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CaptLincoln

Hypothetical Battle: Trafalgar V2?

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Imagine a situation where British access to the Mediteranian is threatened by the German and Vichy French navies. Only the Royal Navy could stop this "combined fleet." This is the war's outset, ignoring factors such as wind and submarines, just as in our beloved game, World of Warships. What do you think the outcome would be? I'm genuinely interested to see what people say, because it's an interesting idea. And if I am forgetting some major RN offensive to prevent this very thing from occurring, imagine, as suggested in the title, a "Trafalgar V2" where the combined fleets of both sides head off in a sea battle. Thanks, and I look forward to seeing your responses!

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So what, the German navy approaches Gibraltar from the West?  Bismarck never even reached France, it's doubtful Tirpitz, Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, or even the Schleswig-Holstein would make it either.  The British Isles are a major obstacle for any German ships trying to break out into the Atlantic.  If this were a go-for-broke situation, the German fleet would arrive against Gibraltar, wreaked and in pieces.  And Italian fleet would have been extremely low on oil, and would have to approach Gibraltar from the East.  In essence, this would have been the final-flame battle before it went out for the Axis, as the cost of the battle would have been far higher than any outcome they could achieve.

The Vichy Fleet would have just scuttle their ships to keep Admiral Darlan's promise of "no French ship would ever come into German hands."

Edited by Sventex
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I didn't think of that whatsoever. Hat's off to you for pointing that out.

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So, by "outset of the war" you mean late '39, early '40(April 1 cut off)? If so, then Germany is fielding 2 lightly armed battleships and a handful of cruisers while the French will field three modern battleships and a handful of WWI relics, along with whatever cruisers they can field. The Italians, as the Med is their home, will field 3/4 battleships, all WWI vintage. So this combined fleet of 9 to 11 capital ships plus, say, 15 cruisers, verses the combined firepower of 11 battlehips consisting of the Queen Elizabeth class (5), Revenge Class, (4), and Nelson Class (2), not to mention Hood, Renown and Repulse, and let's be generous and say 15 cruisers as well. (If we want to stack the deck, then add 1 more Battleship in the form of HMS Prince of Wales, but no way she'd sail from England to the Med in one day).

 

 My vote is England. Being of a single nation will simplify the chain of command. It's even more in the UK's favor if some of the French ships don't show up because of the split navy, or if France has a full force and Italy dosn't show up because OP for got them.

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1940?

Royal Navy was dang big at the start of the war.  Dats a lot of botes.  Some combined Axis naval force is going to be fraught with problems.  The Kriegsmarine was never ready for the war, the French are in transition with the Fall of France -> Vichy regime.  I'd imagine French morale would be terrible, and the navy in a bad state with the fall of France.  The continuity, naval power of the Kriegsmarine was a pale version of the Kaiserliche Marine that sailed for Jutland to meet the Royal Navy in an epic clash.  Hell, the Bismarck-class wasn't even ready.  The Italians are pretty good, best of the Western Axis naval powers.

 

But trying to imagine the Royal Navy gathering its strength for a cataclysmic, mass Decisive Battle, when the RN has not undergone any troubles the extent the German and French ones have faced.  The RN force would be under a unified command, it is after all one naval service sailing out for this "what if" engagement, whereas the Axis force had never worked together during the war.  I'd say the advantage heavily goes to the British.  Ohh, a Decisive Battle is exactly the kind of thing the British would toss their power into at this point of the war.  When it's won, then the seas are absolutely lost to the Axis and the Western Allied powers will have an even easier time.

 

I'd dare say this will be an epic stomp and the result would be another glorious page to the RN's history.  Think of the scenario:

France has fallen.

Continental Europe is in Axis hands.

The Axis, still on the high with the capitulation of France, masses its power to challenge British naval control.

Europe is in the shroud of the Axis powers and it's up to the Royal Navy to smash the combined German, Vichy French, Italian navies in one go.

 

That sounds like a challenge any RN naval leader would relish the thought of.  Some guys are about to get Colonized / Imperialized.

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25 minutes ago, HazeGrayUnderway said:

1940?

Royal Navy was dang big at the start of the war.  Dats a lot of botes.  Some combined Axis naval force is going to be fraught with problems.  The Kriegsmarine was never ready for the war, the French are in transition with the Fall of France -> Vichy regime.  I'd imagine French morale would be terrible, and the navy in a bad state with the fall of France.  The continuity, naval power of the Kriegsmarine was a pale version of the Kaiserliche Marine that sailed for Jutland to meet the Royal Navy in an epic clash.  Hell, the Bismarck-class wasn't even ready.  The Italians are pretty good, best of the Western Axis naval powers.

 

But trying to imagine the Royal Navy gathering its strength for a cataclysmic, mass Decisive Battle, when the RN has not undergone any troubles the extent the German and French ones have faced.  The RN force would be under a unified command, it is after all one naval service sailing out for this "what if" engagement, whereas the Axis force had never worked together during the war.  I'd say the advantage heavily goes to the British.  Ohh, a Decisive Battle is exactly the kind of thing the British would toss their power into at this point of the war.  When it's won, then the seas are absolutely lost to the Axis and the Western Allied powers will have an even easier time.

 

I'd dare say this will be an epic stomp and the result would be another glorious page to the RN's history.  Think of the scenario:

France has fallen.

Continental Europe is in Axis hands.

The Axis, still on the high with the capitulation of France, masses its power to challenge British naval control.

Europe is in the shroud of the Axis powers and it's up to the Royal Navy to smash the combined German, Vichy French, Italian navies in one go.

 

That sounds like a challenge any RN naval leader would relish the thought of.  Some guys are about to get Colonized / Imperialized.

That is, if the KM could ever get close to the other Axis fleets.  This sounds like a Waterloo situation where Prussians are separated from their allies.  On Paper, the RN can smash up the fleets one at a time with overwhelming force.

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On 5/11/2018 at 7:33 PM, CaptLincoln said:

Imagine a situation where British access to the Mediteranian is threatened by the German and Vichy French navies. Only the Royal Navy could stop this "combined fleet." This is the war's outset, ignoring factors such as wind and submarines, just as in our beloved game, World of Warships. What do you think the outcome would be? I'm genuinely interested to see what people say, because it's an interesting idea. And if I am forgetting some major RN offensive to prevent this very thing from occurring, imagine, as suggested in the title, a "Trafalgar V2" where the combined fleets of both sides head off in a sea battle. Thanks, and I look forward to seeing your responses!

Depends on the date say we go with 1 April or 1 August as the 'day of destiny' - from @TabbyHopkins's suggestion.

  • Richelieu is useless as a combat unit in 1940, at Dakar all she achieved was to blow up her own gun barrels and had huge problems with ammunition supply. She wasn't even completed until fairly late, speed trials in June 1940. Most likely she wouldn't be used.
  • The Duilio class for the Italians were in refit until August and October 1940, so 2/3 ships depending on whether it's April or August
  • The Cavour's seem to be available
  • Dunkerque and Strasbourg are available though in April they're on the RN's side, and after the fall of France and Mers-el-Kebir the Dunkerque is badly damaged
  • Lorraine, Bretagne and Provence are available, though like Dunkerque the Bretagne and Provence won't be in a more realistic August engagement given Mers-el-Kebir
  • Courbet and Provence are 16kt training ships, they won't come
  • The Scharnhorst's sortied in early April to cover the invasion of Norway, they're available on 1 April, but in August

I'd overall say if you went with April it would be just Cavour, Cesare, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. They're all modern or modernized ships doing 27+ kts. If your scenario has France collapse sooner then add the French ships.

If you went with August then add Strasbourg and Lorraine, but Scharnhorst and Gneisenau are both under repair from torpedo damage off Norway - making it Strasbourg, Lorraine, Cavour, Cesare and maybe Duilio. Of course if the British don't hit the French add another 3 French Battleships.

If you go all the way into December 1940 you get Scharnhorst and Gneisenau back plus Duilio and Cavour.

 

For the RN on 1 April 1940  and 1 August 1940 -

  • Nelson is being repaired after mine damage off Loch Ewe in April, but in August she's in Scapa
  • Queen Elizabeth is being modernized thoughout 1940
  • KGV doesn't commission until October
     
  • Ramillies is in Australia in April, in August she's in the Med
  • Barham is under repair from a U-boat torpedo hit in April, but is available in August
  • Resolution is in refit/trials out of Devonport in April, in August she's in the Med
  • Hood is in refit in Devonport for condenser repairs, she did only just go in on 31 March so she's potentially available but might not be, if it's August though she's available from the Med.
     
  • Malaya, Atlantic then Med
  • Revenge, Atlantic then Grenock
  • Royal Sovereign, Atlantic then Med
  • Rodney, Repulse and Renown, Scapa both periods
  • Valiant and Warspite are available in Scapa Flow in April and the Med in August with Warspite in a minor refit

In April the definitely available team would be a battle line of Valiant, Warspite, Malaya, Revenge, Royal Sovereign and Rodney with a fast group of at least Repulse and Rodney. Hood is a plausible addition. Resolution might be possible given a little notice.

In August the available team would be a battle line of Nelson, Rodney, Barham, Ramillies, Resolution, Malaya, Revenge, Royal Sovereign, Valiant and Warspite with all 3 battlecruisers operational.

 

The more plausible August historic scenario doesn't work too well for the Axis, with only 5 ships available to 13 British. The April scenario also looks poor - at least 8 British to 4 British ships. The 'France changes sides scenario in April' does give the combined Axis force a big leg up with another 5 ships and is practically the only scenario where they come out ahead on numbers with 9 to 8.

 

In addition if April the RN would have the Ark Royal, Glorious and Furious available. If August the Ark Royal and Eagle might be about it with Furious working up and Glorious sunk off Norway with Illustrious not quite online.

The Hermes and Argus are too light.

 

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Defeat in detail.

The German fleet is in the North Sea. They're isolated, so if the two Scharnhorsts set sail with accompanying cruisers and destroyers... well, the Home Fleet will probably meet and defeat them on their own own the North Sea. No matter what, you can consider it a guarantee that a German fleet is not making it to link up with an Axis fleet in the Mediterranean or even the Atlantic.

 

In the Mediterranean, realistically in 1940 we're probably talking the summer, so somewhere between June and August. In that case, Italy only has Cavour and Cesare active as far as battleships go. In that case, you're left with the Punta Stilo/Calabria problem. Sure, Campioni and Paladini might be willing to seek action even against a superior force (2 Cavour's vs 2 QE's & 1 Revenge) - but that only lasted so long as it was thought safe to engage, as with the advantage of speed it gave them superior maneuvering ability, which is exactly what the exploited during the Battle of Punta Stilo in order to avoid facing three battleships at once. Once Cesare got hit (and Campioni was not sure how bad the damage was, only that she was forced to slow to 18 knots initially), the game was up, and Campioni disengaged with the battleships - they simply lacked the armor to stand up and fight the British 15" battleships on even terms, regardless of their speed and firepower. 2v3 was doubtful, 1v3 was suicide.

If the British come to play with one of their battlecruisers or a KGV? Yeah, no. There's no way Campioni, or any other sane commander is bringing the two Cavour's against those unless it's a 2v1 at a minimum.

 

As for France, if we're talking Vichy France, it entirely depends on how the fleet behaves after the armistice. The forces in Alexandria are seized for sure (battleship Lorraine, heavy cruisers Suffern, Duquesne, Tourville, light cruiser Duguay-Trouin). That leaves French major warships in the Med as;

Battleships:

  • Dunkerque (Dunkerque-class)
  • Strasbourg (Dunkerque-class)
  • Bretagne (Bretagne-class)
  • Provence (Bretagne-class)

Heavy Cruisers

  • Algérie (unique)
  • Suffern-class x3

Light Cruisers

  • La Galissonniére-class x6

Plus numerous contre-torpilleurs and regular destroyers.

Richelieu and Jean Bart, still not complete, and trapped in the Atlantic and can do nothing. They won't be finished for sure because of British bombing.

Assuming all the ships in North Africa run to Toulon before the British can do a Catapult on them, that's what they'll have to fight with. If any unified Axis command exists (it does not - the Axis were terrible at co-operation with each other), they'd know their best bet is to wait until 1941 when all six completed Italian battleships are fully worked up and ready for action. The Bretagne's are useless - their speed is only good for 20 knots, dragging down the whole fleet, their armor is poor, and their guns are anemic as hell - incapable of penetrating the Belt of a Queen Elizabeth or Revenge unless within 5000 yards of them. They'd best be left at home.

Their loss won't be missed - a join Italo-Vichy fleet at the start of 1941 (Assuming the British are more cautious and don't pull a Taranto because of the increased threat in the Med) would feature a force centered on the two Littorio-class battleships, backed up but the two Dunkerque's - not as well armored, but just as fast and with powerful (but inaccurate) 13" guns, and the four Italian rebuilds, with their still good speed (26 and 27 knots for the two classes) and decent armament of ten 12.6" guns, but poor armor like the Dunkerque's. That's two full-sized fast battleships, and six small, but fast battleships.

In terms of heavy cruisers, there are eleven. Algérie and the four Zara-class are powerful assets, better armored than anything the British have, and while Bolzano, the two Trento's, and the three Suffern's aren't well armored, they're still just about as well armed and are just as fast as the British cruisers. Their armor is better in some cases.

There are also twelve full light cruisers in this armada, eight (La Gali's and the Abruzzi) of comparable ability while the Montecuccoli and d'Aosta aren't as well armed or armored, but are incredibly fast, easily able to keep up with or overtake the destroyers in use by the two Latin Navies. The Giussano and Cadorna-class have much less combat value than any of these, but are still considerable threats to destroyers.

In terms of destroyers - well, they have plenty, and many with be the large French contre-torpilleurs, which the British would have a hard time gathering.

 

In the face of such a threat, the British would certainly have to wait to accurate a large, powerful force before challenging a fleet of such a size, or go for defeat-in-detail tactics with many operations at once. Either that, or they just decide to abandon the Mediterranean as a whole and let the Axis stew in their lake. I doubt they'd force a decisive action in the Mediterranean, however. It just plays to Axis advantage too much, and would not be rational.

 

If they insisted on action in the summer of 1940 - they're fools. The Bretagne's should be left behind -  those things are relics and have negligible  combat ability - even the belt of a Zara could resist their shells at 22000 yards and beyond. That gives you effective battleline as two Dunkerque's and two Cavour's, with eleven heavy cruisers and twelve (technically eighteen) light cruisers in support. The Royal Navy's battleships and cruisers are numerous enough to counter this - although it would take a lot of effort. However, they could do it, and their battlecruisers, while vulnerable to the fire of the Axis battleships (Hood less so), are also easily capable of punching them to an even greater degree with their 15" guns, while being just as fast.

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5 hours ago, Sventex said:

That is, if the KM could ever get close to the other Axis fleets.  This sounds like a Waterloo situation where Prussians are separated from their allies.  On Paper, the RN can smash up the fleets one at a time with overwhelming force.

Correct.  Vichy France is in the Med with the Italians.  Then you got Gibraltar in the way.

 

Britain's position was just too dang strong.

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