Home Forums Air and Sea Naval Why did the RN retain “open” bridges in WW2?

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  • #155491
    Avatar photoBrendan Morrissey
    Participant

    Well, what is says on the tin, really.  Every classic (and not-so-classic) WW2 film shows His Majesty’s Ships with the bridge and all upon it fully exposed to the elements.  Must have made everything – from unfolding a map* to eating fish and chips straight out of the newspaper – a total  bloody nightmare!  Why was that?  Was someone in the design office a fresh air fiend?  Or just a fiend?

    [* Yes, I know, they had a chart room. ]

    #155497
    Avatar photowillz
    Participant

    Visibility (seeing and fighting your enemy), Radar in its infancy and the need to convert civilian ships to warships fast are the the three main reasons.

    (The change in training from fighting from visibility fighting to radar fighting was huge and as England was at war fighting overruled comfort).

    Visibility, was the main issue. An enclosed bridge meant you were limited to looking through windows (which were limited in size, vulnerable in action, and collected spray and rain), which could suffer from distortion and reflections, and whose frames partly blocked your view. And against dive bombers… you either need a glazed roof (good luck with that after the first near-miss!) or you can’t see the enemy.

    When radar was still in its infancy, visual spotting was the primary means of detecting and tracking threats, and open bridges allowed better visibility. Larger ships had enclosed conning towers, and smaller vessels would have secondary control stations below decks, but for a long time the open bridge was preferred for the better visibility of the area it provided.

    The push to enclosed bridges was driven by the threat of chemical weapons and nuclear fallout, and also by the move from fighting the ship “by eye” from the bridge or conning tower, to fighting the ship from the Operations Room below deck where the various sensors fed into a central plot (originally manual, but as Action Information Organisation improved they became increasingly automated).

    Cruisers, battleships and carriers had enclosed and protected bridges (and often had an open air bridge as well.  Due to the need for escort ships for convoy duty and the exigencies of war, they pressed into service ship designs that could be built at smaller yards that already existed and required minimum modification for escort duty (such as the flower class).  These escort ships were civilian designs that could be produced in small yards keeping the larger ones for major combatants. Due to the need, these designs were those that only needed slight modification to mount weapons, they did not have the time to design ships from the ground up. The designs chosen such as the flower class corvette and castle class frigate were originally meant to be channel growlers or fishing ships with weight a prime consideration. Modifying designs in such a fundamental way to account for extra weight on top of weapons did not have the time available (it could be done but the need for escort ships ‘now’ was paramount). There was also the requirement that engines in existing production that were well known on how to maintain (so training programs did not have to be rewritten and production lines rearranged) were to be used.

    So the designs available that could use existing production lines and be handled by small yards so sufficient numbers could be produced were used and they just happened to be ones with open bridges.  In larger the ship and you get both open and closed bridges.

    #155500
    Avatar photoNot Connard Sage
    Participant

    Visibility (seeing and fighting your enemy), Radar in its infancy and the need to convert civilian ships to warships fast are the the three main reasons. .

     

    Were you in the Senior Service, or are you a naval architect? Or both?

     

    🙂

    Obvious contrarian and passive aggressive old prat, who is taken far too seriously by some and not seriously enough by others.

    #155502
    Avatar photodeephorse
    Participant

    Having recently watched ‘The Yangtse Incident’ and ‘The Bedford Incident’ (you’ve got to love those incident films), your explanation of something that I have long wondered about makes perfect sense.  Thanks.

    Play is what makes life bearable - Michael Rosen

    #155503
    Avatar photowillz
    Participant

    Visibility (seeing and fighting your enemy), Radar in its infancy and the need to convert civilian ships to warships fast are the the three main reasons. .

    Were you in the Senior Service, or are you a naval architect? Or both? 🙂

    Ex Senior Service, one of my jobs was training, test and evaluation of new equipment, the training and paperwork was huge just for one small piece of equipment.  Just think of all the training, paperwork involved in going from visibility detection, tracking and shooting to radar detection, tracking and shooting.

    #155505
    Avatar photoEtranger
    Participant

    Tradition had a bit to do with it too…

    Further to Willz points, the Flower class corvette was basically a lightly adapted whaler design, down to the single screw and old fashioned engine layout. They must have been extremely uncomfortable to sail in but were very seaworthy and reliable ships.

    #155506
    Avatar photoBrendan Morrissey
    Participant

    Well, I was hoping for a well-informed answer, but I didn’t expect one from somebody who actually knew from personal experience!  Thank you!!!

    I think what sparked the question was seeing the Battle of the River Plate film, which employed at least one of the RN ships (HMS Achilles?) that actually took part in the real action, so I knew it wasn’t simply a matter of the size of the ship.

    One follow-up question – given that you could easily have posted an officer on top of it for the purpose of aerial observation, why not just cover the bridge with an armoured “lid” to give some protection from the weather?

    #155509
    Avatar photowillz
    Participant

    . One follow-up question – given that you could easily have posted an officer on top of it for the purpose of aerial observation, why not just cover the bridge with an armoured “lid” to give some protection from the weather?

    Its back to visibility, gunnery training was based on visual sighting.  So if you cover the bridge in you have loss of visibility and you have to retrain your crew, which happened over time as radar go better and was more wide spread but it all took time.  In some cases the added weight of an armoured bridge / upper deck had to be balanced against the weight of extra guns for defence, especially on converted civilian ship to a war ship.

    #155512
    Avatar photoJohn D Salt
    Participant

    AIUI there was also an improved understanding of the effect of cold and wet on lookout vigilance. It seems obvious that a lookout should be able to see better if they don’t have to look through glass, but once you factor in the loss of performance from being exposed to the elements it’s not so straighforward.

    Another illustration of the importance attached to visibility — you’ll notice that the enclosed bridge design introduced on Type 15s and Whitbys (Type 12s) had overhanging glass panes, to reduce internal reflections at night.

    All the best,

    John.

    #155576
    Avatar photoDM
    Participant

    Open bridges also gave the Command a better appreciation of the environment. Several years ago a couple of our frigates suffered damage as a result of being driven hard in the face of a hurricane. The naval captain head of our ME team said the “master race” drove the ships harder than they ought to because they didn’t appreciate the effects of the weather with their nice warm enclosed bridges. Next day we presented him with an A&A package fr the removal of the bridge roof from T22 and T23 😀

    #156553
    Avatar photoAdmiralHawke
    Participant

    I was re-reading M.J. Whitley’s Destroyers book the other day, having read this question, and it seems that the reason the later Fletcher-class destroyers completed from 1943 onwards were built with square, open bridges, rather than the round, closed ones of the early Fletchers and earlier US destroyer classes, was precisely this: better all-round visibility.

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