which no new capital ships would be built. That not only helped hold down the size of navies and reduce the chances of renewed war, more importantly it eased the budgetary pressure on economies still recovering from the effects of the Great War and later from the Great Depression.
But in our story, Wilson’s Peace ended the Great War at the end of 1916. The war remains the most destructive in human history up to that point, but it causes less death and devastation than our own First World War. And without the burden of reparations, German hyper-inflation is avoided as well as the worst aspects of the Great Depression. That means that the navies of the Great Powers have the budgets to build the ships they desired.
Tropical Storm is an expansion for Second Great War at Sea: Tropic of Capricorn, our stand-alone Second Great War at Sea game (the only such game we’ve published to date). In Tropic of Capricorn, a British squadron arrives to assist the Argentines and Chileans in their struggle against Brazil. In Tropical Storm, the German West African Squadron flees the fall of Kamerun for shelter with their Brazilian allies. They’re pursued by another British squadron, which joins the Allied forces confronting the Brazilian-German coalition. New battles ensue.
So let’s take a look at the additional British ships of Tropical Storm.
Big New Battleships
The Royal Corps of Naval Constructors, Britain’s naval architects, drafted a series of proposed battleships in the 1920’s and 1930’s to follow Nelson and Rodney laid down in the last days of 1922. Most of these were relatively small ships (25,000 tons) with slow speeds and comparatively weak main armament (usually 12-inch guns) as the British government and Admiralty planned to induce the rest of the world to accept much smaller limitations on battleship size than those agreed at Washington. Given Britain’s financial crisis and the soaring costs of new battleships, they expected no difficulties in convincing the other naval powers to accept the new standard.
That hope was foolish at best, insane at worst - battleships with 16-inch guns already existed, and they would shoot these new slow, weakly-armed ships to pieces at their leisure from outside their engagement envelope. No other nation was willing to even consider the ridiculous proposal, but the British clung to it. A compromise proposal to limit ships to 35,000 tons and 14-inch guns also went nowhere, but the Royal Navy eventually built its King George V class to these specifications.
The outlier in the British battleship proposals was labelled 16A, also known as Battleship 1929. She would have been a full-sized battleship designed to the treaty limits: 35,000 tons’ displacement and a main armament of 16-inch guns. She would be a much more conventional design than Nelson, with eight 16-inch guns in four twin turrets placed in pair fore and aft like the battleships that had preceded Nelson. Like Nelson, she would have a dozen six-inch guns in six twin turrets, with three of them on either beam amidships.
The battleship would not be very fast, making 23 knots, but no other battleships of the time were any faster (the newer Japanese battleships could make considerably more speed, but this was not known at the time). She would have good protection with a thickly armored deck and bulges to provide extra defense against torpedoes. Eight 4.7-inch guns and a dozen 40mm pom-poms guarded against air attack.
The Gunnery Division received funding in 1928 to prepare a new twin 16-inch turret, along with alternative twin 14-inch and triple 14-inch versions. The Mark I 16-inch gun having proven unsatisfactory, the ships would be armed with a new all-steel Mark II based on the experimental Mark XIV gun tested in the early 1930’s and intended for the new, small battleships the British hoped to make the new world standard. Such a weapon was eventually built a few years later for the Lion-class battleships and proved to be, like its near-sister the 14-inch Mark VII, an excellent weapon though it was not tested until 1947, by which point any hope of new battleship construction for the Royal Navy had passed.
Boring out a barrel for a 16-inch Mark II rifle.
Britain planned to lay down two of the ships in 1931 when the Washington agreement’s holiday expired, despite the budgetary crisis brought on by the Great Depression. Convinced that the Americans and Japanese would lay down new ships as soon as the agreement allowed, the British were determined to do the same even if it meant flirting with catastrophe. British diplomats worked frantically to secure an extension of the holiday and eventually succeeded, saving the nation from financial ruin and scuttling the new battleship.
There’s no such holiday in our Second Great War story, and Britain lays down two of the ships in 1927 and two more each year until 1931, for a total of eight. They’re followed by eight more of a new design, based on Battleship 16A but with less protection and greater speed.
Two of the ships form the core of the British West African Squadron that appears in Tropical Storm. They are very potent fighting ships, though not quite as capable as the newer fast battleships purchased by Argentina and Brazil in Italy and Germany, respectively. The Second Great War at Sea is a battleship war, and Foudroyant and her sister Caledonia give the Royal Navy ships that can stand up to anything the Central Powers have in the theater.
And that’s Britain’s big new battleship. Next time, we’ll look at Britain’s small new battleship.
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold. Leopold has a new dog house.