chapter  8
20 Pages

British Naval Procurement and Technological Change, 1919-39

During the Second World War, carrier-borne aviation displaced battleship heavy artillery as the final arbiter of sea control, surface ships needed a combination of effective anti-aircraft guns and fire control in order to maximize the chances of survival against hostile sea-or shore-based air strikes, and well-armed, relatively speedy and long-range light warships in large numbers were required to defend convoys on the high seas against attacks by groups of submarines. The Royal Navy, however, was ill-prepared in all three areas. At the outbreak of hostilities, the aircraft on British carriers were substantially inferior in terms of both numbers and quality to those of the US Navy and Japanese Navy, British warships were armed with significantly less potent fire control gear than was standard in US ships, and high-performance anti-submarine escorts were too few in number to protect adequately Britain’s trans-Atlantic trade routes. These defects in matériel limited the offensive power of the fleet and created vulnerabilities that caused heavy naval and mercantile casualties.