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My story features airships that fly by using applying electrical to a strange mineral to generate antigravity. By altering the current the airship can increase or decrease its height. Since they don't need large balloons of lifting gas, many nations have developed military airships, carrying armour, cannons, small airplanes, and bombs. I imagine this vessels as being similar in design to large cruiser submarines from the 30's and 40's (pictured at the end). I was wondering how the guns would have to be placed in order to maximize the field of fire, as well as the best position for the bridge and other modules. For more context the world is roughly at the same technology level as earth in the 1930's

Smaller craft would carry about a dozen rapid fire guns between 13 and 40 mm, at least four 110 mm guns and 8 in gun in a fixed forward facing position as well as a bomb bay that could also be used for paratroopers and possibly a small spotter aircraft. These would be around 400 to 600 ft in length.

The larger ships would carry a few dozen guns between 13 and 40 mm, about ten 110 mm guns and a turret with a two 10 in cannons. These airships would also carry bays for bombs or dropping paratroopers, and an internal hanger that can carry five aircraft. These would be around 650 to 900 ft long.

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    $\begingroup$ Please clarify your specific problem or provide additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it's hard to tell exactly what you're asking. $\endgroup$
    – Community Bot
    Aug 10, 2023 at 2:12
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    $\begingroup$ Hello @KennedyJohnson, welcome to Worldbuilding. When you see that comment from the automated Community BOT, it's a bad sign. It means your quesition has failed to meet the minimum standards of Stack Exchange. Indeed, your question is too broad, fairly vague, and more opinion-based than we prefer. Without inventing the entire technology of your ships on your behalf, everything about their design is simply an aesthetic. It would help if you carefully read our tour and the following two help center pages, help center and help center, so you understand the limits of this Stack. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Aug 10, 2023 at 2:59
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    $\begingroup$ A lot depends on the specifics of the antigravity, e.g. how much mass of antigravity you need to levitate a given mass, how expensive it is. If antigravity is effective enough then there's practically no limit on how thick the armor can be (unlike with a boat or tank, which can only be so dense before they sink or can't move) and the most effective design might be small floating tanks with 3m of armor or something ridiculous like that, that couldn't be penetrated by any weapons of the 1930s. $\endgroup$
    – causative
    Aug 10, 2023 at 3:32
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    $\begingroup$ Also some part of design depends on how do your airships move. Like zeppelins, with turbines at sides? Or by the same mineral, employing skewed antigravity field to attract the airship to where its captain desires? This restriction would also alter air combat, allowing strafe greatly enhances a ship or fleet's dodging capability, potentially also making line/field combat useless. What are the guns on the ship, maybe there are rockets already? Can a captain/crew detect incoming gunfire? $\endgroup$
    – Vesper
    Aug 10, 2023 at 3:56
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    $\begingroup$ Along with all the other questions you're being hit with, what is the purpose of each type of gun? Are the big ones for ground attack or anti-ship use? What airspeed do the airships achieve and how quickly can they turn, dive and climb? That affects what type of gun has a chance of hitting at what range. Do the airships ever need to land, and if so, on land and/or water - this has a huge effect on mountings for guns on the underside. Frankly, you may be better off looking at bomber aircraft with turrets, sans wings, as a model. $\endgroup$ Aug 10, 2023 at 5:57

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In contrast to the answer from @TheDemonLord I don't see AA as something that will be too critical. Battleships/cruisers/destroyers were at times quite effective in WW2 doing shore bombardments, esp. compared to high-altitude bombing. Only with your air navy you are no longer limited to the shorelines, but can just fly wherever you want. Any AA installations can be scouted by smaller planes and then shelled into oblivion.

The only defence I can imagine would be to set up what in WW2 would have been essentially shore-defence batteries, i.e. massive ship-scale guns in armoured casemates - or to counter with your own fleet of flying airships.

With your air navy cruising at altitude you will, however, always have the range advantage over ground batteries. And even if "a gun on land is worth a ship at sea" still holds (and there is no reason to assume it wouldn't), you can't realistically plaster over ALL or your critical infrastructure and cities with shore / sky defence batteries in the same way you would with light and mobile AA guns.

So I would find it likely that airship vs airship engagements would play a major role. In any such engagement the party flying at the highest altitude would have range advantage, while also being in a position to bringing to bear their supporting fighter and bomber planes more quickly and effectively. What would result from this is a "race to the sky", with both sides trying to engineer their vessels to reach ever higher altitudes.

How would it look?

I would expect the designs to look like proper water-surface ships, but essentially mirrored on the waterline, i.e. with some turrets, bridges, radar, observation posts, AA guns etc. also facing downwards to get proper 360 degree coverage.

Essentially what you get with your proposal is flying battleships/cruisers/destroyers.

Gun placements

I would expect most of the big guns still being on top of vessels, with the lower half of the hulls being covered only by mid-sized guns and AA positions. The engagement distances would be similar to what was seen in ship-vs-ship engagements in WW2, and if we're talking about the km range, then any trajectory would be ballistic. I.e. you will need to train your gun upwards to hit a target some kilometers off, making big gun placements on top of your ship a far better proposition than on the bottom.

This could lead to the interesting tactical dilemma that it is good to be above your enemy at large distances to maximise your engagement range, but that in very close-quarters combat (essentially point-blank range) the vessel flying below their enemy would actually be in a far superior position, as the enemies big guns wouldn't be able to fire back since they are placed on top and don't have the required arc of fire.

I imagine this could be well exploited in a story, especially in a situation where the weather conditions don't allow for long range visibility. Think "enemy cruiser suddenly breaking out of the clouds below your battleship".

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  • $\begingroup$ "a gun on land is worth a ship at sea" I doubt that would still hold. Because ultimate high ground those airships would have they would outrange those guns on land. So those ground based cannons would be useless against them $\endgroup$
    – Negdo
    Aug 10, 2023 at 9:45
  • $\begingroup$ My ship would wreck your ship seven days a week. My ship would have more arms and greater mobility than yours, allowing for more evasion, and more shells as edge-mounted turrets don't need special measures to gain an ability to face down. $\endgroup$
    – Vesper
    Aug 10, 2023 at 10:38
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    $\begingroup$ @Negdo Well, maybe. But not all the guns have the same (effective) range anyway, and especially if you go towards the higher end of the range it is a lot more about how accurate your fire is than how far you can theoretically lob shells. E.g. if we're talking about a gun with an effective range of 15km and a max range of 25km, then increasing the max range to, lets say, 30km by some hight advantage doesn't do you any good - engaging at that range will simply be a waste of ammo, unless you're shooting city-sized targets. $\endgroup$
    – fgysin
    Aug 10, 2023 at 14:48
  • $\begingroup$ @Vesper I fail to see how from a different layout you come to the conclusion that your design has more arms AND greater mobility. Supposedly this is mostly a question of weight lift capacity and internal systems space needed, both of which don't significantly change because the design is an upright column vs a horizontal tub. $\endgroup$
    – fgysin
    Aug 10, 2023 at 14:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Negdo Yes, but the big benefit of land-based batteries is precisely the advantage in accuracy since your guns and instruments are mounted to a solid foundation and not on top of a ship bobbing and rolling on the waves or, in this case, an airship buffeted by wind and wobbling due to recoil. $\endgroup$
    – fgysin
    Aug 10, 2023 at 15:09
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Specialization

You'll have dozens of layouts for all the various purposes you can imagine.

  • Small, fast, lightly armored ships with one or two large caliber guns - these are effectively torpedo boats. They aren't terribly survivable, but they are cheap, and between their speed and their large guns, they are a credible threat to a Capital Ship and must be respected. They can't protect your cities, but in open land or with support of friendly Capital Ships they can harass the enemy very effectively via hit and run tactics.
  • Scout Carriers - These are primarily for situational awareness. They send out a bunch of smaller aircraft and attempt to find enemy ships for the Fleet to engage. Probably want to get as high as possible for maximum visibility. Without supplemental O2, flight becomes dangerous above around 10,000 feet. Maybe the scout carrier has specialized atmospheric control systems to help it fly higher.
  • Ground Attack - The purpose of your ships is to threaten something of value to the enemy. This is probably something on the ground. (The whole "defeating the other side's fleet" thing is just a means to this end.) I would expect dedicated ground bombardment ships to damage cities and factories as fast as possible while the rest of the fleet defends. These vessels probably have large turrets mounted on the underside of the ship to take out ground defenses, and zero in on the valuable buildings and locations.
  • Capital Ships - Large, heavily armor ships designed to duke it out of the enemy's fleet. Battleships that fly.
  • Destroyers - Faster than Capital Ships, but tougher than the torpedo boats or scout ships. They provide a screen for the Carriers, Capital Ships, and Ground Bombardment vessels. Think "Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors."
  • Etc.

To really work this out, you need to decide on things like max altitude your ships can reach, max speed, range before refueling, range of weapons, firing rate of weapons, number of people your Navy can employ, etc. etc. And then start gaming it out.

To defend against X I'd do Y. So to counter Y I'd do Z. And the next thing you know, you've worked out a range of vessels to have in your fleet.

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Ships of the Line

In the 1930s, warships still relied on ranging to hit a target that is far away. This is where you shoot, see where it hits, and then adjust your aim... but you can't do this against an air ship because your missed shots will just keep going. This means you need to get a LOT closer to hit an enemy ship... or fire a lot more shells. Since the ships are armored, a few smaller auto-cannons won't do the trick. You need a lot of cannons of significant caliber the be able to both hit and damage an enemy ship at any significant range. The best strategy for this is a broad-side attack. A long ship with cannons across the whole broadside can fire a lot more heavy shells than you can fit on 360 degree turrets. Since your max range of accuracy will only be a few hundred meters, you don't need particularly long barrels, just a lot of them.

As for fighters and bomber, I would not expect these to be relevant technologies in your setting. Bombers only mattered in naval warfare because of the torpedoes they could drop which would then go in a straight line to hit a slow moving cruiser below the water line. This meant you just had to line up your shot left-to-right. In 3-dimentions, against a fast moving sky ship, torpedoes would be WAY harder to hit with, and there is no "below the waterline" to sink an air ship with. You need to hit the anti-gravity generator specifically (or multiple) to "sink" an airship. So, bombers and fighters would be mostly irrelevant against sky cruisers. It would only take a few smaller ball turrets with auto-cannons to make an enemy cruiser a no-flyzone for enemy light craft. If smaller aircraft are used, I'd expect them to function more as APCs, ground support gunships, and scouts than bombers and fighters.

As for ground defenses, forget about it. Not only can an airship technically out-range a ground cannon of similar caliber, but against ground assets, an airship CAN use ranging techniques to zero in on a target. So while a ground cannon would only be accurate within a few hundred meters, an airship could range in on a ground target from many km away. Furthermore, in this time period, AA cannons came in 2 flavors: flack and auto-cannons. Auto-cannons fired thousands of smaller bullets in the air hoping to hit something, and flack exploded "close enough" to fighters to take them out with shrapnel... but against an armored target, neither of these strategies work. You need a heavy cannon to land a direct hit. No other weapon systems of the day will leave a mark.

So, if your ship has any turrets with long-guns, it will probably be a single, bottom mounted turret specifically for destroying ground targets.

As for the bridge, you will want it on the bottom of your ship, either at the very front or back. You want to maximize your view of what is below you more than care about what is above you, thus the bottom part. You will still want smaller lookouts for above, but most strategic threats will be on the horizon and down, not up. The second consideration is that the front and back are the saftest places during a broadside because most shots will be aimed center mass. If you aim for either end, then you are twice as likely to miss the ship all together; so, most gunners will avoid targeting the ships tips specifically. The last consideration comes down to military doctrine. A bridge on the front of the ship will give you a better view of where you are going; so, you can make better command choices with a forward vantage point. But since this is a battleship, you might have better redundancy if you bridge is near the back next to your engines and flight control surfaces. That way you don't loose flight control if a few shells rip through your ship severing internal communications and control lines. You'd probably see ships with both configurations depending on what roll the ship is expected to fill.

Lastly you want your engines to have extended armored plates off to the side such that your rear section looks a bit like an A-10 Warthog. You need your engines to not be perfectly in-line with your ship so that they can scoop air, and the armored tail fins will help protect them during a broadside attack.

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Provided that your anti-gravity device imposes a lift limit large enough to raise a cruiser into the air, I think the most efficient form of a flying airship will be...

A column with ring-shaped turrets

The reason is threefold. First, aerodynamics with anti-gravity support would not be an issue, and whatever engines could be employed on them would not achieve great airspeed for actual air resistance to matter much, as in airplanes. Second, such an airship needs 360 degrees arc of possible fire, with a potential of both firing everywhere and concentrating all its fire to a single side, thus it'll be best if its turrets could turn all the way round the ship. And third, an upright column makes it harder to get hit by return fire, as the cannons in 1930 were not as accurate to hit from large distance, thus having smaller hitbox is better. And with the ability to lift enough armor to protect from flak and aircraft-mounted weaponry such a monstrosity might even not need the AA, just mount enough cannons for area bombardment and enough engines to achieve enough speed to not get too late to battle, and have fun.

Each ring should be planned so that it has a way to reduce kick to the base of the ship, it should also hold some ammo for the turret, and have a separate means to rotate around the central structure of the ship, that contains lifts, power distribution, other kinds of connectors, and likely the main anti-gravity engine as well. The rings can be of various purpose: a command ring located somewhere in the upper part of the ship, with a reserve one elsewhere, a ring with mounted engines to allow maneuvering both in transit and in combat, a main caliber turret, an anti-air turret if desired, a transport ring aka external dock for resupply, a storage ring that's just a bunch of space, maybe more. Use the central structure as an axle and combine those rings as see fit, to create airships for different purpose, up to aircraft (airship) carrier that uses anti-gravity small airships as bomber/fighter fleet, and down to a doom-bomber device that would use its central structure to drop something BIG against anything right below.

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  • $\begingroup$ I don't see how an upright column is any harder to hit than what boils down to a horizontal column. Effective ship battery fire in the 30ies was still relying on relatively flat trajectories, so any incoming shells will not be "raining down upon you", but rater hit you from the side or front. $\endgroup$
    – fgysin
    Aug 10, 2023 at 14:56
  • $\begingroup$ Also, Rule of Cool (tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/RuleOfCool). I posit that an air battleship looks way better than a flying chimney. $\endgroup$
    – fgysin
    Aug 10, 2023 at 14:59
  • $\begingroup$ Ring turrets are cool, but I image they would be harder to build and armor with given tech level. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Aug 10, 2023 at 16:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki possibly, but the advantage of being able to concentrate fire could overcome the complications of building such a great turret. Also building with anti-gravity should be easier than what we here have, as you can use portable/small power engines to hold parts of the turret about to be assembled in zero-G, allowing easier placement and control. $\endgroup$
    – Vesper
    Aug 11, 2023 at 6:35
  • $\begingroup$ @fgysin you haven't explained how would your airship move, while I did that for mine, and I mean that my ship can dodge while yours probably cannot. Dodging (vs bombs) was a skill in WWII displayed by at least a single warship of USSR defending against 80 German airplanes and surviving. So I assume that an airship that can both dodge and continue firing (and with turrets all facing one side, its fire is as good as a broadside) will defeat his opponent that can only fire but cannot dodge. $\endgroup$
    – Vesper
    Aug 11, 2023 at 6:37
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  • What can your armor stop?
    Naval architects of the period had to balance armor for the vitals like magazines and engine rooms, for the deck, and for the waterline belt. As pointed out in other answers, there is no waterline to armor. If you try to armor all of your ship, you will get thinner armor or the ship gets heavier. Or the armor is put onto the nose and top, because an airship will turn towards the enemy and long-range fire will be more likely to come from above than from the sides.
    Let's assume there are practical weight limits. (There may not be. Drag depends on surface area and shape, not weight, and if your anti-gravity gadgets are light enough, you could carry a lot of armor.)
    Quite possibly, very large autocannon are the way to go.
  • Does recoil matter?
    Firing guns could be problematic if they are unbalanced. That could point towards either centerline guns or pairs parallel to the centerline (or triples, quadruples, ...).
  • Can you aim by moving the airship?
    Just how nimble are those things. If you could do away both with turrets and elevation mechanisms, and aim by raising the nose of the airship, mounting and ammo supply would be greatly simplified.

Take those together, and I could see a battery of half a dozen to a dozen big autocannon in the nose, behind a heavily armored nose shield.

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Frame Challenge

The time period you've picked is highly interesting - the death of the capital Ship and the rise of the Aircraft carrier.

Assuming that the level of Gunnery is that of the 1940s - hell, let's pick an Iowa class battleship and it's mechanical computer for gunnery - your fighter planes launched from an aircraft carrier type airship are going to be much more effective.

So, let's talk about your airships - what speed are they travelling and what altitude are they reaching? WW2 era was at around 20-25,000 ft. Anti-Air guns (like the Flak 88) were capable of reaching up to those heights. Given their mass, I doubt they are going to be flying as fast as a WW2 era heavy bomber - so they are going to be more vulnerable to flak that way but more importantly...

Their size makes them much more susceptible to being hit

Now, you've said they have Armor - and given the upper-limit of length being 900ft, that's longer than an Iowa class Battleship - so let's assume an equivalent weight (we'll get to that) - between 50-60,000 tons. That's also assuming a similar all-or-nothing armor scheme. That's a lot of Mass. So again, they are going to be sloooooow

And before you say 'We'll just armor the bottom' - Flak can be set to airbust above the target.

In short - such large, slow vessels are going to get torn apart by AA batteries, even ones as innaccurate as the 1930s and 40s.

But...

Being a mobile flying base for smaller Fighters and Bombers? That starts to make a whole lot more sense. You would keep them away from the Flak batteries, but close enough that your friendly aircraft can attack critical locations.

In terms of Gunnery, whilst the height advantage would mean significantly increased range - the Calibre of shells you are firing and the distance you would need to engage at to be safe from return fire would make it dubious at best:

Note, this talks about the 1980 refit, but We'll get to that

Total dispersion at 32 Km, 14/15 shells landed within 230 meters of the centre of the Target - pretty good shooting. But that's with Radar muzzle velocity sensors, modernized propellant and an updated FCS. I'm also not sure if the ship was sitting stationary or was steaming when the shots were fired.

Point is - with modern powder and advances in monitoring, we still have a pretty large dispersion pattern. I don't believe the relationship between range and accuracy is linear, so as the range increases, the dispersion increases at a greater rate (projectiles slow down, wind has more time to effect etc.) For WW2 era stuff - I think a dispersion at those sorts of ranges (again, safe from return fire) would be in the region of 500m - 1 Km.

You could make an argument that this is more accurate than a standard Heavy Bomber using gravity bombs, but the issue I have here is that those were predicated on carrying enough fuel and ordinance to get from point A to point B. Dive Bombers were far more accurate - but they were small and didn't have the range. By using Airship carriers, we negate this problem, we don't bother with heavy bombers, nor do we bother with big artillery - we just go with this.

That all said, Battleships are cool and were very much still considered the pinnical of Naval supremacy at the start of the War, so it's likely you'd have a lot of white-elephant ones armed with Big Guns, but once any form of serious combat happens, the advantages will soon show what is the superior weapons system

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not that skeptical... Essentially what you get is flying battleships/cruisers/destroyers. All of these ships were still quite effective in 1944 doing shore bombardments - only now you are not limited to the shore, but can just fly wherever you want. Any AA installations can be scouted by smaller planes and then shelled into oblivion. The only defence would be to set up what in WW2 were essentially shore-defence batteries, i.e. massive ship-sized guns in armoured casemates - or counter with your own fleet of flying airships. $\endgroup$
    – fgysin
    Aug 10, 2023 at 9:10
  • $\begingroup$ You are forgetting an important thing: those slow flying behemots would outrange your AA instalations, if just because of high ground advantage. And on board guns would destroy enemy aircraft. You CAN instal a flak cannon on your ship! So their speed wouldn't be that big of a deal. $\endgroup$
    – Negdo
    Aug 10, 2023 at 9:48
  • $\begingroup$ Flack is useless against and armored ship. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Aug 10, 2023 at 15:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki - Depends - a direct hit would do a number and there are plenty of things on a Battleship that don't react well to being hit. I still think that the limitations of 1930s Fire control means that any attempt on an unstable platform (which, despite the mass, an Airship is) to fire at long ranges (over 30 Km) at anything other than a city sized target is just wasted ammunition. $\endgroup$ Aug 10, 2023 at 20:35
  • $\begingroup$ And in addition - we would likely see an Arms race type scenario where larger calibre weapons for taking down these airships were developed. $\endgroup$ Aug 10, 2023 at 20:37

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