August 30, 2019

Cool Facilities - The David Taylor Model Basin

Developing the technology required to keep the military of the US and our allies on the cutting edge isn't easy. It requires billions of dollars and tens of thousands of people, all working to push the equipment available forward. A lot of this work isn't particularly glamorous or exciting, but occasionally, it requires some truly incredible facilities.

The David Taylor Model Basin

My favorite of these is the David Taylor Model Basin in Carderock, Maryland.1 This is "Where the Fleet Begins", the place where the Navy does the basic research that ultimately feeds into operational warships. Even today, computers are not capable of the accuracy needed when simulating the flow of water around a ship. To make sure that our next vessels will be as fast and as seaworthy as they need to be, physical models must be tested. And the best way to do that is to create a giant tank and tow a model through it. Of course, it's not nearly as easy as it sounds,2 and DTMB is one of the world's premier facilities for such research. Read more...

August 28, 2019

Riverine Warfare - North America

Riverine warfare is an oft-overlooked part of naval operations, eclipsed by the bigger ships that operate on blue water. But the so-called brown-water navies have played an important part in military operations for millennia, almost always in close concert with land forces. A force that controls rivers and lakes can use them as a highway for troops and supplies while turning them into barriers for the enemy.

A ship of the Classis Germanica

The first naval operations were almost certainly on lakes and rivers instead of the open sea, but these are long lost. The navy of ancient Egypt operated on the Nile, although details are sparse. We have better records of the Roman Navy, which operated a very large fleet, the Classis Germanica, on the Rhine and other rivers of what is now France, Germany, and the Low Countries. Particularly after the Romans gave up their attempts to conquer the Germanic tribes on the east side of the Rhine, it served not only to provide supplies and communications to the Roman garrisons, but also as the first line of defense against barbarian incursions. Similar fleets operated on the Empire's other major rivers, including the Danube, the Nile, the Tigris, and the Euphrates. But we'll start our look at modern riverine warfare with North America, the first major example of which was the British ascent of the St. Lawrence during the Seven Years War, culminating in the capture of Quebec City. Read more...

August 26, 2019

Open Thread 33

It's our regular open thread. Talk about anything you want.

No special thing this time. I've been busy.

Posts overhauled since last time include Underwater Protection Part 1 and Part 2, my post on The Standard Type Battleships, my reviews of the International Museum of WWII and Constitution and Cassin Young, and my analysis of a silly battleship article from a 1940 issue of Popular Mechanics.

August 25, 2019

A Brief Overview of the United States Fleet

I'm going to branch out a bit and talk about the USN as it exists today. It's a large and complex organization, made up of both uniformed servicemembers and civilians. The USN has, broadly speaking, four major combatant branches: surface warfare, aviation, submarines, and, in concert with the Marine Corps, amphibious warfare. Of course, these branches require a great deal of support, ranging from auxiliary ships to construction units to security personnel to medical teams to the command and intelligence services that tie it all together.

Ultimately, everything can be traced back to the President, as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. Authority flows down from him through the Secretary of Defense to the Secretary of the Navy, who is the head of the Department of the Navy, which includes both the Navy and the Marine Corps. The uniformed head of the Navy is the Chief of Naval Operations, while the Marine Corps is lead by the Commandant. However, neither of these men have any direct command authority over forces in the field. Their responsibility is to create and train forces, not to use them. Since the 1980s, that has been the job of the Unified Combatant Commanders, four-star generals or admirals who control all US military forces in a specific geographic area, known as a Unified Combatant Command (UCC)3 and who report directly to the Secretary of Defense. Ships, aircraft, and other military assets are assigned to each UCC as dictated by operational needs. Each geographic UCC has one or more numbered fleets, which provides command of all naval forces afloat in the region. Read more...

August 23, 2019

Pictures - Iowa Medical and Dental

One aspect of the Iowa that I haven't discussed much is the medical and dental departments. These were not large groups,4 but they were vital to the functioning of the "city at sea". Everything from cavities and cuts to major surgery could be done aboard.

The door to the sickbay. Sickbay is just aft of Turret II on third deck, inside the citadel.


August 21, 2019

The Falklands War Part 17

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. May 24th saw the only serious attack on the amphibious shipping, followed by a last strike on the 25th.5


In an attempt to stem the tide of air attacks, the destroyer Coventry and frigate Broadsword had been stationed to the north of Falkland Sound, serving as a "missile trap" and directing in the Sea Harrier Combat Air Patrol (CAP). On the 24th, they had vectored in Sea Harriers that had shot down three aircraft from a four-plane raid, while the morning of the 25th saw two Skyhawks fall to Coventry's Sea Dart missiles. The Argentinians were well aware of their presence, and at 1300 on the 25th, they sent a flight of six Skyhawks after the ships. Two had refueling problems and had to return to base, but the other four bored in. They came to the south of West Falkland, and the British assumed that they were headed for San Carlos from the south. Instead, they turned north to cross West Falkland, dodging the CAP dispatched on the assumption they would keep heading east. Read more...

August 19, 2019

Rule the Waves 2 Game 1 - October 1905

Gentlemen, We are pleased to announce the laying down of our first class of the new Irresistible-type battleships, the Devastations. Two ships, Devastation and Charles Martel, have been laid down in anticipation of the commissioning of the Duquesne and Tourville next month. The war against Austria also continues to go well. Raider activity has been cut dramatically by the deployment of our Sfax-class cruisers on trade protection duty, while we have continued to win victories when our forces clash. Even better, there are reports of unrest among their citizens.

Note that we have a bunch of ships commissioning next month, and the deficit will go away then.

At this point, significant decisions have to be made about the shape of the postwar fleet. The recent development of the steam turbine has greatly aided us in these efforts, allowing most of our fast designs an extra knot on the same tonnage. We could lay down more Devastations, design a new battlecruiser, or rebuild our light cruiser force. It's also worth pointing out that we'll complete a dock expansion to 24,000 tons in 6 more months.6 Read more...

August 18, 2019

The Spanish-American War Part 8 - Santiago Aftermath

In 1898, tensions between the US and Spain over the remains of Spain's Caribbean empire boiled over after the battleship Maine blew up in Havana Harbor. The US declared war and blockaded Cuba, while the Asiatic Fleet under George Dewey destroyed the Spanish fleet in the Philippines at Manila Bay. The Spanish dispatched a fleet under Admiral Cervera to break the blockade, but it ended up trapped in Santiago on Cuba's south coast. The Americans landed troops and tightened their blockade, and on Sunday, July 3rd, Cervera finally sortied. Three of his cruisers were destroyed almost immediately, while the last one survived less than four hours. The Spanish lost almost 20% of their men, while the Americans had a single sailor killed and minor damage to their ships.

But what explains this one-sided victory? Unlike Manila Bay, the answer is not found in overwhelming superiority on the part of the American ships. The Spanish cruisers were reasonably modern, and while they had some technical issues, particularly with the 14cm guns, these alone cannot explain their failure to inflict any meaningful damage on the Americans. The most badly-damaged American ship, Brooklyn, took only four hits from medium-caliber (4"-6") guns and another 16 from lighter guns, mostly 6 pdr and 1 pdr.7 The best explanation probably lies in the ability of the Americans to establish fire superiority over the Spanish at the beginning of the battle. This is best seen in Gloucester's victory over the Spanish destroyers, where rapid and accurate gunfire drove the gunners from their posts and prevented any meaningful retaliation. Most of the guns, particularly the lighter ones, were mounted in the open, and the hail of American fire drove many Spanish gunners from their posts and hindered the accuracy of those who stayed.8 Read more...

August 16, 2019

Wedding Decorations

We're at the venue, a month and a half before the wedding. Lord Nelson and the planner there are discussing table decorations for the reception. I'm thinking about battleships. The talk turns to centerpieces, and the lady says something about using water and floating things in it, like candles. My brain immediately says "You know what else floats? Ships! And if we can get some models that we could float, it would be a cool touch, and one that I'd like." I share this plan, and both of them like it, too. Lord Nelson points out that since the centerpieces they're talking about have three vase/cylinder things, she can find a bunch of Kyogre models9 and float those, too. We'll fill the last one with fake flowers or something. Everyone likes this plan.10

The final result

I immediately busy myself trying to find models. Given that I have to fit the models into a cylinder which is 3-4" across, they're going to have to be small. I'm having trouble finding anything until I stumble across 1:6000 wargaming minis from Figurehead. I can just build a raft out of balsa or something for them to float on. But because they're not designed to float, I know stability is going to be a problem. They're metal, which means really excessive topweight. Hmm... What if I make the raft a catamaran? That solves the stability problem handily. Catamarans basically don't tip over, and I can then use twice as many ships. It'll probably look better too. So I order a bunch. Two sets of Iowas, one WWII and one 80s, a pair of Nelsons for her, some Wasps, to represent America, and Iron Dukes, Burkes and Essexs to round the set out. Then I start development of the rafts. And things begin to go downhill. Read more...

August 14, 2019

The Spanish-American War Part 7 - The Battle of Santiago

In 1898, tensions between the US and Spain over the remains of Spain's Caribbean empire boiled over after the battleship Maine blew up in Havana Harbor. The US declared war and blockaded Cuba, while the Asiatic Fleet under George Dewey destroyed the Spanish fleet in the Philippines at Manila Bay. The Spanish dispatched a fleet under Admiral Cervera to break the blockade, but it ended up trapped in Santiago on Cuba's south coast. The Americans landed troops and tightened their blockade, and on Sunday, July 3rd, Cervera finally sortied.

When Cervera's ships emerged from Santiago harbor, they found only five of the American heavy ships waiting for them. Massachusetts had been detached to coal at Guantanamo, while New York had recently departed to carry Sampson to a consultation with General Shafter, the commander of the troops ashore, leaving Commodore Schley in charge. Of the ships on station, only the Oregon had a clean bottom11 and steam up in all of her boilers, her engineering crew honed by her trip around South America. The other vessels had only enough power for 10 to 12 knots when the Spanish were sighted and Iowa ran up hoist number 250, "the enemy's ships are escaping" and fired the alarm gun. Two minutes later, her men were at their battle stations, many still wearing their white uniforms for Sunday inspection. New York, alerted by the alarm guns, turned back to join the action. Read more...