December 25, 2020

Open Thread 68

Merry Christmas, everyone! I don't have much to say beyond that, except that usual OT rules are in effect.

Overhauls for 2017 are Huascar Parts one and two, the South American Dreadnought Race, Dreadnoughts of the Minor Powers and Armor parts one and two. 2018 overhauls are The First South Dakota Class, Commercial Aviation Part 3, Spot 1 and Electronic Warfare parts one, two and three. Lastly, 2019 overhauls are Short-Range Aircraft Missiles, Riverine Warfare - Southeast Asia Part 2, Billy Mitchell Part 3 and, appropriately for today, warships with Christmas lights.

December 23, 2020

Nuclear Weapons at Sea - Cruise Missiles Part 1

In the late 40s, airplanes were the obvious means of projecting nuclear power from the sea. After all, airplanes were the core of existing long-range striking power, and the USN was working hard to integrate them aboard its carriers. But airplanes require big, expensive ships to operate from, and the Soviet Union in particular didn't have any available. Even if they did acquire some, which was doubtful with Stalin still running the country, their life expectancy in the face of the USN would be short at best.

A November class submarine

Instead, they turned to the traditional weapon of weaker maritime powers, the submarine. Cruise missiles, inspired by the German V-1, were the obvious weapon of choice for such a task, but such weapons were still in their infancy. The Soviets came up with another plan: the nuclear-armed torpedo. But not just any torpedo. The T-15 would be 1.55m in diameter, 23.5m long and weigh about 40 tons. Each submarine would carry a single torpedo to a position off a major naval base or port, surface to confirm its position with radar and stellar sightings, then launch the 30-knot torpedo at its target about 16 nm away. The size of the weapon was driven by its thermonuclear warhead, as early examples of such weapons reached enormous size. The T-15 would be carried by the Soviet's first nuclear submarine, with the propulsion selected due to the need for rapid long-range transits. After Stalin's death in 1953, the Soviet Navy found out about the program and quickly decided that it didn't have much use for the T-15. The weapons fit was changed from a single T-15 and a pair of single-shot self-defense 21" torpedoes to 8 conventional torpedoes for use in more normal submarine missions. The resulting boats, designed the November class by NATO, were the USSR's first nuclear submarines. Read more...

December 20, 2020

So You Want to Build a Battleship - Leftovers Part 1

So far, I've covered the process by which a battleship gets from the drawing board to the fleet. But it wasn't always smooth sailing. For various reasons, a battleship might not ever enter service, or it might enter service in a form entirely different from the original design. It's worth taking a look at why this happened and what happened to these unlucky ships.

USS Iowa (BB-53), a battleship that was never completed

Almost all of these cases stem from one of the world wars.1 Battleships, extremely expensive and relatively slow to build, tended to be sacrificed for other vessels in the press of wartime needs. Every single battleship that fought during WWII was laid down before its nation entered the war. During WWI, the British managed to complete a handful of battlecruisers, but even this was a major drop in capital ship production relative to their output before the war, and nobody else managed to do the same.2 Even a number of ships laid down before the war were suspended for the duration and subsequently cancelled. After the war, a new naval race between the US, Japan and Britain seemed to be brewing, before being averted by the Washington Naval Treaty. This allowed each country a small number of new ships, but most of the American and Japanese building programs would never see service. Read more...

December 18, 2020

Aurora Game 1 - First Contact

It's December 1962, and much progress has been made. We have a colony in Wolf 1061, millions on Luna, and have just had first contact with an alien species. They appear friendly, as they're transmitting instead of shooting.

Database can be found here.

December 16, 2020

Museum Review - Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

Reader Alsadius visited Portsmouth in August 2018, and has agreed to share his experiences here.

Type: Multiple museums, carrack, ship of the line, ironclad, and monitor.
Location: Portsmouth, England
Rating: 4.5/5. Arguably the single best collection in the world, but not as well-executed as it could be.
Price: £24-39 (adult) ≈ $31-51 USD, depending how much you want to see.


The ironclad, in its natural habitat.

The Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is a deeply impressive collection of ships. The highlights are:

1) HMS Victory (1765), the oldest commissioned ship in the world, famous for being the flagship at Trafalgar, and technically the flagship of the First Sea Lord even today. 2) HMS Warrior (1860), one of the first metal ships built, and Britain’s first ironclad. 3) Mary Rose (1511), a carrack that sank in 1545 and was raised in 1982.

There’s also several less prominent exhibits.

December 13, 2020


A ship at sea is a complex beast, one that needs to be tended at all times. But the crew need to sleep, eat, and even have a little bit of downtime, so a system of watches is used to balance the needs of the ship with those of the crew. The broad system has remained largely intact for centuries, although the details change depending on circumstances. The word watch itself can mean several different things. It's a period of time, a specific duty, and also refers to the group of men who will generally be called to go on watch together.

A bridge watch on the USS Missouri

A day is traditionally divided into six 4-hour watches, starting at 2000 in standard time with the first watch (2000-0000), so called because it was the first watch set at night, when off-duty crew were allowed to sling their hammocks. The next watch was the middle watch, also known as the midwatch (0000-0400). Then comes the morning watch (0400-0800), the forenoon watch (0800-1200) and the afternoon watch (1200-1600). At this point, you'd expect something like "last watch", but in fact, the period from 1600 to 2000 was divided into two "dog watches", first and second.3 This meant that there were an odd number of watches in a day, and meant that one watch (group of men) didn't end up with an unpleasant schedule (midwatch was particularly disliked) long-term.4 Read more...

December 11, 2020

Open Thread 67

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

I have a request for help. There's an article from Norman Friedman on the 3T missiles in Warship from the mid-80s. It's collected in Volume VI, and I think was originally in Issue 22. Both are a bit too expensive to just buy, and while I've got an interlibrary loan request out, it may take a while or just not work. If anyone has access to either, I'd really appreciate a copy.

Besides the ongoing USNI sale, I have a non-USNI book recommendation. Tower of Skulls by Richard B. Frank is a history of the opening of the Pacific War, from its beginning of 1937 to May 1942. I'm most of the way through my copy, and it's great. Frank is a good historian and a good writer, and the book came out within the last year, so he's able to take advantage of the latest scholarship on the war in ways that a lot of older books can't. Highly, highly recommended.

2017 overhauls are Iowa parts seven and eight, Mine Warfare Part 2, Ironclads, and my posts on the losses of HMS Victoria and Force Z. For 2018, overhauled posts are G3 and Nelson, Commercial Aviation Part 2, Japanese Battleships in WWII, A Brief History of the Aircraft Carrier and Falklands Part 9. And from 2019, we have Riverine Warfare - Southeast Asia Part 1, Information, Communication and Naval Warfare Part 4, my review of the National Atomic Museum and Billy Mitchell Part 2.

Also, I have engaged the nuclear option in the war on spam, so any comment containing the word "essay" should hopefully be blocked.

December 09, 2020

Museum Review - HMS Belfast

Reader Alsadius visited Belfast in August 2018, and has agreed to share his experiences here.

Type: Light Cruiser Museum
Location: London, England
Rating: 4.5/5. Not truly special, but it’s uniformly well-done.
Price: Currently closed due to pandemic. Was £20 (adult) ≈ $26 USD at time of visit.


One of the things I planned to visit on our trip to the UK was the Portsmouth historic dockyard, whose review will be forthcoming. But as we were wandering around London, I noticed a surprisingly large ship in the middle of the Thames. The World War II light cruiser HMS Belfast was preserved as a museum ship in basically the most accessible possible location for a museum, right in the heart of London. Read more...

December 06, 2020

Nuclear Weapons at Sea - Effects

I've talked a fair bit about the deployment of nuclear weapons at sea, but very little about the actual effects of nuclear weapons when used against ships. It's time to plug this gap as best I can, although only limited information has made it to the unclassified world, mostly drawing on the Crossroads tests.

Ships burn after the Crossroads Able shot

Obviously, it's impossible for any ship ever built to survive a direct hit from a nuclear weapon. But as navies evaluated the new weapons, they realized that there were limits to their power. By adopting dispersed formations, and designing their ships to minimize the effects of a near-miss, it would be possible to limit losses to a single ship, or even avoid them altogether if the weapon wasn't placed properly. New communications technologies could make this feasible, allowing ships to coordinate even over the horizon. Read more...

December 04, 2020

Aurora Game 1 - 1961

I've started play proper now, with 1961. It's been a busy year: the grav survey of Sol has finished (unfortunately, only two jump points, and one of those appears to be a dead end another system down the line), we've started further surveys and now know of seven systems, and we've got almost 3 million colonists on Luna. Research and industry are humming along, although they're not going to pay major dividends until next year.

Do note that we still don't have most of our fleet or any ground units built. Hopefully we can get that sorted out soon (we'll bring it up at the virtual meetup) and we can pick up the pace of play. Normally, I'll try for more than a year at a time, but things are still settling down. The new database can be found here.