CNS Atacama (BB-1938)


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Chile at the start of WW1 had two dreadnoughts under construction or completing in Britain. The Almirante Lattorre became HMS Canada, and the Almirante Cochrane is completed as the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle. In my alternate worlds I always keep HMS Canada as it is too good a ship to pass on to one of the Dominions as a starting battleship. To replace the two Chilean battleships I give the Chileans a complete fleet of battleships, battlecruisers, cruisers and destroyers. The major ships are the three King George V battleships remaining after the war. Armed with 10x13.5" they are still better armed than any of the ships in the other South American Navies. Chile receiving these forces start another South American arms race as Brazil and then Argentina buy excess capital ships from the European countries. Into the mid 1930's and all the countries with WW1 battleships start looking to modernise them to extend their service lives. With the British built 13.5" armed ships this work invariably involves removing the centre turret to provide extra space for machinery to be enlarged along with other modifications to bring them into line with more modern ships. What this leads to is that there are then a number of 13.5" turrets and guns free to arm new ships. Chile snaffle their three and two more to build a new battleship, to be called the Atacama.

Laid down in 1934, the Atacama's major difference was to have three turrets mounted forward and two aft. Much like the Japanese and USN cruisers of the time were doing. To keep costs and building times down, refurbished 13.5" turrets and guns were used. Enhance elevation to provide greater range  Newer and faster training and elevation movement. The fitting of the turrets and aircraft handling facilities meant for a longer hull and a longer armour belt to cover the magazines and engineering spaces. Instead of the 12" belt they wanted, the Chilean Navy had to accept a 10" belt to keep the ship within treaty limits. One of the better features of the design was the fitting of ten turrets of twin 4", in place of the 4.5", 4.7" and 5.25" that got fitted to British battleships. Octuple 2pounder and later single 20mm were fitted as the light AA weapons. Because of the weight of the three turrets forward an extra long bow was needed to stop the bow from plunging and losing speed in adverse weather.

To make an improved 'modern' super dreadnought with 10 x13.5" required a ship 10,000 tons bigger, 140 feet longer, and four times the horsepower to make an extra 8 knots of speed. Was it worth it? The reduced cost in both monetary and time values would say yes. Could the ship stand up against a modern battleship with 15"/16" guns? The answer would have to be 'no'. But that same 15"/16" battleship would cost almost a third more. Lastly, the ships it was likely to face were those of other South American countries which would have ships of no better value than the Atacama.

Completed prior to the opening salvoes of WW2, the Atacama took part in the Battles against Argentina (see Sea Battles) if that is the scenario being used. Once the Argentinian question is resolved, the South American navies are used to command the South Atlantic and South American Pacific coasts. The Chilean ships were mainly used in the South Pacific, except the Atacama which spent most of its time in the South Atlantic patrolling the South America - Africa narrows against any incursion by the Germanic States battle raiders.

1940 and the South American Command (Forces L, M, N,) has its headquarters at Freetown on the African coast and Recife on the South American coast. The Brazilian Navy put the most ships toward the force, then the Royal Navy and Chile. The forces have 1 CV, 2 CVL, 6 BB/BC, 6 CL/A, 3 DDL, 12 DD/DDE, minesweepers at both ends to keep the coasts clear of mines. The Germanic States tried sending both the battle raiders and merchant raiders into the South Atlantic and round the Cape of Good Hope into the Indian Ocean. Submarines with long range were also sent into the same areas. The merchant raiders and submarines could be fitted with mines and regularly tried to mine the entrances to Freetown and Recife which saw large amounts of merchant traffic in and out in convoys.

October 1940, and France has fallen, Britain has saved itself from Invasion, but Axis shipping now runs from the top of Norway down to Spain and through the Mediterranean. The loss of Gibraltar to Spanish and German forces in August was a savage blow. Force H had to relocate south to Freetown and was used north into the Central Atlantic area. Force M was now very important to close the South Atlantic bottleneck, as the Allies never had enough ships to be able to escort everything and area like the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean needed to have single merchantmen sailings along the shipping lanes, safely.

Paired with the Brazilian Pernambuco and the CV Santa Catarina (Force L) with a couple of cruisers and destroyers are patrolling their portion of the South Atlantic gap when recon aircraft from the Santa Catarina report a suspicious ship to the northeast and it would investigate further. Tense minutes later the next call comes in Raider of the Admiral Hipper type. The Scheer had hoped to cross the gap line during darkness. To be spotted at 4pm meant it had to reverse course and go to full speed and hope it could get out of strike range from the carrier the Scheer new was somewhere to the south. The Scheer would have to try again later. The Gap forces would be on high alert knowing the Scheer was in the vicinity. Unknown to the Scheer, Force H was at sea to the north of the Scheers position. The theatre commander at Freetown hoped to crack the Scheer between the two forces. He gave orders to both groups. To the horror of the Kapitan of the Scheer another recon aircraft appeared to the north of him after an hour and a half's steaming north. Was it from the same carrier to the south that got lucky? Was it from another unknown source from another direction? Did he launch his own recon aircraft in the hope of clearing a path for the ship to follow and maybe spot some of his pursuers. The recon aircraft is launched with the orders to search the area north to north-west. Forty minutes later the recon report comes in, 'aircraft coming toward my position from the north-west'. That is the last report received. The Arado-196 is shot down by the combat air patrol from the carrier Golden Hind. With the Golden Hind are the two special project ships St George and Devastation. Night falls before a strike can be ranged and flown off. The St George is ordered south toward where the Scheer had been spotted, while the Atacama is ordered north toward the same spot. Vice Admiral Freetown was hoping that either of the ships or their recon aircraft would spot the Scheer early next morning. Both ships were considered superior to Scheer.

Morning has broken, both sides launch recon aircraft hoping to locate their enemies. 'Contact', the Scheer has been spotted by the recon aircraft off the Atacama. The Scheer is fifty miles north of the Atacama and forty-five miles south-east of the St George. Unfortunately for the Scheer it is heading north-west toward the St George. The Scheer's aircraft spots the St George and course is altered to the west to try to avoid a confrontation with the St George. Time is running out for the Scheer. Both the Santa Catarina and Golden Hind are ranging strike aircraft to go after the Scheer. The strikes are launched and because of the difference in distances to the Scheer they both arrive one after the other and overwhelm the Scheer's air defences. Two torpedo and four bomb hits and the Scheer is in trouble, speed has dropped to 15 knots and their are fires in the midships areas of the ship. The fires are sending up huge smoke signals saying 'here I am'. Atacama and St George are ordered to rendezvous and combine to put down the Scheer.

The ships come together and look to run down the Scheer at 25 knots to the Scheer's 15 knots. With twelve hours of daylight left there will be only one end. The St George has the lead and spots the Scheer at 35,000 yards, the trail of smoke is very visible and the recon aircraft can sea the two Allied battleships and vector them onto the Scheer. The Scheer spots the two ships and opens fire at 28,000 yards with its after turrets. A couple of lucky hits and it still might survive. No such luck for the Scheer. The two Allied battleships open fire at 25,000 yards but with spotting aircraft calling the fall of shot for them. Hits are soon being made on the Scheer. The Scheers speed falls further and the two battleships are pounding the Scheer from almost point blank range. The Scheer's main armament is out of action and only a couple of its single 5" guns are still firing. The cruiser Grafton is ordered to sink the hulk with torpedoes.

The Atacama spends most of its war with the Gap Fleet providing a boring but necessary service. One of the other Forces (L, M, N.) puts down a merchant raider, while encounters with U-boats become more frequent. Having carriers with each of the forces with ASW patrols catches a few of the submarines, more get through than are caught till a few years later when some escort carriers and their dedicated ASW forces are tasked with keeping the U-boats north of the Gap.

Displacement 34,500 tons std, 39,100 tons full load
Length 746 ft
Breadth 91 ft
Draught 30 ft
Machinery 4 shaft steam turbines, 125,000shp
Speed 30 knots
Range 9500 miles at 12 knots
Armour 11" side, 5" deck, 7" turrets
Armament 10 x 13.5" (5x2)

20 x 4" (10x2)

48 x 2pd (6x8)

16 x 20mm (16x1)

Aircraft 4
Torpedoes nil
Complement 1720
Notes CNS Atacama (02/1938)


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