November 28, 2021

The 6th Battle Squadron Part 2

When the US joined the Allies in 1917, the Admiralty requested the USN's aid in its campaign against Germany. While destroyers and submarines were urgently needed to fight the U-boats trying to strangle Britain, they also asked for a division of battleships to bolster the Grand Fleet in its campaign to bottle up the German High Seas Fleet. After much dithering, the Americans finally dispatched New York, Wyoming, Delaware and Florida in December under Rear Admiral Hugh Rodman, and they were designated the 6th Battle Squadron of the Grand Fleet. While they quickly adopted British signals and tactics, they were far short of British gunnery standards, and it would take months to resolve the situation. In the meantime, they were put to work, including being dispatched as escorts to the convoys running from Scotland to Norway, which received battleship escorts because of the threat of German surface raiders.


The 6th Battle Squadron sorties from Scapa

The threats to the Scandinavian convoy were apparently realized in mid-February, when British intelligence indicated that the Germans were at sea to intercept, and Beatty quickly led the Grand Fleet out into the teeth of a roaring gale. Delaware suffered significant damage from the heavy seas, with water passing through a voice tube shorting out her dynamos for half an hour before the crew managed to fix them. New York lost a man overboard, and Rodman reluctantly ordered no search be made due to the threat of the Germans. Unfortunately, the High Seas Fleet was riding out the storm in harbor, so the entire exercise was ultimately pointless. Early March saw the American ships covering another Scandinavian convoy, with the highlight being dense fog off the coast of Norway which led to signalling confusion and the squadron becoming separated for several hours. Read more...

November 26, 2021

Open Thread 92

It is time, as usual, for our open thread. Regular rules (no culture war) apply.

I'm planning to do another virtual meetup next weekend, on Saturday December 4th. Time will be as usual, at 1 PM Central (GMT-6).

2017 overhauls are The Battleships of Pearl Harbor parts two and three, Lissa, Iowa parts five and six, Mine Warfare Part 1 and Russian Battleships Part 1. 2018 overhauls are Falklands Part 8, Commercial Aviation Part 1, Internment, Iowa's crew art and SYWTBABB - Design Part 2. 2019 overhauls are Glide Bombs, Billy Michell Part 1, The Navy and the Space Program and Falklands Part 19. 2020 overhauls are The Seaplane Striking Force, Naval Bases from Space - San Diego, The Reagan Maritime Strategy and Icebreakers.

November 21, 2021

The 6th Battle Squadron Part 1

When the US entered WWI in April 1917, its navy was not ready. Little planning had been done for what it would do in the event that America joined the hostilities, and a rigid version of Mahan's doctrines, with particular emphasis on concentration of the battle fleet and offensive action, continued to dominate American strategic thinking despite the events of the previous three years. This resulted in considerable tension between the Navy Department and the Admiralty. The Americans castigated the British for their timidity and pushed for an offensive against the German submarine bases, President Wilson himself accusing them of "hunting hornets all over the farm and leaving the nest alone".


William Sims

The British had long ago figured out that this sort of offensive would be ruinously expensive, and instead requested destroyers to help in the fight against the U-boats that threatened to starve their population. The Americans agreed to send only a few ships, fearing that more would denude their battle fleet, violating Mahan's dictates on concentration. The American attitude was at least in part due to concerns about the stability of the alliance with Britain, as well as lingering Anglophobia on the part of many senior leaders. The only real exception was William Sims, a committed Anglophile and personal friend of John Jellicoe who was made commander of US naval forces in Europe and quickly came under suspicion as a mouthpiece for the Admiralty.1 Throughout the first months of American involvement, there was a constant battle between the two sides over the relative importance of the battle fleet and anti-submarine forces, with American planners regularly focusing on long-term issues above winning the immediate war. For instance, the battleships ordered in 1916 were prioritized over ASW escorts for fear of having to face a two-front war with Germany and Japan at some point down the line.2 Read more...

November 14, 2021

Museum Review - The Smithsonian

While in DC for the DSL meetup, I hit two museums on the Mall that are likely to be of interest to readers, the Air and Space Museum and the American History Museum.

National Air and Space Museum


Lord Nelson and I with a Lunar Lander (unflown)
Type: Air and space museum
Location: Washington, DC
Rating: 4.3/5, An incredible collection, set up primarily for non-history-buffs, particularly when it's not under construction
Price: Free

The National Air and Space Museum is home to the world's greatest collection of historic air and space craft, ranging from the original Wright Flier (more or less) to the command module for Apollo 11. Pretty much all of the great milestones in aerospace development are represented here, or at the Udvar-Hazy facility at Dulles (which I sadly didn't have time to get to). Read more...

November 12, 2021

Open Thread 91

As the USNI sale is upon us, it is time, as usual, for me to make my recommendations for what you should pick up if you want to build up your naval library. The big news this year comes in the prestige warship design books, as they're republishing all of the major volumes of Friedman's Illustrated Design History series in hardback (excluding Amphibious Ships and Small Craft, because who cares about those). All are excellent, and I'd recommend picking up any that look remotely interesting. The other notable arrival is the reprint of Stephen McLaughlin's Russian and Soviet Battleships. This book, which has been out of print for years, was the source for my series on the subject, and it's a gem. McLaughlin takes a close look at a warship tradition very different from the Anglo-American one most of us are familiar with, and it's enlightening to look at the different tradeoffs that were possible in this era.

Nor are those the only books worth picking up. If you're interested in what's going on at sea today, I'd recommend the 2022 Seaforth World Naval Review, along with any earlier volumes they still have in stock. (As of Thursday night, the link appears to be dead, but USNI has never had the most stable IT, so it might come back up.) While the price is up, the bundle of 14 volumes of Morison's History of US Naval Operations in WWII is still a good deal on one of the best series of narrative naval history ever. Other good choices are Freidman's World Naval Weapon Systems and Network-Centric Warfare, DK Brown's Before the Ironclad, Warship Builders, about the USN's construction program in WWII, and Brian Lavery's superb Nelson's Navy. But there's a lot of stuff I haven't mentioned, and I'd strongly encourage you to take a look through the catalog to see if anything catches your eye.

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 Part 1. 2018 overhauls are Russian Battleships Part 4, Operations Research in the Atlantic, the 45th Infantry Division Museum, Museum Ships Europe and Rest of World and Armistice. 2019 overhauls are Early Guided Weapons Parts one and two and Natick Labs. 2020 overhauls are Ship Resistance and Speed, Coastal Defenses Part 6 and the Alaska class parts one and two.

November 07, 2021

Museum Review - US Navy Museum and Navy Memorial

During the DSL meetup in DC, I did my usual tactic of scoping out as many naval/military related museums as I could. On Friday, this was the National Museum of the US Navy, at Washington Navy Yard, and the Navy Memorial, just off the Mall across from the National Archives.

National Museum of the US Navy


Me with a gorgeous sectional model of a Gearing or Sumner class destroyer
Type: USN History Museum
Location: Washington DC
Rating: 4.3/5, Well-done and a good general overview of the USN's history
Price: Free

Website

The Navy Museum, the flagship facility of the Navy History and Heritage Command, is located on-base at the Washington Navy Yard, the oldest shore facility in the US Navy. This means that you have to get a pass to visit, and at time of writing (October 2021), while the Museum is open on Saturday, people who don't have access to the base have to go Monday through Friday, when the visitor control center is open. I went with Cassander and Souleater, and we met Mr Meeseeks there. The visitor control center was not a paragon of good customer service, and the wait was quite long, even though both Cassander and I should have already been in their system. Read more...

October 31, 2021

A Visit to NSWC Carderock

When I visited DC for the DSL Gathering of the Clan, I got in touch with Naval Surface Warfare Carderock, home of the David Taylor Model Basin, as well as several other facilities3 that support the design of new ships and systems for the US Navy, most prominently in hydrodynamics and seakeeping.


Lord Nelson and me at the main towing tank

NSWC Carderock is half an hour northwest of DC, and we were greeted by Edvin from the Public Affairs staff. He took us to the Model Basin, and talked through the basics of the facility, one of the 10 warfare centers that support the USN's procurement needs. In the atrium, they had David Taylor's original desk, and a lovely model of the final Lexington battlecruiser configuration. We were then taken to the wood shop, where they build the models. Back when DTMB was opened in the late 30s, these models were made by hand out of either paraffin wax or wood, with skilled craftsmen working to match the hull lines drawn by the naval architects. Today, the methods are rather different. The initial drawings are done on computers, and they are made physical by computer-controlled machine tools, either directly into wood, or by carving a mold which is then used to create a hull in fiberglass over a wood frame. They're doing a lot of work in 3D printing, and I got to see some very nice samples, but they aren't using it on a large scale yet. The models are then prepared by fitting them with the various appendages like rudders and propellers, as well as the instrumentation for measuring forces. They also get fine bumps near the bow to make sure the flow over the model is turbulent, as it would be on a real ship. The model is then moved to one of the three main hydrodynamic facilities at Carderock, and ballasted to the correct condition for the test. The light weight of the wood and fiberglass models gives the engineers great control over configuration, which they wouldn't have if something like steel was used. Read more...

October 29, 2021

Open Thread 90

Welcome back to Year 5 of Naval Gazing. The Open Threads will continue as before, with the ability to talk about anything you want that isn't culture war.

Last weekend was the DSL meetup in DC, and I had a blast. I got to meet Cassander and Directrix Gazer in person, as well as a number of other people who show up here more rarely. Everyone was a delight to talk to, even when I started rambling about some obscure naval battle, and I'm looking forward to next year.

I also should probably clarify one thing I should have said on Wednesday. I don't think the reduced posting schedule will result in a 50% drop in words. There are lots of times when I'm going to want to get more of those out quickly, and in that case, I'll probably make the individual posts longer. For instance, I suspect that the Submarines in the Falklands post would have been 2 parts instead of 3.

2017 overhauls (because those are back now) are A Brief History of the Battleship, Iowa Part 1 and Fire Control Part 1. 2018 overhauls are Survivability Fire and Mission Kills, Underbottom Explosions, The Last Days of the High Seas Fleet, Samar, Turret and Barbette and (now rather obsolete) The Space Force and the FAA. 2019 overhauls are JDAM, Riverine Warfare - Europe, Cluster Bombs and Leyte Gulf 75. For 2020, SecDef Espurr turns one now, The Battleship and the Carrier, The World Wonders and Where the Blog Begins.

October 27, 2021

Navy Day 2021

Today was traditionally the day when the US acknowledged the Navy, although that practice largely ended in the late 40s. It's also, not coincidentally, the blog's birthday, and today marks four years of writing for me here.

It's been an interesting four years, and I've covered a lot of ground. I'm very happy with what I've created, and with the friends I've made in the comments. Thanks to all of you have followed me through this. Particular thanks this year go to dndnrsn, Rolf Andreassen and ketil for proofreading, Suvorov and Alsadius for contributing, Said Achmiz for hosting and Lord Nelson for putting up with me. And to those who followed me through various museums and ships. Also to the PAO staff at NSWC Carderock, for agreeing to show me around.

I was originally planning to take November off, but after talking to Directrix Gazer, I'm changing things up. Instead, I'm going to drop my posting schedule to once a week on Sundays, plus the open thread. I've found more and more that there are topics I'd like to tackle, but the schedule I have to maintain doesn't really give me the time I need to deal with them. Guest posts, if any, will go on Wednesdays, but I will commit to not filling that slot myself to save my sanity. In practice, I'm still going to have all of November off because of the fruits of the DC trip. So I'll see you all on the 31st, and I'm looking forward to starting year 5.

October 24, 2021

Submarines in the Falklands Part 3

In early April, 1982, Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, a remote cluster of rocks in the South Atlantic. The first British units to respond were their nuclear submarines, with HMS Spartan and HMS Splendid sailing south before the outbreak of war, soon joined by HMS Conqueror and HMS Valiant. All four boats played a vital role in securing control of the seas for the British, most prominently when Conqueror sunk the cruiser General Belgrano, sending the Argentine Navy to huddle in its territorial waters for the rest of the war. But their success in securing maritime superiority didn't mean the end of the war for the British boats.


Conqueror

As the amphibious force closed in on the Falklands, Conqueror was forced to withdraw to deal with more communications problems, this time with the high-frequency trailing wire antenna. All three onboard had failed, and the first attempt to repair one, on May 21st, resulted in the wire getting wrapped around the propeller, causing major cavitation4 at any speed above 7 kts. A diver would have to go down and clear it, but the weather was too rough to surface for two days. Eventually, the wire was cleared, and Conqueror was back in the fight, which had finally moved ashore. Read more...