Quotulatiousness

June 16, 2016

Silent Victory now available in wargame format

Filed under: Books, Gaming, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

I’m currently reading this two-volume history of the US Navy’s submarines in the Pacific during WW2 by Clay Blair, Jr., so I was interested to see this review of a wargame covering this exact conflict:

Consim Press has published a fantastic solo player wargame in Silent Victory: U.S. Submarines in the Pacific, 1941-1945. With game design by Gregory M. Smith, Silent Victory offers a little bit of everything for someone looking for an immersive, historical naval wargame that is easy to play yet detailed enough to be fulfilling for an advanced gamer.

It covers one of the biggest problems American sub commanders faced for the first two years of the war:

For every torpedo you fire, you’ll roll a 1d6 dice for a dud. Roll a 1 or 2, well, you are out of luck. It might have hit, but it didn’t explode. Dud. This happened to me at least three times in two patrols. It was a fact — the U.S. Navy had a torpedo problem. Clay Blair Jr.’s magisterial book Silent Victory: The U.S. Submarine War against Japan made this clear:

    “…[T}he submarine force was hobbled by defective torpedoes. Developed in peacetime but never realistically tested against targets, the U.S. submarine torpedo was believed to be one of the most lethal weapons in the history of naval warfare. It had two exploders, a regular one that detonated it on contact with the side of an enemy ship and a very secret “magnetic exploder” that would detonate it beneath the keel of a ship without contact. After the war began, submariners discovered the hard way that the torpedo did not run steadily at the depth set into its controls and often went much deeper than designed, too deep for the magnetic exploder to work.”

Blair notes that not until late 1943 would the U.S. Navy fix the numerous torpedo problems.

Actually, the depth control issue was only the start of the problem. Once enough sub skippers had complained to their chain of command that the torpedoes were running too deep, and were able to get a few of them tested to prove it, then other problems became apparent. Even if the torpedo ran at the correct depth, the magnetic exploder would not reliably trigger the warhead when it passed under an enemy ship. The German and British submarine services had also developed similar exploders, but had abandoned them after wartime testing proved them to be ineffective. US Navy submarine admirals would not be convinced, so it took much longer for the sub captains to get permission to de-activate the magnetic exploders and use the contact exploders instead.

Unbelievably, it now became clear that there were also problems with the contact exploder as well, so even if it hit the side of the target it might not explode. American torpedoes had a significantly smaller warhead than those of other navies, because it had been expected that the magnetic exploder detonating below the keel of an enemy ship would be sufficient to break the back of the target and sink it. When used as ordinary torpedoes, it often took three or four hits to guarantee a sinking even on a merchant ship. Warships, having better compartmentalization, were even tougher to sink without lucky shots that hit fuel or ammunition compartments.

There are three reasons why this game succeeds.

First, historical accuracy. From the problems with torpedoes, to the detailed lists of Japanese merchant and capital ships, or to the specific weapons load out of each U.S. submarine in WWII, it is all there. The makers of this game did not cut any corners. They did their homework and tried, I think successfully, to incorporate significant historical facts into the gameplay.

Second, a risk/reward based gameplay experience. Every decision you make — from the torpedoes you use to deciding if you want to attack submerged and at close or long distance — incurs risk. There are numerous tradeoffs. For instance, you can attack from long distance submerged, but you suffer a roll modifier and risk not hitting your target. Or, you can be aggressive, and attack at close range, surfaced at night, which may increase your chance of hit but also increase your chance of detection. It just depends.

Finally, simple game rules. Complicated games are no fun to play. As a player, I don’t want to spend 10 minutes looking up rule after rule in a rulebook the size of a encyclopedia. In Silent Victory, the designers have done us a favor. The rules are clearly written and extensive, and after a single read through I referred to them occasionally. But more important, the combat mat has the dice roll encounter procedures printed on it, all within easy view. Also, the other mats all have reference numbers and clearly identify which dice should be rolled for what effects. It is all right there on the mats. This makes for a fun, smooth playing experience. And finally, if I were add another reason why this game is worth your money, it is the game’s replay value. You can conduct numerous patrols and no two patrols will ever be the same.

Silent Victory is a fun naval wargame that will appeal to the novice or expert gamer – and maybe you’ll learn something along the way.

June 3, 2016

The Battle of Jutland – Royal Navy vs. German Imperial Navy I THE GREAT WAR Week 97

Filed under: Britain, Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 2 Jun 2016

The Battle of Jutland or the Skagerrakschlacht was arguably the biggest naval battle in history and a turning point of World War 1 as the German High Seas Fleet failed to break through the Royal Navy’s blockade of the North Sea. The set trap of U-Boats fails to spring and even though more British ships were lost in the battle, it was a tactical defeat for the Germans.

June 2, 2016

Fat Leonard and the corruption of the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet

Filed under: Asia, Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

An amazing story in the Washington Post details how a Malaysian defence contractor got his claws into the senior officers of the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet:

A 51-year-old Malaysian citizen, Francis has since pleaded guilty to fraud and bribery charges. His firm, Glenn Defense Marine Asia, is financially ruined.

But his arrest exposed something else that is still emerging three years later: a staggering degree of corruption within the Navy itself.

Much more than a contracting scandal, the investigation has revealed how Francis seduced the Navy’s storied 7th Fleet, long a proving ground for admirals given its strategic role in patrolling the Pacific and Indian oceans.

In perhaps the worst national-security breach of its kind to hit the Navy since the end of the Cold War, Francis doled out sex and money to a shocking number of people in uniform who fed him classified material about U.S. warship and submarine movements. Some also leaked him confidential contracting information and even files about active law enforcement investigations into his company.

He exploited the intelligence for illicit profit, brazenly ordering his moles to redirect aircraft carriers to ports he controlled in Southeast Asia so he could more easily bilk the Navy for fuel, tugboats, barges, food, water and sewage removal.

Over at least a decade, according to documents filed by prosecutors, Glenn Defense ripped off the Navy with little fear of getting caught because Francis had so thoroughly infiltrated the ranks.

[…]

In his dealings with the Americans, Francis went to great lengths to ingratiate himself with senior officers, recognizing that they often cared more about high-quality service than how the bill would be paid.

Whenever a Navy vessel arrived in port, the odds were high that Francis would be waiting at the pier. Like a five-star concierge, he would arrange for shopping trips, sightseeing tours and concert tickets. A limousine and driver would be reserved for the ship’s commander.

Select sailors would be invited to an extravagant banquet, featuring cognac and whiskey, Cohiba cigars from Cuba, and platters of Spanish suckling pig and Kobe beef. Francis would sometimes fly in a band of pole dancers, which he called his Elite Thai SEAL Team, for X-rated shows, court records show.

In another display of panache, he purchased an aging, decommissioned British warship, the RFA Sir Lancelot. He refurbished and renamed it the Glenn Braveheart.

The vessel became the flagship of his fleet, and it would often deploy alongside the USS Blue Ridge, the 7th Fleet’s flagship. When in port, Francis would sometimes turn the Braveheart into a giant party boat, with prostitutes in the wardroom to entertain U.S. officers, according to court records and interviews.

May 29, 2016

Dazzle Camouflage – Sabotage Operations I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

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

Published on 28 May 2016

Chair of Wisdom Time! This week we talk about Dazzle Camouflage and Sabotage Operations.

May 22, 2016

Perhaps the US Navy can learn from Denmark on getting the “Little Crappy Ships” right

Filed under: Europe, Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

On the National Interest Blog, James Hasik points out that the idea of the Littoral Combat Ships of the US Navy was successfully implemented more than twenty years ago (and much more economically, too):

In contrast, we know it’s possible to get modularity right, because the Royal Danish Navy has been getting it right since the early 1990s. Way back in 1985, Danyard laid down the Flyvefisken (Flying Fish), the first of a class of 14 patrol vessels. The ships were intended to fight the Warsaw Pact on the Baltic — a sea littoral throughout, with an average depth of 180 feet, and a width nowhere greater than 120 miles. Any navy on its waters might find itself fighting surface ships, diesel submarines, rapidly ingressing aircraft, and sea mines in close order. On the budget of a country of fewer than six million people, the Danes figured that they should maximize the utility of any given ship. That meant standardizing a system of modules for flexible mission assignment. The result was the Stanflex modular payload system.

At 450 tons full load, a Flyvefisken is much smaller than a Freedom (3900 tons) or an Independence (3100 tons). Her complement is much smaller too: 19 to 29, depending on the role. At not more than 15 tons, the Stanflex modules are also smaller than the particular system designed anew for the LCSs. But a Flyvefisken came with four such slots (one forward, three aft), and a range of modules surprisingly broad […]

Swapping modules pier-side requires a few hours and a 15-ton crane. Truing the gun module takes some hours longer. Retraining the crew is another matter, but modular specialists can be swapped too. The concept has had some staying power. The Flyvefiskens served Denmark as recently as 2010. In a commercial vote of confidence, the Lithuanian Navy bought three secondhand, and the Portuguese Navy four (as well as a fifth for spare parts). Over time, the Royal Danish Navy has provided Stanflex slots and modules to all its subsequent ships: the former Niels Juel-class corvettes, the Thetis-class frigates, the Knud Rasmussen-class patrol ships, the well-regarded Absalon-class command-and-support ships, and the new Ivar Huitfeldt-class frigates.

HDMS Skaden (hull number P561) and HDMS Thetis (F357) in Copenhagen

Flyvefisken-class patrol ship HDMS Skaden (hull number P561) and HDMS Thetis (F357) in Copenhagen (via WikiMedia)

In short, 25 years ago the Danes figured out how a single ship could hunt and kill mines, submarines and surface ships. A small ship can’t do all those things well at once, but that’s a choice in fleet architecture. Whatever we think of the LCS program, we shouldn’t draw the wrong lessons from it. Why is this important? Modularity is economical, as the Danes have long known. Critically, modularity also lends flexibility in recovering from wartime surprise, in that platforms can be readily provided new payloads without starting from scratch. Because on December the 8th, when you need a face-punched plan, you’d rather be building new boxes than new whole new ships.

Wikipedia has this image of the HDMS Iver Huitfeldt:

HDMS Iver Huitfeldt during a port visit in Århus, 20 January 2012

HDMS Iver Huitfeldt during a port visit in Århus, 20 January 2012

April 25, 2016

The Battle of Jutland

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

The Battle of Jutland Animation from NIck on Vimeo.

March 29, 2016

Audacity & Gold Bars – The First Voyage Of SMS Möve I THE GREAT WAR Special

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

Published on 28 Mar 2016

The German raider SMS Möve and her captain Nikolaus Graf zu Dohna-Schlodien were already legendary during World War 1. Their exploits sound like pirate tales of the Golden Age of Piracy: Ever eluding the Allied fleet, the Möve brought down over 30 ships, captured multiple hundred crewmen and brought home over 100.000 Mark in gold bars when they returned the first time.

WW2: British Aircraft Carrier HMS Ark Royal

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

March 28, 2016

Onboard Royal Navy’s largest ever warship – BBC News

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

Published on 8 Dec 2015

One of a pair of new aircraft carriers that are being assembled in Rosyth, near Edinburgh, is just one year from being completed.
The Queen Elizabeth will be the largest ship that the Royal Navy has ever built, when it is finished in December 2016. The BBC’s Andrew Anderson was given special access to look around the inside of the huge vessel.

March 27, 2016

The Russian Navy – Submarines – Trench Mortar I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

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

Published on 26 Mar 2016

More pictures from Flo’s Great Grandfather: https://imgur.com/a/R1T92

It’s chair of wisdom time again and this week we talk about the Russian Navy in the Baltic Sea, submarine warfare and trench mortars.

March 5, 2016

Mechanical computers

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

ESR posted this video on Google+, saying “Mind…utterly…blown. This is how computers worked before electronic gate logic. There’s a weird beauty of mathematics made tangible about it.”

Uploaded on 13 Jul 2011

A 1953 training film for a mechanical fire control computer aboard Navy Ships. Amazing how problems of mathematical computation were solved so elegantly in “permanent” mechanical form, before microprocessors became inexpensive and commonplace.

February 21, 2016

HMS Vanguard – Britain’s Last Battleship

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

Published on 20 Feb 2015

On 4 August 1960 HMS Vanguard was towed from Portsmouth Harbour to the Breakersyard at Faslane in the Gareloch,Scotland, just a few miles from where she first set sail in 1946. Under the command of Lt. Cdr. W.G. Frampton were two officers and sixty ratings. She had been sold to the British Iron and Steel Corporation for £560,000.

January 24, 2016

Arming the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers

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

Last month, Save the Royal Navy looked at the aircraft that will fly off the decks of HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales:

Queen Elizabeth class side and overhead views

Queen Elizabeth class side and overhead views

The SDSR stated that 42 F35-B Lightning aircraft will be delivered by 2023. These 42 aircraft form the carrier’s main armament. A foolish political fudge has given the RAF control of the Lightnings, to be jointly manned and operated with the RN. For Government, this conveniently boosts the RAF’s ORBAT while allowing the same aircraft to be counted again as part of the carrier’s equipment. Although the RAF may not like it, the needs of the carriers will have to dictate their operation. There is simply no place for the “part time carrier aviator” The aircrew need as much time at sea as possible to develop their own skills, the skills of aircraft handlers, the ship’s company and the fleet as a whole. Like all RN vessels the carriers will operate at a demanding operational tempo and need aircraft embarked for much of the time. Any RAF inclination to use the aircraft in the land-based deep strike role will have to be second priority.

The initial 42 Lightnings will be split between 2 frontline squadrons. 809 Naval Air Squadron and RAF 617 Squadron with around 15-20 aircraft each, building up to the full strength of 24 per squadron. There will also be a requirement for at least 5 aircraft to form an OCU (Operational Conversion Unit for training). An OEU (Operational Evaluation Unit for testing and trials) will also require a few aircraft. Allowing for a sustainment fleet of aircraft in deep maintenance etc, then it is clear that many more than 42 aircraft are needed to form just 2 full-strength squadrons. Between 2010 and 2014 the received wisdom was that the UK would only ever purchase a maximum of 48 F35-B but the SDSR announced a planned eventual purchase of as many as 138. This is good news which should give some strength-in-depth, potentially providing 2 more squadrons. Both the RN and the RAF should be able to fulfil their ambitions for the Lighting. Whether the RAF will push for a purchase of the conventional F35-A which would not be compatible with the carrier, but has slightly better range and performance than the VSTOL variant is a discussion for the future.

Of course the caveat to all this good news is the actual performance of the F35. There are armies of armchair F-35 critics and many of their concerns are valid. Although it may prove to be a poor “within visual range” fighter, its networking, sensors, stealth and strike capabilities will be a giant advance over any previous UK military aircraft. Furthermore the RN has a fine track record of taking equipment with many apparent deficiencies and turning them into a great success. (Fairy Swordfish anyone?)

On the other hand, Ben Ho Wan Beng argues that the carriers will not actually be able to project much power:

A tactical combat aircraft complement of 12, or even 15-20, is rather small for traditional carrier operations, especially force-projection ones that are likely to predominate considering the SDSR’s expeditionary-warfare slant. Indeed, it is worth considering the fact that the two British small-deck carriers involved in the Falklands War carried 20-odd Harrier jump jets each, and they were about three times smaller than the Queen Elizabeth-class ships.

In fact, each new carrier might even be operating with a much fighter complement fewer than 15-20 in the years leading up to 2023, giving lie to the phrase “in force” used by George Osborne when he spoke of equipping the carriers with significant airpower.

In any case, the small fighter constituent means that if the Queen Elizabeth carrier were to get involved in a conflict with an adversary with credible anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities, the vessel would be hard-pressed to protect itself, let alone project power. With a displacement of over 70,000 tons and costing over three billion pounds each, the new British carriers will be the crown jewels of the Royal Navy; indeed, HMS Queen Elizabeth is slated to be the RN’s flagship when she comes into service. The protection of the ship would hence be of paramount importance in an era that has witnessed the proliferation of A2/AD capabilities even to developing nations. Hence for a Queen Elizabeth carrying 20 or less Lightnings in such circumstances, it remains to be seen just how many of the aircraft will be earmarked for different duties.

Should a F-35B air group of that size put to sea, at least half of them will be assigned to the Combat Air Patrol (CAP), leaving barely 10 for offensive duties. It is worth noting that of the 42 Harrier VSTOL jets deployed on HMS Hermes and HMS Invincible during the Falklands War, 28 of them – a substantial two-thirds – had CAP as their primary duty. It is also telling that of the 1,300-odd sorties flown in all by the Harriers, about 83 per cent of them were for CAP.

Faced with modern A2/AD systems such as stand-off anti-ship missiles, how likely then would the carrier task force commander devote more resources to offense and risk having a vessel named after British royalty attacked and hit? Having said that, having too many planes for defense strengthens the argument made by various carrier critics that the ship is a “self-licking ice cream cone,” in other words, an entity that exists solely to sustain itself.

The task force commander would thus be caught between a rock and a hard place. Allocate more F-35Bs to strike missions and the susceptibility of the task force to aerial threats increase. Conversely, set aside more aircraft for the CAP and its mother ship’s ability to project power decreases. All in all, with a significantly understrength F-35B air wing, the Queen Elizabeth flat-top would be operating under severe constraints, making it incapable of the traditional carrier operations it could have carried out with a larger tactical aircraft complement. Indeed, one naval commentator is right on the mark when he argues that two squadrons with a total of 24 aircraft should be a “sensible minimum standard” for each carrier.

January 23, 2016

World of Warships – How To Not Suck

Filed under: Gaming, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 20 Jun 2015

If I said to you “What’s Port?” and your answer is “A fortified wine from Portugal served by the Wardroom Steward at Mess Dinners” you’re either a Royal Naval Officer or someone who could probably benefit from watching this video. There’s no cure for being a Royal Naval Officer, but the cure for sucking at World of Warships is just one click away.

January 10, 2016

The aircraft carrier as status symbol

Filed under: Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

While I was offline, Colby Cosh discussed the status signalling power of the modern aircraft carrier:

Aircraft carriers are such fascinating objects. With the exception of manned spacecraft, there is probably nothing that signifies national prestige quite as boldly as a flattop. It is almost the best single marker you can identify of the difference between states properly called “powers” and those that are just — well, will I be forgiven for saying “Canadas”? They attract enormous amounts of attention and analysis from military experts and amateur opinionators.

And, in a sense, this is disproportionate nearly to the point of self-evident unreason. The age of battles between aircraft carrier groups began with the commencement of the fight in the Coral Sea: May 4, 1942. It pretty much ended when the Americans sent four Japanese carriers to the bottom at Midway, 30 days later.

Since that abbreviated epoch, the countries capable of operating aircraft carriers have mostly avoided hot wars with each other. American ones have the run of the seas and find no trouble. Others constantly leave their owners wondering if they are worthwhile.

Perhaps this means that on the whole carriers have done their job. But a constant theme in their history is the fear that they make nice fat targets for the weaker side in a conflict. India’s carrier Vikrant played a key role in blockading Bengal during the 1971 war over Bangladeshi independence, but the Indian Navy was nervous about a seemingly foreordained single combat with Pakistan’s diesel submarine Ghazi (formerly USS Diablo), and got lucky when it sank in an apparent accident. The U.K., whose remaining scraps of empire pose a unique defence problem, sent a carrier, HMS Hermes, to the Falklands — and then the Royal Navy held it off, wincing all the while, at the edge of the theatre, barely within Harrier range of the islands.

Hermes is still on duty today as INS Viraat, a successor to Vikrant; one of the interesting things about carriers is that, as with submarines, their lives will often have two acts in different navies. That is the case with China’s existing, first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning. She was christened Riga in Soviet days and inherited by independent Ukraine as Varyag. A Hong Kong travel agency bought the hull, claiming it intended to turn it into a floating casino. (Getting the ship out of the Black Sea under the nose of Turkey might otherwise have been tricky, and wasn’t easy anyway.)

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