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The Washington Naval Conference and the Rise of Fascism

In one of today's articles, John Lounsbury posts a link to the Washington Naval Conference of 1922, and the ship limitations sought by Britain, because of the economic austerity forced upon her after World War II.

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In so doing, Britain maintained a battlefleet of desired size, and got the economically more powerful United States to limit its fleet to similar size. These were the 5 and 5 of the 5-5-3 ratio. Japan was allowed only 3, a limitation she accepted under heavy protest. (She wanted at least 3.5, a ratio she felt would have allowed her to successfully defend her home waters against the 5 of either Britain or the United States.)

In practice, this meant a limitation of 15 battleships (and battle cruisers) for Britain, 15 for the U.S., and 9 for Japan. Ironically, this ratio favored Japan.

That's because the Asian country had the least shipbuilding capacity of the three. But 9 was within that capacity, meaning that she had extra to spare for the"treaty buster" round, beginning in 1936. when war loomed.

During that round (1936- early 1942) America built four relatively new 16 inch gun battleships. Japan, however, did better. Two of her battleships, the Nagato and Mutsu, were comparable to the Americans.'  Two more, the Yamato and the Musashi, had 18 inch gun batteries for offense, and armoured belts comparable in size to that of the German superbattleships Bismarck and Tirpitz. The British built five relatively modern (technologically) battleships of the KIng George V class, but they were all 14-inch gunners of the PRE Treaty buster round caliber. Relatively speaking, Japan gained the most, while America and Britain lost ground during this round. Meaning that the earlier limitation was a drag on the Anglo-American fleets.

Also, Japan deployed seven fleet carriers and six light carriers by mid-1942. America had only six fleet carriers at the time, Britain seven carriers, six of them light. Meaning that in this newest battle arm, the Japanese carrier fleet was as strong as that of America and Britain put together. Strange times.