July 22, 2019

Rule the Waves 2 Game 1 - January 1904


Strange times are upon us. The recent instability in Norway has been exploited by Austria to secure control of the country. We weren't even aware their navy was capable of reaching Norway, much less in the strength needed to get their before the force we sent to restore order. As a result, we and the British have declared war on them to preserve Scandinavia's independence from Central European influence. So far, we have been successful in our first battle, sinking the Austrian light cruiser Zenta.

Overall, we aren't too worried about this war. While a direct numerical comparison shows our fleet as currently inferior to the Austrians, we have several mitigating factors. First, the British, possessors of the world's largest fleet, are on our side. They're unlikely to deploy too much firepower into the Mediterranean, but they are a useful counterbalance to Austrian attempts to reach Norway, and to any possible German entry into the war. Second, the war broke out while a large number of our ships were in yard hands, being refitted with Central Firing. Two CAs and two Bs will commission in two months, with another pair of CAs the next month. Third, our ships are larger and more capable than their Austrian equivalents. Read more...

July 21, 2019

Signalling Part 4

The end of WWII brought new challenges for naval communication. The carriers soon were tasked with the nuclear strike role, which demanded a level of reliability not provided by the existing HF radios. The communications gaps caused by the vagaries of the ionosphere were completely unacceptable when they might have to pass orders for a nuclear strike. Something better would be needed, and the demand only grew throughout the 60s, as the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations attempted to exercise closer control over US forces and fleets in the field.1

USS Annapolis, a communications relay ship

Initially, efforts were made to improve the performance of HF radio, most notably by using multiple frequencies. Ships had already maxed out the number of antennas they could carry,2 and specialized antennas were developed to handle multiple wavelengths at the same time, such as the discone antenna associated with NTDS. Even when it worked, establishing a connection took a long time. Worse, there were a few gaps in the USN's network of HF stations, and the stations themselves were often vulnerable to the shifting political landscape of the Cold War. An attempt was made to solve this by converting old aircraft carriers into communications relay ships, but only two were completed, and they spent most of their life supporting the fleet on Yankee Station off North Vietnam.3 A final drawback was the low bandwidth of HF signals. NTDS relied on using 30 different HF signals to pass all of the required information. But higher-frequency signals traveled only in straight lines, so new options would be needed. Read more...

July 19, 2019

Pictures - Iowa Communications

As we've been talking about signalling and communications lately, I thought it appropriate to show off some of my pictures of the facilities aboard Iowa.

Most of Iowa's antennas are visible in this photo4

Unfortunately, radio isn't really my thing, and this post will be less informative than my usual posts on these subjects. If you want more information, I'd encourage you to get in touch with Iowa's very active amateur radio association. There are also some spaces I don't have pictures of, most notably the transmitter room on 3rd deck. It was locked when I went in 2018, and I didn't have time to visit in 2019. Pictures can be found here at Nick England's superb website. The visual signalling gear is from the 40s, while I believe all the radios were replaced during the 80s reactivation. Read more...

July 17, 2019

Signalling Part 3

Radio development continued after the end of the First World War, as transmitters became more powerful, receivers became more sensitive, antennas became smaller and everything became lighter and more reliable. As such, radio found new applications and became more vital than ever before.

Iowa shows her antennas in the 1950s

During the interwar years, vacuum tubes had won out over all other systems for generating radio signals, which allowed higher frequencies than those normal during WWI. These bands were known as high frequency (HF), and they could be efficiently transmitted with much smaller antennas. HF radio could also take advantage of skywave propagation, where signals bounced off the ionosphere and could travel thousands of miles. Low and medium frequency signals traveled primarily via groundwave, which was absorbed as it propagated, and thus could not reach nearly as far.


July 15, 2019

Open Thread 30

It's time for our usual Open Thread. Talk about whatever you like.

Interesting thing of the thread is this 1940 article from Life magazine on seapower. Besides providing a good look at public perception just before the Fall of France, it has a very good section looking at the systems of a battleship.

Overhauled posts include The Newport Conference and the US Dreadnought, my review of Batfish, The Falklands War Part 4, the first part of my history of USS Missouri, So You Want to Build a Modern Navy - Coast Guard Part 2 and my history of the QF gun.

July 14, 2019

The Falklands War Part 16

In early April 1982, Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, a few desolate rocks in the South Atlantic. The British mobilized their fleet in response. The carriers arrived off the Falklands on May 1st, swiftly defeating the Argentine Air Force. The Argentine Navy tried to interfere the next day, but withdrew after the cruiser General Belgrano was sunk by a submarine. Two days later, the Argentinians struck back, sinking the frigate Sheffield with an Exocet missile. Two weeks later, on May 21st, British troops landed at San Carlos Water on the west coast of East Falkland. The Argentine Air Force quickly got wind of this, and launched numerous sorties against the invasion fleet. The first three days were brutal for both sides, with the British losing two frigates and suffering several others damaged, while a third of the Argentine jets were shot down.5

An Argentinian Dagger flies low over San Carlos

Despite the battering that the escorts had taken, the amphibious shipping itself remained largely unmolested throughout the first three days at San Carlos. The attackers, approaching from the north and west, had dissipated their efforts against the frigates in Falkland Sound, which while expensive and annoying wasn't actually enough to disrupt the landing. To break up such raids before they could reach the landing area, Broadsword and Coventry were stationed to the north. Unfortunately, this concentrated two of the three available long-range air-search radars away from the amphibious group, while the third, aboard the damaged Argonaut, was hemmed in by the ridgelines of San Carlos. None of them could cover the southern sector, which the Argentinian commanders, aware of their lack of success, had decided to make use of. Aircraft hugging the ridgelines could arrive at the head of San Carlos Water with little warning, hopefully getting away before the defenders could respond. Read more...

July 12, 2019

The Pepsi Fleet?

Pepsi's operations behind the Iron Curtain began in 1959, during the American Cultural Exhibition in Moscow. This exhibition, best known for the Kitchen Debate between Khrushchev and Kennedy, also saw Khrushchev sampling the beverage. In 1972, Pepsi finally reached an agreement with the Soviets, giving them exclusivity in the Soviet cola market until 1985. The Soviets, unwilling to spend hard currency on a luxury beverage, instead chose to trade vodka to Pepsico, which would be sold in the US.

But in 1989, Pepsi needed more than just vodka to trade. In exchange, the Soviets offered 17 submarines and three surface warships, including a cruiser, a destroyer, and a frigate. Pepsi promptly turned around and sold the obsolete vessels for scrap. Briefly, this made Pepsico the owner of the world's 6th-largest navy, or possibly the 6th-largest submarine force on the planet.

All of this makes an interesting story, but it has one serious problem. As best I can tell, it's essentially false. Read more...

July 10, 2019

Signalling Part 2

Telecommunications came late to naval operations. Telegraphy began to play a part in land warfare as early as the Crimean War, but it was obviously useless in communicating with ships at sea. Vessels could come into port to send and receive messages, and Admirals often sent dispatch boats to the nearest cable station, but that could be several days away, leaving them in a situation not too different from Nelson's time. The delays inherent in this communication loop could frustrate commanders, but it was still a massive improvement over the days when the mail only moved at the speed of ships. And in the 1890s, a new invention appeared on the horizon that would allow ships to talk to each other beyond it.

Battlecruiser Inflexible showing her high masts and radio antennas.

That invention was radio. As early as 1895, Captain Henry Jackson of the Royal Navy met with Guglielmo Marconi, the father of radio, to discuss naval applications. Two years later, a demonstration was made of communication between two vessels at sea over a distance of three miles. In 1898, Jackson managed to push his range to 14 miles, and on maneuvers the next year, ships 74 miles apart exchanged messages. Over the next five or so years, most of the major navies quickly installed sets on their larger ships, and the British made a concerted effort to put wireless telegraph (WT) sets on every ship larger than a destroyer. Jackie Fisher used it as a key component of his new doctrine of centrally-controlled forces for trade protection, and fitted his battlecruisers with high masts specifically to improve radio performance. Read more...

July 08, 2019

Rule the Waves 2 Game 1 - July 1902

Gentlemen, your policy has guided us to victory over Italy. Although we fought no decisive fleet battle, good strategic choices lead to Italy's defeat in only four months. We have assumed control of the former Italian territories of Rhodes and Sardinia, and can now look forward to improved respect in the eyes of the world.

However, this leaves us with serious choices to make. The budget has been slashed to below its prewar level, and we will have to suspend some construction. Germany and Austria still threaten us, although tensions there have fallen somewhat, too. Read more...

July 07, 2019

Signalling Part 1

Communication between ships at sea has always been difficult. Unlike on land, sending a messenger is not usually very practical, so navies from the very earliest days have had to come up with other methods of passing messages.

The Battle of Salamis

The first recorded naval signal came during the Battle of Salamis, when an oar with a red flag attached was raised from the Greek flagship as a signal to stop luring the Persians deeper and instead launch the attack, which ultimately scattered the Persians and turned back Xerxes' invasion of Greece.6 And this set the pattern for operational signals for most of the next two millennia. The commander of a fleet would set up specific signals to support his plan, maybe declaring that a blue flag meant "attack the enemy" while a red flag meant "withdraw". Over time, some of these signals became traditional, and certain banners would be flown when a ship sighted the enemy, or when an admiral wanted his captains to come to the flagship for a conference. Sails were often used for signals, too, with the flagship letting fly the fore topsail being the traditional signal for the fleet to prepare to get underway. Read more...