WW2 RN Carrier Aircraft

Chouan
12th February 2008, 13:32
Whilst I was thinking of a question for the Gimme 5 quiz it struck me that, given we Brits invented the aircraft carrier, it is curious that at the start of WW2 we seemed to be so behind in developments in Carrier aircraft.

The Japanese had the Zero, Kate and Val purpose built, long range carrier aircraft, for example. To compare with the Fulmar and Swordfish, and no dive bomber equivalent at all; the Skua being so obscolete as to no longer be in use by 1941.

We started the war with the Roc! the Skua and a mixture of obscolete biplanes, then our carrier fighters were adapted land fighters, with only the Fulmar and the Firefly as dedicated carrier aircraft, having to use American aircraft instead. The same with torpedo aircraft and bombers, the Barracuda, I've been told, not being up to the job, similarly the Albacore.

Anybody know why? Or am I mistaken? Obviously, I don't know this stuff, I'm just going on what I've learnt and been told.

K urgess
12th February 2008, 14:15
We don't seem to have fallen in love with the aircraft carrier the way the USNavy did.
We relied mostly on big guns.
We abandonned dive bombing quite early although all aircraft designs, including four engined bombers like the Stirling and Halifax had to be designed and strenthened to dive bomb.
Although well obsolete the stringbag was ideal for torpedo launching and could take an immense amount of damage.
I would not have liked to attack the Bismark at wave height in one but they did survive.
I think most of our aircraft carriers were for fleet protection and so they needed fighters and only the occasional bombers for land targets.
A lot were built for convoy protection duties to counteract attacks from FW Kondors and to keep submarine's heads down.

Peter4447
12th February 2008, 14:17
Whilst I certainly agree with your comments Chouan, I think to be fair the dear old Swordfish certainly achieved some remarkable successeswhen we think of the 'Bismark' and Taranto.
Peter(Thumb)

Steve Woodward
12th February 2008, 16:24
Britiains lack of suitable carrier aircraft is usually put down to the fact that the RAF had assumed control of marine aircraft thus planes used on ships ended up the same as those ashore and naval aviation played second fiddle to the RAF, now Im no expert on planes, but carrier planes adapted from land planes are generally not up to the job, the best carrier planes were built from the keel up as such, although a fine plane the Spitfire had it's performance robbed when 'rebadged' as the seafire, Britains carrier force onlyreally came into it's own when we started using US planes.

The Swordfish is always looked on as an ancient machine but in truth was not that old, being designed in 1934 ish, it's great claim to fame of course was Taranto when just a handful of Stringbags ( their nickname) sank three Italian battleships, even if the torpedo defences of said batleships was useless this was still an amazing acheivement.

Gavin Gait
12th February 2008, 16:28
Not only that Steve when they torpedoed the Bismark it was their ability to fly at 80-90 knots that not only saved them but let them hit the Bismark. The Bismarks AA guns were set up for modern fast fighters and bombers and couldn't cope with the slow speed of the Swordfish.

What the Fug
12th February 2008, 16:29
Will point out that the FAA was part of the RAF till 1936/37, so naval planes came way down the pecking order, hence with it hit the fan we was way behind

sparkie2182
12th February 2008, 20:39
the "achilles heel" of the american aircraft carriers was that they had wooden decks........this made the kamikaze attacks even more volatile

Chouan
12th February 2008, 23:10
Not only that Steve when they torpedoed the Bismark it was their ability to fly at 80-90 knots that not only saved them but let them hit the Bismark. The Bismarks AA guns were set up for modern fast fighters and bombers and couldn't cope with the slow speed of the Swordfish.

I can remember my father telling me that. He said that their shells were fused for much faster aircraft, and so burst in front of the Swordfish.

So, essentially, our carriers carried fighters, Fulmars, Sea Hurricanes, etc, for fleet air defence and Stringbags for offence?

Any idea how well Glorious and Courageous could have performed had they survived?

sparkie2182
12th February 2008, 23:33
i seem to remember reading of the bismark having probably the first radar directed gunnery systems at sea.
the minimum resolution of the radar linkage was too high to track accurately the slow stringbag aircraft....... the guns firing ahead of the aircraft

just the bit of luck we sorely needed.........:)

trotterdotpom
13th February 2008, 10:20
Not only that Sparkustalkus, string doesn't show up on radars anyhow.

John T.

Stevo
13th February 2008, 16:00
Further to Sparkie's comment, whilst the aviation was slow to develop the British carrier was pretty decent, having the Ark Royal and the soon to be completed Illustrious, Formidable and Victorious at the start of war. Were the Americans and Japaneses carriers as good by 1939/40?

whiskey johnny
13th February 2008, 16:28
INmy opinion the british were fighting a more gentlemenly war thanthe germans and certainly the japanesewhich resulted inold fashionedweapensan idea which they gave up later

yuors jan

Nihon Fan
15th February 2008, 03:31
This will address many different posts at once.

While the Japanese favored purpose built, fast long range planes the Americans also went with purpose built carrier aircraft with the difference being that for the most part they were not as fast or long ranged as their Japanese counterparts, but they were much more ruggedly built. Best case examples of these being the Wildcat (Martlet in the RN), Avenger (Tarpon), Corsair and the Dauntless.

As best I know most navies, excluding the American and Japanese, viewed the carrier as a support ship, best used as reconnaissance and fighter cover over the fleet. Even the Japanese and Americans navies had admirals who doubted the potential of the carrier.

It's spelled Bismarck.

While the HMS Hermes was the first carrier built, the Japanese Hosho was the first one commissioned.

While American and Japanese carriers weren’t as heavily armored on top as carriers of say the HMS Illustrious class, this also allowed them to not be as top heavy as the RN carriers and allowed them to carry more planes. The typical American CV carried 85-100 planes, the Japanese 70-90, and the Illustrious-class less than 40.

I don’t think the Glorious, Courageous and Furious would have done much in a front line role, even by RN standards. Furious did survive and carried anywhere from 22-40 planes in an anti-submarine war and was placed in reserve in 1944.

I’d take any of the major American or Japanese carriers over any RN carriers in 1939/1940. The Shokaku class, launched in 1939, were the finest carriers until the Essex-class carriers came along late 1943-1944. Quick numbers, Shokaku 34 knots, Illustrious 30.5, aircraft Shokaku 84, Illustrious about 40.


Bill

DAVIDJM
15th February 2008, 11:11
there is another element to add to the state of our carriers, the Washington treaty. We started ww2 with only 1 modern carrier ARK ROYAL and 6 old converted carriers in commision.

Hawkeye
15th February 2008, 13:25
Whilst I was thinking of a question for the Gimme 5 quiz it struck me that, given we Brits invented the aircraft carrier, it is curious that at the start of WW2 we seemed to be so behind in developments in Carrier aircraft.

The Japanese had the Zero, Kate and Val purpose built, long range carrier aircraft, for example. To compare with the Fulmar and Swordfish, and no dive bomber equivalent at all; the Skua being so obscolete as to no longer be in use by 1941.

We started the war with the Roc! the Skua and a mixture of obscolete biplanes, then our carrier fighters were adapted land fighters, with only the Fulmar and the Firefly as dedicated carrier aircraft, having to use American aircraft instead. The same with torpedo aircraft and bombers, the Barracuda, I've been told, not being up to the job, similarly the Albacore.

Anybody know why? Or am I mistaken? Obviously, I don't know this stuff, I'm just going on what I've learnt and been told.

As someone has already pointed out, the Washington Treaty had a large impact on Carrier development between the War's. As did the formation of the RAF in 1918 when the RNAS & the RFC combined. A bit like Goeings (maybe spelt wrong) view that every German plane that flew belonged to him, regardless of who flew it. Britain by and by played by the rules of the Treaty, USA to an extent, whereas other countries didn't. Even when strong evidence came about, or when they ripped up the Treaty (Germany & Japan) it was to late to do anything about it.
Regarding the Barracuda, it was built as a replacement for the Swordfish. In the event, the Swordfish was retained until the end of the war, but the Barracuda wasn't.
I'd be interested in hearing other members views on this subject.

Nihon Fan
16th February 2008, 00:43
Germany was restricted by the Treaty of Versailles, not the Washington Treaty. The rearming of the German army, air force or navy was enough to justify action by the Western Powers.

The 5 signatories at Washington were the United Kingdom, the US, Japan, France and Italy. Italy ultimately broke the treaty as well.

The majority of American and Japanese carriers that saw front line duty were launched after the treaty expired.

The American and Japanese navies also developed extensive land based air bases and systems, the Japanese Navy to the extent they had designed and built twin-engined medium bombers, which were too large to operate from a carrier of any size.

I think a huge determining factor for both of them was that both viewed the other as their most likely opponent in the next war. The Pacific is vast with few large land masses. Air power would have to come from the sea. European waters didn’t have that situation.

Something I forgot to mention earlier, American naval aircraft were more rugged and had more firepower than their Japanese counterparts.

Chouan
16th February 2008, 09:01
Given that HMS Hermes was attacked when she had no aircraft onboard, their doesn't seem to have been a straight forward comparison of British/Japanese carrier aircraft contemporaneous with the beginning of that particular phase of the war. I know that a carrier was supposed to have been sent with Prince of Wales and Repulse but ran aground in the W.Indies. Would it have made any difference? How would Sea Hurricanes, Fulmars and stringbags stood up to the Japanese?

Nihon Fan
17th February 2008, 15:51
It is difficult to ascertain the effectiveness of British planes with regards to Japanese planes since as you mentioned, Hermes had no aircraft and I'm fairly sure Prince of Wales and Repulse had no fighter protection when they were attacked. The few engagements early on where they were matched up had the Japanese with a huge superiority in numbers.

The Indomitable was supposed to be in Asia but as you said ran aground. In my opinion, this saved her from the same fate as the Prince of Wales and Repulse. They were attacked by land based twin engined medium bombers of the IJN. Unlike their German and Italian counterparts they carried torpedoes not bombs. I’m aware of how well Illustrious-class carriers shook off Axis 1,000 lb bombs. The Japanese Val dive bomber carried a 500 lb bomb, so any bomb hits would just scratch the paint of the Indomitable. However, the Japanese had what’s believed to be the best torpedo in any navy at the time and there’s no history of any Illustrious-class carriers absorbing torpedo hits. Based on the similar Ark Royal, which sank after a single German torpedo hit, I would believe Indomitable would have been sunk. By the way, although part of the Illustrious-class, she was configured to carry more aircraft than the others.

It’s worthy to note the admiral in command, Tom Phillips, was a believer in that the battleship was the primary capital ship. He discounted Taranto and Pearl Harbor as surprise attacks in confined spaces. I wonder if he would have had Indomitable sail with the other 2 or have her operate independently.

Here are some brief excerpts of an attack by the Japanese on Trincomalee April 9, 1942. For brevity, I edited some parts out:

85 planes made the initial launch. The attack hit the naval base at 0725, and it was met in the air by all the planes available; 17 Hurricanes and 6 Fulmars. 8 Hurricanes and 1 Fulmar were shot down.

The naval authorities at Trincomalee countered by sending 9 Blenheim bombers against Nagumo’s fleet. The carrier fleet’s Zeros immediately tangled with them. The Blenheims did no damage, claiming 3 near misses, while 5 were shot down and the remaining 4 badly damaged.

The raid at Colombo April 5:

Nagumo struck with a force of 315 fighters, bombers, and attack planes. The attacking Japanese were first met by 28 British fighters. The Japanese carrier fighters engaged them. Meanwhile the bombers were attacked by 14 Hurricanes which had taken off from a converted racecourse. They, too, were at once engaged by the Japanese fighter protection. Blundering into the fight were 6 Swordfish, armed with torpedoes, on their way to Colombo from Trincomalee; they were all shot down. The British lost 2 Catalinas, 4 Fulmars, 15 Hurricanes, and 6 Swordfish. Japanese records show the loss of 7 planes.

JimC
17th February 2008, 17:53
Fireflys and Barracudas were station at RNAS Abbotsinch, Renfrew during the war. In fact, they were there until just after it. I remember, as a boy, seeing them taking of and landing going to and from patrols etc. The modern Abbotsinch Airport at Glasgow is the site of the original RNAS station. In fact; the dispersal huts were there until not too long ago - in the area where Glasgow Flying Club now has it's offices. Glasgow airport was where the M8 is now. Where cars and lorries run now - aircraft took off and landed. Incidentally; I'm not too sure of my facts but I seem to remember that the Gloucester Meteor broke the world speed pf climb record there in about 1946 or 7. Perhaps someone knows more about it?
Aircraft carriers and battleships were built at the end of the RNAS station main runway i.e. at John Browns of Clydebank - just across the river.
Just thought I'd share that with you!!!

Jim C.

sparkie2182
17th February 2008, 20:00
in reply to trotterdotpoms ill researched post....... ref: biplanes being invisible to radar........

may i remind him that in the swordfish biplane was not "made of string" ...... but of a metallic substance which is highly conducive to the the reflection of centimetric radar emissions.
also, it may be supposed, that the propulsion systen of the aircraft is similarly of a "non stringy" nature.
may i further direct him to the findings of prof. rufus chuckabutty, the distinguished world authority on radar plots involving second world war biplane aircraft.
if trotterdotpom were to google.....chuckabutty......radio detection and ranging......knotty ash university.......then im sure he would learn something to his educational advantage.


disgruntled......

tunbridge wells

boboman
17th February 2008, 23:31
If I'm aloud to give my opinion,whe are all loosing the way things where seen at time....
1st Europe was coming out (20/30 years it's not a sufficient time to recover from such a disaster as the I WW)of a Great War . So Armies and Navies didn't have such an amount of money to re arm following technology right to the step...only US and Japan not so economically touched by Great War could afford such rearmament politic.
2nd Britain's Empire was:after the expences of war,changes in economy and different need of type of colonial products,and indipendency politics of the countries in the empire, on the way to dismissal or at least difficult to control,
US came in the game and it's known that their interest in taking the place of some of the European countries in their colonies was very big.
Same was for Japan ...so at the time ,in such a big and dispersing scenario, who could have needed Aircraft carriers were US & Japan.

3rd Britain had luck because even if in time of budget cuttings some of the Miltech was advanced and even if politicians gave wrong directions on what was going to be the future war(if there was going to be one)the people working on the projects even if for wrongly pourposed equipment and obsolete from the start ,because of budget cuttings(if i'm given a low budget I won't go to project a F1 Ferrari but a small Fiat-low tech inside)had the top solutions for what they had in the wallet.

4th Luck Luck Luck Bismarck was luck to have planes of such a low tech that Germans didn't set their systems and set the right combat approach.Taranto was a mess of Italian Navy,Bad communication of the services(they knew but did't believe) bad preparation for air attak and much more....
Obviously no remarks on the crews of the stringbags....JUST HEROES...just the thought of going for an attak with those outdated planes...you've must have been nuts.

5th For the Europeans was beyond immagination having the need for ACs,if something was going to happen again was on the continent,Britain could reach it easily and Mussolini said that Italy was herself a huge AC....so wrong.

Infact all these nations tried to come to solutions when war was already halfway(Italy with Aquila),and always tryng to convert other type of vessels,and not a project of an AC from the start,with what all this means in terms of project problems.


Yes Britain did try,before the war to build ACs,probably in a desperate try to still hold on to the Empire....but they were hard times...debts for the Great War were still to be payed and people didn't want to hear about re armament or at least a PROPER one.

Germany was ,for the moment,thinking of war in Europe(trying to leave US out)...so decided ACs weren't needed.Had re thoughts after.

Chouan
19th February 2008, 12:57
As far as I can see, by the time that Britain was able to take on the Japanese at all, with the defence of N.India obsolete Hurricanes were adequate in the air, as were obsolete tanks, like Grants. Consequently, I would assume that, in adequate numbers, Martlets and Sea Hurricanes would have made for adequate air defence of a surface fleet? with possibly Fulmars? The Swordfish though seems to have been hopelessly outclassed in the far east from what you've all said, despite its relatively useful anti-submarine role elsewhere.
Thanks folks for all your help.

Chouan
19th February 2008, 13:39
Actually, on reflection, perhaps HMS Indomitable may have been of some assistance to the Prince of Wales and the Repulse. She carried 48 Hurricanes to the far east, eventually, so these could have put up a reasonable defence? She also survived a torpedo hit later in her career, so may not have been quite as vulnerable to torpedoes as the Ark Royal?

The attacks were made by 17 Nell Bombers carrying 500kg bombs, 8 Nell bombers with 2 x 225 kg bombs and 16 Nell torpedo bombers, then another 8 Nell torpedo bombers, and a final attack by 26 Betty torpedo bombers.
All of these were obsolescent land based twin engined bombers with no protection/armour or self-sealing tanks.

Perhaps 48 Hurricanes could have been an effective defence against attacks made by these aircraft?

Steve Woodward
19th February 2008, 16:21
I think you are perfectly correct there Chouan - the presence of a carrier would have made all the difference and may just have ennabled the POW and Repulse to have reached the invasion fleet - it wouldnt have really changed the course of events but would certainly have slowed the Japanese advance.
POW and Repulse would have faced heavy cruisers and two 14" gunned battle-cruisers of the Kongo class Kongo and Haruna , the only real worry here would have been the 24" long-lance torpedoes of the heavy cruisers.
Had Phillips contacted this fleet then a very real and major victory would have been on the cards for him.

A book : 'The sinking of the Prince of Wales and Repulse' by Martin Middlebrook and Patrick Mahoney makes very compelling reading and shows the arrogance and at times down-right foolishness that cost Britain two valuable and that time irreplaceable ships, it also shows the Bravery with which the ships fought back, especially Captain Tennant's ship, the Repulse.

Nihon Fan
19th February 2008, 16:34
I didn’t know Indomitable took a torpedo hit later on in the war. Bear in mind, torpedoes carried by planes usually have a smaller sized warhead than one on a submarine or surface ship. Then again, lessons were learned from the Ark Royal loss and implemented on the Illustrious-class. I also didn’t know that the Indomitable was carrying 48 Hurricanes.

I think they would have made a big difference and perhaps even saved the 2 losses. During the Pacific War, attacks sent without an escort were usually mauled. The Japanese were reckless enough to risk an attack without a fighter escort. With an adequate fighter escort, then I think the Japanese would have added Indomitable to the casualty list. Put another way, given an equal number of Zeros vs either Martlets or Hurricanes, I’d go with the Zero, especially since it was a mostly unknown aircraft to the Allies. On the other hand, the Japanese had observers present in England during the Battle of Britain and had some idea of what Hurricanes and Spitfires could do as well as British tactics. Obviously, it’s only speculation.

I forgot the Japanese also bombed the 2 ships lost but at best they contributed to the losses. From what I’ve read, the torpedo hits were enough to seal their fate.

I agree with you about the Nell but not the Betty. At that stage of the war, the Betty was the replacement for the Nell and it wasn’t known at the time how vulnerable the Betty was to being shot down. When given air cover, it performed well.

As obsolete as the Grant may have been, it was still much better than anything the Japanese army could field.

Chouan
19th February 2008, 23:24
I understood that the Nells and Bettys were used because the PoW and Repulse were out of range of carrier aircraft. They were thought to be within range of protection of RAF bases in Malaya, which they were. Mind you, only 10 Buffaloes turned too late.

Steve Woodward
20th February 2008, 07:48
With reference to the torpedoing of Indomitable she was hit by an air dropped torpedo on the 16th July 1943 at the aft end of the port boiler room, the list of nearly 13 degrees caused flooding in the uptake flat and she very nearly "mirror imaged" the Ark Royal only a calm sea and counter-flooding saved her, even so she was out of the war for nearly nine months under repair

Nihon Fan
21st February 2008, 00:12
Another thing that also helped her was that the typical German aerial torpedo had anywhere from 397-551 lb of explosives v 617-948 for a U-boat torpedo. Take the avg values and that's 474 lb for a aerial torp v 782.5 for a U-boat torp. Interestingly enough, early Japanese aerial torpedoes had an explosive charge of 452 lb.

10 Buffaloes or even Hurricanes wouln't be enough to stop the attack. Perhaps one of the ships could have been saved.