October 22, 2023


The idea that every man1 has a responsibility to fight for his country is ancient. But different societies have implemented this in different ways, and it's worth taking a deeper look at the system that was developed in the late 19th and early 20th century, and which continues in some countries to this day.

The most important fact to understand about modern conscription is that it is at core based on voluntary compliance, much as the tax system in the US is. I don't particularly like paying taxes, and if the government told me I didn't have to, I would be quite happy, but I (and almost everyone else) accepts the fundamental authority of the government to tax us and complies more or less willingly. Likewise, the sort of broad-based conscription that provided the manpower for the World Wars essentially rested on society as a whole being fundamentally behind the idea that demanding young men pay2 in time and danger is normal and fine. Contrast this system, where people get a letter and generally show up, with (for instance) the impressment system, which was implemented by the government sending out a gang to grab people by force, and the gangs were often resisted by force, too. Read more...

October 15, 2023

Honda Point Part 3

On September 8th, 1923, seven American destroyers ran aground at Honda Point, on the coast of California. It was a foggy night, and the crew of the lead destroyer, Delphy, had gotten confused and thought they were further south than they actually were before turning for the Santa Barbara Channel. And a number of the following destroyers, in line at high speed, followed her onto the rocks. Their crews responded magnificently, and the men from four of the ships - Delphy, S. P. Lee, Young and Chauncey - had managed to get ashore, while a fifth, Nicholas, was in a position where the crew couldn't reach shore safely, and would have to wait out the night. The men who had made it ashore got help from the nearby railroad Section House, and aid was summoned from nearby towns.

Woodbury and Fuller aground

Unbeknownst to them, two more ships, Woodbury and Fuller, had struck rocks 300 yards offshore, although fortunately the rock that Woodbury had struck was about 25' high and big enough to shelter the crew until help could arrive. A few men had jumped across to it when the ship first struck, although unsuccessful attempts to back Woodbury off had widened the gap somewhat. A line was quickly passed, and the crew evacuated hand-over-hand despite the attempts of the ship's roll to snap the ropes. A survivor from Young was discovered in the water alongside and fished out, while the Captain had the presence of mind to order food, water and fuel be transferred to the rock, allowing the crew to stay in reasonable comfort. Another stroke of fortune was the presence of DesDiv 33's medical officer aboard Woodbury, although he had few patients to deal with. Read more...

October 13, 2023

Open Thread 141

It's time once again for our regular Open Thread. Talk about whatever you want, so long as it isn't Culture War.

First, I am in DC this weekend for a meetup, and readers in the area are invited. Come to Cassander's house (1002 N St NW) at 7 pm on Saturday. There will be interesting company and excellent food. Or if you're in the mood for it, I'm taking a group to Udvar Hazy earlier that afternoon, and will post details if anyone is interested. Feel free to come even if you aren't a typical member/don't comment/etc.

Second, USNI News recently published a long piece on a P-8 patrol over the South China Sea that is well worth reading.

Third, I will repeat my call for guest content and/or questions I can answer in a relatively short amount of time for the upcoming semi-hiatus.

Overhauls are Going back to Iowa, MSC Part 2, and for 2022, Marine Detachments and my review of the San Diego Maritime Museum.

October 08, 2023

Honda Point Part 2

The men aboard the destroyers aground at Honda were in a perilous situation. Some of them were aboard ships still in reasonable shape, although that would change as the hulls worked against the rocks. Others, particularly the men crouched on the upturned side of Young, were in imminent danger of being washed into the pounding seas. All would have to try to reach safety, although for most of them, it was unclear what that would mean, beyond a less exposed position, maybe at the top of the cliffs. The general consensus was that they were aground somewhere like the uninhabited San Miguel Island.

First to begin evacuation was the crew of the S.P. Lee, their ship listing 30° and with waves breaking entirely over the ship. The first threat came from the crippled Nicholas, which was bearing down on the Lee before an encounter with a pinnacle of rock stopped Nicholas clear of her sister. But if Nicholas broke loose, Lee would suffer heavy casualties, and even if she didn't, the pounding surf would soon make Lee untenable. Only 50' separated her from the cliffs, but it was a maelstrom of swirling water. Two men fought their way across in a rubber raft, securing a line to the rocks, although there was only a narrow ledge of rock to land on and no obvious route to the top of the 100' cliffs. While they did this and returned aboard Lee, a signalman aboard her made contact with Nicholas by blinker, and it was reported that the second destroyer was fast aground, but in no immediate danger, so it was decided that, barring a change in her situation, her crew would remain aboard until daylight. Read more...

October 01, 2023

The Norway Campaign Part 13 - Sola and the Luftwaffe

On April 10th, 1940, Western Europe was in chaos. Hitler had attempted to flank the stalemate on the Franco-German border by invading Norway, and his invasion had been wildly more successful than it should have been, securing all of Norway's major cities in the first day. Only in Narvik did things go wrong, when the RN showed up offshore and managed to knock out a substantial portion of the German destroyer force.3

A Ju88 at Sola

Nobody in Norway or on the Allied side had seen this coming. The Norwegian government had evacuated Oslo just ahead of the Germans, and the parliament had authorized the government to fight on until it could meet again, while troops across the country mobilized as best they could. The Allies scrambled to send forces against the Germans, but they faced a serious problem in the form of the Luftwaffe. The first encounter between the RN and German bombers hadn't gone particularly well, and the Allies essentially abandoned the eastern half of the North Sea, choosing to focus their efforts in the north, around Trondheim and Narvik. The Luftwaffe quickly moved the He 111s and Ju 88s of X Fliegerkorps, the Luftwaffe's specialist anti-shipping unit, into Norway, placing even the northern locations under threat. Read more...

September 29, 2023

Open Thread 140

It's time once again for our regular Open Thread. Talk about whatever you want, so long as it isn't Culture War, or join the Discord (link in sidebar) where there's usually something going on.

As an update, I've had one person offer me a guest post during the hiatus. So if you're interested, I'd love to hear from you. If I don't get anything, I will try to have something up every Sunday, although it will probably be rather minimal. Pictures, a review of something, or maybe an answer to a reader question. So if you have something you'd like me to look into that I can cover quickly, post it here.

Overhauls are Auxiliaries Part 3, The Arleigh Burke Class, and for 2022, Evan's review of Turner Joy and the Coast Guard.

September 24, 2023


One of the biggest visual changes to warships over the last 40 years, rivaled only by the widespread use of phased arrays, is the adoption of the Vertical Launch System or VLS as the primary way of carrying and firing missiles. The basic idea is simple. Instead of storing missiles in a magazine and bringing them out to fire, store the missiles in vertical tubes, each of which is also set up as a launch cell. This brings numerous advantages. First and foremost, it is far simpler than previous missile launchers, with a dramatically reduced maintenance burden, as almost all of the important bits are kept protected from weather until the missile is fired. All missiles are kept in instant readiness to fire, allowing the ship to respond to changing threats quickly and with a significant fraction of its available weapons. Perhaps more important than all of these is the fact that a modern VLS can carry multiple types of missiles, giving a vital multi-role capability and allowing a ship to change missions with a quick port visit.

An early VLS in use

The idea of a fixed launcher obviously goes back quite a ways. The first hints of the concept can be seen in the use of gyro angling to allow off-bore torpedo shots, most prominently the fixed tubes on the Nelsons. All but the earliest anti-ship missiles were launched from fixed tubes installed at an angle, with vertical launch arriving shortly thereafter for ballistic missiles. This allowed designers to avoid moving large, heavy missiles while at sea, although it required that the missile have substantial guidance capability already onboard. This wasn't a problem for ASMs or SLBMs, but it would have been a serious challenge to integrate something of this nature on a SAM in the 50s and 60s. These required guidance from the launching ship, and a trainable launcher allowed the missile to guide right away. Despite these problems, the British looked at something VLS-like for the missile that became Sea Slug, although they ultimately went with a trainable launcher when they settled on beam-riding guidance Read more...

September 17, 2023

Museum Review - West Australia Shipwrecks Museum

G’day, it’s Megasilverfist again. I was recently in Freo4 on a business trip and had time to stop by the place’s main attraction, Cicerello’s “the home of fish ‘n’ chips” the West Australia Shipwrecks Museum.5

The main building, originally a commissary and one of the first British building in Australia
Type: Shipwreck museum
Location: Fremantle, Western Australia6
Rating: 5/5, A great trip through the history of Australia, the development of naval technology, and the techniques of underwater archeology disguised as an already impressive collection of salvaged artifacts and period accounts of shipwrecks.
Price: Free with a recommended donation of 5 AUD (~3 USD)

During the age of sail, vessels frequently crashed against the many shores and reefs off the west of Australia. And in the modern day diving is a popular hobby in WA with many divers donating time the museum-associated Maritime Archaeological Association of Western Australia. As a result the museum has a massive collection of salvage which it uses to illustrate the story of (European) exploration and settlement of WA as well as various advances in naval technology. Read more...

September 15, 2023

Open Thread 139

"The best evidence against UFOs is that no one has leaked their specs on war thunder" - Cassander

It's time for our regular open thread. Talk about whatever you want, so long as it isn't culture war.

The blog's sixth anniversary is a little over a month away, and I am planning to put it on some sort of hiatus for at least a few months. I'll keep the OTs going and maybe post occasionally if I feel like it, but if anyone wants to write on appropriate topics, I would be happy to take guest contributions.

Overhauls are Nimrod, Riverine Warfare - South America, ICNW Part 5, Missile Defense Through the Decades, Liberty Ships Part 3, Standard parts one and two, and for 2022, NWAS Trident Part 2 and The DP Gun Problem.

September 08, 2023

Honda Point Part 1

On the coast of California, where ships heading south for LA turn into the Santa Barbra Channel, there is a place called Honda.7 Even on this desolate and treacherous stretch of coast, it stands out for danger to mariners. The Spanish who first sailed past it called it the Devil's Jaw, and it has eaten many ships over the years.

Honda Point in 1989

On September 8th, 1923, Destroyer Squadron 11, under the command of Captain Edward Watson, left San Francisco following the successful conclusion of Fleet Week, bound for San Diego and home. A new fiscal year had just started, and the Navy's fuel budget was slightly more generous, so Admiral Sumner Kittle, Commander of the fleet's destroyers, ordered the run made at 20 kts. This was as fast as a destroyer could go on her cruising turbines if her plant was working well. If a crew had to fire up the main turbines, it would take significantly more fuel. In an interwar Navy where inter-ship competitions were taken very seriously, that would damage their standing in the engineering efficiency ratings. Read more...