July 14, 2020

Naval Gazing Virtual Meetup

Our first naval gazing virtual meetup went well. We had 9 people show up, and spent about an hour talking about various stuff. Our next one will be at 3 PM on Sunday August 2nd. Meeting will be via Microsoft Teams here. Possible activities include discussion of the restarted RTW2 game and a look through some of my pictures that haven't made it onto the blog.

August 05, 2020


The most powerful weapons in the world are useless if they don't hit, and during the battleship era, an incredible amount of ingenuity went into solving the problems of fire control. So far, I've covered in some detail problems like finding the range in the first place and keeping track of it during an action. But as good as those systems were, there was no real possibility that they would pinpoint the target closely enough to get immediate hits. For that, the gunnery team of a ship would use the best data it had, the splashes of its shells that missed the target.

Shell splashes rise near a practice target

In the early days of modern naval gunnery, it was common for each gun to fire independently. Ranges were short, and the gunner could spot his shell's impact by eye. But as ranges climbed, it became easy for a gunner to get confused about which shell was his, and apply the wrong corrections. The solution to this was salvo firing, where a group of guns were fired at once, using the same set of targeting data passed from the central transmitting station. The shells would fall in a cluster, and while hits tended to be invisible, misses raised large splashes. A spotter, usually stationed high on a ship's mast, would track where these were and pass that information to the fire-control team, who in turn updated their solution for the target's range and motion. Read more...

August 02, 2020

Coastal Defenses Part 5

In the aftermath of the Crimean War, relations between Britain and France soured. The British were particularly concerned that steam power, still a novelty, would render their traditional strategy of close blockade obsolete, and make an invasion easy to pull off. As a result, and despite experience in the Crimea suggesting that fortifications were generally overrated, a commission was set up in 1859 to determine if Britain needed new fortifications, and if so, how many. The commission recommended a large program of fortification at the ports on the south and east coasts of England, and the program was pushed through by the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston.

Horse Sand Fort, a sea fort guarding Portsmouth

Unfortunately, this all took place right before the American Civil War gave final proof that the masonry forts which had dominated coastal defenses for the first half of the 19th century were obsolete. The so-called Palmerston Forts mostly belonged to this type, although some forts made extensive use of iron plates to supplement their masonry walls. They also introduced a gun mounting that would become common over the next half-century, the disappearing gun. This was a variant on the barbette mount which improved protection by lowering the gun entirely below the parapet for loading, then bringing it back up to fire.1 This mount had a number of advantages over the casemates used by previous forts. It provided more protection to the crew, the positions themselves were cheaper and lighter to construct, because they were simple pits instead of massive masonry structures, and they were much harder for attackers to spot. It was also easier and faster to load the gun after it had been retracted than to do so in a more traditional mount. Read more...

July 31, 2020

Rule the Waves 2 Game 1 - January 1929

It's almost time to resume our RTW2 game, paused for the Aurora series and my move. Below, I've included the last post from our previous game, ending in January 1929. But there is one thing I'm going to change. Instead of posting every week, I'm going to go to every other week. Posting every week doesn't really give me enough time to play and write up the game while still leaving you sufficient time to think and talk over the plans for play. This will alternate with the OTs, and be on the same weekends as the virtual meetups. (Hope to see a lot of you on Sunday, by the way.)

January 1929


It has been an interesting year. First, we laid down 10 new destroyers, with twin DP 4" guns. Then the government got a weird idea that we needed more battleships, and we ended up with three new ships, which more or less got paid for due to increased tensions with Germany. Right now, we have two battleships, a carrier, and 10 destroyers about to complete, which leaves future building programs open. The best suggestion is probably to lay down more colonial CLs, as our ships of that type are rapidly growing obsolete.


July 29, 2020

Nuclear Weapons at Sea - ASW Part 2

In the aftermath of WWII, NATO saw a growing threat from the Soviet submarine fleet. Nuclear weapons were an attractive means of solving this problem, as they offset the inaccuracy caused by the "dead time" between the target being located and the weapon reaching it. The US began with nuclear depth bombs (NDBs) deployed from carrier or shore-based aircraft and helicopters. But submarines also got nuclear weapons for use against other submarines, in the form of the ASTOR torpedo and the SUBROC standoff rocket.

ASROC launcher aboard destroyer Joseph P Kennedy at Battleship Cove. Note the reload equipment and dummy rocket at lower left.

The surface fleet didn't want to be left out of the fun, and as simple NDBs were obviously ruled out due to risk of destroying the launching platform, they developed the anti-submarine rocket known as ASROC. ASROC carried either a W44 NDB, with a yield of around 10 kT, or a lightweight torpedo, either a Mk 44 or Mk 46. It was usually launched from an 8-round box launcher on deck, although some ships launched ASROC from rail launchers intended for SAMs instead. Each pair of cells would elevate individually to 45° for launch, with the rocket following a ballistic path. Range, to a maximum of 10,000 yards, was set by a timer which would separate the booster from the payload.2 If the payload was a torpedo, it would be lowered into the water via parachute, and begin to circle and hunt for the submarine. If it was the depth charge, it simply fell into the water and went off at the preset depth. Read more...

July 26, 2020

Nuclear Weapons at Sea - ASW Part 1

In the years after WWII, the western navies faced a crisis. The Soviets were believed to be building a massive submarine fleet, and the weapons that the US and Britain had developed to fight the U-boats would be ineffective against the faster, deeper-diving submarines derived from the German Type XXI. One obvious solution was nuclear weapons. They would certainly be useful to attack the submarine's bases, but they also offered a weapon with a lethal radius large enough to allow attacks on fast submarines despite the inevitable lag between acquiring the target and getting the weapon in position for the attack. Of course, there were drawbacks, too. Any nuclear depth bomb (NDB) would blank out sonars and threaten any nearby ships, as well as spreading radioactive contamination. As a result, no NDB was ever deployed directly from a surface ship.

The Wigwam test

The first ASW nuclear weapon was a variant of the Mk 7 that had first given tactical aircraft a nuclear strike capability, known as the Mk 90 BETTY. Work on this design began in 1952, producing a parachute-retarded weapon with a yeild of 32 kT, intended to be capable of being delivered by airplane or blimp.3 There was still a great deal of uncertainty about weapon effects in deep water, so in mid-1955, a test designated Wigwam was conducted using a Mk 7 warhead about 500 miles southwest of San Diego. It proved that a typical submarine within about 1.3 miles of the blast would be destroyed, and the BETTY began entering service later that year. There were three fuzing options: impact (with the seabed), hydrostatic (set depth) and time. It was fitted to carrier aircraft including the F7F Tigercat, AD Skyraider and S2F Tracker, as well as land-based planes like the P5M Marlin and P2V Neptune. Read more...

July 24, 2020

Open Thread 57

It is time, as usual, for our Open Thread. Talk about whatever you want, so long as it isn't Culture War. If you want to do that, go to Data Secrets Lox, a forum set up by Said Achmiz (who also hosts Naval Gazing) that seems to be the hub of the SSC community.

Our first meetup went well, with 9 people signing on. I'm planning to hold another one on Sunday the 2nd at 3 PM Central (8 PM GMT). I'll try to have a bit more structure this time.

Also, one thing that did come up was a book recommendation. I've recently gotten into the Seaforth World Naval Review series. It's an annual that looks at developments in naval matters worldwide, and unlike other publications (such as Warship) it is focused entirely on what's going on today. Each volume has an overview of all of the major navies with in-depth profiles of 2 or 3, along with detailed coverage of a couple types of warship and some looks at specific aspects of naval technology. Volumes from a couple years ago are usually available at quite reasonable prices, and if there's something specific you want to know about, I have all but one of the previous year's volumes and can tell you which one it's in.

Overhauls from 2018 are Missouri Part 1, So You Want to Build a Modern Navy - Coast Guard Part 2, The QF Gun, Yalu River, DismalPseudoscience's review of Mikasa and German Battleships in WWII. 2019 overhauls are The Pepsi Fleet (and it turns out that the perpetrator there was all of our favorite newspaper, the New York Times), Falklands Part 16, Signalling parts three and four, my pictures of Iowa's communications gear and Lion and Vanguard.

July 22, 2020

Naval Rations Part 3

In the 1930s, the USN began to set new standards for habitability aboard its ships, including in the area of food. The traditional mess system, where men ate in the same place they slept, was abolished, replaced with so-called cafeteria messing. Men would simply come to the mess decks from their berthing compartments (which could be fitted with fixed bunks instead of hammocks), stand in line to fill their trays, then eat at permanent tables. There wasn't enough space for everyone at once, but men dealt with this by spreading out service. Meals were normally served at 0730 (breakfast), 1200 (dinner) and 1800 (supper), times which corresponded to when the watch was changed, allowing those about to go on duty and those about to come off duty to eat.4 When not in use for eating, the mess decks were a place for men not on watch to socialize and pass the time. The cooks would usually put out leftovers or sandwhiches around midnight for those who had the midnight watches. It was known as "midrats", derived from midnight/midwatch rations, although it was an informal affair.

Cooks aboard Missouri prepare lemon pies for the crew

The new ships also had vastly improved kitchens. Even small ships like destroyer escorts had ice dispensers for the men, diswashers, potato peelers, and ice cream machines. The result was quite a good diet for the men of the US Navy. For breakfast, a sailor could in theory expect fruit, cereal, bread and a hot dish, changed daily. It might be pancakes and bacon, or eggs and ham, or baked beans and biscuits. To wash it down, milk and coffee were available. A typical dinner menu might be roast lamb with mint sauce, scalloped potatoes, fried carrots, grapefruit and green pepper salad, vanilla ice cream, whole wheat bread, butter, and coffee. For supper, he'd be offered cream of chicken soup, baked luncheon meat, sliced cheese, cardinal salad, chocolate cake, a roll, and tea. The exact ingredients obviously varied, but the overall picture of a meat dish, starch dish, fruit/vegetable dish, bread and dessert was pretty consistent, with a soup at one meal or the other.5 Read more...

July 19, 2020

Nuclear Weapons at Sea - Light Attack Part 2

In the 1950s, the nuclear mission was king. The US Navy fought hard to get into it, first with heavy planes to carry the early bombs, and then with more conventional attack aircraft armed with lighter weapons. These formed an important part of the nation's nuclear capability both for general war against the Soviet Union, and for specifically naval missions like attacking underground submarine bases.

A4D-2 Skyhawk on the catapult with a nuclear bomb

In the late 50s, new aircraft entered service to add capability. The most famous was the A4D (later A-4) Skyhawk, product of legendary Douglas designer Ed Heinemann.6 It was designed around the nuclear delivery mission, and remained in use by the Marines until the 1990s. A few still serve with Argentina and Brazil. More obscure was the FJ-4 Fury, a derivative of the famous F-86 Saber.7 By using buddy refueling, where one aircraft carries extra drop tanks and a hose pod, it could strike targets over a thousand miles away, even further than the much larger A3D was capable of. Eventually, the Skyhawk also gained this capability, and the FJ-4 was retired in the early 60s. Read more...

July 17, 2020

Aurora - Advanced Missile Warfare

Since I wrote the main tutorial series on missile warfare, I've continued to experiment with the options offered by C#, and have made a couple of discoveries that bear further examination.

The first has to do with the way fire controls allocate weapons in missile defense. In VB6, each FC would engage one and only one target, so I made sure that each missile defense turret had its own FC. This has changed in C#, so that now any weapons (or turrets) not used against one target will engage the next. This makes it a lot harder for an enemy to throw small salvoes at you and overwhelm your defenses that way. Harder, but not impossible. In a couple of cases, I've attempted to close with AMM ships, and they've thrown, say, 50 size 1 missiles at me in salvos of 5. My standard beam defense system in that game was a 2x5 gauss turret, and the hit rate was usually 90% or more. The problem was that each turret could really only take out 5 missiles with 10 shots, and often less if other systems took out a few in a salvo before the turret began to engage. Read more...

July 15, 2020

Nuclear Weapons at Sea - Light Attack Part 1

While the USN's initial deployment of nuclear weapons focused on heavy airplanes to carry heavy bombs, elements within the Navy quickly saw the possibility of lighter bombs which could be carried by their existing aircraft. These weapons took several years to mature, with the first, the Mark 7, entering service in 1952. It weighed only 1,600 lbs, less than a fifth of the strategic weapons that proceeded it, and opened up the possibility of nuclear strikes by tactical aircraft. The Korean War had emphasized the fact that not all future wars would be all-out conflicts between the superpowers decided by strategic bombing, and the Navy was quick to respond.

An AD-6 Skyraider with a Mk 7 bomb

Two suitable aircraft were already in service, the venerable Douglas AD Skyraider and the jet-powered McDonnell F2H Banshee. Versions of both aircraft were modified to make them suitable for nuclear weapons carriage,8 and experimental squadrons began to develop tactics for delivery. This was trickier than it sounded. Penetration would probably be made at low level, particularly with the relatively slow Skyraider, and even if higher altitudes were acceptable, both aircraft lacked the bombardiers and equipment necessary for good accuracy with level bombing.9 So the attack would also have to be at low level, which made getting the delivery aircraft clear of the blast radius rather tricky. Read more...