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Courageous Class


Furious and Victorious*

Line drawing of Courageous
Drawing courtesy of Stu Slade, with revisions by me.

Displacement 23,000 tons
Armament 2 x 2 15"
Heavy and Light AA
Speed 31 knots
VTS Rating 2   1   6

These ships were the "answer" to the problem of bringing large-caliber guns through the Danish Narrows to support an invasion of Pomerania in WW I. Dubbed "large light cruisers" these ships sacrificed armor and structural strength for shallow draft, speed, and firepower. Once the concept of running the Narrows lost support, these gunships had little use in the Royal Navy and both were converted, in 1924, to light aircraft carriers and did yeoman service between the wars refining the doctrine of carrier collaboration with surface ships. Glorious was the only large carrier sunk by surface ships (a few small ones were lost off Samar in 1944 to Japanese gunships) in WW II. Courageous was sunk by U-boats early in the war, and Furious (originally armed with 2 x 1 18" guns instead of twin 15") survived the war.

(*Victorious, re-named Victoria, is an imaginary sister ship for "Grand Fleet")

In "Grand Fleet" the Courageous and Glorious are declared "surplus" (read "unfit for further duty") right after WW I and mothballed. When the Washington treaty came into effect, the two ships had their main turrets taken out, were otherwise de-militarized, and used as depot ships. When the great worldwide naval race heated up around 1936, The Royal Navy was looking for ways to build fast gunships to match the new surface raiders of the Kriegsmarine. Since the Treaty was annulled, plans had been made for a "new" Treaty-buster battleship using the two "light cruisers'" turrets (Vanguard project) but the turrets could be simply "dropped in" to the old hulls of "G" and "C" for TWO fast gunships right away. The pair was modernized slightly with some superstructure upgrade, new AA guns, and a "clipper" bow with a pronounced sheer for a drier forecastle in wet weather. The Royal Navy wanted to re-armor them, but strengthening the weak structural members took precedence. The result was a pair of fast, powerful ships whose armor couldn't stand up to cruiser guns but together could dish out battleship gunfire. These "light battlecruisers", as they were dubbed, were to be paired up at all times for mutual support.

Sailing with the French aircraft carrier Duquense, they were hunting for German surface raiders in the Mid-Atlantic when an Italian cruiser/carrier force brazenly dashed out into the Atlantic past Gibraltar. Off the Azores, the two opposing carriers' small aircraft complement duelled to a standstill from attrition, and then it was time for the gunships to move in. The Italians converged on the G and C from two sides and although the larger British guns fired more slowly, they began the engagement from out of range of the Italians, and soon an Italian cruiser was hit and burning. As the distance closed, the two light battlecruisers began taking hits themselves. They managed to sink Gorizia and damage two others, but the British discreetly broke off the engagement under smoke lest the outnumbered, thin-skinned pair become crippled, succumb to the enemy cruisers, and provide a naval victory for their enemy. The British figured the Italian Atlantic foray could not be sustained, and indeed the Italians turned back into the Mediterranean, never to venture forth into the Atlantic again.

After this "stalemate" (lauded as a "victory" in the press, of course) the "overly endowed light cruisers" limped back to England. The Royal Navy was disappointed in the light battlecruisers' performance (though somewhat anticipated) and decided that the U-boat threat was more urgent, so re-built the damaged ships into aircraft carriers along the lines of a modernized Furious. Prominent in the anti-U-boat campaign, Courageous succumbed to the vengeance of a wolfpack, and Glorious was caught in a North Sea fogbank, planes "grounded", and surprised and sunk by the radar-directed 11" guns of the pocket battleship Admiral Scheer.

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