April 22, 2019

Open Thread 24

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

I'm going to highlight a truly excellent Thin Pinstripped Line article on retention in a modern military. While the US isn't in quite the same place, it's still a very interesting look at a complex issue.

Posts revised since last time are the posts on sensors and weapons for WWII ASW, the first part of my series on main guns, British Battleships in WWII, my review of Iowa, and the second part of Pobog's sea stories.


  1. April 22, 2019BakerEasy said...

    So AH.com is having the perennial debate about whether the Alaskas were battlecruisers and the perennial tangent about what defines a battlecruiser.

    In all this, how come no one argues for calling the Iowas battlecruisers?

    (Also, thanks to everyone for the enlightening discussion on aeroengines last thread, which I'm afraid I failed to get back to.)

  2. April 22, 2019bean said...

    While I have no desire to get involved in an AH.com debate directly, I think a much better case can be made for the Iowas as battlecruisers than for the Alaskas. The latter ships separate from contemporary battleships on all axes, while the Iowas are very fast battleships, lightly armed and armored for their size.

  3. April 22, 2019Protagoras said...

    Calling the Iowas battlecruisers seems to make vastly more sense than calling S&G battlecruisers, but even though it wasn't particularly the pattern for WWI era ships (Hood!), some people seem to have gotten the idea that battlecruisers are supposed to be smaller than battleships, and pay more attention to that than speed (and of course all of the later dreadnoughts were pretty fast; there wasn't the obvious division into the faster and slower ones that there was with the WWI ships).

  4. April 23, 2019bean said...

    The idea of a battlecruiser as some sort of battleship-cruiser hybrid, particularly including size, is as perfidious as it is false, and it's one I've tried to refute as best I can. The true battlecruisers, which everyone agrees were battlecruisers, were well within the size bounds of contemporary battleships. They also had guns of the same general size. The Alaskas satisfy neither of these criteria, and their design ancestry clearly runs through the cruisers, not through the capital ships. I have henceforth decided to refer to them as "armored cruisers" to prove a point. Or maybe not.

  5. April 23, 2019Andrew Hunter said...

    Bean: why not call them frigates? It's meant literally everything else at some point! : )

  6. April 23, 2019Chuck said...

    @Andrew Hunter When reading your comment "Aircraft Frigate" came into my mind and amused me more than it should.

  7. April 23, 2019cassander said...

    From a mission point of view, though, the Alaskas were designed to hunt down rumored japanese super cruisers, and hunting down cruisers was the classic battlecruiser mission.

    But I say we borrow some nomenclature from the font of all naval wisdom, Warhammer 40k Battlefeet Gothic, and call them Grand Cruisers. That should satisfy everyone, right?

  8. April 23, 2019John Schilling said...

    "From a mission point of view, though, the Alaskas were designed to hunt down rumored Japanese super cruisers, and hunting down cruisers was the classic battlecruiser mission."

    The classic battlecruiser was thought to be a swing ship that could either chase down and destroy any mere cruiser, or stand in the line of battle against enemy battleships at need. That line of thinking took a hit after Jutland, but to the extent that unambiguous battlecruisers continued to exist, people continued to send them put them in the line of battle against enemy battleships through WWII.

    So by classic definition, whether the Alaskas were battlecruisers hinges on whether the Navy had "...and if necessary, stand in the line against a Kongo or a Fuso" as part of the requirement set. Clearly by the time they were actually commissioned, that was no longer relevant, but it's not clear what the thinking was when the early plans were being developed.

  9. April 23, 2019BakerEasy said...

    Something else occurred to me from this discussion - the concept of the battlecruiser was functionally obsolete by the latter half of the 1930s, if not earlier. Your navy wants a ship for heavy-duty scouting, raids in force, and support of the battle line? That's a carrier. So everything built ca. 1940 that's battlecruiser-ish is something else, because it's not wanted for that specific concept anymore.

    Now I'm going to start insisting that Lex and Sara were "through-deck aviation battlecruisers".

  10. April 23, 2019doctorpat said...

    Subscribed for the Submersible, Nuclear, Ballistic Missile Frigates.

  11. April 23, 2019bean said...

    First, why is it that you guys always suggest solving any nomenclature problem by calling it a frigate? I think some people here have begun to believe that “frigate” and “warship” are interchangeable, which isn’t a good way to solve the problem.


    There are a handful of ships that fall into the same general category as the Alaskas, of ships that fall between contemporary battleships and cruisers. Blucher and Dunquerke are the others that spring to mind, although I could probably turn up a few more. And even then, the Alaskas are very clearly derivative of cruiser development instead of battleship development like the Dunquerke. (S&G were small battleships built that way for political reasons. Blucher is complicated, but also about 40 years older.)


    This is why I have a copy of Fridman’s US Cruisers. The fear of the cruiser threat was very real, both to the fleet’s lines of communication and to the carriers. The Alaskas were intended to serve in much the same niche as the Iowas, but to be smaller and cheaper. There was never much idea of them standing in the line of battle.

    That said, this makes an even better case for the Iowas as battlecruisers. Fast, designed to hunt cruisers, but capable of fighting in the line of battle.

    Seriously, I need to write a full post on this, probably after I do a design history of the Alaskas.


    That’s a really good point. And I like the nomenclature you picked there, too. Although I’m sure someone is going to suggest “through-deck aviation frigates” just to stir the pot.

  12. April 24, 2019bean said...

    Also, bad news. Rule the Waves 2 has been pushed back to May 17th, although they're claiming that's a hard date. I'm disappointed, although Lord Nelson is probably relieved.

  13. April 24, 2019John Schilling said...

    Maybe we should all compromise and call the Alaskas "BattleFrigates"?

    "Frigate" has been a surprisingly versatile term, used for everything from escorts so puny they have to look up to a DE or sloop, to the most fleet-shatteringly powerful broadside ironclads of their day, and just about everything in between. And in relative size, concept, and intended mission, the Alaskas are a fair match for the Constitutions of a century and a half earlier.

    Next, of course, we reclassify the CVNs as "Heavy aviation frigates" (ducks and runs).

  14. April 24, 2019bean said...

    The versatility of "frigate" has been well-covered, but with the exception of the USN pre-1975, Anglophone usage since ~1900 has been reasonably consistent in describing a vessel that's one step down from a contemporary destroyer. Trying to change that is going to lead to more trouble than it's worth, particularly when your alternative analogy bridges a century and a half.

    That said, I've had similar thoughts about the Alaskas and Constitution, although a better match there is to the Dutch Design 1047. (The Alaskas were operating in an environment where the US had proper capital ships, the Constitutions weren't.)

  15. April 24, 2019Alsadius said...

    Naval nomenclature won't be complete until the deterrence patrols are carried out by submersible frigates, which are themselves armed with intercontinental ballistic frigates. Clearly.

    A BC is a BB that trades off armour weight for engine weight, so allow faster movement at the cost of less protection. It should be able to scare a battleship (but not beat one in an average fight), pulverize any smaller units with relative ease, and act as the "cavalry arm" of the fleet in a Napoleonic sort of way - not a battle-winner, but able to put a moderately powerful force in the right place at the right time, and act as the eyes for the big boys. As BakerEasy says, that sure looks like a carrier's job from about the mid-30s to the early 40s, until they got good enough to take over as the true heirs to the BB's throne.

    The classic title of "large cruiser" for the Alaskas fits well to me. That said, if you wanted to call them a "pocket battlecruiser", like the "pocket battleship" title for some German ships, I might not scream too loudly. Some stats, comparing it to the Scharnhorst class (which were nominally battleships, but look a lot more like a big battlecruiser from 1910 or so, and which feel more like "pocket battleships" to me than the nearly unarmoured Deutschlands that got the title historically):

    Displacement: Alaska 29,779 long tons standard load, Scharnhorst 32,100 Speed: Alaska 33 knots, Scharnhorst 31 Main battery: Alaska 9x12", Scharnhorst 9x11" Belt armour: Alaska 9", Scharnhorst 13.8" Deck armour: Alaska 4", Scharnhorst 2-4"

    Of course, the "pocket X" title translates into English as "doesn't qualify as a real X", and sure enough neither were anywhere near the peers of the true BCs or BBs of their day. They were gap-filler units, designed to be okay at a bit of everything, but neither one was a true capital ship like a Bismarck or Iowa. "Large cruiser" fits better for most purposes than "battlecruiser".

    Also, Bean, thanks for the mention of Aurora in the last open thread. I've been getting into it recently, and it's exactly my kind of catnip.

  16. April 24, 2019bean said...

    I definitely favor "large cruiser" for the Alaskas because it sets out clearly what they aren't, and forces the question of what they are. A careful examination reveals them to be ships designed to kill heavy cruisers, end of story. The Dunkerques are the other example of ships built for the same reason and falling into broadly the same category. They appear to be called battleships for treaty reasons, although it's been ages since I looked closely at their history, so I could be wrong on that. (Another aspect is that they were built in the heart of the treaty era, which was otherwise pretty bare of battleships, particularly fast ones like that. This was not the case for the Alaskas.)

    The Scharnhorsts are something rather different. They seem to have been essentially the biggest ships Hitler thought he could get away with without running into trouble with the British. The 11" guns were because it wouldn't be seen as an escalation over the existing Panzerschiffe (and because an 11" turret was ready and a 15" wasn't), while the displacement wasn't too far off what the British were asking for at contemporary naval conferences. Pocket Battleship isn't too bad of a description for this kind of ship. I wouldn't take the guns too seriously, as there was a plan to regun them with twin 15" weapons, which gives you a ship with roughly the same relationship to Bismarck as Refit and Repair bore to Hood. (Hood, in turn, has the same relationship to the Queen Elizabeths that Iowa had to SoDak.)

    And I'm glad you're enjoying Aurora. It's a game that caters to very specific tastes, and it's either one of the best things ever, or you can't understand why anyone would play it. I should really accept that C# is still a ways away and fire up another game, although I suspect that I'll be playing RTW instead for the next few months.

  17. April 25, 2019Alex said...

    [unrelated to discussion above]

    In WWI, could the original strategy of forcing the Dardanelles with a mostly naval force and minimal ground troops have worked? I've read accounts that argue that de Robeck should have continued to push through even after losing several ships to mines, because the ships had already been determined to be expendable.

    However, even if the fleet had made it through the Dardanelles, it's not clear to me that this would have been a strategic success, since it could have ended up bottled up in the Sea of Marmara with limited ability to resupply.

    Could the plan have worked if the British had been willing to put up with the necessary casualties?

  18. April 25, 2019bean said...

    That's a good question, and one that I can give only low-confidence answers to. If the British had gone in immediately (late 1914) they might have been able to pull it off. Later than that, not so much. Their shells were not good and the general shell crisis meant that they couldn't afford to waste ammo, so bombardment wasn't going to do what they wanted it to. And while "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" sounds great, it wouldn't have worked. The pre-dreads were relatively expendable, in the sense that if they lost a few doing something hazardous but effective, it wasn't the end of the world. But there weren't an unlimited number available, and the action on the 18th of March didn't bring them anywhere near the main minefield, let alone through it. And, as you point out, they would have then been bottled up, with their supply line blocked by the remaining coastal defenses.

  19. April 25, 2019John Schilling said...

    Well, OK, if we're going to take the subject seriously:

    The term "battlecruiser" was largely deprecated after World War One. AFIK, no ship ordered after Jutland was ever completed, commissioned into service, and called a "battlecruiser" by its owners. There seems to be something wrong with our bloody battlecruiser-type ships, forevermore. Instead, people built "fast battleships".

    But "battlecruiser" remained in at least colloquial usage, and people weren't shy about pointing at other people's nominal fast battleships and saying "that's really a battlecruiser; you're just afraid to say so". This seems to have caused no great controversy or confusion when applied to e.g. the Scharnhorsts or the Dunkerques, so we can acknowledge the existence of a category of Ships That Can Be Reasonably Called Battlecruisers Even If Their Owners Don't. The implied usage would seem to overlap with "fast battleship" but specifically cruiser-fast and (unlike WWI practice) towards the smaller end of the battleship size scale.

    On the one hand, the case for including the Alaskas in that category.

    A: They're roughly twice the size and four times the weight of broadside of any (other) contemporary cruiser. B: They're almost identical in size and weight of broadside to the Scharnhorsts, the Dunkerques, the Kongos, and the 1047s, all of which were unambiguously battle-somethings. C: The "CB" designation and the territorial naming scheme look like a wink and a pair of crossed fingers to any "These are Officially Not Battlecruisers!" claim.

    On the other hand, the case against.

    A: The Alaskas were built most of a decade after the other quasi-battlecruisers we're talking about, during which the possibility of their playing the battlecruiser "swing ship" role and standing in the line against now post-treaty battleships had greatly declined B: The United States Navy strongly emphasized roles that had traditionally been done by cruisers - including carrier-screening, so if we do include the Alaskas then the Iowas also fit C: The USN explicitly considered calling them "battlecruisers" and, winks notwithstanding, decided against it

    On the gripping hand, which best facilitates communication? A: Both usages will have people shouting "you are wrong on the internet", but in the course of so shouting they will have understood exactly what the other side meant. B: Neither "Alaska-class cruiser" nor "Alaska-class battlecruiser" will confuse anyone. C: A general request to e.g. enumerate US cruisers of WWII will leave people uncertain as to whether they should be including the Alaskas, and "what was the best cruiser design of WWII?" will have half the audience arguing the merits of 10-15 kT ships with 8" guns and the other half pointing out that the Alaksas completely outclassed them all, each group convinced that the other has missed the point. A list of US battlecruisers obviously includes the Alaskas even if footnoted with "but you are wrong on the internet", and a comparison of WWII battlecruisers puts the Alaskas in with the Scharnhorsts and Dunquerkes and Kongos and is a reasonable basis for discussion.

    So I'm calling this a marginal win for calling the Alaskas "battlecruisers". And of course I am wrong on the internet.

    Now, why are we discussing this seriously again? We all know exactly which three ships we are talking about, they were all scrapped more than half a century ago, and none of them accomplished anything of great significance while they served.

  20. April 25, 2019bean said...

    Now, why are we discussing this seriously again?

    Because it’s fun, obviously. Seriously, try to keep up.

    On the gripping hand, which best facilitates communication?

    I have to disagree with this section. The reason I’m a battlecruiser purist is because it is infuriatingly common for people to assume that WWI battlecruisers are like the Alaskas/Scharnhorsts/Dunkerques. (Well, they don’t know about the Dunkerques, but you get my point.) So we have a case where a bunch of ships are being judged on the nature of a handful of very different ships. This is a bad thing, and by trying to separate them, we can gain more information. If I’m talking to someone who clearly understands the distinction, I probably won’t push the issue too hard, but when I’m writing for the general public, I think it’s a useful distinction to maintain.

    C: The “CB” designation and the territorial naming scheme look like a wink and a pair of crossed fingers to any “These are Officially Not Battlecruisers!” claim.

    Objection. For reasons that only make sense to the person who does ship designations, B was being used to mean “large” at that point in time. (See the Midways being commissioned as CVBs.) If they’d wanted to be explicit about the battlecruiser link, they’d have used the CC designation used for the Lexingtons instead.

    But “battlecruiser” remained in at least colloquial usage, and people weren’t shy about pointing at other people’s nominal fast battleships and saying “that’s really a battlecruiser; you’re just afraid to say so”.

    This, I'm not entirely sure I agree with. One big issue here is that naval terminology varies between countries, which can complicate things. For instance, the French term for the Dunkerques seems to translate as "line ship", or, more poetically, "ship of the line". This obviously shares a common etymology with "battleship". Weirdly, though, they seem to use a different word for the Richelieus. I'm not really sure what this supports, and I have some books that might help at home.

  21. April 26, 2019bean said...

    Movie Review: Hunter Killer

    I saw most of this movie on an airplane late at night while I was sick, so it's a little bit hazy. Overall, it wasn't great, although it was still pretty decent. There were a lot of technical problems, the worst being the absurdly short ranges for everything and the bit where they're being shot at by Russian anti-ship missiles while on the surface. They open the Tomahawk hatches, and at one point, someone says "too late to counter-launch". The Tomahawk is a wonderful weapon, but it can't shoot down incoming missiles. Despite this, and the plot holes, overall I didn't leave this movie ranting. This is weird and rare for me, because I'm usually super-sensitive to this kind of thing. The new Star Trek and Independence Day are things I'm never allowed to watch again because of it. So it's a decent movie to watch on an airplane, or when it shows up on Netflix and you want something reasonably mindless to watch.

  22. April 26, 2019redRover said...

    Very open ended question:

    WWII saw lots of tech developed that changed the face of war, moving from the Fairey Swordfish to the ME 262 and the A-bomb in the course of six years. Furthermore, a lot of the primitive technology that was used in WWII had clear development paths for the next five or ten years (V-2, radar, very primitive computers, etc)

    My impression is that while WWI provided an impetus for research and development, it was neither as vibrant nor as long lasting.

    So: if World War I had gone on, what new technology would have been developed and what new things would have been deployed? Obviously this is a naval blog, but I don't want to restrict it to just that.

    For my money I think developing tanks into something more useful would have been the biggest change had the war lasted until 1920. Maybe better radios, but I rather doubt that, at least for tactical units.

  23. April 26, 2019bean said...

    WWI did see a lot of R&D work done. There were huge developments in aviation (proportionately probably bigger than those during WWII), the invention of the aircraft carrier, plotting, the tank, the invention of the field of anti-submarine warfare, and so on. The big difference with WWII was that when WWI ended, R&D funds just went away, and the taps weren't really turned back on until a decade or so later. During that interval, I recall a bunch of projects decaying, only to be rediscovered when WWII broke out, although I can't list them offhand.

  24. April 26, 2019Marko said...

    I haven't figured out how to quote properly here, but RE this

    "For reasons that only make sense to the person who does ship designations, B was being used to mean “large” at that point in time. (See the Midways being commissioned as CVBs.)"

    Maybe the B was for Big, because L for Large was already being used for Light?

  25. April 26, 2019bean said...

    The quote tag is the close bracket (>) symbol at the start of the paragraph.

    B for Big makes a lot of sense, probably too much to be correct. It may have been "What letter do we not use much?" "B" "Right. That's it." Or something like that. Or maybe the system is counter-intuitive enough that you are right. I just don't know.

  26. April 27, 2019sfoil said...

    if World War I had gone on, what new technology would have been developed and what new things would have been deployed?

    Armored vehicles underwent quite rapid convergent evolution in the beginning of WW2, and a similar process could have occurred at the end of WW1. I don't think that the T-34 would have gotten built in 1920 or anything, but it's possible the combatants would have struck on a similar recipe. Certainly tanks would have gotten better, and there would have been more of them -- the Allies, or at least the British, definitely intended to use more of them if the war continued.

    I think the biggest "breakthrough" would be an attempt to conduct strategic bombing with chemical weapons, probably mustard gas.

  27. April 27, 2019bean said...

    I'm not sure automotive technology was quite there to support WWII-type tanks in WWI. For instance, compare the Model T with the 1937 Ford, which looks to be the successor in that market segment. The Model T has a 2.9L I4 engine producing 20 hp, while the 1937 has a 2.2L V8 producing 60 hp. A threefold increase in power in a smaller engine. I can't get stats for things like top speed or reliability, but I just don't see any way that you could get the automotive components needed for a WWII-style tank in WWI.

  28. April 28, 2019sfoil said...

    You're correct about power, but the early tanks were really kludgy even given contemporary technology. The state of the art Mk IV had two crewmen dedicated to shifting gears, one on each track. There was no radio, and there wasn't even a crew intercom system -- the crew in a modern tank would be hard pressed to talk to each other without one because of noise, and by all accounts the early vehicles were even worse. As a result, situational awareness was awful, and AFAICT they were basically limited to driving predetermined routes in combat while gunners engaged targets of opportunity on their own initiative.

    What specifically I think would have happened is that improved automation and situational awareness -- perfectly plausible -- would have freed up space/weight by reducing crew size. You can eliminate the gear-shifters, and at least two of the gunners. Then you can start thinking about adding armor or moving past a walking pace.

    In reality what happened is that the Allies built an uber-Mk IV (the Mk VIII, the tank from Indiana Jones). Had the Mk VIII actually seen combat, I think the "moving bunker" type design would have been abandoned much sooner because the Mk VIII would have proven too vulnerable and coordinating all the machine guns piled onto it too difficult.

  29. April 29, 2019doctorpat said...

    My understanding is that one of the huge improvements during WWI was that of coordination and communication. eg.

    -The German raing cruisers at the start of the war could not really have functioned at the end, because by then ships had radios and would notify the navies when attacked. This sort of thing could probably have developed into the sort of u-boat tracking systems that were seen in WW2

    -Infantry advances for the first few years consisted of shelling the enemy, stopping, and then trying to get everyone to advance within the next hour or so. By 1918 there were rolling barrages where the shell landing zones were moving forward as a coordinated wave only barely ahead of the advancing troops. Assuming troops advanced on schedule. I imagine that continuing the war we would have seen portable radio units and other forms of feedback so the moving barrage actually had feedback and hence actually stayed matched up to the footsoldiers.

    • Likewise the combined use of tanks and infantry, and eventually tanks, infantry and aircraft, that led to the blitzkrieg idea.
  30. April 29, 2019bean said...


    I don't know much about tank development, and I'm torn between technological determinism and remembering how quickly tanks developed in the late 30s. It's an interesting thought either way.


    I don't think portable radios were anywhere close to being ready by 1920. There was a great deal of interest in better communications on the battlefield, to the point that if there was an easy solution, they almost certainly would have found it.

  31. April 29, 2019Doctorpat said...

    They had radios on board artillery spotter aircraft, so fitting them to tanks shouldn't be too hard.

    Man portable units were a different matter.

  32. April 29, 2019bean said...

    I'm not sure that aircraft radios lead directly to tank radios. Radios of the day were almost unbelievably primitive, which means that you get all sorts of weird limitations. I suspect many aircraft radios worked because they could reel out an antenna behind them, which obviously isn't available to a tank. The crew could get out and set up an antenna, but that would reduce mobility a lot, because the frequencies of the day were usually in the hundreds of meters. Likewise, air-to-ground is more likely to have a clear line-of-sight than ground-to-ground. And frankly the ride is smoother than a tank jolting across rough terrain, which is likely to mess up a radio.

    Here are a couple of good articles on WWI airborne radio.

  33. April 29, 2019sfoil said...

    Some WWI tanks were fitted with radios. JFC Fuller mentions them in his book Tanks in the Great War in a way that implies they were non-combat vehicles but I've never been able to find a technical description.

    The radio would have definitely required a dedicated operator. I'm guessing that at least one of the machine gun mounts was replaced with a radio set, more or less, although possibly the modification was more extensive. They were probably used to update the controlling HQ on an operation's progress and likely could receive information back, but would have had to relay that information around the unit by runner. Before the invention of the superheterodyne receiver, bandwidth limitations would have required very strict signal discipline if you wanted to install a radio on every tank, but I think it would still be possible. A lot of Eastern Bloc mechanized forces were more or less on receive-only mode below the battalion level up to the end of the Cold War, supposedly, so it can be done.

  34. April 29, 2019bean said...

    I'd really like range specs on those. Every single reference to WWI radio I've found talks about 100' antennas, which are obviously not something you can just use on the move. I'm sure you could use a smaller antenna, but at this point, you're not going to be able to go very far.

    And the bandwidth limitations were really bad. The British emphasized radio discipline to the point that they had lots of people failing to report at Jutland. And that was with ships, not tanks.

  35. April 29, 2019Chuck said...

    It seems there were tanks fitted to carry wireless set: https://sites.google.com/site/landships/home/generaltankinformation/WW1-Wireless-tanks

    However from what I can see in this image I would guess that the size of the antenna required the tank to be fully stopped for the radio to transmit. It may have been able to receive on the move, but as Bean points out it wouldn't likely be able to do much with the information it got.

  36. April 30, 2019bean said...

    I still have doubts about the practical utility of such systems. They don't seem to have met with any great operational success, and the idea is obvious enough that if it had worked, it would have been used more widely.

    In completely unrelated news, the first UK P-8 has entered final assembly, so I guess they decided not to pick up the 737-400 refit option.

  37. April 30, 2019Chuck said...


    From what I can find the wireless tanks were used as they became available, which was fairly late in the war. I think the mistake is considering them tanks with radios. It would be more accurate to call them "Mobile armored radio sets", as they sacrificed their main weapons to take on the wireless equipment.

    More of a writeup here.

  38. April 30, 2019bean said...

    Something isn't adding up here. An all-terrain radio set would be invaluable during WWI. The two main reasons that offensives didn't achieve breakthroughs were transport and communications. Transport is a hard problem without automotive improvements, but it seems like a radio tank should be able to bring the point where telecommunications start much further forward. This means that the guy in contact can use his artillery much more effectively, which is huge in WWI. And it wasn't that they didn't have radio tanks. But they don't seem to have made any impact. I am very confused.

  39. April 30, 2019doctorpat said...

    I think part of the confusion is that we are looking at a period of years, during which there was a powerful (if not quite WW2 level) push for tech development.

    So we can get statements like "a radio tank was available" and "there were no radios that could be used in a tank".

    The missing information is "A radio tank was available (in the last few months of 1918)" and "there were no radios that could be used in a tank(for almost all of the war)".

    Likewise the original question was "if World War I had gone on, what new technology would have been developed" so I, at least, was speculating about if it could be done by 1920 for example with a continuing push for new, better radio tech. Which is going to be a long way from the tech available in 1914-1917, where we see that such tech was just not existing (on the battlefield at least).

  40. April 30, 2019bean said...

    But there were radio tanks in 1917. That's what makes this so confusing. It seems like the sort of thing they should have been pushing very hard, and just weren't.

  41. May 01, 2019sfoil said...

    It seems like the sort of thing they should have been pushing very hard, and just weren’t.

    Some people were pushing very hard, but they were "technical specialists" who didn't necessarily have hard evidence for their vision. Similar to chemical warfare advocates, who also envisioned devastating effects they couldn't actually deliver because of technical limitations.

    The tank was basically just an incremental improvement in capability over shells-and-infantry tactics. Aircraft were highly disruptive: their ability to identify and direct artillery fire at assembly areas and other important targets behind enemy lines was immediate and game-changing.

    Real-time artillery correction in WWI was usually done through fixed, camouflaged OPs connected to the firing unit via landline. Later it could be done from aircraft with some difficulty. The ability to do it from a vehicle was subject to practical limitations outlined pretty well at Chuck's link (amazing by the way, thanks for finding that), and the situations in which it was better than one of the two methods above were ultimately rather niche.

    The first serious armored assault, Cambrai, was a success, but it wasn't an unusually crushing one: it didn't achieve the sought-after decisive breakthrough. About a third of the attacking tanks were knocked out -- leaving them a spent force after the first day -- and they weren't anywhere close to fast enough to exploit a breach (which was known, and the role assigned to horse cavalry, who couldn't pull it off).

    To get back to the original question: more would indeed have gotten figured out much faster had WWI dragged on, because that means more tanks in combat, more opportunities to prove what worked and find out what seemed like it should but didn't, and yes the tank advocates probably gaining status within respective military establishments rather than what actually happened, which was guys like Fuller pontificating -- often, in hindsight, erroneously -- about how great the tanks could be or would have been had the war gone on longer while actual tech development slowed to a crawl and AFAICT largely piggybacked on automotive improvements driven by the civilian market.

  42. May 01, 2019bean said...

    The radio tank issue isn't just about artillery correction. The problem is that as soon as he starts to move forward, out of range of the telephone wires, the commander's communication capabilities go from early 20th century to early 19th century. There's some stuff you can do with prearranged flare signals and stuff, but by and large, you need to send back runners to the start line. Over ground that the enemy is shelling to deny you reinforcements and break any wires you may have brought forward. Having a tank with a radio in it is a huge advantage in this case, because of the increase in bandwidth you get. Now, you can ask for artillery on the little hamlet the Germans are holed up in five miles behind the lines (which is one of dozens in the area, and thus not in the flare signal book, and let the reinforcements know where to go before they start moving. And yet, nobody seems to have tried this.

    I'll agree that a longer war would mean better tanks and a better approach to them, although I'm not enough of a specialist to know the details. Another area that might have gained was naval aviation. The British were surprisingly close to launching a carrier-based torpedo attack on the High Seas Fleet, with the intent of ending the threat of the Fleet in Being. Not sure what that would have lead to, beyond a much greater appreciation of such attacks. And that throws all sorts of changes into the opening stages of the Pacific War.

  43. May 01, 2019bean said...

    I talked this over with a friend, and he suggested that they might have just not thought of it, which is a weirdly satisfying answer. I’ve certainly seen plenty of cases at sea in that era where odd solutions stuck around for what seems like an inexplicably long time. Particularly if you add some technological limitations and organizational issues (the Royal Tank Corps doesn’t want to lend them to the Infantry) it’s plausible we could have seen a very useful development passed up, at least in the short term.

    Oh, and one other aspect I haven't brought up. The antennas themselves are rather prominent, which was probably a hazard to anyone standing near them, because they would have tended to attract artillery.

  44. May 01, 2019quanticle said...

    When a ship is commissioned, there are a bunch of ceremonies, most notably the one where the ship is christened and some notable slams a bottle of champagne on it right before it slides down the slipway into the water.

    My question is, are there any ceremonies when ship is decomissioned? When Iowa was struck from the naval register, was there a ceremony to commemorate the occasion?

  45. May 01, 2019Lambert said...

    I wonder what 'social technologies' might have come about in an extended WWI.
    Even if the radios themselves stay the same, forces would get a lot better at using them.

  46. May 01, 2019bean said...


    There's definitely nothing on the same scale as a commissioning. A new ship is exciting. A ship being decommissioned is sad, and the Navy has no particular reason to play it up. But there is something, with the ensign being hauled down.


    Good question, but not one I'm equipped to answer.

  47. May 01, 2019doctorpat said...

    Looking at older military tech, there is certainly a whole bunch of examples were the tech itself didn't change, but the ability to use it advanced hugely over time. Examples that spring to mind are:

    • pike blocks. They were just long spears and hence available to even pre-metallurgy empires, but the development of the organisation and tactics had to wait until the Greeks. Then the Romans worked out how to defeat them, they disappeared for 2000 years, and then reappeared at the end of the Middle Ages as a devastating new thing.

    • Stirrups. They are presented as a revolutionary new tech that allowed heavy cavalry to become dominant around 1000 AD. But there is at least some evidence they were known of for hundreds, maybe 700 years earlier. But the military revolution required the stirrup to be put together with heavy cavalry who were prepared to use them, and adopt the changes in lances, shields, and tactics they allowed. (Also, I imagine there is a lot of detailed differences between the first stirrups and the ones we know.)

    -I don't know there is any technological barrier stopping Roman, or Greek, or even earlier bowmen from just making their bows bigger and heavier and using them like the English longbow armies. It was a matter of organising enough men to be doing a dozen hours of heavy bow practice per week for years to be able to field such armies. And accepting that steel tipped arrows are important enough for the king to pay for a million of them to equip such troops.

  48. May 01, 2019quanticle said...

    Here's an interesting Reuters article on the rise of the Chinese Navy. I like the fact that it breaks down naval capabilities by ship type, instead of falling into the old alarmist trap of arguing that just because China has more ships in total, its navy must somehow be equal in strength to the US Navy.

    I'll defer to more expert opinions about its conclusions, but to my inexpert reading, it's better than the 90% of the articles about the Chinese Navy which fall into either arguing that the US Navy has no chance or that victory is trivial.

  49. May 01, 2019quanticle said...


    It's not just a matter of tipping the arrows with steel. It's also a matter of inventing the bodkin point which concentrates the impact force over an extremely small surface area and allows steel-tipped arrows to penetrate chain (and at close range, even plate) mail.

  50. May 02, 2019bean said...


    The theory that the stirrup was behind the rise of heavy cavalry is controversial to say the least. As for longbows and more specifically longbowmen, those were really hard to generate because you had to train from childhood to be good with them. This was often a problem for the English, because there were lots of things more fun and more profitable than longbow practice. Also, note that metallurgy in the middle ages was better than that of antiquity, which can explain a lot.

  51. May 02, 2019bean said...


    An interesting article, and with no really big errors, which is impressive in this day and age. I do think they did a little bit of distinction-blurring by lumping diesel and nuclear submarines together, but it's one of the better summaries I've seen.

    There is an American response to all of this, and it's further along than most people think, but it hasn't attracted much public notice yet.

  52. May 03, 2019AlphaGamma said...

    The name for the RN's fourth SSBN has been announced. My (figurative) money was on Resolution, bean's was on Churchill or Conqueror (or possibly Barham.

    Instead they have thrown a complete curveball and gone for HMS King George VI.

    I will have to do some looking to find the last time the Royal Navy gave a ship a name that had never been used before...

  53. May 03, 2019bean said...

    Well that was unexpected. It's only, what, 80 years or so late.

    I'm sure they used new names during WWII. I'm about 50/50 on them having done so since then.

  54. May 04, 2019AlphaGamma said...

    @bean: I've done some digging and think the County-class destroyers Fife and Glamorgan (ordered 1961, commissioned 1966, sold to Chile in the late 1980s) were the first RN ships with those names.

    The patrol boats Example and Exploit, currently in service, are also the first vessels in the RN to use their names, but they were already named when the Navy acquired them from the disbanded Royal Naval Auxiliary Service in 1994.

  55. May 04, 2019Directrix Gazer said...

    Today in "life is weirder than fiction:" bioluminescent, antibiotic-producing bacteria colonized the wounds of Civil War soldiers at the Battle of Shiloh, potentially raising their chances of survival while also lending the injuries a ghostly blue glow.


  56. May 05, 2019bean said...


    Huh. I'm rather surprised that they didn't use those in WWII. I'm sure the SNP and Plaid Cymru would claim this was the fault of the English.


    Interesting. I've been to Shiloh, but it was a long time ago, and I don't remember them mentioning that.

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