Friday, December 31, 2010

Saturday, December 18, 2010

69 Years Ago- The Second Happy Time

69 years ago today, the first of five German U-Boats sailed to begin commerce-raiding operations off the east coast of the United States.

The U-boats were able to sink so many ships with so few German losses that the period from the arrival of the U-boats to about August of 1942 became known as the "Second Happy Time".

The reaction of the US Navy to the U-boat campaign, as well as the local governments in coastal cities, bordered on criminal neglect and dereliction of duty.

The Navy fought the institution of a coastal convoy system, despite the lessons learned during both the First World War and the high losses the British suffered at the onset of the Second World War. The Navy was extremely slow to react and resisted the formation of civilian aerial antisubmarine patrols (a measure that proved to be an extremely effective countermeasure). Until the Navy pulled its collective thumb out of its ass, many merchant vessels were sunk, most with the loss of their crews.

Merchant ships sailing independently tried hopping from anchorage to anchorage, sailing only in darkness. The U-boats were able to see ships operating inshore silhouetted by the lights of towns and cities. Civilian governments resisted the institution of a coastal blackout, because the local governments feared the impact of a blackout on their merchants, preferring to see ships on the horizon burning from U-boat attacks.

Keep in mind that although the film stock from the war shows the U-boats executing torpedo attacks, U-boats sank a lot of ships by surfacing and firing on those ships with their deck guns, because submarines of the day carried maybe 12-20 torpedoes. Surfaced U-boats were vulnerable to air attack; the later formation of the Civil Air Patrol, light aircraft armed with small bombs, forced the U-boats to discontinue surface attacks.

Between the CAP flights, convoying and Navy blimp patrols, merchant sinkings went down and U-boat losses climbed, making operations off the U.S. coast a lot more hazardous for the U-boat crews.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Troll Under the Bridge, cont.

Navy Times is reporting that CAPT Graf's continuation board recommended that she be forcibly retired with a general discharge.

I read through some of the comments that CAPT Graf was favored because her sister is an admiral. I don't know anything about that.

But a long time ago, I knew one admiral who was so dumb that he should have been watered twice a week and the only reason anyone could figure out that he had gotten so far was that his father and his uncle were both admirals. Maybe a cousin and a brother as well, I've forgotten. There were weekly stories going around the waterfront about what stupid thing that admiral had said or asked in the weekly staff meeting.

So yes, nepotism did exist in the Navy and it probably still does. Idiot offspring who are legacy admissions isn't confined to douchebag sons at Ivy-league universities.

(Original post.)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving at Sea, or
"We Sail to Defend, What We Hold So Dear.
"The DDGs, Welded to the Pier."

I hope that you are having (or that you had) a nice Thanksgiving, Gentle Reader. Please spare a moment from your day of food (and football) to think of those men and women in the Armed Forces who are away from home on this day, with a special thought to those on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq, and those who are sailing into uncertain waters off the Korean Peninsula.

I've spent a Thanksgiving or two at sea, it's not terribly uncommon in the Navy. If the cooks are halfway good, the meal is a feast like none other[1] (though cigars and cigarettes were no longer provided). It was a good idea to reflect on one's underway watch rotation before sitting down to eat, as showing up for watch ready to fall asleep from overeating was not a good idea.

On larger ships, a VIP might show up to thank the crew. A DoD or USO entertainment group might perform, which resulted in a sort of "mandatory fun" if not enough sailors showed up to watch the show.[2] Smaller ships were luckier, usually they got to be on their own. Unless it was truly wartime, Thanksgiving was a day of holiday routine; no work was done other than sweepers, watchstanding and cooking. Everyone could sleep in if they didn't have to be up.

I was surfing around, saw the usual press releases, and found this Plan of the Day from a warship's Thanksgiving thirty years ago.

I don't know the story behind it, but it sounds as though the USS Joseph Hewes had to leave for Thanksgiving to cover something that the USS Sellers was supposed to do. Probably one of the crewmen, or more than one, wrote that poem. If I remember correctly, only line officers could qualify for surface warfare pins back then, so it is possible that one of the wardroom rats had a hand in that.

Covering another ship's commitments was a bittersweet thing. The bitter was that it meant more time away from home.[3] If it was over a holiday, your plans, the plans of your shipmates and everyone's families were ruined. The sweet was that there was considerable unit pride in being on a ship that could be told, on very short notice, to get underway and do someone else's job. [4] That was a hard thing to sell to one's family, but it was still true. The reverse was that the waterfront reputation of a ship that was indeed "welded to the pier" was not good. The higher-ups in the squadron and the group could be counted on to lavish the sort of extra attention on that short of ship which nobody on that ship relished receiving.
[1] If the cooks produced a terrible Thanksgiving meal, that may result in the Supply Officer and the chief cook getting fired.
[2] "You will attend and you will have fun."
[3] Between deployments, exercises and in-port duty days, it was common to sleep in your own bed maybe 60-70 days a year.
[4] I have no doubt that copies of that POD were mailed to the USS Sellers.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Lockout and Tagout

One of the jobs I had before I went into the Navy was cleaning machinery in a factory. Each one of us on the cleaning crew was issued a padlock and a lockout hasp.

The first person on the job turned off the power to the machine, inserted the lockout hasp on the power switch and then locked the hasp with a padlock. Every additional person on that job added their lock to the hasp. Only the individual worker had the key to his or her own lock. The machine could not be cleared to run without everyone removing their locks. It was a suspendable offense to leave the site without clearing one's lock. Working on a machine without locking it out was a termination offense.

That didn't work that way in the Navy. There were redundant sources of power to a lot of machinery. There could be several inputs of things that might hurt someone working on a piece of equipment.

What there was, instead, was a tagout system. Yellow was used for caution, red for danger. Most of the tags that one would see were red tags. Sometimes there were a shitload of red tags. Tagging out a boiler required tagging out everything that fed into the boiler, was operated to service the boiler or fed from that boiler. Tagging out a boiler required over sixty red tags.

To do a tagout right, a sailor had to bring all of the proposed tags and the piping/wiring diagrams to the EOOW or the Duty Engineer, as well as a tagout sheet, which listed each tag (now they are serialized) and its location. The Duty Engineer (since most tagouts were done in port) was supposed to go over the tagout sheet and the diagrams with the worker, then they would sign all of the tags and the tagout sheet. After the equipment (valves, switches) were all tagged, the tagout sheet was logged into the Tagout Log in DC Central.

Tags were supposed to be inspected daily by the workcenter supervisor, the LPO in charge of the relevant work center. A missing tag meant that the work had to stop until both the thing tagged out was checked and a new tag procured and hung.

To remove the tags, the worker brought the tagout sheet to the Duty Engineer, who signed to authorize removal. The worker then removed all of the tags and brought the tags and the sheet back to the Duty Engineer, who would inventory the tags. Both the worker and the Duty Engineer signed each tag for removal and signed the tagout sheet. Once that was done, the sheet and the removed tags were entered into the tagout log. Then, and only then, was whatever was tagged out cleared for operation.

Violating tagout was a big Bozo No-No. It was a damn near certain guarantee of getting maxed out at Captain's Mast (demotion, restriction to the ship and extra duty for 45 days and loss of half-pay for two months). The tagout system was at the heart of plant safety; I know of no Chief Engineer or Captain who had any sense of humor about tagout violations.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Rifleman Went to War

I picked up a copy of "A Rifleman Went to War" from inter-library loan.

The author, Herbert McBride, was an interesting fellow. He clearly was eager to go to war, somewhere, as he wrote that he tried to get into the Boer War and the intervention into Mexico, both without success. When World War I broke out he had to have been in his early 40s, yet he went to Canada and enlisted. He fought in France until he was medically discharged in 1917 for what appeared to be a combination of battle wounds and shell shock.

Two decades or so before the war, he was living and working in Colorado to get over a case of tuberculosis. Working as a cowboy and for a coal company, he became acquainted with some of the famous gunfighters of the Old West:
From these men I learned many things, the most important of which was the point which they all insisted was absolutely vital: the ability to control one's own nerves and passions--in other works, never to get excited.
(pg. 5)

If you want a cold, unsentimental yet proud look at life in the trenches, then the book is well worth reading.

If you have ever seen the somewhat execrable movie "Enemy at the Gates", you might recall a scene where Vasilii Zaitsev is talking about the unnatural actions of a German sniper in not relocating after reach shot. McBride machine-gunned a German sniper who didn't move after firing; he saw where a litter party was shot down and was able to triangulate back to a likely firing point.

McBride believed that the problems that occurred with the Ross rifle were due to substandard ammunition that was made in the rush to ramp up production for the war. He hinted at a manufacturer on the Hudson River, "National something or other", which unless he was referring to the Watervliet arsenal, I have no clue as to who he meant.

Update: National Conduit and Cable Co., Hastings-on-Hudson, NY.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Career-Limiting Move

Running your submarine aground:

(Um, you couldn't figure out a way to try and steady your camera??)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Dear John

Dear John letters were a fact of life in the Navy. Typically, they came roughly mid-way through the deployment. To be fair, it wasn't all the sea duty sailors being broadsided. There were sailors who met someone else and fell in love when visiting foreign ports and who then dumped their stateside spouses. But for this post, let's talk about those who were dumped. Also, for the purposes of this post, I'll refer to the sailors in the male gender and the spouses back home in the feminine gender, though the opposite cases were becoming true (and now are certainly true).

The reasons why the dumpings happened were fairly similar. There were the wives who realized after a few months that their husbands were scum and didn't want them back. There were wives who fell for newer models, an appalling number of whom were other sailors. There were wives who already had new boyfriends lined up and used the deployments to carry out their plans.

The commencement of the breakup was stereotypical: There was the letter. The recipient would react in varying ways: In stoic silence, tears, screams of anguish, smashing fists into bulkheads (never a good thing to do) or smashing things. If the letter came during a port visit, the recipient would find a telephone exchange and try to call home. Those who had the money (usually officers) would try to take leave and fly home. Sleeplessness was common. So was heavy self-medication during liberty ashore.

Where the wives strayed often wasn't unusual. While some husbands were known to regard their marriage vows as being suspended once the ship passed the sea buoy out-bound, the wives, in turn, sometimes became "deployment widows". For example, the Friday night dance at the NAS Oceana Officers' Club was notorious for being a place where single officers, especially airdales, could go to find a deployment widow for some fun and games.* Every naval community had a place or three like that, some off-base, some on-base. Probably most of the time, what happened was a short fling. But not always.**

Sometimes there wasn't even a Dear John letter. The husband would come back to find his place cleaned out, his bank account emptied and his family gone. That was usually facilitated by a trusting husband who gave his wife a legal power-of-attorney. I knew of one wife and boyfriend who wound up in prison for forging a power-of-attorney to sell the home.

There was one guy who came back from deployment and, like everyone else, was eager for the reunion. What happened was that another one of the wives sorrowfully gave him his car keys and told him that his car was in the parking lot. It was, jam-packed with all of his stuff.

There was another guy who, also eager for the reunion, was met by a process-server with a set of divorce papers.

There was the guy who found out where his soon-to-be-ex was with her new boyfriend. The sailor and a few of his buddies rode up on motorcycles, shot the shit out of the boyfriend's house and rode off.

The ones that were probably the worst to see were the ones where the wife broke the news and took her leave right there on the pier.*** Those probably set the record for the amount of spirit-crushing that took place. It was bad enough when the sailor had suspicions that the relationship was in trouble. It was terrible when the sailor was deluded or had no clue whatever that his marriage was imploding.

The aftereffects could be, well, interesting. In a good and supportive unit, the dumpee was looked after and helped, under a theory of "there but for the grace of G-d go I". In most commands, however, the attitude was "it sucks to be you". Self-medication with alcohol and other women was common.**** If things went well, the dumpee would recover and move on. But many times, there was enough self-medicating to hurt one's job performance, or if the captain was a self-righteous prig who regarded any family drama as career-limiting, then the dumpee had better plan on drafting a resume.

Dear John letters and their aftermath probably ended more careers, whether the sailor opted to leave or left after career suicide, than any other factor.

* Not just deployment widows, too. Lots of single women came to such places on the hunt for their own "officer and a gentleman" (I cannot tell you how much I hated that particular movie.).
** Even the flings could be destructive. I knew of one marriage that ended when the returned husband found a parking ticket in his car; the parking ticked was issued at the Oceana O-Club on a Friday night six weeks after he had deployed.
*** I've seen it go the other way, as well, when the sailor told the wife right there on the pier that the marriage was over.
**** In an interesting twist of fate, such sailors often pursued deployment widows for some meaningless sex.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Monday, October 4, 2010

Nothing Ever Changes

Once again, the Air Force is taking knocks for largely being a bunch of civilians in uniform, with their fine whines of: "It's dusty here!" "Our laundry is damp!" "Do we have to share with the Army?" ("no" on that one)

It was a standing joke back in the day that when the Air Force was given money to build a base, they'd spend all of the money to build the Officer's Club, the EM Club, base housing and one runway (in order to fly in the booze) and then go back to Congress for more money for incidentals such as repair shops and hangars.

It doesn't sound as though much has changed.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Volunteering the Army Way

I posted this over on one of my other blogs, but it seems a shame not to have it here.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Operation Clusterfrak, Not the Video

I don't think that Operation Clusterfuck would have been anything like this:

Watch Conditions

I need to run through this for future posts.

Condition I: Condition I was Battle Stations, everyone on duty. All of the weapon systems and all of the repair lockers were manned and ready and the ship was kept in Condition Zebra. There was a limit to how long everyone could be kept on station, though.

Condition II: Condition II was almost battle stations. Certain weapon systems were manned, usually the AAW missile battery. The divisions that manned the systems were usually in two-section duty (six hours on and six hours off).

Condition IIAS: This was specific to ASW ships, usually the ones with towed arrays. Passive ASW, when done by hand, took a lot of people. On a 1052, there would be at least eight people in Sonar Control. CIC kept their ASW plots manned and a R/T talker on duty for helo ops. The LAMPS Det was in something like Ready 30. Sonar and CIC were in two-section duty.

Condition II manning could be maintained for two months, but it took a hell of a toll on people. Some maintenance had to be deferred. The XO would begin to go batshit because the berthing compartments were half-filled with sleeping men in the morning from the six-hour midwatch, which made cleaning for his inspection difficult.

Condition III: This was the standard condition for wartime steaming with no immediate threat and for at-sea exercises. CIC was manned for air and surface tracking. The TAO watch was manned. The AAW and gun batteries were often lightly manned (enough to get the first shots off), but not for exercises. Officers were normally in three watch sections, CIC would be in two or three. There were any number of voice radio circuits monitored on the Bridge and in CIC.

Condition IV: Peacetime steaming. Depending on the number of qualified OODs, the officer watches may be in four or five sections. CIC was manned for surface tracking and maybe one OS might sit at the air-search radar scope head.

The enlisted bridge watch was normally in four sections for all but Battle Stations. Steam engineers always tried to achieve three watch sections, but two-section duty was very common as the loss of one or two watch-qualified sailors, whether to illness, being sent home for family emergencies or being transferred, was enough to kick the hole watches back to two sections.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Meep, Meep!

ASW, Japanese style:


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

But, But, I Might Get in Trouble!!!

This is no shit (and all times are approximate):

I was on shore duty for a spell; I was stationed in the DC area. For some reason, the Powers That Be where I worked sent me and a bunch of civilian engineers to a four-hour presentation/lunch at the Little Creek Naval Base in Virginia Beach, VA. We had to all be at work at 0530 to ride a large passenger van down (the conference started at 1000) and the van would take us back to our offices at the end of the presentation.

Most of us snoozed on the way down.

I wish I could tell you what the presentation was all about, not because it was classified, but because I just don't remember. For some reason, we had to ride out in the harbor in a LARC-LX to watch some ship do something worth seeing. It was a nice day, the water was calm, a LARC-LX is one big mother on huge wheels (like a really big DUKW) and we got to eat a buffet lunch after the boat ride. But none of that is important to this tale.

It was an hour or so after we started back to DC that it became clear to me (and others) that the driver of the van was seriously tired. He was having trouble staying in the lane on I-64. I called out to him (I was two rows back) and asked that he make a pit stop as soon as possible, with the excuse that I really had to pee, "and I mean right now."

He pulled into a truck stop and everybody got out. I made a quick run to the head and got back to the van before the driver. I climbed into the driver's seat, buckled up and waited. When the driver came back, he didn't even put up an argument. He got into the right front seat and he was out like a light just after we got back on the highway. He slept until we pulled off the highway towards the facility where we worked.

The van had three lights to monitor mileage, the idea being that you were supposed to drive in such a way as to keep the green light on. I had the yellow or red lights on the whole way back. When we got to the facility, around 1900 or so, the gate guard did a double-take when he saw that I was driving, but he saluted and I drove in to the office building, where we all got out and the driver took the van back to the motor pool.

The next day, one of the engineers buttonholed me and said: "I was really happy that you took over from that driver. I could see that he was falling asleep at the wheel. We could have all been killed."

"If you knew that, then why didn't you volunteer to drive," I asked.

"But I don't have a government driver's license," he protested. He actually seemed scandalized at the idea that he might drive a government vehicle without one.

I looked at him and smiled. "I don't have one, either. But I'm not about to let the lack of a piece of paper get me killed."

The driver, though, must have told what had happened to his boss. For three days later, without my saying a word to anyone, I received a government driver's license through the interoffice mail. The effective date on the license was back-dated to a week before the trip.

The file had been papered.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Day in Port

This is from memory and it is based on the ships I spent time on. So if your ship differed, feel free to comment.

Sunrise- Topside lighting was turned off.

0600- Reveille. The Petty Officer of the Watch would turn on the 1MC (announcing system) to the common spaces and engineering and announce: "Reveille, reveille. All hands heave out and trice up. The smoking lamp is lit in all authorized spaces.." he would flip on the switch to Officers' Country and add "now reveille."

Of course, some people had been up for awhile. The watches, whether the ship was cold iron (hotel services being provided from the pier) or auxiliary steaming were manned. The cooks had been up for awhile preparing breakfast.

0615- "Early chow". The watchstanders, those who were taking the forenoon watch at 0700, got to eat. Lots of other people did, as well. Most of the officers drifted in by 0630 so they could change into working uniform and grab breakfast. The department heads and some of the division officers received copies of relevant message traffic; you could find them at the wardroom table, eating breakfast and scanning through the pile of copies of radioteletype messages. (Radio Central usually had more than one damn big xerox machine.)

0615- Sweepers. The offgoing duty section was supposed to give a quick cleaning of the ship. If the day was a weekend, it had better be a good one, as the oncoming Command Duty Officer would not release the offgoing duty section until the ship was cleaned to his or her satisfaction. The offgoing duty section hoped like hell that the oncoming CDO was badly hung over and wouldn't have noticed if the ship had sunk at the pier.

0630- Breakfast for the Crew. By now there was a steady parade of ship's company across the Quarterdeck. An officer from the off-going duty section had to eat breakfast on the Mess Deck in order to fill out a report.

0700- Relieve the Watch. The Forenoon watch was the first one for the oncoming duty section.

0700-0715- Expiration of Liberty. The exact time depended on the ship.

0720- Officers' Call. This was where the XO amplified on whatever was in the Plan of the Day. The XO would ask questions of the attendees and discuss anything that was on his or her mind. Depending on what was bugging the XO, this could be a very uncomfortable event.

On smaller ships, all of the officers and the command master chief attended Officers' Call. On larger ships, it was the CMC and the department heads; in that event, the department heads then met with their division officers. Any discomfort from the XO would be passed along.

0730- Quarters. All hands not on watch in port would assemble at their divisional mustering point. Attendance was taken and the Muster Report would later be turned into the Ship's Office. Attention would be called with words ranging from the formal (and prescribed) "Attention to Quarters", to, as I heard one Master Chief say: "Listen Up, You Varmints." The Plan of the Day was read out and then everyone would wait for the division officer to come back from Officer's Call and announce any modifications to the POD.

If the day was a weekend, the ongoing and offgoing duty sections would muster in one location. When the oncoming CDO was satisfied, liberty call would occur for the offgoing duty section.

0745- Turn To. Commence Ship's Work. In other words, get busy. Division officers were expected to be in their spaces for most of the work day. Good department heads toured their spaces as well, for on a warship, the best fertilizer was the farmer's shadow.

0800- Colors. The National Ensign and the Jack were raised. Either the colors bugle call was played (by a recording) or the National Anthem. If you were topside, you stood at attention, faced aft and saluted.If there were more than one nation's warship in port, that anthem was played as well. In a NATO task group, that could be several of them. You really didn't want to be caught topside for morning colors.

0600-0930- CO arrives on board. If the ship had no special inspections or other looming catastrophes, it was a sign of a well-run ship (and a competent XO) that the Captain arrived late and could go home early.[1] The XO would meet with the CO soon after the CO arrived to discuss the daily message traffic and whatever else was going on. The CO would also tour parts of his ship.

1000- XO's Inspection of Messing and Berthing. The XO, the CMC and a yeoman (who took notes) would inspect the berthing compartments, the heads, the galley, the scullery and the messing areas. This was very much a "shit flows downhill" inspection, as the XO would pour hell on the department heads. Department heads would then motivate their division officers, and so forth. After a couple of bad reports, an irritated department head might order the responsible division office to make a personal inspection prior to the XO and report back.[2]

1115- Early Chow (lunch)

1130-1230 Lunch. (Some ships called this "dinner"). The lunch hour was popular for those who wanted to work out or rack out. This hour was damn near sacred, bothering a person at lunch was considered to be an offense. Usually, immediately before lunch, the Officer of the Deck would send the Messenger of the Watch to make the Twelve O'Clock Reports to the Captain. These included the Fuel and Water Report, the Muster Report, the Mazagine Temperature Report and the Chronometer Report. The MOW had a spiel to recite as the reports were handed to the Captain.[3]

1230- Commence Ship's work.

1545- Sweepers.

1600- Liberty Call. This may be delayed on ships that had a lot to do. Individual divisions could let people go earlier or later. Usually the last people off the ship were the engineering officers. [4]

1715- Early Chow.

1730- Supper for the Crew.

Sunset- Colors. The National Ensign and Jack were lowered, the topside lights were turned on.

1830- Muster of Extra Duty Men with the Master of Arms. These were the fuckups who had been awarded extra duty at Captain's Mast. Divisions would request extra-duty men from the Master of Arms. Usually, this involved chipping paint in either the engineering spaces or the topside weather decks for two hours.

1830- Sweepers.

1900 (or so, it could be later)- Movie Call. This was more popular back in the days of real 16mm movies being shown on the ships. In the 1980s, the movies began to be replaced with tapes that were played either where a TV set was installed or on the ship's internal cable television system (SITE TV).

1930- Eight O'Clock Reports- The duty department heads would meet with the CDO to report that the ship had been cleaned. Underway, the meeting was between the department heads and the XO. If a department head was on watch, a division officer would attend. Eight O'Clock Reports were really disliked if one had the midwatch.

2200- Taps. The smoking lamp was extinguished, the interior of the ship was darkened, at least in the vicinity of the berthing compartments and in Officers Country. Before the adoption of privacy curtains, all bunk lights had to be shut off.

[1] The converse was also true. Captains were "bonged aboard" (page down to "boat gongs"), so it was common knowledge when a captain arrived or left the ship.
[2] A division which didn't seem to grasp the importance of complying might end up with their division officer and chief being ordered to attend the XO's inspection. That usually worked wonders.
[3] "Good morning, Sir. The Officer of the Deck sends his respects and reports the approach of the hour of twelve o'clock. All chronometers have been wound and compared. Request permission to strike eight bells on time, sir." The CO would reply: "Very well, permission granted. Carry on."
[4] The operations officers often were heard to complain about the commuter traffic on and of the base. The engineers had no idea what their beef was, for traffic was usually light by the time they went home.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Purge

I alluded to the story I am about to relate nearly two years ago, when I discussed selection boards.

The surface Navy's Department Head School, commonly referred to as the Destroyer School, was located on Coasters Harbor Island, Newport, RI. The school consisted of two parts. First there was the general curriculum, including the Tactical Action Officers segment, and then the students split into groups for the job-specific portion (Weapons, Operations or Engineering). Each class in the 1980s had 100 officers, usually 95% lieutenants in two sections of 50. The course was 20 weeks long and there were two full classes in session at any one time.

This is no shit:

In one of the classes that was in session when the LCDR Selection Board reported out, there was a LT who failed to select. They brought him back to the school in the middle of the night to inventory the classified material in his desk, then they gave him orders to somewhere else. As far as his classmates knew, he was there in class one day and gone the next. Nobody would tell them where he was sent to.

He was a popular young man and his classmates were not happy.

Two days later, they took the class photo, which was on the back cover of the graduation program for each class. The photo was a group photo of everyone standing on the steps in front of the Destroyer School building, three deep. The class left a one-man gap in the front rank and they put a combination cover on the ground in the gap.

The photographer didn't notice or didn't give a shit. The people who put together the graduation program didn't notice. The XO of the Destroyer School did notice on the day before the graduation, when it was too late to change the programs. The CO of the Destroyer School had to settle for a mass chewing out of the entire class at a special assembly.

Which, as is typical for such events, accomplished nothing.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Uniform Disasters- Zoomie Edition

Take a look at this page, which shows, among other things, the Air Force casual informal uniform.

If I saw a Zoomie in that getup, I'd be tempted to ask where I could rent a DVD.

Here I thought the Navy's Battle Dress Oceanic had set a new standard for idiotic uniforms, but one can never count out Uncle Sam's Christian Flying Club the Air Force when it comes to institutionalized insanity.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Battle of the Atlantic

From "Morning Joe":

The book being flogged there is "a Measureless Peril.

"The Battle of the Atlantic" by Terry Hughes is long out of print, but it is an excellent work on the longest battle of the Second World War.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Operation Clusterfrak

In January 1987, a number of foreign citizens were kidnapped in Lebanon. There were approximately 3,000 American citizens in Lebanon. The order was given for American warships in the Sixth Fleet[1] to move closer to Lebanon and prepare for an evacuation of all Americans willing to leave.

The experts in that sort of operation are the Marines, who are embarked on amphibious landing ships. They are the ones with the landing craft and the skills to go ashore in a potentially hostile situation, evacuate civilians and kill anyone who gets in the way. The Navy's job is to get the Marines to the beach, to provide fire support from destroyers and airplanes and to drink copious amounts of coffee while doing so.

There was a slight problem: The amphibious ships were conducting an exercise on the Atlantic coast of Spain with their Spanish counterparts. Even if the Marines and all of their gear could re-embark on their ships immediately, it would take at least a week for those ships to get to Lebanon, as amphibs are not fast ships.

There were ships in the Eastern Med, though, a carrier task group, TG 60.2, if I remember correctly.[2], which was comprised of a carrier, two cruisers (a conventional Terrier shooter and a nuke Tartar shooter), some destroyers (both AAW shooters [DDG-37s and DDG-2s] and not [Spruance-class DDs]), and some frigates (both 1052s and FFG-7s). The order was given for those ships to move towards Lebanon and to prepare to evacuate American citizens.

And so was born Operation Clusterfuck, and this is no shit.[3]

First, the ships were told how many evacuees they might have to carry. None of the ships, other than maybe the carrier, had more than a few empty racks in any one berthing compartment. Only a few had the capability to handle mixed-gender passengers. How they were going to do it was left entirely in their hands,[4] which was a real sign that nobody in the stratospheric reaches of the command structure had any clue what to do.

Second, the ships were told that they would have to make their ships' boats available to both transport evacuees to the waiting ships and to patrol the area of operations. Those boats were to be armed and commanded by either a junior officer or a chief. Direction on that was similarly lacking; whether the boats had M-60 machine guns mounted or made do with rifles was up to the ships. The boats did not have machine gun mounts, but between the deck apes, the HTs and the MRs, those ships that wanted to mount machine guns on their boats figured out how.

Third, the ships were required to supply manning for landing parties to control the beach head. Here the ships had some direction, they were told how many sailors and officers to supply. If I remember correctly, most had to supply twenty or so sailors, with a division officer as a platoon leader. The cruisers had to supply more sailors, maybe 30, a division officer and a department head to act as a company commander. Other than "give them weapons", the details were left to the ships.

You have to imagine the head-scratching and expressions of "what the fuck" that transpired throughout the task group. At best, the ship's crews' small-arms training was limited to 30 rounds through a .45, five rounds through a shotgun and 30 rounds through a M-14 on a yearly basis. Nobody had ever trained at sending a landing force ashore. Hell, the only people who had ever seen a landing force were those who had watched either the Sand Pebbles or the Wind and the Lion. (It probably wouldn't have been like this..)

But they drew up their teams. The landing forces from each ship were made up of a real mixture of sailors and officers. Some of the ships drew the teams mainly from the Weapons Department. Others went more widely and selected men based on known familiarity with firearms and temperament. The officers sent were chosen both on their abilities and on whether they had subordinates strong enough to act in their places on the ships.[5] The officer in charge of the planning was either the Senior Watch Officer or the Weapons Officer.

The XOs, Supply Officers, Corpsmen and Master-at-Arms planned for how their ships were going to house, feed and care for civilians. If a berthing compartment was going to be emptied out, then the sailors living in that compartment would have had to hot-bunk with other sailors elsewhere, but it was far more complicated than that. The ships were planning how to deal with injured or pregnant civilians, how to provide care for children and what to do in the event of a lot of casualties.

Off the ships, the shore staffs were trying to figure out where the ships could go (and quickly) to offload the evacuees. The closest friendly port was Haifa, but that was deemed not to be diplomatically practicable.

As the carrier task group steamed closer to Lebanon, a "cordon sanitaire" was declared and published by way of issuing Notice to Mariners. This basically said that any unknown vessel or aircraft which came too close or interfered with a USN ship was liable to be attacked without warning. Warnings were given to aircraft on the guard frequency (121.5MHz), though I was told that at least one small jet that had been chartered by some reporters was almost shot down by one of the missile ships before the jet turned back towards land.

In the end, though, the evacuation plan was never put into effect. I would imagine that somebody probably explained to the Reagan Administration the hazards of sending a few hundred sailors ashore into a potentially hostile situation where the sailors would be doing things for which they were not trained.

[1] A/K/A the Mediterranean Fleet.
[2] There were normally two carrier task groups in the Med, 60.1 and 60.2, so I have a 50% chance of being correct.
[3] My term for it. The blog title differs as at least one blog which blogrolls this one is "fambly friendly" and that blogger has requested that I not use nasty words in the titles of posts.
[4] Probably the first time on record that the "we have plenty of helpful guidance for you, Skipper" staffs, both afloat and ashore, were silent on anything.
[5] Marital status was also taken into account by some ships, a sign that few expected the operation to go very well.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Fleet Organization

First, there are the numbered fleets. 2nd Fleet is the Atlantic, 6th is the Med, 5th is the Persian Gulf area, 3rd is the eastern Pacific and 7th is the western Pacific.

Then there were task forces, which reported to the fleet commander. TF 60 was the carrier force and their escorts. TF 61 was the amphib ships, TF 62 was the Marines on those ships, TF 63 was the logistics fleet. I've forgotten what TF the subs were (other than "sonar contact = enemy").

There were normally two carriers in the Med. Each carrier made up a task group, 60.1 and 60.2. The embarked destroyer commodore was head of the task unit for the their task group, making them 60.1.1, etc. Ships that were split off for independent assignments (which happened to the ASW 1052s frequently) were designated as task elements.

The commander of any of those forces was designated with a C, so the commander of TG 60.1 was known as CTG 60.1. That was a valid naval message address. So if the staff of Cruiser and Destroyer Group 2 was in the Med as the boss of TG 60.1 and you needed to send a message to the admiral, you addressed it to either COMCRUDESGRU TWO or CTG 60.1, depending on whether or not the subject matter was administrative or operational.

This is background for an upcoming post.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Uniform Disasters

I still think that the new Navy working uniform looks stupid.

It makes them look like militia-wannabees.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Good Eats

A long time ago, I was in Barcelona, Spain. This was before they had the Olympics and cleaned the place up. We were supposed to go ashore on the buddy-system, but I had a job with some weird-ass hours, so I just went ashore by myself, whenever the frak I wanted, and nobody said anything to me.

There was a wide plaza up from the waterfront that was called "the Ramblas", or something like that. It was sort of like being on a street with a median that was 100 meters wide; there were outdoor cafes along it. The entertainment was limited to people-watching, which on at least one occasion, included watching some dude slap his girlfriend around until the Guardia Civil showed up and hauled him off.

The Guardia wore some goofy-looking black lacquered hats that looked like pillboxes with a flat piece behind them. Some of the Guardia carried submachine guns. The Police Militare also patrolled the streets and they had SMGs of some flavor. Word was that only a fool messed with any of the Spanish cops.

A lot of the buildings had dark-grey stone facades. Whether the facades were that color because of decades of smoke or that was the natural color, I never knew. When I looked up at the buildings, especially on the side streets, I could see pockmarks from bullet impacts, presumably from street-fighting during the Spanish Civil War.

So anyway, in my meanderings, I found a hole-in-the-wall restaurant that, among other things, served half of a chicken, a big plate of steaming hot French fries and a beer for 250 pesetas which, if memory serves me correctly, was about three bucks American.

Maybe my taste buds had been hammered by the long- frozen French fries and blasted chicken that was standard fare in the Navy, but that fresh chicken and fries which that restaurant served up was unbelievably good. I made at least four trips to that little place and each meal was as good as the one before. I never saw anyone from any of the Navy ships in port then at that place and I kept my mouth shut, believe me.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Vernon Baker, R.I.P

Vernon Baker, Medal of Honor recipient, has died. He was 90.

Almost 20 years ago, the Army began investigating why no African-Americans had been awarded the Medal of Honor during World War II. Based on the work of historians and then an Army screening board, they found ten men who should have been considered for the award. Seven men were deemed to have acted with bravery above and beyond the call of duty. Four had been killed in combat, two had died after the war. Only Mr. Baker was left alive by the time his bravery was recognized for what it was.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Earlier, I discussed the Planned Maintenance Subsystem, which is how the crew of any ship knew what maintenance work needed to be done. Quite often, though, maintenance or repair work needed to be accomplished which was beyond the capabilities of the ship's force. That work had to be accomplished by an outside entity.

The process was started by submitting a request on a pale green machine-readable form, OPNAV Form 4790/2K, which was known throughout the Fleet as a "2-Kilo".

2-Kilos had to be signed by the entire chain of command. After that, what happened depended on where the ship was and what was going on. If your ship was going into a tender availability, the 2-Kilos went to the tender's repair officer for evaluation. If the repair officer passed on doing the work, then the 2-Kilo would be sent to the home port supervisor of shipbuilding and repair (Supships) for submission for the next overhaul or selected restricted availability (SRA). What was accomplished in an overhaul or SRA was determined by Navsea and the type commander (SurfLant or SurfPac), and the main criteria was how much it would cost and how much money the type commander had for repairs.

Back in the day, ships of the Atlantic Fleet had to be able to rig "friendship lights". Imagine a 25' long string of 3-wire outdoor extension cord, with a 60-watt work light every foot or so. They looked like giant Christmas tree lights. Ships needed enough strings to completely circle the main weather deck, to go down the length of the gangway and to run from the fantail, up to the top of the mast and then back down to the bow. That was a shitload of lights.

It looked something like this:

Night time:


They were called friendship lights because lighting up the ship like that implied no hostile intent (and it told everyone who looked out at the harbor that a foreign warship was there). Everyone in the Atlantic Fleet called them "Med lights", because they were normally only used when deployed. More to the point of things, they were not repair parts, they were consumable items.

This is no shit:

There was a steam-powered cruiser in Mayport that was getting ready to deploy. The cruiser had a new chief engineer. The CHENG asked the Electrical Officer if the Med lights were ready to go. The Electrical Officer replied in the affirmative. The CHENG said fine, the ship was going to be in port for three weeks, so he wanted to see them all strung up in place and tested. The Electrical Officer protested that would be a lot of work for his division. The CHENG was unswayed and changed his phraseology from "I would like to see the Med lights strung up" to "you goddamn will string up the fucking Med lights". That was not a normal thing to do, but this particular CHENG was kind of an unreasonable bastard who had been badly burned on a previous tour by a division officer who had fed him a load of shit. He was a real piece of work in a job which tended to encourage becoming one.

Well, it seemed there was a bit of a problem. That ship needed about 3,000 feet of Med lights to fully rig the ship. They had 100 feet. The CHENG had the E Division supply petty officer determine the cost of 2,900 feet of Med lights. At that point, the CHENG turned white, for the cost would have wiped out the consumable budget for Engineering for the rest of the fiscal year and then some.

The CHENG went straight to the CO and told him that the ship essentially had no Med lights. The CO was a wise one who knew that there were times for going ballistic and times when it would serve no purpose. He thanked the CHENG for telling him and told him to "carry on." The CO then called his good friend, the CO of the destroyer tender down the pier.

Nobody would talk about what deal was struck (if any), but the CHENG was told to bring a 2-Kilo to the CO, filled out with the name of the ship, the work center, initialed by the Electrical Officer and the CHENG and otherwise left blank. The CO took the 2-Kilo, signed it, and then instructed the CHENG to personally hand-carry it to the CO of the tender.

Which the CHENG did. The tender's CO took it, thanked the CHENG and told him that he could send a working party over in two hours to pick up the lights he needed. The CHENG sent the available electrician's mates and IC men to get the Med lights, all three thousand feet of them. The ship had its Med lights for the cruise (though they had to buy a shitload of bulbs).

A copy of the 2-Kilo later came back for the ship's work order file. The text of it read: "Fabricate and provide 3,000 feet of waterline security lighting, ship's force to install."

Sunday, July 4, 2010

We Hold These Truths to be Self-Evident


When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.


Attested, CHARLES THOMSON, Secretary














Thursday, June 24, 2010


Military payday was held twice a month; on the 15th and the last day of the month (or the Friday before, if either of those days fell on a weekend).

In the days before direct deposit, there were three ways to be paid.

The first was by allotment. A sailor could designate all or part of his pay to be paid somewhere else, whether by deposit into a bank account or by a check which was written by the Navy's pay system in some godforsaken place like Memphis or Cleveland and which was mailed out from there.

The balance of the pay would be paid by check, cash, or a combination thereof. Several days before payday, payroll lists would be posted in spaces throughout the ship. The officers' pay list was usually posted on a bulletin board outside of the wardroom, the chief petty officers' pay list was posted in the Goat Locker, and the pay lists for divisions and departments were posted in their spaces. You would sign the list and indicate if you wanted any or all of it by check.

If the ship was in port, prior to payday, the disbursing officer and the disbursing clerk would go to the bank and draw enough cash to cover payday. "Enough cash" was $40,000 or more for a frigate, $60,000 or more for a cruiser.[1] Ships that deployed went with a lot of cash, but most of it was recycled on board as ship's company would get money orders at the ship's post office to send funds home or they'd buy stuff in the ship's store.[2]

Payday would commence at specific times in the day. The disbursing officer and the clerk would set up shop on the mess decks, in the wardroom and in the Chief's mess at those times. Everyone would line up, sign the pay list and get paid. The default method of payment was cash.

If you missed the line, you had to make alternate arrangements. Normally if you missed payday, the disbursing office would cut you a check and then hold it for pickup. They'd even cash it for you, unless you had pissed them off.

Sailors could wind up with a lot of money over a long cruise if they were frugal and if they didn't have it sent by allotment to bank accounts. Some would keep the cash in their lockers. Others would take most of their cash back to the disbursing office and have a check cut back to them, which was safer. The third method was to give a sealed envelope of cash to one's division officer and ask him (or her) to keep it in their stateroom safe, something that division officers really tried to discourage, as the safe was supposed to be used for storage of classified materials and special access keys.

Seems the captain of one ship decades ago had a wife who had no idea what he was paid; she had never seen a military pay scale and he was skimming several hundred dollars a month. He had ordered that the pay lists not be publicly posted, but kept in the disbursing office, to guard against his wife visiting the ship, as she frequently did in port, and seeing it.

The disbursing officer of that ship transferred out and a new one came in. The turnover did not overlap a military payday. The new ensign posted the pay lists throughout the ship, as he had learned to do in the Naval Supply School. The captain's wife came aboard that day and saw the pay list.

The captain sent the new disbursing officer ashore for "lack of confidence". The captain's wife filed for divorce.

[1] If the bank was on-base, the disbursing officer and the disbursing clerk went over with unloaded .45s. Ships in overhaul at civilian yards would send a security team, led by someone the captain trusted, and they'd have weapons which were fully loaded.
[2]There was some way it was done when the ship visited foreign ports and the disbursing office would change money into pesetas, lira, francs, pounds, etc. I don't know how the cash for that was handled. Smart sailors did their money-exchanges on the ship, as the rates were more favorable than those at the banks or the "cambio shops" ashore.

An Old Military Rule

"A thousand `attaboys' will be canceled out by one `you dumb shit'."

And that, Gentle Readers, is all that I intend to say about the Affair de McChrystal on this blog.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Sea Smokes

The Navy is extinguishing the smoking lamp on submarines.

Besides the issues of nicotine fits and second/third hand smoke, the biggest impact will be because the profits on the sales of cigarettes by the submarines' ship's stores went to the boats' Welfare & Rec funds. If you have ever toured a warship and seen the gear in the ship's gym, that stuff was bought from the Welfare & Rec Fund. It was not bought by the taxpayers. Among other things paid for by W&R money were things like the holiday parties and upgrades to the entertainment systems.

Sea smokes were cheap, incredibly cheap, because there was no tax whatsoever assessed when the ships were outside of U.S. waters.

How cheap, you might ask? The sales on military bases and on ships in U.S. waters are already free of state taxes. Once the ships sailed, Federal tobacco taxes were dropped. In the early `80s, the price was about $2.50 and that was per carton (25¢ a pack). By the end of the `80s, they had risen to maybe a dollar or $1.25 a pack; still cheaper than the price ashore.

Cigarettes and canned soda were the two most profitable items sold by the ship's store. As much as not having cigarette butts and ashes to deal with, not to mention the extended lifespan of air filtration and purification equipment that the cigarette ban will bring, I can't imagine that the XOs are going to be too happy about the decreased amount of money that will be going to the Welfare & Rec funds.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Amityville Horror

The house that was the site of the murders that sparked the Amityville Horror has been put on the market for $1.15 million.

This is no shit:

On most of the older steam-powered warships, the sailors lived in large berthing compartment that held anywhere from 15 to 100 men or more. In the early 1980s, the Navy began installing privacy curtains that went around each bunk. The curtains (known colloquially as "beat-off curtains") allowed individual sailors to read or to write letters after Taps. Before the installation of the curtains, everyone had to shut off their bunk lights.

There was a sailor who stayed up after Taps, reading the book The Amityville Horror. It was fair to say that he was really engrossed in it. Just after midnight, another sailor reached across the bunk next to his, slid his hand under the curtain and grabbed the ankle of the sailor reading the book. The screams of that sailor woke everyone up in two berthing compartments.

This is also no shit:

After the Brooklyn Naval Shipyard closed in 1966, a company called Coastal Drydock & Repair took over part of the shipyard. They did major overhauls and repairs on Navy ships. A little while after the Amityville Horror movie came out, a few sailors on one of the ships undergoing overhaul there decided to drive out to Amityville and look at the house. They found the house, took some photos and drove away.

The transmission on their car blew out a quarter of a mile down the road.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Landing On a Pitching Deck

I've probably said before that the guys who flew SH-2s from the Knox class and Garcia class FFs were about the craziest fuckers around. Flying from a CV in heavy seas is almost as insane.

Part 1:

Part 2:

They earned their flight pay that day.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Can the Bubbleheads Do It Right?

The first group of female midshipmen have been accepted into the submarine training pipeline.

Two things are given: First off, these 13 young women will be under a microscope. A guy can get bilged out of the training pipeline and nobody will ever say "oh, he flunked out because guys can't hack it." That'll be different for these women.

Second, the selectees, no doubt, are as prepared for the challenge facing them as they can be. I know nothing about them, but I would bet heavily that these women are the best of the best in the current graduating class. 8 were already slated for the nuclear-training pipeline, which means that they are brainy gearheads.

The question is whether or not the submarine community will get it right. I would hope that the senior officers in the 1120 community have studied how the surface and aviation communities handled their first group of women in the 1970s.

The consensus was back then that the airdales pretty much fucked it up. The blackshoes did it pretty slowly, taking over ten years to go from having women on AD/ASs to the UNREP force and then to the NRF tin cans before women were allowed on active-duty warships.

The bubbleheads don't have the luxury of having different grades of ships to play with, like the skimmers did. They have got to get it right from day one.

I think they are up to the task.

(Yes, I know, I stepped outside of my normal Cold War beat for this one post. Sue me.)

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Best and the Worst People Could Be Found There

They could be found at the various naval facilities, known as Navfacs. That was the cover name for SOSUS stations.[1]

Female line officers started being assigned to the SOSUS stations at the end of the 1960s. Until the early 1980s, when women began being assigned to surface ships and began going into flight training, assignment to a SOSUS station was the closest thing to an operational job that the Navy had for women.[2] The women officers were unrestricted line officers (designator: 110x)[3] and they were the cream of the crop. Many had hard science degrees and/or advanced degrees

Male junior officers who were assigned into SOSUS in the 1970s were, on the other hand, generally a group of serious fuckups. Oh, there were some who were just there because of bad luck, like a few pilots who had been in crashes, been hurt badly enough to be disqualified from flight duty, and were serving out their time. But mainly, the male JOs were complete fuckups who had been booted out of their warfare communities. These were guys who couldn't hack being on ships or guys who had been washed out of flight school and then couldn't hack sea duty. They were the guys who would eventually fail to select for lieutenant.

You could find these guys scattered all over the Navy, if you knew where to look. They were the ensigns and JGs who were doing paper-pushing at the recruiting offices, the ones that were not let within a league of a potential recruit. You might find them nominally in charge of the pass offices at places like the Brooklyn Naval Shipyard.

It took being a serious fuckwad to get fired from a ship as a first-tour junior officer. A captain who sent such a JO to the beach might have to wait a year or more for a replacement, when a twit like that could at least stand watches as a JOOD underway or an OOD in port.[4] So for a captain to throw someone like that off the ship meant that the young lad had to be one serious piece of human shit.

And that khaki-wearing turd could be pretty much counted to wash ashore at a SOSUS station.

[1] It's hard for me to grasp the fact that I can even write about this. SOSUS was once one of the most secret programs that the Navy had.
[2] As opposed to an administrative-type job.
[3] 110x was the designator for "unrestricted line", which by the late 1970s, meant women. Men who had the 110X designator were fuckups (or were possibly in a secret specialty).
[4] I knew of one JO on a ship on the East Coast whose job was "ship's photographer". It was more common to find them nominally as division officers of divisions with very strong chiefs.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Steam Applications (non-naval)

Steam power had some interesting applications, other than driving ships, trains and generating electricity.

This is a website about a very large steam pump, the Cruquius Engine, that was used to help dewater Holland.

This is an animation of the engine room. This is an animation of the operation of the engine and pumps and a schematic animation to show the basic flow of steam.

The engine ran for something like 70 to 80 years.


Saturday, May 1, 2010

Ship's Boats

Destroyers and cruisers traditionally had two boats[1]. Both were powered by small diesel engines.

They were the Captain's Gig:

And the 26' Motor Whaleboat (this one was sold as surplus):

Boats were used primarily when the ship was anchored somewhere, though in far rarer occasions, they were used for "blue water" transfers between ships in the open sea. They were hoisted onto the ship and lowered by davits. The davits were double armed affairs that held the boats on cradles when they were not used. When in use, the davit would lift the boat up, tilt down so that the boat was over the water, and then lower the boat on pulleys (called "falls").

When the boats were being raised and lowered, only the bare crew was on the boat and they were required to hold onto the monkey lines (ropes with knotted hand-holds). For one end of the boat could slip off a fall and yes, they occasionally did.

The davits were powered by large electric motors which had limit switches to prevent the motors from breaking things. The motors wound and unwound the wire rope winches on the davits. The limit switches, though, were sitting right out there open to the salt air and they sometimes failed. When they did, the winch motors could wind things a little too tight and bend the living shit out of the davit arms.

During good weather, these boats had a three-man crew: A coxswain, a seaman and an engineman. The seaman and engineman handled lines fore and aft. In bad weather or at night, a boat officer was added, usually the junior-most ensigns in the duty section.

The motor whaleboat was pretty straight forward. The coxswain drove the boat from the steering station next to the motor. The motor had a straight shaft that ran right to the prop.

The gig was, comparatively, a maintenance nightmare. The engine was at the rearmost part of the boat. The driveshaft went forward into a "v-drive", which in turn drove the prop shaft. The housing of the v-drive was made of aluminum. There was no way to get to the bottom of the v-drive other than pulling it out. Aluminum corrodes nicely in seawater, which tends to get into the bilges of boats. So what would happen is that the bottom of the v-drive would swiss-cheese itself from corrosion, the oil would leak out of the v-drive and, if that was not caught, the goddammed thing would seize up.

The gig was the captain's boat and it was at his beck-and-call. A considerate captain would let his gig be used as a liberty launch for at least the chiefs and the officers, if not for the entire crew. It was incumbent upon those who were returning to the ship and who were really drunk to pass up on riding in the gig, as captains took a dim view of squids puking their guts out in the gig's cabin.

When boats were in use, a beach party with a radio was sent ashore for controlling the sailors at the landing point. The petty officer or officer there reported to the OOD. Anyone who was really drunk might have to wait for hours there until they sort of sobered up. The beach party also functioned as a security checkpoint, welcoming and screening visitors to the ship. The boats took their orders from either the beach party or the OOD.

When boats were in use, the senior line officer in the boat was in charge, even if an officer was assigned to the boat and even if that senior line officer was drunk on his ass. More than a few drunk lieutenants got into serious trouble after an incident when someone else on the boat was injured. ("Line officer", in this regard, meant that one was in a warfare specialty eligible for command at sea.)

 It was common to hire water taxis when visiting foreign ports.

This served several functions. First off, it freed the ships from having to crew and operate their own boats. Second, it provided some work for the local charter boats, which meant there was some more interest in having naval ships visit. Third, because they were foreign vessels, the ship's officers were not responsible for safety of the water taxi.

Anchoring out was done in ports that either had limited pier/dock/wharf space (or the port wanted to reserve the space for freighters and cruise ships) or were too shallow for the ships to pull in. Most everyone hated anchoring out and using the boats. It was a strain on the duty sections. Boat crews were required to wear the uniform of the day, which meant trashing a set of whites in the summer.[2] Boating operations could be hazardous, especially if the weather was up. Boating might be secured,[3] which meant that you could find yourself stuck on shore for awhile.

A wise sailor on liberty made sure that he or she had enough money set aside to rent a cheap hotel room in case the weather soured. Worse case was when the weather really soured and the ship had to get under way to the relative safety of the open sea. It was not unheard-of for half of the crew to be stranded ashore for a few days, an event that would involve the local consulate/embassy to help out in caring for the strandees.

[1]Carriers and other large ships had personnel boats that were much larger. The admiral commanding a task group would also have his own boat, known as "the admiral's barge."
[2]Working uniform might be authorized if the weather was getting lousy, but that was not to be counted upon.
[3] "To secure" in the Navy meant "to end an evolution and tidy up." In the Navy, "to secure a building" meant to sweep down the halls, empty the trash, turn out the lights and lock the doors. To the Army, "secure the building" meant to post a guard at the front door. To the Marines, "secure the building" meant to attack the building, blow a hole in the side, go in and kill or capture everyone inside. To the Air Force, "secure a building" meant to negotiate and sign a lease for the building.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Fire! Fire! Fire on the USS Bonefish!

22 years ago today.


In this case, it is not shorthand for "administration". An "admin" is a hotel room that is booked by all of the officers of a ship. It can serve as a crash pad or as a place to have a few drinks in private or as a place to change clothes or, if one is lucky, as a place to have a little quiet sex.

All of the officers chip in to pay for the cost of renting the admin for the duration of a port visit. The ones who make the most use of it are the no-loads in the Supply, Administrative and Operations departments. The officers in the Weapons department are usually neutral about it, as some may have the free time to use the admin and some may not. Generally, the engineers are against the whole idea, as they work longer hours both in port and at sea. Junior officers who are behind on completing their SWO qualification may also be against it.

Usually those who are against it get out-voted during the wardroom meeting. After several of those, the engineers can (and do) develop hard feelings about it.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Fitness Report

This is a fitness report on Rear Admiral Spruance following the Battle of Midway.

Note that it is not fully "left-justified", in that Admiral Spruance had five marks that were 3.9s. Times were different then.

Admiral Spruance was one of the greatest commanders in the history of the US Navy, though there has been the inevitable sniping by the chairborne naval historians.

Two destroyers have been named in his honor.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Foreign Insanity

The annual Royal Navy Field Gun competition, which has been held under different names.

Those guys are pretty crazy.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Story of the Green Flare

This is no shit:

The Navy conducts exercises at sea from time to time, operations that civilians refer to as "war games." The goal is to train the ships' crews to deal with the operational tempo, lack of sleep and some of the stresses of being in fluid and uncertain situations at sea.

I was one of the OODs of one of the ships in the exercise. My ship had a modest AAW defensive capability. That was simulated by the firing of a green flare from a Very pistol. For the duration of the exercise, the OODs wore a holster with the Very pistol and several flares.

There was a recognition procedure to identify friendly and hostile aircraft. If I remember correctly, friendlies were to approach ships by flying a certain true course. No radio calls were to be made.

When the EWs detected a contact, the information was passed up to the Bridge over the JA phone circuit. The lookouts were also on the JA circuit, so they would look for something. Because of this, the bearings to any possible threats were sent up as relative bearings (0 degrees being "dead ahead").

So there I was, on watch. The call came up: "Hostile aircraft, bearing 080." The lookouts almost immediately reported "air contact, 3 o'clock". I looked, sure enough, a helicopter was flying directly at the ship.

I loaded the Very pistol, raised it, and fired the flare.

The problem, of course, was that when one added the ship's course to the relative bearing of the air contact, the helicopter was on the "safe course".

The pilots, understandably, were not amused. They broke radio silence and rained some abuse down upon the R/T operator in CIC.

The Captain, though, was more sanguine about it. He came up to the Bridge and asked me what happened. I told him and apologized for fucking up. He shrugged and asked me if I had ever heard the Simon & Garfunkel song "the Boxer". I said I had and I guess my puzzlement showed.

He told me that there is a line in the song that "a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest". He told me that I expected to see an enemy aircraft and that I saw what I thought I would see and that, in a hot war, people were always going to get killed that way. He told me the real trick was to be able to make fast decisions and yet be alert enough to question myself to make reasonably certain that I really knew what was going on.

I kept the shell casing from the Very flare for many years, eventually losing it in a move somewhere along the way.

Of course, what sparked this remembrance was the recent story about the crew of an Apache attack helicopter shooting at a Reuters news crew.