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.