Axis & Neutral Battleships?

Discussions about the history of the ship, technical details, etc.
kcostello
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Axis & Neutral Battleships?

Postby kcostello » Mon Dec 14, 2015 7:05 am

Hi, I am an engineer by education and used to enjoy reading a great deal of technical literature and stats about WW2, both planes and ships. I recall reading a book titled Axis & Neutral Battleships of WW2 back in my school days. The author was not very flattering to the Bismarck as far as its design and its capabilities were concerned. Some of the primary criticisms included:
* 4 twin turrets prevented the concentration of defensive armor compared to 3 triple turrets as in the Littorio class or 2 quad turrets as in Richeliu.
* covering 70% of the ship with armor was not as effective as the "all-or-nothing" protective schemes common to the allied ships.
* the broadside throw weight of the ship was inferior to newer ships employing 3 triple turrets and was even inferior to some older ships such as Rodney.
* the ship's secondary armnament wasted weight and space compared to the dual purpose secondary weapons of many allied designs.
* the ship failed to provide for adequate defense against air attack.
While I have some of my own thoughts on the topic, It seems there are a number of knowledgeable folks on this site, so thought I'd ask opinions.

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Re: Axis & Neutral Battleships?

Postby Mostlyharmless » Sat Dec 19, 2015 1:08 am

kcostello wrote:Hi, I am an engineer by education and used to enjoy reading a great deal of technical literature and stats about WW2, both planes and ships.

Firstly welcome to the board!!

kcostello wrote:I recall reading a book titled Axis & Neutral Battleships of WW2 back in my school days. The author was not very flattering to the Bismarck as far as its design and its capabilities were concerned.
Some of the primary criticisms included:
* 4 twin turrets prevented the concentration of defensive armor compared to 3 triple turrets as in the Littorio class or 2 quad turrets as in Richeliu.
* covering 70% of the ship with armor was not as effective as the "all-or-nothing" protective schemes common to the allied ships.


Your first post is well designed to stir up many old but not forgotten arguments. My view is that battleships were moving towards obsolescence in 1940 and could not be designed to survive all the many threats that they potentially faced. Thus each of the last generation of battleships had serious defects and it was a matter of luck if their weaknesses were shown up in action. Bismarck and Tirpitz could have had better protection in their citadel against bombs if their citadel had been shorter. However, ships with short citadels such as Yamato or South Dakota risked being crippled by damage at the ends as shown by the picture of Musashi https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File ... t_1944.jpg. Germany was very sensitive to that issue because Lutzow had been lost at Jutland due to flooding forward which eventually brought the screws out of the water.

There was a fairly recent thread comparing Bismarck with Vanguard viewtopic.php?f=14&t=6656 which compares two quite similar ships differing primarily in that the main armoured deck in Vanguard was a deck higher, so that Vanguard had more armoured volume in less length but needed to maintain an angle of at least 30 degrees to an enemy to avoid belt penetrations as she had no scarp. Needing to maintain such an angle naturally makes the various inclined belt designs less attractive. Interestingly, although King George V had only three turrets, she had an extension of her lower belt in front of the A magazine and a tapering armoured lower deck to avoid too much flooding forward. Naturally Prince of Wales sank by the stern. An earlier wider thread comparing several designs was viewtopic.php?f=1&t=6465. The old and long sticky thread on construction flaws has some comparisons around viewtopic.php?f=1&t=216&start=150 and later. However, the ultimate long thread is viewtopic.php?f=1&t=1145. Good reading!

kcostello wrote:* the broadside throw weight of the ship was inferior to newer ships employing 3 triple turrets and was even inferior to some older ships such as Rodney.


Bismarck's guns did fire faster than most foreign designs. Also they were very accurate and the widely spaced barrels avoided interference. Given the advance in shell design after WW1, the designers were probably correct in seeing that hitting first should win the battle even with lighter shells.

kcostello wrote:* the ship's secondary armnament wasted weight and space compared to the dual purpose secondary weapons of many allied designs.


Mostly agreed. Using Vanguards 16 5.25 in guns would have saved enough weight to have deepened the belt. However, Scharnhorst might complain that even 15 cm guns couldn't stop destroyers - twice!

kcostello wrote:* the ship failed to provide for adequate defense against air attack...snip..

Guilty as charged! The Luftwaffe was using a much better 37 mm from 1936 and the 40 mm Bofor was available and better than both. Also see missing directors and different types of 105 mm guns in the construction flaws thread.

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Re: Axis & Neutral Battleships?

Postby alecsandros » Fri Feb 12, 2016 9:54 am

kcostello wrote:While I have some of my own thoughts on the topic, [...] so thought I'd ask opinions.

... Bismarck was the most technologically advanced, largest and most powerfull battleship to participate in combat in 1941.

At the time of the war, Bismarck and her sister-ship Tirpitz were considered to be more powerfull then they actualy were , by the other major powers. The resources used to destroy them , by comparison with the resources used to destroy other enemy ships in the European theater, show just how great the sense of danger was to the Allies.

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Re: Axis & Neutral Battleships?

Postby RF » Fri Feb 12, 2016 11:11 am

How do you define powerful?

I would have thought that mean't offensive power, ie weight of broadside.

On that criteria alone Rodney was more powerful than Bismarck.

But then in considering weight of broadside there then is the question of rate of fire, gunnery range and a whole series of other considerations and caveats.

The matter is entirely subjective. There is no definitive answer.

In terms of all round battleships - by that I mean combination of gun power, speed and armour - Bismarck was probably one of the best. Its firepower was relatively modest, but did have a relatively fast rate of fire which would compensate.
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Re: Axis & Neutral Battleships?

Postby alecsandros » Fri Feb 12, 2016 11:21 am

... Perhaps not the most precise word...
but the combination of artillery, armor, redundancy, speed, range, equipment made her th emost powerfull, IMHO... A battleship is a package of things. Rodney could do 23kts at best, and at that speed had 10.000km range. Powerfull artillery, but big trouble firing it. Big trouble staying in the battle line also... Etc.

Late war, Iowa didn't have the most powerfull guns installed, but... overall she was the most powerfull battleship.

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Alberto Virtuani
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Re: Axis & Neutral Battleships?

Postby Alberto Virtuani » Fri Feb 12, 2016 1:08 pm

Alecsandros wrote: "Late war, Iowa didn't have the most powerfull guns installed, but... overall she was the most powerfull battleship."

Hi Alec,
I agree she was on paper very powerful. However we don't have any real combat situation in which they could demonstrate their strengh. I have some doubts especially as related to their protection (in general and anti torpedoes) and their capacity of absorbing damages.

As a matter of fact, they never met Yamato nor Musashi in a gun confrontation......

Bye, Alberto
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Re: Axis & Neutral Battleships?

Postby RF » Fri Feb 12, 2016 1:58 pm

Alberto Virtuani wrote:[
As a matter of fact, they never met Yamato nor Musashi in a gun confrontation......


The same would be true of Yamato and Musashi - we do know how much air attack it took to destroy them, indeed the Musashi is the only ship to beat the Scharnhorst record on torpedo hits, but how good against surface ships is unknown.

It might have happened if Yamato had not been expended on defending Okinawa but held back to defend the Japanese homeland against the Allied battleship shore bombardments in early summer 1945 - but again these battleships had air cover that would have prevented Yamato getting any battleship into its sights.
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Re: Axis & Neutral Battleships?

Postby kcostello » Fri Feb 12, 2016 3:10 pm

Hello all,

Thank you for all the replies. I enjoy reading them. It was an interesting investigation for me to read through many books and data to try to arrive at my own conclusion of the Bismarck's place in the WW2 battleship pecking order. I had grown up being introduced to the Bismarck by the old 1960s movie, and when I got into college for engineering, because curious as to the real story behind the movie. Axis & Neutral Battleships (ANB) was my first foray into accounts with empirical data about Bismarck, rather the inanimate "character" of the movie. I was a bit surprised at what seemed to be a relatively unflattering assessment of Bismarck's capabilities. As such I continued some leisurly research over the years with Robert Ballard's book and Schlactshiff Bismarck by Bodo Herzog, and eventually did arrive back closer to the original assessment of Bismarck's superiority to other contemporary battleships.

ANB, I think, was correct to point out some flaws such as inadequate anti-aircraft capability, but some other criticisms seemed to be one-sided to the detriments of certain attributes of Bismarck's design without showing the counter-balancing benefits of those attributes. You all mentioned above the Bismarck's increased rate of fire, which was in part a result of the 4 twin turrent design that ANB criticised as wasting of armor weight. When factored into the traditional "throw weight" equation, if you will, the increased rate of fire takes Bismarck from the position of a very average looking offensive ship that can't really outslug WW1 British designs to a ship with a significant advantage over any other active ship in the world in May 1941. Add to that the increased muzzle velocity of its main battery, and the offensive gap between Bismarck and every other ship continues to widen. Again, this is May 1941, so comparisions are not being made to the South Dakotas, Iowas, and Yamato.

There are folks on this board that know alot more about ship design than me. Especially with all the detailed comments regarding Bismarck's armor design. All I can say to the criticism of ANB, that Bismarck wasted alot of armor weight from the quad turret design and the secondary battery that could have been better deployed to protect the ship, is this: whatever the Bismarck designers did, it sure worked well. It took the British something like 400 shells, many of them 14" and 16" at point blank range, plus at least 2 aircraft torpedos and 3 (3 was it?) more from Dorsetshire to sink Bismarck, and Ballard's research seems to suggest the sinking still required some scuttling charges from the German crew or possibly even more torpedos would've been needed. If the ship had not been rendered unmanuverable by Ark Royal, I am not sure it is clear the numerically superior British force would've sunk it, even if they had somehow been able to intercept it. Bismarck may likely have just weathered the storm of shells into waters guarded by the Luftwaffe until the British were forced to break off action due to air attacks or fuel shortage. I do not believe any other ship in WW2, or for that matter in history, even required that much punishment to sink, and that includes both Yamatos. The Yamatos were both sunk later in the war by standard ordinance from US Carrier base aircraft, albeit by significant numbers of such ordinace, but nothing close to the number of shells from KGV & Rodney, and certainly nothing like the specially designed 12,000 lb Tall Boy bombs used to destroy the Tirpitz.

Comparing Bismarck to other contemporary ships of 1941 sure does seem to warrent the tag of "most powerful battleship afloat" as the inaccurately Hollywood depicted Admiral from the 1960s movie would boast of. Comparing the ship to later war Yamatos, Iowas, etc, seems less of a certainty, but the real war battle suggests the ship might measure up alot better than the initial impression of 15" vs 18" guns, if you will. Bismarck demonstrated in the Battle of the Denmark Strait, probably the overwhelming most important attribute that any battleship can possess, specifically, the ability to put its main battery shells on target early and often in an engagement. While US ships showed the same, or perhaps even better ability, with their fire control radar in engagements in the Pacific, the Yamato struggled to find the mark in the battle against Taffy 3. It did score a few hits, but other than one small escort carrier, it under-performed against an opposition force it should have utterly crushed. Thankfully it failed. Contrast that with the battle of the Denmark Strait where Bismarck is legitimately outnumbered, specific tactics albeit, Holland rushed in without a broadside due to lack of armor, but Lutjens held his fire for 5 minutes. Also comparing the sinkings of the two ships, and the perception gleaned from their absorption of punishment, I might favor Bismarck over Yamato inspite of what the "tale of the tape" may say. The Iowas may be a different story as their ability to hit, especially in low visibility situations, would be at least as good as Bismarck, if not better due to fire control radar, but it does serve to mention that there is no data on their ability to absorb punishment as a couple of folks mentioned here, and also, their primary advantage, fire control radar, is something that made the old Pearl Harbor battleships quite formidable when it was retro-fitted on them in 1943-44. Bismarck was a 1941 design, before a number of these innovations of WW2 came to light, and relatively early in the war, Germany knew the path to victory was not in developing more advanced naval systems for their surface fleet. The Tirpitz added AA guns, but no other improvements were made as she had limited strategic importance, basically just be a threat to artic convoys. An Iowa without radar against a Bismarck, or a Bismarck with radar, might be a more apt comparison to ponder if the goal is to evaluate the best design of the era.

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Re: Axis & Neutral Battleships?

Postby alecsandros » Fri Feb 12, 2016 3:22 pm

@Alberto, RF

Well not engaged in combat with battleships... that's for sure... But most WW2 battleshps did not engage in combat with similar class foes... Take Tirpitz ... Or Littorio... or Nagato... etc.

While I agree with Alberto on Iowa's resistance to torpedo hits (debatable), her overall strengths are difficult to be passed over. Have you seen the pattern created by 9 gun salvos at 30km ? It's a 350meter circle... Very few shots outside that circle... That says alot... Also those "shots" were 1220kg heavy... extremely powerfull hits.
Then we have range - Iowa at around 20.000km @20kts versus Yamato ~ 13.000km@16kts. Speed - Iowa > 32kts vs Yamato 27.5kts. AA guns... electronics... RPC, etc, all in favor of Iowa.

Yamato - advantages over Iowa - gun size, gun range, and own ship armor array. Projectiles of Yamato probably would not work, unless an exmtreley rare underwater hit would occur.

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Re: Axis & Neutral Battleships?

Postby Alberto Virtuani » Fri Feb 12, 2016 3:55 pm

Alecsandros wrote: "exmtreley rare underwater hit would occur."

Hi Alec,
not so rare if we see at Denmark Strait where BS took one, PoW took one or two and Hood possibly the fatal one (Bill Jurens theory).

Also, the Japanese shells were specifically designed for working underwater as far as I know, but I'm not an expert......

Bye, Alberto
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Re: Axis & Neutral Battleships?

Postby alecsandros » Fri Feb 12, 2016 4:02 pm

That's true and most interesting.
I don't know to explain why so many underwater hits happened at Denmark Strait. It's a statistical anomaly...

In the Pacific, those hits were much rare... At Samar, from about 450 battleship shells fired (all type 91 diving shells), only 1 exploded and caused damage to one US ship - the small carrier USS White Plains. 6 or 7 others did not explode - they went through-and-through the US ships (destroyers).

Same case at 2nd Guadalcanal - none of the 14" and 8" AP shells that hit South Dakota did not explode. And none of them had underwater travel.

SOme time ago I read an analysis by Nathan Okun, mentioning that out of thousands of AP shells expended by the IJN in the war, only 1 apparently functioned as expected - it hit USS Boise in the engine room, after traveling some length underwater...

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Re: Axis & Neutral Battleships?

Postby Steve Crandell » Fri Feb 12, 2016 6:44 pm

alecsandros wrote:
SOme time ago I read an analysis by Nathan Okun, mentioning that out of thousands of AP shells expended by the IJN in the war, only 1 apparently functioned as expected - it hit USS Boise in the engine room, after traveling some length underwater...


I believe Salt Lake City was hit by one at Komadorski Islands.

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Re: Axis & Neutral Battleships?

Postby alecsandros » Sun Feb 14, 2016 3:17 pm

Steve Crandell wrote:
alecsandros wrote:
SOme time ago I read an analysis by Nathan Okun, mentioning that out of thousands of AP shells expended by the IJN in the war, only 1 apparently functioned as expected - it hit USS Boise in the engine room, after traveling some length underwater...


I believe Salt Lake City was hit by one at Komadorski Islands.

My bad :ok:

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Re: Axis & Neutral Battleships?

Postby Mostlyharmless » Mon Feb 15, 2016 2:36 am

One problem in assessing the Type 91 diving shell is that it was rarely used under optimal conditions. Kaigun by Evans & Peattie has on page 263 that the optimal angle for entry into the water was 17 degrees, which allowed hits from up to 80 metres short of the target (I assume for Nagato's 41 cm shells). If the angle went up to 25 degrees, hits were possible if the shell landed 20 to 25 metres short.

If we look at the Navy Weapons site for the angles of descent, we find that Nagato's shells enter the water at 17.5 degrees at 20,000 metres and at 24.5 degrees at 25,000 metres. Kongo's shells descend more steeply with 18.9 degrees at 20,000 metres and 27.5 degrees at 25,000 metres. Unfortunately, there is no discussion of how the shells behaved at shorter ranges, but the shells presumably do not go deep beneath a typical belt. Thus the Type 91 shells were expected increase the chances of hits for battleships from perhaps 17,000 metres metres to 25,000 metres, which were realistic combat ranges for battleship actions in daylight during WW2 such as Denmark Strait, just not ranges at which IJN battleships fired many shells. Kirishima did not gain anything during Second Guadalcanal, possibly because at those short ranges the shells would have skipped, possibly because she was aiming high and in any case because she fired very few Type 91 shells.

Clearly, smaller shells will lose speed more rapidly underwater. Thus even with the optimal entry angle, the danger space will be reduced. However, going to the data for IJN 8 inch guns, we find entry angles of 15.8 degrees for 15,000 metres, 29.0 degrees for 20,000 metres and 47.0 degrees for 25,000 metres. Thus we only expect the Type 91 8 inch shells to give an advantage over a narrow band of ranges from perhaps 15,000 metres to 18,000 metres, which excludes most of the battles in which those shells were fired.

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Re: Axis & Neutral Battleships?

Postby alecsandros » Mon Feb 15, 2016 7:16 am

... Another possibility is that the IJN was simply wrong about the capabilities of producing a real underwater bullet, and that they pumped up a project which could not and did not produce meaningfull results.


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