July 14, 2020

Naval Gazing Virtual Meetup

It's time once again for a virtual meetup. Let's make this one a Sunday meetup. 3 PM (GMT-6) on the 22nd. Teams link is here. I expect the Aurora game to be discussed, along with whatever else happens to come up. Also, send me an email at battleshipbean at gmail if you want email notifications.

November 29, 2020

Southern Commerce Raiding Part 3 - The Sumpter

Reader Suvorov has contributed another part in his series on Confederate commerce raiding.

While the Confederacy’s brief flirtation with privateers was quickly choked off by the Union blockade, the Confederacy’s long-term plans for dedicated naval commerce raiders continued to move forward. Their domestic program proceeded somewhat haltingly – their first commerce raider, the Sumpter, was not ready for action until the summer of 1861, by which point the Union blockade was tightening around the Southern ports, including New Orleans, where the Sumpter was being refitted – to the frustration of one Raphael Semmes, who had been placed in command of the vessel towards the end of April and had hoped to escape to sea before the blockade was in place.

CSS Sumpter

Semmes was a major exponent of commerce raiding, and the war would give him a chance to put his theories in action. When the steam-powered sloop Brooklyn, assigned to the New Orleans blockade, left its post in pursuit of a quarry, Semmes escaped New Orleans to unleash his “defective little Sumter” on Union shipping. However “defective” the Sumter might have been, it captured eight vessels within a week on its initial cruise between New Orleans and the Cuban port of Cienfuegos—a victory that was significantly dampened when the Spanish authorities, concerned about their perceived neutrality in the conflict, returned most of his prizes to their original owners. (The fact that Semmes had grabbed three of his prizes almost in the mouth of Cienfuegos’ harbor probably did not dispose the Spanish authorities kindly towards Semmes’ attempt to leave his prizes in that port indefinitely.) Read more...

November 27, 2020

Open Thread 66

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

Don't have a whole lot to say today. Hope my American readers had a good Thanksgiving. Remember that the USNI sale is still ongoing.

Overhauls for 2017 are Lissa, The Battleships of Pearl Harbor Part 3, Iowa parts five and six, Mine Warfare Part 1 and Russian Battleships Part 1. 2018 overhauls are Falklands Part 8, Commercial Aviation Part 1, Missouri Part 3, Internment, Crew Art aboard Iowa and SYWTBABB - Design Part 2. And for 2019, I looked at Billy Michell Part 1, The Navy and the Space Program, Falklands Part 19 and Harpoon.

November 25, 2020

Merchant Ships - Icebreakers

Ice has long been a serious problem for shipping. For centuries, northern ports, particularly in the Baltic and Northern Russia, would spend several months of the year icebound and unable to take part in the benefits of maritime trade. In special circumstances, a port might cut a channel through the ice, as Boston did to free the Cunard liner Britannia in 1844, but this was rare due to its difficulty. It wasn't until the dawn of the 20th century that a way was found to reliably break ice and let merchant ships through.1

Britannia leaving Boston

The first modern icebreaker was designed and built in Britain for the Russians, and named Yermak. She entered service in 1899, and served in the Baltic until 1963, a testament to the soundness of her design. Yermak had all of the features common to modern icebreakers: a heavily reinforced, rounded hull; a steep slope to the bottom of the bow to let it ride up on the ice, and lots of power. Icebreakers don't do their job by simply cleaving ice in two. Instead, they take advantage of ice's low flexural strength to ride up on top of the ice and break it with their weight. With extremely thick ice, such as pressure ridges, this can mean essentially beaching the icebreaker on top of the ice, or even having to back off and hit the ice at full power several times. In most cases, though, nothing this violent is needed and the ship simply pushes the ice down under her hull, fracturing it as she goes. Read more...

November 22, 2020

The Reagan Maritime Strategy

From the earliest days of the Cold War, there was controversy over the the US Navy's role in fighting the Soviets. Initially, the Air Force tried to cut them out entirely, but they managed to sell the carriers as nuclear strike platforms, retaining the mission into the 60s, when the ballistic missile submarine entered service.

Iowa, reactivated in support of Reagan's strategy, on an exercise

But in the 1970s, with the post-Vietnam drawdown, detente with the Soviets and the Carter Administration, Western leaders began to focus more and more on the Central Front in Germany. Sea power was seen only as important for ensuring the passage of convoys across the Atlantic in the face of Soviet submarines. The carrier force was allowed to run down, and shipbuilding concentrated on ships specialized in ASW. At the same time, the Soviet Navy, under Admiral Sergey Gorshkov, had begun to transform itself from the coastal-defense force it had been under Stalin to a true blue-water fleet, with the ability to hunt ships and submarines anywhere on the seas, a capability reinforced by larger and larger exercises. The Western navies, on the other hand, had scaled back their exercises, preferring to operate well away from Soviet waters. Read more...

November 20, 2020

Aurora Game 1 - Fleet Building

I've added all of the ships from the Setup thread into an updated database. I plan to make actual allocations during the virtual meetup, with actual play beginning next week. But that means I need actual direction for the fleet, beyond "a Tourville or two". The updated database should make it easy.

Post-meetup, we've added a number of new ships and variants on existing ones. New database.

The French Republic's first trip to another star took place on February 1st, 1960, when GSV Caelum transited to Bernard's Star. I've uploaded a new database here. I also discovered that the jump drive system has been tweaked, and that now military jump drives apparently can't carry commercial-engined ships. To get out of the pickle this placed me in, I went in and gave us the next level of jump drive tech, which actually shrank the ships slightly, so I topped them off with more fuel.

November 18, 2020

Naval Bases from Space - San Diego

Continuing our series that started with Hampton Roads, it's time to take a look at San Diego through the lens of Google Maps. While it's position with respect to the Pacific Fleet isn't quite as overwhelming as Hampton Roads is for the Atlantic Fleet, San Diego is still home to a huge number of ships and aircraft. It's also close to my heart, as it was where I first went to sea. You can follow along with the Google Map I created for this post here.

The core of this facility is Naval Base San Diego, on San Diego Bay south of downtown. This is a surprisingly recent base, being established thanks to the efforts of the San Diego community in the aftermath of WWI. Before that, the majority of the Pacific Fleet was based either in San Francisco Bay or the Los Angeles area. During the interwar years, it was mostly home to destroyers and submarines, but it emerged as the premier West Coast base in the aftermath of WWII. Today, it's the homeport to a significant fraction of Third Fleet's surface warfare and amphibious ships. We'll start at the south end of the piers,2 where we find America (LHA-6, the best of the ships we'll look at today) and Makin Island (LHD-8). 3 Across the pier from Makin Island is a San Antonio class LPD. The next pier north has a wide range of ships. There's Michael Monsoor, the second unit of the Zumwalt class, another LPD and a Ticonderoga. Read more...

November 15, 2020

The Seaplane Striking Force

In the years before WWII, there had been serious discussion of the use of flying boats as long-range bombers. Unfortunately, the late 30s saw land-based aircraft improve to the point that waterborne planes couldn't hope to keep up, and their strategic operations during the war were limited to one strike against Pearl Harbor. And after the war, the flying boat was gone for good. But it almost wasn't that way.

The P5Y, the first of the new seaplanes

The first factor was the work of aerodynamicists in the late 30s and early 40s. Flying boats had always been hindered by the need for reasonable waterborne performance, and by the late 30s, the demands of taking off and landing imposed an intolerable cost on their airborne performance. But several teams in both the US and Germany challenged this accepted wisdom, discovering new hull forms that allowed flying boats to be much longer relative to the width of their hulls, narrowing the performance gap with their land-based counterparts. By the late 40s, Convair had several designs that should work quite nicely, and was under contract by the Navy for a new patrol plane, the P5Y, which could fulfill these promises. Read more...

November 13, 2020

Open Thread 65

It's time once again for our Open Thread. Talk about whatever you want that isn't Culture War.

The USNI Christmas Sale has begun! It's slated to run through December 31st, so you have plenty of time. Everything is 50% off, and has free shipping, so there's no better time to build up your naval library. I have a lot of shelves that are filled entirely with books from the Naval Institute Press. Hopefully, they do a better job than last year of filling orders, and my experience so far this year has been positive.

Books I'd suggest taking a look at include the various volumes of Friedman's illustrated design history series (including the spectacular US Battleships and the long-awaited reprint of US Cruisers). If you want to know what's going on today, try the 2021 Seaforth World Naval Review. They don't seem to be doing the usual Morison bundle, but you can still get the 14 volumes individually at a very good price. Other good choices are Freidman's World Naval Weapon Systems and Network-Centric Warfare and Brian Lavery's superb Nelson's Navy. There's a lot of other great stuff available, and I'd encourage you to take a look, particularly through the Clear the Decks discount collection, many of which are in the $5 range.

Also, this is the one time a year when I mention that Naval Gazing takes donations through PayPal, if anyone wants to donate and doesn't think I have enough books already. I have a good job and really don't need the money, but the option is open and all proceeds will go to expanding the library.

2017 overhauls are Iowa parts two, three and four, Fire Control Part 2, Ballistics, US Battleships in WWII and the Battleships of Pearl Harbor parts one and two. For 2018, I overhauled Russian Battleships Part 4, Operations Research in the Atlantic, my review of the 45th Infantry Division Museum, Armistice and museum ship lists for Europe and the rest of the world. Lastly, 2019 overhauls are Early Guided Weapons parts one and two, Natick Labs and Glide Bombs.

November 11, 2020

The Alaska Class Part 2

As the naval treaties lapsed in the late 30s, a new type of ship became possible, something more powerful than the treaty cruisers but smaller than a full-size battleship. Several nations looked into building this kind of ship, but only the US actually built them, in the form of the Alaska class large cruisers. The process of actually reaching a consensus in favor of the ships was tortuous, and things got even worse when it was time to actually design them.

Alaska on her shakedown cruise

The first batch of design studies were an interesting hybrid of cruiser and battleship practice. Unlike contemporary cruisers, they were given a proper TDS, although one designed against a 500 lb charge instead of the 700 lbs of the Iowas. The inner edge of the immune zone was set at a much shorter range than was common for battleships, as a ship operating independently might well have short-range encounters that a battleship's screen would intercept. Three of the four were to be protected against the extremely powerful 12" gun, which in turn pushed up size and led designers to use more elements of battleship practice. This formed a vicious cycle, and the largest design from the initial phase, armed with 12 12" guns, had a standard displacement of 38,700 tons, larger than the North Carolina and South Dakota classes. Another, with 9 guns and a bigger immune zone, actually had a thicker belt than the Iowas. All of these designs were rightly seen as too big, with two Iowas costing as much as three of the smallest design armored against the 12" gun. Read more...

November 08, 2020

The Alaska Class Part 1

Possibly the most controversial vessels built by the United States during WWII, the Alaska class were unique ships, somewhere between a battleship and a traditional cruiser. This hybrid status has led many to dub them battlecrusiers, although this is a reading that does not hold up in view of the history of that ship type. Instead, the role and design history of the Alaskas is best summarized by their official designation as Large Cruisers.4


The Alaska class was the result of the 1936 London Treaty. The idea of a "cruiser-killer", capable of hunting down treaty cruisers but lighter than a battleship, had long been attractive to the various navies. However, none had acted on it because of the treaties. Anything above the treaty limits for cruisers would have come out of battleship tonnage allocations, and nobody was willing to sacrifice full-size battleships to get cruiser-killers, even at a reasonably favorable exchange rate.5 The French came closest with the Dunkerque class, which was a moderately specialized design primarily intended to hunt the Deutschland class Panzerschiffe, but even these were essentially downsized battleships, with the design features and roles that implied. But after the Second London Treaty, with all restrictions on total fleet size abandoned, the USN decided the concept was worth a second look. Read more...