Quotulatiousness

September 26, 2017

To mark the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution … sorta #TheDeathOfStalin

Filed under: History, Humour, Media, Russia — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Entertainment One UK
Published on 11 Aug 2017

In Cinemas Oct 20.

The internal political landscape of 1950’s Soviet Russia takes on darkly comic form in a new film by Emmy award-winning and Oscar-nominated writer/director Armando Iannucci.

In the days following Stalin’s collapse, his core team of ministers tussle for control; some want positive change in the Soviet Union, others have more sinister motives. Their one common trait? They’re all just desperately trying to remain alive.

A film that combines comedy, drama, pathos and political manoeuvring, The Death of Stalin is a Quad and Main Journey production, directed by Armando Iannucci, and produced by Yann Zenou, Kevin Loader, Nicolas Duval Assakovsky, and Laurent Zeitoun. The script is written by Iannucci, David Schneider and Ian Martin, with additional material by Peter Fellows.

#TheDeathOfStalin
www.deathofstalin.co.uk

September 24, 2017

Brilliant job on the Kalashnikov statue, Tovarisch, but what’s that weapon right there?

Filed under: History, Russia, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

The Guardian reports on some emergency fix-ups required to a brand new statue honouring Mikhail Kalashnikov:

Workers have removed part of a new monument to Mikhail Kalashnikov, the inventor of the Soviet Union’s AK-47 assault rifle, after eagle-eyed Russians noticed that it mistakenly depicted a German second world war weapon.

The monument to the creator of one of Russia’s best known export brands was unveiled in central Moscow three days ago to much fanfare.

A metal bas-relief behind a statue of Kalashnikov depicts the AK-47 and other weapons all supposedly designed by the engineer, who died in 2013.

But embarrassed sculptor Salavat Shcherbakov had to admit that among them was the Sturmgewehr 44 (StG 44) assault rifle used by Nazi troops.

“We will rectify this,” Shcherbakov said in comments broadcast by state-run Rossiya 24 channel. “It looks like this [mistake] sneaked in from the internet.”

By Friday evening a square hole gaped where the German rifle had been depicted in the bas-relief.

Kalashnikov’s weapon, created in 1947, does have a striking resemblance to German arms designer Hugo Schmeisser’s StG 44 rifle, created in 1942, although they have major design differences.

MP44 (Sturmgewehr 44), Germany. Caliber 8x33mm Kurz- From the collections of Armémuseum (Swedish Army Museum), Stockholm. (via Wikimedia)


Kalashnikov АК-47 with bayonet attached (via Wikimedia)

August 9, 2017

The Falklands War – A War for Lost Glory I THE COLD WAR

Filed under: Americas, Britain, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 1 Jul 2015

The Falklands War was based on an old colonial struggle between two former world powers. When the military Junta in Argentina decided to claim the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic they didn’t reckon with Great Britain’s Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher. The British Prime Minister unleashed full scale invasion. The Royal Navy and the British Army landed and ultimately took the capital Port Stanley. The Argentine Army surrendered shortly after that.

August 8, 2017

Tank Chats #15 Tortoise

Filed under: Britain, History, Military, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 25 Feb 2016

Tank Museum Historian, David Fletcher is currently unavailable, so rather than make you all wait, Curator David Willey is here to present Tortoise!

The A39 Tortoise is the ultimate manifestation of the British concept of the heavily armoured, but slow, ‘Infantry’ tank.

It was built in 1947, making it a contemporary of the highly successful Centurion tank. The Tortoise proved to be too slow and unwieldy for the conditions of modern warfare and was a nightmare to transport.

The only service that the Tortoise had was when two tanks took part in trials in Germany in 1948. The Tank Museum’s Tortoise is now the only surviving example.

July 10, 2017

A Canadian Cold War innovation – “floppy” magnets as submarine detection tools

Filed under: Cancon, Military, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

Steve Weintz on an experimental Canadian submarine detection device that was simple, effective, and too difficult to train with:

Desperate planners sought ways of making Soviet subs easier to hunt. Any technology that could speed up an undersea search was worth considering. “A submarine’s best defense is of course stealth, remaining quiet and undetected in the ocean deep,” Ballantyne notes. “Something that could rob the Soviets of that cloak of silence must have seemed irresistible and, at least initially, a stroke of genius.”

A Canadian scientist figured some kind of sticky undersea noisemaker would make a Soviet sub more detectable. He designed a simple hinged cluster of magnets that could attach to a submarine’s metal hull.

Movement would cause the flopping magnets to bang against the hull like a loose screen door, giving away the sub’s location to anyone listening. The simple devices would take time and effort to remove, thus also impairing the Soviet undersea fleet’s readiness.

At least that was the idea.

HMS Auriga against the New York City skyline in 1963. U.S. Navy photo.

In late 1962, the British Admiralty dispatched the A-class diesel submarine HMS Auriga to Nova Scotia for joint anti-submarine training with the Canadian navy. The British were helping Canada establish a submarine force, so Royal Navy subs routinely exercised with Canadian vessels.

Auriga had just returned to the submarine base at Faslane, Scotland after a combat patrol as part of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Other subs of the joint Canadian-British Submarine Squadron Six at Halifax had seen action during the crisis.

Did the device work? All too well:

As Auriga surfaced at the end of the exercise, the magnets made their way into holes and slots in the sub’s outer hull designed to let water flow. “They basically slid down the hull,” Ballantyne says of the magnets, “and remained firmly fixed inside the casing, on top of the ballast tanks, in various nooks and crannies.”

The floppy-magnets couldn’t be removed at sea. In fact, they couldn’t be removed at all until the submarine dry-docked back in Halifax weeks later.

In the meantime, one of Her Majesty’s submarines was about as stealthy as a mariachi band. No fighting, no training, no nothing until all those floppy little magnets were dug out of her skin at a cost of time, money and frustration.

The magnets worked on the Soviets with the same maddening results. The crews of several Foxtrots were driven bonkers by the noise and returned to port rather than complete their cruises.

July 9, 2017

Historical ignorance

Filed under: Education, History, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Jonah Goldberg laments the constant displays of historical ignorance in the media and on social media:

Ideological and political polarization is a big concern these days, and commentators on the right and left have chewed the topic to masticated pulp. But it occurs to me that one unappreciated factor is widespread historical ignorance, and the arrogant impatience of reaching conclusions before thinking. The instantaneity of TV and Twitter only amplifies the problem.

For instance, on the Fourth of July, NPR’s Morning Edition tweeted out the text of the Declaration of Independence, 140 characters at a time. The angry responses, from left and right, were a thing to behold. “Are you drunk?” “So, NPR is calling for revolution,” “Glad you’re being defunded, your show was never balanced,” and so on.

World War II and the Cold War, particularly Vietnam, used to define the intellectual framework for how we understood many events. For people in their 30s, that framework changed to the Iraq War and the War on Terror. In my more curmudgeonly moments, it seems like the new paradigm for millennials (and the journalists and politicians who pander to them) isn’t some major geopolitical test or moment but the adventures of Harry Potter. Having never read the series, I also don’t read the countless articles using the books to explain the political climate, but I do marvel at their ubiquity.

It should go without saying that a children’s book about a magical boarding school for wizards is of limited utility in understanding, well, just about anything in a world without wizards.

I once heard a story second-hand of a general who was talking to an audience full of 20-somethings. He was explaining how the War on Terror challenged his generation’s mindset. “I spent most of my career worrying about the Fulda Gap,” he said. To which one “educated” fellow reportedly replied, “I know that Gap! It’s in a mall near my house.”

The Fulda Gap is the location in the German lowlands where the Soviets were most likely to launch an invasion of Europe.

Today, we face a multitude of challenges, at home and abroad, that can only be met by people with a modicum of historical literacy. If only Harry Potter could cast a spell to give it to us.

June 10, 2017

QotD: Quoting and mis-quoting Orwell

Filed under: Liberty, Media, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The interpretation of George Orwell could be a paradigm for how dead literary figures get knocked from pillar to post by the winds of political interpretation. During his lifetime, the author of 1984 and Animal Farm went from darling of the left to exile for having been willing to write the truth about Communist totalitarianism in allegories too pointed to ignore.

With the end of the Cold War, forty-two years after Orwell’s death, the poisonous fog breathed on Western intellectual life by Soviet agents of influence slowly began to lift. It became possible to say that Communist totalitarianism was evil and had always been evil, without being dismissed as a McCarthyite or reactionary not merely by those agents but by a lot of “no enemy to the left” liberal patsies who should have known better. In this climate, Orwell’s uncompromising truth-telling shone even more brightly than before. For some on the left, belated shame at their own complicity with evil transmuted itself into more adulation for Orwell, and more attempted identification with Orwell’s positions, than at any time in the previous fifty years.

Then came 9/11. Orwell’s sturdy common sense about the war against the fascisms of his day made him a model for a few thinkers of the left who realized they had arrived at another of Marx’s “world-historical moments”, another pivot point at which everything changed. Foremost among these was Christopher Hitchens, who would use Orwell to good effect in taking an eloquent and forceful line in favor of the liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq. For this, he was rewarded with the same vituperation and shunning by the Left that had greeted the publication of Orwell’s anti-totalitarian allegories fifty years before.

Eric S. Raymond, “Getting Orwell Wrong”, Armed and Dangerous, 2005-08-29.

June 9, 2017

QotD: The post-war world and (relative) peace

Filed under: History, Military, Quotations, Russia, Technology, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Between 1945 and about 1965, atom bombs and then hydrogen bombs were devised and demonstrated by the two biggest Great Powers, and then manufactured and attached to rockets in sufficient numbers to cause any all-out war between these two superpowers very probably to be a catastrophic defeat for both, to say nothing of being a similar catastrophe for all other humans, within a few hours. This new kind of destructive power also spread to a small club of lesser Great Powers.

This did not happen overnight. It didn’t all come about in 1945. But it happened pretty quickly, historically in the blink of an eye. It changed the world from a place in which Great Wars between Great Powers had to be prepared for, at all costs, to a place in which Great Wars between Great Powers had to be avoided, again, at all costs. That is a very big change.

I do not assert that all wars have ended. Clearly they have not, as one glance through a newspaper or news website will tell you. Small powers still have small wars, and Great Powers regularly join in, in small ways. Sometimes, Great Powers start small wars, like the one in the Ukraine now. But even these small wars have been getting less numerous and smaller in recent decades. Small wars can get big, so even small wars are now discouraged by Great Powers.

Nor do I assert that all preparations for war by Great Powers have ceased, or that they should. But more than ever, the purpose of such preparations is to enable mere confrontations to be emerged from victoriously or failing that satisfactorily, rather than for such preparations — such weapons — constantly to be “used”, in the sense of being fired, fought with, and so on. The purpose of weapons is to scare, as well as to win fights, and they are being “used” whenever anyone is scared by them. Great Powers will still spend lots of money on weaponry.

But what has not happened, for many decades now, and what still shows no sign of happening despite all kinds of diplomatic, ideological and financial turbulence, is an all-out fire-every-weapon-we-have war involving two or more Great — by which I of course mean nuclear — Powers. In this sense, countries like mine, and almost certainly yours too given that you are reading this, have become peaceful in a way that they have never experienced before in all of human history before 1945.

Brian Micklethwait, “From the Great Peace … to the ordeal of Adam Lyth at the Oval cricket ground”, Samizdata, 2015-08-20.

May 29, 2017

QotD: Western intellectuals’ anti-Western bias

Filed under: Education, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Much of the West’s intelligentsia is persistently in love with anything anti-Western (and especially anti-American), an infatuation that has given a great deal of aid and comfort to tyrants and terrorists in the post-9/11 world. Besides these obvious political consequences, the phenomenon Julian Benda famously called le trahison des clercs has laid waste to large swathes of the soft sciences through ideologies like deconstructionism, cultural relativism, and postmodernism.

I believe, but cannot prove, that le trahison des clercs is not a natural development of Western thought but a creation of deliberate propaganda, directly traceable to the successes of Nazi and Stalinist attempts to manipulate the climate of opinion in the early and mid-20th century. Consequently I believe that one of the most difficult and necessary tasks before us in the next half century will be to banish the influence of totalitarian nihilism from science in particular and our culture in general.

Eric S. Raymond, “What Do You Believe That You Cannot Prove?”, Armed and Dangerous, 2005-01-06.

May 27, 2017

QotD: When international sport replaced war between the Great Powers

Filed under: History, Quotations, Sports — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I do not know if there was a meeting, in about 1961, of a subcommittee of the Bilderberg Commission (itself a characteristic consequence of the Great Change) at which it was resolved that, what with Great Wars needing now to be things of the past, some harmless outlet now had to be found for all those nationalistic passions which until so very recently it had been necessary for Great Powers to keep permanently inflamed (in case they found themselves having a Great War), but which they now needed to extinguish (in case these passions started a Great War). Discuss. Having created nationalism, what were the Great Powers now going to do with it? One big answer: sport. Don’t have the hoi polloi wave their national flags and have big urban demonstrations and nationalistic ecstasies and lamentations in their newspapers and internet sites and city squares because of war. Let them indulge in these things because of sport.

As I say, maybe there was such a meeting and maybe there has never been such a meeting. But, if such a meeting had occurred, events would probably have unfolded, in sport, much as they actually have. What did definitely happen, I assert, is that the end of Great Wars, and the coming of the Great Peace, has left a war-shaped gap, so to speak, in all the cultures of the Great Powers. And one of the many things that has flowed into this gap, like molten metal into a mould, has been professional sport.

The “professional” bit is important. The former manager of the Liverpool football team Bill Shankly once famously said something like: “A lot of people say that football is a matter of life and death, but it’s a lot more important than that.” And one of the ways in which it is “more important than that” is that the most successful sportsmen, successful footballers especially, are now paid such huge sums of money, a lot more now even than in Shankly’s time.

Professional sport means more, especially to spectators, than mere sport does. If a game is “only a game”, then people simply don’t watch it in large numbers. They may participate in large numbers, but when it comes just to watching, too little is at stake, in an “only a game” game. But if what potential spectators are offered as entertainment is the public struggle to become one of the absolute best at whatever it is, and as an intrinsic part of that the struggle to be either averagely well-off or worse (because of having placed your bets on sport and lost), or super-rich, depending on how things play out during the next hour or two, then millions will pay to attend. And that sets a positive feedback loop in motion, of more money being paid by spectators (including television spectators) and hence even more money being paid to the contestants, and hence even more being at stake when the contestants have their contests. And whereas the careers of earlier generations of sportsmen, then very poorly paid indeed compared to their successors, were often interrupted and frequently terminated by Great Wars, now, there is no such upheaval on anyone’s horizon, either to wreck sporting careers or to put sport into anything resembling “perspective”, in other words to make it not seem like a matter of life and death.

So, is sport in any sense a matter of life and death, or even, as Shankly said, only partly in jest, more than that? For many years I was puzzled by the constant use of the adjective “gladiatorial”, with all its ancient Roman associations of fighting literally to the death, to describe modern sporting contests. But recently, the experience of giving a talk about the sort of stuff in this posting made me realise that this is not an unreasonable way to describe something like this Anglo-Australian set-to that will be starting in about half and hour, as I first write this.

Nor is it coincidence that the original version of gladiatorial sport emerged into prominence during that earlier Great Peace, the Pax Romana. That too was a Great Peace that happened at a time when smaller wars continued, these smaller wars or the threat of them being the means by which Rome’s Great Peace was continuously contrived.

Brian Micklethwait, “From the Great Peace … to the ordeal of Adam Lyth at the Oval cricket ground”, Samizdata, 2015-08-20.

March 12, 2017

QotD: The waning influence of pop music

Filed under: Business, Media, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Pop music’s impact on the greater culture is also largely over. There will never be another Beatles or Rolling Stones. That’s because “American culture” is over. Prior to the two great industrial wars of the 20th century, America did not have a unified national culture. It was federation of regions. New England may as well have been a different country from the Deep South or the Southwest. The South was very different from Appalachia. There was no unified “American” culture to which all the regional cultures submitted.

The great national project of conquering Europe and Asia opened the door for the flowering of an American culture after the war. Into it was drawn anything that could be sold as celebrating this new world power. It is why what we think of as American pop culture blew up after the war. In music, for example, producers scoured the land looking for authentic American sounds to package up and sell, in order to meet the demand of this new growing thing called Americana. It even went global, in search of spice to ad to the mix.

Like the music business itself, the great unifying national culture that blossomed in the 20th century has run its course. America is, to a great degree, falling back to its natural, regional state. Just look at the popularity of movies and TV shows by region and you see old weird America emerging again. Live acts now setup their tours to reflect the fact that they have greater appeal in some regions than in others. If you are a country act, for example, there’s no point in booking a lot of dates in the north, outside of the one-off festivals in the summer that feature a variety of acts.

That’s another lesson from pop music. The past is the actualized, the present is the actualizing and the future in the potential. Culture is that middle part, standing on the past in an effort to realize the potential that lies in the future. Once culture attains its natural end, it dies. What’s left is what it created. The grand unified pop culture of the Cold War era is now like an old factory building that has been renovated to be lofts, shops and boutique restaurants. It’s influence on what comes next is purely utilitarian.

The Z Man, “The Cycle of Life”, The Z Blog, 2017-03-01.

November 18, 2016

“I know that nationalism has broken loose in American politics”

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Colby Cosh ruminates on the US presidential election and wonders if the American civil religion is dying:

To me, Trump’s election indicates a fragmentation of intellectual tendencies in American life. The American political system, thought of as a system, imposes a strong structural requirement for voters to resolve themselves into two parties. During the Cold War, everyone was ordinarily defined, as a voter, by his position on the Cold War. Everything in electoral politics was dove vs. hawk in disguise.

The Cold War ended, and there was no crisis of similar size and urgency to take its place: it looked like the “culture war” would do, but the “clash of civilizations” took centre stage after 9/11, and now … what is the main axis, the statisticians’ “first principal component,” in American politics? What we are witnessing is probably the process of deciding on one. Trump haters and lovers must both admit he cuts across the traditional lines of politics, sometimes with elliptical or even contradictory policy statements.

Nobody is too sure what he is going to do as president. What his voters are sure of is that he stands for a positive attitude toward America, a determination to be explicit about acting on its interests in foreign and immigration policy, and a can-do, businesslike spirit toward practical social difficulties. There is an intellectual tendency on the left, an ultra-progressive tendency that has grown accustomed to a fast-moving wave of social victory, that is only capable of interpreting all this as the pretext for a return of endemic overt racism — the monster they see under every bed. Those progressives are behaving right now, for all the world, like a navel-gazing doomsday cult that has seen its projected Zero Day zoom by without the faithful being lifted into the air.

July 17, 2016

Peacekeeping today is not like the peacekeeping Canadians remember

Filed under: Africa, Cancon, History, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Ted Campbell is not in favour of the federal government’s nostalgic view of peacekeeping:

Da’esh/ISIL/ISIS wants us to follow France into the peacekeeping business because modern, 21st century UN peacekeeping can be, in some respects, seen as unwarranted Western interference in the internal affairs of Islamic states. Many Islamic leaders believe and teach that Islam is a complete socio-economic-political ‘package’: all that on needs to live a good life in this world and achieve paradise in the next is to obey the holy Quran. There is no need for laws or courts or institutions or banks or schools or anything else … just obedience, submission, to Islam.

[…]

Let us understand that the United Nations, as currently constituted and managed, is a failure at peacekeeping. It wasn’t always this way … there were times and places ~ Kashmir and Palestine in the 1940s, the Egypt-Israeli borders in 1956 when there was a peace to be kept between belligerents who actually wanted peace, albeit, in the case of Egypt’s Nasser, only until one felt ready for war again in 1967. It began to go wrong in 1960 … with the first UN mission to the Congo. There was no peace to be kept … a UN Force was inserted into a failed state and left to its own devices while a civil war raged around it. The UN used second rate troops (Irish, Malaysian and Swedish) where first rate ones might have done some good and the civil and military leadership, from Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld on down was somewhere between inept and ignored. In fact the UN peacekeeping effort was being used (misused) as a proxy for the larger Cold War. Canada and a few others became proxies for the Western allies; Poland a a few others stood in for the Warsaw Pact members and Sweden and India represented the non-aligned nations. It got worse in Cyprus, although a few lessons about the quality of troops were learned, as the mission devolved into a semi-permanent “holding action” that recognizes the de facto partition of the country. The UN has, literally, become a significant component of the (failing) Greek Cypriot state and the UN force because part of the status quo, making peace even more elusive.

Most UN peacekeeping missions since 1960s have been failures … some abject, others only relatively so. Mostly the UN “kept the peace” as an adjunct of the cold war. There is, in the 21st century, too often, no peace to be kept, especially not anywhere in Africa nor in the Islamic crescent that stretches from the Atlantic coast of North Africa all the way through to Indonesia and the Southern Philippines. and the UN does not want a mandate to make peace. The internal politics of the UN prohibit members from interfering in the “internal” affairs of others ~ notwithstanding what advocates of R2P (Responsibility To Project) (or even more ill considered doctrines like W2I (the Will To Intervene) propose ~ unless government almost totally breaks down. Then the UN may step in, under certain very controlled conditions: in Africa, for example, a robust, useful peacemaking force will not be tolerated, the force must be from the African Union and it must, first and foremost, protect the interests of the failed states neighbours. If the failed state is in “French Africa” then the French may send in the Foreign Legion to protect French interests. And this is the situation into which Justin Trudeau wants to send Canadian soldiers ~ preferably, he suggested during the 2015 election campaign, French speaking female police officers ~ to be UN peacekeepers.

As a quick rule of thumb, you only send in peacekeepers where there is already something resembling a peace to be kept. You don’t send in peacekeepers to create peace. That’s not their role: they’re not equipped or organized (or ever in sufficient strength) to do that.

November 13, 2015

Helmut Schmidt, RIP

Filed under: Europe, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

David Warren remembers the former German chancellor:

Helmut Schmidt was a highly unusual politician: “intelligent, honest, candid, decent,” as described by old colleagues in Germany; and a smoker, as everyone noticed. This last was important. He smoked everywhere, paying no attention to Nicht Rauchen signs, right up to the day before yesterday. (Literally.) It was part of his charm, a way to signal that he did not care for anyone’s opinion. It was not the occasional cigarette; witnesses, including television audiences, calculated that he lit another every seven minutes.

[…]

The Germans are notoriously a disciplined, rule-bound people. But they hate themselves for it, and they loved Helmut Schmidt. There were polls to show, right up to his death, that he remained the country’s most popular politician, even if few wanted him back in office again. They always wanted to hear, however, what he had to say. And to watch the way he said it: like a captain. He could enchant foreign audiences, too, but especially German ones, by being so un-German. But of course he was from Hamburg, the ancient Free and Hanseatic City, which is full of un-German types.

His manner was commendable. People would come to him with some policy matter they thought he must urgently address, and he would say, “That doesn’t interest me.” Then change the subject to something more amenable.

From what I gather, he was miscast as the equivalent of a prime minister. He would have been entirely acceptable as a kind of “constitutional” Holy Roman Emperor; powerless, but constantly telling the merely departmental figures what’s what. It is unfortunate that the office has lapsed; I think Schmidt would have enjoyed it.

The next best thing was writing for Die Zeit. This wonderful post-war German institution is a fat, weekly broadsheet. When displaced from federal office he bought a stake in it, and held court from there as one of the co-editors. Since adolescence, when I could almost read German, I have been trying to follow it. The articles are long, both serious and light, and the attitude is like Schmidt’s: Social Democrat, technically, but against almost everything the Left stands for. And a shameless bastion of pro-Americanism.

[…]

A “progressive,” I suppose, but according to the tenets of another generation; the German equivalent of my father, in some ways, who was a “liberal” in the 1950s sense, which is to say, free markets and total opposition to Communism. Who wanted a “social safety net” for the hard cases, but hardly a Kafkaesque welfare state for all. Too, a form of “open-minded” tolerance for what the kids get up to; but nothing like what we tolerate today.

November 6, 2015

The evolution of the Royal Navy’s ship designs

Filed under: Britain, History, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

This post is a nice summary of the Royal Navy’s frigates, destroyers, and cruisers from the Second World War through to the present day:

Before the Second World War the RN was predominantly a “cruiser navy”, holding down a range of global deployments with its 15 heavy and 41 light cruisers. These ships had endurance and combat power at the core of their designs, each could operate alone for extended periods, effectively defend itself in most circumstances and demonstrate the interest or resolve of the government in a particular region. The ensuing World War and the Cold War radically changed the type of warships the RN needed. Instead of cruisers built for endurance and complex warfighting the navy built a profusion of smaller frigates and destroyers, mainly to guard convoys and fight submarines close to the UK and in the North Atlantic. To carry out these tasks the navy could make do with smaller, cheaper, ships with relatively shorter legs and far less ability to act independently in high threat environments. Trade-offs like these were made in order to ensure the navy got enough escorts to protect the convoys which would be vital to Britain’s survival in the event of a war; and to hunt the Soviet ballistic missile submarines that threatened NATO. These were ships designed to act as part of a military system that would defeat the threat posed by hostile submarines. This system also included land based aircraft, anti submarine helicopters, aircraft and helicopter carriers and the enormous US/NATO SOSUS fixed sonar array. The Leander class is probably the most famous example of these sort of light frigates, operated by the RN into the early 1990s. When the immediate and pressing threat from submarines operating in the North Atlantic, be they German or Soviet, ceased to exist so the naval forces the UK had constructed to defeat them also fell by the wayside. These ships were, broadly speaking, a product of their time and a deviation from the much older structure that had served the RN well for centuries. This structure consisted of a core “battle fleet”, made up of capital ships; mainly there to act as a deterrent, supported by powerful forward deployed cruisers that conducted most of the day to day activity.

HMS Euryalus, one of 26 Leander Class frigates built for the RN

HMS Euryalus, one of 26 Leander Class frigates built for the RN

By modern standards almost all of the cheap and numerous frigates and destroyers of the past, even the excellent Leanders, would be classed as lightly armed corvettes. The simple fact was that these cheap and numerous ships sacrificed a lot of capability in order to achieve the affordability necessary to build them in numbers. They were still recognisable as frigates built in the convoy escort mold. Similarly the Type 42 anti-aircraft warfare destroyers, in service from the mid-1970s, were also a design that compromised range and armament for numbers. At only 3500 tonnes the Batch 1 Type 42s were clearly a very light and economical design. When compared with their American counterparts, the 8000 tonne Spruance class, it’s clear that these ships sacrificed range and armament for economy and numbers. Both the Leanders and the Type 42s are recognisable as frigates and destroyers, light warships designed to act in groups and alongside other warships, auxiliaries and aircraft to be effective in combat. The closest the RN came to “cruiser” designs during the Cold War were the eight County Class missile destroyers commissioned in the early 1960s and HMS Bristol, the sole survivor of the pre-1968 carrier escort programme. While these destroyer classes were cruiser-like in some aspects, they carried a far more comprehensive armament and had a greater range (in terms of fuel) than their contemporaries, they lacked the self-sustainment ability, protection, survivability and range of “true” cruisers. While Bristol was initially labelled a light cruiser by Jane’s, the Royal Navy always saw her for what she was: an oversize missile destroyer with the similar limitations to the navy’s other destroyers.

HMS Bristol, the closest the RN came to a new cruiser during the Cold War

HMS Bristol, the closest the RN came to a new cruiser during the Cold War

With the later Type 22 and 23 frigates the RN moved to fewer, more individually capable, platforms. This change was partly necessitated by the introduction of a new generation of bigger towed array sonars which required larger ships to operate effectively. Despite their greatly improved self defence ability, achieved by fitting the Sea Wolf point defence missile system, these ships were still designed to be expendable escorts and lacked the endurance of cruisers. That said, these two classes signalled the start of the navy’s shift from a fleet of numerous, small and cheap escorts to fewer, larger ships capable of independent operations in a high threat environment.

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