12: The Early Thirties


In this episode we dive deep into the Royal Navy as it prepared for the post-treaty era. There were rising threats in both Japan and Germany both of which required different strategies. How would the British approach them? Why did the Anglo-German Naval Treaty of 1935 actually make quite a bit of sense?

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Hello everyone and welcome to History of the Second World War Members episode 12 - The Royal Navy Part 2 - The Early 30s. Last episode we discussed, in some detail, the financial problems that the Royal navy had during the 1920s and early 1930s. This was a time of financial difficulties for Britain and there were serious pressures put on the navy to reduce, or at the very least maintain, their budget. This episode will be a bit different, with far less focus strictly on monetary matters and a far greater focus on events. We will come some of the major events in the first half of the 1930s: the Invergordon mutiny, the growing threat of Japan in the east, and the resurgence of a possible Anglo-German Naval Arms race. Along the way we will discuss how those events, and the growing inevitability of a total collapse of the naval treaty system, would alter British planning and British warship design. This will set us up for our next episode in which we will discuss the beginnings of British naval rearmament and their planning for a future war.

We start today with the Invergordon mutiny, and as with most events of the interwar period it all starts with the First World War, or more specifically the pay raise that had been given to Royal Navy sailors during the war. Up until 1919 the Royal Navy had brought on sailors at a pay rate that was felt to be far too large during the post-war economic downturn. This meant that by 1925 the pay given to new sailors was far below what would have been given to the same sailor in 1919, and more importantly for later events those that entered the service in 1919 would keep their higher rates. While this arrangement was perhaps not optimal for the Navy’s budget, it was also a problem that had an obvious expiration date, those men would not be in the Royal Navy forever. But then the Great Depression, or the Great Slump, happened. The economic crisis that was experienced during the early 1930s caused a complete re-evaluation of every facet of government spending. Nothing was truly off limits when it came to ideas to cut government spending, and in March 1931 a new Economy Committee was set up by the government to find areas of possible cuts. In August 1931 rumors began to circulate around the fleet that one of the areas that had been identified was the men who were still receiving those sweet 1919 pay rates. In September these rumors would appear in The Fleet, a naval periodical, with the stated plan being to cut everybody above the 1925 pay rate down to the 1925 pay rate which for some ratings would result in up to a 25% reduction in pay. The greatest concern for the men of the Navy were of course themselves, but the Admiralty would send a note around to Senior officers explaining that they should make it clear that this was just an attempt to bring everything in line across all government pay rates and was not specifically targeting the Navy. Or to quote what was being told to those officers: ‘to re-establish fair relativities for all Government servants and with wage-earners generally.’ This information, which was sent from the Admiralty on September 10th, would not find those aboard ship exactly receptive to this logic. One of the major problems that developed was that the news was relayed to ships at different times and in different ways, some ships would not even receive the specific information until several days later. The letter of September 10th and its supplementary information was also quite long, confusing, ambiguous, and even in rare occasions contradictory. It was a recipe for first confusion which would later turn into anger.

A general feeling of discontent would spread throughout the fleet by September 15th, when the Atlantic Fleet, which was anchored near the town of Invergordon, planned to put to sea. When this was attempted, many ships started to refuse to take part. On the battleships Valiant, Rodney, and Nelson, on the battlecruiser Hood, and on several cruisers and smaller ships, the men simply refused to follow orders to prepare to put to sea. In some cases they prevented anchors from being weighed, on others they simply refused to stoke the boilers. In general there was also a simple resistance to doing any work, as a way of protesting the possible pay cuts. This action was driven by the belief that all of the other existing avenues of protest and complaint were simply not going to function correctly and result in any changes. Men of the lower decks did not believe that any concerns given to their officers, even if they were then communicated off the ship to the Admiralty and other recipients, would result in any real change. On most of the ships order was restored within a few hours, although on some ships it would last into the next day. In all cases there as not any real violence, the men simply refused to follow orders or do work. There was also very little blame placed on any of the officers aboard ship, the men protesting knew that decisions and changes were coming from far higher than anyone in the fleet. There was also no push for officers aboard the ships to resort to violence to force compliance. Instead, the Admiralty simply ordered all of the ships to go back to their home ports while also promising to investigate the situation and to consider the concerns that were being raised. With that, the mutiny was over, on the scale of mutinies it was not very large or at all violent.

Beyond discussions about the pay rates, there were also many discussions in the Admiralty about the mutiny and its causes. Anytime several of the largest and most powerful ships in the fleet, with the Hood, Rodney, and Nelson, find their crews unwilling to follow orders, there should be concerns. Of all of the reams of paper written about the causes of the mutiny at the Admiralty and among British naval officers, I quite like this from Rear Admiral C.V. Usborne ‘During the last 20 years or so [the lower deck] has become more and more literate and educated and more in touch with the outer world, as well as (since the War) living on a much higher standard than before. Unthinking submission to a state of living ordained by immutable ordinance can certainly not now be counted upon, if it ever has been. Mental revolt to seemingly unfair conditions is certain, and discipline cannot be expected to do more than prevent this mental dissatisfaction from manifesting itself overtly. The more active minded present day seaman thinks for himself, according to his lights, and forms his own views of the conditions of service under which he lives. These views he impresses on his more inert shipmates, and a strong body of lower deck opinion is thus formed.’ Along with the internal discussions among the Navy there were also serious political ramification to the mutiny. On September 16th it would be discussed at some length among the British cabinet. At the highest level there was serious concern both for the state of the fleet’s morale as well as concerns about what the reaction would be in other areas of the government if they gave into the concerns of the sailors and made concessions. They believed they were implementing necessary cost cutting measures ot save the national economy, and if they started carving out exceptions to the pay cuts those wanting the groups wanting similar exceptions would begin to grow. I should probably mention that there were certainly some who searched for and claimed there to be far more nefarious causes for the mutiny. Outside influence of some kind, designed to compromise the Royal Navy’s strength was a favorite theory, with the Communists being seen as the most likely outside influence. There is no actual evidence of such influence, or of Communist provocateurs.

Officially the government would state that it wanted to move past the events as quickly as possible, instead of pursuing harsh punishments against those involved. Or as Chamberlain would tell the Commons on September 17th: ‘The past is past. It is in the interest of everyone in the Navy or out of it to forget [the mutiny]. I am not going to look back. I am going to look forward.’ Along with this a Fleet Committee was created along with the Personnel (Officers and Ratings) Committee and the Disciplinary and Welfare Committee. In all cases the goal was to show that the concerns voiced during the mutiny were being seriously considered and discussed, and of course to make sure that they did not happen again and at a more inopportune time. The number one output of these committees was a commitment to perform a Review of Service Conditions on a periodic basis. One of these would occur in 1935, although later reviews were cancelled due to the risk of and then the actual war in the late 1930s. While there was not a widespread set of punishments of the ratings involved with the mutiny, there would still be seven Captains relieved of their commands. These would be the Captains of the Valiant, Nelson, Hood, and Rodney, as well as the cruisers Norfolk, York, and Adventure. In each of these ships the crews had at some point, and for some duration, refused to follow orders. Many of those relieved would be called back into service in 1939.

During the early treaty period the only two capital ships built around the world were the Nelson and Rodney. The Royal Navy was granted this privilege due to the age of so many of their capital ships, and the design that was eventually chosen for the Nelsons is somewhat unique among interwar designs. The now somewhat iconic three turrets in front of the bridge was a design chosen to allow for a greater concentration of armor around the most important areas of the ship. This allowed for the 9 16 inch guns to be mounted while also allowing for the greatest possible tonnage to be available for armor. When these ships were built they were two of the strongest in the world, but by the time they would be called into action they would have have one real problem, they were slow, with only a 23 knot top speed. While the Royal Navy was the only navy that would build such ships during the 1920s, everybody was thinking about what would come after the treaties had expired. The French and Italians would evaluate their design problems during the 1920s, and they considered using their tonnage in a different way than what the other major navies were considering. For example they evaluated many designs that were not built up to the maximum tonnage of 35,000 tons. Instead they considered building just 20,000 ships so that they could build more of them within their allotted treaty tonnage. The Royal Navy was also of course constantly evolving its design plans for when the treaty would eventually expire. One thing to remember is that there was always the possibility that the naval treaties would have ended in 1931, and so everybody had to plan for that possibility in the late 1920s. The real planning for such designs would start in February 1928, there were many discussions about what the ships should look like given both the naval and financial constraints that would be in place. One of the most important items that had to be decided was the size of the gun, because it was a decision which would dictate the requirements of so many other areas of the design. The Nelson and Rodney had 16 inch guns, but there were some discussions that would still occur on if this was the best possible use of weight. Bigger was not seen as always better, especially after some rather disappointing trials of the Nelsons guns. Another item to consider was the number of guns in each turret, with the Nelsons having triple turrets but the previous ships that had joined the Royal Navy, the Hood and Queen Elizabeths having doubles. The key concern was fire rate, and while the triple turrets could fire one round every 40 seconds the two 15s on the Queen Elizabeths could fire a round every 25 seconds. This presented the possibility that doing a double 16 inch turret could put the same shell weight down range as the triples, and it would also save a lot of weight which could be allocated to other purposes. These two decisions were critical because of the weight constraints which were on capital ships, with the goal of always staying within that 35,000 ton limit. The bigger the guns, and the more of them, the more weight was taken up to guns and turrets, and bigger guns necessitated a bigger ship that had to spread its armor weight around more. The end result of the 1928 design committee where all of these items were discussed was a 35,000 ton ship with 16 inch guns, a 28,000 tons ship with 13.5, and a 25,000 tonner with 12 inch guns. In retrospect creating designs with much smaller guns seems a bit odd, but one of the major goals of the British at the London Naval Conference was to try and convince the other nations that they should reduce the max size of the battleships down to a smaller number, like say 28,000 or 25,000 tons. The Admiralty fully believed that smaller limits were heavily in the favor of the Royal Navy, due not just to budgetary concerns but also it being so much easier to support a larger fleet of smaller ships when it came to the wider angle of commitments that the Royal Navy had all around the world. This would be solidified in a unanimous vote from the Sea Lords when they supported the push for a smaller max tonnage limitation. Of course these efforts ran directly into the United States and Japan, neither of which had any real design to see a reduction in size at the London Naval Conference. There was an agreement that saw the ships of the Iron Duke class scrapped, with similar reduction to the other navies, the left the British and United States with just 15 capital ships. While an agreement was reached in London which, the overall tenor of the conference seemed to make it clear to all involved that it was very likely that another extension of the agreements would not be achieved. This would make the next five years of planning and designs much more important, and also considered a full re-evaluation of the threats that the Royal Navy faced around the world.

High on the list of possible threats to the Royal Navy was the Imperial Japanese Navy. But before we discuss the numbers and decisions that the British made when evaluating the Japanese threat we have to first discuss their view of the Japanese navy from a qualitative perspective. Throughout the entire interwar period there would always be some level of thinking within the Royal Navy that at the end of the day they were simple better than the Japanese. This extended to the sailors, soldiers, and pilots that would fight the Japanese, but also to Japanese engineering and manufacturing skill. These views became more problematic when combined with the fact that the British did nto have very much information about what the Japanese were actually doing. Some Japanese activities they knew about, but others they completely misjudged like when trying to determine the true size and capabilities of the Yamato class superbattleships. While they may have missed the mark in some of these estimates, there was a firm feeling at the Admiralty that the Japanese were a serious threat. That threat, amplified by the Manchurian Incident in 1931, would be a prime topic for the Naval Planning Committee which was setup in June 1931. Over the next year there would be many hours of discussions and research put into trying to determine both Japanese plans and capabilities. These efforts culminated in a report at the end of 1932 which was put together by the Naval Intelligence Division. At that time there were already serious concerns about future Japanese plans, especially around naval expansion. For example the report would note that the Japanese had started a program to greatly increase their oil reserves that were held on the home islands, a move that was seen as a mandatory move for the Japanese given their challenges in obtaining oil during wartime. Then in 1933 these already existing concerns would grow due to the massive expansion in Japanese military spending. When it came time for the Admiralty to produce the Annual Review for 1933, it would list the defense of the empire in the east as the point of primary concern, with Europe being only a secondary problem. However, at the specific time that this ranking was done the placement of Europe in a secondary position was just as much driven by the fact that there was little threat in Europe at that moment. Thinking back to all of our discussions of European politics, this was also a period when relations with most of the nations of Europe was actually quite good for the British, and the risk of war seemed low even looking forward several years. This pushed the Far East to the top of the threat list, and the keystone of the defense in the Far East was the base at Singapore.

The base in Singapore is a topic that we have discussed before, but just for review, in 1921 the decision had been made to invest a large amount of money and effort into the naval facilities at Singapore. This would allow it to be used as a first class base of supply and repair for even the largest Royal Navy ships that were being built. The growth in ship size and the practice of increasing the size of torpedo bulges had made all of the other docking facilities in the Pacific obsolete, which was a serious problem for the Royal Navy which would be so far from home. While the base seen seen as critical to British interests in the region, the very nature of naval defense and repair facilities meant that the improvements would be very expansive, and would take many years to complete. This caused the Singapore project to be constantly delayed during the budget discussions of the 1920s, when cost cutting was demanded at every turn. The lack of funs available to the construction put the Royal Navy in an odd position whereby they were planning to use the base at Singapore as a key part of their strategy for defending the empire against Japan, but at the same time the key parts of the Singapore base, especially around its defenses, were very disappointing. This was made very clear in a report given by Admiral W.H. Kelly in 1932 which was a summary of exercises done in late 1931 when had been done to test Singapore’s ability to resist an enemy attack to prevent an enemy landing troops. I think just this one quote from Admiral Kelly’s report is enough ’the present situation at Singapore from the point of view of defence can only be described as deplorable.’ Also in the report were some of the reasons that Kelly saw for the failure, including the fact that all of the shore guns were far too old, small, and were too short range, and there were barely any aircraft in Singapore to either mount a defense or to attack an enemy fleet. This report would cause a shift and more money would be allocated to Singapore, but as an interesting twist of fate these investments would be increased at the exact same time as the ability of the Royal Navy to actually utilize Singapore began to rapidly decrease due to the threats far closer to home during the mid and late 1930s.

Beyond the obvious reasons of ship repair and resupply, the most important reason that the Singapore base was seen as essential was due to the plan that the Royal Navy had for a war with Japan, which involved using Singapore as the base of operations for the fleet sent from Europe to fight against Japan. It was seen as impossible to permanently defend British interests in the Mediterranean and to base a large enough fleet in the Pacific and so during the interwar years the plan was to try and do just one thing at a time. In the case of a war with Japan the fleet which was based in the Mediterranean would be reinforced by some resources from home waters, and then that reinforced fleet would sail to Singapore to begin operations against Japan. With this plan there was the requirement that Singapore be able to defend itself and survive until the fleet could arrive. The exact time that the fleet would take to arrive was sort of an outstanding question. The fleet would come through the Suez canal and through the Indian ocean, but as of 1932 it was believed that it would take 38 days between when the order was given and when the fleet would arrive. That time period seems like a lot, but a good portion of that was around marshalling strength and preparing for the trip, and in some ways such a lengthy period of time is kind of positive. It makes it clear that the Admiralty during the 1930s fully understood that the Japanese were a threat, and they did not want to replicate the disaster of the Russian Baltic Fleet during the Russo-Japanese war which had moved to the Pacific as quickly as possible and was soundly defeated at the battle of Tsushima. Avoiding such a disaster was paramount, and demanded more preparations, but that also meant that Singapore would have to be defended by a strong enough defense that it would survive any attacks until the fleet arrived. The disconnect between these two imperatives, the caution required in the fleet movement and the difficulties of defending Singapore, were discussed at length during 1933 and 1934, but then by 1935 most of that discussion would be obsolete as threats in Europe began to increase and the idea of being able to bundle up most of the main fleet and send them off to Singapore became first a concern, and then later simply impossible as it was felt that to do so would leave the North Atlantic vulnerable to the growing naval strength of Germany and it would also just surrender the Mediterranean to the Italians.

In the background of the discussions of the growing threat in the East were the planning for the apparently rapidly deteriorating European situation. The debacle that was the General Disarmament Conference, which the Germans simply abandoned after their demands of equality were not met in October 1933 was just the start. The failure of the disarmament conference, along with other developments, would finally see a building program that contained a British aircraft carrier, which had first been discussed in 1929 but would not be started until 1933 with the Ark Royal. There were also 4 cruisers in the building program for the year, along with a number of smaller ships. It was also during this period that the question of modernizing the old capital ships that were still in the fleet began to have serious discussion about what should be done. The final decisions around modernization and when it should begin were still a few years in the future, but design studies around the possibilities of such a program would begin. The first planning for what a post treaty fleet might look like also began. The London treaty would expire at the end of 1936, and at that point it was very likely that many other nations would begin a new set of construction programs, which the British would have to join in on as well. What specifically those ships should look like, and what their characteristics should be were still up in the air a bit. One of the problems that the Admiralty was consistently running into during this period was the Ten year Rule which had been used to contain British military spending since 1919. The Ten year Rule was that the British military should not plan on fighting a war for the next decade, and the decade has just been rolling forward every year since the end of the First World War. This put serious constraints on what could be claimed as essential military spending. But with the Japanese aggression in China and the threat from Germany seeming to be on the rise, the Ten Year Rule was re-evaluated. This re-evaluation would come after some pretty damning studies done by the Foreign office and the Admiralty around the ability of the Navy to meet imperial defense requirements. This would result in the creation of the Defense Requirements Committee, or the DRC, which would be very influential in setting the course for later British rearmament. Along with these plans was the suggestion from Neville Chamberlain, who was at this point the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that instead of the Ten year Rule the planning should be based on the idea that there was not real risk of war with the United States, France, or Italy. This allowed for the reallocation of resources and also a reduction of needs, especially for the Royal Navy given the naval strength of all three of those nations.

The defense requirements committee was a high level group with the heads of the various arms of the military along with the Permanent Secretaries for the Treasury and Foreign office, and several other high level political appointees. On the DRC there were many competing views about what the real capabilities of the British were in terms of economy power and how that should translate into military power, and how that power should then be orientated towards the various threats around the world. Both Sir Warren Fisher and Sir Robert Vansittart, Secretaries of the Treasury and Foreign Office, viewed the Admiralty’s ambitions for fighting Japan with some concern, albeit for different reasons. Fisher, from the Treasury, was very concerned that the requirements for a two ocean navy to meet the threat from japan while also protecting European interests were simply beyond the ability of the British treasury to support. Vansittart simply viewed Germany as by far the greater danger, and this meant that it was more important that more money be given to the RAF instead of the Royal Navy. The result of some of the discussions from the DRC was to request that each service submit a 5 year plan that would try to solve some of their major shortcomings. For the Navy the resulting suggested building program would require over 100 million pounds in additional spending on construction, not including the requirements for Singapore or the expansion of the Fleet Air Arm. When these possible programs were given over to Chamberlain he would say that ’to put it bluntly we are presented with proposals impossible to carry out.’ The Army would receive the shortest end of the stick in the resulting decisions about funding, with it receiving only about half of the total funds suggested by the DRC. The Admiralty’s plans would also be cut to a substantial degree, with a serious lack of commitment to the long term large building and expansion program. Or as the First Sea Lord Chatfield would say ‘The Chancellor has invented an entirely new Imperial Defence policy, a somewhat bold step, as the new policy is not based on the solid reasoning which has determined our Imperial policy in the past, but upon the question “what is the cheapest way in which we can keep face with the world?”’

Over the course of the 1920s and early 30s the naval treaties had in many ways helped the Royal Navy. It was almost certain to face serious budget cuts after the First World War due to budget pressures, and the treaties prevented other navies from being able to take advantage of this forced decline. As the Royal Navy and British government began to stare down a post-treaty world they had to begin considering other schemes to reduce the risk at least somewhere on the globe. The search for a way to do this would result in the Anglo-German Naval agreement of 1935. The massive increase in the size of the German fleet in the decade before the First World War, and the naval race that had resulted from their construction, was fresh within the minds of many of the military and political leaders in London in the 1930s. The last thing that they wanted to do was to get stuck in another building race with the Germans when the Japanese were also a serious threat. One of the reasons that the Royal Navy was able to concentrate so much of its strength in the north sea against Germany before 1914 was because of the very good political relationship that had been built up with Japan over the previous decades. The alliance with Japan seemed unlikely to be replicated in the 1930s. The Germans were also beginning to resist the constraints placed upon their navy by the Versailles treaty, and in the early 1930s they were beginning to seek a parity with the French navy under the treaty system. Chatfield, in 1937, would justify the 1935 treaty and possible future accommodations with Germany by saying “We should make an agreement with Germany because in view of our Imperial responsibilities we cannot afford to prolong our enmity with that country…If we have to fight her it will probably mean war with Japan and possibly Italy-a world war which may last for years with enormous loss of lives and money and general misery in the world. What are we to get out of such a war and should we in a strong moral position in being a partial cause of this war because we have refused to concede anything to her 20 years after the Great War?” The French would always resist these ideas, but there were many in the British government that understood Germany’s desire for a navy to at least match France. Such a navy would not greatly threaten the Royal Navy, and would probably be the best possible option for the future of the Royal Navy.

One of the reasons for this was the risk that the Germans, instead of creating a more traditional fleet to match the French, would instead create something very unconventional. Throughout the 19th century and into the First World War the Royal navy had always been seen as the cutting edge navy throughout the world, and it would define what a “normal” navy looked like. This meant that all of its possible challengers, when looking to threaten the Royal Navy would always try to build up to something that looked a lot like the Royal Navy, with the best example being the building race that had taken place before 1914. Even though the Germans were horribly behind in terms of numbers, the types, size, and capabilities that they would choose for their ships very closely matched what the British were already building. These views on what a fleet should be were then codified in the post war treaty system, there were specific types of ships, which were limited by size and quantity, and each nation could only have a certain number of them, and this took so much of the ambiguity out of what the Royal Navy might face in a conflict. As Commander Heye of the German Navy would say ‘Indeed, the standard ship types defined by international treaty and the cultivation generally of opinion about the composition of a “normal fleet” [was] an important method for the preservation of British supremacy at sea.’ In the 1930s the concern was that if the Germans were not negotiated with and allowed to build the standard kinds of ships: battleships, large cruisers, etc., they might come up with something new and different. It was possible that such a navy, probably based around large numbers of much smaller and faster ships, might be able to catch the Royal navy off guard and defeat it. The best example of this was the Panzershiff that the Germans had built, which were cruisers that used diesel engines that gave them a large cruising range that threatened Britain’s sea-lanes. They were generally faster than more heavily armed ships and more heavily armed than faster ships, at least when compared to what the Royal Navy had. Such surface raiders seemed to threaten an Emden style nightmare for the Royal Navy, a ship that had raided around the Indian ocean evading Royal Navy patrols during the First World War. They would be even more deadly because the merchant shipping had to be convoyed to protect it from the inevitable U-boat offensives. It was probably better for the Royal Navy to be facing ships that were very much like what it already had or planned to build. Looking ahead a bit, Germany would fall directly into this trap, and by the time of the Second World War the Germans would pour a ton of money and resources into building ships that looked a lot like what the British already had, instead of pushing for a more revolutionary fleet that might have been more impactful. There would always be those within the German naval and political establishment that were adamant that the only way to build a navy was based on the British model of large capital ships with big guns and perhaps some aircraft carriers thrown in. Those that suggested a more flexible or different approach with large numbers of smaller ships were generally ignored. This often came back to the fact that a Navy was a powerful political symbol along with also being a military force, and large capital ships were potent political symbols that everyone could understand. This caused Hitler and others to insist on large surface ships like the H-Class battleships which would result in the Bismarck and Tirpitz, even if that was against the advice of some in the navy.

The treaty that would be signed with Germany allowed for the Germans to build up to a 35% ratio of each type of ships that the Royal navy had. The 35% number was decided on because it would allow the Germans to mostly match up with the French, which was known to be an important political motivator for the German government. It was also not so large that it would greatly threaten British plans in Europe. There was also a general understanding in the Admiralty that it would take some time before the Germans could even build up to that number due to the lack of construction capacity, workers, and raw material. There were many many critics of this agreement both at the time and later, but the one thing that it did achieve was that it got the Germans to build traditional and normal ships on the model of the ships that every other nation was building. This would turn into ships like the Gneisenau, Scharnhorst, Bismarck, and Tirpitz. These ships, while they would prove to be quite deadly during the Second World War, were also known quantities in terms of how the Royal Navy could and should deal with them. It was seen as the least risky options should a war with Germany be in the future. With the building programs that this allowed Germany the Royal Navy was able to begin planning for a future war from a pretty well known position against an enemy with well understood assets. They guessed that a future war would not replicate what had happened between 1914 and 1918 as it seemed very unlikely that the German navy would allow the Royal Navy to once again bottle it up in part for the duration of the war. Instead the Admiralty was planning for the German ships to act either solo or in small groups against convoys in the Atlantic. The British would then have to meet these sorties with their own capital ships with some concern that the ships available would be spread very thin around the various convoys, it was a planning nightmare but still seen as the preferable scenario. One of the interesting pieces of the evaluation of the German intentions at this point was a general lack of concrete information about what the Germans were buildings. This was a pretty important factor for all of the planning that the British were doing, not just against Germany but every other navy. Today we known the exactly specifics of all of the ships being built around the world, but at the time things were much more fluid. For example, the British believed that the Gneisenau, Scharnhorst, and Bismarck were much smaller than they actually were, and the ability to gain additional and solid information about them was limited. Information would at times come from very odd sources as well, like when the cruiser Guardian would be able to take a few pictures of the Panzershiff Deutschland in 1937 when both ships were in Gibraltar for Spanish Civil War non-intervention patrols. The pictures that were taken completely change the British estimates of the secondary armaments on the German ships, and it was completely by chance that such information was gained.

The treaty signed with Germany was just one facet of the post treaty planning that was occurring in the Admiralty. As early as 1934 concrete plans were beginning to be put in place about what the post-treaty construction and expansion plan that everybody agreed was necessary, should look like. Chatfield wanted to just maintain the fleet in 1935 and 1936, maybe start a few building programs and some refit, but then immediately after the treaty expired in 1937 start laying down a large number of new ships. At the same time the number of cruisers and destroyers would be increased the meet the needs of the growing fleet. The 1935 program would contain 3 cruisers, nine destroyers, and three destroyers as well as many smaller ships, with another 7 destroyers added on later. But really all eyes were focused on the future. The target would be a five year building program starting in late 1936 and running to 1942 which might cost as much as 226 million pounds. The initial plan called for 12 battleships, four carriers, 23 cruisers, five flotillas of destroyer, 24 submarines, and 37 sloops. This was provided to the DRC, which approved it mostly as it was presented to them and then passed it onto the cabinet. To complete the program 7 capital ships would have to be laid down between 1937 and 1939, with the caveat that the number might have to be increased based on the actions of Germany and Japan. Along with this construction would be the modernization of at least 7 of the existing capital ships. On the carrier side 4 would be build and the Fleet Air Arm would be massively expanded from 190 aircraft in 1935 up to over 500 in 1942. Unlike in previous planning years when these plans were presented to the Cabinet, they were mostly approved, however the decision was made to try and maintain secrecy around the plans. This meant that in 1936 very little of the plan would be put in place, and only some of the carriers would be laid down along with some smaller ships. This was done mostly to avoid sparking a building war before the British were ready to risk such an action in 1937.

When it came to the design of the ships that were to be built there were many decisions and many designs considered, there was a serious effort in 1936 to completely re-evaluate all of the planned British designs that would be built under the new program. Many of the design decisions were based around what other navies had chosen to do during the 1930s, with the German Scharnhorst class with 9 11 inch guns and 32,000 tons and the Italian Littorio class with 9 15 inch guns being important drivers. There were so many different designs considered during this period, for example 5 different battlecruiser designs were considered with anywhere from 8 to 12 guns in either 14 inch or 16 inch sizes. On the battleship side designs were considered that were anywhere from just greatly improved and enlarged versions of the Queen Elizabeth class, to improved versions of the Nelsons, to entirely new designs with entirely unique layouts. The eventual decision, which we will dive into deeper in later episodes, would be for the first two battleships to maintain the 35,000 ton size and to mount 15 inch guns. It as felt that this would allow for greater protection within the displacement limit while still being more than capable of dealing with the existing threats as of 1936. The specific designs would continue to shift until they were actually laid down in 1937. On the carrier side there were similar discussions and design shifts happening, with the added wildcard that nobody really knew what a successful carrier was or should be, unlike battleships which seemed to be a semi-solved problem. The British had laid down the Ark Royal in 1934, but the new set of carriers were not felt to be constrained by the design decisions made at that time. In 1936 the carrier design study which would set the stage for the post-treaty carriers would include what would be maybe the most important, revolutionary, and divisive decision in British carrier design with the introduction of the armored flight deck. This decision would set the British carriers apart from their American and Japanese contemporaries, with both choosing to make all of their interwar carriers unarmored. It obviously made the ships more survivable but it also greatly decreased the ability of the ships to carrier aircraft, with the planned aircraft component of the new carriers being just 36. The discussions and decisions, and the extreme amounts of criticism tha this decision elicits even to this day is worthy of an entire episode, but it was a decision that would set the course for British cruiser design which would begin with the Illustrious and Victorious, the first two that would be built. For the smaller ships of the fleet the designs were equally varied, with smaller cruisers of between 3,500 and 5,000 tons along with much larger designs also considered. Destroyers discussions were equally as varied with the Tribal class being the eventual result. While all of these plans were happening they would only later be put in place after the treaty expired, an expiration that we will discuss next episode.