October 29, 2021

Open Thread 90

Welcome back to Year 5 of Naval Gazing. The Open Threads will continue as before, with the ability to talk about anything you want that isn't culture war.

Last weekend was the DSL meetup in DC, and I had a blast. I got to meet Cassander and Directrix Gazer in person, as well as a number of other people who show up here more rarely. Everyone was a delight to talk to, even when I started rambling about some obscure naval battle, and I'm looking forward to next year.

I also should probably clarify one thing I should have said on Wednesday. I don't think the reduced posting schedule will result in a 50% drop in words. There are lots of times when I'm going to want to get more of those out quickly, and in that case, I'll probably make the individual posts longer. For instance, I suspect that the Submarines in the Falklands post would have been 2 parts instead of 3.

2017 overhauls (because those are back now) are A Brief History of the Battleship, Iowa Part 1 and Fire Control Part 1. 2018 overhauls are Survivability Fire and Mission Kills, Underbottom Explosions, The Last Days of the High Seas Fleet, Samar, Turret and Barbette and (now rather obsolete) The Space Force and the FAA. 2019 overhauls are JDAM, Riverine Warfare - Europe, Cluster Bombs and Leyte Gulf 75. For 2020, SecDef Espurr turns one now, The Battleship and the Carrier, The World Wonders and Where the Blog Begins.


  1. October 29, 2021Basil Marte said...

    I've done a silly thing, and compared Wikipedia's numbers between Preußen and the liberty ships. 8100 t DWT vs. ~10000t DWT, a crew of 45 vs. "38-62" (excluding gun crews), and a "representative" (not top!) speed of ... 16 knots vs. 11. It's funny to imagine the could-have-been where hundreds of the former (or an updated design) were built for WW2, and entire convoys of them sailed together.

  2. October 29, 2021bean said...

    That is an interesting thought. But there are good reasons that nobody built sailing ships in WWII. The biggest issue was that operating big sailing ships is a very specialized skill, and one that takes years to train in. It's a lot faster to teach mechanical engines. Also, wind is not the most reliable power source, and I really doubt Preussen made 16 kts in the North Atlantic during winter. To say nothing of the difficulty of sailing in convoy with windjammers.

  3. October 30, 2021muddywaters said...

    Sailing ship speed obviously depends a lot on wind speed and direction, and the 16 knots appears to be a "fast day" speed. (I won't call it a good day because one of them ended in sinking.)

    Preussen's average on its normal route was ~6 knots. Other 1900s sailing ships were similar, as were (1860s but more speed-optimized, at the expense of cargo capacity and probably safety) tea clippers. [1820s North Atlantic packets](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BlackBallLine_%28trans-Atlantic packet%29) averaged ~3-4 knots.

    I don't know how much of the apparent increase in speed was actual improved ships and how much was sail lasting longer on routes with better average winds.

    Sailing ships could, and in earlier times did, operate in convoy. However, building faster ships (of the same cargo capacity) adds more throughput than building slower ones, as they can make more trips per unit time. It's also plausible that slower ships are easier to attack.

  4. October 31, 2021bean said...

    Sailing ships could, and in earlier times did, operate in convoy.

    That was a rather different kind of convoy. In WWII, they placed a lot of emphasis on station keeping for reasons that I'm too tired to remember right now. Sailing ships can't really keep station like that, certainly not under masters who don't have a ton of experience. (Yes, I know about the line of battle. See "ton of experience", and also a lot more crew than a merchie is likely to have.) Sailing convoys were about making sure that escorts were around to chase off light raiders, but the raiders were reasonably detectable. Not the case in WWII.

  5. November 01, 2021bean said...

    The USNI Sale has started! My shelves groan, but the rest of me is very excited. And we know what the next Friedman is to be, a history of US Navy attack aircraft through the JSF. Coming in May, at least in theory. (His last book was 6 months late, so I'm not sure I expect them to make that.)

  6. November 02, 2021Johan Larson said...

    The Marine Corps has updated their tattoo policy. Tattoos are allowed on all parts of the body, except on the hands, neck, and head. Tattoos that are extremist, obscene, sexist or racist are also prohibited.

    This looks pretty much like what the Air Force did a few years back. Tattoos are pretty much mainstream now, I guess.

  7. November 02, 2021Anonymous said...

    From pp. 2:

    A tattoo that is not specifically prohibited may still prevent future duty assignments.

    So those who actually like the things still need to be careful even if they follow the letter of the policy.

  8. November 02, 2021Johan Larson said...

    I guess the Corps still won't be keen on posting marines with prominent tattoos on their arms to places where they might have to, say, do formal guard duty in short sleeves.

  9. November 02, 2021ike said...

    I guess the lesson is, "If you are going to make a political statement, make sure it is one that the navy agrees with."

  10. November 03, 2021Jade Nekotenshi said...

    Something I've been trying to sort out in my brain - RAM versus SeaRAM. Is the advantage of SeaRAM just that it's fully self-contained, so it's handy on things like supply ships? If so, why bother integrating it on LCS, DDG and FFG units that already have an integrated combat system? Wouldn't they be better off with the 22-cell launcher, or is the idea to have a weapon that can still scan, track and shoot even if someone finds a way to nuke Aegis (or similar)?

    Also, re RAM, in what kind of case would a ship with RAM but not Phalanx find themselves saying "gee, I really wish we had Phalanx right now"? I've wondered about that a fair bit - the LPD-17 class doesn't have Phalanx, but CVNs and LHA/LHD do, even the new ones. Some DDGs are getting RAM but keeping a Phalanx mount. There's got to be some use case, but if so, why don't the LPDs or LCS get it? Is it mostly just because their 30mm/57mm cover the same use case?

    And another weird one - if you had a modern ship with a new 8" gun (say, something derived from the old Mk 71 idea), and also a 57mm or 76mm, would there be any value in having a 5" too, assuming you had the space and displacement for it?

  11. November 03, 2021bean said...

    I can only speak to the SeaRAM on the DDGs, which was there because SPY-1 has trouble doing two things at once, and they wanted something which could deal with anti-ship missiles while AEGIS was doing BMD. I admit to being baffled by the split between RAM and SeaRAM on the different LCS variants. Couldn't find any explanation back when I was digging into that.

    As for RAM vs Phalanx on ships, that is mysterious. My guess is that they want the really high-value units (CVNs and LHDs/LHAs) to have a backup capability separate from their combat systems, which essentially means Phalanx (particularly as the ships already have RAM). There's probably an important secondary role in the anti-boat mode, which I've heard as part of the reason DDGs are still getting them. Presumably, they feel that the LPDs are covered by their 30 mms, and they also don't merit the last-ditch protection that the bigger ships need.

    And another weird one - if you had a modern ship with a new 8″ gun (say, something derived from the old Mk 71 idea), and also a 57mm or 76mm, would there be any value in having a 5″ too, assuming you had the space and displacement for it?

    Probably not. In WWII, there was a big gap between 5" and 8" in terms of AA firepower, but that's distinctly secondary for guns these days, and I'd expect both guns to fit into the same niche.

  12. November 04, 2021Anonymous said...


    I guess the lesson is, "If you are going to make a political statement, make sure it is one that the navy agrees with."

    Problem there is that it is much easier for the Navy to change their view of acceptable political opinions than it is change a tattoo.

  13. November 04, 2021Lambert said...

    Sailors? With tatoos? Well I never...

  14. November 04, 2021Johan Larson said...

    Sailors? With tatoos? Well I never...

    Even better: marines with tattoos. You know, the folks responsible for shipboard security, so the swabbies don't go all feral once underway.

  15. November 05, 2021ike said...

    Honest question: does modern doctrine still use Marines as sea-borne police?

  16. November 05, 2021bean said...

    Not even slightly. In practical terms, that role became obsolete in the second half of the 1800s, as the way that navies were manned changed. The men grew more professional, and there was less risk of mutiny. Marines stuck around because of things like landing parties, and also tradition, but became rarer and rarer as destroyers grew and traditionally only cruisers and above had carried Marines. Ships that had them would use them for security, although that's more "we have intruders" than "the crew is rioting", which is quite rare these days. Crew discipline is handled by the Master at Arms. The US pulled them all from sea in the late 90s to reinforce the Fleet Marine Force (the Marines that serve in their own units and go aboard amphibious ships).

  17. November 06, 2021ike said...


    In that last sentence, who is the 'them' that the US pulled? The Masters at Arms?

  18. November 06, 2021AlphaGamma said...

    Weird question that came out of my wife watching the "Titanic's Final Mystery" documentary on the Smithsonian Channel:

    Would a contemporary battleship (let's say an Orion or a Wyoming) have survived a similar impact with an iceberg? How about a more modern battleship?

    (For reference, the Titanic struck the iceberg at about 20-22 knots, in a glancing collision that resulted in the iceberg scraping down the side of the ship and buckling hull plates over about 300 feet.)

  19. November 06, 2021Lambert said...

    Are torpedo bulges cheating?

  20. November 06, 2021bean said...


    No, the Marines. The Masters at Arms are responsible for shipboard discipline and policing now.


    I suspect that contemporary battleships would have found the problem annoying but not particularly bad. Battleships of that era had coal bunkers outboard to absorb torpedo impacts, and the iceberg isn't getting remotely deep enough to get through those. There's also the fact that the crew of the battleship would have drilled for dealing with major flooding, which isn't standard for merchant crews, so even if there was leakage past the bunkers (say an unsecured scuttle) they'd be able to establish flooding boundaries and generally take effective action.

  21. November 06, 2021Anonymous said...

    If Titanic had merely had the upgrades given to the other Olympic class ships after it sank and everyone finally realized that they really shouldn't be operating ships that aren't seaworthy it would have survived (bow would've been a bit lower in the water but no deaths and the minor damage would've been repaired).

  22. November 09, 2021John Schilling said...

    Well this isn't good.

    Exactly how bad it is, is hard to say from the initial report. But one way or another, it looks like about half the steel used in USN submarine hulls since 1985 was below spec. Best case, the crooked metallurgist is correct in her assessment that this only affects performance at temperatures no submarine will ever experience. Worst case, the Navy's submarines don't have the crush depth or damage tolerance they are supposed to in actual operational conditions.

    I wonder how the Aussies feel about their recent "buy American" decision.

  23. November 09, 2021bean said...

    Yikes. That's terrifying.

    "However, the Justice Department said it would recommend a prison term at the low end of whatever the court determines is the standard sentencing range in her case."

    Why? Seriously, what is wrong with you people? Or is this just to get her out sooner so that she'll be found in an alley near Groton, with no witnesses and the case quietly forgotten? Seriously,

    "This offense is unique in that it was neither motivated by greed nor any desire for personal enrichment."

    That makes it worse, in my book.

  24. November 09, 2021John Schilling said...

    I'm guessing the low sentence is because she didn't try to profit from the crime, and cooperated with the investigation once they caught up with her. Which I'm not going to complain too much about - you can deter larceny by threat of punishment, trying to deter lazy is mostly a waste. Fixing the problem is more important, and if that means cutting a deal for a reduced sentence (so long as it's one with real prison time), OK.

  25. November 09, 2021DampOctopus said...

    it looks like about half the steel used in USN submarine hulls since 1985 was below spec

    Half the steel from this foundry, at least, which might be substantially less than half of all the steel used in USN submarine hulls, depending on how many other foundries there are. I can't find anything on this with a quick search, and the article doesn't say.

    I wonder how the Aussies feel about their recent “buy American” decision.

    Steel is one of the components I'd expect the Australians to produce locally, if they're assembling the submarines themselves. Which also puts them at risk of quality issues, though from inexperience rather than complacence.

  26. November 09, 2021Nick Musurca said...

    Hi everyone -- don't mean to interrupt the conversation, but I imagine some of you are Command: Modern Operations enthusiasts? You may want to know that we're organizing the first-ever CMO multiplayer play-by-email tournament called COMPLEX (COMmand PLayers' EXercise). The tournament uses a multiplayer framework I created in which players give orders in distinct phases, then watch their units play them out simultaneously.

    It should be a lot of fun (and all simulated steel will be up to spec, guaranteed). You can find more info and the sign-up form on the forum here.

  27. November 10, 2021bean said...

    Cool. Thanks for letting us know. Not sure if I'll participate, but I'm definitely glad that exists.

  28. November 10, 2021Anonymous said...


    Steel is one of the components I'd expect the Australians to produce locally, if they're assembling the submarines themselves. Which also puts them at risk of quality issues, though from inexperience rather than complacence.

    Australia does have a lot of experience with steel so they should be able to avoid screwing up that part of the process and I don't think the alloys used in Submarines are all that exotic.

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