Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Sarge, What Is a Battleship? (Part One)

USS Midway (CV-41) conducting an underway replenishment with USS Iowa (BB-61).
Seventy-one percent of the Earth's surface is covered by water. While that does include lakes, rivers, streams, etc., most of that surface area is covered by the sea. As I've mentioned before, most of the world's commerce travels by water, in ships.

Since our species discovered that we could make things that float and that could carry us and our stuff over the waters, other people took it upon themselves to make their own things which could float and attempt to take the stuff being carried in other people's things which float.

So as not to have their stuff being carried on floating things stolen by people on other floating things, navies were created. They also started calling the floating things boats and ships. Basically boats and ships, though the names for "things which can float and carry people and their stuff" are as varied as there are grains of sand on the beach. Which, by the way, is where true sailors don't want to be. (A submarine is called a "boat," even though the freaking things are huge these days, just to annoy the SWOs out there, an aircraft carrier is also called a boat by the embarked air wing. Though they do tend to call it "the boat," implying that it is their home.)

Anyhoo.

As one might imagine, as things at sea heated up, with everybody trying to steal other people's stuff and establish control of the sea lanes, their own and that of others, navies were created. Now in the early days naval combat occurred in one of two ways: ships would intentionally run into other ships in order to punch a hole in the hull and, hopefully, sink them. The other way was essentially just land combat only conducted between two floating platforms, in other words two (or more) interlocked ships.

(Source)
Ships in olden times were pretty clunky. Lots of guys rowing (juvat, Tuna, Beans, and LUSH) with a few guys in charge (YHS) and lots of guys with bows, swords, and what not to attack the guys on the other ships. That first group were the sailors, the second group were what you might call marines. The sailors controlled the ship, the soldiers did the fighting. Bigger ships (with more soldiers) usually would get the better of smaller ships.

As time went by, cannon were invented. Naturally someone had the bright idea to put cannon on ships. Again, bigger ships with more cannon would get the better of smaller ships with fewer cannon.

Spanish galleon (left) firing its cannons at a Dutch warship (right).
Cornelis Verbeeck, ca. 1618/1620
But in the old days, before cannon, naval combat was pretty much a free for all, each individual ship would seek out an opponent to either ram (and hopefully sink) or (if necessary) grapple with in order for its soldiers to fight the other ship's soldiers and capture the enemy ship.

But with the advent of cannon, and probably the realization that a ship's size and the amount of cannon it could carry was limited by the technology of the day, one had to necessarily build more ships. While the Dutch and the Spanish navies both had their moment in the sun, and the French tried oh so very hard to match them, it was the British Royal Navy which dominated naval warfare in the 18th through the early 20th centuries.

Hold the Line
by Richard Grenville
HMS Temeraire, HMS Victory and HMS Neptune. Mid-morning on the 21st October 1805 and, in light wind,
Admiral Lord Nelson’s Fleet makes a slow approach towards the French/Spanish Lines.
(Source)
If you'll notice in that painting above, the guns are generally along the sides of the ship. One can pack more guns in that way and there is much more room to handle those guns, which were rather large, cumbersome (barrel close to nine feet long), and heavy (over 7,000 pounds). A gun crew could consist of 15 men, many of whom didn't load and fire the cannon but were involved in keeping the gun supplied and in moving the damned thing after firing. All within the confines of the ship's hull for the largest cannon.

French 36-pounder long gun
The best way to fight these ships (that is command and control them during battle) was to present the ship's broadside to the enemy, where the most cannon could be brought to bear. With multiple ships, it was best to form them in lines for battle. The heaviest, most powerful ships were therefore known as "line of battle ships."

In the early days of sail, the big line of battle ships were also known as "ships of the line" and/or "sail of the line." Can you see where this is going?

The Battle of Copenhagen, 2 April 1801Nicholas Pocock
The age of the wooden sailing ship, the ship of the line if you will, was eventually superseded by ironclad sailing ships and then the sails themselves went the way of the dodo. All to be replaced by a new line of battle ship, which evolved (you guessed it) into the "battleship." A warship designed to steam into harm's way and slug it out with an enemy.

But the new battleships went to war much like their ancestors, in long lines...

Battle of Manila Bay, 1 May 1898
Fred S. Cozzens.
The U.S. battle line turning while in action, with USS Olympia leading.
To piggy back on juvat's Monday post, and to honor his (and other Chanters) home state -

USS Texas, built in 1892, was the first pre-dreadnought battleship of the United States Navy.
What's that on the horizon, Sarge?

Why 'tis another battleship post!

Stay tuned.




60 comments:

  1. Great way to start the day! Thank you.

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  2. The flapping of sails and creaking of spars is wot I heard reading this post Sarge, aye! Lets hear it for Alexander Kent. Grenville's painting is captivating, had to look him up as a result. Nice selection of visuals today and am tuned in on Channel Chant.

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  3. Ditto rkinion! I always thought that the Texas was a Dreadnought. Hmmmm.... In 1914 it was "the most powerful weapon in the world." I think my dad took that title in 1975 after some Christmas sweet potato casserole.... memorable....

    Hey I like the new designation! Is that official?? Can I use it on my business cards???

    STxAR: oC, GRT, HRE, EIEIO. Kinda has a ring to it..... "Why, yes ma'am, I am an "other Chanter". Why do you ask?? It's not generally something I brag about.... My humility is what I'm most proud of."

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    1. USS Texas BB-35 was a dreadnought era Battleship. Dreadnought was a specific ship, but had two characteristics that were revolutionary, Big Guns and steam turbines. Once that ship was built, other navies raced to create their own "dreadnoughts", so battleships built in that period of time were "Dreadnought Era" shortened to Dreadnoughts.

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    2. STxAR - Yes, use that designator to your heart's desire.

      The one you visited as a lad is the second ship to bear that proud name. She is indeed of the Dreadnought era.

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    3. juvat - Anticipating Chapter 2 are we?

      Why yes, yes you are.

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    4. My early morning eyes missed the 1892 date. That one was the same age as my granddaddy.

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    5. Same generation as my paternal grandfather, give or take a year or two.

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    6. "Knocked the wind from your sails" a bit, did I, Sarge?

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    7. Negative, I was in irons only but a moment!

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  4. The 1914 TEXAS was the second one, a Dreadnought.

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  5. Hey AFSarge;

    Thank you for the article, I have commented that we should recommission one of the "Iowa" battleships back into the fleet. Although I don't see that happening.

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    1. I am up in the air on recommissioning the battleships. Heart says yes, head says no. Not sure what use they would be other than as Tomahawk platforms, and submarines can do that and other things.

      Sad to say, but that (battle)ship has sailed.

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    2. With their guns, all their guns, both main and secondary, an Iowa class BB can deny an area consisting of a 50nm diameter circle (using rap rounds in the 16", maybe more with modern versions if we built them.) That means one 'modern' BB could effectively shut down the waters near Iran, around Singapore, the straights between Red China and Taiwan, or... the waters around Hong Kong.

      Just with the guns.

      And it would take a tremendous amount of missiles to seriously damage one. Since no-one has the guns to take one out any more. Yes, casualties, but as a fighting unit just with guns... modern missile (non-nuke) damage would be survivable.

      Moot point, as the Navy has sold ALL spare barrels and ALL stores of rounds.

      Bastiges.

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    3. That battleship might last one day. Might. She would be on the bottom in pretty short order.

      The bad guys get a vote.

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    4. Beans, the USN has also dumped (or are still dumping) all other spares for the Iowa-class ships out of the warehouses.

      They're magnificent ships (yeah, I'm a bit prejudiced!), but I have to agree with Sarge.....I just don't think they'd last very long in modern naval warfare.

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    5. That was done by the Obama administration.

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    6. drjim - Without a myriad of support a single battleship would be torn to pieces by missiles, bombs, and torpedoes. (I too love 'em but realize that their day has passed.)

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    7. Scott - Does it matter who did it in that nest of vipers in DC?

      Nothing has really changed.

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    8. I'm afraid I have to agree. One day, maybe. The Iowa class was built to slug it out with her own kind in her own time. Now, she would need to be protected like a carrier. Just one homing torpedo under her keel, delivered by the equivalent of a PT boat, would break her back. The best they can do for us now they are doing magnificently. They remind us.

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  6. Great post!! A historical note: The French actually built better (at least in design) Ships; and such were greatly desired by the Royal Navy as prizes (which happened fairly frequently). The secret of the RN dominance--as in other things--was the men who manned and commanded her fleets.

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    1. The Royal Navy also had lots and lots of "at sea" time where the crews could practise their craft. Only so much you can do when stuck at anchor!

      French ships were indeed well-built and rather handsome as well.

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    2. British wooden ships suffered from a lack of wood. No, seriously. Both French and American ships tended to have more ribs, closer together, with thicker planks on the exterior (thus... Old Ironsides surviving hits that ravaged the Guerriere.) This point is made passingly in the movie "Masters and Commanders" and may whomever decided not to make a followup be slowly lowered into the La Brea tar pits! Grrrrr....

      And the actual lines of both French and American ships tended to be cleaner and more 'sailable' thus giving them some edge in speed. British ships were built to... last. Stockier, chunkier, not as fine lines.

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    3. It isn't just the amount of wood, it's the type of wood used in construction. The wood also needs to be seasoned, using raw wood to build a ship leads to a number of bad things, like leaks. Water inside the hull is not a good thing.

      Live oak was used in constructing USS Constitution:

      Live oak was widely used in early American butt shipbuilding. Because of the trees' short height and low-hanging branches, lumber from live oak was specifically used to make curved structural members of the hull, such as knee braces (single-piece, inverted L-shaped braces that spring inward from the side and support a ship's deck). In such cuts of lumber, the line of the grain would fall perpendicularly to lines of stress, creating structures of exceptional strength. Live oaks were not generally used for planking because the curved and often convoluted shape of the tree did not lend itself to be milled to planking of any length. Red oak or white oak was generally used for planking on vessels, as those trees tended to grow straight and tall and thus would yield straight trunk sections of length suitable for milling into plank lengths. (Source)

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    4. I visited the French Naval Museum at Rochefort, some splendid models of the warships of the age of sail there. It seemed to be the custom that a scale model would be built to show the navy what they were getting, the models were amazing examples of the shipbuilders skill. They had also started construction of the Hermione at that time, and as the people building it were after authenticity they were, as far as possible, constructing it using the methods and tools of the time. You are quite right that French ships were of a better design. I heard this stated by an RN officer when on a tour of HMS Victory and it's interesting how many times ships changed hand during the age of sail.
      Retired

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    5. I watched a video of Hermione under construction and then getting underway. A very pretty ship.

      Of course, HMS Victory exudes a sense of raw power, even in this modern age!

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  7. Many years ago the USS Missouri was berthed in Bremerton and a small portion open to the public (mainly the deck). Took my parents to visit and the impact was profound. Of course, they were young adults of WWII, and my father a CBI vet. I had a similar feeling watching the Ohio underway in Hoods Canal.

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    1. I get the chills when I see one of our warships. Riding an aircraft carrier (twice) was a huge thrill.

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  8. Great post this AM! Thanks. I know nothing about all this stuff, except maybe the "ship" "boat" thing, kinda like "brown shoe" vs. "black shoe". Oh well, I am really looking forward to the next installment. That one picture of the (NCO/Officer?) igniting the French cannon sends chills down me spine. Imagine the noise and movement of that thing. It looks like some of them aren't quite ready. I want that guy on the right to move his hand out of the way.

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    1. And no hearing protection! Where's OSHA when you need them? I'm triggered!

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    2. Fuzz - Those cannon really did "jump" upon firing. I wonder if the artist has ever seen one of those guns fired, the crew look far too nonchalant. Also they are all over-dressed, serving a gun is pretty dirty work, DAMHIK.

      As to hearing protection, Royal Navy gunners usually wrapped a kerchief 'round their heads to protect their hearing. With varying degrees of success no doubt!

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    3. Juvat - Hearing protection is very much a late-20th century kind of thing.

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    4. His rigging is not complete. As I remember, there needs to be a vee arrangement as I remember to haul it back to the gun port after loading, as well as arresting it's rearward leap. Those monsters need to be controlled at every moment.

      http://www.online-literature.com/victor_hugo/3067/

      This story always gives me chills....

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    5. A much better depiction of the gun's rigging is here.

      Artists...

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    6. " Rigging" is similar to tackle, then?

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    7. No. StB has a valid question.

      Tackle is used to hold and control a gun.

      Rigging is used to support and control a mast.

      Yard tackle is used to raise and lower boats.

      Lines are used to control sail hardware.

      Sheets are used to control the direction of sails.

      Shrouds are used to support side-to-side motion of the mast.

      Stays are used to support fore and aft motions of masts...

      Roads are the ropes connecting the anchor chain and anchor. Some ships use only chains, some use roads...

      When dealing with a sailing ship, terms matter. Terms matter a lot!

      And, yes, a loose cannon, especially a chaser or a carronade, was an especially wonderfully sucky way to sink a ship, especially in a storm. Man killers. And potentially capable of punching holes in even the most reinforced sides or decks if given enough angle and distance to get up some good energy. Can somewhat be experienced today by letting SCUBA tanks roll loose in a small boat in rough seas.

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    8. wait, so "wedding tackle" refers to............ Or is that a fishing term?

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    9. OAFS, that is a wonderful resource page. I can scale those drawings...... HHAHHAHAHAHAHH!! yes!

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  9. Part of each gun crew were powder monkeys. The illustration shows one. Young boys between 9-13. Not able to handle the gun but able to run to the magazine and pick up the powder charge and bring it back to the main crew. Again, something they got right in "Masters and Commanders."

    Along with the devastating damage from being struck by round shot without netting on the inside of the hull to slow splinters. Because, yes, crews were shredded by flying chunks of wood and metal from a hit. And woe be unto him that got near a cannon that was knocked off its carriage.

    The bow and stern chasers, bigger and longer guns in both the bow and the stern (firing only forward or backward) were powerful enough to penetrate a 1/3rd of the way into another equal ship by hitting it in the bow or stern. Which, if one of those 48-64lb balls goes ripping down a gundeck, well, that's a lot of damage. Thus part of the tactics were to deny the enemy a straight shot down one's bow or stern.

    And, of course, one doesn't want one's enemy to get a full broadside into one's bow or stern either, while correspondingly working really hard to get one's own ship to fire a full broadside down one's enemy's bow or stern. Crossing the T was not a modern invention.

    And... speaking of the old ramming tactic, has the Naval Academy been teaching that? Seems to be...

    And and... one of the most feared tactics amongst rowed galleys was the Diekplous. Row your galley to almost ramming the bow or stern of the enemy galley, and then swerve to run just alongside the enemy. Have your oars on that side of your ship pulled in real quickly and run your galley over and through the enemy's oars. You can kill or maim one half of the oarsmen on an enemy ship for almost no damage to yours. Thus leaving a fat bleeding target to come back to once the rest of the enemy is taken care of, or giving you one less enemy chasing your tail.

    Greeks and Byzantine galleys were known to be excellent maneuvering galleys, while actual Roman galleys tended to just be kinda not great at maneuvering but were more designed to disembark their troops rapidly onto an enemy ship, thus turning sea warfare into quasi land warfare.

    Also, at the Battle of Lepanto, while both sides had armed galleys, which meant little broadside armament, mostly bow and stern (because, rowers, duh) the Venetians had... Galleons. The first real broadside equipped sailing vessels. One of the reasons (God being the other) that the Christians won against the Caliphate's forces. (Why God, well, as the story goes, many many miles away, the Pope at the time called for a victory prayer at about the same time as the tide turned for the Christian forces. One of those 'Hmmmmmmm...' moments in time.

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    1. Well said, obviating the need for me to post all that.

      Somehow, I knew I could count on The Chanters to fill in the blanks.

      Well done, Beans.

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    2. Yer welcome. Bloviating is something I am good at.

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    3. We actually had a ramming tactic in the Deuce. Something to do with that pointy thing in the back.

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    4. My guess is that it was never employed? One of those last ditch sort of things?

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    5. Yup. After the Hughes Sand-seekers and the 2.5 FFAR's. Probably might declare it a bad day all around and go home.

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    6. Yup, I can see that. (Sand-seekers, I've heard of those.)

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  10. Great post, Sarge!

    I can barely wait for "Chapter II).

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  11. Triple T post please: please, make the post on Togo, Tsushima and crossing the T!

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    1. Cierpliwości przyjacielu!

      (Working on it...)

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)