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Thread: The Butterfly Effect: A British AAR

  1. #2041
    Lord of Slower-than-real-time El Pip's Avatar
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    Chapter LXXIV: Family Meeting Part II - A Matter of Naval Planning


    There are many who recommend that the key to understanding almost any political problem or issue is to 'follow the money', sage advice so long as one keeps in mind the broadest definition of money and follows the ebb and flow of resources of all kinds. In such vein when considering the issue of British foreign policy the advice would be to follow the fleet, the deployments and disposition of the Royal Navy being a far better indication than any number of memos, speeches and briefings from the Foreign Office. It is therefore no surprise that the Imperial Conference saw Australia and New Zealand keen to see the previously theoretical defence plans become reality through actual warship movements.

    At first glance the decision should have been simple; successive Committees of Imperial Defence had stated the Far East would be reinforced if the need arose or when the Mediterranean calmed down, whichever was the sooner. After the defeat of Italy the only ships of note in the region, baring the French of course, were the Spanish Republic's two ancient Espana class battleships and an equally venerable Turkish battle-cruiser. As war with France was considered exceptionally unlikely, even after the chilling of relations, and the Admiralty believed a squadron of heavy cruiser would suffice to counter the other vessels there was seemingly no reason to maintain a strong Mediterranean Fleet. This should have left those vessels free to be deployed East, yet in reality strong opposition would be mounted to the very idea of sending a fleet to Singapore.


    The TCG Yavuz, flagship of the Turkish Fleet. Formerly the SMS Goeben she was a Moltke class battle-cruiser that had been transferred to the Ottoman Empire during the Great War and then retained by Turkey. During a four year overhaul in the late 1920s to repair war damage and bring her back into service the Yavuz had been barely modernised, indeed the effects of age and wear in service had left her considerably less effective than her original configuration. Despite this it was the opinion of the Admiralty that she was the biggest non-French threat in the Mediterranean, though as the rivals were the smaller, slower and badly maintained Spanish Espana battleships nothing too impressive should be read into this. As with the Espana's the Admiralty believed the speed, accuracy and superior crew of a County class should make it a fair match with the Yavuz, making a whole County squadron more than sufficient.


    Before going into the issue in depth it will be valuable to establish the background. The Royal Navy's planning for the Far East had been developed over many decades through the War Memorandum (Eastern), most recently revised in 1933. This document covered the general strategy for the Far East, covering what ships to send, how they would get there, repair and refuelling for the force and an outline strategy of how to win. Through the memorandum the Royal Navy had argued for and received the vast Singapore complex of docks, storage and fortifications, indeed the entire Singapore fortress only existed to protect the dry docks and oil tanks. It had also been the driver for the network of refuelling bases from Suez to Singapore, most notably in Aden and Ceylon, to support any fleet movement and as staging points for the tanker train needed to keep any deployed force supplied. In terms of grand strategy the assumption had always been that any war would be defensive in nature, with Japan as the aggressor and Britain aiming for a negotiated surrender through economic blockade and destruction of the Japanese fleet. In broad terms the war strategy could be broken down into four stages;

    * Phase I - Relief of Singapore.
    * Phase II - Relief/Recapture of Hong Kong.
    * Phase III - Northward advance to draw the Japanese fleet into decisive battle.
    * Phase IV - Complete the economic starvation of Japan through blockade and convoy warfare, forcing Japan to negotiate or surrender.

    The astute reader will note the first phases imply the Royal Navy arriving in force only after the war has started and the main British bases in the region have been besieged. This was not just a 'worst case' plan that assumed Japan achieved total tactical surprise but also an acknowledgement that the Royal Navy did not intend to permanently base a substantial fleet in the Far East. Originally this had been due to practicality, while the then First Sea Lord, Admiral Betty, had wanted to station a battle-cruiser squadron in the Far East in the early 1920s, he had been thwarted by the lack of a dockyard capable of supporting anything larger than a cruiser for an extended period. After the enormous floating drydock was installed in Singapore harbour in the late 1920s that became less of an issue, indeed in pursuit of a truly modern base of operations the Admiralty had commissioned the vast King George VI drydock to allow Singapore to handle even the largest vessels on the DNC's drawing boards. However by the time such practicalities had been addressed politics and economics had intervened, changing the nature of the problem.

    To deal with the later it was quite simply very expensive for the Royal Navy to maintain a large squadron 8,000 miles away from Britain. Quite aside from the large tanker train needed to keep the required weekly supply of fuel from the refineries, all the food, ammunition, spares and other supplies and victuals a modern fleet needed would have to be transported from Britain to Singapore, a large expense for government finances squeezed by the depression. There was therefore considerable opposition from the Treasury to any such plans, particularly given the vast sums already expended on 'Fortress Singapore' and the network of refuelling bases across the Indian Ocean. The other problem, the politics, came in the form of the Washington and London naval treaties which had seen the Royal Navy lose considerable numbers of battleships, to the point where the Naval Staff no longer believed they could maintain two 'effective' fleets. As the Admiralty fundamentally objected to 'ineffective' forces, that is squadrons too small, or not powerful enough, to the war time job required of them, they determined the Eastern Fleet would be an all or nothing affair; either all of the fleet battleships needed to defeat Japan or none of them. As economics and political reality would not allow the fleet to be permanently based in Singapore the Far East got nothing larger than a heavy cruiser. Instead the Admiralty plan was for the light forces of the China Station to harass and delay any advance on Singapore until such time as the main fleet could make the 40 day transit from Home Waters or the 30 day journey from the Mediterranean. Once the main fleet had arrived, assuming Singapore had held out, it would execute the general war plan outlined above.

    The battle lines were thus drawn, opposed to the plan were the Royal Navy (unwilling to disperse the fleet), the Treasury (who baulked at the cost) and the Board of Trade (alarmed at the disruption to the Merchant Marine the vast supporting fleet train would cause). Against this most rare alliance of Admiralty and Treasury were the Antipodean Dominions and the Dominion Office for obvious reasons, the Foreign Office (keen to see a force in the East to 'fly the flag') and a general sense that Austrlia was 'due' such a deployment, in recognition of the sterling service of the RAAF in North Africa and her steadfast support for the war. In the end the pro-deployment faction won out, Chancellor Leo Amery weakening the Treasury's opposition to defence spending while the Royal Navy's case was, ironically, undermined by their own insistence that Japan was a real threat. While motivated as much by a desire for higher defence spending as any real appraisal of the threat, their view had been wholly accepted by a political class still chastened by the shock of the Abyssinian War. There was therefore a political need to 'do something' about Imperial defence and, more importantly, be seen to be 'doing something'. The gesture of a force being sent to Singapore was deemed to fit the bill perfectly, it would reassure the public the government was on the case, keep the Dominions happy they had a voice in defence matters and 'send a message' to deter Japan. Though out-manoeuvred the Admiralty could draw comfort from the fact that the Japanese threat was still believed to be mostly theoretical and that by spreading the fleet so thin they had ensured the naval estimates would remain well funded.


    HMS Malaya, after a successful Abyssinian War where she had accounted for more than her fair share of enemy ship her reward was a return 'home' to her sponsors, the Federated Malay States. Despite a hastily completed two year refit just prior to the war Malaya was not as capable as the more thoroughly modernised Queen Elizabeth, having received neither the longer ranged Mk2 'high elevation' 15" turrets or the more efficient small-tube Admiralty boilers. Despite this she remained an effective warship and as one of the relatively few vessels afloat to have actual combat 'kills' to her name would attract the crowds on the many port visit made while transiting to Singapore. For the Foreign Office her presence in the Far East would be invaluable, as one senior mandarin put it "The navy is the chief sanction of our Foreign Policy, it is hardly an exaggeration to say that every Foreign Office telegram is backed by it" and as such it was hoped Malaya would aid in deterring Japan and adding weight to the pressure being applied to still neutral Siam.


    So we come to the disposition of forces where we see that Home Waters retained it's primacy, if not in raw numbers then certainly in priority. Both the Nelsons, arguably the most powerful warships afloat in 1936, were retained by Home Fleet with HMS Nelson herself as flagship, in addition HMS Renown and HMS Repulse were retained as the Battle-cruiser Squadron to counter the threat of Germanys Deutschland class 'pocket battleships' that could easily outrun the lumbering Nelsons. Home Fleet also kept two carriers, the battleship sinkers HMS Eagle and HMS Courageous, and the pick of the cruisers and destroyer flotillas. Moving south North Atlantic Command, previously home to a handful of ancient 'C' class cruisers the Admiralty had despatched two 'R' class battleships to serve the diplomatic role of reminding the warring nations in Spain of the power of the Royal Navy. Also operating out of Gibraltar were the heavy cruisers of Force K which enforced the informal British blockade and escorted the many 'independent' merchant convoys. The Mediterranean Fleet itself was reduced to only two 'R's and the carrier Hermes, the presence of most of the Revenge class in or around the Mediterranean a consequence of the Admiralty doubting their value against either Germany or Japan, thus making the Med, with it's more limited opposition, their natural theatre. Before leaving the region the new Suez Station should be noted, though comprised of but a single squadron of 'D' class cruisers she was another symptom of the political will to be seen to act, no matter how late or ineffectively. Finally we come to the object of the exercise, the Eastern Fleet. After the detachments elsewhere, and with almost 25% of the fleet either in repair or long term refit, the force sent comprised three Queen Elizabeths and two carriers. In the opinion of the Admiralty it was exactly the wrong size, too small to fight the Japanese main fleet but big enough it's loss would materially affect the balance of power, however as the threat was believed to be low and the deployment presumed temporary it was considered a risk worth taking to ensure a steady flow of new tonnage.

    Home Fleet - Portsmouth
    Nelson
    Rodney
    Renown
    Repulse
    Eagle
    Furious


    Eastern Fleet - Singapore
    Queen Elizabeth
    Barham
    Malaya
    Courageous
    Glorious


    North Atlantic Command - Gibraltar
    Royal Oak
    Royal Sovereign


    Force K - Gibraltar
    8th Cruiser Squadron (County class)

    Mediterranean Fleet - Valletta
    Ramillies
    Resolution
    Hermes


    Suez Station - Alexandria
    7th Cruiser Squadron ('D' class)

    Reserve Fleet
    Argus
    20th Cruiser Squadron (Hawkins class)

    Repair/Refit
    Hood
    Warspite
    Valiant
    Revenge



    Suez Station, not the most respected of commands as the motto of the unofficial crest shows, the Latin roughly translating as "After the horse bolted." Despite inauspicious beginnings it would a busy station, the Eastern Mediterranean was a decidedly unstable place at the end of 1936 with turmoil in Italy as the economy collapsed, industrial riots in Greece and instability in Turkey as President Atatürk's health declined. In such an environment the ships of Suez Station would regularly find themselves escorting HMS Ramillies and HMS Resolution, 'flying the flag' in foreign ports as London tried to apply pressure or show support throughout the region.


    With the Royal Navy dealt with we now turn our attention to the Army and RAF, while the fleet had always been dominant in Far Eastern plans the other services were agitating for a role beyond 'slotting in' where the Admiralty plans ordered. The Imperial Conference would show the Dominions were fully supportive of such a position, while they lacked the industrial might to be anything more than a squadron of the Royal Navy, the Australian experience had shown they could punch well above their weight in the other services. An increased aerial or land role therefore was their way into grand strategy, something that caused great disquiet among more conservative elements in London. The discussion therefore turned to the next revision of the War Memorandum (East), traditionally reviewed every four years the contents, and indeed the authors, of the 1937 revision would form the next battleground between the services and between London and the Dominions.


    ---
    Notes:
    OK so I'm completely of the short update wagon, that was quite a titan but, I hope, worth it.

    As it happens I don't think the Abyssinian War would change British plans for the Far East that much, OTL it wasn't till a bit later in the decade that N. Chamberlain and Backhouse started the process of abandoning the Far East with 90 day deployment plans and hedging promise of reinforcements. So at this stage it's business as usual, but without the distraction of the Italian fleet and with perhaps a bit more appreciation that surprises can happen.

    To the actual deployment, it is a bit on the small side and I don't think the Admiralty would be keen on diluting their forces. However Keyes was a political animal so as First Sea Lord I think he would play the game, spreading the fleet thin to justify more expenditure while ensuring the Far Eastern fleet is under orders to keep itself alive and do nothing silly in the unlikely event of war.

    On the repair/refits Warspite and Revenge are just in to get battle damage fixed, while Hood and Valiant are getting much needed upgrades while being repaired. The plan is to cycle ships around as the capital ship upgrade programme get accelerated, no game effect though. Perhaps I should get Armageddon for that reason? While talking ships the captured Italian cruisers are still being taken apart by the DNC, expect them to make an appearance in the next update as a carrot dangled at the Aussies.

    On which note, next update will see the RAF/Army plans for the Far East and fallout from the RAAF outperforming the RAF at the start of the war. Plus some other Imperial Conference chat that I think doesn't deserve it's own update but should be covered.
    Last edited by El Pip; 13-07-2009 at 19:23.
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  2. #2042
    British Unionist trekaddict's Avatar
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    So if there is a Battle of the Denmark strait, good old Hood will stand a bigger chance. I approve.
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  3. #2043
    Very nice! I can just see those counters being pushed across their giant world map...
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  4. #2044
    Field Marshal Nathan Madien's Avatar

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    Very good, El Pip.

    Quote Originally Posted by trekaddict View Post
    So if there is a Battle of the Denmark strait, good old Hood will stand a bigger chance. I approve.
    I agree. She is a good ship. I would like to see the Hood stand and fight, not get blown out of the water by a well-aimed shot.

    Quote Originally Posted by El Pip View Post
    * Phase IV - Complete the economic starvation of Japan through blockade and convoy warfare, forcing Japan to negotiate or surrender.
    What if the Japanese don't negotiate or surrender? They certainly didn't when this was done in OTL. I mean, they were ready to fight to the bitter end.
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  5. #2045
    Very worth it Pip--bravo.

    3 BBs and 2 carriers at Singapore seems a good start for the Eastern Fleet. I imagine as new heavy units come on-line some of the more capable older units can move east and eventually the Admiralty will have it's two power standard fleet or whatever they're calling it these days. The question becomes can full strength Eastern Fleet be built up before Japan has the inclination to move south?

    Glad to hear Hood and Valiant are going to the yards for large repairs. If they're getting QE/Warspite style rebuilds, probably equiv to +1 for a number of stats (sea attack/defense, air attack/defense, speed), which is what the Armagedon naval brigades do, but you can just mod the files logically to get the effect for rebuilt UK/US/Japan capital ships.

    Whatever the headaches it may cause the gov't and the service chiefs, having those crack Aussie airmen & soldiers in Malaya/Singapore would be worth it when the storm comes...
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  6. #2046
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nathan Madien View Post

    I agree. She is a good ship. I would like to see the Hood stand and fight, not get blown out of the water by a well-aimed shot.
    I agree too. I say Hood gets at least two of Bismarck's turret in an all out brawl.
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  7. #2047
    There`s a small mistake, in the text you put Eagle in Home Fleet but further down it has changed place with Furious and its in the Eastern Fleet. Sorry for nitpicking.

    Its nice to see Hood modernising, some deck armour and AA (maybe even new boilers, but thats probably not necesarry given its speed superiority over the rest of the fleet) would make it the most powerfull ship afloat. Even unmodernised Hood could match side armor of Bismarck (12 against 12.5 inches, although less modern), with some added deck armour it would be Iowa of the thirties. And please this time dont use that UP nonsense.

    P.S. I´m wondering about the usefullness of Singapore if the island is under direct siege from Malaya. I`ve read somewhere that port and dock facilities were pointed (cant remember better word) to Malaya, so they could be easily blocked by coastal guns. If this is true and Japanese came that far, Singapore would be useless as a fleet base until relieved, and that would have to be done from bases in Burma.

  8. #2048
    British Unionist trekaddict's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Carlstadt Boy View Post

    P.S. I´m wondering about the usefullness of Singapore if the island is under direct siege from Malaya. I`ve read somewhere that port and dock facilities were pointed (cant remember better word) to Malaya, so they could be easily blocked by coastal guns. If this is true and Japanese came that far, Singapore would be useless as a fleet base until relieved, and that would have to be done from bases in Burma.
    They are. Bear in mind that in OTL no one expected Singapore to be attacked by land.
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  9. #2049
    Singapore is useless as a naval base with enemy troops at Jahore Straight. Just like Hong Kong is useless as a naval base if enemy troops control the surrounding Chinese mainland...

    A few folks (mostly members of the lower ranks who were actually stationed there and realized it wasn't a "fortress") recognized and tried to plan a forward defense in Malaya in the 20s/30s to deal with landings in the north/Kra. By 1941 there were troops at the Siam border and along the NE Malaya beaches, and Operation Matador was ready--of course it was all muddle and under-resourced and not taken nearly seriously enough. [Churchill was informed that landings on the Malaya coast were IMPOSSIBLE in December due to the monsoon.]
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  10. #2050
    I forgot to ask: is Royal Navy planning to develope refueling at sea and fleet train more than in RL? I dont remember how long the blockade of Taranto lasted but maybe there was need for some refueling at sea, so maybe that could be the Butterfly effect. Or did the battleships simply went to refuel to Malta one by one?

    It would be sad to again see Kriegsmarine with better refueling techniques than world greatest naval power. RN maybe has bases all around the world, but that didn`t help during the hunt for Bismarck. And what about KGV`s, arent they a little short-legged for Pacific service, especially if they have to refuel smaller ships?

    Sorry if all these questions are boring, with amount of detail in your AAR, I read it as a real history book.

  11. #2051
    Quote Originally Posted by El Pip View Post
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    [I]Suez Station, not the most respected of commands as the motto of the unofficial crest shows, the Latin roughly translating as "After the horse bolted."
    I guess that this is the infamous place called Bumfuck, Egypt then.

  12. #2052
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    So there is one Moltke-class ship still around after all. I've often wondered (mainly because of playing too much heavily modded Kaiserreich ) how Great War-era German ships would have been modernized in a scenario where the Hochseeflotte would have somehow survived the war intact.

    Interesting update nevertheless, the idea of Italian-build cruisers in Australian use is actually quite feasible.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Karelian View Post
    Interesting update nevertheless, the idea of Italian-build cruisers in Australian use is actually quite feasible.
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  14. #2054
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nathan Madien View Post
    Why do you say that, Karelian?
    Since there has already been previous attempts to use captured, technologically more advanced ships during the Great War - the French ands Italians were both keen to gain their share from the captured German fleet so I see no reason why the Australians would not do the same now.
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  15. #2055
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    Excellent Update Pip!

    Great to see the interplay of the various concerns play out... It will be interesting to see if the investment in new tonnage beats the declaration of war out of the dockyards to preclude the RN's fear of destruction in piecemeal fashion from becoming a reality.
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  16. #2056
    Lord of Slower-than-real-time El Pip's Avatar
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    trekaddict - To be fair she stood a good chance in OTL, Bismark was a fairly ropey ship who's entire reputation depends on one lucky shot. With a tad more luck for Hood she could have come out on top in the Denmark Straits.

    TheHyphenated1 - The Admiralty map room is a spiffing place to be when counters are being pushed around.

    Nathan Madien - Well up to date British Intelligence about Japan was fairly thin on the ground in the 1930s, thinking was they were heavily dependent on imports and they could be starved out. I imagine the back up plan was get the RAF to bomb them to pieces, after all at this stage everyone believes in the 'morale effect' of bombing. Backup, backup plan has got to be Tube Alloys.

    DonnieBaseball - On numbers the RN does have the advantage of HoI2s accelerated ship building, ~2years for a BB compared to ~4 years for a peacetime build (and thats without shipbuilding tech or full Hawk).

    Still as Japan and Germany get the same bonuses I'll just fudge it. However I may take your advice on the modding.

    Shuffling ships east is actually an Admiralty headache, expect a big fight over where to send Ark Royal and Bulwark when they complete.

    gaiasabre11 - Already making an arse of yourself. A new record! As for Hood, at least she fought rather than cowardly changing sides then hiding in port.

    Carlstadt Boy - Thanks for catching the error, already fixed.

    Hood's upgrade is pretty much the planned 1938/39 job; new deck armour scheme and torpedo protection, better short range AA (more pom-poms less 0.5' mgs), deleting the torpedo tubes and a rationalisation of the secondary armament. No new machinery though, OTL it was recommended but it was a very expensive three year+ job, financial reality must come in at some point and ~£1.5million (or three Tribal destoryers) is a lot of money for a RN already getting plenty of new toys.

    DonnieBaseball / trekaddict - The vulnerability of Singapore was recognised in Navy planning, hence she was only expected to hold for ~40 days (i.e. long enough for the Home Fleet to get from Portsmouth to Singapore). She managed that long in OTL, indeed around double that from DoW to fall so the plan was feasible, just not resourced.

    Hong Kong though was expected to fall, though as the next update will show that was a controversial strategic decision.

    Carlstadt Boy - The RN could do at sea refuelling they just didn't see much need for it with so many bases. I think most of the inter-war tankers were equipped with the block and tackle, winches and brass tubes for at sea refuelling (as practised at the time) there just weren't that many of them.

    However with Far East deployments now a reality I think there will be more tankers procured and more training done. That will show up the rough edges in RN doctrine, practice normally does, so they should be sharper than OTL. That said they lack the vital motivation the US or Germany had to really develop it; they had to be good at it to get a fleet anywhere, the RN didn't.

    Finally the OTL KGVs were a little short legged, but then they were designed down to a tonnage target and were always going to be compromised somehow. Range got sacrificed for armour pretty much, the RN believed there would always be a port nearby.

    Now TTL they've got more tonnage and the Admiralty has demanded good long ranged cruising so they're better, but still not as long-legged as US designs for instance. I can't see the Admiralty changing priories that much, they'd still prefer armour or guns over range, though they have traded some speed for fuel, hence not quite hitting 30knots.

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    Karelian - Well this Moltke would not help you, even at her best in Turkish service she was still inferior to when she was new. There was, frankly, neither the money nor the will for Turkey to modernise her and her main job was looking impressive (unless you looked too closely)

    I'm not sure the Australians are interested in Italian naval technology, after all the British have already learnt all they can from her. I think they just see a chance to strengthen their fleet for a massively discounted cost; two CAs and three CLs pretty much doubles the size of the RAN. Not to be sniffed at.

    Bafflegab - Japan is going to be a funny one; there was no 2-26 Incident and the Strike North and Strike South groups are still battling it out over where to go for resources (apart, obviously, from China where everyone agrees they should go). I'm still not sure who they will declare war on or if they even have to, if they can keep getting oil, steel and rares while ravaging China there may be no Pacific War at all...
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  17. #2057
    British Unionist trekaddict's Avatar
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    Goodie. So I am not the only one who can't stand that whole Bismarck crap any longer.
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  18. #2058
    Colonel gaiasabre11's Avatar

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    Quote Originally Posted by El Pip View Post

    gaiasabre11 - Already making an arse of yourself. A new record! As for Hood, at least she fought rather than cowardly changing sides then hiding in port.
    I'm not making an arse of myself, I'm just being realistic. Everyone knows that the Hood is a fine ship, and a good match for the Bismarck. Now if you disagree with that you'll be making an arse of yourself.

    Hiding in port? Nah. They were just enjoying wine and watching you guys fighting it out. However, you know what happened when they did fight. (Now I say just leave things like this and get back your updates. )
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  19. #2059
    Lord of Slower-than-real-time El Pip's Avatar
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    trekaddict - In fairness 60 years of propaganda from both sides bigging the ship up (admittedly for different reasons) has produced one hell a reputation that I don't think any reality could live up to.

    However when Bismark and her sisters make an appearance (I've checked the German build queue so I'm sure they will) there will be a slightly more rational judgement on the ships; large WW1 battleships with new engines and modern(ish) guns.
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  20. #2060
    Colonel gaiasabre11's Avatar

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    Quote Originally Posted by El Pip View Post
    However when Bismark and her sisters make an appearance (I've checked the German build queue so I'm sure they will) there will be a slightly more rational judgement on the ships; large WW1 battleships with new engines and modern(ish) guns.
    Should I be assuming that you have the Bayern class BB in your mind?
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