November 17, 2019

Billy Mitchell and the Ostfriesland Part 1

Billy Mitchell is a controversial figure in the history of aviation and naval warfare. His claim that the airplane had rendered the battleship obsolete, and his relentless campaign to make the airplane the center of America's national defense, set off first great inter-service conflict. But how closely does the popular account match what actually happened in the early 20s? And was Mitchell right about the vulnerability of the battleship to air attack?

Billy Mitchell

Mitchell had joined the Army Signal Corps in 1898, and was one of the service's first proponents of the airplane. He took private flying lessons and ended up as the senior combat aviation commander in the American Expeditionary Force in France during WWI. Despite a number of personality clashes with other officers, he did an excellent job, flying numerous combat missions to see the ground his men would be fighting over and directing the largest single group of aircraft ever placed under a single command during the war. He expected to be rewarded with command of the Army's postwar air arm, and was bitterly disappointed when this did not come through. While in Europe, he became a devotee of the idea that the nation needed a unified air arm, on the model of the recently-founded RAF, and began to evangelize for this upon his return to the US. Read more...

November 15, 2019

Open Thread 39

It's our regular open thread. Talk about anything you want.

The best time of year is upon us! No, not the holidays directly. The Naval Institute Press holiday sale! Everything is half off, and with free shipping. The Naval Institute Press produces about 75% of the books I use as the basis for this blog, so this is the best possible time to expand your naval library. Just be sure to use the coupon code HOLIDAY at checkout. It runs through 12/13, so be sure to get your orders in by then.

Good choices include the 14-volume set of Morison's History of US Naval Operations in WWII, Norman Friedman's US Battleships, World Naval Weapon Systems and Network-Centric Warfare, and the superb Nelson's Navy on the RN of that era. But there's a lot of other great stuff available, too, and I'd encourage you to take a look, particularly through the Clear the Decks discount collection, many of which are in the $5 range.

Several of you expressed some interest in donating to Naval Gazing, and I thought I'd provide you with the opportunity. Just to be clear, I have a good job, and definitely don't need the money. There are lots of people who could use it. But if you feel inclined, click here to donate through Paypal. Everything I get will go to the Naval Gazing Library Expansion Project. Again, don't feel any compulsion to give.

Overhauled posts since last time are Fire Control Part 2, Ballistics, US Battleships in World War II, Iowa Parts three and four, The Battleships of Pearl Harbor Parts one and two and The Battle of Lissa for 2017 and the museum ship lists for Europe and the rest of the world, ASW - Operations Research in the Atlantic, my review of the 45th Infantry Division Museum and Falklands Part 8 for 2018. As usual, the updates are confined to link updates and refined grammar.

November 13, 2019

Aircraft Weapons - Glide Bombs

While gravity bombs of various types are powerful and effective weapons, all of them suffer from one major drawback. They require the launch platform to close with the target, which can take it straight into the envelope of whatever defense systems are protecting it. Guided bombs raise the altitude ceiling, keeping the strike aircraft out of the envelope of short-range SAMs and AAA guns, but these are usually integrated with long-range high-altitude SAMs, which aren’t so easily avoided. The answer is standoff weapons, which hopefully allow the aircraft to stay out of range of the target’s defenses. Generally, these weapons would be used to degrade or destroy the target’s air defenses, opening the way for cheaper, shorter-range weapons. Normally, “standoff” means “missile”, but this isn’t always true, and we’ll start by looking at unpowered standoff weapons, which achieve their range by gliding.

AGM-62 Walleye

The concept of a gliding bomb is not new. The German Fritz-X of WWII was a glide bomb, although it differed from modern weapons of the same type in falling quite steeply. Several other nations also built more conventional glide bombs during and immediately after WWII, with only limited success. The 50s saw little work on weapons of this type, as nuclear weapons greatly reduced the need for precision guidance. During the 1960s, this kind of logic was seen as no longer appropriate, and programs began to develop new precision weapons, taking advantage of electronics unavailable to their WWII-era predecessors. These bombs, like the Air Force HOBOS and Navy Walleye, were designed with some glide capability. Both used contrast seekers, which used an analog TV camera set up to look for sharp changes in image value and home in on them. This was pretty effective when it worked, but it required the target to stand out clearly from the background, meaning it was limited to daylight and good visibility. The need to lock the seeker on before launch meant that the airplane often had to get rather closer than it would have liked to the target, and the weapons themselves were considerably more expensive than Paveway, so they saw only limited use during the Vietnam War. Read more...

November 10, 2019

Cool Facilities - Natick Labs

Continuing my tour of interesting military facilities around the country, we turn our attention to the Army, specifically the Army Soldier Systems Center at Natick, Massachusetts. This is where the Army does research on improving the lives of soldiers. Not by giving them better guns, but by improving their equipment, ranging from boots to uniforms to tents.

A test in the Doroit Climate Chamber

Natick's facilities are mostly divided between two main organizations, the Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center and the Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine.1 Between them, they operate a number of unique facilities which provide a fascinating look at the level of effort which goes into even the smallest piece of military equipment.2 Read more...

November 08, 2019

Rule The Waves 2 Game 1 - April 1914


The year since the end of our latest war with Italy has been an exciting one. We have commissioned Lille, widely recognized as the most powerful warship afloat. We have laid down a trio of CLs and 10 DDs, giving us the largest and most modern force of that type afloat. Our researchers and agents have brought us a bounty of technology, ranging from engines to guns to armor. A recent clash with the US in the Caribbean has lead to an increase in our budget, and we have begun an aviation program, with an airship base in Norway and the fitting of a few ships to carry scouting planes.

But it has also brought challenges. The recent victories of the Liberals in Britain have resulted in the RN's budget being slashed to the point that the German fleet might overtake them soon, and our nation has been unable to keep up. Our diplomats assure us that the situation with the US can be managed, but that does pose another risk to our interests. The first of the new destroyers will commission in four months, opening the way for continued capital ship construction. A number of sketch designs have been prepared for your consideration. Read more...

November 06, 2019

Early Guided Weapons Part 2

Guided weapons were first deployed during WWII, most famously by the Germans in the form of the Hs 293 and Fritz-X guided bombs. But the Germans were far from alone in their efforts, and I've also discussed the efforts of the US Army and various other powers to develop air-to-surface guided weapons. However, the weirdest and most interesting program was that of the US Navy, who took a common airframe and build a bewildering array of weapons around it, ranging from the successful to the absurd.


The USN's guided weapons program was built around a common airframe developed by the National Bureau of Standards and usually carrying a 1,000 lb warhead, with a wide variety of different guidance systems. The first versions, known as Robin and Dragon, used standard radio guidance, with or without a TV camera to pass images back to the operator. These were not hugely successful, and the program was soon terminated in favor of radar guidance. The first result was Pelican, which would home in on radar signals reflected from a target illuminated by the launching aircraft's radar. After some teething troubles in the guidance system were ironed out, it worked rather well by the standards of the time.3 However, the delay had opened the door for another guidance system, which the Navy decided to put into combat use.4 Read more...

November 03, 2019

Early Guided Weapons Part 1

I've previously discussed the early German guided bombs at some length, but the Germans weren't the only power to try to make guided weapons during WWII.5 Most of the other powers also tried to make their weapons more accurate, sometimes with hilarious results.

GB-1 glide bomb

By far the most prolific of these efforts were those of the US. The normal wartime procurement pattern was for the US to produce a system or two that worked well, and Germany to saddle itself with a dozen different ones, all inadequately debugged and competing for resources. Guided weapons are one of the few cases where this was reversed. The Germans only had a handful of programs, mostly in different niches, while the US tried several systems for each role, and only a handful saw combat. Read more...

November 01, 2019

Open Thread 38

It's time for our regular open thread. Talk about whatever you want, so long as you avoid culture war stuff.

The list of updates is particularly long, as I'm beginning another round of yearly overhauls. From 2018, I've updated underbottom explosions, Survivability - Mission Kills, The Last Days of the High Seas Fleet, Samar, Turret and Barbette, The Space Force and the FAA and Russian Battleships Part 4. The 2017 overhauls are A Brief History of the Battleship, Iowa Parts One and Two, and Fire Control Part 1.

October 30, 2019

So You Want to Build a Modern Navy - The Story of a Missile Part 1

This isn't a normal So You Want to Build a Modern Navy post. Unlike the other entries in the series, it's not the results of an email discussion. This is entirely my work, but setting it in a fictional country makes it a lot easier to build a composite of the process and problems involved in bringing complicated military systems into the field.

Nobody is entirely sure where it started. It may have started somewhere deep in the Heptagon, the headquarters of the Paperclipistani military. Or in the Capitol Building, in the mind of a legislator. It may even have started with a private citizen, typing away about "what the Navy needs". But wherever it started, it ended up on the docket of the Committee for National Defense, placed there by a concerned Member, whose district just happened to have a major shipyard. The Honorable Members debated if the rising Chinese threat really merited fitting the frigates with a new anti-ship missile, but eventually agreed that it did. A new line item was inserted into the budget, directing that the Navy conduct a competition between existing anti-ship missiles for the unusually-named Frigate Intermediate Surface Defense Missile (FISDM), with funding for procurement and installation to follow in later years.

Even running this competition would take a great deal of work, including technical expertise that the Paperclipistani Navy simply didn't have. A contractor would be needed to aid in the competition, and later to integrate it with the ship. The obvious candidate was Papercipistan United Defense Services (PUDS), which had previously been prime contractor on the frigates themselves. But after several major procurement scandals, most notably a bribery scandal that had resulted in the nascent Air Force being abolished and folded into the Navy, a procurement bureaucracy had grown at a tremendous rate. A contract would have to be prepared so that PUDS could help the competition for the contract for the FISDM, a major effort in and of itself. Read more...

October 27, 2019

Navy Day 2019

Today is the traditional day to celebrate the United States Navy, even if it has been deprecated in recent years thanks to a conspiracy of a mustache-obsessed CNO and pro-Air Force elements in the Pentagon. OK, that was mild hyperbole. Officially, Navy Day was deprecated in favor of Armed Forces Day at the order of Lewis Johnson, SecDef to Truman, who tried to gut the Navy in favor of the Air Force. The ceremony was partially recreated when historical research showed that the Continental Navy was founded on October 13th, 1775, and Elmo Zumwalt ordered celebrations to be held on that day, which cannibalized unofficial Navy Day celebrations. But I'm a traditionalist, so I'm going to celebrate it today.

Missouri and Renshaw during Navy Day 1945

It's also the second anniversary of Naval Gazing as an independent blog, and an excellent year it has been. I've continued to enjoy writing, particularly with the recent reduction in pace, and interacting with my readership in the comments. Seeing people reading my stuff and thinking about it is one of the great joys of doing this. Read more...