Shortly after the Washington Naval Treaty, the British designed and built two Nelson-Class Battleships, and a decade later these designs inspired the French Richelieu-Class Battleships.

Both of these designs have a very significant quirk, in relation to this question: All the guns in their primary batteries are capable of firing forward. Now, there were a few issues (Especially with the Nelson class) of firing all the guns directly forward - But this question assumes these issues have been or can be solved.

The question is simple: Would a line of battleships with Nelson-style configurations have the advantage when their T is crossed?

In most T-crossing scenarios, the ships being crossed are at a disadvantage because their rear weapons cannot fire. In earlier warfare with fixed guns, it was even more devastating because almost all of their guns could not fire. Nelson-style configurations, however, do not suffer from this and can fire all of their weapons on the targets in front of them.

All of those targets which are presenting wide fronts, while each of the Nelson-style ships are presenting narrow fronts.

To be completely fair, I don't envision this as an ideal position for the Nelson-style ships to be in. Their enemy can still fire every one of their guns. However, the Nelson-Style ships don't have the disadvantage that normally comes with having their T crossed, so perhaps the playing field is going to be a little more level.

I am curious as to what sort of things I may be missing out. I'm not a military or naval strategist - My interests lie significantly more on the engineering and technical end of things, so those are the details that stick out to me.

Relevant information: This is targeted at the world I'm building, 50s ish tech where shipbuilding is advanced but aircraft never gained dominance. Battleships tend to be bigger and have bigger guns, but realistically speaking treat the ships as being largely equivalent except for gun placement.

  • $\begingroup$ Are you considering this for modern combat or for '20-30s combat? $\endgroup$ – apaul May 29 '17 at 1:16
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    $\begingroup$ More for 20s-30s style combat. Battleship on battleship, aircraft influence being largely insignificant in terms of damage. I'll update with some more information. $\endgroup$ – Andon May 29 '17 at 1:20
  • $\begingroup$ I'm having a difficult time visualizing what you are talking about. $\endgroup$ – ohwilleke May 29 '17 at 15:35
  • $\begingroup$ Does either side have access to torpedo-carriers like escort destroyers, torpedo-boats/destroyers, frigates or light cruisers? $\endgroup$ – Doomed Mind May 30 '17 at 10:42
  • $\begingroup$ While the answer is technically "Yes," the intent of this question is for battleship-on-battleship combat. $\endgroup$ – Andon May 31 '17 at 21:08

Think Squadrons, not Ships

  • A battleship is a couple hundred metres long. With a reasonable safety distance for maneuvers, two ships will be roughly a kilometre apart. A squadron in line will be several kilometres long.
  • Effective gunnery range will be a few tens of kilometres.
  • Speed is 30 to 50 kph. A squadron in line might take ten minutes to steam past a stationary observer. A battle fleet takes longer.

Draw it up on graph paper and measure or calculate the ranges. Assuming that both sides have the same gunnery range, the crossing force will be able to concentrate the fire of all their ships against the lead ship of the enemy for several minutes while the rest of the enemy is still out of range.

  • $\begingroup$ So, in order to gain any benefit to having their T crossed, the Nelson-style group would have to be able to travel in a very close formation, and/or have significantly superior gun range. It'd be practically impossible at that point to surprise the enemy - They'd see the formation and do something other than cross it. $\endgroup$ – Andon May 29 '17 at 14:18
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    $\begingroup$ @Andon Using a line abreast formation instead of a line ahead formation would solve your problem. $\endgroup$ – Mike Nichols May 29 '17 at 15:38
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    $\begingroup$ Mike Nichols is correct, but it should be pointed out that maneuvering a line abreast formation is astronomically more clumsy and complicated than a 'follow-the-leader' line ahead formation, especially in combat. $\endgroup$ – Catgut May 29 '17 at 17:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Catgut Exactly, and the enemy would react accordingly. There are a handful of times where the enemy simply wouldn't have a good option, but that's almost always the case. $\endgroup$ – Andon May 30 '17 at 0:04

By the time of your scenario crossing the T is a less useful tactic. The nail in its coffin is radar, which allowed ships to get a very accurate picture of the enemy's position and bearing, even over the horizon, which combined with mechanical gun computers, meant that guns could be laid very accurately.

If you could get into a position where you could cross your opponents T it still meant that you could get more guns on target but given kilometres of maneuver room and forewarning it was considerably harder. The most recent example of crossing the T Battle of Surigao Strait (1944), but in that battle by the time the T was crossed the Japanese had already been crippled by the US who outranged them and they were trapped in a strait that meant they were not free to turn to broadside.

What this boils down to is the ability to fire all of your guns when bow on is of limited utility. It would mean that in the event that your T was crossed you could reply with all your guns, so you'd be equivalent going up against a ship with equal weight of fire, range, and positioning data. However T crossing is going to be rather rare, potentially a ship might go it's entire service without ever using this feature.

  • $\begingroup$ You've confused eras. Crossing the T was only a useful tactic with the advent of armored ships. During the wooden ship era, the only way you got a "crossing" situation was when a ship attempted to break the enemy's line by crossing through it, as Nelson did at Trafalgar. Here the T commander is willing to take raking damage of his own in order the get between two ships of the enemy line and rake them at close range. It's not for the faint of heart. And note that in the wooden ship era there were effectively NO forward-firing guns - broadside was everything. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast May 29 '17 at 4:52
  • $\begingroup$ @WhatRoughBeast You're right, I've heard the type of tactics Nelson used described as crossing the T which caused my confusion. I'll edit out the cannonballs and reevaluate my answer when I get the chance. $\endgroup$ – Static May 29 '17 at 5:20

A force of Nelson-style battleships would be at a great disadvantage if their T was crossed to their rear, which was a valid tactic, although a bit harder than crossing the T to their front. This tends to suggest that T-crossing wasn't a major factor in their design.

The actual reason for the design was to save weight. They were designed in the immediate aftermath of the Washington Naval Treaty which had placed limits on the weight of battleships. Putting all the turrets close together reduced the total weight of armour needed to protect their magazines. The British were very keen on protecting magazines after several of their ships exploded at the Battle of Jutland.

  • $\begingroup$ Absolutely. Being crossed in the rear is really bad for most any battleship. $\endgroup$ – Andon May 29 '17 at 15:24

I'm by no means a military history buff, so take this with a grain of salt...

I'm thinking that it would largely depend on range and given the blockade formation (several ships side by side) that this would probably be a longer range engagement to start off. Long range shots tend to be parabolic, aim high on your target and expect an arch in the shot. This may sound obvious, but determining distance tends to be more difficult than direction... More or less it's much easier to adjust left and right than it is to recalculate the distance (pitching the barrel up or down)

With that out of the way... You'll present a smaller target approaching head on, from a left right perspective, but a slightly larger target on the other axis.

See: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Projectile_motion for the math.

I think I get the source of the question... In earlier naval combat "broadsiding" was more of an issue. Canons were shorter range and shots tended to require less of an arc and you could place a lot more cannons down the length of a ship in fixed placement, but by the 1920-30's artillery had progressed enough to allow for much longer shots. These larger artillery pieces also tended to have larger calibers and longer barrels, so a forward facing placement was a bit more practical. Kind of the difference between a volley of fire approach and a more targeted approach.


  Nelson-class could not fire all of their guns facing forward. As you can see from the picture, third turret is below second turret. When guns from third turret face forward, they aim directly into second turret.


  Richelieu-class could theoretically fire all of the guns facing forward (guns from second turret over first turret). But problem remains, if such ships steam in battle line, could guns from second ship fire over first ship without hitting him ? And could gun laying equipment on second ship even detect targets (and shell splashes) when first ship in line blocks their view ?


    Therefore, crossing the T remained relevant tactics until the end of era classic gun-armed battleships.

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    $\begingroup$ My second paragraph in the question specifically addresses the Nelsons not beimg able to fire forward. Thanks for reading the whole question. $\endgroup$ – Andon May 30 '17 at 10:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Adnon You question is "Would a line of battleships with Nelson-style configurations have the advantage when their T is crossed?", plus you mention Nelson-class several times. I understand what you want to ask, but then you should not mention Nelsons at all, because they don't have superfiring turrets. It would be better to ask only about Richelieu-class. You don't have a much knowledge about naval warfare, that is obvious. I recommend reading about various configurations (start from wikipedia and then move forward). Then you would understand why in real life some ideas were never tried. $\endgroup$ – rs.29 May 30 '17 at 16:42

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