British Aircraft Carrier – MALTA CLASS

The final version of Malta’s flight deck design in 1945. The dotted lines show the dimensions of the single-deck hangar below it.

Malta’s open hangar design in 1945 compared with the USS Essex and the closed hangar in the Ark Royal that was under construction at the time.

The Malta Class marked a major change in British aircraft carrier design. Work on them started after the Joint Technical Committee recommended that future naval aircraft should be allowed to grow in both size and weight up to a maximum of 30,000lb to provide improved performance. The Future Building Committee had already considered the impact such aircraft would have on the design of the ships that would operate them, and ordered new designs. Previous British carriers had been designed around the assumption that the aircraft complement would be the maximum number of aircraft that could be stowed in the hangar, and that aircraft would be launched in small numbers over a long period. Experience by 1942 had shown that many more aircraft needed to embarked, and that they would often need to be launched in large numbers for strike operations. The Admiralty accepted at this time that embarked fighters represented a better air defence for the fleet than either guns or armour. The armoured double hangar limited the size of the flight deck, and the medium-range-gun mountings on their sponsons aft narrowed it still further, limiting the size of any deck park and the maximum number of aircraft that could be ranged for take-off at any one time. Despite the acceptance of a low maximum speed for the 1942 light fleet carriers, it was believed that fleet carriers must be able to accelerate rapidly to 30 knots in order to launch large, heavy aircraft, and that powerful machinery would be needed for them.

Technical background

Design studies began in February 1943 with consideration of a lengthened Ark Royal, but were soon expanded to consider ships with single or double hangars, up to 900ft long and 54,000 tons deep load. Hangars with open sides like the USN Essex Class were considered, but DNC recommended against them as closed hangar designs, even if the sides were not armoured, represented a more efficient and lighter hull. A ship’s hull can be considered as a hollow beam which is stressed by the distribution of buoyancy caused by wave motion. In closed-hangar ships the flight deck is the upper part of the beam; in open-hangar ships the flight deck is built as superstructure and the hangar deck becomes the upper part of a smaller beam. The deeper beam of the closed hangar represents the stronger and lighter structure; it is capable of resisting greater loadings, and the difference between the two can be considerable. Against this, the Admiralty was aware that the USN was able to run aircraft engines in its open-hangared ships and bring them rapidly to the flight deck to increase the size of a launch. It was also believed to be easier to move aircraft in the large, open hangars of American ships than in the relatively cramped closed hangars of existing British ships, but many other factors would have to be taken into consideration if an open-hangar design was to be considered seriously. Both four-and five-shaft layouts were considered and various applications of armour were investigated.

The initial Design A was considered too small and replaced by Designs B and C, which were put before the Admiralty Board on 17 July 1943. Design B featured a single closed hangar and C a double closed hangar at 55,000 tons deep load. It was to operate 108 aircraft in a fifty/fifty mixture of fighters and TBD requiring a ship’s company of at least 3,300. An open-hangar equivalent was sketched and submitted for comparison; it had an unarmoured flight deck but armour in the hull under the hangar deck. It was calculated at 61,060 tons at deep load. Design C, although not yet fully developed, was approved by the Board on 8 October 1943. Such was the importance placed on these ships by the Board that the order for a fourth unit of the Audacious Class was changed to a Malta on 12 July 1943, and three others were ordered on 15 July so that no time would be lost while the design was finalised. Design C was ready for Board approval by April 1944, but the Fifth Sea Lord, responsible for air matters, reopened the question of an open hangar design after urgent representations from aircrew with extensive operational experience. The matter was discussed again, and the Board decided at its meeting on 19 May 1944 that the operational advantages of an open hangar were sufficiently compelling for it to be substituted for design C. DNC objected that the change of policy would delay the ships’ construction by eight months and demonstrated how aircraft could be warmed up in the after part of the upper hangar to allow large launches from Design C, but the requirement for an open hangar stood.

A new Design X was prepared and submitted to the Board in August 1944. At 60,000 tons deep load it had a hangar that was open-sided aft but plated-in forward to prevent water ingress in rough weather. There was no flight deck armour, but it had 6in protection over the citadel under the hangar deck; there were two centreline and two side lifts. The latter were virtually impossible to fit in a closed-hangar design and had become appreciated by the Americans as one of the big advantages of the open design, as they allowed rapid aircraft movements while flying operations were in progress. As logistic resupply in the Pacific grew in importance it was also appreciated that the side lift allowed stores to be transferred rapidly into the hangar by jackstay transfer from a stores ship alongside and then distributed throughout the hull.

The design differed from all previous British carriers in that the flight deck would be built as superstructure and, therefore, needed to incorporate expansion joints. The island had grown to accommodate new radars under development and the air direction rooms and operations rooms to make use of them. By Design X it was split in two to allow an expansion joint approximately amidships. Advantage was taken of the gap to make both sections into aerofoil shapes to smooth the airflow away from the landing area aft. The 190,000shp machinery design of Design C was increased to 20,000shp for Design X but slightly reduced to 200,000 for Design X1, the final iteration; it would have been of an advanced, highly superheated design that was superior to the machinery fitted in Ark Royal. This would have given a speed in excess of 32 knots clean at deep load, and rapid acceleration.

The sixteen 4.5in guns were to be mounted in eight turrets, two on each quarter as in previous fleet carrier designs, but the requirement for them to fire across the deck was recognised as impractical and dropped. They would have been fitted in Mark 7 turrets, internally similar to the Mark 6 fitted to the majority of postwar British destroyers and frigates, but with a larger, 14ft-diameter roller path. Externally they would have been circular with a flat roof flush with the flight deck, like those in Implacable and Indefatigable. Like these earlier ships they would have been strong enough for aircraft to taxi over them or even to be parked with a wheel on the turret roof. Close-range armament included eight six-barrelled and seven single 40mm Bofors. Directors were mostly sited on or near the island so that they did not encroach on the rectangular shape of the flight deck or project above it, where aircraft wings might hit them. ‘Less than perfect’ fire control arrangements were accepted in the interests of optimal flying operations from the deck. The radar outfit would have been a considerable improvement on previous carriers, and was to include Type 960 air-warning, Type 982 intercept and Type 983 height-finding radars as well as Type 293M target indication radar and a number of target-tracking radars for the gunnery systems. Type 961 carrier-controlled approach radar for recoveries at night and in bad weather would also have been fitted.

Design X offered the largest flight deck yet designed for a British warship, at 938ft long overall, 6ft longer than that of the contemporary USS Midway, CV-41. However, there were fears that such a large ship would be unable to enter either Portsmouth or Devonport Dockyards, and alternative hulls 850ft and 750ft long were considered. Both offered less aircraft operating capability than Design X, and thus less value for money. A compromise hull 888ft long and 56,800 tons deep load, designated Design X1, was adopted. It was the shortest hull that could realistically have two side lifts, both on the port side, but was at the upper limit of size for the dry docks available in the Royal Dockyards. On 27 February 1945 DNC was tasked with completing the new design, and it was worked out in detail for Board approval on 12 April 1945.

The final design, X1, was intended from the outset to operate 30,000lb aircraft in large numbers, especially on long-range strike operations, and the Future Building Committee accepted that the requirements of aircraft operation dictated the design. This was in marked contrast to the armoured carriers of the Illustrious group, in which the ship design had dictated the size and type of aircraft and the way that they could be operated. It was appreciated that heavy aircraft, and especially jets, would need to be launched by catapult, and two were specified capable of launching 30,000lb aircraft at ends speeds of up to 130 knots in quick succession. This was a big ask, and Eagle, completed in 1951 with two BH5s, the most powerful British hydraulic catapults, could only achieve end speeds of 75 knots at this weight. The Admiralty’s early enthusiasm for the steam catapult is explained by the limitations on aircraft launch weights posed by legacy catapults.

The Admiralty decided in June 1944 that the flight deck should be constructed of mild steel plate on top of transverse beams that would provide the main strength, and that it should be covered with wood planking, following the USN practice. This gave a good non-slip surface that could easily be replaced after minor damage and aircraft accidents, but subsequent iterations of Design X1 may have reverted to a non-armoured steel deck, in line with the light fleet carriers. There would have been sixteen arrester wires reeved to eight operating units, each to be capable of stopping a 20,000lb aircraft at an entry speed of 75 knots. The three barriers would have had the same weight and entry speed parameters but a pull-out limited to 40ft. Movement of aircraft would have been easier than in any previous British design, with two centreline lifts, each 54ft long and 46ft wide, capable of lifting 30,000lb. The side lifts were 54ft long by 36ft wide and capable of lifting 30,000lb; aircraft positioned on them could overhang the ship’s side.

Their length was reduced from 60ft in Design X in order to support the sides of the lift opening on main transverse bulkheads. They were positioned one forward of the barriers and one aft and, during aircraft recoveries, it was intended that ‘sidetracking’ gear on the flight deck would allow aircraft that had just landed on to be moved on to the after side lift and struck down into the hangar quickly while the recovery continued. Others would taxi into Fly 1 ahead of the barriers, allowing large numbers of aircraft to be landed-on in a single recovery. The aircraft struck down could taxi and shut down their engines in the hangar parking area. Conversely, during launch operations, about seventy aircraft could be ranged aft on the flight deck and taxi forward to be catapulted; others would be run-up in the hangar, brought up to deck level on the forward side lift and moved into line with the catapults on the ‘side-tracking’ gear to be launched quickly. The ideas were novel, founded on experience, but were never tried because the Gibraltars were cancelled and the angled deck and steam catapults were adopted before newer ships were completed.

The guides for the deck-edge lifts were outside the main hull, and in their lower position at hangar-deck level they would have been vulnerable to wave damage. However, this seems not to have been a problem with the single side-lift in the USN Essex Class, and the novelty of the design may have caused DNC to overstate the potential problem. The side lifts were designed to be hinged up for entry into harbour and docking.

There were concerns about the effect of fire in an open hangar, and it was designed to be divided, if necessary, into four sections, each of which could be isolated by steel doors. Each section had its own lift which could be used to evacuate aircraft, and the normal spray arrangements were provided. DNC believed that it would be possible to continue flying operations in action while fire in a single section was brought under control. While the deck area of Malta’s hangar was larger than the upper hangar in Ark Royal, the funnel uptakes made significant inroads on the starboard side because the funnel uptakes were brought as far to port as possible to avoid the uptake problems that had contributed to the loss of Ark Royal in 1941.

Without armoured sides to the hangar there was little point in armouring the flight deck, although the question was raised again in May 1945, following hits by kamikaze aircraft on British carriers in the Pacific. Adding armour to the flight deck would have required another major redesign, and idea was finally rejected by the First Sea Lord in a statement to DNC on 20 May 1945. Armour was concentrated on the hangar deck and ship’s sides. Since the hangar deck was penetrated by access hatches to the deck below, the 4in armour was concentrated in the centre of the deck as an uncompromised ‘slab’ over the machinery. Armour of the same thickness was taken down the ship’s sides to create an armoured ‘box’ over the machinery spaces. The magazines for 4.5in ammunition and the steering gear compartment lay outside this armoured citadel and were armoured with their own 4in inverted ‘boxes’ with 3in end bulkheads. In addition the design included a number of transverse bulkheads to limit the effect of underwater explosions and the subsequent flooding. The machinery was divided into forward and aft boiler room groups separated by auxiliary machinery, with an engine room further aft. The ‘sandwich’ underwater protection, effectively an interior ‘bulge’ 20ft thick, was based on a complete re-examination of the subject, and differed from the that fitted in earlier fleet carriers. Designed to protect against charges up to 1,200lb exploding 10ft below the deep waterline, it featured a water/water/air ‘sandwich’ backed by a holding bulkhead installed at an angle to the vertical. This had the advantages of grading the protection to meet the increased damaging effect as depth increased, and making it easier to provide the desired level of protection forward and aft of amidships.

Suspensions and cancellation

The change to an open-hangar design led to delays in laying down these ships. The Admiralty Plans Division effectively suspended Africa and Gibraltar in its 1944 construction programme, and expected Malta to be laid down at the end of 1944 and New Zealand in April 1945. The suspended ships were to be undertaken only if the work did not interfere with orders for other urgently needed warships. A report by the Controller in October 1944 clearly had the end of the war against in Germany in sight and anticipated Japanese defeat by December 1946. He recommended that Malta and New Zealand should still be laid down and proceeded with slowly, but that Africa and Gibraltar should remain suspended. The Board gave its approval for the revised plan in November 1944. A Paper on the composition of the postwar navy was prepared by Plans Division on 29 May 1945; it made no changes, but the reality of postwar austerity forced the Admiralty to make drastic cuts in the following weeks.

On 29 September 1945 the Controller recommended the outright cancellation of Africa and Gibraltar, together with the four ships of the Hermes Class that had not yet been laid down and large numbers of cruisers, destroyers, sloops and submarines that were accepted as surplus to postwar requirements and on which little work had been done. The Admiralty Board gave its approval for the cancellations on 15 October 1945. Malta and New Zealand were eventually cancelled on 13 December 1945, and some writers have taken the delay to indicate that work on them might have started. If this is so, there can have been very little metal on the slipway and the later date probably indicates little more than the growing pressure on the Admiralty to reduce the size of its residual building programme in a period of extreme austerity, and to make slipways available for mercantile construction.

A lost potential?

The potential offered by the Gibraltar class design is enigmatic. After two years’ design effort they had reached the point where the design was mature enough to start in mid-1945, but three other large carriers and a number of smaller ones were actually being built and the Admiralty assumed, wrongly as it transpired, that the legacy Illustrious group, the largest of which were only two years old, could be modified at reasonable cost to operate the new generation of jet aircraft. A decade later it was realised that the armoured carriers, including Ark Royal, Eagle and Victorious, were extremely difficult and very expensive to adapt to take the new generation of carrier equipment including steam catapults, angled decks, larger radars and bigger operations rooms. With hindsight, the Maltas could have been modified in a shorter timescale at considerably less cost, and would have been more effective operational ships with the first- and second-generation jet strike fighters, just like the contemporary USN Midway Class. Their more modern machinery would also have given them a distinct advantage. It is difficult not to surmise that the RN would have been better off building two Maltas rather than the two Audacious Class ships that were retained and built to modified designs after 1945.



Kronshtadt-class battlecruisers

Technical data of the heavy cruiser designs and the battlecruiser


On 5 September 1938 the Soviet government had informed the British, in accordance with the ‘Anglo-Soviet Qualitative Naval Agreement’ of 1937, about the dates of new ships of 44,190t stdd.63 Of the 15 battleships of projekt 23, planned in the August 1938 programme, the revision of August 1939 now planned to build eight ships in the first part up to 1942, and six in the second part up to 1947. The first two vessels, the Sovetskii Soyuz and Sovetskaya Ukraina were meantime laid down on 31 July 1938 and 28 November 1938 at the Ordzhonikidze yard at Leningrad and the Marti yard at Nikolaev respectively. The third and fourth ship, the Sovetskaya Belorossiya and the Sovetskaya Rossiya were planned to be laid down in autumn 1939 and 1940 at the new yard at Molotovsk.

Even more interesting is the development of the battlecruiser of projekt 69 from its start as an ‘anti-Washington’ cruiser, based on some different designs to become the projekt 22 Tyazhely krejser and then a replacement for the cancelled battleship projekts 25 and 64. As mentioned – there were in 1935–36 several pre-designs of Bol’shogo krejsera, first the cruiser X, and the design of V.P. Rimskii-Korsakov of TsKB-1, and of variants of a Linejnyi krejser design by the Italian Ansaldo yard, culminating in the Tyazhely krejser of projekt 22, which was then redesigned into the first version of projekt 69, only to be considered inadequate in a session of the STO under Stalin’s chairmanship against the new German fast battleships of the Scharnhorst-class. The designers of the earlier projects, Bzhezinskii and Rimskii-Korsakov, were purged and a commission under Flagman 2 Ranga S.P. Stavitskii was installed to consider the situation. Based on Stalin’s recommendations the renamed TsKB-17 under V.A. Nikitin and F.E. Bespolov was ordered to construct in place of the first version of projekt 69 and the cancelled projekts 25/64, a real battlecruiser superior to the German ships. These were to become Stalin’s beloved favourite ships, on which he kept close watch.

This intervention by Stalin into the building of battlecruisers, which was not welcomed by the naval experts, had its parallel in Hitler’s cancelling of the 12 planned new Panzerschiffe of 22,145t stdd. with six 280mm guns of the Z-Plan of 1939 for three battlecruisers of 28,900t stdd. with six 380mm guns. While it was planned in 1938 to add one unit of projekt 69 to a class of 16, in August 1939 the revised plan called for five in the first part up to 1942, and six in the second part up to 1947. The first two ships, the Kronshtadt and Sevastopol’, were laid down in November 1939 before the plan was finally approved at the Marti yard at Leningrad and the No. 61 Kommunar yard at Nikolaev respectively. A third ship, possibly to be called Stalingrad, was never started.


Project 949 (NATO Oscar)

The first third-generation nuclear “attack” submarine was Project 949 (NATO Oscar), the ultimate cruise missile submarine and-after Project 941/ Typhoon-the world’s largest undersea craft. 47 Development of the P-700 Granit anti-ship missile system (NATO SS-N-19 Shipwreck) was begun in 1967 to replace the P-6 missile (NATO SS-N-3 Shaddock) as a long-range, anti-carrier weapon. The Granit would be a much larger, faster, more-capable weapon, and it would have the invaluable characteristic of submerged launch. The missile would be targeted against Western aircraft carriers detected by satellites.

A short time later design was initiated of an associated cruise missile submarine at the Rubin bureau under Pavel P. Pustintsev, who had designed earlier SSG/SSGNs. 48 The possibility of placing the Granit on Project 675/Echo II SSGNs also was considered, but the size and capabilities of the missile required a new submarine.

The Granit would be underwater launched and have a greater range than the previous P-6/SS-N-3 Shaddock or P-70/SS-N-7Amethyst missiles. Being supersonic, the missile would not require mid-course guidance upgrades, as did the earlier Shaddock. The decision to arm the Project 949/Oscar SSGN with 24 missiles-three times as many as the Echo II or Charlie-meant that the new submarine would be very large. The missiles were placed in angled launch canisters between the pressure hull and outer hull, 12 per side. As a consequence, the submarine would have a broad beam-giving rise to the nickname baton (loaf). The 592/3-foot (18.2-m) beam would require a length of 4721/3 feet (144 m), providing for nine compartments. Although the submarine was not as long as U. S. Trident SSBNs, the Oscar’s greater beam meant that the submarine would have a submerged displacement of 22,500 tons, some 20 percent larger than the U. S. Trident SSBNs.

Beyond 24 large anti-ship missiles, the Oscar SSGN has four 533-mm and four 650-mm torpedo tubes capable of launching a variety of torpedoes and tube-launched missiles. 49 The submarine has the MGK-500 low-frequency sonar (NATO Shark Gill), as fitted in the Typhoon SSBN, and the MG- 519 (NATO Mouse Roar) sonar.

The large size of the Oscar and the need for a speed in excess of 30 knots to counter U. S. aircraft carriers required a propulsion plant based on two OK-650b reactors powering turbines and twin screws. The twin-reactor plant produces 100,000 horsepower, according to published reports. This plant and the similar Typhoon SSBN plant are the most powerful ever installed in submarines.

The keel for the lead ship of this design was laid down on 25 June 1978 at the Severodvinsk shipyard. The submarine was commissioned on 30 December 1980 as the Minskiy Komsomolets (K-525).50 Series production followed. Beginning with the third unit-Project 949A/Oscar II-the design was lengthened to 5081/3 feet (155 m). The additional space was primarily for acoustic quieting and the improved MGK-540 sonar, with a tenth compartment added to improve internal arrangements. These SSGNs-as well as other Soviet third generation submarines-are considered to be extremely quiet in comparison with previous Soviet undersea craft. The changes increased the surface displacement by some 1,300 tons.

The large size and cost of these submarines led to some debate within the Soviet Navy over the means of countering U. S. aircraft carriers. As many as 20 submarines of Project 949 were considered, although according to some sources, the cost of each was about one-half that of an aircraft carrier of the Admiral Kuznetsov class. Two naval officer-historians wrote: “It is obvious . . . the ideological development of the [SSGN], namely Project 949, overstepped the limits of sensible thought and logic.”

Project 949/Oscar SSGNs posed a major threat to U. S. aircraft carriers and other surface forces because of their missile armament and stealth. The massive investment in these submarines demonstrated the continuing Soviet concern for U. S. aircraft carriers as well as the willingness to make massive investments in submarine construction.

Through 1996 the Severodvinsk yard completed 12 Oscarclass SSGNs-two Project 949 and ten improved Project 949A submarines. The 11th Oscar II was launched in September 1999, apparently to clear the building hall, and is not expected to be completed. These submarines periodically undertook long-range operations, a concern to the U. S. Navy because their quieting made them difficult to detect and track. On 12 August 2000, as Soviet naval forces held exercises in the Barents Sea, reportedly in preparation for a deployment to the Mediterranean, the Kursk (K-141) of this class suffered two violent explosions. They tore open her bow and sent the submarine plunging to the sea floor. All 118 men on board died, with 23 in after compartments surviving for some hours and perhaps a day or two before they succumbed to cold, pressure, and rising water. The cause of the disaster was a Type 65-76 torpedo fuel (hydrogen-peroxide) explosion within the forward torpedo room, followed 2 minutes, 15 seconds later by the massive detonation of 2 torpedo warheads.

The Kursk, ripped apart by the two explosions, sank quickly. The four previous Soviet nuclear propelled submarines that had sunk at sea had also suffered casualties while submerged, but were able to reach the surface, where many members of their crews had been able to survive. They were able to do this, in part, because of their compartmentation and high reserve buoyancy; the explosions within the Kursk were too sudden and too catastrophic to enable the giant craft to reach the surface.

Scots Privateers

The 10 Lion’s Whelps built by the 1st Duke of Buckingham in 1628 are exemplars of the ‘war’ pinnace, a war ship that was built for several European navies for more than two centuries (c.1550-c.1750). The Whelps had sweeps (propelling oars) as well as sails (G R Balleine, All for the King, The Life Story of Sir George Carteret, Societe Jersiase, 1976, p10). England, the Netherlands, Sweden and Poland deployed the war pinnace on a regular basis. The largest war pinnaces, also known as frigates, approximated England’s fifth rate and sixth rate small warships. A few war pinnaces were built to fourth-rate hull dimensions. However, these war pinnaces carried fewer cannon and had smaller crews than English fourth, fifth, and sixth rates. Fast and maneuverable when compared to a typical ship of the line, when they were under the command of an experienced captain with a crew that retained discipline during battle, many war pinnaces compiled impressive fighting and espionage records.

The bounty of the sea could be harvested in a number of ways. Taking vessels and their cargoes as prizes was, while ostensibly reprehensible, a highly lucrative trade. Piracy in Scottish waters, as we have seen, was nothing novel; Provost Davidson, Sir Andrew Wood and the Bartons all grew rich on the trade. There was clear distinction between a pirate, an outlaw who made war on the world, and a privateer who sailed under the authority of a commission or ‘letter of marque’. This was not a mere formality, akin to a modern fishing licence, but a detailed indenture, which spelt out in considerable detail the type of vessel the holder was entitled to take up. This had to fall within the stated definition of a ‘just prize’. A target craft should, with her cargo, be owned wholly or at least in significant part by the specified enemy and normally a commission would only run for the duration of hostilities. In theory, each skipper received his commission from the king acting in the monarch’s role as high admiral. In practice, the issuing body was usually the Privy Council.


‘Privateer’ was not an expression much used until the late sixteenth century. Captains cruised usually under the authority of an earlier commission or licence called the ‘Letter of Reprisal’. This was issued by the court when a complainant could show he had been robbed by agents of a foreign power and had tried but failed to achieve redress through the courts. He was thus empowered by the court to seize property to make good his loss, rather akin to the ‘Hot Trod’ on land. A Letter of Reprisal was thus a specific legal remedy, and its award did not depend upon a state of hostilities being in existence. In Scotland, this form of authority was a heritable asset; it could pass by will in the usual way; in 1561, Captain Patrick Blackadder was taking Portuguese prizes in reliance on a grant made in 1476! It has to be said that the process was open to fairly liberal interpretation, and the lure of prize money might certainly affect a court’s findings. That the situation could lead to widespread abuse is recognised by the terms of a proclamation from 1525:

Our Sovereign Lord [James V] and Lords of Council are sickerly informed that an certain [number] of his lieges, masters, owners and mariners of ships [dwell]ing in Leith is to depart in warfare, and by their robberies and spoils made upon friends, they have caused our Sovereign Lord and his lieges to have many enemies whilks were friends before, and presupposes that they shall do siclike in time to come . . .

Not only were the enemy’s ships always fair game in time of war, neutrals carrying cargoes that contributed to his war effort were also legitimate targets. Once taken, the prize could be sailed back to a Scottish port or allowed to continue but subject to the payment of a ransom, secured by the taking of hostages. Before the privateer could realise gains by selling vessel and cargo, his right had to be validated and the prize ‘condemned’ by the court. In Scotland, this meant the Admiralty Court (Scottish High Court of Admiralty), which sat in the Tolbooth either in Leith or Edinburgh. So brisk was the trade in prizes during the later Dutch wars that daily sessions were merited. Proceedings required the privateer to present his commission and to declare the prize. He then had to satisfy the evidential burden that his prize was a legitimate one, and, finally, the master of the enemy ship was allowed a hearing. This process initially involved a series of separate sittings though, latterly, the whole matter was dealt with in a single session.

A separate hearing might be required in order to deal with the often more contentious question of the prize’s cargo. If this comprised war supplies, the matter might be quickly disposed of. If, however, as was often the case, it had to be proven that the cargo comprised materials that could facilitate the enemy’s war effort, this was more difficult and thus likely to be protracted. In 1626, Watson of the Blessing took three merchantmen out of Hamburg (at that time under Spanish control) and argued in the court that the ships’ cargoes of canvas, tar, wax, cloth, some muskets and a quantity of provisions were all war materials. As the haul included innocuous items such as 24 bags of cumin seed, there could legitimately have been some doubt. Nonetheless, Watson won his case!

He was one of the more successful captains in the war of 1626–1629; after netting the Hamburg ships, he took a further couple of prizes the following year and three in 1628. David Robertson of Dysart in Grace of God and, latterly, Joans was active, as were James Binning and David Alexander. These were the early days during which the privateering ‘industry’ was in its relative infancy. Specially constructed men-of-war were scarce, as were captains with the resources to put them to sea. Men like Watson were, most probably, established merchant skippers who ‘diversified’ into privateering as opportunities arose. Some captains hired out their vessels for troop transports. Robert Langlands of North Leith, master of Blessing, was hired to transport soldiers to Elsinore, though she was lost on the voyage, with only the guns being salvaged.

Charles I, in pursuance of his war aims, sought to resurrect a Scots Navy and, responding to royal command the Privy Council, in the summer of 1626, took on Lion, Unicorn and Thistle. Ready ships and crews were in short supply. Unicorn was found at Leith, but the other two had to be purchased in England. Cash, as ever, was hard to find. Even with ships available, suitable sailors were still wanting. Most who might be tempted found the greater lure of privateering more attractive. Recourse had to be had to a levy, and the squadron was not ready for sea until November. Archibald Douglas of Lion (300 tonnes) was appointed as Admiral. Murray of Unicorn (300 tonnes also) as Vice Admiral, while Auchmoutie of the diminutive Thistle (perhaps 50 tonnes) still qualified as Rear Admiral.

This squadron finally sailed from the Thames, but did not raise the Forth till early January 1627. Once in Scottish waters, the flotilla came under the orders of the Earl Marischal, except that he gave no orders and the winter months were spent in a blur of inactivity. This notwithstanding, merely keeping the ships ready, with the crews waged and victualled was an expensive business. Pay alone gobbled up some £1,100 per month. In the spring a use was found for the ships, which were to be converted as troop transports. Now, arrears of pay were substantial and crews much thinned by desertion, getting the exercise underway consumed time and more treasure. By the time they returned from their mission, it seemed likely all three would simply be sold off, but alarums and the threat of enemy action prompted a cruise along the North Sea coast and the ships were not, in fact, disposed of until the following year.

As the Scots Navy perennially comprised very few vessels, one who held a letter of reprisal or, subsequently of marque, was entitled to style himself as captain. Merchant skippers were not called captain until the following century. The heyday of privateering in Scotland was really the second half of the seventeenth century, the period of the Dutch wars (1652–1654, 1665–1667 and 1672–1674), though Scottish captains had not been idle during the earlier wars with Spain, France and England (both Crown and Parliament). During the period of the Dutch wars, when the available English strength was fully committed, as many as 90 Scottish privateers were active, mainly out of Leith and the ports of Fife, with the North Sea as their principal stalking ground. As the Channel was likely too hot or too well guarded, Dutch merchantmen and fishing vessels preferred the wider sweep of the North Sea, and Scottish predators grew fat on the pickings.

Privateers were free of the obligations of naval officers in that they were concerned entirely with economic warfare, they did not cruise simply to pick a fight with an opposing vessel or squadron, sailing for profit, patriotic dividend purely incidental. These were wolves and merchantmen the sheep they preyed upon. James VI of Scotland, when he became also James I of England had, as part of his inheritance, acquired a world class navy. The race-built English galleon had emerged as the leading design of the sixteenth century, the Spanish had lost out by clinging to the grand carrack and the Dutch were just entering the race. Of the 42 vessels James now possessed, nearly two-thirds comprised capital ships but, once peace was concluded with Spain in the year following his accession, the fleet had scant opportunities for deployment.


There were, however, innovations in design with a swing back, in part, toward the earlier carrack of the towering superstructures. Hulls became larger and, while the length of the new vessels resembled that of the race-built galleon, the greater bulk would carry more above. True sons of the Elizabethan age, such as Sir Walter Raleigh, deprecated the trend, opining it arose from a desire for greater comfort aboard. To the old sea dog, this reeked of decadence! James VI took a keen interest in the construction of his great capital ship Prince Royal designed by the rather dubious naval architect, Phineas Pett. She was first of the great three-deckers and carried 55 guns when she first entered the water in 1610, a formidable instrument of war at sea. For nearly three decades, she had no peer until, in 1637, Pett designed an even mightier ship for Charles I, Sovereign of the Seas. Ships did play their part in the great Civil Wars and inflicted a serious reverse upon the Dutch during the first clash, and Sovereign, with some modifications, was still doing good service as late as the 1670s.

Charles I, having embarked upon an attempt to rule without the sanction of Parliament, remained wedded to the notion of restoring England’s naval power to the equivalent of the great days of the Elizabethan sea dogs, though he continued to be hamstrung by a desperate cash shortage. One remedy, finally adopted in 1634, was the levying of Ship-Money, a form of naval taxation that further exacerbated the king’s difficulties with his increasingly restless subjects. While the major engagements of the Bishops Wars and the Great Civil Wars took place on land, sea power remained vital. Parliament in England retained control of the navy, and there was the constant fear of an invasion from Ireland, disgorging thousands of savage and Popish Irish into England. In Scotland, the Estates entered into terms with Parliament in England whereby, in January 1644, a Scottish army crossed the border and joined the fight, an intervention which led, in that year, to the decisive battle upon Marston Moor which saw the Royalist hegemony in the North of England destroyed.

Montrose’s battles during ‘The Year of Miracles’ were fought out on land, and sea power did not play a significant role, though the wily Argyll cannily stayed aboard his galley in Loch Linnhe while his clansmen were decimated by the vengeful blades of Clan Donald in the fight at Inverlochy. English naval power aided Cromwell when he subsequently campaigned against the Scots, alienated by the regicide, but his great victories, Dunbar, and then Worcester, were won on land.

Large capital ships, such as the Sovereign, were clearly beyond the purse of a privateer captain, however successful, but, even as Pett was designing his great flagships, there was a Large capital ships, such as the Sovereign, were clearly beyond the purse of a privateer captain, however successful, but, even as Pett was designing his great flagships, there was a perceived need for lighter, handier craft, intended to take on the Dunkirk privateers who were, themselves, most active during the French War of 1627–1629.5 Ten 14-gun vessels, built to a standard pattern and called Whelps – the first to the tenth – were floated. ‘Whelp’ did not endure as the brand of a particular class; a European term ‘frigate’ came into use. It was this type of vessel that the Scottish privateers adopted, also referred to as capers; some were purpose built and others converted to purpose. The ship had to be a good sailor, of a size to accommodate a respectable weight of ordnance, anywhere from 6 to 30 guns of varying calibres – standardisation was still not fully established – but mainly demi-culverins or sakers. The frigate would be somewhere between 100 and 250 tons in the water, fast in the chase and equally handy if she had to outrun an enemy man-of-war. Crews needed to be large: sufficient sailors to man the guns in an action and to provide prize crews for captured vessels. All of which, for the owners, represented a significant capital outlay. The captain would not usually lack for volunteers: the work carried risk and discipline had to be enforced to naval standards, but the lure of prize-money was always a powerful incentive.

It is fair to assert that naval service in Scotland never quite acquired the same social cachet as it did in England, yet during the sixteenth century Scottish mariners, and privateers, were highly regarded, and rightly so, on account of their able seamanship. The connection with the French ports of Dieppe and Le Havre implied Scots mariners were well placed to benefit from the innovations directed by a Huguenot school of navigators based there. By 1547, often in partnership with the French, Scottish captains were already scenting the rich harvest to be gathered from the gold-rich Spanish colonies of the New World. Two decades later, the port of Burburata was taken up by a Franco-Scottish expedition. As mentioned, James Lindsay had, in 1540 acted as pilot to James V and guided the king’s squadron through the waters of the Pentland Firth to the Western Isles where James was engaged in ‘putting some stick about’. Lindsay compiled a navigational aid or pilot book, his famous ‘Rutter’.


Susan Mowat, from whose detailed work on the subject much of what is written here has been drawn, has recorded the worth of numerous prizes. Green Lyon, a 300-ton Danziger, which a trio of Scots captured in 1628, was sold for nearly £13,000 Scots, exclusive of her cargo of masts and cordage. Prize money was apportioned 1/15th to the crown, a tenth of the residue to the Lord High Admiral, the remainder split into thirds, one each for the owner, the victuallers and the crew. The latter was then distributed on a sliding scale from the nine shares awarded to the captain to the single share given to the ship’s boys! A successful cruise brought considerable reward: Captain Scott of Blessing out of Burntisland scooped four vessels in cruises during 1626, netting a cash gain of £372 Scots, plus a salary bonus of £80. One of his crew would earn something just under £42, the equal of over two years’ pay. The ship’s surgeon also netted some £400 in total. Small wonder privateering was proving such a popular occupation!

TYPE S-100 & S-700

The Type S-100 boats were an evolution of the previous Type S-38 boats. Their basic dimensions were the same as the Type S-38, but these vessels were constructed from the beginning with the armoured bridge. Their armament was also increased with an additional gun mount amidships, while additional armour protection was also added around the engine spaces. Other small differences about the Type S-100 boats were an overall simplification of construction, eliminating unnecessary fittings throughout the vessel, giving these boats a streamlined appearance. The hull numbers built for this Type S-100 were S-100, S-136, S-139 through S-150, S-167 through S-228, and S-301 through S-307, for a total of 83 boats in this class. As the construction of this class progressed, improvements were made not only in construction techniques, but in increased engine performance and also in the armament carried. S-170 had the first set of Daimler-Benz MB 518 diesel motors, rated at 3000hp installed for testing, increasing the top speed to 45 kts. S-219 had its fuel capacity increased to extend the radius of action by 50nm. S-226 had a pair of rear-firing torpedo tubes installed, the basis for the design of the Type S-700 class. S-301 through S-307 were to receive the MB 518 motors, but it is believed that the production of these motors was canceled and these boats were built with the then standard MB 511 motors. There is also information pointing to, at the least, the experimental fitting of a 20mm ‘Flakvierling’, or quad mounting on a few boats, but no photographic evidence has been located to support this, only design drawings.

The Type S-700 boats built carried the hull numbers S-701 through S-709, nine boats in all. The design benefited from all the experiments done on S-170, S-219, S-226 and other Type S-100 boats. Like the S-301 through S-307 boats, they were to have the MB 518 motors, but it is possible that these boats were completed with the MB 511 motors. It is also quite possible that they were not built with the armament upgrades designed, but were basically a repeat of the Type S-100 class.

Why Did Stalin Build his Big Ocean-Going Fleet?

As the pride of the Soviet fleet, Kirov was finally commissioned on September 26, 1938. She was 628 feet in length, 58 feet in beam, and had a 19-foot draft. While she still could not attain her planned top speed of 37 knots, her generators were able to produce an impressive 113,500shp, and she had a range of 3750nm at 17.8 knots. This was all complemented by her impressive armament and armor: three triple-gun turrets holding 180mm 57 Mk-3-180 guns, six 100mm 56 B-34 DP guns, six 45mm 46 21-K guns, and four 12.7mm DK machine guns. She also had six 533mm 53-38 torpedo tubes and was capable of carrying numerous mines and depth charges. Protection was 50mm armor on her belt, deck, turrets, barbettes, and transverse bulkheads, with 150mm armor on the conning tower.

The decision for the building of the ‘Big Ocean-Going Fleet’ was taken by Stalin in the last months of 1935. There was during the last part of 1935 a well-considered and exactly planned propaganda campaign to celebrate the successes of the technical reconstruction of the fleet and the progress in the education and combat training of naval personnel. On 23 December 1935 more than 270 naval officers and sailors were decorated with orders and medals for their achievements in spreading the Stakhanov movement in the Navy. And on the same day Stalin, V.M. Molotov, G.K. Ordzhonikidze and K.E. Voroshilov received in the Kremlin a delegation from the Pacific Fleet. After the reception, the High Commands of the Red Army and the Red Navy were ordered to prepare proposals for the development of a great ocean-going Navy and to put them before the Government for acceptance. In the following day’s Pravda there appeared an article which stated that it was the aim of the Soviet Union to become a great sea power over the next few years.

In February 1936 a first variant for this great fleet project was ready, and on 27 May 1936 the Council of Labour and Defence (STO) approved the parameters for the composition of the future fleet and the building programme for 1936–47. It is surprising that only a very short time after the official proclamation of the doctrine of a ‘Small War at Sea’, which was still supported by the then Deputy Chief of the Naval Forces, Flagman 1 Ranga I.M. Ludri, in a review of an American book in the February 1936 issue of the official journal Morskoi sbornik, the official doctrine was suddenly changed to one of a ‘Big Ocean-Going Navy’. The Chief of the Naval Forces, Flagman Flota 1 Ranga V.M. Orlov, who had also been a supporter with the jeune école of a small war at sea, now vehemently propagated this viewpoint in his speech to the Extraordinary Congress of the Union’s Soviets on 28 November 1936. Nevertheless, the then Chief of the General Staff, Marshal A.I. Yegorov, persisted with his requests that the Navy build heavy ships and even aircraft carriers in greater numbers than the Navy wanted.

Where should we look for the reasons for this sudden change? There can be no doubt that the initiative for this change must have come from the top, from Stalin himself, because at this time his dominant position was so effectively established that nobody dared to criticize his decisions or to present diverging opinions. This is especially obvious here, as the top military and naval leaders, who had before clearly been supporters of the ‘Small War at Sea’ theory, suddenly switched to the opposite viewpoint. They must have seen or possibly even anticipated the changed aims of the Vozhd’, of Stalin. What, then, might have been Stalin’s reasons for this change of policy and strategy?

In the mid-1930s Stalin had perceived the ‘people’s front’ concept of cooperation with the Western democracies in a policy of ‘collective security’, as advocated by the Narkom for Foreign Relations, M.M. Litvinov, and promoted by the Komintern, to be a failure. Litvinov’s influence probably began to diminish much earlier than March 1939, as most Western historians have assumed.1 Stalin must have already changed to an independent defence policy by the mid-1930s. One obvious reason was the anti-Soviet and anti-communist policy of Germany, and its closer collaboration with the Japanese and Italians, but also with the former common enemy Poland, and Great Britain, as was demonstrated by the German-British Naval Agreement of 1935, which seemed to be a German approach to one of the most important Western democracies to him. No doubt, Stalin felt that the Soviet Union was becoming increasingly surrounded by possible enemy states. This led him to want to build up the military strength of the Soviet Union to a level superior to that of his neighbours, a tendency seen already in the early 1930s, when industrialization was focused on the production of armaments for the Army, to equip their forces according to the doctrine of M.N. Tukhachevskii and V.K. Triandaffilov of countering possible enemy attacks by counterstrokes deep into their territory.

By the mid-1930s it most probably became evident to Stalin that the other great powers had started to build up their navies, and that a real naval arms race had begun. He must have had the intention of acquiring in all fleet areas a strength comparable or even superior to the probable enemy navies, especially the Japanese in the Sea of Japan and the Germans in the Baltic, and to a lesser extent the Germans and their allies in the Arctic, and the Romanians, the Turkish and the Italians in the Black Sea. Because all the possible hostile sea powers started to build new battleships, he also saw a need to have such ships. This was underlined, when in 1936–37 the Soviet Navy was not able to support the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, despite the fact that Stalin’s decision to build the ‘Big Ocean-Going Fleet’ was taken before the Civil War started, which some historians have erroneously linked with the start of the Soviet naval build-up. One other supporting observation was probably the decision by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who said at this time, ‘It’s not possible to believe in treaties, the guarantee lies in a strong fleet. Let’s see how the Japanese could endure a naval arms race.’ On 21 January 1938 the US Congress accepted a new law for an enlargement of the Navy, and on 17 May a programme of a ‘Two-Oceans Navy’ was announced. In addition, there might have been information about new building plans for the Japanese Navy. The mentioned strategic aims developed for the August 1939 naval programme show clearly the intention of acquiring naval supremacy in each of the four fleet areas. If we look at the text of the August 1939 documents, the question is, was the aim behind the naval build-up to gain security against naval threats? Or were the battleship fleets perceived to be a necessary step in ensuring that by 1947 the Soviet Union would become one of the world’s superpowers? At present, this question cannot definitively be answered, but the wording of the now known documents from 1939 to 1941 shows at the least an offensive tendency in Soviet policy and strategy.

Indeed, was Soviet industry able at this time to fulfil the big programmes? The experiences of the developments that followed are proof that the industrial and technological capacities were at the time insufficient to accomplish the big building programme in the seven to ten years envisaged. The very close dates for the building of the big ships were simply not realistic, as was shown in 1936, when only 53 per cent of the plan dates were achieved, and in 1938 only 60 per cent. Notwithstanding the real difficulties, Stalin pushed the building processes, and many historians have assumed that the purges against the naval leadership in 1937–38 had to do with his wish to get rid of the former supporters of the ‘Small War at Sea’ theory and the opponents of the ‘reactionary theory of sea-power’. But if we look at the victims of the purges, we find not only the most important exponents of these theories, like I.M. Ludri, K.I. Dushenov and I.K. Kozhanov, but also people who changed their mind along the lines given by Stalin, like R.A. Muklevich, V.M. Orlov and finally M.V. Viktorov, and Marshal A.I. Yegorov, who since 1935 had been forcefully asking for an accelerated build-up of the Navy. And we must not forget the imprisonment of many of the engineers who were working on designs for the new big ships; or the men who tried to ‘unmask the saboteurs and enemies of the people’, who for a short time became the Chiefs of the Navy, like P.A. Smirnov and M.P. Frinovskii, only to become victims of the purges themselves. So this problem must be assigned to Stalin’s pathological mistrust and his unreal perception of being surrounded by enemies and traitors, as Dmitrii Volkogonov has so convincingly demonstrated.

So we must assume that in the late 1930s to Stalin – as the American historian Richard Humble has said – a battleship, a dreadnought, was a direct historical predecessor to the atomic bomb, a symbol of the highest grade of power, a most powerful and mobile instrument of power politics, that the world had ever known. A state, which wants to be a fully recognized member in world politics, needs battleships and battlecruisers as symbols of power. This might have been behind Stalin’s wish to have a ‘Big Ocean-Going Fleet’.

But what was Stalin’s intention when the Second World War was over, and a new big naval programme was presented by the naval leaders? The Soviet Union then needed above all to repair the damage done to its industrial base. And the war had itself created much more powerful probable enemies in the United States and its Western allies. The threat perceived lay in the far superior strategic air power of the Western countries, and the capability for amphibious warfare they had demonstrated in Europe and the Pacific from 1943 to 1945.

While the high command of the Navy tried to renew the concept of a traditional fleet made up of all types of warships, from battleships and carriers to motor torpedo boats and submarines, Stalin was preoccupied with industrial capacity and the need to counter any threats of aerial bombardment and amphibious landings. Therefore he tried to push the borders of the Soviet-dominated areas as far away as possible from the centres of his Soviet Union, and tried at first to limit the naval programmes to defence against the amphibious threat. Nonetheless, against the wishes of the admirals, he demanded his beloved battlecruisers, the remnants of his great ocean-going fleet, at the expense of aircraft carriers, which shows that he still had the wish to acquire such old symbols of sea power, not understanding the change in naval strategies, with the carriers now as the most important instruments of naval power projection. This became obvious, when he reinstated Kuznetsov, fired in 1947 for his opposition to the cuts in the naval programme and demoted to Vice-Admiral, again as Commander-in-Chief of the Navy in 1951, to manage the delayed naval programme, which was still centred on his outdated battle-cruisers. Stalin’s reluctance to agree with Kuznetsov’s demands for aircraft carriers shows that he was still fixed on the idea that big gun-armed ships were the signs of a naval superpower status.

When, after Stalin’s death, Khrushchev and Marshal of the Soviet Union Zhukov took the helm, they looked to the Army and especially to the new strategic rockets as the counter to the perceived dangers from their opponents in the Cold War, which was demonstrated by the first launches of strategic intercontinental rockets and the first satellites into space. But they neglected the Navy. When the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, Admiral Kuznetsov, opposed this trend and tried to renew the naval programme along the modern lines, he was fired again. His successor Admiral Gorshkov, at first had to follow the wishes of his superiors, especially in the love of modern weapons like rockets and missiles. He was forced at first to cancel the gun-armed ships and to build submarines and ships with anti-ship missiles, before he later also came back to the doctrine of a balanced ocean-going fleet with all the necessary ships from atomic submarines with ballistic rockets, missile-armed cruisers, submarines, and destroyers and escorts, as well as coastal vessels, but finally also to missile-armed battlecruisers and even helicopter and aircraft carriers. It may be that Khrushchev’s successors learned from the experience of the Cuban crisis of 1962 about the need to have modern ocean-going surface ships in order to escort seaborne supplies for the support of revolutionary movements in the Third World. So they allowed Gorshkov to follow this new-old line. During his almost 30-year tenure in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Navy, Gorshkov almost achieved his aims – that is, to establish the Soviet Union not only as an army and strategic rocket forces superpower, but also as a big sea-going superpower. Only a few years after his retirement in 1985, events outside the Navy led to the crumbling of the Soviet Union, in 1991, followed by the deterioration of the Navy, and the rusting away of most of its sea-going ships.


The design of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) Kongo class battle-cruisers originated from Great Britain. At first the new warships were to follow the Royal Navy (RN) Invincible class, but, impressed with the new RN Lion class, the IJN opted for an improved version of that design.

The lead ship of this then new class of battlecruiser, Kongo, was built at the Vickers & Sons Shipyard in Great Britain. However, at that time Japan was quickly expanding its ship building capabilities, and set out to construct the remaining three vessels of the class in Japan. For the Hiei, approximately 30% of construction material was supplied from England, but Kirishima and Haruna were constructed entirely with material from Japan. All machinery and armament for Hiei, Kirishima and Haruna was fabricated in Japan under licence.

As originally designed, the Kongos were battlecruisers, requiring high speeds, necessitating a massive steam plant of 36 coal fired boilers. On trial, Kongo attained nearly 28 knots. Kongo also had the feature of oil spaying, which meant that oil could be sprayed onto the coal fires for a small increase in range and power.

Soon after the completion of all four of the Kongo class battlecruisers, they each had minor up-grades to the bridge structures. During the ‘Great War’ life for the Kongo class was largely uneventful, except for Haruna. She hit what was believed to be a German mine in the summer of 1917. She nearly sank from the extensive flooding, but just managed to make port for repairs. By 1918, the 3in AA mounts were removed from atop the main gun turrets. In the early 1920s, an odd shaped cowling was added to the fore funnel to keep smoke away from the back of the bridge structure on all vessels of the class.

By the late 1920s, a major reconstruction of the four Kongos was planned, as Japan was still adhering to the Washington Naval Treaty. Haruna was first to enter Yokosuka dockyard in March 1924, Kirishima at Kure in March 1927, both Kongo at Yokosuka and Hiei at Kure in September 1929. Kongo, Kirishima and Haruna would each receive additional armour protection, more efficient oil-fired boilers, reduction to two funnels, main gun elevation raised to 43°, aircraft facilities between main gun turrets 3 and 4, and anti-torpedo bulges on the hull. Hiei was demilitarised at this time, with removal of side armour, No 4 main gun turret, all 6in broadside guns removed and a reduction of boilers to reduce her top speed to 18kts. Haruna completed this major reconstruction in July 1928, Kirishima in March 1930, Kongo in March 1931 and Hiei completed her demilitarisation in December 1932. Due to the increase in both weight and beam, the top speed of the first three fell 2.5kts. and it was at this time that these warships were re-rated as battleships.

During the early 1930s, the Kongo class battleships had a few modifications, including the addition of 150cm searchlights for improved night fighting, four pairs of twin 127mm AA mounts, twin 40mm AA mounts, quadruple 13mm AA mounts, mainmast reduced in height and a catapult added to the aircraft deck between turrets 3 and 4. This was accomplished on a ship by ship basis, as time allowed.

Even as work was finished on these vessels, another major reconstruction was drawn up for the Kongo class battleships. Haruna went into the Kure Navy Yard in August 1933, Kirishima at Sasebo in June 1934, Kongo at Yokosuka in June 1935. This would be the most extensive of all reconstructions done to the Kongos. They had their stern lengthened by 25ft and all boilers were replaced with more efficient oil-fired units, giving these vessels an increase in speed to 30kts. An upgraded catapult and expansion of the aircraft handling deck, improved barbette armour, and removal of the foremost 6in casemate guns were other improvements. The entire bridge structure was radically rebuilt, enlarging all the platforms substantially, as well as adding searchlight towers around the fore funnel. A large after fire control tower was constructed abaft the mainmast with duplicate systems to those atop the bridge. The then new twin 25mm AA mounts were also installed at this time. Haruna completed in September 1934, followed by Kirishima in June 1936 and Kongo in January 1937.

Japan rejected the Washington Naval Treaty in 1936 and in doing so, drew up plans to reconstruct Hiei. All components removed earlier had been carefully stored and were then reused where needed. Hiei had the same modifications as her sister-ships during this reconstruction, but the bridge structure was built to a new experimental design, and her armour was also improved over that of her sisterships. Her reconstruction began in November 1936 at Kure and was completed by December 1939.

By the early 1940s, the Kongos had minor improvements to the bridge in the form of an air defence platform at the top level, as well as additional flash protection to the main turrets. In 1941, a degaussing cable was fitted to the exterior of the hull at the deck edge on all four vessels of this class. By the middle of 1941, the Kongo class battleships would then have all the latest technology available from the Imperial Japanese Navy.

By August 1941, all four of the Kongos were stationed together with the First Fleet, at the Combined Fleet anchorage Hiroshima Bay, making up Battleship Division 3 (BatDiv3). Hiei and Kirishima made up Section 1 and Kongo and Haruna Section 2.

In November 1941, BatDiv3, Section 1 joined First Fleet Striking Force at Hitokappu Bay, while BatDiv3, Section 2 joined Second Fleet Southern Force at Mako, Pescadores Islands.

In December 1941, Hiei and Kirishima (BatDiv3/1) were the primary escort for the surprise attack upon the US Navy at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. They returned to Hitokappu Bay by the end of that month. Kongo and Haruna (BatDiv3/2) were the primary escort for the invasion of Indochina. They deployed to intercept the British ‘Force Z’, Prince of Wales and Repulse, but the British force was sunk by IJN land based bombers before interception could take place. BatDiv3/2 returned to Mako by early January 1942.

BatDiv3/1 moved to the new primary IJN anchorage at Truk Lagoon in January 1942. BatDiv3/2 was the cover force for the Japanese Invasion of the Dutch East Indies during the same month.

During February and March 1942, BatDiv3/1 escorted the Carrier Striking Force during raids on Port Darwin, Australia, and the Battle of the Java Sea, returning to Staring Bay anchorage. BatDiv3/2 escorted the force that invaded the Netherlands East Indies, then bombarded Christmas Island, before returning to Staring Bay.

April 1942 saw the entire Kongo class battleships operate together as the escort for the Carrier Striking Force on a raid into the Indian Ocean against the British Royal Navy. They retired to the newly captured IJN base at Singapore by mid-April to refuel. The majority of the Striking Force and BatDiv3 then steamed to Japan, arriving at the end of April.

May 1942 saw the transfer of Kongo to BatDiv3, Section 1, then made up of Kongo and Hiei, with BatDiv3/2 then made up of Haruna and Kirishima. Both Kongo and Haruna had minor refits that month as well. At the end of that month, BatDiv3/1 escorted the Main Body of the Japanese Fleet, while BatDiv3/2 escorted the Carrier Strike Force to the Battle of Midway on June 4-6. Haruna was slightly damaged by USN carrier air attack, but at the end of the battle she and Kirishima picked up survivors from the sunken carriers. All of BatDiv3 returned to Japan by mid-June.

In July, BatDiv3 was consolidated to Kongo and Haruna, while Kirishima and Hiei made up the then new BatDiv11. All four Kongos had a minor refit, and Kongo was fitted with Type 21 Air and Surface Search Radar, through to mid-August.

During the period of mid-August through mid-September, all four Kongo class battleships participated in battle practice in Japanese waters. Afterwards, all four Kongos departed from Japan, BatDiv3, made up of Kongo and Haruna, and BatDiv11’s Kirishima and Hiei, arrived at Truk. From there they departed for the Solomon Islands, BatDiv3 with cruisers in the Bombardment Force and BatDiv11 escorting the Carrier Strike Force. The operation was cancelled, and the entire force returned to Truk by late September. At that time Kongo and Haruna were fitted with the Type 22 Surface Search Radar.

By Mid-October 1942, both BatDiv3 and 11 departed again for the Solomon Islands. Kongo and Haruna bombarded Henderson Field on Guadalcanal Island on the night of October 13. The Battle of Santa Cruz took place on 25-26 October, where BatDiv3 and 11 covered the IJN Carrier Strike Force, with BatDiv11 attacked numerous times, but not hit. The IJN Fleet returned to Truk at the end of October. After refuelling BatDiv11 transferred to Shortland Island.

Kirishima and Hiei, as BatDiv11, steamed for Guadalcanal, arriving 13 November, to be deployed as the bombardment force for an invasion of that island. At 0150 hrs the Japanese force of BatDiv11, with light cruiser Nagara and 13 destroyers, opened fire upon the US Navy cruisers and destroyers around Savo Island. The first Battle of Guadalcanal, also known as the ‘Bar Room Brawl’, was a very confusing gun and torpedo battle that took place at close quarters in the night. Kirishima was hit by only one 8in shell with minimal damage, but Hiei was badly damaged by a torpedo hit and as many as thirty 8in shells, even more 5in and was sprayed by 20mm rounds. By daybreak of 13 November Hiei had managed to limp to the west of Savo Island, only to be attacked by numerous USAAF bombers, USN and USMC land and carrier borne aircraft. She was hit numerous times and was last seen, a smoldering wreck, sinking sometime just after midnight on November 14. Hiei has the dubious distinction of being the first Imperial Japanese Navy battleship sunk during the Second World War. Hiei and Kirishima managed to sink the US Navy light cruiser Atlanta, four destroyers and severely damage two heavy, two light cruisers and one destroyer.

The second Battle of Guadalcanal began in the very early morning darkness of 15 November, at 0016hrs, as ships of both the IJN and USN manoeuvred south of Savo Island. The USN battleships South Dakota and Washington with destroyers opened fire upon IJN light cruisers Nagara, Sendai and destroyers in a sweep towards Guadalcanal. Kirishima, heavy cruisers Atago and Takao fired upon South Dakota. Kirishima hit the American battleship only once, but the heavy cruisers obtained many hits. Suddenly, unobserved by the IJN, at 0100hrs, Washington fired upon Kirishima with main battery 16in guns and Atago and Takao with secondary battery 5in guns. Kirishima was hit by nine 16in shells in less than six minutes, knocking her completely out of action. She had also been hit by as many as forty 5in shells. Washington also hit Atago and Takao several times with 5in shells. Kirishima’s rudder was jammed and she steamed in a circle, burning furiously. She began to list to starboard, and at 0325hrs, capsized seven miles NW of Savo Island. As she capsized, her forward magazines detonated, blasting the battleship in two as she sank.

Kongo and Haruna of BatDiv3 escorted the carrier Junyo in search of the USN carrier Enterprise, but were unsuccessful and by 17 November 1942 had returned to Truk. BatDiv3 remained at Truk for the rest of that year.

At the end of January 1943, BatDiv3 formed part of a large fleet acting as a diversion so that IJN destroyers could evacuate Japanese Army troops from Guadalcanal. They had returned to Truk by 9 February after a successful operation.

At the end of February, BatDiv3 returned to Japan for an overhaul at the Kure Naval Base. Haruna was fitted with the Type 21 Radar system, and both battleships had six 6in secondary guns removed at the same time, as well as additional 25mm mounts installed. Concrete protection was added around the steering gear. This refit was finished by the end of March 1943.

BatDiv3 steamed for the Truk anchorage by mid-April, only to remain inactive until departing for Yokosuka in mid-May. Kongo and Haruna remained in Japanese waters until mid-June, before returning to Truk.

In late September 1943, BatDiv3 with other IJN fleet units, steamed to Eniwetok in response to US Navy attacks upon Tarawa, Makin, and Abemama Atolls. With no action, the IJN Fleet returned to Truk by the end of September. Again, BatDiv3 sortied from Truk in mid-October in response to a US Navy attack upon Wake Island, but again, the IJN fleet took no action, returning to Truk by the end of October.

Kongo and Haruna transferred to Sasebo Naval Base, Japan in mid-December 1943 for drydocking and were fitted with additional 25mm AA mounts. This refit was completed in mid-February 1944, and they then exercised in the Inland Sea until early March.

BatDiv3, still made up of Kongo and Haruna, in company with other IJN fleet units, steamed for the Lingga anchorage in mid-March 1944. Once there, BatDiv3 trained in Indonesian waters and visited Singapore on one occasion, until trans-fering to a new anchorage at Tawi Tawi with the majority of IJN fleet from May through mid-June.

BatDiv3 moved to Philippine waters for the Battle of Philippine Sea in mid-June 1944. Kongo and Haruna were part of Force C, which sortied east through the Philippine Sea toward Saipan. On 20 June they were attacked by aircraft from the USN carriers Bunker Hill, Monterey and Cabot. Kongo was not hit, but Haruna was struck by 500lb bombs on No 4 turret and the quarterdeck, but managed to maintain top speed. BatDiv3 retired, via Okinawa to refuel and returned to Japan by the end of June.

While at the Kure Naval Base in early July, Kongo was drydocked and received additional 25mm AA mounts and Type 13 Radar. Haruna’s bomb damage was repaired at that time at Sasebo, where she received similar upgrades to those for Kongo.

Kongo departed on 8 July for the Lingga anchorage, without Haruna, but with other main IJN fleet units. Haruna departed Sasebo with destroyers and arrived at Lingga in late August 1944. Both units of BatDiv3 would remain at the Lingga anchorage until mid-October.

BatDiv3 departed Lingga for Brunei Bay, Borneo in late October 1944. From there they sortied with other major units of the IJN fleet, known as Force A, for Leyte Gulf. This was the beginning of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, a conflict that had smaller clashes within the main battle. As the IJN fleet passed through the Palawan Passage, they were intercepted by the USN submarines Darter and Dace. These submarines were able to torpedo three heavy cruisers, Takao, Atago and Maya, severely damaging Takao and sinking the other two. The rest of the IJN fleet passed without harm. This event was later known as the Battle of Palawan Passage.

The remaining IJN fleet units, including BatDiv3, proceeded into the Sibuyan Sea, where USN carrier aircraft attacked the entire IJN fleet with over 250 aircraft, sinking the super battleship Musashi. Kongo was not hit, but again, Haruna was damaged by near misses.

In the early hours of 25 October 1944, the IJN fleet surprised a division of USN escort aircraft carriers off Samar Island. In the ensuing melee, the Japanese battleships and heavy cruisers, including Kongo and Haruna fired upon the hapless small carriers, but were run off by USN destroyers in a brave torpedo attack. The IJN sank one carrier, and three destroyers at the cost of three heavy cruisers.

On the following day, USAAF B-24 bombers attack the retiring IJN fleet, hitting the super battleship Yamato, sinking the light cruiser Noshiro, but Kongo and Haruna were unharmed. The remnants of Force A arrived at Brunei on 28 October 1944.

In early November, BatDiv3 left Brunei Bay to escort a resupply mission by other warships to Manila for the Japanese Army. They returned to Brunei by mid-November. At that time, the battleship Nagato was assigned to BatDiv3. On November 16, the IJN fleet at Brunei was attacked by USAAF B-24 bombers and P-38 fighters. Kongo and Haruna were not damaged. On that same day, Kongo, in company with Yamato, Nagato, light cruiser Yahagi and six destroyers departed for Japan. The next day, Haruna and the heavy cruisers Ashigara, Haguro and light cruiser Oyodo departed for the Lingga anchorage, via the Spratly Island anchorage.

Meanwhile, on 21 November, in the early morning, Kongo and her companions were off of Formosa, making 16kts, when they were intercepted by the USN submarine Sealion. At 0256 hrs Sealion fired all six bow tubes, turned and fired all four stern tubes by 0300hrs. Minutes later, two huge geysers of water shot up into the air alongside the port side of Kongo, which shook with a terrible shudder. Another minute later, one of the destroyers disappeared in a huge explosion, sinking immediately. One torpedo hit forward, at the leading edge of Kongo’s torpedo blister, with the other striking her abreast the second funnel, flooding several engine rooms. Kongo’s captain kept up her speed, but in so doing caused her damage from the forward hit to worsen and increase flooding, also increasing the warship’s list to almost 45°. Soon her speed slowed to 10kts. About 0520, Kongo went dead in the water with her list increasing. At 0524, Kongo capsized to port, at the same time causing her forward magazine to detonate.

On 22 November Haruna, along with the cruisers and destroyers arrived at Lingga. As she was attempting to anchor, she grounded on a reef, doing significant damage to her hull, necessitating repairs in Japan. Haruna departed Lingga alone for Singapore on 28 November to pick up two destroyers and continued on to Mako, where she joined the carrier Junyo and three destroyers on 5 December 1944. This group departed for Japan the next day.

On 9 December en route to Japan, the IJN task group was intercepted by a USN submarine group. The carrier Junyo was struck by two torpedoes, as was one of the escorting destroyers. All IJN warships arrived at Sasebo Navy Yard the next day. Haruna and two destroyers continued on to Kure the day after, arriving two days later.

Haruna was drydocked and hull damage was repaired. She really needed an extensive refit due to the numerous times she had been damaged, but this was not possible due to the lack of supplies and constant air attacks. Also, because of the lack of fuel available, Haruna remained in port, assigned to the Kure Naval District.

On 19 March 1945, USN carriers launched a massive air assault upon the Kure Naval District. Haruna was hit once, with slight damage, but June 22 saw another air assault, this time by USAAF B-29s, with one bomb hit on the quarterdeck causing slight damage. On 24 July yet another carrier aircraft attack resulted in three bomb hits and moderate damage.

The end came for Haruna on 28 July 1945. This was another carrier aircraft attack, obtaining about nine hits. She sank in very shallow water, her fore and centre-deck above water. Her wreck was later broken up between 1946 and 1948.