Published on 29 Aug 2016
Submarine warfare is one of the lasting impacts of World War 1. Especially the unrestricted submarine warfare by the German navy was a big problem for the British supply routes. But the development and improvement of submarines was not a German story at first.
August 30, 2016
August 25, 2016
At Reason, Glenn Garvin looks at the role government subsidies had in the survival of the Cunard Line and the building of the RMS Queen Mary:
The most interesting thing about the Queen Mary, which for several decades was the largest passenger ship ever built, is not the 20-foot propellers so perfectly balanced that they could be spun with a flick of the wrist; or the 35,000 tons of metal that went into its construction; or the 10 million rivets that hold the whole thing together. It’s not even the still-mysterious question of how the ship became the springboard for the very first cheap-shot joke about Joan Collins. (Q. What’s the difference between Joan Collins and the Queen Mary? A. It takes a few tugs to get the Queen Mary out of her slip.)
No, the really special thing about the Queen Mary is that it was one of the epic government bailout boondoggles of the 20th century. In 1931, barely a year into the ship’s construction, the Cunard line went broke. The British dutifully forked over a loan of a staggering 9.5 million pounds — that’s $684 million in 2016 dollars — to keep the company afloat (dreadful pun not intended until I actually typed it). Which, as the documentary Mighty Ship at War: The Queen Mary notes, saved a whopping 2,000 jobs — at $342,000 a pop, I can only conclude that shipping lines employ a lot more neurosurgeons than I was aware — and, more importantly, England’s image: “Great Britain was at risk of losing its reputation as the world’s leading maritime nation.”
Its wide-eyed admiration of pork-slinging statecraft aside, Mighty Ship at War is a peppy and quite watchable little documentary about an oddball chapter in maritime history: the conversion of luxury liners into troop transports during World War II. When war broke out in Europe in 1939, unleashing German submarine wolfpacks on commercial shipping in the Atlantic, the cruise ships were drafted just like able-bodied men. They even got the maritime equivalent of a GI haircut, repainted a dull naval gray while their posh staterooms were ripped out to make way for towering stacks of bunks.
Even before its military makeover, Mighty Ship at War relates, the Queen Mary had found its business model remade by Europe’s gathering war clouds. Because the ship’s London-to-New York route included a stop in Cherbourg, France, it became the escape route of choice for many Jews fleeing Europe. Even families of modest means often traveled in plutocratic splendor, blowing their life savings on first-class tickets, because the Germans would confiscate any money or valuables the refugees tried to carry with them. “Give the money to the Brits, not the damn Nazis,” one refugee who made the crossing as a small child remembers his parents saying. By early 1939, every London departure of the Queen Mary was sold out.
August 9, 2016
Published on 8 Aug 2016
The big and decisive naval battle that the Royal Navy had hoped for did not happen during World War 1. But another naval strategy slowly but surely ground the German economy down.
May 29, 2016
Published on 28 May 2016
Chair of Wisdom Time! This week we talk about Dazzle Camouflage and Sabotage Operations.
Published on 12 Apr 2016
*Sponsored* Hearts of Iron IV comes out on June 6!
After Germany’s early push, the situation looked dire in Europe. The United States had resources to help out, but initially clung to an isolationist policy. Gradually, measures like Cash and Carry and the Lend-Lease Act expanded their involvement.
Germany’s blitzkrieg had been largely successful. France fell early, and Great Britain appeared on the verge of collapse. Europe needed more resources to sustain their resistance, but the United States was bound by the Neutrality Act which established a policy of isolationism and forbade the US from supporting foreign wars in any way. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt skirted those restrictions. He lobbied Congress to reinstate a provision in the law called Cash and Carry, which would allow other nations to buy US war materiel with cash and transport it themselves into the warzone. He also established an agreement which allowed him to place American military bases on British colonies in exchange for destroyer ships, thus safeguarding the far reaches of the United Kingdom from possible Axis invasions. When it turned out that the English won the Battle of Britain and successfully staved off the attempted Nazi conquest, America decided to support them in a more substantial, long term way. Thus the Lend-Lease Act was signed: the US would loan equipment to their strategic partners (who were not the Allies yet). Though supposedly the equipment had to be returned, it was pretty obvious that war materiel would not come back in the same shape if at all, so this was really the largest donation of war supplies ever. But it wound up benefiting the US in turn, since the increased production galvanized an economy that had been stagnant since the Great Depression. It also kickstarted the involvement of the US Merchant Marine, who were among the earliest US citizens to give their lives in World War II and suffered the highest casualty percentage of any branch of the service. These unarmed ships navigated U-boat infested waters to bring much needed supplies to Europe, North Africa, and Asia. Despite this, their service has gone largely unrecognized and unrewarded as they are still denied many veterans’ benefits and were not even formally thanked by Congress until 2012.
May 22, 2016
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.
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:
May 13, 2016
The US rail system, unlike nearly every other system in the world, was built (mostly) by private individuals with private capital. It is operated privately, and runs without taxpayer subsidies. And, it is by far the greatest rail system in the world. It has by far the cheapest rates in the world (1/2 of China’s, 1/8 of Germany’s). But here is the real key: it is almost all freight.
As a percentage, far more freight moves in the US by rail (vs. truck) than almost any other country in the world. Europe and Japan are not even close. Specifically, about 40% of US freight moves by rail, vs. just 10% or so in Europe and less than 5% in Japan. As a result, far more of European and Japanese freight jams up the highways in trucks than in the United States. For example, the percentage of freight that hits the roads in Japan is nearly double that of the US.
You see, passenger rail is sexy and pretty and visible. You can build grand stations and entertain visiting dignitaries on your high-speed trains. This is why statist governments have invested so much in passenger rail — not to be more efficient, but to awe their citizens and foreign observers.
But there is little efficiency improvement in moving passengers by rail vs. other modes. Most of the energy consumed goes into hauling not the passengers themselves, but the weight of increasingly plush rail cars. Trains have to be really, really full all the time to make for a net energy savings for high-speed rail vs. cars or even planes, and they seldom are full. I had a lovely trip on the high speed rail last summer between London and Paris and back through the Chunnel — especially nice because my son and I had the rail car entirely to ourselves both ways.
The real rail efficiency comes from moving freight. As compared to passenger rail, more of the total energy budget is used moving the actual freight rather than the cars themselves. Freight is far more efficient to move by rail than by road, but only the US moves a substantial amount of its freight by rail. One reason for this is that freight and high-speed passenger traffic have a variety of problems sharing the same rails, so systems that are optimized for one tend to struggle serving the other.
Freight is boring and un-sexy. Its not a government function in the US. So intellectuals tend to ignore it, even though it is the far more important, from an energy and environmental standpoint, portion of transport to put on the rails.
April 5, 2016
Published on 4 Apr 2016
The Netherlands were surrounded by World War 1 from 1914 onwards and their stance of armed neutrality made it difficult to manoeuvre between the Entente and the Central Powers. And while the Netherlands never joined the conflict in the end, the war took its toll on the nation.
March 29, 2016
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.
February 13, 2016
Tim Worstall says that the Baltic Dry Index is way down … and there’s zero reason to panic over it:
The Baltic Dry Index is now down to 293, near 50% down on a year ago and almost 40% down just so far this year. This does not though, despite a remarkable amount of panicking over it, mean that global trade has fallen off a cliff. It does not even mean that global trade has contracted at all. The important point here being, as it is about any other price in the economy, that the price is determined by the interplay of supply and demand, not just demand alone.
Actually, we need to take a further step back. The Baltic Dry Index is an index of the price of shipping (specifically, of large bulk dry cargoes like grain and iron ore, there are other similar measures for oil, containers and so on), not an indication of the volume of shipping or trade. It’s then that we have to recall that prices are about the interplay of supply and demand, not just demand itself.
And the truth is that global trade is not shrinking, despite what is happening to the price of doing that shipping of that trade. Now, if trade were shrinking that would be a problem, yes, because it would be an indication of a general slow down, possibly even recession, in the global economy. That’s not something we want to happen. But the price of shipping falling is something very different.
Yes, the Baltic Dry Index has collapsed: but that’s a collapse in the price of shipping, not in the volume of shipping nor of global trade. Far from this being a bad sign for the global economy, it contains within it the seeds of good news. If shipping is becoming cheaper therefore it will be cheaper to trade and there will be more of it. Which is good news, because more trade makes us all richer.
And we need to recall this basic point when we think about either economics or public policy. Yes, price changes are indeed telling us something about the economy around us. But we do have to be careful that we pick up the right message. A falling price can be a symptom of increased supply just as much as it can be of reduced demand.
February 5, 2016
Duffelblog reports on the kind of boaters the US Coast Guard has to rescue:
Nearly 83 percent of mariner rescues since 1960 involved unrelentingly stupid behaviors and/or people, according to a recent study by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Though the service treats all search and rescue situations equally, most on-scene commanders will privately admit that a majority of the time “it was just some dumb bastard with no concern for personal safety,” according to the study’s authors.
“These statistics are unthinkable,” said Coast Guard spokesperson Lt. Carla Willmington. “Our service prides itself on response time, SAR organization, and comprehensive rescue pattern analysis. But it’s tough to stay on task when the bulk of these cases involve people paralyzed from the neck up. ”
The U. S. Coast Guard Office of Search and Rescue report examined nearly all cases handled on inland and offshore waters from 1960 through 2014. Following the Federal Boating Act of 1971, increases in cases by “fucking idiots” and “goddamn morons” have been staggering, and very challenging to the service as it struggles to operate under a minimal budget.
Between 2010 and 2014, the most recent years studied, incidents involving “total assholery” increased from 10,687 to 38,335.
January 23, 2016
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.
December 27, 2015
In the Chronicle Herald, Andrea Gunn reports on the Royal Canadian Navy’s refit program for the twelve ships in the HMCS Halifax class, being done in Victoria and Halifax:
A $4.3-billion, decade-long life extension and modernization of Canada’s Halifax-class frigates has now been completed on more than half the fleet.
Work started in 2010 on the mid-life refit and modernization process, which has been concluded on HMCS Halifax, Fredericton, Montreal and Charlottetown at the Irving-owned Halifax Shipyard, and on HMCS Calgary, Winnipeg and Vancouver at Seaspan in Victoria.
The other five vessels, HMCS St. John’s, Ottawa, Ville de Quebec and Toronto, have all entered refit and are at various stages of completion and testing. All major work for the program, which is on schedule and on budget, is set to be finished by 2019.
The project’s aim is to extend the lifespan of the fleet to sustain Canada’s naval operations during the design and construction phase of the new fleet of Canadian surface combatants, set to be delivered by 2033. The Halifax-class frigates have been in operation since 1992, and planning and preparation for the modernization project began in 2002.
Royal Canadian Navy Commodore Craig Baines, commander of the Atlantic fleet, recently returned from two months of major multinational exercises that utilized three of the modernized vessels. HMCS Halifax, Montreal and Winnipeg participated in Joint Warrior, and Winnipeg and Halifax participated in Trident Juncture, the largest NATO military exercise since the Cold War.
“From where we were previously to where we are now, it’s like you have a brand new ship,” Baines told The Chronicle Herald.
The modernized vessels are equipped with a new radar suite and have had major upgrades to the communications and warfare systems. But it’s the $2-billion upgrade to the fleet’s combat management systems — a completely redesigned command and control centre with plenty of new features — that is largely responsible for that new ship feel.
December 2, 2015
In the most recent British government SDSR plan, the Royal Navy’s hopes to get 13 new Type 26 frigates have been trimmed down to only eight. Save the Royal Navy speculates on developing a cheaper ship design that could perhaps fill the gap:
Is it really possible to produce a fully effective frigate that is significantly cheaper than a T26? Let us call it the ‘Type 31’, It still requires point defence missiles, anti-ship weaponry, a hangar and small flight deck (even if only for a UAV or Lynx size helicopter), plus a command and control system and suite of sensors. Although the hull size could be reduced, a simpler propulsion system used and the anti-submarine capability eliminated or reduced. You might cut the cost by 30%, and get a general purpose ship but there is still the cost of developing a new design. (At least £200M has already been spent on the T26 design as well as various development ‘blind alleys’ along the way.) A second frigate type will also need its own equipment support logistics and training pipelines.
The desire to create an exportable frigate is laudable but will we not be re-inventing the wheel when there are already cheaper foreign designs that could be licensed or adapted. The highly successful German MEKO design and the Danish Stanflex system are good examples.
If your warship is designed to cope in high-intensity conflict then it will need expensive weapons and sensors. Today’s generation of supersonic anti-ship missiles are truly formidable. Modern surface ships face greater and more diverse threats than ever. To counter this requires good sensors, agile missiles and an array of decoys, backed up by last-ditch close in weapon systems (CIWS). Although the general purpose frigate may not be dedicated to hunting submarines, it will still need a decent sonar to give some hope of prosecuting a submarine or detecting and avoiding torpedo attack. Submarines are also getting more and more stealthy with a growing arsenal of weapons. Without quiet propulsion and sophisticated sonars (i.e. towed arrays) that can detect threats at range and helicopters to attack, the Type 31 could ‘just be another target’.
If your escorts are really going to escort anything eg. an aircraft carrier or merchant shipping, then it needs more than just last-ditch self-defence weapons. A Phalanx CIWS may defend the ship it is mounted on, but it is little use protecting another vessel. If the escort ship can only defend itself, it has very limited use or must be permanently on the offensive. The Sea Ceptor being fitted to the Type 23 and Type 26 frigates has the major advantage over the Sea Wolf it replaces by having more than double the range (around 25Km), significantly extending the size of the protection umbrella over ships being escorted. Frigates are traditionally built to hunt submarines, if our Type 31 has no real ASW capability then it is pretty limited in a wartime role.
November 6, 2015
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.
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.
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.