July 14, 2020

Naval Gazing Virtual Meetup

It's time once again for a virtual meetup. The 1 PM Central (GMT-5) slot seems to be working well, so we'll do it once more on Saturday the 24th. Teams Link Also, send me an email at battleshipbean at gmail if you want email notifications.

October 25, 2020

The World Wonders

Today is the 76th anniversary of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, and as such, it's worth looking at one of the most controversial elements of the battle. The Japanese plan to counter the American landings on Leyte in the Philippines was to distract the American carriers covering the landing with a carrier force of their own coming in from the North, and then pincer the amphibious landing with two battleship forces. One of these would approach from the south, while the other would come from the west, pass through the Philippine archipelago and fall on the landing force from the north. On October 24th, both the Southern Force and Center Force were located and attacked by aircraft. Center Force took the brunt of the attack, which sunk battleship Musashi, sister to Yamato, but left the other four battleships and most of their escorting cruisers intact. Admiral Kurita, in charge of Center Force, briefly turned to the west, but resumed his course for Leyte shortly before nightfall. The Japanese Southern Force never wavered, and was destroyed that night in the last clash of big-gun warships in history.

Iowa follows other battleships of Third Fleet to sea

Shortly before Kurita turned back towards San Bernadino Strait, the route he would take to reach Leyte, Admiral Halsey's planes finally located the Japanese carrier force well to the north under Admiral Ozawa. Northern Force's job in all of this had been to draw Halsey off, but Ozawa's attempts at producing radio traffic for the Americans to intercept had failed1 and his force, the one the Japanese wanted the Americans to find, was actually the last to be located. Haley immediately jumped at the bait, sending all three carrier groups under his command tearing north, planning to attack Ozawa at dawn. Based on the reports of the pilots who had attacked Center Force, he believed that it was "beyond doubt that Center Force had been badly mauled with all of its battleships and most of its heavy cruisers tremendously reduced in fighting power and life."2 Read more...

October 23, 2020

Rule the Waves 2 Game 1 - March 1933

Gentlemen, I am sad to inform you that your time in office has finally come to an end. Your work has remained exceptional, even to the very end, but after over three decades, the latest government has decided that it is time for a new team to take over at the Ministère de la Marine. When you came into office, France was a second-rate naval power. Today, we and our British allies inarguably rule the waves. We have defeated everyone we have fought against, expanding the French Empire and ensuring the security of the seas. In an extraordinary gesture, the government has approved promotions for all of you to the rank of Grand officier in the Légion d'honneur.

I am bringing the RTW2 game to an end. It's been fun, but I've gotten tired of writing stuff up, so here we are. I do plan to continue some form of gaming, probably with Aurora, because I can dodge the worst of the problems. At some point soon, I'll play through the existing game to 1950, and provide a report of that. Also, I can upload the save file as of March 1933 if anyone wants that. Thanks to everyone who participated. Read more...

October 21, 2020

The Battleship and the Carrier

Popular perception is that the battleship of WWII was useless, supplanted by the aircraft carrier and kept around merely because of hidebound admirals. The idea dates back to the 1920s, when Billy Mitchell began his PR campaign in favor of the air services. Some date its obsolescence back to that point, others cite the lessons of WWII to prove the malign influence of the "Gun Club" on naval procurement. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. The battleship had a vital role to play in the fleets of WWII, and even for a few years thereafter, and the Allied Navies in particular did a good job of balancing their fleets for the threats they faced.

Missouri under air attack

The basic argument against the battleship is that it was far too vulnerable to air attack, and that resources would have been better spent on carriers. And on the face of it, there's some logic behind this. Aircraft were indeed the largest killer of battleships, despite not being a threat until WWII. But the carrier's use of aircraft was a double-edged sword. It could only be effective in conditions that allowed it to operate its aircraft, which pretty much ruled out operations at night3 or in bad weather. If a surface ship managed to get within gun range, either by taking advantage of one of these conditions or via sheer luck, the consequences for what was essentially a big box of fuel and ammunition could be catastrophic. Read more...

October 18, 2020

Esper's 500-ship Navy

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper recently announced that not only would the US try to hit the 355-ship target by 2035 that the Trump Administration has pursued since entering office, but it would also seek to reach 500 ships by 2045. This is incredibly aggressive, although in makes sense given the rising power of China.

Secretary of Defense Espurr (Artist's Conception)

Esper began his talk by invoking Mahan and traditional US strategic thinking, which is incredibly promising. He also talks about the growing power of things like autonomous weapons and AI, which I'm less sure about and need to look into more. And apparently he wasn't happy with the Navy's modernization plan, which is why this particular plan is coming out of the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and not the Department of the Navy. That's historically maybe not a great sign, as the only other case I can think of offhand of the OSD exercising this kind of control over shipbuilding was during the McNamara years, and pretty much everything that happened there was a disaster. Read more...

October 16, 2020

Open Thread 63

It's time once again for our regular Open Thread. Talk about anything you want that isn't culture war.

The RTW2 game has gotten to the point where writing it up and particularly pulling screenshots isn't really fun any more. I'm planning on posting March 1933 (already played) and then doing an epilogue where I play through 1950 and report what happened at a high level. After that, I'm considering doing something with Aurora, which nicely sidesteps the illustration problem because I can just upload the database and anyone who wants to check the game can install Aurora and open the database themselves.

But Aurora being free opens up other options. We could do a succession game, set in an unstable nation where the government is often replaced, and pass the database from player to player. I don't expect competent play from most people, but it will be amusing. Or we could try something else that I haven't thought of.

2018 overhauls are Secondary Armament Part 4, Going back to Iowa, The Washington Naval Treaty, Survivability - Flooding, my review of LA maritime sites and Falklands Part 7. 2019 overhauls are Riverine Warfare - China Parts two and three, my picture post on Iowa's officer quarters and JDAM.

October 14, 2020

List of Battleship Losses

Inspired by some conversation in the comments, I decided to compile a comprehensive list of sunk battleships. Criteria for inclusion on this list are: the vessel must be a pre-dreadnought or dreadnought battleship or battlecruiser,4 and have been lost due to either enemy action or accident. Ships that were scuttled do not count unless in sinking condition,5 nor do ships sunk as targets. I have attempted to include ships whose attempts to sink were interrupted by the harbor bottom, even when they were subsequently put back into service, but it is likely that I missed one or two of these. These ships are denoted by asterisks. All told, I managed to get 90 entries, although one ship is on here twice.

An explanation for some of the column headers: I've used date laid down as the best proxy I can for the age of the design, because launch date can vary greatly depending on how the building goes. Some of the ships were extensively refitted before their loss, but I wanted to keep my data relatively clean, so I ignored that. Main and Secondary Causes were things that, in my view, led to the ship being on the bottom. Main Cause is the best answer I can come up with for "why did the ship actually sink?". Secondary cause is either the reason the main cause happened (in the case of internal explosions) or something that contributed significantly to the ship's loss, either by setting up the conditions for the main cause6 or as a major source of additional damage.7 This is inherently somewhat subjective, but I wanted to have reasonably consistent data instead of a paragraph on each ship to capture all of the nuances. Overall, I'm pretty happy with the result. Delivery is the source of the attack, particularly for torpedoes. Op? is to denote ships that were operational as warships at the time of loss, as opposed to battleships that were being used as barracks, targets, or some other non-warship function. Read more...

October 11, 2020

Military Sealift Command Part 2

The US military operates globally, and one of the key enablers of this is Military Sealift Command (MSC). MSC is an auxiliary of the US Navy that operates civilian-manned auxiliaries of various types in support of USN and DoD missions. This includes everything from point-to-point transports and survey ships to the Navy's fleet of underway replenishment vessels, which I discussed last time.

MV Maersk Peary delivers fuel to McMurdo in Antarctica

But while the UNREP ships may be the most photogenic of MSC's fleet, its responsibilities go much further than that. Despite America's extensive airlift force, over 90% of the DoD's equipment goes by sea, courtesy of MSC. Legally, they are required to prioritize the use of privately-owned American-flagged vessels, and ships on long-term charters are used extensively to provide dry cargo and petroleum products to DoD facilities around the world. The majority of this fleet is relatively conventional product tankers, with a few dry cargo ships to support isolated outposts like Thule in Greenland and McMurdo in Antarctica.8 Shorter-term charters are also used to plug holes, but the decrepit state of the American merchant marine means that government-owned vessels are the bulk of the sealift force, although most are operated by companies under contract. Read more...

October 10, 2020

The Midway Rant

Right. By popular demand, it's time to take apart Midway. DVD finally came in from the library. First off, who the heck still puts commercials on a DVD before you get to the menu? I thought they stopped that years ago. And there's like 6 of them. Why?

The title screen. "This is a true account of the events that led to the most important naval battle in American history. One single day that turned the tide of the War in the Pacific." Oh, dear. In terms of "most important naval battle", I'd probably nominate the Battle of the Chesapeake for that, leading as it did to the British surrender at Yorktown and American independence. And the tide would have turned eventually, even if we'd lost at Midway.

So we start in Tokyo in 1937. Yamamoto shows up early on. Are they going to do the revisionist version of him, where he doesn't want the war? Yep, looks like it. At least whoever did the set dressing could tell a WWII Japanese ship from a modern American one, and none of the photos in the background are of Burkes. Read more...

October 07, 2020

Military Sealift Command Part 1

Military operations overseas have always required the support of civilian ships, either government-owned or chartered. These were rarely sent into the combat zone, instead being used to move cargo and troops from one port to another. In the US, these ships were managed by a number of different organizations, who often competed for tonnage. In the aftermath of WWII, it was decided to bring this cumbersome arrangement to an end, centralizing all military water transport under a single organization managed by the Navy, which became known as the Military Sea Transportation Service. The Army's transports were handed over to the Navy, which initially operated a mix of chartered, government-owned but civilian-manned and Navy-manned ships. The chartered vessels received a four-digit hull number and kept their existing merchant prefixes, while the civilian-manned ships were designed USNS, for United States Naval Ship. This was distinct from the USS used by commissioned and Navy-manned ships, which could legally be armed. Both types had their hull numbers prefixed by T- to indicate MSTS/MSC control, although MSTS ended the use of Naval crews in the 1960s.

USNS General A.W. Greely at Thule, Greenland

MSTS, renamed Military Sealift Command (MSC) in 1970, provided cargo transport throughout the Cold War, supporting operations in Korea and Vietnam as well as less-visible military work around the world. It also began to take over operation of various special-mission ships for tasks like laying cables, hydrographic surveys, and tracking missile tests. But in 1971, investigation began on a new mission. The draft was coming to an end, and the cost of manpower was rising rapidly. So far, MSTS/MSC had only moved cargo point-to-point, but it could potentially take over many of the Navy's auxiliaries as well, much as the British Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) had for the past several decades. After successful tests in 1972, the oiler Taluga was the first vessel decommissioned and turned over to MSC, with her crew of 314 being replaced by a 105-man civilian crew and a 16-man naval detachment primarily responsible for communications.9 Read more...

October 04, 2020

Naval Bases from Space - Hampton Roads

Reader FXBDM has suggested that a look at naval bases from space would be a good series, and if I am to do that, it makes sense to start with Hampton Roads, the spiritual heart of the United States Navy. Hampton Roads is a roadstead, or sheltered body of water where ships can lay safely at anchor, at the junction of the James and Elizabeth Rivers, near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. It's surrounded by a number of facilities, most but not all naval. As I don't feel like making sure I've complied with Google's terms, I'll let you follow along on your own. But to make things easy, here's a map I've made with all the points under discussion marked.

We'll start with Naval Station Norfolk, the home of the Atlantic Fleet. It's located on the southwestern edge of the Roads, and on the western edge are the piers where the fleet is usually tied up. At the time of writing,10 we have carrier Harry S Truman at Pier 14 and Dwight D Eisnehower at Pier 12, along with hospital ship Comfort. Tied up to Pier 10 is Wasp class LHD Bataan, while Pier 9 has a pair of what I believe are Henry J. Kaiser class oilers, and a Lewis and Clarke class cargo ship is at Pier 8. Pier 7 has a Burke on the north side and a Ticonderoga on the south side, while Pier 4 has two Burkes and a Tico. Telling them apart is fairly easy. Ticos are slightly longer and thinner, and they have two guns, a helipad that isn't all the way aft, and a breastwork on the bow that produces a slight indentation in their profile around the forward VERTREP box. The Burkes at Pier 4 are also useful for spotting differences within the type. The one on the left is a Flight IIA ship, with the extended aft superstructure for the hangar, while the one on the right is Flight I/II, with the aft superstructure to starboard cut away almost to the VLS nest. Our tour of the Naval Station's piers is rounded out with Pier 3, showing a trio of submarines. The only one of these that is identifiable is the eastern one on the south side of the pier, which shows diving planes on the sail, characteristic of the early (non-688I) Los Angeles class submarines. All later US submarines have had their forward planes in the hull, where they can retract for under-ice operations. Read more...