December 13, 2019

Open Thread 41

It's once again time for our open thread. Talk about anything you want, so long as it's not culture war. And props to everyone for keeping the discussion in the last OT professional and focused on the issues at hand.

Also, a reminder of the necro policy. Necros are encouraged. The stuff I talk about generally doesn't go stale, and I have absolutely no problem with discussions on stuff I wrote two years ago.

The only football (American) game that I'm interested in is on Saturday. Yes, it's the Army-Navy Game, where we hope that the Midshipmen emerge victorious. Beat Army!

Reminder that today is the last day for purchases from the USNI Christmas Sale.

Overhauls since last time are Mine Warfare Part 2*, Iowa Part 8, Ironclads, The Loss of HMS Victoria*, The Death of Repulse and Prince of Wales, and Huascar Part 1 for 2017 and Commercial Aviation Part 2, Japanese Battleships in WWII, A Brief History of the Aircraft Carrier, Falkands Part 9 and the 1920s South Dakota class for 2018. The posts marked with an asterisk have seen more extensive overhauls than the usual link updates and grammar cleanup.


  1. December 13, 2019Placid Platypus said...

    Necros are encouraged, and if something you .

    Looks like some words missing?

  2. December 13, 2019bean said...

    I think the thought got moved into the next sentence. Fixed.

  3. December 13, 2019Neal said...

    Does anyone know how, in WW2, the Navy coordinated its submarines in the Pacific with those of the British and the Dutch?

    Granted, those two nations might not have had a large number of subs operating, but they did have a few. I recently read that even the Germans had a handful that sailed, in conjunction with the Japanese, out of places like Batavia. According to a report I read, at least one of these was sunk by a U.S. sub.

    I have not even been able to find an accurate source as to how many subs the British and Dutch had in these waters, so I am not sure how much coordination would have been necessary. Certainly there had to have been some--otherwise someone's day could have been badly ruined.

  4. December 14, 2019bean said...

    I am not an expert on the non-American allied navies in the Pacific, particularly after ABDA disbanded. I suspect that they used the time-honored method of splitting the ocean up into boxes and making sure that each box was the property of one and only one sub. That's more or less what the US was doing off Japan, although they'd sometimes send 3 subs into a box and coordinate them by radio.

    As for how many, that's going to vary widely. You're looking at a 4-year war, so a single number isn't going to be the answer.

  5. December 14, 2019quanticle said...

    How many British and Dutch submarines were there in the Pacific, anyway? My impression is that there couldn't have been very many, especially given that Britain pulled its fleet back to home waters in order to defend the British isles against the German threat and protect Atlantic convoys.

  6. December 14, 2019bean said...

    The Dutch plan for defense of the DEI was based heavily on submarines, actually, so they had 16 under ABDA at the start of the war. Obviously, no reinforcements showed up there. Until the Italians left the war, the British kept the bulk of their offensive subs in the Med. Afterwards, all of the long-range submarines joined the few remaining Dutch boats of out Ceylon. I don't have hard numbers on this, unfortunately. I really need more books on the British in the Pacific.

  7. December 14, 2019Echo said...

    Has anything been written about wartime berthing on the US battleships? People talk more about the extra weight of the anti-aircraft batteries than how they fit and fed an extra thousand men on each ship. Did they just cram more bunks into the living spaces, or did they have men sleeping in the magazines?

  8. December 14, 2019quanticle said...

    Another question about battleships: typically how many rounds did each carry for their main guns? Also, how were the rounds loaded into the magazines?

  9. December 15, 2019bean said...

    Congratulations to Navy for defeating Army 31-7. This concludes my interest in football for the year.


    I can't recall about the magazines specifically (and I actually doubt it because you don't want people wandering in and out of where you keep the explosives), but there were definitely men bunking in their working spaces. Tour Alabama or Massachusetts, and it's very obvious. I recall hearing about people sleeping in the turrets on some US BBs, although I can't remember which ones. I talked about this a little bit in Life Aboard Iowa.


    Broadly speaking, the standard was around 100 rounds per gun. It was lower in early battleships, and higher in later ones. For the US (the book was closest to hand), it was 60 for most of the pre-dreads, 100 for all of the dreadnoughts through North Carolina, although I suspect that she was hampered by the switch in the guns. South Dakota carried only 75 rounds per gun, plus an additional 55 rounds not counted for treaty tonnage. (This is probably my favorite tonnage dodge of them all.) Iowa carried 1210 rounds total according to Navweaps, 134 per gun.

    As for loading, I can only speak to Iowa, but there's basically just a series of hatches which form a shaft for the shells to be lowered down from the main deck. IIRC, those for turrets 1 and 3 are on the outside, and the hoists are run from arms on the top of the turrets. You can see one in this photo, on the right side of the turret just above the rangefinder ear. Turret 2's hatches are in the middle of officer country. There's an overhead rail for hauling them in, and then the set of hatches down to the bowels of the magazine. They're open, although there's plexiglass covering the top one, and I once got to the deck below and waved to a few visitors. I suspect the procedure was fairly similar on most battleships.

  10. December 15, 2019Lambert said...

    How often did they run out of ammunition?

  11. December 15, 2019Neal said...

    What prompted my question about deconfliction among US, British, and Dutch subs was that while undoubtably each sub (or group of subs) was assigned a specific area/box in which to patrol, I wondered if there were possible confliction points around the DEI--say the Makassar Strait or Java Sea as subs were trying to reach their assigned area.

    A good number of US subs sortied out of Freemantle and I thought they might be traversing areas in which the British or Dutch already might have been active. This seemed to have required more than one needle to have been threaded.

    If there were other allied forces in an area, it would have required an accurate and timely coordination/info exchange. COMSUBPAC obviously pulled it off, so maybe it was a non-event but I am guessing that some planning was involved.

    Which leads me to my real frustration in what I perceive to be the lack of an authoritative history (at least I haven't found it yet) of the overall sub effort in both oceans. I binged this summer on all the memoirs of Fluckey, O'Kane and others such as Gannon who were looking at the German efforts along the US Atlantic seaboard. While Beach was a very good writer and to be fair is an exception to my disappointment and dissatisfaction, far too many of these were a lot of "Course 047 and 17 knots" kind of thing--obviously pulled from the ship's logs. Too much concentration on these details while leaving, in my opinion, far too much unaddressed.

    Somewhere out there must be a serious overview of how the decisions were made in the early days of the war and how they were logistically able to stand up operations in Freemantle as well as refuel spots in Darwin and Brisbane for example. How did the planners coordinate with the rest of the fleet? How did they decide which targets to go after?

    In other words, I was looking for a rigorous history of the topic. Ah, but perhaps I am too demanding as one book, no matter how rewarding and enjoyable, inevitably leads to a few more questions and another tranche of books ordered...

  12. December 15, 2019bean said...


    I can’t recall it ever happening during fleet battles, but there were some concerns after Suriago Strait if the old BBs had had to face Kurita’s fleet, and ammo was a serious limit during bombardment missions.


    Roscoe’s Submarine Operations in World War II is probably worth a look, as are the various volumes of Morison. I admit to not having read the former (I have a copy, but I haven’t really looked at it, give me a few days) and the later does have a bunch of the HQ stuff. Also, maybe a biography of Charles Lockwood, if one exists. (I expect there is one, but I can’t say more than that.)

    Ah, but perhaps I am too demanding as one book, no matter how rewarding and enjoyable, inevitably leads to a few more questions and another tranche of books ordered...

    You say that like it's a bad thing.

  13. December 15, 2019Neal said...

    "You say that like it’s a bad thing."

    Poorly worded on my part as I actually meant the complete opposite. One of life's great enjoyments, as all on this forum well know, is having one book usher in others.

    I did not mean to sound too hard on the memoirs of these sub skippers. Their ardency and warrior spirit in the face of clear danger was admirable. I look forward to tucking into your recommendations however to expand on what they, who had been at the tip of the spear, were recounting so thank you for those vectors.

    An enjoyable aspect of those books I mentioned was that it had me pouring over the atlas again to become familiar with the theater of operations.

  14. December 15, 2019bean said...

    Oh, I get it. Just saw the chance to pounce on some ambiguous wording. Another book that springs to mind (and which I don't own, but I've had highly recommended) is Silent Victory. Can't remember the author. I also glanced through Roscoe. It's a bit action-centric and probably shorter on analysis than you'd like, but it is a lot more comprehensive than you can get from skipper memoirs.

  15. December 18, 2019Philistine said...

    Wasn't Silent Victory another from Clay Blair?

    Speaking of whom... I didn't see Hitler's U-Boat War on Neal's list. I have not read it but have heard good things.

  16. December 18, 2019Neal said...


    Thanks for the recommendation. I will put it on the reading stack.

    I did read Michael Gannon's Operation Drumbeat --a work that was suggested to me here last summer. It deals with the period from roughly late December 1941 to Spring 1942 and the U-Boot efforts along the U.S. Eastern seabord.

    While there are a couple points that merit critique, I found it to be a well narrated description of the grevious losses the U-Boots were handing allied merchant shipping. Losses that were compounded, if not outright caused, by the reluctance (some would say it borders on refusal but I will leave that to the scholarship to tease out) of senior Naval and Intelligence staff to heed British warnings.

    Gannon makes a good case that the British had made good strides in figuring approximately where the U-Boots were and, more importantly, where they were going. Ah, said we, let's not pick up on these British lessons learned but instead reinvent the wheel...and while we do yet more merchant tonnage is going to find it's way to the sea bottom.

    In this description however, I could not divine if Admiral King was really that much of a cantankerous blockhead or if Gannon was simply piling it on. Either way, he lets his animus cloud his writing a bit although the point of U.S. slowness off the mark is more than valid.

  17. December 20, 2019bean said...

    In the news today is the fact that LRASM has just achieved EOC on the Super Hornet.

  18. December 21, 2019quanticle said...

    ProPublica has a piece on the role that the Navy's new touch-screen based Integrated Bridge and Navigation System (IBNS) played in the USS John McCain collision near Singapore.

    The gist of the article's argument is that the Navy brass threw Cmdr. Sanchez under the bus in order to avoid having to acknowledge that their fancy new computerized control system was an unusable mess and that they had not invested enough time in getting sailors trained and familiarized with a system that was completely different from the analog systems on older ships. As a result, in a crisis situation, sailors struggled to understand the behavior of the system, leading to the fatal collision.

  19. December 21, 2019Echo said...

    Thanks Bean, your Life Aboard Iowa post told me everything I needed to know. I was just kidding about sleeping in the magazines, if only because there was more important stuff to keep in those!

    Have you ever written about the shift from lattice to tripod masts, other than that one line in Early Dreadnoughts?

    Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Nevada had all been refit with tripods by the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, and it seems like the oldest ships were prioritized for the change?

  20. December 21, 2019bean said...


    Yikes. That's a hair-raising article. If I tried something like that at work, our human-factors people would string me up, and rightly so. What were they thinking?

    In related news, Carnival cruise lines appears to have been hiring from the 7th Fleet.


    You're most welcome. Re the mast switchover, after WWI, cage masts more or less went out of style. Some of this was because you needed a tripod to support really heavy fire control systems, and some was because of structural problems with the cage masts, which were very difficult to inspect. As ships were rotated through the yard for major reconstruction, they got new tripod masts, and when that's going on, the oldest ships are almost always prioritized.

  21. December 21, 2019John Schilling said...

    Touchscreen displays, and even worse reconfigurable ones, are a very bad plan for safety-critical controls on any system that A: moves when you are trying to use it and B: requires the operator to look at anything other than the display to maintain situational awareness. And it doesn't matter how good the software is, though that seems to have been a contributing factor here. Tactile feedback matters. The aviation world has been slow to learn this, and it's disappointing that the naval community has to learn the same lesson the hard way.

    I wonder how much of this we can blame on the set designers for "Star Trek: The Next Generation". NCC-1701-D sure was shiny, and they had screenwriters to protect them against any miscommanding that wasn't dramatically necessary and ultimately survivable.

  22. December 21, 2019Jade Nekotenshi said...

    Some of it has to do with this broader infatuation with touchscreens that's all over the tech industry lately. "Oh, who needs keyboards, they're obsolete, touchscreens can do all of that!"

    First that ridiculous unresponsive piece of crap, the Simple Key Loader (PYQ-10, we called it the "puke-10"). Now navigation? Gah. UIs where the interface elements actively rearrange themselves on the fly are evil. We tolerate it on phones and tablets because it's a necessary tradeoff, but there's no damn excuse for that on a navigation system.

  23. December 21, 2019Neal said...

    Is it ok to ask what the readership thinks of the Navy's decision to charge Sanchez and the Chief? To me that smacks of the time-honored tradition of fixing the blame instead of fixing the problem... If they were overworked and understaffed, where were they to get more personnel to stand watch and do training?

    What about Admiral Richardson's statement that Sanchez and the skipper of the Fitzgerald "own" their responsibility. Again, I don't know and therefore ask, but that seems to be a rather pithy, and almost trite, statement. To be fair things can come across rather cold in print so perhaps that is not how it was meant.

  24. December 22, 2019bean said...

    Command responsibility is an old, old principle at sea, and one that we shouldn't abandon lightly. But at the same time, there were incredibly serious problems in 7th Fleet, as well as the USN as a whole, which go straight to the top, and I'd rather start pointing the finger at the people who failed to make sure they were properly crewed and had sufficient down time to do their jobs properly.

  25. December 22, 2019Doctorpat said...

    Now I know nothing of Naval regulations aside from what I've read in fiction, and none of that was set in the modern USN.

    However, I've seen, and in once case experienced, an assignment of responsibility for a bad result when operating in commercial companies. And I'm kind of pattern matching what is said in this case to events where I know all the details.

    Anyway, the underlying "rule" that was operating in those cases was that as a senior person you have the responsibility to push back against the chain of command in cases where things just can't be made to work. I put "rule" in inverted commas because it is often an unwritten, and even unspoken rule. Which can make it a nasty surprise the first time it is enforced.

    Thus, the expectation may well have been that as Captain, Sanchez should have been making sure that his helmsmen could operate the helm. That if this needed dozens of extra hours of work, then maybe something less critical should be delayed, even if that was itself something that the crew was officially required to be doing. And that the captain was expected to declare his ship unseaworthy if it wasn't able to be safely operated, even if this was a mark against him.

    There is also the issue that, from the news articles, the ship was running through a known hazardous passage with a level of crew on the bridge that both the navigator and his second in command recommended more crew.

    In addition, the line about the red button (the 2nd largest control on the panel) where many of the sailors completely misunderstood what it did. That's just wrong. Someone mucked up there and nobody caught it.

    These last two points are not really things that the Captain can dodge AFAIK.

    The chief petty officer? Yeah I can't justify him being punished. He can hardly be expected to push back against the admiralty. Though maybe he should have officially recorded that the training was not completed to a satisfactory level? Though that comes out sounding like criticism of the men being trained, so I can't really go that way either.

    Lastly, I'll go on record as saying I hate touchscreen navigation in a car. I shudder at touchscreens taking over more functions that I want to do while driving (such as radio functions). And even in a nice safe low pressure desktop I still get caught out clicking on a button that changes to a different function 0.1 second before I click.

  26. December 22, 2019Doctorpat said...

    AND... how dare that Propublica article launch an attach on unusable screen controls when the very article itself was published with unstable controls, context dependent scrolling functions, and just about every other sin against clear and simple navigation and reading.

  27. December 22, 2019Neal said...


    ND... how dare that Propublica article launch an attach on unusable screen controls when the very article itself was published with unstable controls, context dependent scrolling functions, and just about every other sin against clear and simple navigation and reading.

    I have noticed more and more longform articles doing this. The NYT ran an excellent piece on surveillance via smartphone this past week. It finally dawned on me to just go to the reading pane on the browser and skip the frustrating graphics. Blood pressure returned to normal after much frustration.

  28. December 22, 2019Jade Nekotenshi said...

    That cheesed me off to the max too! What in the universe are they smoking?

  29. December 22, 2019Echo said...

    just go to the reading pane on the browser

    Why didn't I think of that? Had to drop the article halfway through after something broke and it wouldn't scroll.

    It's obvious they just picked an angle and tried to propagandize for it (like propublica always does). When you have two incidents, and only one had a touchscreen, it's silly to blame the screen rather than understaffing and poor training.

    It will be interesting to see how well the Zumwalts can be handled with only 150 crew... I'm not as confident as the navy that being able to steer the ship from touchscreens in the head will make up for it.

  30. December 22, 2019bean said...

    I'm making a serious attempt to read Mahan's The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, and the first bit was particularly interesting, in that Mahan has to make the case for the actual principle behind his work. I'm reminded of Read History of Philosophy Backwards, particularly as Mahan is making his case at the end of the ironclad era, which was basically 40 years of constant change in the naval world. The idea of reasoning from historical sources, and particularly sailing ships, was probably pretty foreign at the time. Also interesting is his discussion of the perils of drawing lessons from the galley, which was apparently very popular because it could move against the wind. I wonder if the ramming school was influenced by that more than is obvious from modern history books, which usually just talk about Lissa.

  31. December 22, 2019Neal said...

    Bean's remark of "Command responsibility is an old, old principle at sea, and one that we shouldn’t abandon lightly" really has me eager to find out when, or even if, the definitive study of the 7th Fleet's problems will be thoroughly examined so as to extract leadership lessons.

    There is no question that one person, the commander, needs to be the one with both the command authority and the command responsibility. Yet with the inherent responsibilities comes the assumed compact that the higher headquarters has organized, trained, and equipped the personnel so as to function properly. Each of those elements are crucial and, on-board training notwithstanding, the commander should expect to be provided with the adequate OTE for himself and his crew. Without this you fall into the trap where the "we have to do more with less" get-er-done attitude eventually degrades into the "now we are doing less overall" scenario.

    I know the Navy, with the size and complexities of a fighting ship, outstrips the effort to get an aircraft from A to B, but I would have thought that the ideas of error minimization would have seeped over from the aviation world into the Naval world.

    I was in the military when it was still in the "That guy screwed up - hang him!" mindset. The question of why that pilot screwed up was addressed later. It was embarrassingly redolent of stone age thinking...

    It was a breath of fresh air to step into the commercial aviation world where the "why" question was asked more often. In fact, the airlines, the FAA, the pilots' associations, and manufacturers started working in concert on this in the early 1990s. Now it is part of the industry DNA. NASA's self-reporting database, for example, has been a major asset in bringing problems to the fore.

    Sure, if someone is willfully careless that needs to be addressed--that goes without saying, but the overall attitude evolved not only to "let's fix the problem first and not the blame," to "let's make sure the problem does not occur in the first place or, if it does, that its threat is minimized."

    This has taken some very enlightened thinking compared to what came before. Again, I concede the Navy's complexity, but it seems to always be eager to bang that drum of responsibility without looking at the underlying reasons such problems crop up. I am nothing but an interested reader, but surely there must be many in the leadership who are familiar with these risk management and containment is almost 2020 after all.

  32. December 22, 2019bean said...

    The basic problem is that naval traditions were developed in a world where there were no fast ways of communicating. Ultimate responsibility was matched with ultimate power, because there was nobody around to tell you what to do, either. There definitely want's someone at NAVSEA saddling you with a terrible automated bridge system. Aviation traditions didn't, and the aviation world as a whole (including naval aviation, AIUI) is a lot better at dealing with this kind of thing instead of shoving it onto "the captain is responsible". At the moment, I'd cynically suggest that the brass see it as a useful tradition to maintain to deflect more through investigations in cases like this. And the problem is that public accidents are less frequent at sea, so you don't get quite the same drive to improve.

  33. December 23, 2019quanticle said...

    Regarding Mahan, I'm not sure how much I trust his broader conclusions regarding geopolitics. It's important to remember that Mahan was a both an enthusiast of the Navy and of imperialism more generally, and he was advocating that the US have a Navy in order to build an Empire, both of which were (and arguably still are) contested claims. However, I did very much enjoy his descriptions of the tactics of naval combat, especially his descriptions of De Ruyter outmaneuvering and winning against a larger combined English-French fleet.

    Just like Gibbons' Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History is almost better read as a window into the intellectual mindset of the era in which it was written. In this case, it's a look back into an era in which people thought that empires and imperialism were unironically good things.

  34. December 26, 2019bean said...

    In the first two chapters (all I've read so far), the topic hasn't come up. The first was a rather interesting defense of naval history as a topic about which general conclusions could be drawn, while the second was a pretty decent look at what factors could influence it. Both seem to hold up pretty well, IMO.

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