Defense Issues

Military and general security

Workable battlecruiser concept

Posted by Picard578 on February 10, 2018

Battlecruiser did not have a good showing in World War I. Main reason – other than ammunition handling – is that their big guns were too powerful to pass up in the line of battle, yet their armour was too thin to withstand such a battle while their speed was largely negated. They were also as costly as contemporary dreadnoughts, and used dreadnought slips and berths, meaning that any battlecruiser construction came instead, and not on top of, dreadnought battleship construction. Combination of thin armour and improper ammunition handling proved catastrophic. Irony is that ammunition handling was partly caused by thin-armour, big-gun design: battlecruiser had to hit its opponent before it got hit itself, and at long range. But this required placing a lot of rounds downrange, and quickly, which created training emphasis on rate of fire. This emphasis in turn caused unsafe ammunition handling, which then caused catastrophic losses. So question is, how battlecruisers could have been more idiot-proof, either in a sense that they are not so powerful they get used in battleship role (as in battle off Jutland), or that they can survive major battle if so committed, while still keeping intact battlecruiser’s basic characteristic: greater speed than battleship, enabling it to catch cruisers or outflank battleship forces.

There are several possibilities.

First possibility is reducing armament calibre while maintaining battleship’s armour protection. This would result in ships better protected than cruisers that are still faster and longer-ranged than battleships. Main armament could be either cruiser-calibre or in-between cruiser and dreadnought calibre – possibly reusing old 12-in guns from predreadnoughts.

Second possibility is maintaining armament calibre but reducing number of guns. Instead of three or four turrets mounting six to eight guns, battlecruiser would have two frontal turrets mounting four to six guns. This would technically reduce battlecruiser’s firepower, but would maintain range and penetration advantage against cruisers. At the same time, lesser armoured area covered as well as weaponry and munition carried would allow for more fuel as well as larger and more powerful power plant.

Third possibility is reconfiguring armour. Protecting only turrets, magazines and machinery spaces would allow maximum thickness of armour there, while leaving nonessentials unprotected. In particular, bow and stern armoured belt would be removed, as would be conning tower armour. This would result in something more akin to a fast battleship of “all-or-nothing” design, and not an actual battlecruiser, and would go against design philosophy of the time which required protection against various calibres.

Those options could also all be combined. Instead of eight 13,5 in guns of an Orion-class superdreadnought, a battlecruiser could have four to six 10 in to 12 in guns in two frontal turrets. As a result, only area from “A” turret to machinery spaces would need to be protected by armour, while rest would be left completely unarmoured. At the same time, smaller guns would allow a ship somewhat smaller than contemporary dreadnoughts, or else allow for greater volume of engines and fuel.

Lastly, battlecruiser could maintain battleship’s armour and armament, but with elongated hull form and more powerful propulsion unit. This would result in what is basically a fast battleship. That, however, may not have been feasible at the time. Such a ship would also be larger, heavier and more expensive than a contemporary dreadnought, and may require new slipyards and docks to be built.

Now for feasibility.

First option would place those ships, at best, at equal footing against British-style battlecruisers: one would have battlecruisers with cruiser guns and dreadnought protection going up against battlecruisers with dreadnought guns and cruiser protection. Best-case scenario would be stalemate at best.

Second possibility would reduce rangefinding and hitting capability due to pattern dispersal issues. Even battleships had around 2% hit rate with main guns. None of the main battlecruiser-building navies utilized triple turrets on a regular basis either. And with typical incremental armouring scheme, it would not actually reduce amount of armour.

Raft armouring scheme, while best option, was largely a product of experience of Jutland. As a result, nobody had the hindsight to utilize it before.

Overall, options 1, 3 and 4 are feasible but not likely. First option would wipe out range advantage against cruisers, impacting battlecruisers’ main role. Option four is very expensive, even if it is best for Jutland-type scenario. Third option is ideal, albeit it would increase vulnerability to high explosive and small-calibre shells.


2 Responses to “Workable battlecruiser concept”

  1. josephhokayem said

    Reblogged this on josephhokayem.

  2. altandmain said

    A workable battlecruiser would have to be a fast battleship I’m afraid.

    To be fair, German battlecruisers like the SMS Seylitz took pretty heavy damage and still survived – although that was in part due to the poor quality of British fuzes used. Moltke, Von der Tann, Seydlitz, and Derfflinger, all took heavy damage amongst the German warships. Even Lutzow, which was sunk only had 128 killed out of a crew of around 1,200 or so.

    Other fast battleships did reasonable well as well. It seems like keeping a long length to beam ratio, but better protection and some drop in the gun calibre is the only real solution. I think that something like the USS Iowa and similar battleships is probably the best compromise – a long 3×3 configuration.

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