July 17, 2019

Signalling Part 3

Radio development continued after the end of the First World War, as transmitters became more powerful, receivers became more sensitive, antennas became smaller and everything became lighter and more reliable. As such, radio found new applications and became more vital than ever before.

Iowa shows her antennas in the 1950s

During the interwar years, vacuum tubes had won out over all other systems for generating radio signals, which allowed higher frequencies than those normal during WWI. These bands were known as high frequency (HF), and they could be efficiently transmitted with much smaller antennas. HF radio could also take advantage of skywave propagation, where signals bounced off the ionosphere and could travel thousands of miles. Low and medium frequency signals traveled primarily via groundwave, which was absorbed as it propagated, and thus could not reach nearly as far.


July 15, 2019

Open Thread 30

It's time for our usual Open Thread. Talk about whatever you like.

Interesting thing of the thread is this 1940 article from Life magazine on seapower. Besides providing a good look at public perception just before the Fall of France, it has a very good section looking at the systems of a battleship.

Overhauled posts include The Newport Conference and the US Dreadnought, my review of Batfish, The Falklands War Part 4, the first part of my history of USS Missouri, So You Want to Build a Modern Navy - Coast Guard Part 2 and my history of the QF gun.

July 14, 2019

The Falklands War Part 16

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 first three days were brutal for both sides, with the British losing two frigates and suffering several others damaged, while a third of the Argentine jets were shot down.1

An Argentinian Dagger flies low over San Carlos

Despite the battering that the escorts had taken, the amphibious shipping itself remained largely unmolested throughout the first three days at San Carlos. The attackers, approaching from the north and west, had dissipated their efforts against the frigates in Falkland Sound, which while expensive and annoying wasn't actually enough to disrupt the landing. To break up such raids before they could reach the landing area, Broadsword and Coventry were stationed to the north. Unfortunately, this concentrated two of the three available long-range air-search radars away from the amphibious group, while the third, aboard the damaged Argonaut, was hemmed in by the ridgelines of San Carlos. None of them could cover the southern sector, which the Argentinian commanders, aware of their lack of success, had decided to make use of. Aircraft hugging the ridgelines could arrive at the head of San Carlos Water with little warning, hopefully getting away before the defenders could respond. Read more...

July 12, 2019

The Pepsi Fleet?

Pepsi's operations behind the Iron Curtain began in 1959, during the American Cultural Exhibition in Moscow. This exhibition, best known for the Kitchen Debate between Khrushchev and Kennedy, also saw Khrushchev sampling the beverage. In 1972, Pepsi finally reached an agreement with the Soviets, giving them exclusivity in the Soviet cola market until 1985. The Soviets, unwilling to spend hard currency on a luxury beverage, instead chose to trade vodka to Pepsico, which would be sold in the US.

But in 1989, Pepsi needed more than just vodka to trade. In exchange, the Soviets offered 17 submarines and three surface warships, including a cruiser, a destroyer, and a frigate. Pepsi promptly turned around and sold the obsolete vessels for scrap. Briefly, this made Pepsico the owner of the world's 6th-largest navy, or possibly the 6th-largest submarine force on the planet.

All of this makes an interesting story, but it has one serious problem. As best I can tell, it's essentially false. Read more...

July 10, 2019

Signalling Part 2

Telecommunications came late to naval operations. Telegraphy began to play a part in land warfare as early as the Crimean War, but it was obviously useless in communicating with ships at sea. Vessels could come into port to send and receive messages, and Admirals often sent dispatch boats to the nearest cable station, but that could be several days away, leaving them in a situation not too different from Nelson's time. The delays inherent in this communication loop could frustrate commanders, but it was still a massive improvement over the days when the mail only moved at the speed of ships. And in the 1890s, a new invention appeared on the horizon that would allow ships to talk to each other beyond it.

Battlecruiser Inflexible showing her high masts and radio antennas.

That invention was radio. As early as 1895, Captain Henry Jackson of the Royal Navy met with Guglielmo Marconi, the father of radio, to discuss naval applications. Two years later, a demonstration was made of communication between two vessels at sea over a distance of three miles. In 1898, Jackson managed to push his range to 14 miles, and on maneuvers the next year, ships 74 miles apart exchanged messages. Over the next five or so years, most of the major navies quickly installed sets on their larger ships, and the British made a concerted effort to put wireless telegraph (WT) sets on every ship larger than a destroyer. Jackie Fisher used it as a key component of his new doctrine of centrally-controlled forces for trade protection, and fitted his battlecruisers with high masts specifically to improve radio performance. Read more...

July 08, 2019

Rule the Waves 2 Game 1 - July 1902

Gentlemen, your policy has guided us to victory over Italy. Although we fought no decisive fleet battle, good strategic choices lead to Italy's defeat in only four months. We have assumed control of the former Italian territories of Rhodes and Sardinia, and can now look forward to improved respect in the eyes of the world.

However, this leaves us with serious choices to make. The budget has been slashed to below its prewar level, and we will have to suspend some construction. Germany and Austria still threaten us, although tensions there have fallen somewhat, too. Read more...

July 07, 2019

Signalling Part 1

Communication between ships at sea has always been difficult. Unlike on land, sending a messenger is not usually very practical, so navies from the very earliest days have had to come up with other methods of passing messages.

The Battle of Salamis

The first recorded naval signal came during the Battle of Salamis, when an oar with a red flag attached was raised from the Greek flagship as a signal to stop luring the Persians deeper and instead launch the attack, which ultimately scattered the Persians and turned back Xerxes' invasion of Greece.2 And this set the pattern for operational signals for most of the next two millennia. The commander of a fleet would set up specific signals to support his plan, maybe declaring that a blue flag meant "attack the enemy" while a red flag meant "withdraw". Over time, some of these signals became traditional, and certain banners would be flown when a ship sighted the enemy, or when an admiral wanted his captains to come to the flagship for a conference. Sails were often used for signals, too, with the flagship letting fly the fore topsail being the traditional signal for the fleet to prepare to get underway. Read more...

July 05, 2019

Museum Review - World War I Museum

For Memorial Day Weekend, Lord Nelson and I went to Kansas City, and while we were there, we visited the National WWI Museum, which is in Missouri for some reason. As you probably would expect, this wasn’t the best time to visit, because the crowds were much larger than the museum could gracefully handle.

Me with the dedication, including an admiral I'm not particularly fond of3
Type: National WWI Museum and Memorial
Location: Kansas City, Missouri4
Rating: 3.5/5, a very pretty museum, but put together sloppily and with a bias against seapower
Price: $18 for regular adults


Overall, I was disappointed in the museum. It wasn’t that it was an awful museum. On the surface, they did a great job. The displays looked cool, everything was well-presented, and there were some neat interactive exhibits. But it seemed like every time they were presented with a choice between the easy route of going more in-depth on a high school history understanding of the war or actually challenging that narrative, they took the easy route. Lots of cases of uniforms, weapons, and other personal kit, which are easy to source and easy to explain. But something complicated and difficult, like the importance of sea power in the war? Shoved off to a tiny section. Very little coverage of Jutland. Nothing on the blockade, or the Turnip Winter that did so much to bring Germany to its knees. The USN got half a display case, with a uniform and a pistol, and a brief mention of the presence of the Sixth Battle Squadron. Not even a photograph. And one of the signs, examined in detail, had serious factual errors. Read more...

July 03, 2019


I'm going to step well outside of my normal remit, and talk about an issue from the age of sail, because I think it's interesting, and because it's something that many accounts get wrong.

Impressment is something that most people interested in history have heard of. The usual version involves roving press gangs5 of sailors and Marines, grabbing unsuspecting men off the street, beating them up, and taking them to sea. One minute, you're a farmer, in town for a day. The next, you're a sailor, headed for the East Indies. As you probably suspect, this isn't really true. British law restricted the pressing of men for naval service to seamen, and while mistakes happened frequently, it was easy for men taken by mistake to secure their release. Captains wanted seamen, whose skills took years to develop, and not landsmen who didn't "know the ropes".6 Read more...

July 01, 2019

Open Thread 29

It's our usual Open Thread. Talk about whatever you want.

The highlight of this thread is the RTW2 game, which saw war break out between France (us) and Italy in March of 1902. I've put up an edit to the original post in the RTW2 thread.

Posts overhauled since last time include Second-generation battlecruisers, Auxiliaries Part 2, Rangefinding, The Great White Fleet Part 1, Did Iowa Move Sideways During a Broadside? and So You Want to Build a Modern Navy - Aviation Part 2.