December 11, 2019

Billy Mitchell and the Ostfriesland Part 2

In early 1921, Billy Mitchell seemed to be winning his war on the US Navy. He had convinced the press and thus the public that aircraft could easily sink a battleship, a claim he intended to demonstrate during the upcoming trials on the former German battleship Ostfriesland. This would allow him to wrest naval aviation from the USN and create a separate Air Force, which he would be the logical choice to lead. It would be a masterstroke in the political battles over service supremacy.

Ostfriesland flying the US flag

Mitchell suffered a major defeat in April, when President-Elect Harding backed a proposal to create a separate Bureau of Aeronautics within the Navy. At the end of WWI, the Director of Naval Aviation had been demoted to a position within the CNO's1 office, greatly reducing its prestige within the Navy.2 The creation of a separate bureau would ensure naval aviation's independent existence, as it placed it on the same footing as such fields as ordnance and engineering. This was a major blow to the campaign for unification, as the Navy's aviators now had the backing they felt they needed, and the example of the absorption of the Royal Naval Air Service into the newly-formed Royal Air Force made the USN's aviation community wary of wedding itself to the Army Air Service. Read more...

December 08, 2019

Museum Review - National Atomic Museum

While on my way from LA to Oklahoma, there was only one museum I wanted to see. Albuquerque is home to the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History, formerly known as the National Atomic Museum, and I was exceedingly glad that I took the time to visit.

Me with the Mk 23 Katie shell
Type: Museum of nuclear weapons, with some other stuff, too
Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico
Rating: 4.8/5, A truly incredible collection, well worth the trip
Price: $14 for regular adults


The thing I most wanted to see was their Mk 23 "Katie" shell, which unifies my passions for battleships and nuclear weapons. But while this would probably be enough to qualify the museum for a 4.0 on its own, the rest of the collection was incredible. I basically spent the whole time racing from one artifact to the next, pausing only to talk briefly about how cool the thing I was looking at was. Read more...

December 06, 2019

Rule the Waves 2 Game 1 - November 1915


The war with Italy drags on. We continue to blockade their coast, but they are so far defiant. The good news is that we have recently commissioned the Rouens and laid down the new Saint Louis class battleships, as well as receiving the first seaplane carriers anywhere in the world. We have also begun to build a land-based air force, which will help our forces find and destroy the Italian fleet soon enough.

Tensions with Germany remain very high, but we have done what we can to avoid war, so far successfully. The Italian fleet has refused to come out, but we have sunk several of their raiders. We are considering threatening Sicily in the hopes that the Mafia will intervene and force the Italian government to come to terms. Read more...

December 04, 2019

Information, Communication and Naval Warfare Part 4

The early 50s saw a crisis in the USN's air defenses. Jet aircraft had completely overwhelmed the manual CIC3 techniques used during WWII. The obvious solution was automation, and the British and Canadians had made some early strides in the area, but neither was sufficient for the USN's needs. On land, the USAF had created SAGE, a computerized system to track incoming Soviet bombers, but the 250-ton computers that drove it were much too large to take to sea. Something better would be needed.

The prototype NTDS CIC ashore

Fortunately, the invention of the transistor allowed such a system to be built, and for computers to go to sea on a grand scale for the first time. The architects of this system, known as the Naval Tactical Data System (NTDS), took the bold step of using general-purpose (programmable) computers even though many thought that only a special-purpose computer would be fast enough. This had a number of advantages. The system, both software and hardware, would be easy to upgrade, and making it more powerful would just involve adding more computers, giving useful commonality between large ship and small ship systems. Read more...

December 01, 2019

Riverine Warfare - Southeast Asia Part 1

Southeast Asia has long been one of the world's maritime crossroads. The Strait of Malacca, connecting the Indian and Pacific Oceans, has been important to sailors carrying goods between East Asia, India and Europe since Antiquity, and continues to be vital to international trade today. Southeast Asia is also dotted with islands, which has long incentivized its inhabitants to participate in maritime commerce. Unfortunately, all too many of them decided the best way to participate was as pirates, a problem that troubles the region even today.

A battle with pirates off Borneo

Many of these pirates chose to base themselves up rivers, making it exceptionally difficult for official naval forces to track them down and destroy them. The novel Flashman's Lady contains a meticulously-researched account of one such expedition in Borneo, led by James Brooke, the White Rajah of Sarawak.4 But while fighting piracy on rivers continues to this day, Southeast Asia is far better known for the French and American riverine campaigns in Indochina, particularly the Mekong River and its delta.5 Read more...

November 29, 2019

Open Thread 40

It's time for our regular open thread.

In the naval news recently has been the mess that is the Secretary of the Navy's replacement/resignation. Richard Spencer has resigned/been fired in a case that looks to have something to do with the trial of Eddie Gallagher, a SEAL accused of war crimes. Gallagher was acquitted of murder and other serious charges, but convicted of posing for a photo with a slain member of ISIS. Trump has for some reason fastened onto the case, granting clemency, restoring Gallagher's rank, and tweeting that Gallagher would not be stripped of his status as a SEAL before he retired. Spencer has been publicly in favor of letting the process run its course without Trump's interference, but appears to have brokered a deal to make sure it would produce the result Trump wanted. Somehow, Trump lost confidence in him, and fired him via tweet. Personally, I won't mourn Spencer's departure. He's done a better job than his predecessor, Ray Mabus, but that's a bar that could probably have been cleared by appointing a cabbage. His replacement is to be the current ambassador to Norway, retired Rear Admiral Kenneth Braithwaite.

Please remember to be nice to the other side, and not to venture too far from the issue at hand. The broader culture war ban is still in effect.

Also, a reminder that the Naval Institute Press Holiday Sale ends in two weeks, the same day the next OT goes up, so I'd recommend getting your shopping in now.

Overhauled posts since last time are the Battleships of Pearl Harbor Part 3, Iowa parts five, six and seven, Mine Warfare Part 1, and Russian Battleships Part 1 for 2017. 2018 overhauls are Commercial Aviation Part 1, Missouri Part 3, the internment of the High Seas Fleet, Crew art aboard Iowa, So You Want to Build a Battleship - Design Part 2 and G3 and Nelson.

November 27, 2019

The Harpoon Family

The Harpoon missile has been a mainstay of the American arsenal for the last 40 years. Launched by surface ships, aircraft, and submarines, it has also found use in land-attack versions, and continues to be modernized and upgraded today.

Iowa launching a Harpoon

Harpoon, technically AGM/RGM/UGM-84,6 began life in the mid-60s as a weapon for patrol aircraft to shoot at surfaced submarines.7 While submarines generally prefer to spend their time underwater, the Soviets had yet to perfect the art of the underwater missile launch, and both cruise and ballistic missile submarines would have had to surface to use their weapons. The SS-N-3 missiles that armed most of the anti-ship cruise missile submarines required midcourse guidance from their launch platform, increasing the window of vulnerability even more. But in 1967, even before a contract had been placed, the Israeli destroyer Eliat was sunk by Soviet-supplied anti-ship missiles, kicking off a mad scramble for similar weapons. Read more...

November 24, 2019

The Falklands War Part 19

In early April 1982, Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, a few desolate rocks in the South Atlantic. The British mobilized their fleet in response. The carriers arrived off the Falklands on May 1st, swiftly defeating the Argentine Air Force. The Argentine Navy tried to interfere the next day, but withdrew after the cruiser General Belgrano was sunk by a submarine. Two days later, the Argentinians struck back, sinking the frigate Sheffield with an Exocet missile. Two weeks later, on May 21st, British troops landed at San Carlos Water on the west coast of East Falkland. The Argentine Air Force quickly got wind of this, and launched numerous sorties against the invasion fleet. The brutal battle ran for five days before the Argentinian attacks petered out. Unfortunately, the 25th saw the destroyer Coventry and the cargo ship Atlantic Conveyor sunk by air attack. A few days later, the British began their breakout, defeating the Argentinians at Goose Green in the first land battle of the war.8

An Argentinian Hercules

While the 29th was most notable for the capture of Goose Green, it was a busy day elsewhere. The final bomb on Sir Lancelot was disarmed, clearing the ships in San Carlos of unexploded bombs for the first time in 8 days. The Argentinians also paid their first visit to San Carlos since the 25th, when two aircraft made a recon pass, with one of them, a Dagger, falling to a missile. At almost the same time, the tanker British Wye was coming under attack 780 miles to the northeast from a rather unlikely airplane. The British had been well aware of the air threat to their long and perilous logistics chain, and had made sure to remain out of range of Argentina's Canberra bombers. The Argentinians had countered this by fitting Pucara bomb racks to some of their C-130s, one of which found the tanker and dropped eight bombs on her. Fortunately for the British, the only hit bounced off the forecastle, but the merchant ships were quickly rerouted to keep them out of C-130 range as well. Read more...

November 22, 2019

Rule the Waves 2 Game 1 - May 1915


So far, the war with Italy goes well. We have taken some damage, but dealt significantly more in return, and Germany has remained neutral. We have also used airplanes at sea, and are poised to bring more planes into the fleet with our new AV conversions. However, we are faced with a number of choices, most notably over the direction of our future shipbuilding programs. The Rouen class battlecruisers complete in a few months, and we presumably want ships to follow them on the slipway, particularly as two new CLs are also about to commission.


November 19, 2019

The Navy and the Space Program

The first American in space was a naval aviator, as was the first American to orbit the Earth.9 The first man on the moon was a naval aviator, as were five of the six commanders of Lunar missions who followed him. And the USN was primarily responsible for the recovery of every single manned mission from Alan Shepard's first steps into space until the beginning of the Shuttle program. Today, the 50th anniversary of Apollo 12's landing on the Moon with an all-Navy crew,10 seems a good time to examine some of these contributions.

Al Bean about to step on the Lunar surface

The sea and space have been linked since time immemorial, when early mariners studied the stars to guide them across trackless seas. The United State's first space agency, the Naval Observatory, was created in 1830 to support celestial navigation. It was one of the country's leading astronomical institutions during the 19th century, playing a major role in measuring the distance to the sun by observing the transit of Venus and providing the telescope used to discover the moons of Mars in 1877. As academic astronomy grew in strength, the Naval Observatory began to focus instead on providing precision timing and reference frames, and remains a world leader in these fields. It also houses the Vice President and operates an observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. Read more...