Washington Cherry Trees II./ Part 1: The other side of the ‘pond’

Chapter One: before Jütland


In the first part we got insight into the development of the battleships and battlecruisers of the United States Navy during and after World War One, up the Naval Treaty of Washington.In this part we jump over to the other side of the Atlantic and have an in depth look at how the British Royal Navy, the then premier naval force did in the same time period. We will focus on the ADMIRAL (HOOD) class and the new generation ships designed at the beginning of the ’20s – that met their end with the Treaty.

Historical background

From the 1700s up until 1918 Great Britain and it’s Royal Navy was the unquestionable ruler of the seven seas and all three oceans. The Navy was the linchpin, the cohesive force that held the Empire together and acted as the first line of defence as well. It’s backbone was formed by the staggering amount of sail ships of the line that gradually gave way to ironclads and more modern armoured ships during the second half of the 19th century. In 1906 the dreadnought type ship was introduced and this type became the undisputed measurement of naval strength. This was a double edge sword however as it basically made all previous ships obsolete or obsolescent at best – meaning that new comers, like the Hochseeflotte of the German Kaiserliche Marine got an almost level playing field in competing with the Royal Navy in terms of ship numbers. However the British shipbuilding industry of the time was so wast and advanced that they could outbuild the Germans both in numbers and in building speed – not to mention that Britain did not have to maintain massive army forces, so more money was available for ships.

The British lead in numbers


At the end of the Great War the Royal Navy possessed 33 dreadnought battleships and 9 battlecruisers. With Germany beaten and falling out of the naval race the only remaining rivals were the US and Japanese navies, that had 16-0 and 5-4 battleships and battlecrusiers respectively. This meant that even combined, the Royal Navy had superior numbers, so on paper it could still maintain the so called two powers standard and still had surplus ships. The numbers however were somewhat misleading as they did not reflect the quality of said ships: most of the inventory on the British side were fairly obsolescent units with 12″ guns and a maximum of 11-12″ belt armor, first generation units that had limited fighting value in real combat (much like the german pre-dreads at Jütland). So thanks to these ships the balance was still in favor of the Royal Navy in a one on one combat with either of the above mentioned rivals but things were about to change real quick. By 1920 both the United States and Japan were heavily engaged in fleet expansion: 10 battleships and 6 battlecruisers were being built by the former and 4 and 4 of the respective types in the latter country.

In comparison to this Britain had the lonely HOOD in commission with 3 of her half sisters (see later) cancelled while two of the older ships were decommissioned due to their age and worn out status. What made the situation even worse is that all the overseas rivals ships were intended to carry 16″ guns while the biggest caliber in the Royal Navy was 15″, including the otherwise fairly modern HOOD. In regards of armor protection and speed again only the spanking new HOOD could stand out as an equal opponent, all the other older ships were deficient in one or the other respect (some of them in both). The first generation dreadnoughts were hopelessly inadequate as they were designed well before the experiences of Jütland. It was crystal clear that as soon as the rivals complete their new ships the RN will be relegated to 3rd place on the list of navies. To address the situation an order was placed for 3 battleships and 1 battlecruiser in the 1921-22 financial year and they planned the same amount for the next one. It is debated until today if the British finances and industry would have been able support these units without expansion.

Not much later the plans were modified to front load them with four battlecruisers for the first year and four battleships for the second – the reason for this is probably to be found in the state of the RN’s battlecruiser force: these ships were quite important in their tactical role (due to their high speeds) but were so thinly armored that even 12″ shell hits meant grave danger for them let alone modern 16″ shells. Also the existence of the LEXINGTON class with their ultra high speed  mandated something that can catch those ships – and currently nothing in the British inventory was capable of that feat.

This is the historical context then which eventually created it’s answer to the challenges in the form of the 1920-21 battleship and battlecruiser plans. These plans called for very fine ships, undoubtedly the pinnacle of British warship building and they foreshadowed a generation change – that in reality happened only a good 10 years later, thanks to the Washington Treaty.

Battleship design high level overview

In order to avoid a too technical writing and in part to give more colour before we delve into the oodles amount of ship plans and designs I think it is worth to have a look at how a battleship was designed in a somewhat generalized and high level way. I hope that this gives answer to the reader why the designers made their choices the way they did and why not always the best or maximum solution was chosen while the technical realities were given. So let us turn into  Sir Eustace Tennyson-d’Eyncourt who was acting as the director naval construction  (DNC for short) at the time that my writing covers.[1]

A battleships is defined by 3 main aspects: firepower, protection, speed.  In practice this means that the most important and expensive parts of such a unit are the guns and turrets/mountings of the main armament, the armor plates and the boilers and turbines of the propulsion system. This is the holy trinity that has to be balanced as the final product, the insanely expensive battleship has to float upright after launch.

It is not too difficult to guess from here that given the physical limitations (and a boatload of external limiting factors ) this balancing act required compromises. And these compromises succeeded or failed many times on very small things, sometimes even on nuisances.

In a very generalized way the design of a new ship starts with the submission of the requirement list by the navy leadership to the preliminary design branch. Usually this is done after the political and financial questions  are already dealt with and the naval general staff analyzed what are the needs oh the navy.

This means that the preliminary design team has a usually well defined set of characteristics already that sets out the major combat capabilities required like how much firepower, how far, at what speed etc. is the ship intended to carry. Usually the gun caliber was a political question in the early design phase (we don’t want bigger guns compared to the neighbor or to the contrary, we want two calibers better) or it was predefined due to a technical limitation. The less important characteristics are approximations only that the designers try to achieve if possible. Sometimes they succeed but other times there are so many outside factors that have to be taken into consideration that reaching all the set of goals is impossible. In the first place we have financial limitations that is almost always a factor even with large, wealthy navies: the cheaper the price the more ships one can get from a given budget so unlimited funding is very rare. Secondary limitations are imposed usually by the supporting industry: what is the thickest armor plate or biggest gun tub we can manufacture? what size do the available docks have? what is the depth of the home ports and strategic waterways the ships are going to use? do we have enough manpower to crew the ships etc.  In our case all of these factors were contributing to the shaping of the designs, but the docking limitations were the major stopgap. It actually limited capital ships even some 20 years later;  of course almost all the navies had short supply of big enough graving docks in the early ’20s due to the explosive growth of battleship and especially battlecruiser size during the late teens.

After going through all requirements and external influences the ship wanted is already boxed in by these. Preliminary designs starts in earnest after this, with sketches and first variants usually heavily based on previous ships with similar role/characteristics – unless of course something entirely new is in the making.

Of course more often than not when designing something new small changes are insufficient and a radical solution is needed to meet the high expectations laid out previously. This is where the genius of the designer kicks in (or not). If it does it can change things entirely, so much that after applying the ‘trick’ the planned ship will meet or even exceed these high expectations. And if more of these great ideas follow each other and are combined then we can speak about generation or game changing ships, like HMS DREADNOUGHT.

In case of the 1920 capital ship designs we have a very similar happening, starting out from the relatively conservative HMS HOOD (ADMIRAL class) they ended up with a revolutionary new type, the real fast battleship that obsoleted earlier units yet again. It is ponly a cruel twist of fate that these ships turned from beautiful cherrytree leaves into something much less appealing: the NELSON class battleships. Of course this process was a lot more complicated involving all kind of political influences and many steps of design evolution – all of which meant a series of preliminary designs out of which only the best was picked for further refinement.

The preliminary designs were usually made to cover the widest possible spectrum of possible variations that still comply with the requirements of the naval general staff. The designers had to shift around priorities put to the 3 major factors defining a battleship, optimizing two or maybe even three of them. We will see later in very detail how was this accomplished in our case.

Once the preliminary designs are done they are submitted back to naval general staff for review. This staff is mostly made up of the people operating similar ships at sea, fleet training people and strategists and of course the main fleet level admirals. This small circle of people makes the decision collectively what direction to take, which preliminary plan to send back for detail design. They give their expertise and intellectual property to the plans at this point. This is an invaluable contribution as they might add things and requirements that is not necessarily obvious for the engineers: ‘XY’ plan is too wet forward and has casemate guns in too low positions that are washed away even in calm seas or that the foremast just in front of the forward funnel is not the brightest idea as smoke will make the mast top inhabitable and practically useless.

After this round the down selected design is passed back to preliminary design for refinement according to the newly set out details. In case of groundbreaking designs, like in our case this process is repeated again and again until all the wanted characteristics are met. This process is sometimes referred to as the squeeze due to more and more things making it into a design while keeping size at reasonable levels.

As a general rule of thumb  about 60% of the standard displacement is taken up by the three main components (armament, protection, powerplant) while the rest is devoted to hull, superstructure and other smaller parts like aviation facilities, firecontrol equipment etc. Therefore a lot depends on what type of gun and/or mounting and powerplant is available (armor plates were largely close in weight independent of quality during the dreadnought age) as this can make or brake the whole design.

Once the general staff is satisfied with all aspects the detail design work gets underway. In Royal Navy (and USN) practice the shipyard building the (lead)unit was involved from this phase on as not only the ship itself had to be designed but the way and exact procedure of it’s building sequence as well. The ship itself was designed and drawn 1:1 scale down to the last rivet and screw. This was done in the so-called moulding-loft, huge spaces in one of the shipyard’s building. Before the CAD age even such labor intensive tasks had to be done manually which required groups of draftsmen. It involved around 8-10.000 drawings to reproduces a 35.000 ton battleship on paper, a staggering amount even by today’s standards. This whole process was the transformation of a paper concept to a piece of real, working monster machinery.

It is worthy to note that by the time this is happening the 3 main components have to be in production as well by their respective manufacturers as usually those items take longer to manufacture than the assembly of the hull structure.

Even after a ship is finished and launched the design process still goes on. The trial runs and first tests usually reveal quite a few smaller details (sometimes bigger, like the vibration issues in the NORTH CAROLINA class) that need to be changed or fixed and this is done by the shipyard, mostly based on the ship’s captain’s request by that time.


A few words about ship types

In the first two decades of the 20th century the Royal Navy’s backbone was made up by two ship types, the dreadnought battleship and battlecruiser [2]. Both are usually linked to admiral Fisher’s name and age as First Sea Lord but in reality it was as much the merit of the Admiral’s Staff behind him as his. What is much less known is that Fisher originally planned a 3 step phased approach to his paradigm shift. To make it work he prioritized building speed above anything else, so as to make the RN the first one to receive the new types.

1.\ The primary type (and of greatest importance), was the battleship that replaced the ship-of-the-line. It received a high number (10+) of major caliber gun armament in addition to strong protection (11″+ belt armor) which offered protection against said guns. This type is known as the dreadnought, named after the very first such unit, HMS DREADNOUGHT. In order to carry both a large number of big guns and heavy armor a very big hull (compared to earlier ships) was required and this in turn yielded only a maximum speed of 21 knots, despite using turbines to power the prototype ship. This was actually a satisfactory upgrade over the pre-dreadnought ships that could usually only make 16-18 knots but once other navies started to build turbine driven dreadnoughts this advantage would be lost (and it was a given so to speak). The tactical advantage of speed was well know already from the age of sail: the faster ship could avoid action with a stronger enemy or it could  fire on the enemy from more advantageous position where the enemy cannot fire back or has to use less than full of his firepower (like the crossing the T maneuver prescribed).


2.\ Fisher obviously was well aware of this, in fact he was obsessed with high speed. As the second step or phase of his approach he came up with the idea of the battlecruisers, which is nowadays regarded by more and more historians as the ‘real deal’ in the dreadnought revolution. This ship materialized in the form of the HMS INVINCIBLE and her 2 sisters. The battlecruiser was originally conceptualized as a strategic scout and a ship that has much superior firepower and speed to step up against enemy cruisers in distant waters that threaten lines of communication. Therefore the type started out much like the above described dreadnought but in order to achieve high speeds some of the firepower and about half of the armor strength had to be given up. Unfortunately the high speed required a huge powerplant that in turn needed a longer, larger hull which made the type even more vulnerable. So this ship type was a sort of anti-dote to the dreadnought battleship, the two format nicely complemented each other.  The problem was that due to their powerful armament  it just made sense to use these ships as primary fleet units in the battle line to bolster it’s firepower. Unfortunately this common deployment of the two types was not always the best idea and as such was much more dangerous to the battlecruisers: in case the slower battleships did not catch up in time to support the battlecruisers against a stronger opponent their survival was not guaranteed, while the battleships only missed the battle in the worst case scenario.



3.\ Exactly for this above reason Fisher already toyed with the idea of a combined type, as early as the INVINCIBLE’s design phase. The plan was to build this unit in place of the historical  BELLEROPHON class. The Admiral Staff went so far so as to have a preliminary design made under the ‘X4’ designation – it combined (the reason for X) the speed of the battlecruiser with the heavy armor protection of the battleship while still keeping a reasonable battery. The sketches showed a stretched INVINCIBLE where the wing turrets were replaced by triples so the 10 gun main battery would have been concentrated into four turrets only (therefore the ‘4’). It was impossible to build such a ship without compromises and it required the untested and risky triple turret combined with a huge hull (22,500 tons) to make it work. Of course the resulting high price tag and massive political opposition left this on the drawing boards (even Fisher’s influence was not enough to push it through) and the navy proceeded with incremental updates only on the follow-on ship classes.

Design X4 ‘Fusion’

What can be done then to solve the issues stemming from the two type’s shortcomings? Well, simply speed up the battleship and up-armor the battlecruiser so that they get closer characteristically. Interestingly enough the brits were the ones to turn to the first and the germans to turn to the second.The Royal Navy started building the QUEEN ELIZABETH class in 1913 which was a true battleships with 3 knots extra speed over earlier ‘standard’ units. The Germans on the other hand viewed their battlecruisers as faster variants of their battleships and each of their succeeding class of the type had stronger and stronger armor, the last pair completed before Jütland, the two DERFFLINGERs were essentially equal in protection to their battleships (the armor thicknesses were still 15-20% thinner but they covered the same or greater area). Of course nothing is for free so these German types gave up firepower in exchange for the high speed (two less guns of lesser caliber than the comparable battleships class).Neither solution was satisfactory though as they both gave up important capabilities that reduced their fighting value – the ideal would be to have all 3 main components maximized at the same time within one hull. This is much easier said than done of course.

As we just saw, basically there are two approaches to achieve this: by scaling up a battlecruiser design with extra armor while raising the power output of it’s machinery so it can maintain it’s high speed despite the added weight. This latter required more or bigger boilers which mandated a larger hull that in turn required more armor and it started from the beginning round and round. A larger hull could mean a wider and or deeper cross section – this was very efficient in gaining space but very bad from a resistance and hull form coefficient’s point of view. Speed would be reduced due to the higher block coefficient[3] and resistance, while in general navigational freedom would be curtailed as a wider end especially deeper ship would be unable to use certain ports and channels. The other solution was to raise waterline length which normally benefited top speed characteristics  due to lower wave making resistance but it massively reduced longitudinal strength and it required substantially more belt and deck armor. This in turn was added weight again that needed extra power to offset it, making the whole point less attractive. This is exactly the situation where unorthodox solutions pop up usually: both the US Navy (LEXINGTON) and the Kaiserliche Marine (GK3022) experimented (on paper) with stacked boiler rooms placed on two deck levels. The upper level boilers were essentially unprotected by armor (or only lightly protected) which was not the best thing in battle as they could be taken out even by fragments meaning that a fast ship relying on her speed to escape would become defenseless (not to mention that stability would be reduced as well with boilers so high up).

GK 3022 – the German design showing stacked boiler rooms

Even by 1916 the badly wanted unified type was still only possible with massive compromises – this gave birth to the ADMIRAL class on the British and the MACKENSEN/ERSATZ YORCK on the German side of things. These ships gave up a little from all three main aspects to gain a fairly balanced mix that was still capable in each respect. They were a major step forward but not the wanted breakthrough just yet: specialized battleships were still more powerful and better protected while vanilla battlecruisers were somewhat faster, not to mention the much higher individual cost of the fusion ships.

Fortunately by the end of the Great War boiler technology and the new, more capable AP shells made the fast battleship (the new name for this amalgamated ship type) a more viable choice.  The small, watertube boilers combined with oil firing gave much better HP output/ton and volume, not to mention that reduction gearing and turbo electric drives were also introduced which further improved efficiency – the HOOD was already  equipped by the new boilers and an early form of gearing. This also meant that hull forms, propeller performance and the laws of hydrodinamics were becoming the limiting factors in further increasing the speed of capital ships (in short the ever increasing power outputs of newer powerplants yielded less and less in return in regards of top speeds achieved). Therefore the former 7-9 knots speed advantage of battlecruisers over battleships melted to a mere 4-5 knots at best. The new generation AP shells with their much longer and heavier bodies, improved caps and much more reliable fuzes were a mortal threat even to older battleships (1st and 2nd gen dreadnoughts) despite their relatively thick armor.

So in light of the above it was just logical to develop the fast battleship as the new capital ship type, and the major navies all invested into this, with only the USN with it’s enormous industrial background opting for keeping the two older, separate capital ship variants.

The RN, as we will shortly see, further developed the ADMIRAL class based on Jütland experiences and these designs culminated in the 1920-21 capital ships.

The Germans, even very late into the war (late summer 1918), spent resources on developing their Grosse Kreuzer (GK4-10 notably) and GrossKampfschiff series (GK3021-5041).

The Japanese followed suit with their B62-62 battlecruisers and A119-124 fast battleship variants, while the US looked at the Fast Battleship Designs C and D (see Part 1). As mentioned they were the only ones rejecting this type for several reasons, high unit cost and sub-standard capabilities being the primary reasons. On the other hand probably the US was the only one of the 3 major naval powers remaining after the war that could have afforded to retain the specialized types. Especially that the US battlecruiser concept stood much closer to a very fast but lightly protected, overgrown scout ship with the most powerful armament bolted on (the original, battlescout name is not a coincidence) than to the European style battlecruiser.

Finally at the end of the 1920-21 series the British designers approached what can be considered the first true fusion ship, the G3, which was still named a battlecruiser but had armament and armor that put all existing battleships to shame while being only marginally slower than anything planned or afloat. They were not built in this form, but despite this fact they had a massive impact on the ships of the future in all navies.

First steps

1.\ the QUEEN ELIZABETH class,  fiscal year 1912-13’s program

The RN’s capital ship building program before the Great War was clearly geared toward having hulls in the water as fast as possible and as efficiently as possible. This logically permitted fairly little room for improvements as every fiscal year a number of battleships and battlecruisers had to be laid in order to maintain the numerical advantage over likely opponents (more or less this solely meant the Kaiserliche Marine) . This sequence of incremental improvements-only was broken by the QUEEN ELIZABETH class.

The Board of Admiralty[4] submitted requirements for a ship that offered remedy to the threat posed by the ever increasing number of German battlecruisers on the Grand Fleet’s dreadnoughts. It was feared that using their superior speed the German battlecruisers will simply cap the Grand Fleet’s line with a ‘crossing the T’ maneuver[5], forcing them into an unwanted turn that would expose their flank to torpedo attacks or would turn them away from a fleeing German battleline (it was quite a prophetic vision). In essence a fast head end force of somewhat faster battleships (est. 25-26 knots, based on intelligence info about the German battlecruiser’s speed) was needed to mitigate this risk. This higher speed required much more powerful machinery, namely a 75.000 HP plant, up from the preceding IRON DUKE class’ 29.000 SHP which was good for 21 knots. Due to a switch to pure oil fuel very late in the design process the actual ships were completed somewhat overweight, reducing their trial speeds to ~24,5 knots.

The belt armor’s main part was also increased by 1″ to a total of 13″ (design RIII) and a 2″ thick torpedo bulkhead was introduced abreast the machinery spaces (design R’III) which was a first in a British battleship.

The real merit of this class however was the stepping up of the main battery caliber to 15″, even though the standard 10 barrel outfit had to give way to 8 guns only. Besides this reduction the Board of Admiralty ran the risk of having to make due with 13.5″ guns should the new, still untested 15″/42 Mark I and it’s mounts/turrets fail in practice[6].

Summing it up the QE class was a major step forward in all three main aspects compared to earlier ships which was well reflected in the sky high price tags of 3.3M Ł that stood in comparison to the IRON DUKE’s 1.9M Ł.

There seems to be some new information surfacing lately regarding this class which is less well know probably and worth a look. Contrary to other, earlier Ship’s Cover the QE one is missing the whole preliminary and conceptualization phase – it appears it was destroyed intentionally. The logical proof for this comes from the fact that battleship designs were named in ABC sequence and the IRON DUKE class was built to the MIV design while the QE is known as the RIII, missing all the letters in-between. So what happened to N,P and Q (O was not used at this time due to similarity with zero). It seems politics intervened at his point as Winston Churchill became First Lord (not to be confused with First Sea Lord) and in this position he had a pen pal, named Admiral Fisher. What follows is reconstructed from their personal letter exchanges.

  • preliminary design ‘N’ was most probably a repeat IRON DUKE with the usual incremental upgrades, no details here though, probably somewhat better secondary battery arrangements; originally 3 such units and a companion battlecruiser would have been ordered for the 1912-23 program
  • design ‘Q’ is suspected to be the modern version of Fisher’s X4 fusion design with her speed brought up to 28 knots (thanks in part to oil fuel) and the armament changed to 8 X 15″ guns while keeping battleship level armor: Fisher pushed for the oil burner machinery setup so to get very high speeds (which was his ultima ratio usually) and Churchill pushed for the 15″ guns (and Fisher concurred); if the RN wanted to keep it’s advantage they needed bigger guns and needed them as soon as possible, therefore Churchill ordered the development of a ’14” Experimental’ weapon back in January 1912 which in reality was the 15″/42 Mark I; designs RIII and R’III and completed actual ships were the massively cut down version of this ‘Q’ design
  • finally design ‘P’ was intended to be a super-IRON DUKE, a slow (21kn) battleship variant with 15″ guns but keeping the center turret, so total broadside would have remained at 10 barrels still

It is speculated that the 3 above mentioned designs’ records were destroyed just in case the then unproven 15″/42 Mark I turns out to be a failure and they have to revert back to 13.5″/45 Mark Vs as a one-for-one replacement.

2.\ the super-TIGER, 1913-14 program

Due to the outbreak of war all ship construction effort in navy owned yards that had no near future completion date were halted. Units then being built in private yards were much tougher cookies as cancellation implied severe penalty fees so it just made sense to finish many of the ships well advanced in their construction phase.

In October 1914 Fisher was recalled to service as First Sea Lord again as his predecessor resigned (and quite probably Mr Churchill had some hand in both). His second ‘reign’ was much shorter lived though and the ships designed and procured under this period were all built under his extreme vision that speed is protection, meaning that armor was almost omitted to increase speed and gun caliber as much as is technically possible (but not necessarily practical). One of his first moves was to reorder the incomplete R class battleships HMS RENOWN and REPULSE as battlecruisers. These two ships were redesigned and built in record time (18 month) and they gave sterling service for the Royal Navy in later years, still their 6″ original belt armor was a step back from the preceding HMS TIGER’s 9″ plating. As he could not extract more money for battlecruiser Fisher tried to push his concept under all kinds of cover-names and he came up with the large light cruisers as shallow draft ships intended for the Baltic with heavy gun armament. The resulting HMS GLORIOUS and COURAGEOUS sacrificed one third of firepower and half the belt armor thickness compared to RENOWN so as to keep size and draught down while still being capable of 32 knots. [7] Fisher however went one step further and ordered the third such unit, HMS FURIOUS armed with two single turrets mounting the new 18″/40 Mark I in place of the two barrel 15″ers! This huge gun was under development for some time as an experimental piece under the codename ’15in B’ since it was an upscaled version of the 15″/42 Mark I. At this point (May ’15) Fisher resigned (or was fired?) due to debates with Churchill over the Gallipoli campaign – certainly his extravagant ship designs did not help his case.

In contrast to all this and despite Fisher’s obsession with speed and firepower some other development direction was ‘unearthed’ recently (see Acknowledgments at the end of Chapter III). This was a dead end in real life but shows very well that the Board of Admiralty indeed worked in the background and it was not only Fisher who did everything alone. This following design is not covered by any of the relevant books that use primary sources, only some references are made to a super-TIGER here and there. Given what is know about the design this might very well be it.

This particular sketch appears in Sir Eustace Tennyson d’Eyncourt’s workbook under the designation ‘Design Y’, supposedly from 1914, predating the decision by Fisher to convert REPULSE/RENOWN into battlecruisers. It is speculated that intelligence about the then brand new German SEYDLITZ’s armor protection sparked this concept. It is basically a massively enlarged TIGER with 15″ armament in classic layout and with armor brought up to about halfway between battleship and battlecruiser levels (11″ belt vs TIGER’s 9″ and R class’ 13″).  The resulting ships would have been built as the battlecruiser companion to R class battleships. It was rejected though with the comment that underwater protection is lacking. On the other hand it is obvious here that cooler heads in the Board of Admiraltry envisioned greatly improved armor protection for future battlecruisers as well.

WPPP No. GB101a


WPPP No. GB101b


3.\ HOOD preliminaries, 1915-1916 program

After the initial, balanced building programs in the pre-war years the balance strongly went in favor of battlecruisers by later programs and especially early-war programs when the 1914-15 battleships (4) were all cancelled and the follow-up 1915-16 ones (again 4) weren’t even ordered.[8]

In the end it was thanks to the cool headed Admiral Jellicoe (C-in-C Grand Fleet) that the Boared of Admiralty started to look at battleships again. Jellicoe was presumably worried about German battleships mounting 380mm (15″) guns as news started to indicate that by fall 1915. On the request of DNC (D’Eyncourt) chief constructor Attwood came up with an updated QUEEN ELIZABETH. Among the requirements the Board of Admiralty wanted much better torpedo protection with shallow draft (both meaning wider hulls) and higher rate of fire for the secondary battery. Speed and protection should remain the same. Attwood’s first calculations showed a 229m long, 30,5m wide hull  (29.000 tons) where three quarters of the boilers were already the new, small tube type. Thanks to this the QE’s plant would be capable of 90.000 SHP which combined with the greater length could drive the ship at 26,5-27 knots. As for the secondary battery a change was made to use the 5.5″/50 BL Mark I gun from FURIOUS instead of the earlier fleet standard 6″/45 BL Mark XII (some alternative suggestions were made to use 120mm weapons) – all of the weapons in above main deck level mountings.

A somewhat more detailed design was made under the designation ‘A’ which grew to 31.000 tons at 231m length and 31,5 beam but power was reduced back to 75.000 SHP. Armor was reduced 1″ on the belt to 12″ but the plating was laid inclined now, giving it the same resistance as the thicker one with less weight. Splinter protection got enhanced on the decks as well. Where did the extra weight of 2000t came from then?

Well, according to Third Sea Lord (Controller) the weakest part of modern capital ships is their underwater part, meaning that the threat posed by torpedoes and mines was fully realized around this time. What’s worse and what was also crystallizing for the designers is that only full protection or nothing was relevant. Unlike armor, which offered some resistance to shells and splinters even if they could not stop them entirely the underwater protection either held and kept water out from the innards or failed and allowed flooding deep in the ship. Therefore the reserve buoyancy to displacement ration rose like nothing before. What’s more all the casemate gun positions were deleted so the sides had contiguous plating up till the main deck. Shallow draft was a basic requirement so thanks to that and the above mentioned increased buoyancy combined with higher speeds gave this design a fairly good chance to survive 2 torpedo hits per side – according to Controller the capital ship restored it’s supreme status versus the submarine and other torpedo craft due to these modifications. The First Sea Lord however did not like hefty pricetag and wanted a smaller version, something not bigger than QE. The resulting designs were B, C1, C2 and D.

  • ‘B’ reduced beam by almost 5 meters but was only 3 meters shorter compared to ‘A’ so this did not really help on docking restrictions while it gave up from the most important feature of ‘A’, the advanced underwater protection (referred to as TDS from here on)
  • ‘C’ series sacrificed speed, going down to 22 knots and gave up 2″ from the belt thickness and 2 secondary guns, but kept the TDS – still it gave up a lot
  • finally ‘D’ was a compromise coming from the realization that high speed and a good TDS requires a big hull, no matter what; Speed was reduced somewhat to 25,5 knots thanks to a reduction in power to 65.000 SHP, but length came down to 216m; this design was the first preliminary sketch for what became the HOOD later on


Design C2

All these plans were forwarded to Jellicoe as well (as C-in-C Grand Fleet he was the fleet’s most important operative commander) as his opinion was highly regarded. He did not really want to hear about battleships by then (Jan 1916) since it was clear that the Grand Fleet had almost three times superiority in this category compared to the German Hochseeflotte. On the other hand the ratio of battlecruisers was 9:5 only and as we saw above the British ships appeared to be on the ‘light’ side when it came to protection. On paper things appeared to be even more bleak in this regard as the then building RENOWN and REPULSE were Jellicoe’s only hope to keep the numerical superiority and these ships were not exactly well armored either. Intelligence indicated that the Germans had at least 4 units nearing completion (HINDENBURG, MACKENSEN, ERSATZ VICTORIA LUISE and the ERSATZ FREYA) and it was believed that all will be capable of 29, maybe even 30 knots speed with the last 3 units mounting 38cm (15″) guns non-the-less. In reality the names and the amount of ships was the only truth in these reports.

Armed with the knowledge of his fleet’s composition and these intelligence reports it is farily clear in retrospect why he did not want intermediate speed battleships, be it even 25-26 knots. He saw the 21 knot battleship with the best possible protection or the 30 knot speed battlecruiser as the only two viable options, no middleground was acceptable in the given strategic situation.

In his answer Jellicoe summed up his own preferences regarding any new ship to be built: 8 x 15″ guns or the most powerful available armament with 25 or better yet 30 degree barrel elevation; at least 12 secondary guns, all placed in the superstructure; a massively enhanced secondary upper belt system with at least 7″ middle and 4″ upper strakes; main armor decks should be at least 2.5″ thick. He felt that the A-D series sacrificed too much armor protection to gain a good TDS.

DNC was not a firm believer of intelligence reports stating the superiroity of German ships then building – after all he knew best the physical limitations on capital ship design and these were the exact same for everyone. He defended the design series on the grounds that the new TDS granted immunity against one torpedo hit per side, while thanks to the much higher freeboard the ships could still fight-on in damaged condition without loosing too much combat capability. DNC also argued that torpedo warheads will surely be increased in explosive power so that existing ships will be hopelessly underprotected against them. Furthermore with the omission of casemate guns it was not at all clear weather the medium thickness upper belts were justified or not.

For his own benefit D’Eyncourt could reply to Jellicoe’s list of requirements fairly quickly as he simply viewed them as enlarged version of the design ‘A’ above. He asked 6 variants from Attwood:

-’1-3’: 8 X 15”

-’4’: 4 X 18” (15” B)

-’5’: 6 X 18” (15” B)

-’6’: 8 X 18” (15” B)

In each case a secondary battery of twelve 5.5″ guns and two 21″ torpedo tubes supplemented  the big guns.

The basic 8 X 15″ variant ‘1’ was 254 X 31,5 X 8 meters in dimensions, displacing 38.300 tons as calculated by chief constructor Attwood. To reach 30 knots an estimated powerplant of 120.000 SHP was required. Variant ‘2’ called for 30,5 knots while ‘3’ went up to 32 knots, the former had small tube boilers and therefore a shorter, narrower hull while the latter sported a 160.000 SHP plant in a somewhat wider body. Jellicoe wanted the highest possible speed so 35 knots was tried on paper: a staggering 225.000 SHP estimate cooled down the proponents of this idea (it is worthy to note that the early version of LEXINGTON had 220.000 SHP machinery for 35 knots with a similar sized hull).

Thanks to these two – threefold increased performance requirement figures the attention turned to power plants and especially to boiler technology as this field offered potential future weight savings. The new small watertube boilers offered much better efficiency compared to the older large or firetube ones. No coincidence that all but ‘1’ got the small tube boilers that also allowed for narrower boiler rooms (except ‘3’) and in turn even better underwater protection, plus these allowed forcing for short periods giving some extra power. It is very important to note here that the first reduction gearing was also used here on a British capital ship design. This meant that the turbines could always turn at their optimal, most efficient revolution no matter what speed was required, giving a huge jump in efficiency again that translated into less weight and more range for the ships.

The armor was nothing spectacular but still easily bested all earlier British battlecruisers. With the exception of ‘3’ all had 8″ sloped belts and 9″ barbettes with 10/11″ turrets sitting in them. (For comparison TIGER had a 9″ vertical belt that only covered machinery spaces but not the end magazines, those had 5″ side protection.)

The upper belt on this series measured at 5″ with 5″ and 4″ of belt extensions forward and aft respectively. There were 3 armored decks, the lowest was 1-2″ on the parts covered by belt armor and 2.5″ on the outside parts, while the main deck was 0.5″ only and the forecastle deck 1-1.5″ thick. Combined these three decks gave a 3.5″ protective value at perpendicular impacts  (from directly above) or 5.25″ at more reasonable 45 deg impact angles.

Controler much preferred ‘3’ as it offered the highest speed from the 15″ variants. ‘4’ asnd ‘5’ were disqualified as they did not meet Jellicoe’s 8 gun minimum limit and finally ‘6’ was rejected probably due to the complete lack of a twin mounting for the 18″/40 Mark I and it’s suspected size and weight would have implied sever structural and volume issues in such a narrow hull.

On the 19th February 1916 design ‘3’ was downselected for detail design with the note that the department responsible for powerplants reduced powering needs by 10% to 144.000 SHP with more careful planning.

The building of three units was approved for 1915-16 in April 1916 with an additional repeat unit in July. The lead unit, HMS HOOD had her keel laid on the 31st May 1916, exactly on the day of Battle of Jütland – this event changed the fate of this ship completely.


[1] In the case of the Royal Navy we have to do a slight detour here to address it’s  leadership’s organization. The future of the navy was formed by the Board of Admiralty that consisted of a First Lord, Sea Lords, Civil Lord and a Secretary. The role of the First Lord was more political in nature, somewhat similar to the US Secretary of the Navy role; it is not to be confused with the First Sea Lord though! Before 1904 the Sea Lords were called Naval Lords but with the appointment of John “Jacky” Fisher this post changed it’s name – the First Sea Lord had the final say usually and he was somewhat more equal among equals, especially in case of Fisher. Though seemingly he single handedly influenced the RN’s evolution between 1904 and 1909 but in reality it was the whole Board of Admiralty behind him that was responsible for any decision and Fisher had to fight his own internal political battles that he sometimes lost. Furthermore during his second tenure such people as Winston Churchill filled in the role of First Lord.

Second Sea Lord was the deputy of the First Sea Lord and his area of responsibility was the fleet’s manpower. Third Sea Lord (also called Controller) was responsible for equipment of the fleet, including armament procurement. Obviously the ships themselves belonged in this field so he defined the characteristics of future fleet units as well – not one Controller ended up later as First Sea Lord.  Later on there was a Fourth (logistics) and Fifth Sea Lord (fleet air arm) as well.

In theory after the Board of Admiralty defined a ship’s characteristic it was handed over to DNC (Director of Naval Construction) who in turn delegated detail tasks to his subordinate constructors, usually to people specializing in the given ship type. With the DNCs supervision they designed the ships in greater detail. In our case the main constructors for capital ships were E.L. Attwood during the Great War (he was deputy DNC from 1920 onwards); he was later followed by S.V Goodall as the main capital ship constructor. The DNC role was filled by Sir Philip Watts (his last design was the R class) while later on Sir Eustace Tennyson d’Eyncourt took over his role..  

[2] During the last years of the 19th century the armored battleship (ship-of-the-line) and the faster but much weaker protected and armed armored cruisers were the definitive ship types. The latter functioned as a kind of second class battleship since the list of enemies and threats were usually long while the list of available battleships fairly short. By the early 1900s it was pretty obvious for all major navies that the future lays with the big-gun-only battleship, this is fairly well supported by the fact that bot the Royal navy and the Imperial Japanese navy had plans for all big gun armed ships from 1902, but by 1903 the US Navy and the Italian Regia Marina also prepared studies for such.

[3] block-coefficient: this ratio tells that how much percentage does the hull volume take up from a theoretical box defined by the length, beam and draft of a given ship; on avarage this ratio is at 0.6-0.7 for battleships 

[4] with strong support from Churchill who was First Lord at that time; it is important to note that the last design noted by Sir Philip Watts as DNC was the R class; he was succeeded by D’Eyncourt directly

[5] Crossing the ‘T’ was a classic fleet manuver during the armorclad ship’s age that was inherited from the age of sail. Basically it meant that the fleet moving faster was able to show it’s broadside to the enemy and utilize it’s firepower to the fullest by simply turning across the line of enemy ships and cutting it’s advance. The opposed, slower, less maneuverable fleet therefore had to make due with only it’s forward facing armament. Partly for this reason pre-dreadnoughts and first generation dreadnoughts kept the wing turrets from earlier era ships so that their firepower ahead or astern approached the broadside one. In practice though due to the ever increasing effective gunnery ranges and thanks to the super-firing armament arrangement the usefulness of this tactical maneuver lost most if not all of it’s significance. 

[6] There was a reasonable chance for failure as the gun was constructed in a rush-job and the mountings had to be massively redesigned, especially the supports of the lower levels (projectile flat) since the rotating weights and forces involved were much greater

[7] This ships can be contrasted to the battlescouts introduced in Part 1. and to the smaller German unified type forerunner designs, the GK-3021 and 22. Although all three navies’ designs showed similarities externally and in specifications they were all conceived for different tasks and purposes, so as the saying goes all similarities are coincidental.

[8] The battleships planned for 1914-15 were the R class units HMS RENOWN, HMS REPULSE, HMS RESISTANCE and the QE class HMS AGINCOURT (not to be confused with the ships bearing these names in service at the time); the 1915-16 ships quite probably  would have been based on preliminary design T1 which was an improved R class


3 Comments Add yours

  1. stefsap says:

    Reblogged this on Battleships&Knights and commented:
    Want to share this Article by Akos.


  2. Ursa Maior says:

    For the sake of argument I would argue with Akos about the beginning of the Royal Navy’s supremacy.

    French and french-spanish fleets were able to wrestle local supremacy form time to time. Prime example being the American War of Independence. After Trafalgar that supremacy was unquestioned for almost exactly 100 years.


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