Building small battleships: Some 1920s and 1930s designs

Before the advent of the iron (and later steel) warship, the battleship was limited in size by the fact that it was extremely difficult to build wooden warships over a certain size because of the limitations imposed by the building material.

Once warships began to be built of metal rather than of wood, they increased in size at a considerable rate. This was due both to the advances being made in shipbuilding technology and rivalry between nations. This ‘race’ reached its peak in the period immediately before the First World War, when a country’s ‘worth’ in the World was measured in terms of the number of capital ships she had and the calibre and number of guns they carried.

Even then there were some people who argued that Britain would be better off building lots of small battleships rather than constantly trying to match the leviathans being built – or at least, being thought to be being built – by potential rivals. They argued that during the Napoleonic Wars the mainstay of the Royal Navy’s battle line was the third-rate 74-gun ship-of-the-line and not the first-rate 100-gun ship. This argument was rejected by people like Winston Churchill and the First Sea Lord Admiral Jackie Fisher as well by some newspapers – such as the Daily Mail – and special interest groups like the Naval League. They campaigned for the building of more battleships with the slogan ‘We want eight and we won’t wait’.

In the aftermath of the First World War there were international moves to restrict both the size of navies and the size of individual ship types. The Washington Treaty is the most famous of these, and did lead to suggestions – led in the main by the ship designers like as Sir George Thurston and some ‘gifted’ amateurs such as Captain Bernard Acworth – that future battleships should have a maximum tonnage of 25,000 tons and guns no larger than 12-inches in calibre.

This was, of course, a pipedream but it did lead to some interesting small battleship designs being put forward during the 1920s and 1930s. For example, Sir George Thurston proposed a design that was based on a cut-down version of HMS Nelson (whose design was, ironically, derived from a reduced version of the N3 class battleship).

Sir George Thurston’s 1926 design had 6 x 16-inch guns in two triple turrets as its main armament, 8 x 6-inch guns in four twin turrets as its secondary armament, and 4 x 4.7-inch AA guns in single mounts. Its tonnage was predicted to be 26,500-tons.

In the late 1920s the Italians proposed building 23,000-ton small battleships armed with 6 x 15-inch guns in three twin turrets. Interestingly this design certainly looks like a precursor to the later Littorio class battleships.

The British Admiralty did do some preliminary design work on small battleships, and the 1929 Design 12B carried a main armament of 8 x 12-inch guns in four twin turrets and a secondary armament of 12 x 6-inch guns in twin turrets. She was also armed with 4.7-inch AA guns.

Sir George Thurston proposed yet another design in 1933 – he termed it ‘The Battleship of the Future’ – and it had 12 x 12-inch guns in four triple turrets as its main armament and 12 x 6-inch guns in casemates (by then long regarded as a pretty worthless method of mounting guns by most ship designers) as its secondary armament. Its tonnage was predicted to be 25,000-tons.

Captain Bernard Acworth’s contribution was an even more retrograde design than Thurston’s, and was armed with 6 x 13.5-inch guns in three twin turrets. Its secondary armament was 4(!) x 4.7-inch guns. The ship had a designed tonnage of 11,980-tons. (It is worth noting that Captain Acworth thought that radio was of doubtful utility to the Royal Navy and should not be fitted to all warships, and that ships should be coal-powered rather than oil-powered.)

The run-up to the Second World War brought an end to the small battleship ‘craze’, although in 1945 an outline design for a 37,200-ton battleship – armed with 6 x 16-inch guns in two triple turrets – was drawn up by the Director of Naval Construction. It drew on the work already done for the Lion class battleships, and probably would have looked rather like HMS Vanguard, but shorter and with a single turret at either end of the superstructure.

Thinking about a possible design for a model warship

Whilst I have been waiting for the coat of paint to dry on my latest batch of model hills, I have been idly flipping through one of the numerous books about warship designs that I own. Amongst the ships that caught my eye were the two Coastal Defence Ships that were bought by the Thai Navy in the late 1930s. The two ships – HTMS Thonburi and her sister ship, HTMS Sri Ayuthiya – were built by the Japanese and were armed with 4 × 8-inch guns, 4 × 3-inch AA guns, and 4 × 40mm AA guns.

The ships had a very definite Japanese look about them, as the following image illustrates.

I thought that this design might be the basis of a ship model that I could make for one of the navies of my imagi-nations … so I did a bit of ‘cartooning’ of the original drawing and think that it might have possibilities.

I don’t know if I will every get around to using this design … but just playing around with the possibility was a nice way to spend thirty minutes of my time.

Them thar extra hills

I have continued to work – albeit slowly – on the larger hills that I am making to go with my ‘new’ terrain boards.

They are now at the stage where I have given them a coat of PVA glues to seal the wood (the water in the PVA opens the grain of the wood very slightly, thus allowing the PVA to penetrate the surface and to seal it), and the next stage is to give them a coat of water-based emulsion paint.

Once the paint has dried I can then begin the process of flocking the hills with static grass flock. Assuming that the weather stays fine over the weekend I should be able to finish these hills by Monday morning.

Taking a RISK

Whilst my stomach has been slowly recovering from my over indulgence of two days ago, I have not been idle. First and foremost I have finished drawing the baseline map I intend to use for my late nineteenth/early twentieth century imagi-world.

The map is based on the one that forms the game board for RISK … hence the title of this blog entry. In RISK the world is divided up into different regions, some of which conform to the boundaries of a particular country or part of a country and some of which represent groups of countries. The map is distorted and simplified, but it is still recognisable as a version of our world.

Amongst the distortions are the reduction in the width of the Atlantic Ocean and the increase in the size of the British Isles in relation to the rest of Europe. Some of the simplifications include the reduction in the numbers of islands in such areas as the Philippines and the total removal of New Zealand.

I already have a list of imagi-nations that I want to include on my version of the map, and this will require a few changes to be made. This is, however, a lot easier to do to an existing map than it is to a totally imaginary map … I know … I have already tried!

The next step will be to add these imagi-nations and after that to start adding further details. I do not intend to rush this process, as a mistakes made in haste tend to be difficult to undo at a later stage.

Another quiet day at home

After a rather hectic day yesterday, today has been another quiet one … which is probably just as well as I have been suffering from a rather bad stomach upset. This was probably due to my gastronomic over-indulgence last night. French Onion Soup, followed by Boeuf Bourguignon and mashed potatoes, topped off with a Crème Brûlée… rather too rich a combination for my stomach, I suspect.

I have spent most of the day doing household chores, interspersed with continuing work on both my imagi-world map and the additional hills to go with my ‘new’ terrain boards. I did take a break this afternoon when I discovered that Channel Four was showing RIO GRANDE, which is the last of John Ford’s ‘Cavalry Trilogy (the other two being FORT APACHE and SHE WORE AS YELLOW RIBBON. Although I think that John Ford’s THE HORSE SOLDIERS is a better film, this does not detract one iota from the enjoyment I always get from watching any one of the ‘Cavalry Trilogy’ films.

Being a ‘joiner’

I am not by nature a ‘joiner’. In other words I am not someone who joins groups or organisations unless I can see that the organisation is going to benefit from my being a member and that I am going to benefit from being a member.

For example, I am a member of the Friends of the Imperial War Museum and of the Friends of the Royal Artillery Museum. They benefit from my annual subscription – which they use to enhance the work of the respective museums – and I benefit from free admission. Likewise I am a member of the National Trust and English Heritage. Within the hobby of wargaming I have been a member of Wargame Developments since its foundation and have benefited by gaining a wide group of friends within the hobby and WD has benefited – I hope – by me acting as Treasurer, Membership Secretary, and joint Conference Organiser.

I am also a member of an international fraternal organisation, and yesterday I attended the annual gathering of the provincial area that contains the group I belong to. I spent several hours, in what I understand is the largest and best preserved Art Deco building in London (and probably the UK), listening to various items of interest and seeing members of the organisation being rewarded for the work they have done. After the meeting I went with several members of the group to which I belong to a pub for a much-needed drink (yesterday was the hottest day in London for some months), followed by a very convivial meal in a restaurant.

On reflection I realise that this is the one organisation from which I think I get more benefit from being a member than it benefits from my membership … and I am sure that this is a view shared by many other members. It is true that I give money to help run the organisation, but a large part of what I give over and above my membership fee goes to various charities. In return I get the friendship and mutual support of a group of people who come from a wide range of different backgrounds and experiences. The organisation also strongly encourages me to continue to improve myself as a moral and social being, and to think more about what I can put into society than what I can get out of it. Membership and attendance at meetings also gives me a sense of spiritual uplift that I find is generally missing from day-to-day life in modern society.

It seems to me that I am getting the best of the deal, don’t you?

Oh, and the name of the organisation? Well it could be said that that is a secret …

A quiet day at home

For the first time in a long time I actually had a day when there was nothing that I actually HAD to do; instead I was able to CHOOSE what I wanted to do. So what did I choose to do?

Firstly I began work on the next batch of hill to go with my ‘new’ terrain boards. These are going to be twice the size of the hills I have just completed, and will be 15cm x 7.5cm. Some of them may even have two levels to them as this will give me lots of different permutations of hills that I can use.

Secondly I have been continuing the general tidy up of my toy/wargames room. Other than discovering another box of ASDA Jenga blocks that I did not remember buying (which means that I have the raw materials to make even more hills, should I need them) I have not found anything of particular interest … other than a copy of RISK!

The version of RISK that I own is the one that has plastic 10mm-scale Napoleonic figures. On seeing them, I suddenly thought that I had the potential for a small-sized version of PW2 (a sort of ‘Travel PW2’), but what really caught my eye was the map that is used to play the game.

I had forgotten that it was divided into areas, some of which correspond to individual countries or regions within countries and some that represent several countries grouped together. I have been trying to develop a map for my nineteenth century imagi-world, but so far my attempts have been fraught with problems and have – to be frank – not gone very well. The RISK map is very close to the sort of map that I envisaged for my imagi-world, and I have decided to use it as the basis for my map.

As a result, the third thing I have done today is to scan a copy of the RISK map on to my computer, and then begin the process of tidying up the image so that I can use it for my imagi-world map. This is proceeding quite well at present, and it looks like I should be able to start adding details to the map in the very near future.