If you ever wonder just how crazy things got towards the end of the Washington Naval Treaty, look no further than the Alaska-class large cruisers. I’m going to let the always excellent Drachnifel give a quick rundown of the vessels here:
Unlike the poster (and it’s a lovely series), I’ve never been of the school of thought that the Alaska-class were considered to be battlecruisers. First, generally the Navy tended to be pretty clear about their designations during the design process in the 1930s-1940s. This was due to Congress having a nasty habit of shifting around funds at random if they felt like the USN had pulled a fast one / needed to build something in another district. Given the general increased oversight both the Senate and the House
Second, the General Board did not plan for the vessels to be anywhere near a battleline vs. battleline engagement. Some dissenters went so far as to argue against even having the Alaska-class be part of the screen to avoid commanders being tempted. Thus, the Alaska-class would largely have been unable to perform most traditional battlecruiser roles based on doctrine.
Finally, there’s that problem with the underwater protection. While not strictly true, in general the pre-World War II USN believed capital ships needed to reinforced against torpedoes and mines. Cruisers, on the other hand, were more of a “Meh, sucks to be that crew, but we had to figure out something to keep it within treaty limitations.” Although the Alaska was not constrained by the Washington Treaty, the fact the General Board still designed her with this philosophy in mind is a pretty big tell.
In any case, it would have been interesting to see this class in a surface fight. Thankfully for the USN, the constraints of construction prevented it from happening in time for the Solomon Islands campaign. The “CBs” presence in those narrow waters would have been very, very bad even with their heavier hitting power. The Alaska-class were not known for their nimbleness and presented a rather large target compared to their contemporaries. Quite frankly, I can see First Guadalcanal being even bloodier for the USN with Alaska present. Sure, there would have been a few minutes of her likely punching the bejeebus out of Hiei or Kirishima (“The power of Callaghan compels you!”). This, alas, would likely have been shortly followed “I’ve never seen a vessel take so many Long Lances in my life.” In short, maybe the Atlanta or Juneau don’t get torpedoed due to CB-1 attracting attention, but generally it’d be a wash.
In any case, possible scenarios aside, the Alaska-class actually serve as a cautionary tale regarding hysteria, intelligence, and mission. They were far from bad ships. However, they consumed resources that could have been better spent elsewhere. Unfortunately, the lag between design, resource allocation, and construction meant their gestation developed an inertia of their own, leading to their career as interesting curiosities. On the alternate history front, expect to see the Alaska and Guam make an appearance in both the Usurper’s War-series as well as another project.
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