September 24, 2018

Open Thread 9

It's time for our regular Open Thread. Talk about whatever you want, so long as it isn't culture war.

I've found a strong contender for the Naval Gazing Award for Excellence in Defense Journalism Failure. The Military's Addiction to Oil, an effort to quantify the military's impact on global warming. It's from 2007, but it was so bad that HuffPo actually pulled the rest of the series. The man has clearly never been near a member of the military, except maybe during a protest. Favorite points include his mention of the "B-52 Stratocruiser" (merely one of many misunderstood aircraft), a claim that the "Seals" have a philosophy of "spray and pray" (a statement I would not like to make near actual SEALs), random shots at defense contractors unrelated to the article's thesis, an assumption that the military doesn't care about fuel economy (fuel logistics are a big concern, and if they could cut the amount of effort devoted to it, they would), and the claim that the Abraham Lincoln "fired 1.6 million pounds of ordnance from its guns" during the early stages of Iraqi Freedom (all three CIWS would have had to fire for almost 9 hours straight to do this). Read more...

September 23, 2018

The Wartime Battlecruisers

When war broke out in 1914, it was assumed that the fighting would be over quickly, well before any new capital ships could be completed. The ships of the 1914-1915 building program, three Revenges and a Queen Elizabeth, had yet to be laid down. One of the Revenges and the Queen Elizabeth were being constructed at the Royal Dockyards, and were promptly cancelled, freeing capacity for other, more urgent, vessels. However, the last two ships, Renown and Repulse, were being built under contract in private yards, Palmers and Fairfield respectively. Cancelling these ships would incur significant penalties, and work on them was allowed to proceed.

HMS Repulse shortly after being completed

Into this picture came Jackie Fisher, who had invented the battlecruiser and continued to believe it would one day displace the battleship. After the Battle of the Falklands in December 1914, where Invincible and Inflexible performed well, running down a German squadron that had been attacking British trade, Fisher proposed that Repulse and Renown be redesigned as battlecruisers. His initial proposal was for a 32-kt ship with two twin 15" turrets, 4" secondary armament, intended to save weight relative to the 6" weapons used on the most recent capital ships, and armored like Indefatigable. He soon added a third turret to his requirements, along with a pair of torpedo tubes, and the Director of Naval Construction, Eustace Tennyson D'Eyncourt, produced a design that matched these specifications within three days. This design was swiftly approved, and detail work began only 9 days after Fisher had issued his specification. This urgency carried into the production program, and Fisher planned to complete the ships within 15 months of authorization, by March 1916. Read more...

September 21, 2018

Museum Review - Mystic Seaport

After visiting Nautilus, Sister Bean and I drove over to Mystic Seaport. Mystic Seaport is the nation's largest maritime museum, including a collection of historical ships, mostly sailing vessels, and a recreation of a 19th-century port. It was all meticulously detailed and lovingly cared for.

Charles W. Morgan1
Type: Museum of 19th-century maritime history
Location: Mystic, Connecticut
Rating: 4/5, Very detailed and lots to do, but it didn't have a spark
Price: $28.95 for normal adults


Mystic has a massive collection of vessels, so many that it's rather overwhelming. The most impressive is the Charles W. Morgan, the last surviving American whaling ship built of wood and the oldest merchant ship afloat. She, and all of the other ships in the collection, have been painstakingly restored, and made as operational as possible. This means that the guides, who are fairly numerous, are pretty knowledgeable and often have insights that those of us in the more traditional museum ship world don't get. Read more...

September 19, 2018

Secondary Armament - Anti-Destroyer Weapons

While the quick-firing batteries of the pre-dreadnought were eliminated with the arrival of Dreadnought, the secondary gun was not dead. Torpedo boats remained a threat, and one that could not be countered by the main guns, because they trained and fired too slowly.

12-pounder guns atop one of Dreadnought's turrets

Dreadnought herself had a light secondary armament, 27 single 12-pounder (3") guns, designed around the threat of independent attack by torpedo boats at night. This meant that the guns would not have to be manned during a fleet action, when the main guns were firing, and thus did not need armor. In fact, it was thought that widely dispersing them would provide greater protection than grouping them and providing light armor. However, they did need to be handy, quick-firing, and have positions with wide arcs of fire. As such, guns were mounted in the open on the main deck and on top of the turrets. Both positions had drawbacks. The ones on the main deck were vulnerable to damage from gun blast when the main guns were fired, and some of them were made to retract into the deck, while the turret-top guns couldn't easily be supplied with ammunition. Guns at night were useless without searchlights, which had problems of their own. Read more...

September 16, 2018

Auxiliaries Part 3

As the US Navy prepared to battle its way across the Pacific in the years leading up to World War II, it realized that it would not have the benefit of extensive forward bases to support the fleet on the road to Tokyo. The Japanese controlled most of the islands in the Central Pacific, and the Washington Naval Treaty prohibited fortification of the few the US did own. Instead, the US would have to figure out how to quickly turn a coral atoll lacking even reliable fresh water and lying several thousand miles from the nearest major permanent base into a forward anchorage where the fleet could rearm, resupply, and launch itself again into the Japanese defenses.

Destroyer Tender Dixie with her charges near Leyte

When the war began, most of the ships available for the advance bases were quite similar to those that had supported the fleet in World War I. Submarines and destroyers were supported by their type-specific tenders. While both types of ship had grown larger, more capable, and more self-sufficient in the interwar years, they still needed the support of tenders, with their extensive workshops, skilled technicians, and supplies of spare parts, ammunition, and food. Larger ships tied up alongside repair ships when they were unable to cope with problems using their internal resources. And hospital ships treated the sick and wounded, and evacuated them to the mainland. Read more...

September 14, 2018

The Nimrod Saga

For all of the disasters that bedevil American military procurement, we can always look to our closest ally, the UK, when we need to feel better about our ability to buy weapons. Twice in the last 40 years, the British have poured enormous sums of money into an airplane, and walked away empty-handed. To make matters worse, it was the same airplane, the Hawker Siddeley Nimrod.2 I thus feel confident awarding the Naval Gazing Worst Procurement Ever trophy to the Nimrod.

The Nimrod MRA4

The Nimrod3 was developed in the 60s from the De Havilland Comet, the world's first jet airliner, an airplane most famous for a series of crashes caused by fatigue cracking early in its career.4 But the Nimrod initially proved to be a reasonably good aircraft, being upgraded from the initial MR1 variant to the later MR2 maritime patrol and R1 signals intelligence versions. Read more...

September 12, 2018

Museum Review - USS Nautilus and Submarine Force Museum

I drove down from Boston to see the USS Nautilus and the attached Submarine Force Museum in Groton, Connecticut. It was a bit of a drive, but what we found when we arrived proved that we'd made the right decision. The entire complex joined the list of the great military museums I've been to, instead of just the merely good.

Me at a mockup control panel5
Type: Museum of the submarine force, including the world's first nuclear-powered submarine
Location: Groton, Connecticut
Rating: 4.8/5, An exceptionally well-done look at submarine history and warfare
Price: Free


The sail of NR-1

I suspect that many of you are surprised that I'm rating Nautilus above both Massachusetts and Midway. I am too, but they earned it. Even as we were walking towards the front doors, I was starting to see cool stuff I hadn't expected to run across. In that particular case, it was the sail and manipulator arm of NR-1, a nuclear-powered research submarine specializing in fine work deep underwater. It's impossible not to love a submarine that had wheels. Read more...

September 10, 2018

Open Thread 8

As you should expect by now, we're doing our biweekly open thread. Talk about anything you want that isn't culture war.

During the last OT, DirectrixGazer mentioned Neptunus Lex, who I had never heard of. I'm glad he did. Most of his writings can be found here, with the exception of his astonishing Rhythyms series, a portrait of a day aboard a carrier. Highly recommended.

September 09, 2018

The Falklands War Part 6

In early April, 1982, Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, a tiny cluster of land in the South Atlantic. The British mobilized their fleet to retake them, staging out of Ascension Island. On the 25th, a force retook South Georgia, a small island that Argentina had also captured, while the main task force closed on the Falklands themselves.

Avro Vulcan XH5586

Six days after South Georgia fell, the British launched their first strike on the Falklands. The carriers had closed in, and were about to begin the campaign for air and sea superiority within the 200-mile Total Exclusion Zone. However, the honor of the first strike fell not to the Navy but to the Royal Air Force.


September 07, 2018

So You Want to Build a Modern Navy - Strategy Part 3

It's time to return to the basic strategy of our hypothetical navy, a subject we've discussed at some length.

Dndnrsn: I apologize for my lateness. In my role as Proofreader-General, I was occupied fighting a different war: the war against the use of "impact" as a verb. Then there was the business with an ensign who insisted on writing "utilize" in memos instead of "use." Anyway, here I am. Thinking about overall strategy and the fleet: It's been established we're a medium power with an island to ourselves. The navy should be a priority, but I think there's a good argument for having a smaller navy than the UK: we aren't playing to memories of past glory. They are, which probably leads them to have a navy larger than they strictly need. If there is a "big" war, either we're on the same side as the US, or something went terribly wrong and we're screwed. We still want to be able to do stuff on our own that's smaller. We should be able to do one small thing on our own, or contribute to multiple small things, or contribute to one small thing so as to wear down our navy less. This should be the general military strategy, not just the naval strategy. This argues for maybe one carrier and some destroyers, probably some submarines, and smaller craft. Read more...