F3 Battlecruiser, HMS Nelson 1927


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My thanks to Nick for the following idea for the Special Projects pages.

I have always been interested in the nelson class ships but find myself thinking if the royal navy could be better off with something else. I usually come to thinking of the F3 battlecruiser design. So my idea for you if you are interested would be this scenario: The royal navy sees the world is going 16inch, but lets say the royal navy really likes the idea of keeping a full 15inch battle line for logistical sake and increased fluidity in battle as one line as the same gun characteristics etc. Because the royal navy find it acceptable to have a 15inch armed ship, and they will not accept a poorly armoured ship, they essentially take a more G3 approach to the nelson class rather than a N3 one, where they build a fast (28 knots), well armed (3x3 or 2x4 15 inch turrets) and well armoured battlecruiser (really a fast battleship). Taking inspiration of the F3 battlecruiser design, how would u design a battlecruiser (fast battleship) from these specifications? Would you go for an all forward 15inch armed ship of 3 triple turrets or 2 quads? Or maybe not even all forward (I would assume all forward is best for weight savings). Would you even accept the size gun and try make 16 guns work on the nelly displacement instead? Essentially what would your version of a F3 derived design would look like? 

Another thing to note is how effective would this design be in your alternate world or ours.

So the F3 was an all turret forward version of the British next generation of battleships and battlecruisers to match the Japanese and American giants then under construction. The British entries finalised into the N3 battleship and G3 battlecruiser. Both would displace 48,000 tons or more.

With the Washington Treaty in place N3 and G3 are dead designs. But these designs are modified to produce the Nelson class.

It is easy to see the resemblances between the designs. The F3 design was probably closer to the final Nelson design than the G3/N3 combination. I have explored in the past, with the Fisherless RN, the chances of following the fast battleship rather than the battlecruiser line. No Repulse, Renown, Hood. I went with a triple 15" armed set of ships. The first, a three turret design (Barfleur), was then followed by a four turret design (Majestic). The WNT allowed for the completion of existing battleships under construction as long as they are within the 35,000 plus 3,000 allowance for a total of 38,000 tons. That figure allowed me to complete an extra two Majestic class, in place of the two Nelsons, which only needed to lose 2,000 tons to come within the 38,000 ton limit.

So as far as I can see, the trick is to lay down some 38,000-40,000 ton ships, that can be completed under the Washington Naval Treaty, by 1920, after which the length of time building the ships (in peacetime) can take as long as you like. This allows you to try out new equipment before it may get fitted to the new ships.

I have never been a fan of the Nelson class. They never struck me as much of an improvement over the Queen Elizabeth type in real life, and even less so when stacked against the Barfleur and Majestic types. For me this means that in my AU I would build only two Majestic class and lay down another two 15" armed ships to the same 40,000 ton limit but with a different layout. I would also want to change the British prevalence for 'zero' bow sheer so that I can put some flare forward. Which would also fit in with my 'special' hull. I would also drop the twin 6", which while it is given a high angle is not a barrage AA weapon and never had AA shells made for it (that I can find out about). Delete the torpedoes, words fail me. The only problem with the 4.7" AA guns fitted to all these designs is the 'fixed' ammunition. Replace that with bag and shell and you have a perfectly viable weapon that could be used as a dual purpose weapon. Put the mounting into a turret and you have a saving in weight overall. The replacement of the 16" designs with 15" guns and you get the extra savings in weight to bring the ship within the WNT 38k limit.

Completed in 1927 after seven years of building. The final design showed a powerful and fast ship. The twin 6" were deleted and replaced with single 4.7" turret mounted dual purpose guns with bag and shell ammunition. The six octuple mountings took four years before all of them had been mounted aboard. A 13" armoured belt with 9" end plates and a 6" deck gave the ship an armoured heart.

Quad 0.5" machineguns were added and then deleted in favour of single and twin Oerlikon cannons. The single 4.7" were swapped out in favour of faster firing twin 4" mountings, the number being reduced to five per side for 20 barrels aboard. Aircraft handling facilities were fitted aboard with the ships boats being placed abreast of the funnel.

Admiral Holland, sits on the bridge of his flagship HMS Hood, he is justly proud of the fleet he is commanding. Four battleships with 12x15" and another two with 9x15", they have a fearsome firepower that should be able to overcome anything the Germanic States may have to throw at it. While he may take pride in the battle fleet, he knows and acknowledges that the true firepower of the fleet resides in the three large fleet carriers and one light fleet carrier with the fleet. But up here, 60 miles south of Iceland, fog and bad weather have a bad habit of keeping the carriers aircraft deck bound just when they were needed. Admiral Holland was in command of the cover force for the Denmark Strait and Faeroes gap. He had cruisers in the straits themselves to give early warning of any enemies approach. His fleet was surrounded by destroyers all pinging away with asdic, while the specialist ASW aircraft off the light fleet carrier roamed around the fleet at a short distance looking for any sub surface predators. The big carriers had their recon aircraft up to help the cruisers fill the gaps in any coverage. The fleet is prepared and waiting.

A message is received and raced to the bridge. The Flag Captain reads the message and passes it to Admiral Holland with a smile. The message is from the Admiralty, the RAF recon flights of that day over the ports of Norway and Germany can find no trace of the Germanic States fleet, the Germans are at sea somewhere. The Admirals orders are succinct. Get those flyboys in the air, find the Germans!

Nervous tension is in the air. The same question is in everyone's minds, "Where are the Germans?". The cruisers in the Faroes Gap report first. "Under attack by German battlecruiser!" That is both cruisers have a German battlecruiser each. The Germanic States doctrine has always been 'get the scouts', that way they cannot continue to shadow and report on your presence. Dorsetshire and Cumberland are in trouble as death roars out of the dawn. Two Von Roon class battlecruisers are too much for the cruisers to handle. Both ships orders are to evade and shadow superior forces. In this case the Von Roon and Ostereich are right in their faces, evasion and shadow are not to be. The two cruisers are quickly overwhelmed and sunk. The Germans have managed to open a hole in the Allied patrol forces that would allow the Germanic States fleet units to pour through.

Admiral Holland knows the Germans are going to have a few hours head start on him but he will have to try his best to cut them off from the Atlantic. A Fleet order is sent out, "Change course to head for the Faroes Gap - 22 knots". Another polite request with some heat in it is sent to the carriers. Find those battlecruisers!

More recon aircraft are sent aloft on their search missions. An hour later a report is received. The two battlecruisers have been spotted but they are heading toward Iceland. "Where is the rest of the fleet?" Admiral Holland waits for more reports but no further news comes in on the German fleet. Daylight is passing. Admiral Holland does not want to commit his carrier aircraft on a strike on the two battlecruisers without knowing where the rest of the German Fleet is. Another two hours pass and no further news of the Germans is found. Was this just a feint? Admiral Holland runs out of patience. Send a strike force to sink those two battlecruisers! The die is cast.

It all takes time. Another hour has passed to get the strike in the air and after the two battlecruisers. Another hour passes before the strike force is due to reach the battlecruisers. During all these hours the cover fleet is heading toward the Faroes Gap at 22 knots. Getting further and further away from the Denmark Strait.

'Contact!' Sir we have received a report from the Suffolk and Norfolk in the Denmark Strait, they have two contacts coming toward their positions. Like in the Faroes Gap, the Germans have sent in two battlecruisers after the patrol cruisers. In this case the Hipper and Scheer are the ships being the hunters. Again, in the weather and sea conditions in the Denmark Strait favour the Germanic States ships. Being bigger they can maintain a better speed and are able to close on the Commonwealth cruisers. The 12" guns aboard the German ships start hitting the cruisers which start to slow and come even closer to the guns. This is what the battlecruisers were built for. Sinking patrol cruisers.

Admiral Holland had a major problem both, of his sets of patrol cruisers had been sunk. He still had no idea where the main Germanic States Fleet was. Lastly, was he going the wrong way? Every minute he kept going toward the Faroes Gap was taking him further away from the Denmark Strait where another action had taken place that could point toward where the GS Main Fleet was. He was caught in the mean time in that he could not turn back for another thirty minutes or so as the strike force would run out of fuel before it could make it back to the carriers. Admiral Holland was still waiting for the reports from the strike force.

On the Germanic States side, a lot of planning had gone into the events that were unfolding. The German Admiral was playing this like a chess match, something at which he was a Grand Master. So the Admiral hoped that his two battlecruisers sinking the two Faroes Gap patrol cruisers would drag the British cover force to the east. From the signals points of origin, that is what happened. The German Admiral was not in mind to lose his battlecruisers if he could avoid it. To that end he had the Richtoften two cruisers and four destroyers in place north of the battlecruisers. Then it was a matter of timing. The Germans aren't stupid. They have only five aircraft carriers, two fleet, two light fleet and a training carrier that never left the Baltic. They are so badly outnumbered they need to do something to try to offset some of the disparity. What they did was to fill their carriers with fighter aircraft. The Richtoften had 45 odd fighters aboard with which they could put a screen over the two battlecruisers to hopefully save them from destruction. The Germans knew when the two battlecruisers had been spotted by the cruisers and then when they had been re-acquired by aircraft reconnaissance. Add two hours to that figure and that is the earliest that an attack force could arrive at the battlecruisers. That is where the guessing would come in. Would the British Admiral send off a strike force straight away? The German Admiral thought not. He would want to know where the enemy fleet was before committing his most potent force.

Admiral Albrecht was standing on the bridge of his Flagship, Scharnhorst, with its three sisterships at the trail. Along with the battleships he had the two Graf Zeppelins full of fighters. As escorts were four cruisers and four destroyers. It was the aircraft from the carriers that made Admiral Albrecht sure that his force remained undetected. The other part of his fleet were the four battlecruisers and light carrier that were carrying out seperate orders. His ships were under orders not to transmit till they were revealed to the enemy. The Kapitan onboard the Richtoften would have to make his own decision on the timing of the launch of the fighters that might or might not save the two battlecruisers.

The Roon and Ostereich are aware of the plan and are now running hard toward where the Richtoften is supposed to be. The closer they can get to the Richtoften the more time in the air the fighters can have over them. (A little aside here. In the big Denmark Strait battle also in these pages, I have the battle in August 1941, where I can fill the German carrier with Focke Wulf 190-A aircraft, an aircraft far superior to anything on the Allied carriers. In this battle, July 1940, the Germans have the Messerschmitt 109-T a fighter that is no better than the Griffon fighters aboard the Allied carriers and inferior to the Whirlwind II recon fighter. Which is why I have doubled the number of carriers and aircraft, the Germans are going to need them.)

The Richtoften launches the 35 fighters to cover the two battlecruisers, they reach the ships with no other aircraft in sight. Leaving a CAP of three aircraft, the rest orbit a short distance away in fuel saving mode and where they can't be spotted to soon before they can spring the trap.. They have a drop tank but this wont help if the Allied aircraft do not turn up in time. 'Contact' the Allied aircraft are coming in. About 70 aircraft, 30 torpedo bombers, 20 dive bombers, 20 fighters. The 3 CAP fighters swing up and behind the Allied air group, drawing 5 of the Griffon fighters to go after them. With the rest of the German fighters 12 are tasked with taking on the remaining Griffons, leaving 20 to go after the bombers. The torpedo bombers are the priority. 15 Me-109's go after the torpedo bombers while the other 5 break up the Skua dive bomber runs. Aircraft melees are everywhere across they sky. Lines of black smoke and explosions show where aircraft from both sides have met their makers. The Griffons have tried to ignore the Me-109's sent after them, and go after the Me-109's going after the torpedo bombers.

100+ aircraft started out, losses were horrendous, the outnumbered Me-109's did themselves proud. Only eight returned to the carrier, four of them were damaged. But they did their job, they saved the battlecruisers. No torpedo hits were registered on them. To achieve that the Skuas had had an almost free drop. Three hits on the Roon and four on the Ostereich. None of these hits did any critical damage that would slow the ships down. Why? Because the Skua only carried a 250kg (500lb) bomb. These bombs lacked the penetration power to get through the deck armour of the battlecruisers. Allied aircraft losses amounted to 22 torpedo bombers, 4 Skua dive bombers, and 12 of the Griffons. The two battlecruisers joined the Richtoften and headed straight for the Norwegian coast, their part of the plan was finished.

With the air strike survivors landing on and no reason to chase the battlecruisers further, Admiral Holland turned the fleet around and headed for the Denmark Strait hoping to be in time to catch the German fleet before it passed through into the Atlantic. The Admiral had another problem in that he did not have the time to fuel the fleet, and neither could he increase speed for the same reason. It was going to be close. Admiral Holland knew the Germans could not run at too fast a speed either if they wanted to be able to get into the Atlantic with a large enough radius of action to be able to do damage to the convoys criss-crossing the Atlantic.

The long range Whirlwinds were sent up into the Denmark Strait to locate the main Germanic States Fleet. The reports they sent back showed exactly where the fleet was, what it consisted of, and how fast it was proceeding. The Germans tried to chase the Whirlwinds away, but they could fly higher and faster than the Me-109's. The Germans did not know where the Allied fleet was, even with drop tanks the Me-109 did not have the range to find them. The Germans launched three of their Arado floatplanes and sent them off not expecting to see them again. All three kept sending reports till they stopped. One was shot down by the CAP over the Allied fleet and reported so. The other two were shot down by the Whirlwinds going to and from their reconnaissance of the German Fleet. So the Germans now knew where the British fleet was but not what it consisted of or how fast it was going and which way it was travelling.  It is simple mathematics to work out where the Allied fleet had been when it was making all the noise over the wireless, to where it was when the Arado was shot down by the CAP, and work out how fast it must have been going to get from one point to the other. Extend a line from there to where you expect to be to where they are and you will know if they are going to intercept you or not.

Admiral Albrecht had a dilemna, his fleet navigator had given him the bad news. The extra four to six hours he thought he might get from the feint of the battlecruisers in the Faroes Gap did not work out. The Germanic States Fleet had been just to far away from the entrance to the Denmark Strait to make the difference Admiral Albrecht had wanted. What did he want to do? Carry on and force the battle which he could not win? Retreat and save the Fleet for another try at a later date? Losing a large portion of his fleet to no purpose held no honour or glory. It was better to be able to claim victory with the sinking of the four cruisers and call the rest a draw. With a bitter snarl Admiral Albrecht raps out his orders, a 180 degree turn and a retreat through the Denmark Strait. He will live to fight another day.

So who was sitting there waiting for me to pit the German battleships against the British battle line? Have the Hood sunk by the Bismarck all over again? Its only 1940, Hood v Bismarck isn't till May 1941. With the size of the fleets now available it is difficult to engineer such meetings and make them happen in a believable way. The advantage I give the Germans in the 1941 Denmark Strait Battle with the FW190's nullifies the advantage the Allies have in carriers and puts the clock back to the Battle lines fighting. At that point I can then stage a BB-v-BB battle that could go either way. I can't do that in 1940.

To answer Nick's question about how an F3/Nelson type ship would fare in either my AU or the real world would depend on circumstances. One on one with the Real Life Bismarck would be interesting. The Nelson would be able to deal out more punishment firing 12 gun salvoes as opposed to the Bismarck's 8 gun salvoes. The Bismarck would have had better gunnery optics, that German equipment was excellent. Bismarck being a much bigger ship could probably absorb more punishment. It would probably need to. Whoever got that one lucky hit that decides these battles would come out on top.

The F3/Nelson against my Scharnhorst class ships would not fare well. The hits from the 16.5" shells would be lethal to a ship that was over ten years older in design. The British were very strict on themselves when building their new ships to the 35,000 ton limit. The King George V design was going to be overweight with three quad 14" turrets so what did they do, chop B turret to a twin. Which meant that those navies that did not show the same regard for the limits would always have an edge. The Axis '35,000' ton battleships were all overweight.

  As Built 1927 Refits to 1939/40
Displacement 38,000 tons standard, 44,300 tons full load 39,400 tons std, 44,900 full load
Length 750 ft 750 ft
Breadth 102 ft 102 ft
Draught 30 ft 30 ft
Machinery 4 shafts, geared turbines, 135,000shp 4 shafts, geared turbines, 135,000shp
Speed 29 knots 29 knots
Range 8,000 miles at 14 knots 8,000 miles at 14 knots
Armour 13" sides, 6" deck, turrets 13"/10"/8". 13" sides, 6" deck, turrets 13"/10"/8".
Armament 12 x 15" (4x3)
12 x 4.7" DP (12x1)
48 x 2pd (6x8)
12 x 15" (4x3)
20 x 4" (10x2)
48 x 2pd (6x8)
28 x20mm (6x2 16x1)
Aircraft nil 2
Torpedoes nil nil
Complement 1820 1940 (2020 as Flagship)
  HMS Nelson (1927)

HMS Hood (1928)

I did do an all forward 16" Nelson type with two quad turrets some years ago. Concentrating the armament in two quads does give an extra amount of hull that can go for machinery spaces to improve the overall speed.


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