Monday, March 29, 2010

BZZT! Wrong!!

In surfing around for news on the repairs of the USS Port Royal, I stumbled across this press release about the retirement of a RP1 (chaplain's assistant) from the Navy. It had this nugget of bullshit in it:
"There are not many people in the Navy that can tell you they have served on five different ships," said [Chaplain] Wade.
That is wronger than wrong. Virtually every surface warfare officer who made it through the commander command tour has served on five ships, and quite a few have served on six ships: First Division Officer tour, second DivO tour, first and second Department Head tours, XO tour and then CO tour. Sailors might serve on fewer, as their first sea tour used to be about five years or so.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Duty Stations

The Navy had several types of duty stations and periodicity of assignments.

There were four basic types of duty stations: Sea duty, shore duty, training duty and neutral duty. The first three are pretty obvious. Neutral duty was for assignments that were not as cushy as shore duty, but did not have the separations of sea duty. Assignment to a destroyer or submarine tender was neutral duty, but if the ship was out of her home port for more than 30 days, the time away was reclassified as sea duty.

There were several kinds of periodicity:

Permanent change of station: This was a full move. The Navy paid to move your family and your shit. Actually, if you had a family, you were damned lucky if what the Navy paid covered your costs. A PCS assignment was longer than 26 weeks, but most were between 18 months and five years.

Unaccompanied duty: Your family stayed behind and you went for a year. Before the Iraq War, the most common unaccompanied duty was to the Naval Support Activity in Bahrain and to the USS La Salle (AGF 3), the flagship of the Commander of the Middle East Force, which was homeported in Bahrain. Now, unaccompanied duty includes being sent as an individual augmentee to Iraq or Afghanistan.

Temporary duty: This was usually training duty, where one was sent to a short-duration school. The most common was when you were sent to a school after you left one permanent duty station and were enroute to another. But it could also happen when you were loaned to another command for one reason or another.

Temporary additional duty: These were times when your command sent you away on a trip. It may be to a conference or a short school, ranging from a day or two to a few months.

When you were on TD or TAD, you were paid TDY, which was enough for three decent moderately-priced meals. For obvious reasons, TAD was also known as "traveling around drunk".

This is all background information for some stories, of course.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


I posted to this blog this morning, but I meant to post to a different blog.

I deleted the post, but if it showed up in your feed: Sorry about that, Chief.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


When ships were in their home ports, the naval bases provided two vehicles to ships of the frigate through cruiser size. One was a pickup truck, the use of which was controlled by either the OOD or the CDO. The other vehicle was a four-door sedan, which was controlled by the CDO or the XO. They were the land-based analogues to the Motor Whaleboat and the Captain's Gig.[1] The vehicles were technically assigned to the local Supply Center's motor pool, which took care of maintenance. Gas was from the base gas station; the drivers would sign a sheet that gave the vehicle ID number.

Two vehicles did not begin to scratch the requirements for transportation of ships that had 250-350 people on board. Sailors and officers often had to use their personal vehicles for routine ship's business, though larger vehicles could be signed out of the motor pool for special uses.

So there was this one ship. A few sailors made it their practice to go over to Base Salvage from time to time.[2] One of the sailors found some vehicles and he tried to start them. One old step-side pickup truck started, so he took it back to his ship. The Supply Officer had a cow, so to speak, because the ship wasn't authorized three vehicles. He pointed out that they couldn't get gas at the base gas station, because the truck's serial number was stricken.

The XO told the SuppO to close his eyes and forget that he ever saw the truck. One of the chiefs drove to the far reaches of the base and found a similar truck. He wrote down the serial number of that truck. The unofficial ship's truck was then re-numbered to match the other truck.

When it was necessary to get gas, the only risk, although tiny, was that two identically-numbered trucks would be gassing up at the same time. But since there was more than one gas station on that huge base, the risk was negligible. The driver would drive up to the pumps and fill up the truck. The supply weasel at the station would note down the truck's number and the driver would drive away.

When the ship deployed to the Med, the truck was parked out behind the barn of one of the chiefs, who lived in a rural area. A large tarp was thrown over it and staked down. After the ship returned, the truck was retrieved and put back into service.

Finally the day came when the ship was assigned to another home port. Nobody was too keen on trying to drive that old truck a thousand miles or so over the highways, so it was parked in the pier's parking lot with the keys inside of it.

[1] A subject for a later post.
[2] Salvage was where ships and commands dropped off unneeded equipment. If another unit didn't want it, then it was disposed of after a period of time.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Mine warfare has been around for well over a century. But first, a definition: I define a "mine" as "an explosive device triggered by the passage of a ship".

Mines actually go back a lot further than a century. There were attempts to make working mines in the 18th and early 19th centuries. The problem was how to trigger them, as before the invention of the percussion cap, the only practical way to detonate a mine was to attach it to a ship and light a fuse.[1] Even the invention of percussion caps did not make mines very feasible, as the firing mechanism had to be something that was both waterproof (black powder and water do not mix) and crushable (to fire the cap). Command-detonated mines were tried, but they had problems with water seeping in along the wires and disabling the charge.[2] Mines became practical when explosives less susceptible to moisture were developed.

There are three basic types of mines and three basic methods to place mines. The types are contact, pressure and magnetic (there are also hybrids, which can be both pressure and magnetic). The three methods of placement are bottom, moored and drifting.

Contact mines are the ones that you always see in old war movies: Big round iron or steel balls with something like 200lbs of high explosives. A ship or sub would contact it and have a hole blown in her side. Bottom contact mines required very shallow waters; they were most commonly used as an anti-landing craft defense. Drifting mines are heavily frowned on by the Hague Convention of 1907, but that has not prevented their being used.

Moored contact mines were typically laid from minelaying ships. They were rolled off the stern of the ship. The anchor section contained the cabling and the wheels for being rolled off. The cable would pay out to the desired length and anchor the mine.

Ideally, the length of the cable would be set so that the mine was submerged, both so that the mines were harder to avoid and that they would not be detonated by fishing boats and other small craft. Moored contact mines can be laid in very deep waters. It is possible to lay them so that the mine case is targeted towards submarines.

Magnetic mines are triggered by the passage of large chunks of metal, namely, ships and submarines. Pressure mines are triggered by the hydrodynamic pressure generated by a passing ship. These mines can be very sophisticated and may include counters so not just the first ship to pass by will trigger them. More specialized are acoustic mines, which will activate on the acoustic signature of a particular class of ship. There was development of mines which incorporated homing torpedoes, the USN version was called CAPTOR.

Mines were first laid by specialized ships, but now are laid primarily by aircraft, at least for USN usage. They can be laid by submarine, but that requires cutting into the torpedo load, which submariners hate to do. When laid by aircraft, an enemy will attempt to spot the splashes to aid in demining. As a result, it is common practice to drop mine cases that are filled with cement as dummies. This also works because few ship captains are willing to try a minefield.[3]

Mines could be used defensively (to keep opponents away) and offensively (the "North Sea Mine Barrage"). The threat of mines was often enough to prevent a naval force from moving into an area.

I will cover mine countermeasures in another post.
[1] The modern equivalent is a "limpet mine", which is attached by a frogman.

[2] Similar issues bedeviled the first undersea telegraph cables.

[3] I was told that when the Navy mined Haiphong Harbor, most of them were dummies. That might be bullshit, though, as it was a naval aviator who told me and they are famous for being bullshit artists.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Now Hear This!

I just spent fifteen minutes deleting a shitload of Chinese spam.

Moderation of all comments is now in effect.

That is all.