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T4, R1, Prng 173: Colorado Class (USA) vs Nelson Class (Britain)

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  • T4, R1, Prng 173: Colorado Class (USA) vs Nelson Class (Britain)

    In your opinion, which of these two warship types was most significant, influential and/or effective?
    Feel free to apply those criteria as you please, along with any others you think appropriate.
    Note: Suggestions for some additional criteria are at the foot of this post.

    According to the criteria as you see and apply them, please vote for your preferred candidate in the attached poll.
    If your chosen criteria are significantly different from those suggested, telling us what they are and why you used them would be helpful.

    216: Colorado Class

    The Colorado class was a group of four "super dreadnoughts" designed during WW1, having been preceded by the Tennessee class. Although four keels were laid, only three ships - Maryland, Colorado and West Virginia - were launched. The fourth - Washington - was cancelled under the terms of the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty. Nevertheless, the three in service were easily the most powerful battleships in the US Navy prior to the North Carolina class which were not active until 1941.
    The Colorados were laid down from April 1917 to April 1920 and commissioned between July 1921 and December 1923. Adoption of a 16 inch main armament, with corresponding turrets, was prompted by the Japanese Nagato class but otherwise, their general design was based on the Tennessees; overall dimensions being the same or very similar: Displacement varied between 32,600 long tons (33,100t) at normal load and 33,590 (34,130t) deep load. Overall length was 624ft (190m), with a beam of 97ft (30m) and mean draft of 30.5ft (9.3m). Like the Tennessee class, the Colorados had a "clipper bow" to reduce wetness.
    Their initial complement was 58 officers and 1,022 enlisted men.

    For propulsion, the Colorados used 2 generators supplying power to 4 electric motors, each motor driving a shaft. Steam was supplied by 8 oil-fired Babcock & Wilcox water-tube boilers, each in its own compartment. Turbo-electric transmission allowed the turbines to run at optimum speed, independent of screw speed. That in turn enabled better fuel economy and range. Sub-division of machinery was also easier, increasing the ability to survive torpedo hits.
    This system did not result in a particularly impressive speed, given an official maximum of 21 knots. However, it was relatively efficient in terms of economy and therefore, range. With a standard full load of fuel, range at 10 knots was about 8,000nmi, which could be increased to about 10,000nmi with a maximum load of 4,570 tons. (This was to be significantly enhanced later, during WW2.)

    Main armament was 8 x 16in (406mm) /45 caliber Mark 1 guns, their rate of fire being up to about 1.5 rounds per munite. At maximum elevation of 30 degrees, their range was 34,300yds (31,400m). However, of most importance was their much greater hitting power compared to the Tennessees' 14in guns.
    Secondary armament consisted of 14 x 5in (127mm) /51 caliber Mark 15 guns, to defend against enemy destroyers and torpedo boats. As in the Tennessee class, these were in unarmored casemates on the main deck. Being situated reasonably high in the ship, they had a better chance of remaining usable in heavy seas.
    Initial supplementary armament was 4 x 3in (76mm) /23 caliber guns for AA defense. This was doubled to 8 guns in 1922.
    There were 2 x 21in (533mm) torpedo tubes in deck-mounted launchers.
    In addition, these ships were equipped to carry 4 floatplanes.

    Protection continued with the now established "all or nothing" armor scheme. There was an increase to 16in (410mm) on selected portions of the main belt covering vital machinery. Otherwise, general maximum thicknesses were very similar to or the same as the Tennessees: Aside from the thickened portions mentioned above, belt protection ranged from 8 - 13.5in (203-343mm). Armored decks varied from 3.5in (89mm) to 5in (127mm). Turret faces were 18in (457mm), with 9-10in (229-254mm) sides, 9in (229mm) rears and 5in roofs. Their barbettes had a maximum thickness of 13in (330mm). The conning towers got 11.5 - 16in (292 - 406mm) with a 6in (152mm) roof. Full-length double bottoms and extensive compartmentalization of the Tennessee class were replicated for the Colorados. Torpedo bulges were added in 1939.

    Colorado near New York City, early 1930s


    During WW2, all three ships had extensive careers. Maryland and West Virginia were both in Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked on December 7, 1941 but Colorado was elsewhere, being overhauled at the time. All three rendered substantial support during amphibious operations in the Pacific region and they all survived the war, to be decommissioned in 1947.

    The period leading up to WW2 was occupied in the usual way; including regular exercises and periods when the ships were being repaired or rebuilt. The rebuilds were not exactly the same for all three; the following giving a very brief outline:
    Between 1928-29, the original 3in (76mm) guns used as anti-aircraft weapons were replaced with 5in (127mm) /25 caliber guns. These were the first US Navy guns designed specifically for AA use.
    As with the Tennessees, the Colorados were modernized in stages thru the 1930s, to improve their effectiveness and keep up with progress. A revised below-waterline protection scheme featured five compartments separated by armored bulkheads 0.75 inches (19mm) thick either side of the ship; an outer empty one, three filled, and an empty inner one. In addition, the boilers were moved to separate spaces port and starboard of the transmission. This would allow the ships to sail if one or even an entire side of boilers was incapacitated. It also made a distinctive visual difference between the New Mexicos and Tennessees: The single large funnel of the former was replaced by two smaller funnels in the latter. However, numerous improvements were replicated from similar upgrades for the Tennessee class, including moving the forward torpedo room further away from the main gun magazines, as far as reasonably possible.

    The Dec 7 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor caught Maryland and West Virginia at anchor. Although both sustained hits, Maryland suffered relatively little damage but West Virginia was far more severely hit and sank in the shallow waters. She was later re-floated and extensively rebuilt over the next 2 - 3 years.
    Being inboard of another ship, Maryland was shielded from the initial torpedo attack. Her crew managed to use her AA batteries and shot down one of the Japanese torpedo bombers. In turn, she was struck by at least two bombs and four of her crew were killed but damages were not critical. While she was being repaired, she also received some upgrades, including revision of her secondary and supplementary armament. Work was complete by the end of February 1942, after which Maryland underwent a series of shakedown cruises before resuming her full role in June, making her the first ship damaged at Pearl Harbor to return to duty.
    Although West Virginia's repairs did not allow her to return to active service until mid 1944, by the end of the war all three ships had seen considerable action; especially Maryland and Colorado. They served almost entirely in the Pacific theater and whether it was singly, as a pair, or combined, their collective list of engagements is very considerable.
    During the last couple of years of the war, Maryland, Colorado and West Virginia all served as artillery support in amphibious operations. In the Philippines Campaign, as part of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, Maryland led the American line at the Battle of Surigao Strait on 25 October 1944. This was the last surface action ever, between battleships. However, American ships in the region would continue to be subjected to kamikaze attacks by Japanese aircraft.
    After the end of the war, the Colorado class ships were placed in reserve and had been scrapped by the late 1950s.

    West Virginia at Puget Sound, mid 1944, following her reconstruction.
    This gives a good view of her new "dazzle" camouflage pattern.


    Colorado fighting kamikaze attacks at Leyte, November 1944


    The Colorados were essentially up-gunned and "tweaked" versions of the preceding Tennessee class. As such, their more potent armament was very neatly incorporated; although they would be the last American battleships with four turrets carrying twin-mounted guns. Like the Tennessees, their speed fell somewhat short compared to many other capital ships of the era. However, they proved to be very robust and they were certainly effective for their assigned tasks.

    General characteristics* (*As built)

    Displacement – 32,600 tons (normal); 33,590 (deep load)
    Length – 624ft (190m)
    Beam – 97ft (30m) (*without torpedo bulges)
    Draft – 30.5ft (9.3m) (mean)
    Propulsion – 2 generators, 4 electric motors & shafts, 8 boilers
    Maximum speed:
    21 knots
    Range at 10 knots:
    10,000nmi with 4,570 tons of oil (max)
    Primary – 8 x 16in (406mm) /45 caliber Mark 1 guns
    Secondary – 14 x 5in (127mm) /51 caliber Mark 15 guns
    Supplementary – 4 x 3in (76mm) /23 caliber guns (8 guns by 1922)
    Torpedo tubes - 2 x 21in (533mm), deck mounted
    Aircraft carried:
    4 floatplanes
    Belt – 8 - 13.5in (203-343mm) (main); 16in (410mm) (selected areas)
    Decks – 3.5in (890mm) - 5in (127mm)
    Turrets 5in (12.7mm) (roofs) - 18in (457mm) (faces)
    Barbettes - 13in (330mm) (max)
    Conning tower – 11.5 - 16in (292-406mm) (vertical); 6in (152mm) (roof)
    Complement – 59 officers & 1,022 enlisted men, total 1,081

    170: Nelson Class

    The Nelson class comprised two ships; Nelson and Rodney, named after famous British admirals. They were both laid down in December 1922, not long after the Washington Naval Treaty which had been signed in February of the same year. They were commissioned almost 5 years later; in August and November 1927, respectively. They were the only British battleships (i.e. not counting designated battlecruisers) to enter service between the Revenge class (1916-17) and the King George V class (1940-42).
    Among the articles of the Washington treaty, capital ships (deemed for the purpose of the treaty to include both battleships and battlecruisers) were limited to a maximum of 35,000 tons standard displacement and main guns no larger than 16in (406mm) caliber. To comply with these terms but at the same time maximize gunpower and armor, British designers came up with a very unconventional and distinctive (though not unique) layout. Instead of the usual central superstructure with main turrets fore and aft, they opted to set the superstructure towards the stern, so that the entire main armament, in three triple-gun turrets, occupied the center-to-forward area. Turrets A and C were at main deck level, with turret B superfiring. The Nelsons also became the only British battleships with a main armament of 9 x 16in guns.
    As built, the Nelsons displaced 33,300–33,730 long tons (33,830–34,270t) at standard load and 37,430–37,780 long tons (38,030–38,390t) at deep load. Overall length was 709ft 10in (216.4m) (Nelson) or 710ft 3in (216.5m) (Rodney), with a beam of 106ft (32.3m) and mean draft of 30ft 4in (9.2m). Standard complement was 1,314 officers and men.

    Power was supplied by two sets of Brown-Curtis geared steam turbines, each driving one shaft. They used steam from 8 x Admiralty 3-drum boilers, fitted with superheaters. Designed maximum speed was 23 knots, which was exceeded by almost one knot during trials. The Nelsons carried a standard load of 3,770-3,805 long tons of fuel oil, giving a designed range of about 7,000nmi at 16 knots.

    Main armament was 9 x BL 16in (406mm) Mk I naval guns mounted in three triple-gun turrets. There were issues both with the turrets and the guns themselves, which persisted for some time but were addressed before WW2.
    Secondary armament consisted of 12 x BL 6in (152mm) Mk XXII guns, in 6 twin-gun turrets aft of the superstructure; 3 per broadside.
    Supplementary armament included 6 x QF 4.7in (120mm) Mk VIII naval guns in unshielded single mounts and 8 x QF 2-pounder 1.6in (40mm) naval guns; also initially single-mounted. The ships were fitted with 2 x submerged 24.5in (622mm) torpedo tubes, one per broadside.

    The Nelsons' armor scheme was based on the "all or nothing" principle; essentially meaning that the various main areas of the ships would either be well protected or have no protection at all. Installed armor included an internal inclined belt sloped outwards at 72 degrees vertical. This effectively increased belt thickness vs a plunging projectile. Actual thickness was 14in (360mm) over the main magazines & control positions and 13in (330mm) covering machinery & secondary magazines. On the hull sides, protection was internal, consisting of water-filled compartments surrounded by air-filled ones. The idea was for the outer plating to initiate detonation of shells, which would explode before reaching the main armor. This dispensed with external torpedo bulges which would otherwise have reduced speed due to drag.
    For the first time on British battleships, there was a single 6.25in (159mm) armored deck to protect against plunging shells and aerial bombs, with 4.25in (108mm) over the stern, both on top of the basic 0.5in (12.7mm) deck plating. Bulkhead thicknesses ranged from 4in (102mm) up to 12in (305mm). The main turrets had 16in (410mm) of armor on their faces, with 11in (280mm) sides, 9in (230mm) at rear and 7.25in (184mm) roofs. Their barbettes had a maximum of 15in (380mm). However, the secondary turrets were quite poorly protected with only 1in (25mm) of armor over 0.5in (12.7mm) structural steel. Conning tower protection ranged from 6in (152mm) up to 14in (356mm).

    Nelson at Spithead, English Channel, for the 1937 Fleet Review


    Nelson became flagship of the Atlantic Fleet* in October 1927 (*renamed Home Fleet in 1932), alternating in the role from time to time with Rodney, until 1941. Throughout the pre-WW2 period, both ships had been occupied with the usual peacetime activities including training exercises, visits from VIPs, etc. For example, in April 1928 Nelson hosted King Amanullah of Afghanistan during exercises off Portland. Special ceremonial occasions included King George V's Silver Jubilee Fleet Review in 1935 and the Coronation Fleet Review in 1937. In February 1938, both ships visited Lisbon in Portugal.

    The Nelson class saw plenty of action in WW2, serving in the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Indian oceans; although things didn't get off to such a good start for Nelson. In late 1939, she was badly damaged by a mine and missed participating in the 1940 Norwegian Campaign. Following repairs, Nelson was assigned to convoy escort. In September 1941, torpedo damages put her out of commission again until returning to service in the second half of 1942. She was available to support Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of French North Africa, commencing in November 1942.
    During 1939 & early 1940, Rodney had been engaged in searches for German commerce raiders. She participated in the Norwegian Campaign, sustaining moderate damage from a German bomb. In September 1940 when a German invasion seemed possible, Rodney spent some time patrolling the English Channel before going on to escort Atlantic convoys. In May 1941, she played a key role in sinking the German battleship Bismarck but in January 1942, was unsuccessful when she joined the hunt for Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. Following a brief refit in the USA, Rodney escorted Malta convoys and then in late 1942, joined Nelson in Operation Torch.

    Both ships were present to support Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily in July/August 1943 and following that, the same again for the invasion of Italy. They were called upon to render similar service in June the following year, for the D-Day landings and the Normandy campaign. In the latter, Nelson is credited with destroying a group of five German Tiger tanks near Caen.
    Within a few years after the war, Nelson and Rodney were scrapped along with all other British battleships except for the four remaining King George V class and HMS Vanguard.

    Rodney engaging Bismarck, 27 May 1941


    Nelson entering port in 1945


    The Nelson class battleships were relatively slow for their time. Their layout was very unconventional and (I would guess, to most eyes at least) their looks were far from appealing. Nevertheless, they were powerful and proved to be rugged, consistently acquitting themselves in action. In short, they got their assigned jobs done.

    General characteristics* (*As built)

    Displacement – 33,730 tons (standard); 37,780 tons (deep load)
    Length – 710ft 3in (216.5m) (overall)
    Beam – 106ft (32.3m)
    Draft – 30ft 4in (9.2m) (mean)
    Propulsion – 2 sets geared steam turbines, 2 shafts, 8 boilers
    Maximum speed:
    23 knots
    Range at 16 knots:
    7,000nmi (approx) with 3,770-3,805 tons of oil
    Primary – 9 x BL 16in (406mm) Mk I naval guns
    Secondary – 12 x BL 6in (152mm) Mk XXII guns
    Supplementary (a) – 6 x QF 4.7in (120mm) Mk VIII naval guns
    Supplementary (b) - 8 x QF 2-pounder 1.6in (40mm) naval guns
    Torpedo tubes - 2 x 24.5in (622mm), submerged
    Belt – 14in (360mm) (max)
    Deck – 6.25in (159mm) (max)
    Main turrets (16in guns) – 16in (410mm) (max)
    Barbettes - 15in (380mm)
    Secondary turrets (6in guns) – 1in (25mm)
    Conning tower – 14in (356mm) (max)
    Bulkheads – 4in (102mm) up to 12in (305mm)
    Complement – 1,314 officers and men

    Two very different designs of battleship here.
    Both were successful and served their respective nations very well.
    However, only one of them can make it to Round 2!

    Suggested additional criteria you might wish to consider, along with any others you deem appropriate.
    (Note: Some of these could be considered already covered by Significant, Influential and Effective)

    Which warship type ...
    • was the best?
    • was the greatest?
    • was the most widely used?
    • had the greatest longevity in service?
    • was the most versatile?
    • represented the best value for the cost/effort invested ("bang for the buck" in today's language)?
    • was the easiest to operate?
    Any other criteria you have applied (please tell us what they were).
    216: Colorado class (USA)
    170: Nelson class (Britain)
    Last edited by panther3485; 16 Aug 20, 10:29.
    "Chatfield, there seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today!"
    Vice Admiral Beatty to Flag Captain Chatfield; Battle of Jutland, 31 May - 1 June, 1916.

  • #2
    ...something about those giant superstructures being a target on the Nelsons...
    ARRRR! International Talk Like A Pirate Day - September 19th


    • #3
      Go with the Nelsons. Probably the strongest battleships before the late 1930s building started and the strongest European battleships even then.
      "To be free is better than to be unfree - always."


      • #4
        I like both classes of ships. I think the Colorados had a better armor design.

        Pruitt, you are truly an expert! Kelt06

        Have you been struck by the jawbone of an ASS lately?

        by Khepesh "This is the logic of Pruitt"


        • #5
          The "Nelsons" despite the design having been hamstrung by the Washington Treaty.
          "I dogmatise and am contradicted, and in this conflict of opinions and sentiments I find delight".
          Samuel Johnson.


          • #6
            The Nelson-class BBs are an interesting design having the all the main guns forward unlike U.S. BBs which had 2 batteries forward and 1 battery aft.


            • #7
              This is a difficult choice. While the US ship is better laid out, it's also half a generation behind Nelson. The biggest difference between the two is the Colorado's only have 8 guns. The USN belatedly recognized this as a mistake only during WW 2. While the US 16" is better at long range, the Nelson's guns are better at medium and short range. This I think is in part due to intended locations of deployment.
              Nelson is a much dryer ship at sea. The US old BB's tended to be very wet, particularly aft.

              One big difference is the US ships are way, way better protected against torpedo attack compared to the British. This seems to be a perpetual problem with their designs and it proved costly more than once. I know in part it's due to the size of British drydocks that were available limiting the beam on their ships and in turn making it difficult to provide a deep torpedo defense system. But that's how it was.

              On the whole, Nelson takes this round.


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