The Grey Ships – A British Battleship AAR
For over 500 years, Britain's safety had depended on her fleet, repelling Spanish, Dutch, French and German attackers alike. For 130 years that fleet had been the world's greatest naval force. For a century since Trafalgar the Royal Navy’s supremacy had deterred naval war, and British ships had seized the sea for Crown and Empire.
When in 1923 HMS Hood embarked on a tour of the possessions her forbears had won for the Empire, she travelled the length and breadth of the world, and was greeted by almost a million well-wishers from all the Empire’s races. The ship accumulated a menagerie including Arabian horses, Indian leopards, colourful birds of paradise, koalas and kangaroos, from its many ports of call.
The Hood was an example of the ship that had dominated naval combat for 50 years: the great, grey, ship of steel, mounting the most powerful firearms known to mankind – the battleship.
The Navy in the early 20th Century
The only major engagement of the Battleship era had been a resounding victory for the Royal Navy. At the Battle of Jutland , the German battlefleet had been forced to turn tail to port, conceding the seas to Britain and her allies.
As a result of the First World War, the German fleet was largely scuttled, and naval construction limited by a plethora of international treaties. With its main rival defeated, British naval construction paused for fifteen years.
The Royal Navy at the beginning of 1936 possessed fifteen battleships. Six were veterans of Jutland, and only two, the Nelson class dated from after the First War.
These fifteen ships were required to defend the Empire against all comers. The Italians had signalled their expansive intent with the invasion of Abyssinia. The Japanese announced their departure from the Naval Treaties to engage in a programme of naval expansion – a clear message that Japan was intent on aggrandisement. And the new political power in Germany was unlikely to treat her navy of two obsolete battleships as enough. The French and American fleets were ill-maintained and out of date, and Britain could not depend on her ‘fair-weather friends’ for help in the storm of naval rivalry that gathered on the horizon.