Thursday, November 5, 2020

The German Navy Versus England

As we know, the WWII German surface navy never accomplished anything significant and most of it was expended in piecemeal fashion with little to show for the effort.  Many historical observers believe that there was little else the German navy could have done beyond what they did but is that true?  Let’s take look at how the German navy could have been employed and what lessons their actual and possible employment holds for us, today.


To ever so briefly review, following is the state of the German and British navies early in the war (around 1940-42 or so) or, at least, what they could have been without losses.


11 Aircraft carriers

3 Glorious class commissioned around 1916

1 Argus class commissioned 1918

1 Eagle class commissioned 1924

1 Hermes class commissioned 1924

1 Ark Royal commissioned 1938

4 Illustrious class commissioned 1940-1941


22 Battleships & battlecruisers, of which only two were post-World War 1.


5 Queen Elizabeth dreadnoughts commissioned around 1915

5 Revenge class dreadnoughts commissioned around 1916

2 Nelson class battleships commissioned 1927

5 King George V battleships commissioned around 1940-1942

2 Renown class battlecruisers commissioned 1916

2 Courageous class battlecruisers commissioned around 1916

1 Hood class battlecruiser commissioned 1920

66 Cruisers, mainly post-World War 1 with some older ships converted for AA duties.

184 Destroyers of all types and eras.


Note that the British carriers were barely worthy of the name, employing WWI era bi-plane Fairey Swordfish torpedo planes, Blackburn Skuas, and, later, Fairey Fulmars.  The carrier air wings were generally quite small by US standards.  That said, they accomplished some amazing feats.


In comparison, in the same 1940-42 or so time frame, the German naval order of battle could have consisted of the following.


4 Battleships




3 Battlecruisers


Graf Spee
Deutschland (renamed Lützow)

2 Dreadnought Era Battleships


Schlesien (dreadnought)
Schleswig-Holstein (dreadnought)

3 Heavy Cruisers


Admiral Hipper

Prinz Eugen

6 Light cruisers

11 Auxilliary cruisers

30 Destroyers


Comparing the two forces and, in particular, noting their ages, we see the following table which demonstrates the numbers and ages of the ships.  For this purpose, a modern (at the time) ship is considered one which was built post-1930.  Note not only the numbers of the two fleets but also the relative degree of modernity.




British – German Fleet Comparison




British Post-1930

German Post-1930


























E-Boat / PT Boat












It is understood that various combat losses afflicted both fleets but for the purpose of this post, that is immaterial.


One aspect that jumps out from this comparison is the ages of the two fleets.  The German fleet is significantly more modern than the British, many of whose ships are obsolete or nearly so.  This makes the comparative strength much more even than a simple numerical comparison would suggest.


However, there is more to the table.  Recall that the UK had worldwide commitments and  ?half?  of the British naval strength was dispersed around the world. 


If we arbitrarily divide the British fleet size in half to account for the large, worldwide dispersion we get the following comparative table.




British – German Local Fleet Comparison



















E-Boat / PT Boat








At this point, we see that the effective, local strength of the RN was roughly comparable to the local German strength and the German fleet retains the age advantage.  Further, we note the overwhelming German advantage in submarines.


The historical question, then, becomes, what could the German navy have done to take advantage of this roughly comparable size comparison and actual advantage in age?


Well, some possible operations might have included:


Destroy the British Home Fleet using combined surface navy and submarines.  There are any number of ways the Home Fleet could have enticed/coerced into a decisive fleet battle.  For example, a surface ship sortie against British ports along the English Channel would likely have sufficed to draw out the Home Fleet.  The larger point is that a major German surface action, coordinated with multiple wolf packs of submarines could have decimated the Home Fleet.


Blockade British ports to seal off convoys.  There would have been no need to try to destroy convoys at sea if they can be prevented from unloading at their destination ports.  It would have been much easier to seal British ports with mines and submarines than to try to find and engage convoys at sea.  The closer distance to the U-boat’s home ports would have also facilitated the support efforts for the submarines.


Seal the English Channel.  Had the German U-boats and E-boats been concentrated in the English Channel, it could have been sealed off with fairly minimal effort and resources.  Combined with mining, both ends could have been sealed thereby allowing the Germans to conduct cross channel naval bombardments, raids, and, ultimately, a cross channel invasion, all unhindered by English naval forces.


Bombard English coastal ports/cities.  The German surface navy could have devastated British ports, again, denying British resupply efforts.


Prevent the D-Day build up.  As we discussed in a previous post, the Germans could have prevented the Allied assault at Normandy by attacking the ports, camps, depots, etc. that were necessary for the Allied invasion effort.


Bismarck and Tirpitz - Operate As A Massed Force

Admittedly, all of these efforts would have required the support of the German air force but, early in the war, this was not only possible but the German air forces would have enjoyed parity, if not superiority, in aircraft performance.  By coordinating their efforts, the German navy could have operated with air cover and eliminated air bases and radar stations on or near the coast.  In turn, the German aircraft could have benefited from the concentrated anti-aircraft fire of the German ships.


What was not a good operational use was solitary commerce raiding. The allies had, for all practical purposes, an infinite supply of merchant ships. Sinking a handful was not going to impact the war.  In a similar vein, the submarine attacks on convoys was a hopeless effort.  The German submarine fleet could have been much more effectively employed, as described above.

The point of this post is not to discuss what specific missions the German navy could have or should have performed but to examine how Germany used its navy, what it could have done differently, and what lessons their actions, or lack thereof, offer us today.


So, what lessons can we take from this that apply to us, today?  Consider these:


Fleet In Being – Some historical observers have claimed that Germany’s surface fleet was most useful as a ‘feet in being’ by tying up Allied resources.  Is this true?  Absolutely not! The point of a military is to destroy the opponent's assets, not make them consume renewable resources. The allies, supported by the industrial might of America, had an infinite amount of resources, for all practical purposes. The Germans needed to use their naval forces to impose operational and strategic defeats on the allies - which they failed to do or even attempt to any great degree.  This should serve as an important lesson as we contemplate war with China and their resources.  Our Navy cannot become a ‘fleet in being’, unwilling to engage and unwilling to seek victory.  We must become offensive-minded as opposed to our current defensive mindset.  This starts with building a fleet that is cheap enough to risk in combat.  A $15B+ carrier is not an asset anyone is going to risk.  Billion dollar destroyers are not expendable assets.  And so on.  Currently, we have a 'fleet in being' rather than a combat fleet.

Solitary Ships Will Be Destroyed - Distributed force cannot succeed unless the sensing and communications network works flawlessly and the massing of firepower can be achieved.  Even then, the individual ships are subject to defeat in detail.  Germany’s commerce raiders demonstrated this.  Before we irreversibly commit to distributed lethality (if we haven’t already), we need to seriously wargame the concept of distributed operations using realistic conditions, not scripted games skewed to support a pre-determined conclusion.  We need to be 100% sure that distributed operations will work and I am certain that any realistic and unbiased assessment will demonstrate the folly of such operations.  History conclusively supports this.  The handful of distributed operations that were conducted in WWII pretty much uniformly resulted in disaster.


Offense – “The seat of purpose is on the land.”  This adage is the fundamental truth for navies but is too often lost in the fascination with ship-to-ship battles.  Navies exist to support land operations and they do that by conducting offensive operations oriented toward impact on land.  The Germans forgot this and never made any serious effort to support the strategic land operations and never made any serious attempt to conduct offensive operations.


Our Navy, today, is almost exclusively focused on defensive operations.  Consider the small, anti-ship Marine units.  Those aren’t offensive, they’re purely defensive.  Consider our aircraft – they’re short ranged, defensive assets intended to protect the fleet.  Consider our major surface ship, the Burke.  It’s main purpose is defensive anti-air warfare.  Consider our entire Marine Corps which has devolved from a middle weight, amphibious offensive force to a lightweight, defensive force.  Consider our major weapons development efforts like ballistic missile defense, Standard SM-6 anti-air missiles, LCS ASW and MCM which are defensive in nature, an FFG(X) which is supposedly focused on ASW and AAW, both defensive in nature.  Where’s our long range, hard hitting new weapons?  There essentially aren’t any.  We’re a defensive Navy.





Germany had a reasonable powerful and numerous fleet – or could have – that was squandered in piecemeal fashion.  Does this sound ominously like our current plans for distributed lethality?  WWII demonstrated that lone ships, or small groups of ships, are subject to defeat in detail and modern missile warfare will only exacerbate this trend.  Naval survival and victory will go to the side that can mass both offensive and defensive firepower.  Too many people, including the US Navy, forget about the need for defensive firepower as a mandatory adjunct to offensive operations.  We need to abandon the fantasy of a few scattered units bringing a powerful enemy to their knees through the magic of networking. Instead, we need to refocus on single purpose, powerful, survivable, ships that can conduct offensive operations in large groups.


  1. I've looked at this. To me its really a matter of the Germans would have had to have won the battle of Britain. Perhaps instead of Sea Lion they should have worked to expand the fleet and blockade the UK to fuller effect. Put the fleet in being in the channel forcing the pitched battle where they would have air supremacy. Basically get somewhere compelling UK action but from a strong defensive location. Plus skip going to war with the rest of the world. All fantasy.

    1. "Germans would have had to have won the battle of Britain."

      Imagine the Battle of Britain if the German navy would have supported the Luftwaffe by bombarding all the coastal airfields and radar stations while the U-boats mined and guarded both ends of the channel to prevent the British Home Fleet from interfering. The Battle of Britain would have ended quickly and differently.

    2. Think of Pacific. Just next day of Pearl Harbor, another column of Japanese fleet attacked UK fleet near Singapore. Japan used aircrafts to hit hard on the Prince of Wales, which had no aircraft carrier around. So, Japanese navy aircraft easily sunk the 25,000 ton battle ship.

      After Japan lost all but 1 aircraft carrier, its Yamento, largest battle ship human ever build up to date, was easily sunk by US aircrafts.

      Since German had no aircraft carrier, it could not encircle UK fleet from other direction, after it conquered Norway.

    3. The Battle of Britain was a lot closer than people realise. The battle of the Atalantic was also very tight. From a German perspective, winning either would have led to victory in the other. Fighting both hard enough, would have led to victory in both.

      I believe a couple of concerted efforts by major surface units may well have swung the tide in favour of the Germans. Condors or Uboats find the convoy, Bismarck, Tirpitz, Scharnhorst, Lutzow and a few friends turn up...

      Way more effective than subs playing cat and mouse with the convoy. The action would be over in a handful of minutes.

      The real question is could a breakout have happened? I believe the answer is yes.

      Goering keeps up pressure on the RAF by bombing airfields, not cities...

      Russia is denied critical transport and tanks at a critical time...

      Germany deploys the entirety of the Luftwaffe and literally thousands of 88mm barrels to the Eastern Front....

      Germany forcibly acquires the production facilities of England, whihch would mean thousands more trucks, planes and machine guns...

      The blockade on Germay is effectively finished as she can source just about everything by overland routes through Africa...

      The US basically can't enter the war without England...

      Wie gut is Ihre Deutsch?

    4. "The Battle of Britain was a lot closer than people realise"

      No it really was not. I recommend a strategy for Defeat by Murray for a concise look. Beyond that the data show the UK was simply producing more pilots and planes than Germany (and loosing less pilots). Plus the UK always had control of how much attrition it wanted to accept.

    5. Kath is correct. The Battle of Britain, as it was fought, was fought with several massive advantages lying on the side of the British, arguably the most valuable one being the ability to control their losses, as Kath states. Germany would have had to pursue a very different industrial strategy, and changed certain fundamentals about their strategy to have altered the outcome. Effective Air-Naval cooperation would have been one of them. As Kath states, Britain ended the battle with more fighters and pilots than when they started. The British strategy, prewar preparation, doctrine and execution was centred around trying to preserve the ability to counter a subsequent cross-channel invasion, against the vastly superior force they falsely believed the Luftwaffe represented. Against the actual threat it succeeded in it's aims very well. In retrospect we can argue a more aggressive RAF would have achieved more, but neither side realised the true balance of strength until after key decisions were already made.

    6. "Germany forcibly acquires the production facilities of England, whihch would mean thousands more trucks, planes and machine guns..."

      This is far from clearly so. In the course of WW2 Germany was able to source very little in the way of manufactured goods from any of the occupied territories. There were a number of reasons for this which included uncooperative workers, but more more importantly was related to the problem of these economies being highly dependent on external inputs that were no longer available. This loss of access resulted in significant reductions in West European agricultural productivity, not helped by German seizure of horses.

      A conquered UK would have made almost no useful direct industrial contributions to the German war effort, not least due to the very high dependence of the UK on external supplies of iron, etc.

      The most likely result would have been stripping the UK of useful machine tools, and deporting any useful labor to Germany to work as slaves, particularly in the coal mines (which was a major area of labor shortage throughout the war).

    7. When Germany took Czechoslovakia they left the factories intact and Czechs factories contributed to the German war effort.

      People like Göring waxed lyrically about plunder. So they stripped French factories of their capital equipment and stored it in warehouses in Germany.

      So if they repeated that in England they would not achieve much extra production.

    8. @Brendan

      Good point. That is while British counter intel and code work was top notch. But they really talked themselves into believing Germany had vastly more pilots and airraft to throw at them than Germany had. Thus I think a lot of at the time doom thinking that gets cited. Although I suppose it did help the UK into being cautious while Germany hurt itself with initial recklessness (they were good at overconfidence after France).

  2. Disagree on US navy focuses on defense.

    In my opinion, US navy does focus on offense. Its main tool of offense is not ships but aircrafts. Many ships and 1-2 nuclear submarine circle around to defend an aircraft carrier. The aircraft carrier itself only have few self defense weapons and heavily relies on ships and submarines around it to defend it.

    To summary, US navy is an offensive force centered around aircraft carrier. Why didn't Pentagon research on advanced ship to ship missiles until recent years as Harppon is outdated? Pentagon thinks that attacking ship is F/A-18's task, not any destroyer's mission.

    Yes, without circle around aircraft carrier, US navy ships look defensive.

    1. This is in fact true that the power of offense relies on aircraft as its main tool. The issue is naval aviation is now inadequate for long range needs and when they do, they are extremely risky.

      I will shamelessly plug in a strong point for naval guns by CNO (That I find also applies to missiles as well).
      "Because a shell can't be grounded due to weather, it can't be spoofed by ECM/jamming, it's available 24/7 with a couple of minute response time, it can't be shot down by SAMs or AAA, it can provide sustained fire."

      My guess is back in 60s, because of the short range/inaccuracy nature of the missiles has forced the Navy to extend the range by relying more on aircraft. Now, however, the advancement in multiple range and accuracy front that makes aircraft range less feasible than the accompanying missiles. Of course, there is still a large need for external targeting methods that aircraft could properly fill.

      That however does provide an interesting concept that might work. Assuming that the F-35 will be the main stay of our naval forces in the foreseeable future, should the next naval aircraft be a stealthy, long range, targeting one? There are several interesting aspects to this. For one, they will be the main targeting node for the ships and on the other hand, they could also be a scout aircraft to scan the ocean as opposed to relying on the Airforce's Poseidon. Both should (or should not?) mount the radar dome that is similar to the Poseidon expect much larger and operate under LPI mode. Even if the F-35 operations are woefully outmatch by Chinese forces or extremely occupied, I suggest that these scout aircraft could operate in groups of four. They could certainly turn off the radar until they could reach the designated area and find the targets. Then, they activate their radar for a quick scan and then send targeting information back to the escorting Burkes. If it's aground target, these scouts could then return to the aircraft carrier. If it's a naval surface combatant, I really don't know how long should they loiter around. Assuming that the range is 600-700nm so that would be around 1 and a half hour for our Harpoons and I don't think the range is even that far. Maybe we should relegate the task to the F-35s with their LRASM and these scout/AEWC aircraft could be loitering behind them.

    2. "Assuming that the F-35 will be the main stay of our naval forces in the foreseeable future"

      It will not be. According to most Navy sources, there will be a single F-35 squadron of 10 aircraft in each air wing. The Navy has no plans to wholesale convert to the F-35. I think they're viewing the F-35 as a minor, stopgap until the next gen aircraft arrives. For a variety of reasons, the F-35 was never embraced by the Navy (a rare good decision!). For example, the USS Ford was not built with F-35 capabilities and has to be retrofitted. None of the succeeding Fords were to be built with F-35 capability either until Congress mandated it. The Navy appears to be in no hurry to acquire or operate F-35s.

    3. "main tool of offense is not ships but aircrafts."

      No. Because of its short range and lack of stealth, the F-18 is an offensive weapon only against terrorists or third world countries. It is not a viable offensive threat against China. The aircraft exist to defend the carrier group. The main function of our main surface ship is purely defensive (AAW). The only offensive weapon is the Tomahawk and that is bordering on obsolete and will be only marginally effective against a peer defender.

      The only real offensive force is submarines and we're decreasing the number of those from a peak of 60 or so, down to 39-40 or so!

      The new FFG(x) is purely defensive.

      The only notable new offensive weapon we're fielding is the LRASM and that may or may not be adapted to shipboard use.

      Our air wings have been reduced to 9 and the size of the wings has shrunk from 90+ aircraft to around 60. That's not offense! It is no longer possible for a single carrier to mount a significant strike in combat. Even a carrier group would have a hard time mounting a large strike because the air wings are so small.

      The focus of our weapons development is ballistic missile defense.

      The Navy's focus is clearly defensive.

    4. Honestly disagree. Aircrafts are US navy's main offensive force even though they might be inadequate in Pentagon's mind.

      In 1990-91 Gulf War, we saw 6 carrier battle groups there to launch attacks.

      Yes, Chinese navy's suddenly (but no so sudden) rise does pose serious challenge to US navy but this needs to be addressed in whole picture. Navy aircrafts might not be good enough now but US destroyers, no matter how much firing power, cannot even get close to launch attack but aircrafts from carriers can.

      For submarine, if in mid Pacific, yes, they have good fighting power. However, along Chinese coast (~300 miles range), they have little chance. Sonobuoy technologies have made survivability of submarines in shallow water questionable. China does have good capability in this area. In 2018's ZhuHai Airshow, China displayed its export version of sonobuoy array systems. US also has good sonobuoy system - 2020 Pentagon purchases more than 200,000! They are one-use only. Active sonobuoy would make people in a submarine go mad as its sound really really ... make your head exploding. Submarines have no way to shot down an aircraft keep dropping active sonobuoys which can then cover a large area.

    5. "Honestly disagree."

      It's almost not really debatable. The Gulf War was a case of a third world country which, as I stated, is the only case where F-18s can be effective strikers in the modern battlefield. SAM systems have simply become too effective (along with good old fashioned barrage fire!).

      "US destroyers, no matter how much firing power, cannot even get close to launch attack"

      The exact opposite is true. Destroyers, with thousand mile Tomahawk missiles, CAN conduct attacks where aircraft cannot. Aircraft lack the stealth and range.

      It's not really debatable.

    6. I will shamelessly plug in a strong point for naval guns by CNO (That I find also applies to missiles as well).
      "Because a shell can't be grounded due to weather, it can't be spoofed by ECM/jamming, it's available 24/7 with a couple of minute response time, it can't be shot down by SAMs or AAA, it can provide sustained fire."

      This is true for large shells but I'm sure I've read of 6inch and 5inch shells being intercepted and destroyed by CIWS and SAM's. While using a SAM to destroy an artillery shell isn't cost effective for the army it is for a billion dollar plus ship!

    7. "According to most Navy sources, there will be a single F-35 squadron of 10 aircraft in each air wing"

      How is this not big news somewhere? Have i missed it? It seems like all the planning we do is around the F-35 without regarding that we have only 10 to play around with!

      "The ships require the capability to push and fuse all the data the F-35s can generate, along with building additional classified spaces, new jet blast deflectors and other refits."

      The part about fusing data here is interesting a little bit. Is the Navy envisioning aircraft carriers to replace the cruisers in the command and control function? It would seems unnecessary and duplicated otherwise. On the other hand, I thought that the Fords were designed around or after the JSF program has the Navy in it. Do they have already know the F-35 not meeting Navy's requirements and play both side to get the most out of it?

      "This is true for large shells but I'm sure I've read of 6inch and 5inch shells being intercepted and destroyed by CIWS and SAM's. While using a SAM to destroy an artillery shell isn't cost effective for the army it is for a billion dollar plus ship!"

      This came from a post about battleship guns so for that context, it didn't really hold up to! You are correct on the issue, that's why we need bigger guns to cause some serious damage and also prevent countermeasures. I think somewhere around 7 and 8 inches would be sufficient!

    8. Our 155mm can fire six shells and have all land at the same time.

      Transfer that tech to 5" guns to a gunfire support ship with say... 5 x 5" guns? Seems a reasonable figure and you have 30 shells landing at the same time.

      I'd like to see a CIWS deal with a couple of the broadsides.

    9. "I'm sure I've read of 6inch and 5inch shells being intercepted and destroyed by CIWS and SAM's."

      I've never heard of that other than, perhaps, a manufacturer's theoretical claim. Do you happen to have a reference?

    10. US' CIWS is outdated as its cannot effectively intercept supersonic missiles. Pentagon did research on next generation CIWS (higher firing rate) but failed. Russia's solution is to use two AK-630 thus can fire > 10,000 rounds per minute but two AK-630 is too heavy for many ships. So far, best solution available is China's Type 1130 (> 11,000 rounds per minute) which is in single station thus weight is OK. There are theoretical calculations on website which show that US CIWS cannot effectively stop supersonic missiles but one fire > 10,000/minute can.

    11. "US' CIWS is outdated as its cannot effectively intercept supersonic missiles."

      You're welcome to your opinion but there is absolutely no proof to back it up.

    12. Phalanx CIWS fires 4,500 rounds/minute 20mm ammunitions.

      China's old type 730 fires 7,000 rounds/minute 30mm ammunitions.

      China still thinks that is not good enough, they then build Type 1130 which fires 11,000 rounds/minute 30mm ammunitions.

      US now focuses more on Sea Ram while China has a similar one HQ-10 although HQ-10's tracking/guiding system seem even better than Sea Ram.

      US' Sea Sparrow has one advantage over China's Sea HQ-17, it is smaller thus can put 4 in one cell but China can only put 1 HQ-17 in one VLS.

      For long range anti-ship missiles such as in development LSRAM or China's DF-21D, keep issue is how to find and keep tracking enemy ships 500 miles away. No radar on any ship can do so, even E-2D is difficult to do so. Satellites can only give very rough positions. Now, both US and China keep this part as top secret.

    13. "Type 1130 which fires 11,000 rounds/minute"

      Beyond a certain point, rate of fire doesn't matter. The Type 1130 is reported to have two magazines (640 rds each) instead of the Type 730 which has one. I've seen one report which claimed a pair of 1280 rd magazines but that may be a misinterpretation by the article. Regardless, at 11,000 rpm, the magazine is depleted in just under 7 seconds and the weapon is useless until it can be reloaded.

      In addition, the range of the Type 1130 is reported to be around 3 km (1.8 miles). For a, say, Mach 4 (0.85 miles per second) incoming missile, that provides an engagement window of a hair over 2 seconds and even that assumes firing up until the moment of impact. Assuming one would like to hit the incoming missile, say, a mile out to prevent debris from impacting the ship, that means an engagement window from the max range of 1.8 miles to 1 mile which is an engagement space of 0.8 miles or about 1 second. For a 7 second magazine capacity, that allows for 3-7 engagements before the weapon is depleted - actually not bad for a CIWS.

      However, this casts great doubt on the claims of 90% success against hypersonic weapons. Of course, there has been no actual test upon which to base such claims.

      Far more important than rate of fire is accuracy. Phalanx CIWS and Type 1130 are self-contained units as far as fire control/guidance. Phalanx tracks the outgoing rounds and incoming missile and adjusts to 'merger' the two. I don't know how the Type 1130 works
      other than that it has a self-contained radar.

      If the fire control is accurate enough, only a single round is required to hit a target and, thus, rate of fire is irrelevant. Of course, no fire control is that perfect so multiple rounds are required and a high rate of fire is useful to a point.

      Beyond a certain point, higher rate of fire just depletes the magazine faster and renders the weapon useless.

    14. Land based CIWS has absolutely proved it has the ability to take out incoming artillery and rockets.,_artillery,_and_mortar

    15. "Land based CIWS has absolutely proved it has the ability to take out incoming artillery and rockets."

      The Wiki link you offered is just a generic description of the system and has no performance data.

      I'm aware of [mostly] anecdotal evidence of Centurion C-RAM defeating mortars but I've seen no evidence of it defeating rockets or artillery. That doesn't mean it can't do it, just that it hasn't, yet, as far as I know.

    16. It can defend against rockets and artillery, but not barrages. Had a quick google but couldn't find anything specific.

    17. Or so I'm told by people returning from the sand pit.

  3. While you're right about the state of the English navy, but Australia never declared war, England did so we were at war. I believe NZ and Canada were in the same situation. So, to the RN figures you would have to add the RAN figures;

    2 County-class heavy cruisers; Australia and Canberra, both carried 8-inch (203 mm) guns and had entered service in the 1920s
    three modern Modified Leander-class light cruisers; Hobart, Perth, and Sydney, which mounted 6-inch (152 mm) guns
    the older Town-class cruiser Adelaide
    four sloops, Parramatta, Swan, Warrego, and Yarra; although only Swan and Yarra were in commission
    five V-class destroyers
    a variety of support and ancillary craft

    The "English" navy was considerably larger than you have allowed for.

    1. I haven't checked the operational history of each ship you cited but I believe none of them served with English naval forces against Germany in the time period referenced. They all stayed in the Pacific and do not figure in the topic of the post.

    2. Our ships served with the British in Africa/Middle East. HMAS Australia fought Vichy French, German bombers and escorted troop convoys to England. They also patrolled off Norway.

      In those days, up until I was a teenager, there was no difference between British or Australian.

    3. One good thing about 1939 - Dec 1941 the AIF raised 6 divisions of infantry designed to take on Panzer divisions. Lots of trucks, artillery, anti-tank, and anti-air.

      Then all these light foot infantry division from Japan turned up on our doorstop. They would have stood no chance in Australia.

    4. By being deployed in the Pacific they freed up resources for the European theatre. Australia was federated in 1901, however, in spirit if not on paper, we were South England until at least 1960.

    5. The RAN, as well as the Canadian, New Zealand and South African navies all fought at some point, and in significant numbers, with the British against the Germans - especially in the early 1939-1941 period, prior to Japan's entry to the war.

      The Australians and NZers mostly served in the Mediterranean and Middle East (and suffered significant casualties against both the Kriegsmarine/Luftwaffe and Italian navy and air force).

      The Canadians and South Africans served mostly in the Battle of the Atlantic in the first part of the war, and then the Canadians were heavily involved in all of the landings and amphibious operations around Africa, Italy and then Normandy.
      By the end of the war the Canadian navy in particular was extremely large and contributed a very large percentage of all the escorts that covered the Atlantic shipping routes.

      All that aside, the Commonwealth countries never served in any real numbers in the British Home Fleet - instead they freed the British to retain plenty of units in home ports, precisely to shadow the Kriegsmarine. They took up the slack in other theatres.

      The thing about the British Home Fleet was also that it could be reinforced. If the Kriegsmarine showed signs of stirring, the idea was that the Admiralty could recall it's heavy units from the Med and convoy escort to overwhelm the Germans with numbers.

      Personally, I'm sceptical that the German navy in WW2 could have marshalled enough strength to force a decisive and winning battle with the British Home Fleet in the early stages of the war.
      But given it's pure speculation, I guess it's possible.

    6. "I'm sceptical that the German navy in WW2 could have marshalled enough strength to force a decisive and winning battle with the British Home Fleet in the early stages of the war. "

      You may have missed the key point about German naval actions. The goal (well, one of them) would not have been to force a straight up, toe-to-toe, fleet-against-fleet engagement. The goal would have been to entice the British fleet into an engagement where the COMBINED (we call it joint, today) German fleet SUPPORTED BY WOLFPACKS OF SUBS AND THE LUFTWAFFE could have engaged the British. With subs and aircraft whittling down the British fleet and THEN the German surface fleet engaging, the British fleet would have been in trouble.

      The key, pointed out in the post, was to utilize combined forces in locally favorable conditions (we call that maneuver warfare, today).

  4. There's a few points I'd object to, but very good post overall.

    The seat of purpose is, in fact, on the land.

    Everyone's a genius with hindsight, but I "wargamed" a similar situation in the past, and concluded that it was possible for Germany to use her naval assets to launch an invasion of England early in the war, possibly postponing the French campaign.

    With powerful air support, most of the surface fleet sent to bombard the London area drawing the Royal Navy's attention and submarines pretty much everywhere, Britain could successfully be occupied by German forces.

    Germany would clearly lose much (most?) of her navy but accomplish a significant victory by taking British lands instead of playing the long game.

    1. "Germany would clearly lose much (most?) of her navy"

      Really? Why/how? As I envision it, Germany would use mines and its extensive submarine fleet to seal both ends of the channel and provide the main engagement against the British fleet. German surface ship losses should be light in that scenario and a surface-to-surface battle might not even occur. What did you postulate and how did it play out?

      "lose much (most?) of her navy but accomplish a significant victory"

      Nothing wrong with that if you gain your overall strategic objective. The US lost all but one of its carriers at the start of WWII but those losses stopped the Japanese and set the stage for eventual victory.

    2. The plan in that case was to use much of the German surface navy as a decoy to draw the British Home Fleet away from the landing area for as long as possible, bait with teeth if you want.

      Lack of carriers and other factors would have resulted in significant losses for such a German force, but that was acceptable and it's very difficult to predict those things anyway.

      Similarly, many of the German subs were to keep British ships away from the amphibious force since real-time sub-surface coordination wasn't feasible (it still isn't as far as I know).

      And yes, losing ships in order to achieve a larger strategic goal is perfectly fine: in fact, that was exactly the plan.

    3. Do you plan to write a summary about this? I am interested to see the German Surface Navy pose more than just an afterthought from the German side.

      "accomplish a significant victory by taking British lands" Are you referring to taking over entirety of Britain? or just holding the major factories and cities?

      After the initial destruction of the German Navy, were the British fleet able to come back and engage and blockade off the reinforcements? I find it difficult that if the British fleet wasn't neutralized or expended far enough, the ground German forces in Britain wouldn't be able to sustain the operational tempo? Maybe several weeks of contested naval sea would be sufficient? Would love to hear your response on this.

      As far as I know, there was an interesting research produced by the old CDI that compared the Germans/British pure focus on bombers while the Stukas were much more effective in combat. They wargamed a hypothetical situation where, after the intial landings were carried out, it's entirely possible that the combined forces of Stukas and tanks managed to circumvent and cut off London in the matter of days! The results were a total German victory similar to the invasion of France. I am not really aware of the results of the Naval operations as the paper were purely focused on the close air support versus bombing effectiveness.

    4. I do not have the files on hand right now, although I might be able to find them in the future, anyway:

      - A few different scenarios were considered.
      Opening the entire war with an assault on Britain instead of wasting time with Poland would gain as much of a "surprise element" as it can be gained in a peer war and give the British even less time to prepare. An "hindsight strategy", admittedly.

      - The goal was to take over the British mainland altogether, and a "puppet" government would have not been too difficult to set up.
      Resistance would have been present for quite a while but that was accounted for.

      - It was suggested (correctly, in my opinion) that some sort of British government-in-exile would keep operating from the colonies after the fall of London.

      - The German surface fleet was able to draw the Home Fleet away from the invasion force for a sufficient time, particularly since it prioritized keeping British attention on them rather than engaging in a major naval battle.

      - Resupplying the landing force was possible though significant attrition would occur despite German air support.

      - The logistic situation would not be pretty for Germany, but lack of serious beach fortifications and other defenses would have made the amphibious assault very different from Normandy.

      - Gaining an airfield (or more) in England was just only less important than seizing ports.

      - The geography of Southern England would allow to take London quickly, although not many surface ships would be left by then.

      - Submarines would be a nightmare for the British to deal with, as would be mines in the western part of the Channel and (to a lesser extent) other ports.

      - The strategic implications of conquering the British Isles are obvious.

  5. ComNavOps, your British-German Fleet Comparison Table has a few mistakes including (1) the fact that the Courageous class battlecruisers were all converted to aircraft carriers in the 1920s (2) both sides new battleships and carriers took forever to complete (*) so, for example, all of the KGV battleships and Illustrious carriers never served (or in some cases existed) at the same time (3) the German battleship and battlecruiser designs were all "pre-Jutland" (1916) so while they were newly built" they were obsolete while still on the drawing board (examp - their armor scheme was last used in the USN on the USS Texas class battleships (1912), all of the German battleships and battlecruisers had to have their bows rebuilt as they couldn't take the pounding of North Sea waters, and the only German light cruiser that could serve in the North Sea was the FIRST ONE, the Emden (1921) - the follow-ons were all designed and built too weak, and (4) the British 15" gun from WWI was superior to all guns of it's size or smaller ever built - so the 10 British 15" battleships from WWI had superior firepower to the 2 German "modern" 15" battleships. The 3 British 15" battlecruisers had superior firepower to ANY German warship smaller than the Bismarck class battleships and at least equal to the KGV battleships (10 - 14" guns) because the turret designs were built UNTESTED (think USS FORD CVN) and were NEVER able to fire more than 7 guns on a regular basis during their entire service lives. The 3 German 11" panzershiffs were not comparable to battlescruisers as you show but really were comparable to heavy cruisers and (5) the Schlesiens were PRE-dreadnoughts and were obsolete before the start of WWI and were really "coastal defense ships". When you take this into account, you table now looks like this and shows that the Germans never really had a chance:

    British- German Fleet Comparison
    British German
    new old new old
    Carrier 5* 8 0 0
    BB 8 or 9x15/16" 2 10 0 2 bismarck
    BC 6x15" 0 3 0 0
    BB 14", BC 11" 5* 0 0 2 scharnhorst
    CA/AC/OB 8"-11" 13 3 3 2 schlesien
    6" CL 19 31 5 1 emden
    destroyers 112 72 30 0
    aux cruiser/AMC 0 >11 11 0

    The Germans realized that their fleet was inferior and so
    played the FLEET IN BEING card. During the 1930s the Germans proposed building a "real" fleet - the Z Plan for 1944 or later but if one looks at the proposed designs with the exception of their proposed 20" battleships, all were simply German versions of 1930s British designs (OPQ battlecruiser = HMS Renown, M class CL = HMS Perth, etc). so another takeaway from this is "once you stop producing technically competitive naval designs, like the Germans after 1915 and the USN after the 1980s, it will be very very hard for you to catch-up.

    1. In addition a number of the British battleships (the Queen Elizabeths come to mind) had undergone significant modernizations in the 1930s that greatly increased their capabilities somewhat belying their apparent age.

      On the other hand, a significant portion of the RN had to be deployed away from Home waters to confront Italy in the Mediterranean substantively reducing combat power in the North Sea and Channel. Of course the need for carriers in UK coastal waters is somewhat reduced due to the capacity to utilize land-based aircraft.

    2. "Courageous class battlecruisers were all converted to aircraft carriers"

      Noted. Unfortunately, the limitations of the blogger engine preclude table editing so the post will have to remain with your comment to note the error. That aside, it has no impact on the premise of the post.

      "KGV battleships and Illustrious carriers never served "

      The KGV and Illustrious classes were commissioned within the time frame of the post so all were theoretically available.

      "armor scheme"

      I have no interest in debating armor schemes or perceived strengths or weaknesses of design. It's irrelevant to the premise of the post.

      "British 15" gun"

      This is not an established fact, by any means. For example, from NavWeapons: "By the mid-1930s the Admiralty saw these guns as growing obsolete, as other nations had developed more powerful weapons, capable of longer ranges and firing heavier projectiles."

      Debating individual ship strengths and weaknesses is not the point of the post and is irrelevant to the premise.

  6. Germany had a decent sized fleet that could have caused UK serious problems, if they had a reasonable strategy for utilizing it. They didn't, and Hitler interfered with developing one.

    1. The lesson for us, today, is obvious … have a viable strategy! The US Navy has none and so we flounder from one failed ship acquisition program to the next, hoping something good will miraculously emerge. Where's our War Plan Orange for China? We don't have one. We can't win without a strategy! Technology is not a substitute for strategy.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. 2 Courageous class battlecruisers commissioned around 1916

    There where converted into the Glorious class aircraft carriers (along with Furious) just after WW1.

  8. The Fairy Swordfish entered service in 1936 just like the Curtiss SBC Helldiver entered service in 1937.

    Aircraft technology in the second half of the 1930's accelerated rapidly and the difference between going for wartime mass production in 1939 and 1941 makes a lot of difference.

    1. "Curtiss SBC Helldiver entered service in 1937."

      The SBC first prototype flight was Dec 1940 and the aircraft crashed in Feb '41. The rebuilt prototype flew in late '41 and crashed in Dec '41. The SBC entered service in late '42 and saw its first combat in Nov '43.

      The Swordfish first flight was 1934 and it entered service in '36.

    2. The first one

      Not the SBC2.

      The SBC I meant was still in service on Lexington till early 1941 when replaced by the Dauntless though continued to be used as trainers till 1943.

      If pearl harbour had happened a year earlier the US would have been in the same position as the RN.

    3. "The first one"

      Ah, my mistake.

  9. The capital ships of the RN was concentrated around the UK during the start of WW2.

    Bismarck and Tirpitz weren't commissioned till at the very end and several months after the battle of Britain had ended respectively.

    The Deutschland-class class weren't battlecruisers they where over gunned treaty heavy cruisers that where slow (28 knots) and like most treaty heavy cruisers had limited armour protection due to the lost knowledge Germany suffered after WW1 the same thing applies to the Hipper class the USN Northampton class has much better armour protection than either for a lower displacement while not sacrificing speed or armament.

    For Germany to mass it's fleet it would have had to keep it's entire fleet in port till mid 1941 when Tirpitz was commissioned this means no Norway campaign which saw German lose substantial numbers of destroyers, several cruisers and significant damage to both of the Scharnhorst class.

    I can't imagine the UK not attempting a Battle of Taranto on Germany's fleet in that situation.

    1. "For Germany to mass it's fleet it would have had to keep it's entire fleet in port till mid 1941"

      No, it means it would have had to use them wisely and in a combined arms fashion with close, coordinated air cover and submarine support. The same principles of communications and coordination that governed Germany's 'blitzkrieg' could/should have been applied to the naval component.

  10. Blockade British ports to seal off convoys. There would have been no need to try to destroy convoys at sea if they can be prevented from unloading at their destination ports. It would have been much easier to seal British ports with mines and submarines than to try to find and engage convoys at sea. The closer distance to the U-boat’s home ports would have also facilitated the support efforts for the submarines.

    This happened and it cost Germany a lot of submarines and the RN a lot of minesweepers.

    A lot of your ideas in this post seem based on the UK not doing anything while Germany keeps acting.

    1. "A lot of your ideas in this post seem based on the UK not doing anything while Germany keeps acting."

      Of course England would pursue its own operations but that doesn't mean you sit back and don't attempt to execute your own plans. Ideally, you execute your own plans and force the enemy into reacting instead of acting. Germany, at least the German Navy, actually did sit back and do nothing and thereby forfeited any possibility of accomplishing anything useful.

  11. I say forget England. Use the German navy to support the siege of Leningrad. Heavy gunfire support and a threatened amphibious assault would have been violently effective. There is no substitute for sustained heavy calibre gunfire in the shore support role and even the dreadnaught era ships would have participated. The Red air force lacked the strength of the RAF and bringing the artillery by sea would have eased German supply problems.

    Moreover, Leningrad has several islands. Picking them off one by one would allow Germany the rare opportunity to divide a defending force in urban terrain. Breaking Leningrad would free up far more resources including aircraft needed for Britain.

  12. I certainly agree with your overall point about the need to switch to an offensive mind set. In fact we should have been digging up those Chinese artificial islands as quickly as they tried to build them with an offensive plan at the ready had they reacted military. In the specific case of misuse of the German fleet, they had problems from the outset though, even apart from there mentality. Norway has been mentioned and in the battles of Narvik they lost 10 destroyers. A real blow which would have made subsequent activities in the channel for example very difficult without replacements. The lesson still stands though as it was the offensive aggression of the Royal Navy that bought this about.

  13. The big advantages the Brits had were their carriers. Even the old Fairey Stringbag biplanes are what got the Bismarck. Commerce raiding in the open ocean took them way beyond their shore-based air cover. If they had stayed within Luftwaffe air cover range, they could have done some serious damage to the RN. Enough to win the war? Hard to say. The Germans didn't have the historic reservoir of naval experience that the RN has, and somehow that seems to count for something when people start shooting real bullets. And who knows how well could the Luftwaffe and the German Navy coordinated air-surface operations? Again, they certainly didn't have any experience doing it. But a massed force with air cover would surely have been more effective than individual commerce raiders practicing distributed lethality. If they had significantly reduced the RN's inventory, then the U-boat operations would surely have been much more successful.

    But that isn't what Hitler wanted, and when you take orders from a madman, you get crazy orders.

    1. "a massed force with air cover would surely have been more effective than individual commerce raiders practicing distributed lethality."

      Well recognized! As you know, I'm all about studying history and learning lessons from it. So … after seeing how Germany's distributed lethality concept failed utterly, the US Navy, today, is determined to repeat exactly that failure with our own distributed lethality by sending ships out on their own, beyond air cover. That's not exactly learning from history, is it?

      Their excuse was crazy orders from Hitler. What's our excuse?

      Just a thought … you might consider this lesson as you contemplate scattering lone Visbys about Chinese controlled air and water spaces. If they're in range of Chinese forces, they're dead. IF they're not in range, then what are they accomplishing?

    2. "Their excuse was crazy orders from Hitler. What's our excuse?"

      Incompetence, perhaps resulting from too much emphasis on political correctness rather than professional competence.

      "Just a thought … you might consider this lesson as you contemplate scattering lone Visbys about Chinese controlled air and water spaces. If they're in range of Chinese forces, they're dead. IF they're not in range, then what are they accomplishing?"

      Well, number one, I'm not talking about "scattering lone Visbys about Chinese controlled air and water spaces." There may be some individual missions that require that, but in those cases isn't it better to have a stealthy and maneuverable Visby than risk a Burke?

      As far as, "in range," from what I've seen the Visby's radars can find you out to about 100 miles, but because of stealth they can be detected by your radars only out to about 30 miles. Those are manufacturers claims, and need to be taken with a very large grain of salt, to be sure. But there probably is some significant difference, and if the Visby can see you before you see them, they have a great chance to get in the first shot and win the battle.

      Again, I'm not talking about building Visbys instead of battleships, cruisers, destroyers, escorts, and frigates. I'm talking about avoiding the overpriced ships in those categories (build Nimitzes instead of Fords, FREMMs instead of Zumwalts, ASW frigates instead of LCSs, Virginias and VPMs instead of the $5.5B Virginia replacement, cheaper amphibs instead of LHAs/LHDs/San Antonios) and using those savings to fill out numbers of smaller and cheaper ships. Use low-end ships for low-end missions and high-end ships for high-end missions. We have plenty of both types of missions. And using a low-end ship for a low-end mission spares a high-end ship for those missions that demand a high-end response.

    3. I guess the one thing I really don't understand is what will we be getting for the $5.5B Virginia replacement. Interestingly, USN projects the price as $3.4B, which looks like a ploy to get funding started, whereas CBO has estimated the $5.5B number. Is it going to be an updated Seawolf instead of a true Virginia replacement? If so, what is so great about Seawolf that justifies an 80% cost increase, or building 33 of them? And why are USN and CBO so far apart on the cost estimate? I think I know the answer to the latter one, but would like some official explanation.

      I could see that much for something like an Ohio-based SSGN, but from what I can tell, the replacement won't even have VPM.

  14. Just a few notes about the Kreigsmarine order of battle in the 1940 to 1942 time frame.

    Of the 4 battleships, Bismark was lost in battle in 1941. And, Gneisenau was decomissioned in July 1942.

    The Graf Spee was scuttled off the coast of Uruguay in December 1939.

    Blücher was lost in battle in April 1940.

    Schlesien and Schleswig-Holstein were of limited value due to their slow speed (20 knots) and limited firepower (4 x 280mm and 10 x 150mm guns). Both were built in the mid-1900's.

    Germany started the war with 57 U-boats. Soon after the war started, Plan Z was shelved to concentrate on submarine construction. By the end of 1940, Germany had built 103 U-Boats but lost 32 submarines that year. In 1941, Germany had built another 199 submarines. Germany had lost a total of 68 submarines by the end of 1941.

    1. I specifically acknowledged losses on both sides and stated that they were irrelevant for the purpose of the post.

      "limited value due to their slow speed (20 knots) and limited firepower"

      Every vessel has value. It may not be standing toe to toe with the enemy's top of the line battleships but they have value. For example, in many of the proposed operations, simple land bombardment would have been highly effective and valued.

      The purpose of the post was not to describe in excruciating detail what actual happened to the respective fleets - that's readily available elsewhere - but to describe what could have been done and what naval forces could have been available - hence, the irrelevance of actual losses.

    2. To describe what could have been done, you have to include what actually happened before the "what-if" time period starts. And, losing three of nine capital ships by mid-1941 is not insignificant and strongly affects the what-if scenarios presented.   As for Schlesien and Schleswig-Holstein, while well armored, these ships were long past their prime.  Both saw limited use at the start of the war and were used mostly for training purposes afterwards. 

      In addition to the loss of their capital ships, Germany lost 10 destroyers (half of their destroyer fleet at the time) and 2 light cruisers in their invasion of Norway in early-1940.  And, Germany wasn't building replacements.  Germany focused on building submarines and to a lesser extent torpedo and patrol boats.   

      With England's advantage in cruisers and destroyers, the German surface fleet was no match for the Royal Navy. Submarines operating off the coast of England would have been subject to fierce attacks by those destroyers and by the Royal Air Force.   

      As for the preventing the build up of forces for the Normandy Invasion, Germany thought the landing at Normady was a feint.  With the Allies' successfully working deception plan, Germany could well have attacked more fake air bases and other installations than they actually did.

    3. "To describe what could have been done, you have to include what actually happened before the "what-if" time period starts."

      You didn't get the concept, at all. The 'what if' is the entire war. It's how could Germany have better used it's navy. For example, that means not invading Norway or, at least, doing differently so as not to leave naval forces hanging out exposed. It means not sending Graf Spee on a suicide cruise. It means not committing to a U-boat campaign. And so on.

      The post is about the lessons we can learn from what Germany's navy did and what it didn't do. The actual losses are utterly irrelevant other than as they constitute the broad example of what not to do.

      "And, Germany wasn't building replacements."

      And that should probably have been another lesson pointed out in the post although it seemed to obvious to warrant mention.

      "the German surface fleet was no match for the Royal Navy."

      Again, you missed the point of the post. The issue is not whether the entire assembled German navy could match the entire assembled RN in a stand up, toe-to-toe slugging match. That's conceptually, operationally, and tactically absurd. The entire focus of modern warfare is to produce a local concentration of force that overmatches your opponent. The fact that you may have a lesser overall force is irrelevant if you can create the circumstances that give you a local superiority and that is what the post postulated: operations that could have given the German navy local favorable conditions WHEN CONDUCTED WITH JOINT COOPERATION WITH THE AIR AND, SOMETIMES, GROUND FORCES.

      Reread the post with this understanding in mind.

  15. German submarine attacks along the American Atlantic and Gulf coasts were a tremendous success in the first half of 1942. Roosevelt and the Navy kept this secret even after the war. Over 4000 Americans were killed in this turkey shoot.

  16. The US Navy has been defensive in nature for a long time. Aircraft and subs were the only real offensive weapons with Tomahawk/harpoons being a bit of an exception but those are best delivered by aircraft.
    With the retirement of most of our Cold War era aircraft frames and the phasing out of LA subs the last of the unique offensive tools were taken away and rolled into the One-Tool-For-5-Jobs systems that are prevelant across our entire US military.
    As said before on this blog, we are better served with 5 different tools for the job than 1 tool for 5 different jobs.
    For those who doubt this blog's accuracy in saying our Navy is defensive in nature go take a look at the USSR 1980s Naval platforms for an idea of what offensive weapons look like. This is not a debate on the accuracy or reliability of those weapons, this is a statement on a weapons platform designed to be offensive

  17. Umm question where are you finding all these German cruisers? Germany had maybe 7 working ones at the start of the war.


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