Armoured Carriers: The British Way - Doctrine [Part.1]
Aircraft carrier designers of the time were facing a single question that only strategists could answer: Strike or Survive? The answer, unique to every nations, would direct carrier doctrine before and throughout the war. In the early 1930s, Great Britain's most likely enemy was Japan. A war in the Pacific was thus the scenario for which the Royal Navy prepared itself. The idea was similar to that followed by the United States and Japan, the only other major naval powers operating aircraft carriers. A fight in the Pacific required endurance and large air-groups, a design reflected by HMS Ark Royal. But in the mid-1930s, Germany and Italy proved to be much more of a threat and the Royal Navy found itself in a unique situation, having to operate in the North Sea, North Atlantic, Mediterranean, Indian and Pacific Oceans.
This led the British to adopt a very different approach. The threat of land-based bombers was paramount and operating in narrow waters dominated by enemy aircraft was extremely challenging. War games conducted by the RN, USN and IJN all brought the same conclusions: aircraft carriers were incredibly vulnerable and the first to strike would win. No matter how strong the defences were, an attacker would always get through and a single bomb was enough to render a carrier inoperable. Aircraft carriers would thus be subject to damage.
At the time, naval aviation was inferior to land-based aircraft by nature, but the situation was even worse for the Fleet Air Arm. Being part of the Royal Air Force, the FAA was given very little attention and its material was far from modern. The Royal Navy had such low expectations as to the effectiveness of its carrier-based fighters that a radical choice was taken: aircraft would be stored below in a protected space while the ship's heavy anti-aircraft armament would take up the defence along with the escort. This was a relevant choice in a world without radar for early warning or direction of air-patrol interceptions. The ship's survival was thus assured by maximising her own passive and active resistance to damage.