Cameron is right - Britain doesn’t need two carriers
Crispin Black: One carrier is enough if dockyard workers can again perform the heroics of the past
Question: what do David Cameron and the late Lieutenant Commander Robert Dixon of the United States Navy have in common? Answer: they both get rid of aircraft carriers.
Dixon sent the famous radio message 'Scratch One Flat Top' after sinking the Japanese aircraft carrier Shoho at the battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942.
Cameron appears strongly minded to scratch at least one of the two 'flat tops' currently being built for the Royal Navy on the Clyde - HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales.
We need two apparently because we might be unlucky and have one in repair or refit when the next war or conflict kicks off. It's a dubious and extravagant argument, however, and the prime minister is right to smell a rat.
Ships can put to sea and fight even in the middle of repairs. In May 1941 a previous HMS Prince of Wales, a battleship, sailed with civilian contractors still aboard when she was ordered to sea in pursuit of the Bismarck. The patriotic but seasick dock workers grumpily going to sea made for a light-hearted scene in the 1960 film Sink the Bismarck.
Even severe battle damage can be overcome quickly, if necessary. The battle of the Coral Sea wasn't all about Lieutenant Commander Dixon dishing it out.
Japanese dive-bombers hit the carrier USS Yorktown three times, killing 66 American sailors and causing extensive damage deep into the ship.
She limped back to Pearl Harbor for repairs which naval architects estimated would take three months. Japanese intelligence thought she had gone down. In an epic story of sheer American 'can do', dockyard workmen made her sea-worthy in 72 hours.
A few days later Yorktown contributed decisively to victory at the Battle of Midway (the US Navy's Trafalgar) where she was sunk in heroic circumstances. If the Yanks could do it with 1940s technology why can't we Limeys do it today?
The answer is that our naval architects do not appear to have thought about it. The shipbuilders' own publicity for the carriers makes much of the 'computer-aided design' and other clever ideas incorporated in the carriers, but no mention of a rapid refit/repair capability.
If they need any really clever ideas they might look at the German army's Leopard 2 tank designed a quarter of a century ago.
If a Leopard 2's engine or gearbox needed anything other than a quick running repair, a lorry would arrive with a couple of efficient looking Bundeswehr mechanics who would twiddle a few bolts inside the tank and then lift the stricken engine out with a small crane.
They would then install another engine, re-twiddle the bolts and the tank would once again be ready to roll 15 minutes maximum. Vorsprung durch technik as they say.
It is not too late to introduce such ideas into the design of HMS Queen Elizabeth - which should be our only carrier. The Royal Navy can safely make do with one as long as it is built with the Yorktown and the Leopard 2 in mind. ·
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