Naval powers at the start of WW2

Oct 2015
A poster on another thread suggested a thread on the strength and disposition of the major power's fleets at the start of WW2, and the effects of the naval limitation treaties (Washington 1922, London 1930 + 36, Anglo-German Agreement '35). At the risk of seeming pedantic, I'll give it a try and see if there's any interest. (Naval strength is not as easy to determine as you'd think as various sources count different vessels differently. Here's my take, y'all can shoot holes in it if you like.)

To start with the largest, the Royal Navy September 1939:

12 battleships - 5 "R'" class, 5 "Queen Elizabeth" class (pre 1922), Nelson and Rodney (laid down 1922 as a result of the treaty).
3 battlecruisers - Hood, Renown, Repulse (pre 1922)
7 aircraft carriers - old Argus, Glorious, Furious, Courageous, Eagle (converted from "light battlecruisers" or battleships under construction), purpose built Hermes, and new Ark Royal (1938).
15 "heavy" cruisers - 13 "county" class, York and Exeter (an unintended consequence of the Washington treaty).
51 "light" cruisers - 26 "C, "D", "E", "Hawkins" class, plus Adventure (a cruiser-minelayer) and Adelaide (pre 1922); 6 "Leander", 3 "Perth", 4 "Arethusa", 10 "Town" class (including the brand new Edinburg and Belfast).
184 destroyers - 71 pre 1922 "S", "V" and "W" class; 113 "A" thru "N" and "Tribal" class.
60 submarines (including several pre 1922 boats only useful for training)
~50 sloops, escorts and patrol craft.

The Royal Australian Navy manned 2 "county" class cruisers, 3 "Perth" class, Adelaide and 5 destroyers.
The Royal Canadian Navy controlled 6 destroyers.
The "New Zealand Division" (RNZN 1941) manned light cruisers Ajax and Leander.

Per the "Official History" (Roskill):
7 battleships, 2 battlecruisers, 4 carriers, 17 cruisers, 96 destroyers and 16 submarines were ready for sea in Home Waters at the opening of hostilities.
3 battleships, 1 carrier, 7 cruisers, 26 destroyers and 10 submarines were in the Mediterranean.
2 cruisers and 9 destroyers were at Gibraltar (N. Atlantic station).
8 cruisers a seaplane carrier, 4 destroyers and 2 submarines were based at Freetown (S. Atlantic).
4 cruisers (including one Australian) were assigned to N.America /W.Indies (Bermuda).
4 cruisers 1 carrier, 4 destroyers and 15 submarines were on China Station (Hong Kong/Singapore).
3 cruisers were on E.Indies Station (Ceylon).
4 destroyers were in the Red Sea.
Except for HMAS Perth in the W.Indies, the dominion ships were in their home waters.
Other ships were conducting training, special service or in dockyard hands.

Too long a post. ...we can talk about the other fleets and the treaty provisions if there's any interest.


Ad Honoris
Jul 2009

Thanks for kicking it off. Naval Powers at the start of WW II would of course be the treaty navies plus post 1936 fleets of non-treaty navies.

Later this afternoon I will post on the French fleet.
Apr 2018
@Dentatus, great thread. I'll start off with the Imperial Japanese Navy Aircraft Carriers -

1. Hosho - Launched 13 Nov 1921, Commissioned 27 Dec 1922, attached to the Combined Fleet as part of Carrier Division 3 on Dec 7, 1941
2. Akagi - Laid down as the 2nd Amagi Class Battlecruiser, launched 22 April 1925 as Carrier Akagi, at Hawaiian waters as part of Carrier Division 1 on Dec 7, 1941
3. Kaga - Commisioned on 31 March 1928 as a Carrier, at Hawaiian waters as part of Carrier Division 1 on Dec 7, 1941
4. Soryu - Commissioned 1937, at Hawaiian waters as part of Carrier Division 2 on Dec 7, 1941
5. Hiryu - Commissioned 1939, at Hawaiian waters as part of Carrier Division 2 on Dec 7, 1941
6. Shokaku - Commissioned Aug 1941, at Hawaiian waters as part of Carrier Division 5 on Dec 7, 1941
7. Zuikaku - Commissioned Sep 1941, at Hawaiian waters as part of Carrier Division 5 on Dec 7, 1941
8. Zuiho - Converted to Aircraft Carrier from Subtender in Dec 1940, attached to the Combined Fleet as part of Carrier Division 3 on Dec 7, 1941
9. Ryujo - Commissioned May 1933, off Davao as part of the attacking force as part of Carrier Division 4
10. Shoho - Launched as Subtender Tsurugisaki in June 1935, subsequently converted as Carrier and commissioned as such in Nov 1941, at Yokosuka on Dec 7, 1941
11. Taiyo - Liner Kasuga Maru converted to Escort Carrier, conversion completed on 2 Sep 1941, at Palau on Dec 7 1941, flying flag of Carrier Division 4
12. Junyo - Liner Kashiwara Maru converted to Auxiliary Carrier and renamed Junyo in June 1941, fitting out on Dec 7, 1941

Guess that's all. Didn't include the Seaplane Carriers.
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Ad Honorem
Mar 2019
A possibly apocryphal story of a British and US destroyer passing each other in the Atlantic late in WW2

US ship to British ship: How does it feel to be the second biggest navy

British response: How does it feel to be the second best navy

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Jun 2018
New Hampshire
At the start of the Second Word War, Italy had the most powerful naval force in the Mediterranean and the fourth largest navy on earth. Exceeded only by Great Britain, the United States, and Japan. They maintained a strong and formidable submarine force throughout the war.
Aug 2014
New York, USA
Up until Midway, Japanese also had the best Navy aircraft pilots.
However, they had pretty lousy Admirals.
Aug 2014
New York, USA
Not really, it had more to do with the doctrines they were fighting under :(
Not only that, but most of them severely lacked individual initiative and also had questionable planning/scouting. At Coral Sea and Midway, I am pretty sure any competent US admiral would be much more aggressive.
The "doctrine" excuse is just that, an excuse. In war, you can't just conduct pre-planned operations by the book, you have to respond according to the facts on the ground. Otherwise, why even have an Admiral commanding on the ship in the first place. Every competent officer knows the doctrine and how to conduct air sorties and can read plans passed down from the general staff.


Ad Honorem
Dec 2011
Late Cretaceous

2 Pre-Dreadnoughts, Schlesien & Schleswig-Holstein ( built pre WW1, allowed to Germany under the Treaty of Versailles)
2 Battlecruisers, Scharnhorst & Gneisenau
3 Panzerschiff (2 re-classed as heavy cruisers 1940), Deutschland, Admiral Scheer, Admiral Graf Spee
2 Heavy Cruisers, Admiral Hipper, Blucher
6 Light Cruisers, Emden, 3 x Konigsberg, Leipzig & Nurnberg
22 Destroyers, 16 x Leberecht Maass, 6 x von Roeder
20 Torpedo Boats, 6 x Mowe, 6 x Wolf, 8 x T1
57 U-Boats

Unfortunately, I haven't found the numbers for the smaller craft, S-Boats, R-Boats etc, except that 36 old WW1 M1915 & M1916 minesweepers were still available in September 1939, a total of 69 M1935 minesweepers were built between 1937 and 1941

M1935 Minesweepers, 11 of these vessels were built by September 1939;

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Oct 2015
The Washington Naval Limitation Treaty of 1922 authorized the signatory powers too build or aquire aircraft carriers not to exceed a total tonnage of:
135,000 US & UK, 81,000 Japan, 60,000 France & Italy.

No single aircraft carrier was to exceed 27,000 tons or carry guns in excess of 8".
The powers were authorized an exception for 2 carriers not to exceed 33,000 tons each if they were converted from "capital ships" (defined by the Treaty) that would otherwise have been scrapped in accordance with its terms, and remained within the total authorized tonnage. These exceptions became Akagi, Kaga, Lexington and Saratoga (Glorious and Furious, and France's Bearn were less than 27,000 tons).

Japan also converted the liner Izumo Maru into aircraft carrier Hiyo, which was also fitting out in December 1941.
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