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The Washington Naval Treaty
The cruiser defined...sort of
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After the War to End All Wars ended in 1918, “everyone knew” that it was the naval race between Britain and Germany was the fuse that lit the bomb of the World War. The victorious Allies and the United States vowed to never allow such a thing to happen again, and set up a conference in Washington, DC, starting in November 1921, to hash out the means to prevent it. Among the many things that they decided, the Conference defined “light” cruisers as warships of less than 10,000 tons of displacement, with guns smaller than 6 inches, and “heavy” cruisers as warships of less than 10,000 tons with guns no larger than 8 inches. Cruisers would thus be smaller than battleships, which were restricted to only 35,000 tons and 16-inch guns, and larger than destroyers, which were smaller than cruisers but otherwise not defined.
There! All neat and tidy…yeah, right.
Many types of “cruiser” which I spoke of earlier had all become obsolete before or during WWI—except the battlecruisers, of which more later. But the point of the conference wasn’t just cruisers; it was restricting the size of the fleets by imposing maximum tonnages of each classification of warship. Not only the individual vessel tonnages, but the total tonnages of each type.
Hell isn't merely paved with good intentions; it's walled and roofed with them. Yes, and furnished too.
Now, there were ratios for each type of vessel for each of the powers—Great Britain, France, United States, Japan, Italy. Those ratios recognized the overseas commitments of the powers. Great Britain and the US were on the top of the heaps, and Italy and France were on the bottom, with Japan in the middle. This wasn’t a reflection of their status quite as much as of their overseas holdings. Germany and Russia, two other sea powers, were not party to the Treaty, took no part, and had nothing to say about it…yet.
A well-intentioned miscalculation of titanic proportions.
While the conferees accepted these limits on paper, Japan in time came to resent them. The propagandists there seized on the ratio of capital ship tonnage (525,000 tons each for the US and Britain, 315,000 for Japan, and 175,00 for France and Italy) as a sign that the West wanted to oppress and limit Japan’s power, and milked it for all it was worth, stoking populist hatred of the West. While what the propagandists said was somewhat true, it was true for the wrong reasons. The West simply wanted to end the naval race. The treaty provisions did not specifically aim the ratios at Japan. That, and the admirals in the IJN realized it limited the number of British and American capital ships that Japan had to face. Britain and the US had navies on many seas; Japan didn’t.
And the Treaty limited aircraft carriers.
While the aircraft carriers of WWI were few, their threat to ships had yet to be realized. They had limits on tonnage, gun size (!), and total tonnage allowed, but they had no restrictions on the number or types of aircraft. They declared the carriers then under construction as experimental.
The British wanted to ban submarines; the French didn’t.
Subs heralded the demise of the armored cruiser in September 1914 at the Broad Fourteens. It also seriously threatened Britain with Germany’s unrestricted (suspending then ending cruiser rules) submarine warfare that also brought the US into the war.
The Washington Treaty sought to stop WWI from starting after it was over.
While cynically true, that conflict’s origins were a good deal more complicated. When Germay began to rearm in the 1930s, they said they would abide by the Washington Treaty terms…until they didn’t. Japan was signatory to the Washington Treaty, but left the Treaty in 1934 without repercussions. The French and Italians violated it at will. Like the League of Nations, the Treaty lacked muscle.
But it did, once and for all, define the “cruiser.” Kinda.
The lesson to be learned is that there’s no universal naming conventions for warships, or for too much of anything else. If this navy calls that ship a “large cruiser” and this other navy calls the same vessel a “missile cruiser” while this one over here calls the thing a “large missile cruiser” and the crew calls it a “scow,” while the press derides it as “Congressional welfare afloat,” who are we to argue?
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
Sergeant’s Business features warships that aren’t called “cruisers” but some almost certainly are. In “Bluffing,” an homage to the valiant ships protecting the carriers off Luzon in 1944, an American admiral and his fleet of destroyers, Destroyer escorts and a lone LST face down an oncoming Japanese fleet.
One of the best things I get to do in this space is talk about my books, hoping some of you might buy them. And some do. For that, I thank you.
Veteran's Day 2023: Number 100
The Official Records and Shiloh
On 4 November:
1808: William Shippen Jr. dies in Germantown, Pennsylvania at the advanced age of 82. Shippen was the first systematic teacher of human anatomy in the Americas, and founded the first maternity hospital in the country.
1979: A mob of “students” storm the US embassy in Teheran, Iran, starting a hostage crisis that lasted 444 days. They demanded the return of the Shah, then dying in the US, for trial in Iran. President Jimmy Carter became less popular as the crisis went on and lost his bid for reelection in November 1980, some say because of it.
And the first Saturday in November is NATIONAL BISON DAY, honoring the North American bison, also known as the buffalo, or big shaggy. Congress has yet to pass a commemorative bill for Federal recognition, but it ain’t like they’ve got anything else to do.