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|Born of the Second London Naval Treaty|
A concise investigation of the qualitative limitations of capital ships 1936 1941 by Peter Beisheim MA
In 1922 the victorious naval powers of the World War signed a naval disarmament and limitation treaty in
As the time for re-negotiating the limitations of the First London Treaty was drawing nearer, it was becoming obvious to most naval experts that a main armament of 16" guns on a 35.000 t standard displacement had become obsolete. The introduction of air power at sea and longer battle ranges had extended the scope of military threats against the modern capital ship, and seemed to limit its very supremacy in future naval planning. This caused much speculation among naval designers in the early 1930s of radical changes in capital ship design, and intense negotiations between the dominant naval powers. In general it can be said that the British desired a considerable reduction in both displacement and main armament calibre, to which the Americans and the Italians and the French seemed rather reluctant, if not directly opposed. It would make this paper much too long to go into the details of these negotiations; suffice it to say that British aspirations of a 25.000 t /12”main armament design met with little enthusiasm from the other naval powers (3). A somewhat diffuse compromise was finally obtained in 1936 limiting capital ship main armament to 14" (356 mm) and the standard displacement to 35.000 t. However, this was made contingent on the original Washington Treaty signatories signing the new treaty before April 1937. This also meant that the Japanese would have to accept a continuation of the quantitative limitations which restricted the Japanese navy in proportion to the Anglo-Saxon navies. Since both
In the event that
What remains now is to try to investigate if possible some of the speculations, planning, and negotiations between the signatory powers between 1936 and 1938, when the standard displacement for capital ships was being re-negotiated in order to be raised. In doing so I also realize that I venture into the more sensitive part of the article, since this has always been a matter of certain biased interpretations of capital ship design of World War II.
The Position of
The Escalator Clause(s) of the Second
and the final qualitative limitations on capital ships 1938 1939
The situation regarding capital ship qualitative limitations that followed the London Naval Conference and the signing of the Second London Treaty was, to say the least, somewhat confusing. The British seemed to have put their hopes in what looks like a gamble against American and French wishes. Under severe time pressure, the Admiralty ordered their new battleships be armed with 14" guns, although the likelihood of obtaining a Japanese signature was indeed very slim, if not to say completely unlikely. Consequently, the escalator clause governing main armament came in force automatically, and the calibre reverted to the original 16" of the two former treaties. This in itself did not solve the problem, but rather created a new one in having to increase the standard displacement to be able to meet modern military demands. Article 25 of the treaty permitted individual signatory powers to do so, but obliged any such power to consult the others and agree on the exact increase to be set down in the terms of the treaty. Surprisingly, perhaps, the initiative came from the French. In the design process of the new
To return to the world of historical reality, representatives from the
I think the reader will agree that against this background it is difficult and somewhat theoretical to judge the will of the naval powers to comply with the treaty. The 35.000 t standard was only in force between 1936 and 1938, i.e. when the ships were in a continuous design phase, although laid down and under construction, but with the exception of the two first units of the Italian Vittorio
The negotiations prior to the Second London Naval Treaty of 1936 are obviously rather difficult to account for. Nevertheless, their essence remains that all powers concerned had realized at the time that a 35.000 t capital ship design with 16" cal. main armament (or even 14" as it turned out) would be imbalanced and undesirable. Consequently, an increase in standard displacement was not only to be expected, it also had to be incalculated! This barely justifies the subjective term "cheating". As a matter of fact all the capital ships constructed in the wake of the treaty came out bigger than 35.000 t, and why shouldn’t they? For reasons unknown, or at least unaccounted for, the naval powers kept offering (officially) their standard displacements at 35.000 t. This amounts to cheating the press and the general public, not actually violating any existing treaty.
Perhaps this figure ought to be taken as a type classification like "Dreadnought Battleship" earlier in the century.
Results and Myths Born of the Second
It is not the intention of this article to go into a comparative technical analysis of the capital ships that came out of the Second London Naval Treaty. Design similarities and differences are well described, although less well understood. The generation of American and European battleships "born of the Second London Naval Treaty" showed a variety of conceptual differences. Factors such as main armament calibre and position, divided secondary/ anti-aircraft armament or dual-purpose armament, speed, etc. had decisive influence on displacement and dimensions. It is interesting to observe how closely the three continental European battleship designs resemble each other in both standard displacement and dimensions. The French, the Germans, and the Italians all opted for 15” main armament and a top speed of (at least) 30 knots, which eventually produced ships of very similar standard displacements and dimensions. One might have expected the radical differences of positioning the main armament of the French Richelieu class and the German Bismarck class to produce radically different dimensions, but the ships came out almost identical in this respect. (I still need the Richelieu’s standard displacement as completed in 1943, only "normal displacement" seems to be offered in most sources). The Germans chose the most conservative but gunnery-wise optimal solution of four 15” twin turrets (two fore and two aft). The French chose the most innovative but also most complex and gunnery-wise least desirable positioning of two quadruple turrets, both forward. This gave the French designers the advantages of slightly higher speed: 32+ knots for the Richelieu versus 30+ knots for the
In closing, I must also point out some confusion and misunderstanding as to the exact nature and desirability of dual-purpose armament. This has led to many flawed conclusions and should be treated with the utmost caution. It is my somewhat heretical allegation that only the Anglo-Saxon powers adhered consistently to the dual-purpose solution, although the French 6" triple turrets were at first designated for this purpose.
Contending Armour Philosophies:
Since different armour schemes seem to have been the most controversial topic, I am sure that the critical reader will be aware of the complexity of this issue. It is extremely important to refrain from focusing uncritically on armour thickness as a formular for (im) penetrability of particularly the All-or-nothing scheme. Factors such as the de-capping and yaw effects of shells are essential to understand in order to be able to assess the efficiency of spaced/divided armour schemes. Several expeditions to the
The reader will probably already be aware of a somewhat indiscriminate but largely unsubstantiated admiration of the
The misunderstanding behind most of these conclusions - some of them reflecting anti-German sentiments more than historical analysis - was that German designers had been unable to develop their skills in the interwar years due to the tight restrictions of the Versailles Treaty.
The allegation is easy to refute in the sense that the German designers of course knew about the "All-or-Nothing" scheme, and found it an unsatisfactory and not least short-term solution. Their argument for choosing the spaced solution (in some respects a predecessor to that of modern tanks) was that with the rapid development of long-range gunnery/plunging fire and heavy bombs, the weight of sufficient armour thickness on or near the shell of a ship would be prohibitive on any acceptable displacement. Furthermore, the necessarily high positioning of a very thick single armoured deck would have severe destabilizing effects on the metacentric height (GM) of the ship. Another disadvantage about the "All or Nothing" concept is that it tends to leave a disproportionally large part of the ship unprotected, and highly vulnerable even to light shells and bombs and near misses (8).
It is also important to remember that interwar capital ship construction had been very limited indeed. The 1920s American, British, and Japanese Washington Treaty classes were the only full-scale capital ships completed before 1939. The French Dunkerque class light battleships/battle cruisers - and the German Scharnhorst class to counter these - represent the only new construction actually completed in the 1930s. (perhaps with the exception of the German armoured ships/pocket battleships, provided they qualify for the title capital ships at all!). All naval powers made capital ship studies in the 1930s and, as one might feel tempted to say, perhaps all made the same error of over focusing on the assumed threat of high-level bombing. Given the advantage of the afore- mentioned recent investigations, it is impossible not to conclude that one favourite popular assertion of too much WW I heritage in German WW II capital ships falls short of logic.
The 14” Main Armament Solution
As it turned out it became obvious that even a satisfactory 14" main armament design was not practicable on a 35.000 t standard displacement. This design was originally based on the concept that twelve 14" guns in three quadruple turrets were supposed to compensate for the lighter shell. It soon became clear to the British designers that the B turret on what was to become the King George V class battleships had to be a twin turret, and not the desired quadruple turret to allocate more weight for additional armour. Even then, it was neither possible nor desirable to try to keep these ships within the 35.000 t limit, and why should they now they were allowed to go up to 45.000 t? The first unit of the class, the King George V, came out with a standard displacement in 1940 of approximately 36.700 t. This was later increased for the entire class to approximately 39.000 t. Due to the relatively heavy launch weight (partly because of riveting) and crammed hulls of the King George V class, these ships couldn’t go higher as completed than 39.000 t standard displacement. The extensive use of welding made the German designs relatively lighter and gave them the dimensions and buoyancy to allow them to go higher (9).
As a Closing Argument it remains to be emphasized that the purpose of this article must not be misconstrued as an attempt to exonerate particularly the Germans or the Italians from traditionalist accusations of treaty violation (or allegations of design flaws for that matter). If anything, the history of the 1930s (and that of our own time as well) has shown us the cynical lack of will of totalitarian states to respect international treaties. The intention behind this paper should be seen as a modest attempt to demolish some popular and self-perpetuating myths surrounding the limitations on the capital ships that were "born of the Second London Naval Treaty".
References and Comments:
1: Qualitative limitations of the original Washington Treaty are printed in the Second London Naval Treaty (comparing 1922 and 1936 limits) Part II, p. 10.
2: Definitions of Standard Displacement of the Second
The standard displacement of a surface vessel is the displacement of the vessel, complete, fully manned, engined, and equipped ready for sea, including all armament and ammunition, equipment, outfit, provisions and fresh water for crew, miscellaneous stores and implements of every description that are intended to be carried in war, but without fuel or reserve feed water on board.
(The word "ton" except in expression "metric tons" denotes the ton of 2.240 lb./1.016 kilos).
3: This important aspect is dealt with in several works. I refer the reader to the Minutes of the Third Meeting of the Technical Subcommittee on Qualitative Limitation, February 10, 1936. Participants were delegations from the
4: The Text of the Second
(1) No capital ship shall exceed 35.000 tons (35.560 metric tons) standard displacement.
(2) No capital ship shall carry a gun with a calibre exceeding 14 in. (356 mm.); provided however that if any of the Parties to the Treaty for the Limitation of Naval Armament signed at Washington on the 6. February, 1922, should fail to enter into an agreement to conform this provision prior to the date of the coming into force of the present Treaty, but in any case not later than the 1. April, 1937, the maximum calibre of gun carried by capital ships shall be 16 in. (406 mm.).
5: Article 25 of the
(1) In the event of any vessel not in conformity with the limitations and restrictions as to standard displacement and armament prescribed by Articles 4, 5 and 7 of the present Treaty being constructed or acquired by any power not party to the present Treaty, each High Contracting Party reserves the right to depart if, and to the extent to which, He considers such departures necessary in order to meet the requirement of His national security. … It continues:
This right shall be exercised in accordance with the following provisions: -
(2) Any High Contracting Party who considers it necessary that such right should be exercised, shall notify the other High Contracting Parties to that effect, stating precisely the nature … .
(3) The High Contracting Parties shall thereupon consult together and endeavour to reach such an agreement with a view to reducing to a minimum the extent of the departures which may be made.
6: Roskill: Naval Policy between the Wars vol. 2, chapter 10, p. 302 309, and p.448 449.
7: The Protocol to the Second
Surprisingly, I was unable on short notice to get a copy of this protocol. I did, however, find its conclusions in Brassey’s Naval Annual of 1939 (
0n July 1, after three months of consultations for which the Treaty provides, the three Powers signed a protocol defining the extent of the relaxations of treaty limits. The limit for gun calibre remained at 16 inches, but the limit for displacement was raised to 45.000 tons; but at the same time the British Government announced the intention not to exceed 40.000 tons for the present, and expressed the hope that other European naval Powers would also refrain from exceeding that figure (Brassey’s Naval Annual of 1939, p.6: Naval Treaties. The "Escalator clause" Invoked).
Jane’s Fighting Ships 1938 carries a print of the Second London Naval Treaty in "Notes on Naval Treaties". In the footnote to article 1 it is stated: By a declaration signed in June, 1938,
This complies with the interpretations of Stephen Roskill in Naval Policy between the Wars vol. 2, p. 419 (based on Admiralty paper in Public Record Office,
I already knew that the British desired a 40.000 t limit, as opposed to the Americans who wanted a standard displacement of 45.000 t. What puzzled me was the apparent lack of logic of the self-contradictory French wish to retain 35.000 t. This would have implied a redesign of the Richelieu class if a satisfactory speed of at least 30 knots was to have been obtained (I suggest the reader compare this statement to Dulin and Garzke's Richelieu class figures on page 82 in vol. 2 of their Battleship trilogy). The British offered their self-imposed 40.000 t proposal to the Germans in December 1938. The Germans, not surprisingly, declined this offer (Roskill Naval Policy vol. 2 p. 449). It needs to be emphasized that the common treaty limit after June 30, 1938 remains 45.000 t standard displacement. Other restrictions than this are either self-imposed (if less) or treaty violation (if more).
To select precise historiography references is always very difficult, since the material investigated is so comprehensive. Consequently, I shall limit myself to a few comments of a more general nature: Books and articles accusing the Germans and the Italians and the Japanese of treaty violations are numerous; they simply represent the historical tradition following the years of WW II. It would be much easier simply to refer the reader to the breach of that tradition which emerged surprisingly late, almost 25 years after the war. I believe the investigation of the Second London Naval Treaty and its 1938 Protocol has demonstrated beyond doubt that allegations of treaty violations as regards capital ships have no legal basis under the treaties. It would probably be easier to build a treaty violation case based on other warship classes, and I think German and Italian and Japanese heavy cruisers might prove a more solid case in this respect.
Modern Popular Myths Referred to in the Article:
As for the case of degrading estimates of WW II German, Italian, and to some extent, Japanese capital ship designs, it seems to be almost the same problem, only this time in reversed chronology. Generally speaking, it becomes obvious that evaluations of German designs from the late 1940s into the early 1970s show an almost unqualified and largely unsubstantiated admiration and tend to exaggerate their qualities. As more and more research into the subject was published from the late sixties and onwards, it became increasingly difficult to maintain these myths of superiority. Unfortunately, instead of realizing the
Some recent investigations into capital ship armour schemes:
My references to the "All or Nothing" armour schemes are largely based on recent investigations carried out by Mr George Elder, Mr Ulrich Rudofsky, and Mr David Saxton. These investigations are based on original German, British, and American source material, and have been published on discussion forum of the websites: http://www.kbismarck.com and http://www.bismarck-class.dk, over a prolonged period of time (and continuously ongoing while this is being written), so the reader must be prepared to spend quite some time investigating this issue. As a professional historian I have always been somewhat sceptical about references to the internet, as they tend to be rather imprecise (not quite unlike this one!). Popular websites often relate uncritically to their subject and can manipulate the reader. The two above mentioned homepages, however, seem to have been able to make a critical approach to their subject and are constantly used as means of instant communication among qualified historians too. The investigations I have recommended are very comprehensive, meticulous, and highly technical, and have been running as a very long series postings/instalments over a considerable period of time. I have, as an historian, been very impressed by their quality, and the dedication of the authors to working with historical source material. I cannot profess to be able to do better, and I call upon these individuals to make their investigations available for closer scrutiny, hopefully as a book.
9: The main sources for my comments on WW II British battleship design are the investigations of Alan Raven and John Roberts in their book British Battleships of World War Two (the development and technical history of the Royal Navy's battleships and battle cruisers from 1911 to 1946), Arms and Armour Press, London 1976. I refer the reader to chapters 12 and 13 about the design and development of the King George V class battleships. Chapter 18, p. 419 also contains some interesting comparisons of hull/launch weight of various WW II capital ships. I should like to see some of these figures further elaborated on in future publications.
I should like to recommend William Garzke and Robert Dulin's comprehensive studies into WW II capital ship design and history in their trilogy: Battleships vol 1 3, Jane's Publishing Company,
I think it would be only fair to commend Mr Dulin and Mr Garzke for their unbiased analysis of the limitations of the Second London Naval Treaty 1938 Protocol as regards standard displacement of French, German, and British capital ships. It was the first time I noticed this carried out in a professional way, and it marks a substantial breach with traditionalist interpretations.
For further investigations into the design and development of French WW II battleships I used Robert Dumas: Le Cuirasse Richelieu 1935 1968, Marines Editions & Realisations, 1992.
Instead of the standard displacement of the
It should also be pointed out that the aforementioned authors may not necessarily agree in all my findings.
|Battleships Born of the Second
|Richelieu Class (France)|
|The Richelieu Class consisted of Richelieu (photo), Jean Bart, Clémenceau (never completed) and Gascogne (not laid down).|
|Bismarck Class (Germany)|
|The Bismarck Class consisted of Bismarck (photo) and Tirpitz.|
|King George V Class (Great Britain)|
|The King George V Class consisted of King George V (photo), Prince of Wales, Duke of York, Anson and Howe.|
|Vittorio Veneto Class (Italy)|
|The Vittorio Veneto Class consisted of Vittorio Veneto, Littorio (photo), Roma and Impero (never completed).|
|North Carolina Class (USA)|
|The North Carolina Class consisted of North Carolina BB55 (photo) and Washington BB56.|
|South Dakota Class (USA)|
|The South Dakota Class consisted of South Dakota BB57 (photo), Indiana BB58, Massachusetts BB59 and Alabama BB60.|