January 08, 2021

Open Thread 69.25

As you might have noticed, the title of this OT is slightly different from normal. I'm mostly just amazed that the Naval Gazing OTs have reached the point that SSC's were at when Naval Gazing started almost four years ago. Commenter IrishDude asked about people's hobbies, and I answered about my tour-guiding efforts. Some discussion ensued, and I ended up giving a text version of my standard fire-control spiel. And I just kind of never stopped throwing random battleship/naval stuff onto the internet.

Also, as 2020 is now behind us, it's time to announce the winner of the William D Brown Memorial Award for the biggest screw-up that didn't kill anybody. This year's goes to the US Navy, for managing to write off an amphibious assault ship in a fire, which also allowed the judges to dodge the tricky question of Thomas Modly's eligibility.

As usual, talk about anything you want, even if it's not military/naval, so long as it's not culture war.

Overhauls for 2017-2018 are Armor Parts three and four, A Spotter's Guide to Warships of the World Wars and today, Why the Carriers Aren't Doomed Part 1 and Reactivation of the Iowas. 2018-2019 overhauls are Great White Fleet parts two and three, Commercial Aviation Part 4, Information, Communication and Naval Warfare Part 2, Auxiliaries Part 4 and my review of the Stafford Air and Space Museum. Lastly, 2019-2020 overhauls were Anti-Radiation Missiles, New Year's Logs, The Range of a Carrier Wing and Billy Mitchell Part 4.


  1. January 08, 2021Alsadius said...

    Another entry in my occasional "what if" series for open threads.

    In the early days of nuclear weapons research, it was thought that the critical mass for a nuke was much higher than it actually is. Einstein's letter to FDR suggested that bombs would be shipborne, for example. What if they were right?

    For sake of clarity, the laws of physics are subtly altered so that nuclear reactors still work fine, but nuclear weapons require roughly a thousand times as much mass, volume, and effort at refining fissile material as they do IRL, for a similar level of explosive power, assuming a similar level of engineering work. (And of course, the Sun still functions properly, etc.)

    According to Wikipedia, the smallest nuke alleged to be possible is 19kg, so let's say that in this world the smallest possible would be 19 metric tons - small enough to carry on a plane or missile, but probably costing substantially more than a capital ship.

  2. January 08, 2021ryan8518 said...

    At that point, are you back at the point where conventional explosive yield as a function of weapon weight go back to being better so you've functionally posited a world where nuclear bombs don't make any practical sense to build as explosive devices (maybe as radiation generators, but that's a different sort of thing). See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclearweaponyield#/media/File:USnuclearweaponsyield-to-weightcomparison.svg as a quick and dirty data source on the subject....but you could turn around and tweak the ratio down from 1000x until you got something worse than today, but still clearly an improvement over conventional explosives

  3. January 08, 2021Alsadius said...

    So from the looks of that pic(after I cleaned up the URL - Markdown links are a real pain), the usual limit is 6kt/kg, so in this hypothetical it's 6 t/kg, or about 6000-fold better than TNT. That's still occasionally notable.

    I expect the big powers would look into a couple dozen city-buster weapons, and a hypothetical WW3 would have nukes used in a fairly similar way to how they were used IRL in WW2.

    I was thinking more of what kind of effect it'd have on conventional warfare to not have the big "I win" button to enter the scene in the 40s. I suspect ship armour stays viable a fair bit longer, for example, and battleships might get an extra few years of utility. (Though since there would still be no enemy capital fleet left in 1945, and the USSR would still be unlikely to build one, I doubt we'd actually see any new-build battleships.)

    I also suspect that the space race would be somewhat slower, since so much of that was predicated on IRBM/ICBM development. You may well have had the Cold War go hot at some point, too - I could imagine the Korean War going hot, or maybe Vietnam, if the great powers weren't terrified of combat obliterating their cities in an hour.

    Honestly, this might even make a fun alt-hist scenario in some ways.

  4. January 08, 2021Alexander said...

    The first big change would be the end of the Pacific war. How much longer does Japan hold out, and what finally convinces them to throw in the towel? I'd also imagine that the Cuban revolution doesn't have the same implications, but it could be that the Soviets need a base there to be able to credibly threaten the US at all.

  5. January 08, 2021bean said...

    It's going to drastically change the entire Cold War. Without nuclear weapons, deterrence goes out the window, and you're going to need massive conventional forces to protect western Europe. That has massive economic effects, as defense budgets have to be a lot higher. And the massive increase in a chance of war...

  6. January 09, 2021AlexT said...

    AIUI, 1000x critical mass would handicap atomic bombs, hydrogen bombs not so much. The primary still has to be very big, but yield can be about anything. You probably could alter hydrogen too, but you want the Sun to work the same, right?

    So, effective bombs are delayed by about 10-15 years. Conveniently, B-52s show up up in the fifties and can carry 30t of ordnance, so they can still deliver an XXL H-bomb.

    ICBMs are more difficult, I guess?

    the big “I win” button to enter the scene in the 40s

    Nitpick: there was no big I WIN button in the '40s. Until thermonuclear weapons came along, the US had the ability to raze a few city centers, and that's it. So, basically, nothing they couldn't already do using conventional explosives. What you're thinking about is H-bombs; those are the real game changers. They are also far less limited by the amount of fissile fuel.

  7. January 09, 2021Jade Nekotenshi said...

    You still need a critical mass to initiate an H-bomb, unless you can figure out a fissionless fusion bomb, which is still out of reach today. If your critical mass is 19t, then your fusion bombs can have a lot more bang in a package only a wee bit larger, but the floor is still the same. This makes things like nuke SAMs, ICBMs, nuke artillery, nuke torpedoes, a whole lot harder if not flatly untenable, even with thermonuclear warheads.

  8. January 09, 2021Alsadius said...

    Nukes were still a fairly big hit to fleets in the 40s - there weren't any enemy fleets left by the time they came about, but if there had been, Prince of Wales and Repulse would have looked like pale imitations of the fate of an unescorted battleship that got confronted by air power. But yes, the potential damage to cities increased dramatically due to H-bombs.

    The aspect of it that I think would be more relevant is the cost of assembling bombs. The US produced a total of about 70,000 nukes, at a cost of close to $10 trillion all-in (inflation-adjusted, including delivery systems). If the trillions of that spent on nukes themselves only gets you 70 nukes, then you can't scale it up very well at all. There'd probably only be two nuclear powers in the world, each with a couple dozen weapons, because you can't anchor your whole defense on them.

    I do agree that defense budgets would be higher overall, though, as Western Europe is held with conventional forces.

  9. January 09, 2021Lambert said...

    Well another 737 (not max) has gone down in Indonesia.

    And is the idea for the nuke hypothetical to translate all the points on this graph 3 orders of magnitude upwards? http://blog.nuclearsecrecy.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/yield-to-weight.png

  10. January 09, 2021Anonymous said...

    Khrushchev will have to build silos for the UR-500 instead of communism.

    Joke aside, assuming that Uranium and Plutonium still have the same energy as the real world would see tactical nukes wiped out while the big strategic weapons would still exist (but would have a much higher fission proportion so the bombs would be less ecofriendly), there would of course be less of them.

    Early ballistic missiles didn't have the accuracy to be useful for anything other than delivering nukes so probably some delay until they can be made big enough to handle a nuke and SSBNs probably never exist or if they do are Typhoon sized but carry less missiles (and there won't be any MIRVs). OTOH really big ICBMs might come a bit sooner and that could have implications for the space race (the first space capsules may be bigger and more capable).

    Probably more research trying to get hydride bombs working, it'll fail but they might do more tests than in the real world and I'd also expect every transuranic to be studied for critical mass to see if some Californium or something isotope might have a lower critical mass.

  11. January 09, 2021Jade Nekotenshi said...

    Well, I just got back from visiting the USS Wisconsin museum in Norfolk. More was open than the last time I went back in 2010 or so, but thanks to the accursed human malware in circulation, the more interesting spaces were closed off. Did get to see the wardroom and forward O-country, and I could go up to, but not into, the 5" mounts. I'd like to go back some time after the pandemic clears up, but my upcoming relocation to Colorado may make that difficult.

    Still, it was pretty neat to get to go out there one more time!

  12. January 09, 2021bean said...

    Nice. I do mean to get out there at some point. 2010 would have been just after they opened, so I'm not surprised they've done a lot of work in the intervening decade.

  13. January 09, 2021Mike Kozlowski said...


    Manymanymany years ago there was a great nuclear alt-hist called 'The Jesus Factor' by Edwin Corley. Short Version: in the early 70s the US and USSR are about to go toe to toe when a Plucky Lady Reporter discovers the most closely held secret on the planet...nuclear weapons don't work in live drops. You can test them on static sites and they'll go off all day long, but drop one from a plane or shoot one on a missile, and it just sits there (some weird physics thing). Nobody has tactically or strategically useful nuclear weapons, and it's about to cause WWIII. Would be fun to bring that one back today.


  14. January 10, 2021echo said...

    On a related note, I've been trying to find a short story I read as a very little kid.
    Researcher at a military (antarctic?) base has invented a device that prevents all forms of explosive detonation within a large area. He knows it will bring peace to mankind, but his braindead superiors inexplicably won't let him test it.
    He sets up a large test in secret, and is overjoyed that it works... until his boss tells him that both sides suspected the other knew about the concept already, but by making it common knowledge (the soviets know we know they know we know), he's doomed WWIII to be fought with spears, famine, and plague.
    Does it sound familiar to anyone?

  15. January 10, 2021AlexT said...

    O/T: I got this wild idea reading books about WW2 carrier aviation: why didn't they make double-decker carriers?

    Two flight decks, one on top of the other. The one above is the landing deck, where planes land then go immediately to an elevator and get lowered to the hangar. Below that is the launch deck, where you have the catapults. The planes get accelerated inside the ship and shoot out through a big opening at the front of the carrier.

    The major advantage would be longer runways, both for taking off and for landing. More arrestor wires (maybe across the length of the whole landing deck) and more space to brake to a halt (ie less deceleration, so less stress on the plane). No obstacles (eg other planes loaded with fuel and ammo) on the landing deck for planes to smash into.

    On the other hand, a dedicated launch deck could have a doubled(?) catapult length, requiring less acceleration to reach the same launch velocity, or providing increased (+40%, if I'm not mistaken) launch velocity. The launch deck could be open on all sides and allow free air flow. Could probably park the planes on the launch deck and maybe move hangar operations there too.

    Basically, take a regular carrier, add another deck above its flight deck, and use that just to land the planes. Would this have worked then? How about now?

  16. January 10, 2021bean said...

    That was actually tried. Several early carriers had multiple decks. I think Akagi as first commissioned had three. The short version is that it didn't work. Keep in mind that pre-WWII and even during WWII, catapult launches were unusual. Normally, you could launch planes just as well and a lot faster with rolling takeoffs. I think the aerodynamics were problematic (much more of an issue with the light planes of the day) and handling would have been a mess. Carrier elevators just aren't that fast.

    Also worth pointing out that the setup as you proposed is going to add lots of topweight relative to a single-deck carrier. That means a wider ship, and makes it more expensive.

  17. January 10, 2021AlexT said...

    Interesting, wasn't aware of those early multi-deckers. Although that's not the arrangement I'm thinking of. Those were pretty much regular carriers with a (very) short extra deck (or two) tacked on somewhere. I want two legit full-size decks the the whole length of the ship, although the aerodynamics on take off would probably be interesting.

    I do wonder about the topweight problem - the only raised element is a steel platform. Everything else stays just as low as it is for single-deckers. In return, two major advantages. First, the chaotic semi-controlled semi-crash-landing planes are kept much further away from bombs, aviation fuel and flight deck crews. Second, the increased deck length allows higher performance on take off and reduced stress on landing, practically reducing requirements for carrier-borne aircraft.

  18. January 10, 2021bean said...

    Topweight would really kill it, interesting idea though it is. IIRC, there's a height squared term, so even a lightweight steel platform is going to be a major issue. And deck length wasn't really an issue before WWII because of how quickly most planes could take off. (This changing is what killed the flying off decks.) Afterwards, there were a bunch of wartime carriers laying around and a strong incentive to make sure as many planes as possible could land on them. That dramatically limits your ability to make use of the expanded facilities of the new carrier, and when you're looking at making it that much larger and more expensive, there just isn't a case for it.

  19. January 10, 2021quanticle said...

    Somewhat old news, but an ex-Marine actually went ahead and made edible crayons.

    It comes in a package with edible glue.

  20. January 10, 2021bean said...

    That is brilliant. Well done to him.

  21. January 11, 2021quanticle said...

    The obvious joke is that it was easier to make the crayons safe to eat than it was to teach Marines not to eat crayons : )

  22. January 11, 2021AlphaGamma said...

    @echo- there's The Trigger by Arthur C. Clarke and Michael Kube-McDowell, but that's a full-length novel, and I don't remember Antarctica being involved.

    (In that book, initially the device detonates all explosives within range, it's a later improvement that renders them inert instead).

    And on multi-deck carriers- some early US carriers had catapults on the hangar deck, I think launching over the beam not over the bow. IIRC the initial plan was that these could be used if the carrier needed to launch a scout aircraft at short notice while the flight deck was occupied by landings. They were eventually determined not to be useful, and removed in the early years (for the US) of WW2.

  23. January 11, 2021Blackshoe said...

    @AlexT: NAVAIR looks at this, realizes it could massively increase SGR, and announces that your ideas are intriguing, and they would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

  24. January 11, 2021bean said...


    Crayon-eating is an important part of Marine Corps culture! The very idea that it could be abolished is (censored due to culture war concerns)

  25. January 11, 2021Johan Larson said...

    Come on, guys. The Marines aren't supposed to be the smartest servicemen, just the prettiest.

  26. January 12, 2021Alexander said...

    The new US Frigate class (Constellation class?) looks alright. The names fit nicely with their current frigate too.

  27. January 12, 2021Doctorpat said...

    @Alexander, The name "Constellation" fits the new frigates?

    So the individual components are actually moving completely independently of each other and it only looks like a coherent whole when viewed from a long, long distance in one specific vantage point?

  28. January 12, 2021Alexander said...

    I was thinking of Constitution, but that's an alternative take on the name Ü

  29. January 13, 2021Neal said...

    If you are looking for an interesting corner of the war upon the waves, the old British movie The Sea Shall Not Have Them is an excellent view.

    It is about the rescue craft that the RAF used to pluck downed aviators from the Channel and North Sea during WW2. The movie has great scenes of these vessels in harness.

    The launches used were 68 foot wooden Hants and Dorsets which were powered by three variants of the Arrowhead Napier Lion aircraft engine. Some say they could almost get to 50 knots but the waters it operated in are were rough even if they could get near that suspect number. I have seen other quotes of 35 to 40. Either way, powerful and doughty to be sure.

    A number of these rescue missions were conducted under enemy fire. Tough duty but one that won the lasting appreciation of many an airman who found himself feet wet.

  30. January 14, 2021anon said...

    Since nobody said it: niiiiice

    congratulations on 69 open threads.

  31. January 14, 2021bean said...


    Oh, that is a good one. I've heard a bit about that, but not done too much looking into it.

  32. January 14, 2021bean said...

    I recently discovered that the British are converting some of their 737 Wedgetail AWACS from existing 737 airliners. Somehow, this does not surprise me, given their track record with Nimrod. They probably would have tried to convert their E-3s from 707s if Boeing had let them.

  33. January 15, 2021Jade Nekotenshi said...

    Is there any information floating around about what the future Large Surface Combatant might end up looking like? Something more like the Chinese Type 055 (so, a less cramped Ticonderoga), or something bigger, a 2020s take on Kirov, or something else altogether?

  34. January 15, 2021bean said...

    The best information we have says Flight III Burke combat system on a new hull, which will be bigger than a Burke and smaller than a Zumwalt. So essentially a Type 055. On the whole, that looks like a good plan to me.

  35. January 15, 2021echo said...

    Thanks AlphaGamma, I'll keep looking. With my luck I imagined the memory sometime in the last mumble mumble decades.

    Been reading up on the new frigate design, got curious about CODLOG vs CODLAG vs all-electric CODLAG: everyone seems to be choosing a slightly different option. Are they using marine diesel as the fuel for both the diesels and turbines?

  36. January 15, 2021bean said...

    Gas turbines will run on basically anything, so I'd be amazed if anyone was to run different fuels for the diesel and turbine portions of a plant. The Iowas were converted to run on diesel in the 80s, for goodness sake. As for the various COXXX plants, watch this space in a month or so.

  37. January 16, 2021bobbert said...

    (non flying) Turbines can indeed run on kerosene, methane, and everything in between (alcohol, gasoline, bacon grease, ...). They do not tolerate soot well and cannot use cheaper traditional naval fuel, which is a close relative of heating oil and asphalt. The US has made a big push to make everything in its military run on kerosene: ships, tanks, jeeps, aircraft, cook stoves... anywhere in the world, only one grade of fuel to ship and keep track of (Well, two - one for the army and one for the navy). Others are better equipped to comment on whether this has been worth the cost.

  38. January 22, 2021Ian Argent said...

    https://bernews.com/2021/01/hms-medway-to-arrive-in-bermuda-tomorrow/ - linked to the news article because I don't feel like figuring out how to hotlink the images

    HSM Medway is ... kinda ugly?

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