MartiniPundit

Random thoughts and insights – always shaken, never stirred

Posts Tagged ‘Shipblogging

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!

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Written by martinipundit

October 5, 2010 at 2:13 am

Posted in Military, Ships

Tagged with ,

The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis

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Not quite six decades ago tonight, a US Navy warship, the USS Indianapolis was torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese submarine in the waning days of World War II.  Germany had already been defeated, and in July, the Allied Forces were preparing for the invasion of mainland Japan. Although everyone knew that Japan had been beaten, no one expected them to surrender less than a month later.  At Iwo Jima in February 1945 the Japanese had fought bravely and tenaciously to the death.  More than 20,000 of them perished defending a tiny sulfurous rock that they considered Japanese native soil against the US Marine Corps. Planners for Operation Downfall expected American casualties in a battle to take the Japanese home islands to be numbered in the hundreds of thousands, and General Douglas MacArthur’s intelligence chief anticipated a million killed or wounded by the fall of 1946.  The invasion was considered necessary to bring about the surrender of Japan, which few believed could be induced to surrender on a blockade alone. Accordingly, in July 1945, President Truman ordered the new atomic bomb to be used against Japan. The first was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6 and the second on Nagasaki on August 9. The USS Indianapolis carried both bombs to Tinian Island in the Mariannas, from whence the B-29s were launched.

The Indianapolis was what was known as a ‘treaty cruiser.’ After World War I, the victorious powers had agreed to limit their fleets.  Heavy cruisers, like the Indianapolis, could be no more than 10,000 tons displacement for example.  When she was commissioned in 1932, the 9950 ton Indy was one of the most modern cruisers in the world – fast and sporting 9 eight inch guns in three turrets.  She would gain fame when she served as the conveyance for President Roosevelt on numerous occasions, and was involved in many battles during the war. Additional information in her career can be found here.

This is the Indianapolis shortly before she was lost:

On her return from Tinian, the Indianapolis had been ordered to rendezvous with the battleship USS Idaho to engage in gunnery practice.  The radio communications to the Idaho had been garbled, and she did not know to expect the Indianapolis, and so no one seemed to notice when the cruiser failed to show up.

Instead, she had run afoul of a Japanese submarine, I-58, commanded by a veteran of the Pearl Harbor attack, who launched a half a dozen torpedoes at her just after midnight.  At least two of the torpedoes hit home, one tearing the bow off the cruiser and the other striking her amidships and causing multiple explosions which knocked out electrical power and split the ship down to her keel.  Less than fifteen minutes later, the Indianapolis had sunk beneath the waves, taking more than 300 of her 1196 man crew with her.  The remaining 900 or so ended up in the oil-choked water with very few life rafts, no food, and only a few in life jackets.  And no one knew they were there.

Many of the wounded did not survive the night, and with the coming dawn came sharks.  Massive numbers of Great White Sharks circled the defenseless sailors and marines who bobbed in the water.  The sharks picked off stragglers, and those unfortunate enough to become detached from the main group.  With no water, many drank the sea water, and began to go mad.  All of them prayed as the sharks swam around the periphery and a few feet below.  No one could know when he might be the next one eaten alive. It was estimated that by the third day, there were only 400 or so left.

On Thursday, a Navy bomber was flying over the area and its commander noticed a large oil slick in the water.  Moving in for a closer look, he spotted the men in the water, and radioed his base in Palau.  But it was three hours before anyone believed it was more than a prank and dispatched a Catalina PBY to investigate.  As the PBY approached, it flew by a destroyer, the USS Cecil Doyle, and Lt. Marks, in command of the PBY, radioed his mission to the tin can whose Captain diverted to the position of the ‘men in the water.’ Meanwhile, Lt. Marks in his PBY arrived at the site where the survivors of the Indianapolis were.  His crew dropped them rafts and supplies, but when Marks saw that they were still being attacked by sharks, he made the decision to land his PBY and pick up as many survivors as possible.  This risky move saved at least 56 sailors and marines who were hauled aboard and even climbed onto the wings of the PBY. Marks repeatedly radioed for help, and the Doyle steamed towards them. Eventually the Doyle and other ships saved 317 sailors and marines – all that remained of the crew of the Indianapolis.

Link to the USS Indianapolis Organization

Written by martinipundit

July 29, 2004 at 3:56 pm

Posted in History, Military, Ships

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The Old Battlewagons

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Obsolete though they may be, there is still nothing like a battleship.  Strategy Page makes the case for bringing two of the last back:

These perceived shortfalls in fire support are the reason that there has been a lobbying effort to reactivate at least two of the Iowa-class battleships, led by the United States Naval Fire Support Association (USNFSA). The two ships that would return to service should the USNFSA get its way are the Iowa (the #2 turret has been nearly repaired, and the parts to complete the repairs are stored in that turret) and the Wisconsin. These ships would be equipped with shells developed from the HE-ER Mk 148 program (cancelled after the 1991 decommissioning of the battleships). The Ex-148 was slated to have a range of 91 kilometers using a 13.5-inch (343mm) shell in a sabot. An 11-inch (280mm) version would have had a range of 180 kilometers (equivalent to the 155mm AGS). These shells, at 1,400 pounds/635 kilograms and 694 pounds/315 kilograms respectively, are much larger than the shells from the 127mm and 155mm guns. For targets close to shore (within 15 miles/25 kilometers or so), the Iowas could use their regular shells, either the 2,700-pound (1,225-kilogram) armor-piercing shell or the 1,900-pound (862-kilogram) high-capacity shell. This is possible due to the fact that the Iowa-class battleships carry much more armor than the Burke and Zumwalt-class destroyers, and are thus much more resistant to damage.

The Iowa class has certainly been among the most long-lived of US warships.  Four were commisioned during WWII: Iowa (BB61), New Jersey (BB62), Missouri (BB63), and Wisconsin (BB64).  Two more, the Illinois (BB65) and the Kentucky (BB66) were never completed. The ships cost the taxpayers $100 million each in 1944, but they can be said to be a bargain given that they are still potentially viable warships six decades later.  One, the Missouri saw the surrender of the Japanese Empire in Tokyo Bay and is now a museum ship at Pearl Harbor.  The New Jersey is slated to become a museum.  With nine 16 inch guns apiece, the Iowa and the Wisconsin represent more artillery firepower than most countries possess.  As with ships like the German Bismarck and the Japanese Yamato, they were the epitome of the battleship (the Montana Class, had any been built, would have eclipsed the Iowas).  While those ships and their sisters are long gone, the Iowa class stands ready to serve again. Surely something to consider.

Here are all four.  That’s the Iowa in the foreground.

Written by martinipundit

June 29, 2004 at 11:18 pm

Posted in Military, Ships

Tagged with , ,

Green Pirates

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Those loopy folks at GreenPeace are up to their old tricks. A ship carrying genetically modified cattle feed, has been boarded and stopped:

The 125,000 tonne ship, from Louisiana, was nearly three miles south of Breaksea pilot station, where pilots board ships and steer them into their destination dock, when the activists boarded it.

There was a time when the British called acts like these “piracy,” and a time when they knew how to deal with it.

Written by martinipundit

June 21, 2004 at 2:42 pm

Stealth Ships

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Gizmodo an article from the BBC revealing – surprise – the Swedes are ahead in the race to build a stealth warship for their navy – a 73 meter corvette named ‘Visby.’ It has been some time since Sweden has been a first rate naval power, but with companies the likes of BoforsSaab, and Kockums, their defense industries have produced some fine systems. 

Stealth ships are a very cool idea, and the U.S. and Royal navies are also planning such ships, although in their case much larger destroyers.  The American version is planned as a replacement for the Arleigh Burke class destroyers, and will be built by Northrop Grumman.  Their spokesman claims:

The DD(X) will be as revolutionary as the Dreadnought was when the British introduced it at the turn of the last century.

That’s a big statement.  HMS Dreadnought was indeed that rare ship which made all others warships obsolete.  The Union ironclad Monitor and the Confederate Virginia (more commonly known by her former name – Merrimack) also enjoyed that distinction.  There aren’t many others.  The first galley to sport a ram – if we knew her name – might qualify, and perhaps the first cog sporting a cumbersome, primitive cannon would also be in the running. 

Some might claim the honor for the CSS Huntley – the first successful submarine.  While it took the Huntley three tries, and two crews, she did sink the Union blockader USS Housatonic.  However, in my view, the Huntley added a new kind of warship, destined to play a pivotal role in naval conflicts, but not one which rendered the ships of other navies obsolete.

In the same fashion, the development of the aircraft carrier by the British towards the end of World War I provided the kindling for a revolution lit by General Billy Mitchell when he successfully sank the former SMS Ostfriesland with an airborne bomb from a plane flown off the deck of a ship.  The aircraft carrier (of which, coincidentally, I’ve just seen two from the air as I type this, the Forrestal and the Saratoga) eventually supplanted the all big-gun battleship – the first of which was HMS Dreadnought – but it took twenty years and the experience of World War II before that happened.

So it would be quite the feat to even equal the HMS Dreadnought.  Sounds like fun.

Written by martinipundit

June 10, 2004 at 9:35 pm

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