Saturday, May 11, 2024

London Naval Conference 1930


King George V, left, opens London Naval Conference despite failing health. 

 The three primary naval superpowers following the First World War -

Britain, the United States and Japan - met with other nations in London

in order to reign in a very costly warship arms race.  This move for

a treaty to restrict the building of weapons wasn't just a gesture toward

world peace.  The Stock Market had crashed the previous year, sending

national economies into Depression.  Ambitions to rule the waves

stalled out when the money spigot began to sputter from lack of funds.

Battleship Arizona sails the East River in 1916 New York City.

Battleships were still seen as the gem of the ocean.

Their authority came from cannon that could fire 2,000 lb.

shells nearly fifteen miles from 15 inch guns.  They weighed

up to 30,000 tons and had a crew of over 1,200 men.

They were your big brother on the ocean.

Britain's largest warship, the battlecruiser Hood, prior to World War 2.

The battlecruiser may be longer than a battleship and its guns are

often just as big.  The problem with this design turned out to be the

sacrificing of armor to gain speed.  They couldn't take a punch and

German gunnery was deadly accurate.  At the Battle of Jutland during

the First World War three British battlecruisers exploded to smithereens

when squarely hit.  Then, shortly after the start of the Second World War,

an armor piercing shell from the German battleship Bismarck 

drove its way into the Hood's full ammo magazine. 

The explosion that followed killed all but three of the ship's crew.

Heavy cruiser USS Pensacola.

Heavy cruisers look like battleships but at 10,000 tons they are

only a third of a battleship's weight.  Their eight inch guns are

half the size of a battleship's.  Plenty of Admirals wished for

something bigger, more substantive, but treaty rules specified

anything larger than these dimensions and the cruiser will be counted

as a battleship.  That's a penalty they don't want to bare for ignoring

the treaty they just signed.  There had to be ways around 

these too tight numbers.

Light cruiser USS Atlanta.

The British loved their cruisers.  They were everywhere patrolling

Britain's life lines to its global empire.  They had six inch guns and 

were light weight at only six thousand tons.  Still, you didn't want

to push them around.  And they were cheap.  They were like 

Wyatt Earp's deputies making their rounds.  If one of them

gets hurt you wouldn't like what's coming your way.

Japanese destroyer Uranami.

Here's the Navy's workhorse - the destroyer.  Maybe 2,000 tons

and carrying a five inch gun.  It's ready to perform a mountain of tasks.

The destroyer is the fleet's scout.  It provides security for your precious

cargo plowing the ocean commerce lanes.  A destroyer is also made

to root out and dispatch an enemy submarine to the watery abyss.

You can't have a navy without them.

British biplanes fly over HMS Ark Royal.

 By 1930 Britain, the United States and Japan were all 

experimenting with aircraft carriers.  They didn't quite know

what to do with them.  They started as a tool for reconnaissance.

But that's really expensive overkill.  To make economic sense

the carrier needed to pack a punch.  Bombs on a plane was the 

ticket.  A battleship's shell travels fifteen miles.  A plane easily goes

a hundred and fifty miles to reach its target.  A few cheap planes

can send a battleship, years in the making, straight to the bottom.

 No one wanted to restrict carrier making.  It was too promising.

U-47 slips silently into the British naval base at Scapa Flow, 

undetected, and sinks the battleship HMS Royal Oak.

 These guys are Ninja assassins.  They stalk you silently beneath

the waves.  But they better strike first and they dare not miss.

Those that don't succeed had best dive quickly because destroyers,

armed with depth charges, are headed straight their way.

©  Tom Taylor



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