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...Russian dreadnoughts vs. German in the Baltic...

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Joined: 11 Dec 2007
Posts: 75
Location: Richmond, Virginia

PostPosted: Mon Dec 17, 2007 7:47 pm    Post subject: ...Russian dreadnoughts vs. German in the Baltic... Reply with quote

This is the showdown that didn't happen, as the Russians treated their newly-completed Baltic dreadnoughts as precious commodities, used mostly
in support roles and to augment the approaches to the capital in the Gulf
of Finland. However, what if these had encountered a squadron of German
dreadnoughts. How would they have stacked up, if there are any opinions
out there?
The story of the four Baltic dreadnoughts is interesting. After the naval
wipeout in the Russo-Japanese war, including the loss of the Baltic fleet,
the Russians had to start over. The Duma voted the money for a fleet of
four, after much debate over whether they were necessary. However, the
work had to be done in Russian yards, for patriotic, security and economic
This meant the two established capital yards on the Neva, the Baltic
Yard and the Admiralty Yard, the latter of which went back to Peter the
Great. However, these yards would have to have foreign assistance for
a project like this. Foreign tenders were asked for designs, and the near-
winner was the great German firm of Blohm and Voss, which specialized
in battle-cruisers and eventually built the "Bismarck." This deal was
shot down partly because B & V insisted on building the vessels themselves in Hamburg. Also, the French, Russia's ally and paymaster,
vetoed it. The Germans would delay the building and possibly, knowing
what the future might bring, imbed defects into the vessels, besides knowing everything about them.
In the event John Brown and Co. , known for their design skills,
were hired as consultants, and they incorporated elements from various
of the submitted designs, including those of Cuniberti and B & V.
Intersting features: ice-breaking bows (practical). 12-inch guns of
Russian design and manufacture from the Obukhov works. They are
often called a battleship/cruiser amalgam, possibly with a glass jaw.
If we said four-on-four, to be fair, how would they have done vs.
the Germans (I have not touched on training, gunnery skill, range-finding
equipment, etc., if anyone knows).
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Joined: 11 Dec 2007
Posts: 75
Location: Richmond, Virginia

PostPosted: Thu Dec 27, 2007 9:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

This is a reply to my own post but I want to clarify the "glass jaw" of
these Russian "Gangut" class dreadnoughts. It was their armoring
scheme. The lesson that the Russians felt they had learned from
Tsushima was that their pre-dreadnought warships, possessing a
conventional protection set-up, i.e. heavily armoring the vital areas,
had been repeatedly holed elsewhere by Japanese high-explosive

The solution to this, they decided, was to envelop the entire hull
with armor protection. However, this presented a problem as it
clashed with another design priority, to achieve battle-cruiser
speed for these vessels. An envelope of heavy battleship armor
would make them too heavy to be fast. The unfortunate solution
was to sheath the Ganguts in relatively "thin" armor, 8.9-3.9 inches.
The glass jaw.

The speed requirement was largely achieved; these dreadnoughts
could do 23-25 knots, vs. a typical battleship 20-21 knots. However,
consider the typical German dreadnought they might have encount-\
ered in the Baltic, say "S.M.S. Koenig," or "Kaiser." These would
have armoring of the vitals, in the conventional way, but 13.77 inches
belt, and would have hit the Russians with armor-piercing shell.
Not good. (Not to speak of running into the "Bayern" or "Baden!").

Now the speed, combined with another unique quality of these
vessels, namely gun elevation up to 25 degrees, might give them
one option, given some good range-finding and spotting: open up
from "long" distance and try to stay there!
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Joined: 11 Dec 2007
Posts: 75
Location: Richmond, Virginia

PostPosted: Thu Jan 24, 2008 3:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I thought I would add a comment here about the parallel endings for the Russian and German Baltic fleets, and the important role played by officer/rating rapport and respect in the final days.

Of course both of these fleets experienced mutinies at the end of the War,
involving confrontation, stand-offs, negotiation, varying degrees of violence. However, I would submit that there was this important difference: in the relationship between the officers and the other ranks the
descriptive word in the Russian Imperial Navy was "contempt." The legacy of the "Potempkin" remained in all Russian fleets, and many Russian officers regarded the sailors serving under them as unworthy of concern.

By contrast, within the German High Seas Fleet there was certainly discipline, but contempt was not the order of the day from officers towards ratings. When the German fleet mutiny broke out at Kiel and Wilhelmshaven, Admiral von Hipper, the C-in-C and the man who had ordered the "Death Ride," was able to pack his bags and leave without being molested. Admiral Souchon, the commander of Kiel naval base who had to negotiate with the mutineers, survived these events even though the tension was high and there certainly were arrests and shooting.

Again, even at Scapa Flow after the Armistice, by which time all discipline in the High Seas Fleet had broken down and Admiral von Reuter was treated rather shabbily, there was no attempt to kill him, although the German sailors had every opportunity.

Now look at the Russian Baltic fleet when the Kronstadt mutiny (that in summer 1917) broke out. The C-in-C of the Baltic fleet at that time, Vice-Admiral Adrian Nepenin, was killed, as was the commander of Kronstadt naval base, Admiral Robert Viren. And they weren't the only ones. Now this is not to defend the actions of the mutineers and rebels, who had been thoroughly politicized by both the Bolsheviks and the S.R.s. It is simply to note that that extra step beyond rigid discipline, a legacy of personal contempt, may have had an impact on the outcome for the officers.
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