Monday, January 20, 2014

Rueters: China building second aircraft carrier: reports

     From Rueters:

(Reuters) - China is building its second aircraft carrier, which is expected to take six years, and the country aims to have at least four such ships, Chinese and Hong Kong media reports said on Sunday.
After two decades of double-digit increases in the military budget, China's admirals plan to develop a full blue-water navy capable of defending growing economic interests as well as disputed territory in the South and East China Seas.
The country's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning - a Soviet-era ship bought from Ukraine in 1998 and re-fitted in a Chinese shipyard - has long been a symbol of China's naval build-up.
Successfully operating the 60,000-tonne Liaoning is the first step in what state media and some military experts believe will be the deployment of locally built carriers by 2020.
In comments carried on Chinese news websites, Wang Min, the Communist Party boss of the northeastern province of Liaoning, where the first carrier is based, said the second carrier was being built in the port city of Dalian.
Its construction would take about six years, and in future China would have a fleet of at least four carriers, Wang told members of the province's legislature on Saturday, the reports added.
Dalian is the port where the existing carrier was re-fitted for use by the Chinese navy.
Read the rest here
Hat tip XBRADTC for spotting this.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Flashback Friday: Junkers Ju 390

     The Junker Ju 390, a development of the Ju 290 with an extreme range and the ability to carry a meaningful payload over that range. One of the aircraft designed from the Amerika bomber project, it was meant to have three different variants. One each for heavy transport, maritime patrol, and a heavy bomber.
     Specifications from the Luftwaffe Resource Center:

Type: Long Range Bomber or Reconnaissance aircraft.
Origin: Junkers Flugzeug und Motorenwerke AG
Models: V1 to V3 and A-1
Crew: N/A
First Flight: Prototypes only
Final Delivery: None
Number Produced: V1 and V2 Only

Model: BMW 801E
Type: 18-Cylinder two-row radial

Wing span: 165 ft. 1 in. (50.30m)
Length: 112 ft. 2.5 in. (34.20m)
Height: 22 ft. 7 in. (6.89m)

Empty: 81,350 lb. (36,900 kg)
Loaded: 166,448 lb. (75,500 kg)

Maximum Speed:
    Clean: 314 mph (505 kph)
    Max. Ext. Load: 267 mph (430 kph)
Service Ceiling (Typical): N/A
Range in Recce configuration:
    6,027 miles (9700 km)
Endurance in Recce configuration:
  32 Hours
Transport (V1): 22,046 lb. (10,000 kg)
Bomber (V3): 3,968 lb. (1800 kg)

     Just looking at the specification of the Ju 390 it is an excellent reconnaissance/patrol aircraft. Extremely long legs, and a relatively high top speed. Like many German bomber aircraft/designs the payload is somewhat lacking compared to Allied aircraft, but it has a vastly improved range compared to other German bombers (to give Germany her due, she never really had any heavy bombers only medium bombers like the He 111, as there was no really focus in that area by the German high command).
     The Ju 390 did not make into operational service by the end of WWII in Europe. The first prototype aircraft (of which 26 production aircraft were ordered) was completed on 20 October 1943 and took part in tests (including inflight refueling) until March 1944. A second aircraft (Ju 390V2) was completed sometime in 1943 with the first flight taking place in october 1943, with testing continuing until sometime in February 1945.
      The Ju 390 has in recent years become the subject of a rumor stating that a Ju 390 flew from France to within 20km of New York City. This is the subject of some debate, as there is some evidence (Ultra intercepts, and POW interrogations) to indicate such a flight did take place. However, what this rumor does not take into account is any radar system covering the approaches to NYC would have spotted it. NYC was then a hub of shipping, manufacturing, and had many major war contractors in the area. While it would be theoretically possible for A Ju 390 to make such a round trip, it would have to be modified to carry ~50% more fuel and would have been unable to carry any meaningful payload. There are also rumors a Ju 390 carried a Japanese general back to Japan via a polar route, and that a Ju 390 made several transport flights to Argentina before the war ended.
      The Ju 390 is an interesting aircraft as one of the few really long range aircraft produced at any level by Germany. It's planned use, bombing the U.S., thankfully was never used, but from a purely aeronautical standpoint the Ju 390 was an excellent aircraft.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Iran: Aliens Are Behind U.S. Foreign Policy

     From Fars News:

A stunning Federal Security Services (FSB) report on the nearly two million highly classified top-secret documents obtained from the United States Department of Defense (DOD) run National Security Agency-Central Security Service (NSA/CSS) by the American ex-patriot Edward Snowden states that this information is providing “incontrovertible proof” that an “alien/extraterrestrial intelligence agenda” is driving US domestic and international policy, and has been doing so since at least 1945, reported.

Edward Snowden is a computer specialist, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee, and former NSA/CSS contractor who disclosed these classified documents to several media outlets in late 2012 and was granted temporary asylum in Russia in 2013 after his designation by the Obama regime as the “most wanted man on earth.”

This FSB report further states that Snowden, in December, 2012, contacted the highly respected American columnist, blogger, and author Glenn Greenwald by an email headed with the subject line stating, “I and others have things you would be interested in.?.?.?.”

In Snowden’s own words, this report continues, he outlined to Greenwald the reason for his highly secretive group obtaining and releasing these documents by warning that that there “were actually two governments in the US, the one that was elected, and the other, secret regime, governing in the dark.”
As to who is running this “secret regime” Snowden and his cohorts were warning about, FSB experts in this report say, was confirmed this past weekend by former Canadian defense minister Paul Hellyer who was given access to all of Snowden’s documents by Russian intelligence services and stated they were, indeed, “accurate.”

Even though Defense Minister Hellyer’s exact statements to the FSB in regards to Snowden’s documents remain classified, shortly after his “extensive electronic interview” by the FSB he was allowed to appear on Russia Today’s program SophieCo this past fortnight where he shockingly admitted that aliens have “been visiting our planet for thousands of years” and described several types of these extraterrestrials, including “Tall Whites” who are working with the US Air Force in Nevada.
Of the many explosive revelations in this FSB report, the one most concerning to Russian authorities are the Snowden’s documents “confirming” that the “Tall Whites” (further revealed by Defense Minister Hellyer as noted above) are the same extraterrestrial alien race behind the stunning rise of Nazi Germany during the 1930’s.

In just one example of the many outlined in this FSB report, it shows that with this “alien assistance,” at the end of the 1930’s, when Nazi Germany possessed just 57 submarines, over the four years of World War II it built 1,163 modern technologically advanced submarines at its dockyards and even put them into operation.

Snowden’s documents further confirm, this report says, the “Tall Whites” (Nordic) meetings in 1954 with US President Dwight D. Eisenhower where the “secret regime” currently ruling over America was established.

Most disturbingly, this FSB report warns, is that the “Tall White” agenda being implemented by the “secret regime” ruling the United States calls for the creation of a global electronic surveillance system meant to hide all true information about their presence here on earth as they enter into what one of Snowden’s documents calls the “final phase” of their end plan for total assimilation and world rule.
Unbeknownst to the FSB, this report confirms, are those still in the US government backing Snowden, but whose presence Russian intelligence experts note is “unmistakable” and shows a cataclysmic power struggle is currently underway against this “secret regime” now headed by Obama by “forces unknown.”

Most to be feared by Russian policy makers and authorities, this report concludes, is if those opposing the “Tall White” “secret regime” ruled over by Obama have themselves aligned with another alien-extraterrestrial power themselves.

     No comment.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Post-War Yamato-class Turret Armor Tests

     THAT is a section of turret armor plating that was slated to be fitted aboard the IJN Shinano. As the Shinano was converted to an aircraft carrier, the turret armor was never fitted. The test was conducted in October 1946, with a 16/50 Mark 7 gun firing a super heavy AP shell. The tests were conducted at point-blank range. Had the armor been inclined back at the 45 degrees as planned, it would have been impenetrable to guns of any caliber at any range, bar point blank. Read more over at the NavWeaps Technical board.

Friday, January 10, 2014

GQ! Update

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to announce the christening of a new series here at GQ!. Weapons Grade Stupid. It will showcase amazing levels of stupidity in the the military, law enforcement, and political worlds. It will not be regular, merely as events take place. Moving on. Flashback Friday was not posted today because I didn't finish proofreading before I hit the sack last night, but it will resume next Friday.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Alaska-class CBs: America's Cruiser-Killers

     The United States Navy has never officially completed any ships under the designation "battlecruiser". There was a class of battlecruiser constructed during the early 1920, the Lexington-class, but none were completed as battlecruisers (two were completed as aircraft carriers). However, during WWII the U.S. commissioned two vessels known as the Alaska and Guam. They were designated "large cruisers", but had some characteristics of battlecruisers. This post will cover the mission for which the Alaskas were designed, their specifications, armament, armor scheme, propulsion, and their operational history.
     At the time the Alaska-class was designed, the Japanese heavy cruisers were becoming a threat to any then-future carrier operations independent from the Battle Force. At the same time, Germany was building the Duetschland-class "pocket battleships" for commerce raiding. France was also rumored to be developing a class of 17,500 ton commerce raiders carrying 12in guns. Thus, a class of ships was needed to be able to escort carriers, and defend the carriers without detracting from the firepower of the Battle Force. At, the same time this class would have to be able to hunt down and kill enemy commerce raiders. This is the niche that was to be filled by the Alaska-class.
      Final design specifications of the Alaska-class are drawn from William Garzke's Battleships: United States Battleships, 1935-1992:


   light ship
25,971 tons
27,000 tons
   full load
34,253 tons


   length overall
808’ 6” (246.431m)
   waterline length
791” 6” (241.249m)
   maximum beam
90’ 9.375” (27.670m)
   maximum draft
31’ 9.25” (9.684m)


   main battery
9 - 12”/50 (305mm)
12 - 5”/38 (127mm)
56 - 40mm/56

34 - 20mm/76


   main side belt
9.0” tapered to 5.0”, inclined 10 degrees (229mm-127mm)
   main deck
1.40” (34mm)
   second deck centerline
2.80” + 1.0” (71mm + 25mm)
   third deck
0.625” (16mm)


   shaft horsepower
   maximum speed
33 knots
   endurance @ 15 knots
     Armament. The Alaska-class was the last class of ship in the U.S. Navy to carry 12in guns, and probably the last in the world. However, the guns that the Alaskas were equipped with actually outclassed the 14"/45 Marks 1, 2, 3 and 5 guns carried by the New York-class and Pennsylvania-class battleships early in their careers. Specifically the guns carried by the Alaskas had better penetration capabilities than the earlier 14in guns at all ranges*. This was achieved by the use of the Mark 18 "super-heavy" AP shell which weighed in at 1,140lbs (517kg). The main battery turret armor was 325mm on the face, 152-133mm on the sides, and 127mm on the roof. The secondary armament consisted of 12 5"/38 guns in 6 twin mounts. Antiaircraft armament consisted of 56 40mm/56 cannons in 14 quad mounts, and 34 20mm/76 cannons in single mounts.  The massive secondary and anti-aircraft armament carried on the Alaska-class made them immensely valuable for kamikaze defense late in WWII. Had the Alaskas been kept in service after WWII, it is likely their 20mm cannons would have been removed entirely, and their 40mm mounts replaced by the then-new 3"/50 Mark 27 guns.
The Guam in Pearl Harbor in February 1945
     Armor. Armor was as listed above in the specifications. Additional armor numbers are, 280 to 330mm for the barbettes, and 270 mm on the control tower. As to underwater protection, it was almost nonexistent on the Alaska-class. Rather, the Alaskas relied on internal subdivision as protection against torpedo and underwater shell damage.  
      Propulsion. The Alaska-class ships were driven by four sets of General Electric geared turbines. The turbines were driven by eight Babcock & Wilcox Express boilers. The max steam pressure for the boilers was 45kg per square cm. The turbines drove four propellers. Top speed as designed was 33 knots, but the trials showed a top speed of 32.72 knots. Electricity was provided by four generators. Each engine room (there were two) had a single General Electric turbo-generator rested at 1,000kW, 450V AC. At either end of the propulsion spaces were single GE generators each rated at 1,062kW, 450V AC.
      The Alaska-class did suffer from a number of problems. The Alaska-class lacked sufficient space for a CIC, making conditions extremely crowded. The Alaska-class also had relatively thin armor for her displacement, at a time when it was possible to give ships a high speed even with thick armor (see the Iowa-class). The top speed of 32.72 knots achieved during trials lower than what was predicted or designed. Finally, underwater protection aboard the Alaskas was nonexistent. Any conventional side protection scheme was sacrificed to reach higher speeds, and would have left the Alaskas vulnerable to torpedo attack had the Alaska entered the war earlier than they did. This with a displacement approaching that of battleships.
      History. Construction of the Alaska-class was authorized by the Two-Ocean Navy Act in 1940. Six vessels were authorized, of which two were completed, three were cancelled, and one was scrapped before being commissioned. The two vessels that were completed were the Alaska and Guam. The Alaska was laid down on 17 December 1941, and commissioned 17 June 1944. The Guam was laid down on 2 February 1942, and commissioned on 17 September 1944. The third vessel which was constructed, was the Hawaii. She was launched, but never completed (more on the Hawaii later).
        Operational History. The Alaskas both had very short careers. The Alaska first screened aircraft carriers attacking the Japanese Home Islands in March 1945, and destroyed two Japanese aircraft on 18 March. She then participated in shore bombardment of Minami Daito Jima on 27 March, and in late July took part in sweeps of the East China Sea. After the Japanese surrender the Alaska supported minesweeping operations along the Chinese coats, supported Army landings at Inchon on 8 September,  and sailed to Tsingtao to hold the port by force until Marines arrived to take over.  The Guam arrived at Pearl Harbor on 8 February 1945, and sailed for Ulithi on 13 March joining the Alaska. From there the Guam escorted TF 58 on a raid of the Japanese Home Islands, breaking off on 19 March to escort the USS Franklin back to Ulithi. On 27 March the Guam participated in a bombardment of Okinawa. From the Invasion of Okinawa to the end of the war, the Guam participated in a series of raids in the east China Sea and the Chinese coast. After the end of the war the Guam showed the flag along the Chinese coast, and participated in the occupation of Korea.
The Hawaii just prior to the suspension of her construction.
      The Hawaii. The Hawaii was never completed, and she was scrapped in 1959. However, before her scrapping there were two proposals to convert her. One proposal was a conversion to a command ship similar to the Northampton, but larger. This proposal was nixed when it was shown that an escort carrier, the Wright, could the same thing for cheaper. The second proposal was a conversion to a guided missile cruiser, carrying an ASROC launcher, twin Talos SAM launchers, and twin Tartar SAM launchers. Other variants of the missile proposal included fitting the Hawaii with 12 U.S.-built V-2 missiles, or later 20 Polaris ICBMs. In the end the missile proposal was scrapped as being too costly.
      The Alaska-class cruisers were neither battlecruisers or battleships, regardless of their appearance. They were designed from the beginning as a counter to perceived threats from hostile cruisers. Their main armament was meant not for slugging it out with enemy battlewagons (though it is possible the 12/50 Mark 7 may have been better than the 14" guns carried by the Kongo-class battlecruisers), it was meant to overwhelm an enemy heavy cruiser. The mission the Alaskas were designed was by 1944, non-existent, and in hindsight they were unnecessary. They were anachronisms born from the lifting of the Washington Treaty restrictions on cruisers. Regardless of that fact, they served well and were not inherently bad ships.

*Unfortunately, I cannot link directly to penetration tables for the 12in/50 and 14in/45 guns. If you wish to compare the penetrations for the guns, the requisite tables are on the NavWeaps pages for each gun.  The NavWeaps pages are linked to in the post.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Weapons Grade Stupid: "New York homeland security chief used handgun as laser pointer during speech"

Jerome M. Hauer, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's director of homeland security, took out his handgun and used the laser sighting device attached to the barrel as a pointer in a presentation to a foreign delegation, according to public officials. It happened Oct. 24 in Albany at the highly secure state emergency operations center below State Police headquarters.
These officials, one of whom claimed to be an eyewitness, said that three Swedish emergency managers in the delegation were rattled when the gun's laser tracked across one of their heads before Hauer found the map of New York, at which he wanted to point.
Hauer, commissioner of the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, was disabled by a stroke a few years ago and can be unsteady. He isn't a law enforcement official. He carries the loaded 9-millimeter Glock in a holster into state buildings, an apparent violation of state law barring state employees from bringing weapons to the workplace, several witnesses say.
The incident with the Swedish delegation occurred during a two-hour briefing at the operations center concerning the state's response to Superstorm Sandy, according to one of the officials.
Asked about the matter over the course of several weeks, Cuomo's press aide promised to look into it but has repeatedly had no comment. Hauer's communications officer, Peter Cutler, also promised to look into it, but he has declined to respond beyond saying he is unaware that it happened. "I've heard rumors," Cutler said.
Read the rest here.
      This man is dumber than a sack of rocks. The mere idea of using a pistol, which he wasn't supposed to have in the room, as a laser pointer is monumentally stupid. He completely disregards any shred of gun safety in his actions, with no regard for the safety of his audience, and could have shot a Swede official in the head. The pistol was in all likelihood loaded to boot. And let's not forget he was carrying a Glock pistol (I'd take the Glock line with a grain of salt as any chunky, black pistol is automatically a "Glock" in the eyes of the untrained, but New York does have a lot police departments using Glock weapons), and Glock pistols don't have safeties. When the trigger is pulled on a loaded Glock pistol, a bullet will fly. There is a reason for that, but this post isn't about that. The fact that a major security official in the State of New York exhibited such flippancy with a loaded firearm requires nothing short of this man's firing and humiliation. This is unacceptable in a law enforcement officer on top of his disregard for the laws which he is supposed to uphold. Fire this asshat. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Flashback Friday: Fubuki-class Destroyers

     This week's Flashback Friday look at Japan's Fubuki-class destroyers. Said to be the first "modern" destroyer, the Fubuki-class featured power-driven and weatherproof twin 5" mounts and torpedo reloads. Built starting in 1928 they remained part of Japan's front line fleet through the end of World War Two. 
Displacement (standard):    1750 tons
Displacement (rebuilt):       2050 tons
Length:                               118.4m
Beam:                                 10.4m
Draft:                                  3.2m
Propulsion:                         2 geared turbines driven by 4 boilers
Speed:                                38 knots
Range:                                5,000nm at 14 knots 
Crew:                                 219                            
Armament:                         six 12.7cm/50 3rd Year Type guns (paired)
                                           two 13mm/76 Type 93 MG
                                           nine 533mm torpedo tubes (three triple mounts)
                                           eighteen torpedoes
     The Fubukis were unique for their time as they had enclosed turrets for their 12.7cm guns. Most destroyer classes of the Interwar Period had open turrets. The rear of the turret was open to facilitate reloading and maintenance. However, the Fubukis had fully enclosed turrets which allowed use in all weather conditions. At the same time the Fubukis were the first destroyer class to carry reloads for their torpedo tubes. However, the Fubukis were rebuilt in the 30s due to longitudinal strength issues which were discovered after a typhoon damaged most of the Japanese Fourth Fleet. During this reconstruction the Fubukis lost their torpedo reloads.
      Beyond their armament there were not many other major innovations in the Fubuki-class destroyers.
The Fubukis were larger than most contemporary destroyers, with a 500 ton advantage in displacement over the U.S. Clemson-class destroyers. They were also faster than the Clemsons, by a full 2.5 knots. They were longer, wider, and had a deeper draft than the Clemson-class or the British A-class
      The Fubukis served from 1928 through 1945 in the service of the Japanese Navy. After World War II one Fubuki, the Hibiki, was turned over to the USSR as a war prize, and served until 1953. Of 24 Fubukis built, all but two were lost. Eight were sunk by submarines, two by mines, at least one by scuttling, and the remainder by air attacks. For vessels built in the late 1920s the Fubukis remained surprisingly potent through WWII. Interestingly, it was a Fubuki-class destroyer, the Amagiri, that rammed and sank PT-109 commanded by John F. Kennedy. 
     The Fubukis carried an armament that for their time punched far above their weight. They allowed greater flexibility in their use because of their heavy armament and high speed. For this, the Fubukis have earned a place in naval history.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Where Have All The Wargames Gone?

From Strategy Page:

by James Dunnigan
December 14, 2003
Commercial wargames began in the late 1950s as much simplified versions of systems used by professional soldiers for over a century. Unlike the professional games, those first commercial designs from Avalon Hill were actually historical simulations. The professional wargames concentrated on fighting tomorrow's battles, not yesterdays. Moreover, the professional games concentrated a lot of effort on tactical and operational level operations, while the first commercial wargames were largely strategic level.

There was a reason for this, and the reason was simplicity and accessibility. The professional wargames were complex beasts, requiring many hours of work to master, and equally long hours to play through. The commercial games had to be much more accessible. Even though these games were being bought by an upscale market of well educated men and teenagers, no one would have bought a game done to professional military standards. It was quickly discovered that commercial success meant a game that could be learned in less than half an hour, and played in two or three.

The early game designers were not concerned so much about complexity as they were in making the game historically realistic. This was not as easy as it looked, but most of the development effort went into creating a simulation that could, with reasonable (or at least convincing) accuracy reproduce the historical event it represented.

But then something unexpected happened. As gamers played more of the early games, they became adept at easily handling game procedures that scared off most of the population. Gamers trained themselves, by simply playing a lot, to a level where they could easily handle more complex procedures. Designers, being experienced gamers themselves, also became adept enough to create more complex games that did not collapse under mountains of procedures. The more complex games could thus cover more detail in the historical situation, but too often the more complex games were, well, simply more complex.

Then something less unexpected happened. The more complex a game was, the fewer copies were sold. Many experienced gamers who were capable of dealing with the more complex games decided that, for them, life was too short and they would just stick with the simpler games. Thus, after the first wave of complex games appeared in the mid-1970s, there was something of a backlash as gamers snapped simpler games in large quantities.

I always preferred to add as little complexity as possible to a design, in order to achieve additional (or necessary) realism or play value. I've designed a few complex games, and don't remember the process, or the results, fondly. It always seemed much ado about not much. But I was in the minority among game designers, and after I left the business in 1980, the designers of more complex games predominated. Many went on to design rules for miniatures games, an area that concentrated on detailed simulation of tactical operations.

The point of a historical simulation is to replicate the decision making process of the two commanders. This has more to do with things like decision cycles (which vary from army to army and period to period) and customs and habits among commanders (ditto.) One reason people preferred games that featured outstanding military leaders was that these guys had, in effect, "special powers." They didn't play by the rules historically, so you had to invent new game procedures to replicate the additional capabilities these Great Captains brought to the battlefield. Wellington simplified this effect somewhat when he said "Napoleon was worth 40,000 men." Napoleon was more than that, but it's true that his skills often had the same effect as giving a less able general an extra army corps or two. But a good designer would want to capture those specific skills of Napoleon (insight, speedy decision making, inspiration to troops and commanders alike, and so on) in his design. Other Great Captains would bring a different mix of magic to the battle, although I have found that there is a limited menu of skills for Great Captains to choose from. Still, players enjoyed seeing that kind of specialization.

Through the 1980s and 90s, designers concentrated on items that had previously been hidden from view. But this was often at the expense of simplicity. The details, real or imagined, of mechanized operations, intelligence play and psychological warfare became popular items for designers to spotlight. A game that paid a lot of attention to things logistics was a hard sell, even to the most experienced grognard.

The collapse of the wargame market in the 1980s gave designers an incentive to be even more creative, and they were. There was a lot more innovation in game design, and close attention paid to the shrinking pool of customers. Complex procedures were simplified and new game mechanics were used to keep players involved, without losing them in a morass of procedures. Card based games often dispensed with the map altogether. Random events became more common, and realistic. As the 80s went into the 90s, designers became, quite naturally, more skilled and resourceful.

With the appearance of the Internet, it became a lot easier for designers and publishers to be in regular contact with their customers. BBS systems and email, which proliferated in the 1980s, were limited by the relatively small number of people who were online. This changed in the 1990s and wargamers quickly became a vibrant online community. Wargames, including the manual ones, went online as well. Programs like Aide de Camp and Cyberboard allowed gamers to play their favorite manual games on a PC, and with opponents anywhere on the net. It was no longer a major chore to find live opponents.

When I started StrategyPage in 1999, part of the impetus was the proposition; what would a 21st century "Strategy & Tactics" look like? There are no games on StrategyPage, because wargames are a mature industry. This was not the case in 1999, thus there was no opportunity to do the same thing we did in 1969. Actually, we do have a unique type of wargame planned for StrategyPage, but we like to stay in the black. It's much more time consuming and expensive to create and publish a computer wargame than it is for a manual one. So it will be a while before we get the game element online.

Manual games were turned into a niche market by PCs and role playing games. That is not likely to change. Even computer versions of manual games do not have a large market because of the much greater popularity of fantasy and Science Fiction type games. This has created a situation where many of the best designers develop new game concepts for a very small segment of the game market. Stranger still, few of these ideas make it over to the more popular market segments. In the 1980s and 90s, many of the computer game developers had a background in manual wargames. But this changed as more young designers came into the business who had cut their teeth on video and PC games. Gamers who have been playing manual and computer games since the 1970s have noted that many of the earlier computer games had more meat on them (in terms of game value) than current efforts. A lot of this has to do with the appeal of eye candy (snazzy graphics), which is where a lot of the budget goes. Most current games provide more work for novelists (scenario writers) than for game designers.

Which reminds me of what I used to tell the folks at SPI during the 1970s, "these are the good old days, enjoy them while you can."

     This article is ten years old, but still rings true. I'm a small time wargamer myself, I have about a  dozen war-games of varying complexities and scenarios. In the 80s war-games really did get massively complicated. Compare Sixth Fleet to 3rd Fleet. Same series, ten years later and the game is massively more complicated. The emphasis on the minutiae of war can at times be a plus or massive negative. Now, with the advent of the Internet we have wargames like World of Tanks (which is a lot of fun, if you have a good computer), or War Thunder which allow platoon level combat on the ground or in the sky. There is no multi-hour set-up for games like 7th Fleet or SPI's Third World War, nor do online games take upwards of 24 hours to play to the end. 
      Unfortunately, there will probably never be a return of wargaming with the massive community, large number of publishers, and large selection of games that there was back in the 80s. Part of this has to do with the collapse of the USSR which removed a great deal of fodder for war-games back then. So many games were based on a U.S. vs. USSR war, with variants for all theaters. From Western Europe to the Balkans, and the Indian Ocean to the Western Pacific. Perhaps someday there might be return of wargaming with a potential U.S. vs. China war or China v.s. Russia war, but I doubt it. There simply isn't the high demand for physical war-games any more.  
     And that's a shame, because there is a unique feeling after you set up a big war-game, play it out and finish it. It's hard to explain, but it's something along the lines of that you know the time spent wargaming was time well spent.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 In Review

This list is taken from Strategy Page. Unfortunately, I have been out of the loop for most of the year, and missed a lot of what happened this year. Thus, the use of this list. 

That was the year that was and here are the top ten (in no particular order) military events that defined (or defiled) 2013.

1. The Arab Spring Turns Rancid. In 2011 spontaneous uprisings in most Arab countries overthrew several long-standing dictatorships (Tunisia, Egypt, Somalia and Libya). But most of those uprisings failed. Some did so quietly, as in Saudi Arabia where the aristocrats passed out more gifts and made more promises. Others took longer or suffered continued violence and the growing presence of Islamic terrorist groups. This was not the way it was supposed to be and the Arab world is rethinking its options.

2. The Syrian Civil War Does Not Turn Out As Everyone Expected. Unwilling to risk supporting Islamic terrorists as in Libya the West refuses to provide support (especially air support) to the Syrian rebels who then squander their initial advantage by fighting each other. The government is now on the offensive and the rebels appear doomed. The rebels might still turn it around, but at the moment it doesn’t look good.

3. Iran Fools Everyone, Again. Unwilling to lose its only Arab ally in Syria, Iran hires mercenaries and convinces Russia to join in a series of unlikely adventures that saves the pro-Iran Syrian government. Iran also undertakes another clever campaign to sabotage the 2012 international sanctions (against the Iranian nuclear program) that have crippled the Iranian economy and made the religious dictatorship even more unpopular inside Iran. All this is yet another example of why Iran has been the regional superpower for several thousand years and why their Arab neighbors are very, very worried.

4. China Rolls On, One Tiny Victory After Another. The Chinese campaign of conquering real, or imagined, nearby “lost territories” by winning many little victories in battles none of the victims is willing to go to war over continues. China has, in the last few years, taken control of sizable chunks of India and large swaths of the South China Sea one tiny piece at a time. The victims are organizing, but have yet to come up with a workable defense against the Chinese tactics.

5. Iraq Finds A Way To Squander Democracy. When the American left in 2011 Iraq had a shrinking terrorism problem and bright prospects. Since then the terrorism has increased and the prospects have dimmed. One reason for that reversal could be seen when the Iraqi ambassador to Afghanistan recently advised the Afghans to not make the mistake Iraq made by forcing all U.S. troops out in 2011. Iraq now wants the Americans to come back, but there is little enthusiasm in the United States for that. Iraq faces the usual massive corruption that cripples so many Arab states and that makes it difficult to crush the Sunni Arab Islamic terrorists who want Sunni minority rule restored.

6. France Finds Glory In A Distant Desert. France unexpectedly takes the Islamic demon by the horns in Mali by leading a January invasion of northern Mali. That area had been turned into a sanctuary for Islamic terrorists in early 2012 and while the West and Mali’s neighbors dithered, France acted. Nevertheless, a year later France is telling Africans that they cannot expect France to always come clean up situations like this and that Africa has to form more peacekeeping forces to deal with the endemic violence and unrest in Africa.

7. North Korea Proves Again Why It Is Better To Be Feared Than Loved. With the economy continuing to crumble, despite Chinese efforts to prop it up, North Korea switches to using firing squads to discourage people from leaving the “workers’ paradise” or watching videos of life in more prosperous China and South Korea. Even senior officials and dictator Kim Jong Un’s own uncle have been executed, in an effort to inspire more discipline and less corruption and entrepreneurial spirit. China is not happy with all this, especially since the uncle was considered their man (and the number two guy in North Korea) but is willing to look the other way if it works. China is, many tend to forget, still a communist police state.

8. The UN Again Finds That Fighting For Peace Works. For years Congo was the largest UN peacekeeping operation, and also the least successful. Finally desperate enough to try the anything, the UN accepted the advice of many military experts (and military history) and resorted to a little ultra-violence. This meant forming a brigade trained and equipped for combat. This largely African brigade was sent after the most troublesome rebel militias and destroyed them in short order. Now the UN is considering trying this approach some more.

9. Russia Discovers That The Legacy Of The Soviet Union Is Poisonous. More than a decade of reform attempts have left the Russian military not much better off. This effort did reveal that the corrupt practices that were created during the Soviet era (including some inherited from the czars) were surviving and thriving in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse. Russia is having a hard time coming to grips with the fact that the corruption that helped bring down the czarist government in 1918 survived that revolution and grew to bring down the Soviet Union. Now it threatens the quasi-democratic Russia that could, if there were enough will, actually do something about it.

10. The Death Of Secrecy. China and political activists inside the U.S. government have made it clear that keeping secrets is a lot harder than it ever was before. Cheap and powerful computers plus over a century of new marketing and data management ideas has produced vast amounts of data about where most people are and what they are doing. This didn’t cause much commotion when it was just commercial firms collecting and using it. But the government was a different matter. A side effect of all this technology was growing difficulty in keeping secrets. China has spent most of the last decade plundering the world’s computers for all manner of commercial and military data. In the last year a lot more of the details of this effort became public knowledge.

Have a happy New Year, and God bless in 2014.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Scharnhorst and Gneisenau: Germany's Last Battlecruisers

     The Scharnhorst-class was a class of battleships or battlecruisers, depending on one's definition, produced by Nazi Germany during the 1930s immediately before WWII. They were meant to serve as a counter to the French Dunkerque-class which was being be built around that time. Built to fight in the North Sea, their armament was limited by the political need not to anger Britain or France. The Treaty of Versailles in 1919 banned Germany from building new battleships, but allowed "armored vessels". However, the Anglo-German Naval Agreement (AGNA) allowed Germany 35% of the total tonnage of the Royal Navy, and new battleships or battlecruisers. This agreement would pave the way for the construction of the Bismarck-class and the H-class.
     Three days before the signing of the AGNA on 15 June 1935, the keel of the Scharnhorst was laid down in Wilhelmshaven. One month before the keel for the Gneisenau was laid down in Kiel on 16 May. The designs for these ships had been completed long before, with an armament of 9 28cm/54.5 SK C/34 guns in three triple turrets (one the few German ship classes to be equipped with tripe turrets) being selected. Armor consisted of a vertical 350mm belt tapering off to 170mm at the outboard slope of the armor deck, and deck armor ranging from 50mm to 105mm. The secondary armament consisted of 12 15cm/55 SK C/28 guns mounted in 4 twin and 4 single turrets (these are not be confused with the 150mm AA guns the Scharnhorst-class carried). The armor on the 28cm turrets was 360mm on the face, 200mm on the sides, 150mm on the roof, and a range of 350mm to 200mm on the barbettes*. Displacement was 37,100 tons. One interesting point about their armor is that generally on battleships, the armor corresponded to the main battery (e.g. guns of 406mm, armor of a thickness that would defeat a 406mm shell). This was not the case with the Scharnhorst-class which carried far more than necessary to defeat an 283mm shell.
     The Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were considered by the Kriegsmarine to be battleships, but were viewed by the Royal Navy as battlecruisers. Their armor listed above compares very favorably to Britain largest battlecruiser, the HMS Hood. The Hood had a 305mm belt (the belt on the Hood was angled at 12 degrees, whereas the Scharnhorst-class had vertical belts), which tapered off to 127mm and 152mm at the ends of the ship. Turret armor on the Hood was slightly heavier than the Scharnhorst-class, the face of the Hood's turrets was 373mm, 299 to 274mm on the sides, and 124mm on the roof. 
     The Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were built for combat in the North Sea against French battleships which is why they carried battlecruiser thickness armor. The 28cm guns were selected for their high rate of fire and the fact that the Dunkerque-class was thought to mostly lightly armored. However, when faced with vessels with a greater armament and armor the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were unable to return any meaningful damage.
     The operational history is the Scharnhorst-class is excellent with both ships serving well throughout their service lives. During the Invasion of Norway the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau sank the carrier HMS Glorious and two escorting destroyers. During this engagement the Scharnhorst was hit by one torpedo launched by one escorting destroyers which did serious damage to propulsion and flooded four watertight compartments. From the sinking of the Glorious for about six month the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were inactive while the Scharnhorst underwent repairs. In January of 1941 both ships sortied from Kiel to attack British convoys. They escaped detection and came upon the convoy HX 106 which was escorted by the HMS Ramilles, causing the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau to break off their attack. The ships returned to Brest where, after undergoing repairs, participated in the infamous Channel Dash in February 1941.  Both the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau sustained mine damage off Holland during the Channel Dash and were forced to undergo repairs in Kiel. From February 1941 to March 1941 the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau would remain in German waters. In March 1943 the Scharnhorst was deployed to Norway where she was to link up with the Tirpitz and attack convoys sailing to Russia. The Gneisenau was also supposed to sail with her, but took heavy bomb damage from RAF bombers in late February 1942, and was slated to be reconstructed. This reconstruction would have included an upgrade to her armament with 6 380mm guns similar to those carried on the Bismarck-class. From here the ships separated. 
     The Scharnhorst arrived in Norway on March 22nd. From April 1943 to September 1943 the Scharnhorst and Tirpitz were inactive due to a fuel shortage. Then on September 8th the Scharnhorst and Tirpitz sortied to Spitzbergen where they bombarded shore installations. On December 22nd the Scharnhorst sortied for her final mission (the Tirpitz did not sail with her because she had been damaged by British midget submarines soon after the Spitzbergen operation) to attack convoy JW 55B. 
     Convoy JW 55B was escorted by three British cruisers, the light cruisers Sheffield and Belfast as well as the heavy cruiser Norfolk (these were known as Force 1). The King George V-class battleship Duke of York was also in the area providing overwatch for JW 55B and another convoy, RA 55A. The Scharnhorst was unable to make contact with JW 55B, but did find the three escorting cruisers. Force 1 detected the Scharnhorst at a range of 33,000 meters from Force 1, 60,000 meters from the convoy. The Scharnhorst was unaware of the British presence since her radar was off to avoid detection. The British opened fire at a range of 8,600 with star shells to illuminate the Scharnhorst at 0840 on December 26th. During this encounter (from 0925 to 0955) the Scharnhorst sustained two 203mm hits, one of which destroyed the forward rangefinders and crippled the Scharhorst's radar capability (the shell sheared off the radar antenna and killed all personnel in the radar receiving room). The Scharnhorst was now blind in the forward sector, as the aft radar had a limited sweep over the forward sector. At 0955 the Scharnhorst was able to break away from Force 1 and escape. 
"The sinking of Scharnhorst"
     At 1200 the Belfast was able to reestablish radar contact with the Scharnhorst. From this point till about 1315 the Scharnhorst fought with Force 1, scoring a serious hit on the Norfolk around 1223. Around 1315  broke contact and made for Norway. However, in making for Norway the Scharnhorst had to cross the course of the Duke of York. At 1617 the Duke of York made radar contact with the Scharnhorst at a range of 42,500 meters. At 1650 the Duke of York opened fire on the Scharnhorst after she had been illuminated by star shells from the Belfast.  
Map of the Battle of North Cape (click to enlarge)
     This began the last surface engagement of German and British capital ships of WWII. The duel that began was highly unequal because the Scharnhorst 283mm guns simply could not penetrate the Duke of York's armor at any point. The Scharnhorst was able to  damage the Duke of York's superstructure, and temporarily knock out her fire control radar. However, between 1650 and 1842, when the Duke of York ceased firing, the Scharnhorst took at least 13 356mm hits. At the end of the gunnery duel the Scharnhorst was still making around 22 knots, leading to a British torpedo attack around 1850. 4 torpedoes hit, slowing the Scharnhorst to 12 knots, though the chief engineer reported he could still produce 22 knots. At this point a second torpedo attack was made because of the apparent inability to sink German capital ships by gunfire (this was learned from inability to sink the Bismarck by gunfire). At 1900 all confidential papers were burned by order of the Scharnhorst's captain. At 1945 the Scharnhorst sank bow first with her propellers still turning. Out of a crew of 1968 officers and enlisted man, only 36 enlisted men survived the engagement. Thus, ended the Battle of North Cape.
     As to the fate of the Gneisenau, work was eventually stopped in early 1943 at the order of Hitler, who was angry at the failure of German surface raiders. The 283mm turrets that had been removed to make way for the new 380mm turrets, were shipped to Norway. There they were installed as coastal defense guns, where one remains there to this day. From 1943 to till 1945 nothing happened to the remains of the Gneisenau. In March 1945 the Gneisenau was towed into the entrance of the harbor of Gotenahfen where she was sunk as a block ship to delay the Advance of the Red Army. Her hull was scraped by the Polish government from 1947 to 1951.
        The Scharnhorst-class was never able to fulfill it's mission of fighting in the French or British in the North Sea. They were forced into a commerce raiding role which they were not optimized for, and when faced with superior opponents were unable to deal damage back. Their armor was excellent for their displacement, but they did not have the survivability of German WWI battlecruisers. Germany packed a lot of punch into relatively small hulls, an they would have performed well in a hypothetical North Sea engagement. However, when forced into a commerce raiding role or engaging more heavily armored ships, they simply could not do the job.

* All turret armor numbers are taken from Naval Weapons of World War Two by John Campbell.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Flashback Friday: O-class Battlecruisers

     Part of Plan Z was the construction of three O-class battlecruisers. The design originated from a proposal to increase the armament of the proposed P-class to 380mm guns.The O-class was designed for commerce raiding and their specifications show this. By mid-1939 all work on the P-class had stopped and was redirected into the O-class. 
     O-class specifications*:
Displacement                       31,142 tons
Full load displacement          35,367 tons
Waterline length                    246.0m
Waterline beam                     30.0m
Draft (design)                        8.0m
Draft (full load)                      8.8m
Armament                              six 38cm/52 SK C/34 paired
                                             six 15cm/48 Tbts KC/36T paired 
                                             eight 10.5cm/65 SK C/33 paired (AA)
                                             eight 3.7cm/L83 SK C/30 paired (AA)
                                             twenty 2cm/65 C/30 in five quads (AA)
                                             twelve 533mm torpedo tupes in four fixed triple mounts
                                             four Arado-196 floatplanes
Speed                                  33.5 knots at designed displacement
Shaft horsepower                 176,000
Endurance                           14,000 nautical miles at 19 knots
Protection                            90mm upper belt
                                            190mm  main side belt
                                            30 mm upper deck
                                            60mm armor deck
     Let's start with protection. In comparison to the numbers listed above for the O-class, the HMS Hood had a a side belt of 203mm, a 127mm upper belt, an upper deck of 32mm, and a lower deck of 48mm. The O-class had lighter armor than the Hood. On 24 May 1941 the Hood was sunk by a single hit from the Bismarck which penetrated to her magazines, which detonated. The loss of the Hood directly confirmed the insanity of lightly armored capital ships engaging hostile capitals ships. The protection scheme of the O-class was obsolete the second it was designed. The lack of armor may have saved weight, leading to a greater speed, but the cost in staying power was tremendous. For further examples of lightly armored battlecruisers being lost to magazine explosions, look no further than the Indefatigable, Queen Mary and Invincible. All lost to magazine explosions at Jutland. The O-class would have been dead the moment it engaged a battleship.
The explosion of the Queen Mary at Jutland
     Moving on to the armament, this is a spot where the O-class wasn't as bad. The O-class was armed with 6 38cm guns. Though while this armament would have been excellent for sinking merchant vessels, in an engagement with hostile battleships the O-class would have been heavily outgunned. However, the O-class had the advantage in speed over almost every class of battleship that served in WWII (the Iowa-class being the exception). Assuming a hostile battlecrusier had been able to catch an O-class, the gunnery duel would have been almost equal. For comparison the Repulse-class battlecruisers carried six BL 15in MK 1 guns, and the French battleship Dunkerque carried 8 330mm guns. As to the secondary anti-aircraft armament, the O-class would have had very light defenses against air attacks. Only 36 guns of varying calibers. This was light even for German vessels. The Bismarck carried 16 10.5cm AA guns, 16 3.7cm guns, and 20 2cm guns in comparison. 
The Tirpitz firing her main battery
     The power plant for the O-class were eight 24 cylinder MAN diesel engines (V type), arranged four to a shaft. The diesels generated 13750 horsepower each continuously, and had a maximum rating of 15000 horsepower each. The centerline shaft (the O-class would have had three propellers) was driven by a steam turbine and four high temperature and pressure boilers. The operating temperature for the boilers would have been 460 degrees celsius (and could be superheated to 960 degrees celsius), and the operating pressure would have been 55kg per square cm. The steam plant was rated at 55,000 horsepower normally, and 60,000 at maximum. The use of mixture of diesel-steam powerplant allowed a relatively low fuel consumption rate, and an endurance of 14,000nm to 15,000nm at 19 knots. Though, this range would only have been attained with only the diesels in operation. 
     The method in which these ships were to be used, was commerce raiding. It was planned that a task force made up of 3 H-class battleships, an aircraft carrier, with cruisers and destroyer as escorts, would engage convoy escorts. Allowing the battlecruisers to strike the undefended merchant vessels. How this proposed task force would break out of the North Sea, or the English Channel has not been shown. Had such a force attempted a breakout, the British would have undoubtedly sortied the Home Fleet to engage the force. Any O-class vessel attached would have almost assuredly been lost in an such an engagement. It must be remembered that the British were able to keep the Geramn High Seas Fleet bottled up in the North Sea for the duration of WWI. The location of Germany would have precluded the effective use of an O-class battlecruiser as a commerce raider simply because of the gauntlet that would have had to be run to reach the British convoys.
     The O-class is an interesting mental exercise, in what a Bismarck with no armor would look like. However, in combat the glaring lack of armor would have doomed them to penetrating hits to magazine and machinery spaces. The armament was passable, but lacking in the AA role. The mission that was planned for the O-class was, while feasible, do not take into account the location of Germany or the possibility of an encounter with better armored and/or armed opposition. The O-class as designed was a floating coffin, nothing more, nothing less.

*Garzke, William and Dulin, Robert. Battleships: Axis and Neutral Battleships in WWII.
Painting at top by Richard Allison.