June 20, 2018

Second-Generation Battlecruisers

The first battlecruisers were the product of Jackie Fisher's efforts to find a more cost-effective way to protect British trade. They were the size of contemporary battleships, trading armor for guns. The Germans answered with ships that were better-balanced, with lighter armament but battleship-scale armor.

Around 1909, the battlecruiser grew rapidly, much as the contemporary battleships did. In Britain, this was spearheaded by HMS Lion and her sister ship, Princess Royal, both part of the "We want eight" 1909-1910 program. Lion was the first British ship armed with the 13.5" gun, a change from the slightly improved Indefatigable originally planned that was made possible because she was being built in the Royal Dockyards instead of a commercial yard. Making late changes to a design in a commercial yard would have meant serious penalties under the contract, but the Dockyards were under the navy's direct control.1

HMS Lion

Lion was a dramatic move away from the previous lightly-armored battlecruisers and into a ship that was more of a fast battleship, although not to the extent of the German battlecruisers. The 9" belt was 50% thicker than those of the previous classes, and a 6" upper belt was fitted, something completely absent in the Indefatigables. One of the major drivers for this was the increase in battle ranges, which meant that armor was now potentially useful against heavy shells. The four 13.5" twin turrets were finally all on the centerline, including a superfiring turret forward.2 Speed also increased from 25 to 28 kts, to match the German Moltke. Read more...

June 18, 2018

Open Thread 2

Because of the success of the last open thread, I'm inclined to try another one. Talk about anything you want except culture war.

Also, I'm going to be in Boston this summer, July 19th-24th. I expect to hit a lot of the museum ships up there, and want to do a meetup at one if there's interest.

June 17, 2018

Jackie Fisher

I've mentioned Jackie Fisher many times, so it seemed appropriate to examine his life in a bit more detail. John Arbuthnot "Jackie" Fisher was perhaps the most important naval officers of the 20th century, despite never commanding a fleet in battle. His career began on the deck of a wooden sailing ship and ended with a fleet of dreadnoughts, destroyers, submarines and even the first steps towards aircraft carriers. Even more astonishingly, he was the man most responsible for many of these developments, some of which continue to shape naval warfare today.3

Jackie Fisher

A brilliant, energetic, innovative, and ambitious man, he was also stubborn and prone to obsession. At his best, he saw the shape of things to come better than any of his contemporaries, and even better than many today. At his worst, he assumed that the future had already arrived, and tried to build ships that were simply not possible yet. He was a constant proponent of reform, ranging from replacing hardtack with fresh-baked bread to the development of Dreadnought, but was uncompromising in his dealings with those he saw as his enemies. Read more...

June 15, 2018

So You Want to Build a Modern Navy - Aviation Part 1

Bean: I think it's probably time to look at our options for fixed-wing aviation at sea. As I see it, we have a couple ways to do this, and I'm not sure which one we should go for.

HMS Queen Elizabeth

First, we could buy full CATOBAR carriers like the US and France use. These would be smaller than the US carriers, ideally about the size of the British Queen Elizabeths, although we might be able to go a bit smaller. The advantage is that this gives us the best payload and the widest range of aircraft options. One of the highlights would be being able to fly E-2 Hawkeyes, giving us one of the best AWACS planes in the world. The problem is that ships that big are also expensive, and we'd have to develop a whole new set of skills. We do have aircraft options here, though. We could buy either Dassault Rafales or Boeing Super Hornets, and we'd probably get a pretty good deal on either one. Even better, we could fly the same plane from our land bases, giving us commonality between our sea and land based squadrons.


June 13, 2018

The Battle of Pungdo

After Lissa, fleets of ironclads didn't clash for almost three decades, and when they finally did, it was in the Far East. The Japanese, increasingly assertive in the wake of the Meiji Restoration, desired to end centuries of Chinese sovereignty over Korea. This tension spilled over into Korean politics, which became increasingly bloody, and in 1885, Japan and China signed the Convention of Tientsin, limiting troop deployments to Korea.

In 1894, a major peasant revolt broke out, and China sent 3,000 men to suppress it. Japan responded by sending 8,000 troops, claiming that the Chinese had not informed them as required under the Convention. These troops replaced the Korean government with a pro-Japanese one. At this point, war was inevitable.


June 10, 2018

The Falklands War Part 3

After Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982, the British frantically prepared their fleet to sail to the South Atlantic and recapture them. The 8,000-mile logistics chain included only one base, Ascension, a tiny island in the central Atlantic.

Ascension was critical to Britain's counterinvasion of the Falklands, providing the base where the Task Force assembled and sorted itself out after its hasty departure from the UK. Ascension was primarily used as a base by the Americans, who had a NASA tracking station and a signals intelligence center on the island. Wideawake Airfield, with a 10,000 ft runway, would be critical. Although the runway was enough to support virtually any airplane, it had no taxiway and only a small hardstand, and the operations contract with Pan Am provided for only 285 aircraft movements per year. At the height of the operation, Wideawake would see more than 300 aircraft movements in a day, making it the busiest airport in the world.

Ascension viewed from the ISS, with Wideawake at the bottom

Ascension's other facilities were equally bare-bones. There were no hotels, and visitors were not allowed without permission from the British Administrator. Children reaching 18 who were not employed were required to leave. There was a golf course, but it was among the worst in the world due to the lack of greenery.4 Ascension did not have the facilities to support a large influx of visitors: the island's supply of fresh water, produced by desalination, was very limited, and there was virtually no shelter for the new arrivals. Read more...

June 08, 2018

Museum Review - USS Alabama and Battleship Memorial Park

I visited Alabama in December of 2015, on a Friday. It was only weeks after I started at Iowa, and I was excited to get a point of comparison and to see stuff I hadn't gotten to see before. Ultimately, though, I wasn't impressed.

Me at Alabama
Type: Museum Battleship with Submarine and Air Museum
Location: Mobile, Alabama
Rating: 3.5/5, Worth it if you're in town or a completionist
Price: $15 for normal adults


Alabama, in Mobile, is a decent way to spend an afternoon. She's a member of the South Dakota class, and still pretty much in WWII configuration, which was a big change from Iowa. A lot of the ship is open, including the turrets, a combined engine/boiler room, one of the magazines, and most of the living space.

My biggest complaint was that I didn't see anyone there who wasn't directly involved with making money. Just to be clear, I totally understand that something of this nature is a fiscal black hole in the shape of a ship. I'm not criticizing them for trying to soak guests for all they can. We at Iowa do the same thing. My problem was that there was nobody there whose job was to make my visit better. That's what I did on Iowa, and I was disappointed that they didn't have anyone doing that sort of thing. Also that I didn't have anyone to geek with.

Beyond that, the museum aspects were really variable. For a ship which has been open for 50+ years, some parts were just not that well done. The turrets, while open, had such poor lighting that I can only conclude that personal injury lawsuits do not exist in Alabama, and basically no signage. A lot of spaces looked like they'd been stripped out and then had the major elements reinserted. The bulkheads were way too clean, and even the spaces that had been dressed up as if they were live were a bit spartan. Some spaces were good, such as the engine room and particularly the magazine they had opened up. Another thing I noticed is that the ship is deep in the mud, and doesn't move like a proper ship. It feels weird. I know you may not think I could tell, but I promise you that you do feel it if you've spent time shipboard recently.

The rest of the facility was better. The USS Drum, a WWII fleet submarine, is next to the battleship. While it's on land, it's much closer to its original condition, and I enjoyed it more than Alabama, at least per-minute. There's a medium-sized air museum, and some outdoor military hardware displays, too. They have an A-12 spyplane (predecessor to the SR-71) and a YF-17 prototype, along with a pretty good collection of planes from Vietnam and later eras. Their WWII stuff is pretty standard, the sort of stuff that can be seen anywhere.

It's entirely possible that I'd have a very different review if I'd gone on a day where they had a couple of guides on hand. It certainly wasn't a bad day, although I'd much rather spend the day on Iowa or Midway.

June 06, 2018

Ship History - USS New Jersey (BB-62)

I'm going to try a new series, doing brief histories of interesting ships. I'll start with the other three Iowa class battleships, in order, which brings us to the USS New Jersey, BB-62.

New Jersey shortly before being launched

New Jersey was ordered at the same time as Iowa, from Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. Launched on December 7th, 1942, and commissioned on May 23rd, 1943, she spent the next 6 months working up in the Atlantic. On January 7th, 1944, she, in company with Iowa, passed through the Panama Canal, and into the Pacific. The two ships stayed together when they joined the Fifth Fleet, where Admiral Spruance chose New Jersey as his flagship. He was aboard her during the sweep around Truk, and kept his flag aboard until mid-April, including the bombardment of Milli.


June 04, 2018

Open Thread 1

We're going to follow Scott Alexander's lead and do an Open Thread. Talk about whatever you want, although I do request that you avoid culture war. (Talking about regular war is encouraged.)

A couple of things:

1. I've booked a ticket to visit LA. I'll be arriving on September 6th and flying out on the 10th. On Saturday the 8th, I plan to hold a meetup for blog readers and who want to tour Iowa. This should be in the afternoon, which will give anyone who wants to a chance to do the Full Steam Ahead tour of the engines in the morning. Anyone interested?

2. I recently watched the TV series "Britain's Biggest Warship". It's a documentary about the process of taking HMS Queen Elizabeth to sea, and it's really good. It does an excellent job of looking at the technical side of the ship in a TV-accessible way, and of seeing the people that make a warship work, without falling into pointless drama. I'd highly recommend tracking down a copy and watching it.

June 03, 2018

So You Want to Build a Modern Navy - Coast Guard Part 1

Bean: Now that we’ve gotten at least some clarity over our strategic mission, it’s time to turn our attention to our surface fleet. Taking a broad view, this covers an incredibly wide array of missions, everything from high-end AAW and ASW to land attack to maritime presence and low-end escort operations right down to inspecting shipping and maritime law enforcement. Most of us were Americans, and thus view the last two of these as missions for the Coast Guard. But the US Coast Guard is the world’s 12th-largest navy, and we at this point need to figure out how to fill those roles.

Actually, those are our most urgent problems. We’re already starting to get reports of undesirables on our coasts, so we need to work fast. The basic outline of what we need to do is fairly simple. At the bottom end, you have boats in the 25’-50’ range. These do all sorts of missions, maritime security, harbor patrol, delivering boarding teams, fishing idiot boaters out of the drink, enforcing environmental laws and so on. We’ve already ordered a few under law enforcement auspices, but we’re going to need quite a few more. Read more...