June 12, 2020

Open Thread 54

It's time once again for our biweekly Open Thread. Talk about anything you want, so long as it's not culture war.

I recently finished C.S. Forester's The Good Shepard, the novel on which the upcoming movie Greyhound is to be based. (And can I say how annoyed I am that it's going to Apple TV?) Overall, I though it was OK. I didn't like Krause, and suspect that the sort of characters Forester writes will rub me the wrong way in general. But it was a very good portrayal of the problems of command in protecting a convoy early in the war, even if I do think that The Cruel Sea is a better book.

2018 overhauls are Jutland parts four, five, six and seven, So You Want to Build a Modern Navy - Coast Guard Part 1, my history of New Jersey, the review of Alabama, and Falklands Part 3. For 2019, I overhauled the one-part Jutland summary, Battleship Aviation Part 3, A Brief History of the Submarine, Inky's review of the Haifa Naval Museum, Falklands Part 15 and Soviet Battleships Part 1.


  1. June 12, 2020Bobbert said...

    So..., would there be logistical challenges if one wanted to give the Iowa to the city of Davenport?

  2. June 12, 2020bean said...

    Johan Larson once asked about moving Iowa to Denver in an SSC open thread. I'd start with the resulting discussion. The short version is that you could get her up the Mississippi if you put pontoons on her, but you'd need to take out every bridge below Davenport, as well as the Chain of Rocks Lock at St. Louis. This would be extremely expensive, but technically doable.

  3. June 12, 2020quanticle said...


    I know you have a lot on your plate, but would you mind writing a post about camouflage at sea? Almost every photograph I've seen of a World War 2 naval vessel has them painted in very distinctive camouflage patterns. Did any of this camouflage work?

  4. June 13, 2020Neal said...

    Greyhound sold to Apple TV? Now that's rather disappointing news. I was hoping/planning on watching this, obviously some time post Covid-19, on the local cinema's wide screen.

    I already fear having to watch this though with one eye closed as Hanks is 6 years older than I and I wonder how they work that advanced age into his just now taking out his first North Atlantic command. Not slagging on Hanks, but at some point he is going to HAVE to relinquish some of these roles to younger actors.

    Will give it a fair viewing, but after having re-read The Cruel Sea the week prior to last and then the film itself last week, that the gantlet has been thrown down to warn challengers that they must come with their best game.

    Amazon UK kept my IV drip going for even more submarine books with a very new publication entitled Under Pressure by Richard Humphreys. Richard served on board the boomer HMS Resolution from the late 1980's to the early 1990's.

    I found the first half slow and even disjoint, but once about and on patrol he gives a quite good accounting of the physcholgy of living on board for 90 days.

    I had been seeking a counterweight to Gene Flucky's recounting as I found it far to "golley fellows this is really swell" kind of thing. Humphreys brings out the human factor side much better than anything I have run across.

    This was before the time a drunken rate killed an officer whilst out on patrol and Humphreys describes a serious culture of drinking on board.

    He also describes one of the boats colliding with a French nuke and swapping some paint, or should I say tiles. This is apparently not quite as an unheard occurence as I had imagined. Fortunately these two, in 2009, were going quite slow but still...

    The other book is "One of our Submarines" by Edward Young RNVR. About 1/2 way though and his excellent writing gives a quite solid view into a WW2 British boat...with a darn brave escape attempt to liven things up.

    Both worth the read with the caveat that Humphreys will often underwhelmed but yet, at the end, you find yourself having learned and appreciated his narrative. Not quite sure how he pulled that off.

  5. June 13, 2020bean said...


    The reason that hasn't been covered already is because for some reason camouflage is one of the few aspects of naval warfare that doesn't really interest me. There's a good chapter in Eclipse of the Big Gun, but it doesn't have anything solid on effectiveness.

  6. June 13, 2020bean said...

    I have just found possibly the most infuriating thing ever. While checking the section on the Mk23 in a book on nuclear weapons, I found a picture of Iowa firing a broadside with the following caption: "The New Jersey gives a full nine 16 inch gun broadside during gunnery practice. You can see the power of these guns by the fact that the whole ship has been moved to port by the recoil. Notice the bow wake." You have managed to push two of my buttons at once. Misidentifying my ship, and spreading myths!

  7. June 13, 2020Blackshoe said...


    The Historic Naval Ship Association has a copy of the 1953 (and last) USN camouflage publication, with some discussion on why they had gotten rid of some of the older measures (spoilers: Dazzle didn't work). They also have a copy of the 1942 instruction with all the WW2 patterns, as well. I remember another website I'll have to look up that talked about all the various camouflage patterns with some overall notes about how and why they changed and didn't work, which I will try and dig up.

    Also, I have been enjoying checking out your wiki on The Generals; and have some more thoughts about it I will try and type out. By coincidence, I am listening to A Bright Shining Lie now, which really does underline how hopeless the US cause in Vietnam, thanks to the endemic corruption of the South.

  8. June 13, 2020quanticle said...


    Thanks for the links. My impression was that camouflage at sea was largely obviated by the invention of radar, which wasn't susceptible to visual trickery, but it looks like camouflage never really worked.

    Also, I've been neglecting to update my wiki with my latest reading. I'll go fix that posthaste.

  9. June 13, 2020Neal said...


    I'll second Blackshoe's remark about your wiki on the generals. Good work!

  10. June 14, 2020quanticle said...

    I was reading a piece about the USS Monitor, and one of the things it mentioned was that when the monitor fired its cannons, the blast was very loud inside the turret.

    What sort of mitigations did more modern ships have to avoid deafening their crews from the noise produced by those enormous cannons?

  11. June 14, 2020Neal said...

    Not only the immediate and long term effects of the noise, which I have also wondered about, but what about the concussive effects of any large calibers up to16 inch guns on orientation and even internal organs? Were there ways to diminish any additional pressure waves that might be induced in the firing of such weapons?

  12. June 14, 2020bean said...

    By and large, nobody worried too much about noise. They might tell you to put on ear protection, but not much more than that. Blast damage was a big deal, and they spent a lot of time trying to make sure that the ship wasn't damaged by it. I went into some detail on this in the Main Guns series. So far as I know, there really wasn't any way to reduce it. You just had to deal with it.

  13. June 14, 2020Alsadius said...

    Re that Johan Larson SSC thread: Hey Bean, can we get mad engineering challenges of that sort as a semi-occasional feature on this blog?

    Actually, what the hell, I'll start. Jackie Fisher famously described “Five keys [that] lock up the world! Singapore. The Cape. Alexandria [Suez]. Gibraltar. Dover.” - i.e., the major chokepoints of global trade. Bean, in his Basics of Naval Strategy post a couple years ago, added Hormuz to the list, and Panama is an obvious one as well.

    Your challenge, should you choose to accept it: Deploy mad engineering to create another one. It has to be within human capability. It does not need to be even the slightest bit sane.

  14. June 15, 2020Alexander said...

    Depending on how much of the world you want to lock up, Istanbul already does a good job of securing the black sea, or more speculatively, the Bering strait could become one. Maybe even the St. Lawrence seaway?

    If we have to do some actual engineering, how about the proposed Kra isthmus canal, a North Sea barrier, or a massively expanded 'great wall of sand' sufficient to control access to the Chinese coast? Even less plausibly, how about Malaysia, the Philippines and Japan coordinate to countervail such a wall?

  15. June 15, 2020Doctorpat said...


    First of all, if you count Dover then you have to count Denmark.

    Secondly: a map of the ocean depths shows that there is fairly shallow water in a ridge running from Florida through the Bahamas to Barbados and then down to Venezuela. If you could build that up?

  16. June 15, 2020quanticle said...

    In the same vein as Doctor Pat, I was thinking Key West, Florida to Havana, Cuba, and Las Tumbas, Cuba to Cancun, Mexico. That's about 250mi of barrier, and it would completely seal off the Gulf of Mexico.

  17. June 15, 2020bean said...

    Hmm. That's a good one. Blocking the Gulf of Mexico seems a bit redundant to Panama. China's activities in the South China Sea seem like a reasonable attempt to create another. But if we flip this around and ask if we can make another one because of improved trade routes, instead of disrupting existing ones, then I'd go with the Bering Strait, or somewhere else in the Northwest Passage.

    As for that kind of mega-engineering challenge being a regular thing here, Johan is a lot better at coming up with those than I am.

  18. June 15, 2020bean said...

    Also, saw two interesting articles in USNI News this morning. First, it looks like Fitzgerald is finally out of the yard, and on her way to her new home in San Diego.

    Second, the USN has two ships that might be affected by current proposals to rename anything associated with the Confederacy (which is mostly targeted at US Army bases): the cruiser Chancecellorsville and the survey ship Maury. Chancellorsville was a clear-cut Confederate victory, and it's probably a good idea to at least remove the references to Lee and Jackson from the ship's crest. Maury is named afer a man who basically invented oceanography, even if he did quit to work for the Confederacy later.

  19. June 15, 2020Alsadius said...

    My impression is that Dover made more sense with the trade patterns of the day - going around Scotland is much safer now than it was, and Europe as a whole is less important.

    The Bering seems pretty unlikely, just because it doesn't go anywhere. The best case is probably something like Japan-UK, but that only shaves about a thousand nautical miles off the Suez route. The Gulf of Mexico blockage could work non-redundantly with Panama if you brought it to a southern end around Cancun instead of Venezuela, I suppose. The Chinese barrier is interesting, if depths allow it, and would be very influential. And of course, the Kra Canal is very possible, and actually might even be sane - it's one of those ones that's perpetually on the border of sanity.

    Regarding the Confederate names, Maury is a keeper from that description, unless he was a total bastard - it's his scientific work being remembered, not his Lost Cause. Chancellorsville, less so, unless there's several other Civil War battles on cruisers and it's clearly just part of a set.

  20. June 15, 2020bean said...

    Kra Canal would be the best option, IMO. If we're allowed crazy amounts of mad engineering, the obvious answer is to resurrect Plowshare and use that.

    There's significant interest in the Northwest Passage as a shipping route, and the Bering Strait is the easiest choke point there, although I'm not particularly familiar with the geography of the rest of the passage.

    Chancellorsville is one of quite a few Ticos names after Civil War battles, along with Mobile Bay, Gettysburg, Antietam, Shiloh and Vicksburg. But it's the only one of those that the Confederacy won.

  21. June 15, 2020Alsadius said...

    I've been staring at river maps for a while, trying to come up with a different manner of insane linkage that humans might be able to manage, other than just damming the ocean or digging the Kra. And I think I have one just crazy enough that it's worth mentioning.

    The African Great Lakes are all clustered together, but actually feed three different rivers. Victoria feeds the Nile, flowing north, Malawi feeds the Zambezi, flowing east, and Tanganyika feeds the Congo, flowing west. But the elevation differences between them don't seem that bad, from the topographic maps I can find. (Super-high-res: https://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/jpeg/PIA04965.jpg)

    All three rivers have waterfalls and similar issues, but all could probably be dealt with using reasonable systems of locks, like the ones used on the Great Lakes of North America. Victoria Falls isn't that much taller than Niagara, after all. All three of them are major commercial routes for parts of their length, and have sufficient depth for at least decently-sized ships. I think a not-totally-insane set of canals could be constructed between them, connecting several of the world's oceans and a gigantic inland market (especially if they ever become developed). It'll never be used for supertankers, but the system could very plausibly rival the St. Lawrence Seaway or any of the big commercial rivers, if the economics were right.

  22. June 16, 2020bean said...

    That's an interesting plan, and it would be extremely beneficial to the countries along its route, but I suspect that you wouldn't see much use by vessels that are merely transiting. It's not a huge distance savings over going around Africa, and you're not going to be able to pass most merchant ships through. There's also some fairly formidable obstacles in the way, like the Aswan High Dam.

  23. June 16, 2020Alsadius said...

    Yeah, I can't see it being much more relevant than most riverine routes, like the Mississippi, Amazon, or St Lawrence. I was looking all over the globe for river routes that might do more than that, but even really crazy ones (e.g., driving a hole through the Andes to connect the Amazon to the Pacific) don't really do much more than replicating Panama or Suez. So I guess it doesn't technically qualify, under my original terms.

    On the up side, searching for it did show me this extremely cool visualization of merchant shipping patterns, so it wasn't a total loss: https://www.shipmap.org/

  24. June 16, 2020Johan Larson said...

    Any idea what the consequences will be of Trump's planned reduction in US troop levels in Germany? Looks like the plan is to bring home 9,500 and leave 25,000 in place.

  25. June 16, 2020Lambert said...

    The Left Wing there will be pleased. (at least the ones who make political graffitti will be. Saw a few stickers on lamp-posts calling for the Americans to go home)
    Not sure what the country at large will think. Of course, they no longer have the Red Army breathing down their necks.

    Who are they bringing home, soldiers or airmen?

  26. June 16, 2020Johan Larson said...

    I can't find any sort of breakdown in any article. Maybe the military hasn't decided.

    Poland has offered to host the troops that are to be withdrawn from Germany.

  27. June 16, 2020ryan8518 said...

    I thought they already built the next key to the world seaborne trade....https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhine%E2%80%93Main%E2%80%93Danube_Canal

  28. June 16, 2020Neal said...


    It is hard to say where the reductions might be coming from as senior officials are being quoted that there is, as of this time, not a fixed plan but rather just the POTUS' announcement/Tweet.

    EUCOM, SECARMY, NATO, SECAF,and even the Germans are all left guessing at this time.

    This article is appearing in the German news magazine Der Spiegel at the moment and it discusses how deep the German confusion is. As Heiko Maas, the German Foreign Secretary mentions, he has no idea of the when, how, or why of this announcement. https://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/us-truppenabzug-aus-deutschland-donald-trump-beschaedigt-die-nato-a-d6e12f67-315f-441d-a132-b7791b1ccb2c

    The Polish president might visit the White House next week so I would imagine the idea might be floated of a shift of the personnel. But...the cost of that is unknown, there might be no infrastructure for the families, and 1001 other issues that require some real planning. Of, of course then there is that early 1990's Russia-NATO agreement about Western/NATO or Russian troops being stationed in Poland...

    The whole thing to me has a whiff of fire, aim, ready.

    With Ramstein AB, EUCOM, AFRICOM, along with other important structures (think Landstuhl Army hospital for example) the U.S. has had over the decades both tie in to NATO as well as the military logistics options to give reach to its foreign policy.

    These kind of issues tie in nicely with the tussle of such things as the Nord Stream 2 debate, the extent of "Schoederization" of German foreign policy (named after former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and his apparent proclivities to be Vlad's good pal), and approaches to such, now seemingly distant, topics as Iran.

    It might be a bluff, it might be real, but either way it seems the POTUS is looking for a leverage point, but it is certainly making a lot of agencies and allies scramble so that leverage point is going to need a bit of definition.

  29. June 17, 2020Lambert said...

    I saw more river cruise boats going up and down the Rhein/Danube than freight.

    There's also a real limit on the size of what you can fit through the Europakanal.

  30. June 18, 2020Doctorpat said...


    Looking at the https://www.shipmap.org/, I see a LOT more freight on the Russian internal rivers joining Moscow to the Baltic and Black seas, than the Rhein/Danube

  31. June 18, 2020Johan Larson said...

    Trump is a blowhard, but he does have a point. The rest of NATO has been slacking for a long time, with the US picking up the tab for the common defense. Having the US military in western Europe made sense during the early Cold War, but it has been there a lifetime now. The Europeans have had plenty of time to pick up the pieces since WWII, and organize militaries sufficient to defend themselves.

    And really, the Europeans aren't the only ones. Canada spends 1.25% of GDP on defense, well short of the 2% target that has been discussed.

  32. June 18, 2020Directrix Gazer said...

    When an alliance is tightly knit so that an attack on one is met with action by all, defence has become a common [i.e. public] good. The optimum strategy for each individual nation is to spend as little as possible on its defence and to rely on the others in the alliance for its security. The limit comes when a nation contributes so little that its allies are no longer willing to shoulder extra burdens and withdraw their protection, or threaten to do so. However, such limits have usually been elastic when, as in the case of Britain and her Dominions, the leading nation felt strong ties of trade and sentiment towards her allies. Then the latter are able to get away with very small defence burdens and deflect much of the cost of their security on to the nominal leader of the alliance. Instances of this may be found in the interwar years when, for example, Canada strongly influenced British policy towards rivalry between American and Japan and when Australia constantly pressed for large commitments to the Pacific Ocean in general and to the defence of Australia in particular. In these cases, Britain was considerate of dominion fears and forebore to press the point that their wealth would enable them to make more than five times their actual contributions to their own defence were they to bear the same defence burden as Britain."

    • Phillip Pugh, The Cost of Sea Power
  33. June 18, 2020Blackshoe said...

    Canada spends 1.25% of GDP on defense, well short of the 2% target that has been discussed.

    And it gets worse when you remember how much amounts to costs incurred so they can produce things locally to support the industrial base. One of my bitterest opinions is that the political elites and leadership of 90% of modern Western nations view their military primarily as a system to support the industrial base. Also, in Europe's case, it's not like the Europe needs the US to resist a conventional Russian invasion. They are perfectly capable of building a force to do that without American assistance.

    Re: Canada. Can't remember where I heard this, but I remember a Canadian arguing that Canada's biggest problem is deep down inside, they know that the US has to protect them, since the greatest threat to the US comes via Canada. Therefore, since they have a mostly pretty good and benign relationship with the US (for now and the foreseeable future, although the Arctic might change that), fundamentally, they really don't have much of a need for a lot of defen(s/c)e spending.

  34. June 18, 2020Alsadius said...

    Even the US uses defense spending as a massive subsidy slush fund, in practice. This is one of the reasons we in Canada get pissy about Bombardier getting hit with trade barriers by the US. If Bombardier gets subsidized on the civilian side, and Boeing gets subsidized with an overpriced order of V-22s, they're both getting excessive government cash, but the US acts like we're the bad guys. (I'm anti-subsidy, mind you, but the nature of it is just one of those suspiciously convenient coincidences that bugs me too.)

    But yes, Canada can and should do better. Even if the US is stuck with us, we shouldn't be jerks about it.

  35. June 18, 2020bean said...

    I realized something. If anybody out there is looking to get General Order 99 (prohibition of alcohol aboard USN ships) repealed, now is probably the time. Josephus Daniels, the mind behind it, was also a noted white supremacist, damn his eyes.

    (I ran into a colonial navy reenactor at Fort MacArthur days when I was in LA, and somehow the subject of rum came up. I explained why my ship didn't have any aboard, and he replied "damn his eyes". I now can't think of Daniels without following it with that.)

  36. June 18, 2020Blackshoe said...

    I realized something. If anybody out there is looking to get General Order 99 (prohibition of alcohol aboard USN ships) repealed, now is probably the time.

    Good luck with that. Bringing alcohol back onboard ships would be slightly less popular with current leadership than proposing we start rebuilding dreadnoughts and four-piper destroyers.

  37. June 18, 2020Neal said...

    Has anyone gotten a real fix on what that 2% agreement actually means? Yes, I know the percentage of GDP bit, but is that for home-nation only defenses or NATO (or other alliance) efforts? In other words, exactly to what is that 2% spend supposed to go toward? If Germany spends money on sending forces to Mali, for example, does that count toward the total?

    I have thought that this is the real weakness of this argument. Sure its politically popular in some circles to say the the U.S. is being grievously taken advantage of, but when working with allies and alliances it is necessary to clearly define what this means.

    Granted, some of that spadework has been done and many nations should perhaps be brought to the line for more contribution, but some rigor in what that means would be welcome for all parties.

    It has always been an interesting think piece to wonder what the U.S. would say if Germany asked it to pack up and decamp from its Army posts and Ramstein. Seemingly the Germans would never ask such a thing and the U.S. would never go that far, but the question allows a discussion of who contributes what and for what reasons--sort of a rationalization of these agreements for the 2020s. This goes down a lot of interesting trails such as if forces were to be positioned to Poland (a big reach at this time imho) what is the exact purpose of them being there?

  38. June 18, 2020Alsadius said...

    Yes, the 2% is defined - in short, all military spending counts, because you can redeploy your capabilities if you need to.

    And I can't really imagine an argument that the US isn't being grievously taken advantage of, tbh. You can argue about the scale of it, but when the US is spending something like 4x as much as Germany per capita, that's not a balanced alliance.

  39. June 19, 2020Johan Larson said...

    If Canada were to bump its spending from 1.25% to 2.0%, what would be the smart way to spend the money? Off-hand, giving the RCAF AWACS would probably be a high priority. The Navy also doesn't have a submarine fleet worthy of the name; that would probably be another priority. The French Suffren (Barracuda) class maybe?

  40. June 19, 2020AlexT said...

    The rest of NATO has been slacking for a long time, with the US picking up the tab for the common defense

    NATO never was, and isn't now, an alliance of equals. The US has absolute dominance. It's an expensive position, of course, but it has its perks.

    You're either the hegemon, or you're not - and it sucks when you're not.

  41. June 19, 2020bean said...

    There's other ways the 2% target can be abused. AIUI, the UK only makes it because they include things like military pensions, which with the best will in the world don't really contribute to military readiness.


    I'm not suggesting it, just pointing out that now would be a good time if someone were to try.

  42. June 22, 2020ryan8518 said...

    So it looks like Admiral Gilday (CNO) ultimately decided against reinstatement of Captain Crozier "on the balance of further review of evidence" (and once the political firestorm moved on to other issues. I can't find much else in details (though they decided to censure his admiral for the incident as well (doesn't seem like they gone as far as removing him from his current command, but both their careers are dead). Has anybody else come across any other interesting tidbits to the story? Some naval folks I know suggest a lot of their confusion was over the use...or more exactly the lack of use...of the flash traffic system though I'm still a little unclear of what that implies.

  43. June 23, 2020Doctorpat said...

    Wasn't the original US war of independence sparked by the insistence by the British that the Colonies pay their part of the cost of defending them in the 7 year war?

  44. June 23, 2020Gareth (OG) said...


    My impression was that the British pointedly did not ask the Colonies to contribute to paying off the past war debt, but did ask them to pay for some of the future cost of stationing troops for the defense of the colonies. As well as insisting they stay East of the Appalachians, to avoid provoking another war.

    Might be misremembering however.

  45. June 23, 2020Blackshoe said...

    @ryan8518: I have a copy of the investigation, and will let you know what sticks out to me about it.

  46. June 25, 2020Johan Larson said...

    The RealLifeLore YouTube channel has a nifty video about a hypothetical Bering Strait bridge between Alaska and Siberia. Such a bridge could be built; the distances isn't completely crazy and the Strait is actually quite shallow. But harsh conditions would make it a very expensive project, and such a bridge would be too remote to get much use. Sure, it would be cool to be able to drive from Seattle to Vladivostok. But pretty much no one would do such a thing.

  47. June 25, 2020Blackshoe said...

    Spammers have found the website, I see.

  48. June 25, 2020bean said...

    There's been occasional spam ever since we started, although the Captcha keeps most of them out. There are two or three posts I've closed comments on because the spammers really liked them. OT1 and There Seems to be Something Wrong with our Bloody Ships Today are the ones I can remember, though there might be a couple others. The latter got a note of "if you have anything to say on this, post in the latest OT".

Comments from SlateStarCodex:

Leave a comment

All comments are reviewed before being displayed.

Name (required):

E-mail (required, will not be published):


You can use Markdown in comments!

Enter value: Captcha