April 02, 2023

Naval Gazing Meetup - LA 2023

I've been alluding to this for a while, but I've finally gotten enough ducks in a row to make things public.

I will be hosting a Naval Gazing meetup in LA from June 9th through the 11th. Unlike previous meetups, this one is intended for people who would like to visit Iowa with me but don't live in SoCal, so I've gotten an AirBnB for the weekend. (But people who live in the area are also invited.) Everyone is welcome, even if you have just been a lurker so far. Read more...

June 09, 2023

Open Thread 132

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 Jutland Parts two and five, Soviet SLBMs Part 2 and for 2022, Codebreaking and Jutland and Miramar 2016.

June 04, 2023

Rule the Waves 3 and Information

Games are an often underappreciated medium for learning historical concepts, and their ability to simulate things can lend extra power. After getting your dreadnoughts torpedoed a few times in Rule the Waves, a player is likely to be far more sympathetic to Jellicoe's decision to turn away at Jutland. So in the spirit of Bret Deveraux's Teaching Paradox series, I'm going to focus in on one element that the Rule the Waves series (particularly RTW2 and RTW3) handles far better than any other game I've ever seen. Specifically, how it confronts the player with the problems of limited information and uncertainty that navies faced on almost all levels throughout the period in question.

An early night battle in RTW3

This is most visible on the tactical level. Limiting visibility to what your units could realistically see is common, but RTW brings this to the foreground. There's a button that shows the visibility circle around your currently selected unit, and it frequently changes with weather and lighting. An action on a clear day is a chess match, while a pre-radar night action is a study in paranoia and chaos that will make the player much more sympathetic to the British at Jutland. Information is also quite limited within the visible area. Ships initially appear as "unidentified ships", and over time first the type and then the specific class are revealed. But even then, this information isn't necessarily true. It will often confuse battleships and heavy cruisers or light cruisers and destroyers, and occasionally will even label a ship with the wrong class. Nor are labels preserved as visibility drops. Even if the ship was clearly identified at close range, it will become unidentified again as it reaches the fringes of visibility. The player has to learn to keep track of that, and to identify likely types of ships based on how they act in combat. Read more...

May 31, 2023

Jutland - The Rules of the Game

In the search for material for this year's Jutland post, I read Andrew Gordon's The Rules of the Game - Jutland and British Naval Command. It's a massive book that grapples seriously with the question of why the British Admirals at Jutland acted the way they did, and it goes a lot of very interesting places. But ultimately, I didn't feel that I could do it justice with my usual method of drawing directly from sources without taking a lot of posts, so I will instead review it.

Rules of the Game is many things. It's a critical look at Jutland, a social history of the RN's late Victorian officer corps, an investigation of their signalling and command practices, a detailed account of the circumstances surrounding the loss of HMS Victoria, a biography of Hugh Evan-Thomas and a meditation on the sorts of flaws that military organizations tend to have in peacetime. It's also 600 pages, but Gordon does an excellent job of bringing his threads together in the last chapter, making the whole book possibly the best presentation I've ever seen of some of the deeper structures of military theory I've talked about before. Read more...

May 28, 2023

The East Asia Squadron Part 2

The defeat at Coronel left the British reeling. Even leaving aside the psychological effects of the Royal Navy's first defeat in a century, there was still the very practical problem posed by the existence of a powerful German force on the west coast of South America. Most likely, Spee would continue south, emerging into the South Atlantic to threaten the busy shipping lanes off the River Plate. But other options couldn't be ruled out. He might double back into the Pacific, with the intention of reaching the Indian Ocean or attacking commerce along the west coast of North America. And two and a half months earlier a new option had opened in the form of the Panama Canal.

The man faced with responding to all of this was Jackie Fisher, who had resumed the position of First Sea Lord the day before Coronel, and he responded with his usual decision. Despite the fact that the balance of power in the North Sea was perilously close after the loss of Audacious, he quickly ordered three of the Grand Fleet's battlecruisers be dispatched to deal with the threat, along with a number of cruisers and pre-dreadnoughts. Invincible and Inflexible were to go south to the Falklands to cover the main route, under the command of Vice-Admiral Doveton Sturdee, previously Chief of the Naval War Staff, who Fisher hated and wanted gone. Both ships needed yard work, but in a premonition of things to come, Fisher gave them only three days and made it clear that they would sail with workers onboard if necessary. As they would 68 years later, the dockyards pulled it off, and the two ships set sail on the 11th. The next day, Princess Royal put to sea to bolster the North American station, under conditions of such secrecy that not even the commander of that station, Admiral Hornby, knew she was coming. Read more...

May 26, 2023

Open Thread 131

It's time once again for our usual open thread. Talk about whatever you want, so long as it isn't Culture War.

Reminder that we are two weeks out from the LA meetup. There's still one spot in the AirBnB, and at this point, I'm willing to let a few locals come to the tour. Email me at battleshipbean at gmail if you're interested.

Overhauls are My First Museum Ships, FFG(X), NWAS - Poseidon, The Future of the Aircraft Carrier, and for 2022 Room 40 Part 1, Sound in the Ocean and Don't Overread Moskva.

May 21, 2023

Review - Rule the Waves 3

Rule the Waves 3 just came out on Thursday, and it's been a long time since I looked forward to a game this much. It's entirely possible that the answer there is Rule the Waves 2, and while long-time readers are undoubtedly familiar with the series, I should probably start by explaining the concept behind it.

The Rule the Waves series has you playing as the Grand Admiral of your chosen country, making decisions about ship design, construction and deployment, and then commanding your fleet in battle. In practice, it's a very strong shipbuilder coupled with a decent system for strategic operations and combat, and it's almost perfectly tailored to my tastes. Along with Aurora, it's what I play when I want to feel like I'm in a Norman Friedman Illustrated Design History book.

For those who have played RTW2, RTW3 is more of the same, with an expanded time period (1890-1970) and a lot of minor improvements. For those who haven't, it's a very specific taste. If you read my posts on the design of a specific ship and think "that sounds really interesting", then this is probably for you. If you've read one of Norman Friedman's books on ship design and really enjoyed it, it's definitely for you. If that sort of stuff bores you, or you're really into graphics, then it's probably not for you.

The ship-builder is at the core of the game, and it's a pretty decent simulation of high-level ship design. It's definitely more conceptual than simulationist, but I find myself making the same sort of thoughts that are described in various books about people doing the same work in real life. Familiarity with ship design in this period probably isn't necessary to enjoy the game, but it does help a lot. This aspect of the game is really solid. You're given control over the important decisions (size, speed, range, armor, weapons, etc) without being bogged down in minutia. There's also a nice set of tools for the overhead view of your ship, although you can completely ignore it if you like.

The next layer out is the strategic map, which covers building, deployment, diplomacy and research. Your budget rises and falls with tension in the world, but if the tension gets too high, then you have a war on your hands. And if there's a war, then you have to fight, which you do from an overhead view, usually controlling only your flagship and maybe a few other divisions nearby. Combat is serviceable enough, if not amazing. It's definitely more strategy than watching pretty explosions, and it does an interesting job of simulating the information blinders you'd have as a commander, although with the rather odd result that things get less clear as time goes on, rather than more clear as they did in reality thanks to developments like plotting.

For people who have played RTW2, this is a better game. Not just in the topline selling points, the expansion of the time period to cover 1890-1970, but in the little tweaks made to the gameplay. There are now 8 AIs on the map at once, Spain and China have been added, and AIs can go to war with each other. You have an officer corps, and can split your fleet into divisions that give you some control over how ships are used in combat. And there's subtle stuff, like ships losing speed as they age, an increase in the cost of docking facilities and a cap on how much tonnage you can build at once, all of which adds to the feeling of realism, of having to make the sort of choices faced by a real naval staff. Ship design has some subtle tweaks, with control over visual secondary battery placement and a better mechanism for managing topside space and weight. The result is a substantial step up, even if you never venture outside of the time period covered by RTW2.

RTW3 is a long game, and I've only played one full campaign (as the US, because I like designing ships, which means I want a big budget), but I can offer some insights into the new time period. The 1890-1900 period didn't impress me that much. It plays pretty much like the pre-dreadnought period, but at shorter range and slower. There are also some options from the 1900 start that are disabled, like manually building your starting fleet, and the strategic fallout from the Spanish-American War was significant. It also seemed to have permanently screwed up my gun tech, as I only got to +1 models on less than half the calibers, a far cry from RTW2.

The new stuff on the far end is where most of the new content is. It's not as much fun as combat earlier in the game, but I think that's an inescapable result of the greater complexity of warfare in the missile age. It's not an entirely natural fit for the engine, but overall, they did quite a good job here, with nice touches like missile readiness not being 100% and missile availability being limited unless you pay extra in peacetime. We obviously have no real-world information, but what I've seen feels about right for what I would have expected in a world without nuclear weapons. (Excluded so there would be a reason to have naval battles instead of Armageddon. Nuclear reactors are also excluded, presumably to keep submarines from taking over.) It also raises some interesting what-ifs about a world where the battleship didn't essentially disappear in 1945.

This isn't to say RTW3 is completely perfect. My biggest complaint is probably that the battle generator has a tendency to create silly scenarios, like the time I found myself completely surrounding the French fleet, or just putting your carriers way too close to the enemy. Fortunately, you can close out the game and load the autosave, and it will generate a new scenario from the same basic starting parameters. The combat still isn't great, and it can get really busy if you're flinging airplanes around. And the addition of AI diplomacy means that strategic turns take significantly longer than they did in RTW2, and towards the end of the game, that was starting to become annoying.

But none of that detracts from the fact that this is a really, really good game. I am not exaggerating when I say that I get from it the same sort of feeling that I get from reading Norman Friedman, and the changes since RTW2 have done nothing but make what was already an excellent game even better. If what I describe sounds appealing, then don't hesitate to buy it, particularly as you can now get it on Steam. If you're on the fence, there's a demo available for RTW2, and it will give a lot of the flavor of this game. It's definitely not for everyone, but if it's for you, there's almost nothing else that can deliver it.

May 14, 2023


The marine environment is a hostile one. Fouling and corrosion are constant threats, and while naval engineers have gotten very good at dealing with them, some of the techniques require that they can work on the exposed hull free of water. Initially, this was done by simply running the ship up on the beach and waiting for the tide to go out. Later, as the galley developed in the Mediterranean, facilities were built to help with this process, most notably specialized ship sheds where galleys could be hauled out on ramps and allowed to dry out under cover when not in use.

Iowa in drydock, 1984

But this only worked so long as ships were small enough to stand the stresses of being beached, and during the Hellenistic era, galleys began to grow, and the Greeks developed the first drydocks. The basic concept was simple enough: a big pit was dug next to the sea, with a door of some sort that could seal it off after a ship had been brought in. The water would then be pumped out, allowing it to be worked on in the dry. Information on ancient drydocks is fragmentary, as they were large and expensive, and like so much of the infrastructure of naval warfare in the Mediterranean appear to have died out after the Roman Empire unified the entire area. Read more...

May 12, 2023

Open Thread 130

It is time once again for our regular open thread. Talk about whatever you want, including culture war.

Reminder that we're a month out from the LA meetup. Feel free to come, even if you have never commented before and don't know that much about battleships. I know enough for both of us. There will be excellent company and delicious food. There are currently two spots one spot left in the AirBnB, so sign up quickly if you want to stay there.

Also exciting is the imminent release of RTW3, on May 18th. Lord Nelson isn't going to see me for at least the entire weekend.

Overhauls are my first review of Midway, LCS Part 1, LCS Part 3 and for 2022, Nuclear Strategy and The Germans Strike Back.

May 07, 2023

The East Asia Squadron Part 1

In 1914, Britain ruled the seas. Not only through the Royal Navy, but also through the fact that the Red Ensign and its derivatives flew over 43% of the world's merchant tonnage. This fleet was the lifeblood of not only the Empire, but also the British isles themselves, which imported two-thirds of their food. As a result, the threat to commerce had been uppermost in the minds of the Royal Navy for decades. France's extensive colonial empire and the Russian Far East provided ideal bases for raiding cruisers, and the British were forced to spend tremendous amounts of money on armored cruisers of their own.

The German East Asia squadron in Tsingtau

These were large, expensive ships and in an attempt to bring costs down, Jackie Fisher was appointed First Sea Lord, with a new scheme to solve the problem. He proposed a new type of ship, propelled by turbines and directed via radio from the Admiralty, which would synthesize all available information on the location of enemy commerce raiders. Read more...

April 30, 2023

Museum Review - Seawolf Park

While in Houston for the tour of Texas, Lord Nelson and I decided to pay a visit to the other warship museum in the area, Seawolf Park on the tip of Galveston Island. It's actually not far from the Gulf Copper shipyard, and we saw the masts of Texas as we drove to the park. But it's also fairly isolated, about 15 minutes from anywhere else in Galveston, which itself is about an hour from Houston.1 Despite the name, the park doesn't have any USS Seawolf.2 It does have a submarine, Cavalla, as well as the USS Stewart, one of two destroyer escorts on display in the country.

Cavalla and the sail of Tautog
Type: Museum destroyer escort and submarine
Location: Galveston, Texas
Rating: 4.2/5, Nice to visit if you're in the area
Price: $13 for normal adults