|Evolution of the Aircraft Carrier: Part 14 by Dan Linton|
This model is awarded by Editor's Choice - Excellence Award!
In the very first part of this series, I mentionned the accurate predictions made by Clémont Ader and Victor Lougheed concerning the shape, operation, and effectiveness of large military vessels carrying numerous aircraft. Here I will provide two more accurate predictions. The first came from Maréchal Foch, the man appointed as commander of all the Allied and Associated armies in the late spring of 1918. (picture 1, below). His comment on the Treaty of Versailles, signed June 28. 1919, was: "This is not peace: it is an armistice for twenty years". Twenty years and nine weeks later, World War Two began. Many have claimed that the harshness of the Treaty towards Germany was a major cause of the renewed conflict, but Foch's view was quite different. (1) The second prediction was even more daring -- the cartoon produced by Will Dyson, an Australian cartoonist working in England in 1919. The cartoon (picture 2) shows Wilson of the U.S., Lloyd-George of Great Britain, and Clémenceau of France leaving the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles with Clémenceau (`the Tiger`) saying: "Curious, I think I hear a child crying". In the corner of the cartoon is a baby with "Class of 1940" written on its diaper. These were not the only men disillusioned by the Treaty -- the economist John Maynard Keynes left the negotiations in disgust and wrote The Economic Consequences of the Peace before 1919 was finished. But the 'Battleship Holiday', the Kellog-Briand Pact which 'outlawed war' in 1928, the Geneva Disarmament Conference of 1932-33 -- the inter-war years are full of attempts to prevent a repeat of the Great War. Any yet by1934 war seemed inevitable. Hitler was in power in Germany and within a year announced the re-introduction of conscription and began serious re-arming; Manchuria has been overrun by the Japanese; and Mussoline was ready for foreign adventures in Ethiopia. (2) The world did not so much slide into the next global conflict as it did race towards it -- and building aircraft carriers was part of this race.
It takes years to design and build a complex ship such as an aircraft carrier, thus those ships put into service between 1934 and 1939 reflect restrictions imposed on ship tonnage and weaponry by the Washington and London Naval Treaties. After the 'Three Sisters' (Furious, Glorious, Courageous) had been converted and delivered, the Admiralty in 1930 called for 5 large carriers, each having an air wing of 72 aircraft. These would be 22,000 ton ships, the limit being argued for by Britain at the London Naval Conference in 1930. This plan was thwarted by the active opposition of the Royal Air Force and by the fact of the Great Depression. Only one ship was ordered and not until 1935. It was named Ark Royal (picture 3, above) and delivered in 1937. The design maximized the flight deck area, in part by having an 80' (25m) overhang of the hull, particularly aft. (picture 4, below). The flight deck was armoured but being the strength deck, only very small elevators (two of 22`x 45`and one of 25`x 45`) were incorporated. (picture 5). It made 31 knots on its three-shaft arrangement. Ultimately, only 60 airctraft were supported, despite a two-level hangar design. The hydro-pneumatic catapults, called 'accelorators' by the British (the ends can be seen in picture 3, above) had aircraft set up on a trolley in flight attitude -- then the aircraft and trolley were thrust forward at 66mph(104kph), the trolley remaining behind to be shunted back for the next aircraft (3). One othe feature of the Ark Royal was unique -- its island had an airfoil shape when seen from above. This was intended to minimize air disturbances over the fight deck and this feature was found on follow-up classes of British carriers. Ark Royal's participation in many of the more dramatic events of the first half of the war, such as the hunt for the Bismarck, made her the most famous of Britain's aircraft carriers. Even her sinking was controversial. (4) Pictures 6-9.
In 1936, in recognition tha war might not be avoidable, the British government ordered two 23,000 ton carriers. (5) Rear Admiral Reginald Henderson, Third Sea Lord and Controller of the Navy, insisted on a new design rather than repeats of the Ark Royal. He particularly insisted on a design that could withstand 1,000 lb. bombs and have as many A/A guns as possible, since they would be facing land-based bombers and the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) had no useful modern fighter. (6) These two ships would have a single hangar with 3" armour on its roof and 4.5" armour on its sides: 16 4.5" A/A guns (eight twin turrets, two on each quadrant); and would have all this extra weight on a ship with 60'(18m) less flight deck than Ark Royal. The air wing would only be 36 aircraft. Particular attention was paid to 'sculpting' the ship to reduce air turbulence -- the airfoil-shaped island and prominent 'bull-lip' at the bows are examples of this. These ships became HMS Illustrious and HMS Victorious (pictures 10, 11). Two further sisters were ordered the next year (1937) and modified with a second hangar under the first, but only half its length. To accomplish this on the same hull the hangars were only 14'(4.4m) high. These ships were HMS Formidable (picture 12) and HMS Indomitable (picture 13). A fifth was ordered in 1938 (HMS Implacable, picture 14) and a sixth in 1939 (HMS Indefatigable, picture 15). These later ships displaced 27,000 tons and could supposedly carry the 72-plane air wing desired in 1930. This was done by having the lower hangar the same full length as the upper hangar -- but in practice accomodation needs for wartime manning levels took up half of the lower hangar so these ships never did have their 'full' air wing.
Designing a superior ship, able to effectively move aircraft through the cycle of launch-recover-refuel and re-arm -- and launch again: able to survive attacks; able to quickly travel long distances and stay on station for a significant period of time -- all of these design qualites are rendered quite useless if the aircraft on board the ship are inferior to those it will meet in combat. The Fairey Swordfish (picture 16 above) while rugged and having given a good account of itself in the attack on Tarant in November, 1940 and during the hunt for the Bismark in May 1941 -- it was still inferior by far to its American and Japanese contemporaries. And the industry that produced the superb Spitfire could not and did not produce a decent carrier-based fighter. The FAA had to use the Blackburn Skua (picture 17, below) until the Americans entered the war. Unable to continue thwarting the building of carriers, the RAF came to seek a divorce: in 1937 the British government announced that the Fleet Air Arm would come under the direct control of the Royal Navy, commencing in May, 1939. (8) But the damage had already been done (9) -- a generation of inferior designs; a refusal to provide an adequate dive bomber; and no useful fighter in sight. It is not surprising that the FAA took every American naval plane they could get their hands on once the U.S. entered the war; thus Wildcats (renamed Martlets, picture 18), Hellcats, and Corsairs filled British carrier decks by 1943-44, and uniquely British designs, on a par with contemporary aircraft, would no appear until the 1950's. (10)
The United States by early 1934 had still not built up to the 135,000 tons of carriers allowed by the original Washington Naval Treaty (a figure retained in the London Treaty of 1930 and its extension in 1935). Unhappy with the as yet unfinished USS Ranger CV-4, the USN proposed two 20,000 ton carriers in 1932 but this was refused by the Hoover Administration. In 1934 the Roosevelt Administration approved these two ships but the cost did not come out of the USN budget: rather, they were Public Works Adminstration projects designed to support shipyards (11). These two ships would become Yorktown CV-5 (picture 19 above, 20 and 21 below) and Enterprise CV-6 (picture 19 above, 22 and 23 below). They were 19,800 ton ships, 827'(247m) in length, with an open hangar (protected from the elements by roll-down doors) and a flight deck that was a steel frame upon which were laid 6" thick teak planks. The strength deck was the floor of the hangar deck. Given the American practice of the 'deck park' (12) these ships had an air wing of 80 aircraft (picture 24). In 1935 CV-7 was ordered. It was named USS Wasp CV-7 and in essence was an attempt to push a Yorktown-class air wing onto a 14,500 ton ship. (pictures 25 and 26). It had only two center-line elevators as the third elevator was placed on the edge of the flight deck, a first for any carrier. (13) In 1938, no longer worrying about Treaty obligations, but wanting another deck quickly, the USN ordered a repeat of the Yorktown class. This ship would become USS Hornet CV-8. (Picture 27). Technically a 'Treaty' carrier by design, its entry into service would come after the treaty, now moribund, had expired. A war was coming.
The Bureau of Construction and Repair (BuCon) produced a set of Ship Characteristics for the next carrier, CV-9. From July 1939 to January 1940 six different designs were studied and none were restrained by any Treaty obligations. One design consideration was that these ships would be based in the Pacific. Since the major shipyards that could build carriers were all on the East Coast, then protection of the Panama Canal was vital and as the locks had a maximum wide of 108' (33.4m), this set the limit for the beam of USN combatants. (14) The new CV-9 would displace 27,000 tons, have a top speed of 33 knots, and would handle 90 aircraft. (15) Most importantly, they had a range of 15,000 miles cruising at 15kts. Three carriers were ordered early in 1940, then another eight before the year was over. No other country on earth could match such a prodigious building pace and it was these ships that took control of the Pacific beginning in 1943.(16)
Soryu, deisgned in 1932-33 and laid down in 1934 was the last 'Treaty' carrier built by Japan (picture 28 above, 29, 30 below) although her near-sister Hiryu was built to the same basic design but modified with some tonnage added and the island put on the port side (pictures 31,32). They were 16,000 tons officially but in reality were much heavier and measured 227.5m x 21.3m x 7.6m (739'x69'x24.7'). They could support 63 aircraft and achieve 34 kts. The first non-Treaty carriers for Japan were the Shokaku (pictures 33 and 34) and Zuikaku (pictures 35, 36) designed at a time when Japan had announced its rejection of the London Naval Treaty extension. Laid down in 1937, these ships have generally been recognized at the best carriers the IJN possessed. Each was 26,500 tons but could make 34knts and support up to 84 aircraft. They had small starboard islands as exhaust gases were trunked outward and downward from the starboard side amidships; and they wre equipped with eight twin 5" mounts and twelve triple 25mm A/A guns for close-in defense.(17) All this on a hull measuring 257.5m x 26m x 8.9m (836' x 84' x 29'). Other Japanese designs, and the 'shadow program' to hide the number of new flight decks that could be quickly provided to the IJN have been described in Part 13 of this series.
Adolf Hitler made and kept many promises and one of them was to tear up the Treaty of Versailles but he actually went one better -- he had the British government help him do it! In 1935 Hitler sent troops into the demilitarized Rhineland (18) and announced conscription to create an army of 500,000 men (19), both moves in defiance of the Treaty of Versailles. He had ealier denounced and recalled German delegates to the Geneva Disarmament Talks (1923-33), claiming that Germany was the only disarmed nation on earth. In the spring of 1935 the British government, following a policy of 'appeasement', began to negotiate a separate (that is, separate from the London Naval Treaty) naval agreement with Germany. By this 'Anglo-German Naval Accord', Germany was allowed to build a navy 35% the size of the Royal Navy. The same tonnage restrictions used in the 1930 Treaty would apply to Germany as to capital ships, cruisers, and carriers. Interestingly, nothing was said about submarines, which had been expressely forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles. Thus on June 18, 1935, the British government signed an agreement with Nazi Germany to invalidate what little was left of the Treaty of Versailles. (20)
The 'pocket battleships' Germany quickly built, such as the Graf Spee, and the modern battleships Tirpitz and Bismarck, were all to become famous. Less known, however, was that in 1935 an aircraft carrier was authorized for the Kreigsmarine, and a second one was ordered in 1936. German naval engineers had no experience with aircraft carriers, nor was there much aircraft engineering experience with naval aircraft, aside from float planes. Like the Kreigsmarine, the Luftwaffe was starting from scratch. But like the case in Britain where advocates of the RAF saw every penny devoted to the Fleet Air Arm as a waste, and the case in Japan where senior Army and Navy officers were barely on speaking terms, so too in Germany the rivalry between the Kreigsmarine and the Luftwaffe was intense. And of the three services, the navy headed by Admiral Raeder had far less prestige than Herman Goering's Luftwaffe, and the Wehrmacht trumped them all -- Hitler had been a foot soldier and would put any extra ton of steel into tanks. This was the background to the building -- ultimately unfinished -- of Germany's first aircraft carrier.
In 1935 Wilhelm Hadeler, assistant to the Professor of Naval Construction at the Technical University of Berlin, was called upon to design an aircraft carrier. He had already 'dabbled' with the idea almost as soon as Hitler became Chancellor in 1933, so that by 1935 some characteristics of the proposed ship were settled in his mind.. He took as his 'model' the British carrier HMS Courageous but insisted upon the idea of dropping the 'flying off deck' that was below the main deck. Once contact was made with the Japanese, and some technical materials exchanged, this deletion was confirmed. Like Courageous, however, the new ship, known as 'Carrier A' would have a double hangar. Thanks again to the Japanese, who were just about to put Kaga into a major refit, he also won an argument with Admiral Raeder who want two triple 20.3cm guns mounted on the ship -- the same arrangement the Japanese were about to dispense with. By the end of 1935 the preliminary design was complete and the keel was laid for 'Carrier A' on Dec. 28, 1936 (picture 37, above). At its launching, 8 Dec. 1938, Carrier A was given the name Graf Zeppelin (picture 38 below) And within the next week the keel was laid for 'Carrier B' (21) The construction of 'B' was intended to proceed slowly, to take advantage of lessons learned and problems resolved in the building ofthe Graft Zeppelin. This carrier was 23,000 tons standard, had sixteen 15cm guns, the armour of a light cruiser, and like its contemporaries in the U.S. and Japan, it was provided with three elevators. (22) At 262.5m x 31.5m x 7.6m (861 x 103 x 25') it was the equivalent of Shokaku and a bit larger than Yorktown, and equally fast at 34kts. The most advanced feature of this ship was the use of capapult 'carriages' or trolleys: plances would be placed on them in the hangar then raised up on an elevator and moved forward along rails. Once the aircraft was launched the trolley, locked to the rail, was returned back to the hangar to pick up another aircraft. The system worked well during land testing (23) and it was expected that each catapult could launch a plane every minuted. There were eight trolleys and two spares (24) The ship was expected to carry 40 aircraft, primarily navalized versions of the Ju-87 'Stuka" dive bomber (pictures 40-42) and the Me-109T (picture 43).
When the war began the carrier was 90% complete but within a month work was stopped on Carrier 'B' and then on the Graf Zeppelin on 28 April, 1940. The resouces needed to finish the carrier could be diverted to 4 more submarines (it was 'Happy Time' for German subs in 1940) and once France fell in June, 1940 there was little incentive to complete and use the carrier. In 1941 the hull was towed to Stettin to protect it from RAF bombers. The spectacular Japanese success at Pearl Harbour in Dec. 1941 almost induced Germany to complete the carrier but nothing was done. It was scuttled in the spring of 1945; raised and given as a war prize to the Soviets, but they soon sent it to the bottom for a final time. (25)
France still had tonnage available under the Treaty for aircraft carriers but had opted for a large 26-aircraft seaplane tender in 1932 named Commadant Teste (see Part 7 of this series). By 1938 her naval designers had plans for an 18-20,000 ton carrier and the government authorized the building of two ships. The first would be named Joffre, and it was laid down 26 November, 1938. It had an overall lenght of 236m (756') on a 24.5m(80") beam but the flight deck was only 650' long. The very large island was compensated for by offsetting the flight deck to port, giving an over-all width of 35m (114') (picture 45 above, and 46 below). The ship was provided with a double hangar,the lower part only half the length of the upper. It would house 40 aircraft. Provisionally, 15 Dewoitine D-790 fighters (a naval variant of the D-520 - picture 47) and 25 Breguet 810 attack aircraft (a naval variant of the Breguet 693 - picture 48) would fly from her decks. Interestingly, the Breguet's might have been the first twin-engine aircraft to fly from a carrier, but that honour went to the 16 B-25s that flew from the deck of the USS Hornet to attack Tokyo in April of 1942. (26) Joffre would have been as fast as its contemporaries at 33 kts but it would have only two elevators, one being 'open' at the aft end of the flight deck and the other, for the last time on any carrier, was T-shaped. The ship was 28% complete when France was knocked out of the war. Work on the second ship, to have been named Painlevé. had not yet begun. (27)
Consider the Argus of 1918 and any of the carriers that entered service in 1937, 1938, or 1939. All of the latter carriers had a starboard island (except Akagi and Hiryu), recovered ther aircraft using traverse wires and tailhooks, and had some system of helping pilots (LSO's on the British and American carriers; a system of lights on the Japanese). It was believed, and demonstrated in war, that a carrier was vulnerable to a first strike from the air wing of another carrier, but the degree to which a carrier was threatened by submarines was a lesson only to be taught in wartime. And every single carrier built in these two decades participated in World War II in one role or another. For all the agonizing over the proper artillery suite for these ships, actual combat demonstrated that fleet carriers were not going to be shelled by battleships, cruisers, or destroyers, thus heavy guns and their crews were unnecessary. (28) As airccraft became heavier, catapults became a standard feature and the 'deck park', perfected by the Americans in the Pacific, became the model to be followed by other navies.
In terms of development, the early 1950's saw three major changes as jet aircaft made their demanding appearance. All three were first proposed by the British: all three were perfected by the Americans. Steam catapults replced hydraulic catapults; the LSO ('paddles' in American parlance; 'batsman' to the British) wasn't replaced but was supplemented by Mirror Landing Systems; and the straight decks of the past became the angled decks of today. In the more than half century since the 1950's, missiles have replaced guns. electronics have become more sophisticated, nuclear power exists for those who can afford it (so far, only the US and France), and the shape of some vessels have changed because of the British development of the ski-jump. And of course, armed assault by troop-carrying helicopters has led to the development of many new types of ships.
Ships that carry aircraft now come in all shapes and sizes from destroyer escorts with an embarked helicopter to assault ships to fleet carriers. And while it is not really accurate to say that there is s 'race' to build carriers as there was from 1935-39, nevertheless, there are a great number of new flight decks that have put to sea in this 21st century and many more are on their way.
1. France was a low-birthrate society of 40 million where half of its 18-30 year old males were dead or wounded. Germany had a high birthrate, on a 70 million population: over a million Germans had died but little fighting took place in Germany in WWI. and its industries were intact. In 1919 the Russians were in a civil war and the British and Americans let France know they would not automatically come to her aid if the Germans attacked again. Only a harsh treaty could keep the Germans down: on this both Foch and Clémenceau agreed but Foch believed the Treaty was not harsh enough and that Clémenceau had failed.
2. It has been argued that World WarII was simply the last battle of WWI, the same antagonists involved. Another view sees WWII as the first global war for oil, fought between those industrial societies which had none (Germany, Italy, and Japan) and those that did (US. Soviets) or had access and control (Britain, France) offshore.
3. American hydraulic catapults of the late 1930's used no trolleys: aircraft were attached to the catapult by way of steel cables (called 'strops'); aircraft were in a tail-down position.
4. Ark Royal was torpedoed by U-81 on 13 November, 1941. Only a single torpedo struck the ship but within 20 minutes the ship had listed 18 degrees and the captain ordered abandon ship. Unfortunately, damage control measures were not begun until 49 minutes after the hit as most of the crew were involved in getting off. Damage control parties were put back on the ship and managed to light one boiler; attempts were made to tow the ship to Gibraltar, less than 30 miles (50km) away but the act of towing caused more flooding. Abandon ship was again ordered and 14 hours after being hit, Ark Royal sank. Her captain was criticized for giving up on the ship so quickly; nonetheless, 1487 men were saved, only one having been kill by the torpedo.
5. Since Britain, France, and the United States had signed a 5-year renewal of the London Treaty, these countries were still obliged to accept tonnage limitations even though Japan had removed itself from any treaty obligations after December, 1936.
6. These ships were designed for North Sea/Atlantic/Mediterranean operations. At the time of Henderson's design mandate, Germany was re-arming and she and Italy had just formed the 'Rome-Berlin Axis'.
7. Except for Victorious, the other five were disposed of not long after the war. In particular, the last four wih their 14' high hangars were totallyt unsuitable for the jets that arrived in the post-war period.
8. Preston, A., Aircraft Carriers, pp.55-61
9. See Part 8 of this series for a more thorough review of this situation.
10. Many, such as DeHavilland's Venom, were land-based aircraft modified for carrier use, but the Scimitar and Buccaneer were designed and ordered originally for the FAA. Even so, the problem of few decks and limited orders never went away, thus the last FAA fighter was the F-4 Phantom (the Sea Harrier was originally an attack aircraft).
11. Preston, op. cit., pp.40-41
12. Adapted in 1944-45 on those British carriers which saw service against Japan,but not by the Japanese.
13. Preston, op. cit., pp.48-49 Wasp was not considered a suceess and like Ranger was kept in the Atlantic. It only appeared in the Pacific after the losses of Lexington, Yorktown, and Hornet.
14. The Iowa-class battleships (BB-61-64; two others cancelled) had a beam of 106' and the Essex-class carriers (CV-9 class) a beam of 93'. Their design successors (Montana-class battleships and Midway-class carriers) could not use the canal.
15. Often in 1944-45 Essex-class carriers had more than 100 aircraft on board.
16. Preston, op.cit., pp.64=65
17. Ibod., pp.51-53
18. He only sent in 8,000 men made up mostly of marching bands. They were under orders to retreat immediately if French army units showed up -- none did and so the gamble paid off.
19. The conscripts were to serve for only six months but this meant that in two years there would be 2 million young Germans with basic training -- the core of the future Wehrmacht.
20. A British politician out of office and out of favour in 1935, Winston Churchill, called the agreement "the height of gullibility". No doubt Clémenceau and Foch were spinning in their graves. At no point in the entire negotiations had the British government ever consulted the French government.
21. Schenk, P., "German Aircraft Carrier Developments", Warship International, no. 2, 2008, p.132
22. Ibid., p.142
23.Idem The carrier was to have only four arrestor wires but land testing at the special test site by the unit that would have provided the cadre of pilots for the first air wing were highly successful.
24. Ibid., p.138
25. Having no use for a carrier, the Soviets under Stalin, being even less willing to divert steel from tanks and artillery than the Nazis were, sank the Graf Zeppelin 17 August, 1947.
26. There is no small irony in the fact that the B-25 bombers that flew from the deck of the Hornet were named 'Mitchells'. (see Part 5 of this series)
27. Preston, op.cit., pp.61-62
28. The loss of the Glorious, under rather special circumstances (see Part 8 of this series) being the only exception.
History of British Aircraft Carriers, Ships of the World Special, no. 649, 2005
History of U.S. Aircraft Carriers, Ships of the World Special, no. 551, 1999
Preston, Anthony, Aircraft Carriers, Galahad Books, 1979
Schenk, Dr. Peter, "German Aircraft Carrier Developments", in Warship International, no.2, 2008, pp.129-157
Main Picture: Naval Historical Center NH 85716
Last Picture: NHC NH81313
1. Encyclopaedia Britannica; public domain
2. Australian National Archives; public domain
3. www.kbismarck.com website
4. Ships of the World, History of British Aircraft Carriers, p.50
6. www.kbismarck.com website
7. History of British Aircraft Carriers, p.51
8. USN, public domain
9. Imperial War Museum, A6333 of 4700-01
10. Australian War Museum, 302415
11. Bundesreich Archives, public domain
12. IWM A 10657
13. Royal Navy, public domain
14. IWM photo FL 6473, collection 8308-29
15. IWM photo A-26496, collection 4700-01
16 www.kbismarck.com website
17. IWM photo A 3784, collection 4700-01
18. Martlet landing on HMS Illustrious, Royal Navy, public domain
19. NavSource, 020533
20. NavSource, 020502
21. NavSource, 020529
22. NARA 80-G-13554
23. www.globalsecurity.org website
24. NavSource 020501
25. USN, public domain
26. USN, public domain
27. NARA 80-G-14866
28. www.globalsecurity.org website
29. model of Soryu by Aldo Petri
30. USN photo NH 73061
31. USN photo NH 73063
32. model of Hiryu by Aldo Petri
33. USN photo NH 73066
34. NARA 80-G-176150
35. www.globalsecurity.org website
36. USN photo NH 73067
37. USN, public domain
38. German Federal Archives
39. USN, public domain
40. German Federal Archives
41. German Federal Archives
42. German Federal Archives
43. diagram by Bjorn Huber
44. German Federal Archives
45. www.meretmarine.com website
46. unknown source
47. Le Bourget Museum
48. http://warandgame.wordpress.com website
Photos and text © 2014 by Dan Linton
March 4, 2014