April 05, 2020

Merchant Ships - Container Ships

During the 1960s, the world's shipping companies were in trouble. Their existing break-bulk cargo ships were proving uneconomical to load and unload as labor costs, particularly in developed countries, climbed, and ships spent over half their time sitting still while stevedores emptied and filled their holds. Something better would be needed, presumably a way to package cargo into larger containers which could be moved on and off the vessel relatively easily.

CMA CGM Benjamin Franklin, the largest container ship ever to dock in North America1

This wasn't a completely new idea. In fact, its roots stretched back over a century, to the early train ferries, designed to bridge bodies of water too wide for bridges. Fully-loaded rail cars would be brought aboard on internal tracks and then shuttled across to the other side. Much the same was done during WWII, when LSTs were filled with fully-loaded trucks, which would simply be driven off on the beach at the far end. However, this kind of loading was rather inefficient, with an LST able to carry only a quarter of what it could if loaded with bulk cargo. During the Bismarcks campaign, the sacrifice in cargo was unacceptable, and a compromise was found in the form of loading the LST with trailers, which could carry more cargo than trucks, but still be unloaded quickly. Read more...

April 03, 2020

Open Thread 49

It's our normal open thread. Talk about whatever you want, even if it's not military/naval related.

I'd like to highlight the USN's response to the coronavirus, the deployment of the hospital ships Mercy and Comfort to Los Angeles and New York, respectively. Of course, this is somewhat overshadowed by the recent attempt by a rather disturbed train driver to ram Mercy.

Overhauls for 2018 are The Early Battlecruisers, Why do we need so many ships?, ASW in WWI, So You Want to Build a Battleship - Design Part 1, The Pursuit of the Goeben and Breslau, and Operation Staple Head. 2019 overhauls are the last part on commercial aviation, German Guided Bombs Part 4, Manila Bay, Naval Fiction, So You Want to Build a Battleship - Construction Part 2, The Philadelphia Experiment and A Brief History of the Destroyer.

April 01, 2020

Museum Review - SS Anne

Lord Nelson recently visited S.S. Anne, a cruise ship that was temporarily open to the public when docked in Kuchiba City, Kanto. Her priorities are rather different than mine.

SS Anne from pierside
Location: Kuchiba City, Kanto
Price: Free (talk to Bill for a ticket)
Rating: 3.5/5, Worth it if you're in the area

I'll start with the good things. The ship was gorgeous, both inside and out, and the crew was very friendly. I particularly enjoyed the public art on display throughout the vessel. It looks like regular passengers would have a lot to do, with a pool, a gym, crew-led aerobics, and a very nice restaurant. We even got to tour the kitchen, although I'm not sure how good their hygiene standards were, given that the Captain had some sort of stomach bug while I was there. Read more...

March 29, 2020

Merchant Ships - General Cargo

The general cargo ship is the oldest of merchant ships, dating back to when man first began to move cargo across water. It is essentially an empty shell, filled with cargo loaded aboard one piece at a time. This cargo, known as break-bulk, can be anything from bolts of cloth to heavy equipment like trucks and industrial equipment. Traditionally, even liquids and bulk cargoes like grain were packaged up and moved aboard such ships, although the 19th century saw the creation of specialized bulk carriers and tankers for such cargo.

Three-island cargo ship Vega

Until the advent of containerization and other systems for improved handling of non-bulk cargo, break-bulk ships moved most of the world's general cargo. Typically, these ships were in the "three-island" layout, with their engines under the bridge amidships, and a forecastle and poop providing accommodation for the crew. Except for the engines, the entire main body of the ship was taken up by a number of holds, each loaded and unloaded through a hatch in the deck above it. Most ports were quite primitive and provided little more than a place to tie up, so cargo was handled by the ship's own booms, which usually limited loads to 10 tons or less. Initially, hatches were fairly small, which meant a lot of work inside the holds to make sure they were properly filled, increasing turnaround time and cost. Read more...

March 28, 2020

Rule the Waves 2 Game 1 - November 1925


The long-anticipated war with Germany has finally started. Thanks to some poor guidance from Winston Churchill, we sent a force into the Baltic and had a rough time of it, losing CL Coetlogon to a submarine torpedo and taking substantial damage. We stand allied with Britain, however, and have a chance to make up the deficit.

We now have to decide on our war strategy and build plan. We have no invasion options in the German colonies, leaving us with a substantial surplus for new construction, particularly once our CAs commission next month. Read more...

March 25, 2020

Southern Commerce Raiding Part 2 - Southern Privateers

Gideon Welles’ program to reform the Navy and supply it with the vast numbers of new vessels it would need to support the Northern war effort (and deter possible European threats) was tremendously successful. But like all such programs, it took time, and Southern privateers had a narrow window of opportunity to operate before the superior power of the U.S. Navy could be brought to bear.

Privateer Sumter intercepts brig Joseph Parks

Southern privateers began hauling their prizes into New Orleans as early as May 1861. These early war privateers were typically smaller vessels, refitted for war, that operated close to the coastline and pounced upon unsuspecting Northern merchantmen. In confrontations with United States naval vessels, they were outmatched and typically captured or sunk. Nevertheless, they operated in great numbers and with some success for the first year of the war, until the blockade—which made returning prizes to port difficult—began to take effect, and would-be entrepreneurs turned to blockade-running. Read more...

March 22, 2020

The Falklands War Part 20

In early April 1982, Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, a few desolate rocks in the South Atlantic. The British mobilized their fleet in response. After a fierce battle in the air and at sea, the British gained the upper hand, and began landing troops on May 21st at San Carlos Water on the west coast of East Falkland. The Argentinians attempted to defeat the invasion with air attacks, but the British eventually gained the upper hand. On the 28th, the British, despite some setbacks, began the ground campaign, defeating the Argentinian garrison at Goose Green and opening the way to lay siege to the main enemy positions near Stanley.2

British forces near Teal Inlet, with Mount Kent in the background

The night of June 1st saw several important arrivals near the Falklands. On the north coast, a pair of LCVPs and an LCU from Intrepid arrived at Teal Inlet, the LCVPs sweeping for mines (they found none) and the LCU bearing the first 100 tons of supplies for the new forward logistics base. At San Carlos, Atlantic Causeway arrived, bearing supplies, vehicles, and equipment, most notably two dozen extra helicopters that would go a long way towards replacing those lost on Atlantic Conveyor. Ashore, engineers were assembling a primitive airfield from prefabricated matting, which would allow Harriers to operate from San Carlos, greatly increasing the time they could spend on CAP. Norland brought the Gurkhas3 of 5 Infantry Brigade, while other ships began to land the brigade's equipment. Unlike the earlier landings, everything had to go by boat, as the helicopters were all committed to supporting 3 Commando Brigade on the front lines, particularly 42 Commando on Mount Kent, which finally received adequate rations and equipment, as well as reinforcements. Read more...

March 20, 2020

Open Thread 48

It's our regular open thread. Talk about anything you want, even if it's not military/naval related.

If you're looking for something to pass the time during lockdown, I'd suggest the series Salvage: Code Red on Amazon Prime. While it suffers from typical Documentary-itus (dramatic voiceovers and an annoyingly low information-to-time ratio) it's a pretty decent look at the fascinating world of marine salvage, something I keep intending to write about at greater length.

Overhauls for 2018 are The Bombardment of Alexandria, Military Procurement - Pricing, Amphibious Warfare Part 5, Thoughts on Tour Guiding and A Day on the America Parts One and Two. The last two posts were written just before Said Achmiz set it up so you could click and zoom on pictures, so I posted most of the photos at around 800 pixels width. I've gone back and updated the posts, so most everything should be much higher resolution now.

2019 overhauls are Neal's second part on commercial aviation, Falklands Part 12, Weather at Sea, my review of the US Air Force Museum in Dayton, OH, the South Dakota class and Auxiliaries Part 5.

March 18, 2020

The Submarine that Sank a Train

One of my favorite books about WWII in the Pacific is Eugene Fluckey's Thunder Below, his account of his five war cruises as captain of the USS Barb. Fluckey was among the highest-scoring US submarine captains of WWII, on one occasion taking Barb 25 miles into water too shallow for her to dive to attack a Japanese convoy sheltering in Namkwan Harbor on the Chinese coast, then set what was probably the world record for surfaced submarine speed while escaping. As Japanese merchant traffic dwindled, he had a rocket launcher fitted, the first ever aboard a submarine, for Barb's final patrol, anticipating the land-attack missions that play a major part in submarine warfare today.


But today's tale is probably the most unique from Barb's colorful career. During the final patrol, while operating along the coast of Sakhalin island, Fluckey noticed a railway line running near the coast, and set his crew at figuring out how to destroy both line and train. There were no bridges or other obvious points of vulnerability, and neither remote detonators nor timers were practical. The solution came from Billy Hatfield, an electrician who had worked for the railroad in civilian life. He suggested that they plant a switch under the rails, which would sag as the locomotive ran over them. Fluckey immediately agreed, selecting a party of eight men4 to row ashore in the submarine's two rubber boats. They took with them one of the sub's scuttling charges,5 digging tools hastily improvised from deck plates, flashlights, pistols, survival gear in case they had to make for the Russian half of the island and steaks in case of an encounter with dogs. Read more...

March 15, 2020

Revolt of the Admirals Part 2

In late 1949, the Navy was in trouble. The Truman Administration's focus on economy in defense budgets, and the Air Force's monopoly on nuclear delivery, had left the Navy vulnerable, particularly as the Secretary of Defense, Lewis Johnson, was a longtime proponent of air power. One of Johnson's first acts was to cancel the new supercarrier United States, leading to the resignation of the Secretary of the Navy and the appointment of Francis Matthews, who had no qualifications for the job and no interest in protecting the Navy. Instead, the chosen instrument of US power would be the B-36 Peacemaker strategic bomber, which Johnson and the Secretary of the Air Force, Stuart Symington, were reported to have a financial interest in. These rumors, and the growing interservice tension, prompted Carl Vinson, powerful chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, to hold hearings.

Carl Vinson

The Navy's preparations for the hearings were badly hindered by internal divisions. Previously, most of the bureaucratic infighting had been handled by Admiral Arthur Radford, Vice Chief of Naval Operations. Radford, who had commanded one of Halsey's carrier groups in WWII, was a much more vigorous advocate of the Navy and particularly naval aviation than was the CNO, Louis Denfeld, who favored interservice harmony. In May 1949, he was appointed to command of the Pacific Fleet, leaving the Navy without strong leadership in the face of budget cuts that were increasingly falling on that service, and on the aviation community in particular. As a result, many in the Navy had accepted the cuts as inevitable, and no coherent strategy for putting the Navy case to the public or Congress had been formed. Radford, informed of this, flew back to Washington and met with Vinson, who asked his assistance in evaluating the Air Force testimony. Read more...