Zeus Class Battleships

 

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The Zeus class battleships when completed in late 1917 were the biggest battleships in existence. Neither ship left Atlantean waters during the remainder of WW1. They were deemed too valuable to be risked at that stage of the war. The ships were close enough to the new Treaty limits that they were allowed to be kept. During the 1920's and 30's, the Atlantean Fleet practiced mock battles against whoever wanted to come out and play, USA, UK, France, Italy, all were invited to come and wargame. Interestingly the fleet able to put the most aircraft in the air, gained the most advantage. It was dificult for the Admirals of the time to be able to assign more than nuisance value to aircraft.

As Completed
Displacement: 36,000 tons standard, 41,200 tons full load
Dimensions: 720 x 104 x 30
Machinery: 4 shaft, Steam Turbine, 120,000shp
Speed: 28 knots
Endurance: 6,500 at 15 knots
Armour: 13" Belt, 4" deck, 13"-8" turrets.
Armament:
8 x 16" (4x2)
12 x 5.5" (12x1)
10 x 90mm (10x1)

Crew: 1400 (1500 as flagship)



 

1937 and both ships were docked for a large refit to completely update the ships to modern standards. New superstructures, deck armour, propulsion systems, new dual purpose and AA guns being fitted. Both ships refit was upgraded to double shift from the start of WW2 and they both completed their refits in early 1940.

After 1937-40 refit
Displacement: 38,500 tons standard, 44,500 tons full load
Dimensions: 720 x 104 x 30
Machinery: 4 shaft, Steam Turbine, 120,000shp
Speed: 28 knots
Endurance: 6,500 at 15 knots
Armour: 13" Belt, 6" deck, 13"-8" turrets.
Armament:
8 x 16" (4x2)
20 x 5" (10x2)
40 x 40mm (10x4)
28 x 25.4mm (14x2)

Crew: 1470 (1525 as flagship)


1940 and both ships with the Athena (CV) and escorts were the patrol line between Atlantis and Florida. This allowed the newly put together crews for the ships to get valuable sea time. After three months of patrol, it was found that the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau had broken the patrol line and had returned to Germany. Zeus and Hades returned to Atlantis, and were then reassigned to the Eastern Mediterranean Fleet. Athena joined the ships which then passed through the Mediterranean and joined the fleet at Alexandria. Three weeks later and that transfer would have been disputed by the Italians. Admiral Cunningham, as much as possible, went on the offensive. With two aircraft carriers with plenty of attack aircraft aboard, a daring plan was put together to attack the Italian Fleet at its main base at Taranto. While these plans were being made France had fallen and the Italians had joined the war on the Axis side. Both fleets were at sea disputing the sea control, but the Italians managed to avoid contact with the supperior Allied fleet. Admiral Cunningham revisited the idea of a night air attack on Taranto at the end of October 1940. The plans were approved and set for the night 11-12 November. Finally an Atlantean ship got to write its name into history. The aircraft from Athena joined the aircraft from Illustrious (see Fisherless RN for AU model) and struck the ships at anchor in Taranto. Of the 30 ships at anchor that night 20 were sunk or damaged, this included 3 of the 6 battleships in the harbour. It was a resounding victory at a time when victories had been hard to come by for the Allies. According to Admiral Cunningham, "Taranto, and the night of November 1112, 1940, should be remembered for ever as having shown once and for all that in the Fleet Air Arm the Navy has its most devastating weapon."

Into 1941 and the advantage the Allies had gained was offset by the German offensives in the Balkans. March and the Fleet finally caught two of Italy's remaining battleships at sea. Aircraft from the Illustrious and Athena struck at the Italian ships and managed to torpedo both battleships, two cruisers and sunk two destroyers with bombs. Unfortunately both Italian battleships seemed to shrug off their torpedo hits and continued toward Taranto and safety at 24 knots. There was no way that Admiral Cunninghams forces could catch the Italians before they made harbour. Dusk closed in and the Fleet kept on toward the Italian mainland, hoping that a dawn strike with aircraft might bring the Italians down to a speed where they could come under the guns of the five battleships waiting for them. During the night the forward escorting destroyer reported a large contact stopped off his starboard bow. Minutes later the same escort advised that three more ships had come into radar range looking like they were heading for the stopped ship. Admiral Cunningham formed his line of battle and aimed to pass down at a range of about 10,000 yards from the Italians. Shortly afterwards the Valiant lit its searchlights up and the four Italian heavy cruisers were bathed in light. Up and down the line each ship lit its searchlights and opened fire on its designated target. The four cruisers and two destroyers disappeared as the large shell splashes and bursts of flame from large shell hits took to the sky. In less than 10 minutes all of the six Italian ships had been sunk.

The loss of Crete to the German parachute regiments was a devastating blow and forced another retreat under the enemies guns (and aircraft). The number of German aircraft now in the Eastern Mediterranean Theatre put all of Admiral Cunninghams ships at risk. While the two carriers carried enough fighter aircraft to keep the Fleet reasonably safe, there was always a few that might get through the fighters. It was during this period that Hades was hit by two 500kg bombs, that while they did not penetrate the main armoured deck, the bombs had caused serious damage by fire to ship systems. Hades was ordered to Trincomalee for repair. Not long after this event, Admiral Cunninghams force was trying to run a small convoy of merchantmen to Malta. The Germans had bided their time and waited for Admiral Cunningham to extend himself just a little too far. A co-ordinated strike by over 150 aircraft was launched at the Fleet. The attackers were met by the 65 fighters that Athena and Illustrious could launch. A mighty air battle took place over and around the fleet with aircraft of both sides exploding or falling to the sea. Finally the discipline of the Germans won through some medium bombers and dive bombers to attack the fleet. It was obvious that the carriers were the targets and Admiral Cunningham had disposed his four battleships in a box with one battleship on either side of each carrier with two AA cruisers astern of the carriers to take on the divebombers. It was now that the 40 Skua dive bombers had been held back for, they were not fast enough to take on the ME109's but they were more than a match for the bombers. In two waves the Skuas came in at almost a broadside attack as the bombers tried to line up for attacks from behind the fleet. While this broke up the bomber force from a co-ordinated attack to individual attempts it did not stop both carriers from receiving bomb damage. Three bombs hit the Illustrious, and one on Athena. The Illustrious was seriously damaged and had taken on a list. The remaining aircraft would have to be based on Athena. Admiral Cunningham reversed course and headed back to Alexandria. More attacks from Italian aircraft were chased off by the remaining fighters. The German Air Wing had received such a mauling that it would be another few weeks before it became fully effective again. But the Germans had achieved their aim in putting the carriers out of action. Illustrious has to be sent to America for repair (under Lend Lease). Athena had temporary repairs and had to stay with the fleet at Alexandria untill it could be relieved by the Golden Hind. Athena was then ordered to Trincomalee with the Zeus and other Atlantean ships as escorts.

The Atlanteans now had a sizeable fleet in Trincomalee, featuring the carrier, two battleships, two heavy and two AA cruisers, and half a dozen destroyers. The Japanese were now making war noises and Allied forces in the Far Eastern theatre were on yellow alert. The Atlantean force was ordered to Singapore where it met up with British Force Z containing the Repulse, Prince of Wales, Indefatigable and four destroyers. The force had only been together a week and had one sortie to try to work out the best way for the force to work together. December 7th and the news reverberates around the world of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. 48 hours later Force Z is ordered to sea as reports of Japanese landings in Northern Malaya are received. With the battleships leading Force Z proceeds north. Japanese reconnaisance aircraft report the force before they are chased off by the CAP. Knowing the importance of the carriers and that the latest British reconaisance only showed two battleships some cruisers destroyers and the merchantmen landing the troops, Admiral Philips orders the carriers to keep at least 30 miles behind the battleships which Admiral Philips orders at full speed to the landing site. While still six hours steaming from the landing site Admiral Philips is made aware of enemy aircraft coming in from the North. Numbers of enemies rise and rise till it is over 300 aircraft. Admiral Philips is screaming for air support and while the six CAP aircraft are sent immediately while other fighters are readied and launched it takes time to get a reasonable force of fighters away. The first 6 CAP aircraft are just overwhelmed by the leading Zeros and lose all six for one Zero down. The AA fire from the four battleships is impressive and keeps the medium bombers higher than might have been. But it is the torpedo bombers that doom Force Z's battleships. The Repulse receives four torpedo hits and rolls over and sinks. Prince of Wales takes seven torpedo hits before accumulated damage stops it dead in the water and slowly capsizing. Hades receives four torpedo hits and while still moving is mortally wounded, making water and heading for the protection of the carriers aircraft, Hades too will receive another torpedo hit and several more bomb hits that stops it dead in the water till the ship goes down by the bow the Atlantean flag still flying. Only Zeus is left. Being the last in the line, Zeus received only one torpedo hit (on the armoured belt causing little damage) and three bomb hits. The last Japanese aircraft with ordnance left were preparing to attack Zeus when a group of thirty fighters from the carriers arrived and broke up the attack. Zeus was moving at best speed toward the carriers. The four destroyers that had been escorting the battleships had been reduced to three, one being torpedoed by a torpedo that was aimed at a battleship hitting the destroyer instead. The remaining three destroyers were brave in staying long enough to pull more than a 1000 Allied sailors out of the water. before catching up with and then escorting the Zeus back toward Singapore. Time and distance saved the Zeus from more damage as several sorties of Japanese aircraft attacked the ship but the dozen fighters over the ships broke up and dispersed the attacks. Zeus and the two carriers make it back to Singapore but the number of fighters left onboard the carriers is less than half what they started with. Replacement aircraft are only a dozen crated fighters on board a merchantman. Any more would have to travel thousands of miles to get there.

The Zeus is ordered to Sydney for repair. The Zeus is to go to Java to pick up British women and children that want to leave before the Japanese get there. On arrival at Soerabaya the ships orders are changed and Zeus is ordered to join the ABDA force. No sooner than Zeus joins the six cruisers and four destroyers (six when the Zeus' two destroyers escorting the ship are added in) when the ships are ordered to intercept a Japanese invasion force heading for Java. The force is led by the Dutch heavy cruiser Nijmegen, then Zeus, Exeter, Chicago, Perth, De Ruyter, Java, with the destroyers three a side. Reconnaisance aircraft from both sides found each others forces. The Japanese force the ABDA Command was facing consisted of a 14" battleship (Kongo type), two heavy cruisers, three light cruisers and ten destroyers, with six large merchantmen containing the troops. Mid-afternoon and smoke was sighted on the horizon and the high search radar on the Zeus had the Japanese ships on screen at 35,000 yards. Five minutes later the Zeus opened fire at 32,000 yards on the Japanese battleship. The range slowly came down and the Zeus' accuracy improved and four hits from one salvo hit the Haruna and like a few british designed battlecruisers before it, a magazine exploded the Haruna falling onto its side and slowly sinking. Haruna was not alone for long. The ABDA force had followed line ahead, as this was the first Allied force to encounter the Japanese Long Lance torpedoes. At a range of 30,000 yards the Japanese ships launched 40 torpedoes in one salvo, and at 25,000 yards a further 20 were launched at what was left of the ABDA force. The first 40 torpedoes did all the damage. Nijmegen was hit twice in the fore end, which exploded, breaking the ship in two. Zeus received four hits in the first salvo damaging the propellors and rudder rendering the Zeus dead in the water, Exeter received one hit and turned out of the line with steam coming out from a ruptured boiler. Chicago and Perth were lucky and also turned out of the line. De Ruyter and Java were not so lucky and received two hits each which sank both ships. With the Zeus dead in the water it received six more torpedo hits from the second salvo which literally ripped open the side of the ship, the Zeus rolled over and sank. The aft half of the Nijmegen received another hit which finished it off, while the De Ruyter received another hit which was overkill for that ship. The Japanese kept firing from the cruisers for another thirty minutes which gave the escorting destroyers little chance to pick up the survivors. Only 120 of Zeus's crew were eventually picked up. This was the Atlantean Navies largest loss of life in one go.

 

AWS Zeus (1917) Fate: Sunk 27/02/1942, after receiving multiple torpedo hits at the Battle of the Java Sea.

AWS Hades (1917) Fate: Sunk 10/12/1941, after receiving multiple bomb and torpedo hits at the Sinking of Force Z.

 

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