BNS Riachuello / HMS St George  (BB-1941)

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The Brazilian Navy always seemed to be close to a major battleship power. But only ever achieved it once. The Minas Gerais class were the best armed battleships of their type when completed in 1910. That lasted for about six months till the Super Dreadnoughts arrived. Brazil would have been close to the top again if the projected Riachuelo type battleship had been built. But it never got off the drawing board, WW1 intervening. The Brazilians last attempt at a capital ship to beat anything its neighbours had (Chile and Argentina) was for a 35,000 ton battleship to be sourced from Great Britain. The Armstrong consortium being the chief constructors. The deposit being lodged and the regular payments being made as required, the ship progressed well. Armstrongs were well aware of what was being built in Britain with the King George V class, but felt that some of the choices being made could be bettered.

The biggest choice was what armament to provide the ship with, 14", 15" or 16". Then the choice of secondary armament could be critical to keep the ship within the 35,000 ton tonnage restriction. Armstrong's designers kept the British 'feel' of design with the bridge and other superstructures resembling the KGV designs. If I am sticking to 'real life' events, then an armament of eight (4x2) or nine (3x3) 14" would be the easiest to provide for the ship. The 35,000 ton designs were all about balance. Armament, armour and speed, had to be measured one against the other. The British were the only country to strictly adhere to the tonnage restrictions. Everybody else cheated a bit, or a lot. Armstrong's have their own foundry for producing armaments, so that is not a problem. What I would like to produce is a battleship with 8x15", so that is what I shall do.


Laid down in 1937, the ship was 80% complete when WW2 broke out. Armstrong's were ordered to cease work on the ship and to proceed with more critical work. The Brazilians were approached and advised of the ships new status. Negotiations for the purchase of the ship for the Royal Navy and right of return to Brazil at the end of hostilities. A deal was struck and a new order for work to commence on the ship was given. The ship was to be renamed HMS St George. The 15" weapons had been designed for use with the older 15" projectiles from the Mk.1 weapons and super charges that had increased the range of the 15" from 29,000 yards to 36,000 yards. With new elevation changes to the Mk.2 guns and turrets, the shells would travel out to nearly 40,000 yards. That made the guns comparable to those of the Italians and Germans versions of the modern 15".

The major change to the Riachuelo design was the fitting of twelve of the twin light 4" turrets and guns. There was quite a large saving in weight compared to the larger more cumbersome 5.25" weapon system fitted to the KGV class. The standard 2pd AA guns in quad and octuple mountings were fitted. The new 20mm Oerlikon weapons were fitted but these were replaced eventually with 40mm Bofors for a better knockdown capability.

Completed in February 1941, the ship was sent round the Cape of Good Hope to Alexandria to become Flagship of the Mediterranean Fleet with Admiral Cunningham's flag at the foretop. The cruise to the Med was used as the ships work up period. The St George's first action is with the Fleet was at Cape Matapan, where the Mediterranean Fleet blew away three Italian heavy cruisers with no loss to themselves. The Vittorio Veneto had been torpedoed, but had not been slowed enough for Admiral Cunningham's ships to catch it. A win to the Allies.

The St George fought in all the battles that took place in the Eastern Mediterranean through to the collapse of Italy in 1943. The St George was damaged with bomb damage off Crete as the Fleet supported the withdrawal of the Allied forces that had taken part in the Greek Campaign. The damage was repaired at Alexandria. The St George's last action in the Mediterranean was in support of Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily. The St George along with Admiral Cunningham was in Malta to receive the surrender of the Italian Fleet. Leaving Malta the St George steamed to Mers el Kebir where it joined the Free French battleship Richelieu. From that stage on the Richelieu and St George became Fleet buddies acting together for the rest of the war. The two ships left the Mediterranean bound for Scapa Flow. They were diverted en-route to the Clyde for the Richelieu to receive new gunnery radars and the St George to have a general refit.

The ships saw little activity over the winter of 19431944 until February 1944, when they took part in Operation PosthornRichelieu,  Anson, St George and the carrier Furious departed Scapa Flow on 10 February for a raid on German shipping off occupied Norway. The objective was to lure the German heavy cruisers in the area so that the battleships could destroy them. The carrier aircraft achieved little, sinking a single freighter of 3,000 tons and damaging a repair ship while trading one of the Supermarine Seafire fighters for a German Bf 109 fighter. The fleet returned to port on the 12th, and Richelieu and St George thereafter went to Rosyth for ten days to rest the crew. A repeat sweep was to have taken place at the end of the month, but two of the escorting destroyers collided while leaving Scapa Flow, leading to a postponement that became permanent as a result of bad weather. In March, the Allies determined that six battleships to counter the battleship Tirpitz (which had been damaged in September 1943) and the remaining cruisers, was excessive. As a result, Richelieu and St George were detached for other operations. The Allied command initially considered employing them to support the invasion of Normandy, but as the Richelieu was only supplied with armor-piercing shells, both ships were instead sent to reinforce the British Eastern Fleet, along with a group of escort aircraft carriers.

The Eastern Fleet at that stage of 1944 consisted of two modern carriers the Richelieu and St George, then the WW1 era ships Renown, Valiant and Queen Elizabeth along with squadrons of cruisers and flotillas of destroyers. That was the basic fleet which changed consistency depending on the sorties to be undertaken. The main job of the fleet was to keep the Japanese eyes off the US fleets actions in the Pacific. This was achieved by the Eastern Fleets attacks on the refineries and oil producing areas on the island of Sumatra. The main remnants of the Japanese Fleet were holed up in Singapore where they were handy to their main fuel supply. So the Eastern Fleet was hoping to draw some battleships and cruisers out of Singapore into a position where a fleet action could occur. This never happened.

The Richelieu was recalled to French ports in the Mediterranean for refit, while the St George with other units of the Eastern became the British Pacific Fleet. The St George acted with the units of the BPF in the remaining battles against the Japanese forces through to the Japanese surrender at Tokyo Bay in August 1945.

The St George was used to repatriate British serviceman from the Pacific to the United Kingdom. On arrival in the United Kingdom, the St George goes into the Clyde for a complete refit to get the ship ready for its return to Brazilian control. Over a period of months during 1947-48, groups of Brazilian crew were integrated and trained aboard the now renamed Riachuelo until in June 1948 the ship was completely crewed by Brazilians. The Riachuelo left British waters arriving at the main Brazilian Naval Base, Rio de Janeiro, to a rapturous welcome from the populace crowding around the harbour. The Riachuelo served as Fleet flagship from 1948 through to 1970 when the ship was removed from the navy list and scrapped. Its last 10 years of service had been in a reduced condition and the ship never left port.

 

Displacement 35,900 tons std 42,200 tons full load
Length 750 ft
Breadth 98 ft
Draught 30 ft
Machinery 4 shaft steam turbines, 130,000shp
Speed 28 knots
Range 10,000 miles at 16 knots
Armour 12" side, 6" deck, 13" turrets
Armament 8 x 15" (4x2)

24 x 4" (12x2)

56 x 2pd (6x8, 2x4)

16 x 20mm (16x1)

Aircraft 4
Torpedoes nil
Complement 1800
Notes BNS Riachuelo, purchased by UK 9/1939, completed as HMS St George.
returned to Brazil 1948, scrapped 1970.

Completing the two quad 2pd mountings for fitting on B and X 15" turrets.

 

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