November 15, 2019

Open Thread 39

It's our regular open thread. Talk about anything you want.

The best time of year is upon us! No, not the holidays directly. The Naval Institute Press holiday sale! Everything is half off, and with free shipping. The Naval Institute Press produces about 75% of the books I use as the basis for this blog, so this is the best possible time to expand your naval library. Just be sure to use the coupon code HOLIDAY at checkout. It runs through 12/13, so be sure to get your orders in by then.

Good choices include the 14-volume set of Morison's History of US Naval Operations in WWII, Norman Friedman's US Battleships, World Naval Weapon Systems and Network-Centric Warfare, and the superb Nelson's Navy on the RN of that era. But there's a lot of other great stuff available, too, and I'd encourage you to take a look, particularly through the Clear the Decks discount collection, many of which are in the $5 range.

Several of you expressed some interest in donating to Naval Gazing, and I thought I'd provide you with the opportunity. Just to be clear, I have a good job, and definitely don't need the money. There are lots of people who could use it. But if you feel inclined, click here to donate through Paypal. Everything I get will go to the Naval Gazing Library Expansion Project. Again, don't feel any compulsion to give.

Overhauled posts since last time are Fire Control Part 2, Ballistics, US Battleships in World War II, Iowa Parts three and four, The Battleships of Pearl Harbor Parts one and two and The Battle of Lissa for 2017 and the museum ship lists for Europe and the rest of the world, ASW - Operations Research in the Atlantic, my review of the 45th Infantry Division Museum and Falklands Part 8 for 2018. As usual, the updates are confined to link updates and refined grammar.


  1. November 15, 2019Directrix Gazer said...

    I estimate that between taking from the clearance section and the Holiday discount I saved about 75% on this haul:

    1. Grab Their Belts to Fight Them (Viet Cong large-unit infantry tactics and operations)

    2. Strike Warfare in the 21st Century

    3. Riders of the Apocalypse (German horse cavalry from the Franco-Prussian War to World War II, inclusive)

    4. Dog Company Six (Korean War novel)

    5. The U.S. Nuclear Arsenal (One of Polmar's survey books)

    6. Torpedo - The Complete History of the World’s Most Revolutionary Naval Weapon

    7. Underground Structures of the Cold War

    8. Bankrupting the Enemy (US economic policy towards Japan in the interwar period)

  2. November 15, 2019dong said...

    I discovered this site through an SSC open thread a couple weeks ago and have taken great pleasure in diving into all the old posts. Are there any similarly formatted blogs out there that offer a quality take on a focused topic? Subject matter could be anything, my instinct is that projects like these don't tend to rise very high in search results and depend on word of mouth to widen their audience.

  3. November 15, 2019bean said...

    @Directrix Gazer

    I have 4 of those. Strike Warfare is pretty basic and not really that great, but it's also cheap. The Polmar is fairly typical for him. Good but not great. Torpedo has a lot of interesting stuff, but it's far from complete. Underground structures is interesting.

  4. November 15, 2019cassander said...

    If we're doing recommendations:

    Engineering the F-4 Phantom is supposed to be amazing, but I haven't read it yet

    Japanese Destroyer Captain is excellent, an account of the war from the Jansen perspective by the only destroyer skipper in 1941 to survive the war.

    Nomonhan, 1939 is crucial to understanding Soviet and (to a lesser degree) Japanese decision making in the years prior to the war.

    The first team books are the best examination of the early years of the Pacific War.

    And I'm not sure why it's here, but Field Artillery and Firepower is a fantastic introduction to the subject.

  5. November 15, 2019Neal said...

    I almost hate to ask, but has anyone seen Midway yet?

    I am always split on these kind of films. Yes, they are entertainment and not rigorous scholarship, but sometimes the writing and recreations can be much so that it just ruins the entire viewing experience.

    So not to be a stick-in-the-mud, I am debating pulling SWMBO along to see it. But, knowing the level of expertise on this thread and the knowledge of the history that many here have surrounding this battle, I can easily be dissuaded if someone made the sacrifice already and found it downright painful.

  6. November 15, 2019Directrix Gazer said...


    See John Schilling's post here.


    Thank you, Field Artillery and Firepower in particular looks like a must have.

  7. November 15, 2019Neal said...


    Thank you. Exactly what I was looking for. John's long-form review, should he write one, will be worthy reading.

  8. November 15, 2019Alsadius said...

    @Dong: The only one that comes to mind as a focused blog (other than a political focus - we can all find those by the thousand) is The Alexandrian, which is about roleplaying games, with a heavy focus on how to run them skillfully. The author is now the RPG designer for a mid-tier publisher, so it's not just amateur stuff, but he's been doing it since long before he got that job. The best starting point is his Gamemastery 101 series, which is a bit sprawling, but excellent. Totally changed the way I think of running games.

  9. November 16, 2019quanticle said...

    I have War in the Shallows: US Navy Coastal and Riverine Warfare in Vietnam: 1965 - 1986, by the Naval History and Heritage Command on my reading list.

  10. November 16, 2019quanticle said...

    I should also note that the author of War in the Shallows also wrote this excellent article on the experience of the US Navy in the Mekong Delta during the Tet Offensive. He goes into detail on how the Cold War Navy, focused on blue-water operations against a Soviet threat, was forced to learn new skills to fight against the small vessels that North Vietnam was using to resupply Viet Cong forces in the Mekong Delta.

  11. November 16, 2019quanticle said...


    If you're at all interested in the history of computers and computing, I highly recommend The Digital Antiquarian.

  12. November 16, 2019bean said...


    Aaahhh! Stop giving me more sources I have to check for the Vietnam section of riverine warfare! I have too many already, which is kind of a change for that series. (Seriously, I'm not going to go into great detail. There's lots of good sources, and I'm much more interested in the obscure corners of that field.)

    Also, digital version of that book is here.

  13. November 17, 2019John Schilling said...

    As promised, a full review of Roland Emmerich’s “Midway”. I couldn’t resist.

    OK, OK, If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. There are a couple of nice things about this movie. The visual effects, which I expect are mostly CGI, are quite good and mostly accurate. 1940s military hardware in action looks real, and if that plus lots of explosions will do it for you, fine. Also, the segments at Pearl with Chester Nimitz, Ed Layton, and Joseph Rochefort, were pretty good.


    Three lines to the first “that’s not right” moment; only a little one, but not a good sign. And by about twenty minutes, I had stopped trying to keep a mental list of “that can’t be right” moments to check out later. The bit with the dive bombers being sent out to deploy smoke screens over the torpedo bombers was early, egregious, and enough to convince me that this movie deserves a proper full-court MST3K treatment someday. This is not that day. But just to be clear, getting the technical details of naval warfare completely wrong every few minutes, is not this movie’s only or even greatest fault.

    Five minutes to the introduction of the protagonist we are clearly supposed to be cheering for, dive bomber pilot Dick Best. I hate this cinematic incarnation of him from the first moment. This is a character inspired by Top Gun’s “Maverick”, if only Simpson and Bruckheimer hadn’t wimped out and toned down their hero. Except, Tom Cruise has the charisma to command the screen even as a fat, balding, foul-mouthed middle-aged man, and Ed Skrein is no Tom Cruise. Also, Val Kilmer presented “Iceman’s” disciplined professionalism with enough dickishness that we wanted to see him taken down a notch even when we knew he was right. This movie won’t do that to e.g. Wade McClusky, but that just leaves us with real-life war hero and skilled pilot Dick Best turned into an idiotic caricature, and me wondering if maybe the Navy made him fly dive bombers because in a single-seat fighter there’d have been too much temptation for a friendly-fire “accident”.

    So that’s going to be a recurring problem; half the movie is focused on an unbearable protagonist

    Six minutes to the first missed opportunity to do something interesting and new. This movie’s 7 December 1941 starts on board the USS Enterprise, over a hundred miles from Pearl Harbor. The story of Pearl Harbor as experienced by people who were just too far away to do anything about it, with only a confused understanding of what is happening and with us only seeing the carnage as the Big E’s crew saw it on the 8th, that would be something I’ve never seen before

    We don’t get that story, because we need to see a ten-minute compression of the movie “Pearl Harbor”. Again. Because maybe somebody in the audience doesn’t know that’s why Americans were so peeved with Japan in 1942, and because Roland Emmerich wants to show that he has better special effects than Michael Bay. In Emmerich’s version, the American fleet was sunk almost entirely by strafing.

    Also, this version has the USS Enterprise single-handedly counterattacking the Japanese fleet immediately after Pearl Harbor. Missing contact due to faulty intelligence and because apparently there are some limits to how badly Emmerich is willing to break history. But it gives Ed Skrein a chance to whine about how The Man won’t let him kill Japs like he wants, and remind us that he’s the hero who is going to single-handedly win the war.

    Note that I still haven’t mentioned anything about the Battle of Midway. That’s not an accident. By my watch, it wasn’t until fifty-five minutes into the movie that we saw anything that would even count as preparation for the Battle of Midway. Because we had to have the Doolittle Raid, and the Marshalls Raid, and there was something about the Battle of the Coral Sea but since Dick Best wasn’t present for that one you’ll miss it if you blink. And we have to see Jimmy Doolittle traipsing around China with his partisan friends for some reason. A few bits with Yamamoto in Japan, because all the other movies do that. Basically an hour devoted to a highlight reel of every pre-Midway event that A: the audience has heard of and/or B: involved Dick Best or at least C: can be fictionally rewritten to involve Dick Best.

    Which is the other insurmountable problem with this movie: Pacing and focus, or rather lack thereof.

    The idea of telling the story of the Early Pacific War as experienced by a squadron of American dive-bomber pilots who don’t get to know much of the big picture but are in the middle of the big events, could have been interesting. It would have needed a better protagonist than Ed Skrein’s version of Dick Best, obviously, but more importantly it would have taken more than an hour to tell. Which this movie can’t afford, because it’s also trying to tell the big-picture story of the entire first seven months of the Pacific War. The 15-20 minutes with Nimitz, Layton, and Rochefort work pretty well. The rest, is a highlights reel edited to incoherence.

    For example, we get plenty of clichéd war-movie melodrama about the pilot what has lost his confidence and the like. To make room for that, every fighter aircraft of the United States Navy is edited out of existence. There is literally not one single Wildcat to be seen anywhere. Midway is the battle where John Thatch taught American fighter pilots how to dogfight Zeroes and live. And, with half a dozen men of VF-3, occupied the attention of the Japanese CAP at Midway long enough for the bombers to do their job. That’s a story worth telling, but it would distract from the story where Ed Skrein single-handedly wins the war by being so badass that Zeroes can’t touch him. And maybe he felt insecure about not being a real fighter pilot like his hero Maverick so, no American fighters allowed in this version of Midway.

    This is balanced by the Japanese, who seem to have nothing but fighters at Midway. They strafe the crap out of the island at the outset, and they shoot down some American bombers whose pilots aren’t as badass as Skrein. And at some point the USS Yorktown gets sunk, which gets zero screen time, mentioned in passing as something that just sort of happened but meh, it’s not the Enterprise so it doesn’t matter. Presumably if it had been shown in detail, Yorktown would have been sunk by strafing.

    But the Yorktown gets only a minute or so in the entire movie. The story of her 72-hour repair and turnaround at Pearl, sailing into battle with hundreds of civilian dockyard workers aboard still doing patchwork repairs from the last battle, could have been told. Or cut because they didn’t have time to tell it. Instead, it gets one brief scene to say that the ship has been badly damaged but Nimitz demands immediate results, and another to say that A Miracle Has Occurred and the Yorktown is back with us. And I’m not sure, but I don’t think we saw the Hornet at all once she was done launching the Doolittle raid. But there was time for several scenes of John Ford filming the battle of Midway from Midway, a neat bit of historical trivia that completely justifies ignoring most of the US carrier fleet.

    There’s time for an establishing scene for the USS Nautilus, and a good bit for her ineffectual torpedo attack on a Japanese carrier. Not clear on why that was worth inclusion, but now we have maybe twenty seconds for the attack of Torpedo Eight. The American Charge of the Light Brigade, and enough people have heard of them that I guess Emmerich couldn’t ignore it completely, but meh, they weren’t dive bombers so who really cares? Dive bombers, can take twenty seconds to dive two thousand feet.

    They found the time to develop the character of William “Bull” Halsey, tolerably but clichéd. Except, Halsey wasn’t at Midway. And now there’s only time for I think three brief scenes with Spruance and none at all with Fletcher. The apparent chain of command is, Chester Nimitz receives a sitrep at Pearl, then McClusky and Best relay orders to their men in the ready room of the Enterprise. Maybe Nimitz is also telling the helmsman where to steer the ship?

    We get some scenes from the Japanese perspective, a bit of grand strategy, Yamamoto in his usual guise of the wise and noble warrior resigned to Japan’s nigh-inevitable fate, and Nagumo as a stupid arrogant stupid confused stupidhead. But not enough of the Japanese perspective to understand how they were seriously trying to win a crucial battle at Midway and how that fell apart around them. That entire fascinating story is replaced by scattered bits of “Nagumo stupid, Japan loses”, so why even waste time on that?

    But it’s not like they would have used the time to depict American operational strategy at Midway. Can’t afford that, not when we have to have just enough home-front scenes to say “yes we do too have female characters in this movie!” (I think three of them in total, and sharing two dimensions between them). Instead, the entire American battle plan is, Ed Layton tells Nimitz exactly when and where the Japanese fleet will be detected (narrator voice: he didn’t actually do that), so that Ed Skrein and his boys can take off in their CGI planes and make stuff blow up real good. And then do a bit of melodrama on the hangar deck, and then take off and do it again. Interspersed with quick shots of other people trying to make stuff blow up real good, but not being nearly as good at it as Ed Skrein.

    I’ve studied naval history well enough to know where this movie’s scenes fit into the actual events of June 1942. But this movie doesn’t really tell that story, will leave no one with any understanding of how or why the Americans won that battle and the Japanese didn’t. It doesn’t really try to tell any coherent story, except maybe Ed Skrein going from Ultimate Badass Dive Bomber Pilot to Ultimate Badass Dive Bomber Squadron Commander, and it doesn’t even do that right. Everything else, is just brief pretty cuts taken from the trailer of a better movie and thrown randomly on screen for a bit over two hours.

    Siskel and Ebert copyrighted “two thumbs down”, so I’m giving this movie “four Jap flattops” – nothing but spectacular flaming wreckage.

  14. November 17, 2019Alexander said...

    I've no explanation for the rest of it, but might the lack of Japanese bombers and American fighters be caused by economising on CGI models? Once you've made a pretty zero, just use it in any shot that requires a Japanese plane. And since it's a fighter rather than a bomber, it's just going to have to machine gun those battleships til they're on the bottom.

    Thanks for the review Ü

  15. November 17, 2019John Schilling said...

    I suspect that once they'd gone with editing VF-3 out of the attack on the Japanese fleet, ignoring the attacks on the Yorktown, and not having any American fighter pilots even as supporting characters, the bit where we don't even see Wildcats parked on the flight deck was probably "why bother paying for the CGI model?", yeah. And this is the producer who decided that the Pentagon had settled on the F-18 as its sole tri-service combat aircraft in "Independence Day". But given the overall budget and quantity of CGI, I can't believe it was modeling costs that drove those storytelling decisions in the first place.

  16. November 17, 2019Alexander said...

    It's a shame CGI hasn't lead to some good WWII films. It'd be very difficult to get enough surviving aircraft to do anything like 'Battle of Britain' or 'Tora Tora Tora' today, but CGI is good enough to mitigate that. I really liked Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk, which did a great job finding planes and ships that looked the part, but even that seemed to focus more on showing what it might have felt like than depicting the wider picture.

  17. November 17, 2019Neal said...

    Thank you John for that most informative and humorous summary. "Sharing two dimensions among them" is a line so good that you should consider copywriting it as it reflects a good many films that have lacked any semblance of character development. I'll have to crib that one for future use.

    This film sounds as if it is yet another completely wasted opportunity to tell a story that is more than compelling in its own right. Why oh why can't it be done right? Worse, why does anyone not want to do it right?

  18. November 17, 2019Doctorpat said...

    So I'm reading along, thinking "yeah, but what recent war movie was any better?" until Alexander mentions Dunkirk.

    Oh yeah. That. Well all right then, it is ABSOLUTELY possible to make a great war movie in 201X.

    No, Dunkirk didn't show anything about the greater scope, and how this battle affected the course of the war. But not every movie needs to do that.

  19. November 17, 2019bean said...

    John, thank you for that. I will definitely have to watch it. On DVD from the library. While Lord Nelson is out of the house so as not to disturb her with my ranting. Wow, that sounds like a mess.

  20. November 17, 2019John Schilling said...

    "I will definitely have to watch it. On DVD from the library"

    With the appropriate quantity of alcohol, and a select group of Naval Gazing readers to give this movie the full MTS3K treatment it so richly deserves.

    And a +1 to the commenters who have already noted that "Dunkirk" proves it is still possible to do war movies right. Decide which parts of the story you can tell, focus tight on those, and fill them with real people rather than stupid caricatures. But remembering that movie, just makes me see even more clearly how much better this one could have been.

  21. November 18, 2019CatCube said...

    It's worth noting that even They Shall Not Grow Old, though a documentary, succeeded because Peter Jackson made the deliberate decision to focus on one tiny part of WWI so he could tell one story more completely.

  22. November 18, 2019Gareth A said...

    "It’d be very difficult to get enough surviving aircraft to do anything like ‘Battle of Britain’ or ‘Tora Tora Tora’ today, but CGI is good enough to mitigate that"

    They could put together full-size replicas for maybe half a million each? Around 300k for 90% size replicas, and they would hold most of their value. No idea how that would compare cost-wise to CGI though. Replica Spitfires and Mustangs are much easier to find than any other aircraft though.

  23. November 18, 2019Alsadius said...

    Frankly, I thought Dunkirk was pretty weak. Brilliantly shot, yes, and plenty realistic, but just not a functional film. It looked like someone had been trying to make a bunch of half-hour TV episodes about vignettes from WW2, lost their time slot after the episodes had been produced, and slammed them all together with ten minutes of editing in order to release it as a film. If I didn't already know the story in a fair bit of detail, I'd never have been able to follow a bit of it. I expected much better from Christopher Nolan.

  24. November 18, 2019Johan Larson said...

    I found Dunkirk a bit confusing the first time I watched it. It used a broken timeline, which was part of the problem. Also, two of the protagonists looked similar enough that I confused the one for the other, since both were young skinny white men with dark hair, similar haircuts, and the same uniform. Not one of my favorites.

  25. November 18, 2019ADifferentAnonymous said...

    Meanwhile the USS Johnston movie announced in 2015 seems to have vanished into the ether. A shame, since I can't think of a better case of reality meeting Hollywood standards for improbably successful heroism.

  26. November 18, 2019Alexander said...


    I wasn't being quite fair to models and replicas by excluding them from my comment - it's not as if they found some flyable Zeros and Vals for 'Tora Tora Tora'. But it's the gradual improvements in CGI that I think ought to make possible recreation of scenes that would otherwise be very difficult or expensive to film.

    I quite enjoyed Dunkirk, but I doubt anyone would learn much about the evacuation by watching it. I reckon you could probably follow it without knowing the background, so long as you were mostly just watching to see what happened to the viewpoint characters. The anachronic timeline could be confusing, but is presumably important for pacing, and does mean you aren't kept waiting too long for your first glimpse of Spitfires.

    I'd probably be quite happy to watch some disconnected half hour episodes even if they didn't provide much context, as you can always read up afterwards, but I would quite like more films that show people making decisions, the information they had available, and the consequences.

  27. November 18, 2019John Schilling said...

    "I quite enjoyed Dunkirk, but I doubt anyone would learn much about the evacuation by watching it"

    They might learn something of what it felt like to be an British soldier on that beach. And that's the part that really benefits from having a movie to show it; the rest of it can be a few paragraphs in a history book or a Wikipedia page.

  28. November 18, 2019Alexander said...


    Yeah, that's fair, and I did say earlier that it "focus(ed) more on showing what it might have felt like than depicting the wider picture" in way that might have sounded like I thought that was a bad thing. To be clearer, I liked the film, think it was a good concept well executed, but would also like to see a 'wiki page at the cinema' even if it perhaps doesn't do as good a job as watching a more tightly focused film after reading about the event.

  29. November 18, 2019Neal said...

    Have to give credit to Nolan for at least mustering up three actual Spitfires for the filming of Dunkirk. It is reported that he had a Mark I and two Mark Vs at hand although a bit of cringing watching the one glide, engine out, for such an impossibly long distance.

    That and the point that it seemed while all else was going pear-shaped for the British forces, the regimental laundry was in working order as the soldiers portrayed seemed to be kitted out in rather fresh looking uniforms.

    Read a comment from a colleague today who took his wife to see Midway. As a Naval Aviator he was keen on the portrayal and did not read any reviews beforehand. He paraphrased that famous quip from the famous physicist Wolfgang Pauli that "it is not good enough to even be bad."

  30. November 19, 2019bean said...

    I remain amazed that we haven't seen a Samar movie. It's a really good story, and not that obscure. A biopic is the wrong way to do it, IMO, but I'd take it over the ringing silence we actually have.

  31. November 20, 2019Tarpitz said...

    The reviews Midway (which I will probably not bother with) have at least made me think of a Midway film I would like to make some day. You focus exclusively on a small group of characters with non-glamourous jobs somewhere inside Yorktown - an engine room, maybe. You start with Coral Sea, you cover the repairs at Pearl in the first half of the film, and you don't leave their perspective. No grand strategy, no Nimitz, no Spruance, Fletcher is at most a voice over comms, no exterior shots of any kind during the battle until they abandon ship.

  32. November 20, 2019Johan Larson said...

    Telling the story of the Battle of Midway from the point of view of one character is interesting. Making that character a mechanic inside a ship, well, that sounds a bit quirky.

    Can we do better? Did anyone see the whole thing?

    I guess one problem is that the very senior folks who have a sense of the whole battle are probably stuck in planning rooms somewhere, so they don't actually see anything more than markers on a board.

  33. November 20, 2019John Schilling said...

    "Can we do better? Did anyone see the whole thing?"

    Dick Best is actually not a bad choice as a viewpoint character for that story; he saw an awful lot of it, from a pretty spectacular vantage point, and he made a significant difference in the outcome. And from the perspective of scope, he was on the deck of the Big E when it sailed into Pearl on 12/8/41, and he was invalided out of Naval Aviation when he got back from sinking the Hiryu.

    So if you want to tell a warrior's-eye view of the Early Pacific War, he's your man. Just, make him about 98% less of an unbearable Dick.

    Also, you have to commit to telling that story, and when you e.g. learn the cool bit about how legendary filmmaker John Ford actually filmed the Battle of Midway, on Midway, that really is cool but it doesn't belong in this movie (and it isn't enough for a movie of its own). And there should be no Japanese characters whatsoever in that story, any more than there were e.g. German characters in Nolan's Dunkirk

    Midway couldn't make up its mind whether it wanted to be the story of one guy living through history, or a gloriously illustrated history lesson, and so failed at both. I'd have preferred either one, done right.

  34. November 20, 2019quanticle said...

    The Economist has a pair of articles [1] [2] on the vulnerability of modern aircraft carriers. The main criticism appears to be that carriers are "too big to fail", and thus no navy will risk losing one to enemy missiles. As a result, carriers will be forced to stay more than 1000km offshore, which will significantly reduce their strike capability, since carrier aircraft don't have the range that they used to, and a significant portion of each strike package will have to be refueling tankers rather than attack.

    I'm not sure I agree with all of it. I think that it underestimates the power of maneuver and ignores the fact that carriers are not expected to fight alone -- they are expected to fight as part of a combined-arms multi-domain force that will be using other means (land-based bombers, cyber-attacks, ASAT, etc) to degrade the enemy's ISR.

    On the other hand, one place where I did agree with the article is in its assessment of the suitability of aircraft carriers for smaller navies. The articles point out that while the US Navy has the necessary cruisers, destroyers and frigates to build carrier battle groups this is not true of other navies, such as the British or the French. Thus, for them, the acquisition of an aircraft carrier may seriously unbalance their naval forces, as they would not be able to sail their flagship carriers into contested waters without significant allied (read: US) support. Rather than spending billions of dollars on a single highly prestigious vessel, it might be better for these smaller navies to invest in cruisers and destroyers, both because they're more flexible and also because they synergize better with the US' carriers.

    I found the articles thought-provoking and I would be interested to hear the other commenters' opinions on the vulnerability of modern carrier battle groups, and the suitability of aircraft carriers for non-US navies.



  35. November 20, 2019quanticle said...

    I also want to draw attention to this chart from the second article linked above.

    What on earth were we flying in the '50s that allowed our carriers to have an average range of 1200 nautical miles?

  36. November 20, 2019bean said...

    The British do have the capability to field a carrier group. It's not one that looks exactly like a US CVBG, particularly in the relative lack of high-end AA escorts (although this gap is more apparent than real), but it does exist. I'm less certain on the French, but that's just something I don't know.

    As for range, the USN is actively trying to solve this with the MQ-25. Yes, range has shrunk some, but not as much as you'd expect, and with modern weapons the long-range strike capability has gone up, not down.

  37. November 20, 2019bean said...

    Re the second chart, the simple answer is that we weren't because the chart is wrong. There's an article from the Center for a New American Security about the reduction in range of the carrier air wing. I won't link to it, because it's horrible and I can't be bothered, but it keeps being picked up by various people who assume that an organization as prestigious as CNAS would have done some basic proofreading on stuff they published.

    Here's the analysis I did at the time, based on the Standard Aircraft Characteristics Sheets for the planes in question:

    I think the man is on drugs of some sort. He appears to have arrived at his numbers by taking the maximum range figures he could find (in any fuel state) and the maximum weapons load, and listed them together. I also discovered that the 1956 wing was Forrestal’s, a carrier capable of operating everything we fly today (at least within reason). Here’s some claims:


    Him: “The AD-1 was both famous and infamous for the power of its radial piston engines. Capable of carrying 8,000 pounds of ordnance over 1,000 nm to a target,”

    I couldn’t find the AD-1 in the SAC archive, so I used the AD-4. There are two standard loadouts listed, one with a 2000 lb bomb and no external fuel (radius 240 nm) and another with 3680 lb of ordnance and 300 gal external fuel (radius 520 nm).

    Hmm. Off by over a factor of 2 in both the payload and range columns. We’re not off to a good start here.


    Him: The Banshee’s sturdy design and large fuel load gave it the ability to carry 3,000 pounds of ordnance to targets nearly 1,500 nm away.

    The F2H-3 SAC listed one ground-attack config, with 1,580 lb of ordnance and 340 gal external. Combat radius? 330 nm.

    Well, he maintains his accuracy on payload, but has now fallen to a factor of 5 on range.


    There’s not a good quote here, but he cites an unrefueled range of 650 nm, and a payload of 3000 lb, although not explicitly linking them. Again, not quite. The longest unrefueled radius I can find (400 gal external, no ordnance) is 560 nm. There is a ground-attack configuration, 1150 lb of ordnance and a radius of 245 nm with 400 gal external. (Note that the range is listed at just over 1000 nm, as I think this is a ground-support config.)

    He gets away on this one because he’s so vague.


    Him: “It was capable of carrying 12,800 pounds of ordnance, nuclear or conventional, 1,826 nm.”

    He doesn’t specify variant, but because it’s 1956, I’ll use the A3D-1. The longest-range config has 4050 lb of ordnance and a radius of 1180 nm. Even in ferry setup, the range is only 2608 nm, so a radius of 1826 nm is flatly impossible.

    Factor of 3 on the bombs, factor of 1.5 on the range.


    Him: “combat range was 550 nm unrefueled (it did not have external fuel tanks) while carrying up to 9,000 pounds of ordnance of all types”

    First, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an A-4 without drop tanks.

    I’m using the A4D-1 because it’s 1956. The heaviest payload is 3500 lb of ordnance and 300 gal external. Radius of 385 nm. I’ve finally managed to find a case where the SAC radius matches his. It’s for a payload of 1050 lb with 300 gal external, radius of 575 nm. But, because I’m getting annoyed and he insists the external tanks don’t exist, I’ll use the one tankless config, 2025 lb of ordnance, and radius of 175 nm.

    Bombs: 4.5. Radius: 3. He’s doing worse as we go along.

    The last plane he cites is the A-5 Vigilante, which didn’t fly until 1958. But we’ll do that, too.

    Him: “Vigilante could fly nearly 1,300 nm unrefueled, delivering a 1,700-pound nuclear weapon while traveling twice the speed of sound.”

    I’m using the A-5A. The nuclear attack payload is listed as 1885 lb, with a radius of 685 nm sans external (945 with 800 gal external).

    Better. He’s spot-on on the bombs, and off by a factor of 2 for the radius, to the point I could almost believe he simply confused range and radius. But he also can’t tell 1956 and 1961 apart, so no points here.

    I don’t think more needs to be said.

    (It was later pointed out that the A-5 never was able to actually drop bombs, due to some interesting aerodynamic problems, so he’s off by infinity on bombs for it.)

    The overall conclusion is that the report is rubbish, and a former naval flight officer should have known better than to write it.

  38. November 20, 2019bean said...

    I just realized that I ordered a book from the USNI sale that was written by the guy responsible. Wow. Glad it was on the Clear the Decks list already.

  39. November 20, 2019Neal said...

    Him: “Vigilante could fly nearly 1,300 nm unrefueled, delivering a 1,700-pound nuclear weapon while traveling twice the speed of sound.”

    Doing the research that you do Bean, a statement like this from the author must make you want to bang your head against a concrete wall.

    He runs the info together to make it sound as if it could do all three at the same time. Can it fly nearly the distance from Washington to Denver, unrefueled, at nearly Mach 2 and then deliver its 1700 lb. weapon? No, even the most casual reader would look askance at that speed for many reasons. Ok, then what could it do?

    I have never talked to anyone who mentioned dropping ordnance at well above Mach 1 but maybe it is part of an air to ground profile? Perhaps with a nuke it's different.

    Must be frustrating to have to sort through that kind of stuff when you are trying to get at something.

  40. November 20, 2019BakerEasy said...

    @bean It smells an awful lot like he's consistently substituted range for radius, and lazily browsing the internet for these figures often fails to turn up good combat radius numbers. I note that looking up the Skyraider on Wikipedia turns up an unclarified "Range" as 1144 nm and notes that the maximum capacity of the hardpoints is 8000lb.

    It goes on, actually - wiki lists the range of the F2H as 1491 nm and a payload of 6 500lb bombs. And, yup, also the A3D with a range of 1825 nm and a payload of 12800lbs of bombs.

    This is frighteningly careless work (and how can I get it?)

  41. November 20, 2019bean said...

    It's a paper called Retreat from Range, published by CNAS. I'm writing up a full takedown on it, although it won't be up for a month or so.

  42. November 20, 2019quanticle said...


    Thanks for fact checking the chart. I had my suspicions as well, which is why I called it out specifically.

    As a matter of common sense, it made absolutely no sense to me that a modern carrier air wing equipped with F-35s, which have more efficient engines (turbofans instead of turbojets) and vastly more fuel capacity, would have a lower range than a 1950s-era carrier air wing.

  43. November 20, 2019bean said...

    I think the biggest difference is the environment the aircraft are expected to operate in. Old airplanes were optimized for subsonic cruise at high altitude, and were quite efficient in that environment. Modern aircraft have to balance supersonic flight, maneuverability, and low-altitude performance.

  44. November 20, 2019Johan Larson said...

    The Atlantic has an interesting article about how Boeing's culture changed after its purchase of McDonnell Douglas, and the decision to move the executives from Seattle to faraway Chicago.

    I can remember being mystified by the decision to move Boeing's HQ to Chicago. Seattle made sense; it was close to the product. Washington would have made sense; it would have been close to the regulators. What did Chicago have?

    The answer was isolation, a crucial physical separation from the manufacturing operation, that was part of making Boeing more about bucks and less about Buck Rogers.

  45. November 21, 2019Alexander said...

    I think that smaller navies are not necessarily making a mistake by investing in carriers. In a NATO operation they might be operating alongside frigates from other members without their own carriers (e.g. Norway, Canada, Denmark etc.) and they also have the option to act as an independent country with their own air support in a smaller conflict. The UK and France aren't the only nations that have taken this option either - both Italy and Spain have small STOVL carriers (or amphibious warfare ships capable of operating STOVL aircraft) and at one point I think Turkey was planning to acquire one, though the whole F35/S400 thing will presumably prevent the purchase of appropriate aircraft.

    As for carriers being vulnerable, if the escort ships cannot protect it, then they can hardly be expected to protect themselves, especially without the support of the air group. If you accept the articles position you probably don't intend to use surface ships against any well equipped adversary, and should invest in cheap patrol frigates and high-end submarines instead (or avoid naval forces altogether). I think the 'why the carriers are not doomed' series is a good counterargument, but if you do agree with it, building something like Kirovs instead of carriers is not going to leave you better off.

  46. November 21, 2019bean said...


    There was some work on supersonic weapons delivery, particularly in the late 50s, when it looked like the next generation of planes would spend a lot of their time there. The Vigilante, Hustler and Valkyrie all spring to mind. But the Vigilante certainly couldn't cruise at Mach 2 all the way.


    I'm rather sketpical of the "McDonnell Douglas ruined everything" school. Boeing's current management isn't perfect, but there's a lot of emphasis on safety. And the ways that the process failed for the MAX aren't ones that make a lot of sense in a "we're trying desperately to save money" context.


    There's a big difference between a full-fledged strike carrier and a ship with a flat top that you can fly some planes off of. The QEs are unique in being strike carriers that fly STOVL planes, but they're definitely in the supercarrier class, which isn't true of something like Cavour.

    Basically, it comes down to support facilities. How much ordnance and fuel does the ship have? IIRC, America only has enough magazine space for about two full strikes if you stuff her with F-35s because she's designed to carry a bunch of troops and helicopters, neither of which need a lot of bombs and both of which compete with bombs for space. Do you have the mission planning facilities for proper strike warfare, as opposed to putting a dot on the map and saying "blow up whatever is over there"? Is there enough workshop space to keep the planes operational over the long term? Are the ordnance elevators big enough to load a full strike quickly? Except for the US carriers, CdG and the QEs, most ships with flat tops have to answer "no" to most or all of these. Their STOVL fighters are useful for dealing with snoopers (the original reason for the Harriers on the old British CVLs) and maybe an occasional light strike mission, but they can't go into the face of serious defenses. And a lot of the time you don't need to deal with serious defenses. Something like Cavour would work pretty well off Libya, but nobody serious would expect it to work off the Chinese coast like a US CVN.

  47. November 21, 2019Lambert said...

    How long does it take to build a strike carrier vs escort ships?
    Might already having a carrier and needing destroyers (vs having destroyers and needing a carrier) give you the edge in an arms race?

  48. November 21, 2019bean said...

    It's really complicated. Naval shipbuilding isn't a fast process, and it seems to have taken about 20 years for the British to go from "we should have a strike carrier again" in the 1998 defense review to actually having one today. The Type 45 seems to have taken about 10 years from program start to Daring commissioning, but the UK obviously needed a new air-defense destroyer to replace the Type 42s, and all that happened in 1999 was that they axed the previous program and started the one that worked. The best case is something like the Burkes, where the US can today tack on extra units to a hot production line. But that's pretty rare, and even then, it takes the better part of a decade to go from "we want a ship" to actually getting a hull in the water. A more typical example might be a line restart, which actually happened with the Burkes 10 years ago. They realized that the Zumwalts were overpriced and useless around 2009, and began laying the groundwork for more. The actual contracts took 2 years, and the first ship didn't commission until 2017. 8 years is quite a while in an arms race, and this was a minimum-change version of an existing design.

  49. November 21, 2019Alexander said...

    Carriers really benefit from extra space, for maintenance, planning, aircraft, and on deck, and even operating alongside a QE the smaller carriers wouldn't bring that much extra to a strike mission. But if the marines have found it worthwhile to embark their own air support, because they'd rather not have to rely on the US navy, then I think sovereign nations are reasonable in coming to the same conclusion.

    A lot of those ships are also capable of supporting an amphibious operation, and in a NATO force with US carriers in support, might embark no jets at all. Italy or Spain couldn't pose a serious threat to China, but they have options for independent action that wouldn't be open if they had only built destroyers.

    I think at points there was a push for smaller NATO members to focus on providing a specific capability to the alliance, such as counter CBRN or route clearance or whatever. This can improve efficiency, but makes them very dependent on allies.

    Regarding building ships - I don't think you'd expect to start and complete a new ship during a major war (rather than a lower intensity conflict like Afghanistan). You want to start building the ships early enough that they can be in service a good while before their predecessors are retired.

  50. November 22, 2019Echo said...

    Inspired by the Samar discussion above, I'm trying to find out what kind of fire control systems US destroyer escorts like Samuel B. Roberts actually had. I've seen references to fire control radar, but most sources seem pretty certain they didn't have the expensive mk37 computers. How were their 5" guns directed? Did they have a significant anti-air capability, or was it just an afterthought to their anti-sub role?

  51. November 22, 2019Evil4Zerggin said...

    Hmm? According to Wikipedia the Mk 37 Fire Control System (AFAICT only the system as a whole and the director were labeled as Mk 37, the computer was the Ford Mk 1 and later 1A) was employed on destroyers starting with the Sims class. Navweaps says the same, and they are also mentioned on the USS Kidd website.

  52. November 22, 2019Evil4Zerggin said...

    Oh, destroyer escorts. Sorry about that.

  53. November 22, 2019bean said...

    I believe the standard on the DEs was the Mk 51, which gave a bit of AA capability, but not much. It's late, so I'm not going to spend much time hunting sources right now.

  54. November 22, 2019Echo said...

    Interesting, so at least they had a fire direction system for their 40s. According to "Naval Anti-Aircraft Guns and Gunnery" by Norman Friedman, DEs used lighter and cheaper MK 52s instead of the 37s, which had a handlebar gunsight with some limited radar ranging. I can't find out much else about it, sadly.

  55. November 22, 2019bean said...

    The Mk 52 was similar to the Mk 51, the standard light AA director of the later war years. It had the Mk 15 sight instead of the Mk 14, which meant telescopic optics and some other improvements I'm unsure of, and a range-only radar, which was a major improvement because the Mk 51 was bearing-only and required the operator to estimate for the effects of range. Only about 200 made it to the fleet before the end of the war, and I doubt many were in DEs.

  56. November 22, 2019Chuck said...

    As a piece of evidence if you zoom in on this picture of a DE from wikipedia you can see what appears to be a Mk51 right in front of the bridge.

  57. November 22, 2019Chuck said...

    For comparison, a picture of a Mk 52

  58. November 22, 2019Echo said...

    Thanks guys. I've always been curious about the 5 inchers on DEs and CEs. I could never understand the value of a single manually-trained 5" gun, unless it had some use for signalling or making some morale-boosting noise while under air attack. Am I right in thinking that both the 40s and two 5" guns were directed by the single Mk51 system in front of the bridge? The DE historical museum has some great shots of a Cannon-class that was upgraded to the Mk52, although its 3"/50s still used manual pointer-following.

  59. November 22, 2019Echo said...

    (Sorry for the run-on text block. The comments use reddit-style paragraph breaks?)


  60. November 22, 2019bean said...

    I believe they had two Mk 51s, one for the 40s and one for the 3" or 5" guns. The value is for lots of things that aren't air attack. It's reasonable against a surfaced submarine, or for shore bombardment. Or even in a conventional surface action like Samar, although that obviously wasn't a design case.

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