Looking at the Royal Navy order of battle on the eve of war, it looks like a pre-eminent naval power, no longer dwarfing its rivals but certainly not outmatched by them. But beneath the numbers and classifications, the royal oak was rotting from within. British aircraft carriers were conceived as reconnaissance platforms, not strike platforms, their handful of new battleships were functionally inferior in armament, mechanical reliability and gunnery method to those on the continent, let alone US and Japanese production, their elegant six-inch cruisers outgunned by the eight-inch cruisers and pocket battleships of other navies, and their escort force woefully insufficient in anti-submarine and anti-air roles even after two decades.
On the eve of the Second World War, Britain’s Navy faced an escalating deployment crisis. Even as the defeat of France approached, the British Cabinet persisted in trying to persuade Italy to adopt a neutral position. When France fell…
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