August 12, 2019

Open Thread 32

It's our regular open thread. Talk about anything you want that isn't culture war.

Interesting thing of the thread is the tale of HMS Victorious in the US Pacific Fleet.

Posts overhauled since last time include Information, Communication and Naval Warfare Part 1, So You Want to Build a Modern Navy - Aviation Part 3, The Operational Intelligence Center, Nautical Measurements, and Falklands Part 5.

Comments

  1. August 12, 2019Ryan C said...

    Bean, I’ve been on a bit of a tank jag of late, and it got me into naval logistics. One of the assertions is that the M4 Shermans ended up the size they were partly because it fit efficiently into two parts of the logistical chain: they could go on flatbed rail cars, and they could be lifted by standard Liberty Ship deck cranes.

    Comments?

  2. August 12, 2019Neal said...

    A few weeks ago Bean published an article on catapulting aircraft from ships other than carriers.

    By chance, I ran across this 1940 Royal Navy training film that show the steps taken to launch and recover. Obviously it went faster in practice than in this film, but I was amazed at the number of steps required and time involved.

    Watching the ground crew stand under the wings of the launching aircraft make one wonder, to say the least, about some of the safety practices...

    For a real look into the past: https://youtu.be/6dmNyts7f1w

  3. August 12, 2019cassander said...

    @ryanc

    there's a quite good video here on the history of the sherman design and why it ended up the way that it did.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TwIlrAosYiM

    Jonathan Parshall, one of the authors of Shattered Sword, also has a comparative look at armored vehicle production in the US, Germany, and Russia that comes to much the same conclusion from a very different angle.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N6xLMUifbxQ

  4. August 12, 2019quanticle said...

    This might have been answered in another open thread, but why aren't warships armored any more? I'm comparing the armor on say, the USS Iowa (or even a heavy cruiser like the USS Baltimore) to modern warships and I'm wondering when and why the US Navy decided that armor protection was pointless on non-carrier warships.

    Do modern anti-ship missiles render even battleship levels of armor pointless?

  5. August 13, 2019Chuck said...

    @quanticle

    I think that while there might be issues in terms of effectiveness vs. modern weapons, a big part of it is just a question of lineage. The classes of ships that were traditionally armored have been discontinued, while the classes we produce today, carriers and destroyers, were not armored.

    That said, I believe that modern destroyers incorporate armor. It is not the honkin' big steel plate found in older ships, as that would be easily defeated by modern antiarmor warheads, but involves gapped steel to defeat HEAT warheads and kevlar splinter protection. In my opinion the biggest threat that modern ships face is lack of adequate compartmentalization. In one post bean talks some about this, naval vessels have more wires and conduits crossing throughout the ship than ever, and keeping everything watertight in the event of damage is a huge challenge.

  6. August 13, 2019Daib said...

    The trend of unarmored warships emerged largely from the early Cold War, where it was believed that nuclear antiship weapons like the T-5 torpedo and the P-700 would be used in the event of the Third World War between the Warsaw Pact and NATO. No amount of armor is going to save a ship from a multi-kiloton nuclear device, so it was dropped almost entirely.

    While tactical nuclear weapons aren't the primary threat today, we're still largely using kit like the Burke or Tico that were designed in that era, hence very lightly armed surface combatants.

  7. August 13, 2019Jade Nekotenshi said...

    Part of the reason why they've discontinued adding significant armor is not so much that modern ASCMs would penetrate it, but rather that they can mission-kill ships even if the armor isn't penetrated. You can armor gun turrets and maybe even rangefinders to the point that they can withstand being pounded, but not really missile launchers or fire control radars, and as far back as Bismarck you can see examples of electrical cables outside the armor being severed in ways that severely hamper the ship. If you can get your opponent down to lobbing shells aimed by Mark 1 Eyeballs, you've essentially won. At the very least, you've eliminated their ability to stop you from getting an AP bomb or a heavyweight torpedo into launch position (and we know from bitter experience that those sink battleships just fine).

    As for how much armor exists now, I can't seem to find hard, unclassified data on carriers except for a few sources that say the Kitty Hawks had "heavy cruiser grade" armor, which makes a bit of sense, since the old Essex and Midway classes certainly did. As for surface combatants, Arleigh Burkes have some splinter protection, either heavier steel skin or kevlar, on some key areas. It's not enough to stop a direct hit by anything bigger than a smallish autocannon, and maybe not even that, but that's not the point - the idea is to contain bomb/shell/missile splinters enough that you have to hit the system in question to kill it - the next room over isn't necessarily good enough.

  8. August 13, 2019bean said...

    @Ryan

    I'm not a tank guy, and I don't have sources to hand right now, but both of those sound plausible. Rail transportation is a must for armored vehicles. They wear out too quickly on their own tracks, and rail was very important back then without the interstates. It still is today, actually. As for booms, IIRC standard sizes were 5, 15, 30 and 50 tons. Liberty ships had all of them. I could see "please keep it under 30 tons for handling reasons" being an initial design requirement, although it doesn't seem to have lasted very well.

    (I actually think the Sherman is generally a very underrated tank, but that's an issue for another day.)

  9. August 13, 2019bean said...

    @quanticle

    Chuck, Daib and Jade have covered this pretty well. One other aspect is that it's a lot easier to build a more powerful AShM/warhead than a better-armored ship. The big Soviet/Russian AShMs are already designed to deal with armored vessels (carriers), although maybe not ones as heavily armored as battleships.

    @Jade

    The canonical example of light damage taking out a warship is Brilliant being disabled by a cannon shell to her data bus. (Falklands Part 14).

  10. August 13, 2019doctorpat said...

    I thought of it as sort of like how nobody bothered with body armour or even helmets in the 18th and 19th century. (Except for special rare groups like the French cuirassiers.)

    They could make armour that would stop the musket balls of the day, but they knew that it would be fairly easier to just boost up the power of the muskets to punch through anything that was light enough to wear. So it was an arms race that nobody bothered to start, because everyone knew how it would end.

    And they'd already seen it, because in earlier centuries that's just how it played out. Armour got thicker and thicker, muskets got more and more powerful, armour eventually became impracticable.

    So everyone abandoned armour, muskets were downsized again because the high power wasn't needed any more, everyone was happy.

    EXCEPT: The French cuirassier heavy cavalry. If you are only a small, rare group then you can get away with it because you aren't common enough for everyone else to bother arming up just in case they face that one special group.

    NB: That's why in the 1500s the "musketeers" were elite special forces. They were trained and able to use the high powered armour piercing guns for taking down the heavily armoured cavalry (who tended to be knights and nobles and hence officers and so important). The average footsoldier at the time was using an arquebus which was much weaker (and cheaper and lighter and used lower tech ignition systems). It was only after the armour was driven from the field that "muskets" were downsized and issued to the common soldier.

  11. August 13, 2019Directrix Gazer said...

    @doctorpat

    Most of the major armies of the day had cuirassiers as the heaviest of their heavy cavalry, not just the French, though your general point stands.

  12. August 14, 2019DampOctopus said...

    @quanticle

    One more consideration, to add to those already raised by Chuck, Daib and Jade:

    Pre-missile armour layouts were optimised to protect against attacks likely to hit specific parts of the ship. Short-range gunfire will generally hit the side of the ship, so you need a thick armoured belt; long-range plunging fire will hit the deck, but the shells will be slower, so your deck armour doesn't need to be so thick.

    Anti-ship missiles can perform terminal maneouvres to determine what part of the ship they hit: for example, a last-minute pop-up maneouvre so they hit the ship from above. This means that, if you want to armour against missiles, you need armour everywhere. If you skimp on armour somewhere, your enemy's missiles will be programmed to hit that spot. Such an all-over armouring scheme is impractical, so the best option is to just give up, and go (nearly) unarmoured.

    (To the actual experts here: does this sound plausible?)

  13. August 14, 2019doctorpat said...

    @Directrix Gazer,

    Yes, reading the wikipedia confirms that there were many cuirassiers in many countries in the overall 18th and 19th centuries. I think I was vaguely remembering that

    1. Many countries except France had phased them out, at least in actual battlefield use, before the Napoleonic wars, though the success of the French caused the reintroduction of armoured heavy cavalry after 1815.

    2. The French kept them until 1930!

  14. August 19, 2019Jade Nekotenshi said...

    @Damp Octopus -

    Sounds plausible enough to me, with the added wrinkle that there are systems you need to fight a modern war that you can't meaningfully armor, like antennas and optics (and to a lesser extent, missile launchers - you can put splinter armor on a launch hatch cover, but probably not much more than that), which adds up to "no percentage in trying, even if you can armor everything else". Combine that with the issue of heavyweight torpedoes - it's hard to usefully armor against under-keel explosions, a problem noticed almost as far back as armored warships go, thanks to mines.

    There might be a role for a ship that's darn near unsinkable but can still be disabled, but I'm not exactly seeing it. Where armor might still be useful in modern times would be against threats that can't target precisely and that are throwing a lot of weak, cheap munitions that are too numerous to intercept with hard-kill defenses. Small boats with autocannon, the much-ballyhooed swarming cheap drones concept, that kind of thing, and I think it's marginal even there - it's usually cheaper to have better sensors and slag them before they can launch, or just get out of the way.

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