Expedient Big Five Upgrade - December 1940

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Expedient Big Five Upgrade - December 1940

Postby tnemelckram » Sun May 09, 2010 3:45 am

Hi All!

Although this topic has elements of a hypothetical scenario, I decided to put it here because it seems that most of the issues involve either technology, mechanics or construction logistics..

A. It's December 1940 and it is clear to the US that the s h i t is going to hit the fan in about a year. So the question becomes whether the Big 5 should all be taken in hand and given the most expedient modernization possible. This has to be done in 6-9 months so they are all available when the time comes but there are severe limits to what can be done because of the same time constraint. Taranto has made it clear that the biggest challenge facing these ships, which their design and previous small upgrades did not take into account, is aircraft attack. There is ample past experience in exercises showing that this is a real risk even when the ships are moving so Taranto triggers clarification of minds in this regard. Taking all five ships in hand is a risk but FDR's political skills can be counted on to minimize it.

B. So here's the way I see it:

1. Speed - Based on what I've read everywhere here I think we most or all agree that the biggest problem is the speed but this involves major time consuming work to replace the power plants so that has to be rejected.

2. Protection - For the same reason, I think we most or all agree that the protection is competitive and adequate. Once again, upgrading this would be excessively time consuming but unlike the speed issue there is no compelling reason to take valuable time to improve protection.

3. Main Armament - For the same reasons, I think we likewise agree that the main batteries are competitive and adequate so there is no compelling reason to monkey with it.

4. Secondary Armament and Fire Control - This seems to be real issue. I think the single best, simplest and fastest thing that could be done this quickly is to upgrade these in the manner that was done after Pearl Harbor to four of them (except Colorado).

They don't have casement mounts like their predecessors so removal and closure (which seems like major work) is not required. Just remove the existing open single 5 inch 51 calibers and replace them with the much beloved and (later proven) dual purpose 5 inch 38 calibers two per enclosed turret. This probably will require some structural retrofitting to add space to base them on (EDIT TO ADD: along with cutting routes for and installing higher capacity shell hoists from the existing 5 inch magazines). Then Cram as much secondary 40 and 20 mm as possible into the remaining open spaces on deck or by adding retrofitted "tub's" for them attached to the superstructure. Compared to major reconstructions, this seems to be relatively minor, easily accessible outside work.

Granted, the late 1940 state of the art in fire control might not compare to what they historically received in 1943. But some radar is better than no radar. Add the best surface/air search and FC control radar then available, remove spotting tops and substitute the best available directors atop the superstructure. Retrofit cables through the best available route in the existing conning towers to some some space inside the citadel that is converted into a rudimentary CIC. Again, this seems to be relatively minor work.

But here's the key - there does not seem to be enough time to cut down the superstructures to open up AA fire arcs as was done in the historic modernizations. That is major work. So this problem has to be lived with in the interest of expedience.

C. So I offer this up for the collective wisdom of the Board to kick around. While not intending to limit the questions, some I have about my idea are:

(1) Are all components of this work relatively easy from a mechanical and logistical point of view and something that could be done to all five in 6-9 months? Or will there be problems with some or all of them? For example, how hard is it to install the 5/38 turrets, secondary AA tubs or directors? I assume there would be no problem with the things to be removed.

(2) Will the work I propose not to do create prohibitive problems (i.e., not reducing the superstructures)?

(3) To what extent was the new technology adequate and readily available in December 1940? I assume the twin turret 5 inch 38 DP is not a problem because it was being installed on the North Carolinas and other new construction. But I seem to recall some discussion about inadequacies in the lighter AA mounts at the time. The radar, directors and CIC could be problematic in whole or part..

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Re: Expedient Big Five Upgrade - December 1940

Postby Bgile » Sun May 09, 2010 5:13 am

The US redesign of the 40mm Bofors wasn't available until 1942.

Not sure about weight. I think the post PH mods eliminated the armored conning tower to free up weight. The 5"/38 twin mounts might add quite a bit of it.

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Re: Expedient Big Five Upgrade - December 1940

Postby tnemelckram » Sun May 09, 2010 7:15 am

Good point. That would be a big loss from the historical reconstruction. IIRC from other Threads, there's substantial opinion that the 40mm Bofors proved even more effective than the 5/38 DP as AAA. Also IIRC, there were some threads about some 1 inch AAA gun that would be available in 12/40 but didn't prove to be very good. I guess they'd just go with that in lieu of the Bofors, not knowing better at the time.

Not sure about weight. I think the post PH mods eliminated the armored conning tower to free up weight. The 5"/38 twin mounts might add quite a bit of it.


Another good point. Again IIRC, the typical BB armored CT might weigh say 750 tons, and I guess 8 or 10 5/38 turrets with impedimenta add say 2,000 tons. I'll look for some source for good figures. Oh well, you make them even slower no matter what. That would be a problem because the whole purpose is better ships for battle line use in 1941 - the lost speed from these improvements might make them worse for that use. So right away you probably have to add some major cutting or doing something to improve the engines to the list. The added top weight also could hurt sea keeping and require other major work like adding the historical blisters, which gets into dry dock work. A real problem.

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Re: Expedient Big Five Upgrade - December 1940

Postby yellowtail3 » Mon May 10, 2010 1:54 pm

remove those 5/51s and 5/25s (not bad guns, the 5/25s) and replace with 5/38s. Cut back superstructure wherever possible, do the Admiral King AA modification: everywhere there's space for a card game on weather decks, put in some 20mm mounts - EVERYWHERE.

elsewhere, as mentioned - armor/main battery/torpedo protection - those ships were just fine.
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Re: Expedient Big Five Upgrade - December 1940

Postby lwd » Mon May 10, 2010 2:46 pm

Was the 1.1" AA gun still considered a good gun in this time frame?
How available were the 5"38 guns and mounts at that point in time? If there's no surplus what do you change? I seem to recal it was just prior to the war or maybe even after the stat that Yorktown, Lexington, and Saratoga had their 8" guns replaced with 5" ones. Would this or new construction be impacted by this?

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Re: Expedient Big Five Upgrade - December 1940

Postby Bgile » Mon May 10, 2010 4:32 pm

I think the 5"/38 twin DP mounts first appeared on the Atlanta, and you might have a problem with priorities since that was the cruiser's main battery. I'm pretty sure Saratoga didn't get hers until she went into dock after the torpedo damage. Lexington didn't get them, even though her 8" guns were removed. I don't think they were available, and she got medium AA instead.

You might get 5"/38 single mounts though.

The US version of the 40mm Bofors wouldn't be ready so 1.1" is the only option. They were troublesome, but I don't think any more so than the British 2 pdr.

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Re: Expedient Big Five Upgrade - December 1940

Postby alecsandros » Mon May 10, 2010 4:58 pm

What were the ships in the big five?

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Re: Expedient Big Five Upgrade - December 1940

Postby Bgile » Mon May 10, 2010 5:21 pm

Tennessee, California, Colorado, Maryland, and West Virginia.

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Re: Expedient Big Five Upgrade - December 1940

Postby tnemelckram » Mon May 10, 2010 11:38 pm

Hi All!

I found some additional information by doing a search for "standard class Battleship rebuild" on Google Books, which turned up some pertinent parts of Friedman's US Battleships which are very informative. I think that's a pretty good secondary source. Unfortunately it restricted viewing of the portion where Friedman talks about the actual rebuilds of the "Big 5" in detail (it start to discuss it on page 372 but then skips text at 375-80) to a line drawing of WV as rebuilt and then an interesting table of FC improvements planned in 1945 with notes for all the standards on page 381. The available text resumes after 381discussing Wyoming class in detail, which is not pertinent. Link to my search:

http://books.google.com/books?id=Y41Ha_3HsrYC&pg=PA183&dq=standard+class+battleship+rebuild&lr=&as_brr=3&cd=1#v=onepage&q=standard%20class%20battleship%20rebuild&f=false

Here's a summary of what was interesting and pertinent: (1) interwar reconstruction of all US BB's which dovetails with the Big 5 and other standards - pages 189-203; (2) proposed 1937 partial modernization of Big 5 - pages 204, 207; and (3) further 1941 proposals and actual modernizations - page 354, 356, 372, with some interesting pics and drawings in between. Here's some pertinent points I drew from this

(a) This touches on just about all of the items of work proposed to do and not do, and the factors and reasons involved, and other themes, identified in the OP and all of your good follow-up Posts. Most pertinent:

(b) There was a "King Board" that identified AA improvement (both guns and FC) as an issue based on British experience in Norway (not Taranto).

(c) Addition of the dual turret 5"/38 DP was dispensed with as too time consuming, with the precarious international situation being the time constraint.

(d) The contractor said the work that was actually done would take 4 months but actually took 6 for Maryland and 9 for Colorado.

(e) Extra weight was rejected as undesirable (presumably due to impaired speed). Re-boilering was included in the proposals (presumably as an antidote)

(f) There were sea keeping complications involved such as buoyancy and stability. TD Blisters were included in the proposals, along with beefed up deck armor.

(g) Whether the work could be done dockside or required dry docking was a major factor in determining how long the work would take.

(h) What I proposed in the OP for the Big 5 in early 1941 appears to closest match what was actually done in the Nevada and Pennsylvania historical rebuilds (see in particular page 372). Note that this did not result in ships "fit to lie in the line" when completed in 1943-4 by the standards in effect at that time. The objective of the similar rebuild of the Big 5 that the OP proposed in 1941 would be for for battle line use by mid to late 1941

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Re: Expedient Big Five Upgrade - December 1940

Postby alecsandros » Tue May 11, 2010 6:01 am

My suggestion would be to focus on improving the fire control system for the main guns. 12x356mm or 8x406mm guns are not that good if you have a hit ratio of 1% at 20km while the enemy has 2% at the same range.
(those are just figures I pulled out from my a s s. But I think the Japanese fire control system in Nagato and Yamato was better than the one present in the 1930's in the old American battleline)

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Re: Expedient Big Five Upgrade - December 1940

Postby tnemelckram » Tue May 11, 2010 6:42 am

Hi ALec!

But I think the Japanese fire control system in Nagato and Yamato was better than the one present in the 1930's in the old American battleline


IIRC you are right, because the Japanese optics and their arrangement in the rangefinders were better.
Whether the US specifically knew that at the time is the issue. They would probably have to actually inspect the foreign rangefinders to really know. Then there's the racial stereotype that the Japanese had bad eyesight that resulted in a lot of cartoon depictions of them with typical eyeglasses so there may have been a perception among some that they would not have a competitive advantage from better optics anyway.

You are also right because it was widely known that there were dramatic advances being made in fire control worldwide (example radar). So better fire control would always be seen as a priority no matter what, just for the sake of keeping up or getting ahead. And standing alone it seems to be an improvement that could be done relatively quickly at dockside without major retrofitting problems and work, without adding weight and without affecting sea keeping.

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Re: Expedient Big Five Upgrade - December 1940

Postby RF » Tue May 11, 2010 7:44 am

tnemelckram wrote:
It's December 1940 and it is clear to the US that the s h i t is going to hit the fan in about a year. So the question becomes whether the Big 5 should all be taken in hand and given the most expedient modernization possible. This has to be done in 6-9 months so they are all available when the time comes but there are severe limits to what can be done because of the same time constraint. Taranto has made it clear that the biggest challenge facing these ships, which their design and previous small upgrades did not take into account, is aircraft attack. There is ample past experience in exercises showing that this is a real risk even when the ships are moving so Taranto triggers clarification of minds in this regard.


Stop right there. Ask another question, as the strategic answer is implied in the last two sentences of this quote.

Why are we considering an ''expedient upgrade to the big five'' when a better solution is an expansion long term to the carrier forces instead? This is not just a strategic or even tactical matter but is also directly relevant to the allocation of resources and technology to naval construction.
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Re: Expedient Big Five Upgrade - December 1940

Postby tnemelckram » Tue May 11, 2010 8:58 am

Hi RF!

Why are we considering an ''expedient upgrade to the big five'' when a better solution is an expansion long term to the carrier forces instead?


Five reasons. First, the new carrier and fast BB construction will not be available in significant quantities until 1943 so there is still a pressing and foreseeable need for the best battle line possible by mid-late 1941, even as a stop gap. Second, they could not be certain that carriers would assume the predominance they later did against moving ships, even though it appears to be a major risk going forward. Third, the likely enemies might have 21 battleships at that time (Japan 11, Italy 6, Germany 2, Vichy 2) or perhaps 25 if you count the 4 smaller ones. Fourth, of those enemies, only Japan has any carriers at all, but they can only operate in one of the two fronts you will face, while the enemies on the other front have no carriers. Fifth, your likely ally together with you will have a few more battleships and carriers than the enemy total, but both of you are spread thin by a need to protect global maritime interests, while their maritime interests are more localized. So the margin is very slight.

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Re: Expedient Big Five Upgrade - December 1940

Postby alecsandros » Tue May 11, 2010 9:31 am

tnemelckram wrote:IIRC you are right, because the Japanese optics and their arrangement in the rangefinders were better.
Whether the US specifically knew that at the time is the issue. They would probably have to actually inspect the foreign rangefinders to really know. Then there's the racial stereotype that the Japanese had bad eyesight that resulted in a lot of cartoon depictions of them with typical eyeglasses so there may have been a perception among some that they would not have a competitive advantage from better optics anyway.


Hello,
I guess the USN wasn't considering fire control as an important element to upgrade, since they actualy hypothesized battling at ranges of 32-34km with accuracies of 3-5%. Most probably, they would have changed the secondaries and thickened the armor decks.

However, if it were for me, I would have changed the fire control director, rangefinders.
I don't know how well armored the comunication shafts were?

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Re: Expedient Big Five Upgrade - December 1940

Postby RF » Tue May 11, 2010 1:08 pm

An interesting analysis tnemelckram, if the US strategy is to engage on a battleship war.

If the battleships are really that crucial my ''upgrade'' would be in not keeping them at Pearl. I would have them based on California, with two or three at sea.

Where the analysis falls down is on the spatial and logistical aspects of waging a global war as opposed to an individual front basis. Italy and Vichy are hardly major threats and would have supply difficulties. Bismarck and Tirpitz are not the same threat to the USA as they were to Britain, unless they joined the Japanese in the Pacific.
The basic logistics are that Japan cannot win a conventional war against the US. The US is almost uninvadable, whereas Japan offers an open island empire. Neither can Germany touch the US homeland. And Germany and Japan are not in close collaboration.
So starting an earlier carrier development would still be attractive, even if they are still viewed as untried forces. In attacking a maritime empire of island groups carriers even before 1941 could be seen as offering a flexibility and reach that battleships lack, particulary when supported by other forces. Such as submarines attacking Japan's shipping, degrading its logistics and ultimately crushing its economy as happened in reality.
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