May 25, 2018

Learning From History - The New Maginot Line

I picked up a copy of the New Maginot Line expecting it to be bad. It's a 1986 book by journalist Jon Connell, a proponent of defense reform, the theory that there's a massive flaw in not only the existing procurement process, but also the concepts behind the weapons we buy. This is not a position I agree with, and I felt like seeing how its conclusions held up today. They did worse than I expected. Jon Connell did not understand military history or contemporary systems, and the intervening 3 decades have not been kind to his thesis. This seems like useful information when judging similar claims made today.


May 23, 2018

The Falklands War Part 2

In April of 1982, Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, British possessions in the South Atlantic. There was a centuries-old sovereignty dispute, and the Argentine Junta chose to invade in an attempt to distract the populace from a stagnant economy. If Argentina expected Britain to roll over and give up the Falklands without a fight, they were sorely disappointed. In a meeting on March 31st, two days before the invasion, the Defense Secretary, John Nott, suggested that it would take five months to muster a task force, by which time winter would have set in, and the operation would be impossible. The First Sea Lord, Admiral Henry Leach, disagreed. He not only convinced Prime Minister Thatcher that it was possible to recapture the islands, but also promised that he could have a task force ready to go within a week.

HMS Hermes

This was an incredible claim. Britain had only two carriers, the WWII-vintage HMS Hermes and the new HMS Invincible.1 They had recently returned from a major exercise, and Hermes was in week two of a six-week stint in the yards, while Invincible's crew was on leave. One of the two British LPDs,2 HMS Intrepid, was only weeks away from decommissioning, and her crew had already been dispersed throughout the fleet. All available personnel were immediately put to work, buttoning up Hermes and loading the ships due to go south.


May 20, 2018

Auxiliaries Part 1

Warships are the most visible part of naval power, pictures of military might. However, they are not capable of operating alone. The ability of a navy to operate worldwide and at a high tempo is ultimately dependent on auxiliary ships, which keep the fleet supplied with oil, food, and all of the other paraphernalia required to run a warship.

Iowa refueling from USS Cahaba

The auxiliary ship is a surprisingly recent innovation. The Royal Navy, blessed with a worldwide network of bases, had little need for a seagoing support train. The USN, beginning during the Spanish-American War, found itself in a very different situation. That war revealed the inadequacy of the USN's support system, as the Asiatic Squadron was dependent on British coal supplies, while the fleet blockading Santiago in Cuba was seriously reduced by ships detached to coal at Guantanamo Bay. In the aftermath of the war, the US planned for two major threats: an assault into the Caribbean by a European power (most likely Germany) and an attack by Japan on the Philippines. In both cases, the US would have to fight at great distance from its bases. The most famous result was the long ranges of US warships, but even a battleship couldn't carry enough fuel to avoid the need for a forward base.


May 18, 2018

Millennium Challenge 2002

One issue that’s come up a couple of times in the comments to Naval Gazing is Millennium Challenge 2002. MC02 was a major exercise designed to test operational concepts that the US military was developing, using a combination of computer simulations and live exercises. But today it’s known primarily for the allegations that the OPFOR commander, Paul Van Riper, managed to sink most of the US fleet using asymmetric tactics such as small boat scouts and motorcycle couriers to keep the US from intercepting his communications, followed by a massive salvo of cruise missiles. At this point, the exercise was reset, and he was ordered to stick to a script that would guarantee a US victory. The obvious takeaway is that the USN is incompetent and vulnerable to an enemy using the same tactics.

Missile-armed Fast Attack Craft

As you’d probably expect, I’m of the opinion that the conventional narrative is deeply flawed. Unfortunately, I can’t offer a verifiable narrative to counter it, as deeper research into this has left me confused, with at least three different narratives as to what happened, and no real way to sort out the truth among them.


May 16, 2018

There Seems To Be Something Wrong With Our Bloody Ships Today

David Beatty's famous remark about the destruction of two of his ships by catastrophic magazine explosions during the Battle of Jutland sums up the traditional attitude towards one of the battle's most famous aspects. Of the 3,326 men aboard the battlecruisers Indefatigable, Queen Mary, and Invincible, only 17 survived. It's long been believed that the ships themselves were to blame, as they were built with only relatively light armor. Shells supposedly penetrated to the magazines and set them off. Recent research has revealed that this was not the case, and the ships were lost primarily due to defects in operation, not design.3

HMS Lion on the left steams past HMS Queen Mary as she explodes

The basic problem with the conventional theory is that no German shell penetrated deep enough into the surviving ships to have been able to set off a magazine if it had hit one. The magazines take up a minority of a battlecruiser's deck, so if such hits were common, then at least a few of the surviving ships should have seen shells reach their machinery. Instead, German shells were found to detonate with 16-24' of their first impact with the structure. At the 20° angle the shells were falling at at the time, this puts them no more than 8 feet below the upper deck upon detonation. The only case where shell fragments reached magazine was a hit on Barham at 17584 when fragments from a 12" shell penetrated the deck over the 6" magazine. Despite leaving a 12"x15" hole in the 1" deck, the fragments had no effect on the powder stored under it.


May 13, 2018

The Super-Dreadnoughts

In 1908 and 1909, the British believed that combat ranges were rising, and that they'd pushed the 12" gun as far as they could. The ships that took the 13.5" gun to sea were a radical departure from the previous generation of battleships in other ways, with the abolition of the wing turret and a significant jump in size.


The four Orion class battleships were the result of the famous 1909-1910 program, when the British became convinced that the Germans were planning a major building campaign to overtake them at sea.5 Instead of the normal three-ship programs of the era, four ships were bought initially, the two ships of the Colossus class, the battlecruiser Lion, and Orion. Later, under public pressure, another three units of the class were ordered, as well as the battlecruiser Princess Royal.


May 11, 2018

So You Want to Build a Modern Navy - Strategy Part 2

Bean: I figured I'd start my time today by picking up where we left off last time. Does anyone have any more questions?

Johnathan Wallis: If we are worried about future confrontation with China, we may want to look at how costly we could make hostilities against us. I'm thinking short of hot war, here, more in the range up to a naval embargo. With the future of U.S. influence uncertain, are we preparing to be potentially isolated from them?

Bean: That's a good point, and a risk we should definitely investigate. I don't think it's one we should build our fleet around, though we can probably get an effective defense at relatively little cost. Added to a future agenda.


May 09, 2018

The Falklands War Part 1

The Falkland Islands, in the South Atlantic off the southern tip of South America, have long been one of the world’s backwaters. Claimed by most of Europe at one point or another, the matter eventually came down to a dispute between the British and Spanish, whose claim was taken up by Argentina when Spain’s South American colonies rebelled. In 1833, the British took possession of the islands, which they continued to hold for the next century and a half. In 1850, Britain and Argentina signed the Arana-Southern Treaty, and Argentina did not mention the question of sovereignty again until 1941.

In 1908, the Falkland Islands were administratively joined by South Georgia, an even more desolate place, known only as a major whaling station before that trade was banned. In 1914, the Battle of the Falkland Islands took place, where the British battlecruisers Invincible and Inflexible took out Admiral Graf Spee’s East Asia Squadron.6 25 years later, Graf Spee’s namesake ship was hunted down by a squadron based in the Falklands, eventually being defeated at the Battle of the River Plate. Other than that, things in the Falklands were quiet, and except during the world wars, the British military presence varied only between minimal and nonexistent.


May 06, 2018

Russian Battleships Part 3

By the middle of the first decade of the 20th century, Russian naval policy was in turmoil. Their defeat in the Russo-Japanese War had thrown the government and the navy into chaos, as well as wiping out the Baltic Fleet, Russia's main overseas force. The arrival of the dreadnought didn't help matters, rendering the remaining pre-dreadnoughts obsolete. The end of the war saw the establishment of the Duma, the Russian parliament, which brought outside oversight entered into the picture for the first time. There was widespread distrust of the so-called Tsushima Ministry,7 which had supposedly lost the Russo-Japanese war. At the same time, the Army, wary of the increasing power of Germany, began to push for a bigger share of military spending. For several years, these factors stymied any plans to build dreadnoughts, and the first class of new Russian dreadnoughts was only pushed through due to some rather exotic legal maneuvers.

Gangut, name ship of Russia's first class of dreadnoughts

In 1911 the Duma began to reverse course. The Russian economy was booming, becoming the fourth-largest in the world by 1914. The last vestiges of the Tsushima Ministry had been swept away, restoring the Duma's confidence in the Navy. Most importantly, increasing tension with the Turks, who controlled the straits through which most of Russia's exports flowed, lead to a greater appreciation of the need for a large fleet. In 1912, an even larger shipbuilding program was authorized, combined with a strengthening of the fixed defenses of St. Petersberg to free the Baltic Fleet to operate away from the capital in time of war.


May 04, 2018

Museum Review - USS Midway

I visited Midway in the summer of 2016. Unlike at Iowa, I was pretty much just a general visitor, so this review is probably somewhat more accurate to what the normal experience is like.

Me with the gorgeous construction model of Midway
Type: Museum Aircraft Carrier
Location: San Diego, California
Rating: 4.5/5, Worth Traveling to See
Price: $20 for normal adults


Midway is a truly fantastic ship. I might even say she was better than Iowa except for the lack of 16" guns. The hangar deck has lots of exhibits about the ship, while the flight deck is full of planes. Most of the ship is open, including the bridge (which does require a free escorted tour), one of the engine rooms (which have the same turbines as Iowa), the various squadron rooms, and different varieties of crew quarters. The CIC (Combat Information Center) is a truly amazing space, very very similar to the real one on America that I got to see. I wanted to steal it.

I think I was aboard about 5 hours, and got to see almost everything. My pace is usually fairly similar to that of the general visitor, because I know most of the stuff on the signs. Overall, the exhibits are of very high quality, and there were lots of very knowledgeable guides around, even if they did refuse to admit the inferiority of their unarmored and unarmed ship.