Saturday, December 13, 2014

Surface Effect Ship

A surface effect ship is also known as a "rigid sidewall hovercraft". There are flexible curtains at the bow and stern to contain an air cushion.

The Navy's experiments culminated in the 1980s with the SES-200:

During the mid-`80s, it was based at Pax River NAS. Quite a few tests were run in the Atlantic, including operations in higher sea states (keeping in mind that, at 200 tons, it wasn't a large ship).

The ride characteristics were different. Going into oncoming seas, the SES-200 tended to knife through smaller waves. But if it encountered a larger wave, the wave would slam against the flat bottom (or the ceiling of the air box, if you prefer). The result was like the ship was punched straight up.

The ship was built and equipped to commercial standards. The radar was a LN-66. Operations were, by necessity, informal enough to drive a tin-can trained officer to drink. There were no gyro repeaters for shooting bearings, so you buoy-hopped and took radar-range cuts to get a position. But when it was riding on its air cushion, it only drew about 5' of water, which is less than a lot of sailboats, so it was harder to get into trouble with it.

There usually were two officers assigned to the ship. It wasn't considered an afloat command, so the boss's designation was "officer in charge". Both officers were post-sea tour warfare-qualified lieutenants (and this was classified as shore duty). If the ship was going out for more than a few days, the commander of the testing operation tried to borrow a qualified officer from another command so that the OODs would be in three sections.

SES-200 was likely the first naval sea-going command to have a female commander, but I don't recollect anyone making a big deal of it at the time.

A few small surface-effect ship test craft were built to conduct research for a 3,000 ton surface effect warship which was thought to be a possible replacement for the Knox class. The SES-3000 program was probably too large of a technological leap, given at the time, not even the SES-200 had been built and the program was axed 35 years ago. One of the 100 ton SES craft fired a SM-2(MR) missile while traveling at over 60 knots.

The Soviet/Russian navy built a couple of 1,000 ton SES warships. That they only built two says something. The Norwegian navy is the only one that has recently built operational SES combat craft.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Movie That Saved a Warfare Community

As a prelude, a story about the Smith & Wesson Model 29:

The Model 29 and the Remington .44 Magnum cartridge were introduced in 1955. A number of handgun experts had been hot-rodding .44 Specials, so S&W and Remington thought they might have a winner.

They really didn't, not at first. A lot of guys bought the gun, fired a cylinder of 240gr magnum loads through it and then sold the gun at a loss. The demand for the gun was so low that S&W only made the revolver in periodic production runs.

That all changed in 1971:

Thanks to Dirty Harry, Model 29s flew off the shelves. The smarter dealers immediately marked them up. Model 29s sold at premium prices for a very long time.

So now over to the Navy: In the post-Vietnam War era, the Navy was struggling to fill the need for new officers in all of its warfare communities. The Navy was nearly twice the size back then compared to today. If you graduated from college, any college, with a C+ average, there was room for you as a naval officer, somewhere. If you proved out to be a complete fuckup, there would be a place found for you to serve out your obligated service.

Naval Air was about the hardest hit. Submarines were viewed as a way to get a specialty technical education that would easily translate into a lucrative civilian career.[1] Surface ships were viewed as a way to do the traditional "see the world".[2] Naval aviation was viewed as a really good way to get killed in peacetime.

It got so bad that the airdale admirals persuaded the rest of the Navy to go along with a plan to recruit young JGs and lieutenants to switch over to Naval Air. It was sort of a "free trial offer", in that if you passed the physical you could switch to aviation, go through the training and, if at any time you didn't like it, all you had to do was quit and you would be taken back into your former warfare community with no penalty. And a fair number did do that.[3]

Things changed in 1986 when some puny white dude wearing shoe lifts starred in a movie about Navy fighter pilots.

The recruiting stations were flooded with young men who wanted to fly Navy jets. Most of them weren't qualified to do that, but quite a number of them were encouraged to enlist for other things.[4]

To my knowledge, the Navy has never hurted for pilots since then. Just as Smith & Wesson has been able to sell all of the Model 29s they make.
[1] They were still building nuclear power plants back then.
[2] Which you did, if you kept in mind that most of the Earth's surface is covered by water.
[3] And a fair number quit, once they found out how much fun it was to land a SLUF at night on a carrier.
[4] Such as chipping paint on an AOR out of Norfolk.

Friday, November 28, 2014


Cumshaw was, basically, anything that was obtained outside of normal channels, whether repair work done without a 2-Kilo or stuff that was obtained without a supply chit.

And it could be almost any way imaginable.

This is no shit:

A young lieutenant junior grade was standing watch as the Command Duty Officer of a ship that had just entered drydock a few days previously. A sister ship was also in the shipyard, getting ready to sail on sea trials. A lieutenant and four sailors came onto the quarterdeck from the second ship well after evening chow and asked to speak to the CDO. When the CDO appeared, the lieutenant pronounced that he was there to take one of the legs to the forward kingpost.

The kingpost was a gizmo that was erected on the forecastle during an underway replenishment. The spanwire from the cargo ship would be connected to it. The bottom of the kingpost bolted to a heavy baxter bolt. The outboard side of the top of the kingpost connected to two legs, which in turn were bolted to baxter bolts in the deck. The kingpost and its legs were made of heavy and high-grade aluminum piping.

All of those parts were original issue to the ships. Replacements were scarcer than honest politicians (and almost as expensive as crooked ones). For whatever reason, the soon-to-sail ship was missing one. It would be a serious ding to not be able to take on supplies at both unrep stations.

The CDO stroked his chin and said: "I don't know anything about you taking the kingpost leg. Nobody told me about this."

The lieutenant said that it was all arranged between the two ship's Weapons Officers and that he needed it, now.

The CDO asked when it had been arranged and he was told "two days ago, I think."

The CDO looked quizzical and said: "I have a tough decision to make, sir. Maybe you can help me."

Now the lieutenant looked puzzled: "If I can."

"Weps is on TDY at a school. So your Weps would have had to talk to our acting Weps. Which is me. And I've not talked to anybody about this. So this is my dilemma: Either I shoot you or arrest you for attempted theft. If you're not offa my fucking ship in ten seconds, I'm gonna choose one or the other." He then turned to the Petty Officer of the Watch and said: "Gimme your sidearm and a magazine."

The lieutenant and his men got off the ship as fast as they could throw out the required salutes.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Slugging It Out, Toe-to-Toe

This is a test of a replica 17th Century naval gun against the hull of a warship.

First off, that's the smoke from just one long gun. The Vasa carried 48 24-pound cannon. While broadsides were not a common tactic in the early 17th Century, the line-of-battle tactics soon evolved and you might have had a ship pounding another with broadsides of 30 guns or more.

Second, note the damage wreaked by that iron cannonball. Besides the ball itself, the splinters thrown from the inside of the hull would have caused fearful damage to the gun crews of the ship so hit.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Yesterday, Plus Sixty Years

The USS Nautilus joined the Fleet. She was commissioned on September 30th, 1954.

Nautilus was an experiment from start to finish. As an operational boat, about all that she could do was stay submerged for long periods of time.  She was noisy and her passive sonar was noise-limited to speeds that could be easily surpassed by submerged diesel boats.  But she was a success at her main task:  Giving the Navy experience in operating nuclear power plats at sea.

After Nautilus, the Navy kept tweaking sub design with class sizes of between one and six boats until the construction of the Thresher/Permit class, which was the first SSN class of more than ten boats.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

You'll Never Get Any Sleep

One-section watchstanding, me hearties!

And you can forget about ever going on liberty!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Stick-Shift Boilers

(Might want to read this first.)

Let's say that you're on a steam ship and the order comes down to increase speed. The throttleman in the engine room acknowledges the bell change and opens the throttle. More steam is admitted to the turbines and they spin faster.

The real fun is in the fire room. When the throttle is opened, the first thing that happens is that steam pressure drops in the main steam line. Because of that drop in pressure, the level of water in the boiler goes up. But that's just a momentary reaction.

In response to the lower steam pressure, the automatic combustion control (ACC) on a modern 1,200lb. steam plant[1] did three things and, in a well-maintained system, did them very well: It would add water to the boiler, increase the firing rate at the burner front and speed up the forced draft blowers. The Burnerman would, as ordered by the Boiler Tech of the Watch (BTOW), cut in more burners.

The Blowerman (or "Lower Levelman") would, if ordered, start an additional forced-draft blower. Each boiler had two blowers, but in normal peacetime steaming, only one blower per boiler would be running.

It took the boiler techs a long time to come to Jesus on ACC systems. There was a special Naval Enlisted Classification code for an ACC technician. One of the things that got Insurv riled up was the failure of surface ships to properly set up, maintain and run ACC systems. When things like that happen, the way that the surface line community[2] handles things is to publicly fire people until everyone gets the message.

The thing was, of course, that the senior boiler technicians had learned their jobs on World War Two-era ships. Those ships had 600lb. steam plants that were manually controlled. The Upper Levelman stood watch by the boiler water-level gauge glasses and he controlled the rate that feedwater was added to the boiler. The Burnerman controlled both the number of burners and the amount of fuel oil that was fed to the burner front. The Blowerman controlled the speed of the blowers.

So now the Throttleman opens up the throttle. The Upper Levelman sees the water level rise in the gauge glass, but he knows that is a temporary effect, so he makes ready to add feedwater. The Burnerman sees the boiler's pressure drop, he increases the firing rate. The Blowerman speeds up his blowers to feed more air to the firebox.

Those three men, naturally, were told what the speed change was and they could react based on experience. But the Blowerman and Burnerman rarely were able to harmonize exactly during big speed changes. Given the choice between too little air and too much air, the Blowerman always opted for too little. Too little air meant that the boiler would emit black smoke out of the stack. Too much air and the boiler would emit white smoke. White smoke was finely atomized fuel and, as you might suspect, a white smoke condition was dangerous: You would get a fuel-air buildup in the upper works of the boiler and the stack and then, if it were not brought under control quickly, very bad things would happen.[3]

Ships with boilers that had tuned ACC systems didn't emit smoke on power changes. If a boiler that was run on an ACC emitted smoke on a power change, that was a sign that the ACC wasn't working properly.[4] So if you see photos or video of a Navy steam-powered warship blasting out smoke as she accelerated, you probably were seeing a ship with a stick-shift plant.
[1]"Modern" being "post Korean War".
[2] Our motto: "We Eat Our Young".
[3] The rule was that if white smoke couldn't be eliminated in a minute or less, the boiler's fires were pulled and the boiler wrapped up.
[4] There was a test called a "boiler flex" in which the Throttleman would rapidly spin the throttle open or shut in order to change the steam demand across 80% of the boiler's operating range, in order to stress-test the ACC system. This was an OPPE fail item.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Monday, July 7, 2014

Dead Horse

Not this kind:

When a sailor (or officer) was changing permanent duty stations and had to move, they were allowed to take up to three months' pay in advance to help cover the incidental expenses of the move. Many of those costs would be later paid back after a claim was submitted, but by having the cash on hand, people could avoid having to pay credit card interest (if they even had one, back then).

The catch, of course, was that you had to pay it all back in a year, which was taken out of your pay. If you took the full amount, you then had a 25% pay cut for the next year.

The story back then was that you were paying for something you no longer could use, so it was like making payments on a dead horse. But we didn't have the internet back then, so who knew that the origin was something else entirely?

Sunday, June 8, 2014


The Navy has PT standards.

It once wasn't that way. Physical fitness was generally ignored or given short shrift, like small arms training. Sailors were supposed to be fit enough to do their jobs and if they weren't, that's what evaluations were for. There really wasn't a height and weight standard, other than for sea-going sailors, who were supposed to be able to fit through a 18" scuttle.

There was one sailor on my first ship who was pretty damned obese. The XO told him that if he became too fat to fit through a scuttle, that he'd be medically discharged. So the sailor went on an eating program to get that fat. When he got too fat to get through a scuttle, the XO didn't have him discharged. The sailor was bitterly disappointed and felt that the XO had broken a promise.

That began to change in the mid-`80s. An annual PT test was ordered into effect. First-class petty officers had to submit full-body photos of them, standing sideways, against a contrasting background, because the Navy had gotten tired of making chiefs out of fat-assed PO1s. They might still end up sitting in the Goat Locker on the ROAD program, but not because they were too fat.

The initial reaction from the Fleet was basically one of: "OK, get into shape, but do it on yer own goddamned time." I can recall one (count it) one command PT session on two ships. A command PT session took a hell of a lot of time, from changing out of the work uniform into PT gear, going to the exercise field (not enough room on most ships for this), warming up, doing the exercises, ending with a run, then going back to the ship, taking a shower (for the office pukes, anyway) and then getting back into the working uniform.

Other than the command PT coordinator (if there was one) and maybe the XO, everyone hated it. It took too much time out of the work day on ships that really needed a 30-hour day to get done what needed to be done (except for the Ops pukes and most of the Pork Chops, that is). So command PT was seen being done by those commands that had the time: Airdales and shore pukes.

I don't imagine that things have changed overly much.

Friday, March 21, 2014

A/C Boundaries

Ships are divided up by air-conditioning boundaries, which in civilian life, are often called "heating zones." Each area had its own fanroom that supplied either cooled or heated air, depending on the season. The zones were divided by interior bulkheads and there were doorways with joiner doors on pneumatic closures to permit passage between the zones.

XOs were often pinging on the department heads to keep the joiner doors in their spaces in good working order. If the passageway on one side of the door was maintained by a different division than the passageway on the other side of the door, the door belonged to whichever division maintained the space into with the door opened.

Some of those joiner doors took a hell of a beating. The pneumatic door closers in the Navy supply system didn't seem to be up to the job. The closers got pulled off and fixed or replaced and then mounted back so many times that the base metal under them gave out from the strain.

If you wanted to see real hell on earth, try running a set of gas-welding lines through an a/c boundary when it was hot or cold out, especially if that open door was at the edge of Officer Country. The XO would want to know why those lazy-ass HTs couldn't be bothered to move the gas bottles closer to where they were working (or use a portable rig). When there was serious repair work going on where the doors had to be rigged open, if not removed, XOs often went into max-fret mode.

And if you wanted to see real fireworks, watch what happened when an XO began harping about air-conditioning boundaries on a Chief Engineer who was dealing with a boiler casualty or who had an OPPE coming up in three weeks.

Still, if you wanted to keep the ship either heated or cooled, air-conditioning boundaries had to be respected.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Meeting Fail

From the Duffel Blog:
THE COMPANY OFFICE — A complete and total fucking asshole that everyone wishes would just die already actually has a goddamned question at the end of the operations meeting we’ve been in for six fucking hours, sources confirmed today.
I can't tell you the number of meetings that I've been (both in the Navy and afterwards) in which dragged on interminably and then were extended because some fucking tool asked a question that was designed to show how brilliant said tool was, rather than to clear up some misunderstanding.

The various school commands seemed to be loaded with students who acted like this. Legal continuing ed classes are also a rich ground for such tools. On the ships, at least for the smaller ones, somebody eventually communicated to the tools that they should shut the fuck up in meetings.
At press time, multiple people in the room were seen in their daydreams pulling out nickel-plated .45 caliber pistols and shooting the lieutenant right in the fucking face because he needs to die right fucking now.