Sunday, December 28, 2008

ASW Weapons, the Conclusion

(Parts One, Two and Three)

The SQS-23 and other Korean-War era sonars, as I mentioned in Part 3, had the capability to detect and track submarines far outside the range of Hedgehog. The US Navy, among others, experimented with larger spigot mortars and rocket-thrown depth charges. Weapon Alpha was one that was largely unsuccessful.

All such weapons had the same problems; there was an unsatisfactory dwell time between the time the rocket was fired and the time the depth charge had sunk to the correct depth and detonated. All of those were predicated on the somewhat ludicrous idea that a submarine commander, knowing that he was being tracked by a destroyer, would hold a steady course and speed.

The answer was ASROC, for "antisubmarine rocket."

As you can see here, ASROC was a rocket which was fired from an eight-cell box launcher. The launcher itself used recycled deck mounts from 3"/50 guns. The rocket itself was a dumb, ballistic, solid-fueled rocket motor. Aiming was done by training the launcher and elevating the two-cell box with the ASROC to be fired. It worked out to be far more accurate than you might think.

On ships with Terrier (later, SM-1/2 ER) launchers (the DDG-37s, CG-16s and CG-26 class ships), ASROC was fired from the missile launcher. Each ASROC loaded was one less Terrier that could be carried. As the main mission of those ships was anti-air warfare, ASROC and ASW were the bastard stepchildren.

The business end of ASROC started out as a Mk.44 torpedo:

The Mk.44s proved to be unsatisfactory (among other things, it was slow) and were fairly rapidly replaced by the Mk.46. The torpedoes were active homers; they had a very high frequency sonar set. For guided weapons, they were the first true "fire and forget" weapons of the surface navy.

For close-in work, the torpedoes were also fired from deck-mounted launchers. Triple-mounts were added to a lot of ships:

The Knox class had twin mounts on either side of the after deckhouse, which were built into the deckhouse just forward of the LAMPS hangar.

ASROC also had a nuclear depth charge variant. This was the only live test, fired in 1962, before the Atmospheric Test Ban Treaty came into effect:

The nuclear ASROC worked like an old rocket-thrown depth charge, but with a hell of a bigger bang. The dumb-rocket version of ASROC left the fleet in the early 1990s when the ships with SM-1/2 ER or box launchers were all retired. A vertical-launch ASROC was eventually developed for use in current warships, though it reportedly was a pretty troubled development program.

ASROC could reach out several miles. But once again, the sensors outranged the weapons. The SQS-26 sonar, through either "bottom bounce" or "convergence zone" modes, could detect and track submarines way the hell out. The first solution was the Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter, or DASH.

The concept of operation of DASH was simple: Fly the thing out until the markers from the sonar operator tracking the submarine and from the radar operator tracking the DASH converged, then drop the torpedo. Repeat if necessary (later models of DASH carried two torpedoes), then fly back to the ship for more fuel and torpedoes.

In practice, DASH didn't work so well. The drones were legendary for crashing and the DASH program was axed.

But that still left the problem that ships could track submarines further out than they could attack them. The answer was to provide ships with manned helicopters, the Kaman Seasprite, SH-2F LAMPS Mk 1:

LAMPS stood for "Light Airborne Multi-Purpose System," though a lot of sailors referred to it as "Lousy Air Mail and Passenger Service," for the best thing that the helo could for morale was to go get the mail from the carrier. The two drop-tanks you can see on this helo could be replaced by Mk. 44 or Mk. 46 torpedoes, though taking off a drop-tank reduced the in-flight endurance by 30 minutes. The red/white hashmarks outline the location of the sonobuoy launcher.

Late in the 1980s, LAMPS Mk.1 was replaced on the Spruance and Perry class warships by LAMPS Mk.3, which flew the SH-60F. The SH-60 program was supposedly the first aircraft procurement program where the prime contractor was not the airframe manufacturer (Sikorsky), but the electronics package manufacturer (IBM). Those ships were supposed to be able to hold two SH-60s. I never saw more than one LAMPS on a ship at a time and I think I maybe saw one SH-60s.

LAMPS would go out to the location of the submarine as determined by the active sonar track and stream a towed bird that contained a magnetic anomaly detector, the "MAD Bird." There were several different patterns the helo could fly to develop a track on a submarine; once the helo tracked it, it could drop a torpedo.

LAMPS also required a lot of people. The air detachment for LAMPS had three or four pilots and about 20+ sailors, with the senior officer being the head of the Air Department. More than one ensign or JG division officer in the other departments had more sailors and equipment to maintain than those fours officers in LAMPS, which lead to the standard complaint of: "I know what they do to earn their flight pay, but what do they do to earn their base pay?" The corrosion control program for the helos required that they be frequently washed with fresh water (the fresh water usage of the LAMPS detachment routinely led to the Chief Engineer threatening violence upon the Air Boss).

LAMPS pilots were certifiable. Take a look at the photo of this Knox-class FF and note the size of the flight deck:

Now imagine trying to land a helicopter on that deck, at night, with the wind burbling around the superstructure and the ship rolling a bit. The LAMPS pilots did that, and the flight deck on a Garcia class FF was even smaller. They had to be nuttier than a jar of Planter's.

LAMPS became even more important when surface ships began to be fitted with towed array passive sonars. If conditions were right, a towed array could be towed below the thermocline layer, down where submarines could hide from the hull-mounted sonars of ships. LAMPS were fitted with a launcher that fired off sonobuoys; little floats that dropped hydrophones deep into the water. The buoys had radio transmitters that send the signals to the LAMPS helo, which relayed them to the ship's sonar shack, where the signals were printed out on a frequency analyzer that was surplused from the P-3C upgrade program.

Sonobuoys came in several flavors. The ships had to pay for them and, as the ones with dumb omnidirectional hydrophones were the cheapest, those were the one used the most. There were sonobuoys with active pingers, but they were both costly and, as they alerted a sub that it was being hunted, not preferred.

Sonobuoys were used to localize a contact gained from the towed array. Once the contact was localized, the LAMPS helo would be vectored in for a MAD search. Once the helo had a MAD contact, then it was up to the three crewmen in the helo (two pilots and a sensor operator) to gain an attack solution and kill the submarine.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Big Ensigns

This is an official photo of a Navy Rear Admiral (lower half):

His paygrade is O-7 (1 star), the equivalent rank in the Army is Brigadier General.

This is an official photo of a Navy Rear Admiral (upper half):

His paygrade is O-8 (2 stars), the equivalent Army rank is Major General.

In practice, the terms "upper half" and "lower half" are dropped.

Now you might be thinking of asking this question: "Comrade Misfit, why do two different naval ranks use the same title?"

Good question, and of course, there is a story behind that.

Historically, 1-star officers in the Navy had the rank of "Commodore." ("Commodore" is also the title of an officer who commands a squadron of ships, but that's not important right now.) For a long time, the Navy did not have 1-star officers; the rank was activated only when there were large wartime fleets. Officers who were promoted from paygrade O-6 to O-7 would don the uniform and insignia of a O-8. "Upper half" and "lower half" were used only for seniority and pay purposes.

What this meant was that on the day when a Captain was promoted to Rear Admiral, he would go into work wearing the uniform of an O-6 and go home wearing the uniform of an O-8.

As you might imagine, that griped the living shit out of the generals in the Army, Marine Corps and, most of all, the Junior Birdmen. The one-star generals in joint commands really hated the fact that they would go from being called "sir" by a naval Captain to having to salute the same guy after his promotion. They resented the hell out of that and complained to the Navy for decades. The Navy, of course, didn't give a flying fuck what the other services thought and regarded the offended brigadier generals as a bunch of crybabies.

In 1980, a bill came up to Congress to require the same treatment of officers by all of the services. The bill, the Defense Officers Personnel Management Act, or "DOPMA," forced the Navy to resurrect the one-star rank, beginning in 1982. Which the Navy did. The Captains who were promoted that year were duly promoted to the resurrected rank of Commodore; they wore one broad stripe on their dress blues.

And in short order, the whining came from the Commodores. The abbreviation for Commodore was "COMO." The Commodores complained that their mail ws being misrouted to the Officers Club (formally known as the "Commissioned Officers Mess, Open, or "COM,O") or to the base communications officer ("COMMO"). The biggest insult came when a four-star Army general, in discussing the replacement naval officer to be assigned to his staff, told the Navy to "send me a real admiral, not one of those weenie commodes."

The whining of the Commodores was written up in the Navy Times newspaper and, in the letters to follow, the junior officers and the enlisted men had a lot of fun at the expense of the Commodores. Most of the letter-writers more or less advised the Commodores to suck it up. One suggested that the ranks of Rear Admiral and Commodore be renamed to "Front Admiral" and "Rear Admiral," respectively, and that the proper halves of a horse costume be issued to those officers. Another published letter noted that Ensigns (pay grade O-1, also sometimes referred to as "enswines" or "butter bars" and equivalent in rank to an Army 2nd lieutenant) also wear a single stripe on their dress uniforms:

and suggested that Commodores be referred to as "Big Ensigns."

The Commodores were, of course, even less amused by the fact that now the rest of the Navy was poking fun at them. More than a couple Commodores had the experience of having junior officers both salute and laugh at them at the same time.

And so, after a decent interval of time, the rank of Commodore became the rank of Rear Admiral.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Georgi Washingtonski Submarines

This is the first American ballistic missile nuclear submarine, the USS George Washington. She was commissioned in 1959 and test-fired a series of Polaris IRBMs in 1960. She then loaded out a full compliment of 16 missiles and began her patrols.

This is a Soviet Yankee-class SSBN. They carried sixteen missiles and went into service in 1968.

You might have noticed that the two submarines look almost identical.

This is no shit:

There is a reason why the two submarines look very much alike. In 1963, Revell Models produced a model of the USS George Washington class submarine. This is a reissue of those models.
As you can see, the models were cutaway and detailed on the interior. The original models had either a swing-away solid side or a clear plastic side.

Five years is about right to design, build and commission a submarine.

As the story goes, when the Revell model was first sent to the stores, the Soviet embassy in Washington sent their people out to buy every one they could find. The models were sent by diplomatic courier back to Moscow.

The Navy was not at all amused. An investigation was started to determine who had sold the plans for the George Washington class to Revell. That person was very quietly arrested, quietly tried, and sent to prison for a very long time.

I never heard the name of the man who supposedly sold the plans to Revell. Rumor had it that it was a fairly senior officer close to retirement, but that might have been an exagerration. When I heard the story, more than 20 years later, I was firmly assured that the man who sold the plans was still in prison and that the only way he was ever going to leave prison was in a wooden box.

Now maybe this is all just a sea-story. The individual who told it to me was rather intoxicated at the time. I wasn't exactly sober when I heard it. It could all be just an alcohol-inspired story dreamed up by two drunken naval officers in a bar at a BOQ or an O-Club. You won't find any mention of this in Wickipedia, Wickileaks or the Google (until now). It's a completely unsubstantiated story with no facts to back it up.

It could be true. It could just be a story. I make no claim either way.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Propulsion Expediency

Steam powered warships are driven by two large turbines per shaft. Steam is admitted to the turbines by the throttle valve. Steam is coming from the main steam loop at 1,175 psi and 950 degrees. First, steam goes into the high-pressure turbine. This image shows two such turbines at a factory:

Steam is admitted into the center of the turbine and flows towards either end. Since as the steam flow drops in pressure as it expands through each stage of the turbine, the blades get bigger as you look towards either end of the turbine. The really large blades at the end are the astern elements used for backing down.

Then steam goes to the low-pressure turbine. The blades are of different design, designed to extract work from steam at (you guessed it) lower pressures. Steam that came out of the main steam loop at very high temperatures and pressures is exhausted into the main engine condenser at a near-perfect vacuum of 29" Hg and 110degF.

The turbines are connected to a set of double reduction gears:

The gears are a lot larger than this drawing implies. You can crawl into the oil sump of the gears. The big gear is the "bull gear," which is connected to the screw (propeller) shaft. They are double-helix gears to prevent gear lash and absorb the massive amount of horsepower being transmitted.

Reduction gears are very heavy, are very carefully machined and are very expensive. The access ports to the reduction gears are locked with the same type of locks used to secure weapons magazines. Lead anti-tamper seals are then affixed to each port. Both the sealing crimp and the lock keys are in the personal custody of the Chief Engineer, who must personally inspect the reduction gears prior to closing the access ports and then personally lock and seal the access ports.

During the Second World War, the companies that made steam turbines and reduction gears could not keep up with the number of warships being produced. The Navy decided that the use of steam turbines and reduction gears would be limited to fast destroyers, cruisers, battleships and carriers. The Casablanca class escort carriers used reciprocating steam engines, which why those carriers had a top speed of 20 knots. Many of the destroyer escorts were powered by large electric motors powered by diesel generators, in the same matter as a diesel locomotive.

The Navy went back to steam propulsion for destroyer escorts after World War II, with the exception of the four ships of the Claud Jones class, which were diesel-electric as a cost-saving measure, and which were gotten rid of by the Navy as soon as the Navy could justify doing so. Destroyer escorts were reclassified to frigates in 1975.

Steam ruled the destroyer escorts/frigates until 1974, when the last steam escort, USS Moinester (FF-1097), joined the Fleet. The Perry class, the only class of frigates built in the last thirty years, is powered by gas-turbines.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

ASW Weapons; Part III

As I discussed in Part I and Part II, depth charges had several drawbacks. Chief among the drawbacks was the requirement that an escort prosecuting a submarine contact had to lose contact prior to launching her depth charges.

The Royal Navy had the lead on this problem, once again. They developed a "spigot mortar" that would launch a pattern of mortar bombs, each of which had a warhead of approximately 35lbs of high explosive. This became known as the Hedgehog. The mortar bombs were loaded onto rods; the bombs each had a cylindrical well along its center axis so that the bombs slid down and rested on the rods.

The early Hedgehog mounts were roll-compensated, but they could not be trained more than a few degrees to either side (moved from left to right) by tilting the mount, so the ship herself had to be aimed at the submarine. Later mounts were fully trainable. The mortar bombs themselves were launched in pairs at very short intervals, back to front, so that the bombs that fired at higher arcs were launched first (they had a longer flight time) and thus all of the mortar bombs would hit the water nearly simultaneously. The launchers' rods were set so that the bombs hit in a pattern, usually oval or circular, at a distance of 200 yards. The bombs would sink fairly rapidly.

Unlike depth charges, Hedgehog mortar bombs were contact weapons. Unless the submarine could hear the sound of the bombs being launched, she would not know that an attack run was underway, as escorts would also make non-firing runs to refine their targeting solutions. The time it took to reload the Hedgehog mount was usually less than it took to reposition for another firing run.

Hedgehog did have some of the same drawbacks as depth charges, in that the ships had quantities of high explosives on the weather decks. The launcher crews had to work topside, sometimes in far less than ideal conditions. At least one warship was lost when the stored Hedgehog bombs blew up because of faulty fuzing. They were also dumb weapons with a fairly long time between firing and impact, often close to half a minute or more, depending on the depth of the submarine.

Hedgehog nonetheless was a very lethal weapon when employed by a skilled crew. The USS England (DE-635) sank six Japanese submarines in 1944 in a period of 12 days.

Hedgehog was effective, but it still required that the escort close to the submarine's position in order to attack it. World War II sonars operated on sound frequencies around 14-30 KHz; many were "searchlight" sonars, such as the QGB sonar that transmitted a beam on one bearing; the sonar head was steered by the operator. The high frequency meant that the sonar head was small, it could be mounted on smallish ships, but because it was a searchlight system, searching for submarines was a matter of luck. The high frequency also limited the range.

Sonars developed into true search sonars that could transmit an omnidirectional beam. The QHB sonar transmitted an omnidirectional beam, but because it operated between 20 and 26 KHz, its range was limited. The early 1950s-vintage AN/SQS-23 sonar operated at 5 KHz, which greatly increased the detection range, but which also required a much larger sonar dome. The increased detection range of sonar sets like the SQS-23 meant that the escorts could track submarines far outside of the range of Hedgehog.

Clearly a longer range weapon was needed.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Ossifer Training

In an earlier post, I discussed where the Navy gets its officers. This post will discuss post-commissioning schools, with a focus on the 111x/6x community: Surface Warfare Officers or SWOs.

When a young ensign was commissioned into the SWO community, he or she was designated as an 116x. 111 signified "SWO", the "6" was a training designation. Generally, after leave and maybe a short stint on the ship that he or she was going to, the first school was Surface Warfare Officer School Basic- "SWOS Basic" or "Baby SWOS," located in Newport, RI.

The bible for SWOS Basic was the Personnel Qualification Standard (PQS) for Surface Warfare. All PQS has three components: a Theory section, a Systems section and a Watchstation (ie, performance) section. SWOS Basic was 16 weeks long and in those sixteen weeks, the ensigns (and the lieutenant JGs who have washed out of aviation) learned all of the systems and theory part of SWOS PQS. The course was basically everything one needed to know to be a junior officer on a ship, taught at "drink from this here firehose" speed. The goal was to leave SWOS Basic with only the watchstation training to do. That was not an insignificant amount of work, it took 18 months to two years to finish that.

SWO PQS replaced the infamous "JO Journal" from the days when the only surface warfare training was on-the job. SWO PQS also standardized the training as much as possible, but it couldn't completely level the playing field. Ensigns sent to the engineering departments of aircraft carriers would be lucky if they amassed 40 hours of underway time as a fully-qualified Officer of the Deck, something that an OOD on a destroyer would do in five to seven days of routine underway watches. Ensigns who were sent to ships that were about to enter a major overhaul would wind up a year behind the power curve and those sent to a carrier that was entering an overhaul were basically screwed forever.

After SWOS Basic came the specialty schools. The longest pipeline back in the day was the ASW school, which lengthened quite a bit once surface ships became players in the passive ASW sonar game. Some specialty schools covered other topics; the communications and CIC officer schools had a section on administration of classified materials, as those officers generally were in charge of the classified materials system ("CMS") on their ships. (There was a long-standing joke about the annual softball game at Leavenworth Military Prison between former CMS custodians and disbursing officers.)

Depending on what collateral duties the officer was assigned, there could be other schools. Chief among those, back when surface ships were capable of carrying nuclear weapons, was a nuclear weapons admin school. Those going to main engineering jobs usually had to take a seven day boiler water/feed water school; the first two days of which were equivalent to a semester of freshman chemistry without the lab work. Most going to an engineering job also were sent to an advanced firefighting course.

SWO PQS was unique because it was the only officer warfare specialty which was wide open. All it took was obtaining a set of PQS books and anyone could try to complete it. Ambitious officers in both the intelligence (163x) and cryptology (161x) communities would, when on sea duty, try to complete SWO PQS. They did so both because it made them stand out (marking them as "hard chargers") and for the fact that line officers, the ones who were the customers of their specialties, tended to pay more attention to the spooks who were warfare-qualified.

Once the PQS was fully completed, all that was left was an intensive oral exam, given by the CO, XO and the three line department heads (Ops, Weps, CHENG). The general rule was the longer the oral exam, the worse you were doing. If you really knew your shit and they knew that you really knew your shit, you might have your exam scheduled for 1600 in the wardroom, which gave them only an hour to examine you before the cooks had to set up the wardroom for supper. If they thought that there was some serious question as to whether or not you knew your shit, your oral exam would be scheduled for 0800 or 1300.

When that was over and if you did indeed know your shit, your designator was changed to 111x and you got to wear this pin on your uniform.

"Flare to Land"....

.... "squat to pee."

Video from back when the Royal Navy operated real aircraft carriers, not those "ski-jump" imitations.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Do You Have a Spare 16 Minutes

Then watch this newly discovered footage from World War II:

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Small Arms Weapons Training

Up until the 1980s or so, small arms training on ships was pretty much an afterthought. If you had an in-port watch assignment that meant you may have to carry a weapon, you were shown how to load and unload it. Then you were given a chance to "familiarization fire" it. When the ship was steaming independently (not in formation), a group of sailors were assembled on the fantail with a gunner's mate. If your assignment meant you had to carry a .45, the gunner's mate loaded it (with five rounds in the magazine) and handed it to you. You then pointed the weapon aft of the ship and fired off all five rounds.

If you managed to hit the ocean, you passed.

That, for obvious reasons, was not very satisfactory.

The next plan was to qualify on full-sized silhouette targets. The targets were supposed to be set at 25 yards. You then fired 30 rounds; ten at slow-fire, ten at timed fire, ten at rapid fire. (Definitions here.) If you finished up with 20 holes in your target, you were qualified.

That had its own problems. Few ships, other than carriers, had a place where you could set up a target, move back 75 feet and not either have fallen over the side or have something in-between the shooter and the target. So the smaller ships had to use a shore-side rifle range to qualify.

That raised a lot more problems. Nearly every non-engineering petty officer on every ship had to qualify with a .45, as the Petty Officer of the Watch post in port was an armed watch. All of the sailors on the security teams had to qualify with a .45, M-14 rifle and riot shotgun. Half of the officers had to qualify with a .45. So possibly a hundred or more sailors from each ship had to shoot for qualification on a yearly basis, and even in a small port, that meant that several thousand sailors had to qualify.

The base pistol ranges were not set up for that amount of use and they quickly became overwhelmed. There might be a seven month waiting list, which was unsatisfactory to the ships.

So they began to find creative solutions. If a chief on one of the ships was a member of a gun club, he would make a deal with the club to use their range in exchange for the ship providing a large tin of coffee or a work/cleanup detail. Some ships found informal ranges in national forests that were usable during the week.

Meanwhile, the bases had begun programs to expand the hours and the sizes of their ranges, only to find out that the demand was evaporating. The solution most base commanders adopted was to forbid the use of civilian ranges for "liability concerns." That was an order that was widely ignored.

Ultimately, the Navy adopted reduced-sized silhouette targets that were suitable for ten-yard ranges. Most ships had small helicopter flight-decks; the target holders were set on the edge of the deck and the shooters stood on the other side of the flight deck. So as long as the ship was off on its own, they could qualify a lot of people rapidly.

There was some talk about starting to send teams to a "Hogan's Alley" sort of advanced training, but I don't know if that ever became a reality.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Dining In

There were two kinds of formal dinners held by Navy commands. One was a "dining in" and the other was a "dining out." For a dining out, the officers and their spouses attended. For a dining in, it was only the officers, though the commanding officer of the next higher unit was typically invited.

They are generally held in home port at the base officer's club and, for small ships, held with the permission of the squadron commander, because all of the officers attend, which means that one of the most senior chief petty officers is the command duty officer for the event (typically, the officer who would have been the CDO does not drink for the event.) Attire is "mess dress", which basically for women was Service Dress Blue/White with a long skirt. For male lieutenants and below, that was Service Dress Blue with a bow tie or Service Dress Whites; for lieutenant commanders and above, it was a form of tuxedo jacket. Service Dress Whites, colloquially known as "chocker whites," were best worn on those occasions when an adequate blood supply to the brain was not necessary, for if an officer had put on a significant amount of weight, well, you get the picture.

The two key people at a dining in were the Captain and a junior officer who was designated as "Mr. (or Ms.) Vice." Mr. Vice was the enforcer of the rules of the occasion and he levied fines for not wearing the uniform correctly or swearing or not toasting with a full glass or smoking when not authorized.

There was a cocktail hour before the dinner, then the dinner began. The main course was always roast beef, with the first slice served to the Captain, who tasted it and then pronounced: "This beef is fit for human consumption." As the meal went on, Mr. Vice turned to his main duty, which was making sure everyone got shitfaced. This was done by frequent toasts, first to the President of the United States, then to the Commodore (if he attended the dinner) and then to the Captain. After that, the toasts were up to the imagination of Mr. Vice.

The best toast I ever heard was: "To the Russian Navy, for without them, we'd all be in the Coast Guard." One lieutenant was aghast at that toast, but the Captain thought it was very appropriate. If you read this, it probably will not surprise you to learn that the officer who made the toast was an OCS grad who got out after six years and the aghast LT was a Boat School grad who eventually became a flag officer.

The amount of drinking at a dining in began to taper off in the mid 1980s when the Navy started to get really serious about drinking and driving and then drinking in general. Up until then, getting blasted on shore leave/liberty ("shore leave" was the term for officers, "liberty" was the term for enlisted, though the colloquial term was "hitting the beach") was sort of a badge of honor, as in "it takes a real sailor to get blasted on the beach."

One time I drove a shipmate to his house after a dining in, because I had been careful with my drinking and he hadn't. I had a fairly new car at the time, the first new car I ever owned, and I told him that if he puked in my car, I was going to roll him into a drainage ditch and stand on his head. He didn't puke; I got him to his house and his thoroughly disgusted wife (it was well after midnight) and I managed to get his carcass inside the house. We dumped him on the living room floor, she threw a blanket over him, took his shoes off, put a pillow under his head and somewhat sarcastically thanked me for bringing him home.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

ASW Weapons; Part II

To understand depth charges, you need to know that active sonar (the Brits called it ASDIC, for some obscure reason) did not exist in World War I. The British and American navies had been working on it for years, but it was not ready by Armistice Day. The ASW escorts charged the datum and began putting depth charges into the water. As submarines could not go very fast on batteries, if a destroyer got to the last known position fast enough, it was possible to catch the sub.

When active sonar was installed on ships between the world wars, the sets were at what now would be regarded as very high frequencies. That permitted small lightweight sonar domes, but also meant limited range. Those sonars were probably not good submarine detection sets; they had to know about where the submarine was.

There are four basic stages in ASW: Search, localize, track and attack. World War I destroyers were pretty deficient in the first and third stages, as they had no sensors, other than the Mk 1 eyeball, to detect submarines and no way to track them after they submerged. The early sonar sets were not much better on the search aspect, but once the crew knew where to look and got close enough, they could localize and track.

Depth charges had huge deficiencies. First off, they were horribly unsafe. They were often stored in racks on the weather decks, so each ship had thousands of pounds of high explosives just sitting on deck. They were vulnerable to shipboard fires, enemy fire and for getting loose in heavy seas.

Second, they were dangerous in use. If a depth charge that was rolled off the fantail detonated early, it could blow the stern off the ship. Even if it didn't do that, the shock could blow out the stern tube seals around the propeller shafts and sink the ship by flooding the engine rooms.

Third, blowing up a number of depth charges created a lot of regions of disturbed water, which obscured the sonar signals.

Fourth, sonars could not look straight down or to the rear. When the destroyer which was tracking the submarine commenced its depth charge run, it lost track of the submarine just before it got into position to launch the depth charges.

Imagine, if you will, that you are at a trap or skeet shooting range. You call "pull" and a clay bird is launched. You swing your shotgun towards the clay bird and just as the barrels start to swing into alignment, you close both eyes, try to maintain your swing and then fire.

Now imagine that the clay bird has the ability to alter its flight path and that the clay bird knows that just before you fire, you are going to be blind. The sub commanders knew that a depth charge run was underway and, as the destroyer came into position, the sub commanders would order a sharp turn. The destroyer commanders had to guess which way the sub might go and try to compensate. The sub might alter its speed, anything to mess up the depth charge run.

Something that was not known early in World War II was that the German boats could dive deeper than American or British submarines, in some cases, three times as deep. The Germans could go below the maximum setting of the early depth charges. Even when depth charges would detonate that far down, it took a bit of time for them to sink that far, which meant that actually hitting a deep sub was more a matter of sheer-assed luck.

Something had to be done.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

ASW Weapons; Part I

At the turn of the 20th Century, a new development was coming into the naval scene: Steam turbines. Until then, the fastest screw-driven (ships are driven by screws, boat and airplanes use propellers) ships might approach 20 knots by the use of triple-expansion steam engines. Those engines used large pistons and crankshafts.

At the close of the 19th century, the Royal Navy unveiled a very fast boat named the Turbinia at the Fleet Review which was put on for Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee. Turbinia was the first successful craft driven by a steam turbine. Turbinia could reach nearly 35 knots, making her almost twice as fast as any other craft afloat.

During the era when the steam turbine was being developed, torpedoes were being developed. The first craft to carry torpedoes were light, fast boats. Somewhat larger ships, almost as fast, but more heavily armed, were developed to protect large capital ships from the threat of the torpedo boats; these ships were known as "torpedo boat destroyers." Torpedo boats would be used in wars through the Second World War. Torpedoes were also launched from larger surface ships, the Japanese "Long Lance" was the best in the world and was an extremely effective weapon. Torpedoes came into their most renown use as an antiship weapon launched from submarines, for they could be fired from periscope depth, giving the submarine the greatest possible concealment.

However, there was, at first no weapon specifically designed to fight a submarine. Gunfire was ineffective against a submerged submarine; shooting at the periscope was akin to trying to hit a broomstick at 500 yards with a rifle. And so, the first practical ASW weapon was developed: The depth charge.

The first depth charges were little more than cans filled with explosives. In a day when most buildings were heated with coal-fired furnaces, the furnaces had to be routinely cleaned of its ashes, which were put into large steel cans, or "ash cans." The depth charges were about the same size; they became known as "ash cans."
The early depth charges ones had 50lbs of explosive; by the end of World War I, they had up to 600lbs. The technique was simple: Go to where the submarine was and roll the charges off the stern of the ship. The depth charges had a delay timer, often set by depth, to prevent blowing the stern out of the water. If the skipper had an idea which way the submarine was heading, he could try to "lead" the submarine.

In order to get a wider pattern, the Y gun was developed. The Y gun threw two depth charges, one to either side of the ship.

The K gun threw one depth charge:

In the event that a submarine attacked the escort, the drill was to charge directly at the submarine at high speed (steam turbines, remember), which presented a narrow target for the sub to shoot at. If the sub was on the surface or had its periscope up, the bow guns of the destroyer would shoot at it to force the submarine below the surface. The subs of the day ran on diesels while on the surface and on batteries when submerged. The subs had to run slowly on batteries in order to conserve power, so if the destroyer could get to where the submarine was last seen (the "datum") very quickly, the destroyer would lay down a pattern of depth charges. If the submarine submerged too slowly the destroyer would ram it.

Depth charges killed in two ways. One was by concussion, which you have no doubt seen in any number of old war movies. But if the depth charge was close enough, the sub would be shattered. When an underwater charge detonates, it blows a circular bubble in the water as wide as water pressure will allow. The bubble then collapses to its center and bounces back out; this cycle repeats until it runs out of energy. But if as the bubble expands it touches a solid object, like a submarine, the bubble will collapse onto that object and blow the living shit out of it.

But there were serious drawbacks to the use of depth charges.

(To be continued)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Where Do They Find Such People?

If you wanted to enlist in the Navy back in the day, you just strolled into your local recruiter and chatted him (or her) up. You'd take the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) test, fill out some forms, take a physical, and off you'd go. The big determiners on what you did were the needs of the Navy and your ASVAB score, with added pluses for relevant experience. If your requested skill required that you'd have to learn a foreign language, you also had to take the Defense Language Aptitude Battery (DLAB) test.

Then it was off to the Recruit Training Centers, known throughout the Navy as "boot camps." There were three of them, RTC Orlando, RTC San Diego and RTC Great Lakes. If you had scored well on the ASVAB and there were slots open, you would go from boot camp to "A School" to learn the basics of a technical rating. If you couldn't get what you wanted, you would be sent to the Fleet as an undesignated seaman (deck), fireman (engineering) or airman (carriers). There you would take a correspondence course in the rating you wanted to get into, or "strike for." You would have to demonstrate your interest and ability to the Striker Selection Board in order to be transferred into that division. And, most important, you had to impress that division that you'd be a good addition, as nobody wanted to be saddled with a dirtbag.

For officers, there were several routes.

Oldest of all: The Naval Academy (USNA) in Annapolis, MD, the official brain washer of the officer corps, also referred to as the Boat School or the Chesapeake University of Nautical Technology. Their job was to produce the Kool-Aid Drinkers, the ones most likely to make a career out of it. You could enlist, then apply for the Academy. In that event, you normally had to first go to the USNA Prep School in Newport, RI. They had a five year commitment after being commissioned.

The Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC): They produced more officers than did the USNA. The ones on scholarships got all of the benefits of going to Annapolis (a free education), without the stringent 24/7 horseshit. If you wanted the free education, but you wanted to be able to drink copious amounts of beer and have frequent sex, you went to ROTC. 2 year ROTC grads had a four year commitment, 4-year ROTC grads had a five year commitment.

Both 4-year ROTC and USNA midshipmen went to sea serving as enlisted sailors during the summer between their freshman and sophomore years. Between their junior and senior years, they went to sea as junior officers. Between their sophomore and junior years, they went to play with the Marine Corps and/or the aviators.

Officer Candidate School (OCS): OCS was open to those who already had a 4-year college degree. The aviators had their OCS at Penascola, FL. Almost everyone else went to OCS in Newport, RI. This was a 19-week cram course that later was reduced to 16 weeks by increasing the class day from seven hours to eight hours. These were the "90 day wonders." A sailor in the Navy who had earned a degree could apply to go to OCS and many did. A fair number of enlisted from all services who had gotten out and then earned a degree went to OCS. The non-prior service OCs tended to have a few years of experience after college, some had master's degrees. OCS grads had a four-year commitment, though the ones who went off to nuclear school had a longer commitment.

Officers who went to USNA tended to stay in in greater percentages, as they were the ones who had been brainwashed. Those who went to OCS tended to leave after their initial service was done, as they saw the Navy more as "just another shitty job." OCS graduates were far less likely to have drunk the Kool-Aid than the others. OCS grads were the ones most likely to think outside of the box; they could be the superstars or the problem children of any wardroom. If you needed something done that was not usual procedure or might even be borderline on legality, you probably asked an OCS grad to do it. ROTC officers tended to fall in between the two extremes, but they tended to be more towards the OCS side of the spectrum.

Officer Indoctrination School (OIS): OIS was a four or six week school in little more than how to wear a uniform and not make an utter fool of yourself. OIS was only open to staff corps; people who had a skill the Navy needed, were not in line to command anything and were less likely to be sent to sea (baby supply pukes were sent to OCS). Doctors, nurses, chaplains and lawyers went to OIS. If the Navy needed them badly enough, they were given direct commissions, shown briefly how to wear a uniform and set loose. The results were often comical.

Limited Duty Officers (LDO): LDOs were senior enlisted who were directly commissioned as line officers. Because LDOs often had ten or more years of service, most retired soon after being promoted to lieutenant commander.

Post commissioning training for officers will be a topic for another day.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Naval Gunfire Support

Navy frigates, cruisers and destroyers all are equipped with naval rifles, also referred to as "guns." "Guns" are what the Army and landlubbers refer to as "cannons." Since the retirement of the last of the WW2 8" gun cruisers in the 1970s, and until the introduction of the Perry Class FFGs, FFs, DDs and CGs all carried 5" guns. Now FFGs have 76mm guns and 5" guns are on DDGs and CGs.

Those guns are "dual-purpose" guns, which means that they can shoot at targets both on the sea and in the air. Dual-purpose guns were developed after WWI when it became clear that ships might need to shoot at airplanes. That avoided having to add large guns solely for anti-aircraft uses, which helped to reduce the growth in topside weight. The more weight added above the main deck (actually, above the center of gravity), the less stable a ship is.

Besides shooting at other ships and at airplanes and now missiles, the guns are also used to provide supporting fire to Marines on the beach. That is the naval gunfire support mission, or "NGFS."

NGFS is primarily indirect fire, in that the ship does not spot and direct its own fire. Naval gunfire spotters do that and they were often naval officers (but not always). Being sent to duty as a gunfire spotter, at least in the post-Vietnam peacetime era, was a clear sign that one had royallly screwed the pooch, that one's career was over. Back then, the Navy was not going to send an up-and-coming young surface warfare officer to go play with the Marines and live in the dirt and eat bugs. But if you were a fuckup and you were either too dumb or too stubborn to submit your resignation towards the end of your first sea tour, off you went to play jarhead.

So let's think about how you actually do spotting. If you are the observer, what you have is a land map, a compass, a pair of binoculars and a radio. You would radio the ship, give your grid position (it was in your best interests to be particularly accurate), give the range and magnetic bearing to the target, describe the target, tell the ship what type of shell to fire and then tell them when to shoot.

So it would be something like "Ship, observer target line zero-six-six, range one two zero zero, target: trucks in open, VT frag, over.". The radio talker in the ship's Combat Information Center would read that back to the spotter. If it was correct, the spotter would say: "Fire when ready." The NGFS team in CIC would plot the observer's position and determine the range and bearing to the target. The range and bearing would be called down to Gun Plot, read back to CIC, and then a round would be fired. When the round was fired, the R/T talker would call out "Shot" and then, five seconds before impact, would follow that with "splash, out."

The spotter would then call back corrections from his point of view, with all distances in meters: "Left five zero, add two zero zero, fire when ready." That had to be corrected by what probably should have been called a "gunfire plotting board," but which everyone referred to as a "Comanche Board." These were two coaxial bearing rings, each with a clear plexiglas surface inside the ring, so that the inner ring's surface was on top of the outer ring. The surfaces were marked in a grid pattern, with each line representing ten meters. The outer ring would be turned so that its grid were aligned on the observer-target line, the inner ring was turned so that its grid were aligned on the ship-target line. The grids were different color, often black and red. The center point was the aiming spot for that round.

The CIC plotters would plot "left 50, add 200" on the observer grid, note what that correction was on the ship's grid and call that down to Gun Plot for another spotting round. Ideally, the third round would be close enough and then the ship would commence area fire. The two common rounds used were VT frag, against troops, tanks and trucks, and White Phosphorus, against troops. VT frag would not do much damage to tanks, but what it did was force the tank commanders to drop inside and "button up," where it is harder for the tank commanders to see what is going on. You might get really lucky and blast off a radio antenna from a tank, break a tank's tread or smash a vision block.

Until a few years ago, most Atlantic Fleet ships did their NGFS training at Vieques, Puerto Rico. Bloodsworth Island in Chesapeake Bay was also used, but infrequently, due to the prevalence of civilian boats in the Bay. If I remember correctly, it was not permitted to shoot anything other than inert shells at Bloodsworth, while live ordnance was permitted at Vieques. NGFS is no longer done at Vieques, I have no idea where live NGFS training is done, if it is indeed done at all anymore.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

More Reading

If you want to read sea stories from the 1950s and early 1960s, look in the library for fiction written by Daniel V. Gallery. You may be able to find "Cap'n Fatso", "Stand By-y-y to Start Engines," or "Now Hear This," which were among his fictional works.

Gallery was the commander of the task group that captured U-505. Rumor has it that when the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral King, received reports of the capture, his first inclination was to order that Gallery be court-martialed and shot. King knew the value of the intercepts that the Americans and British were reading because they had broken the German naval Enigma code and that if the Germans found out that U-505 had been captured, they would change their codes.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Zulu Five Oscar

There are, as you might imagine, a lot of different drills and exercises in the Navy. The ones that are done for scoring against (or by) the ship have letter and number designations that correlate to some scheme that I have long since forgotten.

One sticks with me: Zulu-5-Oscar. A Z-5-O is a shipboard security drill in which a person who is not a member of the ship's company tries to get aboard and roam around the ship unescorted. Most of the the time, the drill is successful from the ship's perspective in that the person trying to get on board is caught.

This is no shit:

There was one Command Duty Officer who got the word that a Z-5-O was going to be run against his ship on his duty day by another ship. He corralled a young sailor from that ship and sent him back with this word: "I've had enough of this shit. I'm gonna sit by the Quarterdeck with a shotgun and I'm gonna shoot the fucker who tries to pull a Zulu-Five-Oscar on me."

The CDO ordered the duty gunner's mate to give him a shotgun and he sat on the fantail's capstan, right by the Quarterdeck. Sure enough, about 90 minutes later, a nervous looking sailor walked about halfway up the gangway, threw his hands high over his head and screamed: "Zulu-Five-Oscar! You caught me! Don't shoot!"

Second story:

Again, one ship was tasked with trying to run a Z-5-O on another. A lieutenant (JG) volunteered to do it. He went to the uniform shop and purchased a set of shoulder boards for the summer white uniform. The shoulder boards were for a lieutenant in the Chaplain Corps. He put those and a briefcase with some religious literature in his car. The day of the Z-5-O, he went out to his car, switched his shoulder boards to the chaplain's ones, picked up his briefcase, and walked to the ship he was assigned to run the drill on. Once he got on board, he told the OOD that he was Chaplain O'Hara from the destroyer squadron.

If the quarterdeck watch had been on the ball, they would have noticed that his ID card was for a LTJG of a different name. They would have noticed that there was no Chaplain O'Hara on the Desron access list. What they did do is call the XO and tell him that Chaplain O'Hara was there from the Squadron. The XO told them to send the chaplain to the wardroom, so they gave him an unescorted visitor's badge and let him go.

And so he did. He wandered to the wardroom, tucking a few 3x5 cards behind cable runs (the cards read "BOMB") on his way. He told the XO that he had been transferred in six weeks ago and was making his rounds of all of the ships. He chatted up the XO for about fifteen minutes, then the XO called the Captain to let him know that the new squadron chaplain was onboard and asked if the Captain could see him.

The Captain could. The Captain did. And the Captain had a lot on his mind that was troubling him and he talked some of it out with Chaplain O'Hara. "Chaplain O'Hara" at this point was terrified, as this had gone well past the fun he had expected to have had. He heard the Captain out, then made his excuses, saying he had a meeting back at the Desron. He left the ship, went back to his car, put on the correct shoulder boards and then went to report to his XO.

The XO called the other XO and asked: "I heard you met Chaplain O'Hara" ...... "Nice kid, eh?" .... "Did you know he was a Zulu-5-Oscar?" The XO could hear the other XO screaming and he didn't need a telephone.

Nothing was really ever done to that ship, the embarrassment around the waterfront was enough punishment. "O'Hara's" CO congratulated him on a job well done and added that if he ever said a word about what the other Captain had told him, that "O'Hara" could expect to spend the next year counting penguins at McMurdo Sound and the following four years handing out basketballs at Adak.

"O'Hara" kept his mouth shut.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Food, or a Reasonable Fascimile Thereof

Traditionally, there were two separate food operations on a destroyer-sized ship. The enlisted men ate in the ship's mess ("mess" being the term for a kitchen operation). The officers ate in the wardroom mess. The chief petty officers often ate in the Chief's Mess, but they had the same menu and food the crew did.

The money came from the BAS, or the Basic Allowance for Subsistence. For enlisted men, the ship received their BAS (sailors on shore duty and not living in the barracks were paid a BAS) and used that to buy food. The officers were paid their BAS and they, in turn, had to collectively pay for their food. Until the Spruance and the Perry classes of warships came into the Fleet, the wardroom mess was a completely separate operation. At sea, the wardroom mess bought its foodstuffs from the Supply Department. In port, while the wardroom mess usually bought most of its foodstuffs from the ship, they could and often did buy things directly from civilian markets.

Both the wardroom and the crew's messes had full kitchens, although since the wardroom mess was feeding 17 officers (plus the wardroom cooks) and the crew's mess was feeding over 200, the crew's galley was a lot larger.

Breakfast was from 0630 to 0715, lunch was 1130-1230 and dinner was 1730-1830. Those who had to eat earlier in order to go on watch could eat 15 minutes earlier at "early chow." There was a limited selection of food put out at 2330 for those going on watch; usually lunchmeats and bread with mustard and mayonnaise. This light meal was called "midrats" (for "midwatch rations"). Sometimes the no-loads in the Supply and X departments came to poach midrats, as did those sailors who had stayed up past Taps in order to play Dungeons and Nerds in some equipment space.

The food was as good or as lousy as the cooks were. The rated cooks were the Mess Specialists. The sailors known as "mess cooks" were junior enlisted men sent by their divisions for three month tours of duty in the galley; they were often referred to as "mess cranks" or "cranks" and the tour of duty was known as "cranking." (Cranking was the equivalent to KP duty in the Army.) Sailors were only supposed to do one tour as a mess cook, but if there was not a steady flow of new sailors, repeat tours did occur, and those sailors sent to repeat cranking were usually the ones that their home divisions could most afford to lose. Rated petty officers were not supposed to be sent cranking, but "push button thirds," the ones who were promoted to E-4 during their school training, could be sent cranking.

One of the worst items on the menu were brussel sprouts that had been frozen a long time before, probably during the Vietnam War. Those were sometimes called "little green balls of death." French fires were also sent frozen and they were often terribly freezer-burned. Poultry meat, for some unknown reason, was shredded before it was frozen and sent to the ships; it was sometimes called "blasted chicken," for the suspicion that the carcasses had been de-boned with explosives. Pasta was made on board, if the cooks could do it.

When the cooks were not skilled or imaginative, the food was awful. A good cook could do a lot of things with the ingredients the Navy provided. The Navy cookbook was a deck of recipe cards, on how to cook large batches of food. The bad cooks could barely follow the recipe cards. The good cooks could follow them. The excellent cooks could transcend them.

If the cooks were bad, then you had eggs or pancakes for breakfast, chicken for lunch and beef for dinner. The next day would be beef for lunch and chicken for dinner. A month or two of that could be a real morale-killer; when the ship came home, you could see the single sailors crowding the Italian and seafood restaurants. (The married ones, when asked "what do you want for dinner, honey," would say "anything other than beef or chicken.") I heard of more than one Supply Officer who was told "either you get your goddamn cooks to start doing their jobs properly or I will find someone who will."

Quality control of the food was done by having an officer eat on the mess decks for each meal and then write an evaluation for the meal. The food was served cafeteria style, so the cooks couldn't set the really good stuff aside and rig the evaluation. It was more than the food, the evaluator had to look at the cleanliness of the mess decks and the utensils provided. The officer doing the evaluations had to be from outside the Supply Department to avoid undue influence. That sometimes led to contentious scenes when the Supply Officer had to answer to the Captain because a junior officer had written "if I had tried to feed this meal to a pig, I'd have been arrested for animal abuse" on the evaluation form.

As for the officers, they paid into a fund and that was drawn upon by the Supply Department to buy food for the wardroom mess. In order to keep a check on those funds, a junior officer was elected by the other officers to be the Mess Treasurer, who reported to the Mess President (the Captain). The poor schmo elected Mess Treasurer kept the books and collected the monthly payment from the other officers. A fresh election was generally held every three months and few, if any, officers on a destroyer or frigate escaped that task. The mess bill was figured simply by dividing the cost of the food supplies by the number of officers (since the wardroom cooks ate the same food the officers did, their BAS was paid to the wardroom fund).

On cruisers, the Captain had his own mess and the Executive Officer was the President of the wardroom mess. Tradition was that anyone who came to eat after the main seating had to ask the President (or, if he was not at the table, the senior officer present) for "permission to join the mess." Similarly, when an officer was finished eating, he or she had to ask for "permission to leave the mess." It was a sit-down meal and food was either served by the wardroom mess crank or it was served family-style. Because it was sort of a formal setting and because it became evident that many people had no experience with formal dining, there was one class session at Officer Candidate School in how to conduct oneself at a wardroom table.

Nowadays, since the officers eat from the same menu as does the crew, there is no need for a full galley in the wardroom. I guess they just check off who eats what meals and they pay accordingly.

Ships could compete for who had the best food in a competition called the Ney Competition (there was no truth to the rumor that the name came from a cook who was skilled at disguising horsemeat). That was a tough contest and no ship could compete solely on its BAS funding; a captain who wanted to compete would have to cough up some of the discretionary funds from elsewhere. For a frigate 25 years or so ago, that would be about ten grand in additional funds to spruce up the mess deck (tables, chairs and all the trimmings).

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Mail Call!

Nowadays, ships have Internet access. While it is often cut off for reasons of operational security and for emission control, generally, the crew can send and receive e-mail and maybe make VOIP telephone calls.

It wasn't always that way. Formerly, the only way to make a call from a ship at sea was by the Military Affiliate Radio System (MARS). To make a MARS call, the ship had to have an amateur radio set and at least one member of the crew with an amateur radio license (or ham). That person had to be off duty. And since the amateur band was a high-frequency band, the calls could be monitored by almost anyone with a suitable HF receiver set, which included the Soviet Union. Making a MARS call pinpointed the ship's location to the Russians, so most of the time, the station was shut down.

That left good old snail mail for most communications. When a ship was overseas, the words "mail call" were the most welcome. If a ship had its schedule changed, the mail might not catch up for as long as a month. A month with no mail was a serious morale-killer; I have heard ship's captains on the secure satellite UHF net screaming at the shore duty pukes about the screwups in getting the mail to that captain's ship.

Mail call brought real news, if rather dated. At sea, the news arrived by a daily three-page radio message; try to think of what it would be like to cover all of the news of the nation and the world in three pages of text. Most stories were a headline and two sentences, if even that.

Sailors and their families who had experience at long deployments learned to consecutively number the outside of their envelopes. You knew if you were seeing a letter out of sequence that the letter may amplify details of a story you knew nothing about. I knew of one case where some wives were friends; one wife was visiting another and saw that her hostess had received her 56th letter from her husband while she had only received 14 letters. You can guess as to what one of the topics was of her next letter.

Telephone calls had to wait until the ship pulled into port. At that time, the most popular place to visit, other than the bars, was the European establishment known as a "telephone exchange." This was sort of like a post office, but with telephones. You signed in, giving your name, and the telephone number you wanted to reach. After waiting anywhere from a few minutes to four hours, you were directed to a telephone booth for your call, and you had better hope your party was home. Which is why most sailors tried to time their calls for when they knew their loved ones would be home (and probably asleep).

I knew one junior officer who received a letter from his wife which alluded to her being pregnant, but it did not specifically say that. She was too new at the game to know to number her letters. When liberty call was announced, he ran three miles to the nearest telephone exchange to make a call home. (She was indeed pregnant.)

Mail call also brought "dear John" letters, the letters which announced the breakup of a marriage or relationship. The favorite timing for the letters seemed to be roughly half-way through the deployment, giving the sailor at least three months to stew about it.

And if you wanted to see morale crushed, all you had to do was look at the faces of sailors who endured mail call after mail call with no letters, especially if they were married. That often was resolved with the spouse back Stateside receiving a visit by the Red Cross to make sure she (or he) was alive, and that almost always was followed by another "dear John" letter.

What happened when the ships got back are stories for another time.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Damage Control Organization- the Repair Lockers

In an earlier post, I discussed the maintenance of damage control equipment on a divisional level. In this post, I will discuss the major location of damage control equipment, the Repair Locker. For the purposes of this discussion, I will consider a medium-sized warship, such as a destroyer, frigate or guided-missile cruiser.

Repair lockers contain the heavy damage control equipment and supplies. That is where you find dewatering equipment, shoring tools, portable cutting torches, oxygen level testers, axes, portable communications gear, hammers, just about everything needed for emergencies. The equipment in the repair lockers is maintained by R division. There are three repair lockers on the ship: Repair 2, Repair 5 and Repair 3. Repair 2 covers the forward part of the ship, Repair 5 covers the engineering spaces and Repair 3 covers the after part of the ship. If assistance has to be given to another ship (typically, in port), the Rescue and Assistance Detail operates out of Repair 3.

Each duty section in port has to have enough people in it to fully man both a repair team and a full security detail. At sea, emergencies that are severe enough to require handling from a repair locker are cause to go to battle stations. A report of a fire will trigger setting General Quarters (battle stations).

Repair lockers are manned from divisions shipwide. The Repair Locker Leaders, both in port and at sea, are generally from R Division. The first aid teams at the Repair Lockers are not the ship's corpsmen; the first aid teams stabilize injured personell and transport them to Sick Bay. (This, by the way, is a significant difference between civilian first aid and military first aid: Military first aid involves getting the injured out of the way, civilian first aid involves stabilizing the injured people in place until the paramedics come.) Repair 5 is staffed with engineers, as they will have to verify that the equipment in the space is shut down and, if necessary, do that task.

(A compartment, in Navy speak, is also referred to as a "space.")

The Repair Locker Leader stays at the Repair Locker to coordinate the casualty attack. The sailor in charge at the scene is the On-Scene Commander. Ideally, everyone in a repair team is cross-trained to be able to handle various jobs. Investigators go to the spaces surrounding the damaged area to check for collateral damage. Nozzlemen and hosemen fight the fires. Overhaulers take care of hot spots once the fire is out. Electricians cut power to the space(s) in question and rig casualty power (more on that another time). IC men run phone wires to set up communications between the On-Scene Commander and the Repair Locker Leader. There are sailors who test for explosive gasses and oxygen levels; until those conditions are safe, everyone in the space has to breathe using oxygen breathing gear.

At sea, the Repair Locker Leader reports to the Damage Control Assistant in DC Central. In port, the Repair Locker Leader reports to the Officer of the Deck.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Man Overboard! Man Overboard!

Falling over the side is the nightmare of every sailor. There are procedures to recover a man overboard. (I’m using the word “man” in the generic sense. If you don’t like that, sue me.)

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the primary job of the After Lookout is to watch for a man overboard. If the After Lookout sees the man go over the side, the After Lookout immediately throws a lifering at the man. If the After Lookout hears a cry of “man overboard,” he throws a lifering over the side to mark the spot. Either way, the After Lookout calls the Bridge in the 1JV phone circuit and reports: “Man Overboard, Port/Starboard Side!”

The Bosun’s Mate of the Watch announces on the 1MC (the public address circuit): “Man Overboard, Man Overboard. Man the motor whaleboat. All hands not on watch to Quarters for muster.” Anyone who can see the man in the water points at him and continues to point at him as long as they have visual contact, to aid in conning the ship back to the man in the water.

In CIC, the OSs mark the ship’s position on the Dead Reckoning Tracer. Every thirty seconds, they pass the range and bearing to the position where Seaman Schmuckatellli fell over the side and the time he has been in the water up on the 1JA sound-powered phone circuit to the Bridge Status Board Talker.

All over the ship, all hell breaks loose. Sailors are running to their divisional muster station so they can be accounted for. Senior petty officers from every division are going to all of their watch stations to lay eyes on every sailor on watch. The goal is to get all of the muster reports to the XO within six minutes so it can be determined who is missing. On the Boat Deck, a Coxswain (a BM rated to drive small boats), an EN, and a junior BM are manning the motor whaleboat. Other BMs are on the forecastle, readying the Man Overboard Davit (a simple crane to lower a line to the man in the water).

While an aircraft carrier will probably just send up a helicopter with a rescue swimmer to find the man, most other ships still have to get back to the man in the water. Large ships will circle back. Smaller ships will perform a Williamson Turn. A Williamson Turn is performed by throwing the rudder over full in the same direction as the side of the ship the man fell from, this serves to help kick the stern of the ship away from the man in the water, at the same time ringing up a full bell to increase speed. When the bow of the ship is 45 to 60 degrees off its initial course, the rudder is thrown back in the other direction. If done properly, the ship will steady up on the reciprocal course to the one she was on when the man fell in the water. The Conning Officer will attempt to maneuver the ship so that when she comes to a stop, the ship is upwind of the man in the water and the man is opposite the forecastle. The wind will blow the ship down to the man; the BMs on the forecastle will lower a horse collar from the Man Overboard Davit. The man will put his head and arms through the horsecollar and the BMs will hoist his soggy ass on board.

If the man is injured or as desired, the motor whaleboat is lowered into the water. The whaleboat just goes over, hauls the man into the boat, and returns to the ship, where the boat is hoisted back on board.

In winter weather, there will be only a handful of minutes to get a man back on board before he dies of hypothermia. In heavy seas, if the man wasn’t lucky enough to grab the life ring thrown to him, spotting a man in the water is very difficult. On a dark night, it is almost impossible to find a man in the water who is not conscious enough to yell at the top of his lungs when the ship gets close (if he didn’t grab the ring, which has a strobe light in it).

In very heavy weather, due to the risk to the ship and those sailors who would have to go topside to rescue anyone, the Captain may issue an order that anyone who falls over the side will not be recovered. Then the mustering drill only serves to identify the man who will be written off as being lost at sea.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


I've been on vacation for the last week. Writing the posts for this blog takes quite a bit of time, at least compared to the snark that I can ladle out on my main blog.

I will continue, that's a promise.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Independence Day

Full text on my other blog.

As you grill your burgers and, if your town can afford them this year, watch the fireworks tonight, spare a few thoughts for those men and women who gave the best years of their lives, if not their lives themselves, to win our freedom and then to keep it.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Damage Control Conditions

There are several different conditions of damage control readiness. Let’s take them from “least ready” to “most ready” and then tack on an exception.

Damage control conditions are identified by a letter. The letters are pronounced using the World War II phonetic alphabet. Damage control fillings are those openings between compartments and decks, other than piping systems.

If the ship is in a condition that requires a certain class of fitting to be closed and you need to open it, you must obtain permission and enter the exception into the Damage Control Log. The DC Log is kept in Damage Control Central at all times underway and during working hours in port. If there is no DCC watch in port, after working hours, the DC Log will be kept on the Quarterdeck.

CONDITION X-RAY: X-Ray fittings are always closed. All other fittings may be open and closed at will.

CONDITION YOKE: Yoke and X-Ray fittings are closed. This is the condition that is set in-port after working hours. Condition Yoke is generally set at-sea, but on a calm day, the ship may downgrade to Condition X-Ray to facilitate getting work done.

CONDITION DOG ZEBRA: Dog Zebra fittings are identified by a red “D” surrounding a black “Z”. Dog Zebra fittings are closed during Condition Zebra and also at sunset when the word is passed to “Set `Darken Ship’,” which is set while the ship is underway. You should not see any light emanating from a warship that is underway at night, other than the required navigation lights (this does not apply to aircraft carriers, which are lit up like a Vegas casino). Dog Zebra is set during Condition Yoke, obviously, they would be closed anyway during Condition Zebra.

CONDITION ZEBRA: Almost all fittings on the ship are closed. Condition Zebra is set during battle stations. Besides doors and hatches, wastewater drain lines are closed.

CONDITION CIRCLE WILLIAM: Circle William is only set during an alert against an attack by nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. Circle William is generally only set at battle stations. All air vents into the ship are closed. On a steam ship, you do not want to do this for very long, as the air temperatures in the firerooms will approach 140degF.

CONDITION WILLIAM: William fittings are always left open unless there is a specific need to shut one. These are things such as the seawater intakes and discharges to the condensers, the seawater intakes to the firepumps and the evaporators and the air intakes to the boilers.

The exception is fittings marked with a letter with a circle; Circle X-Ray and so on. You may open a circle fitting, pass through it, and then close it without permission. Hatches are generally Zebra fittings; the scuttles set into the hatches are generally Circle X-Ray fittings. The pass-through scuttles in the gun magazines, where powder and projectiles are passed from the magazines to the handling room are generally Circle X-Ray. Most such fittings are marked Circle X-Ray, a few interior watertight doors may be Circle Zebra, but those are rare and are usually located in the superstructure.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Damage Control Organization: the DCPO

This post will begin the topic of damage control readiness. There were several facets to damage control readiness. In-port damage control was different from at-sea damage control. There were differences between who maintained the major stores of damage control equipment and who maintained the damage control equipment that was scattered about the ship. This post will talk about the latter point: Shipwide damage control maintenance.

Every part of the ship was sectioned off into the responsibilities of different divisions, which was generally done during pre-commissioning and then set in stone for the life of the ship. Generally, if a space contained mainly the equipment or machinery of a division, that division maintained the space, including all of the damage control equipment in the space. On a bulkhead of every space was a sign which gave the space designation (another time) and the division responsible.

That division was responsible for the cleanliness and preservation of that space and any fanrooms that had an access door into the space (“fanrooms” were part of the HVAC system, they were where the vent fans and heat exchangers were located, they were also a place to go hide to cop a nap). That division had to maintain the damage control equipment in the space, which included fire extinguishers, fire hoses, doors and, most importantly, watertight closures. Of course, there were watertight doors and hatches at bulkheads and decks that were the boundary lines between divisions. The rule here was that if the hatch or door opened into your space, you owned it.

One or two sailors from each division was assigned the full-time job of maintaining the damage control equipment in the division. The sailors were known as “Damage Control Petty Officers” and they served six-month tours as DCPOs. Other than their watches, the DCPOs worked for the Damage Control Assistant. The DCA and the senior enlisted of R division supervised the work of the DCPOs. The DCPOs also were spot-checked by their regular division officer.

Some of the work was relatively easy. Fire extinguishers had to be periodically weighed. Fire hoses had to be hydrostatically tested, but not terribly often, and the test dates were stenciled on the hoses. The DCPOs biggest headaches were the doors.

(By the way: "Hatches" are openings between decks, you climb up and down through a hatch. "Doors" are openings between compartments located on the same deck, you walk through a door. "Scuttles" are small round openings that you have to squeeze through; they are generally set in hatches, but not always. Calling a "door" a "hatch" is a landsman's mistake.)

The worst headache were the non-watertight doors, known as “joiner doors.” Most joiner doors had hydraulic door closers on them, just as you’d find on a screen door. Some of them were opened and closed several hundred times a day and they just got beat to shit. They were also high-visibility items for the XO, who would get viciously sarcastic if they were not working.

Closing a watertight door or hatch was known as “dogging it down.” Watertight hatches were dogged down by bolts that swung up from the hatch combing to engage recesses in the hatch. Obviously, hatches could not be opened from below, so every hatch had a scuttle in it that could be opened from either side. The scuttles were generally 18" in diameter; if you were too fat to fit through a scuttle, that could be a real problem. Hatches inside the ship were left open unless the ship was at battle stations. It took at least two sailors to safely open and close a hatch, as one had to hold the hatch up while the other either connected or disconnected the two metal poles that held the hatch open. (To prevent the support poles from being jarred lose, they were held in place with toggle pins, as having a hatch slam down on you would really fuck up your day, possibly forever.) In an emergency, one sailor could pull the locking pins, kick out the supports and let the hatch slam down, but that was very heavily frowned upon.

Watertight doors were either quick-acting or not. A quick-acting watertight door (QAWTD) had a lever or a wheel that was connected to the dogging levers, which pulled the door tight. The doors that were not, just known as "watertight doors" had individual dogging levers set around the frame of the door.

The QATD is on the right, the WTD is on the left.

The dogging levers could be operated from either side of the door and were tightened with a “dogging wrench,” which was a short section of pipe that fit over the end of the lever. The dogging levers on all types of watertight doors had to be kept adjusted so that when the door was dogged down, there was even pressure on the gaskets. The rubber gaskets around the edges of the hatches and doors had to be kept lightly lubricated with petroleum jelly to keep them in good condition and they were replaced at the first sign of deterioration.

The DCPOs who did the best jobs were basically invisible, for like everything in Engineering, if it worked right and was reliable, nobody really paid it much notice. But if it didn’t work, there was hell to pay. Damage control gear that didn’t work could cost lives and possibly result in the loss of the ship. Smart officers paid attention to damage control and frequently spot-checked the work of the DCPOs, which had the additional benefit of letting the DCPOs know that their work was important and was appreciated.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Mooring Lines

If you've ever been around small boats much, you may have used mooring lines. "Mooring lines" are, to landlubbers "the ropes what you use to tie the boat up." When you go into a marine supply store, you may see single-braided nylon lines and double-braided nylon line, up to maybe 5/8" or so in diameter.

The mooring lines on ships are 5" lines or larger and are usually double-braided. Those lines are phenomenally strong. Six lines, doubled up, will hold a 8,000 ton ship to the pier against the winds and tidal current (unless the winds are howling). But exert enough force on them and they will part.

Usually what happens is that the bow-most line is passed over to the pier, the linehandler on the pier drops the loop at the end of the line over a bollard and the linehanders on the ship make the line fast to the bits on the forecastle. Then either the wind catches the ship wrong or the tugs pull the ship or the Conning Officer rings up an astern bell; all the thousands of horsepower that the tugs or the main engines can exert pull on that line. It stretches waay out and then it snaps.

If you have ever had a small rope snap on you, you may have noted that it tends to whip back along the line of force exerted on the rope. If you were to break a 5" mooring line, it comes back with unbelievable speed and force. Generally, but not always, the line comes back low to the deck and if you are in the way, you can forget about walking on your own legs, as the line will smash both of your legs to the point that if the line didn't amputate them, the doctors will have to.

This happened on one ship almost 30 years ago; the XO of the ship was up by the bullnose of the ship, yelling at someone on the pier, when the mooring line running through the bullnose (#1 line) parted. Both of his legs were shattered and his blood was spattered all over the forecastle.

He survived and later appeared in a training film on snapback. That film had a scene were a number of mannekins were placed by a mooring line that was deliberately parted; the dummies went flying every which way.

Mooring lines were just another item on ships that people worked with and around all the time, but if you didn't respect them, they could kill you.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Storm Story

This a story from my other blog, Just an Earth-Bound Misfit. I posted this story there several months ago, well before I opened the doors on this blog.

So, for your reading pleasure (and so I don't have to write a new post), here it is:


At the risk of poaching on Scully’s turf [reference to a deleted blog removed-edited 12/14/07], I want to write about a storm at sea. This took place a long time ago. A group of navy ships from several NATO nations was conducting an exercise in the North Atlantic, off the coast of North Carolina, during the winter. They still called them “task groups” back then, not “battle groups”.

That is not a good place to be at that time of year.

A storm blew up. It was not a light storm. This storm was a very intense low and the meteorologists later said it was an anomaly, a cyclonic low in the winter. The winds during the peak of the storm were measured on some of the ships at over 65 knots. The wave heights were in excess of fifty feet.

What fifty foot waves mean is that if you are on a navy ship smaller than an aircraft carrier, when you are standing in the pilot house and the ship goes down the back side of the wave and it is at the bottom of the trough, you cannot see over the top of the next wave. Then the wave crashes down on your ship and green water charges over the forecastle and up the front of the pilot house, covering the windows. The ship rides up the front of the wave and tilts over it. The bow comes completely out of the water and then slams back into the sea.

Ships with large sonar domes do not ride very well, for the sonar dome does not knife back into the sea. It slams down and the entire ship, all several thousand tons of it, shudders from the impact. Do that enough times and the sonar dome can be damaged.

Then there is the fun of being on a ship that is constantly rolling 40 degrees from side to side. Cooking is impossible, so you had better like cheese and bologna (“cheese and horse cock”)sandwiches, for that is all that there is to eat. And that will be your menu selection for three days, for on the fourth day, they’ve run out of bread.

“Cheese and horse cock, hold the bread.”

After the storm, the sailors have to clean the bulkheads along all of the passageways. Not because people have puked on them, but because they have walked on them. The lower portions of the passageways have footprints. The XO just loves seeing footprints on white bulkheads.

Sleeping is difficult at best. For the sailors on the bottom two racks, they sleep on “coffin racks”; the bunk is a mattress on top of a horizontal locker. The top rack is a mattress on a wire bed frame with springs around the edges. If you’re on a coffin rack, you hopefully have a bungee cord or three to secure yourself in. If you’re in a rack with a wire/spring frame, you sleep face down, for you then slip your arms under the mattress from either side and grab hold of the wire netting under the rack. And yes, you can sleep that way and you can learn to hold yourself in against the rolling of the ship without being thrown out or waking up.

There are things you try not to think about.

One is fuel oil.

Back in the day of oil-fired steam ships, which is to say, almost every navy ship that was not nuclear powered before the mid-1970s, fuel was kept in fuel oil storage tanks. Those tanks almost always had some water in them, because if the tanks were empty in heavy seas, they were ballasted down with seawater. The fuel was pumped to settling tanks, to allow the water to settle out. The water was stripped off, the clean fuel was pumped from the settling tanks to the service tanks, one pair for each boiler, and those service tanks fed the boilers’ burners. It was critical to keep water out of the fuel oil for, as you might suspect, water does not burn very well. At normal steaming rates, a service tank would last twelve hours or more before you had to switch them and refill the empty tank from the settling tanks.

In heavy seas, the settling tanks could not do their job properly, for the fuel would keep being stirred up and the water would not settle out. In really heavy seas, there almost was no point in using the settling tanks at all. You just hoped and prayed that the fuel going to the boilers was not so contaminated that the fires would be lost in the boilers.

For if fires were lost, the ship would go dead in the water, steerageway would be lost and in 50-foot seas, the ship would wind up not heading into the seas, but having them come from her beam. A warship the size of a destroyer or cruiser will not survive heavy beam seas for long, the sea will roll her over. And she, along with her crew, will die.

"Oh Lord, the sea is so vast. and my boat is so small."

Even a warship is a small boat in a Force 12 storm and fifty foot seas.

And you learn, as people in their twenties should, that sometimes your fate, whether you survive and thrive or die, is not up to you.

And you learn, as people should, that what is important to most landsmen really is not all that important. Whether or not your shoes go with your belt. The model of your car. Office politics. Who said what to whom. You learn that sometimes, all you can do is hang on, endure, and hope to survive. For if you do, you may come to know that what a lot of people on shore think is important is really just small stuff.