April 17, 2022

Heligoland Bight

While Jutland is by far the most prominent naval battle of WWI, it is far from the only battle fought in the North Sea. The first months of the war saw several clashes as both sides tested the other's strength, including several cases where the Germans came close to their desire of defeating elements of the Grand Fleet in detail.

Roger Keyes

The first battle came a month after Austria declared war on Serbia. Roger Keyes, the aggressive commander of the submarine flotilla based at Harwich, had received reports on German patrols in Heligoland Bight, just off the German coast, and proposed a sweep by the destroyers and cruisers of the Harwich Force under Reginald Tyrwhitt to attack them as they changed over at dawn, with his submarines positioned to attack any heavy ships that came out in support. In case things went wrong, the Grand Fleet would be in support. Read more...

April 16, 2022

Open Thread 102

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

I will be speaking at the Cambridge (MA) LessWrong Meetup on Sunday at 2:30 PM Central, discussing nuclear weapons and nuclear warfare. As I live in Oklahoma, I will be attending virtually, and all of you can, too. Link.

Book update: 77,000 words, mostly done with the chapter covering pre-WWI and starting on the WWI chapter. I've been busy doing nuclear stuff instead.

2018 overhauls are Early Dreadnoughts, ASW in WWII Forces, Sensors and Weapons, my Links Index and my review of Iowa. 2019 overhauls are A Brief History of the Destroyer, my review of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum, The Iowa Class, Shells Part 1, Sea Story - Black Oil and Falklands Part 13. 2020 overhauls are Container Ships, Coastal Defenses Part 1, O'Callahan and the Franklin and French Battleships in WWII. 2021 overhauls are Father Capodanno, The Top Gun Rant and The Fate of the French Fleet Parts one, two and three.

April 10, 2022

The FY23 US Navy Budget

The USN recently published its proposed budget for FY23, and it's made headlines for the decision to scrap 24 ships, with many calling this an obviously terrible decision in the face of recent events. I'm not so sure this is the case, but it's worth taking a deeper look to sort this all out.

Before we start, it's worth putting this all in context. This budget is a proposal worked out by the Navy and the Biden Administration, and then sent to Congress, which actually decides what to spend. And there is a very long history of Congress ignoring the requests and doing what it wants, usually framed as "Congress is buying the Army tanks the Army doesn't want" with the strong implication that it's just wasteful pork. Some of it is pork, but a lot of it is the services knowing all of this and "cutting" things that Congress likes so they'll get more money to put them back in the final budget. The A-10 fleet has probably been the leading beneficiary of this practice, but it happens elsewhere, too. I suspect that is a major driver of what's been happening here. Read more...

April 03, 2022

Sea Sparrow

While the sinking of the Eilat is often singled out as the origin of modern anti-missile systems, this isn't really true. The first SAM systems were built to plug the most glaring hole in naval air defense and give ships a way to shoot down high-altitude attackers, but as soon as these were in service, attention turned to something that could protect against sea-skimming aircraft or missiles. The 20mm and 40mm guns that had provided close-in defense during WWII were inadequate in the jet age, and the new system would need to be able to react quickly, have a high kill probability and be light and cheap enough to fit on every ship. Initially, the USN planned to fill this role with the Sea Mauler, based on a short-range air defense system being developed by the US Army. This would use an automatic fire-control system, with targets simply designated by the operator, and beam-riding fire control that would let it be used close to the sea's surface. Unfortunately, this weapon was well ahead of its time, and various technical and programmatic problems led to its cancellation in 1965, leaving its potential users scrambling for a replacement.

The land-based Mauler prototype

The Army decided on a combination of the M61 Vulcan 20mm gatling gun and the AIM-9 Sidewinder for its short-range air defense efforts, but neither system was immediately suited to the Navy's needs. The Sidewinder took too long to lock on, and the models available at the time were only able to lock on to targets flying away from them, a particular problem when trying to defend oneself against incoming missiles.1 Vulcan had the potential to be useful, but it would obviously be a last-ditch weapon and it would take a while to build the systems to make it effective. Read more...

April 01, 2022

are ships delicious

hello this is dean the cat

i have been looking forward to asking this for some time and the humans are finally busy so i can share this with you

a while ago the big human was talking about birds like the awk and the osprey and after looking around for a while and not seeing birds i realized that it was talking about ships that were also birds so i wondered if ships were delicious like birds but it never understood me when i asked and just made fun of me by making noises

so ive been trying to find out but because it doesnt have one of these ships i decided to see if the books tasted good although the big human doesnt seem to like this and keeps yelling and me and pushing me away whenever i go for a taste

there are so many of these books in the house that it shouldnt be a problem if i eat one or two right

maybe some of you can convince it to let me taste the books or to get me a ship that tastes delicious

i am tired and will take a nap now



April 01, 2022

Open Thread 101

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

Book update 72,000 words. Finished with the design narrative through the start of WWI.

2018 overhauls are Battlecruisers Part 1, Why do we need so many ships?, ASW - WWI, SYWTBABB - Design Part 1, The Pursuit of the Goeben and Breslau and Operation Staple Head. 2019 overhauls are Auxiliaries Part 5, Commercial Aviation Part 10, German Guided Bombs Part 4, Spanish-American War Part 3, Naval Fiction, SYWTBABB - Construction Part 2 and The Philadelphia Experiment. 2020 overhauls are Falklands Part 20, Southern Commerce Raiding Part 2, Merchant Ships - General Cargo and Lord Nelson's review of SS Anne. 2021 overhauls are Southern Commerce Raiding Part 4, Polaris Parts four and five, Pictures - Iowa Auxiliary Machinery and Completely Correct Battleship Facts.

March 27, 2022

Nuclear weapons are not as destructive as you think

How destructive are nuclear weapons really? This is a question that seems to be asked far less often than it should be, and is rarely discussed in a non-alarmist way. In fact, nuclear weapons are not a threat to humankind, and we can expect a vast majority of people to live through a nuclear war. None of this is to say that nuclear war wouldn't be a big deal, or a terrible humanitarian catastrophe, but it wouldn't be enough to wipe out civilization, much less the human race or all life on Earth.

We should probably start with a look at the state of the global stockpile, because it's fallen dramatically in the last 30 years. After peaking at around 70,000 warheads in the mid-80s, it's fallen to only 12,700 according to the Federation of American Scientists. The majority of these are in the reserve stockpiles of the United States and Russia, which are there in case the current arms-control regime fails, and would take time to deploy. Denying the other side this time is undoubtedly a major objective of both nation's nuclear forces, so in practice, we should instead look at deployed warheads. Arms-control treaties limit both nations to 1,550 deployed warheads, although FAS estimates 1,588 for Russia and 1,644 for the US, probably due to slight differences in definitions. Worth adding to this are the Chinese (380 warheads), the French (280) and British (120), for a global total that we can round to 4,000 warheads for simplicity. Some of these won't work, or will get shot down, but we can assume that other nations and the surviving stockpile weapons will bring the total back up. Note that this is a worst-case all-out nuclear war, and there are potential off-ramps short of it even if there was, say, a tactical nuclear exchange in Eastern Europe, although they aren't certain. Read more...

March 20, 2022

Southern Commerce Raiding Part 6

Previously, we discussed the how the State Department’s shrewd overseas maneuvering successfully stymied Southern hopes for procuring a European ironclad fleet, while Confederate agents had more success building commerce raiders in England, shielded by paper-thin legal technicalities and tacit English consent. The first English-built commerce raider, the Florida, had failed to damage much on its initial cruise beyond Northern egos, but that was set to change.

CSS Alabama at sea

In 1862, the most famous of the Confederate raiders, the Alabama, set sail. Like the Florida, she has been constructed in England. In this case, however, Charles Francis Adams was actually able to gather enough proof of the ship’s wartime purpose to compel English authorities to move to detain the vessel. Acting with admirable decisiveness, Bulloch took her out for a “trial run” and escaped detention, thus saving her for a remarkable career afloat. Read more...

March 18, 2022

Open Thread 100

We've reached 100 open threads. I'm sort of baffled that we managed to get this far, but you guys keep showing up, and so the OTs continue. As always, talk about whatever you want, so long as it isn't culture war.

Sabaton has decided to help us out by giving this blog a theme song. It's grown on me since I first heard it.


Book update: 66,000 words. I've finished Britain, Germany and the US through the start of WWI, and need to clean up the rest of the world.

2018 overhauls are The Bombardment of Alexandria, Military Pricing, Amphibious Warfare Part 5, A Day on the America Parts one and two and Thoughts on Tour Guiding. 2019 overhauls are German Guided Bombs Part 3, Commercial Aviation Part 9, Falklands Part 12, Weather at Sea, my review of the Air Force Museum and the South Dakota Class. 2019 overhauls are Auxiliaries Part 0, Revolt of the Admirals Parts one and two and The Submarine that Sank a Train. 2021 overhauls are HMS Captain Parts one and two and Polaris Parts two and three.

March 13, 2022

Early Lessons from the War in Ukraine

I figure it is about time to write a longer piece on the war in Ukraine, and what lessons we can draw from it. I'm going to focus mostly on what we have learned so far, and leave my prognosticating to DSL and the comments.

The first lesson is a very old one, best summed up by something Napoleon almost said. "The moral is to the physical as three is to one". Morale and motivation matter a lot. This isn't to adopt the Imperial Japanese approach that they would win because their will was stronger even in the face of overwhelming firepower, but if one side wants to fight and the other doesn't, then the side that doesn't is going to have a very hard time of it. While there are lots of ways to motivate people to go fight, the easiest is to tell them "Bad guys have invaded our land. They're going to destroy your home and enslave or kill you and your family. You need to stop them and you can stop them." So long as people keep believing all of that, they will keep fighting, and it was obvious from the start that the Ukrainians believed. Given that, everything we've seen since then has been pretty much inevitable. Read more...