Friday, February 22, 2013

The best aircraft carrier of World War Two?

I enjoy doing these little discussions on topics that ‘everyone knows’ the answer too. (And frankly, arguing a highly debatable issue is always fun.) I particularly enjoy challenging what ‘everyone knows’. I may not get the perfect answer, but I often get a good discussion.

My favourite example of this is those who try to suggest that the M4 Sherman was the ‘best’ tank of the war. It was, at best, a functional design when it appeared in 1942, but had fallen behind the pace by 1943, and was certainly a deathtrap against the infinitely better German Panthers and Tigers. The only positive thing you can say about it from 1943 on was that it was available in such vast numbers that you could sacrifice several of them to get each Panther (pity about the crews…) But you can also say that about the Russian T34, which – as ‘everyone knows’ – was a contemporary and much better tank (certainly a better candidate for ‘best’ tank of the war). In fact the continued production of an obsolete model like the Sherman almost certainly had a negative effect on the prosecution of the war. Which means that the Sherman was a worse choice than the alternatives the Americans could have produced for 1944 and 1945 – not least for American crews.

So moving on to aircraft carriers. ‘Everyone’ knows that the Essex class was the best carrier of the war. Why do they know this? Because there were lots of them and they seemed to work pretty well. Oh, and none actually sunk, even when put out of action.

Did they have the biggest airgroup? No that was the Midway class (which in fact had a designed air group - 130 - that was soon realised to be too big for a single ship to manage in combat). Could they take the most punishment and remain operational? No that was the Illustrious class? Were they the longest surviving in service? No that was the Colossus and Majestic classes (some of which served into this century).

So what makes them possible contenders for ‘best’? Well they were bigger than anything completed to fit into the interwar treaties, because they were started after those treaties lapsed. This gave them an advantage over British or Japanese designs in pure space. They were fast, and long ranged. They were flexible, and could adapt to bigger aircraft. And they tended to survive bomb or kamikaze damage, even when gutted by fire, or after having their combat capacity removed by a single bomb damaging the deck or burning the air-wing.

What makes them not contenders? Well they could be put out of combat operations by a single bomb. They could be reduced to a gutted wreck that would need six months in drydock by just about anything that happened to hit them. (On 12 occasions Essex class vessels were seriously damaged by air attack, and what happened to USS Franklin and USS Bunker Hill are good samples of the weaknesses of the design.) For something so much bigger than the British or Japanese equivalents, they were suprisingly innefficient by comparison.

So what alternatives are there? 

Once again, that depends on when and where.

I hate statements that suggest that the best tank of the war was the Panther. It wasn’t there until 1943? By 1945 the Stalin, Patton and Centurion were all better. What can you sensibly say about best?

There is also the issue of where. British carriers are usually decried for having too small airgroups in European operations. But this is because the Pacific practice of having 50% of aircraft in permanent deckparks could not be considered in European waters. Once British carriers arrived in the Pacific they too had 50% deck parks, and HMS Indomitable for instance, with a hangar area 85% of that of USS Yorktown, operated 72 aircraft in the Pacific compared to the Yorktown’s 80 odd. Which means that British carriers could have operated bigger air groups in Europe, if anyone had considered that wise. 

No one did.

The difference being that if a bomb hit a deckpark, the planes tended to catch fire. In British carriers, even with Pacific style deck parks, that tended to be the end of the problem, and the other planes below deck could usually be used to continue operations after some concrete had been poured on any dents in the deck. In American or Japanese carriers, burning deckparks usually led to exploding ships, or at the very least months in the dockyards. Certainly continued air operations were not very common (though it did happen once or twice, which just shows that anything is possible, not that anything is actually likely).

So at what time and where are significant issues in comparing carrier abilities. Or perhaps, which designs were most successful for what purpose?

Early experimental carriers:

The carriers from the Great War and the 1920’s included HMS’s Argus, Hermes, and Eagle, INS Hosho and Ryujo and USS’s Langley and Ranger (and the French Bearn). All served during the Second World War, but mostly as escort or transport or training vessels. Those that were involved in operational duties tended to be easy targets, and HMS Argus in particular must have been a very lucky ship to have survived her various combat missions unscathed. The only one of these experimental models with a lengthy, and surprisingly successful, combat career was HMS Eagle, which fought for two years against the Italian and German navy’s and airforces, before finally succumbing to a torpedo in 1942. None of these vessels can count as very succesful as fleet carriers, but all were invaluable as escort, training or transport carriers. Given that they had to be operated within their limits, they were pretty successful carriers.

The interwar conversions:

Many of the early battles of the war was fought with interwar fleet carriers, a number of which were rebuilds of First World War battleships or battlecruisers. HMS’s Furious, Courageous and Glorious; INS’s Akagi and Kaga, USS’s Lexington and Saratoga. All of these vessels showed potential, but all had flaws. We will never know how effective Couragous and Glorious might have been, because both were early losses before their potential could be tested. This is a shame because the three half sisters had pioneered carrier group offensives in the Mediterranean in the 1930’s, and arguably three decks with 130-140 operational aircraft in Europe (would have been closer to 200 with deck parks in Pacific) was a better and more efficient (and survivable) option than most of the two deck alternatives operating similar numbers later in the war. Certainly Furious, with the smallest airgroup of the three, was still invaluable for most of the war.

The Japanese and American monsters were twice the size of British conversions, but all proved very vulnerable. They were too big and unmaneouvrable to avoid torpedo’s, and the sheer size of the air-wings made their refuelling and re-arming processes a disastrous weakpoint. Kaga and Akagi were incapable of withstanding bomb hits, and their aviation fuel systems were easily primed bombs. Lexington was lost not directly from a torpedo hit, but from the similar weaknesses in safety and damage control that were revealed thereby. Saratoga was astonishingly lucky to survive two torpedo hits and a Kamizaze attack, despite having been put into drydock for months on each occasion. It is a tribute to her improved safety procedures as the war went on, but it is notable that her aircraft capacity went down to about 70 (equivalent to ships less than half her size) as part of this improvement of safety. She also had only one working lift for most of the war, so her flexibility in combat was never as great as her size, or the size of her air-group, would otherwise suggest.

An interesting side point here is that the size of the two American super-carriers (and the tendency to put them on opposite sides in interwar naval games), means that the Americans failed to develop multi-carrier techniques until well into the war. At Coral Sea for instance the Americans ‘Task Forces’ were well separated, at a time when the British (who needed more smaller carriers for the same effect), or Japanese (who had bet everythig on a ‘hit harder and first’ strategy), concentrated their available carriers in defensive rings. The American ‘doctrine’ here was years behind the other two, which is an fascinating issue to grow out of such big conversions.

The ‘treaty’ carriers:

This group, mostly commissioned in the late 1930’s, are the most interesting. HMS Ark Royal, IJN’s Soryu and Hiryu, USS Yorktown and Enterprise. Again, all were quite competent vessels. Again all had weaknesses.

The Yorktown's were a good workmanlike design, but terribly vulnerable to fire. Unlike Japanese carriers, they did not blow up and sink when hit (in fact they were almost impossible to sink even when the USN tried hard to do so to damaged ones), but they could be reduced to un-flightworthy, and sometimes imobile hulks, by relatively minor damage.

The Soryu and Hiryu were fundamentally flawed in the weakness of their defenses. A single hit anywhere could convert them to floating bombs, just waiting for their own aviation fuel to finish their demise. They were the ultimate expression of attempting to use the biggest possible airgroup to hit your opponent first, and hope your oppnent never got a chance ot hit back. Unsuprisingly, they were revealed as time bombs when someone did get to hit back. Yorktown and Enterprise were somewhat tougher, but also capable of being put out of combat by a single hit. (Though with a much better chance of surviving to go into dock. )

Ark Royal was probably the best, and in many ways was the pinnacle of the interwar designs. A good airgroup of 60+ (even without deckpark!). Fast, maneouvrable, with an extremely powerful anti-aircraft armament, and enough armour to continue operations after the sort of the damage that usually sunk or drydocked Japanese or American carriers. Her main problem was the poor quality aircraft available early in the war (which was largely an issue of the Fleet Air Arm only coming back to naval control in 1938.) 

She served magnificently until late 1941, and, with her long term partners – the heavily modernised battlecruiser Renown and the cruiser Sheffield and their destroyer escorts – she pioneered the techniques later thought of as ‘Fast Carrier Task forces’. Had she survived until the availability of Wildcat's, Hellcat's and Firefly's instead of Fulmar's; and Barracuda's and Avenger's instead of Swordfish and Albacore's: her value would have increased even more.

She was unfortunately sunk by a single torpedo, possibly due more to the new Captain’s panicked attempt to evacuate the crew quickly rather than see what damage control could achieve. (Admittedly the suprisingly quick capsizing of the Great War design Courageous was in his mind.)

It would have been fascinationg to see what Ark Royal, with a deck park lifting her airgroup towards the 90-100 mark, could have achieved in the Indian Ocean or Pacific. She would certainly have been transferred to fight the Japanese in the Indian Ocean had she survived a few months longer, as she was more suitable there, leaving the heavily armoured Illustrious class in the more vulnerable Mediterranean fleets.  For a design limited to 22,000 tons by treaty, she was an astonishing achievement. All the sadder that her loss to a single torpedo revealed design and handling flaws that should not have been fatal.

The ‘compromise’ carriers:

The USS Wasp was squeezed into the American program to use up a few thousand spare tons of treaty allowance. Despite being a 1930’s effort, she suffered all the problems of the earlier experimental builds in being an overly optomistic attempt on inadequate tonnage. Her theoretical 70 aircraft capacity was based on not embarking any of the bigger torpedo aircraft, and in fact her airgroup was more like 60 in service anyway. Her protection was fatally flawed, and indeed, in the case of torpedo defense, practically non-existent. She served well as a transport carrier, but her use as a combat vessel was – as in the case of the early experimental designs – an act of unwarranted optimism by desperate superiors who should have known better. Torpedo hits caused the same uncontrolled aviation fuel explosions that bedevilled other Japanese and American carriers. She did not belong in fleet combat.

The Japanese equivalents of Wasp were the Zuiho and Shoho. Sneaky attempt to build carriers disguised as submarine depot ships. With small airgroups (no bigger than the old experimental carriers) they were really the forerunners of the American Independence and British Collossus class light fleet carriers, but without the survivability. As escort carriers they were successful designs. As fleet carriers they were not. By contrast their larger but slower sister Ryuho was treated as a training carrier, and can be considered a success in that role.

The ‘war is coming’ carriers:

The early wartime launches all tended to be modifications of designs based on the treaty limits. The HMS’s Illustrious, Formidable and Victorious, and the USS Hornet (a slightly bigger repeat of the 5 year old Yorktown design). The Hornet joined her two sisters in the glory of winning the battle of Midway. She also joined with Yorktown to demonstrated conclusively both the toughness of fundamental American constructions techniques (both carriers stayed afloat long after being abandoned, despite multiple attempts to sink them), and the vulnerability of American carriers to having their flight decks and air groups put out of operation by hits that would not sink them.

The Illustrious class were designed specifically to survive in close proximity to land based air power (ie European waters), and sacrificed airgroup to increase defensive capacity. The result was incredibly tough, and every one of the eventual six ships in the class shrugged off multiple bomb or Kamizaze hits, usually with little more effect than what one USN observer descrbed as ‘sweepers man your brooms’. (A huge effort by the Luftwaffe near Malta was the only time one of these carriers was put out of action, but she survived to fight many more campaigns.) On one occasion a Kamikaze attack caused fires which destroyed half the aircraft on one of the sister ships, but even then she still continued to mount operations. 

The cost was smaller air groups. Initially the class only operated 36 aircraft in the Mediterranean, though 52-57 was more common later in the war once deck parks were possible.

The ‘freed of limits’ carriers:

The later ships of the Illustrious class grew in size as treaty limits were removed, and Indomitable (72+ aircraft) and Indefatigable and Implacable (81+) were quite capable of holding their own with the Essex class in any battle-line. (Particularly given their superior fighter direction abilities, which the American Admiral  had noted when HMS Victorious served with the American Pacific fleet in 1943, and which continued to require markedly smaller CAP’s in 1945).

The Japanese response to the dropping of limits were the Zuikaku and Shokaku, ships often described as the best Japanese carriers of the war. (They weren't actually the best designs, but the better ones were sunk before firing a shot, so I suppose this is an acceptable generalisation.)

They were soon followed by the American equivalent, the Essex class. The Essex’s are renowned for their effectiveness, and (like the Yorktown’s) for their resistance to sinking. But they were remarkably easy to disable by fire, and could be put out of action by single bombs. By contrast the Shokaku class were actually well designed to absorb battle damage (for Japanese ships anyway), and Shokaku was bombed and survived for repair on two occassions (though surviving remained quite different from continuing combat operations after damage).

The Japanese proved that the Shokaku class were not a fluke by designing the magnificent Taiho (my choice for the best Japanese design), which was pretty much a non treaty enlarged copy of the British Illustrious class. The Japanese adopted the British style armour and enclosed 'hurricane' bow that had proved so useful in European waters (and that the Americans were later to adopt in their Midway class). The resulting vessel was probably a better design than the contemporary Essex’s, but unfortunately still had the damage control and aviation fuel issues that the Japanese never overcame. A torpedo could have been survivable had the ship not been in hard action, where, once again, the aviation leaks were not overcome.

It is interesting to compare the American Essex, Japanese Taiho, and British Implacable classes. They finally come to ships of a similar size, with similar capacities. The American ships are a bit larger, and were rated for 91 aircraft. The Japanese were middle sized, and carried between 65 and 84 (never actually served in combat so debatable). The British ships, despite being smaller, were much tougher, and (with deck parks) carried 81 aircraft. Of the three types, the Essex’s were best for Japanese style ‘hit and run’ operations (though Taiho might actually have been better), and the Implacable’s were best for ‘slug it out’ combat operations. (Ie: each nation achieved the best design for its preferred strategic approach.) However the limitation of the late expansion of the British ships design was lower hangers, which limited the types of aircraft they could carrry later in the war. So they had less ability to adapt than their earlier sisters which had higher hangers.

Wartime emergency carriers:

(We will leave aside the escort carriers. Good little ships for convoy escort and aircraft transport, but not suitable for fleet work. The most effective combat trole was to use them as floating airbases to cover invasions. This worked well for the British in the Meditteranean and Indian Oceans, and for the Americans in the Pacific. Some of the British, and most of the Japanese escort carriers were conversions, and most of the American ones purpose built. Within their limits, they mostly did quite good jobs. It is worth noting however that the British were horrified by the lack of fire safety on American escort carriers, and insisted on refitting them to higher standards before using them. This may have been a ‘European waters’ thing, but most American escort carriers when hit tended to respond in the unfortunate fashion of Japanese carriers – see Liscombe Bay for instance – not what was expected of American built ones. Only the 4 Sangamon class conversions from fleet oilers actually demonstrated combat survivability – see USS Chenango.)

So the American version of a ‘wartime emergency’ design was the light fleet cruiser conversions known as the Independence class. These though, were forced on a reluctant navy as a stopgap even before combat began. President Roosevelt became concerned that not enough fleet carriers would be available to cover combat losses while waiting for the arrival of the Essex’s, and demanded compromise vessels. They were too fast and expensive to be ecort carriers, and too small to operate on their own as fleet carriers (and had so little ammo storage that munitions were often carried on the hangar deck - even less protected than Japanese carriers!). But at a time when the Americans had to beg or borrow British carriers to stage diversions in the Indian Ocean or provide an extra carrier for the South West Pacific campaign, they were useful stopgaps. But stopgaps they remained – for good reason, see the loss of USS Princeton – and they were phased out as quickly as possible when real carriers arrived.

The interesting thing of course is that the ‘emergency wartime’ designs were decided by when the nations entered the war. Britain had to start earlier, and therefore reworked an earlier period design. Japan had more time to adapt, and a large part of the timing of Pearl Harbour was based on when the Shokaku class would be ready. The US by contrast didn’t finalise its post Yorktown design until too late to have new ships ready for war. (The name ship Essex, even with wartime pressure on construction speed, did not arrive to see action until May 1943!) As a result the Americans settled on the Essex design (or a slightly enlarged version) for most of the rest of the war.

The British and Japanese by contrast, experienced the shortfalls of their older designs early enough to start designing new vessels after actual combat and operational experience.

The Japanese emergency ship is the most amazing. They took an incomplete Yamato class battleship, and tried to build a huge version of the British ‘aircraft support carriers’ like HMS Unicorn. The resulting 66,000 ton monster – the Shinano – had a theoretical capacity of 120 aircraft in a hull armoured like a battleship, but in fact was designed ot operate maybe 50 aircraft, and have vast workshops and stores of supplies to support other carriers. The much smaller British versions worked brilliantly, so possibly Shinano would have too, except that she was torpedoed and sunk while still incomplete.

The British went in the opposite direction, and developed proper ‘light fleet’ vessels on the basis of the success of the Unicorn. They had discovered that 30+ knotts speed was not vital for most fleet work, and 25 knotts would be fine. Also, they knew that standing up for slugging matches was not necessary for most aircraft carrier work, so the short term ships could be built on merchant principles, not warship ones. The resulting 10 Colossus and 6 Majestic class carriers were an amazing success. A belief re-inforced by the fact that a dozen of them were in service into the 1970’s, and a couple lasted until this century. They became the ideal peacetime carriers for any nation that didn’t need or want (or couldn’t afford) large fleet carriers. They also became the model for the large number of amphibious assault ships, through-deck-cruisers, and V/STOL carriers built for many nations after these ships finally retired. Half a dozen of them were finished before the end of the war, including several active with the British Pacific and East Indies Fleets, but none actually engaged the Japanese before the surrender.

The late war carriers:

The need to rethink designs was caused by different things in different countries.

For the Japanese it was combat losses, and the recongnition of weakness that involved. The Shokaku class demonstrated toughness and survivability, but were too expensive and complex for emergency mass production. The Hiryu class were much simpler, and with a smaller and better protected aviation fuel supply, might have been more survivable. (Though the solution of pouring concrete over the fuel tanks of the resulting Unryu class does not inspire great confidence.) 17 Unryu's were planned, 6 were laid down, 3 were completed, but only 1 actually made it into service. Too little, too late of course, but that is more a reflection on Japanese industry than on the design. Nonetheless, as virtual repeats of the Hiryu class, they were really too light and vulnerable to take on even a pre-war Yorktown, let alone an Essex or Indomitable. They were possibly the best option, but they were never good enough for what was needed.

For the Americans, the need for changes also came from combat damage. As several Essex’s demonstrated the continuation of concerns over the flamability of American carriers, the fact that they usually survived to be repaired became less of an issue than the fact that a deck in a fleet action could be easily put out of action by a single bomb. The Americans started looking with envy at the British armoured flight decks, and Admiral Nimitz pressed to beg, borrow, or prefereably build, as many armoured carriers ASAP. (Particularly after the Kamikaze’s appeared). 

The obvious response was the Midway class, which – like the Japanese Taiho class – aimed to incorporate British design principles without the size limits of the treaty carriers. (A lot of the motivation being the inspection in the American repair yards of British carriers that had survived multiple hits by German dive bombers.) Unfortunately none were finished in time to see action. But these excellent designs served well for decades after the war, and would have undoubtedly been much more effective in surviving Kamikaze combat than their wooden decked predecessors, had Japan not surrendered earlier than was expected.

For the British, with the luxury of their armoured carriers surviving everything thrown at them, and living to fight again; plus an abundance of light fleet carriers entering service for the expected continuation of the Pacific war, the issue was simply one of getting bigger ships than the treaty limited or modified ships. 

First they enlarged the design of the Illustrious class to be equivalent to the Essex’s in size and airpower, but with greater weight to allow proper protection. The resulting Audacious class were not prioritised, and were put on hold when the war ended, and finished with many design changes at a leisurely rate post war. 

Then, they upsized the succcessful HMS Unicorn and Colossus designs to produce the Centaur class. Light carriers of the same weight as the treaty limit Ark Royal or Illustrious. (The Centaur’s were finished post war, but had long careers. HMS Hermes, now INS Viraat, is still flagship of the Indian Navy and potentially likely to stay in service until 2020 - more than 75 years after she was laid down!).

Finally they came up with their own version of the Miway class, but even a bit larger. The Malta class would have been the final development of wartime technology, and, like the Midways, would have been capable of adapting to steadily increasing aircraft sizes for decades. But they were cancelled uncompleted when it was accepted that there was non chance of them being needed. (Britain had dozens of carriers to potentially use against post war nations who had none, and only a single contemporary who had carriers to fight… their major ally. Much as some Malta class might have been useful in the unlikely event they still been around at the time of the Falklands war, the post war government was probably sensible to think that more than enough capacity was available in 1945.)


So although the Midway and Malta classes were the best carrier designs of the war, neither were really relevant to the war.

Although the Collossus, Majestic and Centaur classes were fabulously successful post war, they were not important in the war.

Although the Yorktown, Essex and Shokaku classes had significant operational flaws in terms of the ease with which they were put out of action, they (and possibly HMS Unicorn) were the best of the unarmoured carriers of the war.

Although the Illustrious class were the best battle carriers of the war, they were constrained in offensive air capacity by the effects of treaty limitations. (I am tempted to think that the Taiho, with its inclusion of all the best parts of the highly successful Shokaku class, PLUS British style armour and hurricane bow, PLUS a large airgroup: might have potentially been even better battle carriers. But the appalling Japanese record with battle damage played true for her as well?’)

Although the conversion carriers served well, they all showed significant limits, and most were lost due to them (and in the American case these also had a baleful effect on carrier doctrine).

The experimental carriers actually served very well, as long as they were not used for actual combat…

The usual balance for successful battleships is between speed to engage, armour for defense and gunpower for offence. For aircraft carriers it turns out to be between speed to engage and escape, air-group size for offense, armour or toughness for protection and defensive firepower. The best carrier of the war appears to have been the best compromise. A carrier with the air group capacity to do well in the Indian Ocean or Pacific, and the armour to be capable of staying in action after combat damage, and firepower and toughness to have a reasonable chance of surviving in European waters.

Given that every one of the wartime carrier had major design flaws, the best compromise appears to leave the Ark Royal. (I think that despite the fact that her particular design flaws led to her loss to a single torpedo, because, on balance, I believe a non explosive torpedo weakness seems a better choice than a highly explosive torpedo or bomb weakness. For a ship I would want to serve on anyway.) 

Frankly, until you get to the Midway or the Malta, they all had their own design flaw problems that made them less than perfect, so the idea that any wartime carrier was ‘ideal’ is dubious.

It is amusing that the Ark Royal, possibly the ideal carrier for the Indian/Pacific conflict, served her whole combat career in the far more dangerous European waters that she was less than ideal for. That she did so well there just emphasises her flexibility.


  1. I agree with you to a great extent, but I think that Ark Royal was such a tight design that it couldn't really afford the AA armament it had. I think it would have been a better design with 16x4" or even 12x4" rather than 16x4.5". This would have saved between 100 and 200 tons, and this weight was very high in the ship. The weight saved could have been used to increase beam slightly and provide a (somewhat) better TDS.

    Other than that I certainly think the RN should have gone for an improved Ark Royal as their next carrier design.

    1. Hi--

      I'm glad I found your blog as I love a good historical discussion with those who actually study history and consider the ramifications. I agree with your evaluations about carriers-- what I am commenting on is the long-standing debate over tanks-- something that has gone on for years. That book "Deathtraps" I felt had a biased view of the Sherman and other problems with it's historical accuracy. I know that it has influenced thinking about tanks from the war.
      My own humble opinion (as a former member of the military) is that I would choose to fight in a later model Sherman (an "Easy Eight") over both a Panther and a T-34/85. The Panther had serious problems with it's drive train, especially the transmission and the suspension and the T-34 lacked a turret basket for ease of the loader. Later model Shermans had no problem defeating "the best tank of WWII" in Korea. No tank is perfect however-- each is a compromise of gun/armor/weight and power. Reliability and crew functionality matters a lot when in an armored box for battle.
      Was the Comet considered?

    2. Dear Paul,

      Thanks for the comments. I don't think it is surprising that badly trained, badly maintained T34's in the hands of unskilled crews were easy victims to any nation with any skill at armoured warfare, but I will point out that the Finns got staggering kill results with the terrible Brewster Buffalo fighter against theoretically much better Russian fighters in 1940… probably for the same reason. Certainly the Panzers in Russia in 1941-2 overcame far greater numbers of far better tanks with better tactics and skills.

      And yes, the Comet was considered. A very good tank by 1944 standards, and probably a fair competitor for the T34/85 or Panther despite its lack of sloped armour. It was faster, more reliable, and better armed than both the others. But it is an interim design between Cromwell's and Centurion's, not a game changer like the T34 or the Centurion.

  2. Dear Anonymous March 9,

    very good point. Not only was the 4" a lighter mount, but its faster rate of fire made it at least as good as the 4.7" for surface combat. Using the 4.5" for the Ark Royal and Illustrious classes was possibly a bad choice from the perspective of AA protection for those ships.

    Two possible thoughts though.

    First, the Ark Royal was armoured, and armed, to stand off surprise attacks by enemy destroyers and cruisers. So the heavier guns had some justification in theory (though the practicality of a lumbering great carrier sparring with a nimble cruiser is not so convincing).

    Second, the Ark Royal and Illustrious classes were designed to operate with combat fleets, and their heavy AA was as much to provide fleet defence as individual defence. (Possibly necessary given that the RN did not get its dual purpose armed destroyers into mass production fast enough, and were stuck with low angle guns for a lot of their destroyers. The Americans were lucky the extra couple of years they had before becoming involved allowed their high angle mounts to go into mass use for most of the war. If the British had gone to war in late 1941 when the M & N classes were properly established as standard, they too might have had more capable AA destroyers, in which case the argument for 4" local defence guns on teh carriers would be more convincing.... Idle speculation of course.)

    That aside though, both classes suffered from trying to fit treaty limitations. The decision to drop those limits for Indomitable (an extra half hangar deck) and the two Indefatigible's (two hangar decks, but limited height), made up some ground, but never as much as would have been made up by a new non-treaty limited design.

    I think expanded Ark Royals would have been brilliant to fight Japan, but I Accept that the armour of the Illustrious class was what made them the most survivable carriers of the war, and arguably allowed the Allies to hold the Mediterranean at the crucial point. (I will blog some other time about the 'central nexus' and the desultory German/Japanese discussions about linking in the Middle East...)

    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    2. Sadly your name sounds German, how did that last world war work out for you, oh wait and the first world war...not to good.

    3. Helga, you poor simple soul, this is not the format or the place to spout your disgusting racist drivel, if you have an issue seek help. Dont paraphrase Churchill to justify your mindless dribble , grow up, get a life and finally PULL YOUR HEAD OUT OF YOUR ASS.

    4. Sorry guys, I am slow, but I usually manage to delete abusive invective faster than that.

    5. Ark Royal's flight deck was at 66 feet free board and with two hangar decks the flight deck could not and was not armoured up due to the ships high center of gravity. The follow on Illustriuos class dropped the flight deck to 38 feet eliminated a hangar deck and added the armoured flight deck. The Yorktown's even with their poor machinery layout's could take multiple torpedo hits and stay afloat. Yes they were prone to fire but could be repaired fairly quickly by the industrial might of the US ship,yards. To replace a fleet carrier that was on the bottom due to just one torpedo hit would take more than a year plus from the keel laying up.

    6. The British were fighting years before the US. Their carriers had to be more bomb resistant because they had few naval fighters and the ones they had in the early stages of WWII were very inferior ie: attacking aircraft would get through the CAP easily. Churchill personally squashed the production of the Sea Spitfire ie: Seafire so that the RAF would get all possible Spitfire air frames. We gave the Brits Grumman Wildcats while our Marine Corp was still flying Buffalo's at the Battle of Midway to help solve this.

      The full armored Formidable was a total write off after the war because of a hangar deck fire caused by friendly fire in the hangar. The heat generated could to escape due to the armored flight deck and armored side bulkheads and deformed the hull. The Illustrious's hull was also deformed due to many near misses that deformed it's hull. #2 Prop and shaft were removed also due to machinery misalignment. No WWII British carrier made it to the mid 50's where as many Essex class with unarmored flight decks were upgraded many time and served for many more decades. While a Enlisted Marine Aviator I personally flew off the Essex class, USS Lexington in 1979. She served on till the early 80's.

    7. Eliot Proctor. Grandson of Peter Frederick.June 24, 2016 at 1:35 PM

      Actually she (Lexington) served into the early 90's.The second last Essex Carrier to be decommissioned was, unlike Lexington, still a combat carrier when decommissioned, although that was Oriskany and she wasn't commissioned untill 1950. My Grand father was on the Oriskany from 1970 until her decommissioning in 1976. He was the commanding officer of the VA-153 also known as the Blue Tail Flies from 1970-71. During that time the squadron had a perfect safety record and that was probably, by far, the best safety record the squadron ever had.

    8. Eliot Proctor. Grandson of Peter Frederick.June 24, 2016 at 2:05 PM

      I'm 17 so you can only get in touch with me on my Instagram. It's 31iotproctor. I've also posted some good footage of a TBM Avenger (General Motars version of Grumman's TBF Avenger) when it was about to take off. And I've got footage (not very good though) of me watching an A4 SKYHAWK... And getting buzzed by an F/A-18 Hornet. By the way USS Saratoga (CV-3) did have two working elevators for a lot of the war until one of them was removed when making it a training carrier. The Japanese Carriers were actually pretty tough but what their one fatal flaw was that the aircrews frequently refeuled and rearmed the planes on the flight deck.

  3. An Ark Royal Mk II would've been pretty ideal. As it was she was built to 22000t when the treaty limit ended up being 23000t. That extra 1000t could've gone towards wider and taller hangars in a slightly deeper and beamier ship. Also, Ark's lifts were narrow & had 2 platforms, so an aircraft could not be transported directly from lower hangar to flight deck - a Mk II could've had better lift arrangements.

    Interesting on the 4" gun - a better pure AA weapon, but the 4.5" was preferred due to fears that carriers would be involved in gun actions (a fear which also led in part to the armored hangars). A larger point is that the RN had way too many mid-caliber guns - 4", 2 different 4.7", 4.5", 5.25". Probably could've eased production by forgetting about the modern 4.7" and 5.25" and just producing 4" and 4.5".

  4. Yea the Brit's had the amored decks, so what, in the end the turned more into a hinderance than a help, the Brit armored decks tended to warp the hull. One Brit carrier was on station at Okinawa with one of its screw shafts removed because of warping. Almost every carriers that served the BPF until the end of the war were deemed to far gone to even repair and were scrapped. The American carriers at the end of the war were scrapped simply because the US had to many, no carrier from WW2 from the Brits lasted as long as the Intrepid which saw action off Korea and far as the best?...The Enterprise bar none, fought and prevailed in 20 of the 22 major carrier battles in the Pacific, and for a time...did it alone..

  5. Kurt i think it had more to do with battle damage and empty pockets than design. The RN could not afford to repair them so it was cheaper to scrap them, also the RN was being run down as Britain withdrew its forces and commitments. Added to this was the change to jets and design of the flight decks. By the end of the war all new USN carriers were armoured as the USN learned from the lessons of the RN. How many RN carriers were put out of action for more than a week due to battle damage and how many US or IJN ones. If having wooden decks was such a good idea why do they not have them now?

    1. Actually Kurt and Tim, the plans to rebuild the entire Illustrious class were made, and Victorious was comprehensively rebuilt, and was by far the most advanced carrier in the world when relaunched as a 35,000 toner in the fifties. Her 'premature' scrapping (along with some other pretty impressive rebuilds like Eagle and Hermes) in the 60's was idealogical even more than budget. Britain just had a series of governments that went on an anti-aircraft carrier kick.

      Frankly the rebuild of Victorious was constantly redone until the expense got almost as great as building a new ship from scratch, so rebuilding more of them would have been pretty pointless. And Britain, like the US, had far more carriers lying around than she could ever use unless another world war turned up. (And yes, Britain had World War Two carriers off Korea, and had them still around when the Vietnam war - which she was not in - was underway. Australia was in them both… see HMAS Melbourne and Sydney.)

      As an amusing aside, from the late 1950's to mid 1980's every single other nation in the world (a dozen of them all up - Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, the Netherlands, India, etc) to have carriers had an ex British WWII carrier (and some still have them), and no other nation kept any ex-American carriers.

    2. Whoops, I will correct that. The Spanish did operate one of the American cruiser conversions for a period.

    3. IIRC the armoured flight deck required the hanger to be lower in the Illustrious class, while the relatively lightweight flight deck superstructure in the Essex class allowed for more voluminous hangers. This allowed the Essex class to be modified easier and at generally lower cost with the SCB-27 and SCB-125 modernization programs.I believe Victorious had to have her entire hanger overhead raised to support jet aircraft, which contributed significantly to cost.

    4. Correct, Victorious was stripped down to hangar deck, stretched, rebuilt to flight deck, and only then did they decide to re-engine, which meant ripping much of it apart again. The process was ridiculously overcomplicated and expensive, and in the end a new build might have been cheaper. (Though the final version of Victorious was a very handsome and pretty useful ship.)

      alternatively, the much better suggestion of taking the large post treaty versions with two 14' decks, and converting them to a single 28' deck. would have been a pretty cheap and easy conversion. But as I said, successive British governments went on an anti-aircraft carrier kick, and scrapped lots of newly refitted ships for reasons of ideology even more than budget.

    5. I don't see how you can claim the Victorious was by far the most advanced carrier in the world when she was re-launched in the 1958. By that time the Forrestal, Saratoga and Ranger had been commissioned and the Independence would join the fleet in 1959.
      By any metric the Forrestals were far more advanced, capable and powerful ships than the Victorious.
      I admire the Vic for its looks and all, but let's not get carried away in saying it was more advanced than ships that have been the blueprint for US supercarriers and served into the late 90's and could have served a decade beyond that if they had been needed.

    6. Dear Anonymous April 22,
      Although I think the rebuild of Victorious was a wasteful exercise, particularly as she was really too small for the new jets, there is no doubt that all the new technologies (which admittedly were being copied or added to the Forrestal's as they appeared) like angled flight decks, mirror landing equipment, new radars etc - came together most perfectly on Victorious when she first re-appeared.
      (And she was undeniably pretty!)
      The type 984-3D radar, for instance, was revolutionary.
      She really was the most advanced ship (which just makes the sheer waste of overspending on rebuilding on an old and too small hull seem stupider...)

    7. Eliot Proctor. Grandson of Peter Frederick.June 24, 2016 at 2:37 PM

      Actually the Spanish and French operated ex American Carriers. The French had Belleau Wood and the second Langley, Mabye more. The Spanish had Cabot, Mabye more. Those are only the ones I can Remember off the top of my head. If anyone knows more please add.

  6. A more cynical notion would have been to build the Ark Royal (and the Illustrious class) at 26,000 tons and then claim the 3000 ton margin for defensive improvements as the US did for Lexington and Saratoga...

    1. On the matter of cynicism, teh sides in World War Two can be divided pretty much on which nations got what they wanted out of World War One. Germany was obviously on the 'wrong' side, but the reason Italy and Japan (both World War One Allies), finished on the 'wrong' side, was largely because the Americans (and some Commonwealth countries) screwed them over their war aims.

      Interestingly the screwed over nations all cheated on their treaty limits, as did the chief screwer - the US. Only Britain and France honoured the treaties.

      Why the US felt that it could screw over other nations, then claim moral superiority, then cheat itself, says quite a bit about the failure of the US to be a successful world policeman. there is something fundamentally wrong with American 'exceptionalism' that is even more obnoxious than the 'God is an Englishmen' attitude of the Victorians.

      I don't really understand why British 'superiority complex' led to them following the rules rigidly, while the American version allows them to ignore the rules?

      (If you want a practical example, see American debates about dropping the bomb in Japan, Korea or Vietnam for instance.)

    2. Hi Nigel

      What you say reminds me of when American troops were filmed burning down Vietnamese villages ('Zippo'). LBJ was outraged, not because it was happening, but because someone was ill-mannered enough to refuse to cover it up.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. How did the US cheat on the treaty limits please tell me because this is news to me and I've look at the subject throughly, and what I mean by that give me specific details because I will lisen. Also the Japanese in WW2 were in the wrong I mean they did things that really sick plus they where invading Asian lands like what the Nazi's where doing in Europe.

    5. Also reading your other blogs you come across really anti-America always willing to pick on America's mistakes during the war yet never the Commonwealth mistakes, and screwing over war aim's. You do know the other axis -powers were doing horrible things before the War not just the Nazi's and while the US did embargo Japan but that was because of it's expansion of there Empire. The Rape of Nanking ring any bells or during the War the inhumane Bataan Death March. Also at that point America "world police" thing didn't exist yet the average American citizen before Pearl Harbor wanted nothing to with either the war in Asia or in Europe.

    6. Dear Joe,

      The Washington Treaty listed very specific rules on ship numbers and weights and improvements. The Axis powers all ignored them completely in the 1930's, meaning for instance that supposedly 10,000 ton cruisers were often 13,000 to 14,0000.

      The USN also 'stretched' the treaty as much as possible. The special allowances for two 33,000 ton conversion carriers was, as is mentioned by someone else above, 'stretched' to 36,000 tons for 'defensive improvements'. The technical distinction between the Nazi's doing this and the US doing this is negligible. It was cheating the treaty limits.

      Roskill, in his RN official history 'Naval Policy Between the Wars', also notes that the American practice of increasing the elevation of the guns on old battleships also broke the spirit of the treaty. As did converting some of them from coal to oil. As did the huge naval 'assistance' programs the New Deal ran 'to increase employment'.

      Amusingly all the western democracies armed services during the interwar period justified their building programs on the 'worst enemy' they could think of, to justify maximum builds. Obviously.

      For the British this meant that in the 1920's the RN prepared to fight Japan, the Army Russia (on the borders of India), and the RAF actually argued that the great air threat was the French! (Stupid, but true.)

      What enemy was the US navy preparing to fight in the 1920's… obviously the one that provided the best excuse to build up… the British.

      In practical terms I give a canning to anyone who spouts rubbish, which includes people who say anti-semitism is ok as long as you call it disinvestment in Israel; or that republics are better than constitutional monarchies when most are disastrously and horribly worse; or Australian historians saying Britain betrayed us because we trashed our defences interwar and we need someone else to blame; or Hollywood pretending that America won WW2 units own. All these positions are crap, and all deserve to be lambasted.

      Unfortunately my arguments with Commonwealth people are mostly that their 'poor little Britain' or 'Australia was betrayed' schticks are crap, where my arguments with Russians and Americans are that their 'We saved the world' schtick is crap.

      I do equal opportunity 'that's crap', but I must admit that Americans seem to believe more crap about WW2 than anyone else (except the Russians?).

    7. I sorry but I never implied that we saved the world never in anything I wrote you're putting words in my mouth, and all I'm saying is to be unbiased you have to look at the faults of everybody. Also I fully aware that in the 20's the US was thinking of Britain as a potential enemy. Also where in any of the treaties is it said that they couldn't upgrade the type of fuel they used or upgrading old ships weapons (if there is any specifics please lead me to the source.) also you are wrong on the cruisers as the 10,000 ton rule was for STANDARD displacement the weights of them at 13,000 and 14,000 was FULL LOAD the only one that went over was USS Wichita who's stand displacement was 10,700 which was by accident if I recall as many of the first treaty cruisers were underweight in standard displacement. I should mention that you said a lot of stuff I didn't even talk about all I'm saying is if harp on American mistakes you better not forget your nations own because if you don't you could turn into the people you dislike yourself.

    8. sorry I'm sorry I'm going to amend one mistake, when I meant upgrade I meant to increase caliber which the US didn't do.

    9. another mistake I must rectify is I know they couldn't upgrade the caliber of the guns I had no idea what I was thinking when I wrote that.

    10. Also take your line I want the equal opportunity thing, you say it but you tend not to show it being biased towards the commonwealth (which is understandable we all have national bias), and I have high respects to the British and the commonwealth nations.

    11. Dear Joe,

      Standard displacements supposed to be 10,000 but well over 12,000 or 13,000 tons include Italian and German cruisers ranging from the Zara's to the Prinz Eugen (this last standard 14,4765, full load 18,400) that is a 45% 'mistake' by the German's… I am really spreading the cheating blame a round a bit here.

      And, as a matter of minor interest, it is actually it is possible to bore out guns to larger dimensions. The Caio Duilio class of Italian Battleships for instance was completed with 12" (305mm) 46 calibre guns, but was refitted interwar to convert them to 12.6" (320mm) 44 calibre guns.

      But the key worry appears to be bias, which is fair enough.

      For the record, I hate self deprecating bullshit as much, probably more than 'Figjam' bullshit (F.. I'm Good, Just Ask Me).

      But most American commentaries are Figjam bullshit (see anything written by most Americans on a Sherman tank as a 'warwinner' for instance). Whereas most British commentaries are 'poor us, stuck with useless crap, oh what we had to go through, everyone else had an easier time than us' bullshit (see anything written by most British historians about British tanks in WW2 for instance).

      Truth is the Cromwell was no worse, and probably much better, than a Sherman. (Certainly a faster, equally reliable, better armoured and - in some models - better armed tank for 'cruiser' operations in France, considering neither were suitable for siege warfare of any sort and both British and Americans preferred Churchill's for siege work… See American's borrowing Churchill's for the coastal sieges.)

      You can look at 100 different books about tanks, 50 by Americans, and 50 by British, without ever finding such a statement. They will ALL suggest the Sherman was better than booth Churchill's and Cromwell's, with no qualifications whatever.

      I find both assertions irritating, but probably believe the British assertions are more worrying than the American ones, because the psychology of the statements is more insidious.

      My blogs probably do sound more like I am picking on Americans, certainly to most American who are used to 'figjam'. But I think you will find that they sound much more scathing about most British/Australian professional historians if you are British/Australian, and have grown up on a diet of over the top 'poor us' crap.

      But then it is always hard to imagine how you sound to someone working from a different starting point.

    12. I completely understand nobody wants to hear poor us, nobody. Yes Americans usually celebrate our victories and a contributions loudly as part of Patriotic nature (which isn't a bad thing, and I saying this for all nations not just the US, though not horrible things obviously).

      I am one of them though I'm not blinded by it I fully aware of the bad things my nation has done, and tactical war blunders epically in the 20th century.

      Though I believe personally however to combat the notion of "poor us" to Australia and the U.K. is not to teardown a good ally but to promote yourself to the enthusiasm the US. It will attract people without alienating Americans, you would be surprised how many of us here would like to here that.

    13. Also I get were your coming from Tank wise with Sherman vs. Cromwell but I think why it's called a war winner is it's numbers. Remember something can be superior to something else but if it's not made to the numbers whether they are of superior designs becomes mute. Lets remember the German tanks where on all accounts better armed and armored than anything the allies had yet they did nothing for Germany in the long run due to there unsubstantial numbers and over engineered design. I myself believe in superior design but remember the more of them you have out there the more use you can make out of them and remember an under-utilized weapon doesn't win wars look at the Japanse Super-Battle Ships the Yamato Class. Just my two cents.

    14. Also my bad for misreading the treaty cruisers part I just realized you were just talking about the Axis not the US. My blunder.

    15. I also re-read the article and you failed to mention that the Essex's had superior range and I would also like to note refits for them if needed desperately (not the case due to there numbers) really wouldn't take long as was the case with Yorktown CV-5 (yes I know that's a Yorktown class) before Midway. Also while this was after the war the Illustrious class had severe hull warping, due to the continuous hits so while good for the then in now in the long term it's quite the flaw and not as easy to repair as the wooden decks of the Essex class giving them a much longer life. Remember even if a war is done these ships are still wanted for emergency and a warped hull, is without saying incredibly dangerous. I whole heartedly agree though in terms of Emergency Carriers, the Light British Designs were superior to the Independence class.

    16. I'll skip the tank debate (I already commented on it in the other response I made), but to go back to the treaty-bending for a moment...

      I may have simply inferred things incorrectly or had a bad memory, but I got the impression that the US only started "creatively reinterpreting" the treaty at a point after it was pretty apparent that Japan and Germany were doing the same.

      If so, I think it's a little silly to gripe at the US for abiding by a treaty the other side had already violated. If you go into a "fistfight" where the other guy already has pulled a gun, and still refuse to ask for your own for "honour's sake", the other guy may be a cheater, but it's just as much your stubbornness to blame.

      As for how unfair the treaty was in the first place, that's in large part the result of Woodrow Wilson's general jack***ery, and how severely he'd ruined relations with the American Congress and the American people by that point. (Thanks to functionally waging multiple private wars with American soldiers trying to overthrow sovereign nations without telling anyone or asking permission. Hey, remember when people used to get mad about that stuff? Yeah, I wasn't born yet, either.) He was basically responsible for American isolationism between the wars, as well.

      Urinating upon Wilson's ghost aside, it's a bit of a mistake to ever think a country has a single will or mind, (outside of dictatorships, possibly,) because every time there's a shift in the political winds, the people who disagreed with any given treaty to begin with are going to try to find ways to subvert it. A treaty's only as good as all participant's will to actually see it enforced.

    17. Dear Anonymous,

      agree with a lot of your comments. Will point out that all the British armoured carriers had been hit various times, but all were listed for rebuild postwar, even though only one eventually was. In most cases that decision not to rebuild was budget not incapacity to do so, and the rebuilt one was a very successful.

      Some had more long term damage than others, but Illustrious for instance had taken more hits than any American carrier (including sunken ones like Yorktown, Lexington and Wasp), so she probably deserves a bit of credit for still being in action in 1945, even if she probably needed to be retired by that stage.

    18. Dear Wraith,

      Unfortunately not. The Americans were breaking treaty rules back when Lexington and Saratoga were completed, a decade before the Nazi's even appeared, let alone started building. The Japs and italians also were much closer to keeping the treaty in the 1920's than the Americans.

    19. Nigel, please put up a table to us showing which year (down the left) and which nation (across the top), in each square put the treaty violation(s) committed then. My recollection was that Germany was the first significant violator, by time Britain became a "violator" the whole set of treaties was moot.

  7. In many respects, the Essex class is a "war is coming" design, rather than a "freed of limits" design. The design work was begun sticking to the treaty limits, potentially to replace the total tonnage of Lexington, Saratoga, and Ranger. Later, the limits were were lifted, but even then the standard displacement of the Essex was a little over the 27,000t treaty limit. (BTW, I don't know where you got the figure of 22,000t. My sources put the treaty limit at 27,000t, with a special exception of 33,000t for up to two converted capitol ships.)

    Also, the US was hardly uninterested in an armored flight deck. The US began with two parallel designs, one with an armored flight deck and one without. But, in the interest of expediency, US designers needed to settle on one approach. With little operational information about the British AFD carriers yet to reach the US, they chose to proceed with the wooden flight deck design for the Essex class, and incorporate an amored flight deck into their the first true "freed of limits" design - the Midway class.

    Just for clarification, for those who get the idea that the the Essex class (and others) were un-armored: This was not the case. The armored deck was simply below the flight deck. Up until war was approaching, EVERYONE (Japanese, US and British) designed carriers so that the flight deck and hangar area had the armored hull BENEAT the flight deck and hangar. There were practical reasons for this, including stability issues that were not easily resolved. It was only with the Illustrious and follow-ons that the British moved the top of the armored hull to the flight deck. The Japanese and American's were not far behind with the idea. Both countries' next generation fleet carriers were to be armored. The US had the Midway class, while the Japanese had the Taiho and G-14 and G15 follow-ons. In the case of the US and Japanese designs, the flight-deck was armored as superstructure, and the hull was still below.

    1. Dear Anonymous,

      Good points.

      I also note that the armoured hangar deck thing worked for keeping ships like the Essex class afloat, but led to them becoming un-combat worthy and often gutted with all aircraft destroyed, whereas the British armoured flight decks and better fire arrangements in hangars meant that even a badly damaged carrier usually had a few aircraft left and could continue combat operations. (Though as someone notes most RN flight deck bomb damage could be covered with a bit of concrete, but severe damage meant as long in dockyard hands to fix the complex deck structure as to completely refit a burn't out American carrier, so there were swings and roundabouts).

      I think the key is that by 1942-3 all new first line battle carriers (British, Japanese and American) were being designed as armoured flight decks with enclosed bows. Anything less than that was considered a 'light' or 'escort' carrier by then.

    2. actually enclosed bows for US carriers was actually a 1950's idea as the Midway all had open bows when first completed. It was only with the Forrestal class and FRAM upgrades when this came to be the case.

    3. Correct, they were modernised to the new standard on refit, not original design.

    4. Nigel, I think you greatly exaggerate the "un-combat worthy" argument with the Essex class. Damaged Essex carriers, with the exception of the phenomenally wounded Franklin and Bunker Hill, were able to maintain combat operations after quick repairs. The placement of the protective deck at the hanger deck level also reduced the damage inflicted on the structural integrity of the ships. The armoured flight decks on British carriers were integral to structural strength, which meant damage to the flight deck was damage to the overall integrity of the ship. Despite what you say ("but severe damage meant...."), even moderate damage would inflict serious difficulties on British ships.

      The British carriers were superb designs. But to dismiss the American Essex Class with simplistic arguments as "[they were] often gutted with all aircraft destroyed" is entertaining.

    5. One thing people are ignoring is that the Brit Armored carriers also traded off range and consumable storage for their armored decks and hanger sides. Especially with US style deck parks, the Brit carriers couldn't sustain combat operations. Plus people who laud the Brit armored carriers ignore the fact that no Brit carrier was ever attacked with loaded strikes on deck, or during fueling and rearming which is when the US carriers with severe damage were hit. Under normal combat conditions, US carriers just didn't burn. Yorktown took multiple bomb hits at Midway and was back in action within thirty minutes. Enterprise had the same thing happen multiple time during the war.

  8. Hm... decent discussion about the ships themselves, though I think you need to consider anti-air armament a bit more. That's a major factor in whether anyone will even get to inflict damage to the ship to begin with.

    Additionally, there's numbers. Regardless of whether the Essex was the best design, it was certainly the most numerous. With that many of them deployed, it didn't matter if one or two were put out of action- there were a ton of others.

    Lastly, there's the aircraft themselves and the quality thereof. You do mention it briefly in this post but it really should be the #1 factor- a carrier is totally useless without its air wing, and only as good as the quality of the same. A carrier with enough capacity to launch a heavy strike and still keep a powerful CAP up is going to be better than a more heavily armed/armored carrier that only has enough aircraft to do one or the other. A heavier strike is more likely to saturate enemy defenses and deal serious damage (whether vs. naval or land targets). Better aircraft help both on the offense and defense. The British may have had better ship design in some cases, but I don't think it's even debatable that their carrier aircraft were worse than either the IJN or the USN. There's good reason they started using USN aircraft later in the war.

    1. Dear Yu-Jin Chia,

      thanks for the comment. Yes, numbers have a quality of their own, but that is still no fun for the four or five crews of each Sherman who died taking out each Tiger tank. You are really better having better equipment than lots more poorer equipment, and the idea of just exchanging large numbers of poorer items for each superior item is inevitably going to look bad after those who concentrate on better equipment move more than a single generation ahead. (See Mariana's Turkey shoot aircraft or 1st Iraq War tanks.)

      Also, on your last point about using better aircraft. You might be interested in my discussion of naval aircraft -
      Where I discuss aircraft, (and note that the British deployed several of the better American naval aircraft - Wildcat and Corsair for instance - on British carriers 6-12 months before the Americans deployed them on their own carriers).

    2. I think you make a poor comparison to the M4 Sherman, however. Unlike the Sherman, which would kill its crew even with a near-miss, the fact that an Essex wouldn't be able to sortie for a few months didn't actually wipe out its whole crew; Not one ultimately sank, and their crews by-and-large lived through those ordeals.

      That is, for the needs the Americans had at that point, the Essex performed quite well - yes, they would be put out of action with even light damage, but they could afford a rotation of ships, and they weren't actually losing those ships or their crews. (Especially not compared to the poor sods on the Japanese tenderboxes.)

      If any American carrier deserves comparison to the Sherman, it's the Casablanca-class CVE (which crews joked stood for Combustable, Vulnerable, Expendable). Those went up with single kamikaze attacks, with the exception of poor, doomed Gambier Bay. (But she was the only carrier to ever be within visual range of what was basically half the Japanese Navy, and probably would have gone down no matter how armored she was.) And the justification for those ships was that we could build 50 of them (more than any other carrier class ever) in just TWO YEARS as a mere emergency stopgap to try and wait for the Essex to be finished. For the price, they performed spectacularly. (Not that I'd want anyone I love to serve on one...)

      In general, I agree with some of the critics of your analysis here in saying that you weigh air complement too little in these calculations. CAP can be better armor than armor. Even if you have the capacity to take dozens of bombs, if you don't shoot down those planes, you're going to take dozens more than you need to.

      And to illustrate the point of the old Stalinistic "quantity has a quality all its own", keep in mind that those Casablanca-class CVEs off Samar actually managed to turn back Kurita when armed with outdated aircraft with the wrong bombs, and only a few destroyers and frigates. (Granted, this was in large part to the fog of war, and Kurita's cautious nature turning him back before he could have probably snatched victory, even if only a very temporary one, before the returning actual ships of the third fleet would force him to retreat.) This was due to the fact that the Taffy group, in spite of having a tiny 28-plane compliment, added up to 450 aircraft combined, which was basically a full fleet carrier compliment. It's no wonder Kurita thought he was facing the Third Fleet - he was facing as many planes as the third fleet could sortie, after all.

      Further, while it may have doomed Gambier and St. Lo, by dividing up your forces, you're basically avoiding putting all your eggs (and worse, valuable experienced flight crews) into one basket, the way Kaga did. Multiple cheap ships generally did better than a single wallet-busting ship did, which is partly why battleships so underperformed in WWII, while the destroyers were the workhorses. (And all this isn't even mentioning just how much damage subs did. You're excluding several potential top contenders specifically because cheap, expendable subs were so effective in this period at wiping out potential super-weapons... and frankly, still are a dire threat to carriers to this day.)

    3. (Sorry for double-post, but I hit character limit... and sorry if TL;DR.)

      To sum up, no ship is invincible. These theoretical "best" arguments tend to ignore the practical realities of the wars they fought in. (Which is why you see arguments for Tiger IIs as bests, in spite of the fact that they were so impractical that more were lost to inability to maintain them than enemy fire. I vote T-34 for best tank, BTW.) The measure of a weapon's worth is in how much bang you get for the buck, the ultimate opportunity cost. "Hotel" Yamato was a powerful ship, but she never really accomplished anything of note besides dying, and those resources would have been better spent on more destroyers, so the Fubuki class could be more fairly judged as superior to the Yamato class, and a whole bunch of T-34s (plus some of the tank destroyer variants in the mix) would defeat an opportunity-cost-equivalent bunch of Tiger IIs (much less wastrels like the Maus).

      Of course, the simple fact that America COULD build cheap, expendable ships (and STILL see a greater percentage of them return than any Japanese ships) is more a testament to the depth of the pool of American resources than, strictly speaking, good design. The Japanese, meanwhile, were desperately trying to convert actually serving battleships into "aviation battleships". Hence, the Japanese deserve a bit of a break for their rush-job damage control systems, as we're comparing desperation moves against well-funded and thought-out designs.

    4. Dear Wraith,

      don't disagree with most of what you say, but will draw the line on CAP.

      Compare the radar directed interceptions by British fighters against scores or even hundreds of German and Italian aircraft (who knew exactly where to find the convoy they were after) in the Mediterranean: with the failures of the inexperienced USN and IJN to stop much smaller raids searching largely at random at Midway.

      Have a look specifically at the daylight raids on the convoys to Malta, that the British were fielding 3 or 4 carriers to face, and consider how Hornet, Enterprise and Yorktown's record at Midway would look in that environment.

      Could the inexperienced Americans, with SMALLER fighter groups per carrier, little radar experience and no interception tactics developed have survived these raids? I doubt it. Even the British armoured carriers took casualties in this environment. At this stage of the war, the American carriers would probably have been slaughtered in this battle.

    5. Well, if the original line of argument was about the Essex-class, then, notably, you're comparing to ships not in the Essex-class.

      While the American carriers wouldn't have even really tried it in 1941, by late 1943, the American carrier force absolutely was practicing air superiority over land-based air forces in battles like the Bombing of Rabaul. In the last one and a half years of the war, it was entirely possible for American carriers to simply establish air supremacy over the enemy airfields, which was something that really shaped how Americans thought of their carriers, and what role they were supposed to perform, which in turn, shaped how they thought of that carrier balance equation. (I went and commented on that aircraft blog post you linked, as well, saying something similar about American dive-bombers. If you can expect air supremacy, then screw defense, just carry more bombs.)

      Like I mentioned in the response to the blog post about fighter craft, American tactics and training only seems to count when you are disparaging them, and yet, when American training and tactics leads to victories, then it's not really a part of measuring the effectiveness of the machine, itself, and is an externality to be ignored.

      Early American carrier doctrine was, as you stated before, hit-and-run attacks mainly against other naval units, outside the reach of land-based aircraft. It was the British that wanted to stand there and take the beating from land-based airpower at that point in the war. Essentially, you're reconstituting the nature of how the carriers are graded in order to match what the British ships were designed to do.

      In the defense of the early American carrier fleet, however, Yorktown being split off did have the advantage of funneling all damage to just one carrier, while the others remained perfectly operational. Yorktown was already damaged, having had only slapdash repairs before the battle, took hits that were absolutely more damaging than what it took to set Akagi aflame, and yet, within an hour, her damage control teams had managed to get her in good enough shape to launch another flight, and made the Japanese think they were attacking another, totally undamaged carrier. Yorktown then survived torpedoing and bombing that would have been crippling to any ship, and still might have limped away if not for a sub managing to slink through the debris field of the battle. The British armored carrier Illustrious took serious damage from bombs that required a year of repairs in America, itself. The fate of both might well have been the same, had Italian submarines been more successful.

      Furthermore, if we're talking about Malta, even though no carriers were sunk at that time, the armored carriers were ultimately victims of hull warping that was deemed too costly to bother fixing, and damage to the ships furthered that warping. Meaning, it shortened the already-relatively-short lifespan of the carriers. Further, the carriers did not accomplish any real strategic goal other than not sinking - the Luftwaffe lost few planes, and the British decided not to try again. If the entire purpose of a carrier is to project air power, then the British carriers failed to achieve that objective. Comparatively, the American doctrine at that time would have been not to even try taking on land-based aircraft with only a couple carriers in the first place, which may not have been an overwhelming success, either, but it's hardly worse than getting those carriers damaged and still failing to achieve their objectives.

    6. Although it's not exactly what I was setting out to argue, I suppose the lesson to draw would be that carriers can tend to be fairly all-or-nothing. Either you achieve air supremacy, and your carrier vulnerabilities don't particularly matter, or you're not going to actually accomplish your objectives, and armor merely mitigates the loss, without contributing to success. (Knock big or stay home.) In fact, the only sort of fleet that could have kept the Luftwaffe out of Sicily would have been the sort of overwhelming numeric superiority to achieve total air supremacy that the Americans would perform late-war with its fleet of Essexes.

    7. Dear Wraith,

      On your first...

      again, you are comparing what some people could do in 1943-4 with what some people were trying to do in 1941-2 as if they are straight comparisons. When you look at the changes in carrier numbers, aircraft ability, or tactical circumstances, they just cannot be compared. (Unless you want to compare the USN in 1943-4 with what the IJN were doing in 1941-2 I suppose.)

      The point of this exercise is not to say 'oh weren't they great' or 'oh, they didn't really live up to the hype', but to do real comparisons of who was doing what when.

      Again, I will emphasise that my motivation is not to say that all things British were great and all things American rubbish. That is pretty bloody useless. The point is that when British historians usually say all things British were rubbish, and American historians often say, all things American were great, they are both full of shit.

      So lets take your exact example. Was the goal to be able to establish air supremacy in crucial areas by careful application of carrier power. Yes. (Still is really if you look anywhere from Korea to the Falklands to the Gulf right now.)

      Was it great that by late 1943 the Allies could pretty much do this anywhere they wanted. Yes.

      Buut your implication that it was Americans who did this first, and with the Essex class, is both wrong, and a great example of the sort of statements I find endlessly annoying for reinforcing the prejudices that I think are completely unhelpful.

      Did the Americans manage to achieve limited local air superiority with fast raids in 1942 (Doolittle February 1942); strategic raids in late 1943 (Rabual, October 1943), and with intense and sustained combat off vital coastlines in support of invasions in 1944 (say Truk, February 1944)? Yes.

      Did the Japanese achieve it with strategic raids in 1941-2 (Pearl Harbour, Darwin, Ceylon), and with intense and sustained combat off vital coasts in support of inversions 1941-2 (Philippines, Malaya, East Indies)? Yes.

      Did the British manage to achieve it with strategic raids in 1940 (Taranto, November 1940), and with intense and sustained combat off vital coasts in support of invasions in 1942 (Madagascar, North Africa) and 1943 (Sicily, Italy)? Yes.

      I will also note that although the British were the first to use purely their fleet carriers to control the air for an invasion (Madagascar in early 1942), off North Africa in late 1942 the new escort carriers were just as important. And by the time of Italy the fleet carriers were for distant cover,and the escort carriers did the main job of fighter cover off the Italian invasion beaches. (Particularly impressive given that the early Seafires should never have been deployed on escort carriers.. it took until late in the war to make the Seafire a good naval fighter, but mainly from faster carriers.)

      I also think you underestimate the input of the American light and escort carriers in building air superiority. The comparison with the Essex's doing distant cover while the Escorts did the sustained local fighter cover for the invasions is quite relevant.

      Does any of that detract from the American efforts and successes? No.

      But does pretending the Americans were the only ones to do it, or that they did it first, serve any purpose but to reinforce my point?

    8. Meanwhile I will suggest that the Mediteranean battles could not have been lost with any less damage to the Allied cause than Coral Sea and Midway. (In fact they were probably more vital, certainly than Coral Sea). Despite the allies being unprepared and under equipped to fight them, they had to do so to compete in the war. Given that they were so outnumbered and badly equipped, I think they deserve a little credit. What would have been easy with November 1943 aircraft, was bloody amazing in 1940-1942. (And look at how many times the RN over-reached and suffered the consequences. Consider the very stupid attempt to attack Luftwaffe bases in Greece with a single under-strength carrier during that campaign!)

      On your second post, I pretty much agree with most of that.

    9. I don't mean to be purely a booster of American naval power, but I tend to be at least as much a Devil's Advocate as you seem to enjoy being. I'll argue the opposite side of any argument.

      I also would want to quibble about the way you use the term "air supremacy" before getting a little more involved. Air supremacy means that one side's air supremacy fighters are capable of functionally denying any opposing aircraft the capacity to perform their roles, at least until air supremacy is become once again contested. You cite, among others, the Doolittle Raid as America achieving air supremacy, which is not really correct, as the bombers merely surprised the Japanese, they weren't capable of interfering with Japanese aerial operations in any way other than maybe bombing a plane still on the ground.

      The reason I go back to the Essex class/1943 is because this sub-thread was started on the relative worth of the Essex class. Hence, talking about the relative worth of the Yorktown class is a little beside the point.

      Since, yes, the world was in a stage of such ridiculous technological advancement that a development generation was only 2 years long, if we were originally talking about a ship commissioned in 1943, then the "fair comparison" class would be Implacable vs. Essex. (Technically, also Taihou and maybe Shinano, although that runs into the "purely hypothetical, since they sank before seeing action" problem again.)

      Since there were only two built, and they were launched in the "we're already winning" stages of the war, the Implacable class's achievements are relatively limited. Implacable and Indefatigable were never really seriously threatened by aerial counter-attacks while sinking German ships off Norway, and then later joined in the "kicking Japan while it's down" party in the Pacific alongside the Essex class and land-based aircraft.

      At those points, the basic measure is just how many aircraft you can shove out the hangar. Granted, that's a little boring, but still, if we're talking about the on-the-ground situation that the Essex was in for purposes of comparison, that was pretty much the only role an Essex needed to fill.

      Now, I can understand that it's a boring comparison, and that, to find a good example of battles that weren't just a comparison of who had more foundries to throw into the war effort than the other guy, you have to go to 1941-2, but then there's no way to get around that development generation problem.

      If we do go back to 1940/41, then yes, Taranto was an unqualified success in the same vein as Pearl Harbor (in fact, outright inspiring Pearl Harbor), along with, again, Pearl Harbor and The Battle of Darwin, while the closest at that time the Americans could chalk up was the Doolittle Raid. (Which was a significantly more flawed operation, and far more symbolic than strategic. It actually failed in its strategic goal of arming China with bombers.) However, these all have one major thing in common, which is that they accomplished total tactical surprise, and no effective counterattack could be mounted. (Although as a distinction to the argument I made before, battles like Pearl Harbor or Darwin really did involve Air Supremacy, in that aircraft on both sides were present (if in disarray) and capable of contesting the air.) They can be basically put in the same category as the 1944-5 American/British carrier battles against completely inferior forces, even if these were only temporary situations. They didn't test what you are setting out to argue.

    10. OK, really going overboard this time, so it's a three-parter...

      Well, perhaps I can revise my previous argument, and say that you don't need the sort of concentration of firepower it normally takes to attain air supremacy if you have surprise, however, that's still not a measure of the worthiness of a carrier, as you're setting out to argue, since that would still put carriers like the Akagi and Kaga, which were cripplingly flawed carriers by almost every retrospective account, and puts even the *escort* carrier Ryuujou on the same tier as the Ark Royal, in that she was capable of devastating the completely flatfooted American, British, and Dutch forces she faced in the first six months of the Pacific War. I doubt you'd place Ryuujou, much less Akagi, on par with Ark Royal because of that.

      The original argument you were trying to make was that carrier toughness mattered as part of a balance that carriers must maintain against a counter-argument that sacrificing flight group size to achieve toughness is self-defeating. Arguing examples where there was total tactical surprise, and carriers were not under threat does not resolve that argument.

      Now, I'm sure you'll argue against what I've put forward as grounds for dismissing those battles, but for now, that eliminates all but the British battles over Madagascar, Sicily, and North Africa... which are notably at 1942-4, and putting us in roughly the same time frame where the argument against including the Essex class loses most of its weight. (Although, yes, Madagascar does get to claim "first".) First, it should be said that Madagascar was an operation against Vichy French forces, which had, for rather obvious reasons, little morale or will to put their lives on the line for countries that had conquered and occupied them. They were initially capable of putting up a fight, but were using obsolete equipment and weren't nearly as tenacious as the Japanese or Germans, giving up ground rather readily after the initial stalemate broke. (Although three Japanese subs did participate, they had no impact upon carrier operations unless you count sinking an oiler.) Second, I'm relying entirely upon Google for this one, as it's not something I've really read about anywhere before, (Yay, learning opportunity!) and while I can find talk about the presence of British flights over the island in support of the amphibious landings, they are mostly in reference to torpedo bombers taking out surface naval forces. All I can find is raw participation numbers in terms of supremacy fighters: The RAF fielded 20 Martlets (AKA Wildcats), 6 Sea Hurricanes, 13 Fulmars, 24 Albacores, and 20 Swordfish. The French had 17 Morane-Saulnier 406 fighters and 10 Potez 63 bombers.

      By the fact that nobody even bothers relating the air battle while I can find decent information on the amphibious landings and initial sea battle, I'm going to just assume it was a total slaughter. I can find one Google Books source that states, "The fighters saw little air combat," and that only one Martlet was lost in the air supremacy contest.

      While I'm going on limited information, all told, I'm going to chalk this one up as being more in the late-war carrier action category along with the likes of Truk, as a "late-war total curb-stomping of an inferior opponent."

      When it comes to arguing escort carriers, meanwhile, I may have made some remarks on their limitations, but I wouldn't say I'm underestimating them at all. In fact, I think that, if we were going by my original argument of opportunity cost being the most important measure of success, you probably should consider the Casablanca class the best carrier of the war. Once again, America could produce 50 of them in two years - and one of those years was the design phase. Actual production run was 1 carrier per 2 weeks. NOBODY lost carriers that frequently. In a war defined by attrition more than anything, nothing beats that.

    11. This is marred by the fact that they couldn't fly the best planes, but in terms of most planes in the air for the least price, they beat the stuffing out of the Essex class.

      In fact, I was arguing the other side of this argument just a short while ago on another forum, and got into looking up the relative costs of the carriers. If we look at this from a "Strategy Game" perspective, where you're strictly trying to get the most power for a given lump of resources, then the Ark Royal cost three million pounds, or $15 million given the exchange rate at the time. The Essex class was originally slated to cost $40, but redesigns during construction bumped it up to costs like $70 for many of the earlier Essex carriers. Ark Royal carried roughly half the planes (although that counted American parking planes on the flight deck) but still came in at under a quarter the total price. It was argued back that the hull warping problem cut down service life enough to be worth cutting down the Ark Royal side in terms of what it could field for the same costs, but even before you count armor in a hypothetical toe-to-toe duel with "Strategy Game" rules of buying the most cost-effective ships when starting with a set amount of resources, the Ark Royal starts out ahead.

      Meanwhile, the Casablanca class could carry 1/4 the planes of a Essex, but cost only $3 million a ship, or could be stacked 12-to-1 against Essex in terms of cost. (Although, granted, this is assuming planes are "free", even though they aren't.) Combustable, Vulnerable, and Expendable they may be, but sometimes quantity has a quality all its own. Going purely for "Air Supremacy at all costs" as a strategy, even at the sacrifice of the capacity to carry torpedo bombers to attack surface ships, they would be the cheapest way to achieve it.

      Even though I recognize its limitations, and its Sherman-like properties for its crew, I still think that it probably wins in terms of being the most effective allocation of resources, which, I would again argue, should be the best yardstick for measuring the worthiness of a given design. (Otherwise, again, you're arguing for Tiger tanks against the dozens of T-34s that could be fielded for the same opportunity cost.) (Or in RTS terms, "Casablanca Rush! kekekekeke!")

    12. Dear Wraith,

      really like your 'cost effectiveness' stuff. Excellent alternative viewpoint. Not something i had adequately considered.

      Nonetheless, the Allies had overwhelming air superiority by the time most of it came into effect. The British alone launched about 30 carriers in the last 18 months of the war, and the Americans about twice that, so the issue is not how many hulls the Allies had when the war was already won and they could get the benefit of their existing domination with more and more cheap carriers that could be used in the face of no effective counter-threat. (though German guided missiles and Japanese Kamikazi's put a late dent in that overconfidence.)

      No, the issue is that the war was won or lost in 1942, in the Atlantic, Pacific, Mediterranean and Indian Oceans - uboat 'happy times', Midway, Malta Convoys, and first Allied return invasions. Loss of any one of those could have extended the war by years. Loss of two or more would have lost the Allies the war.

      So we have to 'win' the war on what was available at the time, so vast numbers of escort carriers (or even the large numbers of Essex's that didn't arrive until late 1943 and early 1944) were virtually irrelevant to who won the war and why. The strengths and weaknesses of the Ark Royal, Illustrious, Yorktown, Soryu and Shokaku classes are even more interesting to assess here than the strengths and weaknesses of the lumbering old conversions that fought with them.

  9. You dont go by which one was the biggest or which one could hold more aircraft. If you ask me then I say that The USS Enterprise was the greatest aircraft carrier of WW2. Why you may ask? Well I'll tell you. Enterprise had more honor than any honer and respect than any other carrier because it had a dedicated crew 24/7, survived more attacks by Japan and lived to see another day, and it was the ship that had the most battle stars for deliberately bringing the war to Japan. I heard a story that once the Enterprise was the only aircraft carrier left in the Navy because all the other carriers had either been sunk or nearly destroyed. It was literally Enterprise vs. Japan. Enterprise was what won us the naval battles of WW2. She was truly best of the best. Some people say she had a real soul/life that just refused to die. When you are looking for the best aircraft carrier, you look for the carrier that has the most respect and the most trusted ship out there. Enterprise was the best there was, the best there is, and the best there ever will be.

    1. Dear Daniel,

      Well I love the Enterprise, and I love the fact she kept going back into action damaged and kept functioning. She was certainly a standout fighting carrier in the USN.

      Best of the war though? By what definition?

      Longest in action, for USN I suppose. HMS Illustrious, Formidable and Victorious were all in combat while the USN was still sitting on its arse, and all of them were fighting off Japan in the last few months of the war.

      Most damage survived, well Illustrious and Indomitable both took more damage from both Germans and Japanese and survived.

      Present at more battles? Well only if you only count Pacific battles, and ignore the rest of the world, which is a pretty useless comparison. The Mediterranean naval battles, convoy battles, and invasion battles (that were constant throughout 1940-1943), alone come to more engagement days than the total fought against the IJN (1942-45) by everyone who fought them. Not counting the 6 year conflict in the Atlantic either. Again, too many people underestimate the incredible efforts of the carriers fighting convoys around Norway against air and surface attacks, let alone all the anti-submarine battles across the whole Atlantic.

      Present at more operations against the Japanese? Well only if you ignore the fact that British carriers were operating in the Indian Ocean through most of the period; and the Japanese attempt to find and defeat the Eastern Fleet in 1942 was the second biggest Japanese carrier effort of the entire war; and indeed that Victorious was loaned to the USN for most of 1943 when - as you say - the USN had only one carrier left for a while: can you get a completely USN centric approach even to the war against Japan.

      It is tempting for carrier enthusiasts to imagine that the 18 odd months that the IJN carrier fleet was competitive are the be all and end all of carrier operations in World War Two, but in fact the hard fought victories of the Mediterranean and Atlantic and eventually Indian Oceans were just as important (if not more so) than the ones in the Pacific.

      You should note for instance that one reason the IJN was based at Singapore was to be central against both flanks, and another to be close to Indonesian oil supplies (which were taken away from them by RN operations… supported in turn by the USN loaning them Saratoga for a while). The loss of this oil, and the shipping which transported it, was as important to Japanese collapse as was the German lack of oil in the Battle of the Bulge (and everywhere else) at the end.

      Enterprise was a standout, having probably as good a career as Ark Royal (which again, was already lost before the USN entered the war), and almost as long and hard a combat career as Illustrious or Indomitable. But she wasn't definitively 'the best' unless you only count the USN, and only count the Pacific theatre.

      (Having said that for forms sake, I agree, Enterprise was pretty special!)

    2. an Anthony Preston reader i see....second largest on the entire war? really?
      Zuikaku and Shokaku and 10 cruisers if i remember right....and they were pulled for the Coral Sea op....there are 6 different Japanese thrusts that i can think of that used more carriers...Pearl Harbor, Coral Sea, midway, Santa Cruz , Eastern Solomons, Philippine Sea.

      the hunt for the British lasted 9 days march 31 to april 9th.

      As for the US entering the war late- ww2 started out just like all the previous European conflicts....indeed the French told the US state dept. to mind its own business at the start of the German blitz. Hind sight is always 20-20 eh?

    3. No, you don't remember rightly.

      The raid by the Japanese in the Indian Ocean used 6 carriers - Akagi, Horyu, Soryu, Zuikaku, Shokaku and Ryujo; 4 battles cruisers - the Kongo class operating as a group for the only time of the war; 7 cruisers, 19 destroyers, and 5 submarines.

      The six carriers were still at their start of war peak in numbers and training of aircrew, and fielded about 350 aircraft.

      Later in the war the Japanese sometimes scraped together several light or escort carriers, but most with a token handful of relatively untrained crews. Where else did they field 350 well trained carrier aircraft? Coral Sea, Midway, Santa Cruz, Eastern Solomons, or Phillipine Sea?

  10. If you have Air and Sea "Superiority" then the Essex Class are hands down the best class.

    Fast, Fat, Big Airgroup, good layout and 'modern' by any standard of the day

    However if you are not in the possession of local Superiority then I would far rather have the Illustrious / Implacable Class

    The later ships of this class were not far off the air group capacities of the Essex class and 'shrugged off' damage that saw other nations carriers destroyed or limping to a freindly dock yard.

    There a quite a few myths regarding the Armored Carrier - this site goes into great detail dispelling most of them

  11. One could say that smaller air groups played a role in the UK ships taking damage. Formidable's armored box contained fires after a pair of kamikaze hits but the heat permanently warped the hull. British ships also had abysmal endurance thanks to smaller capacity fuel tanks and single reduction gear machinery.

    American carriers definitely had their flaws but they were offensive weapons as opposed to support vessels as they seem to have been in the RN. Compare the Bismarck chase vs Yamato or Musashi - the brits sought to slow down Bismarck for their capital ships....the americans used the carriers to kill ships (Halsey's moronic run with Iowa and New Jersey aside) - two very different philosophies at work.

    As for the Atlantic being a more dangerous place - that is debatable....replace Yorktown, Hornet and Enterprise for Ark Royal, Invincible and Formidable and Midway would probably would have been a Japanese victory. Zeros had a field day with the devastator - imagine the carnage had it been the swordfish and skuas which were even slower and much shorter legged - and in smaller numbers.

    1. Dera anonymous,

      you make a common mistake, comparing the aircraft Britain had on carriers when they entered the war (Swordfish and Skua's in 1939-40), with the ones the Americans had (actually 8-10 months AFTER they entered the war was when the Americans started getting Wildcats and Avengers).

      By Midway, the RN had been using Wildcats (Martlets) and Hurricanes for its main fighters, and Fulmar's more as strike fighters, for several months. By contrast the Americans were just replacing their Buffaloes (front line at Pearl Harbour) with the first Wildcats. (Buffaloes were still the main defenders on the island of Midway.

      Your second assumption is worse . The only Avengers at Midway were land based (and slaughtered when they attacked), while the carrier based Devestator's were of little better performance than the Fulmar's the British were using (arguably worse performance in bomb load an range and speed when loaded.. debatable). Only the Dauntless saved the day at Midway, and only 17 of them got through, almost by accident, at the critical time, to do it.

      Would the British armoured carriers have faired worse at Midway. Probably not.

      About the time of Midway the British had Indomitable, Formidable and Illustrious in the Indian Ocean, compared to Enterprise, Hornet, and Yorktown at Midway, so lets compare them.

      First. The British had years of combat experience with radar directed fighters that came in sideways from the sun and broke up formations, whereas the Americans still had little experience, and came in head on with little chance for anything but a passing shot. In the Mediterranean British airgroups regularly held off scores, sometimes hundreds of German and Italian aircraft. Could the USN have done the same at this stage, even with bigger air groups. Probably not. Too inexperienced.

      Second. the Americans still had too high a proportion of bombers to fighters (75-25 on average). The British had already moved to at least 45% fighters, which meant even with smaller air groups in mid 1942 they had as many or more fighters than the bigger US carriers. In fact US carriers usually had 18 fighters, and British ones 21-24 by this stage.

      Third. British strike aircraft were fitted with radar to detect ships and keep track of each other. A year earlier they hunted for Bismark randomly, the way USN aircraft did at Midway. By mid 1942 a British strike force would just strike the target: not get lost; fail to find the Japs; run out of fuel; or hope a passing destroyer would lead them the right way. They and far fewer attack aircraft, but they might at least arrive at the right place as a group.

      Fourth. The British strike aircraft were even slower, and possibly almost as vulnerable, as the Devestators. (Not that being faster and tougher saved any Avengers.) But they were not trained to attack when the Japs were at their peak. they were trained to do radar directed strikes at night. Something to which the Japs at this stage (and the Americans for that matter), could not respond.

      Fifth. the tiny Jap air attack that did find and disable Yorktown would probably not have done more than scratch the paint of Indomitable, even if they had got through the far better British fighter defences. (The USN critique of their fighter interceptions post Midway is even more interesting than their critique of the disorganised and suicidal waves of attack.)

      There is no point comparing apples and oranges. 1939 aircraft with 1943 aircraft; experienced radar directed defence and attack with inexperienced blind luck ones; or vulnerable wooden decked carriers with armoured deck ones. (Torpedoes now, that would be closer...)

    2. Just For the record the Enterprise air Group at Midway was 27 Wildcats, 36 Dauntless Dive Bombers and 14 useless pieces of Junk call Devastators. The other Two Carriers had similar air groups although Hornet had 15 Torpedo Bombers and I think Yorktown had only 13. As for Albacore's going straight to the target using radar I would point out that in April Admiral Somerville Hoped to do just that with the aircraft aboard Formidable and Indomitable and was unable to find them for the attack after which The British Fleet retired to the East African Coast and other than the attack on Madagascar spent the rest of the year ferrying fighters to Egypt. Yorktown was hit by a couple bombs in the first attack and was able to resume operations after about an hour shortly after that she was hit by two Japanese torpedoes that crippled her and forced her to be abandoned then on June 7tth three days after the attack a Japanese Sub found her and put three more torpedoes into her I seriously doubt that the armored flight deck would have helped in this situation.

    3. I Just Checked Edwin Grey's Operation Pacific the air groups for Indomitable and Formidable during the Indian Ocean encounter in April was a total of 45 Albacores, 12 Martlets, 12 fulmars and 9 Hurricanes for a combined total of 78 aircraft

    4. Dear Anonymous,

      On your second...

      yes, I forgot that although the US carriers were still officially 1 fighter, 1 Torpedo, 1 dive bomber, and 1 combined scout/dive squadron, the numbers were already a bit meaningless. Was about 80 carrier-borne Wildcats on 3 carriers at Midway correct in June? Wasn't the new Avenger Squadron on Midway also officially from one of the carrier wings?

      You are correct that in April the two British carriers had only 45 fighters aboard (with another dozen Fulmars reassigned to Ceylon). In fact Indomitable, with a nominal 48 air group had only 42 embarked, while Formidable, with a nominal 36 had 40 embarked, but both were below capacity. I can't find the exact numbers in June, but by August the 3 carriers preparing for Operation Pedestal - Victorious, Indomitable and the little old Eagle (capacity 16) had 46 Hurricanes, 16 Fulmars and 10 Martlets - a total of 72… which given another Illustrious class instead would have probably made for about 80-82 fighters for 3 of those type of carriers (had they been anywhere near Midway which is where the impracticality of these 'what if' comparisons comes apart).

      In fact indomitable went into Operation Pedestal with 34 fighters - 10 Wildcats and 24 Hurricanes - while Victorious had 22. If we assume Illustrious and Formidable at just 22 fighters each, that still gives 76 fighters…. What they could achieve… Well, how long is a piece of string…

      All very amusing, but the key element is still combat experience, and radar equipped interception. I will note that the USN experience when they borrowed a British carrier in 1943 for the South pacific, or when serving alongside British carriers in 1945 off Japan, was that British CAP's could achieve far more with far smaller numbers.

    5. On your first, a couple of things.

      Retreat to Africa (somewhat like saying the USN retreated to the West Coast). Force B - the slow old battleships went to East Africa to continue to cover convoys (just like most old US battleships went to West Coast). Force A, the fast carriers went to an Indian port to be able to raid any further Japanese operations… like an attempted invasion of Ceylon (Like the USN carriers that stayed in the pacific). Another fast carrier (Illustrious) and the battleships Valiant, Malaya, Nelson and Rodney are all planned as reinforcements that would arrive over next 3 months. (To make an active fleet considerably larger than the USN fleets operating at either Coral Sea or Midway… all cancelled after Madagascar/Coral/Midway of course.)

      Indomitable did not spend the rest of 1943 transporting aircraft, see Pedestal. (One of the great things about the fast carriers was that they did get around a bit!)

    6. Your description of the Devestator as a 'useless piece of junk' is probably fair. In 'The Unknown Battle of Midway', Alvin Kernan (who flew in the battle) describes the 'handbook' performance of the Devestator as exaggerated once loaded, and points out that most of the pilots, although listed as having done 'practice drops', had never actually taken off with a real or dummy torpedo. (Not that the torpedo's worked properly…)

      But the fact that the Devestator was an inferior performer to the Japanese B5N Kate (or even the British Albacore biplane!) did not alter the fact that these obsolescent planes achieved great things in the right conditions. IN the wrong conditions (i.e. enemy air cover), they too were useless pieces of junk.

      Based on hits per number operational, the even older Swordfish was probably the most successful aircraft of the war - several battleships and cruisers and dozens of submarines to its credit - but only if NOT facing air cover. Compare that to the suicide charges against fighter opposition - i.e. Channel Dash.

      Meanwhile the vaunted Avenger was slaughtered when it did face air opposition. Didn't make it 'useless junk', just asked to do the impossible.

      I think the reason the US dive bombers did so well at Midway was more to do with the sacrificial Devestators pulling fighter cover away, than it was with the vast air combat superiority of the Dauntless?

    7. Hmmm, just re-read my first comment above, and realise I said it wrong. The two fast carriers at Ceylon were assigned 45 fighters and 45 bombers, but a dozen of the assigned fighters were doing land duties, so they only had 33 during the raid.
      NOte that this would have made it much harder ro fight the japanese raiders, but also note that the assigned forces were already close to 50/50, and by Pedestal indomitable had 36 fighters to 16 bombers assigned, so almost the 70% that most American carriers went to )(or beyond) when the Japanese started using Kamikaze's.

      Again, this is a comment on needing a different approach in the air raid intensive Mediterranean than in the fast and inaccurate raids of the early Pacific, and it is notable that the USN moved closer to Mediteranean style tactics when they had to stand off enemy coasts and take on lots of land based aircraft.

    8. Typicaly pro Britt snooty nonsense. If only this British ship or that British ship has a few more capablities/breaks it would clearly have been the best ship ole boy. Sorry ole chap but you cannot assess the value of a ship, any ship, without including in that assessment its offensive weapons capablities and technological capabilites to bring the fight to the enemy with the greatest effect. Aircraft Carriers were delievery systems and key to their success was their overall technology and ultimately the quality of their aircraft. Training and in particular damage control training set the navies apart in WWII, and still do. Humor is a lovely British trait and I find it humorous to read how supperior the British designed Aircraft Carriers were. They were sooo much more rugged than the US Essex Class, but as noted not one US Essex class aircraft carrier was ever sunk.....not one....but stll they were sooo easily turned into burning hulks.......Begging your royal butt's pardon but thats simply a bunch of tommyrot. Meanwhile, the truly superior Ark Royal aircraft carrier was sunk with one, yes, we know, one must remember ole boy that happend only because the skipper flipped-out and ordered his men to abandon ship. Really! Sorry, but US damage control teams routinely made massive repairs to decks hit my enemy aircraft in WWII......routinely. The US had the most sophisticated damage control capablities of the war, the best command and control and best weapsons systems by far, including the best anti aircraft systems. No comparison....none....US Naval aviation was by far the best of WWII. Got to love those Brits. Yours, LCDR Michael Gray, USN

    9. I'd add that the author is completly wrong about Japanese plans to build the Taiho class and its last super carrier based on British designs. In fact the Japanese pioneered some of the best aircraft carrier designs in the history of aviation aviation, all by their selves. Imagine that. Moreover, while ADM Yamamoto was attending Harvard University and serving as a Naval Attache to the US Secretary of the Navy, he spent some of his time studying US aircraft carrier desgins and how the US Navy was pioneering integrated systems designs for its new aircraft carriers. The Zero fighter, designed in Japan, not secretly in Britian, was the best naval fighter aircraft of the first part of the war......while the Britts were flying WWI bi-wing aircraft off their superior aircraft carriers. In reality, had Japan deployed its fleet into the Indian ocean or in greater coordination with German forces, into the Mediterranean theaters of operation, Japan would have devistated the British Navy, as it nearly did the US in the first year of the war. Oh but, if only the Ark Royal and other superior British aircraft carriers had only better aircraft, instead of WWI aircraft or better this or that.....well with their armoured decks, they would have ruled the seas and ADM Nimitz would have most likely resigned the crummy ole US Navy to join the British Navy in hopes of learning something about superior aircraft carrier design. I'm just amazed that Germany or Japan ever dared to attack Great Britian knowing how superior their weapons were and how un original they were in the face of British knowhow. Really ole boy! I love the Brits, I really do, and have loved serving with them in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan, but they really can be some of the biggest bunch of snobs. Completely different however once you get a few beers in them. LCDR Gray,USN

    10. Dear Michael,

      I think you are trying to be funny… I think… Well, I like enthusiasm.

      in response to your 3am above.

      Damage control is a skill that has to be learned, and it took time for everyone to learn it.

      The British lost half a dozen carriers in combat during World War Two, one in 1939 (torpedo), one in 1940 (gunfire), one in 1941 (torpedo), two in 1942 (one dive bomber, one torpedo). They lost none after 1942, no matter how many were hit by German or Italian bombs and guided missiles, or Japanese Kamikazi's. A couple were put out of action for a while, but returned to combat later. Most shrugged off any hits and kept fighting. This suggests their damage control improved over time?

      The loss of Ark Royal clearly could have been avoided with better damage control at the time (see the somewhat more successful damage control of Indomitable a couple of years later). It wasn't, but lessons were learned from its loss which MAY have contributed to no further losses by modern carriers.

      The USN didn't lose its first carrier until about the time the British lost their last one. They were to continue losing carriers until late 1944, or having them completely gutted by fire right until the end of the war.

      This is not to say that the USN were necessarily inferior at damage control. It took the RN 3 years to get on top of damage control, and it took the USN 3 years… Considering US carriers were far more susceptible to combat damage, this would argue that the USN actually learned faster and did better… (but then the Allies did in fact share information and technology as well as aircraft and vessels… you might want to consider the effects of that).

      The IJN by contrast never got on top of damage control. Certainly Taiho should not have been lost to a single torpedo at any time, let alone after years of combat experience. Ditto Shinano even to four torpedo's. Both RN and USN would have lost both vessels in their first year of combat, and saved both of them by their third.

      The same applies to your other fantasies. command and control, weapons systems, aircraft, etc. The RN had the best US aircraft (Wildcat, Corsair, etc) in action many months before the USN did. The RN had better fighter interception techniques throughout the war. The RN could do radar directed strikes, and night strikes, years before the USN.

      By contrast the USN could always launch heavier strikes per carrier, and had far better logistics for long distance ops…

      NO ONE had outstanding advantages in all areas, and certainly not at all times of the war...

      Get a grip.

    11. Dear Michael

      In response to your 3.50am.

      At the risk of giving you an aneurism, I will refer you to my article on carrier aircraft:

      It actually discusses the uselessness of comparing the aircraft that the US and Japan were using in 1941-2 with the ones the RN was using in 1939-40… by actually looking at the ones the US, IJN and RN were using in 1939… and that all 3 were using in 1940, then 1941, then 1942, then 1943, then 1944, then 1945.

      I can't say often enough, selective comparisons of apples with oranges are not only useless, but manipulatively misleading.

      Have a nice day!

    12. A US Navy veteran took you to school Nigel, and if you say you know more than him about ANYTHING about this subject, you are more of a fraud that I know you to be....give it up Nigel, you lose....again...lry me remind you when you got "owned" by me earlier this year. It was when I told you that the US Army was superior to the German Army Group G after Anzio, when the US 7th defeated them when numerically inferior and did so without their "combat multipliers" such air-support and their logisitics train....time for a rethink Nigel ol' boy.....hahahaha!!!...

    13. You make a lot of assumptions and many of them are simply incorrect. The only reason the FAA got the F4F-4 sooner than the USN did was that the US gave priority to the RN orders. The FAA got the F4U earlier because it was so desperate for high performance carrier fighters that it accepted a plane that had unacceptable deck-landing habits. The early Corsairs had such a bad shock absorber design that they would often hop right over the arresting wires. But they were faster, longer ranged and better armed than anything British factories could produce. They were adaptable enough that the FAA could clip the wingtips so they'd fit into the lower overhead room hangers on the armored carriers. One thing the FAA did do with the F4U was develop the method of landing one that was a constant turn during the final approach so the pilot could see the batman in the angle of the gullwing. That was a far better approach than a normal USN approach where the long nose of the Corsair obstructed the view of the LSO.

  12. Oh and I ment that Enterprise was the best aircraft carrier that US ever had. She served her country well. To me. She is the best. But to you, she is atleast in your top 5 greatest aircraft carriers of all time.


    1. I pretty much agree with that comment, though I will point out that a great career does not necessarily imply a great ship design.

      The aircraft carrier HMS Eagle was a pretty poor design, but had a longer and possibly more important (in that she was there at the vital time) combat career than most of the Essex class, while the battleship with the greatest combat career of them all - Warspite - was a pre-Great War design with only an incomplete interwar modification that never really compared to later designs.

    2. While reading this blog, I noticed something. When describing the UK carriers, I noticed the following adjectives were used, such as best, successful, invaluable, efficient, tougher, amazing success, fabulously successful...and when you went on to descibe the US carriers you used the words like vulnerable, flamability, flawed, non-existent, significant operational flaws? you see the pattern there? I see by your description you are a professor, not a ship builder or desighner and that you are an Austrailian. I think your bias is very apparent against American I wrong in this? I did not remember reading about any UK carriers in the big naval battles during the war in the Pacific. What is the point of this blog?

    3. Is my reply hitting to close to the core? I have called you out sir on your bias. I would very much like a reply to my above addition to this blog, such as the obvious bias I see here. I feel you cannot and will not ever be fair in your appraisels when you clearly talk up the UK carriers and continually dismiss the US carriers. Michael Gray's above narrative is clearly a better explanation than you have presented. I suspect no one can tell you anything, it seems when someone doesn't agree with you, you have either deleted their comments or rail against those who post here. What say you?

    4. Dear Woody,

      I see your pain. How dare someone fail to respond instantly when you have noticed 'SOMETHING WRONG ON THE INTERNET!!!'

      I am sure my father must be embarrassed that his illness and death interfered with me responding to such an important enquiry from such a distinguished and self righteous enquirer.

      Oh the shame...

      (that's 'sarcasm' by the way... you can look it up.)

      On a serious note, if you have not read of any British or Australian (or Dutch, Canadian, New Zealand, Free French, etc) ships at any of the battles against Japan, or even Pacific battles for the those who don't know anything about the 'non-pacific' conflict: then you need to do more reading.

    5. Mr Davies...

      I am truthfully sorry in the illness and subsequent passing of your father, I am close with my veteran father greatly and will know that pain soon enough, he is a US Navy veteran, although not WW2 but later...

      If you'll see the dates in between my entries, you'll see I waited patiently for a response...believe me, I have done my share of reading and research into the US/Japanese carrier battles. The US Navy did not lose a fleet carrier after 1942, and won every engagement after Coral Sea, the UK Navy never had to fight the massive naval battles like the US Navy did in the Pacific...I have the read the history.of the Battle of the Philippine Sea, Guadlcanal, Midway, Leyte Gulf, Savo, Samar. These were the battles that rendered the Japanese navy impotent...where was your vaunted Royal Navy during these battles?...the RN's battles were mere skirmishes compared to the battles I mentioned...The "non-pacific battles is not where the US had their strength, the smaller, less capable navies were used for those.The US Navy was the ONLY navy that would and could take on the Japanese...the US bore the brunt of the Japanese...not the Commonwealth..."sir"....

    6. Aside from your obvious bias, the significant carrier battles took place in the Pacific. Tell me when the UK had as brutal a fight as Midway, the Philippine Sea, Guadlcanal, Leyte Gulf? The fact is they didn't, I am going to say you're a fraud Nigel, the entry by Michael Gray tore your "argument" to shreds and my entry that said "When describing the UK carriers, I noticed the following adjectives were used, such as best, successful, invaluable, efficient, tougher, amazing success, fabulously successful...and when you went on to descibe the US carriers you used the words like vulnerable, flamability, flawed, non-existent, significant operational flaws"...anyone reading this disaster of a blog can easily see your blind bias, and you really are a college professor? You have to be the worst naval "historian" are actually a laughable man, can you really be that jealous of US carriers and her WW2 war record in the Pacific? You are a seriously sick human being, with allies like you, who needs enemies when you pick apart the country that doesn't deserve it but had to fight your naval battles for you...I am so done here....goodbye you total fraud...I will look in for a response that will never come because you are SO busy, but I will not be back and post on this shit blog again...which I am sure you are happy about...the Commonwealth...haha...we all know who the weak link in that deal was..yea, the Aussie navy...

  13. So I came here for the write up on the carriers... and will comment on the write up about the Sherman.

    I'm not sure what community is there where the majority claims that the "Sherman is the best tank". In fact, the majority opinion, which has been paraded around by believers of Belton Cooper since time immemorial is that the Sherman is the worst tank of the war. Take your pick on what people say about it: that it burns with the slightest damage, had peashooters for guns, killed lots of American tankers, it was inferior to the Tiger and the Panther etc...

    The only belief in the above that holds merit according to history is that the Sherman was inferior in firepower and armor to the types of the Tiger and the Panther... but saying so is like claiming that a Heavy Cruiser is inferior to the Battleship Yamato - it is qualitatively true yes, but misses the point that a Heavy Cruiser is not a Battleship, and thus cannot be expected to be armed and armored like one. The Tiger and Panther are both Heavy Tanks (the former in essence, the latter in Allied designation) that were substantially heavier and better armed than the Sherman which were medium tanks. They were also produced in much less numbers due to the simple fact that one doesn't conjure up war machines out of thin air: logistics and manufacturing capabilities do not exist in a vacuum in war, and the Germans tried to use quality over quantity due to their expectation of facing off against enemies with better industrial capacities than their own, couple with their own dwindling resources. Certainly the Tigers and the Panthers are formidable tanks in the tactical sense... but their numbers along with their own mobility deficiencies ensured that their formidable power didn't really contribute much to the overall strategic picture - what use is a powerful tank stuck in a place away from battle? This is not the problem the Sherman possesses though, because it can be produced in such numbers that you can have a good number of them in the places where the soldiers would need them, and they were mobile enough for them to reach those places, giving them a strategic advantage the German tanks simply did not posses. (In an ironic footnote, the same happened in reverse with Germany against the French in the beginning of the war: qualitatively, the French had superior tanks including Heavy tanks capable of going toe to toe with groups of German armor and winning - see the account of a Char B1 obliterating 13 German tanks in the Battle of Stonne. Germany used their superior mobility though to simply bypass or outmaneuver said behemoths, rendering said power moot).

    1. The Sherman as a tank was not the "best" tank of the war, but to claim that it is the "worst" is extremism in the opposite direction. For all its supposed faults, the Sherman was still the tank that was pretty much the face of Allied armor in Europe, and was formidable enough that it did provide much needed fire support for the infantry on the ground, which was its primary role. And even in the anti-armor role, only Germany's feared Heavy Tanks (Tigers, Tiger II's, Panthers) were the only ones that could consistently strike fear into the hearts of Sherman tankers. But remember that said Heavy Tanks were only a small fraction of the opposing armor that the Sherman faced in Europe, and indeed Shermans spent more time engaging vehicles that were more equal to it on the field - the Panzer IV's and the StuGs, which were the dominant armor on the field. And against those, the Sherman more than proved their worth on the battlefield.

      In fact, even against the much hyped Panthers new research turns up numbers that put a wrench on the "5 Shermans dead for 1 Panther" number so many people believe ex. A particular battle in the Moselle River in 1944 saw the 113th Panzer Brigade, with almost 4 dozen tanks including Panthers go up against the US 4th Armored Division with their 75mm armed Shermans. Spec-wise, the Shermans shouldn't have had a chance, especially since they didn't have the benefit of air power or artillery support at the time.

      5 Shermans were lost in the scuffle. The 113th Panzer Brigade, including all its Panthers, practically ceased to exist. How? Delaying tactics and maneuver gave the otherwise outgunned Shermans the edge they needed in the fight, using their balance of mobility and firepower in the service of the tactics they needed to defeat the enemy.

      There's also the fact that logistically, Shermans were still the best tank that the Americans could deliver using their existing supply lines across the Atlantic Ocean, which was one of the barriers to the deployment of heavy tank designs like the M26 that had been designed for use against the German cats. And as mentioned above, logistics and manufacturing capability are more important in a large scale war than simply having the best tank in the war - between a choice of a single supertank with overwhelming tactical firepower but limited strategic value, or 20 medium tanks that can be deployed to where they are needed when they're needed to exploit breakthroughs, lead assaults and support the troops, having the latter is the better bet. This is not just a matter of there being "quantity is a quality all its own" of course - the fighting strength you need quantity of must be qualitatively good on its own in order to be able to take advantage of their numbers to good effect. Had the Sherman been a much lesser tank, it wouldn't have been the war winning armored vehicle that brought victory to the Allies in Europe. It was good enough to face the majority of the medium tanks and tank destroyers that contained the bulk of the German Panzer force and win, mobile enough to be moved through the hasty operations sweeping through the French countryside, and had enough armor to protect its crew and any accompanying troops from heavy enemy fire.

      To say that the Sherman was "Obsolete" is to discount all of the factors that lead to the perception of why it was considered "Bad", and simply taking said myths as gospel truth, instead of looking at the overall situation of the war and realizing that Sherman really was what they needed at the time. It could be more, but it was hardly less. To blindly believe that the Sherman was simply bad and not simply something whose effectiveness is shaped by the malleable needs of war is hardly something I'd attribute to someone claiming to challenge assumptions.

    2. Dear Anonymous April 8, 6.57

      Excellent points.

      Dear Anonymous April 8, 7.01 (Same person? Different?)

      Don't confuse good quality with good tactics.

      The British Matilda's scared the crap out of Rommel's division in France when the German anti-tank shells bounced off. They had to drag up some 88mm anti-tank guns to save the day.

      18 months later the German 88 scared the crap out of British armour in the desert, which could take on German tanks at about equal, but only if they could survive the 88 screen to get close enough to do so.

      A few months later the Tiger scared the crap out of Sherman tankers, unless they had superior numbers OR could draw them onto an anti-tank screen...

      Good tactics overcame inferior equipment, but only when the combatants had built up the combat experience to know how to use those tactics.

      I have no doubt that by The Bulge, even the allied divisions had picked up the German trick of beating German armour with anti-tank and airborne firepower, rather than just charging them with sub standard tanks... like the Poles did in 1940, or the British in 1941, or the Russians in 1942, or the Americans in 1943... etc.

    3. Dont bother, his bias is sickeningly blatant and obvious...

    4. Honest answer is that, no the US tanks didn't just charge the Ardennes in with sub-standard tanks. They just charged in with comparable or superior tanks. So did the Poles in 1939, the French and British in 1940, the Americans in 1943, the Russians during the entire war... I think Allied tank tactics were subpar for most formations for the entire war.

  14. I know of no one else that attributes USN (or IJN) carrier tactics to carrier size. Instead they attribute those tactics to pre-war “games”.[1-5] In those games nearby carriers would be located at the same time, and subject to a simultaneous carrier attack, while the rapid changes in speed and direction during flight operations made close carrier operations dangerous.[6] By 1940 coordinated carrier pairs were used, but not larger groups.
    Up until late 1940, IJN and USN carrier CONOPS were essentially identical. Carriers operated either alone or in pairs accompanied by a few destroyers and cruisers. Larger numbers of carriers could operate with the fleet, but the smaller groups were kept well separated to limit carrier loss in a surprise attack. This structure required radio communications for attack coordination, potentially revealing fleet location. Therefore both navies relied on preplanned surprise attacks against ports and islands, and aircraft transmissions of enemy fleet locations to provide loose fleet attack coordination.
    The IJN initiated multi-carrier coordination in 1941 after a newsreel of a group of four US fleet carriers returning from a war game suggested the USN use of multi-carrier operations.[5] General Genda recognized that large carrier groups could improve both air cover and attack coordination. The resulting IJN joint carrier operations used a “box” not a “ring” defense. The basic box unit was still a pair, but with reduced pair separations improving coordination, but limiting mutual AA support. This could deal with a disorganized retaliation, but not with a surprise attack. At Midway the IJN carrier group had the losses predicted from the prewar games, while the separated US carriers had the limited (one carrier) loss.
    The Guadalcanal campaign prompted multiple proposals for larger carrier groups.[6] It was eventually recognized that the new availability of VHF radios reduced the danger of enemy radio eavesdropping. The result, “Pacific Fleet Tactical Orders and Doctrine” (PAC-10), facilitated large carrier groups, and improved all aspects of fleet operations. The resulting ring defense improved on the earlier “U.S. Fleet Cruising Disposition Number 2.”
    I would appreciate any concrete reference on pre-Coral Seas British multi-carrier close operations. I have found no documentation of British doctrine or tactics comparable to PAC-10, or of any naval war games. An error prone review of their operations finds nothing that agrees with your claims.
    The earliest mention I can find of a British carrier concentric ring air defense is with the British Pacific Fleet in 1945. Their early carrier operations emphasized hit and run operations to limit exposure to the enemy’s aircraft, and distant fleet air cover ideally beyond enemy range. If the enemy can’t reach you a ring defense is not needed.
    As to general multi-carrier operations, most FAA operations through mid-1942 involved single carriers. The sinking of the Bismark involved two carriers largely operating in separate task groups. Other German raider searches, attacks on French fleets, and Arctic convoys used at most one carrier. Taranto and Cape Matapan used one carrier. In the two carrier Malta convoys typically one was an aircraft ferry with minimal combat duties. Convoy MF-3 was an exception, but never saw combat. I am aware of only one pre-1942 three carrier operation, the Norwegian campaign, where I find no mention of coordinated operations.
    1 S. MacDonald, “Flattops in the War Games” and “Last of the Fleet Problems,” from “Evolution of Aircraft Carriers,” Department of the Navy, 1964.
    2 A. A. Knoll, “To Train the Fleet for War,” Naval War Coll. Press, 2010.
    3 C. C. Felker, “Testing American Sea Power,“ Texas A&M Press, 2007.
    4 B. McCue, “Wotan’s Workshop,” Marine Corps Univ. Press, 2013.
    5 General M. Genda, “Evolution of Aircraft Carrier Tactics of the Imperial Japanese Navy,” from “Air Raid, Pearl Harbor!,” The U.S. Naval Inst., 1961.
    6 T. C. Hone, “Replacing Battleships with Aircraft Carriers in the Pacific War,” U.S. Naval War Coll., 2013.

    1. Try Roskill's 'Between the Wars' history of the RN for a discussion of the 3 carrier group training in the Mediterranean in the 1930's (Courageous, Glorious, Furious usually).

      I find it interesting that the three of them had a similar air group to a pair of larger Jpanese or USN carriers. Was this because the British needed more hulls to spread things around further? Or was it because the conversions were far more defensive than US or Japanese designs... and was that because the British expected to play in the Med and North Sea at least as often as in the Atlantic or Pacific? Or was it partly that the RAF had undermined fleet aircraft procurement? etc.

      Nonetheless, Taranto was supposed to be a multi-carrier strike (until Eagle had fuel feed damage) on exactly the model practiced several years earlier.

      Of course the British, despite having more carriers than the US until more than half way through the war, never had enough available to concentrate them they way they would have liked. Like the USN in the Pacific for much of 1942 and 1943, they were often down to a single carrier or a pair available at any time. (And note, the 'pair' available to the USN in the Pacific at one point, included "USS Robin' or HMS Victorious, for much of 1943.

      Real multi carrier operations did not get off the ground for the allies until the 1942 invasion of North Africa, the 1943 invasions of Sicily and Italy, or the major 1944 Pacific operations. Which of these was exclusively the USN? Which was exclusively RN? Which was a co-operative effort?

      PS: Have a look again at the Pedestal convoy to Malta in 1942... 4 carriers, one for ferrying (Furious), and 3 for combat ops. (Victorious, Indomitable and Eagle).

      Pedestal was within a few weeks of the battle of Midway, and it should be noted that Illustrious and Formidable were in the Indian Ocean, where they had attempted a diversion at the time of Midway (operation Stab - decoy invasion of the Andaman islands), and were then to cover the Madagascar invasion.

      You should also note that the RN could only make these deployments because the USN had loaned USS Wasp to the British Home Fleet. (She was called home after Midway, and Victorious was sent too... the allies were very short of carriers at this point.)

  15. Lately when I see a variant of infinite in any context outside of pure or applied mathematics I think someone has made an error, sometimes in programming a computer, more often in falling into the fallacy of the excluded "muddle". It is emotionally appealing to have thing fall into the black and white represented by "infinitely better", but it is rare for anything in existence for that to be true. While few would argue that in a one on one battle the Sherman was better than the Panther most of the time the combat situation (terrain, offensive posture, ambush locations) and crew training was more important than that level of difference in tanks. Consider the Battle of Arracourt.

    Discussions of the Sherman tank often treat it as a fixed system. Mass produced variants during the war had at least five different engines (Continental radial, GM diesel, Ford V8, Chrysler multibank, Caterpiller radial), four different guns (75 mm, 76 mm, 17 pdr, and 105 mm), several types of ammo per gun that varied with time, two different suspensions, different types of armor (welded, cast, and Jumbo) that varied over the war, improvements in ergonomics particularly optics, improvements in safety particularly wet stowage, trakc extension for floatation, .... I consider the mid-42 Sherman to have been the best medium weight tank in service for a few months, and the Easy Eight might have been the best end of war general medium weight tank, and the Firefly a very good AT tank.

    Assertions that it took many Shermans to beat a Panther are often tossed about without stating whether those Shermans were lost or just engaged in the battle. It can just as often said it took five Panthers to beat one Sherman, one in the shop being repaired, one broken down on the road, one waiting for fuel, one abandoned on the field because its turret caught fire, and one making a kill while wondering what it will do about all those other Shermans facing it.

    The assertion is largely meaningless as tank on tank battles were very rare, and at least as much importance was how well it stood up to tank destroyers, AT artillery, general artillery (a 150 mm HE round is dangerous to every thing), and infantry weapons. I don't know if there was any particular advantage of any tank against mines, and the direct effect s of aircraft mere minor.

    FWIW the British near the end of 44 did a review of armor engagements, Memorandum C6 (W/O 291/1218), and found that it took a ratio of about 2.2 allied armored vehicles to every German one for the allies to be guaranteed a victory, while it took the Germans a ratio of about 1.5 armored vehicles to every allied one for them to be guaranteed a victory. However keep in mind that in the vast majority of the battles the allies were on the offensive, and, baring defensive incompetence, an offensive almost always requires a force numerically stronger than the defense to gain a victory.

  16. Here's a counterpoint to the whole Armored Flight Decks argument:

    1. Dear Rafael,

      Interesting articles. Some good points, some not so good.

      Slade's comments about post war rebuilds are slightly misread. The decision to rebuild Victorious (which actually came out as one of the best carriers in the world given her size limitations) was still a bad decision, because new builds or half completed builds would actually have been cheaper than restructuring a 1930's design from the hangar deck up (and indeed a lot below).

      But much of that was political decisions not military. Just who was the RN supposed to be maintaining lots of carriers to confront? The US? Even the few it did maintain proved more than adequate right up until the Falklands (where it was finally admitted governments could cut too far!)

      The Worth argument suffers from his apparent belief that the successes of air groups post effective radar would have been built into designs before effective radar was envisaged. Nice theory, but not very realistic. People had to build the best solutions for the time, not for the future. He seems surprised that the RN jumped on the less armour/more open designs once radar made adequate defences possible. He seems to have failed to note that Midway demonstrates that big air groups are pretty useless pre adequate use of command and control radar.

      He also seems to have missed that the British 'with their greater commitments worldwide' continued to build lots of small air group budget carriers simultaneously with new large air group carriers. Perhaps he thinks that this was just as a stop gap, but if so he failed to note that they worked better for international trade protection (always Britain's main concern) than a few oversize battle carriers. Which is why Britain preferred to keep several of those in action until the end of the cold war, rather than just a couple of big ones. Presumably the big US ones planned to stand of the Russian coast bombing, while the smaller British ones would have run the convoy protection services... Perhaps an interesting example of each navy preparing to fight the last war?

  17. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

  18. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. As I have said before, you can go pretty far, but abusive invective gets you cut.

  19. Wow what a great discussion we have going in here except here I am sitting here in a corner with my mind already been set on one aircraft carrier. I think the USS Enterprise was the best aircraft carrier in WW2 for the US and perhaps the greatest of all time. Me and Nigel have already debated our discussion about the USS Enterprise and we have come to conclusion. We both agree with each other about the USS Enterprise and I have to say, you have shown some great respect and I would like to thankyou for your time sir for debating the topic with me. It's been fun and very enjoyable. :)

  20. Wow what a great discussion we have going in here except here I am sitting here in a corner with my mind already been set on one aircraft carrier. I think the USS Enterprise was the best aircraft carrier in WW2 for the US and perhaps the greatest of all time. Me and Nigel have already debated our discussion about the USS Enterprise and we have come to conclusion. We both agree with each other about the USS Enterprise and I have to say, you have shown some great respect and I would like to thankyou for your time sir for debating the topic with me. It's been fun and very enjoyable. :)

    1. Nigel, did I read this correctly? When hit with the fact that British carriers were less effective due to the inferiority of their aircraft, you respond that they were superior DUE TO THE FACT that they had American aircraft before the Americans did? Where did those aircraft come from, Germany? And it seems that the only books that you read are books that reinforce your existing views. All Americans think that the Sherman was the best tank of the war? This is the first I am hearing about it. Everything I have ever seen says Panther, Panzer, possibly T-34. The Sherman was universally regarded as a deathtrap compared to German tanks 1 on 1. But I guess you have to believe that the other guy always acts superior; otherwise you would have to look in the mirror for acting so superior yourself. And the battle of Madagascar? Really? That is like me comparing the Japanese balloon bomb offensive against the U.S. west coast to the battle of Britain.

    2. Dear Anonymous,

      Check your facts.

      The 'Wildcat' (Martlett) was in action on British carriers before the US joined the war. In fact at a time when most US carriers still had the Buffalo.

      The 'Corsair' was restricted in US service to Marine land based squadrons at first, until the RN proved they could be used on carriers. HMS Illustrious was operating them in July 1943, whereas the first American carrier to officially operate them was in April 1944. (Though some Marine ones had landed on US carriers to refuel as early as November 1943.)

      You have heard of Lend-Lease?

      The conflict at Madagascar involved more ships damaged or lost in combat than, oh say: Solomon Islands, Santa Cruz, Tassafaronga, Komandorski, Kula Gulf, Koombangara, or Empress Augusta Bay. And certainly more ground combatants than anything the Americans faced short of the Philippines.

      It may not have been decisive in the overall war (though if the Vichy French had invited the Japs to put in a submarine base there the Allies may well have lost the shipping war...), but it was THE first truly long distance all arms combined operation, and thus one of the best learning exercises of the war for the Allies.

      Try, oh perhaps, checking some basic wikipedia article, before going ballistic.

  21. Wow what a great discussion we have going in here except here I am sitting here in a corner with my mind already been set on one aircraft carrier. I think the USS Enterprise was the best aircraft carrier in WW2 for the US and perhaps the greatest of all time. Me and Nigel have already debated our discussion about the USS Enterprise and we have come to conclusion. We both agree with each other about the USS Enterprise and I have to say, you have shown some great respect and I would like to thankyou for your time sir for debating the topic with me. It's been fun and very enjoyable. :)

    1. Dear Daniel,

      actually by 'best carrier', I was working on 'best design - given the limitations at the time of the design'.

      The fact that Enterprise was one of the hardest fighting carriers, does not necessarily say anything at all about her design.... Except of course that in reality she was only able to survive damage so often because the design was basically very sound.

    2. Without a shout of a boubt that USS Enterprise had a very good design. They even kept her up to date. The design they put on her was more then just sound. It was pure genius. My opinion is that USS Enterprise is still the best that ever lived. It's a shame that they scraped her though. She would of made a great museum ship.

  22. I'd like to see a source indicating Illustrious class carriers were opertaing 70+ combat air craft at any point in the war. Every source I've ever seen has them at most low 50s. US fleet carriers did retain their full complement even when in the Atlantic. This is because of the higher deck levels being less impacted by weather. This was due to the armored flight deck design. The Illustrious class for example had a flight deck 33 feet above the water line. In US fleet carriers it was generally 60+.

    Pretty obvious bias. I can see making a case for the British carriers to be given more recognition, but taking such an obvious tone that the Brits were superior in every post you put forward hurts your credibility. If they were so superior, they would have had a better record. The US did't lose a fleet carrier after 1942 either. And that's when they were engaging in massive battles of a scale that the RN simply didn't see in WWII.

    The one time major fleet elements of the IJN ran into the RN the Brits were routed. They lost a carrer and two cruisers and pulled their forces away from their bases in the Indian ocean for a year. At the time the Brit carriers had 40 aircraft on them, and were massively outclassed both in air wing and quality of aircraft.

    Another in many odd statements by Mr. Davies is the 'superior' F4F and Corsair. Superior to what, exactly? The F4F was retired as the frontline carrier air craft by the USN by early 1943. Hellcats took their place, which were definitely a better aircraft in speed, power and performance.

    The Essex class air wing varied - in 1943 it generally had 36 fighters. By 1945 when operating near the home islands when CAP and kamikaze interception were the primary goal some were outfitted with 90! It was just a superior platform than any of the British carriers, precisely because it had the larger hangar capacity that greater size and the lack of the armored deck allowed.

    In a one on one battle with an Illustrious the British carrier would have been severely outmanned.

  23. Nigel also seems to be discounting torpedo attacks, basing his analysis of how kamikazes did in 1945 against the armored decks compared to the actual air wings of the Japanese carriers with trained pilots, that had a far larger portion of their kills from torpedo attacks. The Lady Lex and Hornet both went down due to torpedo damage, and the Yorktown was disabled at Midway by the same, then later sunk by an IJN sub.

    Of the British capital ship casaulties of WWII, the majority were by torpedo.

    Taking a look at the service history of the Formidable, who had been in the Eastern and Pacific fleets is enlightening. She was retired from the IJN raid at Colombo due to Somerville believing his two carriers could not defend against the superior IJN carrer forces.

    The vaunted superior cap interception by the British didn't seem to help her when she was at Okinawa. She was forced to withdraw after 2 successful single plane kamikaze attacks. The later destroyed most of her operable aircraft, listed as 54 at the time. She was down to 11 Corsairs and 4 Avengers, and retired due to battle damage and being combat ineffective with such a small complement for an air wing. She later flew 2 sorties which sunk some merchant shipping off the coast of Japan. At that time she had 54 aircraft. Again, there are no examples I can find to back Nigel's claims that they carried 72-80 aircraft at any point. This certainly seems to be in the 'I really wish it were so' category, but the entire tenor of these posts is such.

    She was retired 2 years after that as the battle damage she sustained put her in 'poor material shape' and she was scrapped.

    The RN learned a lot of hard lessons that they freely shared with their American counterparts, and the allies exchanged tech and knowledge. The British carriers at the end of the war had Corsairs and Avengers from the US, the US improved their air defenses on the Essex carriers with bofors guns.

    But the US navy was superior in almost every facet by the end of the war because of the incredible disparity in manufacturing and GDP by that time. On a case by case basis, there were some excellent UK designs and just as importantly if not more so doctrines. Learning how to fight is very important. But the US navy was farther ahead than its army, and was the foremost carrier nation in the world from 1943 on. The British carriers even with US aircraft couldn't compete because the only large scale carrier capable of near US numbers of air craft, the Ark Royal, was sunk before the US joined the war by a single torpedo. Every other carrier the Brits fields had half the air capacity of the corresponsinding US carrier, while being outnumbered 3-1 in fleet carriers by the end of the war. Indeed, ALL of the brits carriers that survived to that time would have been labelled a 'light fleet carrier' by the Americans.

    1. Dear Christian,

      I like your enthusiasm, but you need to rad a bit more widely.

      Illustirous class (3 ships) designed for 36 aircraft 'under cover', expected to operate 54 in Pacific. Indomitable class (redesign, 1 ship) designed for 48 under cover, expected to use 72 in Pacific. Indefatigible's (bigger redesign, 2 ships) designed to have 54 under cover, expected to carry 81 in Pacific.

      By end of war actually most allied carriers were not carrying full loads, and had no need to any more... In fact many carriers were pulled for refit/repair prior to the – still expected – invasion of Japan, without much reduction at all of Allied air strength by that point.) It is a bit surprising, and probably foolish, that the RN even bothered to repair some of the tired pre-war carriers when they could have completed a dozen already launched newer designs for less cost. Certainly rebuilding pre-war models instead of refitting post war designs in the 50's was pretty dumb...

      Neither US or Britain lost a fleet carrier after 1942. Britain actually lost no carriers in major ops after 1942. (Did have one put out of action in 1943, but she was back for Pacific ops.)

      The 'route' of the allies in 1942 was pretty general. The British withdrew their old battleships to Kenya when the Americans withdrew theirs to California, and both relied on small fast carrier task forces (based in India or Hawaii respectively) for the middle years. As to the loss of poor old Hermes (about equivalent to the Langley in operational terms...) and two cruisers, that was pretty small beer against the total allied losses to the Japs up until then.

      You will note that just like the German High Seas fleet decades earlier, the Japanese could claim a tactical victory at Ceylon, but had to face a strategic defeat. They never again operated on any scale in the Indian Ocean after Ceylon, Coral and Midway became their equivalents of Moscow (fail to advance even with overwhelming advantage), Leningrad (fail to win even though it is close), and Stalingrad (its all over from here boyo...)

      By the way, both Allied navies launched regular raids to assist each other and try and distract the Japs when the Allies knew ops were coming, but usually too late. (Ie: USN tried to get Doolittle raids faster to drag Japs back from Indian Ocean - but they had already left; and then Brits tired Andaman Island raids after the invasion of Madagascar to distract Japs from Midway, but they had already lost.) This is called 'allies working well together', and is the key point of understanding that Japan did not have the resources to face a two front naval war any more than Germany did a two front land war...

      Both navies also tried to support each other with loans. Wasp helped in Med, while 'USS Robyn' helped in Pacific when the USN was reduced to a single carrier. (In Task Group 36.3 interestingly the US Admiral made the decision to use the big old Saratoga – her rear elevator plated over and operating a reduced number of planes for most of the war – for strike aircraft, and the more modern and better fighter command ship HMS Victorious to run fighter ops...)

      As I keep noting, aircraft must be compared with 'available at the time', not with what's available later. The RN using Martlets when the USN was still using Buffalo's, or the RN using Corsair's in when the IJN was still stuck with Zero's, are both examples of superior aircraft for that time. (Read about the sinking of the Tirpitz for another example.)

      By the way, in a battle between a 1944 Essex and and a 1944 Indefatigible, or between a Yorktown and Indomitable etc, the strengths and weaknesses of both designs would have made picking a winner pretty difficult... (Particularly if both had used the same planes!) As is all too common in naval warfare, it would have come down to admirals techniques, radar usage, damage control, and sheer bloody luck...)

  24. Man I wish I could have participated in this discussion.
    But anyways the main reason individual successful warships(like the famed Enterprise) are successful is because of their crew.
    So I think people who fanboy Enterprise and Warspite often miss that it wasn't because the ship was a good design(though Yorktown-class was still relatively new when the United States entered) but their crew learned fast on how to operate during the time period the war took place against the enemies they were fighting.
    Also many of the allied nations were able to apply the sonar/radar better than their counterparts not to mention were more willing to share.

    Also what was the best destroyer in your opinion. I know British Destroyers probably had the best radar and sonar once they finally implemented them(as many of British destroyers at the beginning didn't have very good AA but then once they applied their latest developed control and detection system became much better) and the US had decent radar and detection system(They were more flawed than the latest British ones but their industrial capacity offset this) but were slow to use them during that first year and half after they entered. Germans found it cheaper to produce submarines, especially after sinking of Bismarck, though I think the bigger reason is that Hitler was more focused on air power and land power with Bismarck providing the perfect excuse.
    I know the Japanese had a good aircraft gun, though it wore out too quickly and plus the gun alone doesn't make for good AA as you need a good fire control director to go with it.

    1. The crew, and commander, is indeed the vital factor. Good ships were lost because of bad ones (see the Ark Royal above), and poor ships saved or kept in action because of good ones...

      Best destroyers depends for what? Germany had big heavily armed short range ships with poor sea keeping qualities. Excellent for Baltic or North Sea, useless in Atlantic or Arctic. Japan had really heavy torpedo armament and light gun armament. Excellent for fleet actions, but pretty poor for anti-sub work. The Italians did fast, but not very good.

      The Americans had the best general design, in the Fletcher class, which was a good all purpose models that built on a steady stream of improvements over the previous decades.

      The British were working through their design process at the same pace in the 1930's, but entered the war a crucial 3 years earlier, and this stuffed their design process.

      The L & M class were headed along the correct path with bigger ships with enclosed turrets and efforts towards dual purpose armament. Some of them were finished with proper dual purpose guns, which would have then gone into the next designs.

      But the 'war emergency' models retreated to the smaller previous styles, and the introduction of proper dual purpose (apart from Saumarez) was held off until the Americans were in the war anyway. They didn't really get their act together until the Weapons and the Battles - too late to have much effect on the war.

      Frankly the French had some of the most interesting designs, and some of their big pre-war models stood a good comparison with later designs. Interesting to see what they might have come up with if they hadn't been knocked out early.

  25. Standardized Lend Lease American built ships that could be serviced closer to the fight. Grossly recovered crews brought aboard sister vessels for the first time were able to incorporate and serve since they were all standard built vessels.
    The American Navy made a deliberate, at the time immensely unpopular, decision to standardize the blue water fleet. Everything from the 5 inch turret rings to hatchways were ordered into every rebuild. They wanted a flexible navy that could fight on both sides of the Panama Canal without expensive in theater conversions. Even all the Lend Lease Equipment was shipped to Russia, Britain and Australia met the new standards. Standardization meant that any of the 14000 5 inch naval guns pumped out would fit and function as expected. Even the British had to cede the point when Lend Lease equipment proved to be more serviceable in theater than their own custom built fleet.

  26. The Enterprise dodged around 17 torpedoes at Santa Cruz. It was hard to sink for a reason.

  27. Does anyone know how the United States stored Aviation fuel in their carriers?
    I know the Illustrious class stored their fuel tanks with a water displacement system.
    Meanwhile Japanese Pre-war carriers and apparently even Taiho stored their aviation fuel within a tank that was integral to the structure of the ship.
    So how did the US carriers store fuel?

    1. US carriers used avgas tanks that while contained within the ship structure were separate from it. To prevent fires, when in a combat situation, the refueling lines were drained and both the lines and tanks were filled with inert gas either carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide (I can't remember which at the moment). The gas was heavier than air, so even in the event of a ruptured tank it would still prevent fire by displacing the oxygen needed for combustion. The fire that destroyed Lexington was the result of a damage control officer venting the ship and spreading the fuel fumes around. The same thing happened to Taiho later in the war.

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