Category Archives: Artillery

Lexington’s Incomplete Modernization and Her Sinking At Coral Sea

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When the massive hulls of battlecruisers Lexington (CC-1) and Saratoga (CC-2) were designated to be completed as aircraft carriers  under provisions of the 1922 Washington Treaty, they represented a multi-generational leap forward for aircraft carrier design.  Eight hundred and eighty-eight feet long and displacing more than 44,000 tons loaded, these sleek monsters were capable of 33+ knots (some tales that Sara and Lex reached 40 knots during Fleet Problems in the late 1930s have never been verified) and could carry almost ninety aircraft.

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They were, in fact, far more modern in the 1920s than the fragile and short-range airplanes they carried.  Other than the mammoth IJN Shinano (built on the hull of the third Yamato), which never operated with aircraft, Lexington and Saratoga were the largest aircraft carriers built until the Midways entered service post-war.  They were 12 knots faster than the battle fleet, and potentially capable of powerful, far-ranging strikes not conceived of before they entered service.

USS Lexington Class Firing

The design of Lex and Sara was still largely experimental, and contained some oddities that time and experience would either correct or eliminate.  Famously, these two aircraft carriers were armed with a heavy cruiser’s guns.  Each carried eight 8-inch/55 caliber Mk IX naval rifles in specially contrived twin mounts.  The gun housings lacked armor, consisting of little more than splinter shields, in order to save topside weight.  (While the mounting of heavy caliber guns seems in retrospect an anachronism, doubts about the ability of aircraft to actually engage and sink surface ships who might cross paths with the carriers were well founded in the early 1920s.  Despite Billy Mitchell’s experiments, the age of dominance of air power had not yet arrived for the world’s navies.  Indeed, the loss of HMS Glorious in 1940 and the sinking of three more aircraft carriers by gunfire over the course of the war might give more justification to the heavy main battery than commonly believed.)  The aligning of the centerline of the flight deck with the hull centerline was discovered to necessitate significant ballast to port to offset the weight of the island.  All future designs, starting with Ranger (CV-4) would have the appropriate offset of flight deck centerline on the hull.

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Both vessels were given what was for the time a massive anti-aircraft battery.  Twelve of the new 5″/25 caliber Mk 10 AA guns were fitted, six on each side in single mounts, and controlled by the then-state of the art Mk 19 director.   A number of .50 (12.7mm) caliber machine guns installed in 1929 comprised the sole light AA capability.   As the size, speed, and lethality of carrier aircraft increased through the 1930s, however, it was soon clear that the .50 caliber machine guns were of dubious utility, and the development of the heavier 1.1″ (27.6mm) quad mount machine guns began.  Design delays in the 1.1″ AAMG were the impetus for the mounting of a number of 3″/50 caliber AA cannon until the design was ready for fielding, which occurred in early 1941.  The 1.1″ AAMG turned out to be a mixed bag.  When working properly, the 1.1″ proved effective in action, but maintenance and reliability issues, and the obvious requirement for a heavier projectile in the AA role against modern aircraft, led to the shipping of the famous twin and quad 40mm Bofors AA cannon beginning in mid-1942 on most US warships.

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However, that decision was still in the future when plans were drawn up in 1940 to modernize Lexington and Saratoga as Pacific war clouds gathered.   It was planned to remove the 8″/55 Mk IX mounts on both vessels, and replace them with four twin Mk 12 mounts carrying the highly effective 5″/38 caliber dual purpose gun mated to Mk 37 gun directors, two mounts per director.   The 5″/38 was more accurate than its predecessor, and had an effective ceiling of 37,200 feet, 10,000 feet higher than the 25 caliber gun.  In addition, the plans called for the replacement of the elderly Mk 19 directors, first developed in 1925, with the newer Mk 33.  The Mk 19 was incapable of computing for dive bombing, and was almost entirely ineffective at tracking 250-knot aircraft now fielded by the Japanese, further restricting the effectiveness of the 5″/25 to under 17,000 feet.

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The coming of war in December of 1941 meant that Lexington would be a desperately needed asset, and indeed she was active for the first four months in the Pacific war as a part of Task Force 11.  During a brief refit in late-March, 1942, Lexington’s 8″/55 mounts were landed, but the Mk 12 5″/38 mounts (and Mk 37 directors) to replace them were not installed, as Lexington was desperately needed in the fight against the Japanese Navy.  In addition, the Mk 33 directors destined for the older 5″/25 batteries were likewise not fitted.  In place of the planned 5″/38s, a temporary installation of more 1.1″ AAMGs and some 20mm Oerlikon cannon was instead completed.

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Photographs of Lexington as she steamed into the Battle of the Coral Sea are noteworthy for the absence of her familiar 8″/55 mounts, or the presence of the 5″/38 mounts which Saratoga would receive while being repaired from torpedo damage a couple of months later.   What Lexington was left with for anti-aircraft defense was a heavy battery of older 5″/25 guns whose effectiveness was hampered by outdated fire control, and light AA in insufficient numbers to effectively defend her.   Whether this made any difference in the loss of Lexington is anyone’s guess, but the possibility certainly exists.  The mating of the 5″/38 with the Mk 37 was the most lethal anti-aircraft combination to go to sea in World War II.   Perhaps such a combination could have caused the Japanese torpedo and dive bombers who fatally struck Lexington on 8 May 1942 to have missed, or might have destroyed them before they struck the ship.   What is indisputable, however, is that Lexington was sent into action against a modern and capable enemy with equipment and weapons that were known to be obsolete and lacking in combat effectiveness.  Operational tempo had restricted the US Navy’s ability to sufficiently modernize a capital ship to acceptable standards to meet the requirements of combat at sea.  Despite the very recent rapid expansion undertaken in America’s shipyards, the United States went to war in the first six months in the Pacific with the Navy it had, not the one it would require to fight and win.

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There is a lesson in there, somewhere.

 

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Iskandar-M

It’s interesting that the US and Russia, with very different defense requirements and threat scenarios, often end up fielding weapons that, while not mirror images, are at least quite analogous to one another.

When the Army fielded the Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS), soon after fielded ATACMS*, in which instead of a pod of six rockets, one pod would carry one large long range Army Tactical Missile System guided semi-ballistic missile.

ATACMS (“Attack ‘ems!”) was first used in Desert Storm to neutralized an Iraqi surface to air missile site.

The Russians, never slouches in the artillery and tactical missile fields, have two different platforms. They field the Smerch as the counterpart to our MLRS. And they field the 9K720 Iskandar-M short range tactical ballistic missile in place of ATACMS.

Iskandar has a somewhat longer range, around 500km versus 300km for ATACMS. ATACMS has either a cluster bomblet warhead or a single 500lb warhead, where Iskandar has cluster bomblet, unitary or possibly a nuclear payload, and somewhat larger at that, at around 2000lb.

Both weapons, while flying a semi-ballistic path, are guided throughout the flight, rather than being true ballistic weapons. Inertial navigation with satellite updates (that’s GPS or its Russian cousin GLONASS) gives them excellent accuracy.

Typical targets would be air defense sites, airfields, command and control centers, logistics centers or other similar high value targets.  There are unconfirmed reports that Russia employed Iskandar against a tank depot during its brief war with Georgia over South Ossetia in 2008. The Dutch government concluded that a Dutch national present as a reporter was killed by a fragment from one in the vicinity of Gori.

One reason the US and its NATO allies are concerned about Iskandar-M is that it can reach deep into Western European territories when launched from within Russia. When the US reached an agreement with Poland to install ground based ballistic missile defense on Polish territory, Russia responded by announcing it would station Iskandar launch brigades in the Kalinangrad district, within range of the proposed US installations.  When the US dumped the proposal, the Russians decreed they would not deploy to Kaliningrad. Until eventually they did anyway.

But the real concern is that the Russians have used the launcher vehicle and associated control systems to test and field a new ground launched cruise missile. The missile in question, the R-500, has a reported range of 2000km. That puts Russia in direct violation of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty of 1987. Of course, in the face of a blatant violation of the treaty, the entirety of the Obama administration’s response was to send a mildly worded letter.

Deep strike missiles such as the ATACMS and Iskandar are a quick response, precise alternative to airstrikes. But they require significant intelligence collection and dissemination to support targeting, and very close coordination with air assets to deconflict airspace. 

 

*After a very protracted development that saw several different names and configurations.

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PERM Test Firings for 120mm EFSS

A couple years ago, URR posted this introduction to the Marine Corps combat use of the rifled 120mm mortar Expeditionary Fire Support System.  It’s light weight (relative to other fire support options) has led to its adoption as the primary direct support indirect fire weapon in Marine artillery regiments.

One major potential shortcoming of the EFSS is its short maximum range of about 8500 meters. Given that shortcoming, the Marines began the development of PERM, or the Precision Extended Range Munition.

PERM is a guided mortar designed to provide greater precision and wider range than existing ballistic mortars.

Not only does the use of a guided munition increase the first round accuracy of a shot, the fins allow the trajectory to be shaped to dramatically alter the path of the round, greatly extending the range, to a quite respectable 17,000 meters or so.

Last month, Raytheon, the developer, fired four PERMs in successful tests. An additional 42 rounds of test firing are due this year. If successful, the PERM should begin to show up on the caissons of the EFSS shortly thereafter.

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All Time Favorite Splodey

I somehow threw out my back, so it hurts like heck, which also makes writing difficult. So I’m not. In the meantime, here’s a repost of a video, pretty much my all time favorite.

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One Hundred Years Ago, Royal Navy Revenge at the Falklands

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On the morning of 8 December 1914 just before 0800, British Vice-Admiral Sir Doveton Sturdee received word that the German ships he had been searching for had appeared in the frigid South Atlantic waters off Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands.   The day before, Sturdee had arrived from England with reinforcements for the remnants of a British cruiser force that had been shattered in the first defeat the Royal Navy had suffered in a century.

Five weeks earlier, Admiral Maximilian Graf von Spee’s Südsee-Geschwader, consisting of the powerful armored cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, along with cruisers Nürnberg, Leipzig, and Dresden, had routed Rear Admiral Cradock’s undergunned and outmanned cruiser squadron at Coronel, off the coast of Chile.  Cradock went down with his flagship Good Hope (which sank with all hands) when, pounded to a wreck by Scharnhorst, her forward magazine exploded.  Monmouth, Cradock’s other armored cruiser, was also lost with all hands under the fire of Gneisenau and Leipzig.

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Sturdee’s reinforcements were battlecruisers Invincible and Inflexible, 20,0o0 ton vessels armed with eight 12-inch guns, capable of 26.5 knots, and the armored cruisers Kent and Cornwall.  Along with Glasgow and the elderly pre-dreadnought Canopus, Sturdee held a decisive advantage in both gun power and speed over his adversary.  Von Spee was entirely unaware of the presence of the British capital ships, which held a 6-knot speed advantage over Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, both of which were badly in need of overhaul and a hull-scraping.  Spee’s sixteen 8.2-inch guns were more than a match for Cradock’s armored cruisers, but were entirely outmatched by the heavier British batteries of Inflexible and Invincible.

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The opening salvoes were fired by Canopus, masked by the landmass of Sapper Hill.  Unaware as of yet of the presence of two battlecruisers, Spee canceled the planned bombardment, still believing he could disengage and outrun the British cruisers and the elderly battleship.  It was not until near mid-day that horrified German lookouts spotted the distinctive fighting tops of the British capital units.  In a running fight that the German vessels had little chance of escaping, Scharnhorst succumbed to her wounds and rolled over at 1615.  Gneisenau would fight gamely on until the last of her guns were destroyed, and at 1800 she was ordered scuttled by her captain.  Admiral Graf von Spee was not among the 190 survivors plucked from the icy waters.

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The battle had some final acts to play out.  Kent sank Nürnberg at 1930, and in the darkening seas Glasgow and Cornwall hunted down and sank Leipzig.   Only Dresden of Spee’s Südsee-Geshwader escaped, to be sunk in March of 1915.  (Among Dresden’s officers was a young Oberleutnant-zur-see named Wilhelm Canaris, who would go on to famed service in the next war.)

The Battle of the Falklands cost the Imperial German Navy the lives of more than 1,800 sailors.  British losses were ten killed and 19 wounded.  While the victory of Sturdee’s squadron was complete, and avenged Cradock at Coronel, some unflattering issues revealed themselves.  The primary was that British gunnery left much to be desired.  The sinking of Scharnhorst and Gneisenau took more than five hours, and 1,174 rounds of 12-inch ammunition from the battlecruisers.  Even considering Sturdee’s prudent tactics of fighting at or beyond the range of the guns of his opponent, his capital units expended more than half of their ammunition to score fewer than thirty hits on the two German cruisers.  British gunnery shortcomings, the skill and bravery of their German opponents, and the toughness of the German ships, would manifest themselves at Jutland eighteen months later.

In one of history’s ironies, Admiral Graf von Spee’s namesake panzerschiff, KMS Graf Spee, would meet its end almost exactly 25 years later, in December of 1939 in the waters of the South Atlantic once again.  She was scuttled because it was rumored that she was awaited outside Montevideo by British dreadnoughts.

 

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Early Anti-Aircraft Artillery

Even by the middle of the First World War, the threat military aircraft posed to ground forces was recognized, and adaptations of existing artillery pieces were made to fulfill the anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) role. This Signal Corps film, produced in 1935, shows the status of US Army AAA in the interwar years.

The level of sophistication in control is impressive. Predictive director control for guns ranging from 3” down to the multiple .30cal mount. Acoustic locators used to control searchlights.  Of course, during World War II, radar would replace the acoustic locator. But it is important to recognize that the basic architecture behind the organization was already well thought out.

Speaking of acoustic locators, as a long range sensor, Britain built several arrays of very large “sound mirrors” for long range detection to protect the home isles from air raids in the years immediately after World War I. Their remains can still be seen in the southeast.

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The Defense of the West-SeaCoast Fortifications

Unlike the eastern seaboard, the western coast of the continental United States has relatively few major ports. From south to north, the main seaports include San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, the Columbia River, and Puget Sound. There are others, but those are the “Big Five” handling the majority of seagoing vessels.

Interestingly, all five are quite suited to seacoast defense. Depending on the time in question, Los Angeles and Puget Sound might have posed a challenge for the defender, but by the Endicott period, the guns and mines available were quite suitable to close off each port.

Craig has an interesting post on the concerns the Union had for the security of San Francisco during the Civil War. At that time, San Francisco was by far the most significant western port, and as the shipping point for the vast majority of California gold rush gold that was financing the Union, could have made a very attractive target for a Confederate raider, or an adventurous foreign power, say England.

All of this was known by authorities in Washington.  In 1856 a survey of the terrain brought back numerous recommendations to fortify the bay. Those included additional batteries to supplement Fort Point and located on Alcatraz, Yerba Beuna, and Angel Islands, Point San Jose, and, most important to the Golden Gate, Lime Point opposite Fort Point.  I’ve highlighted some of those on a snip from the 1859 coastal survey map (which, by the way, indicates that someone had “cast a lead” into those waters to figure out the depth):

Similarly, last weekend I enjoyed the view from Cabrillo National Monument.  CNM and Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery are today on the grounds of Naval Base Point Loma, but used to be within the confines of Fort Rosecrans, a Coastal Artillery post with several batteries guarding the entrance to San Diego harbor.

 

One of the interesting things about San Diego is that it has only one channel in or out. To say that Fort Rosecrans dominates that channel is something of an understatement. The seaward facing batteries control the approaches, and the channel itself was narrow enough that even a very modest minefield could completely seal the channel.

The Endicott/Taft period batteries consisted of 8 12” mortars, 4 10” guns, 2 5” guns (later replaced by 2 3” guns) and two 3” guns.

A mine casemate for a controlled minefield was also included.

To give you an idea how restricted the channel is, here’s the USS Chancellorsville, CG-62, passing through the channel.

 

During World War II, several additional batteries were added.  The big punch added was a pair of casemated 16” guns at Battery Ashburn (aka Battery 126).

Arguably the most interesting two batteries were Battery Zeilin and Battery Gillepsie. Battery Zeilin was two 7” guns on pedestal mounts, while Battery Gillespie consisted of three 5” pedestal mounts.

Both batteries were originally training batteries for the US Marine Corps. And therein lies an interesting side story.

The US Army’s Coast Artillery Corps was responsible for the defense of the US ports and harbors and those of its overseas possessions. But what of advanced bases?

During the interwar years, having tasted the success of large scale operations in World War I, the Marines were soon relegated back to fighting in banana wars in South America, and providing detachments aboard US capital ships. In search of a raison d’etre, the Marines looked to the Pacific, and like others, saw a likely war with Japan.

They saw that any US fleet movement across the Pacific would entail seizing and defending forward operating bases. And contra our vision today of the Marines storming the beaches, the hope was they would be able to occupy undefended, or lightly defended island outposts, and then defend them against Japanese counterattack. Accordingly, there was a significant slice of Marine Corps doctrine that focused on seacoast defense of forward bases. And Batteries Zeilin and Gillespie were training batteries allocated for Marine Defense Battalions to practice their trades.

And apparently, the instructors at Battery Gillespie did right by their students, as Marines manning 5” guns at Wake Island suceeded in sinking the IJN destroyer Hayatuke during the initial Japanese landing attempt, the first of many Japanese surface ships sunk during World War II.

Batteries Zeilin and Gillespie were turned over to the Army early in the war. And while Fort Rosecrans was never called on to actively defend San Diego, it stood guard throughout the war. Further it was a major training center for the Coast Artillery, providing training in both seacoast defense and anti-aircraft artillery defense.

The age of aviation rendered the seacoast gun obselete by the end of World War II, and Fort Rosecrans was soon surplus to the Army’s needs. Closed in 1948, it was turned over to the Navy in 1959, and continues to this day to be home to significant naval activities, as well as the lovely Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, and the beautiful and popular Cabrillo National Monument.

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