July 14, 2020

Naval Gazing Virtual Meetup

Meetup time is once again upon us, and I'm going to do the usual 1 PM Central (GMT-5, I think, with the time change) Saturday timeslot. Teams link is here. Conversation is likely to be eclectic, as usual, although I'd like to discuss some of the recent events in Aurora. Also, send me an email at battleshipbean at gmail if you want email notifications.

April 11, 2021

The Fate of the French Fleet Part 2

The Fall of France put British mastery of the seas in grave jeopardy. Already overstretched by the efforts required to contain Germany and Italy, the Royal Navy now faced the potential that the French fleet would be added to the ranks of its enemies, bringing immediate disaster. Admiral Darlan, the chief of the Marine Nationale, did his best to make it clear in the days before and after the armistice that he would never allow his ships to be taken by a foreign power, and he was able to evacuate the vast majority of them to the French colonies in Africa, where the Germans and Italians seemed content to let them sit out the war.

Charles de Gaulle attempts to persuade his fellow Frenchmen via the BBC

Winston Churchill, however, was unwilling to let the situation develop, probably because he thought a decisive action was needed to boost morale and signal that he was not deterred by the loss of the French. Instead of even considering waiting for the ships to be moved back to German-controlled ports, the biggest concern for the British, they immediately began to take steps to neutralize them.1 The first was to approach about carrying on the war as part of Charles de Gaulle's Free French, but the response was almost unanimous. These officers saw the government now settling in at Vichy as the legitimate government of France, and breaking to join De Gaulle would be mutiny. The main effect of these overtures was merely to antagonize Darlan and other French admirals. Churchill ordered more dramatic measures taken. Read more...

April 09, 2021

The Top Gun Rant

Apologies for the lack of Aurora this week. I've been busy, and to make up for it, I offer something else.

Top Gun was on Amazon Prime, and while I've seen it before, I figured it was worth watching again for your benefit. First, the title is wrong. As Neptunus Lex says, the name is TOPGUN. One word, all caps, don't ask. We start with some fairly nice carrier ops footage. Besides a rather silly soundtrack, I'd also accuse them of erasing everything that isn't an F-14.

And then we get to the black-painted F-5s. They're very clearly F-5s. This is almost Pearl Harbor levels of bad. And why does that display show a 360° sweep? That is not how most aircraft radars work. And then they're called MiG-28s. That's a very odd-looking transport, to say nothing of what it's doing trying to dogfight with an F-14. (Until quite recently, all Soviet/Russian fighters had odd numbers, while some attack aircraft and transports had even numbers.) And then we get into dogfighting, which is done at ludicrously close range. Also, there's no way to tell that someone has locked on with an IR missile, and I don't think most radar-homing missiles work at that range.

And then we have "Cougar", the pilot with a tragic skin condition who panics. The USN is pretty good at screening for that. There's no way the LSOs don't wave off a plane that's gyrating that much, and I'm pretty sure that disobeying an order like Tom Cruise did gets you grounded, not sent to TOPGUN. Read more...

April 07, 2021

The Fate of the French Fleet Part 1

In 1940, France's fleet was the 4th-largest in the world,2 and had proved a valuable ally to the British during the opening months of the war, protecting the sea lanes and helping in the battle for Norway, as well as taking responsibility for the eastern Mediterranean when Italy looked posed to enter the war. Unfortunately, this power also made it a potential threat to the British if it ended up in unfriendly hands.

Francois Darlan

This scenario became terrifyingly real to London in June 1940. Even after the stunning German successes in Belgium and Northern France, which ultimately forced the British to evacuate their troops from Dunkirk and destroyed many of France's best units, the French planned to fight on. The Germans began to attack south at the beginning of June, and the French initially fought well, raising hopes that they would be able to hold out. Unfortunately, it was not to be, and French defenses began collapsing within a few days. Admiral Francois Darlan, chief of the Marine Nationale, attempted to preserve the fleet as best he could, ordering evacuation of all ships from the threatened Atlantic ports, scuttling of any ships which couldn't be evacuated, and destruction of shore facilities to deny them to the Germans. Read more...

April 04, 2021

Father Capodanno

Today is Easter, and as is tradition around here, it's time to take a look at the actions of a military chaplain. This year's is Lieutenant Vincent Capodanno, USNR, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in Vietnam.

Capodanno was ordained a priest in 1958, and chose to join the Maryknoll Society, a Catholic missionary society known for going into rough areas and living alongside the natives. His first assignment was to Taiwan, where he spent six years as a teacher and missionary. After a brief trip back to the US, he volunteered as a Chaplain in support of the growing US presence in Vietnam, and was quickly commissioned into the Navy.3 In April 1966, he was assigned to 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, and quickly gained a reputation for his focus on the "grunts", the junior enlisteds on the front lines. He ate and slept with them, and despite orders from his commander, he often slipped off on patrols with them. When asked why he was wearing a flack jacket, which didn't seem like "a good advertisment for his faith", he replied “I know it, but it’s protective coloration so I blend in with the men. In addition, I understand their trials better if I accept the same burdens they do. I want to be available in the event anything serious occurs; to learn firsthand the problems of the men, and to give them moral support, to comfort them with my presence. In addition, I feel I must personally witness how they react under fire—and experience it myself—to understand the fear they feel.”4 Read more...

April 02, 2021

Open Thread 75

It's time once again for our usual open thread. Talk about whatever you want, even if it's not naval/military related.

I have no particular plans to write on the MV Ever Given incident specifically, although salvage in general remains on my list of topics to cover some day. I will say, however, that I am extremely happy at the fact that the importance of seaborne trade was at least briefly in the spotlight.

2018 overhauls are the Early Battlecruisers, Why do we need so many ships?, ASW in WWI, SYWTBABB - Design Part 1, The Pursuit of the Goeben and Breslau and Operation Staple Head. 2019 overhauls are Auxiliaries Part 5, Commercial Aviation Part 10, German Guided Bombs Part 4, The Spanish-American War Part 3, Naval Fiction, SYWTBABB Construction Part 2 and The Philadelphia Experiment. 2020 overhauls are Falklands Part 20, Southern Commerce Raiding Part 2, Merchant Ships - General Cargo and Lord Nelson's review of SS Anne.

April 01, 2021

Completely Correct Battleship Facts

Naval historians are still debating the nature of the catastrophe that wiped out the battleship. Some think it was a giant asteroid impact, but those people are stupid.

Others claim the battleship disappeared from the world's navies because it was discovered that they were too vulnerable to fire. Oilers would create large slicks, then set them alight with flares, burning the battleships alive.

Many battleships were named after leaders during European colonization of the Americas or for indigenous native tribes. The names became so widely recognized they were later co-opted as the names for the states.

A landlocked South American country once bought a battleship, but was unable to find a permanent port to keep it in, so it spent many years moving from place to place. Some say it still wanders the seas today, menacing passing merchants, while others claim it was sunk by mistake during WWII.

Japan once attempted to propel a battleship by towing it with torpedoes. It ran into Godzilla.

Donald Trump's promise to reactivate the battleships was made because he believed that the USS Iowa had an important role to play in the upcoming primary, and he was trying to win votes.

The German flying battleship program resulted in what is technically the heaviest aircraft ever to fly. However, it was only able to fly for a few seconds before the scuttling charges were accidentally activated as part of the abort procedure. German naval officers claimed that this made it a successful test.

Wet Combat historians often debate about the efficacy of battleships versus warships. The key difference obviously is that while battleships can participate in any one combat, warships must participate in every single combat of the war, which can be challenging in wars fought on multiple fronts. Until recent centuries the single use battleships were considered a waste of steel, but they've found renewed popularity with the invention of the "paint it a different color and hope the admiral doesn't notice" method.

March 31, 2021

Pictures - Iowa Auxiliary Machinery

I've previously looked at the boiler and engine rooms aboard Iowa, and it's now time to take a look at the third space, the aft auxiliary machinery room. I've only been down there once about two years ago, so this probably won't be as clear as the earlier posts.

Getting down to the auxiliary machinery room requires going down a very steep shaft


March 28, 2021

Nuclear Weapons at Sea - Polaris Part 5

In the late 50s, the US Navy began work on what was known as the Fleet Ballistic Missile (FBM), going from program start to the first operational cruise of the USS George Washington carrying Polaris missiles in only four years. But the Polaris A1 missiles that Washington carried were essentially prototypes, and something better would be needed to arm the 40 SSBNs that would follow her into service.

Polaris A2 missile

Work on the follow-on Polaris A2 was well in hand even as George Washington began her first patrol. One major focus was improved reliability, to make the missile actually something that could be adequately maintained by a submarine's crew in operational service. Another upgrade was an improved second stage, stretched 30" to bring the range up to the 1,500 nm that was originally desired. This greatly increased the patrol area, bringing Moscow within range not only from boats in the Norwegian Sea, but also the Mediterranean and Aegean. Patrols in the Mediterranean began in 1963, essentially replacing the Jupiter missiles withdrawn from Turkey as part of the deal that ended the Cuban Missile Crisis. Pacific patrols began the next year, with Polaris replacing the Regulus submarines on patrol off the Soviet Pacific coast. Read more...

March 26, 2021

Aurora Game 1 - 1976

1975 was a better year, with no losses among our survey ships. We discovered that both of our ships were destroyed by the same race, which was previously unknown to us, but surveys showed no connection between the systems we lost ships in. In fact, NN3659 was a dead end. Our xenology teams are still arguing over the implications of this. Beyond that, we have just finished developing a new commercial engine, which opens up options. We should probably consider a new tanker, as well as follow-on cargo and colony ships. We also need to figure out what action to take against this race, and what implications it has for our building plans.

Database for 1976.

March 24, 2021

Nuclear Weapons at Sea - Polaris Part 4

In the fall of 1960, the ballistic missile submarine George Washington went to sea carrying the first Polaris missiles. The Navy's Special Projects Office had managed to take the entire system, submarine, missile and all, from paper to operational service in only four years. But just getting a submarine to sea with missiles in it wasn't enough.

An E-6 Mercury at the Tinker Air Show

One last hurdle to overcome was the problem of passing the launch order to the submarines. Water blocks most radio signals, and while previous submarines had been able to simply pick up messages intermittently, that was no longer good enough. One solution was to place a conventional antenna on a float, which would be towed behind the submarine. Another was to use low-frequency radio signals which could penetrate underwater. The standard method was to use Very Low Frequency (VLF) signals, which have wavelengths of 10 km or more. These transmitters are very large, and pass information at low rates (around 300 bits/sec), but the antenna can remain submerged, with the signals penetrating up to 50m underwater. Because of the size and vulnerability of the fixed transmitters, the USN developed another method of transmitting these signals, using an airplane to carry the antenna. The airplane, referred to by the term TAke Charge And Move Out (TACAMO), reels out a 10 km antenna, and flies in a tight circle, which results in 70% of the antenna being vertical and able to transmit a powerful VLF signal. This mission was originally performed by modified C-130s, but they were replaced in the late 80s with the E-6 Mercury, a derivative of the 707 airliner that also serves as backup command center for American land-based nuclear forces. Read more...