Showing posts with label navy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label navy. Show all posts

Monday, May 30, 2016

Round Up The Usual Movies

This weekend I did a lot of channel surfing. Each Memorial Day, we are treated to a variety of war movies - mainly World War II movies. It was a good review of events.

Some thoughts:

1. The Republican candidate for president, who has  never served in public office (elected or appointed) or in the military, claims he is equipped to be president because he attended a private military high school.

No he isn't.

More to the point, to even utter such a claim reveals an incredible level of contempt for the profession of arms and the skill and knowledge of the Americans who practice it.

2.  Over the past few days, I re watched "The Longest Day" and "A Bridge Too Far." a good contrast between the results of good military planning (D-Day) and over-optimistic and over-confident planning (Operation Market Garden).

Over confidence isn't uncommon in human conflict. A recent example was when George W. Bush's chicken hawk staff dismissed General Shinseki's estimate of the requirements to occupy Iraq. Apparently they thought Shinseki just scribbled a guess on the back of an envelope. That's not how professional military planners work.  Shinseki's was a staff estimate, not a guess. And it was pretty accurate.

3. Our Constitution establishes civilian control of the military. For this to work, we can't require presidents to themselves be military professionals. But they need to take the profession seriously and to treat the profession with respect.

That's a challenge.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

West Virginia and Kentucky Coal Mining Jobs - What Really Caused Job Loss?

My grandfather was a coal miner.

He started working in the mines in 1902, as soon as he turned 16.

There weren't any other jobs in Palo Pinto County, Texas, even then, for a young man with a third grade education, but that was as far as Texas public education went.

Labor saving devices consisted of mules, who became blind in the perpetual darkness of the mine shafts.

My grandfather lost his job in 1917.

Why? Technology.

In 1917, the mine's only customer, the Texas and Pacific Railroad,began converting its steam locomotives from coal-fired to oil-fired. Over the next year, the coal mines shut down all nineteen shafts at the Thurber mine.

That's not all.

In 1916, the US Navy took delivery of its first oil-fired battleship and never built another coal-fired one.

In one fell swoop, the Navy got rid of its biggest logistical and strategic problem and saved money at the same time. No longer did they have to worry about coaling stations. After entering World War I in 1917, the US Navy quickly addressed underway refueling.

The first operational underway replenishment was achieved by the United States Navy oiler USS Maumee. Following the declaration of war, 6 April 1917, she was assigned duty refueling at sea the destroyers being sent to Britain. Stationed about 300 miles south of Greenland, Maumee was ready for the second group of U.S. ships to be sent as they closed her 28 May. With the fueling of those six destroyers, Maumee pioneered the Navy’s underway refueling operations under the direction of Maumee's Chief Engineer Chester Nimitz, thus establishing a pattern of mobile logistic support which would enable the Navy to keep its fleets at sea for extended periods, with a far greater range independent of the availability of a friendly port.

After WWI most navies pursued the refueling of destroyers and other small vessels by either the alongside or astern method, convinced that larger warships could neither be effectively refueled astern nor safely refueled alongside, until a series of tests conducted by Rear Admiral Nimitz in 1939-40 perfected the rigs and shiphandling which made the refueling of any size vessel practical.

Japan continued to use astern refueling of small ships, which slowed down her surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The US Navy had already perfected the alongside method, which proved crucial to operations in the Pacific. The Soviet Union also continued to use the astern method.

From 1923, about the time my grandfather came out of the mine shafts for the last time, coal mining entered a long period of decline:

1923        704,793
1943        418,703
1953        293,106
1963        141,646
1973        148,121
1983        175,642
1993        101,322
2003         71,023
2010         86,195
2011         88,000 
2013         80,396
2014         74,931 

I'm pretty sure my grandfather didn't know about the effect that changes in battleship design had on the market for coal, but since coal mining was the only job he knew, he went looking for another one. He found a coal mine in Tulsa, Oklahoma, beneath what is now the state fairgrounds. By 1923, he decided  it was too dangerous in the mines and became a chauffeur instead.

In 1917, reductions in coal mining reflected replacement of coal by oil for many heavy energy users.

The current reduction in coal mining may stem from a similar cause. The New York Times recently reported: "The most immediate challenge to the coal industry is the hydraulic fracturing revolution that has produced a glut of natural gas over the last four years, making the fuel cheaper to burn and stimulating a relentless switch by utilities away from coal." Regulation changes may have little to do with it.

Nevertheless, it matters little to miners who have lost jobs.

Maybe we need to think more creatively about what miners do or can do.

For example, can miners operate heavy equipment for other purposes than removing coal from the ground? What can miners build that needs building? What can miners dig that needs digging?

Government planners, scientists and economists should be able to foresee where the world is going and how to use existing skills to go there. We should be able to foresee what skills will be needed in the future and to develop them.

By and large, such planning tasks are beyond the ability of private businesses worried about quarterly profits.

We need a long term vision.

We once had such people.


Friday, August 14, 2015

Cuba: 1955 - 2015

Watching the news this evening reminded me of the first time I saw Cuba. It was 1955, I was aboard USS Iowa (BB-61) for a training cruise - it was early August, and we were sailing along the southern coast on the way to Guantanamo Bay.

We could see smoke from campfires in the Sierra Maestra mountains, which we were told was home to a guerrilla uprising. Nervous about the welfare of the midshipmen, Naval authorities didn't allow us off of the naval base at Guantanamo. Over the 60 years since then, I was to visit Gtmo about half a dozen times, but never set foot off the base.

Now that we have established diplomatic relations, I hope to visit Cuba someday soon.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Only Two Doolittle Raiders Left

April 18, 1942, 16 US Army B-25 Medium Bombers took off from the Navy Carrier Hornet to attack the Japanese home islands. This was one of the most remarkable military operations in history. It happened only four months and eleven days after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The raid didn't do much damage, but it showed Japan they were vulnerable and changed the course of the war. If you haven't seen the movie Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, put the movie on your list.
Retired Lt. Col. Robert Hite, one of the famed World War II Doolittle Tokyo Raiders, has died. He was 95 and had Alzheimer's disease .
LA Times

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Yankee Station And Selma

Fifty years ago, my ship was boring holes in the South China Sea, firing projectiles into the jungles of South Vietnam at targets we couldn't see - some nine miles away. It was hard and challenging work and our sailors did it well, but in the end it had little effect.

Meanwhile, brave Americans marched to Selma, stood up for freedom in Greensboro, marched in Memphis, and changed America for the better. These were real patriots and I salute them.

And so did President Obama:

Friday, October 24, 2014

October 25, 1944: Where Is Task Force 34? The World Wonders

Japan was in dire straits. Her navy fast disappearing. But it was not in disarray. Far from it. As US forces assaulted the Phillipines at Leyte Gulf, Japanese admirals planned an elaborate last-ditch gamble in an effort to disrupt the invasion.

One result, as the battle developed, was that Admiral Sprague, with a pitiful force of escort carriers ("baby flat-tops") confronted a powerful surface force of Japanese battleships and cruisers, who were first spotted as they drew within range of their big guns. The US battleships had drawn away from protecting the invasion force, chasing a toothless decoy force of Japanes carriers with almost no aircraft.

A handful of small surface ships, destroyers and destroyer escorts and a small force of carrier aircraft armed for a different mission had to do their best to keep "Taffy 3," Sprague's force of small, slow aircraft carriers alive.

Here is the story.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Seventy Years Ago: USS Houston At Peleliu, September 1944

USS Houston, assigned to RADM Bogen's Task Group 38.2, left Eniwetok August 30 to screen aircraft carriers against Japanese aircraft while they attacked the Palaus on September 6. The TG then provided naval gunfire support on Anguar, Ngesebus and Peleliu islands.

First wave of LVTs moves toward the invasion beaches - Peleliu.jpg

Houston provided naval gunfire support to forces invading Peleliu from 17 to 19 September. She then went to Saipan to replenish her ammunition magazines and proceeded to the vast anchorage at Ulithi, recently captured from Japan.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Fifty Years Ago: Tonkin Gulf

Last week I neglected to call attention to the fiftieth anniversary of the supposed night time attack by North Vietnamese PT boats on US Navy destroyers Maddox and Turner Joy. Here are my recollections of that night.

The attack apparently never happened. Even so, the Johnson administration used it to justify the Tonkin Gulf Resolution.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Seventy Years Ago: July 6, 1944 - Saipan

The Navy aviators had decimated Japanese Naval Air in the "Marianas Turkey Shoot" and sunk three of Japan's remaining carriers. The Marines and Army troops were still slugging it out against surviving Japanese on the Island of Saipan. At stake: an airfield within range of Japan's home islands. At least within range for the Army Air Foce's new B-29 Superfortress heavy bombers.

Japan determined to fight to the last man and the last civilian. The battle was brutal, the ultimete outcome certain.

Here is the story.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Combat Air Patrol: June 1944 Saipan

[linked image]

What's going on here? USS Manila Bay, a US Navy escort carrier with a deck load of US Army P-47 fighter planes, attacked by Japanese aircraft east of Saipan on June 23, 1944. The story gets better. Here is what the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships says:

"On 7 May 1944 MANILA BAY sailed for overhaul at Pearl Harbor, where she arrived 18 May. After loading 37 Army P-47 fighters, MANILA BAY sailed 5 June for the Marianas. Steaming via Eniwetok, she reached the eastern approaches to Saipan 19 June. During the next four days she remained east of the embattled island as ships and planes of the Fast Carrier Task Force repulsed the Japanese Fleet in the Battle of the Philippine Sea, and inflicted staggering losses on the enemy, thus crippling the Imperial Japanes Navy's air strength permanently. On 23 June, MANILA BAY came under enemy air attack during refueling operations east of Saipan. Two fighter-bombers attacked her from dead ahead, dropping four bombs which exploded wide to port. Intense antiaircraft fire suppressed further attacks, and as a precautionary and rather unusual move which Admiral Spruance later characterized as "commendable initiative," MANILA BAY launched four of the Army P-47s she was ferrying to fly protective CAP until radar screens were clear of contacts. The Army fighters then flew to Saipan, their intended destination. She launched the remaining planes the next day and returned to Eniwetok, arriving 27 June. After embarking 207 wounded troops, MANILA BAY departed 1 July, touched Pearl Harbor the 8th, and reached San Diego 16 July 1944."

Seventy Years Ago: USS Houston (CL-81) In The Marianas

When last we checked on USS Houston, she was on her way with two other cruisers of her cruiser division, two battleships and seven destroyers enroute to Majuro Atoll. Since that time, the ship has been busy.

On 31 May she joined Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher's Fast Carrier Task Force to take part in the invasion of the Mariana and Palau Islands. Departing on 5 June 1944, Houston screened carrier strike units which pounded the Mariana Islands on 12–13 June and the Bonin Islands on 15–16 June.
While Admiral Richmond K. Turner's amphibious forces landed on Saipan on 15 June, the Japanese prepared to close that island for a "decisive" naval battle. The fleets approached each other on June 19 and engaged in the largest aircraft carrier battle of the war. Four large air raids attacked the American fleet, but the US fighters, with some help from anti-aircraft fire from Houston and the other screening warships, destroyed the attacking Japanese formations.

Mitscher's ships and aircraft were mostly new, the aircraft were improved, and the  pilots and crews well-trained. Mitscher had at his command 7 fleet carriers, 8 light fleet carriers, 7 battleships, 8 heavy cruisers, 13 light cruisers, 58 destroyers, 28 submarines and 956 carrier aircraft. Against this attack force, Japan dispatched 5 fleet carriers, 4 light carriers, 5 battleships, 13 heavy cruisers, 6 light cruisers, 27 destroyers, 24 submarines, 6 oilers, ~450 carrier aircraft and ~300 land-based aircraft.

The outcome: Japan lost 3 fleet carriers sunk, 2 oilers sunk, 550–645 aircraft destroyed and 6 other ships damaged. Americans called the battle "The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot", because so many Japanese aircraft were destroyed with only small American losses.  Japan's naval air power never recovered from the battle. The invasion was secured, though Japanese defenders continued to put up a strong defense.

This was  Houston's initiation into combat.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Collectivists In The Pacific And The English Channel: June 6, 1944

The crew of USS Houston, lying at anchor at Majuro Atoll as they prepared for the next big operation against Japan, probably never thought of themselves as "collectivists" but they were. No single person aboard that ship could perform every function, operate every system, foresee every contingency, or know what to do in every situation. Not even the Captain.

The ship was due to get underway the next morning - June 6th, 1944. After all the practice at war, they would finally see the real thing.

What, pray tell, is "collectivism?" One definition: Collectivism is any philosophic, political, religious, economic, or social outlook that emphasizes the interdependence of every human. No society could exemplify the interdependence of every human more than a complex World War II warship.

The Koch brothers decry "collectivism." Those sailors celebrated it. There was no higher status than "shipmate." What none could accomplish alone, all could do together.

Half a world away, soldiers, sailors, aviators, parachutists, fighter pilots, bomber crews, transport pilots, coxswains of landing craft and combat-equipped troops were already on their way to objectives on the beaches of Normandy and inland.

None thought of themselves as heroes, because they knew the outcome did not depend on any individual effort.

The undertaking was heroic, but it was the heroism of the collective effort.

This is the worst time for the generals. Their job was to prepare, to plan, to calculate, to foresee every contingency. But now there was nothing they could change.

The game was afoot.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

USS Houston (CL-81); May 23rd 1944 - Underway For Combat Operations

May 23rd, 1944. The training was over. Drills would never be over. Gun firing drills, damage control drills, man overboard drills, abandon ship drills, ship maneuvering drills, communication drills, all were now built into the fabric of Houston's daily life. Underway for Majuro Atoll, in company with USS Vincennes and USS Miami, the other ships of cruiser division 14, two battleships, seven destroyers and a minelayer, Houston was on her way to join Admiral Raymond Spruance's Fifth Fleet.

Half a world away, allied naval and air forces in Great Britain were preparing to invade Europe. The objective in Europe was still secret, but in two weeks the greatest armada in history was scheduled to land troops on the unprotected beaches of Normandy.

Aboard Houston the ship settled into the routine for wartime steaming. Lookouts scanned the sea for hostile forces. Surface lookouts scanned in every direction, alert for periscopes, torpedoes, hostile surface ships. Air lookouts scanned from the horizon up. The ship was in Condition III, with one third of her guns manned and ready to go into action at a moment's notice, defending the ship while the entire crew went to battle stations. Below decks in the Combat Information Center, radarmen under supervision of the CIC Watch Officer, watched their radar scopes for indications of hostile air or surface contacts. The ship had no sonar of its own to detect submarines, so CIC personnel depended on radio reports from the seven destroyers escorting the force.  Steaming under radio silence, at least for long range radio transmissions, the force coordinated their actions by signal flags and flashing light communications in Morse code.

Crews of the ship's five-inch dual-purpose guns took turns drilling on "loading machines" that simulated operation of the guns. The guns used semi-fixed ammunition, with powder in 25-lb brass casings, and separate 54-lb projectiles. Though the system used machinery to hoist the ammunition, it was loaded by hand. A well-trained crew could fire 18 rounds per minute from each gun.

The fire rooms and engine rooms had their own drills. They exercised daily on responses to engineering casualties, which might result from either normal operations or from battle damage.

There was little time for relaxation.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

May, 1944, Aboard Light Cruiser Montpelier In The South Pacific

In May, 1944, USS Houston (CL-81) was at Pearl Harbor getting ready for action in the Pacific. The Cleveland Class cruiser fired its six-inch guns at targets every day and practiced damage control. The guns would take the war to the enemy, but effective control of damage might keep the ship afloat. Lieutenant Commander George Miller, the ship's Damage Control Officer, had used the ship's training and fitting out period in the Boston area to beg, borrow or steal additional timber shoring, steel plate, welding machines and other equipment beyond what he viewed as the parsimonious allowance provided by the Navy's Bureau of Ships.

Meanwhile, to the South and West of Hawaii, Seaman First Class James Fahey served in Houston's sister ship, USS Montpelier, in the area of Bouganville.

Fahey violated Navy regulations by keeping a daily diary of his experience. Fahey served on one of his ship's 40-mm antiaircraft guns, which gave him a good view of the action as Montpelier attacked a Japanese shore battery of 8-inch guns.

Here is his account of one day's action.

This was a foretaste of what would be facing Houston in a few days.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Seventy Years Ago: USS Houston (CL-81) Ready For Sea


Boston, MA April 15, 1944, Newly commissioned Cleveland-class light cruiser Houston, after completing shakedown cruise in the Caribbean, provisioning, training, and final outfitting, reports Ready For Sea. Her orders: get underway April 16, 1944, proceed through Panama Canal to San Diego, California. On arrival, report to Commander, US Pacific Fleet for combat duty.

Ship Characteristics:

Awarded: 1940
Keel laid: August 4, 1941
Launched: June 19, 1943
Commissioned: December 20, 1943
Decommissioned: December 15, 1947
Builder: Newport News Shipbuilding, Newport News, Va.
Propulsion system: geared turbines, 100,000 shp
Propellers: four
Length: 610.2 feet (186 meters)
Beam: 66.3 feet (20.2 meters)
Draft: 24.6 feet (7.5 meters)
Displacement: approx. 14,130 tons fully loaded
Speed: 32.5 knots
Aircraft: four
Armament: twelve 15.2cm 6-inch/47 caliber guns in four triple mounts, twelve 12.7cm 5-inch/38 caliber guns in six twin mounts, 24 40mm guns, 21 20mm guns
Crew: 70 officers and 1285 enlisted

Monday, April 14, 2014

US Navy Electrical Propulsion

Department of "History Begins When I Was Born." Yesterday's News and Observer printed an AP report about the Christening of USS Zumwalt, named for a former Chief of Naval Operations from the 1970's. Good. I am proud to have served under Admiral Zumwalt's strong and innovative leadership.

On the other hand, the AP article explained that USS Zumwalt is "the first U.S. Ship to use electric propulsion." That is not accurate. In 1912 the Navy launched a new fuel ship, USS Jupiter, powered by a prototype turbo-electric propulsion system. After serving in World War I, Jupiter was converted to become USS Langley, CV-1, the Navy's first aircraft carrier. The next two aircraft carriers, USS Lexington (CV-2) and USS Saratoga (CV-3) were also electrically powered. In the 1920's, the navy adopted diesel electric propulsion for its new S-Class submarines and continued using diesel-electric propulsion for its submarines until the switch to nuclear power. These submarines were propelled by electric motors, drawing electricity from diesel generators when on the surface and from batteries when submerged. At least six US battlehips of the era were also powered by electrical propulsion: (Tennessee, New Mexico, California, Colorado, Maryland and West Virginia,) as were three classes of destroyer escorts (Evarts, Bulkley and Cannon classes) used to protect WWII convoys.

Langley, still in service in 1942, was converted in 1936 to function as a seaplane tender. She supported Australian anti submarine air operations out of Darwin, and then was pressed into service to transport crated P-40 fighters to Tjilatjap in the Dutch East Indies. Attacked by Japanese Aichi dive bombers on February 27, 1942, she was so badly damaged she had to be scuttled and abandoned by her crew to keep the ship out of the hands of Japan. When she went down, her 30-year-old electrical propulsion plant was still working reliably.

File:AV-3 near miss 27Feb42 NAN5-81.jpgUSS Langley  Under Attack By Japanese Navy Aircraft February 27, 1942

So electrical propulsion is far from new.

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Navy Way: USS Houston, April 1 1944

As April began, USS Houston (CL-81) was preparing to be deployed to the Pacific. Over the next weeks and months I will try to explain what was involved. 'Round the clock work, training, and cramming stuff into storerooms.

Years ago I concluded that the world would be a better place, at least more effective, if it were run like the Navy. I will explain later. But at least it should be clear that the US Army and the US Navy were very different organizations.

How to explain?

I just came across this passage in a 1941 essay by the British author, George Orwell about what it means to be British:

"It is quite true that the English are hypocritical about their Empire. In the working class this hypocrisy takes the form of not knowing that the Empire exists. But their dislike of standing armies is a perfectly sound instinct. A navy employs comparatively few people, and it is an external weapon which cannot affect home politics directly. Military dictatorships exist everywhere, but there is no such thing as a naval dictatorship. What English people of nearly all classes loathe from the bottom of their hearts is the swaggering officer type, the jingle of spurs and the crash of boots. Decades before Hitler was ever heard of, the word ‘Prussian’ had much the same significance in England as ‘Nazi’ has today. So deep does this feeling go that for a hundred years past the officers of the British army, in peace time, have always worn civilian clothes when off duty."

So. Did you ever hear of a naval dictatorship?

By the way, the dislike of standing armies Orwell refers to already existed in America in 1776. Our constitution attempted three ways of limiting the size of the Army: (1) by limiting the budget for the War Department (Army) to no more than two years at a time. There is no such limit for the Navy budget; (2) by stipulating that "the people's" military will consist of "well-regulated militia." The purpose of the Second Amendment was precisely to prevent a large standing army; (3) by requiriing a declaration of war by the Congress before calling up the militia and sending it off to war.

Most of our military actions from 1776 to 1940 were carried out by the Navy/Marine Corps team. Such small wars were viewed as within the executive power of the president to pursue and did not require a declaration of war.

We abandoned that constitutional arrangement with the so-called unification of the armed forces in 1947.

Monday, March 3, 2014

History Doesn't Repeat Itself, But It Rhymes

This was Mark Twain's take on the lessons of history.

Ukraine's travails of the past three months and Russia's intervention remind me of nothing so much as the events leading up to Germany's occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1938.

After World War I, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was dismantled into a number of constituent successor states, among them Czechoslovakia. The Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia were prosperous, modern, productive economies. But a substantial percentage of the population were German - speakers who had previously enjoyed a privileged position in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They resented the new ascendancy of speakers of Czech and Slovak languages.

On top of this loss of prestige, Czechoslovakia was suffering, like the rest of Europe, from the worldwide depression, affecting the economic prospects of the formerly dominant group.

Resentment boiled up against what the German speakers viewed as Czech atrocities against them. These so-called atrocities were mostly invented, but founded on resentment. Reinvented as a new nationality, the "Sudeten" Germans invited Germany under Hitler to occupy first the "Sudetenland" and then all of Czechoslovakia.

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain negotiated a settlement with Germany. In a radio broadcast of 27 September 1938, he had this to say about it:

"How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing. It seems still more impossible that a quarrel which has already been settled in principle should be the subject of war."

In the end, the agreement didn't work out well for any of the parties.

John Maynard Keynes foresaw the economic aspects of the disaster in his essays "The Economic Consequences of The Peace" and "The Economic Consequences of Mr. Churchill."

Diplomatic efforts collapsed with the collapse of the League of Nations.

Czechoslovakia was well prepared to defend itself so long as it retained the "Sudetenland." But it couldn't stand alone against the major powers. France couldn't come to the aid of Czechoslovakia because many of her leaders were more worried about the Communist "menace" than about Germany and the French military cowered behind the Maginot Line. Britain had a formidable navy, but not much of an army. The Soviet Union had no direct border with Czechoslovakia either.

Neither Ukraine nor any other power wants to see war break out. The risks of letting Russia get away with the partition of Ukraine are greater than most of the public seems to realize. Russia is violating agreements made to assure Ukrain's territorial integrity as a price of Ukraine agreeing to turn over nearly 2,000 nuclear weapons. Such agreements are generally necessary when nuclear proliferation is at issue.

Good luck getting other near-nuclear powers to give up their capability if existing nuclear powers don't make good on Ukrainian security.

For what it's worth, the stock market doesn't seem pleased with events.