April 24, 2019

Continuous At Sea Deterrent

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Royal Navy's Continuous At Sea Deterrent. Since the fifth patrol of the ballistic missile submarine HMS Resolution, there has always been a British SSBN at sea, ready to respond should the unthinkable occur. The USN has been on the job even longer, although I don't have a precise figure for the start of continuous deterrent patrols. I do know that in 2014, they celebrated their 4,000th patrol since the USS George Washington took the Polaris missile to sea in 1960, which probably brings their total to around 4,150 today.

HMS Vanguard returns from a patrol

For over half a century, the ultimate hole card of Western leaders has been men1 in submarines, providing a nigh-undetectable reserve of nuclear firepower. These men have spent three months at a time in cramped metal tubes, year in and year out, missing birthdays and holidays, rarely getting to see the sun and sacrificing time with their families to protect all of us. Read more...

April 22, 2019

Open Thread 24

It's time for our regular Open Thread. Talk about whatever you want.

I'm going to highlight a truly excellent Thin Pinstripped Line article on retention in a modern military. While the US isn't in quite the same place, it's still a very interesting look at a complex issue.

Posts revised since last time are the posts on sensors and weapons for WWII ASW, the first part of my series on main guns, British Battleships in WWII, my review of Iowa, and the second part of Pobog's sea stories.

April 21, 2019

The Four Chaplains

Today is Easter, and I thought it was appropriate to highlight an oft-overlooked portion of the American military, the Chaplain Corps. Charged with the spiritual health of the troops, they have played an important part in supporting and sustaining the men and women on the front lines mentally and morally.

Clockwise from top left: Goode, Poling, Washington and Fox

On February 3rd, 1943, the troopship SS Dorchester was part of a convoy taking American troops to Greenland. Among the 904 men aboard were four chaplains, Methodist minister George L. Fox, Rabbi Alexander D. Goode, Catholic priest John P. Washington and Reformed minister Clark V. Poling. The ship, originally designed to carry only around 400, was very cramped, and despite the danger of U-boat attack, many of the men aboard disregarded the order to sleep in their clothes and life vests. Read more...

April 19, 2019

30 Years Ago

30 years ago today, while conducting gunnery exercises off the coast of Puerto Rico, one of Iowa's turrets exploded. 47 members of her crew were killed. Every year, a memorial ceremony is held for them, and this year, I'll be in attendance.

  • Tung Thanh Adams - Fire Controlman 3rd class (FC3) Alexandria, VA
  • Robert Wallace Backherms - Gunner's Mate 3rd class (GM3) Ravenna, OH
  • Dwayne Collier Battle - Electrician's Mate, Fireman Apprentice (EMFA) Rocky Mount, NC
  • Walter Scot Blakey - Gunner's Mate 3rd class (GM3) Eaton Rapids, MI
  • Pete Edward Bopp - Gunner's Mate 3rd class (GM3) Levittown, NY
  • Ramon Jarel Bradshaw - Seaman Recruit (SR) Tampa, FL
  • Philip Edward Buch - Lieutenant, Junior Grade (LTjg) Las Cruces, NM
  • Eric Ellis Casey - Seaman Apprentice (SA) Mt. Airy, NC
  • John Peter Cramer - Gunners Mate 2nd class (GM2) Uniontown, PA
  • Milton Francis Devaul Jr. - Gunners Mate 3rd class (GM3) Solvay, NY
  • Leslie Allen Everhart Jr. - Seaman Apprentice (SA) Cary, NC
  • Gary John Fisk - Boatswains Mate 2nd class (BM2) Oneida, NY
  • Tyrone Dwayne Foley - Seaman (SN) Bullard, TX
  • Robert James Gedeon III - Seaman Apprentice (SA) Lakewood, OH
  • Brian Wayne Gendron - Seaman Apprentice (SA) Madera, CA
  • John Leonard Goins - Seaman Recruit (SR) Columbus, OH
  • David L. Hanson - Electricians Mate 3rd class (EM3) Perkins, SD
  • Ernest Edward Hanyecz - Gunners Mate 1st class (GM1) Bordentown, NJ
  • Clayton Michael Hartwig - Gunners Mate 2nd class (GM2) Cleveland, OH
  • Michael William Helton - Legalman 1st class (LN1) Louisville, KY
  • Scott Alan Holt - Seaman Apprentice (SA) Fort Meyers, FL
  • Reginald L. Johnson Jr. - Seaman Recruit (SR) Warrensville Heights, OH
  • Nathaniel Clifford Jones Jr. - Seaman Apprentice (SA) Buffalo, NY
  • Brian Robert Jones - Seaman (SN) Kennesaw, GA
  • Michael Shannon Justice - Seaman (SN) Matewan, WV
  • Edward J. Kimble - Seaman (SN) Ft. Stockton, TX
  • Richard E. Lawrence - Gunners Mate 3rd class (GM3) Springfield, OH
  • Richard John Lewis - Fire Controlman, Seaman Apprentice (FCSA) Northville, MI
  • Jose Luis Martinez Jr. - Seaman Apprentice (SA) Hidalgo, TX
  • Todd Christopher McMullen - Boatswains Mate 3rd class (BM3) Manheim, PA
  • Todd Edward Miller - Seaman Recruit (SR) Ligonier, PA
  • Robert Kenneth Morrison - Legalman 1st class (LN1) Jacksonville, FL
  • Otis Levance Moses - Seaman (SN) Bridgeport, CN
  • Darin Andrew Ogden - Gunners Mate 3rd class (GM3) Shelbyville, IN
  • Ricky Ronald Peterson - Seaman (SN) Houston, MN
  • Mathew Ray Price - Gunners Mate 3rd class (GM3) Burnside, PA
  • Harold Earl Romine Jr. - Seaman Recruit (SR) Brandenton, FL
  • Geoffrey Scott Schelin - Gunners Mate 3rd class (GMG3) Costa Mesa, CA
  • Heath Eugene Stillwagon - Gunners Mate 3rd class (GM3) Connellsville, PA
  • Todd Thomas Tatham - Seaman Recruit (SR) Wolcott, NY
  • Jack Ernest Thompson - Gunners Mate 3rd class (GM3) Greeneville, TN
  • Stephen J. Welden - Gunners Mate 2nd class (GM2) Yukon, OK
  • James Darrell White - Gunners Mate 3rd class (GM3) Norwalk, CA
  • Rodney Maurice White - Seaman Recruit (SR) Louisville, KY
  • Michael Robert Williams - Boatswains Mate 2nd class (BM2) South Shore, KY
  • John Rodney Young - Seaman (SN) Rockhill, SC
  • Reginald Owen Ziegler - Senior Chief Gunners Mate (GMCS) Port Gibson, NY

They came to the Navy as strangers. Served the Navy as shipmates and friends and left the Navy as brothers in eternity. - George H.W. Bush

April 17, 2019

Shells Part 2

I've previously discussed the early development of the ammunition used in naval guns, but in the 1880s, developments in armor and fusing quickly left those early projectiles behind. Soon, improved versions of both shot (simple chunks of metal) and shell, with explosive fillings, were being put into service.

A selection of 9.2" shells

The cast-iron Palliser Shot had been effective enough against wrought iron, but it was easily shattered by better armor. The obvious choice was to switch to steel projectiles, but the chilled hardening process didn't work with cast steel.2 In fact, cast steel was not particularly suitable for Armor-Piercing (AP) shot or shells, and projectiles had to be forged instead.3 Steel was poured into a die in the rough shape of the shell, but somewhat larger. Once the shell blank solidified, it was moved to another furnace, and then steam hammers or a hydraulic press were used to work it against a die, producing a shape close to the final shell. It was then annealed by heating in a furnace for several days to relieve any undesirable stress concentrations, and machined down to the final shape. The shell was forged with the nose closed and the base open, and after the base cavity was bored to the desired size, the opening was threaded to accept the base plug. Read more...

April 14, 2019

The Falklands War Part 13

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 Argentines 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.

An Argentine MB-339

It took only a few hours for the first Argentine aircraft to appear over the beachhead. At 08454 an MB-339 armed trainer making a circuit of the island from Port Stanley passed through the narrows at the north end of Falkland Sound. The pilot attacked the frigate Argonaut, wounding two men, then turned and flew up the valley towards Port San Carlos, directly over the invasion fleet. The fleet below opened fire with everything from machine guns to Seacat missiles, but he escaped undamaged to Port Stanley and delivered his report. Another early recon sortie, by a Pucara light attack aircraft from Goose Green, ended when it met a Stinger missile fired by an SAS team. The pilot ejected safely and walked back to Goose Green. Read more...

April 12, 2019

Sea Story - Black Oil

It's been too long since I posted one of Jim Pobog's sea stories, so I thought I'd share this one, about a mishap he had while tending the boilers. For those who've forgotten, Jim served as a boiler technician (BT) on the oiler Mispillion, off the coast of Vietnam.

A view of Mispillion from another ship approaching to refuel. Note the service station ball on the stern.

I was not without screw-ups of my own in The Hole.5 There was a very common mistake to make; it seems that at some point in their Navy career, everyone did this…some more than once.

The Babcock & Wilcox 450lb. sectional header boilers on Mispillion were fired with NSFO (Navy Special Fuel Oil). At the time, this was the lowest grade of fuel oil, the heaviest and least processed. There were other grades that we carried as cargo for replenishment of other ships. This oil when cold (a relative term) is very thick, almost like tar. Before it is piped to the boilers it is run through a heater and its viscosity becomes very much like kerosene. It doesn’t look like kerosene however, it is extremely dark brown, almost black, and hence is usually called “black oil”. Read more...

April 10, 2019

Shells Part 1

When I discussed battleship main guns, I mostly glossed over the shells that they fired. The time has come to rectify that error, and discuss the wide variety of shell types that have seen naval service over the centuries.

Early shells, with shot on the left6

In the age of sail, the basic naval projectile was round shot, a simple round chunk of metal. This had the advantage of being cheap and fairly effective at making holes in a target. The problem was that poking small holes in something as big and tough as a ship, even a wooden one, was not a particularly fast way to kill it. A few men might be killed by flying splinters, but the holes were easily plugged by the ship's carpenter, and it took an awful lot of battering to actually kill another ship. Ordnance designers thus came up with a number of specialized projectiles that would have other effects. Chain shot, when two halves of a cannonball were linked by a chain, was used to slash through rigging and batter masts. To attack the enemy crew, canister or grapeshot was used, turning cannons into giant shotguns. However, all of these specialized projectiles lost velocity quickly and were thus limited to short range. The only way to improve round shot as a ship-killer was to heat it in a furnace so it would set fire to the target. However, this had serious drawbacks. The shot had to be heated, which took time, and the safety implications of trying to use heated shot from a wooden ship are obvious. As a result, its use was mostly confined to coast-defense batteries, although a furnace for heating shot was installed aboard USS Constitution.7 Read more...

April 08, 2019

Open Thread 23

It's our biweekly open thread. Talk of whatever you want.

A thing I have recently started playing is Rule the Waves, a game that puts you in command of a fleet in the 1900 era. You get to pick the country, and then design, build, and fight the ships. It's one of the most addictive games I've ever encountered, to the point that I'm afraid I'll have to give it up.

Edit: I just discovered that Rule the Waves 2 is being released on April 25th. It brings with it airplanes, radar, and a bunch of other tweaks. I'm very much looking forward to it, but it does mean that it might be a good plan to hold off buying RTW1 for now.

Overhauled posts since last time include So You Want to Build a Battleship - Design Part I, The Pursuit of the Goeben and Breslau, Operation Staple Head, and my posts on the early dreadnoughts and the forces that fought the submarine in WWII.

April 07, 2019

The Iowa Class

With the brilliant South Dakota class, American designers built the finest of the treaty battleships. However, the clouds of war were gathering on the horizon, and rumors were circulating of Japanese battleships that dwarfed the ships being built under the Second London Treaty. In an attempt to prevent this from happening, the authors of that treaty had included an "escalator clause", which allowed the treaty powers to raise the treaty limits if ships that breached them were built by other powers. Public opinion was still largely pacifist, so it wasn't until March 31st, 1938 that the US, Britain and France exchanged notes invoking this clause, ultimately signing a protocol raising the battleship tonnage limit by 10,000 tons. This laid the foundation for the greatest of all battleships, the Iowa class.

Iowa in 1945

The extra 10,000 tons gave designers several options, and studies began almost immediately. One possibility was to fit another triple 16" turret on a stretched South Dakota hull, with the tonnage going into a longer citadel and heavier propulsion to maintain 27 kts. Another was to upgrade the guns to 18",8 which kept the length of the citadel down and allowed the armor to be upgraded. Both of these would have been entirely in keeping with the traditional American policy of prioritizing firepower and protection over speed. But some in Preliminary Design suggested a radical alternative, a very fast ship intended not to stand in the line of battle but to hunt down Japanese cruisers.9 The first sketches were of a ship armed with 12" guns, capable of cruising for 20,000 nautical miles at 15 kts,10 and with a top speed of 35 kts. To hold displacement down to even 50,000 tons would have meant that the ship was armored against 8" weapons, with an immune zone of 10,000 to 30,000 yards. Read more...