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Escort Carriers - King's College London

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Read David Hobbs' book ''British Aircraft Carriers''. It is a gem, and Commander Hobbs, a former FAA pilot and FAA museum curator, know what he is talking about. It covers the RN aircraft carriers from begining to the present day, and has an excellent section on the escort carriers. Cost me 55 bucks but it was worth every cent given the drawings it contained (I do ship models on occasion, both real and 3D virtual). I also have John Roberts' British Warships of World War Two, a gold mine for period ship modellers as Roberts, a retired RN Chief Petty Officer and an excellent artist and historian, is well known for his Anatomy of The Ship book contributions (I have the Dreadnought and Hood from this series in high quality paperback, among others), and many others as well. Naval Institute Press and Conway are my principle sources, but sometimes I find gems for sale at reasonable cost from private collections in estate sales, and even in garage sales! It pays to dig if history is one of your hobbies!

Edited by GrandAdmiral_2016
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I would say of the major naval powers of WW 2 (the US, Japan, Britain) the Royal Navy was the least innovative and most inept and prone to catching up when it came to naval air power.

For example, in aircraft design, they lagged well behind the US and Japan by 1939.  By 1943 they were completely behind the technology curve and relying heavily on US manufactured aircraft aboard carriers.  Their indigenous designs were slow in development, and by the time they began to see squadron use were generally obsolescent.

Take for example the Blackburn Firebrand.  Here was a fighter that had potential only to see major revisions in its design, then a redesignation of its use to being a torpedo-fighter-bomber at a time when torpedo bombers were already obsolescent.  Or, the Fairey Firefly.  Another mediocre fighter design that got into service when it had been totally surpassed in quality by other aircraft.

The same goes for the Swordfish and Albacore torpedo planes.  These were obsolete but continued in service to the end of the war.  In many cases, the RN had to improvise using RAF designs that were less than optimal for carrier use.

The Royal Navy's prewar faith in antiaircraft guns on ships was ill-founded and proved a disastrous mistake in planning.  Yet, the RN persisted in building carriers that were too small, and too poorly equipped to handle very large air groups.  

With escort carriers, the RN's own efforts with merchant aircraft carriers, (MAC ships) and other improvisations were really pretty pathetic.  Even the Japanese managed better designs along those lines than the RN did.

On the whole, the RN simply proved relatively inept at carrier warfare.  I suspect had they faced an opponent with a competent naval air arm like Japan or the US had, the RN would have found itself totally outmatched and overwhelmed at sea.

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1 hour ago, Murotsu said:

I would say of the major naval powers of WW 2 (the US, Japan, Britain) the Royal Navy was the least innovative and most inept and prone to catching up when it came to naval air power.

For example, in aircraft design, they lagged well behind the US and Japan by 1939.  By 1943 they were completely behind the technology curve and relying heavily on US manufactured aircraft aboard carriers.  Their indigenous designs were slow in development, and by the time they began to see squadron use were generally obsolescent.

Take for example the Blackburn Firebrand.  Here was a fighter that had potential only to see major revisions in its design, then a redesignation of its use to being a torpedo-fighter-bomber at a time when torpedo bombers were already obsolescent.  Or, the Fairey Firefly.  Another mediocre fighter design that got into service when it had been totally surpassed in quality by other aircraft.

The same goes for the Swordfish and Albacore torpedo planes.  These were obsolete but continued in service to the end of the war.  In many cases, the RN had to improvise using RAF designs that were less than optimal for carrier use.

The Royal Navy's prewar faith in antiaircraft guns on ships was ill-founded and proved a disastrous mistake in planning.  Yet, the RN persisted in building carriers that were too small, and too poorly equipped to handle very large air groups.  

With escort carriers, the RN's own efforts with merchant aircraft carriers, (MAC ships) and other improvisations were really pretty pathetic.  Even the Japanese managed better designs along those lines than the RN did.

On the whole, the RN simply proved relatively inept at carrier warfare.  I suspect had they faced an opponent with a competent naval air arm like Japan or the US had, the RN would have found itself totally outmatched and overwhelmed at sea.

good try :Smile_teethhappy:

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9 hours ago, nuttybiscuit said:

good try :Smile_teethhappy:

It's accurate.  The RN really blew it at carrier warfare.  I think anyone would have a very hard time demonstrating otherwise too.

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43 minutes ago, mr3awsome said:

@HMS_Formidable should be able to. 

How does the Formidable do that?  

On the other hand, RN carrier performance was mediocre in the Norway campaign of 1940, in the Mediterranean, with the exception of Taranto a surprise attack, off Crete in 1941, in the Indian Ocean in general, but particularly before 1944.  Even in the Pacific in the waning days of that war the RN's carriers were limited in utility by their smaller deck park and air group size.

HMS Illustrious' time serving with the USN in the Pacific is a better gage.  

http://www.armchairgeneral.com/uss-robin-the-victorious-u-s-carrier-that-didnt-exist.htm

By 1944 almost all RN escort carriers were US manufactured as were the bulk of FAA aircraft.  

Even a comparison of the "six carriers attack Tirpitz" with US carriers would show up the difference.  Six Essex or Yorktown class carriers have between them almost double the aircraft six RN carriers could manage.  With much larger strike packages, and more fighter escort, not to mention better aircraft in some cases, the USN would have done far more damage to that battleship on sheer numbers alone.  

That is, after all, roughly the number that sank the Musashi and Yamato, and Tirpitz could hardly be claimed to be a tougher target.

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12 hours ago, Murotsu said:

For example, in aircraft design, they lagged well behind the US and Japan by 1939.  By 1943 they were completely behind the technology curve and relying heavily on US manufactured aircraft aboard carriers.  Their indigenous designs were slow in development, and by the time they began to see squadron use were generally obsolescent.

FAA fighter in 1940: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairey_Fulmar

IJN primary fighter in 1940: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitsubishi_A5M

USN fighter in 1939/1940 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grumman_F2F

Well damn, it's a not particularly good aircraft in the Fulmar, but what are the IJN and USN bringing to the table? Oh a sexy Biplane and is that fixed undercarriage or are you just happy to see me Mr Claude? It's not just 1940 either, how good were the TBD Devastators at Midway? Not sure if I'd have gone in a Swordfish, but pretty impossible to do much worse than that stellar performance.

12 hours ago, Murotsu said:

The same goes for the Swordfish and Albacore torpedo planes.  These were obsolete but continued in service to the end of the war.  In many cases, the RN had to improvise using RAF designs that were less than optimal for carrier use.

Yes, the Swordfish saw out the war, that's because it was highly adaptable and a useful anti-submarine weapon, Swordfish sank 22 U-boats and one Italian Sub in WWII including 13 in 1944. That's a useful contribution. The British Pacific fleet was not equipped with those types.

13 minutes ago, Murotsu said:

Even a comparison of the "six carriers attack Tirpitz" with US carriers would show up the difference.  Six Essex or Yorktown class carriers have between them almost double the aircraft six RN carriers could manage.

Well yes, though more correctly 'two fleet carriers and four Bogue/Ruler class CVE' - maybe the US Bogue's would have had more aircraft somehow... That's not really a sensible conclusion. Did US Yorktown and Essex class carriers have more aircraft than Illustrious class? Yeah but is that a decent example? Not really.

12 hours ago, Murotsu said:

With escort carriers, the RN's own efforts with merchant aircraft carriers, (MAC ships) and other improvisations were really pretty pathetic.  Even the Japanese managed better designs along those lines than the RN did.

Are you saying the Japanese made better MAC/CAM ships (which were a short term, desperation experiment) or better Escort Carriers? The Brits did pioneer the escort carrier as convoy escort with the first one, Audacity accounting for a U-boat and five previously untouchable Fokke-Wulf Condor long range bomber/reconnaissance aircraft in 1941 before the USN was in the war. Having better MAC designs is irrelevant, having Escort Carriers at all is great.

 

The RN did make colossal mistakes pre-war, for which the RAF is in a large part responsible, they then doubly suffered being lower priority in a fight to the death through 1939-1942 and fell behind. Doctrine was sometimes good (Op. Pedestal) and sometimes bad (Glorious). Were some designs incredibly poor, well yeah (Barracuda sums up everything wrong with it). Overall though the FAA had to operate in a pretty challenging environment with often limited targets of opportunity and did pretty reasonably well.

They might be in 3rd place if it comes to a long-range Pacific War, but I wouldn't generally describe them as incompetent. Incompetence doesn't do in Bismarck, Taranto, win the Battle of the Atlantic, see convoys through to Malta and lose only one modern fleet carrier in 6 years of war.

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2 hours ago, mofton said:

FAA fighter in 1940: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairey_Fulmar

IJN primary fighter in 1940: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitsubishi_A5M

USN fighter in 1939/1940 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grumman_F2F

Well damn, it's a not particularly good aircraft in the Fulmar, but what are the IJN and USN bringing to the table? Oh a sexy Biplane and is that fixed undercarriage or are you just happy to see me Mr Claude? It's not just 1940 either, how good were the TBD Devastators at Midway? Not sure if I'd have gone in a Swordfish, but pretty impossible to do much worse than that stellar performance.

Yes, the Swordfish saw out the war, that's because it was highly adaptable and a useful anti-submarine weapon, Swordfish sank 22 U-boats and one Italian Sub in WWII including 13 in 1944. That's a useful contribution. The British Pacific fleet was not equipped with those types.

Well yes, though more correctly 'two fleet carriers and four Bogue/Ruler class CVE' - maybe the US Bogue's would have had more aircraft somehow... That's not really a sensible conclusion. Did US Yorktown and Essex class carriers have more aircraft than Illustrious class? Yeah but is that a decent example? Not really.

Are you saying the Japanese made better MAC/CAM ships (which were a short term, desperation experiment) or better Escort Carriers? The Brits did pioneer the escort carrier as convoy escort with the first one, Audacity accounting for a U-boat and five previously untouchable Fokke-Wulf Condor long range bomber/reconnaissance aircraft in 1941 before the USN was in the war. Having better MAC designs is irrelevant, having Escort Carriers at all is great.

 

The RN did make colossal mistakes pre-war, for which the RAF is in a large part responsible, they then doubly suffered being lower priority in a fight to the death through 1939-1942 and fell behind. Doctrine was sometimes good (Op. Pedestal) and sometimes bad (Glorious). Were some designs incredibly poor, well yeah (Barracuda sums up everything wrong with it). Overall though the FAA had to operate in a pretty challenging environment with often limited targets of opportunity and did pretty reasonably well.

They might be in 3rd place if it comes to a long-range Pacific War, but I wouldn't generally describe them as incompetent. Incompetence doesn't do in Bismarck, Taranto, win the Battle of the Atlantic, see convoys through to Malta and lose only one modern fleet carrier in 6 years of war.

Well, you might want to do your homework over...

The first FAA squadron to go operational with the Fulmar was No. 806 aboard Illustrious in July 1940.  Prior to that, the FAA was using the Skua and Sea Gladiator as their fighters.  The Skua was a dive bomber that was being substituted as a fighter, sort of like if the US using SBD Dauntless as fighters...  The Sea Gladiator was thoroughly obsolete.  There was a squadron with the Blackburn Roc, possibly the worst fighter any nation produced in WW 2.

The USN was using the F2A-1 Buffalo starting with VF 3 in June 1939.  Deliveries of the F2A-1 were to equip all USN squadrons but the US government decided to send much of the production to Finland instead, putting the USN program behind by nearly a year.  Additional export orders to Belgium and France caused further delay.  But, of note, some of the Belgian Buffalos were operating alongside the first Fulmars to be delivered to the FAA.

The A6M2 Zero first went operational with the 12th Rengo Kokutai in China in July 1940, concurrent with the first deployment of the Fulmar.

The Swordfish was obsolete by 1940 but the FAA continued to use it because it was available and could fly from MAC carriers and other ships in areas where there was no aerial opposition.  When opposed, Swordfish were very easy targets to take down.  The follow-on Albacore was hardly a better plane.  The FAA also gave up on dive bombing fairly early in the war entirely.  That was in large part due to the smaller air groups on their carriers.

That's the problem with British fleet carriers.  Their air group of 50 to 60 planes typically, or less, allows only for two fighter squadrons and two torpedo plane squadrons.  So, the strike package is smaller and monolithic while the smaller number of fighters makes for less CAP.

The Japanese certainly did build better CVE and MAC ships, or at a very minimum ones equal to anything the British turned out.  Taiyo, Unyo, Chuyo, Shinyo, etc., were all roughly equivalent in air group and design quality to the USN mass produced CVE.  MAC carriers like the Shimane Maru, carried the same dozen aircraft a British MAC ship would and are about the same size and performance.

Had the FAA and RN been forced to operate in theaters with a significant naval air threat, neither their carriers or aircraft up through the end of 1941 were really up to the task.  They managed as well as they did simply because they didn't face stiff air opposition.  On the few occasions where they did run into serious air opposition (Pedestal Convoys, Crete, the Hermes in the IO, for example) they got their @$$ handed to them.  In the Med, the FAA and RN could handle the Italian RA, but the second the Luftwaffe showed up in strength sending a carrier anywhere the Germans could reach it was nearly suicidal.  If you look at Formidable off Crete, she was sent into combat with about a dozen Fulmar aboard.  Those fighters lasted all of about two strikes by the Luftwaffe before being shot down and the carrier wrecked requiring months of repairs.

I would say that, by many measures, the RN was incompetent by 1939 in the use of carriers and naval air power.  That's a sad reflection on a service that in 1918 was the undisputed world's leader in carriers and naval air power.  It's a powerful testament to what two decades of gross neglect can do to a military service.

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14 hours ago, Murotsu said:

I would say of the major naval powers of WW 2 (the US, Japan, Britain) the Royal Navy was the least innovative and most inept and prone to catching up when it came to naval air power.

For example, in aircraft design, they lagged well behind the US and Japan by 1939.  By 1943 they were completely behind the technology curve and relying heavily on US manufactured aircraft aboard carriers.  Their indigenous designs were slow in development, and by the time they began to see squadron use were generally obsolescent.

Take for example the Blackburn Firebrand.  Here was a fighter that had potential only to see major revisions in its design, then a redesignation of its use to being a torpedo-fighter-bomber at a time when torpedo bombers were already obsolescent.  Or, the Fairey Firefly.  Another mediocre fighter design that got into service when it had been totally surpassed in quality by other aircraft.

The same goes for the Swordfish and Albacore torpedo planes.  These were obsolete but continued in service to the end of the war.  In many cases, the RN had to improvise using RAF designs that were less than optimal for carrier use.

The Royal Navy's prewar faith in antiaircraft guns on ships was ill-founded and proved a disastrous mistake in planning.  Yet, the RN persisted in building carriers that were too small, and too poorly equipped to handle very large air groups.  

With escort carriers, the RN's own efforts with merchant aircraft carriers, (MAC ships) and other improvisations were really pretty pathetic.  Even the Japanese managed better designs along those lines than the RN did.

On the whole, the RN simply proved relatively inept at carrier warfare.  I suspect had they faced an opponent with a competent naval air arm like Japan or the US had, the RN would have found itself totally outmatched and overwhelmed at sea.

 

most of the allied aircraft and military personal operating in the European theatre during the early part of the war were operating from a carrier permanently moored off the NW corner of Europe, capable of launching thousands of bombers and fighters daily, and had thousands of bombs hit it without sinking, and was in striking distance of much of the occupied Western/Northern European mainland including Germany, sure it was slow, some would even say tectonic, but many men from many nations served on HMS British Isles. :Smile-_tongue:

 

The Fairey Swordfish sank more ship tonnage than any other allied aircraft type in WW2 and was produced in far smaller numbers than the American equivalent and many other aircraft types used for anti-shipping, so what dose that say of supposedly better American aircraft built in far greater numbers, if they could not surpass an obsolete biplane in ship tonnage sunk? :Smile_hiding:

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5 hours ago, Murotsu said:

Well, you might want to do your homework over...

The first FAA squadron to go operational with the Fulmar was No. 806 aboard Illustrious in July 1940.  Prior to that, the FAA was using the Skua and Sea Gladiator as their fighters.  The Skua was a dive bomber that was being substituted as a fighter, sort of like if the US using SBD Dauntless as fighters...  The Sea Gladiator was thoroughly obsolete.  There was a squadron with the Blackburn Roc, possibly the worst fighter any nation produced in WW 2.

The USN was using the F2A-1 Buffalo starting with VF 3 in June 1939.  Deliveries of the F2A-1 were to equip all USN squadrons but the US government decided to send much of the production to Finland instead, putting the USN program behind by nearly a year.  Additional export orders to Belgium and France caused further delay.  But, of note, some of the Belgian Buffalos were operating alongside the first Fulmars to be delivered to the FAA.

The A6M2 Zero first went operational with the 12th Rengo Kokutai in China in July 1940, concurrent with the first deployment of the Fulmar.

The Swordfish was obsolete by 1940 but the FAA continued to use it because it was available and could fly from MAC carriers and other ships in areas where there was no aerial opposition.  When opposed, Swordfish were very easy targets to take down.  The follow-on Albacore was hardly a better plane.  The FAA also gave up on dive bombing fairly early in the war entirely.  That was in large part due to the smaller air groups on their carriers.

Your start point was 1939, even if you want to compare the Skua or Gladiator in 1939 then it's solidly the F2F and Claude, even if you like the Brewster Buffalo instead it was a damnable and pathetic failure of a pig-aircraft, monoplane or not.

The Swordfish's degree of obsolesence is difficult to measure in 1940 considering its' results. Ships sunk, ships crippled. Indeed the Albacore was not much of an improvement. As for easy to take down, sometimes sure but Torpedo Squadron 8's loss of 15/15 aircraft for zero hits with Devastators in 1942 suggests that torpedo aircraft against fighters wouldn't go well no matter what, and that the US was doing no better (can hardly do worse, and at least British torpedoes worked).

5 hours ago, Murotsu said:

That's the problem with British fleet carriers.  Their air group of 50 to 60 planes typically, or less, allows only for two fighter squadrons and two torpedo plane squadrons.  So, the strike package is smaller and monolithic while the smaller number of fighters makes for less CAP.

The Japanese certainly did build better CVE and MAC ships, or at a very minimum ones equal to anything the British turned out.  Taiyo, Unyo, Chuyo, Shinyo, etc., were all roughly equivalent in air group and design quality to the USN mass produced CVE.  MAC carriers like the Shimane Maru, carried the same dozen aircraft a British MAC ship would and are about the same size and performance.

Had the FAA and RN been forced to operate in theaters with a significant naval air threat, neither their carriers or aircraft up through the end of 1941 were really up to the task.  They managed as well as they did simply because they didn't face stiff air opposition.  On the few occasions where they did run into serious air opposition (Pedestal Convoys, Crete, the Hermes in the IO, for example) they got their @$$ handed to them.  In the Med, the FAA and RN could handle the Italian RA, but the second the Luftwaffe showed up in strength sending a carrier anywhere the Germans could reach it was nearly suicidal.  If you look at Formidable off Crete, she was sent into combat with about a dozen Fulmar aboard.  Those fighters lasted all of about two strikes by the Luftwaffe before being shot down and the carrier wrecked requiring months of repairs.

I would say that, by many measures, the RN was incompetent by 1939 in the use of carriers and naval air power.  That's a sad reflection on a service that in 1918 was the undisputed world's leader in carriers and naval air power.  It's a powerful testament to what two decades of gross neglect can do to a military service.

Yes, small air groups but also lack of deck parks due to environment and location.

MAC's goals of 'be cheap, fly some planes around convoys' are a pretty low bar, I'd say the British ones were fine - some major issues such as the loss of HMS Dasher and the problems with her class. Escort carriers wise it's also pretty hard to judge how good a ferry the Taiyo class made - again a low bar for success - on the other hand British models did pretty credibly in the ASW/convoy defender role as well as being pushed into other activities. I'd guess that the Allies winning the Battle of the Atlantic while the Japanese were going to starve suggests that the British/American approach was pretty reasonable. British CVE's also did pretty well on the Arctic Convoy run, really making the difference between success and failure on the convoys that ran with them.

You're criticizing a FAA which knew the primary enemies would be Germany and Italy, which was supported by a country that spent a lot of 1940-1942 alone and on the ropes and was pouring resources into a ton of priorities - land based fighters for home defense, land based bombers as the only offensive arm available, long range convoy escorts etc. Yes, the RN would have been in a bad position to try and make a go against the IJN in say 1942 with a carrier fleet, but 3 years of war, the loss of Ark Royal, Eagle, Glorious, Courageous, damage to Indom, Illustrious, Formidable and the basic doctrine of working in contested sea space in range of land produce a very different force mix.

The RN's carriers actually (I think) did rather well in Op Pedestal. Eagle's loss like that of Wasp, Taiho, Shokaku and Unryu was 'the cost of doing business' to an extent. The Indomitable/Victorious shielded a convoy that had to sail within 50 miles of Italian/German airbases in Sicily pretty well overall, her fighters shooting down quite a large number of aircraft when the Axis were flying more than 300 sorties against the convoy and escorts, strikes which were in range of high performance land-based aircraft and which were largely ineffective. Only once the carriers had to withdraw because (I strongly believe) 2 fleet carriers of any nation vs. over 700 land based aircraft is suicide did losses mount. The USN went in close to strongly held Japanese islands only with pretty overwhelming force aside from spoiling attacks like Doolittle.

Crete was a disaster, partially caused by what was available - Formidable was mis-used with insufficient fighters, but that was often a symptom of what was available given other priorities. It's not just the ships but aircraft and crews. The Axis again committed over 500 aircraft to the Crete theater which is a huge challenge, especially when they're in flying range to launch 5-6 sorties per day, something rarely seen in the Pacific.

Hermes was an entirely obsolete training carrier without an airgroup attacked by aircraft from multiple IJN fleet carriers.

 

Yeah, it's a major shame that the pretty much useless RAF managed to get control of the RNAS and ruin it, with the RN only regaining control in 1937, but overall the RN did pretty well in the air early war. Getting the important jobs done and failing at some tasks which are by most standards pretty much impossible. Indom/Victorious couldn't take out 2 German Fliegerkorp and an Italian Air Fleet in Sicily, but I doubt even a pair of Essex Class could do substantially better.

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11 hours ago, mofton said:

and at least British torpedoes worked).

:Smile_popcorn:

I'll award that a 10/10 for a stylish dig :Smile_teethhappy:

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Yeah, the ignorance about the FAA is really very obvious.

And mostly due to people only reading internetz forums and comparing the USN 1945 to the RN in 1939.

Personally I don't get the insecurity this represents: The USN in 1945 was by far the world's best. There's no need to try and defend that.

But it took them time and experience - and a world beating economy - to get there.

 

Escort carrier conversions from merchant vessels was a program studied in the 1930s by the RN.

It proved far more effective than they anticipated (even the MAC ships).

 

The RN had a very different doctrine to the USN and Japan.

This is because it was primarily intended to fight elsewhere than the Pacific.

Though it did adapt to Pacific conditions in 44/45.

 

Prior to 1935, the RN was actually primarily focused on a fight in the Pacific. Thus the Ark Royal design.

But the Abyssinian Crisis of 1935 demonstrated to Britain that the next war was most likely to start in Europe and the Mediterranean. This blockade (involving RN carriers) demonstrated the vulnerability of carriers in closed environments (Mediterranean Sea, North Sea).

That's not something the USN or IJN had to consider.

Thus the RN change in philosophy away from Ark Royal (of which only one copy was built) to the Illustrious class (of which six derivatives were built - and the follow-up Audacious class design).

 

The rest is history.

 

The reason why the USN's primary fleet fighter until mid 1941 was the F3F "Flying Barrel" biplane is the same as why the RN had until mid-1940 the monoplane Skua as its fighter-bomber: Both navies had realised that single-seat fighters were dangerously useless - that as soon as they went beyond 22 nautical miles from the fleet, they would get lost - often resulting in the loss of the pilot and plane.

And given how fast bombers became in the 1930s, keeping interceptors on deck meant that the bombers had already been and gone by the time they reached intercept positions (it could be even worse with CAP if the fighters happened to be on the opposite side of the fleet when visual contact was made).

So investing in fighters was problematic.

(Which is why the world's first folding, armored/self-sealing carrier monoplane was the two-seat Fulmar - both to get home and to improve the accuracy of reconnaissance reports. This is why the Fulmar was able to fly at night, in stormy weather, to track the Bismark, in 1941)

 

(PS: The Sea Gladiator was trainer much along the lines of the T-45 Goshawk, intended to be pressed into service as base defence and at-sea roles in an emergency. That emergency happened in the case of the RN. Conveniently overlooked context for chest-beaters)

 

Everything changed in September 1939, when the RN demonstrated the value of at-sea radar-guided fighter-control (starting off in the defence of Scapa Flow with the first air-radar cruisers).

Suddenly, it was possible to pre-position fighters to intercept fast incoming bombers again.

(The first carrier in the world to have a vertical side-lit perspex plot board was HMS Indomitable ... The RN's fighter direction techniques was the envy of the USN for the whole war. Don't believe me. Read the USN liaison officer reports for yourself)

 

After that, it's usually conveniently forgotten that Britain was actively fighting the Nazi's and Fascists 1939-41, and the US wasn't.

The Battle of the Atlantic. The Battle of Britain. The fight for the Mediterranean.

This brought with it a cost.

 

For example - the FAA's primary facility at Coventry was flattened by the Luftwaffe (Britain was on the front line, after all) destroying a lot of vital infrastructure, supplies, facilities.

The Battle of Britain emergency saw the new engine for the Barracuda, Firefly and Firebrand cancelled in favour of greater production and development of the Merlin/Griffon for the Spitfire and Lancaster. On top of this, production and development of the Firefly, Barracuda, Firebrand airframes etc was suspended.

The USN had the benefit of watching from a distance, and reading all the combat/damage reports being fed back to it from the FAA and RN Carriers (read up about the USN "spy" Lieutenant Commander John Newton Opie aboard HMS Illustrious in 1940/41) 

 

Ironically, the armour that was supposed to keep the RN carriers alive in the Sicilian Channel, English Channel etc proved its most effective in the Pacific where it shrugged off six kamikaze attacks with negligible casualties. Though the RN carriers by no means as capable of maintaining sustained offensive operation as long as its USN contemporaries, the Yorktowns. 

 

If you want to read up on comparisons  on USN / RN carrier doctrines by the likes of true experts in the field  then buy the book American & British Aircraft Carrier Development, 1919-1941.
US historian Norman Friedman has his own "British Carrier Aviation" - very technical and detailed, Hobb's British Aircraft Carriers is more readable.

 

But the best book on the subject by far is Friedman's Fighters over the Fleet. Seriously, it's a brilliant critical comparison of IJN/USN/RN doctrines, how these doctrines panned out and how they evolved. It's available in print and digital. If you want a clue as to why and how WW2 carrier fleets did what they did, buy this book.

 

 

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Starting with aircraft:

The FAA started getting the Skua in late 1938 and by September 1939, had three squadrons.  They also had partial squadron use of the totally useless Blackburn Roc at the time, probably the worst fighter aircraft of WW 2.

So, in 1939 it's Sea Gladiators for the FAA for the most part versus the F2A-1... a digression... not a "damnable and pathetic failure of a pig-aircraft" either.  The early F2A was generally held to be a delight to fly and quite maneuverable.  The Finns certainly put their early ones to good use.  It was only later when the USN and RAF loaded the plane up with additional weight that it became a marginal fighter.  Even then, it was still generally considered pleasant to fly.  The F2A-1 certainly out performs the Sea Gladiator, as does the A5M.

For the USN in 1939 its one squadron of F2A-1 and 6 of F3F.  The IJN is using the A5M.

The Swordfish only remained successful when unopposed.  The second you put it up against aerial opposition it was doomed.

By comparison, the Swordfish was designed in 1934-35 and entered service in 1936.  The US TBD Devastator was designed at the same time and entered service in early 1937, a few months after the Swordfish.  The B5N was also concurrent with the Swordfish in design but difficulties with it led to production only starting at the end of 1937.  That left the IJN with the B4Y as a stop-gap, a plane that is an analogue of the Swordfish.

As for the Barracuda, Firefly, and Firebrand, none were ever cancelled or suspended in their design or production process.  On the contrary, it was design issues and changes that plagued these aircraft slowing their introduction into service.  The Firebrand, for example, underwent a complete engine change from the Napier Sabre X to the Bristol Centaurus radial, and at the same time went from being a fleet interceptor to being a torpedo fighter.

As for carriers:

The Hermes was the RN's first built from the keel up carrier.  It is very similar in concept to the IJN's Hosho in that respect.  The Hermes suffered from two major flaws:  It was developed too early and took too long in construction meaning by the time it entered service it was obsolescent.  The RN then lacked the funds to rebuild the ship properly to new conditions.

MAC ships proved marginal, at best.  There's little direct evidence of their effectiveness.  Their tiny air groups (typically 3 to 5 Swordfish) often suffered high rates of attrition due to the lack of maintenance capacity beyond routine servicing, the often (on the tanker conversions) lack of a hanger, and operational attrition that comes from carrier operations.  By late 1943 they were being used almost exclusively as aircraft transports.

The Ark Royal was built to the maximum tonnage allowed under the WNT and had a very heavy AA battery keeping with then current RN thinking on air power and the fleet.  The hanger arrangement gave the Ark Royal the largest hanger volume of any aircraft carrier in WW 2 until very late in the war.  On the downside, the lower hanger was nearly useless because of the dual elevators.  This is a major reason follow-on British designs had a single hanger deck, or a partial lower hanger strictly for maintenance.

On the whole, it still says the RN made a series of serious blunders in carrier design and operation that were only mitigated by their not facing serious naval opposition for most of the war, only occasionally experiencing an environment where the enemy had serious air power opposing them.

 

 

 

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I am afraid you are incorrect on several counts. Don’t believe me, read the aforementioned books. 

 

The Battle of Britain suspended all but Spifire, Hurricane and a very few other RAF types. The RN exe engine intended for Barracuda was cancelled, prompting redesign work. Coventry FAA facility was bombed. This had direct fallout in 1941 with Formidable forced to operate without spares and replacements.

 

Also, the USN was operating biplane SBC Helldiver until 1942 aboard Hornet at least I believe.

 

MAC ships were an emergency program. So yes they were kess than ideal. But they were something, and contributed to keeping Uboats submerged around convoys. britain could not just suspend convoys and wait for enough ideal ships to be built

 

I understand Midway demonstrates how unescorted torp bombers are vulnerable, biplane or not. Swordfish was in the front line far too long. Nothing else could have done Taranto, tho. But the Stringbag served well as a proto-helicopter in ASW role in second line in later years.

 

Hermes was an experimental carrier - one of the very first, and classified as such by treaty.  I am not certain what your point is. Are you trying to criticise it by comparison with later generations?

 

Ark Royal had a terrible dual lift system. This had nothing to do with single hangars - that was the weight of the armour box hangar on Illudtrious, Formidable, Victorious. Indomitable onwards went back to twin with lighter armour box sides.

 

As you point out the RN optimised designs and doctrine to fight in the Mediterranean and Atlantic. You get the intensity of air opposition wrong tho. Read up on Operation Excess, Pedestal for a start. 

And after some training in Pacific style war fare thanks to allies aboard Saratoga, Meridian, Iceberg and Japan were quite successful also (on a ship-for ship basis, the BPF had 4 fleet carriers, not the 15 of the USN (minus those taken out by storms and kamikases, of course)

 

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Taranto, Matapan, and Bismarck don't count? None of these would have happened without seaborne air power. The RN was fighting the DKM and RM, not the IJN, and by the time they were and the USA got into it, didn't have the resources to do more than it did. Go tell that to those who served in the British Pacific Fleet  in 44-45 off Okinawa that they did not do their fair share.Go grill the crews that served on lend-lease escort carriers on Arctic Convoys and in the Atlantic, that the RN could not build because their shipyards were so overloaded building escort vessels and merchant shipping to survive that nothing was left for the big ships. Go and say that about Lt Grey RCNVR, VC. DSC. To read some of the comments I have seen here makes me wonder about the perspective of some people. Learn your history, folks. Honor them all.

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18 hours ago, GrandAdmiral_2016 said:

Taranto, Matapan, and Bismarck don't count? None of these would have happened without seaborne air power. The RN was fighting the DKM and RM, not the IJN, and by the time they were and the USA got into it, didn't have the resources to do more than it did. Go tell that to those who served in the British Pacific Fleet  in 44-45 off Okinawa that they did not do their fair share.Go grill the crews that served on lend-lease escort carriers on Arctic Convoys and in the Atlantic, that the RN could not build because their shipyards were so overloaded building escort vessels and merchant shipping to survive that nothing was left for the big ships. Go and say that about Lt Grey RCNVR, VC. DSC. To read some of the comments I have seen here makes me wonder about the perspective of some people. Learn your history, folks. Honor them all.

I think there is only one person trying to spike the guns of this thread, so to speak, with misinformed comments made for the sake of argument alone. On the other hand, thankyou for your excellent tips on reading material. I can spend entire weekends trawling through attic/loft sales in supermarket carparks and town squares, many rare gems of out of print books that cover aspects of history (and much else besides!)

The escort carrier programmes are interesting because they can be characterized as part of a shift toward a mass production industrial war effort, most closely analogous to other ship building programmes of series, rather than one offs. From the conversion of existing tankers, to new build converted grain and tanker ships (MACS in the UK) to specific purpose designed rapid build carriers (e.g Bogue). Hundreds were built in total, in comparison, how many Lexingtons or Taihos were ever launched?

As you have noted, I am not very good at details (or especially accurate on dates and measures!) but between the likes of yourself, HMS_Formidable and mofton, we have plentiful expert resources in this forum!

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The problem is there are very many generally accepted 'caricatures' of history floating around, especially on forums - but also in many printed books (particularly the glossy 'overview' types).

 

Fighting a war is a many-faceted thing.

You don't just go with one of anything.

You take what you can get, as fast as you can get it.

Thus the RN using MAC ships AND escort carriers (because slapping a flight deck on a grain carrier gave you three ASW aircraft where you may have had none. Did this have value? Well, no convoy which had a MAC ship suffered losses. But by no means can that be attributed to the MACs alone).

 

And yes, the escort carriers soon proved their worth far beyond simple anti-submarine and anti-raider/scout aircraft ops.

They were pushed on to the front line where there were not enough fleet carrier hull's to do the job.

They were absolutely the definition of the 'little ships that could', and - to me - represent the last nail in the coffin for major surface gun ships. These ships could do so much more than a mere cruiser...

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On 10/15/2017 at 0:58 PM, Murotsu said:

That is, after all, roughly the number that sank the Musashi and Yamato, and Tirpitz could hardly be claimed to be a tougher target.

 

 

Sure she is. Tirpitz is in a fjord who's sides are littered with AA guns and smoke generators on top of the AA guns and smoke generators already on the Battleship herself. She also had a number of AA ships with her as well. And then there are the torpedo nets making torpedo attacks impossible. Finally, the USN, like the RN, did not have a bomb at the time that could be carried by a carrier aircraft capable of penetrating both of her armored decks. In this instance, Tirpitz is a much tougher target than Yamato or Musashi, the torpedo nets alone guarantee as much.

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1 hour ago, dseehafer said:

Sure she is. Tirpitz is in a fjord who's sides are littered with AA guns and smoke generators on top of the AA guns and smoke generators already on the Battleship herself. She also had a number of AA ships with her as well. And then there are the torpedo nets making torpedo attacks impossible. Finally, the USN, like the RN, did not have a bomb at the time that could be carried by a carrier aircraft capable of penetrating both of her armored decks. In this instance, Tirpitz is a much tougher target than Yamato or Musashi, the torpedo nets alone guarantee as much.

 

Yes
Plus Tirpitz location on the fjord allowed for only one attack route for any plane trying to do a torpedo run, low level bombing or a rocket attack.

Pierre Closterman account on "Fire in the Sky" of a Mosquito attack on a tanker hiding in a Fjord offers a chilling example of what any pilot would have to face in such event.

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Brits were the only carrier operator to lose a fleet carrier to battleship fire.

Edited by GreyFox78659

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You mean specifically battleships or by naval gunfire? Gambier Bay may ring a bell to some ...

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2 hours ago, Alabamastan said:

You mean specifically battleships or by naval gunfire? Gambier Bay may ring a bell to some ...

Gambier Bay was an Escort, not a Fleet Carrier.

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On 10/30/2017 at 10:08 AM, dseehafer said:

 

Sure she is. Tirpitz is in a fjord who's sides are littered with AA guns and smoke generators on top of the AA guns and smoke generators already on the Battleship herself. She also had a number of AA ships with her as well. And then there are the torpedo nets making torpedo attacks impossible. Finally, the USN, like the RN, did not have a bomb at the time that could be carried by a carrier aircraft capable of penetrating both of her armored decks. In this instance, Tirpitz is a much tougher target than Yamato or Musashi, the torpedo nets alone guarantee as much.

 

The Americans had both 1,000 lb and 1,600 lb armor piercing bombs available at the time (as of May 1942 at least), both of which pose a credible threat to the stationary Tirpitzs deck armor, and can be carried by Helldivers or Avengers. The combined effective thickness of Tirpitzs deck armor only totals out to 4.4-5" depending on the zone and how much superstructure the bomb has to fall through. Even if we give her the benefit of the doubt and say that maybe 8/10 AP bombs fail to completely penetrate the armored decks, one of those striking a turret roof is also practically guaranteed to penetrate, so just by sheer volume of bombs alone it's likely that she'll at least lose a turret.

 

 I wouldn't be so quick to discount them. IIRC, most of the problems the British experienced were caused by them dropping their AP bombs from extremely low altitude, which greatly hampered the penetration capability.

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1 hour ago, Big_Spud said:

 

The Americans had both 1,000 lb and 1,600 lb armor piercing bombs available at the time (as of May 1942 at least), both of which pose a credible threat to the stationary Tirpitzs deck armor, and can be carried by Helldivers or Avengers. The combined effective thickness of Tirpitzs deck armor only totals out to 4.4-5" depending on the zone and how much superstructure the bomb has to fall through. Even if we give her the benefit of the doubt and say that maybe 8/10 AP bombs fail to completely penetrate the armored decks, one of those striking a turret roof is also practically guaranteed to penetrate, so just by sheer volume of bombs alone it's likely that she'll at least lose a turret.

 

 I wouldn't be so quick to discount them.

 

Thank you for the correction on the bombs.

 

That is assuming their detonators are not armed by the upper 50-80mm deck (the designed purpose of the upper deck was to arm the detonators on any shells or bombs that made it through) in which case said bomb would explode before reaching the main armor deck. You've also lowballed the effective deck armor by a bit ( I didn't mean for that to sound snarky, if it did, sorry), post-war American calculations put the effective armor protection over the magazines as the equivalent to a single 6" plate of American-quality armor. I don't have the exact number for the area over the machinery spaces... but we can do some simple math...

 

Magazines: 80mm + 100mm = 180mm (7.1in) is equivalent to a single 152.4mm (6in) plate of American quality. That's a reduction of 15.3%.

 

Therefore...

 

Machinery: 50 + 80 = 130mm (5.1in) reduced by 15.3% gives us an equivelant to a single 110.1mm (4.3") plate of American quality. (you were spot on in this case)

 

 

I'll agree that these bombs could certainly do some damage (like knock out a turret, as you said), but I don't think they would be able to penetrate the main deck (assuming the upper deck does its job and detonates the bombs before they reach the main deck). That is to say that I don't think a raid of Amerian dive-bombers would be capable of sinking Tirpitz, just damaging her.

 

Curious, I know that, in the case of shell penetration, one 100mm plate is better than two 50mm plates, even if the two 50mm plates were placed right on top of each other (just using random numbers for an example). This is because a shell tends to retain its velocity and penetrating force after penetrating a layer of armor. I wonder if this is different for bombs. Are two 50mm plates just as effective as a single 100mm plate against a bomb. That is to say, if a bomb cannot penetrate 100mm, then it would also be unable to penetrate two 50mm plates? If that is the case, then Tirpitz's deck armor would retain its full thickness worth of effectiveness against bombs (so 180mm over magazines and 130mm over machinery instead of the reduced 152.3mm over magazines and 110.1mm over machinery). I don't know.

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