February 27, 2019

The North Carolina Class

The North Carolina class was the first of three battleship classes built during the treaty era by the United States. It was overshadowed by the more numerous and more powerful South Dakotas and the incomparable Iowas, but the second ship, Washington, compiled probably the best war record of the American fast battleships, and North Carolina also gave good service during the war.

Washington with Home Fleet, 1942

In 1935, with the negotiations for the Second London Naval Treaty looming, the Bureau of Construction and Repair, like its British counterpart, began planning for the ships it would build when the battleship holiday ended. From the first, the main thread of development for the North Carolinas was a radical departure in American capital ship design. All previous US battleships, with the exception of the abortive South Dakota class, had been limited to 21 kts. But the first series of sketch designs were designed to be capable of 30 kts, intended as a reply to the Japanese Kongo class battlecruisers/fast battleships. It was expected that later classes would revert to the American tradition of slow battleships, probably around 23 kts, as the basic logic behind a slow battle line remained sound in the eyes of American strategists. Read more...

February 25, 2019

Open Thread 20

It's time for our biweekly Open Thread. Talk about whatever you want.

Book Review: The Yard

The Yard profiles the construction of the USS Donald Cook at Bath Iron Works in Maine. It's slightly dated (Cook commissioned in 1998) but it's well-written, and I couldn't find more than a few minor technical details to take umbrage with, which is really good in a book of this type. The author, Michael Sanders, paints a good picture of not only the process of shipbuilding but also the people who do it. It's definitely written more on a popular level than a scholarly one, but I learned quite a bit from it, too. I'd say it should be easy to find in libraries (it certainly was 10 years ago), but I suspect that the reason it's so cheap at Amazon is that they're getting rid of their copies. Overall, highly recommended.

Overhauled posts since last time are Amphibious Warfare Part 4, Classes, my discussion of Dreadnought, Strike Warfare and the first two parts on battleship propulsion.

February 24, 2019

A Brief History of the Cruiser

The term "cruiser", like "battleship", dates back to the age of sail. It initially referred more to a mission than a type of ship, the cruising missions of raiding, commerce protection, and scouting. These were usually carried out by frigates and sloops operating independently, although ships of the line could be and were used for these missions. The chance for captains to get out from under the eyes of senior officers and maybe earn some prize money made cruising missions very desirable.

USS Constitution, a sailing frigate1

In the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, cruising missions became even more important. As imperialism kicked into high gear, increasing numbers of ships were needed to police the growing network of colonies, protectorates, and commercial interests. These were mostly fairly small and slow, but had sufficient armament for service on the far-flung naval stations that dotted the globe.2 However, Britain's enemies had noted her dependence on seaborne commerce, and soon began to build large, fast frigates to raid her shipping, most notably the American Wampanoag class. The British responded by building similar ships to protect their commerce. All of these vessels were unarmored, as they had to combine big engines, lots of coal, and reasonable firepower into a single hull. Sails remained vital, thanks to the high fuel consumption of early steam engines and the lack of coaling stations in much of the world. Read more...

February 22, 2019

Commercial Aviation Part 8

Neal Schier, a pilot for a major US airline, has graciously agreed to continue my series on commercial aviation.

Airline delays and the idea of scalability

Woah! What kind of boring title is that? Ok, I admit it is rather boring, but delays and scalability frequently play a role when you travel—and an important role at that, for who likes to be late? With that old maxim in mind of “with every factor added, complexities grow exponentially”, I will look at why delays are an anathema to the air transportation system. In part 2 on this topic, I will look at how the authorities get the system back on track—an effort that to me as an airline pilot is still nothing short of miraculous.

Imagine for a moment that it is a Wednesday evening and you are sitting in a full airliner at New York’s La Guardia airport. It has been a sweltering August day and you have had three days packed with meetings that did not go as well as you had hoped. Add in the annoyances of a chatty cab driver and delays going through security, and you are entitled to want nothing more than to get back home to Chicago. You want to get into the office early tomorrow morning for an “after action” report of all that went wrong in New York. It has not been a good week… Read more...

February 20, 2019

Museum Review - Singapore

I visited Singapore in April of 2017, and took the opportunity while I was there to visit as many military-related sites as possible. I'm going to give a short review of each, in case I have any readers who are headed that way. For non-military things, my recommendations are Gardens by the Bay, which was flat-out amazing, and the National Museum of Singapore, which was really well done.

Changi Museum

The replica of the prison chapel at the Changi Museum3
Type: Prison camp museum
Rating: 4.4/5, A very moving look at the hell of Japanese captivity
Price: Free


When Singapore fell to the Japanese, a large number of British, Australian, and Indian soldiers became POWs. They, along with a number of civilians who were deemed suspicious, were held at Changi, on the eastern tip of the island, in conditions of almost unimaginable brutality. The Changi Museum tells the story of these men and women in gut-wrenching detail. I have an incredibly strong stomach, and I was queasy during my visit. It's an excellent rebuttal to those who think dropping the atomic bombs was unjustified, and a touching memorial to those who suffered and died in the camps. I also ate dinner at restaurant next to the museum, and it was pretty good (not that good food is hard to find in Singapore). Read more...

February 17, 2019

The German Guided Bombs Part 2

The initial German deployment of guided bombs in the Bay of Biscay was worrying for Allied naval commanders, but the focus of the German bomber groups soon shifted to the Mediterranean. There, the Allies had recently taken control of Sicily, and it was only a matter of time until they landed in Italy. Germany would be ready to oppose them with their new weapons, and it was in the waters of the Med that the Hs 293 and Fritz X would have their day in the sun.

Fritz X

Fritz X was first used on July 21st, 1943, in a raid on the Sicilian harbor of Augusta. This raid, and several later raids through the end of August, were so ineffective that the Allies didn't even realize that a new weapon was being used against them.4 But events were moving swiftly that would soon provide the new weapon with an ideal target. Four days after that first raid, the Grand Council of Fascism overthrew Mussolini, opening the way for Italy to try to leave the war. On September 3rd, an armistice was signed, although it wasn't to be made public until the Allies began landing. Read more...

February 15, 2019

Pictures - Iowa Boiler Room

I've shared a few photos of the engineering spaces of Iowa before, most notably when I discussed her propulsion system, but I thought it was high time to break out more of them. Let's take an in-depth look at the various systems inside the boiler room. I'd recommend reviewing the post on Iowa's propulsion system first, as I'm not going to go into detail on the mechanics of a steam plant here.

You enter the room from the top, onto the catwalk at the top of one of the boilers. The first thing you see is the steam drum and the water level controls for the boiler.

The controls for the water level in the boiler. Too much water, and it gets into the turbines, which is bad. Too little, and the boiler melts, which is really bad.5


February 13, 2019

So You Want to Build a Battleship - Construction Part 1

So what was actually needed to build a battleship? How was a pile of metal turned into a vessel capable of ruling the waves?6

Iowa takes shape on the building slip at Brooklyn Naval Yard

It all started with a piece of land. This land needed to be firm enough to support the vessel as it was being built, and next to a body of water into which the vessel could be safely launched. It also needed good access to the sources of building materials, and to skilled workers. Once the land was secured, a building slip was constructed. This sloped gently towards the water, usually at about 3°, to make it possible to launch the ship when it came time for that. The ways, the main supports for the ship under construction and the rails which she would slide down at launch, were then laid. These were built primarily of timber, and for a battleship were approximately 8' wide and 30' apart. In the center, a line of wooden building blocks was placed to provide the primary support for the vessel as it was assembled. These allowed men to work underneath the ship, and provided clearance for the launching cradle when it was installed. Read more...

February 11, 2019

Open Thread 19

It's time once again for our open thread, where you are allowed to talk about anything you want.

If you want to play around with modern air and naval warfare, look no further than Command: Modern Air and Naval Operations (CMANO). CMANO is the sort of thing I would make if I could program and had unlimited time. The systems database alone is worth the price, particularly if you get it on sale, and it can be a lot of fun, at least for the right person. But it's definitely closer to a simulation than a game, so be warned.

Overhauled posts since last time are Early US Battleships, Aegis, the first three parts of my series on amphibious warfare, and my tale of military software development.

February 10, 2019

The Falklands War Part 11

In early April, 1982, Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, a few desolate rocks in the South Atlantic. The British mobilized their fleet in response. On the 25th, a force retook South Georgia, a even smaller and more desolate island that Argentina had also captured, while the main task force closed in on the Falklands. May 1st saw the British launch their attack. 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 Argentines struck back, sinking the frigate Sheffield with an Exocet missile. Both sides settled in for a siege while the British waited for the amphibious force to arrive.

HMS Brilliant

On May 12th, the weather had improved, and Hermes was able to fly her first CAP mission since the 9th. The Harriers were fitted with 1000 lb bombs to be dropped from high altitude, the first level-bombing attacks from the Fleet Air Arm since 1940. These added to the ongoing bombardment from the fleet, supplied on the 12th by Brilliant and Glasgow. Shortly after noon, Brilliant detected an inbound raid, and the CAP was out of position to intercept. Fortunately, the group was about 15 miles out to sea, resting between bombardments and giving plenty of space for the missiles to engage. But when Glasgow's Sea Dart was ordered to fire on the attackers, it detected a problem and refused. The destroyer opened fire with her 4.5" gun, which jammed after 8 rounds. The Sea Wolf, though, functioned perfectly. Brilliant launched three missiles, two of which struck the incoming A-4 Skyhawks, blowing them apart. The third target dodged the missile by flying into the sea, and while it was too late to engage the last Skyhawk, its bomb skipped over Glasgow instead of hitting. Read more...