May 26, 2023

Open Thread 131

It's time once again for our usual open thread. Talk about whatever you want, so long as it isn't Culture War.

Reminder that we are two weeks out from the LA meetup. There's still one spot in the AirBnB, and at this point, I'm willing to let a few locals come to the tour. Email me at battleshipbean at gmail if you're interested.

Overhauls are My First Museum Ships, FFG(X), NWAS - Poseidon, The Future of the Aircraft Carrier, and for 2022 Room 40 Part 1, Sound in the Ocean and Don't Overread Moskva.


  1. May 27, 2023Tarpitz said...

    Khurs update: she's back in port, seemingly without serious damage. The video evidence for a USV detonating very close to her port quarter seems pretty unequivocal, so the takeaway is probably that such attacks are viable in principle but current Ukrainian USVs have issues with their fusing and/or warheads.

  2. June 06, 2023muddywaters said...

    Possibly bad timing: watching Master and Commander (which features a smaller ship knowingly chasing a larger one, around South America) shortly after reading about Coronel. And thinking that choosing to do that would have made even less sense in 1805, when the winner was likely to capture (rather than destroy) the loser's ship, than it did in 1914. And that the live-fire gun practice shown, while effective, would use up ammunition they had no way to replace.

    (Not saying I wholly endorse those as criticisms on reflection, just that they were what came to mind.)

  3. June 07, 2023bean said...

    It's been a long time since I saw the movie, or read the book that part is based on, but it doesn't strike me as completely unrealistic. (Well, the bit where they based the French ship on Constitution makes that unrealistic, but we'll pretend she's more reasonably sized.) In that era, crew skill mattered a lot more than it did post-mechanization, and it wasn't unusual for the RN to defeat bigger ships. The incident in the first book with Cacafuego is based on a real story. As for live-fire practice, guns were smaller so the actual weight of ammo involved wasn't that big.

  4. June 07, 2023John Schilling said...

    As bean says, plus note that the French ship was explicitly a privateer. Which make it even more questionable for her to be a Constitution-class, but means her crew would be mostly merchant sailors and enthusiastic adventurers with little in the way of military experience or discipline.

  5. June 08, 2023muddywaters said...

    Agreed that the c.1800 French were probably less effective per gun than the British. (Though the actual examples I can find of nominally-weaker British choosing to fight rather than run involve either the Spanish or weather that both knew would favour the nominally-weaker side.) I've seen various reasons suggested for this, including inability to practice because they were usually blockaded in port, and that they were still using the kind of cannon you light with a match-on-a-stick (adding random delay, which is bad for accuracy from a rolling ship) while the British had flintlocks.

    (The Americans didn't have these disadvantages, and the British explicitly prohibited single frigates from engaging the Constitutions. Which implies that the choice to make the larger ship French rather than American makes the story more realistic, though I don't know whether that was the writers' intent.)

    While the guns were smaller relative to the ship than battleship-era guns, they were also more numerous, and ammunition carried per gun seems to have been similar-to-less, but I don't have good numbers on that. However, what we're shown of the gun practice is entirely consistent with what we see being the only 2-3 real broadsides in a month or two of mostly not-actually-firing drill, which would be reasonable.

  6. June 08, 2023bean said...

    The ship was made French because the movie was going to be shown in America. Sea experience was definitely a major factor ("the British drink rum while the French stock to port") but I haven't looked very closely at this for a while.

  7. June 08, 2023Basil Marte said...

    In that era, crew skill mattered a lot more than it did post-mechanization

    The 2nd Pacific Squadron would beg to differ.

    As for gun practice, my vague understanding is that in the era, basically all powers committed the mistake of not practicing enough, relative to the cost of the ship+equipment+crew+ the ammo intended to be fired in battle. (Somehow I remember a claim that the treasuries refused to pay for powder and shot expended in practice, thus to a first approximation the captain had to pay for them.) Thus it was something of a trope that a captain who did hold live fire practice was one who knew (or was committed to) some five-sided thoughts that were not widely known, or at least followed, by naval officers of the era.

  8. June 08, 2023muddywaters said...

    That depends on what you mean by "post-mechanization". Tsushima was plausibly close to the height of gun aiming skill mattering, around the time of a big improvement in aiming accuracy at least partly based on more and better practice, and before gyros automated correcting for the ship's roll (c.1917).

    I've also vaguely heard that the c.1800 norm was "if you want practice ammunition you have to pay for it", but I don't have clear proof of that.

  9. June 10, 2023AlexT said...

    I recall it being stated repeatedly in the Aubrey-Maturin books that captains had an official powder allowance for training enough to fire 1/3 of the ship's number of guns per month. The result being that captains who wanted well-trained gun crews had to use their own powder. I'm trusting that O'Brien did his homework in this respect too, as in all the others.

    On the other hand, gunpowder would have been far more ubiquitous than modern naval ordnance, easily obtained almost anywhere, and roundshot even more so. So, as long as there's cash on hand, live fire training makes sense.

  10. June 11, 2023ike said...

    How would you recommend getting into the Aubrey books? Is there a good spoken version?

  11. June 12, 2023AlexT said...

    My vote is to read them in the order of publication, as stated here. The internal chronology makes sense, although the author occasionally plays fast and loose with the historical order of events for narrative purposes. Haven't tried any spoken versions yet.

  12. June 12, 2023AlexT said...

    *the link above was meant to be this.

  13. June 14, 2023Doctorpat said...

    I also vote to read the O'Brien books in order of publication. But I generally think this is best. Authors expect their audiences to read the books as they come out, so they write them with this in mind. Only in the event of a major stuff-up should you choose a different order.

    (Star Wars for example.)

    The final book ends partway through, as the author dies, and honestly it ends at an absolute high note with the main characters having achieved what they've long sort, and sailing over the sea in their favourite ship, in lovely weather, and...

  14. June 14, 2023Doctorpat said...

    I'll also note that the version of the final Aubrey-Maturin book that I read only had the first few chapters printed, as they were the only ones that were properly edited. After that there were just prints of all the hand-written notes, with crossings out, entire sections with lines through them. Notes about how pages would be reordered, alternative descriptions of the same scenes... it was very interesting.

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