The authors/editors have brought together official reports on key battles involving capital ships. Some will argue that the only real capital ship by 1939 was the aircraft carrier, but the big-gun battleships, battle cruisers and heavy cruisers did not go quietly into the night of obsolescence.
NAME: Capital Ships at War 1939-1945
AUTHOR: John Grehan, Martin Mace
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: hard back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: WWII, World War Two, Second World War, battleships, battle cruisers, heavy cruisers, aircraft carriers, naval architecture, naval tactics, armoured ships, shore bombardment
DESCRIPTION: The authors/editors have brought together official reports on key battles involving capital ships. Some will argue that the only real capital ship by 1939 was the aircraft carrier, but the big-gun battleships, battle cruisers and heavy cruisers did not go quietly into the night of obsolescence.
Missing from this collection of reports is the most successful role for heavy naval guns during D-Day and on other actions, where the Allied battleships were employed in coastal bombardment. This is perhaps to be expected because the chapters are given to combat between warships, if in one case asymetric combat. This exception is the use of midget submarines to attack Tirpitz at anchor in a Norwegian fjord.
The first casualty of WWII amongst the heavy warships was the Graf Spee, run down by three small cruisers, driven to refuge in a neutral port and scuttled largely as a result of a brilliant intelligence deception. The Graf Spee was designed specifically to serve as a raider. Two triple turrets armed with radar directed 11 in guns, armoured, and powered by diesel engines for economy in operation, the Graf Spee could expect to out-gun any warship that was as fast or faster, and be able to outrun anything with greater fire power. With all these advantages, and huge oceans to hide in, she was still run down and eliminated in the opening days of WWII.
Bismark was run down and killed in an almost traditional naval big gun duel, although she was tracked, relocated and damaged by aircraft. It took the most powerful RN guns to finish her off. This proved a number of factors. HMS Hood was a large warship that lacked armoured decks and modern fire control radar, paying the penalty when a salvo from the German ships plunged through the unarmoured decks and into the magazines. HMS Prince of Wales had not completed sea trials and paid the price of being rushed into operations before her crew had shaken down, and with dockyard personnel still aboard, being forced to retreat damaged. Air power proved decisive in locating and tracking Bismark, and then damaging the battleship so that she was unable to run for cover, being overhauled by much of the RN Home Fleet. Once brought to battle, the heavy armour and good compartmentalisation of the Bismark was unable to withstand big gun and torpedo fire.
The loss of HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse was a further reminder that capital ships were no match for aircraft. To survive, these mighty ships required a full complement of screening cruisers and destroyers, and the protection of carrier or shore-based aircraft. Operating without this protection, these ships were quickly sunk.
Scharnhorst was brought to battle in the Arctic conditions of North Cape in a classic gun battle. Again, she needed protection that was not available.
This book concludes with an account of the British Pacific Fleet. The Americans regarded the Pacific as their war and were reluctant to accept a British Fleet equipped with ships freed by the victory in Europe. However, US naval commanders did appreciate the advantage of having British warships working with their own ships and the British Pacific Fleet became a valued Task Force within the US Fleet. Its naval guns and heavy anti-aircraft armament was useful, but it was the armoured British carriers that proved most valuable, able to withstand Japanese attacks that sunk or crippled USN carriers.
The selected official reports provide a reasonably balanced view of the WWII capital ships. There is a useful photo plate section, and this is primary source information. The book will be valued by enthusiasts and professionals, but priced at a level affordable to those developing an interest in these subjects.