Quotulatiousness

December 8, 2017

Halifax Explosion – Peace in the East? | THE GREAT WAR Week 176

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

The Great War
Published on 7 Dec 2017

This week in the Great War, we see some action in Italy and none at all in Russia – the peace negotiations are well underway. The Allied Supreme War Council meets for the first time as the Battle of Cambrai comes to a close. Two ships collide in Nova Scotia resulting in a deadly explosion.

December 7, 2017

The battleships of Pearl Harbour

Filed under: History, Japan, Military, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

Last month Naval Gazing ran a three-part series on the US Navy battleships at Pearl Harbour on the morning of 7 December, 1941, their post-attack fates, and later careers in World War 2. Part 1 was about the initial Japanese attack:

In Pearl Harbor on December 7th were eight battleships: Nevada, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Tennessee, California, West Virginia and Maryland. All of them were of First World War vintage, representatives of what was known as the Standard Type. These were ships commissioned between 1914 and 1923, all of broadly the same size, and the first ships designed for long-range combat using an all-or-nothing armor scheme. All had four turrets, and all but West Virginia and Maryland mounting 14” guns. (They had 16” guns instead.)

Pearl Harbour at the beginning of the attack, Battleship Row at the top (the waterspout is the first torpedo hit on the USS West Virginia)

All of the ships except Pennsylvania (which was in drydock) were moored along Ford Island in the famous ‘battleship row’. I’m going to focus on the stories of the individual ships during the attack, moving north to south. The attack began at 0748 on Sunday, December 7th, and a total of 353 Japanese aircraft were involved, in two waves.

A map of Pearl Harbour before the attack

The second post in the series covered the salvage of the damaged US Navy battleships:

When we left Pearl Harbor, it was the evening of December 7th, and most of Battle Force was on the bottom of the harbor. But what happened to the ships afterwards? We’ll go through the ships in the order which they returned to service (if they did) and then look more broadly at the use of the survivors during the war.

Battleship Row, 8 December 1941. Left-to-right: Maryland, Oklahoma, Tennesee, West Virginia, Arizona.

Maryland was the first ship ready to go to sea again, albeit with some damage. Tennessee was slightly behind her, as she was wedged by the West Virginia. Both ships were sent to Puget Sound at the end of the year, and repairs were completed in February. Pennsylvania was sent to San Francisco at the same time, returning to duty in March. All three ships (along with Colorado, New Mexico, Mississippi, and Idaho) served as part of TF 1, the backup to the carrier fleet until after Midway. Tennessee and Pennsylvania were sent to the states for comprehensive refit, running 8/42-5/43 and 10/42-2/43 respectively. Both received the standard upgrade, a reconstructed superstructure resembling those on the fast battleships (although there was less work done on Pennsylvania than the others), 5”/38 secondary guns in place of the former mixed secondary battery and upgraded fire control. Tennessee was also blistered against torpedoes, restricting her to the Pacific or a long journey around South America. Maryland was never refitted.

Part 3 discussed the Pearl Harbour survivors at the battle of Leyte Gulf:

The invasion began on Leyte Island in October of 1944, and triggered the largest naval battle in history, the battle of Leyte Gulf. The Japanese, who had long planned for the ‘Decisive Battle’ between their battleships and those of the US, planned a counterattack on the US landings in three main groups. Their carriers would come in from the north and draw off the US carriers covering the invasion, while two groups of battleships would sneak up on the invasion fleet from the east, passing through the Philippines and pincering the US transports from the north and south.

USS Pennsylvania leads a column of battleships into Lingayen Gulf.

The northern group (basically without planes after severe losses in June during the Battle of the Philippine Sea) managed to draw off Admiral Halsey. He’s often criticized for this, but in fairness, he was tasked with destroying the Japanese fleet, and the US didn’t realize how badly the carrier air groups had been hammered. The center group (with the faster battleships) had been detected, and appeared to have turned back after Musashi, Yamato’s sister ship, was sunk. They in fact resumed their course, and their encounter with escort carrier group Taffy 3 is the stuff of legend, but also a matter for another time.

December 5, 2017

The Halifax explosion of 6 December, 1917

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

It’s been called one of the largest man-made non-nuclear explosions and it destroyed large parts of the City of Halifax, when the SS Mont Blanc ran aground and exploded following a collision in the Narrows between Halifax and Dartmouth with the chartered Belgian Relief ship SS Imo. Nearly two thousand people were killed and thousands more injured in the blast.

A view of the Halifax waterfront shortly after the explosion on the morning of 6 December, 1917
Image via Wikimedia.

The Mont Blanc was built in 1899 in Middlesbrough, England, and at the time of the explosion was owned by Cie Generale Transatlantique with a St. Nazaire registration. As far as I’m aware there is only one photo of the ship and it shows the stern of the vessel when she was sailing under a Marseilles registration:

SS Mont Blanc in 1900 in Halifax.
Photo via the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic

Mont Blanc had left New York harbour with a full load of flammable and explosive cargo (including TNT, picric acid, benzol aviation fuel additive, and guncotton) intended for the battlefront in western Europe on the first, and just missed being allowed inside the anti-submarine netting protecting the entrance to the harbour on the evening of the fifth, being forced to wait outside until morning. As soon as the harbour guard allowed passage, the Mont Blanc followed another freighter (believed to be the SS Clara, but identified only as “the green American tramp steamer” in the inquiry) through the barrier and approached the narrows.

As the Mont Blanc made her way up toward the Bedford Basin, the Imo started in the opposite direction headed toward the harbour mouth. The Clara was sailing up the Halifax side of the channel, contrary to harbour rules, so the Imo had to swing over toward the Dartmouth side to avoid the Clara, and then further to the wrong side of the Narrows to avoid the Stella Maris, a tug moving barges around the harbour. In the low visibility, Imo‘s captain and pilot were unaware that another ship was following the Clara so closely and on the correct side of the channel.

According to the accepted “rules of the road”, in this situation the first ship to signal has the right of way and the other ship is expected to defer to the movement of the first ship. Mont Blanc‘s pilot had the ship’s whistle blown once, to indicate their priority, but the Imo replied with two whistles indicating that they did not intend to allow Mont Blanc‘s right of way. At first sighting, the two ships were already within a mile of one another and within the narrowest point of the harbour, which restricted the ability of the Mont Blanc to manouvre. The captain ordered the engines stopped and to steer closer to the Dartmouth side of the channel (with his delicate and explosive cargo, he didn’t want to run the risk of going aground).

Imo was carrying no cargo on this portion of her journey, which meant the propellers were partially out of the water, making the ship much less handy to steer. As the two ships approached, with the ships on approximately parallel courses, the Imo‘s captain ordered the engines to reverse, which caused Imo to swing to starboard (right) and impact the starboard side of the Mont Blanc at 8:45am. The collision did not do fatal structural damage to either ship, but it broke open some of the benzol containers on the deck and the spilled liquid ran down the side of the Mont Blanc, producing a flammable vapour.

The immediate impact of the explosion covered 325 acres, and windows were broken more than 50 miles away.
Image from http://www.halifaxexplosion.org/explosion2.html

As the Imo‘s engines began to pull the ship back, friction between the two hulls ignited the benzol fumes, which then spread the fire up the hull and onto the foredeck, preventing any effective fire-fighting on the part of the Mont Blanc‘s crew. With no hope of preventing an explosion, the crew abandoned ship and rowed away from the stricken Mont Blanc, which carried on across the channel and eventually ran aground on the Halifax side near Pier 6 at the foot of Richmond Street. At 9:04am, the main cargo exploded, ripping the ship apart and sending chunks of the hull out over the buildings at the waterfront, some landing up to 3.5 miles away from the site of the blast.

This photo was taken two days after the explosion, looking across the Narrows toward the wreck of the SS Imo, aground on the Dartmouth shore.
Image via Wikimedia.

The Wikipedia entry tells of the moment of the explosion:

The ship was completely blown apart and a powerful blast wave radiated away from the explosion at more than 1,000 metres (3,300 ft) per second. Temperatures of 5,000 °C (9,030 °F) and pressures of thousands of atmospheres accompanied the moment of detonation at the centre of the explosion. White-hot shards of iron fell down upon Halifax and Dartmouth. Mont Blanc‘s forward 90 mm gun, its barrel melted away, landed approximately 5.6 kilometres (3.5 mi) north of the explosion site near Albro Lake in Dartmouth, while the shank of her anchor, weighing half a ton, landed 3.2 kilometres (2.0 mi) south at Armdale.

A cloud of white smoke rose to over 3,600 metres (11,800 ft). The shock wave from the blast travelled through the earth at nearly 23 times the speed of sound and was felt as far away as Cape Breton (207 kilometres or 129 miles) and Prince Edward Island (180 kilometres or 110 miles). An area of over 160 hectares (400 acres) was completely destroyed by the explosion, while the harbour floor was momentarily exposed by the volume of water that vaporized. A tsunami was formed by water surging in to fill the void; it rose as high as 18 metres (60 ft) above the high-water mark on the Halifax side of the harbour. Imo was carried onto the shore at Dartmouth by the tsunami. The blast killed all but one on the whaler, everyone on the pinnace and 21 of the 26 men on Stella Maris; she ended up on the Dartmouth shore, severely damaged. The captain’s son, First Mate Walter Brannen, who had been thrown into the hold by the blast, survived, as did four others. All but one of the Mont Blanc crew members survived.

Over 1,600 people were killed instantly and 9,000 were injured, more than 300 of whom later died. Every building within a 2.6-kilometre (1.6 mi) radius, over 12,000 in total, was destroyed or badly damaged. Hundreds of people who had been watching the fire from their homes were blinded when the blast wave shattered the windows in front of them. Stoves and lamps overturned by the force of the blast sparked fires throughout Halifax, particularly in the North End, where entire city blocks were caught up in the inferno, trapping residents inside their houses. Firefighter Billy Wells, who was thrown away from the explosion and had his clothes torn from his body, described the devastation survivors faced: “The sight was awful, with people hanging out of windows dead. Some with their heads missing, and some thrown onto the overhead telegraph wires.” He was the only member of the eight-man crew of the fire engine “Patricia” to survive.

Intercolonial Railway dispatcher Vince Coleman is credited with saving some three hundred passengers of an inbound Saint John train, by going back to the telegraph office and ordering the train to stop outside the likely blast zone: “Hold up the train. Ammunition ship afire in harbor making for Pier 6 and will explode. Guess this will be my last message. Good-bye boys.” The train was only slightly damaged and there were no fatalities onboard. Coleman died at his post when the ship exploded.

The earliest rescue efforts were mounted by the crews of British, Canadian, and American naval ships in port, and two US Navy ships that arrived later in the day. Many wounded were brought aboard the ships and treated there: the explosion having taken down all the electric power lines in the area, these were the best-lighted-and-heated places to take the injured until emergency power lines could be set up onshore.

Later in the day, a small fire near the magazine of Wellington Barracks caused a panic about a second explosion which hampered early rescue attempts adjacent to the blast area. Rescue trains were dispatched from many communities in the Maritimes and New England, including a major relief effort from Boston. A severe winter storm struck Halifax the next day, causing further delays in locating and assisting wounded and injured Haligonians. Sixteen inches of snow blocked several railway lines, and caused greater distress among the survivors, and knocking out the telegraph lines that in many cases had only just been re-connected after the blast.

For further reading on the explosion, the rescue efforts, and the aftermath, I can recommend Laura M. Mac Donald’s Curse of the Narrows, which recounts a great many individual stories of the people of Halifax and Dartmouth who lived through the disaster.

Update, 6 December: Rick Tessner sent me a link to this video which does a good job of explaining what happened to cause the explosion.

Sixty Symbols
Published on Dec 4, 2017

Sixty Symbols regular Dr Meghan Gray on an infamous event that occurred in her home town – the Halifax Explosion of December 6, 1917.

MORE DETAILS
Maritime Museum of the Atlantic: https://maritimemuseum.novascotia.ca/…
Nova Scotia archives stuff: https://novascotia.ca/news/smr/2009-1…
CBC: http://newsinteractives.cbc.ca/halifa…

While not a typical video for us, Dr Gray is a Sixty Symbols stalwart and really wanted to share the story of this explosion which is an event of great interest to her home town of Halifax — and an event with a pretty significant science component.

August 25, 2017

Solving the mystery of the fate of H.L. Hunley‘s crew

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

When the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley was found, the bodies of the crew were still in their duty positions within the vessel, as if they’d been unaware or unable to do anything to save the situation. Sarah Knapton reports on what is now believed to have killed the crew almost instantaneously:

“Submarine Torpedo Boat H.L. Hunley, Dec. 6, 1863″ by Conrad Wise Chapman.
“The inventor of this boat, a man named Hunley, can be seen; also a sentinel. This boat, it was at first thought would be very effective; twice it went out on its mission of destruction, but on both occasions returned with all the crew dead. After this had happened the second time, someone painted on it the word ‘coffin.’ There was just room enough in it for eight men, one in front of the other, with no possibility of anyone sitting straight. The third time it started out, it never came back, nor was anything ever heard from it, but as one of the United States men-of-war in the harbor (USS Housatonic) was sunk at about the same time, the supposition was that they both went to the bottom together. Other objects to be seen in the picture are, Sullivan’s Island, and a Dispatch boat.” – Conrad Wise Chapman, 1898 (via Wikimedia)

The mystery of how the crew of one of the world’s first submarines died has finally been solved – they accidentally killed themselves.

The H.L. Hunley sank on February 17 1864 after torpedoing the USS Housatonic outside Charleston Harbour, South Carolina, during American Civil War.

She was one of the first submarines ever to be used in conflict, and the first to sink a battleship [Housatonic was actually a sloop-of-war, not a battleship].

It was assumed the blast had ruptured the sub, drowning its occupants, but when the Hunley was raised in 2000, salvage experts were amazed to find the eight-man crew poised as if they had been caught completely unawares by the tragedy. All were still sitting in their posts and there was no evidence that they had attempted to flee the foundering vessel.

Now researchers at Duke University believe they have the answer. Three years of experiments on a mini-test sub have shown that the torpedo blast would have created a shockwave great enough to instantly rupture the blood vessels in the lungs and brains of the submariners.

“This is the characteristic trauma of blast victims, they call it ‘blast lung,'” Dr Rachel Lance.

“You have an instant fatality that leaves no marks on the skeletal remains. Unfortunately, the soft tissues that would show us what happened have decomposed in the past hundred years.”

The Hunley‘s torpedo was not a self-propelled bomb, but a copper keg of 135 pounds of gunpowder held ahead and slightly below the Hunley‘s bow on a 16-foot pole called a spar

The sub rammed this spar into the enemy ship’s hull and the bomb exploded. The furthest any of the crew was from the blast was about 42 feet. The shockwave of the blast travelled about 1500 meters per second in water, and 340 m/sec in air, the researchers calculate.

January 8, 2017

Secrets of the Dead: What Sank The Mary Rose?

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

Published on Aug 13, 2015
Henry VİII’s and England’s most important battleship, the Mary Rose, sunk off the English coast in the Solent in the 16th Century.

Secrets Of The Dead – What Sank The Mary Rose?

July 2, 2015

Frankford Junction, Pennsylvania

Filed under: History, Railways, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Rob McGonigal looks at the history of the railways in the area of Frankford Junction, where Amtrak train 188 came to grief in May:

In the aftermath of the tragic May 12 derailment due to excessive speed of Amtrak train 188 in Philadelphia, many casual observers wondered what a 50-mph curve is doing in the middle of the fastest, busiest rail corridor in the nation. It’s a reasonable question, especially given the generally tangent track and flat topography in the area.

The existence of that curve traces back to the earliest years of railroads in Philadelphia. As in many cities, Philadelphia’s rail network developed in piecemeal, uncoordinated fashion. What became Amtrak 188’s route through the city began in the 1830s as three separate projects.

The Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore ran generally southwestward from a terminal about a mile south of downtown (“center city” to Philadelphians). The Philadelphia & Columbia, part of the Main Line of Public Works rail/canal system to Pittsburgh, utilized a terminal in center city. The Philadelphia & Trenton, which connected with services to New York, originated in Kensington — an inconvenient 2½ miles northeast of center city. As Albert Churella relates in the first volume of his mammoth history of the PRR (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), municipal authorities in 1840 granted the P&T permission to extend its line into center city, where it would connect with other railroads. However, fierce opposition from teamsters, who profited from hauling freight between the rail terminals, and area residents, who did not want steam trains in their streets, prompted the city to revoke permission, and the P&T was not extended.

Two decades later, it was clear that the three lines should be connected. In 1864 the Junction Railroad was opened, linking the PW&B with the P&C’s successor on the line to the west — the Pennsylvania Railroad. (Indeed, the PRR had interests in all three of the lines by this time.) Three years later the Connecting Railway opened. It diverged from the P&C/PRR line at a place designated Mantua Junction (and later, in expanded form, Zoo interlocking), arced around the northern part of the city, and connected with the P&T in the Frankford section of Philadelphia. As with the connection at Mantua Junction, the geometry of the lines at Frankford Junction resulted in a sharp curve.

May 11, 2015

After 74 years, the remains of HMS Urge discovered off the Libyan coast

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

In The Telegraph a report on the discovery of a Royal Navy submarine wreck from 1942:

British U class submarine HMS URGE underway. (via Wikipedia)

British U class submarine HMS Urge underway. (via Wikipedia)

A Royal Navy submarine paid for by a town holding dances and whist drives is believed to have been discovered more than 70 years after it vanished during the Second World War.

The British submarine HMS Urge was paid for by the townspeople of Bridgend, South Wales, but sunk without trace in the Mediterranean in 1942.

It disappeared while making a voyage from the island of Malta to the Egyptian city of Alexandria – and families of the 29 crew and 10 passengers never knew what happened.

For more than 70 years, its resting place has remained a mystery. But a 76-year-old scuba diver claims he has discovered its wreck 160ft (50m) below the waves off the Libyan coast.

HMS Urge sonar image

April 25, 2015

Finnish divers binge on 200-year-old wine and beer

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

Perhaps “binge” isn’t quite the right word to use…

Finnish divers recently discovered several crates of champagne and beer from a sunken ship that had been at the bottom of the Baltic Sea for nearly two centuries. The experts carefully identified, researched, and analyzed the alcohol…then they drank it.

The divers discovered the wreck just south of Aaland, a Finland-controlled archipelago of some 6,500 small islands in the Baltic Sea. Inside the sunken schooner, they found 168 bottles of champagne and an undisclosed amount of bottles of beer. The ship itself likely dates back to the second quarter of the 19th century, making its cargo almost certainly the oldest alcoholic drinks in existence. By comparison, the oldest wines in private hands are only thought to date back to the very end of the 1800s.

This entire story is a good reminder of a basic scientific truth — when in doubt, start drinking the 200-year-old booze. The divers first discovered the champagne was drinkable when changing pressures caused the cork to pop off one of the bottles, and a diver decided to take a swig. He expected to taste seawater that had seeped into the bottle over the last 200 years — which raises very legitimate questions about just why he decided to take a sip in the first place — but was shocked to discover the wine still tasted fine.

H/T to Never Yet Melted, for linking to a story from 2010.

April 20, 2015

Twice-nuked aircraft carrier sunk 80 km from San Francisco

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

If you’d ever wondered what happened to the ships that were used in the Bikini Atoll nuclear tests, here’s one that might surprise you:

The sonar image with oranges color tones (lower) shows an outline of a possible airplane in the forward aircraft elevator hatch opening. Credit: NOAA, Boeing, and Coda Octopus

The sonar image with oranges color tones (lower) shows an outline of a possible airplane in the forward aircraft elevator hatch opening. Credit: NOAA, Boeing, and Coda Octopus

The Independence (CVL-22) was commissioned as cruiser, but adapted to become a light carrier as the demands of the Pacific war made mobile air power desirable. The ship served in the Pacific from November 1943 to August 1945, but by 1946 was deemed fit for duty as a test vessel at an atomic bomb test near Bikini Atoll. Independence was stationed less than half a mile from ground zero on a July 1st test, survived that ordeal without sinking so was nuked again on the 25th.

The US Navy then brought the vessel back to San Francisco to assess the damage, and to try nuclear decontamination techniques. By 1951 Independence was felt to be at risk of sinking, so with a colossal radioactive carcass not the sort of thing one wants near a major city it was sunk.

And so the Independence passed into history, its fate largely forgotten … until the NOAA decided to embark on a mission to “to locate, map and study historic shipwrecks in Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary and nearby waters.” As part of that effort, Independence was found “in 2,600 feet of water off California’s Farallon Islands”, which one can find here, at what looks to be a distance of about 80kms from San Francisco.

February 12, 2015

World War II Relics: Juno Beach

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

Published on 5 Feb 2015

National Geographic television series The Sea Hunters Relics exploring the history of World War II Juno Beach.

January 11, 2015

6th century Sicilian shipwreck yields 39 ingots of orichalcum

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

I’d only ever encountered mentions of orichalcum as a rare metal in Guild Wars 2, but it was a real thing, and an underwater archaeology team found 39 ingots of orichalcum just off the coast of Sicily near Gela:

Gleaming cast metal called orichalcum, which was said by Ancient Greeks to be found in Atlantis, has been recovered from a ship that sunk 2,600 years ago off the coast of Sicily.

The lumps of metal were arriving to Gela in southern Sicily, possibly coming from Greece or Asia Minor. The ship that was carrying them was likely caught in a storm and sunk just when it was about to enter the port.

“The wreck dates to the first half of the sixth century,” Sebastiano Tusa, Sicily’s superintendent of the Sea Office, told Discovery News. “It was found about 1,000 feet from Gela’s coast at a depth of 10 feet.”

He noted that the 39 ingots found on the sandy sea floor represent a unique finding.

“Nothing similar has ever been found,” Tusa said. “We knew orichalcum from ancient texts and a few ornamental objects.”

Indeed orichalcum has long been considered a mysterious metal, its composition and origin widely debated.

According to the ancient Greeks, it was invented by Cadmus, a Greek-Phoenician mythological character. The fourth century B.C. Greek philosopher Plato made orichalcum a legendary metal when he mentioned it in the Critias dialogue.

May 19, 2014

South Korean coast guard to be “dismantled” after ferry disaster

Filed under: Asia, Government — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:53

K.J. Kwon, Paula Hancocks and Jethro Mullen report for CNN:

South Korea’s President made an emotional apology Monday over the ferry disaster that killed close to 300 people last month and said she would dismantle the country’s coast guard.

“As the President who should be responsible for people’s life and security, I am sincerely apologizing to the people for having to suffer pain,” said President Park Geun-hye in a televised speech. “The final responsibility for not being able to respond properly lies on me.”

The Sewol ferry sank en route to the resort island of Jeju on April 16, leaving more than 304 people dead or missing. Most of the passengers were high school students on a field trip.

“As a President, I feel a sense of sorrow for not being able to protect them during their family trip,” said Park, whose approval ratings have dropped significantly in the weeks since the sinking.

The Sewol disaster caused widespread outrage in South Korea over lax safety standards and the failure to rescue more people as the ship foundered.

[…]

“After serious consideration, I’ve decided to dismantle the coast guard,” Park said. “The investigation and information roles will be transferred to the police while the rescue and salvage operation and ocean security roles will be transferred to the department for national safety which will be newly established.”

October 23, 2013

The most dangerous shipwreck in the Thames Estuary

Filed under: Britain, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:45

Uploaded on 16 Aug 2010

A documentary about the SS Richard Montgomery. The remains of this second world war Liberty ship lie semi-submerged in the Thames estuary. There are currently over 1500 tons of explosives left on board. This documentary looks into the danger the wreck still presents.

I’m mildly amused that they frequently mis-name the vessel as the “USS” Richard Montgomery (she was never a commissioned ship of the US Navy, so it should be just “SS” not “USS”). If you watch to the end of the documentary, they’ve included a “blooper reel” of voice-overs for the last minute or so…

August 17, 2013

Delays in India’s submarine program

Filed under: India, Military, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:21

In the Times of India, Rajat Pandit reviews the state of the Indian Navy’s submarine fleet:

Is India’s aging fleet of conventional submarines threatening to go the MiG-21 way? The Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA), already 30 years in the making, was slated to replace the obsolete MiG-21 in the 1990s but is still at least two years away from becoming fully-operational.

Similarly, the Navy too was to induct 12 new diesel-electric submarines by last year, with another dozen to follow in the 2012-2030 timeframe. This was the 30-year submarine building plan approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) way back in July, 1999. But the Navy has not inducted even one of the 24 planned submarines till now, and is forced to soldier on with just 14 aging conventional vessels.

“The Navy is steadily modernizing in the surface warship and aircraft arenas. But our aging and depleting underwater combat arm is a big worry. But it also must be kept in mind that INS Sindhurakshak‘s accident is the first such incident we have had in over four decades of operating submarines,” said a senior officer.

Sources said INS Sindhurakshak, after Wednesday’s accident, is “a clear write-off”. Of the 13 submarines left now, as many as 11 are over 20 years old. The setback comes when China and Pakistan are systematically bolstering their underwater combat capabilities, with the former being armed with over 55 submarines.

Update: MarineLink reports on the investigation into the INS Sindhurakshak explosion.

The Indian Navy diving teams have been working nonstop to reach into the compartments of the submarine since rescue operations commenced early noon of August 14. The boiling waters inside the submarine prevented any entry until noon that day. Access to the inner compartments of the submarine was made almost impossible due to jammed doors and hatches, distorted ladders, oily and muddy waters inside the submerged submarine resulting in total darkness and nil visibility within the submarine even with high power underwater lamps. Distorted and twisted metal within very restricted space due extensive internal damage caused by the explosion further worsened conditions for the divers. This resulted in very slow and labored progress. Only one diver could work at a time to clear the path to gain access. After 36 hours of continuous diving effort in these conditions, Navy divers have finally reached the second compartment behind the conning tower in the early hours of August 16.

Three bodies have been located and extricated from the submarine from this compartment. The bodies are severely disfigured and not identifiable due to severe burns. The bodies have been sent to INHS Asvini, the naval hospital, for possible DNA identification which is likely to take some more time.

The state of these two bodies and conditions within the submarine leads to firm conclusion that finding any surviving personnel within the submarine is unlikely.

August 14, 2013

Fatal explosion on Indian submarine

Filed under: India, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:21

A report from FirstPost.India on the worst naval disaster in Indian history:

The Indian Navy suffered a huge blow Wednesday when a frontline submarine exploded and sank here at dawn with 18 sailors after two explosions turned it into a deadly ball of fire.

The deep sea attack vessel INS Sindhurakshak, recently refurbished in Russia, suffered an unexplained explosion just after Tuesday midnight and an immediate deafening blast heard almost in the whole of south Mumbai.

Naval officials said the rapid spread of the blaze and the intensity of the explosions left the trapped 18 sailors, including three officers, with apparently no chance of escaping.

“We cannot rule out sabotage,” navy chief Admiral D.K. Joshi told the media after Defence Minister A.K. Antony visited the disaster site at the Mumbai naval dock.

“But indications at this point do not support the (sabotage) theory,” he said. “At this point of time we are unable to put a finger on what exactly could have gone wrong.”

An inquiry set up to probe the disaster will submit its report within four weeks.

The Indian Navy submarine INS Sindhurakshak (S 63) at anchorage off the port city of Mumbai, India

The Indian Navy submarine INS Sindhurakshak (S 63) at anchorage off the port city of Mumbai, India

The most recent update to the Wikipedia page says:

On 14 August 2013, the Sindhurakshak sank after explosions caused by a fire took place onboard when the submarine was docked at Mumbai. The fire, followed by a series of ordnance blasts on the armed submarine, occurred shortly after midnight. The fire was put out within two hours. It is unclear exactly what caused the fire. Due to damage from the explosions, the submarine sank at its berth with only a portion visible above the water surface.[10][14][15] Sailors on board reportedly jumped off to safety. Navy divers were also brought in as there was a possibility that 18 personnel were trapped inside. India’s defence minister confirmed that there were fatalities.[6]

Due to the explosion, the front section of the submarine was twisted, bent and crumpled, and water had entered the forward compartment. Another submarine, INS Sindhuratna, also sustained minor damage when the fire on Sindhurakshak caused its torpedoes to explode.[14][16] Defence minister A. K. Antony briefed the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the submarine incident, and would leave for Mumbai to visit the accident site.[17][18]

Official sources said it was “highly unlikely” the submarine could be returned to service.[19]

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