January 18, 2019

The NOAA Commissioned Corps

I've decided that it would be fun to shed a little light on the lesser-known uniformed services. And no, I don't mean the Coast Guard. While they do a great and generally underappreciated job, the average American has at least heard of them. Today, I tackle the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps, an organization that is by far the smallest of the uniformed services, with a strength of about 320 commissioned officers, and no warrant officers or enlisted men.

The NOAA Corps provides officers with technical and scientific training for the operations of the NOAA, and for support of other activities of the United States. Its members have naval ranks and wear naval uniforms, and it only exists due to a strange quirk of history. Read more...

January 16, 2019

The Spanish-American War Part 1 - Remember the Maine

By 1898, Spain's empire in the New World, once the largest in the world, was a husk of its former self. Revolutions early in the century had seen the Spanish colonies from Chile to Mexico become independent nations, leaving only Cuba and Puerto Rico in the Americas under the Spanish flag. In the Pacific, they retained the Philippines, Guam, and a scattering of small islands.1 But even these remnants rested uneasily. Cuba had first revolted against Spanish rule 30 years earlier, and another effort to win independence had broken out three years earlier, followed by a similar revolutionary war in the Philippines a year later. The US watched all of this with growing interest. American businesses essentially controlled the Cuban economy, and Cuban revolutionaries staged a very successful propaganda campaign to convince the US to intervene, aided by harsh measures the Spanish used to fight the Cuban guerillas and the famous "Yellow Journalism" of American newspapers. However, President McKinley wanted to end the conflict peacefully, and offered to serve as an intermediary.

USS Maine in Havana Harbor

Into this cauldron was sent the American battleship Maine. The first battleship built for the US Navy, she was by this point obsolescent, with staggered turrets and no protection from QF guns. However, this would be not seriously hinder her mission of protecting American citizens and interests in Havana. She entered the harbor on January 25th, 1898, and while the Spanish were not particularly friendly, they didn't interfere with the crew. Her Captain, Charles Sigsbee, was not ignorant of the danger that the Spanish would take some action against the ship. In fact, some locals had called for vengeance against the "Yankees" for sending a man-of-war to their waters, and demonstrated against the ship. Sigsbee ordered extra sentries posted, and kept a quarter of the watch on deck near their battle stations. He also made sure that any visitors were carefully monitored for "infernal machines", and that steam was kept up to allow the turrets to operate in an emergency. Unfortunately, his crew was unable to sweep the harbor for mines, or to use Maine's searchlights, which would have been interpreted by the authorities as a hostile gesture. Read more...

January 14, 2019

Open Thread 17

It's time once again for our regular open thread. Talk about whatever you want.

This time, I'm going to highlight what Neal said in the recent post on commercial aviation:

I would argue that the reliability, pretty decent schedule adherence (I know, not perfect), and safety make modern air travel a marvel of the modern world. It is simply economic infrastructure. Yes I wish it could be more pleasant with bigger seats, but it ain’t too bad for what it does and that is move millions of people every 24 hours.

[Airlines are] an industry that, just domestically alone, moves the equivalent population of Philadelphia to Minneapolis every 24 hours--and that was at the year 2000 so I am sure that it has increased.

Overhauled posts since last time are A Spotter's Guide to Modern Warships, my posts on the reactivation of the Iowas in the 80s and why doing the same thing today is a terrible idea, stability of ships, and parts one and two of Why the Carriers Are Not Doomed.

January 13, 2019

The Falklands War Part 10

In early April of 1982, Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, a few desolate rocks in the South Atlantic. The British mobilized their fleet, sending it south by way of Ascension Island. On the 25th, a force retook South Georgia, a even smaller and more desolate island that Argentina had also captured, while the main task force closed in on the Falklands. May 1st saw the British launch their attack. The Argentine Navy tried to interfere the next day, but withdrew after the cruiser General Belgrano was sunk by a submarine. Two days later, the Argentinians struck back, sinking the frigate Sheffield with an Exocet missile.

After the attack on Sheffield, both sides settled in for a long siege. The British needed to cut the Argentine defenders off from reinforcements and wear them down during the two weeks it would take for the amphibious force to arrive. The Argentines needed to wear down the British, denying them the sea and air superiority required to make an amphibious landing practical. The task of both sides would be complicated by the weather, which was about to take a turn for the worse. Read more...

January 11, 2019

Commercial Aviation Part 5

I've been reposting a series I wrote during my move from LA to Oklahoma on commercial aviation. I've previously discussed business models, airplanes, route networks and loyalty programs. But today, I'm going to be talking about safety.

I should start talking about safety by emphasizing that air travel is very safe. It’s about an order of magnitude safer per mile than a bus or a train, and two orders of magnitude safer than a car. There is literally no safer way to travel long distances, and a tremendous amount of work goes into that, because an airliner is massive and complex, and is constantly trying to break. This post should not change your opinion about flying, but if that’s something you’re really nervous about, you probably should stop reading now.

My previous job was as a small cog in the machine that sees potential safety problems before they get out of hand, and fixes them. I’ll outline the process I participated in, using a composite from various issues I worked: Read more...

January 09, 2019

Interwar Naval Diplomacy

While the Washington Naval Treaty was by far the greatest influence on the design of the battleship after 1922, it wasn't the end of attempts to limit naval strength by diplomacy. While Washington was an acceptable compromise to the parties involved, nobody was entirely happy with the outcome, and several attempts were made to draft a successor treaty. Plugging the most notable gap, the lack of restrictions on ships less than 10,000 tons, would be the task of the next round of conferences.

HMS Kent, a Treaty Cruiser

The success of the Washington Treaty gave new impetus to diplomatic efforts for general disarmament, and the League of Nations, with US support, began discussing a general disarmament conference in the mid-20s. However, the results were less than heartening,2 and President Coolidge announced that he would host a naval conference in Geneva in 1927 to deal with these issues. Read more...

January 06, 2019

The Great White Fleet Part 3

In 1907, Teddy Roosevelt ordered the US fleet deployed to the West Coast around South America as a test of its ability to fight a war with Japan. As it reached the Pacific, his administration decided to return it to the Atlantic by circumnavigating the globe. The second leg took it from San Francisco to Hawaii, New Zealand, and Australia. From Australia, the fleet set out for Manila, arriving on October 2nd to find a cholera outbreak waiting for them. All liberty was cancelled, and the fleet's main focus was on coaling, a brutal task in the heat of the Philippines. The only interruption was a typhoon, which pushed the departure back a day. Another storm struck as they made their way north to the visit at Yokohama, scattering the ships and washing a sailor overboard to his death. This prompted another day's delay, but the Japanese were able to rearrange the schedules to solve any problems this would have caused.

The Great White Fleet moored in Yokohama

Despite the American-Japanese tensions that had prompted the cruise in the first place, Japan pulled out all the stops for the visit, and was rewarded by a significant warming in the relationship.3 Meticulous planning resulted in a highly successful series of receptions, tours and banquets, while Admiral Sperry took great pains to ensure that his men were on their best behavior ashore. The Emperor himself joined the fleet's senior officers for a luncheon in Tokyo, where he was reportedly very good company. The only flaw in the visit was the reception thrown by the Americans aboard the Connecticut, which ran out of food before the announced start time due to an excess of visitors and a very limited catering budget. The Japanese were gracious about it, however, and their conduct went a long way to defuse the tensions built up over the previous few years. Shortly after the fleet's departure, the Root-Takahira Agreement was signed, smoothing over most of the outstanding official disputes. Read more...

January 04, 2019

Museum Review - Stafford Air & Space Museum

For my birthday this year, my girlfriend and I visited the Stafford Air & Space Museum in Weatherford, Oklahoma. Weatherford, about an hour west of Oklahoma City on I-40, is the birthplace of Gemini and Apollo astronaut Tom Stafford. They like him very much there, and assembled an air and space museum in his honor. It's much better than a museum of this type in a place like Weatherford (birthplace of Tom Stafford, population about 11,000) has any right to be.

Lord Nelson and me in a simulator at the Stafford Museum
Type: Air and space museum and astronaut shrine
Location: Weatherford, Oklahoma (Birthplace of Tom Stafford)
Rating: 4.3/5, A very solid museum with some really cool stuff
Price: $7 for normal adults

Website

January 02, 2019

Auxiliaries Part 4

In 1944, the Pacific Fleet was faced with a serious logistical problem. While a bewildering variety of ships had made it possible for the Pacific Fleet to operate out of a primitive island lagoon, saving weeks shuttling back and forth to the nearest permanent base, the carriers only carried enough ordnance for three or four days of strikes. This had been adequate for facing the Japanese fleet, or for pounding isolated islands into submission, but there was no way to provide sustained air power for the final push if the carriers had to spend three-quarters of their time shuttling back and forth to the fleet's base at Ulithi.

Missouri receiving 16" powder tanks from ammunition ship Mount Baker

The Fifth Fleet logistics staff were tasked with coming up with a solution, and they managed to devise one within a matter of weeks. In essence, it was very simple. All of the existing ammunition ships had booms4 to allow them to move ordnance to ships tied up alongside. A line was run from one of these booms to the receiving ship, where it was attached to a line from a winch, and a cargo hook was hung from the junction. This was used to suspend the ordnance to be delivered, which was then hauled across and struck down into the ship's magazines, just as it would be in harbor. The whole operation very much resembled underway replenishment of fuel, except that instead of simply pumping liquid, thousands of pounds of ammunition had to be manhandled on deck.5 500 and 1000 pound bombs were a particular challenge, as they had to be rolled across the deck, and could easily pulp limbs if they got out of control. Read more...

December 31, 2018

Open Thread 16

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope that 2019 will treat you well.

It's our regular open thread. Talk about whatever you like.

Take a look at this selection of panoramas of various compartments aboard Iowa. There's a lot of ones of areas not open to the public, and even a few of areas I've never been to.

The big update this time out is all four parts on armor. Also, we have Dreadnoughts of the minor powers and A Spotter's Guide to Warships of the World Wars.