December 03, 2018

Open Thread 14

It's our usual biweekly open thread. Talk about whatever you want, even if it's not naval-related.

This post's thing of interest is Victory at Sea, a documentary series from the 50s using footage from WWII. The 26 episodes (linked from the Wiki article) cover basically the entire war at sea, and there's a lot of interesting footage of men and ships, as well as a really good soundtrack.

Overhauled posts since last time include Iowa parts six, seven, and eight, Russian Battleships Part 1, and both parts I wrote on mine warfare.


  1. December 03, 2018Chuck said...

    Re: last week's incident between Ukraine and Russia. So the vessels seized by the Russians were Gurza-M Class "Artillery boats" I found a pretty good rundown of the boat here, however what I don't understand is it's purpose. They were very clearly outgunned by the Russian Coast guard ships, which appeared to include at least one Rubin-class, a a Sobol-class and at least one other large ship (the one that did the ramming, maybe an icebreaker?) Anyway, it seems the Ukrainian navy has built a number of these. What are exactly are they for? Two turrets seems gratuitous for the size of the boat, and they don't seem to be either especially fast nor fighty. Is there an idea behind these I'm not getting?

  2. December 03, 2018quanticle said...

    I saw this on the cover of this week's Economist, and for a fleeting moment, I thought the Economist was referencing this blog.

  3. December 03, 2018quanticle said...


    I wonder if those boats are more heavily armed versions of the US Patrol Boat, River, which were widely used in the Vietnam War to patrol the Mekong Delta, insert and extract soldiers, and provide fire support. The analysis you linked says that these boats have a pretty shallow draft (1 meter), so that would make them suitable for riverine and littoral combat.

    A cursory scan of Google maps shows that there are a few rivers in the Donbass region, but I have no idea how large they are or whether they would be suitable for these boats.

  4. December 03, 2018bean said...

    Riverine warfare is an oft- neglected field, but one that the Russians are historically very good at (a trait I would assume the Ukrainians have inherited). These look to be classic river gunboats, much like the ones the Soviets had during WWII.

  5. December 03, 2018quanticle said...

    According to the Navy Times, the commander of the Navy's Fifth Fleet was found dead at his home in Bahrain, of an apparent suicide.

  6. December 03, 2018bean said...

    That was on the USNI news email this morning. Very sad. My prayers go out to his family.

    Weirdly, this isn't the first time the highest ranks of the USN have been marred by suicide.

  7. December 04, 2018Johan Larson said...

    Welcome to Hollywood! Your first assignment is to devise a feature film based on some real but obscure historical event. Obviously you can take some liberties; you're not making a documentary. But the event itself must actually have happened, the film should depict actual historical figures, and the why and how of what happens should be substantially historically accurate. And this should be something people haven't seen a million times before. If you bring me something about D-Day or Little Big Horn, you'll never work in this town again. Off you go!

  8. December 04, 2018bean said...

    That's way too easy. Jutland. So far as I'm aware, the only movie ever done about it was a German film in the 20s.

    I'm not sure Samar has ever had a movie, and it deserves one, too.

  9. December 04, 2018dndnrsn said...

    All movies are Can-Con (Canadian content) so as to claim as many government tax credits as possible. (A lot of filming already happens here and there because of tax credits and such; why do you think much of the X-Files took place on a highway somewhere outside Vancouver?) There may be movies already, but these are still obscure.

    1. Farce about Defence Scheme No. 1, the completely ridiculous and not entirely official 1920s era blueprint for war between Canada and the US. It assumed that the Royal Navy would be coming to Canada's rescue (it would, in fact, not be) and so was based on quick strikes against various points south of the border to dynamite bridges and such. The lieutenant colonel who came up with it did plainclothes recon, and came up with some even wackier ideas about how things would go down: he seemed to think that Americans disliking Prohibition would somehow be a factor.

    2. Some kinda drama about Charles Smith, a pathologist who for about 20 years said a lot of dead babies had been killed by their parents that hadn't been. Whole bunch of convictions getting overturned, major scandal.

  10. December 04, 2018quanticle said...

    More movie ideas which, as far as I know, have not been dramatized by big-budget Hollywood movies:

    1. Convoy PQ-17: Leo Gladwell (played by a grizzled George Clooney) could be the hero that leads his small flotilla to safety in Murmansk after battling German air attacks, U-boat attacks, and the harsh weather of the North Sea

    2. The Czech Legion: A group of Czech troops stranded in Russia after World War 1, who make their way home... by the long way! They fight their way through the Russian Civil War to the Trans-Siberian Railroad, cross the length of Russia to Vladivostok, then sail across the Pacific to the United States, and from thereon back to Czechoslovakia. It's a twentieth century Anabasis. If you wanted to stretch it out, you could even make it a trilogy, if you wanted. Another option would be to make it a miniseries, like Band Of Brothers.

    3. The Battle of Kursk: The largest tank battle in history, but hardly anyone in the West knows of it. Possible issues with portraying Russians as the heroes, given the current political climate, but there's definitely enough action there to make a good war movie.

  11. December 04, 2018quanticle said...

    I should note that none of the historical events or figures I've cited are obscure, per se. All of these things are well known to people with a general interest in history. However, I haven't seen many portrayals of them in visual media (film, TV, etc) so they're still "fresh content" in that sense.

  12. December 04, 2018Eric Rall said...

    The Pig War. It'd be hard not to make this a farce: a military standoff between the US and Britain over a dead pig on a small, strategically-unimportant island, on the eve of the US Civil War. Since the actual resolution of the crisis was anti-climatic, I'd probably focus on shenanigans among rank-and-file soldiers and sailors with the crisis as a backdrop.

  13. December 04, 2018Johan Larson said...

    I'm thinking we make a movie about the Continuation War and the Lapland War. Start with a young, somewhat idealistic German officer assigned to the Karelian front. Have idealism get worn down into disillusionment as the war drag on, and then flash to outrage as the Finns make peace with the Soviets and the Germans are forced into a fighting retreat north to Norway. It will be a dark, edgy, even transgressive film, since it's told from the point of view of the Germans. Make sure the principals are able character actors and aim for Oscar season.

  14. December 04, 2018quanticle said...

    Another possible idea: the St. Nazaire Raid. British commandos sail an obsolete destroyer packed with explosives, the HMS Campbeltown, into the docks at St. Nazaire in Normdandy, destroying them. They then inflict significant damage onto the surrounding facilities. Unfortunately, the German defenses were more stubborn than anticipated, and their promised evacuation wasn't able to make it in. Of the 611 men assigned to the raid, only 228 made it back. 89 decorations were awarded to members of the raid, including 5 Victoria Crosses.

  15. December 04, 2018Johan Larson said...

    Is the Chaco War obscure enough for you, quanticle?

  16. December 04, 2018quanticle said...

    You know, I hadn't heard of the Chaco War before, but honestly, I'm not surprised to see that it involved Paraguay. That little country has been surprisingly belligerent. Most notably they fought The War of the Triple Alliance, in which they took on Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. They almost won, too, before the superior numbers of the other three wiped them out.

  17. December 05, 2018bean said...

    Every time I look at South American military history, it straddles the fine line between impressive and insane. Paraguay during the War of the Triple Alliance lost some implausibly large fraction of her population. (I believe the traditional accounts say 90% of military-age males, but this is probably an exaggeration.) There was more than one war over bat poop. And things like the career of Huascar, which would make a pretty good movie, now that I think about it.


    Gary Breacher is an idiot, and I wouldn't trust him if he said the sky was blue.

  18. December 05, 2018redRover said...

    A biopic of Robert Smalls.

    Robert Smalls (April 5, 1839 – February 23, 1915) was an enslaved African American who escaped to freedom and became a ship's pilot, sea captain, and politician.

    He freed himself, his crew and their families from slavery during the American Civil War by commandeering a Confederate transport ship, CSS Planter, in Charleston harbor, on May 13, 1862, and sailing it from Confederate-controlled waters to the U.S. blockade. His example and persuasion helped convince President Abraham Lincoln to accept African-American soldiers into the Union Army and the Navy.

    Smalls was born in Beaufort, South Carolina. After the American Civil War, he returned there and became a politician, winning election as a Republican to the South Carolina State legislature and the United States House of Representatives during the Reconstruction era. Smalls authored state legislation providing for South Carolina to have the first free and compulsory public school system in the United States. He founded the Republican Party of South Carolina. Smalls was the last Republican to represent South Carolina's 5th congressional district until 2010.

  19. December 06, 2018doctorpat said...

    A film set in Nazi occupied Britain.

    What? But Britain wasn't occupied during WWII?

    Well some of it was!

    And it wasn't very nice either.

  20. December 11, 2018quanticle said...

    Yeah, I agree on Brecher; his takes are more entertainment than history.

    Another possible obscure war, with much more relevance to us Navy-nerds: The War of Jenkins' Ear.

    The spark that set off this particular war was the boarding of an English brig, the Rebecca by the Spanish coast guard. The Spanish asserted that they had the right to search the brig for contraband and seize it if any were found. They boarded the Rebecca and, after allegedly finding contraband aboard, attempted to seize the vessel. During this, a struggle ensued, which resulted in the slicing off of Capt. Jenkins' ear.

    Capt. Jenkins then went to Parliament, and appealed for them to come to the aid of the poor English merchantmen being preyed upon by the vile Spaniards, etc, etc. England declared War on Spain. The war itself ended up being mostly a draw, with both the English and the Spanish giving up some things, and the final settlement to the war was folded into the Treaty of Aix-La-Chapelle which ended the War of Austrian Succession.

  21. December 11, 2018quanticle said...

    There have been more details released about the sinking of the Helge Ingstad.

    Apparently the frigate's crew confused the light of the oil tanker with the lights of the oil terminal that she was departing from, and when the tanker asked them to make a turn to starboard, the frigate replied that they could not until they'd passed the "fixed obstacle" that was in fact the tanker.

    However, that isn't the interesting part of the article. The interesting bit is that, while the initial damage to the frigate should have been survivable (flooding in three compartments), what happened was that water spread past bulkheads that were supposed to be watertight, eventually flooding the entire ship, causing it to sink.

    From the article:

    The initial flooding occurred in the aft generator room, one crew quarters compartment and one stores room. Shortly after, the crew found that water was spilling from the aft generator room into the gear room through the vessel's hollow propeller shafts. The gear room was quickly filling, and the water soon spilled through stuffing boxes in the gear room's bulkheads into the fore and aft engine rooms. With flooding in additional compartments, the crew had to prepare for evacuation.

    This, to me, raises some pretty serious questions about the survivability and seaworthiness of the Nansen class. It looks like the propeller shaft and shaft seals can allow water between bulkheads, which sort of makes a mockery of the compartmentalization of the overall warship.

  22. December 12, 2018Johan Larson said...

    Here's another take on the events in Norway:

    The Strategist

    Spain, the Netherlands, Germany and Australia operate ships of similar design that may share the Nansen's compartmentalization problems.

  23. December 12, 2018bean said...

    This wouldn't be the first time that this sort of thing has caused problems, and I'd want to have a report that specifically ruled out damage to the glands as a cause before I got too concerned. But AIUI, the glands should be a relatively straightforward fix. It's probably going to take a drydock and a fair bit of work, but I don't think you have to cut the bottom of the ship off to get new glands in like you might with a gearbox. The shafts are more worrying, but there's also a straightforward fix (put webs in the middle of the shaft segments) assuming the reports of water traveling down the middle of the shaft are even accurate.

  24. December 12, 2018Johan Larson said...

    Why is a drive-shaft even needed? Are the engines so heavy that they have to be put in the middle of the ship, away from the propellers?

  25. December 12, 2018bean said...

    Yes, although it's not just a matter of weight. Volume is probably a bigger constraint. Gas turbines take a lot of air, and you need to be able to get in and do work on the turbines themselves and all of the supporting equipment, such as the gearboxes. And you want to spread out the turbines so that you can survive damage, which means more volume. And if you want the ship to be fast, it needs fine ends, which means that there isn't any volume near the stern.

    That said, there is a solution: electric propulsion. The Type 45s were, IIRC, the first major warship to use this, and they're a bit more recent than the F85. Electric motors are dense and can go way in the stern, while the generating systems are spread out and compartmentalized. (This is basically what the US turboelectric battleships did, and we've essentially gotten to the point where it's practical to do again.)

  26. December 12, 2018Evil4Zerggin said...

    What made turboelectric impractical in the interim?

  27. December 12, 2018bean said...

    It wasn't competitive weight-wise. I'm not sure it ever truly was until quite recently (my attempts to figure out the relative weight efficiency of geared turbine and TE circa 1918 left me very confused) and geared turbines got a lot of investment in the interwar years, so it had a big advantage as of WWII. The early days of gas turbines might have brought it back, but then they made reversable-pitch props, and they were cheaper and lighter than an electrical system. There have been some developments in recent years that have made it light enough and/or given it enough other advantages to make it the leading contender if you had to build a clean-sheet warship tomorrow. I'm just not sure what they are offhand.

  28. December 14, 2018bean said...

    And today brings a mixture of happy and sad news. The Naval Institute Press ended their sale as announced, instead of extending it. My internal accountant is very happy, but the rest of me is sad.

  29. December 16, 2018Tuna-Fish said...

    What made turboelectric impractical in the interim?

    The Washington Naval Treaty.

    Turboelectric was competitive with geared turbines for the US because they required very long ranged ships, and an electric drive train is more efficient than a geared one, so the added tonnage of the generators and motors was more than compensated by the reduction in the amount of fuel you had to carry.

    While negotiating the terms of the treaty, the US put forward that since their ships needed to be longer-ranged than their opponents, they should have some free tonnage to offset this to make their ships equivalent. This did not get any support. Instead, the US managed to make the treaty tonnage calculation to not include the weight of the fuel. This meant that for ships that adhered to the treaty, having less efficient engines and just packing more fuel was better than having the heavy generators and motors that would be counted inside treaty tonnage.

    Then, when the US eventually decided to build post-WNT ships, they had spent the past two decades designing and building geared ships, and had all the experience and knowledge of that and none for TE ships.

  30. December 16, 2018bean said...

    That's close, but not quite right, AIUI. While TE is a lot more efficient than direct-drive turbines, I don't think it was significantly different in efficiency from geared turbines c 1920, and there's some reason to think it might have been less efficient. Specifically, gearing only cost about 2% of power, while going from spinning to electricity and back was 8%. And both should have been capable of stepping the speed of the turbines down into the range were the screws are happy, so you aren't going to see much out the back end. I wasn't able to find any good numbers on lbs of fuel/SHP/hr in a quick search, and I don't want to spend an hour or two hunting for them offhand. It's also likely to be complicated by differing relative efficiencies at different speeds. A TE plant does have the option of multiple reduction ratios, which could add efficiency at cruise that we wouldn't see at full speed. Unfortunately, that's going to be even harder to drag out of the numbers.

    As for weight, that's a complicated subject. Most sources claim that TE was heavier, but I'm not so sure. My research indicated that TE scales a lot more strongly with size than does GT, so the battleship plants were somewhat heavier than their geared contemporaries, while the Lexington plant was very close to Hood's. But this meant that TE was totally unsuitable for the much smaller ships being built under the WNT. Even without the treaty, nobody was going to fit a 10,000 ton cruiser with a TE plant, and then, as you rightly point out, all the development money went into them and by the time big ships, previously suitable for TE, were being built, it was totally outclassed by geared turbines.

  31. December 16, 2018Tuna-Fish said...

    Geared could compete with and even beat TE in efficiency when at high power. But TE was a lot more efficient when cruising, because turbines are inherently more efficient when near their max revs, and screws are inherently more efficient when going slowly. With a geared drive, they had to optimize for some specific case, and the top speed usually won. For cruising, ships often had separate cruise turbines that were optimized for lower speeds but could only drive some of the screws.

    In contrast, a TE ship could run a single turbine at the most optimal speed, while pushing power from it into all motors and thus running them at the lowest possible speed. If you have 4 turbines, this means you got 1/4 of your power, or (very crudely) ~8 knots less than your top speed, which was usually a very good long distance cruise speed.

  32. December 16, 2018bean said...

    All of that seems plausible, but I'm not sure it's true. (Just to be clear, I'm mostly pushing back because this is a point that I've never seen made before, and it feels like the sort of thing someone should have made in a book I'd read.) I tried to put numbers on this using Lexington and Hood, but while I found data on Lex, I couldn't find a single source that had more than a single endurance number for Hood, and I didn't want to try combining data points from multiple sources, because that's far too likely to end up with me grabbing points calculated under different conditions (normal vs absolutely brimmed fuel, for instance).

    Fortunately, I realized that my source includes tables for the Essexes, which use geared turbines. So I'm going to compute the ratio of radius at 12 kts (or the closest line in the tables) with radius at 30 kts. CV-3 came out at 3.688. CV-6 had insufficient data (huh?) but CV-9 was available, and came to 2.517. Unfortunately, attempts to rope other types of ship into the comparison failed because most of them had a range problem on one end or the other (some couldn't make 30 kts, others didn't have a table going down to 15). A 15/30 kt compare against Iowa saw Saratoga emerge victorious, but only 3.48 to 3.16. Against Ranger at 12/25 kts, we get 2.31 to 2.20, which is a very narrow victory indeed, although probably confounded somewhat by Ranger's hull being optimized for slower speed than Sara's. If I throw in the CA-24, I get a clear victory for the geared turbines on the cruiser (12/30 of 5.68) but I suspect that's because the cruiser is running around way above hull speed to make 30 kts, and it should be thrown out. From these numbers, I see a small advantage in cruising endurance to TE, but it's worth keeping in mind that fuel loads and engine weights are usually in the same ballpark, so spending 15% extra engine weight to get 15% better endurance is going to be a wash, except for the aforementioned treaty.

    I could be wrong on this, though, and if you have better numbers I'd love to see them.

    For cruising, ships often had separate cruise turbines that were optimized for lower speeds but could only drive some of the screws.

    Often? The USN never used geared cruising turbines on their battleships (except possibly on the North Dakota, and if you have details of her plant, I'd be delighted to see them, and possibly the rebuilds), and while the RN did use them on the King George Vs, they were pretty much useless. Also, the RN had made a tremendous mess of its naval engineering program in the years leading up to WWII, and really shouldn't be cited as an example of state of the art.

    If you have 4 turbines, this means you got 1/4 of your power, or (very crudely) ~8 knots less than your top speed, which was usually a very good long distance cruise speed.

    I think you overestimate how much benefit you'd get from that in practice. Captains and Admirals don't like ships to run on severely reduced plant. A former Missouri BT told me that they occasionally ran on only two of their eight boilers, but that the captain generally hated it because they had no ability to increase steam capacity without bringing boilers online, which took an hour or so, IIRC. So they usually steamed on four boilers. I'm not sure how quick it was to bring another turbogenerator online, but I'd guess you're looking at 30 minutes or so, and you have the same boiler problem, too. And when they were doing their math, the USN absolutely took that sort of thing into account.

    Also, the USN TE battleships mostly had two turbines.

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