Hypothetical Naval Balance in the Baltic - 1930 London Naval Treaty

pikeshot1600

Ad Honorem
Jul 2009
9,967
OK, I am bored. Although not much for alternate or speculative history, I do enjoy imagining what might have happened to surplus warships or those that had to be disposed of by treaty. In 1930, the Baltic was not as important as it had been just 100 or so years earlier. However, Germany had not been destroyed in WW I; the USSR had not collapsed after the Russian Civil War and there were still economic reasons to protect the openness of that small, enclosed sea.

Having already intervened in Russia after its revolution, and with an eye on a former enemy in Germany, let's say the Royal Navy, and Whitehall, see a reason to keep a powerful presence in the Baltic, mostly because of the USSR in 1930. What are some of the aspects of this?

First, the USSR still had three dreadnought battleships in the Baltic. Of the four which served through WW I, one had been gutted by fire in 1919 and was then used for spare parts. In 1928, the navy began a program of modernization on the other three. One was transferred to the Black Sea leaving two BBs (24-25,000 tons with 12x12" guns), a threat to shipping and to smaller countries with whom Britain had friendly relations.

Second, the RN still had an older class of powerful dreadnoughts in the four Iron Duke class battleships (25-29,000 tons with 10x13.5" guns). Although HMS Iron Duke had been demilitarized in the mid 1920s, three others remained with the fleet. If the RN knew the USSR was modernizing its three BBs, rather than designating the last three Iron Dukes for disposal or use as targets, plans could be made to transfer them to the Baltic under another flag to keep within the terms of London, 1930.

That treaty also required the disposal of many destroyers that had been commissioned in 1918-19. A group of six S-class destroyers, all built by Yarrow, Ltd. and all completed 1918-19 (930-1,000 tons with 3x4" guns, and 6 torpedo tubes), was to be decommissioned and sold for scrap, 1928-32. As the gun power of battleships was most important to counter the Soviet ships, those would be paramount. These DDs would serve as a scouting and escort force, also being fitted with mine laying and sweeping gear for the narrow geography of the Baltic and the approaches to the Gulf of Finland.

(Here is where I start to feel guilty for a "crackpot thread." :))

Third, in 1930, the battleship was still the standard by which naval power was calculated. The Iron Dukes had all been commissioned in 1914, not much different than the 10 BBs of the Queen Elizabeth and Revenge classes (1915-16) which served in WW II. The US navy at that time had six BBs that had been commissioned in 1914-16. The Iron Dukes had been slated for withdrawal from active duty in 1929.

Fourth, under the circumstances mentioned above, let's say a confederated Baltic naval force (or a navy if you like) agrees to home port the three British battleships under another flag. Baltic states with an interest in a force to oppose the Bolsheviks are Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The navy is referred to informally as the Livonian navy. The ships will be transferred at a nominal cost; subsidies will be arranged by the UK (and also covertly by Sweden to maintain her mask of neutrality). Submarines earmarked for disposal will be quietly transferred, and their number and very existence will be Need-to-Know (no one needs to know).

Now all this is "what-if," and the realities of docks and yards; infrastructure; ordnance; manning requirements and logistics, as well as fuel and its storage, are not part of the scenario. No cruisers, or battle cruisers, are required due to the short distances in the Baltic Sea, and any aircraft necessary will be land based - as so frequently was done in the Mediterranean.

So, since this is speculative and also kinda fun, here are a couple of images:

Three Iron Dukes in line ahead:

Iron Duke-class battleship - Wikipedia

*And here is the flag under which they will sail:

https://crwflags.com/fotw/images/b/bal_duke.gif

*Don't be too hard on me. I have a thing for the Teutonic knights. :D
 
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  • Like
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Dec 2017
312
Regnum Teutonicum
Do you think the Teutonic Order would agree to let the baltic states user its flag for their navy?
 

pikeshot1600

Ad Honorem
Jul 2009
9,967
Do you think the Teutonic Order would agree to let the baltic states user its flag for their navy?
Well the Order these days is only a religious (and Catholic) order so there is no political dog in the fight. "Livonia's" days of importance are long in the past, but when those days existed it was because of the crusading military orders (Sword Brethren and the Livonian Order). That pattern of the cross would make a cool naval ensign IMO. Speculatively speaking, you understand.
 
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Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,610
Dispargum
If the Baltic States acquired a naval capability that rivaled the Soviets', the Soviets would have built more ships. There's no way the Baltic States were going to win a naval arms race with the Soviets. A better bet for the Baltic States would have been to ally with the other Baltic powers (Germany, Sweden, Poland, and Finland) against the Soviets. I'm unaware of any rivalries circa 1930 that would have prevented such an alliance. Yes, Germany and Poland disagreed over the Polish Corridor and other border regions, but even Hitler could sign a German-Polish Non-Aggression Pact in 1934.
 

pikeshot1600

Ad Honorem
Jul 2009
9,967
If the Baltic States acquired a naval capability that rivaled the Soviets', the Soviets would have built more ships. There's no way the Baltic States were going to win a naval arms race with the Soviets. A better bet for the Baltic States would have been to ally with the other Baltic powers (Germany, Sweden, Poland, and Finland) against the Soviets. I'm unaware of any rivalries circa 1930 that would have prevented such an alliance. Yes, Germany and Poland disagreed over the Polish Corridor and other border regions, but even Hitler could sign a German-Polish Non-Aggression Pact in 1934.
The hypothetical situation is that the Baltic naval force is an appendage of the R.N. without the treaty restrictions. This assumes that the UK is as suspicious and wary of the USSR as they were in 1918-19 when the RN engaged the Bolsheviks in the Baltic - Estonia and Latvia.

In several actions the RN denied the Bolsheviks the ability to move by sea. They had been attempting to "revolutionize" Estonia and other locations along the Baltic coast, shelling Reval and other ports. The British were sufficiently engaged that they attacked the naval base at Kronstadt and provided gunfire support to the White Russian forces around Petrograd. It is probable that British attitudes toward the USSR were similar in the late 1920s - and in 1930 - to what they were during the civil war.

I do not see a "Livonian" navy as a major threat to the USSR's Baltic naval forces. I see it as a counter to deny Soviet control of the Baltic. The navy of the USSR was essentially the left overs of the pre-war Imperial Russian navy. In 1930 the USSR was experiencing exhaustion both from the effects of WW I, the Revolution; the civil war and the beginnings of enforced disruption that impacted both industrial capacity and also - disastrously - agriculture. The economy was a wreck, and at that time they were in no position to build a modern fleet. Essentially the USSR was not able to modernize the old ships they already had.

In view of the events of 1918-19 in the Baltic, the RN re-positioning usable, and powerful, naval assets to counter a potential threat may have been entirely reasonable. Obviously no new construction was possible due to the treaties (Washington and London), and the Baltic republics could not afford that, so the scenario above might have been "Plan B." Transferring relatively new ships at little cost to the Baltics and then subsidizing them (along, covertly, with "neutral" Sweden) would avoid some diplomatic problems with other powers and hem in any aggressive intent against the Baltics on the part of the USSR.

Many treaties have expirations, and an agreement among Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the UK might also. Political and military concerns change, so the treaty might have been for five or ten years. By then the UK's interests might no longer have included the Baltics which were indefensible against a 1940 Soviet Union anyway. By 1936 Germany was again the issue.
 
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