Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Uniform Disasters: Burn, Baby, Burn

Now it seems that Aquaflage is not fire resistant.

My full rant is here, because that blog has more readers and this shit needs to get out.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Fo'c'sle, Bridge, Breaker, Breaker, One Nine

In an earlier post on anchoring, I alluded to a sound-powered phone circuit between the Bridge and the Forecastle. Sound-powered phones are telephones designed to take their power from the energy of the incoming sound waves. While the handsets and headsets had receivers and transmitters, they were really bidirectional in that you could, if you wanted to, listen and talk over the same unit.

The advantage of sound-powered phones was that they were dirt-simple and they didn't require power. All you had to do was string two wires and hook a handset up at each end. For example, as part of the rigging lines between ships during underway replenishment, two sound-powered phone lines were sent across to the two ships could talk Bridge-to-Bridge and Unrep Station to Unrep Station.

All installed circuits were designated with at least two letters[1] and then maybe numbers. For this post, I am focusing on the maneuvering circuit, the 1JV. In open-ocean steaming, the 1JV connected the Bridge, Main Control and the After Lookout. On the Bridge, the Lee Helmsman served as the phone talker; in Main Control, the Throttleman did.

Coming in and out of port, there would be more stations on the 1JV. For mooring alongside a pier or another ship, the Forecastle would be on the line, while the After Lookout served as the phone talker for the Fantail line handlers. If boats were to be operated, the boat davit stations had phone talkers.

Communications could be slow. The Conning Officer would give an order, such as "Foc's'le, Bridge, slack Line One." The sailor on the Lee Helm would repeat the order, verbatim, and the phone talker on the Forecastle would shout it out. The officer/chief/petty officer in charge would yell back: "Slack Line One, Foc's'le, Aye!" and that would be repeated back up the phone circuit. And if you had a couple of sailors as phone-talkers who were not exactly the sharpest knives in the drawer, it could be a real clusterfuck with lots of "say again" responses.

Back in the `70s, during the CB radio craze, a number of CB walkie-talkies began to hit the consumer market. Ships bought them, figuring that the Conning Officer (or the Captain) could then talk directly to the person in charge of the Forecastle and/or the Fantail. All it took was to find an unused channel[2] and use that. It was believed that as long nobody said their ship's name, that using the CB radios didn't compromise operational security.

This is no shit: A destroyer was steaming into the naval station at Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico. The ship was heading for an anchorage, and, like a lot of ships, they were using walkie-talkies. When the ship was at the right spot to drop the anchor, the Conning Officer keyed his walkie-talkie and radioed: "Foc's'le, Bridge, let go the anchor!"

That command was heard on two ships. The other ship was an oiler that was heading down the channel at Roosevelt Roads at ten knots. The Bo'sun's Mate on the Forecastle of that ship keyed his radio and yelled: "Let go the anchor, Foc's'le, Aye!" At that command, the sailor holding the sledgehammer at the pelican hook swung the hammer, knocked it free and all hell broke loose.

Fortunately, there were no injuries and nothing serious was broken. But an order went out from the type commanders, in very short order, outlawing the use of CB radios aboard ships.
[1] All included the letter "J", designating the circuit to be sound-powered.
[2] Not 9, the emergency channel or 19, most commonly used by truckers

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Big "E"

USS Enterprise (CVN-65) has been retired.

Much has been written about her service and I won't reprise that here. And it's nice to note that CVN-80, if the Navy builds her, will bear the name.*

But there are a couple of things to ponder. The Big E was so expensive to build that not only were her sister ships cancelled before they were even given prospective hull numbers, the next two carriers built were oil-fired (America and JFK). It was another fifteen years before the Navy built another nuclear-powered CV. With eight reactors, she was expensive to operate. Ideally, she should have been replaced and retired twenty years ago.
* If she is commissioned in 2025, as currently planned, she would also be the first CVN in fifty years not to be named after a politician.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Then and Now

Take a good look at the official portraits of Generals Petraeus and Eisenhower:

General Eisenhower was a five-star general. He commanded the largest multinational force ever put together. Other than maybe Marshal Zhukov, Eisenhower commanded the largest land army in modern times, possibly in human history. He commanded the largest seaborne invasion in recorded history.

Ike reportedly had maybe ten ribbons/awards that he could wear. It was a common custom at the time to wear only the top row. It was a custom that held at least into the 1980s, for I knew a commander who was in the riverine force in the Vietnam War. The only ribbon he wore on his uniform was the Silver Star.

Next to Ike, Petraeus looks like something out of a comic opera.

This is no shit: During the Vietnam war, a Marine unit got into some heavy-duty combat. The company commander and XO were killed. The senior ranking officer was a navy JG, assigned as a naval gunfire spotter. The JG took command of the company and, by all accounts, acquitted himself well in the job until things quieted down enough for the Marines to send in replacements. The JG was given an awards ceremony for his valor and awarded, not a Silver or Bronze Star, but the Navy Commendation Medal.

I suspect it really began going downhill in the `80s. There was a report at the time that the Army had awarded more Bronze Stars for the Grenada campaign then they had boots on the ground. Somewhere along the line, awards such as the Achievement Medal and Commendation Medal began to be awarded, not for extraordinary performance, but for simply doing a good job, something that was previously handled by a command "attaboy letter".

Around the same time, it was explained to me by another officer during a department head meeting with the XO and the Captain that a department head should be awarded a NAM after the first tour and a NCM after the second tour, with a Meritorious Service Medal after the XO tour. I was aghast and I asked, in a rather sarcastic manner, what happened to the notion of doing one's job and getting top marks for that.

The answer was simple, I reckon: Grade inflation. If almost everyone is getting "top 1%" marks, then the way to discern the hard-chargers from the rest of the pack is by who got gonged with a medal or three. Which cheapens the medals themselves.

Ribbons began to be awarded for things such as completing basic training, which is equivalent to giving out diplomas for, oh, graduating from first grade, or possibly a special ed "participating trophy". There is the National Defense Service Medal, which everyone who serves in wartime is awarded (basically everyone since 1990 on), even if all one did was work in a supply depot in Biloxi.

To be fair, this is not only the military's problem. Congress keeps authorizing, or trying to authorize, decorations. The "Cold War Victory Medal" is one such bit of tripe.

It should be reined in. There is precedent for doing so; nearly a century ago, the awarding of almost a thousand Medals of Honor during the Civil War were revoked.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Time Passes on WW2 Sub Vets

The New London Day ran a story today that the U.S. Submarine Veterans of World War II disbanded at the end of this year's convention. Thousands of subvets once came to their convention, the last convention was attended by 62 vets.

The youngest subvet in the group is 86 years old. The consensus seemed to be that it was getting too depressing to go to a convention and just be reminded that more of their old shipmates had died. Add to that the effort it took to keep a nationally-chartered volunteer group functioning when all the members are pushing or into their 90s and it was probably time for the group to fold.

The chapter in Connecticut is pushing on, though.

(The Day is subscription-only, a link to the story won't do you much good.)

Monday, September 3, 2012

Helpful Guidance From the Afloat Staff

This is no shit*:

There was a task group of warships heading into Yokosuka, Japan. One of the double-ended cruisers had had a boiler casualty and was sort of limping in on one screw. The demineralizer in one of the plants had failed and, instead of removing minerals from the condensate coming from the main engine, had dumped minerals into the feed water system. That salts up a boiler faster than you can think of it.

Besides replacing the resin guts in the demineralizer, the affected plant has to be washed out with copious amounts of fresh water, then rinsed with a citric-acid based wash, and then rinsed again. It was that cruiser's dumb luck that she was steaming all four boilers at the time, which meant that both boilers in the affected plant had to be opened up and cleaned.

After the engineers had stopped steaming the salted-up plant, the Chief Engineer recommended to the Captain that he place the ship on water hours. "Water hours" meant that unless you were a cook or you were covered in grease and oil, you didn't get to take a shower. And you might as well wear the same uniform for awhile, as the ship's laundry was also secured. It didn't take very long until the inside of the ship smelled like a locker room.

The plan that the Engineer recommended to the Captain was to do all of the flushing of the salted boilers at sea, so that they wouldn't have to worry about disposing of the water used to flush the boilers.** Once in port, where a Culligan truck was available, they would then close out the boilers and hydrostatically test them.***

All of this, of course, was the subject of a CASREP and follow-on updates. So nobody could say that anyone in the staffs wasn't informed.

So now it's a little after 2300, two days before the task group is to arrive. One of the bright young lads on the embarked staff on the aircraft carrier got on the secure UHF circuit****, called over to the cruiser and asked to speak to the Engineer. CIC called down to Engineering. The EOOW called the Engineer in his stateroom and told him that he was wanted on the Red Phone.

The Engineer was not happy. It seemed as though he was going to be able to get a good six hours' of uninterrupted rack time, which was almost unheard-of. So he pulled on his filthy uniform and went up to Combat. The CICWO pointed to the correct handset. The Engineer picked it up. The conversation went about like this:

"Staff, Cruiser, Chief Engineer speaking. Over."

"Staff here. Due to the sensitivity surrounding discharges from warships, we want to make sure that you complete your boiler flushing well before we enter Japanese waters. Over"

In the cruiser's CIC, sailors swore that they could see smoke wisping from the Engineer's ears. He keyed the handset and responded. "Cruiser, Engineer here. We had no idea that there would be any political ramifications from intentionally dumping pollutants into Japanese waters. It never occurred to us that they might not approve of it. We will take that into account and make sure that we finish well before then. Anything further? Over."

"Staff, roger, thank you. Out."

Supposedly, the bright one on the staff was pleased with himself, until it was gently pointed out to him that the Engineer's response was heavily laced with sarcasm. By breakfast the following morning, every engineering officer throughout the task group was laughing about it.

The watch in the cruiser's CIC held their laughs until the Chief Engineer had left Combat, slamming the door behind him.
* Some details have been changed to protect the guilty, at least one of whom is still on active duty
** Why there was such concern over dumping water that had salt and/or diluted citric acid was more a matter of politics than science.
*** Any time you opened up a boiler, you had to hydro it. High-pressure steam leaks are bad news.
**** Also known as the "Red Phone", from the color of the remote stations in CIC and the Bridge.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Let Go the Anchor!

There were two basic ways for a ship to be at rest in port. One was to moor alongside a pier or quay wall (or to tie up outboard of a ship so moored) or anchor out.[1]

In many ports, anchorages were laid out on the charts. When the navigator picked a spot to anchor, he had to lay out a proposed swing circle. The swing circle was determined by the center of the proposed anchorage, plus the length of the anchor chain payed out and the length of the ship. The length of anchor chain, or "scope", was determined by the depth of the anchorage, plus the distance from the hawse pipe[2] and then that figure was multiplied by 7 or so.

Navy anchors had flukes on them. The scope of the chain ensured that if there was any pull on the anchor by the ship due to currents or winds, the pull was in a horizontal direction, which tended to dig the flukes into the bottom, thus holding the ship.

The ship would approach the desired anchorage from downwind or down-current. The goal was to coast into the anchorage so that there would be little way on. Ideally, the ship would coast slightly through the desired point and then drift back through. At the desired point, the navigator would recommend dropping the anchor; the Conning Officer would so order it and the order would be passed to the forecastle by sound-powered telephone talkers. At the instant that the anchor was indeed let go from the forecastle, the quartermasters would shoot a round of bearings and the chart would be marked for the center of the swing circle.

Then the ship would drift back, paying out the anchor chain. This was a little touchy, as you didn't want the ship to drift too fast and pay the chain out too fast. The ship's engines would be used to control the speed and, if the current was nonexistent, the shp would back down.

Anchor chain was furnished to ships in lengths known as "shots". Each shot of chain was fifteen fathoms long, or 90 feet. The shots were held to one another by a detachable link; it looked from a distance like a regular anchor chain link, but it could be broken apart.[3]. The deck force used the brake on the anchor windlass to slow the chain as the desired length was reached. The amount of chain payed out was always set so that a detachable link was on deck when the chain was paid out.

Two stoppers knows as "pelican hooks" were used to hold the chain.

The amount of chain paid out would be adjusted so that the detachable link was between the two pelican hooks. In the event of an emergency or if the anchor was fouled, the detachable link would be opened, the chain broken and the outboard pelican hook would be knocked free, dropping the chain to the anchor into the water.[4] Nobody liked doing that, for it would take a floating crane and Navy divers to recover the anchor.

If I remember right, there was about eight shots of chain for the anchor. Every link of the second-to-the last shot, known as the "warning shot", was painted yellow; every link of the last shot, known as the "danger shot", was painted red. If the ship was anchoring and the yellow and red shots came out at speed, expect the forecastle crew to run aft as fast as they could, for the bitter end of the chain was about to be ripped from the bulkhead in the chain locker and come up flailing around the forecastle.

Once the chain was secured, the navigator would plot the swing circle. There would be a watch both in CIC and on the Bridge that would plot the ship's position every fifteen minutes or so. If the ship began to drift outside of the swing circle, then the anchor was not holding and the ship would weigh anchor and get underway to re-anchor. That assumes that the anchor chain hadn't parted. If it had, the ship would either just leave port or re-anchor with the other anchor.[5]

There is an old Royal Navy sea story about anchoring. A destroyer was making an approach to its anchorage in Hong Kong. That was tricky, both because of the currents and the large amount of ship traffic in the port, from small boats, through junks and merchantmen. The destroyer made a flawless approach and, as she made the final approach to her anchorage, the destroyer flotilla commodore had his signalmen send, by flashing light, a one-word message to the destroyer: "Good."

But then things went bad. The anchor didn't drop when it was released (possibly the anchor windlass's brake was on) and the winds and currents pushed the destroyer away from the desired anchorage. The destroyer narrowly avoided a few collisions with other traffic in the harbor.

The commodore watched all this happen and had the following message blinkered to the destroyer: "Append to my last: God."
[1] Or one could moor to a buoy by using the anchor chain to fasten to the buoy. I never saw this done.
[2] Where the anchor chain exits the hull of the ship.
[3] Not easily. The detachable links were supposedly color-coded to indicate the amount of chain paid out. At the end of the first shot, the link on either side of the detachable link was pained white, at the end of the second shot, two links on either side of the detachable link were pained white, and so on and so forth. Over time, the paint would wear off, though.
[4] In the event that this had to be done under fire, you'd want to send out the deck force seaman with a size 20 neck and a size 2 hat.
[5] This was a pain in the ass for some ships, such as the Knox class, which had only been equipped with a single anchor windlass. For them, the deck force had to take the main anchor chain off the windlass and then feed the other chain around it. Which was backbreaking work.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Mama, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Go Surface

An old sheet of gripes.  The author is not known.

Typing was obviously not one of that officer's strong suits. And yes, kiddies, back in the day, there were typewriters on ships-- no computers. The only word processors were in the Ship's Office and only the yeomen got to touch those machines. If you were using a typewriter and you made a "typo", you could correct if with white-out or correct-o-type, you could retype it or, as the writer of that sheet did, you just lived with the typos.

Friday, May 25, 2012


USS Miami (SSN-755) had a bad fire while she was in dry dock at the Portsmouth Navy Yard. The fire, which was reportedly in the boat's forward compartments, took several hours to extinguish.

The question now is whether the boat is beyond economical repair. Even if the damage is repairable, it may have been severe enough that the boat will be decommissioned and left in the yard until Congress specifically allocates funds for repairing the boat. The reason for that is when one is talking about a very large sum of money to fix a casualty, taking it out of existing funding will have a hard impact on the funding of repairs and upgrades to the rest of the force.

There is precedent for that. When the USS Belknap burned down to the damage control deck in 1975, she was moored in the Philadelphia Navy Yard until funds were allocated to repair her.

Belknap was, at the time of her fire, a newer ship than the Miami. However, the Fleet is a lot smaller than it was 37 years ago and the Navy isn't going to part with a valuable asset like a nuclear sub unless it absolutely has to.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Sex, Religion & Politics

Those were the three topics that were off limits for conversation in the wardroom of a warship. The thinking, of course, was that those topics are the ones most guaranteed to piss people off and, since everyone had to work together, comity and harmony were valued.

If you were determined enough to want to talk about your church or your political candidate, you could expect that in very short order, you would get a talking-to by the XO.

I find it's a pretty good rule to live by in conducting my affairs in the real world.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Target Shooting at Sea

One of the things that was occasionally done was to inflate something very large, like a weather balloon, and drop it over the side. It could then be used as a target at longer ranges.

So one day, a ship I was riding on did that. I was riding it to conduct and observe some tests.[1] Since the ship was independently transiting, I didn't have much to do, so I went topside to watch the shooting.

One of the weapons that the sailors were shooting at the balloon was a M-79 "Bloopergun".

They were firing blue rounds.[2] The balloon was off the starboard side at maybe 300 yards or so and the ship was steaming around the balloon in sort of a lazy circle. Most of the sailors were missing to the left of the balloon.

I said something to one of my fellow shipriders along the lines of: "That thing is a big as a barn and they can't hit it."

The gunner's mate senior chief must have overheard me, for he spun around, fixed me with his patented Goat Locker Stare and said: "Maybe you'd like to give it a try, Ma'am."

"Thank you, Senior Chief, I'd like that." So I went over there and he gave me a fifteen second checkout on the controls of the M-79. I checked to make sure that the windage adjustment was centered, then I shouldered the weapon, aimed and fired.

The dummy warhead splashed right in front of the balloon. The senior chief's jaw dropped and he said something along the lines of: "Goddammit, Lieutenant, how'd you do that?"

"Easy," I said, as I handed the Bloopergun back to him. "The balloon isn't moving, the ship is. So you gotta lag the target, not lead it."

Don't ask me about recoil, I don't remember it kicking that much. What I should have done, though, was to ask for the cartridge case as a souvenir, and I didn't do that.
[1] Never you mind what kind of tests. If I were to tell you, I really would have to kill you.
[2] The projectiles were inert.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Deck Force

I have found a file that has clippings and stuff from my days as a blue-suiter. There are a number of cartoons, which were not signed. I have no idea who drew them. Here are two about boatswain's mates:

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ossifer Life

(H/T to VADM A.)

Monday, February 6, 2012


Officer-in-charge (OIC) was a position held by an officer (duh) who was in command of either a shore facility or a project management office. The insignia was a little gold wreath pin with a gold trident on it.

There were pretty much two flavors of OICs. First were really hard chargers. It was sort of permissible to goof off a little on shore duty and do things like get to know one's kids or maybe earn a masters degree, but that's not what hard chargers did. They wanted command time to add gloss to their service jacket and if it wasn't command at sea, they angled for command ashore.

The others were officers who had, somewhere along the line, screwed up a little. For them, having shore-based command time could repair earlier damage and get them back on the career track. So they would be on what was known as a "get well" tour.

A pretty common job for a get-well tour was to be the OIC of a NavFac, or SOSUS station. SOSUS stations were pretty close to being considered operational commands. For obvious reasons, they were considered to be critical national security assets. Unfortunately, some of the OICs were as clueless as the male junior officer fuckups who had been sent to the NavFacs.

Some of the NavFacs had their own housing. This was common in places where renting a house for a family might be prohibitive, especially in areas where there was a large summer community and renting a house for an entire year was difficult.[1]

At one NavFac, a new OIC had taken command. For reasons lost to time, he took a distinct dislike to one of the male officers. That officer and his family lived next door to the OIC. The OIC ordered LT Fuckup to move to another house. Fuckup challenged the OIC's power to make him move and declared that there was no way in Hell that OIC could force him to undertake the effort of moving from one house to another, just because the OIC didn't want to see him outside, playing with his kids.

Turned out that there were rules on when a move from one unit of base housing to another could be made and Fuckup was right. The XO talked to Fuckup and asked him what it would take to get him to agree to the move, since the XO was damn well sick and tired to hearing the OIC bitch every day about having to live next to Fuckup.

Fuckup's terms were that he and his family would not be inconvenienced. Professional movers would have to be brought in to pack everything up and unpack everything. Fuckup correctly guessed that such a move would cost a couple of thousand dollars and that the OIC would have to pay for it out of his discretionary fund.

And so it came to pass. Movers came in, they packed up everything and loaded it all onto a moving van. Fuckup asked why were they using a van when he was moving three or four doors down, why not just put the crap on handcarts and roll it into the new house? The movers told Fuckup that they had to take the truck to a set of truck scales so they could determine the weight of his effects, so they'd know what to charge the navy for this little evolution. As far as the movers were concerned, it was as much work to move Fuckup's family down the street as it would have been to move them across the country. The only difference to them was the mileage.[2]

By then, Fuckup was sort of throwing a block party. He, along with several others and their beers, immediately climbed into the moving van for the ride to and from the truck scales. Because Fuckup was going to make sure that the OIC's funds took as big a hit as possible.[3]

Supposedly the OIC was aghast at how much the move cost. Which, much to the XO's displeasure, gave the OIC something else to whine about on a daily basis.
[1] For example, Naval Station Newport, RI had a fair-sized family housing area that was allowed to fall into disrepair following the removal of Newport's active duty warships in 1973. In the late `80s, those houses were refurbished and reopened.
[2] 300 feet, as opposed to 3,000 miles.
[3] Someone later pointed out to Fuckup that he could have borrowed a few cast-iron engine blocks. As it was, two or three roll-aways full of tools somehow showed up in his garage the night before the move.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

SOPA Strike

This blog is on strike in support of the movement to stop SOPA and PIPA.