Tropic of Capricorn:
The Royal Navy, Part Three
While the Second Great War alternative history is an opportunity to make up an entire world, I do try to keep the ships within it tethered to reality as much as possible. When I wrote Great War at Sea: Jutland 1919, I added battleships and cruisers designed but never built to our Jutland game. I knew from the start that I’d want to craft modernized versions of them for Second Great War at Sea.
Second Great War at Sea: Tropic of Capricorn doesn’t have any of the drawing-board battleships introduced in Jutland 1919, but it does sport a pair of the British fast armored cruisers requested by Sir John Jellicoe – ships capable of carrying out the roles of supporting the fleet screen and hunting down enemy commerce raiders, without the need for battleship-caliber main guns.
The cruisers would have been retained in service and modernized; they carried a more powerful armament than that allowed for heavy cruisers (9.2-inch guns against the standard 8-inch weapons of the Treaty cruisers) and displaced 16,000 tons - considerably more than the Treaty limit of 10,000 tons. That gave them plenty of range, and plenty of deck space for anti-aircraft weapons – though in the world of the Second Great War, with aircraft development significantly behind that of our own world the need for such capability is much less. But while most British treaty cruisers would lose their aircraft facilities and one of their main armament turrets in order to fit more electronics, light weapons and accommodations for the additional crew to operate them, the big armored cruisers could add all of these without losing weaponry or speed.
While the 9.2-inch Mark XVI is not as good a weapon as the German 210mm SK L/50 that arms a pair of the newest Brazilian heavy cruisers, it still outmatches the guns of most other cruisers. The big armored cruisers are a little slow to serve as escorts for the newest aircraft carriers, but admirably suited to accompany the older flattops. Two of them appear in Tropic of Capricorn, escorting the small British carrier task force. They also get to tangle with Brazilian cruisers.
The small British task force also includes a pair of light cruisers. Desperate is a Great War-era D-class cruiser, modernized for a new war along the same lines as her sisters. The real Desperate was laid down in the summer of 1918 under the War Emergency Program and cancelled two weeks after the war ended. The modernized D-class saw a great deal of service in the early years of the actual Second World War, in secondary theaters for the most part. Most were retired before the war ended. Like her sisters, Desperate is really too slow to serve as an effective carrier escort and relatively lightly armed.
The other old cruiser, Euphrates, likewise is the third ship of the E class (sister to Enterprise and Emerald), laid down in the summer of 1918 but cancelled in November unlike her sisters. The E class was designed for higher speed and greater endurance than previous light cruisers, to allow them to run down and destroy the fast German minelaying cruisers Brummer and Bremse. They carried a slightly heavier gun armament (seven six-inch guns, rather tha the six of the D-class), a strong torpedo array (a whopping sixteen tubes) and when new could make 33 knots, all of which required a substantially larger hull.
Consequently, they aged better than the contemporaneous D class; Emerald and Enterprise were still very useful warships in 1940 and their cancelled sister would have been as well. Their greater size allowed them to receive the constant upgrades to their electronics and light anti-aircraft weapons throughout the war that the smaller cruisers could not accommodate.
Rounding out the small British task force are five destroyers. I didn’t want to include any British ships in Tropic of Capricorn that might show up in games based on actual, historical events (main-line Second World War at Sea series games), but did want them all to be vessels that might have existed.
The three modern destroyers are examples of the “Anti-Aircraft Tribal” studied by the Admiralty in the late 1930’s. They’re a variant of the big Tribal-class destroyers, maximized in this case to fend off air attacks against carrier task forces rather than for surface combat like their near-sisters. They have no torpedo tubes, and mount eight dual-purpose 4.5-inch anti-aircraft guns in four twin mounts, rather than the 4.7-inch guns of the surface-warfare variant. They carry the names of old British torpedo boats built early in the century.
The Royal Navy abandoned the concept before ordering any vessels; the Imperial Japanese Navy would convert their similar Akizuki-class destroyers to a more conventional layout (with torpedo tubes) before completion. While the idea seemed to have merit on paper, a destroyer-sized hull could not mount the fire-control necessary for effective use as an anti-aircraft escort. A bigger ship would be needed, like the American Atlanta-class cruisers.
The remaining pair of destroyers are Scott-class veterans of the Great War, ordered in 1917 as flotilla leaders and converted to destroyers in the 1930’s. They’ve lost some of their speed, but are still as large as newer destroyers and carry a respectable armament (five 4.7-inch guns and six torpedo tubes). Scott herself was torpedoed by a German submarine in August 1918 while Hughes remained incomplete at the end of the Great War and was cancelled in December 1918. In the world of the Second Great War, both survive to participate in the new conflict.
It’s a motley collection of mostly older ships that Britain sends south to support her allies and, most importantly, keep the Brazilian fleet from interfering in the South Atlantic sea routes. Nearly all of them are at the end of their service life, while the three modern ships are failed experiments built for a battle environment that doesn’t really exist – in the world of the Second Great War, only Britain has invested heavily in aircraft carriers and the planes that fly from them.
Even so, the tiny fleet can make a serious difference in the balance of power. No one else has an aircraft carrier, and land-based aircraft lack the range to exert power very far from their bases.
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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.