Several countries had important navies at the outset of Wotld War II. The two largest navies were the British Royal Navy and the U.S. Navy. Since Trafalgar (1805), the Royal Navy had dominated the seas with anaval force more than powerful than any other two coutries. Britain, after World War I, unable to win a naval armns race with America, decided to accept parity. Efforts at naval arms limitations gave American and Britain the right to build the largest navies because of their need for a two-ocean navy. Both countries retired ships, but built a naval air arm. Japan objected to these limitations, although it actually beneditted from them. Eventually Japan withdrew from the limitation efforts. Japan was the only other country to build a carrier force. Neither Anerica or Britain fully appreciatee the quality of the Japanese air arm, especially the training and the effectiveness of new Mitsubishi Zero and Long Lance torpedo. The Japanese did not, however, have radar even though their German allies had developed it. One of many examples of the failure of the Axis alliance. Both France and Italy had powerful, but smaller navies. The French had a powerful fleet. Both the French and Italian were renowned for the speed of their cruisers. The Italian vessels, however, were lightly armored and there were no carriers. And despite the Axis alliance had no radar. This was in sharp contrast to the Americabsitish who cooperated closely in tchnology like radar and sonar. The French fleet was a counter to the Italian fleet in the Mediterranean, but when France fell to the Germans, the Royal Navy Mediterranean Squandron was sorely tested by the Italians. The Anglo-German Naval Treaty (1935) relieved Germany from many of the naval restrctions of the Versailles Treaty. The German naval high command wanted an impressive surface fleet, but Germany's limited industrial capacity made that impossible. As a result, only minor resources were allocated to U-boat construction before the War. This changed after the War began and the U-boat proved toi be Germany's most potent naval weapon. It was not the Germans, however, that conducted the only successful commerce war. It was the American submarine force which virtually destroyed the Japanese merchant marine and cut Japan off from the resources it won in its Southern Resource Zone. Southeast Asia. Canada had almost no navy at the beginning of the War, but built a massive navy to escort Atlantic convoys.
The U.S. Navy did not have the long tradition of the British Poyal Navy, but interestingly the United States was the only country that had any success in individual ship to ship combat against Royal Navy ships. The primary achievement of the U.S, Navy had been its role in blockading the southern Confederacy in the Civil War.
The U.S. Navy was not heavily involved in World War I. America entered the War after the major sea battles (especually Jutland) had been fought. The Navy's principal task was getting the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) safely to France to reinforce the Allies on the Western Front. The Navy's Marine Corps was deployed there as infantry with the U.S. Army. The U.S. Navy like the Royal Navy decommisdioned many vessels in the inter-War years as part of the Washington Naval Arms Limitation Treaties. In contrast to the Army, the Congress approved substantial appropriations for naval contruction, especially after Japan failed to accept continued limits on naval construction. Most naval strategists before the War believed that the backbone of the fleet was the big-gun battleships. The United States also buit a fleet of carriers. The U.S. Navy was America's primary military force in 1941. President Roosevelt committed the Navy to an undeclared war against German in the North Atlantic even before America entered the War. He also noved the Pacific Fleet, including the new carriers, from San Diego to Pearl Harbor as a show of force against the Japanese. The American carriers were the primary target of Admiral Yamamoto's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. The U.S. Pacific Fleet was the only threat to Japan's desire to seiuze the Southern Resoource it coveted. The Japanese carrier attack devestated Battleship Row, but the carriers were not at Pearl when the Japanese attacked (December 1941). Had there been a climatic battle at sea, given the capacity of the Japanese carriers, the Pacific fleet might have been much more seriously damaged than what occurred at Pearl. With the battleships destroyed or sunk, Thus the Navy was forced to develop new tactics built around carriers. The Japanese were able in 6 months to seize most of the Southeast asia and the South Pacific, including the oil fields in the Dutch East Indies. The American carriers that escaped destruction at Pearl managed to sink four of the six Japanese fleet carriers at Midway (June 1942). That bought the United States the time for American industry to deliver large numbers of ships of every categoty. The most important was of course the Essex class carriers. Carrier tasks forces spearheaded the Navy's hearlded "island hopping" campaign. The U.S. Navy was forced to fight a two ocean war. They not only fsced the Japanese in the Pacific, but a formidable U-boat campaign in the Atlantic. It was not the Germans, however, that conducted the only successful commerce war. It was the American submarine force which virtually destroyed the Japanese merchant marine and cut Japan off from the resources it won in its Southern Resource Zone. Southeast Asia. Whole new ship types were created, including destroyer escorts (DE), motor torpedo boats (PT) and jeep carriers. The Navy also created a wide range of landing cradt to support amphibious operations, including Landing Ship, Tanks (LSTs). Those that sailed LSTs called them Large Slow Targets. Both Japan and Germany built ships during the war, nut neither could match the productive capability of the United States which opened whole new shipyards. The United States mid-way through the (1943) had a navy that was larger than the combined fleets of all the other combatant ountries, both Allied ans Axis. By the end of the War, the U.S. Navy had added hundreds of new ships. This included 18 fleet carriers and eight battleships. The U.S. Navy had over 70 percent of the naval vessels of 1,000 tons or larger. This was the result of both American consruction and Axis losses.
The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) during World War I participated in the seizure of Germany's South Pacific colonies. The RAN also protected Australian shipping from the German East Asia Squadron and raiders. Operations subsequently shifted to Europe. RAN ships operated as part of Royal Navy forces in the Mediterranean and North Seas. After the War, the Australian Government sharply reduced the size of the RAN seeing no strategic threat. As international tensions increased, the Government began strengthening the RAN and modernizing the force. Australi's defense planning was based on the British bastiion in Singapore and the strength of the British Royal Navy which would be deployed to defend Australia if necessary. When the War broke out in Europe (September 1939), Austalia deployed RAN units pimarily in the Mediterraran and Indian Ocean area (Red Sea, Persian Gulf, and the Indian Ocean). The first major naval loss of the War was the HMAS Sydney, a heavy cruiser. It was sunk by the German raider Kormoran (November 1941). It was the only cruiser sank by a raider during the War. After Pearl Harbor the Japanese not only took Sigapore, but destroyed major Royal Navy units in the Pacific. The British carriers because of obsolete aircraft were no match for the Japanese carriers. The relatively small RAN was thus left to defend Australia without Royal Navy support. It would be the United States Pacific Fleet that would come to the aid of Australia. A Japanese invasion fleet headed for Port Moresby was turned back in the Coral Sea (May 1942). The RAN operated either independently or as part of United States Navy forces in the Pacific War. RAN cruisers played a particvulasrly important role in the critical sea battles in the Solomons (August-December 1942). The HMAS Canberra was lost along with American cruises in the Battle of Salvo Island (August 1942), arguably the worst naval defeat in U.S. Navy history. Although a major defeat the action saved the U.S, Marine Guadalcanal invasion force. The RAN expanded significantly durng the War and by the end of War was the fifth-largest navy in the world.
Since Trafalgar (1805), the Royal Navy had dominated the seas with a naval force more than powerful than any other two coutries. Britain, after World War I, had to make a major decesion on naval policy. Unable to win a naval armns race with America, the British widely decided to accept parity. The Washigton Naval Limitations Treaties gave American and Britain the right to build the largest navies because of their need for a two-ocean navy (1922). Both Britain and America retired ships. Britain was severely damaged economically by World War I. Domestic priorities during the 1920s impeded efforts to build new ships. Britain did not build the new ships permitted under the Washington Naval Treaties. They also did not upgrade Battle Cruisers like HMS Hood by armoring the decks. They did work on an air arm. The Depression caused further problems. Britain was forced off the gold standard (1931). The Invergordon Mutiny resulted from a proposed 25 percent pay cut which was eventually moderated to 10 percent. The Second London Naval Treaty of 1935 failed to halt the naval arms race. Britain was more concerned with NAZI Germany than Japan and engotisted the Anglo-German Naval treaty (1935). The increasing menance of NAZI Germany finally forced the rearmament of the Royal Navy. The Admiralty primarly focusedd on bsattleships, in part because planners did not think U-boats were a threat. In addition to new construction several existing old battleships, battlecruisers and heavy cruisers were reconstructed, and anti-aircraft weaponry improved. New technologies such as sonar (ASDIC), radar (Huff-Duff), and hydrophones were developed. The Fleet Air Arm was reintroduced (1937). The Royal Navy did not appreciate the German U-boat threat thinking eroniously that Asdac (Sonar) had made sunmarines obsolete. Thus the Anglo-German Naval Treaty (1935) allowed the Germans to build U-boats. The Royal Navy began construction of the King George V-class battleships and several aircraft carriers, including Ark Royal. They did not, however, build modern carrier aircraft. Well into the War, British carriers were still using the Fairy Swordfish biplane. The Royal Navy that entered World War II was a fraction of the force that entered World war I, but it did not face a Germany with a large surface fleet as it did in World War I. Thanfully for Britain, Japan did not enter the War when Germany began the War (September 1939) and when it did, it did so only by bringing the United States with its powerful navy and industrial capacity into the War. In the interim, the Royal Navy would have to slug it out with the Italians in the Mediterranean.
Prince of Wales and Repulse the hard-pressed Royal Navy would have to leave the fight in the Pacfic to their American allies. The campaign against the U-boats was primarily a campign fought with small ships, a variety of destroyers, descroyer escorts, and covettes. The principal vessels of the Hime Fleet were held in reserve for first a German invasion and then forays by the Germn battleships and heavy cruisers/pocket battlships.
I would say the major British contributions to the Pacific War was 1) the work on Japanese codes, 2) development of carrier operations, 3) radar technology, 4) and attracting a Japanese task force into the Indian Ocean at a critical time taking pressure off the Pacific fleet.
Canada had almost no navy at the beginning of the War, but built up a massive navy which was primarily used to to escort the Atlantic convoys. Canada built ships in its shipyards as well as obtained American and British ships. The small-pre-War Canadian Navy (RCN) was a coast guard forcmall vessels. It was expaded to over 400 ships by the end of the War. This involved a massive building program for a relatively small country (11 million people. This involved primarily corvettes, frigates, and other escort vessels built in shipyards on both coasts as well as the Great Lakes. The RCN also acquired aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, and a variety of other ships. This made the RCN the third largest navy in the world. There was not only a matter of building ships, but lsrge numbers of Canadians with no sea experence had to be trained to operate them. The RCN operating corvettes and frigates confronted the terrible weather conditioins of the North Atlantic in ships there were only a step above coastal patrol craft. Many were slower than the U-boats on the surface. They were the only escorts many concoys had until America was able to close the mid-Atlantic air gap. The escorts not only managed to dink several dozen u-boasts, but greatly complicated the U-boas attacks on the convoys. The RCN plasyed amajor role in keeping the sea lanes to Britain open. The Canandiam Merchant Marine also played an important role. The RCN was the primary Allied naval force in the northwestern Atlantic. Ocean and was responsible for the safe escort of innumerable convoys and the destruction of many U-boats — an anti-submarine capability that the RCN would build upon during the post-war. The RCN began to shift operations to the Pacific, especially after the NAZI surrender, but this process had only begun when Japan surrendered (August 1945).
The French fleet at the outbreak of World War II was the second most important navy in Europe and a force of considerable importance. The French had a powerful fleet, including battleships and cruisers. Both the French and Italian fleets were renowned for the speed of their cruisers. The reduction in the size of the British Royal Navy after World War I meant that the French fleet was of considerable importance, both in the Mediterranean where Allied supply lines were threatened by the Italian fleet and in the North Atlantic where the German U-boats proved to be an unexoectedly leathal challenge. France was when war broke out significantly expanhding its naval force. The French Navy was involved in a several operations during the first yeat of the War. This included the Battle of the Atlantic (September 1939-June 1940), the Allied Norwegian campaign (April 1940), and the Dunkirk evacuation (May 1940). As Italy only entered the War afew days before France surrendered to the Germans (June 1940), there were no significant operations in the Mediterranean. The French could have continued the War, both from Britain and the North Africa. The French fleet was a mobile force that could have operated from British ports and French portd in North Africa. Instead Marshall Pétain decided to durrender to the Germans. The suurender, however, exempted the French fleet. The fall of France, however, dramatically changed the strategic ballance in the Mediterranran. The Royal Navy would have to face the Italian fleet alone. Vichy refused to decommission the French battleships or turn them over to the British was unwilling to commit them to the British cause, so Britain, fearful they would fall into German hands, attacked the naval base at Oran where many of the ships were located (July 1940). American and Britain launched operationTorch (November 1942). Hitler disatisfied with the Vichy resistance, activated Case Anton, the occupation of the Vichy unoccupied zone of France. One of the goals was to seize the French navy ships in home ports, especially
Toulon. The French Navy scuttled the ships bedore the Germas could seize them.
Military forces are designed to project a country's power. Ironically, some powerful military forces can ultimately prove to actually reduce a country's security. The best example here is Kaiser Wilhelm's highseas fleet.
By creating a High Seas Fleet, the Kaisser increased British concerns about German intentions. And the German surface fleet played no significant role in the War. The principal achievement of the U-boat fleet was to being America into the War, virtually ensuring defet on the WSetern Front. After the War, severe restrictions were placed on the German Navy by the Versailles Treaty (1919). The Anglo-German Naval Treaty (1935) relieved Germany from many of the naval restrctions of the Versailles Treaty. Hitler unlike the Kasiser was not enamored with the Kreigsmarine. Germany was a a major industrial power. Even o resources were limited. And noth the Heer and Liftwaffe were given prioerity over the Kriegsmarine in the NAZI Rearmament program. Hitler launched World War II 5 years too early for the Germany Navy. Hitler had told his admirals that there would be no war until the mid-1940s. He subsequently pushed firward his time table. At the time he lsunvhed the War, the Luftwaffe and the Wehrmact were the most powerful air forces and armies in the world. The Germany Navy ranked as a potent, but relarively small force. The Kregsmarine again played a minor role in World War II. The German surface fleet was a major disappointment to Hitler. The U-boat proved again to be Germany's primary naval threat. And for time seemed to offer some propects for a major victory. Churchill after the War wrote that the u-boat campaign in the Battle of the Atlantic was the one threat that really worried him. The German naval high command (OKM) wanted an impressive surface fleet, but Germany's limited industrial capacity made that impossible. As a result, only minor resources were allocated to U-bpat construction before the War. This changed after the War began and the U-boat proved to be Germany's most potent naval weapon. The Germans devoted considerable resources to building U-boats. Ironically while the German u-boat campaign is one of the great legends of the World War II, it was the Americans in the Pacific who waged the only successful submarine campaign in history--a stark example of what the German might have achieved.
Greece did not have a sizeable navy, it did have a substantial merchant marine, which was largely at sea when the Germans attacked (April 1941). It would play a role in the Atlantic convoys thar would keep Britain supplied.
The French fleet was a counter to the Italian fleet in the Mediterranean, but when France was defeated by the Germans, the Italian fleet would sorely test the Royal Navy Mediterranean squandron. The Mediterranean became an active theater of war when Italy entered the war (June 1940). Italy had a modern fleet and with France out of the War, out-gunned the beleagered Royal Navy for control of the Mediterranean. The Italian fleet supported by air bases in Libya, Sicily, and Italy posed a formidable challenge. The Regia Marina was the most powerful element of the Italian armed forces. Mussolini had devoted considerable resources on the Regia Marina. The fleet was modern and well built, but untested. Vessels were not as well armored as British vessels, but were fast. There were two basic weakeneses. The Itlalians had no aircraft carrierts and their ships were not equipped with radar. Italian airbases in part reduced the British advantage in carriers. Radar by 1941 was being introduced on German ships, but there has appears to have no rush to provide this technology to the Italians as part of the Axis alliance despite the fact tht the Germans were encouraging the Italians to close with the Royal Navy. And the British Enigma program provided critical intelligence on the movement of the fleet. The Italians were not anxious to challenge the Royal Navy at the onset of the campaign. Much of the fleet, especially its battleships were kept in port, primarily at the Taranto naval base. The personnel of the Regia Marina wa better prepsared than Army personnel, but without the traditions of the Royal Navy.
Japan objected to the limitations imposed by the Washington Naval Treaties (1922). Natinalists were outraged, but actually the limitations were beneficial to Japan. They allowed the Japanese with a relatively small industrial capacity to builf the third largest navy in the world. Eventually Japan withdrew from the limitation efforts. Like other navies at the time, Japanese naval planners primarily focused on big-gun battleships. Knowing that they coukld not outproduce America and Britain, the Japanrse in addition to producing standard-size battleships, secretly built two super-battleships Yamato and Musashi) with massive 18-in guns. These were the largest battleships ever built and naval planners believed they would give Japan a deciusive edge in the expected climatic naval battle. The Japanese also built a substantial submarine force. Japan had only the thitd largest navy, but unlike America ad Britain, thy could concentrate the fleet in the Pacific. The innovative Admiral Isoroku Yamaoto promoted the fleet air arm. And this proved to be the decisive force at the onset of the Pacific War (December 1941). The Japanese and American carrier fleet was comparable in size, but the Japanese had three critical advantages: 1) experienced and throughly trained pilots, 2) the Mitusbishi Zero fighter, and 3) the long-lance torpedo. These advantages and the failure of the United States to perceive the extent to wich they shifted the naval balance, allowed the Imperial Navy to sweep through the Westerm Pacific and seize the Southern Resource Zone with the oil and other raw materials that they had long coveted. The basic weakness of the Imperial Navy was that Japan did not have the industrial capacity to even begin to mtch Americam industry in a protracted War. There were, however, other more immediate weaknesses, especially the lack of radar and damage control systems on their carriers. he Japanese did not, however, have radar even though their German allies had developed it. One of many examples of the failure of the Axis alliance. Another problem was the small size of the pilot cadre. The Japanese training program produced marvelously competent pilots, but it was an extensive program. Thus when the War began, it would be impossible to replace losses or significantly expand the force. And lastly they not develop an effective code breaking section. The American miscalculation was not the only one. While few Japanese were fully aware of the imensity of American indusrial power, the military leaders thst took Japan to war were aware that American had a far greater industrial capacity. They believed, however, that America would not have the will to fight a bloody, protracted Pacific war. It proved to be one of the most disaterous miscalculations of the 20th century.
The Dutch had a small but not inconsequentisl fleet of destroyers, submarines, and cruisers. The Netherlands was plunged into World War II when the Germans unlike World War I inaded the Netherlands (May 1940). The Germans quickly overran the country and Dutch authorities surrendered after only 4 days. Queen Wilhelmina escaped to Britin and set up a Government-in Exile. While the Dutch Army surrendered the Royal Netherlsnds Navy did not. The Dutch managed to get most of their ships safely to England. One, the light cruiser Jacob van Heemskerk was still in a shipyard and was towed to Britain. The Germany were unable to get at the colonies, as there was no Dutfh Vichy. The Dutch hada small naby of destroyers, cruisers and submrines. Even more important was the Dutch merchant marine which supported Britain in the dark days before America entered the War and the Liberty Ships began to transform the Battle of the Atlantic. World War II histories do not give adequate attention to how shipping shortages constrained the Allied war effort. The Dutch merchant marine was an important asset for the hard pressed British merchant fleet. Dutch merchant ships helped supply Britain during the War as part of the vital North Atlantic convoys. They also helped get the ANZUS troops that played a key role in saving Suez to the Western Desert (1940). The Dutch refieries in the Dutch West Indies played an important role in suppling fuel to the Allied war effort. It was aviation fuel from the DWI that was aboars the Texaco fast tanker SS Ohio that saved Malta. The major Dutch colony was the Dutch East Indies (DEI--modern Indonesia). The DEI figured prominently in the Pacific War. The Japanese needed oil to conduct the War because its major supplierr was the United States. The DEI and British Borneo were important oil producers and coveted by the Japanese and part of what they called the Southern Resource Zone (SRZ). After the Japanese carrier attack on Pearl Harbor, the DEI was a priority target. The most important Dutch naval assetts to defend the DEI were three light cruisers (De Ruyter, Java, and Tromp). The Dutch participated in the aborted ABDACOM effort. This was a joint-command for all American, British, Dutch and Australian units in the area in the effort to to defend Southeast Asia against the Japanese advance. Rear-Admiral Karel Doorman commanded the ABDACOM naval forces. The availavle naval assetts were badly out-classed by the Imperial Japsnese Navy which had been on a war footing for several years. Within 3 months the Japanese devestated ABDACOM anbd overran not only the DEI, but all of Southeast Asia. The Japanese in the Battle of the Java Sea destoyed what was left of the ABDACOM naval assetts. Adm. Doorman was killed. The Dutch authorities in the DEI surrendered (March 1942). Some Dutch ships were based in Australia and Ceylon, and continued to operate in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The most important units were the submarines which were the most important part of the pre-War DEI naval defense plan. The Dutch threw their 17 subs into the campaign that would eventually prevent the Japanese from getting the resoyrces of the SRZ back to the Home Islands war plants. In the Pacific War, the Dutch became known in Australia as the 'Fourth Ally', after America, Britain, and New Zealand.
Norway did not have a sizeable navy, it did have a substantial merchant marine, which was largely at sea when the Germans attacked (April 1940). It would play a role in the Atlantic convoys thar would keep Britain supplied.
The Kungliga Flottan (Swedish Navy) at the time of World War I was the strongest permanent force in the Baltic. After the War, Sweden relying on the Versailles Peace Treaty and the League of Nations allowed its naval forces to decline. Even so, the Swedish Navy of the three services at the time of the War was the best equipped. The Swedes had four aging costal defense ships with big guns, an aging armored cruiser, and a mine criser. The newest ship was the Gotland, a seaplne cruiser. There were also 19 destroyers. Two modern cruisers were built, but not commissioned until after the War. The destroyer fleet was expanded to 28 ships by the end of the War. The Soviets in contrast built up a powerful naval force, although it was not a major Soviet priority. And the Germans also after the NAZIs seized power built up a substantial naval force. Swedish attitudes toward defense changed with the outbreak of World War II and the Winter War. The Goverment initiated a crash naval building program. They ordered ship designs from Italy which they finally concluded were inadequate for the conditions in northern waters. The Swedish Navy had some substantial ships including heavily armored cruisers and destroyers. The problem for the Swedes besides having a limited industrial base was the enclosed Baltic waters. All of the Baltic was covered by German or Soviet aircraft and the obsolete Swedish airforce was totlly incapable of providing needed air cover. Nor did the Swedish Navy have modern ASW sonar or radar. The limited ASW capability probably resulted in the disaster at the Musko Naval Base (1943).
The Soviet Union in the inter-War era carried out a massive military expansion, building the world's largest army and airforce. Relartively little attention was given to building a substantial modern navy. This is understandable given the fact that the Soviet Union was not a major maritime power and that the principal milutary threats came from neighboring land powers. The Russian Imperial Navy was remamed the "Workers' and Peasants' Red Fleet" (Рабоче-Крестьянский Красный флот, Raboche-Krest'yansky Krasny Flot--RKKF). The major vessels were inherited from the Imperial fleet including a few obsolescent battleships. The Soviet Navy was so weak that the Soviet Union was not even to attend the Washington Naval Confrence (1921) in which the major naval powers negotiated limits on naval construction. The Soviet Navy at the onset of war had a few battleships such as Marat and Oktyabraskaya Revolustiya. There were also a few cruisers, such as Kirov and Maksim Gorkiy. I do not have a complete inventory of the larger vessels in the Soviet fleet nor do I know much about the characteristics of these vessels. I believe that many were inherited from the Imperial Navy and by 1941 largely obsolete. The Soviet Navy also consisted of several destoyers and submarines. Again I do not have details on the quality of these vessels. The Soviet Navy at the outbreak of World war II was organized into: the Northern (Arctic) Fleet, the Baltic Fleet, the Black Sea Fleet, the Pacific Ocean Fleet, the Kamchatka Flotilla, the White Sea Flotilla, the Caspian Flotilla, the Dneproptrovsk Flotilla, and the Danube Flotilla. The Navy as a result of the War created three new forces: the Volga Flotilla (to defend and supply Stalingrad), the Ladoga Flotilla (to supply Lenningrad), and the Onega Flotilla.
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