In all aspects of naval construction, save submarines, the Allies outproduced their Axis foes significantly. In battleship production the Allies outproduced the Axis by a 2.6 to one ratio. Aircraft carriers, cruisers, escorts, and destroyers the Allies’ ratios were higher. In submarines the Axis produced 1336 to 370 Allies units for a 3.6 to one ratio.
Table of Contents
The UK and US both had world sea faring navies. To a lesser extent so did Japan. Germany’s navy except submarines was for the most part limited to the North Atlantic. The Allies inherently had a larger naval vessel production base to start the war and naval vessels are a very long lead item. Therefore, having a larger base to begin with gave the Allies a big jump on their counterparts.
The Naval Conferences
A series of naval conferences beginning in 1921 held in Washington DC, Geneva in 1927, London in 1930, and London in 1935 aimed to set limits on naval tonnage overall and build the framework for disarmament. During the first conference there were three treaties signed and the one specific to naval vessel production was the Five-Power Treaty. The Five-Power Treaty signed in 1922 by the five major naval nations at the time were the United Kingdom, the United States, Japan, France and Italy (listed in size of navies).
“The Five-Power Treaty, signed by the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, France and Italy was the cornerstone of the naval disarmament program. It called for each of the countries involved to maintain a set ratio of warship tonnage which allowed the United States and the United Kingdom 500,000 tons, Japan 300,000 tons, and France and Italy each 175,000 tons. Japan preferred that tonnage be allotted at a 10:10:7 ratio, while the U.S. Navy preferred a 10:10:5 ratio.
The conference ultimately adopted the 5:5:3 ratio limits. Since the United States and the United Kingdom maintained navies in both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans to support their colonial territories, the Five-Power Treaty allotted both countries the highest tonnage allowances. The treaty also called on all five signatories to stop building capital ships and reduce the size of their navies by scrapping older ships.” (1)
(1) “The Washington Naval Conference, 1921–1922”, Office of the Historian, Foreign Service Institute, United States Department of State, https://history.state.gov/milestones/1921-1936/naval-conference, Accessed on March 5, 2023.
Several follow-on conferences were held between 1927 and 1935, and the results modified the original the Five-Power Treaty to address tonnage ratios, cruisers, submarines, and auxiliary ships. Cruisers became a sticking point as the original treaty limited the size but not how many could be built, and all raced to build as many as possible. The provisions in both the Five-Power Treaty of 1922 and the 1930 treaties were set to expire in 1936. Japan ended further participation upon the 1936 expiration date.
Prewar Shipbuilding Facilities
Both the United States and the United Kingdom had large commercial and military shipbuilding facilities with long established capabilities. Germany and Japan both had smaller shipbuilding capabilities. Almost all of Japan’s shipbuilding during the 1930s were naval ships whereas Germany’s were split between military and commercial vessels. But it was the UK and the US that were producing the greatest tonnage.
Minorities and Women Shipbuilders
The US tapped into nontraditional shipbuilding labor including minorities and women. These laborers became welders and electricians, machine operators and pipefitters, mechanics and painters. Women at the Charlestown Navy Yard totaled over 8,000 of the 50,000 shipbuilders in 1943.
Annual Allied Axis Naval Construction 1939-45 Data
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Source: Ellis, John, “The World War II Databook”, BCA by arrangements with Aurum Press Ltd., London, 1993, Page 280, Table 95
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