June 02, 2021

Naval Gazing Meetup 2021 - Los Angeles

I am pleased to announce the first in-person Naval Gazing meetup for nearly three years. As you'd probably expect, my first stop is going to be Iowa, and I plan to host a meetup there on Saturday, July 10th. Assume we'll start at 1000 when the ship opens, although I can't say how late I expect things to go. I may try to arrange something special for us, but this is still in the early stages, and I'll update as I know more. Feel free to come even if you're a casual reader/don't know much about battleships. If that's the case, you'll learn. Hope to see you there!

June 16, 2021

The 3T Missiles - Introduction

In 1945, the US Navy faced a serious problem. Even before it faced the hell of the kamikazes off Okinawa, the introduction of jets and the threat of the air-to-surface guided missile, first shown by the Germans, was enough to start them searching for new ways of protecting the fleet.

The Lark missile

The obvious answer was a surface-to-air missile, one hopefully capable of shooting down the attacking aircraft before it got within range. Both the Bureau of Aeronautics (responsible for aircraft) and the Bureau of Ordnance (responsible for guns and torpedoes) were interested in the problem, and began separate programs. BuAer managed to get into the air first with Lark, intended as an emergency counter to the kamikazes, but the subsonic missile used liquid propellants, which tended to make naval officers nervous due to the risk of a spill, and ran into formidable guidance problems, which it helped solve before becoming obsolete. Read more...

June 13, 2021

The Altmark Incident

In August 1939, the German replenishment ship Altmark sailed for Texas, to take on a load of fuel. On the way back across the Atlantic, she was told that war was imminent, and ordered to the South Atlantic to support Admiral Graf Spee's attack on Allied commerce there. The two ships met on September 1st, and Altmark received a pair of 20mm AA guns and a naval detachment to handle the guns and radios. Prize rules required Graf Spee to take aboard the crews of any ships she sank, and while the officers were retained aboard the cruiser, the common seamen were transferred to Altmark when the two ships met up to replenish. This hadn't been planned for, and conditions aboard the oiler were spartan.


Graf Spee’s patrol came to an abrupt end in mid-December, when she was intercepted by a trio of British cruisers and damaged to the point that her captain decided to scuttle her. The released officers revealed the existence of Altmark, now carrying 299 captured sailors, and the hunt was on. Heinrich Dau, Altmark’s captain, remained in the South Atlantic for another few weeks, but eventually supplies began to run low, and he turned for home. Disguised as first a Norwegian and then an American tanker, Altmark eluded the British, passing south of Iceland and entering the coastal waters of neutral Norway on February 14th, 1940. The plan was to take advantage of "innocent passage" and stay in Norwegian waters for the next few days, with a night dash across the Skaggerak to reach Danish waters and safety. Read more...

June 11, 2021

Open Thread 80

It is time for our usual Open Tread. Talk about whatever you want, even if it's not naval related, so long as you avoid culture war topics.

We are going to have our next meetup next weekend, at 1 PM Central (GMT-5) on Saturday the 19th. Hope to see some of you there.

2018 overhauls are Jutland parts three, four, five, six and seven, So You Want to Build a Modern Navy - Coast Guard Part 1, Ship History - New Jersey, Museum Review - USS Alabama and Falklands Part 3. 2019 overhauls are Shells at Jutland, my one-post summary of Jutland, Battleship Aviation Part 3, A Brief History of the Submarine, Inky's review of the Haifa Clandestine Immigration and Naval Museum and Falklands Part 15. 2020 reviews are Jutland - The Blockade, Tomahawk Part 4, Coastal Defenses Part 3 and Soviet Battleships Part 3.

June 09, 2021

Coastal Defenses Part 7

In the early months of the First World War, the British were faced with a dilemma. Traditionally, British strategy called for using sea power to attack the flanks of an enemy, instead of facing them head-on. The question was where they should make this attack, or if they should just double down on the force in France. Jackie Fisher, the uniformed head of the Royal Navy, had proposed an attack on the German Baltic coast, ultimately abandoned due to the risks of taking ships into such narrow waters from mines, torpedoes, and coastal fortifications. His civilian counterpart, a rising star by the name of Winston Churchill, instead favored an attack on the other side of Europe, hoping to knock the Ottoman Empire out of the war with an attack on the Turkish Straits connecting the Mediterranean and Black Seas, which would both make it easier to ship supplies to Russia and capture the Ottoman capital of Constantinople.

British battleships shell Turkish fortifications in the Dardanelles

Tensions with the Ottomans had begun to rise after Goeben and Breslau took refuge in Constantinople during the opening days of the war, but the Turks remained neutral until the ex-German ships, now sold to them, conducted a rogue bombardment of Russian positions in the Black Sea. The British and French retaliated on November 3rd by bombarding fortification in the Dardanelles, the westernmost of the Turkish straits, blowing up a magazine on one of the outermost forts. This performance made them overconfident in their ability to take out fortifications with naval bombardment, and after war was declared two days later, planning began in earnest for an all-naval campaign against the Dardanelles. Read more...

June 06, 2021

Nuclear Weapons at Sea - Soviet SLBMs Part 3

The Soviet Union first began to send strategic ballistic missiles to sea in the early 70s, and while they were reasonably happy with the resulting Yankee class, it did have one major drawback. The R-27 missiles it carried were relatively short-ranged, forcing the boats to patrol in the open ocean within easy reach of American ASW forces. Besides the risk of the USN killing the SSBNs before they could fire, there was also the issue that only a small fraction of the force could be on station at any one time. The USN had gotten around this problem by having two crews for each boat and forward-basing them at the ports of its allies, but the Soviets had enough trouble manning their fleet as it was, and didn't have any equivalent bases.

Delta I on the surface

The obvious solution was to build a longer-ranged missile, which emerged in the form of the R-29 (NATO SS-N-8), twice the size of the R-27 and with a range of about 4,200 nm, enough to let it target the entire US from pierside, if necessary. Now, instead of having to reach the Atlantic, the SSBNs could be kept close to the Soviet Union, where other air and naval forces could easily be deployed to protect them. Read more...

June 02, 2021

Nuclear Weapons at Sea - Soviet SLBMs Part 2

While the Soviets were the first to take ballistic missiles to sea, their first generation of submarines were not particularly successful. Each could carry only three or four short-range missiles, making them more suitable for theater strike than attacks on the US mainland. The American Polaris program thoroughly eclipsed these submarines, and it wasn't until 1962 and the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis that the Soviets decided to try again.

A Soviet Yankee class submarine

The initial plan was to build the submarine around 8 of the R-21 missiles that were being refitted to the Golf and Hotel classes. These were capable of underwater launch, but they were large enough that they would have to be carried horizontally, and a complicated mechanism would be required to turn them upright and prepare them for firing. This was quickly dismissed as overcomplicated, and studies were instead made of solid-fueled missiles very much like Polaris. Read more...

May 31, 2021

Aviation at Jutland

In many ways, Jutland was both the first major naval battle shaped by the development of aviation and the last one unaffected by it. Aviation considerations shaped the time and place of the battle, but despite efforts by both sides, aircraft made no impact on a tactical level. As such, it's worth taking a closer look at the aviation operations surrounding the battle.

By 1916, the Germans had at least the first inklings of a doctrine for the use of the Zeppelins in support of the fleet, and they formed an important part of Scheer's plans in May. As part of his attritional campaign against the British, he would use a raid on Sunderland, in northeastern England, to draw the British fleet past his U-boats, hopefully costing them some ships. Even better would be a chance to catch a detachment of the fleet by itself and defeat it in detail. Zeppelins offered a platform capable of making sure that the High Seas Fleet didn't blunder into the entirety of Jellicoe's force. Unfortunately, by the time his ships were ready to sortie, southwest winds1 meant that the Zeppelins couldn't participate. Scheer chose to abandon the Sunderland plan and instead send his force to sweep the area around the Skaggerak, the strait separating Denmark and Norway. The British, aware of the German sortie thanks to good intelligence work, sent Beatty and Jellicoe to intercept. Read more...

May 30, 2021

The Greyhound Review

Greyhound is a movie I really wanted to see in theaters, but didn't get a chance to. Apple picked it up for their streaming service, which really annoyed me, because if it had done well in theaters, it might have inspired some immitators.

On the whole, I liked the movie. This was clearly done by someone who had a better appreciation for the atmosphere of the actions they were portraying than did, say, the people behind Midway, and it stays reasonably true to the book. But I watched it at my computer instead of on the big screen, and that led to some problems.

The biggest was that they clearly used the model of the USS Kidd, a Fletcher preserved in Baton Rouge, where they did a lot of filming. But the movie is set in February 1942, and the first unit of that type didn't commission until June. That wouldn't be the end of the world, but there's a lot of equipment (the Mk 12/22 radar and quad 40mms) that wasn't developed or fitted until much later in the war. There's also some internal stuff that didn't exist at the time, such as the CIC and PPI for the radar. At least the sonar had an A-scope. The whole thing felt a bit off for me, although most people wouldn't notice.

But that aside, it worked about as well as it could have. I don't know how it would have worked for someone who hadn't read The Good Shepard, but we saw as much of Krause the conflicted man as you could reasonably get in a very different medium, along with a decent portrayal of the tension of fighting submarines. My only issue with the last part was the Germans tapping into the TBS (as far as I know, that never actually happened) but I did really like the response of calmly switching channels. On the whole, it worked, but this probably wasn't the best story to make a movie out of, because of how much the book was concerned with Krause as a character, which doesn't make the transition to the screen that well. Still worth a watch if you get a chance, although I really wish I could say to go see it in theaters.

Thinking it over later, I realized I'd missed one of the things that they'd gotten very right, which was that it didn't feel off at all. Most of the time, portrayal of military life is at least a little bit off because it's hard to accurately show the flavor of a military organization if you're not really familiar with it. Hanks (who wrote the screenplay) is familiar enough to pull it off so well that I didn't even notice. So that's a major mark in the movie's favor.

May 28, 2021

Open Thread 79

It is time, once again, for our regular Open Thread. Talk about whatever you want, so long as it isn't culture war.

I've recently been playing Hearts of Iron 4, a WWII Grand Strategy game from Paradox. I have mixed feelings on it. It's not particularly detailed by the standards of other wargames I've played, and the shipbuilding system is either nonexistent (if you don't have the Man the Guns DLC) or very rudimentary (if you do) but it's quick and reasonably fun. I will say that my favorite bit is probably when you turn off historical AI focus and watch as things go nuts. Italy takes over France in 1938, Mexico tries to invade the US, and Edward VIII becomes an absolute monarch at war with the Commonwealth. And that was just one game.

2018 overhauls are There Seems To Be Something Wrong With Our Bloody Ships Today, Millennium Challenge 2002, Auxiliaries Part 1, Falklands Part 2, The New Maginot Line and Jutland parts one and two. 2019 overhauls are Pictures - My First Museum Ships, Falklands - Glossary, The Montana Class, So You Want to Build a Modern Navy - Aviation Part 4 and Battleship Aviation Part 2. 2020 overhauls are FFG(X) and Tomahawk parts one, two and three.

May 26, 2021

Soviet Battleships Part 3

When Joseph Stalin decided to build a navy in the 1930s, he planned to build it around battleships. The design process was hampered by lack of experience and by the purges ongoing in the Soviet union, and while the first of the four ships was officially laid down in 1938, it took another year to get the design finalized to the point that construction could begin. Even before the German invasion stopped construction, one ship was cancelled due to bad rivets, and the other three lagged massively.

The incomplete hull of Sovetskii Soiuz in 19442

But Stalin was already pushing for follow-up ships, and as the original dates for launching were very aggressive, the initial plan was to lay down the follow-on ships to an evolved variant of the Sovetskii Soiuz design. The major objectives were to raise speed from 28 kts to 30 kts, to replace the Puligese torpedo defense system with a more effective multibulkhead design, and to improve AA firepower, which was becoming increasingly important. The designers also worked to simplify the complicated armor scheme of the earlier design, which had used 19 separate thicknesses of armor plate. Read more...