July 05, 2019

Museum Review - World War I Museum

For Memorial Day Weekend, Lord Nelson and I went to Kansas City, and while we were there, we visited the National WWI Museum, which is in Missouri for some reason. As you probably would expect, this wasn’t the best time to visit, because the crowds were much larger than the museum could gracefully handle.

Me with the dedication, including an admiral I'm not particularly fond of1
Type: National WWI Museum and Memorial
Location: Kansas City, Missouri2
Rating: 3.5/5, a very pretty museum, but put together sloppily and with a bias against seapower
Price: $18 for regular adults


Overall, I was disappointed in the museum. It wasn’t that it was an awful museum. On the surface, they did a great job. The displays looked cool, everything was well-presented, and there were some neat interactive exhibits. But it seemed like every time they were presented with a choice between the easy route of going more in-depth on a high school history understanding of the war or actually challenging that narrative, they took the easy route. Lots of cases of uniforms, weapons, and other personal kit, which are easy to source and easy to explain. But something complicated and difficult, like the importance of sea power in the war? Shoved off to a tiny section. Very little coverage of Jutland. Nothing on the blockade, or the Turnip Winter that did so much to bring Germany to its knees. The USN got half a display case, with a uniform and a pistol, and a brief mention of the presence of the Sixth Battle Squadron. Not even a photograph. And one of the signs, examined in detail, had serious factual errors. Read more...

July 03, 2019


I'm going to step well outside of my normal remit, and talk about an issue from the age of sail, because I think it's interesting, and because it's something that many accounts get wrong.

Impressment is something that most people interested in history have heard of. The usual version involves roving press gangs3 of sailors and Marines, grabbing unsuspecting men off the street, beating them up, and taking them to sea. One minute, you're a farmer, in town for a day. The next, you're a sailor, headed for the East Indies. As you probably suspect, this isn't really true. British law restricted the pressing of men for naval service to seamen, and while mistakes happened frequently, it was easy for men taken by mistake to secure their release. Captains wanted seamen, whose skills took years to develop, and not landsmen who didn't "know the ropes".4 Read more...

July 01, 2019

Open Thread 29

It's our usual Open Thread. Talk about whatever you want.

The highlight of this thread is the RTW2 game, which saw war break out between France (us) and Italy in March of 1902. I've put up an edit to the original post in the RTW2 thread.

Posts overhauled since last time include Second-generation battlecruisers, Auxiliaries Part 2, Rangefinding, The Great White Fleet Part 1, Did Iowa Move Sideways During a Broadside? and So You Want to Build a Modern Navy - Aviation Part 2.

June 30, 2019

Rangekeeping Part 2

By 1906, the British had developed a system that solved the basic problems of fire control. It would take ranges from the ship's rangefinders and then compute basic corrections for the movement of the target ship, a process known as rangekeeping. The problem was that the central instruments of this system, the Dumaresq and Vickers Clock, were only really suitable for situations where the range rate was low and not changing quickly. Maneuvering targets could throw them off.

Destroyer HMS Salamander at Malta, 1900

The first serious solution came from a man completely lacking in obvious qualifications for the job. Arthur Pollen was neither a naval officer nor an engineer, but when he was invited by his cousin William Goodenough5 to witness gunnery practice at Malta in 1900, he was appalled at what he saw. The maximum range the ships fired at was 1,500 yards, a far cry from the 8,000 yards or more that the same guns were being used at on land in South Africa. When he asked for an explanation, he was told that the problem was the lack of an adequate rangefinder. Pollen was managing director of the Linotype Company and set his engineers working on the problem, initially by analyzing the change of range between two ships steaming on opposite courses. Read more...

June 28, 2019

Musuem Review - Bavarian Military Museums

Proofreader and general friend of the blog dndnrsn was in Bavaria for a few months recently, and spent some time visiting museums. He's reviewed several that have military/history interest for us.6

Bavarian Army Museum/WWI Museum/Bavarian Police Museum

There are three linked museums built into historically significant old castle/fort buildings. Entrance is €1 to enter each on Sundays - otherwise it’s €3.50, or 7 to see all 3, with reduced entry for some. Therefore, best visited on a Sunday.

Look, the 2nd ed AD&D weapons section.7

When I went, the main exhibition of the Bavarian Army Museum was closed due to renovation work. There’s an exhibition of medieval weaponry and photography thereof, with German and English text. There was also an exhibit about the Austro-Prussian war. Some interesting stuff, and my German was enough to piece most of it together. Read more...

June 26, 2019

Information, Communication and Naval Warfare Part 3

While learning where the enemy is and what he's doing before he does the same to you has been a part of warfare since one tribe first went out to ambush another, it's only comparatively recently that efforts have been made to apply this on a large scale. Jackie Fisher first came up with the concept while in command of the Mediterranean Fleet, and the RN developed it into to a key weapon in WWI. Later, the British and Americans used similar techniques to plot incoming air raids, multiplying the effectiveness of their defenses. However, these systems were entirely manual, which meant that they could be overwhelmed by an opponent that launched large numbers of separate raids, or whose aircraft were fast enough to stay ahead of the plotters. To make matters worse, nuclear and standoff weapons meant that attackers had to be intercepted further out than ever before. During exercises in the early 50s, jet raids on US carrier groups had maybe a 1 in 3 chance of being successfully intercepted. Incremental improvements could help this some, but radical solutions would be needed to solve the problem properly.

Two solutions immediately presented themselves: decentralization and automation. Decentralization could take any number of forms. Broadcast control abandoned any attempt to have controllers vector fighters in and instead simply gave the position and course of incoming raids, letting fighters plot their own intercepts. In other cases, it involved assigning sectors and CAP8 sections to specific ships, with a central control ship to coordinate when raids crossed sector boundaries. Maybe one ship would be in charge of tracking friendlies, so that the CAP wasn't wasted chasing down the ASW patrol. However, decentralized control demanded good communications, which was a problem in an era limited to voice radio and teletype, and even decentralized control only helped to resolve the problems of moving information from one plot to another. Read more...

June 24, 2019

Rule the Waves 2 Game 1 - January 1902

Gentlemen, our first two years at the Ministère de la Marine have gone almost exactly as we had wished. We remain on good terms with the Anglophone nations and Japan, while we stand on the brink of war with Italy. Four capital ships, two light cruisers, and a brace of destroyers all are under construction in our yards. This means that only limited funds are available for new construction right now, and we need to make good use of them to ready ourselves for war.

The world situation


June 23, 2019

The Spanish-American War Part 5 - The Blockade 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. But the bigger prize was closer to home, as the Spanish dispatched a force under Admiral Cervera to break the Cuban blockade. The Americans attempted to intercept him, but he managed to reach the port of Santiago, on Cuba's south coast, unmolested. It took over a week for the Flying Squadron, under Commodore Winfield Schley, to establish that he was at Santiago and blockade the port.

Cruiser New Orleans bombards Santiago

On May 29th, a day after his forces finally settled in to blockade Santiago, Schley took most of his squadron inshore to reconnoiter the approaches to the port. His efforts were finally rewarded with a view of several of Cervera's cruisers, confirming that they had managed to trap the Spanish. One of the Spanish ships opened fire, but the range, 15,000 yards, was much too great for the fire-control technology of the day. Two days later, the Americans sent a group led by Massachusetts and Iowa in to bombard the cruiser Colon and the shore batteries from half the range of the previous engagement. Neither side made particularly good shooting, the only notable hit being an American shell that struck a Spanish shore battery's magazine and failed to explode. Read more...

June 21, 2019

The Scuttling of the High Seas Fleet

Even though the Armistice on November 11th, 1918 had signaled the end of the fighting, the Great War had left many loose ends for the diplomats to tie up. One of the biggest was the fleet of battleships and battlecruisers the now-deposed Kaiser had built. 10 days after the Armistice, they had sailed into Rosyth, and they were swiftly transferred to the Grand Fleet's former base at Scapa Flow in the Orkneys to the north of Scotland, to be held there by the British until their fate was decided at the negotiating table in Versailles.

Hindenberg interned in Scapa

It was not a pleasant experience for either the officers or the men aboard those ships. Discipline in the High Seas Fleet had frayed during the long years in port after Jutland, and collapsed completely when the fleet was ordered to sail in late October. The British, when they came aboard the interned ships, were astonished at the lack of respect for the officers, whose orders had to be countersigned by the crew's councils, and at the amount of dirt which had been allowed to build up. The lack of food and recreation did not help. Food came twice a month from Germany, and while the rations were more generous than during the Turnip Winter, it was monotonous and of low quality. The only luxury available in abundance was brandy, which was necessary to make life less boring. Read more...

June 19, 2019

Museum Review - Soya

When Lord Nelson visited Tokyo this past December, she went to see Soya, an arctic research vessel turned museum ship.9

Type: Arctic research vessel
Location: Osaka, Fune-no-kagakukan Station to be precise. It’s approximately a 30 minute ride from central Tokyo via public transit.
Rating: 3/5
Price: free

Soya offers only self-guided tours, perhaps due to the cramped quarters. The ship is interesting enough at first, but once you’ve seen half a dozen officer’s bedrooms, the novelty starts to wear off. The rooms are entirely glassed in, making photographs difficult, and on the rare occasion that the tour route reaches the deck, all the interesting bits are roped off. It certainly doesn’t help that all of the signage is in Japanese, with the exception of the title translations, which can be… rather unconventional.10 Read more...