MartiniPundit

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Archive for the ‘Ships’ Category

USS Ranger CV-61

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World War II marked a transition in naval warfare that very few people foresaw. After all, while there had been changes in naval technology over the preceding centuries, they had largely been confined to three aspects: gunnery, armor, and propulsion.

In the Golden Age of Sail – a period which continues to hold my fascination – cannons and sail held supreme. Later in the nineteenth century warships adopted steam engines, actual armor plate, and guns which while connected to their forebears were magnitudes more powerful.

Students of history know that these big gun ships dominated throughout the nineteenth century and became supreme in the early part of the twentieth culminating in the British Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet who both clashed at Jutland. No one knew it at the time, but that was essentially the high-water mark of the all big gun ship. More such ships would be built and commissioned for the next couple of decades, and some would be incredible. The HMS Hood – one of the most elegant ships ever built would ultimately be sunk by the German battleship Bismarck, herself a tour de force of naval architecture. (Her design predecessors Scharnhorst and Gneisenau showed stunning beauty.) There were American battleships in this league about which I have previously written.

Yet aircraft carriers are somehow different. Maybe it’s the mystique of Pearl Harbor, but I can’t help but notice the tremendous success of the British whose Swordfish aircraft successfully attacked the Italian fleet at Taranto months before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Of course, it must be allowed that the Japanese both knew of and studied the Taranto attack.

That’s the transition. World War II marked the transition of naval supremacy from the all big gun ship to the aircraft carrier. Some debated it at the time, but there is no disputing that in the Pacific, the United States after Pearl Harbor had lost the eight battleships of the Pacific Fleet. The US Navy was left with the carriers to bring the fight to the enemy, and I suspect that the stalwart American sailors were just as surprised as anyone else when those carriers not only proved equal to the task but the masters of it.

That brings me to the postwar aspect of things. It is simply an axiom that combat reaps lessons. Four years of the most intense conflict, in which technology becomes a weapon itself, will yield lessons which the observant may improve their ability to wage war. In a postwar context, the USS Ranger, CV-61 may be the first ship to embody those lessons.

Now, it is true that other ships were built and designed before the Ranger. The USS United States was probably the most significant, though she was never in any danger of completion. The Ranger herself was a member of the Forrestal class, and she followed that ship as well as the Saratoga. USS Independence rounded out the class.

The reason Ranger is important is she was built from the start with the angled deck so critical to modern carrier operations. Invented by the British – very clever people where naval technology is concerned – the angled deck allowed for simultaneous takeoff and landing operations. It also eliminated the danger of a landing aircraft failing and crashing into other planes forward on the deck.

From an American point of view, though many WWII carriers were converted – Essex class and others – it was the Forrestals, led by the Ranger, that incorporated this new and critical innovation.

The Ranger has a more personal meaning for me – my cousin commanded a squadron of A-4 Skyhawks off of her in the Vietnam War. Her service to the country was exemplary, and at this time her fate remains unclear. I hope she becomes a museum ship as I would dearly like to go aboard her. Here she is in her prime:

USS Ranger

A glass raised to the entire class: USS Forrestal CV-59, USS Saratoga CV-60, USS Ranger CV-61, and USS Independence CV-62!

Written by martinipundit

October 5, 2010 at 2:13 am

Posted in Military, Ships

Tagged with ,

Pearl Harbor Plus 64

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Today is Pearl Harbor day – sixty-four years ago, the Japanese Empire launched a sneak attack on the United States Pacific Fleet, then based at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. President Roosevelt called it a date which would “live in infamy.” It was a bright, Sunday morning, when just before 8 am, a wave of planes came out of the blue to shatter the American fleet. Two hours later, when it was over, the eight US battleships: Arizona, California, Maryland, Nevada, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and West Virginia, were sunk or badly damaged. One, the Arizona, would never be repaired, and another, the Oklahoma would founder being towed to the west coast, but the other six would eventually be returned to service.

This is the Pennsylvania after the attack: 

Also destroyed in the attack was most of the air power the US had there, but significantly, neither the dockyard facilities nor the logistics facilities of Pearl Harbor were seriously damaged. Most important of all, not a single American carrier was at Pearl Harbor.

So why did the Japanese attack? The short answer is resources. Engaged in a brutal conquest of China, the Japanese were consuming vast quantities of oil, rubber, and other resources basically not found in the Japanese Isles. As their invasion of China created more alarm and revulsion in the west, the Japanese found themselves facing a trade embargo, and now began to look for the resources it needed in Southeast Asia. However, the US Pacific Fleet was a serious threat to Japanese expansion plans. Thus they resolved to strike at the US battleship fleet, ironically with the weapon – the aircraft carrier – that would make the battleship obsolete and render the entire attack a colossal error.

The Japanese attack was a brilliant piece of planning, staff work, tactical execution, and daring. It was, at the same time, strategically insane. The last thing the Japanese wanted was a protracted war with the United States, which they knew they could not win, so they staged a blow which would prevent the US from projecting naval power in the Pacific for the amount of time necessary for them to complete their resource grab. After which, some sort of negotiated truce would be possible. Or so the Japanese warmongers deluded themselves. Instead, the surprise attack galvanized a nation, and made a return to the status quo ante impossible. The Japanese – admittedly, not all of them – fundamentally misread the American character and it cost them dearly.

There is a parallel to our modern Pearl Harbor – September 11th. In this, the same fundamental miscalculation was made by the enemies of the United States, believing the nation weak, and unwilling to defend itself. The 9/11 attacks were intended to force us to withdraw from the Middle East, and from the world stage so as to give Osama bin Laden and his ilk a free hand to reestablish the Caliphate. Like the Japanese sixty-four years ago, Osama misread the American character and it has cost him dearly. It’s not over yet, but it will end the same way World War II did – with the unconditional surrender of the enemies of the United States.

A glass raised to the men and women who died at Pearl Harbor, and on 9/11.

Information, links, and images of Pearl Harbor can be found here. My thoughts on this day last year are here.

Written by martinipundit

December 7, 2005 at 1:59 pm

Posted in History, Ships

Trafalgar 200

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Today marks the opening of the celebrations for the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, a victory which assured Great Britain’s command of the sea for the next hundred years, and which ultimately confined Napoleon to the continent. Although Admiral Horatio Nelson fell in his moment of triumph – mortally wounded by a French sharpshooter – he knew that he had won the day. (Nelson was quite battered in his time, having already lost an eye and an arm in other battles.) Warships from 35 nations have gathered at Portsmouth England to partake. Here are (bottom to top) the HMS Invincible, the USS Saipan, and the FS Charles de Gaulle:

Trafalgar200 website here, and a good description of the battle here.

Update There have been some suggestions that the French were trying to upstage the British by sending the de Gaulle – their most impressive naval unit – inasmuch as they actually lost the battle of Trafalgar. I think this is reading too much into things. Look at the picture – if size matters, the de Gaulle compares unfavorably to the HMS Invincible and definitely to the Saipan. It is important to consider that both of the latter carriers are not ‘attack’ carriers, the Invincible being what the British call a “through-deck cruiser” meant primarily for helicopters and VSTOL aircraft like the Harrier. The Invincible, by the way, is by no means a new ship, having fought in the Falklands twenty-three years ago. The Saipan, similarly, is not an aircraft carrier, but is what we in the States call an ‘amphibious assault ship.’ This means she has harriers, and helicopters, and a lot of marines. Her primary role is to project a complete battle force – air, land, and sea – at any given point, but she is not a fleet carrier like a Nimitz class.

The Charles de Gaulle, on the other hand, is the French version of a Nimitz, and she does not compare favorably at all. She carries fewer aircraft (less than half), displaces far fewer tons (look at the picture), and has proven rather cranky in actual operations. This is not surprising given that only the US has had real experience and success building nuclear-powered surface warships. Teething pains are to be expected, as the Russians found out when they tried to build ships of this sort. The de Gaulle is what she is, and that is the finest warship in the French fleet. I think it appropriate to give the French the benefit of the doubt on this one. No doubt some Gallic pride is involved, but I believe they sent the de Gaulle not to snub the British, but to honor their role in this great naval conflict. Personally, I wish we could have sent a super carrier to this review, but there is a war on.

Here is a picture of the de Gaulle in company with the USS Enterprise CVN-65 which give some idea of the relative size: 

The Enterprise was the first nuclear powered aircraft carrier in the world. Of course, she was commissioned in 1961 (de Gaulle in 2000), and displaces some 90,000 tons (more than twice the de Gaulle) and carries nearly 100 aircraft (de Gaulle carrries 40). If someone really wanted to upstage the British, they would have sent a ship like the Enterprise.

Written by martinipundit

June 28, 2005 at 9:30 am

Posted in History, Ships

First American Carriers at War

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The United States was somewhat slower to develop aircraft carriers than other navies, both the Japanese and the British gaining a head start. But in the interwar period, the US built some remarkable ships, several of which would become instrumental in turning the tide of battle in the Pacific in 1942.

Here is a photo of the first three US carriers in Bremerton, WA in 1929:

At the bottom, we find the USS Langley CV-1, the first American carrier. She saw action in WWII as a converted seaplane tender, being sunk in February, 1942. In the middle is the USS Saratoga CV-3, a ship which survived the war only to be sunk during the nuclear tests at Bikini Atholl.

It is the top ship we’re most interested in. This is the USS Lexington CV-2, the “Lady Lex.” She and her sister Saratoga began life as battlecruisers, but they and the four other ships of the class were cancelled in 1922 in compliance with the Washington Naval Treaty. The Lexington and Saratoga had already been launched, and the decision was made to convert them to aircraft carriers. In this guise, they were undoubtedly more successful and more valuable to the nation. Before Pearl Harbor, a total of eight carriers were built by the US, all of which eventually saw action of some sort in WWII, and only three of which survived. The other five were all lost to Japanese action in 1942.

The first six months of 1942 were difficult ones for the American military forces in the Pacific. Pearl Harbor had devastated the American battleships, forcing the Navy to rely on the carriers for major operations. That Pearl Harbor had changed naval warfare in favor of the carrier only made a virtue of the necessity. Three key objectives drove American strategy in those months: Protect American forward bases in the Pacific, prevent the Japanese from seizing New Guinea and the Solomons (which would threaten Australia), and conserve the carriers. Basically, two of these three objectives would be met.

As a prelude to the invasion of New Guinea, the Japanese sent a task force to seize Port Moresby which included three carriers: the Shokaku and Zuikaku – two heavy carriers that had been at Pearl Harbor, and the light carrier Shoho. In total the Japanese carriers had 140 aircraft. In response, Admiral Nimitz dispatched two carriers, the Lexington and the much newer USS Yorktown CV-5 with 138 planes. This is the Yorktown in 1940 in San Diego:

The resulting battle, called Coral Sea and fought over May 7-8, 1942, was the first battle ever to be fought entirely with carrier-based aircraft. The American commander, Rear Admiral Fletcher, attacked the Japanese invasion force on May 7, and sank the Shoho. The next day, the main carrier duel began, and the Japanese withdrew after losing 73 aircraft, cancelling the invasion. The first time out, the American carriers had inflicted a strategic defeat on the Japanese.

It came at a very high cost, however. In addition to the loss of 66 planes, the Yorktown was damaged and the Lexington hit by two torpedoes. Here she is just before the war (the dual 8″ turrets were removed early in 1942):

The damage was severe, and fires raged throughout the ship. Many men were trapped below decks, and herculean efforts were made to save them. The crew managed to put out the fires, only to have them flare up again when the ventilation system was turned back on. The order was given to abandon ship, all hope lost for the trapped crewmen. The Lexington was scuttled, and the US had lost her first heavy carrier. The Yorktown had also been damaged in the battle, and she steamed to Pearl Harbor for repairs.

This loss was not without gain, however. One month later, a decisive carrier action took place near Midway Island, key to a Japanese invasion of Hawaii. A huge Japanese fleet, including the other four heavy carriers from Pearl Harbor: the Akagi, the Kaga, the Hiryu, and the Soryu were met by the newly repaired Yorktown and her sister ship the USS Enterprise CV-6. When the battle was over, all four Japanese carriers had been sunk, and along with their irreplacable loss was the irreplacable loss of the cream of the Japanese aviators. But this battle was won at the cost of the Yorktown, damaged by the Japanese planes and finished by a torpedo from a Japanese submarine.

Yet Midway was a staggering victory. From that point forward, the American took the offensive in the Pacific, and the invasion of Guadacanal followed soon after. The Japanese had shown the world the power of the aircraft carrier, but it was the US Navy which took them to school. A salute to all our veterans, past and present, on Memorial Day.

Written by martinipundit

May 30, 2005 at 11:45 am

Posted in History, Ships

USS San Francisco Redux

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Remember the USS San Francisco, the sub which ran aground while submerged last January? The Navy has concluded it was ‘pilot error.’

The crew of an attack submarine that struck an undersea mountain in the Pacific Ocean earlier this year did not adequately review navigation charts that warned of an obstacle in the vessel’s path, according to a Navy report released Saturday.

I have no idea if this is whitewash or not, but you knew someone had to be blamed.

Written by martinipundit

May 9, 2005 at 11:21 am

Posted in Ships

Can’t Improve on This

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Anything I might have said about the Navy’s newest submarine is said far better by Chris Muir:

Written by martinipundit

February 16, 2005 at 11:28 am

Posted in General, Ships

The Damaged San Francisco

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The Navy has released pictures of the damage the USS San Francisco sustained when colliding with that undersea ‘mountain.’ Here’s one:

God Bless watertight bulkheads.

Written by martinipundit

January 27, 2005 at 5:00 pm

Posted in Ships

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