March 19, 2023


Probably the biggest question I currently have about warships in the WWII era is how to understand the ships between the battleship and the classical treaty-type cruisers. A surprising number of navies investigated these, although only the USN built ships that fall at the core of this type.


In a lot of ways, the progenitor of the type were the Deutschland class Panzerschiffe, built under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. These limited Germany to ships of 10,000 tons and armed with 11" guns, with the obvious intention of Germany being able to build a few coastal defense ships to replace the pre-dreadnoughts they had retained after the war. The Germans decided to do something quite different, building what was known at the time as a "Pocket Battleship", with two triple 11" turrets, a speed of about 28 kts and an armored belt of 6-8 cm. The most unusual feature was their propulsion, provided by diesel engines, which gave the ships very long range. Ultimately, instead of being built to defend Germany's coasts, they were commerce raiders, intended to be capable of defeating anything that could match their speed with the exception of a trio of British battlecruisers. In practice, this didn't work as well as the Germans had hoped, with Graf Spee doing significant damage to Exeter at River Plate before being scuttled thanks to damage, while Lutzow was driven off by British cruisers during an attack on a convoy in the Barents Sea in the only other major action fought by the type. Read more...

March 17, 2023

Open Thread 126

It's time once again for our regular Open Thread. Talk about whatever you want, so long as it isn't Culture War.

The DSL meetup in Tucson was great (look for reviews of Pima and the Titan silo soon) and has me thinking about the meetup I'm trying to put together for the Iowa, probably in June. Before I start seriously trying to book things, I'd like to gauge interest. The basic schedule would run Friday night through Sunday noon-ish, with the main event being most of the day on the battleship. I'm not sure how much of the ship we'll be able to see, but I'm working on that.

Overhauls are Military Procurement - Pricing, Survivability - Fire and for 2022, Letters of Marque Today and Early Lessons from the War in Ukraine.

March 12, 2023

Confederate Commerce Raiding Part 8

When last we left Raphael Semmes, he was taking the famous Alabama to Cherboug, France, for much-needed maintenance. But at Cherbourg, Semmes found the repairs needed by the Alabama delayed—the only dry dock in the port was government run. While Semmes waited for authorization from the French Emperor to use the dry docks, the Union ship Kearsarge, John Winslow commanding, was alerted to her presence and entered the port, whereupon Semmes sent a message to the Kearsarge that he was willing to duel. Semmes could likely have evaded the Kearsarge instead, but his ship was in a poor condition to go to sea, and more Union warships were in en route. Perhaps the poor state of the war at home made Semmes more willing to risk a stand-up fight.

Kearsearge and Alabama clash

Whatever the reason, the ships met by arrangement on July 19, 1864. The two ships were relatively evenly matched—the Alabama had an additional gun, and carried a rifled cannon that gave her an advantage at range. However, the Alabama, normally the speedier of the two vessels, had a fouled hull from her long voyage, likely making her slower than the Kearsarge. The extended period at sea had also decayed her gunpowder. The Kearsarge had better firepower at close range, and, besides the thicker timbers of a warship, she had cables of chain running along her sides that would help absorb cannon shots. Semmes was unaware of this last fact, and afterwards conceded grumblingly that “[t]he days of chivalry being past, perhaps it would be unfair to charge Captain Winslow with deceit in withholding from me the fact that he meant to wear armor in the fight.” The two ships circled each other, the Alabama attempting to keep at range, but her shells—thirteen of which hit the Kearsarge—failed to do significant damage, while the Kearsarge’s fire shredded the Alabama. Semmes attempted to flee back to French waters, but his engine quickly stopped working and water was pouring into the hull of the vessel. The Alabama surrendered (although Semmes escaped on one of the ship’s boats), thus ending the career of the most successful Confederate raider, with 64 prizes and the sinking of the Hallock to its name. Read more...

March 05, 2023

Museum Review - Fort Leonard Wood

On a recent trip to St. Louis, I found myself with some time on my hands in central Missouri, and decided to visit the museums at Fort Leonard Wood, an Army base that serves as the home of the Corps of Engineers, the Chemical Corps and the Military Police. Each of these has a museum, and I was curious what I would find, given the very high bar set by the Field Artillery.

The vehicle park across the street
Type: Branch museums for Engineering, Chemical and Military Police
Location: Fort Leonard Wood, MO
Rating: 4.3/5, A deeply weird and fascinating collection of museums.
Price: Free

Getting on base was pretty easy. It's not far off I-44, about 2 hours southwest of St. Louis. I just went to the visitor center, told them what I wanted, and was directed to the self-service kiosks. The Navy desperately needs something like this to ease access to the Washington Navy Yard. Just make sure that you're a US citizen, and you shouldn't have issues. (That said, I have a security clearance, so I was presumably in the system. No idea how long it will take if you're not.) Then I drove down to the museums. The route to get there isn't well-signed, but Google Maps worked just fine. Read more...

March 03, 2023

Open Thread 125

It's time once again for our regular Open Thread. Talk about whatever you want, so long as it isn't Culture War.

In news, I am going to be in Tucson this coming weekend for a DSL meetup. I plan to go to Pima on Friday the 10th and the whole group is going to the Titan silo on the 11th. Anyone who wants to is free to join, although Cassander demands his traditional fee, so be sure to think up some good insults for him. Email me or reach out on the discord for more details.

Also, I was wondering if any readers have access to Warship 2006, and would be willing to scan/photograph the article on the Stalingrad class battlecruisers and send it to me. My local library isn't filling my interlibrary loan requests.

I have been busy, and forgot to wish Iowa a happy 80th on February 22nd. I have to say that she looks good for her age.

Overhauls are Strike Warfare, A Brief History of the Cruiser, The Designation Follies and for 2022, A Brief Overview of the British Fleet and The Battleship Review.

February 26, 2023

The Gerald R. Ford Class

As of today, the US has 11 carriers in commission. Ten are of the Nimitz class, a design dating back to the late 60s. The last is the USS Gerald R Ford, the first ship of a new design that will take American Naval Aviation through the 21st century. She promises to bring significant new capabilities to carrier operations, as well as lower operating cost, but the addition of new technologies has made her development difficult even by the standards of new warships. But it appears that things have finally settled down, with her maiden deployment planned for later this year.1

Gerald R. Ford takes aboard a Super Hornet

But before we turn to the sordid history of the Ford class, it's worth taking a look at the changes that have been made to make them the most capable aircraft carriers ever built. While the basic hull is very similar to the Nimitz class, a result of the need for the new ship to fit into existing drydocks, the internals are quite different. In line with general trends in warship engineering, the new ship would make considerably greater use of electrical power for its systems, which generally means greater reliability, lower maintenance, and better resistance to damage. This is most notably seen in the new Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS), which replaces the traditional steam-powered catapults with a linear induction motor to fling the aircraft off the deck. This offers the possibility of finer control of the catapult shot, as the existing steam catapults have no feedback and are not well-suited to dealing with very light aircraft, such as potential future UAVs. Concerns about reliability, weight and the ability to trap light aircraft prompted a similar redesign of the arresting gear. Read more...

February 19, 2023

The Nimitz Class

Today, the ten ships of the Nimitz class are the backbone of the US Navy's carrier groups, the most fearsome collections of naval firepower ever created. They operate what are essentially medium-sized independent air forces, and the fact that the last unit will leave service close to a century after planning began for the leader is a testament to the quality of the design.

Three Nimitzs operate together

The Nimitz class has its roots in the mid-60s, as questions were asked about the shape of the future US carrier force. From the late 40s onward, the main mission of the US carrier fleet had been nuclear strike, but the arrival of Polaris meant that this was no longer enough to justify the budget for such expensive ships. Instead, the experience of Vietnam would provide the basis, as carriers operating in the South China Sea provided a significant fraction of the air effort during the war. But that would mean a rather different kind of carrier, optimized for a sustained conventional war instead of a short nuclear one. This was most visible in the magazines planned for the new carrier design, which were considerably larger (and thus more vulnerable) than those of their predecessors, but which would allow the new ship to operate for longer between replenishment. Read more...

February 17, 2023

Open Thread 124

It's time once again for our regular Open Thread. Talk about whatever you want, so long as it isn't Culture War.

Apologies for getting this up late. This is what happens when I play Aurora.

Overhauls are Classes, Aerial Cruise Missiles, Modern Propulsion Part 1, and for 2022 Norway Part 10 and Victory Ships.

February 12, 2023

Thoughts on the Chinese Balloon

Last week, the media was captivated by the story of a Chinese surveillance balloon floating across the US. Questions were asked about how we could let this happen, and many were extremely indignant about the affront to US sovereignty, so I thought I'd weigh in with a longer perspective.

First, the idea of sending a balloon over your enemy's country isn't new. In WWII, the British launched almost a hundred thousand balloons at Germany to short out the power grid and start fires, while the Japanese sent thousands of balloons into the jet stream, hoping they would cross the Pacific and set fires in North America. One of these bombs, found by a group on a church picnic, caused the only fatalities from enemy action on the US mainland in WWII. Later, the US used camera-carrying balloons to photograph the Soviet Union before the U-2 entered service.2 These balloons were responsible for many early UFO sightings, with a related project to detect nuclear testing with microphones on high-altitude balloons being responsible for the Roswell Incident. More recently, US fighter pilots have reported encountering "UFOs" that sound a lot like balloons over the last 5-10 years. Read more...

February 05, 2023

The Top Gun: Maverick Review

In honor of our recent discussion of the Hornet family, it seems worth discussing the type's recent outing on the big screen, which I watched on a recent flight. I found Top Gun: Maverick to be a confusing movie. On one hand, it's very much more of the same Top Gun formula. There's a fairly absurd story and lots of pretty aerial scenes. In a lot of ways, Maverick could almost be a remake of the first, with some updates for modern sensibilities, but with a plot involving the son of Goose (the RIO from the first movie) and the addition of the Death Star run to the film's climax.

But the weird thing is that while I loathed the original Top Gun, I didn't actually hate this one. Yes, it's extremely silly, but it seems to have passed through what I will refer to as the Battleship Transition. Instead of my brain insisting on taking it seriously and thus tearing things apart, I can basically sit back and enjoy it. At best guess, this is because the plot is clearly more ridiculous from the beginning. We see the movie open with Maverick as a test pilot at Edwards (he is not the type of person who ends up as a test pilot), working on a new hypersonic plane. As befits his callsign, he takes it out just before the local Admiral can shut the program down and takes it to Mach 10.4, which results in the plane blowing up, and Maverick walking into a bar. John Schilling's theory is that he actually died at this point and the rest of the movie is the way his life played out afterwards. It makes as much sense as anything else to explain what happens in the rest of the movie. Read more...