Royal Navy with Vastly Improved Air-Warfare Weapons in 1939

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LeopardTooth

Royal Navy with Vastly Improved Air-Warfare Weapons in 1939

Post by LeopardTooth » Tue Jan 22, 2013 5:41 pm

I am curious people's opinion as to how WW2 would have unfolded had the Royal Navy been equipped, from the September 1939 onwards, with the ultimate in WW2-era air-warfare devices -

* The en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3%22/70_Mark_26_gun anti-aircraft gun, designed during late WW2 for kamikaze-air defense but not completed until years later. It could fire proximity-fused shells that were over 70% the weight of shells from the RN 4.7" dual purpose guns of WW2 - but at about eight times the RPM.

* The Hawker Sea Fury, with 200+ MPH advantage over the Fulmar, Skua, or Gladiator, stronger offensive punch (4x20mm), four to ten times the bomb load (2,000 lbs), vastly superior handling and rate of climb, etc.

* The Douglas AD-4 Skyraider, with twice the range, four times the bomb load (8,000 lbs of bombs or three torpedoes), 8,000+ ft higher operational ceiling, and much heavier armor than the Swordfish or Albacore - as well as greater firepower and almost the same speed than the BF109E.

[The two newer airplane types also presumably had greater all-weather capacity than their ancestors]

* I don't know much about radar, but let's also give the RN Korean-war vintage air search, target-tracking and acquisition, and gunlaying radars.

Let’s assume that these four weapons are available in unlimited quantity for the Royal Navy and the FAA from day one of the war, but, somehow, magically, cannot be reverse-engineered by any nation. Also, they cannot be based on land, unless a carrier is sinking or is incapacitated and flies off its planes (as Illustrious' Fulmars were sent to Malta in Jan 1941).

* How would the Norway campaign have been different?
* How would the searches for the Bismark, Graf Spee, and other surface raiders been different?
* How would the Mediterranean (Crete, Taranto, convoys, naval battles with the Italians) have been different
* How would the Arctic and Atlantic convoys have been different?
* Could Sommerville, Indomitable, Formidable, and Hermes have taken on the Kido Butai in the Indian Ocean in 1942?

LeopardTooth

Re: Royal Navy with Vastly Improved Air-Warfare Weapons in 1

Post by LeopardTooth » Wed Jan 23, 2013 5:34 am

I guess I pose the question because the RN seemed to have gotten so many good results in the first couple years of WW2, without seemingly having many modern weapons for air warfare. The fighters were obsolete and over-matched, the bombers (as accomplished as the Swordfish was) were (famously) slow biplanes, and the anti-aircraft guns (pom-poms, dual-purpose, and vickers mgs) also seem weak by late-war standards. I have wondered: how would the RN have performed if they had not just appropriate tools for the job, but the most outstanding WW2-ish ones possible.

I do not know how much more lethal RN ships would have been in 1939 or 1940 against air attack if they were bristling with radar-guided, proximity-fused, high-ceiling, high-muzzle velocity 100-RPM automatic weapons, light enough to allow many mountings per vessel. I have a vision of a fleet of ships so outfitted basically untouchable by contemporary attack planes, but I also suspect that that may be an exaggeration.

My guess as to how things would have been different:

* Norway
Furious, Ark Royal, and Furious' planes and fleet AA would have probably done a better job fighting off repeated heavy German air attacks. Suffolk, Cairo, and Curacoa would perhaps not have been damaged, and Curlew perhaps not sunk.

Improved air defense would perhaps have also allowed a more Southern range of operations than was actually allowed for. This, coupled with Skyraiders with surface scan radars (AD-4N and/or AD-4W configurations) and long airborne hang time might have been able to locate the Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, Lutzow, and/or Hipper - and allowed air strikes, or vectoring the six RN capital ships at sea in to close for battle.

If not, Glorious probably still would have been sunk, since Captain D'Oyly-Hughes had no combat air patrol flying, no aircraft ready on the deck, and no lookout in the crow's nest. The ship might not however have been traveling back to Scapa Flow with only two destroyers for escort, if D'Oyly-Hughes had not been in such a hurry to court martial his air wing commander, if the air wing commander had more confidence in his planes' capacities and hadn't refused an air strike order ...

A year later, with Sea Fury dominance over the BF109 and the BF110, and Skyraider speed and heavy armament, the FAA raid on Kirkenes harbor would not been the air-ro-air disaster that they actually were with Albacores and Fulmars.

* Surface Raiders
I imagine that 825 Squadron off Victorious, if equipped with 320-MPH Skyraiders each carrying three aerial torpedoes each (as well as 460-MPH Sea Furies carrying 2,000 lbs of bombs), would have sunk the Bismarck in the open sea on May 24. If not, Ark Royal's planes would have on May 26. Rodney, KGV, and friends simply sail back home.

Not sure how this fantasy would have changed other surface raider episodes. I imagine the Skyraider's hang time and radar capacities might have enabled some detections that did not happen in real life.

* Mediterranean
Obviously, fewer merchant ships lost in convoys to air attack, more Italian and German planes shot down per attack.

One or two other Italian battleships USS Oklahoma-style capsized at Taranto - more total losses than just Conte di Cavour.

Not sure how surface battles would have been different. The Italians probably would have been even more reluctant to give battle, if an RN carrier appeared to be at all nearby.

Illustrious probably still plastered on January 1941, given how thorough and overwhelming Fliegerkorps X's attack was. Fliegerkorps X would have worn down planes and pilots much more rapidly in all of their attacks around that time, however, if up against Sea Furies and masses of the 3"/70.

Third Cruiser Squadron perhaps able to throw up enough accurate flak during Operation Excess that Southampton not lost.

Ark Royal, Eagle, Barham, Galatea, Penelope, Bonaventure, Cairo, Calypso, Hermoine, and Naiad probably still would have been lost to submarines (as well as Courageous, Royal Oak, Audacity, Avenger, Nabob, and Dunedin in the Atlantic), unless the Skyradier's search radar somehow made it an unstoppable WW2 sub-killer.

The Crete evacuation is really what got me thinking about this fantasy scenario, given how inadequate RN AA seemed to be for the Luftwaffe's challenge. Obviously, in this fantasy (Formidable flying off deckfulls of CAP (both Sea Furies for the BF109s, and Skyraiders going for the Ju88s), and the sky over the fleet a rainstorm of proximity-fused shells), fewer battleships and cruisers get sunk or damaged, and therefore there are more flak guns available to prevent other ships from being sunk or damaged. Gloucester, Fiji, and Greyhound probably still lost, since they were operating far from friendlies, and just about out of AA ammo, when sunk.

* Atlantic convoys
Not sure if the Bogue (Tracker/Ruler) class escort carriers could carry a plane as large and heavy as the AD-4. If so, obviously, once the ships became available in significant numbers, life as a U-Boat sailor would have been noticeably more unpleasant. Also, more Luftwaffe anti-shipping strike planes would have been shot down, and fewer merchant ships sunk.

* Arctic convoys
Same as Atlantic convoys

Trinidad perhaps not bombed and sunk in May 1942.

Would Tovey and Dudley Pound's confidence in Victorious' air group's ability to track (and attack) Tirpitz, Scheer, and Hipper perhaps have not had PQ17 scatter?

* Far East
Not sure if PoW and Repulse with vastly improved AA suites could have survived to reach the Japanese transports, survived just long enough to get back to Singapore without sinking, or just delayed the inevitable rendezvous with Davey Jones for a bit.

Not sure if Sommerville, in April 1942, with ~110 superior planes on three decks (Indomitable, Formidable, and Hermes) would have gone up against Nagumo and his ~350 planes on six decks. Add in land-based RAF air power, a barrage of flak from five RN battleships and seven cruisers, and the fact that Sommerville actually did try to launch strikes against Nagumo even equipped with just Fulmars and Albacores, however, had me think that he would have gone for it in this fantasy scenario.

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Re: Royal Navy with Vastly Improved Air-Warfare Weapons in 1

Post by tommy303 » Wed Jan 23, 2013 7:16 pm

The problem you would run into with the Sea Fury and the Skyraider would be that they were too large and heavy to operate from British early and pre-war carriers.

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Re: Royal Navy with Vastly Improved Air-Warfare Weapons in 1

Post by Keith Enge » Wed Jan 23, 2013 7:36 pm

There are other problems to your supposition. You say that only the British had this advanced technology and no one else could even reverse-engineer it. However, this is contradicted by the fact that the Skyraider is a US, not a British plane. Tommy303 mentioned that early British carriers couldn't host such heavy planes. These planes were also large and so fewer could be fit into British hangars. British carrier airplane complements were already small and this would make them smaller. Therefore, although the planes would be superior, there would be only a few of them available. Your scenarios mostly dealt with actions against land-based airpower which have no number limits. Thus, the few superior planes would likely be overwhelmed by far superior numbers; quantity can trump quality.

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Re: Royal Navy with Vastly Improved Air-Warfare Weapons in 1

Post by LeopardTooth » Wed Jan 23, 2013 11:54 pm

The Sea Fury was smaller than the Fulmar, Skua, Albacore, or Swordfish. The Skyraider was smaller than the Albacore. But the later planes were of course heavy.

Argus, Eagle, and Hermes were, of course, all small by WW2 fleet carrier standards. Nearly as I can tell, however, the Courageous, Furious, and Glorious all had flight decks about the same size as the Illustriouses, or at least not much smaller. Although the older ships decks of course weren't armored - perhaps you are saying that a wooden deck would be too weak for the heavier later planes. Late in the war, however, the Furious did operate Baraccudas and Hellcats, which were both heavier than Sea Furies. (No getting around that the Skyraider was a weighty piece of machinery however.)

The Skyraider did serve with the FAA, 1951-1962. And many of the hypothetical scenarios on this board involve strange, unrealistic nationality combinations - US cruisers fighting the Graf Spee at River Plate, HMS Hood VS USS Arleigh Burke, Royal Navy vs USN in 1918, etc

As for there being no numeric limit to land-based air, I find myself doubting that, at Norway, Crete, Malta, Pedestal, on the Arctic Convoys, etc. Luftwaffe and Regia Aeronautica commanders said to themselves, "Well, if the Limeys had Sea Furies, we'd hit 'em twice as hard. But, since it's just Fulmars, we're gonna cut 'em some slack and go easy on them." What I believe happened in that they sent all the planes they were able, and always hit as hard as they could.

But if the scenario as presented seems to unbelievable to people, I'd be curious to read some musings as to how (1) the Crete evacuation and (2) PoW/Repulse might have been different if RN ships had been bristling with Korean-war-era air search radars and with 100-RPM radar-guided high-ceiling heavy-shell proximity-fused ack-ack. (alternative comment starter for Axis-philes - how would the war been different if all nation's naval ships had been so equipped in 1939).

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Re: Royal Navy with Vastly Improved Air-Warfare Weapons in 1

Post by tommy303 » Thu Jan 24, 2013 4:26 am

Although the older ships decks of course weren't armored - perhaps you are saying that a wooden deck would be too weak for the heavier later planes. Late in the war, however, the Furious did operate Baraccudas and Hellcats, which were both heavier than Sea Furies.
Weight wasn't the only problem, although it certainly was a consideration. Normal operational loaded weights for the Barracudas and Hellcats were close to that for the Sea Fury, all in the 12,000 to 13,000 lbs range. Both the Sea Fury and the Skyraider had verticaly folding wings which made them unsuitable for hanger stowage on most British carriers of the early war period, while the Albacores, Swordfish, Skuas, Barracudas, and even the Hellcats and Avengers had horizontally folding wings. The Corsair, which was operated by the RN in some numbers had to be modified by clipping the wing tips to make them fit.

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They stood and Earth's foundations stay;
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And saved the sum of things for pay.

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Re: Royal Navy with Vastly Improved Air-Warfare Weapons in 1

Post by LeopardTooth » Thu Jan 24, 2013 6:52 am

Tommy303 - you clearly know your stuff. Respect.

The hypothetical might work with F8F-2 Bearcats. They never IRL served with the FAA (unlike, of course, other Grumman planes like the F4F, F6F, and TBF). They had smaller wings-unfolded dimensions than any other carrier-borne plane mentioned in this thread save the Gladiator, and weighed less than the Albacore or Fulmar. They had 55-60% again the range of the Sea Fury, greater rate of climb, and higher ceiling, with the same bomb load and cannon firepower and approximately the same speed. The wings folded up, but not much higher than the plane.

Not sure if they could dive bomb or be modified to carry a torpedo. If so, they would presumably be all an early-war air wing would need.

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Re: Royal Navy with Vastly Improved Air-Warfare Weapons in 1

Post by neil hilton » Tue May 14, 2013 8:10 pm

Could also go with the supermarine seafang, which was a contempory of the sea fury and bearcat and if anything slightly better, and would fit into ww2 rn carriers.
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