June 26, 2022

Coastal Defenses Part 9

For centuries, Britain's main enemy was France. As a result, the start of the 20th century found the south and southeast coasts dotted with naval bases, bases protected by fortifications. But the threat was changing from France to Germany, and new bases would be needed to cover the North Sea. The Grand Fleet would have to be based somewhere in Scotland, putting it in position to bottle up the German fleet. Several locations were considered, most notably Cromarty Firth and the Firth of Forth, both on the eastern coast of the Scottish mainland. But both of these had only a single entrance, raising the possibility of mines trapping the fleet in harbor. This tipped the balance in favor of the third option, the Orkney harbor of Scapa Flow, off the northeastern tip of Scotland.

Scapa Flow today

But while work had been undertaken to defend the Firth of Forth as early as the 1870s, the outbreak of war found the defenses of Scapa still no more than paper and a local unit recruited to man them when they were finally built. Jellicoe quickly ordered some of his ships to send a few of their smaller guns, 3" or less, ashore to cover the entrances to the Flow against a potential attack, and had fishing nets strung to hopefully indicate if a submarine attempted to penetrate. But nobody had much confidence in these measures, and after a submarine scare in September resulted in wild firing by nervous gunners, the Grand Fleet withdrew to the waters around western Scotland and Ireland, although even this wasn't enough to avoid loss to German mines. Read more...

June 24, 2022

Open Thread 107

It's time once again for our regular open thread. Talk about whatever you want, so long as it isn't culture war.

Comment of the week goes to doctorpat, who suggests getting the albatross of the A-10 off the Air Force's back by donating them to Ukraine.

In other news, the HASC has finished its markup of the FY2023 NDAA, and as I predicted, a lot of the cuts have been reversed. Rather than buying 8 ships and retiring 24, as the Navy proposed, they're planning to buy 13 ships and retire 12.

2018 overhauls are Pungdo, SYWTBAMN Aviation Part 1, Jackie Fisher, Battlecruisers Part 2, Did Iowa Move Sideways During a Broadside? and Auxiliaries Part 2. 2019 overhauls are Soviet Battleships Part 1, Alexander's review of the Newark Air Museum and Lord Nelson's Review of Soya, Battleship Aviation Part 4, The Scuttling of the High Seas Fleet and Spanish-American War Part 5. 2020 overhauls are Merchant Ships - Specialized Tankers and Cargo Ships, Naval Rations Part 1 and Tom Clancy. And 2021 overhauls are The Altmark Incident, The 3T Missiles - Introduction and Norway Parts one and two.

June 19, 2022

Museum Review - San Francisco Maritime

While in the Bay Area for the DSL meetup, I went into San Francisco to see the various museum ships around Fisherman's Wharf, joined by cassander and Garrett, with RobRoy and his wife joining us there. There are three different organizations running ships within a few blocks, and it's pretty difficult to figure out what is going on.

The museum ships from the maritime museum

We started with the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, run by the National Park Service. This includes both the San Francisco Maritime Museum, in an old Art Deco building, and the Hyde Street Pier, where there are a number of museum ships reflecting the area's maritime heritage.

Type: Maritime museum and museum ship collection
Location: San Francisco, CA
Rating: 1/5, Poorly done, poorly maintained and very overpriced. Really not recommended.
Price: Maritime museum is free, Hyde Street Pier is $15

Mermaid, the boat that Kenichi Horie crossed the Pacific with

We started at the maritime museum. It's a pretty building, but there isn't that much stuff in it. I think some of it was closed off when we visited in June 2022, as there was only two small rooms open. The main room had some nice models of various ships and dioramas of scenes from San Francisco's maritime history, along with a few artifacts, but I would classify it as OK at best. The only highlight here was Mermaid, a 19' sailboat used by Japanese yachtsman Kenichi Horie on the first nonstop solo sailing voyage across the Pacific. They had several displays on his voyage, which were interesting, even if they assumed a greater level of knowledge of his voyage than I had going in. Read more...

June 12, 2022

On the Border of Land and Sea

One of the things that I've been thinking about a lot lately is how the interplay between sea power and land power has shaped warfare over the last two centuries or so. The contrast between the situations in 1822, 1922 and 2022 is staggering, and as much as anything drove the different roles and structures of naval power at those times.

In 1822, the worlds of sea and land power were separate, as they had been for centuries. The only practical way to defeat a ship at sea was with another ship of equal or greater size,1 which in turn meant that a ship a few miles off even the most heavily defended port in the world could effectively blockade it. A few attempts had been made to test this, most notably Thomas Jefferson's plan to replace the USN's frigates with gunboats, which would defend the coast and not project power overseas, but they had failed completely. Read more...

June 10, 2022

Open Thread 106

It's time again for our regular open thread. Talk about whatever you want, so long as it isn't Culture War.

Apologies for how quiet it's been around here. I have several reviews coming up from the DSL meetup.

2018 overhauls are Jutland Parts two, three, four, five, six and seven, SYWTBAMN - Coast Guard Part 1, Ship History - New Jersey, my review of Alabama and Falklands Part 3. 2019 overhauls are Shells at Jutland, The Battle of Jutland, Battleship Aviation Part 3, A Brief History of the Submarine, Inky's Review of the Haifa Naval Museum and Falklands Part 15. 2020 overhauls are Jutland - The Blockade, Tomahawk Part 4, Coastal Defenses Part 3 and Soviet Battleships Part 2. 2021 overhauls are my review of Greyhound, Aviation at Jutland, Soviet SLBMs parts two and three and Coastal Defenses Part 7.

June 05, 2022

Miramar 2016

In 2016, I got to go to the Miramar Airshow, held at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, near San Diego. It's the largest military airshow in the US, with the cream of the Marine Corps on display, along with contributions from the other services.

Planes waiting for the display as I drove in

As impressive as the air displays are, probably the best thing about Miramar is the stuff on display behind the flight line. About three of everything the Marine Corps and Navy have is laid out for people to look at and go inside. The sheer scale of the show area and the number of things to look at (not just planes, either) keeps the lines manageable, at least so long as you're not terribly picky.Read more...

May 31, 2022

Codebreaking and Jutland

Before WWI, both the British and German navies expected that the war's early days would see a massive clash of their fleets, a "New Trafalgar" that would decide control of the sea at a stroke. This was not to be, as the Germans, eager to avoid a battle with the stronger British fleet, stuck close to their bases in coastal waters that the British avoided due to the threat of mines, submarines and torpedoes. The only way for the two sides to meet was if one of them knew in advance where the other would be, and the British, thanks to the capture of German codebooks early in the war, had set up an organization to intercept and decode German signals, and it was this organization, Room 40, that would trigger the Battle of Jutland.

British battleships in Scapa Flow

Signs of what was to come began to accumulate in mid-May, as the Germans dispatched 18 U-boats to lie off British bases in hopes of catching the Grand Fleet as it sortied. The Germans, unconcerned with the threat of British interception, coordinated the sortie, including the U-boats themselves and the minesweepers necessary to get them to sea, via radio. But none of them headed for the trade routes bringing vital supplies to Britain, giving Room 40 a clear sign that something was afoot. Read more...

May 27, 2022

Open Thread 105

It's time for our regular open thread. Talk about whatever you want, so long as it isn't culture war.

First, there will be no post Sunday. It will be going up on Tuesday instead, because Jutland.

Second, I will be at the DSL meetup in San Jose, and plan to visit Hornet next Sunday (6/5). If anyone else wants to go, I'd love to have company.

Third, I am contemplating a "bad military history" bingo card. Topics on the list so far include the Magniot Line, Pearl Harbor and the demise of the battleship, Hampton Roads, Polish cavalry charging panzers, the guns at Singapore not pointing inland, and stupidity of WWI generals. But I'm still short, so any suggestions will be welcome.

The free space will be "talking excitedly about things that have happened before". See the ATGM and anti-ship missile discussions about Ukraine.

2018 overhauls are There Seems To Be Something Wrong With Our Bloody Ships Today, Millennium Challenge 2002, Auxiliaries Part 1, Falklands Part 2, The New Maginot Line and Jutland Part 1. 2019 overhauls are Battleship Aviation Parts one and two, Pictures - My First Museum Ships, the Falklands Glossary, the Montana class and SYWTBAMN-Aviation Part 4. 2020 overhauls are FFG(X) and Tomahawk parts one, two and three. 2021 overhauls are NWAS Poseidon, The Future of the Aircraft Carrier, Directors and Soviet Battleships Part 3.

May 23, 2022

Don't Overread Moskva

Currently topping The Atlantic's "Most Popular" list is an article claiming "A Whole Age of Warfare Sank With the Moskva". Unfortunately, it bungles the history involved completely, to the point that you get an emergency Naval Gazing.

The author begins by talking about the Battle of Hampton Roads, ending the section "In one day, every wooden ship of the line of every naval power became immediately obsolete." This is clear nonsense. Hampton Roads gets a lot of press because it was the first clash between ironclads, but it was clear that the ironclad was on its way. Britain and France had both begun to build fleets of proper ironclad battleships (and not just coastal vessels like Monitor and Virginia) and events at Sinop and Kinburn had shown both the vulnerability of wooden warships and the durability of the ironclads. But we don't talk about Crimea, so that's all overlooked. Read more...

May 22, 2022

Sound in the Ocean

The oceans are notoriously opaque, providing the submarine with a strong veil of stealth. The only thing that oceans don't effectively block is sound, which is transmitted more effectively through water than it is through air. As a result, sonar remains the main method of detecting submarines, either in active form, producing sound that bounces off the target and is reflected back, or in passive form, listening for noise from the target. But sound doesn't travel through the ocean in a straightforward way, and as sonar has grown more sophisticated, its operators have had to contend with effects that either attenuate the sound, drown it out or bend it in surprising ways.

The Deep Scattering Layer (green) on a sonar scan

Attenuation can come from a number of sources. Obviously, the intensity of a sound weakens as it spreads out from its source, and in an infinite ocean, this would follow the inverse square law. In practice, it's often lower than this, thanks to effects discussed later, but the ocean doesn't transmit sound perfectly. Some is absorbed and turned into heat, a process that occurs more strongly at higher frequency. Some is scattered when it runs into discontinuities, which can be the surface and bottom of the sea or solid objects in the ocean, usually marine life. Most notable is the deep scattering layer, composed of deep-sea fish and the plankton they feed on that tend to cluster a thousand feet or so below the surface. Scattering is a particular problem for active sonar, as the reverberations from the surface/bottom/creatures can make it hard to pick up the actual return. Read more...