May 15, 2020

Open Thread 52

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

I apologize for the issues with the captchas recently. There was a software update, and it caused some issues, which I've been in touch with Said Achmiz on. It seems to have been fixed, but I haven't had confirmation of that. As a workaround, I've set up an account named Commenter with password commenter that can comment without captcha. I'll leave it active, at least so long as the spambots don't find it. If anyone wants their own account, email the username and password to battleshipbean at gmail.

Overhauls for 2018 are Main Guns Part 4, my review of Midway, Russian Battleships Part 3, the first part on the Falklands War, So You Want to Build a Modern Navy Part 2 and the Super-Dreadnoughts. 2019 overhauls are my review of Fort Sill, Shells Part 4, Spanish-American War Part 4, Falklands Part 14, Battleship Aviation Part 1, and lastly the first part of Lord Nelson's pictures from Mikasa. I really need to get another set of those up at some point.


  1. May 15, 2020Eltargrim said...

    I can see the Captchas and think I can post comments. This comment is a test.

  2. May 15, 2020Neal said...

    A few open comments ago there was a discussion about some of the best war films. I was surprised that no one mentioned The Cruel Sea. Not only was this an incredibly well-crafted book in the style of English novel writing of the time, but the film was excellent. I revisited both during this Covid-19 shelter-at-home time and they have lost none of their appeal--in fact, the book seems even stronger now than when I first read it.

    Speaking of films about convoy duty in the North Atlantic, I am half dreading when Greyhound appears. Nothing against Tom Hanks personally, but he has appeared in about 5893 movies and I wish to see other or newer actors. Second, I cringe at what Hollywood decided to do to C.S. Forester's work The Good Shepard. I can only hope to be pleasantly surprised, but I believe Bean's readership well understands having guarded expectations when it comes to some of these modern films.

    Perhaps I am just an old curmudgeon however. I thought Saving Private Ryan was pretty bad.

  3. May 15, 2020bean said...

    I'm interested in Greyhound. Yes, the trailers aren't particularly promising, but there's at least a chance they'll do it right. This isn't "from the director of Independence Day", and that counts for something.

    I do need to find a copy of the Cruel Sea movie. The book was great.

  4. May 15, 2020quanticle said...

    Not Navy related, but I've been reading Tom Ricks' The Generals: American Military Command From World War 2 to Today, and it's an excellent book. As the title implies, it's a history of the generals of the US Army and Marine Corps. The book examines of how the quality of leadership at the top of the Army and Marine Corps was responsible for the performance of those two branches in World War 2, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, and Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom.

    I'm just about halfway through, and my impression of it is that it's one of those rare books that manages to be both well written and well researched. I'll probably finish it by the end of the month (i.e. in time to write a review for the next Open Thread), but I feel confident in recommending it based on what I've read thus far.

  5. May 16, 2020Megasilverfist said... It looks like the Theodore Roosevelt is still having issues. If this its actual reinfection its pretty worrying for the world as a whole, but it is probably just a testing problem

  6. May 16, 2020bobbert said...

    @quanticle So it actually argues that the won-wars were a result of good generalship and the lost-wars were a result of bad generalship?

    Isn't the usual DoD line more that "We are always undefeated in the field, but our victories are thrown away by the civilian leadership/public."?

    Now that I say that out loud, it sounds pretty stabbed-in-the-back-y.

  7. May 17, 2020quanticle said...

    @bobbert So far, yes, but I've only gotten through the Korean War. As far as Korea goes, Ricks is very hard on MacArthur. He says that the US could have gotten a far better deal in Korea if MacArthur hadn't instructed US forces to push north to the Yalu river (in contravention of both Chinese warnings and his own orders from the US Joint Chiefs). MacArthur was a loose cannon who promoted more based on personal loyalty than competence, and the generals that actually did well in Korea, like Ridgway and O.P. Smith were those who ignored MacArthur's directions and did the sensible thing, regardless of what orders came from Tokyo.

    According to Ricks, the fact that Korea was as much of a struggle as it was is a clear indictment of the US Army leadership at the time. The US Army held all the advantages in Korea. It had superior weaponry, especially in terms of heavy artillery and armor, which the North Koreans almost entirely lacked. It had total control of the sky. The US Navy had complete sea control around the peninsula. Stopping the North Korean invasion should have been an easy thing. The only reason it wasn't was because of organizational and leadership failures.

    The US Army failed to take the North Korean forces seriously, and thus was caught flat-footed when they invaded. Compounding this was the lack of combat experience among US ground commanders, which meant that vital pre-battle preparations like pre-planned artillery fire plans, coordination with air support, pre-scouted paths of retreat with pre-positioned supply depots, etc. were all neglected, which meant that potential fighting retreats all too often turned into disorganized routs.

    Ricks doesn't even give MacArthur credit for the Incheon landings, arguing that there were other, less risky options that would have also effectively relieved the Busan pocket without putting American troops so far from friendly forces. In his view, MacArthur was of questionable utility in World War 2, and was completely over the hill by the time Korea rolled around. The only reason MacArthur wasn't replaced is because he was too much of a political hand grenade, and it wasn't until he made a bunch of deranged statements about bombing China that it was politically safe for Truman to fire him.

  8. May 17, 2020quanticle said...


    Most experts seem to agree that it's a testing issue. As I recall, South Korea reported similar reinfections but those turned out be false positives from the limitations of the PCR-based testing.

    It is worrying, though, that these sailors are reporting symptoms, even after they tested negative. I don't think any of the South Korean patients reported ongoing symptoms; they just had positive tests.

    All the same, I think if reinfection were a commonly occurring phenomenon, we'd have seen a lot of it in places like New York, Washington state, or other hard-hit places like Italy or France.

  9. May 18, 2020cassander said...


    MacArthur going to far north in Korea was at least as much the fault of truman/the joint chiefs not explicitly ordering him to stop somewhere as it was Mac going farther than he should have. MacArthur was problematic, but if Truman had publicly announced that american forces would not advance past the whatever line, I cannot imagine that he would have disobeyed that order. If he had, he would have been instantly relieved and no one would have criticized Truman for it. But they were basking in their own success, didn't want to do that, and were happy to blame mac after the chinese intervened. Frankly, given the general caliber of decision making coming from the joint chiefs in the 50s, I've begun to suspect that there was something leaking in the pentagon water supply.

    Now, being so unprepared for the Chinese attack, that's on mac and largely unforgivable, but I don't think it's as relevant to the overall argument that Ricks makes about personnel policy. His arguments make more sense when talking about the to the selection of field and lower level flag officers, roughly major to two star. the selection of top generals is always going to be political and something of a crapshoot.

  10. May 19, 2020Blackshoe said...


    Interestingly I read (or at least, listened to on audiobook) Ricks' "The Generals", and thought it was awful (although IIRC, it started getting really bad around Vietnam, so you might have not gotten that far), with lots of Ricks working to jam facts into his thesis, no matter whether they really supported it. I think a lot of it has to do with having read (again, listened to) John Nagl's "Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife", which had a similar thesis (oversimplified, that the US Army in particular refused to learn from mistakes and sought a system that preferred bureaucratic stability and providing promotion opportunities for officers rather than try and actually win wars), but I thought was much better supported (albeit it's a bit more academic in terms of its writing style). I'll see if I can dig up my notes on it for particulars.

  11. May 19, 2020quanticle said...

    I just got to the section heading for Vietnam, so I am definitely interested to see whether the book takes a nosedive. I skimmed a bit ahead and I can already see some things I disagree with, though, interestingly enough, my disagreements are mostly along the same lines as the ones I had with Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife.

    Namely, both Ricks and Nagl seem to argue that, if only the military had been better, along some axis (either better employment of counterinsurgency doctrine or better accountability for its senior officers) the Vietnam War would have been winnable. After having read a bit about the civilian side of that conflict (i.e. the RVN), I have a hard time agreeing. The RVN was fantastically corrupt, and was seen to be just as brutal to the civilians that it was notionally protecting as the Communists who were trying to overthrow them.

    The way I see it, the US military could have done everything to perfection and the Vietnam War would have still been a loss, because the US public would not have stood for US troops occupying (read: colonizing) Vietnam for as long as it would have taken to establish a reasonably stable civilian government and self-supporting military.

    Anyway, I have my notes on The Generals on my wiki, so you can follow along with my reading.

  12. May 19, 2020quanticle said...

    In other, more naval news, I've been looking at the European Patrol Corvette, after seeing a blurb that mentioned that Spain was joining France and Italy as a partner/purchaser.

    It looks like a neat little ship. Displacing around 3000 tons, the EPC has been described as a "modular" design that can be customized to specialize it for various missions by the nations that are ordering them. It's intended the replace the French Floreal-class and the Italian Comandanti-class. No idea what its role will be in Spanish usage.

    It's described as "modular", but I don't think it's meant to have swappable modules in the same way that the LCS was meant to. Rather, in this usage, "modular" means that it can be ordered with options, much like a car, to specialize it for various tasks, be it land attack, ASW, AAW, or long-range patrol/anti-piracy.

  13. May 20, 2020Alexander said...

    I'm often sceptical about multinational projects, but I suppose FREMM looks fairly successful. More so than Horizon anyway. How would EPC compare to an uparmed Holland class OPV?

  14. May 20, 2020bean said...

    That kind of modularity isn't new. The first design to see wide success was MEKO, which dates back to the late 70s. In practical terms, a lot of that stuff is standardized, so it's not too hard to make a design which can easily fit a wide range of systems, depending on who's buying. The FREMM is a pretty decent example, actually. There's substantial difference between the Italian and French ships, and yet the Italian design can be adapted to USN systems easily.

  15. May 20, 2020sfoil said...

    @quanticle Ricks was, ultimately, trying to say that US generals and the uniformed establishment they represent had at least some responsibility for problems during the Iraq War (a conclusion I think he arrived at while writing his immediately previous book, Fiasco, about that war). I also think he was pre-disposed to dislike MacArthur. Like cassander mentioned, I think the collapse of American forces in the face of the Chinese invasion of Korea is the most serious criticism, something for which he's pretty much unquestionably at fault, but not necessarily the other things.

    It is actually quite common for people who investigate the Vietnam War in detail, especially in hindsight, to arrive at the conclusion that it could have been won (i.e. that South Vietnam's existence could have been secured indefinitely a la South Korea's) using some counterfactual strategy or other. For instance: while the RVN's counterinsurgency tactics certainly involved acts "brutal to civilians", the DRV's decision to conscript large numbers of its own civilians into its military in order to wage a war of conquest against its neighbor was also rather brutal. Yet even putting it that way, despite the fact that it's true, sounds rather odd -- a hint that perhaps the popular understanding of the war is not what it seems.

  16. May 21, 2020AlexT said...

    Would it be a gross over-simplification, to say the US treated Vietnam like a limited war, while North Vietnam was in total, existential struggle mode?

  17. May 21, 2020sfoil said...

    Yes, because "limited war" is an over-broad term that avoids considering any of the actual policies and strategies in place.

  18. May 22, 2020quanticle said...

    The US effort in Vietnam was "limited", but it was limited in the same sense that the US effort in the Pacific at the start of World War 2 was "limited". Namely, the US military recognized that the main threat was still the Soviet Union in Europe, and kept the majority of their focus on that theater, because it does you no good to win in Vietnam but lose West Germany.

    That said, it's not as if the US was especially holding back, militarily, in Vietnam. If dropping three times the tonnage of bombs dropped in World War 2 counts as "limited", then what does unlimited look like? Tactical nukes [1]?

    [1]: Admiral Arthur Radford, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, proposed relieving the siege of Dien Bien Phu by using three tactical nuclear weapons. Fortunately, Eisenhower nixed the idea.

  19. May 22, 2020bean said...

    There are huge differences between the approaches the US took in the Pacific and Vietnam. All the bombs in the world are useless if you drop them on empty jungle, which is pretty much what we did. The Rolling Thunder campaign labored under absurd restrictions, most famously not bombing SAM sites while they were under construction for fear of killing Soviet nationals. Then it was suspended as a gesture towards North Vietnam, and they immediately came to the negotiating table in gratitude. Wait, no, that's not right.

    In 1972, Nixon finally got serious about using air power to end the war, most notably sending B-52s over Hanoi and mining Haiphong and they came to the table pretty quickly. Late that year, a deal had been made, but Hanoi tried to back out. Nixon sent the B-52s in again, and they enforced the deal. Yeah, up until that point, it was limited, and sharply so.

  20. May 22, 2020AlexT said...

    “limited war” is an over-broad term that avoids considering any of the actual policies and strategies in place

    "Limited war" means anything short of a total, existential struggle. It's a term used in most all military literature that I've come across, to express the idea that a state sets limits to what resources it allocates to a conflict, and what losses it's willing to incur.

    it’s not as if the US was especially holding back, militarily, in Vietnam [...] what does unlimited look like? Tactical nukes?

    No, hydrogen bombs. Whatever is necessary to win.

    20 years before Vietnam, the US beat the record for the biggest invasion in history several times, bombed Germany's cities into rubble, conquered half of Europe, all the while fighting another war almost half-way across the globe in the other direction, burning down Japan's cities and finally nuking them for good measure. A similar level of commitment, applied to the Vietnam war, would probably have produced a different outcome.

  21. May 22, 2020Directrix Gazer said...

    I finished Grab Their Belts to Fight Them a few months ago, a book about the Viet Cong from the North Vietnamese perspective. It utterly dashes the narrative of the canny, go-playing, genius strategists of the North wielding a scalpel of carefully calibrated guerilla warfare against the big, dumb, thrashing Americans.

    On the contrary, as soon as it was apparent that the Americans were going to deploy large-scale conventional forces to South Vietnam, the North Vietnamese leadership committed to defeating those forces in head-to-head battlefield engagements. They then stuck to that strategy, despite every offensive ending in horrific, bloody failure, until the Viet Cong were basically ground to dust. Every time the issue of what strategy to take came up for debate, the faction favoring guerilla warfare lost the argument (and their lives, in more than a few cases).

    The North Vietnamese military leadership, steeped in the doctrines of Maoist People's War, certainly viewed guerilla operations as a necessary adjunct to conventional operations, one which should be pursued continuously and energetically. The intelligence it provided and the friction it caused the enemy helped to make up for North Vietnam's technical deficiencies. It was never the focus of their efforts, though. Guerilla work was mostly delegated to regional militia-type VC units permanently stationed in the south, who tended to be poorly trained and equipped compared with the main-force VC battalions and regiments that made up an increasing preponderance of VC strength as the war went on.

    I think one of the most interesting trends the book pointed out was how an increasing proportion, eventually a majority, of the Viet Cong were conscripted, mostly from rural areas of South Vietnam that were under the North's control. This fact alone upends a lot of post-war analysis about what the US should and shouldn't have done.

  22. May 22, 2020Directrix Gazer said...

    I think the discussion of limited war / total war is contentious because of the multiple dimensions those terms comprise. I think if we stick to one dimension, that of war aims, things become clearer. This corresponds to Clausewitz' "war of limited aims" vs. "war of unlimited aims" dichotomy, with the latter meaning that you intend the full overthrow of your enemy, the complete elimination of his ability to resist you (at least until he throws in the towel and submits unconditionally), while the former is any aim short of that. From this perspective the difference between the Pacific Theater of WWII and Vietnam is immediately apparent. We never intended the overthrow of the North Vietnamese government, we just wanted them out of South Vietnam. We would have gone about the war completely differently, otherwise.

  23. May 23, 2020AlexT said...

    @Directrix Gazer

    if we stick to one dimension, that of war aims, things become clearer. This corresponds to Clausewitz’ “war of limited aims” vs. “war of unlimited aims” dichotomy, with the latter meaning that you intend the full overthrow of your enemy, the complete elimination of his ability to resist you (at least until he throws in the towel and submits unconditionally), while the former is any aim short of that.

    As a counterexample, the US aimed (and succeeded) to overthrow Saddam completely, but I wouldn't call Iraqi Freedom unlimited.

    Limited cost sounds like a better criterion than limited war aims; Vietnam appears to fit both.

  24. May 23, 2020AlphaGamma said...

    @quanticle and others on the European Patrol Corvette- what's interesting is how similar it sounds to the Buque de Accion Maritima that Spain just bought 12 of. Those are 2,700 tonne OPVs, with a modular design- one of them has been ordered as a research vessel, and one for diving support and underwater rescue.

    I get the sense from the blurb that the EPC might be better armed than the BAM?

  25. May 24, 2020quanticle said...

    The other distinguishing factor is probably range. The Buque de Accion Maritima, at least according to the sources I've read, has a cruising range of 3,500nm at 15kts. The design goal for the EPC appears to be considerably larger: 10,000nm at 14kts.

  26. May 28, 2020quanticle said...

    I'd missed this, but apparently Kenneth Braithwite was finally confirmed as Secretary of the Navy by the US Senate. He replaces Acting Secretary Modly, who departed under previously discussed ignominious circumstances.

    Hopefully this raises the quality of leadership at the Navy from "cabbage" to at least "bok choi". I think "carrot" is an ambitious stretch goal at this point.

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