March 04, 2020

Merchant Ships - Passenger Vessels

The large-scale transport of passengers across the seas is a surprisingly recent phenomenon. Until the 19th century, there were no scheduled services, and while the horrors of the slave ships are reasonably well-known, conditions for free passengers were little better during the 18th century, with the maximum number crammed in belowdecks with poor food and minimal sanitary facilities during passages that could last weeks.


Packet New York of the Black Ball Line

The first major stride was the establishment of regular service across the Atlantic with the founding of the Black Ball Line in 1817. Black Ball promised to sail once a month on a scheduled day from New York and Liverpool, as opposed to the previous practice of waiting until a full load of cargo could be put together. While passage times for the sail-powered ships were still unpredictable, passenger accommodations were at least slightly better for voyages which averaged 25 days eastbound and 43 days westbound due to the prevailing winds, and Black Ball soon had a host of imitators to contend with. Read more...

March 01, 2020

Pictures - Iowa Enlisted Mess

In my journey through my pictures from Iowa, I've previously looked at the quarters of the officers, and those of the enlisted men. But I haven't taken a careful look at the mess facilities, an omission I intend to rectify. This includes food prep, serving and eating, which I will deal with in turn.


The starboard mess line during my last visit in 2019.1

First, food prep facilities. Feeding a crew of 1,500, as were assigned in the 80s, took a lot of work,2 and Iowa had 65 full-time mess management specialists, reinforced by 77 men from other departments on a rotating basis. Unfortunately, while I've been to the refrigerated storage lockers, it was long before this blog began, so I don't have pictures.3 Read more...

February 28, 2020

Rule the Waves 2 Game 1 - April 1923

Gentlemen,

The last year has been good for us. We have commissioned our first CV, as well as the last of the CVL conversions, bought torpedo bombers from the British, and made major strides in our CL design. Lalande, laid down a month ago, has a speed of 29 kts and three triple 6" turrets.

Foreign relations are relatively peaceful, although the successful rebellion of the Burmese against the British may have set off a wave of instability in the colonies of the major powers. We must be on our guard. Read more...

February 26, 2020

Merchant Ships - Introduction

While warships are the public face of sea power, they are in many ways a secondary manifestation at best. Ultimately, the purpose of naval power is to allow use of the sea while denying it to the enemy, and the users of the sea are generally merchant ships. As such, it's worth taking a look at the use of the sea for trade, resource extraction, and leisure.


A model of a Roman grain ship

The sea has always been the easiest way to move large volumes of cargo about. Historians estimate that it was 20 times cheaper to ship a given cargo by sea than overland in the Roman Empire, and as a result, Rome was kept alive by grain imported from as far away as Egypt, while areas less than 100 miles away overland focused on lower-volume products like wine because of shipping costs. Even rivers, although only a quarter as efficient as sea transport, offered a tremendous advantage over the primitive roads and animal draft required to move cargo where there was no water route. Over the next two millennia, improvements in shipbuilding gave sea transport an even greater edge, until the invention of the railroad finally opened up the interiors of the continents. Read more...

February 23, 2020

The Range of a Carrier Wing - An Experiment

As a follow-up to my earlier look at the issues with an article critiquing modern carrier operating range, I decided to do some experimental work with the planes they actually fly today. Obviously, "experimental" isn't quite the right term, as I don't actually have a Super Hornet of my very own. Instead, I used Command: Modern Operations, which is a simulation package used by a number of professional organizations as well as by amateurs.


An A-6E lands on USS America

I started with a fairly simple test. I took pairs of F/A-18C+s, F/A-18Es, and A-6E Intruders, and loaded each of them with Mk 83 iron bombs. All three were the latest type in the database, and each of the Hornets carried a quartet of the bombs, while each Intruder carried 10. All aircraft were launched from a field in Hawaii, and set to fly to an island far to the south. Weather conditions were entirely calm. One of each pair was assigned an altitude of 1,000', the other an altitude of 36,000'. For the low-flyers, the Hornet ran out at 223.1 nm, the Super Hornet at 285.4 nm, and the Intruder at 290.8 nm. The high-flying Hornet hit bingo at 327.2 nm, the Super Hornet at 420.2 nm, and the Intruder at 418.5 nm. Read more...

February 22, 2020

Happy 77th, Iowa!

Today is the 77th anniversary of Iowa's first commissioning, at New York Navy Yard.

February 21, 2020

Open Thread 46

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

I recently finished reading The Sea and Civilization, by Lincoln Paine. It's billed as a Maritime History of the World, although it's probably more accurately described as a history of the maritime world. Paine is comprehensive, looking at maritime activity across the globe and from the earliest days we have any evidence for to the present. Overall, I really enjoyed it, although my enjoyment was generally inversely proportional to how well I understood the era. My biggest beef was the coverage of WWI, particularly given his supposed emphasis on how the maritime world influences wider history. The effects of the blockade on Germany were essentially ignored, as was the importance of the naval mutinies in the fall of the Kaiser. But even then, the issue is more one of emphasis than fact, and I'd recommend the book as a whole.

Overhauled posts for 2018 are Why Military Acquisition is So Hard, Amphibious Warfare Parts three and four, Classes, Dreadnought, and Propulsion Part 1. For 2019, overhauls are Commercial Aviation Part 7, Falklands Part 11, So You Want to Build a Battleship - Construction Part 1, Pictures - Iowa Boiler Room, German Guided Bombs Part 2, and my reviews of military/maritime museums in Singapore.

February 19, 2020

The Proximity Fuze Part 2

By the end of 1942, Section T of the American National Defense Research Council had solved one of the great problems in anti-aircraft gunnery. They had created the proximity or VT fuze, which would go off when it sensed it was near a target instead of being set to go off at a specific time after it was fired. The formidable problems of building a mechanism that could survive being fired out of a gun had been solved, and reliability during tests was good enough that the first batch of 5,000 shells was ordered to the Pacific under the care of Deak Parsons, a naval ordnance officer who had been instrumental in the VT fuze project and would later become famous for arming Little Boy on the way to Hiroshima.4


USS Helena in 1943

Parsons consulted Admiral Halsey, who informed him that the cruiser Helena and the carriers Enterprise and Saratoga were the most likely to come under air attack, and thus the fuzes were loaded aboard those vessels. Parsons himself joined Helena, and was present during the first combat use of VT fuzes on January 5th, 1943. Helena was part of a cruiser-destroyer group that came under air attack while returning from bombarding Munda on the island of New Georgia in the Solomons. The bombers arrived overhead before they could be spotted, but Helena's 5"/38 guns managed to down a retreating Val dive-bomber with their third salvo, an incredible performance. The surface ship had gained a major weapon against the aircraft. Read more...

February 16, 2020

The Proximity Fuze Part 1

WWII was full of startling technical feats. Some of these are well-known, such as the Manhattan Project and the various code-breaking initiatives. Others are more obscure, things like the various guided weapon programs. But one project managed to revolutionize a facet of warfare, literally doubling effectiveness, but has languished in obscurity: the proximity fuze.

Any attempt to shoot down aircraft with unguided weapons runs into a simple problem. The sky is big and airplanes are relatively small. At low altitude, this can be countered by a high rate of fire, but small bullets quickly lose velocity, so another solution is needed for targets at high altitude. The traditional solution is to fit the shells fired by heavier guns with time fuzes, set to go off at the point the shell should be nearest to the target. This raises another problem, though. Now, instead of just trying to get a shell to meet the airplane in three dimensions, you have to match it in four or it will either detonate short of the target or go sailing harmlessly by. Even a perfect match wasn't a guarantee of success, as the time fuzes are not perfect and can only be counted on to detonate within 100 yards of the desired point, a variance significantly greater than the lethal radius of the shell. As a result, the US 5"/38 gun required an average of 654 time fuzed shells for each enemy plane shot down in the Pacific. The question on the lips of every gunnery officer was simple. "Why can't they make a fuze that knows when to go off?" Read more...

February 15, 2020

Rule the Waves 2 Game 1 - April 1921

Gentlemen,

We have had a fairly quiet year. We renewed our security arrangement with Great Britain instead of allying ourselves to Germany, and have laid down a pair of new battleships, a new armored cruiser, and a pair of light cruisers. We have also developed several pieces of improved technology, most notably improved directors and better training gear for small turrets.

Our upcoming year looks to be relatively quiet. Our CLs will complete late in the year, but otherwise, we are unlikely to be able to do new construction. Our refit program will continue, as all of our vessels will need the new directors. Read more...