The Prelude to War


Following the First World War Great Britain had the largest navy, but many of its ships were becoming obsolete and both America and Japan were building newer more modern warships. Britain’s response was two fold. First it would dispose of its older ships by distributing them to its former member states such as Canada and Australia providing them with a limited peace time navy that they could ill afford to build themselves. The second was to begin construction of ships that would be larger and more powerful than those being built by her potential rivals.


The result was a new naval arms race similar to that which had occurred shortly before the breakout of hostilities between Britain and Germany. No nation currently constructing new ships could afford them and a settlement had to be reached that would satisfy all parties. Thus the Americans invited France, Britain, the Netherlands, Italy, Japan, China, Belgium and Portugal to take part in the Washington Naval Conference in 1921.


The Failure of Washington


During the conference a disagreement of between America and Great Britain developed. It was largely based on two factors. The first was the disbursement of the older Dreadnought classes of warships to Canada, South Africa, Australia, Ireland, and New Zealand. America still considered these countries, who were by all definitions independent states, to be still apart of the British Empire. Great Britain insisted that since these countries were not invited to take place in the talks that any agreement concerning their naval strength was out of scope of the treaty. The second big factor was naval parity between Britain and America. The British claim was that since America did not have a large empire to defend it didn't need a large navy to protect its interests whereas the British Empire spanned the world and required a larger navy to defend it. An impasse was reached and Great Britain walked out of the conference followed by Japan.


A growing concern following the failure of the conference in 1922 was what to do about Canada. American generals were confident that in any conflict between the British Empire and the Americans that Canada would be swiftly conquered, but analysts were not so sure. The performance of the Canadian Corps during the First World War was exemplary and in the time leading up to the conflict its size would grow by four or even five times that which it was during the War as men enlist to defend their homes from an outside invader. This would assure that the conflict would be bloody and extremely costly in human lives. What is worse is that the war may even be fought on American soil as the Canadians proved to be an extremely aggressive force during the World War. A solution did present itself however.


Canadian diplomats approached the Americans first suggesting that in a future confrontation with Great Britain that Canada might remain neutral. The reaction in Britain to this apparent betrayal was met with enthusiasm. This would mean that Britain would not have to expend any effort to defend the fledgling nation. The American response was at first harsh as they saw any treaty between Canada and America as a treaty between America and Britain. Slowly, however, the American's came to the negotiation table and a treaty was passed into Law on December the 8th 1927 assuring that Canada would remain out of any future fighting between Great Britain and the United States of America.


As for Japan, the British quietly let the alliance between them expire. When Japanese inquired as to why the treaty was allowed to expire the British merely replied that "We are merely parting ways. It should not be assumed that Great Britain no longer wishes to be friends, just that a formal alliance is no longer seen as necessary." In truth the British had started to view the Japanese with suspicion and felt uncomfortable being allied to a potential enemy in the long term.


By 1928 the British had ceased paying its war debt with America and a large force of ships had been transferred to Bermuda with a smaller force in Kingston to counter a growing US military presence in the Caribbean. In the Pacific Australian forces were mobilized and Singapore was reinforced. The United States sent a large naval task force to Manila to counter this growing threat and on June 15th the Americans declared war on Great Britain.


The Outbreak of Hostilities


The Americans concentrated their efforts on the Caribbean territories, Guyana and Belize. Attacks into the Bahama's met with little resistance while a small USN cruiser force met with disaster off the south coast of Jamaica at the hands of a Royal Navy group stationed in Kingston. This was quickly rectified as an over confident Royal Navy Admiral took his force north and met the main American naval group escorting the invasion convoy to Jamaica. The battle was swift and marines were landed in Jamaica just west of Port Maria. They met with little resistance at first and quickly over ran the eastern part of the Island. A major battle ensued around Kingston however as the British and Jamaican militia were desperate to hold open there primary supply route. This was the Second battle of Kingston which saw the American’s bog down. The British held the line running from Kingston to Wakefield and Montego Bay.


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In Belize neither side was prepared for the rough Jungle fighting that took place there. American landings were lightly resisted. Belize City fell relatively easily and American forces traveled up the northern roads and the Orange Walk to Corozal. The roads to Belmopan and Dangriga proved impassible due to the local resistance. Dangriga was assaulted by sea but this time British efforts to hold the port were much more stiff and the assault was repelled.


With the failure at Kingston and no clear supply routes to the south the invasion of Guyana was abandoned and its forces were diverted to capture the British Virgin Islands, Trinidad, and Tobago.


The British Response

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The Royal Navy set sail on the 20th of June along with a large army and marine contingent with orders to recapture any lost territory and reinforce all British and Empire forces fighting in the Caribbean. The USN task force was redirected to the north side of the Grand Bahama's in order to intercept this force as it tried to enter the Caribbean following the landings in Jamaica. The two forces found each other on July the 6th 1928 and the battle for the Grand Bahama's began at 1430 hours local time. This was not the main Royal Navy group however, it consisted of the new battlecruiser hms Invincible, HMS hood, HMS Renown and an older battlecruiser the HMS Tiger. They faced a formidable force of American ships consisting of the older battleships New York and Pennsylvania, the newer South Dakota class ships Montana, North Carolina, Iowa and Massachusetts, and three Lexington class battlecruisers Constellation, Ranger, and United States.


The battle started out poorly for the American Navy as the New York was quickly sunk by the Invincible, but things quickly turned against the British. The Royal Navy gave as good as it got, but the Tiger was soon hit in her fire control center and her bridge leaving her unable to fight and out of control. Numbers were quickly beginning to tell. The Royal Navies destroyers quickly threw up a blinding smoke screen and withdrew to the north. The American's gave chase but when they cleared the smoke screen they did not find a fleeing task force but two Royal Navy battle groups turning to fight. The battlecruisers had been joined by the main force which had been steaming for an hour to catch up to them. This consisted of the new Battleships St David and St George along with the Warspite, Queen Elizabeth, Revenge, Ramilies, Iron Duke and Agincourt. The odds were now in favour of the British as the bulk of her weaponry was of a larger calibre then her American counterparts. The first ship to go under was the United States followed closely by the Iowa. The battle raged for an hour leaving the Queen Elizabeth and Agincourt heavily damaged and on fire. The American ships had lost too many ships and attempted to flee. Only Pennsylvania and Constellation managed to escape to the north to join up with reinforcements that would likely sail from Norfolk. The other ships were too badly damaged by the time the American commander decided to make a withdrawal. He did attempt to use a smoke screen to cover his escape but the British ships were too fast.


It was not a total British victory however. The Centurion and Audacious along with support ships were caught by surprise by two squadrons of American Aircraft. They were mercilessly bombed for six hours. The Audacious had to be scuttled when her engines failed while only Centurion and a lone destroyer managed to escape. The cost of repairing Centurion was greater than the cost of replacing her so she was scrapped.


The End and Aftermath


The British, emboldened by victory, blockaded Miami harbour. Two old pre-dreadnoughts came out to defend the city but they were quickly sunk. The harbour facilities were laid waste and every ship attempting to flee was sunk. Three days later the American Government sued for peace. All American forces were withdrawn from the British colonies by August the 12th.


The result of the war was simple, the American's had lost complete faith in the battleship as a weapon of war. However the air attack on the Centurion and Audacious proved to be quite effective. Air attacks held a great deal of potential and this was not lost on the Secretary of the Navy. With some convincing the President signed an order to convert all of the remaining Lexington class ships into aircraft carriers as well as design purpose built carriers.


For the British the lesson of air power was not lost on them either. The conversion of several battlecruisers would begin immediately but rather than be for attack their main purpose would be to keep enemy bombers away from the battleships. Also the defenses of the battleships currently in service was clearly inadequate and newer weapon designs would have to be developed. As a final note the defense of the British colonies had clearly become an issue. Furthermore the separate treaty that Canada had signed was also a worrying development following the war. A solution was derived and it would involve transforming the Empire into a coalition of Nations. Each would be responsible for defending itself and would have the support of the other nations in time of need. The Statute of Westminster was passed into law in 1931 and was signed by Canada, South Africa and Ireland forming the British Commonwealth. Within the next 50 years it was the goal of the Empire that each colony would become a separate nation within the Commonwealth. For the time being the Empire would stand, but the first great alliance had been formed and the others would soon follow.