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Battlecruiser Wednesdays: Alaska class Battlecruisers (USN)

Welcome to Battlecruiser Wednesdays where each Wednesday we’ll be taking a look at a different Battlecruiser design and we’ll be analysing it in our usual “A Detailed Look At” format. This means we’ll see how it could be implemented into the game based on all the data we have available and the formulas we’ve derived to translate real-world values to in-game values. Hope you enjoy our work and as usual, comments and feedback are welcome!!

Alaska class Battlecruiser

Figure 1 – USS Guam in 1944

The Alaska class Large Cruisers were meant to be the response to the German Scharnhorst class and the rumours of Japan’s new battlecruisers. Although many classify them as battlecruisers, their layout was consistent with that of an oversized cruiser. They were designed to be faster, more heavily armed and armoured than the Deutschland class of the Kriegsmarine; they were later designed to counteract the Scharnhorst class.

Designs for the Alaska class were varied, with over 9 different designs being studied before a decision was made. The designs ranged from a 6,000 ton anti-aircraft cruiser to a mini-battleship displacing 38,000 tons that would carry a dozen of 12-inch guns. The whole design process was tortuous but in the end an intermediate design was chosen; a design that was a scaled-up Baltimore class Heavy Cruiser but using the Machinery of an Essex class Aircraft Carrier. They were finally funded in 1940 and their role was slightly changed, they would work as carrier group escorts and as counter measures to the massive cruisers that the Imperial Japanese Navy was rumored to be building (the Ishikari class Super Heavy Cruisers). It is worth remarking that although the Alaskas used 12-inch guns, these were very modern and had penetration characteristics approaching those of the 14-inch guns used by pre-1920’s dreadnoughts.

The Alaska class was meant to have 6 vessels, however only 2 were ever completed (Alaska and Guam) and a third which was partially completed was scrapped. The Alaska class all carried names of territories or insular areas of the United States to signify their intermediate status between battleships and heavy cruisers. When they were completed, their whole reason for existence had already been wiped out; Scharnhorst and Gneisenau had been sunk, the Imperial Japanese Navy was depleted of cruisers and other surface combat vessels so they escorted aircraft carriers in their sorties, becoming known as excellent carrier escorts. Alaska also supported the landings on Okinawa.

The Alaska class Large Cruisers were decommissioned after 32 months (Alaska) and 29 months (Guam) in service. They remain the only class of Large Cruisers ever developed by the United States Navy.

The Alaska class Battlecruisers would have to be implemented as unique battleships. I have done the following analysis assuming that the Alaska class would be slotted in the game as a Tier 7 premium Battleship for the United States Navy.

Weight & Size

34,253 tonnes – 51,300 HP

This would mark it as slightly underweight for tier 6 as it is 1,747 tonnes lighter than the New Mexico, 4,971 tonnes lighter than the Arizona, 4,852 tonnes lighter than the Fuso, 2,237 tonnes lighter than the Warspite, 1,247 tons lighter than the Dunkerque and 467 tonnes lighter than the Bayern. At tier 7, it becomes funnier since although the Colorado is 6,887 tonnes heavier than the Alaska it would have 1,200hp fewer than the Alaska. The Alaska would be 11,563 tonnes lighter than the massive Nagato and would have 13,700hp fewer, and 5,945 tons lighter than the Gneisenau with 6,900hp fewer however the Alaska would just be 4,450 tonnes lighter than the Scharnhorst and would have only 5,000hp fewer. Overall, it would seem like tier 7 might not be too much of a stretch for the Alaska.

In terms of size, it is 246.43m (808ft 6in) long, 28m wide (92ft) and has a draft of 9.68m (32ft). This is truly a massive ship, longer than any other battleship for several tiers. The concealment of the Alaska would be quite poor due to its size.

Armour

Belt: 228-127mm

Barbettes: 279-330mm

Turrets: 322mm (face), 127mm (roof), 133-152mm (side), 133mm (rear)

Deck: 96-102mm + 35mm + 15mm

Conning Tower: 269-127mm

The armour of the Alaska is nothing to brag about. In fact, it is armour suitable for a very heavy cruiser and nothing more, as its armour is inferior to every other Tier 7 battleship. I compare the armour of the Alaska to a very heavy cruiser instead of a battleship in this instance for reasons I explain below. As expected of a battlecruiser, the Alaska’s armour was built to withstand impacts from 10” shells but not battleship-caliber weaponry and as such it will suffer greatly if it ever exposes its broadside to an enemy’s heavy guns. In terms of belt armour, the Alaska has a similar thickness to the Dunkerque at T6, but the Alaska will be facing bigger guns and will need the driver to angle the armour if he expects to survive or bounce shells.

There are several differences between the Alaska’s armour layout and a true battleship’s. The armour follows the usual cruiser setup instead of a battleship’s, it doesn’t have elaborate subdivisions to protect from flooding as a battleship does and most importantly, it doesn’t have underwater protection. It is thus vulnerable to hits below the waterline and especially to torpedoes, since the flooding would be difficult to control. The deck armour is great however and you won’t have many issues with plunging fire, but your battlecruiser-grade belt armour won’t protect the Alaska from the big guns if you show your broadside. The armour itself isn’t particularly good or worthy of a tier 7 battleship, luckily this is a battlecruiser and makes up for the lack of armour with other qualities. Don’t get hit by torpedoes, they will hurt the Alaska dearly.

Figure 2 – USS Guam during her shakedown cruise (13 November 1944)

Main Battery

3×3 12”/50 Mark 8 (304.8mm) guns

The presence of a battleship armed with 12” guns would seem out of place at tier 7 where all opponents have 16” guns, however these were the most advanced 12” guns ever produced. The Mark 8 12” guns had a penetration in excess of the 14” guns of the battleships of the 1920’s. The Mark 8 fired a 517.1kg AP shell at 762m/s which would yield a damage of 8,900 or it fired a 426.4kg shell at 808m/s which would deal 4,500 damage and have a 26% chance to cause a fire. The heavy 12” shell that the Mark 8 fires ensures that it is a powerful gun that should have good enough penetration to confront battleships at medium ranges and cause heavy damage. Cruisers will be in awe of these guns as they have a penetration that far belies their caliber and a damage that is punitive both for its HE as for its AP rounds.

The second factor that ensures that the Alaska won’t be undergunned at tier 7 is the ROF of these guns. Whereas the Nagato and Colorado have 8 larger caliber guns that fire twice per minute, the Alaska has 9 guns that fire 2.8 times per minute (25 shells/minute). That puts the Alaska’s firepower in contention due to larger volume of fire, furthermore, the Alaska’s firepower is concentrated in the front so it can more easily angle its armour while keeping two-thirds of its firepower active. A more even match in terms of weaponry, both for layout and caliber would be the Scharnhorst, which has 283mm guns. The Scharnhorst has faster turning turrets, a slightly faster rate of fire but its shells hit for less damage and have a much weaker HE performance, showing that the Scharnhorst’s design emphasized protection over firepower and the Alaska instead has that equation more skewed towards firepower. The turrets themselves have great traverse rates, far better than any other at tier 7 with a training time of 36 seconds per 180 degrees. This gun battery should have no issues at tier 7 and if implemented as they are here, would have some of the highest DPM in the tier.

Secondary Battery

6×2 127mm/38 (5”) DP guns

This is a really pitiful secondary battery for a battleship. This might not be quite as tragic as expected since the good traverse rate of the main batteries and the faster than average ROF of them can aid in defeating marauding destroyers. You might get a fire out of these if you’re lucky, but don’t rely on them to deal anything more than shower the enemy with fireworks as it’s yet another US battleship with an anemic secondary battery. The guns themselves are the same found in the North Carolina and Iowa battleships.

AA Battery

6×2 127mm/38 (5”) DP guns (91dps @5km), 14×4 40mm Bofors (222dps @3.5km), 34×1 20mm Oerlikon (122dps @2km)

The AA for the Alaska is absolutely devastating at tier 7. The Alaskas were designed late in the Second World War when the importance of a strong anti-aircraft armament had been understood, as such, the Alaska’s AA complement reflects it. The AA suite of the Alaska is very powerful, being only slightly weaker than that carried by the Iowa or the North Carolina. While no battleship at its tier could compete with the Alaska in terms of AA firepower, the Alaska’s AA does have a slight “disadvantage” in that its AA firepower is mostly concentrated in the mid and short range auras, limiting its potential as a support vessel and limiting it to a purely self-defense function.

The powerful AA suite that the Alaska carries actually helps to partially mitigate the one of the weaknesses of the Alaska’s armour suite, which is its lack of an underwater protection system. There is only a single source of reliable damage below the waterline and that is torpedoes. Since torpedoes are launched either by aircraft or by ships, the amount of torpedoes launched by aircraft against the Alaska should diminish as its AA suite decimates any enemy aircraft that come within its mid or close range AA auras. This AA complement is definitely appropriate for tier 7, and probably would still be counted as a good AA complement all the way up to tier 9.

Figure 3 – USS Alaska as she appeared in 1944

Speed

33 kts – 150,000hp

This would make it the fastest battleship in the game with a speed only matched by the Iowa. There are other ships that have a slightly lower speed, with the Gneisenau being just a knot slower and the Scharnhorst being 3 knots slower, beyond that there are no other battleships at tier 7 that can even get close to the 33 knots of the Alaska. In fact, the Alaska would be faster than most cruisers at its tier, only being slower than the Myoko and the Schors. The Alaska would have terrible turning though, but it’d be much faster at responding to threats than any of the other tier 7 battleships, even allowing the Alaska to function as close fire support for the cruisers in the fleet. This is one of the key factors in making the Alaska a successful battlecruiser, it has speed to chase cruisers successfully while having armour to protect against their gunfire and the speed to flee from battleships that could cause it problems.

Consumables

The Alaska would have the standard tier 7 battleship consumables of Repair Party, 4 charges of the Catapult fighter or Spotter plane and since the Alaskas were built with a Radar they should have a single use Radar consumable as we have seen done with other tier 7 ships like the Indianapolis.

Conclusion

The Alaska class would be the American reply to the Scharnhorst and it shows in its design. Its guns are larger and better for long range engagements than the Scharnhorst’s, it is faster than the Scharnhorst, has much better AA and has the radar consumable. The tradeoff for all this is notable, the armour is weaker, the Scharnhorst is a lot stronger in close proximity due to its secondary battery and torpedoes and lastly, it has more hitpoints due to being heavier.

The Alaska class would be a worthy addition to the game and would provide a brilliant counterpoint to the lumbering behemoths of tier 7 with its blistering speed and rapid-firing long-range guns. The Alaska would provide a unique battlecruiser to the game, as it is the only battlecruiser that resulted from an overgrown cruiser rather than being a modification of a battleship that got its armour stripped to be faster. Its capabilities as a long-range cruiser killer and aircraft killer would be unique at its tier where big guns are carried by battleships but have low volume of fire or smaller guns are carried with a large volume of fire without any significant long-range accuracy. Essentially, while other battleships at the tier have bigger guns, they have fewer barrels and low rate of fire or they have smaller guns than the Alaska with a higher volume of fire but have weaker long-range accuracy, giving the Alaska a unique role as a mid-range sniper, hitting cruisers and broadside battleships with its powerful AP rounds or setting targets ablaze with HE.

The Alaska would be unique in that it will be very quick, have relatively fast-firing big guns and great AA, making it a deadly cruiser hunter while still being able to harass and damage battleships if the opportunity arises. Its lack of underwater armour and poor turning circle would mean that it’d be very vulnerable to torpedoes, both air-dropped and from destroyers. This weakness to torpedoes is somewhat mitigated by the great AA suite that should be able to down many of the aircraft attempting to drop torpedoes on the Alaska and the use of radar to spot nearby torpedoes so they can be taken out. Overall the lower than average hitpoints, weaker armour and smaller caliber guns when compared to its tier 7 battleship competitors is compensated by the faster ROF of the guns, the great turret traverse speed, the vessel’s speed and great AA suite. A true battlecruiser in role, if not inception, it would seem.

Pros

  • Good rate of fire
  • Fast turret traverse
  • AP shell performance (damage and penetration)
  • HE shell performance (damage and fire chance)
  • Excellent speed
  • Great AA suite
  • Tough deck armour
  • Radar!

Cons

  • Small caliber guns
  • Sub-par armour but decent enough for angling
  • No underwater protection
  • Meagre secondary battery
  • Poor maneuverability
  • Massive size

Figure 4 – Norfolk Naval base showing the USS Missouri and USS Alaska stationed on each side of the pier

Next week, our resident Dutchman Lert will do us the honour of talking all about the largest and most ambitious ship design that the Dutch Navy was planning before the outbreak of war, the Design 1047 battlecruiser! 

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