Wednesday, May 11, 2016

A Hard Way to Make a Living

I commend to you a post by the late Neptunus Rex about life as a Landing Signal Officer.

In the early `80s, the Navy had a shortage of people who wanted to fly their airplanes. They asked people in other naval warfare communities to switch over to Naval Air. Their promise was something along the lines of "you can give us a try and, iffn you don't like it, you can go back to your old job with no career penalty".

So there was this young LT or 'JG, just off his first sea tour. He took them up on it.

Four years later, he's spotted on the D&S piers[1] in Norfolk by one of his classmates from Baby SWOS. The conversation went something like this:

"Hey, good to see you! Where're you stationed?"
"I'm Ops on USS Sumdood." (It was a FFG.)
"No kidding! I thought you became a Brown Shoe. What happened?"
"Too many night traps in an A-7."

Of all of the ways to get killed in the Cold War Navy, probably the best way was to fly airplanes on and off carriers.
[1] "Destroyers and Submarines"-- where ships that weren't oilers or carriers were berthed.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Uniform Disasters- Aquaflage is Going Away

After six years in the fleet and some controversy, the blue-and-gray cammies could be headed for Davy Jones' seabag.
I called it seven years ago, before that stupid uniform ever hit the Fleet.

Why the fuck the Navy doesn't stop reinventing the goddamn wheel and go back to what worked for decades (washed khakis for E-7s and above, dungarees and blue shirts for junior enlisted) is beyond my comprehension. Probably because some well-connected people in the uniform-making trade won't make much money from it would be my guess.

The fucking Navy uniform selection process is about as useful as a soup sandwich.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

PMS Check

Some years back, I wrote about the Planned Maintenance Subsystem, known as "PMS". I mentioned, briefly, about PMS spot checks, in which the officers were required to audit the conduct of PMS checks.

So there was this one ship where the XO got the idea to put some meat into the spot checks. He had a list of the various work centers. Each week, he would assign the spot checks for some work centers to other division officers: The Communications Officer would have to go do a spot check in the forward fireroom, the Boiler Officer would have to do one on deck, the First Lieutenant would have to do one in Repair 3 and so on. It was a way of making really sure that the checks were being done, since while the Gunnery Officer might have an interest in not making his men look too bad, the Auxiliaries Officer would have no such compulsion.

Now, this is no shit: I was in the Weapons Department. The XO told me that I had to do a spot check in the Operations Department, more specifically, a spot check in ET02, a work center crewed by the Electronics Technicians. Cool, I thought. Since my own division had its share of electronics, I figured that this would be a piece of cake: Watch some guy hook up a test set and check the calibration of something or other. I could sit there, cup of coffee in hand, and watch ET2 Twidget do his thing.

Ah, no.

The check that I drew was to check the TACAN antenna. The TACAN antenna was mounted at the top of the highest mast that the ship had.[1] A "man aloft" chit had to be run on both our ship and the neighboring ones to ensure that nobody turned on any radars or radios.[2] Once that was done, the two ETs doing the check carefully inventoried their gear, we donned climbing harnesses and then up the mast we went. Maybe 110 feet above the upper deck that we'd hit if we fell and 150 feet or so above the water.

Not that it mattered much, for if anyone fell, we weren't landing in the water or on the pier. We'd quite literally hit the deck. The end result from falling a hundred or so feet onto a solid metal deck would have had the same results as falling five times as far, at least to the person doing the falling.

This is probably where I should say that I don't like being on a ladder. At least any higher than the fourth rung. We were one hell of a lot higher.

I don't remember much about the check itself. But the view was pretty spectacular. I wished I had thought to bring my camera. But with my luck, I'd have dropped the damn lens cap on some poor squid.

I did see one person walking by the ship that I had beefed with from time to time. The things that you see when you don't have a wrench handy.

The ETs did their work, I observed and we all came down in good order.
[1] There was one antenna that was higher up, but never you mind about that one.
[2] This PMS check could only be performed pierside.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Imaginative Ensigns

So there was a ship in the Med, a Garcia-class FF. Its SPS-10 surface search radar was out of commission (before the navy began installing LN-66 radars on ships). That meant that the Officer of the Deck had to eyeball the closest point of approach (CPA) for surface contacts. He wasn't terribly comfortable with that and he was probably a bit annoyed that the guys in CIC basically got to do nothing all watch.

So he came up with the idea of using the gunfire radar to ping the range of contacts. A sailor from 2nd Division was installed up in the director. He would train the radar on a visual contact and get the range. With the range input from the radar and the bearing information from the lookouts (or maybe from the radar, as well), CIC could then compute things such as the course and speed of the contact and the CPA for each contact.

That worked well. Until it didn't.

It stopped being a good idea when one of the surface contacts was a Soviet AGI.

Under the 1972 Prevention of Incidents at Sea Treaty between the USA and the USSR, one of the things that was prohibited was "simulating attacks" on the other party's ships. For all the gibbering by the various politicians of how the Russians never honor agreements, the Soviet navy was pretty goddamn scrupulous about honoring that one. Officers of ships deploying overseas were exhorted to have a firm understanding of the provisions of the treaty, because the Russians did.

The Soviets took a dim view of "painting" their ships with fire-control radar; they viewed that as a simulated attack. The Soviet ship's captain (or someone who spoke English) got on the "Bridge-to-Bridge" radio circuit and complained about the alleged treaty violation. Then he reported the incident. A few days later, the frigate's captain had to do a "rug dance" by radio teletype message, about why his command was so cavalier about obeying the provisions of the treaty.

And you know the direction that shit flows.

The OOD was "counseled" to submit all of his future "good ideas" by the Senior Watch Officer or the XO for approval before implementing them.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Why USN ASUW Warheads Are Tiny

I got into a post on that on my other blog.

I'm posting a link to it here, in case anyone is interested.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Wardroom Smartassery

So there was this ship's captain. He was a first-gen American, both his parents had been brought over from Scotland as children. He was very much into Scottish culture and he loved to hold forth about Scottish history and whatnot during meals. And since, as the Captain, he was also the Mess President, it's not as though anyone could shut him up.

One time, he was telling everyone about a long-running feud between the Campbell and the MacDonald clans. After some years (so the story went), the local priests prevailed upon the clan leaders to get together, break bread and try to settle the feud. As the story went, they had dinner and then the Campbells rose up and slaughtered the MacDonalds.

There was a moment of silence around the wardroom table, until one young officer said: "And to this day, you can't buy Campbell's soup at McDonald's!"

The silence became a stunned one. Until the Captain chuckled and said that he'd never thought it it that way.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Sailor in a Can

Knew a HT3 who got out after a four-year hitch. One of the other sailors in his division sad that the guy would re-enlist before the expiration of his eligibility to come back in. When I asked why, he said: "Because in CivLant, they don't let you get away with sleeping in fan rooms."

He was right, the HT3 re-upped five days before the end of the eligibility period.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

40 Years Ago

USS Belknap (CG-26) collided with USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67). Belknap burned down to her steel decks (her superstructure was made of aluminum). Eight men were killed, one of them was on the JFK. Belknap was towed to Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, decommissioned, and moored there until plans and funds were arranged to rebuild her.

I knew a chief petty officer who had been on Belknap. Whenever our ship operated near an aircraft carrier, he damn near had to be sedated. It was far worse if the carrier was the JFK.

In a bit of a twist, one of the ships that came to Belknap's rescue after the collision was USS Bordelon (DD-881). Bordelon herself later collided with JFK. Bordelon's damage was deemed to be beyond economical repair, given that she was over 30 years old, and she was sold to the Iranians as a spare-parts hulk.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

A Century of Bubbleheads

The first submarines arrived at the semi-derelict New London Navy Yard in Groton, CT, 100 years ago. At the time, the yard was being used as a coaling station and had been hosting a training school for Marine officers. In 1916, the yard was formally designated as the Navy's first submarine base.

The state of Connecticut had given the Navy the land for the navy yard in 1868. But the Navy didn't really want it and when oil replaced coal for firing the boilers of warships just before the Great War, the Navy didn't need the yard. Then, as now, it was the local congressmen who pushed the Navy to do something with the place.

The Submarine Base would be safe until Fort Fumble recommended closing it a decade ago. The Base Realignment and Closure Committee rejected the recommendation.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Would Have Hated to Have Been in Charge of Valve Maintenance on That Boat

Photos from the interior of a Great War German Submarine.

Given the cramped conditions and small crews, it's a safe bet that most of the maintenance of the boats was done by sandcrabs between cruises.

(Sort of like what happens with the little crappy ships that the Navy is buying today.)

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Casualty Power

Many years ago, I made a reference to electricians rigging casualty power. I really don't have much to say about it, but here goes.

Ships had lots of casualty power risers and bulkhead pass-throughs. In my day, they looked like this:

This is a bulkhead pass-through:

And this is a riser, which connects different decks:

On the distribution route for casualty power, there was a terminal at either end of a given compartment. Cables would be broken out and strung between the terminals.

The principle was simple: Each cable had three terminal ends to it, because the lines were transmitting 440 volt three-phase power. You connected A to A, B to B, and C to C, and then tightened the cables' connection into the terminals with those little wrenches. You would run the wires from the load to the source, so that you were always connecting and disconnecting dead wires. The ends of the cables had o-rings or twine wrapped around them so you could identify them in the dark: One loop for A and so on. Only electricians could do anything with casualty power lines, because of the hazards of using them.

Each ship was supposed to have a "Casualty Power Bill" to set forth the procedure for using the casualty power system. I suspect that was one bill that was drawn up during pre-commissioning, validated at the first refresher-training session, and then never touched.

It took many decades (and long after I was out), for NavSea to figure out that color-coding the damn things might be a better idea, as connecting the A wire to the B terminal was a bad thing:

Supposedly they've since tried to sailor-proof them with connectors that can only be installed one way:

The cables were supposed to be strung from the overhead, in order to keep sailors from tripping over them. A close eye was to be kept on the cables to ensure that they didn't start smoking or burning due to overloading or any defects in the cables.

While the electricians would occasionally drill with rigging and un-rigging the cables, in all of my time, I never once saw them actually energize the things. They were, in essence, a bunch of 440v extension cords that could handle between 100 and 200 amps and nobody, but nobody, really wanted to fuck around with that much live power.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A Bad Day, 70 Years Ago.

The USS Indianapolis was torpedoed and sunk.

The officer in charge of monitoring her movements never reported that she was late. Of the three stations that received her distress call, one commander was drunk, one had ordered his men not to wake him up and the third thought it was a Jap deception.

The men were in the water for nearly four days before they were spotted by a patrol plane. Other airplanes came. One PBY pilot disregarded orders and landed to rescue survivors. The USS Cecil J. Doyle came, shining a searchlight against the clouds, to give the survivors in the water hope that they would be rescued.

Fully two-thirds of the men who had survived the sinking perished while awaiting rescue. Everyone expected to lose ships during wartime and, if rescue had been prompt, the loss of the Indianapolis would have been filed under "shit happens during war". But to not know she was lost and to have the survivors in the water to be feasted upon by sharks for days was beyond horror.

The Navy revamped the MOVREP system.

The CO of the Indianapolis, Captain McVay, was court-martialed in a Navy cover-up of a type that was not seen until the turret explosion on the USS Iowa. He was eventually exonerated, though that finally happened decades after he took his own life.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Drain Bamage

Most people need six to eight hours of sleep each night. Not getting that leads to brain damage.

As I wrote six years back, lack of sleep is prevalent in the seagoing parts of the Navy.

Brain damage-- explains a lot of the crap in the Navy.

Monday, May 25, 2015


One of the main tools of sailors (other than maybe the Radio-Girls) was a chipping hammer. It wasn't anything like a hammer, it was a flat bar of steel with one end bent over at a 90-degree angle. Both ends were slightly spread out as the steel had been flattened down so that the ends terminated in an edge that was sharpened at about the sharpening angle of a chisel.

What you did was to bang it against the deck or the hull in order to remove old layers of paint and, of course, rust.

It was really more akin to a scraper than a hammer. If you were to buy a chipping hammer from a store, it would have a handle with a spring-wire grip to lessen the shock of bashing it repeatedly against hard metal surfaces. The technique was to hold it loosely and to let the bent edge do the work.

If the work was heavy, then you'd use a needlegun. Needleguns were pneumatic tools. They were essentially rotating hammers. The hammer part was enclosed and it smacked a bundle of steel rods (the needles). You might even have a deck-grinder, which was a tool that had an abrasive drum. But those were expensive and if a sailor with a bad attitude chucked it over the side, they weren't replaced.

Once the old paint and loose corrosion had been knocked off, then it was time for priming and painting. Zinc chromate was used to prime aluminum (the superstructures of many post-war ships were aluminum) and red lead was used to prime steel. Red lead was reddish and probably had the lead removed long ago, but the name stuck. After the primer came the paint: Haze grey for vertical surfaces, a darker deck gray for decks, black non-skid for walking areas, and flat black for the upperworks above the top of the stacks. (Flat black went away after the steam ships were retired.)

It was almost a continuous process. The sea is a very corrosive environment. And there were damn few captains or chief bosun's mates who did not take pride in their ships.

Of course, the submariners loved to hear it. Chipping paint on a steel desk was like banging away at an underwater telegraph with the message "here be a Navy ship". Most merchant ships didn't have the crew to have a bunch of seamen out on deck, preserving and painting. So when their sonar watches heard the sound of steel being hammered, they had a good idea what they'd find.

The sonar gang on ships equipped with passive acoustic sonars hated chipping hammers for the same reason. The First Lieutenant and the ASW Officer were often close to being at war with each other. The First Lieutenant wanted his people keeping rust at bay, while the ASW Officer wanted the ship to be quiet to both reduce interference with the passive sonars and to reduce the chance of being detected.

That was a fight that the ASWO almost always won. Which didn't make the sonarmen popular with the deck apes when the deck apes had to spend a lot of their inport time engaging in Operation Sparkle.*

The compromise was that the deck apes got to use sandpaper and heavy steel wool, but no impact tools, to remove old paint and rust. Which was barely effective and often resulted in some painting over of rust that should have been removed.
* One captain kept telling everyone that he wanted his ship to sparkle, hence the name bestowed on painting, preserving and cleaning by the crew.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Nah, That Wouldn't Have Worked

The "Sea Eagle", a navalized F-15.

It's not a matter of "Not Invented Here". The simple truth is that navalizing land-based fixed-wing airplanes doesn't usually work so hot. Naval aircraft take a hell of a lot of abuse. Naval pilots don't flare;* they fly into the deck at a set attitude and then slam right down and get yanked to a halt in a few hundred feet. Then, fully-loaded, they get flung into the air in 300 feet. So the airplanes take a hell of a lot of abuse from arrested landings, catapult takeoffs and salt-laden air in general. Naval aircraft are designed to take that abuse.

When McDonnell built the F4H for the Navy, even though it was designed as a carrier-based aircraft, the initial ones suffered a series of nose-gear collapses. The squadron operating them had McDonnell send some landing gear engineers out to the carriers to watch operations. The engineers were shocked. One supposedly said "we had no idea that you were doing that to our landing gear." The engineers went back to St. Louis, redesigned the gear and McDonnell sent out replacement kits to the Fleet.

That, mind you, was with an airplane designed to land on carriers. With an airplane that wasn't designed for carrier ops, all that beefiness and such has to be retrofitted. It rarely works out very well (FJ-2/3). The British Seafire was replaced by the F6F Hellcat as soon as the Royal Navy could make the switch.

The "Sea Eagle" would have been more of a "sea gull".
* "Flare to land, squat to pee."

Sunday, February 15, 2015

"Bzzt! XCT-45T Reports All Secure! Bzzt!"

At the bottom of this story regarding the Navy's R&D into firefighting robots, was a mention that the Navy would like robots to stand Sounding and Security watches.
Ultimately, the Navy wants a more advanced version of the robot to patrol ships and look for corrosion, pools of water and overheated equipment and respond to them, [Thomas McKenna, the Office of Naval Research's program manager for human-robot interaction and cognitive neuroscience] said.

"Our vision is that the humanoids would be a roving watch that are walking around the ship, doing inspections, looking for things that are out of the ordinary," he said.
Sounding and Security was an in-port watch that was stood by an engineer, usually from A-Gang. The watchstander recorded the data from equipment which ran in port, typically the AC units and the air dehydrators. The watchstander had a list of voids that had to be sounded with a plumb-bob tape to check the water level.

A hyper-diligent Duty Engineer would occasionally make a round with the Sounding and Security watch to check the readings for himself and make sure that the watchstanders weren't gundecking* the readings. Few Duty Engineers were that vigilant.

I don't recall that manning the Sounding and Security watch put any great strain on the engineers. But things might be different, now, in an era of undermanned warships, especially those that were designed that way.
* An ancient naval term for falsifying or forging a log or a report.

Friday, February 6, 2015


You may have seen photos of an aircraft carrier conducting flight operations with a smaller ship trailing behind. That ship was functioning as the "plane guard", a term that was often contracted to a single word: Planeguard.

The destroyer (it was usually a destroyer, but after the FRAM-DDs were all retired, it often fell to a Knox or Perry class FF) followed behind the carrier during flight operations. The job of the planeguard was to pick up the flight crew of an airplane that crashed on launch or recovery.

Planeguard was developed after the Second World War. It wasn't done during the war, likely because of the risk of a stopped escort being torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. The accident rate on board carriers in the early days of the jet age, especially before the angled-deck was adopted fleet-wide, was horrendous by modern standards.

The planeguard DD followed the carrier around at a distance of 500 yards. While the pilots undoubtedly liked the idea of someone coming to save their asses, having a ship with a tall radar mast so close to the stern of the carrier wasn't liked, especially when the straight-deck carriers were still in use.

The destroyers didn't much care for it, either. They didn't like that the carrier engineers didn't seem to give a shit whether or not a ship was behind them when the carrier snipes pumped bilges. Because nothing pleased the destroyers' engineers more than running contaminated water through their evaporators. The word also almost always seem to be passed on the carrier to secure flight ops and dump all trans and garbage from the fantail before the planeguard was cut loose from her station.

And there was also a concern that following too closely gave the planeguard little time to react if the carrier abruptly changed course or, worse, slowed down without signalling those changes to the planeguard. Over time, the planeguard was moved back to a thousand yards, then to a station two thousand yards off the port quarter of the carrier (2SNX) or three thousand yards (3SNX).

Planeguard sucked, especially at night. Carriers have lots of deck lighting, it was almost impossible to pick out the running and range lights, and so it was very hard to determine whether or not a carrier changed course or speed. If radar silence was ordered, then keeping track of what the carrier was doing could be very difficult.

Aircraft carriers really did had a nasty habit of changing courses and speeds in order to maintain favorable winds across their decks without notifying their escorts of that. Talk to anyone who ever stood a OOD or JOOD watch on a tin can on planeguard and they'll tell you stories. No true destroyerman liked planeguard duty. It was not uncommon for either the Captain or the XO to be on the Bridge of ships in planeguard station.

The dangers weren't theoretical. HMAS Melbourne collided with and sank two of her escorts, HMAS Voyager and USS Frank E. Evans. USS Wasp ran over USS Hobson and sank her. There were quite a few other collisions between carriers and their escorts.

The use of tin cans for planeguard largely went away for three reasons. One was that helicopters could do the job much faster. The second was that there were far fewer escorts available. An escort that had good passive sonar capability was needed far enough away to detect an enemy submarine and do something about it, rather than trying to follow a carrier without getting run over. The same logic held true for AAW missile shooters. The third reason was that the accident rate for naval aviation really decreased, especially after the mirror landing system was adopted and adjusted to.

(Yes, they do it with mirrors.)

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Last Frigate

The USS Kauffman is about to become the last of its breed.

When the ship leaves Naval Station Norfolk on Thursday for a six month deployment to the waters off Central America, it will mark the final deployment of a Navy frigate. The Kauffman will be part of a multinational, counter-narcotics operation known as Operation Martillo.

When the warship returns, it will be the last frigate in the Navy's inventory to be decommissioned later this fall.
Destroyer escorts/frigates have been serving the Navy for the last 74 years. The Navy has gotten rid of them, because DE/FFs were primarily ASW-oriented warships (the Battle off Samar notwithstanding).

To some extent, the Navy is replacing frigates with the Little Crappy Ships, because no other navy, at the current time, poses the sort of threat that the German and Japanese navies did during the war, or the Soviet Navy did during the Cold War. Other nations, however, don't seem to agree that frigate-sized warships are no longer useful. But those navies are looking at a larger naval power in their maritime neighborhoods, one with a submarine capability, and they may feel a need to prepare.

As maybe so should we. But navies are very expensive to build, train and maintain, and we're too busy chasing around tribesmen armed with rusty Kalashnikovs to worry about what may happen in the next decade or so.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Surface Effect Ship

A surface effect ship is also known as a "rigid sidewall hovercraft". There are flexible curtains at the bow and stern to contain an air cushion.

The Navy's experiments culminated in the 1980s with the SES-200:

During the mid-`80s, it was based at Pax River NAS. Quite a few tests were run in the Atlantic, including operations in higher sea states (keeping in mind that, at 200 tons, it wasn't a large ship).

The ride characteristics were different. Going into oncoming seas, the SES-200 tended to knife through smaller waves. But if it encountered a larger wave, the wave would slam against the flat bottom (or the ceiling of the air box, if you prefer). The result was like the ship was punched straight up.

The ship was built and equipped to commercial standards. The radar was a LN-66. Operations were, by necessity, informal enough to drive a tin-can trained officer to drink. There were no gyro repeaters for shooting bearings, so you buoy-hopped and took radar-range cuts to get a position. But when it was riding on its air cushion, it only drew about 5' of water, which is less than a lot of sailboats, so it was harder to get into trouble with it.

There usually were two officers assigned to the ship. It wasn't considered an afloat command, so the boss's designation was "officer in charge". Both officers were post-sea tour warfare-qualified lieutenants (and this was classified as shore duty). If the ship was going out for more than a few days, the commander of the testing operation tried to borrow a qualified officer from another command so that the OODs would be in three sections.

SES-200 was likely the first naval sea-going command to have a female commander, but I don't recollect anyone making a big deal of it at the time.

A few small surface-effect ship test craft were built to conduct research for a 3,000 ton surface effect warship which was thought to be a possible replacement for the Knox class. The SES-3000 program was probably too large of a technological leap, given at the time, not even the SES-200 had been built and the program was axed 35 years ago. One of the 100 ton SES craft fired a SM-2(MR) missile while traveling at over 60 knots.

The Soviet/Russian navy built a couple of 1,000 ton SES warships. That they only built two says something. The Norwegian navy is the only one that has recently built operational SES combat craft.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Movie That Saved a Warfare Community

As a prelude, a story about the Smith & Wesson Model 29:

The Model 29 and the Remington .44 Magnum cartridge were introduced in 1955. A number of handgun experts had been hot-rodding .44 Specials, so S&W and Remington thought they might have a winner.

They really didn't, not at first. A lot of guys bought the gun, fired a cylinder of 240gr magnum loads through it and then sold the gun at a loss. The demand for the gun was so low that S&W only made the revolver in periodic production runs.

That all changed in 1971:

Thanks to Dirty Harry, Model 29s flew off the shelves. The smarter dealers immediately marked them up. Model 29s sold at premium prices for a very long time.

So now over to the Navy: In the post-Vietnam War era, the Navy was struggling to fill the need for new officers in all of its warfare communities. The Navy was nearly twice the size back then compared to today. If you graduated from college, any college, with a C+ average, there was room for you as a naval officer, somewhere. If you proved out to be a complete fuckup, there would be a place found for you to serve out your obligated service.

Naval Air was about the hardest hit. Submarines were viewed as a way to get a specialty technical education that would easily translate into a lucrative civilian career.[1] Surface ships were viewed as a way to do the traditional "see the world".[2] Naval aviation was viewed as a really good way to get killed in peacetime.

It got so bad that the airdale admirals persuaded the rest of the Navy to go along with a plan to recruit young JGs and lieutenants to switch over to Naval Air. It was sort of a "free trial offer", in that if you passed the physical you could switch to aviation, go through the training and, if at any time you didn't like it, all you had to do was quit and you would be taken back into your former warfare community with no penalty. And a fair number did do that.[3]

Things changed in 1986 when some puny white dude wearing shoe lifts starred in a movie about Navy fighter pilots.

The recruiting stations were flooded with young men who wanted to fly Navy jets. Most of them weren't qualified to do that, but quite a number of them were encouraged to enlist for other things.[4]

To my knowledge, the Navy has never hurted for pilots since then. Just as Smith & Wesson has been able to sell all of the Model 29s they make.
[1] They were still building nuclear power plants back then.
[2] Which you did, if you kept in mind that most of the Earth's surface is covered by water.
[3] And a fair number quit, once they found out how much fun it was to land a SLUF at night on a carrier.
[4] Such as chipping paint on an AOR out of Norfolk.

Friday, November 28, 2014


Cumshaw was, basically, anything that was obtained outside of normal channels, whether repair work done without a 2-Kilo or stuff that was obtained without a supply chit.

And it could be almost any way imaginable.

This is no shit:

A young lieutenant junior grade was standing watch as the Command Duty Officer of a ship that had just entered drydock a few days previously. A sister ship was also in the shipyard, getting ready to sail on sea trials. A lieutenant and four sailors came onto the quarterdeck from the second ship well after evening chow and asked to speak to the CDO. When the CDO appeared, the lieutenant pronounced that he was there to take one of the legs to the forward kingpost.

The kingpost was a gizmo that was erected on the forecastle during an underway replenishment. The spanwire from the cargo ship would be connected to it. The bottom of the kingpost bolted to a heavy baxter bolt. The outboard side of the top of the kingpost connected to two legs, which in turn were bolted to baxter bolts in the deck. The kingpost and its legs were made of heavy and high-grade aluminum piping.

All of those parts were original issue to the ships. Replacements were scarcer than honest politicians (and almost as expensive as crooked ones). For whatever reason, the soon-to-sail ship was missing one. It would be a serious ding to not be able to take on supplies at both unrep stations.

The CDO stroked his chin and said: "I don't know anything about you taking the kingpost leg. Nobody told me about this."

The lieutenant said that it was all arranged between the two ship's Weapons Officers and that he needed it, now.

The CDO asked when it had been arranged and he was told "two days ago, I think."

The CDO looked quizzical and said: "I have a tough decision to make, sir. Maybe you can help me."

Now the lieutenant looked puzzled: "If I can."

"Weps is on TDY at a school. So your Weps would have had to talk to our acting Weps. Which is me. And I've not talked to anybody about this. So this is my dilemma: Either I shoot you or arrest you for attempted theft. If you're not offa my fucking ship in ten seconds, I'm gonna choose one or the other." He then turned to the Petty Officer of the Watch and said: "Gimme your sidearm and a magazine."

The lieutenant and his men got off the ship as fast as they could throw out the required salutes.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Slugging It Out, Toe-to-Toe

This is a test of a replica 17th Century naval gun against the hull of a warship.

First off, that's the smoke from just one long gun. The Vasa carried 48 24-pound cannon. While broadsides were not a common tactic in the early 17th Century, the line-of-battle tactics soon evolved and you might have had a ship pounding another with broadsides of 30 guns or more.

Second, note the damage wreaked by that iron cannonball. Besides the ball itself, the splinters thrown from the inside of the hull would have caused fearful damage to the gun crews of the ship so hit.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Yesterday, Plus Sixty Years

The USS Nautilus joined the Fleet. She was commissioned on September 30th, 1954.

Nautilus was an experiment from start to finish. As an operational boat, about all that she could do was stay submerged for long periods of time.  She was noisy and her passive sonar was noise-limited to speeds that could be easily surpassed by submerged diesel boats.  But she was a success at her main task:  Giving the Navy experience in operating nuclear power plats at sea.

After Nautilus, the Navy kept tweaking sub design with class sizes of between one and six boats until the construction of the Thresher/Permit class, which was the first SSN class of more than ten boats.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

You'll Never Get Any Sleep

One-section watchstanding, me hearties!

And you can forget about ever going on liberty!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Stick-Shift Boilers

(Might want to read this first.)

Let's say that you're on a steam ship and the order comes down to increase speed. The throttleman in the engine room acknowledges the bell change and opens the throttle. More steam is admitted to the turbines and they spin faster.

The real fun is in the fire room. When the throttle is opened, the first thing that happens is that steam pressure drops in the main steam line. Because of that drop in pressure, the level of water in the boiler goes up. But that's just a momentary reaction.

In response to the lower steam pressure, the automatic combustion control (ACC) on a modern 1,200lb. steam plant[1] did three things and, in a well-maintained system, did them very well: It would add water to the boiler, increase the firing rate at the burner front and speed up the forced draft blowers. The Burnerman would, as ordered by the Boiler Tech of the Watch (BTOW), cut in more burners.

The Blowerman (or "Lower Levelman") would, if ordered, start an additional forced-draft blower. Each boiler had two blowers, but in normal peacetime steaming, only one blower per boiler would be running.

It took the boiler techs a long time to come to Jesus on ACC systems. There was a special Naval Enlisted Classification code for an ACC technician. One of the things that got Insurv riled up was the failure of surface ships to properly set up, maintain and run ACC systems. When things like that happen, the way that the surface line community[2] handles things is to publicly fire people until everyone gets the message.

The thing was, of course, that the senior boiler technicians had learned their jobs on World War Two-era ships. Those ships had 600lb. steam plants that were manually controlled. The Upper Levelman stood watch by the boiler water-level gauge glasses and he controlled the rate that feedwater was added to the boiler. The Burnerman controlled both the number of burners and the amount of fuel oil that was fed to the burner front. The Blowerman controlled the speed of the blowers.

So now the Throttleman opens up the throttle. The Upper Levelman sees the water level rise in the gauge glass, but he knows that is a temporary effect, so he makes ready to add feedwater. The Burnerman sees the boiler's pressure drop, he increases the firing rate. The Blowerman speeds up his blowers to feed more air to the firebox.

Those three men, naturally, were told what the speed change was and they could react based on experience. But the Blowerman and Burnerman rarely were able to harmonize exactly during big speed changes. Given the choice between too little air and too much air, the Blowerman always opted for too little. Too little air meant that the boiler would emit black smoke out of the stack. Too much air and the boiler would emit white smoke. White smoke was finely atomized fuel and, as you might suspect, a white smoke condition was dangerous: You would get a fuel-air buildup in the upper works of the boiler and the stack and then, if it were not brought under control quickly, very bad things would happen.[3]

Ships with boilers that had tuned ACC systems didn't emit smoke on power changes. If a boiler that was run on an ACC emitted smoke on a power change, that was a sign that the ACC wasn't working properly.[4] So if you see photos or video of a Navy steam-powered warship blasting out smoke as she accelerated, you probably were seeing a ship with a stick-shift plant.
[1]"Modern" being "post Korean War".
[2] Our motto: "We Eat Our Young".
[3] The rule was that if white smoke couldn't be eliminated in a minute or less, the boiler's fires were pulled and the boiler wrapped up.
[4] There was a test called a "boiler flex" in which the Throttleman would rapidly spin the throttle open or shut in order to change the steam demand across 80% of the boiler's operating range, in order to stress-test the ACC system. This was an OPPE fail item.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Monday, July 7, 2014

Dead Horse

Not this kind:

When a sailor (or officer) was changing permanent duty stations and had to move, they were allowed to take up to three months' pay in advance to help cover the incidental expenses of the move. Many of those costs would be later paid back after a claim was submitted, but by having the cash on hand, people could avoid having to pay credit card interest (if they even had one, back then).

The catch, of course, was that you had to pay it all back in a year, which was taken out of your pay. If you took the full amount, you then had a 25% pay cut for the next year.

The story back then was that you were paying for something you no longer could use, so it was like making payments on a dead horse. But we didn't have the internet back then, so who knew that the origin was something else entirely?

Sunday, June 8, 2014


The Navy has PT standards.

It once wasn't that way. Physical fitness was generally ignored or given short shrift, like small arms training. Sailors were supposed to be fit enough to do their jobs and if they weren't, that's what evaluations were for. There really wasn't a height and weight standard, other than for sea-going sailors, who were supposed to be able to fit through a 18" scuttle.

There was one sailor on my first ship who was pretty damned obese. The XO told him that if he became too fat to fit through a scuttle, that he'd be medically discharged. So the sailor went on an eating program to get that fat. When he got too fat to get through a scuttle, the XO didn't have him discharged. The sailor was bitterly disappointed and felt that the XO had broken a promise.

That began to change in the mid-`80s. An annual PT test was ordered into effect. First-class petty officers had to submit full-body photos of them, standing sideways, against a contrasting background, because the Navy had gotten tired of making chiefs out of fat-assed PO1s. They might still end up sitting in the Goat Locker on the ROAD program, but not because they were too fat.

The initial reaction from the Fleet was basically one of: "OK, get into shape, but do it on yer own goddamned time." I can recall one (count it) one command PT session on two ships. A command PT session took a hell of a lot of time, from changing out of the work uniform into PT gear, going to the exercise field (not enough room on most ships for this), warming up, doing the exercises, ending with a run, then going back to the ship, taking a shower (for the office pukes, anyway) and then getting back into the working uniform.

Other than the command PT coordinator (if there was one) and maybe the XO, everyone hated it. It took too much time out of the work day on ships that really needed a 30-hour day to get done what needed to be done (except for the Ops pukes and most of the Pork Chops, that is). So command PT was seen being done by those commands that had the time: Airdales and shore pukes.

I don't imagine that things have changed overly much.