February 07, 2020

Open Thread 45

It's time once again for our open thread. Talk about anything you want, even if it's not military/naval related.

I just discovered that Iowa has opened up the turret officer's booth on Turret I for weekend tours. It's a $45 extra charge, and I'm really looking forward to the next time I get to go and pay it a visit.

Overhauls since last time include the last part of Why the Carriers are not Doomed, So You Want to Build a Battleship - Strategic Background, Early US Battleships, Aegis, and Amphibious Warfare parts one and two for 2018 and Commercial Aviation Part 6, The King George V class*, German Guided Bombs Part 1, The PHS Corps, Ship History - Wisconsin, and Rangekeeping Part 1 for 2019.


  1. February 07, 2020Neal said...

    Not sure if all (or even any) of my takeaways are correct and a bit rambling I know, but here it goes…

    I just finished volume II of Clay Blair’s Silent Victory and I again thank Bean and Quanticle for this recommendation. These two volumes were more than worth the time and answered a great many of the questions that I had about how the U.S. conducted the submarine campaign against the Japanese.

    Frankly I was surprised at how well Blair’s research and writing has held up—it is, after all, almost fifty years since his first volume appeared. Sure, there are points here and there, but he was surprisingly up to date (again, early 1970’s) regarding the brilliant work of Jasper Holmes and others who were reading a nice slice of the Japanese comms (JN-25 for example).

    He makes a good point for a Child of the Magenta Line like me that even with perfect intel of time and expected location, in the days of star shot navigation two ships could pass by each other out of sight.

    Many of the skippers from the war were still alive and accessible to Blair, but lest memories get clouded, he relied heavily upon post war surveys—surveys that he admits were not in themselves perfect chronicles but as decent yardsticks. Notably, these surveys revealed that the tonnage the subs sank was not always quite what one had claimed or been credited with—although in some cases a skipper’s “bag” was actually increased.

    Without drama or hagiography Blair also describes action that, even at my age, makes me draw a short breath at the danger that was involved. There are always close calls in any operation of the scale of a major war, but the stories of a sub, with its deck gun(s) firing, raking a Japanese destroyer/escort vessel as it passed 50 meters alongside from the opposite direction is something of the dramas from the age of sail that I read as a youngster. Throw in the number of boats that lost diving control and were nearly driven to crush depth and it gives a good idea of fate at play.

    Speaking of ruining your day, it had to have been a bad one when your boat gets “pooped” and nearly sunk when you are not even near the enemy…not to mention getting bombed by your or allied forces or tracked by your own side’s surface forces. A good number of submariners were downright lucky to have made it out alive just from encounters with “friendly” forces, mines, or mechanical failures.

    I read with particular interest of those incidents such as the one Ned Beach encountered when he suffered under an 18-hour depth-charge attack in which over 125 cans were dropped around his boat from overhead. (The Puffer, btw, apparently was underwater even longer waiting out an attack--well over 30 hours) How anyone could remain normal after that is a mystery to me and it is this psychological aspect of the battle that holds my greatest fascination.

    I also give credit to Blair for giving good sketches as to the overall background of the conflict in this theater. I know that Bean’s readership could probably easily score a 98 out of 100 on a quiz about WW2 in the Pacific, but it is nice to have reminders as to how the subs efforts fit into the bigger picture—and a big picture it was considering the expanse of the real estate and the expanding rudiments of combined force maneuvers.

    Blair reminds us just how much of a slog (with setbacks) it was in 1942 and 1943. It took 18 months to get moving smartly out of the Southwest Pacific/Solomons and to gain momentum. Then, even when things were rolling forward that momentum could prove tricky. Was Operation Stalemate II even necessary?

    Even with the author’s strong points, why should one tuck into a 1000-page work that at times can be monotonous in its recantation of one boat’s patrol after another? If the war was a slog does a book about it need to be? Why not just settle for a shorter, quicker, and broader overview of what was going on?

    Well…that is exactly the point. With this slow and deliberate pacing, the reader gets an excellent insight into how the submarine force learned and progressed. It is plodding because that is exactly how it was at the start. One can witness the evolution first-hand and note how the tide (no pun intended) was turned. It is an intellectually rewarding exercise.

    Other aspects as dealt with in just the right amount of detail. For example, the trouble the U.S. had with torpedoes is almost criminal. The senior leadership obviously needed to have taken action much sooner by, at the very least, dispatching a senior officer from BuOrd with a very strong personality to crack some heads and get things done. Blair does a good job in this discussion and even talks about how good of “fish” the Japanese had developed. We know that the leadership was slow off the mark, but it is interesting to read just what was going on—including one story of a skipper who had good luck and came back singing the praises of his torpedoes thus giving even more fuel for Admiral Christie’s refusal to budge…there always seems to be one guy…

    Although Blair does not touch on it directly, I could not help but feel that the U.S. had badly failed to learn much from how the Germans were applying their subs to the fight. It was frustrating to read how the force needed to re-learn lessons that were already out there. This is an important point for the Germans had shown, by the very latest (and most would correctly argue much sooner) than the beginning of 1942, what concentrated attacks against merchant shipping and supply lines could do.

    Yet in the Pacific the initial quest seemed to tilt (and Blair is somewhat oblique about whether this was relayed to the skippers in orders or if it was understood implicitly) toward bagging a capital ship vice a merchant ship. Perhaps these numbers have been updated, but the Germans did sink (as per Blair’s research) a whopping 5,078 (11 million tons) of merchant shipping with their primitive boats in WW1. Even with the ROEs of the time up until the war regarding merchant shipping, surely there had to have been obvious takeaways from the German efforts. Yes, peacetime inertia had a lot to do with it, but Doenitz was serving up instruction daily.

    Blair argues that the leadership should have immediately identified choke points and set up attacks there instead of spreading subs over a wide area. The Luzon Strait, for example, would have been one of these fertile hunting grounds. He goes so far to as argue that the entire operation should have been run solely out of Pearl Harbor and not with the adjunct set-up in Australia.

    Yet, with time, the game shifted and by the end of 1944 there were effectively few targets left. I know the animus that was involved against the Japanese, but at the beginning of 1945 our subs were sinking hundreds of sampans and fishing trawlers that were not even crewed by Japanese but rather by natives of the various islands—this seems just downright vicious and completely out of hand. I could not help but thinking that it had turned into bloodlust in a number of cases…

    Yet as Lee Sanlin so eloquently examine the war’s momentum in his brilliant long-form essay Losing the War, there was no stopping. Admiral Lockwood and his staff, right up to the end, were pursuing ways to get into the Sea of Japan in force and stood up groups such as the Hellcats to do so. One clearly sees the noose that was drawn tightly around the Japanese home islands. How long it would have taken for a full submission/surrender Blair wisely does not tackle although it did seem to be only a matter of time given the level of inflicted pain.

    In the spirit that Sanlin wrote about of there being no halt, I noted that 8 fleet boats were lost in 1945—one as late as the 6th of August. Three of those in an interesting irony of consonance, the Barbel, the Bonefish, and the Bullhead. Sure, no one knew the end was not that far away but still…so close. The Bonefish was sunk near Java on 6 August and it reminded me that the Japanese still held real estate far afield.

    I did find my answer as to why so many skippers were cashiered out of command. Obviously non-productivity were primary reasons, but so were personality deficiencies, alcoholism, and the like.

    I hedged a bit of sympathy for some of these skippers as there did not seem to be a clear operational doctrine at the beginning of the war as to exactly how U.S. subs would be employed—just past practices and a mindset that led not only to be overly cautious at times when a dollop of aggressiveness would have been in order, but also a distinct lack of skills in how to prosecute the attack and act in concert with other subs to do so. In other words, how to harness an aggressive spirit with the tools to successfully attack the enemy—this goes back to the point about what we should have been learning from the Germans. Sadly, these lessons were learned on the go and some men were up to facing the learning curve while others were not. The interesting point is that one could not tell beforehand who would make the good skipper and who not.

    Blair does at times go a bit far up the chain of command in laying blame for things. I am not sure modern scholarship would go quite that far up--there were a lot balls in the air at that time after all, but the questions about decision making are always worthy of examination.

    Blair is known for many other works—especially the one on the war in Korea, and while I am just starting Roscoe, Silent Victory has to be considered one of the standards in U.S. submarine efforts in the Pacific. I don’t see a modern author tackling this topic anew in this level of detail so SV will perhaps be the best documentation that we have of this theater of underseas combat.

    If Bean might allow, I was so impressed by the ardent spirit of these warriors that I scribbled thought or two about them: https://justaverageinc.com/ardent-warriors-submariners-in-ww2/

    Sorry this ran so long, but it is a book that really makes one think.

  2. February 07, 2020Placid Platypus said...

    So I'm arguing with an idiot on Quora (yeah bad idea probably but I'm bored at work and it passes the time) who's claiming that without Britain and the Soviet Union Germany could have invaded and occupied the US in WWII.

    Now obviously a trans-Atlantic invasion and occupation would be absurd, but I'm less knowledgeable on the naval side of things and I'm curious. How much of a threat was the Kriegsmarine if everything had gone their way?

    Let's set up the scenario: In August 1941, both the UK and the USSR surrender to Germany. And let's say the Bismarck is still intact. Hitler begins to prepare for war with the US, coordinating with Japan to be ready when they attack Pearl Harbor. How well can Germany do in the Atlantic? Do they have any chance of getting to the point where the US has to avoid a direct full-scale fleet action?

    It seems to me probably not. Looking at the capital ships in late 1941 the US had six battleships and four carriers in the Atlantic Fleet, while Germany has four battleships total. On the other hand the German ships are generally newer and bigger, so maybe they have a chance? Especially if the North Atlantic weather makes carrier less effective than they were in the Pacific?

    I'm curious what those more knowledgeable than I have to say.

  3. February 07, 2020ADifferentAnonymous said...

    That makes me wonder, how big a deal would it be if the US did temporarily lose control of the Atlantic? By taking away the USSR and UK, the scenario takes away the biggest reasons to ship stuff there. I assume there was some trade with neutrals that wouldn't have been great to lose, but the US wasn't going to starve or anything.

  4. February 07, 2020bean said...

    @Placid Platypus

    The big question is what happened to the RN. Did it surrender to the Germans with the country, or did it, say, run to Canada? If the Germans got it, it'll take time for them to train crews and such, but they'll have a major boost to their naval power in a year or so. There's also France and Italy to consider. If it's just Germany vs the USN, then the Germans have no chance in the long run. It wasn't until 1944 that carriers could operate in the face of serious land-based airpower, and the Germans didn't even have carriers to play with, so my guess is that any sortie by their capital ships generally follows the Bismarck pattern. Also, the USN could presumably shift ships back and forth. They'd stay on the defensive longer than they did IRL, but it's not going to end well for anyone.

    As for trade in the Atlantic, it was surprisingly important. Based on some figures, it looks like they were trading very nearly as much with Latin America as they did with the UK. Also, there was domestic coastal trade (this was before the Jones Act made that way too expensive and better roads and trucks made staying inland cheaper). That got hit hard during Operation Drumbeat, which among other things, contributed greatly to the development of the modern oil pipeline.

  5. February 08, 2020bean said...


    That seems a good summary of the US submarine war, although it's an area you've done more reading on than I have. I do want to look into it more at some point, but it's not high on my list. (Except some of the stories from Barb, which haven't been covered because I'm not sure how to do them justice.)

  6. February 08, 2020David Fred said...

    Never argue with idiots on Quora. Makes me want to start drinking again.

    Make a final point, then

    Block, mute,see ya.

  7. February 08, 2020echo said...

    Read up on the destruction of the Mutsu, noticed this:

    "Compared with other nations' warships in wartime service, Japanese battleships contained a large amount of flammable materials including wooden decking, furniture, and insulation, as well as cotton and wool bedding. "

    Surely the decking wasn't pulled up on Western ships? But I'm curious how bedding was handled.

    I feel like you covered fire safety in one article, but a quick search didn't turn it up.

  8. February 08, 2020Doctorpat said...


    A very interesting summary, though I am left wondering what "a Child of the Magenta Line" is. I googled the term and all I found were references to one branch of the Delhi railway, which I assume is not what you meant.

  9. February 08, 2020echo said...

    Aaaand of course I found the fire survivability article seconds after posting.

  10. February 08, 2020Neal said...


    Thanks. The Children of the Magenta Line phrase originated in a talk given by Captain Warren VanderBurgh of American Airlines in 1997 in which he was exploring crew over-dependence on automation. American lost a 757 in Columbia in December 1995 that was due, in part, to how the pilots were using the navigation system and this was a wakeup moment in the realization that automation hedged its own very real and dangerous pitfalls. The famous video is here: https://vimeo.com/159496346

    Magenta is one of the colors that is used on modern "glass cockpit" flight displays and being a child of the magenta line is a critique of the human habit to just plug the course into the computer and then follow the magenta line that appears up on the screen. The point being that it is easy to get complacent and just follow the nice line.

    These days, with the Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS) that shows terrain, aircrew have a better idea if that course line is headed for high terrain, but one must always check to make sure the line is indeed the intended route--it is all too easy just to plug in the lat/long or waypoint and head directly to it.

    Blair describes situations in which a sub skipper would receive really good intel as to where a Japanese convoy would be and when--sometimes down to just plus or minus a few hours. So the sub would set off to this position and yet when it arrived on station the crew would not find anything. He mentions that both surface vessel (the hunted) and the sub (hunter) were using what is basically star-shot navigation and this means the the plus/minus on position of either ship could be pretty large...big sea and all that.

    A Magenta Line Child, being used to Inertial Navigation Systems or GPS, would think "ah, lets just plug the coordinates in the box and go!" So in reading how Blair described it, the realization finally sunk in that just getting to a specific location involved some work.


    The Barb does indeed have a legendary record and one worthy of sutdy. I believe it was one of the boats that even sunk a German vessel in Pacific waters. I did not check if there were any other works extent on this boat--all I have read so far is Fluckey's account and of course Blair mentions it as well.

    Perhaps you will have a better experience with Fluckey should you tuck into it--a great many readers give it high marks. I think maybe my trouble with it was that I was at the point where I had seen enough of the "Course 047 and 13 knots" kind of thing and was looking for more of the strategic view. To be fair, I should take Fluckey's recollections for the tactical unfoldings that they were as opposed to how did Admirals Lockwood and Christie squabble over resource deployment and the perilous level of torpedo stocks at Pearl in 1942.

  11. February 08, 2020cassander said...

    @Placid Platypus

    I'd actually go even further than bean. If we assume that under the glorious leadership of Fuhrer Oswald Mosley the UK enthusiastically signs up with Germany to make war on the US with the entire RN, there would still be no ability to mount any sort of trans-atlantic invasion for quite some time. And if Germany dedicated itself to building up for such an invasion, well, the US still has something close to 50% of global GDP, a lot more ships under construction, and the benefit of being on the defense. Of course, the math for the US attacking the Germans also gets a lot worse, so I think the likely outcome is a cold war style standoff, with germany and japan filling in for the USSR and China.

  12. February 08, 2020bean said...

    The big variable if Fuhrer Mosley leads Britain to enthusiastic participation in the Nazi Empire is Canada, or more accurate Newfoundland. Technically, Newfoundland gave up Dominion status in 1933, and should have done whatever Britain told them to. And if so, that leaves Mosely with a place to build race tracksairbases on this side of the Atlantic. I have a feeling it wouldn't end that way, but it's an interesting what-if.

  13. February 08, 2020cassander said...


    I see approximately 0 chance of the US not immediately seizing Canada if it declared for the UK in such a situation.

  14. February 08, 2020Lambert said...

    What would it take to conquer the USA?
    Giving Hitler a portal gun?
    (i.e. can America defend itself even if the Axis gets to put troops and supplies on a beachead for free?)

    I'd imagine if the US can scorched-earth hard enough, the Midwest does what the size of the USSR did in OTL: the axis runs out of steam somewhere before the Rockies.

  15. February 12, 2020Ian Argent said...

    Serendipity consists of coming to an open thread to ask "did USN carriers have paint aboard during WWII" and seeing the reference to the Survivability: Fire article. (Not only no but hell no, at least not after Guadalcanal - which is what I thought I had read)

  16. February 12, 2020Ian Argent said...

    In re: the Iowa tour - have you been out to Camden and been aboard BB-62?

    Any differences in the tour experiences?

  17. February 12, 2020bean said...

    I suspect the carriers did, at least some. They were a lot less likely to end up in a surface engagement, and had a lot more flammables onboard anyway, so they probably didn’t go as far in reducing paint as they did on surface combatants.

    As for New Jersey, I haven't been. Besides Iowa, I've only been to Massachusetts (excellent) and Alabama (mediocre).

  18. February 13, 2020Ian Argent said...

    According to this, the Big E chipped off paint as part of "stripping the ship" in Feb '41. https://books.google.com/books?id=ILRTPTCRJ4YC&pg=PA31&lpg=PA31&dq=%22strip+ship%22+paint+combat&source=bl&ots=vUxZQXgYGC&sig=-cvHKKAa08Q5FF1mGUd70G7yBJk&hl=en&sa=X&ei=4wMKVOjBFs2PyASSwYGgDg#v=onepage&q=%22strip%20ship%22%20paint%20combat&f=false

    Doesn't say anything about the paint lockers, though. (At least not in that excerpt). OTOH, they were already removing paint prior to the battles off Guadalcanal if you want to believe the author

  19. February 13, 2020bean said...

    Chipping paint was fairly common at the time, although I'm not entirely certain where they chipped and where they just painted over the existing layer. I'd guess it was more likely on the external surfaces, where there was a much higher risk of corrosion. You'd strip to bare metal, then repaint. I know there were significant changes to US practice after the early battles off Guadalcanal, so any paint chipping in early 1941 would have to be for other reasons.

  20. February 13, 2020redRover said...


    Doesn't this also depend on what happens in Europe? Japan is still fighting the US in the Pacific, and Germany and the UK would be fighting the USSR on the Eastern Front. While not having US logistical support would be a handicap to the USSR, and Germany wouldn't have to focus on the Western front at all, it still seems unclear if Germany would actually be able to conquer Russia, or not.

  21. February 13, 2020Ian Argent said...

    I thought it was interesting that the author attributed the paint remove to "stripping for battle".

    Though I have to wonder if he's conflating anecdotes, given the changes in practice documented after Guadalcanal.

  22. February 13, 2020bean said...

    Hmmm.... That is weird. AFAIK, they never eliminated paint entirely, just made sure that they only had the minimal amount on. The reference to rusty compartments makes me suspect that something is wrong with the reporting. My guess would be that there was an initial strip in 1941 for things like excess boats and obvious wood furnishings, and another, more through one, after Guadalcanal. The author probably got the two confused.

  23. February 13, 2020Chuck said...

    Perhaps the paint stripping in the early days of the war was less about fire suppression and more about the abundance of manpower. As we've seen discussed here, wartime crews are much higher that peacetime. Now anyone who has done both can tell you that stripping paint is much more laborious than actual painting, so perhaps during peacetime it was standard practice to just paint over old paint, which could build up a pretty thick layer of potentially flammable or otherwise hazardous paint in a short order. When the crew size doubled for war, the equation changes: Now you might as well put the extra manpower to work stripping (the paint).

  24. February 13, 2020bean said...

    But the crew size never doubled just because they were at war. It went up because there were more things that needed to be done, usually because there were more AA guns mounted. But it wasn't until mid-1942 that those really began to sprout, so I doubt they had a bunch of extra bodies early. (I also suspect that a lot of the extra crew were used to relieve the stress of having more stations manned 24/7 because it was wartime, but I also suspect that was a nice bonus.)

  25. February 14, 2020Chuck said...

    I realize the crew had duties, but since most of these were combat related, I imagine there would be lots of idle hands when the ships weren't at general quarters. I doubt that they fully manned combat stations when in transit from the west coast to Hawaii, for instance (though I could be wrong). It does put a hole in my theory if they didn't actually ramp up the AA numbers until later.

  26. February 14, 2020bean said...

    They don't have to go to GQ for wartime operations to take up more manpower than peacetime steaming. For instance, Iowa has 8 boilers. Each is going to take at least 2 BTs (Boiler Technicians) full-time to operate (one monitoring the water level, one watching the burners). In peacetime, it was standard to keep steam in 4 boilers, leaving the other 4 offline. So we have 8 BTs doing that normally. The problem is that it takes about an hour to bring a boiler online from cold iron, so if you want to be able to make full speed (IIRC, they could do ~27 kts on 4 boilers) on short notice, you need to have all 8 boilers online. This is probably the case in wartime.

    So now you need 16 BTs round the clock instead of 8 just to tend the boilers that are active (again ignoring repair work and such). The problem is that you're not really staffed for that. You normally have 32 BTs, (just to be clear, this is an example number) so each stands 1 or 2 watches in 24 hours, which leaves plenty of time to do repair work and the like. But if you go to wartime steaming, you've doubled the load on your BTs, who are now spending half their time tending the boilers, and have to squeeze in all of their other work and things like food and sleep into the other half of the day. Yes, most areas aren't going to be as strongly affected as the boilers, but there are guns that need to be manned, repair parties to staff, and extra lookouts to set. The sailors brought onboard to man the AA guns probably had plenty to do without extra makework like chipping paint.

  27. February 14, 2020quanticle said...

    The government of the Philippines has given notice that they intend to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement that forms the basis for the US military's presence in the Philippines. This kicks off a 180-day period by the end of which all US forces have to leave the Philippines (unless another agreement is negotiated in the meantime).

    I'm disappointed, but not surprised. The Filipino government has been very vocal as of late with their dissatisfaction with existing security arrangements and their desire to chart a more independent course. What I don't understand is how they intend to chart that course, as an archipelago nation, without a functional navy.

  28. February 14, 2020bean said...

    My understanding is that this was because the US denied a visa to someone, and the President of the Philippines threw a tantrum over it. It's definitely concerning, but there's also a decent chance they'll back down.

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