Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Sailor in a Can

Knew a HT3 who got out after a four-year hitch. One of the other sailors in his division sad that the guy would re-enlist before the expiration of his eligibility to come back in. When I asked why, he said: "Because in CivLant, they don't let you get away with sleeping in fan rooms."

He was right, the HT3 re-upped five days before the end of the eligibility period.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

40 Years Ago

USS Belknap (CG-26) collided with USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67). Belknap burned down to her steel decks (her superstructure was made of aluminum). Eight men were killed, one of them was on the JFK. Belknap was towed to Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, decommissioned, and moored there until plans and funds were arranged to rebuild her.

I knew a chief petty officer who had been on Belknap. Whenever our ship operated near an aircraft carrier, he damn near had to be sedated. It was far worse if the carrier was the JFK.

In a bit of a twist, one of the ships that came to Belknap's rescue after the collision was USS Bordelon (DD-881). Bordelon herself later collided with JFK. Bordelon's damage was deemed to be beyond economical repair, given that she was over 30 years old, and she was sold to the Iranians as a spare-parts hulk.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

A Century of Bubbleheads

The first submarines arrived at the semi-derelict New London Navy Yard in Groton, CT, 100 years ago. At the time, the yard was being used as a coaling station and had been hosting a training school for Marine officers. In 1916, the yard was formally designated as the Navy's first submarine base.

The state of Connecticut had given the Navy the land for the navy yard in 1868. But the Navy didn't really want it and when oil replaced coal for firing the boilers of warships just before the Great War, the Navy didn't need the yard. Then, as now, it was the local congressmen who pushed the Navy to do something with the place.

The Submarine Base would be safe until Fort Fumble recommended closing it a decade ago. The Base Realignment and Closure Committee rejected the recommendation.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Would Have Hated to Have Been in Charge of Valve Maintenance on That Boat

Photos from the interior of a Great War German Submarine.

Given the cramped conditions and small crews, it's a safe bet that most of the maintenance of the boats was done by sandcrabs between cruises.

(Sort of like what happens with the little crappy ships that the Navy is buying today.)

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Casualty Power

Many years ago, I made a reference to electricians rigging casualty power. I really don't have much to say about it, but here goes.

Ships had lots of casualty power risers and bulkhead pass-throughs. In my day, they looked like this:

This is a bulkhead pass-through:

And this is a riser, which connects different decks:

On the distribution route for casualty power, there was a terminal at either end of a given compartment. Cables would be broken out and strung between the terminals.

The principle was simple: Each cable had three terminal ends to it, because the lines were transmitting 440 volt three-phase power. You connected A to A, B to B, and C to C, and then tightened the cables' connection into the terminals with those little wrenches. You would run the wires from the load to the source, so that you were always connecting and disconnecting dead wires. The ends of the cables had o-rings or twine wrapped around them so you could identify them in the dark: One loop for A and so on. Only electricians could do anything with casualty power lines, because of the hazards of using them.

Each ship was supposed to have a "Casualty Power Bill" to set forth the procedure for using the casualty power system. I suspect that was one bill that was drawn up during pre-commissioning, validated at the first refresher-training session, and then never touched.

It took many decades (and long after I was out), for NavSea to figure out that color-coding the damn things might be a better idea, as connecting the A wire to the B terminal was a bad thing:

Supposedly they've since tried to sailor-proof them with connectors that can only be installed one way:

The cables were supposed to be strung from the overhead, in order to keep sailors from tripping over them. A close eye was to be kept on the cables to ensure that they didn't start smoking or burning due to overloading or any defects in the cables.

While the electricians would occasionally drill with rigging and un-rigging the cables, in all of my time, I never once saw them actually energize the things. They were, in essence, a bunch of 440v extension cords that could handle between 100 and 200 amps and nobody, but nobody, really wanted to fuck around with that much live power.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A Bad Day, 70 Years Ago.

The USS Indianapolis was torpedoed and sunk.

The officer in charge of monitoring her movements never reported that she was late. Of the three stations that received her distress call, one commander was drunk, one had ordered his men not to wake him up and the third thought it was a Jap deception.

The men were in the water for nearly four days before they were spotted by a patrol plane. Other airplanes came. One PBY pilot disregarded orders and landed to rescue survivors. The USS Cecil J. Doyle came, shining a searchlight against the clouds, to give the survivors in the water hope that they would be rescued.

Fully two-thirds of the men who had survived the sinking perished while awaiting rescue. Everyone expected to lose ships during wartime and, if rescue had been prompt, the loss of the Indianapolis would have been filed under "shit happens during war". But to not know she was lost and to have the survivors in the water to be feasted upon by sharks for days was beyond horror.

The Navy revamped the MOVREP system.

The CO of the Indianapolis, Captain McVay, was court-martialed in a Navy cover-up of a type that was not seen until the turret explosion on the USS Iowa. He was eventually exonerated, though that finally happened decades after he took his own life.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Drain Bamage

Most people need six to eight hours of sleep each night. Not getting that leads to brain damage.

As I wrote six years back, lack of sleep is prevalent in the seagoing parts of the Navy.

Brain damage-- explains a lot of the crap in the Navy.

Monday, May 25, 2015


One of the main tools of sailors (other than maybe the Radio-Girls) was a chipping hammer. It wasn't anything like a hammer, it was a flat bar of steel with one end bent over at a 90-degree angle. Both ends were slightly spread out as the steel had been flattened down so that the ends terminated in an edge that was sharpened at about the sharpening angle of a chisel.

What you did was to bang it against the deck or the hull in order to remove old layers of paint and, of course, rust.

It was really more akin to a scraper than a hammer. If you were to buy a chipping hammer from a store, it would have a handle with a spring-wire grip to lessen the shock of bashing it repeatedly against hard metal surfaces. The technique was to hold it loosely and to let the bent edge do the work.

If the work was heavy, then you'd use a needlegun. Needleguns were pneumatic tools. They were essentially rotating hammers. The hammer part was enclosed and it smacked a bundle of steel rods (the needles). You might even have a deck-grinder, which was a tool that had an abrasive drum. But those were expensive and if a sailor with a bad attitude chucked it over the side, they weren't replaced.

Once the old paint and loose corrosion had been knocked off, then it was time for priming and painting. Zinc chromate was used to prime aluminum (the superstructures of many post-war ships were aluminum) and red lead was used to prime steel. Red lead was reddish and probably had the lead removed long ago, but the name stuck. After the primer came the paint: Haze grey for vertical surfaces, a darker deck gray for decks, black non-skid for walking areas, and flat black for the upperworks above the top of the stacks. (Flat black went away after the steam ships were retired.)

It was almost a continuous process. The sea is a very corrosive environment. And there were damn few captains or chief bosun's mates who did not take pride in their ships.

Of course, the submariners loved to hear it. Chipping paint on a steel deck was like banging away at an underwater telegraph with the message "here be a Navy ship". Most merchant ships didn't have the crew to have a bunch of seamen out on deck, preserving and painting. So when their sonar watches heard the sound of steel being hammered, they had a good idea what they'd find.

The sonar gang on ships equipped with passive acoustic sonars hated chipping hammers for the same reason. The First Lieutenant and the ASW Officer were often close to being at war with each other. The First Lieutenant wanted his people keeping rust at bay, while the ASW Officer wanted the ship to be quiet to both reduce interference with the passive sonars and to reduce the chance of being detected.

That was a fight that the ASWO almost always won. Which didn't make the sonarmen popular with the deck apes when the deck apes had to spend a lot of their inport time engaging in Operation Sparkle.*

The compromise was that the deck apes got to use sandpaper and heavy steel wool, but no impact tools, to remove old paint and rust. Which was barely effective and often resulted in some painting over of rust that should have been removed.
* One captain kept telling everyone that he wanted his ship to sparkle, hence the name bestowed on painting, preserving and cleaning by the crew.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Nah, That Wouldn't Have Worked

The "Sea Eagle", a navalized F-15.

It's not a matter of "Not Invented Here". The simple truth is that navalizing land-based fixed-wing airplanes doesn't usually work so hot. Naval aircraft take a hell of a lot of abuse. Naval pilots don't flare;* they fly into the deck at a set attitude and then slam right down and get yanked to a halt in a few hundred feet. Then, fully-loaded, they get flung into the air in 300 feet. So the airplanes take a hell of a lot of abuse from arrested landings, catapult takeoffs and salt-laden air in general. Naval aircraft are designed to take that abuse.

When McDonnell built the F4H for the Navy, even though it was designed as a carrier-based aircraft, the initial ones suffered a series of nose-gear collapses. The squadron operating them had McDonnell send some landing gear engineers out to the carriers to watch operations. The engineers were shocked. One supposedly said "we had no idea that you were doing that to our landing gear." The engineers went back to St. Louis, redesigned the gear and McDonnell sent out replacement kits to the Fleet.

That, mind you, was with an airplane designed to land on carriers. With an airplane that wasn't designed for carrier ops, all that beefiness and such has to be retrofitted. It rarely works out very well (FJ-2/3). The British Seafire was replaced by the F6F Hellcat as soon as the Royal Navy could make the switch.

The "Sea Eagle" would have been more of a "sea gull".
* "Flare to land, squat to pee."

Sunday, February 15, 2015

"Bzzt! XCT-45T Reports All Secure! Bzzt!"

At the bottom of this story regarding the Navy's R&D into firefighting robots, was a mention that the Navy would like robots to stand Sounding and Security watches.
Ultimately, the Navy wants a more advanced version of the robot to patrol ships and look for corrosion, pools of water and overheated equipment and respond to them, [Thomas McKenna, the Office of Naval Research's program manager for human-robot interaction and cognitive neuroscience] said.

"Our vision is that the humanoids would be a roving watch that are walking around the ship, doing inspections, looking for things that are out of the ordinary," he said.
Sounding and Security was an in-port watch that was stood by an engineer, usually from A-Gang. The watchstander recorded the data from equipment which ran in port, typically the AC units and the air dehydrators. The watchstander had a list of voids that had to be sounded with a plumb-bob tape to check the water level.

A hyper-diligent Duty Engineer would occasionally make a round with the Sounding and Security watch to check the readings for himself and make sure that the watchstanders weren't gundecking* the readings. Few Duty Engineers were that vigilant.

I don't recall that manning the Sounding and Security watch put any great strain on the engineers. But things might be different, now, in an era of undermanned warships, especially those that were designed that way.
* An ancient naval term for falsifying or forging a log or a report.

Friday, February 6, 2015


You may have seen photos of an aircraft carrier conducting flight operations with a smaller ship trailing behind. That ship was functioning as the "plane guard", a term that was often contracted to a single word: Planeguard.

The destroyer (it was usually a destroyer, but after the FRAM-DDs were all retired, it often fell to a Knox or Perry class FF) followed behind the carrier during flight operations. The job of the planeguard was to pick up the flight crew of an airplane that crashed on launch or recovery.

Planeguard was developed after the Second World War. It wasn't done during the war, likely because of the risk of a stopped escort being torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. The accident rate on board carriers in the early days of the jet age, especially before the angled-deck was adopted fleet-wide, was horrendous by modern standards.

The planeguard DD followed the carrier around at a distance of 500 yards. While the pilots undoubtedly liked the idea of someone coming to save their asses, having a ship with a tall radar mast so close to the stern of the carrier wasn't liked, especially when the straight-deck carriers were still in use.

The destroyers didn't much care for it, either. They didn't like that the carrier engineers didn't seem to give a shit whether or not a ship was behind them when the carrier snipes pumped bilges. Because nothing pleased the destroyers' engineers more than running contaminated water through their evaporators. The word also almost always seem to be passed on the carrier to secure flight ops and dump all trans and garbage from the fantail before the planeguard was cut loose from her station.

And there was also a concern that following too closely gave the planeguard little time to react if the carrier abruptly changed course or, worse, slowed down without signalling those changes to the planeguard. Over time, the planeguard was moved back to a thousand yards, then to a station two thousand yards off the port quarter of the carrier (2SNX) or three thousand yards (3SNX).

Planeguard sucked, especially at night. Carriers have lots of deck lighting, it was almost impossible to pick out the running and range lights, and so it was very hard to determine whether or not a carrier changed course or speed. If radar silence was ordered, then keeping track of what the carrier was doing could be very difficult.

Aircraft carriers really did had a nasty habit of changing courses and speeds in order to maintain favorable winds across their decks without notifying their escorts of that. Talk to anyone who ever stood a OOD or JOOD watch on a tin can on planeguard and they'll tell you stories. No true destroyerman liked planeguard duty. It was not uncommon for either the Captain or the XO to be on the Bridge of ships in planeguard station.

The dangers weren't theoretical. HMAS Melbourne collided with and sank two of her escorts, HMAS Voyager and USS Frank E. Evans. USS Wasp ran over USS Hobson and sank her. There were quite a few other collisions between carriers and their escorts.

The use of tin cans for planeguard largely went away for three reasons. One was that helicopters could do the job much faster. The second was that there were far fewer escorts available. An escort that had good passive sonar capability was needed far enough away to detect an enemy submarine and do something about it, rather than trying to follow a carrier without getting run over. The same logic held true for AAW missile shooters. The third reason was that the accident rate for naval aviation really decreased, especially after the mirror landing system was adopted and adjusted to.

(Yes, they do it with mirrors.)

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Last Frigate

The USS Kauffman is about to become the last of its breed.

When the ship leaves Naval Station Norfolk on Thursday for a six month deployment to the waters off Central America, it will mark the final deployment of a Navy frigate. The Kauffman will be part of a multinational, counter-narcotics operation known as Operation Martillo.

When the warship returns, it will be the last frigate in the Navy's inventory to be decommissioned later this fall.
Destroyer escorts/frigates have been serving the Navy for the last 74 years. The Navy has gotten rid of them, because DE/FFs were primarily ASW-oriented warships (the Battle off Samar notwithstanding).

To some extent, the Navy is replacing frigates with the Little Crappy Ships, because no other navy, at the current time, poses the sort of threat that the German and Japanese navies did during the war, or the Soviet Navy did during the Cold War. Other nations, however, don't seem to agree that frigate-sized warships are no longer useful. But those navies are looking at a larger naval power in their maritime neighborhoods, one with a submarine capability, and they may feel a need to prepare.

As maybe so should we. But navies are very expensive to build, train and maintain, and we're too busy chasing around tribesmen armed with rusty Kalashnikovs to worry about what may happen in the next decade or so.