October 01, 2023

The Norway Campaign Part 13 - Sola and the Luftwaffe

On April 10th, 1940, Western Europe was in chaos. Hitler had attempted to flank the stalemate on the Franco-German border by invading Norway, and his invasion had been wildly more successful than it should have been, securing all of Norway's major cities in the first day. Only in Narvik did things go wrong, when the RN showed up offshore and managed to knock out a substantial portion of the German destroyer force.1

A Ju88 at Sola

Nobody in Norway or on the Allied side had seen this coming. The Norwegian government had evacuated Oslo just ahead of the Germans, and the parliament had authorized the government to fight on until it could meet again, while troops across the country mobilized as best they could. The Allies scrambled to send forces against the Germans, but they faced a serious problem in the form of the Luftwaffe. The first encounter between the RN and German bombers hadn't gone particularly well, and the Allies essentially abandoned the eastern half of the North Sea, choosing to focus their efforts in the north, around Trondheim and Narvik. The Luftwaffe quickly moved the He 111s and Ju 88s of X Fliegerkorps, the Luftwaffe's specialist anti-shipping unit, into Norway, placing even the northern locations under threat. Read more...

September 29, 2023

Open Thread 140

It's time once again for our regular Open Thread. Talk about whatever you want, so long as it isn't Culture War, or join the Discord (link in sidebar) where there's usually something going on.

As an update, I've had one person offer me a guest post during the hiatus. So if you're interested, I'd love to hear from you. If I don't get anything, I will try to have something up every Sunday, although it will probably be rather minimal. Pictures, a review of something, or maybe an answer to a reader question. So if you have something you'd like me to look into that I can cover quickly, post it here.

Overhauls are Auxiliaries Part 3, The Arleigh Burke Class, and for 2022, Evan's review of Turner Joy and the Coast Guard.

September 24, 2023


One of the biggest visual changes to warships over the last 40 years, rivaled only by the widespread use of phased arrays, is the adoption of the Vertical Launch System or VLS as the primary way of carrying and firing missiles. The basic idea is simple. Instead of storing missiles in a magazine and bringing them out to fire, store the missiles in vertical tubes, each of which is also set up as a launch cell. This brings numerous advantages. First and foremost, it is far simpler than previous missile launchers, with a dramatically reduced maintenance burden, as almost all of the important bits are kept protected from weather until the missile is fired. All missiles are kept in instant readiness to fire, allowing the ship to respond to changing threats quickly and with a significant fraction of its available weapons. Perhaps more important than all of these is the fact that a modern VLS can carry multiple types of missiles, giving a vital multi-role capability and allowing a ship to change missions with a quick port visit.

An early VLS in use

The idea of a fixed launcher obviously goes back quite a ways. The first hints of the concept can be seen in the use of gyro angling to allow off-bore torpedo shots, most prominently the fixed tubes on the Nelsons. All but the earliest anti-ship missiles were launched from fixed tubes installed at an angle, with vertical launch arriving shortly thereafter for ballistic missiles. This allowed designers to avoid moving large, heavy missiles while at sea, although it required that the missile have substantial guidance capability already onboard. This wasn't a problem for ASMs or SLBMs, but it would have been a serious challenge to integrate something of this nature on a SAM in the 50s and 60s. These required guidance from the launching ship, and a trainable launcher allowed the missile to guide right away. Despite these problems, the British looked at something VLS-like for the missile that became Sea Slug, although they ultimately went with a trainable launcher when they settled on beam-riding guidance Read more...

September 17, 2023

Museum Review - West Australia Shipwrecks Museum

G’day, it’s Megasilverfist again. I was recently in Freo2 on a business trip and had time to stop by the place’s main attraction, Cicerello’s “the home of fish ‘n’ chips” the West Australia Shipwrecks Museum.3

The main building, originally a commissary and one of the first British building in Australia
Type: Shipwreck museum
Location: Fremantle, Western Australia4
Rating: 5/5, A great trip through the history of Australia, the development of naval technology, and the techniques of underwater archeology disguised as an already impressive collection of salvaged artifacts and period accounts of shipwrecks.
Price: Free with a recommended donation of 5 AUD (~3 USD)

During the age of sail, vessels frequently crashed against the many shores and reefs off the west of Australia. And in the modern day diving is a popular hobby in WA with many divers donating time the museum-associated Maritime Archaeological Association of Western Australia. As a result the museum has a massive collection of salvage which it uses to illustrate the story of (European) exploration and settlement of WA as well as various advances in naval technology. Read more...

September 15, 2023

Open Thread 139

"The best evidence against UFOs is that no one has leaked their specs on war thunder" - Cassander

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

The blog's sixth anniversary is a little over a month away, and I am planning to put it on some sort of hiatus for at least a few months. I'll keep the OTs going and maybe post occasionally if I feel like it, but if anyone wants to write on appropriate topics, I would be happy to take guest contributions.

Overhauls are Nimrod, Riverine Warfare - South America, ICNW Part 5, Missile Defense Through the Decades, Liberty Ships Part 3, Standard parts one and two, and for 2022, NWAS Trident Part 2 and The DP Gun Problem.

September 08, 2023

Honda Point Part 1

On the coast of California, where ships heading south for LA turn into the Santa Barbra Channel, there is a place called Honda.5 Even on this desolate and treacherous stretch of coast, it stands out for danger to mariners. The Spanish who first sailed past it called it the Devil's Jaw, and it has eaten many ships over the years.

Honda Point in 1989

On September 8th, 1923, Destroyer Squadron 11, under the command of Captain Edward Watson, left San Francisco following the successful conclusion of Fleet Week, bound for San Diego and home. A new fiscal year had just started, and the Navy's fuel budget was slightly more generous, so Admiral Sumner Kittle, Commander of the fleet's destroyers, ordered the run made at 20 kts. This was as fast as a destroyer could go on her cruising turbines if her plant was working well. If a crew had to fire up the main turbines, it would take significantly more fuel. In an interwar Navy where inter-ship competitions were taken very seriously, that would damage their standing in the engineering efficiency ratings. Read more...

September 03, 2023

Landlocked Navies

Weirdly, the possession of navies is not the exclusive providence of countries with coastlines. At least five landlocked states maintain navies, usually with thousands of personnel. The first-level reasons for this shouldn't surprise long-time readers. All of them exist because of our old friend riverine warfare, operating on lakes and rivers that border these countries. But there are lots of landlocked countries with important rivers and lakes, and most of them sensibly make them part of the Army instead of giving them institutional independence as a separate branch.6

Ships of the Kazakh navy

So what makes these 5 countries - Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Kazakhstan, Paraguay and Turkmenistan - different? Two factors spring to mind: first, most of them have very significant riverine commitments for landlocked states. Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan all border the Caspian Sea, which is large enough to operate substantial ships on, while Paraguay has a very significant and eponymous river. Second, in most cases they have an institutional connection to a proper, oceangoing navy. The connection for the Caspian powers is obvious. The Caspian flotilla was managed by the Soviet Navy, and when the Soviet Union dissolved, the new countries received some of the naval units. If you need to operate reasonably large ships (the biggest warships on the Caspian are over 1,000 tons) and you already have a separate Navy with institutional power and expertise, folding it into the Army is probably more trouble than it is worth. Read more...

September 01, 2023

Open Thread 138

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

Overhauls are Underwater Protection Part 2, A Brief Overview of the United States Fleet and for 2022, The American Secrecy System and Submarine Espionage.

August 27, 2023

Military Spaceflight Part 6 - Navigation

Both recon satellites and communications satellites provide useful capabilities on their own, but when combined with a third type of satellite, they are truly revolutionary. The last 25 years have seen warfare changed by the advent of cheap smart weapons that can be guided to positions supplied by platforms far away from the shooter, a capability that fundamentally rests on satellite navigation. More than that, satellite navigation has become a vital public utility, the greatest direct service the military provides the civilian world.

A sailor shoots the sun aboard USS America

The use of space for navigation goes back thousands of years, thanks to the use of stars as fixed points. The Polynesians were the first to use this for oceanic voyages of astonishing scale, while improved techniques were vital to European exploration in the Age of Discovery. Latitude is easy enough to find from the height of Polaris above the horizon, or the height of the Sun at noon. Longitude is more difficult, lacking as it does a straightforward physical reference, and has to be determined by the difference in time between a known location and the location of the navigator. This can be done by precisely calculating the time of an event in the sky, such as the Moon eclipsing a specific star, but this is difficult to observe, particularly on a ship at sea. A better solution came in the form of the chronometer, a clock designed to keep regular time despite the motion of the ship. These methods were standard up until the 1940s, and are still taught today as backups in case everything else fails. Read more...

August 20, 2023

Military Spaceflight Part 5 - Communication

Modern warfare runs on information. Forces in the field produce increasing amounts of data, and rely on data from other sources to find and engage the enemy. Bandwidth is the second most precious commodity on the modern battlefield, behind only time. And the vast majority of that bandwidth is supplied by satellites.7

The first communications satellite

The initial impetus for military satellite communications came out of the problems of the nuclear age. High-frequency radio had long been the best way to send messages to mobile recipients over long distances, but it relied on bouncing off the fickle ionosphere. This was unacceptable when the credibility of the US deterrent rested on the ability to reliably order forward-deployed bombers8 and carriers to attack. The obvious solution to all of this was to replace the ionosphere with a more reliable reflector, and a number of options were investigated, including the Moon (a spinoff of plans to use the Moon for SIGINT), the ionization trails left by meteors, a giant orbital balloon and a reflective layer of orbital needles. Of these, only the meteor trail method ever saw wide operational use,9 although bandwidth is limited and the most prominent user today is the SNOTEL system for reporting snow depth in remote areas. Read more...