March 20, 2020

Open Thread 48

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

If you're looking for something to pass the time during lockdown, I'd suggest the series Salvage: Code Red on Amazon Prime. While it suffers from typical Documentary-itus (dramatic voiceovers and an annoyingly low information-to-time ratio) it's a pretty decent look at the fascinating world of marine salvage, something I keep intending to write about at greater length.

Overhauls for 2018 are The Bombardment of Alexandria, Military Procurement - Pricing, Amphibious Warfare Part 5, Thoughts on Tour Guiding and A Day on the America Parts One and Two. The last two posts were written just before Said Achmiz set it up so you could click and zoom on pictures, so I posted most of the photos at around 800 pixels width. I've gone back and updated the posts, so most everything should be much higher resolution now.

2019 overhauls are Neal's second part on commercial aviation, Falklands Part 12, Weather at Sea, my review of the US Air Force Museum in Dayton, OH, the South Dakota class and Auxiliaries Part 5.


  1. March 20, 2020echo said...

    So, not to be too topical, but there's a long legal and doctrinary history for dealing with plagues aboard ships.

    We've seen some of the old rules still being used recently, but it got me curious how pre-WWI to WWII naval vessels dealt with outbreaks picked up from rats or companionship ashore.

  2. March 21, 2020bean said...

    There wasn't anything special, as far as I know. During the age of sail, anyone infected would be treated to the limits of the surgeon' skill, although they probably wouldn't be isolated as we would do today. The ship would probably be fumigated, as was standard practice.

    Later on, again, pretty much as the same. Large warships (battleships and carriers) generally have isolation wards for infectious diseases. Smaller ships would probably create improvised isolation wards.

  3. March 22, 2020Johan Larson said...

    What works of entertainment portray military life accurately, or at least less inaccurately than most?

    The four I've heard good things about are the TV series "Generation Kill" (about US marines in Iraq,) "Enlisted" (about US army soldiers on a quiet base in Florida,) the movie "Jarhead" (about US marines in Saudi Arabia,) and the book "The Cruel Sea" (about the Royal Navy in WWII.)


  4. March 22, 2020Directrix Gazer said...

    I was very impressed by Dog Company Six, the Korean-War novel I picked up in the USNI Holiday Sale some months back.

  5. March 23, 2020quanticle said...

    Band of Brothers, of course, does a good job of portraying the US airborne infantry in World War 2.

  6. March 26, 2020quanticle said...

    Ars Technica has an interesting article on the role of communications and computation in naval combat. Most of it will be pretty familiar to readers of Naval Gazing, but I one thing I did find interesting was the assertion that Kurita turned back at Leyte Gulf because he lost his plotting tables when the Atago was torpedoed.

    The reasoning is that when Kurita's original flagship, the heavy cruiser Atago was torpedoed by a US submarine, it sank very quickly, taking with it Kurita's charts and many of the officers who had the knowledge and skills to update those charts. Even Kurita was almost killed and had to swim for his life to get out of the shipwreck. As a result, when Kurita moved his flat to the Yamato, he had to rebuild his tactical and strategic "picture" essentially from scratch. This loss of information meant that when he encountered Taffy 3, he didn't realize that he was encountering a blocking force of escort carriers and destroyers, with nothing behind them, but instead thought that the feint by the Northern Force had failed and he was running into the main strength of Halsey's fleet.

  7. March 26, 2020quanticle said...

    Edit: the previous comment should say "when he moved his flag", not "flat".

  8. March 26, 2020bean said...

    That article is drawing from the same source as my series on Information, Communication and Naval Warfare. I just skipped the bits about Kurita because it wasn’t what I was talking about. So yes, endorsed.

    Seriously, the sidebar there is just a list of sources I'd use for the same project.

  9. March 29, 2020quanticle said...

    In potential spacewar news Northrop Grumman just announced that it completed a successful rendezvous between its "Mission Extension Vehicle" and a communications satellite (Intelsat 901, in this case). The mission extension vehicle is designed to act essentially as a "prosthetic engine" for the satellite, giving it another 5 years of service life.

    The military applications of such a capability are hopefully rather obvious.

  10. March 29, 2020bean said...

    Very cool. We've seen a lot of work on that kind of stuff recently, and it's neat to see it pay off. Although I'm surprised that the MEV is going to a second satellite after the 5-year mission.

  11. March 29, 2020John Schilling said...

    "Although I’m surprised that the MEV is going to a second satellite after the 5-year mission"

    After completing her five-year mission we're going to not hear from MEV-1 for about a decade, then find that she has been sent to rendezvous with one of the old Voyager space probes. I'm OK with that.

  12. March 30, 2020quanticle said...

    I think the reason the Mission Extension Vehicle is going to another satellite is because that's the way the business model works. Northrop Grumman doesn't sell its customers a MEV, the customers lease the MEV, and after the lease is up, the MEV goes to the next tenant and operates their satellite.

    I think this is because the MEV isn't really designed to keep satellites operational indefinitely, but rather it's a way for companies to squeeze some more lifespan out of their existing geostationary satellites. After all, at some point, the electronics on the satellite are so obsolete, it becomes unprofitable to operate, MEV support or no. At that point, it makes sense to detach the MEV and have it go to another satellite which is more profitable to keep in operation.

    Of course, I'm sure the fact that this business model turns a one-time payment into a consistent recurring revenue stream doesn't hurt either.

  13. March 30, 2020bean said...

    It's not so much that as that the MEV has at least a 10-year life in terms of propellant. Of course, given the economies of scale in launch costs, I suppose that's not a terrible plan, just one that didn't match how I'd naively expected they'd do it.

    Also, I just realized something. Golf courses here in Oklahoma became non-essential at midnight last night. (They were essential before for some strange reason.) What impact is this (and closures nationwide) going to have on the USAF? Will they be able to continue to operate? Thank goodness for the Navy.

  14. March 31, 2020ryan8518 said...

    I'm pretty sure the flyboys will be having too much fun taking advantage of the suddenly opened up airspace to sneak into LaGuardia and vandalize the control tower to notice the golf courses shutting down...besides they can just declare a couple of golf carts as national defense assets and grab a prime tee time on the front nine while all the civvies are locked at home.

  15. March 31, 2020Johan Larson said...

    Air travel has dropped dramatically because of the pandemic, but air cargo fees are way up. How difficult will it be for airlines with planes configured for passenger transport to convert them to carry cargo instead?

  16. March 31, 2020bean said...

    That’s not something you do overnight. A lot of old airliners are converted to freighters (Boeing has a big program to do so with the 767) but given typical aircraft mod times, you’re probably talking at least a month once the aircraft is in the hands of the shop, and they don’t do drive-ups. The big issue with using less-converted aircraft is that you just have the standard doors, which aren’t big enough to take the ULDs that are standard in air cargo. Convertible freighters have never worked well, so there aren’t many laying around. You could in theory design new containers or just load cargo through the door by hand (break-bulk airplane cargo, I guess), but that’s probably going to run into serious regulatory obstacles. Even if the FAA fast-tracks things, that’s still going to take months. The best option, if the fees get high enough, is to just fly with empty cabins and a belly full of cargo.


    Note that all aircraft aren't suitable for cargo use. The 737 in particular has a very shallow cargo hold, and there's no ULD that goes into it. Not sure what the regs are there.

  17. March 31, 2020Belushi TD said...

    The fun thing about the 737 is that there is, in fact, a cargo/passenger variant. No idea if it was a new build kind of thing, or if it was a conversion, but it was quite frequently used in Alaska. There was about 15 or so rows in the back of the plane, and a section from the back edge of the wing (or so, its been ten years since I flew in one) forward would hold about 6 or so of the cargo containers.

  18. March 31, 2020bean said...

    I've heard of those. They were -400s, and I'd guess they were conversions, but I'm not sure. They're retired now. Planes of that type definitely exist for most older models, but they're pretty rare because they only make sense in cases like that. One particular problem for planes of that type is fire suppression, because the passenger cabin assumes no major flammables, and the procedure for pure cargo planes (fly to 20,000' and depressurize) is frowned on if there are passengers.

  19. March 31, 2020Johan Larson said...

    I seem to remember flying across the Atlantic in a "combi" mixed-mode aircraft. Back in the 80's, maybe?

  20. March 31, 2020Neal said...


    Yes, there were 747 combos and that is what you probably remember. A number of airlines operated them and they were produced in both the -400 series and previous generations.

    I second Bean's remark about it being a significant conversion from a pax configuration to freighter--for all the reasons he listed.

    What is going on now for the carriers (U.S. at least) that operate widebody aircraft is to pick up as much opportune belly cargo as possible. Oddly enough there is actually quite a bit of opportune cargo at the moment. Not sure how that is actually shaping up in a time-frame any longer than a week, but there is a certain amount.

    Also repatriation flights are in the mix.

    The catch-as-catch can nature of what I am hearing reminds me of the tramp operations that Bean mentioned in his merchant vessel article.

  21. April 01, 2020bean said...

    I suspect the Combis resulted from lack of long-range capability in the smaller widebodies. If you have demand for a 767/787-sized load of passengers, but the only plane capable of making the trip is a 747, the best option is presumably to fill the rest of the plane with cargo. As we've gotten smaller long-range widebodies, the demand for such planes has gone away. These days, the only people who buy such things are usually governments, who have very different drivers from the airlines.

  22. April 02, 2020AlphaGamma said...

    On 747 Combis, I flew on one last year, operated by KLM from JFK to Schiphol. It didn't feel too different from flying on a standard passenger 747 (I think, I hadn't been on a 747 in about 8 years before that!). Some factor in KLM's business model meant they kept their Combis flying for longer than most airlines, though they were planning to retire them next January and actually retired them last month because of reduced demand for flights.

    One interesting thing I noted is that among the cargo being loaded into the back was a horse! I think the Combi was particularly sought-after for that sort of cargo- there is a door from the passenger cabin to the cargo area, allowing a vet flying in the passenger cabin to go into the cargo area in flight and check on the horse.

  23. April 02, 2020Alphagamma said...

    In coronavirus-related WTF news, while the USS Barb sank a train, I am unaware of any case of a train sinking a ship (despite the best efforts of the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch narrow-gauge tourist railway which operated a tiny armoured train on the Kent coast during WW2). A train engineer in LA may have tried to change that, as he deliberately derailed his locomotive near the USNS Mercy in the Port of Los Angeles because he was suspicious of the hospital ship's motives...

    In non-coronavirus related WTF news, the Venezuelan Navy patrol boat Naiguata appears to have tried to ram the cruise ship Resolute in international waters near Venezuela, in order to force it to divert to a Venezuelan port- possibly because of the ongoing diplomatic spat between Venezuela and Portugal, where the Resolute is registered.

    Thing is, the Resolute is an ice-strengthened Antarctic cruise ship. So the Naiguata sank, while the Resolute continued on to its destination with only minor damage.

  24. April 02, 2020bean said...

    I saw the thing about the train driver trying to ram Mercy. She's tied up at the cruise center, two berths down from Iowa. Sadly, the battleship is closed for a while, but it would be cool to see them together.

    And I'm quite amused by the story about Naiguata, which I hadn't heard about.

  25. April 02, 2020John Schilling said...

    Didn't we already have the discussion about how rams were a ridiculously obsolete, dangerous weapon that should have been abandoned in the 1860s? I suppose we may have to make an exception for reinforced icebreaking bows. Looking at the damage, I'd guess Resolute's master got tired of being rammed and steered his ship's (reinforced, bulbous) bow into the Venezuelan OPV's side in their final encounter. Explains the outcome better than anything else I can imagine.

    Also, nominative determinism for the win.

  26. April 02, 2020Alsadius said...

    I think we have a new record for the dumbest attack on a naval vessel in history. Somebody tried to ram a hospital ship with a train.

    (Thankfully, nobody was hurt)

  27. April 02, 2020Alsadius said...

    Shows me for not reading upthread - I see that I made a re-post. Apologies.

    And yeah, I remember reading that icebreaking bows were a factor in the Andrea Doria collision, because the ship that ran into it was Swedish and designed for more northerly conditions. It did lose its bow(, but it was much less damaged overall, and it plowed very deep into the side of the Doria.

  28. April 02, 2020Alsadius said...

    God, I'm just a champion of posting today. Let's try that again:

    It did lose its bow, but it was much less damaged overall, and it plowed very deep in to the side of the Doria.

    (And if this fails, I give up. It's a photo on the Doria's wiki page.)

  29. April 02, 2020Neal said...


    Interesting story about horses on board a -400 Combi. Lufthansa also operated Combis and one evening they were hauling two very expensive race horses out of Toronto to Frankfurt where they would continue to the Gulf.

    Well, the temperature in the cargo compartment got too warm shortly after level off at cruise altitude and the horses actually started to sweat. This, along with some other issues, led to a fire indication.

    I have not flown the Combi version so I don't know the exact details of how the sensing and warning system was configured on those mods, but I have flown the -400 paxmodel and obviously any cargo fire indication is not something you dally around with.

    Yet in this case the crew knew if they "blew the bottles" as it is colloquially phrased, they were going to have two quite valuable, but very much dead, equines on their hands.

    Long story made short, they did not activate the extinguishing system but instead got a crew member to go back at absolute soonest pace to determine if there were indeed a fire. Obviously they started by seeing if the divider was warm, if there was smell of smoke, etc.

    They made the right decision but it was a tense few moments as no one can forget South African Airways flight 295--a 200 series Combi that crashed in 1987 due to fire. Both scenarios are sometimes discussed in training when talking about on board fires, diverts, etc.

    More recently (maybe 15 years ago?) a U.S. flagged pax -400 departed Australia bound for SFO (maybe LAX as I can't quite remember) with a shipment of bees loaded in the forward cargo compartment.

    The moisture from the bees triggered a fire warning. The crew ativated the extinguishing system and diverted into Samoa with a lot of dead bees and a very much startled cockpit crew. Apparently warnings of a fire continued for quite some time after the bottles had been blown and the retardant should have settled.

  30. April 03, 2020quanticle said...

    In other coronavirus news, the captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, Capt. Brett Crozier, was relieved of command after allegedly widely circulating a letter that was critical of how the Navy was handling the coronavirus outbreak aboard the ship.

    Although he was relieved, his letter did seem to spur the Navy into moving most of the sailors off the ship into on-shore accommodations at Guam, where the Roosevelt is currently docked.

    I don't really have a whole lot of editorializing about this, but I did want to express my concern for the crew of the Roosevelt. I have a friend in the Navy (though, thankfully not aboard the Roosevelt), and he described the frightening speed at which norovirus raged through his ship during one deployment. Coronavirus, is, if anything, even more contagious and I want to express my best wishes for the crew of the Roosevelt and all other Navy ships dealing with this outbreak.

    The Roosevelt is currently docked at Guam,

  31. April 03, 2020quanticle said...

    Whoops. I guess Alsadius isn't the only one who's a champion poster today. That last fragment was part of an edit that I thought I deleted, but in fact had been hidden past the edge of the edit box.

  32. April 03, 2020Alphagamma said...


    More recently (maybe 15 years ago?) a U.S. flagged pax -400 departed Australia bound for SFO (maybe LAX as I can’t quite remember) with a shipment of bees loaded in the forward cargo compartment.

    The moisture from the bees triggered a fire warning. The crew activated the extinguishing system and diverted into Samoa with a lot of dead bees and a very much startled cockpit crew. Apparently warnings of a fire continued for quite some time after the bottles had been blown and the retardant should have settled.

    You can imagine worse things than that happening when you combine the phrases "passenger aircraft" and "shipment of bees"...

  33. April 03, 2020Alsadius said...

    Samuel L. Jackson clearly needs to film a sequel to Snakes On A Plane.

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