November 24, 2017

Mine Warfare Part 1

Probably the most underappreciated of naval weapons is the humble mine. Mine warfare is unglamorous, dangerous, and potentially decisive.

HMS Merlin

The first ship mined (as we understand the term today) was HMS Merlin, on July 9th, 1855. The ship, deployed to the Baltic as part of the Crimean War, suffered only minimal damage. The Russians had deployed primitive moored contact mines, tethered to the bottom, which detonated if a rod on the top was bumped by a passing ship. Interestingly, they were invented by Immanuel Nobel, father of Alfred Nobel. In response, the British initiated the first minesweeping operation a few days later, grappling the mines and hauling them up. Remote-controlled mines to be detonated from shore, were also used, but proved less successful than the contact mines.


November 22, 2017

USS Iowa (BB-61) Part 6 - The 80s

For a quarter-century, Iowa slept. In 1968, New Jersey was recommissioned for service off Vietnam, then decommissioned after a single tour because the North Vietnamese hated her too much and Washington wanted to send signals that they were interested in peace.1 In the 70s, several attempts were made to scrap the ship and her sisters, thwarted mainly by the efforts of the Marine Corps, who feared the loss of fire support capability these ships provided.2 These efforts began to gain support in the late 70s, and in 1980 a bill to release funds for a reactivation reached the Senate floor before being defeated thanks to the personal intervention of President Carter. Fortunately for Iowa, President Carter was himself defeated that November, and President Reagan announced that he would support the reactivation and modernization of all four Iowas.3

Iowa undergoing modernization at Pascagoula


November 19, 2017

USS Iowa (BB-61) Part 5 - Korea and 2nd Commission

On September 20th, 1945, Iowa left Japanese waters, bound for Okinawa with 354 passengers, mostly liberated POWs. In Okinawa, she picked up another 562 passengers under the auspices of Operation Magic Carpet, the US effort to bring troops home as quickly as possible by packing them onto whatever ship was available. Most of the contingent from Okinawa were Seebees, who amused themselves by fighting one another. Iowa proceeded to Seattle, where she hosted over 10,000 visitors during Fleet Week/Navy Day festivities.

Iowa and Maryland in Seattle for Navy Day 1945


November 17, 2017

The Battleships of Pearl Harbor Part 3 - Suriago

The invasion began on Leyte Island in October of 1944, and triggered the largest naval battle in history, the battle of Leyte Gulf. The Japanese, who had long planned for the ‘Decisive Battle’ between their battleships and those of the US, planned a counterattack on the US landings in three main groups. Their carriers would come in from the north and draw off the US carriers covering the invasion, while two groups of battleships would sneak up on the invasion fleet from the east, passing through the Philippines and pincering the US transports from the north and south.

Pennsylvania leading the US fleet near the Philippines


November 15, 2017

The Battle of Lissa

I’ve written quite a bit on the history of battleship design, but I haven’t spent much time on the use of the early battleships. This is a gap I intend to close, by looking at the (surprisingly few) clashes of ironclad and pre-dreadnought battleships.

The Battle of Lissa


November 13, 2017

The Battleships of Pearl Harbor Part 2 - Salvage

When we left Pearl Harbor, it was the evening of December 7th, and most of Battle Force was on the bottom of the harbor. But what happened to the ships afterwards? We’ll go through the ships in the order which they returned to service (if they did) and then look more broadly at the use of the survivors during the war.

Battleship Row, Dec 8, 1941 (L-R: Maryland, Oklahoma, Tennessee, West Virginia, Arizona)


November 12, 2017

USS Iowa (BB-61) Part 4 - The End of WWII

Iowa's refit at Hunter's Point ran from January until mid-March of 1945. Besides the repairs to Shaft 3, she received an enclosed bridge (the original bridge had consisted of an open walkway wrapped around the front of the conning tower), updated radar for the Mk 37 directors, and new airplanes, SC Seahawks replacing OS2U Kingfishers.

USS Iowa in drydock at the beginning of her refit

The end of March was spent operating out of San Pedro Harbor, her future home, working up before going back to the front lines. She relieved New Jersey, due for a refit of her own, on April 20th, and was off Okinawa in support of operations there five days later. En route, the crew learned of the death of President Roosevelt, who they had carried across the Atlantic a year and a half previously.


November 11, 2017


Here's my list of naval-related books, in case anyone wants to do more reading on the subjects under discussion here, or if you're looking for presents for someone of a naval inclination. Read more...

November 10, 2017

The Battleships of Pearl Harbor Part 1 - Sunk

In Pearl Harbor on December 7th were eight battleships, Nevada, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Tennessee, California, West Virginia and Maryland. All of them were of WWI-vintage, representatives of what was known as the Standard Type. These were ships commissioned between 1914 and 1923, all of broadly the same size, and the first ships designed for long-range combat using an all-or-nothing armor scheme. All had four turrets, and all but West Virginia and Maryland mounting 14” guns. (They had 16” guns instead.)

Pearl Harbor at the beginning of the attack, Battleship Row at the top4

All of the ships except Pennsylvania (which was in drydock) were moored along Ford Island in the famous ‘battleship row’. I’m going to focus on the stories of the individual ships during the attack, moving north to south. The attack began at 0748 on Sunday, December 7th, and a total of 353 Japanese aircraft were involved, in two waves.


November 08, 2017

USS Iowa (BB-61) Part 3 - Island-hopping in the Pacific

After a hectic first month of combat, Iowa’s war slowed down. The second half of March and April were spent supporting the carrier groups, which at this point in the war were not facing a serious air threat. May 1st saw Iowa returning to action with the bombardment of Ponape Atoll, accompanied not only by New Jersey but also by Massachusetts, North Carolina, Alabama, and South Dakota. The Japanese were smart enough to keep their heads down this time, despite the extensive damage that was done to their infrastructure, primarily the island's three runways. After 70 minutes, the bombardment was terminated for lack of suitable targets.

Iowa firing her guns in the Pacific