October 25, 2019

Rule the Waves 2 Game 1 - January 1913


We are at war with Italy for a third time so far this century. Not much has changed in the 18 months since the last one ended, except that we have commissioned a pair of new battleships, while Italy still has only one Irresistible-type. As such, we currently plan to essentially implement the strategy we used last time. We have solved most of the bottlenecks that kept our forces out of Sicily, and after a minor victory in the opening battle of the war, are prepared to fight for control of the Mediterranean.

There aren't a whole lot of decisions pending, beyond what shape our destroyer force should take going forward. We have recently increased the maximum size of our ships of that type by 50%, but with the increased size comes an increase in cost. Four sketches have been prepared, covering a wide range of options. Read more...

October 25, 2019

Leyte Gulf 75

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Leyte Gulf,1 probably the pinnacle of the Pacific War and by some definitions the largest naval battle in history.2 More than that, it was uniquely complicated and multifaceted: it included every form of naval warfare yet devised, from amphibious operations to carrier duels to the last-ever engagement between battleships. And above it all, Samar, that astonishing moment when a tiny force of American ships stood up against the mightiest fleet Japan could assemble and turned them back.

Douglas MacArthur and his staff observe the invasion of Leyte

Leyte Gulf was sparked by the American selection of the Philippines as the next stepping stone on the road to Tokyo, fulfilling Douglas MacArthur's promise to return and liberate it from the Japanese. The island of Leyte, in the center of the archipelago, was selected as the first target, giving the Americans a forward base from which they could spread out and liberate the rest of the Philippines. After extensive strikes from the carriers covering the operation, troops began going ashore on October 20th, initially in the face of only light opposition. The Japanese decided that the time was right to launch their fleet for the "Decisive Battle" they had been attempting to fight since the start of the war. Read more...

October 23, 2019

Aircraft Weapons - Cluster Bombs

The damage of an explosion doesn’t scale linearly with size. The general rule of thumb is that the radius for a given amount of damage scales with the cube root of the weight of the explosive charge. This means that trying to destroy a larger area by just making bigger bombs has sharply diminishing returns. It’s much more efficient to drop multiple smaller bombs, particularly on soft targets like trucks and troops in the open. Taking this to its logical conclusion, the best way to destroy a soft area target is to drop dozens or hundreds of small bomblets on it. The easiest way to do this is to package a cluster of bomblets into something that can be handled and used more or less like a normal bomb, and these devices were soon dubbed cluster bombs.

A B-1B dropping cluster bombs

The first cluster bombs were developed before WWII, primarily to carry incendiary bomblets.3 Incendiaries are particularly well-suited to cluster deployment, as starting a fire is fairly easy if the bomb lands in the right place, and cluster bomblets multiply both opportunities to land in the right place and the problems of firefighters trying to contain the resulting blaze. The Soviets used an early version of this in the Winter War with Finland, with Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov claiming that they were dropping food to starving Finns. The Finns, who were not starving, dubbed the devices Molotov bread baskets, and later said that they were giving the Soviets drink to go with the food when they improvised incendiaries from bottles, creating the Molotov cocktail. Read more...

October 20, 2019

Riverine Warfare - Europe

For a continent that was the focus of world affairs for so long, and that has such a violent maritime history, the history of riverine warfare in Europe is strangely sparse. Both the Rhine and the Danube are major navigable rivers, and both hosted fleets in Roman times, but information on gunboats and other ships that used them for military purposes is sparse or nonexistent. It is perhaps telling that the most famous riverine battle in Europe during the last 400 years was fought on the Medway, a tributary of the Thames, entirely by seagoing ships and forts.4

The Dutch raid on the Medway

Rivers did play an important part in campaigns going back millenia. The Romans operated fleets on the Rhine and Danube to protect the Empire's frontiers, and Charlemagne used the Danube and Elbe in his campaigns against the Slavs, Saxons and Avars. The Vikings would often base themselves at the mouth of a river, then launch ships upriver to raid settlements along it. Much like the Union armies in the American Civil War, the armies of revolutionary France were named after the rivers they fought over, including the Rhine, Danube and Moselle. The Austro-Hungarian Empire had long operated gunboats, first powered by sail and oar and later by steam, on the Danube, and their gunboats had beaten the Italians on Lake Garda during the Third Italian War of Independence.5 Later, during the Franco-Prussian War, the French used a flotilla of gunboats on the Seine during the Siege of Paris, some of which were later taken over by the Paris Commune. The Commune was unable to use these gunboats effectively, and the French Army managed to sink one and send the rest back to port to take no further part in hostilities. Read more...

October 18, 2019

Open Thread 37

It's our regular open thread. Talk about whatever you want, even if it's not military-related.

Lord Nelson and I recently watched the series Empire of the Seas on Youtube. It's a four-part BBC documentary about the importance of the Royal Navy to British and world history. It was very well-done, although I thought that the last episode (1800s to WWI) would have been better if they hadn't had to trim so much nuance. (I might be a geek.) Highly recommended.

Overhauled posts this time are Going Back to Iowa, The Washington Naval Treaty, the survivability posts on flooding and fire, my review of LA maritime sites, and Falklands Part 7.

October 16, 2019

Aircraft Weapons - JDAM

The Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) is one of the great military procurement success stories of recent decades. Development began in the aftermath of the Gulf War, with the intent of producing a weapon capable of attacking precision targets in all weather. This would be enabled by GPS, which had just come through its first combat outing with flying colors, allowing the forces that liberated Kuwait to navigate in the trackless desert. It could also, in theory, allow a bomb to hit any target that the operator had coordinates for.

JDAMs are staged on the mess deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln during the invasion of Iraq

The basic concept was the same as the one behind Paveway. Take a standard iron bomb and fit it with new fins and a guidance kit that turn it from something that will hit the ground into something that will hit the target. This greatly simplified the task of the designers, who didn’t have to worry about a warhead, as well as aiding operators who could take advantage of the wide variety of bombs already in the US inventory. Read more...

October 13, 2019

Riverine Warfare - China Part 3

The Yangtze is one of the world's great riverine highways, and when western powers began to intervene in China during the 19th century, it was a vital avenue for their commerce as well. However, China was not particularly cooperative in defending western rights under the "unequal treaties", and so the western powers had to find some means of doing it themselves. Gunboats were the obvious answer: self-supporting, mobile, and able to bring a great deal of firepower to bear. The Yangtze Patrol fought bandits, protected westerners from mobs, and generally made itself useful from the late 1800s onward. Things began to heat up with the rise of the Nationalist government under Chiang Kai-shek in the 20s, and the beginning of the Civil War between his forces and the Communists in 1927.

Gunboat Oahu on the Yangtze

The Yangtze was a unique duty station for the men assigned there. They served on tiny ships, often ill-supported and isolated in a strange country. Some gunboats were so crowded that a portion of the crew had to sleep on deck in all conditions. But there were also advantages. Except at the height of the depression, the exchange rate greatly favored the gunboat sailors. Onboard ship, chores were done by hired Chinese boatmen, while ashore in Shanghai, a sailor's pay could buy him excellent entertainment in the form of alcohol and companionship, usually provided by one of the white Russian exiles that teemed in the city. Officers could participate in the social life of the western communities up and down the river: clubs, hunting, horse racing and generally having a good time. Read more...

October 11, 2019

Rule the Waves 2 Game 1 - June 1911


We have emerged victorious from our war with the Italians! They have surrendered all of their African colonies to our control, forcing them entirely out of the Indian Ocean. Tensions worldwide are down, and with it, our budget. The situation is better than after the last war, but we will have to make cuts. We've already begun moving ships to the reserve fleet, but that won't be enough.

The new map of Africa

Our biggest concern is with light units. The four modern fleet CLs (two to commission shortly) go some way to closing that gap, but we face block obsolescence among our destroyers, and the new CL designs open up new options. Unfortunately, our recent focus on research into light units has not paid dividends yet, but we should probably at least lay down a few destroyers when the CLs leave the yard. Read more...

October 09, 2019

Pictures - Iowa Officer's Quarters

It's time for more pictures from the greatest battleship ever built. Unlike previous installments, where I've looked at various technical facets of the Iowa, this time I'm going to look at officer's country.

The wardroom is the center of the officer's social life. Here, they eat and talk.

The tables are rather utilitarian, but comfortable enough. This space is on the tour route, and is often used for events.


October 06, 2019

Riverine Warfare - China Part 2

The Yangtze River is one of the world's great riverine highways. Even without modern navigational improvements, it was navigable from its mouth at Shanghai up through Hankow, 600 miles inland, even by smaller ocean-going ships of 5,000 or 6,000 tons. Above Hankow, the river narrowed and shifting sand-banks made navigation difficult, but there were no serious obstacles below Ichang, 1000 miles inland. Above Ichang were the gorges of the Yangtze, a treacherous area with many rapids that were usually overcome by the sheer muscle power of hundreds or thousands of coolies hauling junks and steamers through them. Foreign steamers rarely reached beyond Chungking in Sichuan Province, 300 miles above Ichang. The great fluctuations in the river level, up to 100' between winter low water and spring flood in places, made navigation even more difficult.

USS Ashuelot, an early Yangtze gunboat

In the 1860s, this great artery was opened to foreign traders, who quickly established settlements in the major cities. The unequal treaties that had opened China gave the Western powers the right to police their own citizens, as well as exemption from most taxes. But even if the Qing government had wanted to enforce said treaties, it was too weak to do so effectively in the vast interior of China. Bandits and warlords ran rampant. To make matters worse, the Qing didn't really want to enforce the treaties, and would much prefer to be able to tax the fan-kui,6 or at least see them suffer. The fan-kui weren't particularly popular with the general population either, and the local authorities were often sluggish in dealing with mobs that threatened missionary or merchant property. Obviously, the major powers would have to see to their own protection. Read more...