An Alternative History


A guest post from Jed. TD’s recent Atlantic Conveyor and Harrier FOB pieces have allowed a few of our regular commentators to indulge in some “what if” scenario development.  As a fan of the alternative history genre of fiction, and a fan of the stunning work of some of the illustrators on the Shipbucket site,  I thought I might indulge in a little light-hearted alternative naval history………

The serious part – Naval AAA in the Falklands

It has been correctly noted that the RN was absolutely not equipped for a close-in fight against fighter ground attack aircraft in an environment such as San Carlos water.  Sea Dart and Sea Wolf had replaced Sea Slug and Sea Cat missile systems respectively, but even during the 50 ship fleet days of the cold war, money was tight, and the modern anti-missile systems were not that widely spread, but we must not forget this was a time of transition. At one extreme was the Type 12 frigate of 1950’s design and at the other was the first of the T22’s – the “all missile” ASW frigate, without even a medium calibre gun.

So the RN had decided to go down the anti-missile, missile route for protection against Soviet submarine-launched high-subsonic sea-skimming missiles, and the big air-launched high altitude, supersonic steep diving missiles liked the AS4. Thus the smaller calibre auto-cannon in the RN was a “policing” weapon; for use only in “Cod war” type scenarios, hence in 1982 RN’s ships were touting the single barrel Mk7A 20mm Oerlinkon that had been used on every type of ship since the start of WWII (but generally in much greater numbers !). Another WWII veteran fitted to some Falklands task force ships was the optically aimed, manually served 40mm Bofors.

Existing ‘advanced’ gun systems in 1982

  • Rarden 30mm cannon sea trials in 1980 ? (onboard HMS Yarmouth?) (90 rpm – too slow)
  • Phalanx – full rate production started in 1978, first US ship fully fitted in 1980
  • M167 Vulcan Air Defence System from the 1970’s (range only radar and lead computing optical site)
  • Oerlikon KAA 20mm (GAM-B01) belt fed lightweight single man mount (454Kg)
  • Breda 40mm mounts
  • Bofors L40/60 MK IX single – wght 1981Kg ?
  • BMARC guns – twin and single 30mm mounts

So if the Soviet missile threat had not been top of our minds, perhaps we might have had more guns that could have been of use in San Carlos water; but given that the RN was oriented to fighting WWIII in the North Atlantic, then even if we had our at least our Sea Cart armed ships fitted with Phalanx or the Italian 40mm which had also been thoroughly tested in anti-missile mode in the late 70’s – it probably would not have made any difference.

However, outside of San Carlos water, it may well have made a difference to HMS Sheffield, HMS Coventry and HMS Glamorgan.

Rapid re-fit on the way South ?

Ships leaving UK after the initial task force sailing – available for AAA mods

  • Antelope
  • Alacrity
  • Yarmouth

Ships which could possibly have been modded at Ascension Island if they stopped long enough and engineering logistics could be sorted out:

Antelope (escort to the LSL group)

Argonaut and Ardent (with the Major Amphibs group)

Bristol Group  arrived AOR 26th May (after the San Carlos landings and the sinking of the T21’s).

  • Bristol (T82)
  • Cardiff (T42)
  • Andromeda (Sea Wolf-Exocet Leander)
  • Minerva (Exocet Leander)
  • Penelope (Exocet Leander)
  • Avenger (T21)

Total possible available for AAA upgrade: 10 frigates, of which 6 in place before the San Carlos landings

5 x T21, 4 x Leander Class, 1 x T12, 1 x T42, 1 x T82

But what could have been made available and added to these ships ?  Well in the spirit of TD’s recent question about the U.S. fence sitting on the FI issue, in 1982 they did expedite our deliveries of the latest Sidewinder variant for our Sea Harriers and provided Shrike anti-radar missiles for some of the Vulcan “Black buck” PR exercises (sorry, ultra-long range bombing missions !).

My answer is that we could have asked the U.S. to lend us a regiment of M167 Vulcan air-defence guns:

12 of these towed 20mm gattling guns, a single one for each of the ships mentioned above – wheels removed, spot welded to the deck in place of a Sea Cat launcher !

Although only optically aimed, the radar is for proving range info only, the fast firing gun (the same one as used on the Phalanx mount) throwing high volumes of tracer into the face of Skyhawk pilots may well have had the desired effect………

Of course, even better would have been a BIG batch of Stinger MANPADS – yes we had some, in the hands of the SAS, but a large number as additional air defence on the frigates might also have been a game changer:

Given the performance of the various ship types in the Falklands campaign, what if we decided to upgrade the 4 batch II Country class destroyers, replace the T21 with the remaining T42’s modified as ‘Frigates’ and in turn replaced them with a big T83 air defence destroyer based on the hull of the Bristol ?

Well here is my late 1980’s alternative naval history……..

1. Post-Falklands HMS Bristol with Ikara replaced with Sea Wolf (and port and starboard (910 trackers).

2. County Class mid-life Re-fit with Sea Wolf

  • Twin 4.5 replaced with ‘new’ fast firing Mk8 single barrel 4.5 inch gun
  • After super-structure block (hanger) replaced with that already designed for the T22, including single Sea Wolf launcher
  • Sea Slug removed, flight deck extended aft over the quarter deck. Sea Slug magazine used as Sea Wolf magazine.
  • Port and Starboard mid-ships Sea Cat launchers replaced with Breda ‘Fast 40’ turret – slaved to existing Sea Cat director 

3. T43 Frigate – the T42 mod for ASW and Surface warfare as a T21 replacement

  • Goalkeeper replaces fore and aft 909 radars as main self defence / anti-missile weapon system
  • Port and starboard mid-ships BMARC twin 30mm
  • Exocet replaces Sea Dart launcher
  • 4.5 Magazine extended into Sea Dart magazine for greater number of rounds (based on FI experience on the “gun line”) 

4.  T84 Air Defence Destroyer

  • Hull based on that of HMS Bristol
  • Machinery the same as T22
  • Forward 909 on the centerline, aft 909 off-set to port
  • Aft 910 off-set to starboard, port and stbd forward 910’s
  • Single Sea Wolf launcher, plus forward Sea Dart launcher with greater magazine capacity than the T42
  • 4 x BMARC twin 30mm (2 each port and starboard).

Please note that these are my pathetic efforts in the GIMP to modify the original line drawings of the ShipBucket contributor MihoshiK – I have kept his name on each of the drawings though as an attribution of the original work.

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