July 19, 2020

Nuclear Weapons at Sea - Light Attack Part 2

In the 1950s, the nuclear mission was king. The US Navy fought hard to get into it, first with heavy planes to carry the early bombs, and then with more conventional attack aircraft armed with lighter weapons. These formed an important part of the nation's nuclear capability both for general war against the Soviet Union, and for specifically naval missions like attacking underground submarine bases.

A4D-2 Skyhawk on the catapult with a nuclear bomb

In the late 50s, new aircraft entered service to add capability. The most famous was the A4D (later A-4) Skyhawk, product of legendary Douglas designer Ed Heinemann.1 It was designed around the nuclear delivery mission, and remained in use by the Marines until the 1990s. A few still serve with Argentina and Brazil. More obscure was the FJ-4 Fury, a derivative of the famous F-86 Saber.2 By using buddy refueling, where one aircraft carries extra drop tanks and a hose pod, it could strike targets over a thousand miles away, even further than the much larger A3D was capable of. Eventually, the Skyhawk also gained this capability, and the FJ-4 was retired in the early 60s. Read more...

July 17, 2020

Aurora - Advanced Missile Warfare

Since I wrote the main tutorial series on missile warfare, I've continued to experiment with the options offered by C#, and have made a couple of discoveries that bear further examination.

The first has to do with the way fire controls allocate weapons in missile defense. In VB6, each FC would engage one and only one target, so I made sure that each missile defense turret had its own FC. This has changed in C#, so that now any weapons (or turrets) not used against one target will engage the next. This makes it a lot harder for an enemy to throw small salvoes at you and overwhelm your defenses that way. Harder, but not impossible. In a couple of cases, I've attempted to close with AMM ships, and they've thrown, say, 50 size 1 missiles at me in salvos of 5. My standard beam defense system in that game was a 2x5 gauss turret, and the hit rate was usually 90% or more. The problem was that each turret could really only take out 5 missiles with 10 shots, and often less if other systems took out a few in a salvo before the turret began to engage. Read more...

July 15, 2020

Nuclear Weapons at Sea - Light Attack Part 1

While the USN's initial deployment of nuclear weapons focused on heavy airplanes to carry heavy bombs, elements within the Navy quickly saw the possibility of lighter bombs which could be carried by their existing aircraft. These weapons took several years to mature, with the first, the Mark 7, entering service in 1952. It weighed only 1,600 lbs, less than a fifth of the strategic weapons that proceeded it, and opened up the possibility of nuclear strikes by tactical aircraft. The Korean War had emphasized the fact that not all future wars would be all-out conflicts between the superpowers decided by strategic bombing, and the Navy was quick to respond.

An AD-6 Skyraider with a Mk 7 bomb

Two suitable aircraft were already in service, the venerable Douglas AD Skyraider and the jet-powered McDonnell F2H Banshee. Versions of both aircraft were modified to make them suitable for nuclear weapons carriage,3 and experimental squadrons began to develop tactics for delivery. This was trickier than it sounded. Penetration would probably be made at low level, particularly with the relatively slow Skyraider, and even if higher altitudes were acceptable, both aircraft lacked the bombardiers and equipment necessary for good accuracy with level bombing.4 So the attack would also have to be at low level, which made getting the delivery aircraft clear of the blast radius rather tricky. Read more...

July 12, 2020

Naval Rations Part 2

The system of feeding sailors used during the Napoleonic Wars persisted mostly unchanged until the late 19th century. Canning was first developed during those wars, and began to see widespread use in the middle of the century, somewhat improving the typical diet at sea. And while refrigeration went to sea in the 1880s, it was reserved exclusively for cargo. The men who ran the ships wouldn't be able to benefit from it for another decade. One early beneficiary was the cruiser Olympia, which commissioned with a steam-powered icemaker in 1892.

A crew mess aboard USS Olympia

By 1902, the USN had abandoned the traditional mess system in favor of the general mess, which centralized cooking under the ship's staff instead of each mess preparing food and bringing it to the galley to be cooked. This was an attempt to address many of the problems of the old "berth-deck mess", although the men were still divided into messes, who mostly ate in the same spaces they slept in. The mess manual from that year is interesting reading. Some of the points emphasized included that the general mess included every enlisted man except the chief petty officers and the officer's stewards,5 and that petty officers were to be broken up into different messes to remove the chance of favoritism. Any form of gratuity to the cooks is banned,6 and it is emphasized that the general mess is run by the Navy, and not by the men, and that the legal value of rations (30 cents a day) couldn't be drawn by the men and used to buy supplies for their own preparation. This was a common feature of the berth-deck messing system still used by the British, which issued rations almost unchanged from Nelson's day. Read more...

July 10, 2020

Open Thread 56

It's time once again for our regular Open Thread. Talk about whatever you want, even if it's not naval/military related.

A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry, possibly my favorite blog currently publishing, had a good post on the case for the humanities. I'm from a STEM background, and while I don't agree with a lot of pro-humanities arguments (engineering classes aren't just a sequence of math problems), this one hits the nail on the head.

Also, cassander is looking for a defense analyst with experience in the aerospace sector or data science. It’s in Washington DC, and if you’re interested or know anyone who might be, take a look at the job description.

Lastly, I'm still interested in doing a Naval Gazing Zoom meetup, probably the week of the 19th (the moving truck comes about two hours after this post goes live). If anyone else is interested, speak up.

2018 overhauls are Rangefinding, So You Want to Build a Modern Navy - Aviation Part 2, The Great White Fleet Part 1, , my review of Batfish and Falklands Part 4. 2019 posts updated are dndnrsn's reviews of Bavarian military museums, Rangekeeping Part 2, Impressment, my review of the WWI Museum in Kansas City, and Signalling Parts one and two.

July 08, 2020

The Last Sailing Battle

World War II saw a revolution in naval warfare. The big gun gave way to the airplane as the weapon of decision, and radar and amphibious warfare entered the picture. But the last naval battle of the war was something very different, the last action fought under sail.

The USN had been operating in China for decades, and in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, it took the lead in American aid to China's guerilla war against Japan. The resulting Sino-American Cooperative Organization (SACO) had a number of roles. It initially was tasked with setting up a network of weather stations, as the weather over the western Pacific generally forms over China. But many areas were occupied by the Japanese, and SACO ended up training Chinese guerillas to protect the weather stations, which quickly led into wider involvement with the war behind Japanese lines. SACO groups trained saboteurs and ran coastwatcher stations with both American and Chinese personnel that passed Japanese shipping movements to submarines and airplanes. Read more...

July 05, 2020

Museum Review - Fort Monroe

Reader Mike Kozlowski has been kind enough to write up a review of Fort Monroe, erected to guard the entrance to Hampton Roads, Virginia.7

TYPE: Coastal Defense Fortification
RATING: 4.9/5, beautifully preserved and maintained

From the day it was first garrisoned in 1823, Fort Monroe (originally Fortress Monroe, with construction overseen by one Lieutenant Robert E. Lee) has been known as ‘the Gibraltar of the Chesapeake’ - the centerpiece of one of the most complex sets of coastal fortifications ever built. The largest moated structure on the planet, it was the greatest of the Third System forts and has survived remarkably unchanged to the present. An active US Army post until 2011, it was immediately designated a National Historic Landmark by President Obama and has been maintained as such since. Read more...

July 03, 2020

The Pearl Harbor Rant

I recently decided to watch the movie Pearl Harbor. I wish I could blame alcohol for this decision, but unfortunately I don't drink. It was fairly painful. Major errors so far: why did you label the air base as being on Long Island when you are extremely obviously somewhere in California? Lots of use of an Iowa for battleship backgrounds. I suspect Missouri, but I can't be sure. And in the background of many of those shots are what are extremely obvious Knox class frigates. In some cases, it's just the mack, in others, it's the whole ship. This is almost painful to watch. They don't look like ships of that era. Then there was a comment about "I don't understand how two whole carrier divisions can just disappear". The next shot? A bunch of CVNs with extremely obvious angled decks, and at least one Burke. I do not think you understand how this works. Spy camera shots of modern ships. Those ships are named for someone who is still an active-duty Admiral. And the flyover of a redressed Essex as a Japanese aircraft carrier, with planes taking off over the stern. Why? Oh, and the radar screen they show has a PPI. Not at that time. Read more...

July 01, 2020

Coastal Defenses Part 4

During the first half of the 19th century, the US developed probably the most sophisticated and advanced system of coastal defenses in the world, a system which largely failed its test during the American Civil War. But coastal defenses were hardly limited to America, and the events of the Civil War were presaged by another war a decade earlier, on the other side of the world.8

Fort Alexander, a sea fort near Kronstadt

When Peter the Great established St. Petersburg in 1703, his intention was to give Russia an outlet to the rest of the world via the Baltic. Unfortunately, sea access works both ways, and one of his first actions was to set up fortifications on Kronstadt, 30 miles to the west of the city, to control the channels leading to his new capital. The Swedish, Russia's main enemy at the time, quickly began their own program of coastal defenses, composed not only of fortifications, most notably Sveaborg outside of modern-day Helsinki, but also a dedicated "archipelago fleet" of galleys and other coastal vessels under separate command from the main navy. After several wars throughout the 18th century, Russia finally took Finland in 1808, capturing Sveaborg after a short siege from the landward side. By this point, in a mental leap peculiar to Russia, the existing defenses of Kronstadt, despite being modernized to keep pace with changing technology, needed forward defenses to protect them, turning the entire Gulf of Finland into a Russian lake. Read more...

June 28, 2020

Pictures - Iowa Goat Locker

I've previously pulled pictures from my collection of Iowa's officer's quarters, enlisted quarters and enlisted mess. Now, it's time to look at the last group of men on the ship, the chief petty officers, who had their own separate quarters, known as the "Goat Locker".9

Bunks in the chief's quarters, which are more spacious than those in the regular enlisted quarters

The Goat Locker is a unique institution, referring not only to the spaces, but also to the men (and now women) who occupy them. Chiefs are famous for being the people who make the Navy work, although they allow the officers to believe otherwise. It's forbidden for any non-chief, even the ship's captain, to enter without permission, and all covers (hats) have to be removed. Read more...