May 06, 2019

Open Thread 25

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

Reader quanticle found a good article on the development of the Chinese navy. It's well-balanced, and the only real objection is that they lumped diesel and nuclear submarines together.

Overhauled posts include the last three parts on main guns, Life Aboard Iowa, So You Want to Build a Modern Navy - Strategy Part 1, and my review of Midway and Russian Battleships Part 3.


  1. May 06, 2019Aapje said...

    Some of you might be interested in this music video that is about the Bismarck. I thought the song was very mediocre, but the visuals were interesting.

  2. May 06, 2019bean said...

    That song was the runner-up for "interesting thing of the OT". I rather like it, particularly as it doubles the list of Sabaton naval songs I don't hate. (Wolfpack is good if historically suspect. Midway is one of my least favorite of their songs.) I'm just annoyed that they keep getting obvious naval links in their albums and not taking them. Samar would have been a perfect choice for The Last Stand, and the forthcoming Great War album has no naval stuff either.

  3. May 06, 2019Tarpitz said...

    What's going on with the locket/watch/whatever it is? Didn't entirely follow that.

  4. May 06, 2019Aapje said...

    The captain scratched the location on the watch, presumably when the rudder jammed and they could merely steam in circles. It could also be a reference to the discovery of the wreck or even the theory that the ship was scuttled.

  5. May 06, 2019Aapje said...

    Phil Ochs also wrote two great songs about doomed vessels, the nuclear submarines USS Thresher and USS Scorpion. Different genre, though.

  6. May 06, 2019John Schilling said...

    They forgot to include the cat. Granted, cats and metal are not a typical combination, but Oskar is probably the most metal cat in naval history.

  7. May 06, 2019Andrew Hunter said...

    I recently discovered Sabaton and quite like them, but agree that their best songs are all land-based. Rorke's Drift, Winged Hussars, Hill 3234, The Last Stand...that album slaps.

  8. May 06, 2019bean said...

    Sabaton has a history channel, and they did a video on this song. I’m sure the answer is in there. Unfortunately, they did one of the few things guaranteed to make me the most angry, opening the video by describing Bismarck as “the biggest battleship ever built.” Yes, I know there are all sorts of qualifications that you can put on that statement to make it true, but without those qualifications, I believe the only just sentence is 3 days Piss & Porridge (bread & water) in the brig on one of the Iowas. This is not a hard detail to get right.

    But I persevered. Other errors:

    1. Massive oversimplification of Germany’s place in the treaty structure. The Anglo-German naval agreement significantly loosened the restrictions on the Kriegsmarine, it didn’t tighten them.

    2. “If it was to go toe-to-toe with French battleships”, then shows a picture of Fantasque, which is definitely not a battleship.

    3. Terrible explanation of the armor scheme. Also, claims of 44% on protection, which contradicts Friedman at 38.9%. (I’m still waiting for the new D&G book, so this one could be true, but I’m not impressed after 2:55).

    4. “Bismarck had a top speed of 30.8 kts, enough to outrun any potential threat.” Hood made over 32 kts on trials. I won’t swear she was as fast 20 years later, but I’m also not feeling merciful.

    5. I think he’s confusing recoil with blast damage. I’ve never heard of recoil damaging any battleship’s equipment. Blast damage happens a lot.

    This is only 5 minutes in. I’m really not impressed. I’d be willing to let most of these go, except for the first error, which is infuriating. Seriously, what is it about the people that makes them break everything they touch at sea?

    (They did a video on Iowa once, and it was even worse. Seriously, some of the errors are things I don’t think they could have done if they’d tried. They’re a sponsor, and there are lots of people who can distinguish between the reduction gearbox in EM2 and a boiler. Also, whoever chose to feature a possibly-apocryphal story about FDR bonding with Vickie, the ship’s dog, instead of the Porter story, gets a fail in storytelling. Not all of their stuff is this bad, and Nicholas Moran in particular is very good. And I'm grateful for their work in preservation of history. But they seem to make a lot of mistakes with bizarre regularity.)

  9. May 07, 2019bean said...

    Some of my friends have been playing with the latest GPT-2 implementation, and I decided to join the fun with naval-related prompts:

    The greatest battleship in history was USS Iowa (BB-61). She is a massive ship. At 55 tons it dwarfs most medium-class warships. But it is also the largest of its class. This was the largest battleship of World War II and the reason it sank in January 1943. After WWII, Iowa was the first warship built at Norfolk’s Portsmouth yard. She was built in a very conservative manner: with no more than 32 tons of ammunition and with a crew of only 16 including a quartermaster, gunner, and his gunner. Iowans were meant to be used for convoy escorts or escort escorts to coastal targets, which made them a relatively quick-paced battleship. At 65 feet 8 inches at full beam (8,450 feet) and a displacement of 12,450 tons she is actually slightly smaller in size than some cruisers but actually larger in displacement. There are exceptions to this rule though: her displacement is not as low with a displacement of 12,450 tons but she also weighs in around 2,200 tons and carries only 535 passengers and 600 soldiers. This makes Iowa easy to handle if you’re carrying 6 and it’s not difficult to get her back to action. The gun fire of Iowa is an interesting combination of steel and shell; there is no conventional gun system

    It gives a reasonably coherent (for an AI, at least) description of a patrol boat, then a reasonably coherent description of a cruiser. Of course, it thinks they’re the same ship.

    What was the most powerful battleship of WWII? It was the destroyer USS Indianapolis, and one of its battleships suffered terrible losses. When it arrived at Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the most powerful battleship in the Pacific, the Battleship Iowa, was severely damaged, forced to turn and return to Pearl Harbor alone. This is a battle with the greatest cost to the United States in history. How did the Omaha Scale Battleship battle system in the Pacific end up in the Navy’s most powerful battleships the battleships the USS Wisconsin, the battleships the USS Chicago and the battleships the USS Wyoming? In the early 1940s a company called General Dynamics and American Ordnance put forth designs for a fighting ship class that had the hull built to carry the nuclear warheads needed to destroy a battleship on land. The idea was to create the USS New Jersey. The New Jersey was the first battleship to carry a nuclear warhead since WWII. And the ship had to carry it, because the enemy had a lot of land-based weapons. The New Jersey’s weapons were very powerful and could be used to destroy a battleship. In 1943, General Dynamics completed its plan, and the battleship class was officially developed.

    Well, it names 3 of the 4 Iowas, so points for effort. Also, I love “could be used to destroy a battleship on land”.

  10. May 07, 2019Chuck said...
    a fighting ship class that had the hull built to carry the nuclear warheads needed to destroy a battleship on land.

    OGRE, anyone?

  11. May 07, 2019IsANobody said...

    With tail-sitters like Northrop Grumman's Tern back in the news, is there a chance that we'll see carriers go away in favor of more distributed aviation assets? Sort of like VLS has done for missiles.

  12. May 07, 2019John Schilling said...

    True vertical-takeoff aircraft suffer a huge performance hit compared to conventional takeoff; you're talking about the aerodynamic equivalent of climbing a rope when the other guy is walking up a ramp. When you see "VTOL" aircraft being used in direct combat applications, that's almost always "STOVL", short takeoff and vertical landing, where they use a few hundred feet of deck space and ideally a ramp to get the fully-loaded aircraft into the air. The near-empty aircraft can land vertically, or perform a brief airshow routine, but see bean's Falklands-war series for the limitations of trying to fight a war that way.

    Also, your operations tempo goes way down if you can't carry a full-service aircraft maintenance and repair depot with you, which puts a minimum scale on effective aviation ships.

    I think, though I haven't convinced our host, that an effective 21st-century take on the Light Fleet Carrier could be built on a 30-40,000 ton hull, but even there I'm not convinced it would be more effective on a per-ton or per-dollar basis than Nimitz-sized ships. That was mostly a proposal for small navies that need carriers but don't want to put all their aviation eggs into the one full-sized basket they could afford. Which is what the actual Light Fleet Carriers turned out to be really good at.

    10,000 ton mini-carriers, almost certainly aren't going to work out any time soon

  13. May 07, 2019bean said...

    Highly unlikely. The problem is that sophisticated aircraft require sophisticated support systems, which would have to be duplicated. A carrier is a lot more than just a flat deck. Also, the tail-sitter configuration doesn’t work that well. It may be marginally superior to a helicopter for some stuff, but it’s not a game-changer. As usual, we’ve been here before.


    That's finally in the post queue for later in the month.

  14. May 08, 2019doctorpat said...

    Since the last round of tailsitters we've had SpaceX demonstrate that modern controls lets you do them reliably, even coming in from hypersonic speeds.

    Doesn't solve the fuel issue though.

  15. May 08, 2019doctorpat said...

    And from Bean's comment I’ve never heard of recoil damaging any battleship’s equipment. Blast damage happens a lot.

    Let me quote from an earlier Bean article: the USS South Dakota at the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. When she first opened fire, the shock caused a circuit breaker to close, connecting two different power phases and knocking out power throughout much of the ship for about a minute. One thing led to another and the ship was quite badly messed up.

  16. May 08, 2019AlphaGamma said...

    The previous reason I saw given for distributed aviation/mini-carriers was that drones, being lighter and not having to carry a squishy pilot, could take off/land in a much smaller area. See, for instance, the UXV Combatant.

  17. May 08, 2019AlphaGamma said...

    In land-ships news: Today I learned about the French Régiment Blindé de Fusiliers-Marins which fought for the Allies in WW2. It was a unit of French sailors from destroyed or unserviceable ships, using American M10 tank destroyers fitted with French naval rangefinders and named after French warships.

  18. May 08, 2019bean said...


    Control was one of the big issues in the 50s (when everyone was looking at this problem), but it's been fairly trivial to solve for the last couple of decades. SpaceX's big innovation was doing vertical landing on a rocket with relatively minimal equipment and engines they can't throttle down far enough to actually hover, IIRC.

    As for that quote, I was talking about blast in an overview article. Recoil is something that's fairly easy to quantify and thus a simple engineering problem. I know how fast I want the shell to come flying out of the gun and how much it will weigh. This, plus some factors to account for the powder, tell me how much impulse I have to deal with. I then work out how long of a stroke that needs with the hydraulics I have available. This isn't to say you can't get it wrong (I believe some of the Russian pre-dreads had recoil system problems) but it's ultimately just another load, and we know how to deal with those. (Other things to keep in mind are that Washington had the same guns, and was fine, and that the potential recoil-induced motion of the ship is fairly small.)

    Blast is very different. It's not a well-defined location, and can cover a surprisingly large portion of the ship. To fit everything in, you're going to need to put stuff within the areas blast will affect. And there are bearings that you won't use in peacetime that you will in wartime, which might turn out to have stuff under them you didn't think about that can cause problems.


    The advantages of drones in that respect are often overstated. If your payload is light (a camera or two) then drones work really well. But we're talking about hauling around bombs and combat systems, which are heavy. UVX looks like the sort of paper design, which, when worked out more seriously, turns out to be twice the size originally promised. There was a lot of that kind of stuff flying around 10-15 years ago. Some of it even got built, unfortunately.

  19. May 08, 2019Jade Nekotenshi said...

    UXV Combatant looks rather like a modern take on a Kiev, only it doesn't know what it's meant to be doing. Drones plus a 155mm gun and only 20 VLS cells? What's the mission? If it's shore support, you need more VLS, and it's far from clear that drones are useful for strike warfare or CAS. If it's ASW, you'll want more VLS, if only to hold ASROC-equivalents with enough Asters or ESSMs to stop a few Sunburns or the equivalent, and you don't need the 155mm gun - you'd be better off with a pair of 76mm SR.

    All in all it looks like an answer to a question nobody asked, that doesn't do any of its missions especially well. It might be useful if drones can do everything manned aircraft can do, but it barely has enough VLS to defend itself, and the 155mm is a strange choice unless you're doing land bombardment.

    As far as drones replacing manned aircraft, I don't just mean dogfighting or even BVR air-to-air - that's possibly the least important part, if your SAMs are good enough. (SAMs can't replace air superiority, but they can suffice for air defense.) I mostly mean strike, CAS, ASW, electronic attack, early warning and reconnaissance.

  20. May 08, 2019bean said...

    UXV isn't completely nonsensical, and it's not a completely terrible answer to a question lots of people were asking from the early 90s through about 2008. This was the era when the Soviets were gone, China was still a joke, and there were no peer competitors at sea. So naval forces had to work mostly on how they were going to affect land battles. And for, say, hunting pirates in Somalia, it's not a terrible platform. You have VLS in case someone lobs a couple of Silkworms at you (which is about the extent of the threat, because this isn't meant for working off a peer competitor's coast) and maybe for a few Tomahawks. There's enough volume for the special forces people, and you can give them appropriate transport and surveillance support with the big flight deck. And the 155 is a fairly cheap way of blowing up things in a permissive environment. It's sort of like a super-LCS, but without the absurd speed. Today, it looks silly because we're thinking about peer competitors again, and have remembered that ships which can fight them are also pretty good in limited-war roles.

  21. May 08, 2019Jade Nekotenshi said...

    Oh, good point, that does make more sense. If the intended mission is special forces support, terrorist harassment and anti-piracy, then the design does make a bit of sense.

  22. May 08, 2019bean said...

    Cross-posted from SSC, when someone was asking about genres we'd like to see more of.

    Solid historical naval fiction. Modern stuff wouldn't go amiss, but there doesn't seem to be much in terms of WWII stuff going on.

    Actually, what I really want is a big-budget miniseries version of Morison's History of the United States Navy in WWII.

    I'd set the framing story as the 10-year reunion of the Annapolis class of 1936. Take a group of friends from that class who lost touch, and are running into each other for the first time in a while. The obvious subject of discussion - "What did you do during the war?" They went into different fields, and did different things. Work out plausible careers for each man, and drop them into minor roles in the big battles. One was a surface warfare officer who spent time hunting U-boats in the Atlantic, then was on Washington at Guadalcanal, and went on to command a destroyer off Okinawa. Another was a carrier pilot who fought at Midway and the Philippine Sea. A third was a logistics officer who bounced all over, which lets them shine light on the various minor theaters. "We fought in the Aleutians?" There was one of their number who went into submarines, and was lost with his boat, but enough details got back to one of them that he can tell the story. This also lets the framing story analyze what's going on for the viewer's benefit. Particularly if their wives are around. (Which lets you tell home-front stories, too. From my perspective, that's annoying, but probably necessary.) Depending on the man, his story is either an episode or a couple of episodes. And you could easily have other people drift over if you want to keep going.

  23. May 08, 2019Johan Larson said...

    The problem with such a miniseries may be cost. Showing naval battles costs real money in models or location shooting or CGI, depending on how you do it. If you have to do it on the cheap, either it looks crappy or everything big happens just off screen.

    I suppose you could save a bit of money by explaining one of the battles through an after-action review or court martial. That would let you get away with showing realistic ships only briefly, with much of the time spent talking and maybe illustrating using some sort of plotting tables and charts.

    Maybe another could be done through the eyes of a unit of combat photographers. That would let you use period footage of a conflict.

  24. May 09, 2019doctorpat said...

    Do it all in animation!

    But try to avoid turning all the ships into teenage girls.

  25. May 09, 2019bean said...

    I talked this over with Lord Nelson (who has a degree in the field) and I'm not sure the animation would be as bad as you think. It's mostly ships and airplanes, which are nice and rigid. Any moving bits are well-defined. And there aren't all that many types of ship. If you make a Fletcher-class destroyer model for Guadalcanal, you really only need to swap a few bits around for Okinawa. She thinks the big problem is going to be water, which is hard to model even today. I suspect that you could get around a lot of the problem with cinematography. "No, we aren't going to do a lot of close-ups of the Kirishima in good lighting. Our hero is on the Washington, and it's night. Kirishima is not very visible, and the cheap solution for the waterline looks fine." The other thing is that you're looking at doing a lot of the same kind of animation, which is probably a good way to drive the marginal cost way down. If you have a lot of the art assets, you've spent money developing or licensing good water-rendering technology, and your team is in practice, doing another episode seems like it might be pretty cheap.

    The court-martial is a good idea, although it would probably be "I was on the court-martial of a captain that did X..." and let you talk about a story that doesn't really fit any of the people who are talking at the reunion. (On the other hand, I can't think of a good court-martial to dramatize this way. Maybe you could do someone who was diverting supplies onto the black market or something.)

    The other area I see that might need development is damage simulation, but that's another case that you can probably shoot around in a lot of cases.

  26. May 13, 2019Johan Larson said...

    Let's make a few changes to your life history. You were born in 1948. You are an American, and male. This means you graduated from high school in the class of 1966, if you went to high school at all. It also makes you just the right age to be drafted into the Vietnam War.

    Assuming you are you in personality and other aspects of your life history to the extent it makes sense given the other edits, how close would the Vietnam War have hit? Would you have fought in the war? Voluntarily or as a draftee? Protested it? Left the country?

    In my case, I would probably have stayed out of the war. I can easily see myself as a die-hard 1960s cold warrior, and enlisting in 1966 to fight the communists would have been on my mind. But my rather more liberal parents would have been against it. My father, who in this counterfactual would have been drafted into WWII in a non-combat position, could have spoken with great authority on what military service actually entailed. They would probably have been able to persuade me to do my part by going to work for a defence contractor instead. Accordingly, I would have gone to college, studied engineering, and stayed out of the draft through education exemptions. And in 1970 a young electrical engineer would have joined the staff of McDonnell-Douglas.

  27. May 13, 2019bean said...

    I'd almost certainly have ended up in Vietnam. Even IRL I was probably headed for the military if not for ADD meds making me ineligible. For a long time I wanted to go into the Marines, although the specific drivers wouldn't show up. In a slightly different history, I end up on the New Jersey offshore. That would be great.

    But failing that, I'd probably end up in the same starting class at McDonnell Douglas. (By far the most likely company, as I grew up in St. Louis.)

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