Category Archives: history

The Battle of the Bulge

Seventy years ago today, the Wehrmacht of Nazi Germany launched the Ardennes Counter-offensive. Germany, being pushed back to its borders on both the Eastern and Western Fronts, was on the ropes. The massive Soviet armies were poised to strike into the heart of Germany, while in the west, the Allies had only two major obstacles to overcome before reaching the industrial Ruhr and Saar.

Hitler still saw the Soviets as the greater threat (reasonably enough). He reasoned that if he could split the British and American allies, he could either buy enough time to shore up the Eastern Front, or conceivably bring the British and Americans to the peace table. A delusion, to be sure, but that was the vision that informed his thinking.

Even with massive numbers, the Allies in the West couldn’t be strong everywhere. And so, accepting an operational risk, the Allies, pausing before their next attacks, decided to hold the Ardennes forest with only the lightest screen of troops, mostly green units in need of some experience, and depleted units still reconstituting after the trials of the Huertgen forest and other battles.

In great secrecy, the Germans managed to build a massive force for the attack.  From north to south, the 6th Panzer Army, the 5th Panzer Army, and the 7th Army were to attack through the heavily forested Ardennes, cross the Meuse River, and swing north to capture the critical logistical port of Antwerp. Denied the flow of material through Antwerp, at best the Allies would be stalled until spring. At worst, they might suffer a political rift and seek a separate peace.

Armchair historians are fond of pointing out that the Allies should not have been surprised by the German choice of the point of attack. Indeed, the Germans had attacked through the Ardennes in 1940 to envelop the French and unhinge their defense.

And while the Allies did twig to a coming German counterattack, they guessed wrongly as to German intentions. The Allies best guess was that the Germans would launch a spoiling attack against the northern arm of the Allies, namely against Montgomery’s 21st Army Group, to forestall his next planned offensive.

But there were good reasons why the Allies were willing to accept risk in the Ardennes. First, it’s a forest. It has a very limited road network. It was poor terrain for a mechanized offensive, whether for the Allies heading east, or the Germans heading west. And while the Germans had been able to move fairly rapidly through the Ardennes in the spring of 1940, with fair weather, they faced atrocious weather conditions in the winter of 1944. The choice to attack in bad weather was deliberate, as Allied tactical airpower was grounded. But that also meant the road conditions were so bad that German forces, already relatively lacking in mobility, were even less capable of rapid movement.

And the Germans, who had recently expertly used forests as stout defenses, soon learned that American soldiers too could capitalize on them to hold up rapid movement.

And Eisenhower, Bradley, Hodges and Patton, who had spent twenty years between the wars studying and planning a war of maneuver, realized the key concept of a penetration of lines. If you can hold the shoulders of a penetration, you can halt it. Any penetration that overextends itself without reducing the shoulders invites being cut off and destroyed. And the greater mobility of the Allied armies convinced them that they could respond to any attack fast enough to both reinforce the shoulders and to blunt the main thrust.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/50/Wacht_am_Rhein_map_%28Opaque%29.svg/371px-Wacht_am_Rhein_map_%28Opaque%29.svg.png

There are many, many valid criticisms of the Allied response to the German attack. Poor communication, disunity in command, being caught off guard. The failure to actually cut off and destroy the Germans once the thrust had been halted.

But at the end of the offensive, the Germans never even reached the Meuse, let alone Antwerp. For all the massive efforts, all they had gained was some trees.

The Germans losses were particularly troublesome. They suffered about 100,0o0 casualties. And every casualty they suffered in the Ardennes was a man not available to man the Siegfried Line, a defense where they might have inflicted even greater losses on the Allies. As far as Bradley and Patton were concerned, the farther west they killed a German, the better.

The Battle of the Bulge was the largest battle of the war for the US Army, indeed in its history. Over 600,000 men fought the battle, and 19,000 were killed, with 47,0000 wounded, and another 23,000 missing or captured. Some of the most desperate, bitter fighting in history occurred at the Losheim Gap, Eisenborn Ridge, Bastogne, St. Vith, and scores of other sleepy villages.

An entire Green Book is devoted to the history of the Battle of the Bulge, and makes some of the most compelling reading of the history of the entire war. You can read it here online or download it as a pdf.

The courage and fortitude of the average American soldier in the battle shines honor upon the nation and the service. Seldom have such feats of arms been equaled.

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U.S. Department of Defense Reading Lists

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One of my favorites on the CNO’s list.

The folks over at Small Wars Journal bring us a list of lists of DoD recommended reading. All services are well represent in addition to some of the recommend reading from Joint Commands, the CIA and Small Wars Journal itself. Most of these I’ve read and you may want to add some to your reading list for next year.

Throwing in the promo, you should be able to find not only the books at the Pritzker Military Museum and Library but also the recorded programs featuring some of the authors.

Or buy them at the Amazon link at the right.

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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.

HMS_Invincible,_Battle_of_the_Falkland_Islands_(Warships_To-day,_1936)

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.

36a-Inflexible-opens-fire

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.

Thomas_Jacques_Somerscales,_Sinking_of_'The_Scharnhorst'_at_the_Battle_of_the_Falkland_Islands,_8_December_1914

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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Domestic Enemies: 2014

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If you read here more than a little, you are familiar with my use of the term “enemies, domestic”.  For the uninitiated, those words are a part of my oath of office as a Commissioned Officer in the United States Marine Corps.  They define, in part, those from whom I have sworn on my life to defend the Constitution from.  Just who are those people?  Well, DaveO among our friends at Op-For provides some superb erudition to the subject:

In August of 2013, I posed the question “Who are ‘Domestic Enemies?’” This question stemmed from comments in an earlier post provided by Mike Burke and Slater. In September of 2013, Colonel Joseph L. Prue, USAF, in his post  “Identifying the domestic enemy” pulled this definition from our Constitution:

Amendment 14, Section 3 states, “No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.” As a military officer, I honed in on the words military and insurrection. To me, this meant that any insurgent against the United States shall not hold any public office to include civil or military.

The Constitutional parameters of: 1) engaging in insurrection or rebellion against the Constitution; or 2) to have given aid and comfort to the enemies of the Constitution.

By that definition we’ve got a  LOT of domestic enemies in America. Folks love to argue that President Obama’s [still unsigned?] amnesty is the very definition of rebellion against the Constitution. Others, myself included, believe Senator Reid of Utah and the anti-war groups such as Code Pink did gave aid and comfort to AQ and its offshoots and the Taliban up until Obama won the presidency, and then the groups were quickly hustled off to rest and recuperate until the next Republican POTUS appears.

But the folks in and behind the anti-war crowd were never anti-war, just anti-America and if hampering the war effort hurt America, they were all for it. Once Obama won, these people could turn to more productive pursuits. They are working on an “American Spring.” Legitimate protests of law enforcement are being hijacked to bring about rebellion. There are problems with race in America, as well as problems enforcing the an unknowable and incoherent body of law. Domestic enemies don’t care about race or relations with the police – domestic enemies wish to supplant the Constitution and become their own law and engage in mass murder. The NSA knows who they are, where they live, and who is paying them. January 20, 2017 can’t come soon enough – we need to cut out this cancer of domestic enemies.

Every link Dave puts in his post is worth the read.  This Administration has embarked on a systematic shredding of our Constitution, and with it, our liberties protected thereby.  The 14th Amendment has already been a casualty, when the Attorney General defined just who would face prosecution for crimes, based on skin color.  DaveO is entirely correct.  January of 2017 cannot come soon enough.

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Grumman EF-111 Raven

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EF-111s from 42nd Electronic Combat Squadron in Upper Heyford, England format off the tanker.

The Grumman EF-111 Raven was the USAF’s counterpart to the Grumman EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare aircraft. In USAF service the “Spark ‘vark”  as it’s perhaps more commonly known, replaced the EB-66 Destroyer and the EB-57 Canberra.

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The Grumman EF-111 Raven first flew on 10 March 1977.

 

The first fully equipped EF-111 first flew on 10 March 1977 using a modified F-111. A grand total of 42 old F-111 airframes were produced at a cost to taxpayers of $1.5 Billion.

In terms of flight control the EF-111 (by modern standards) is pretty straight forward. As with the standard F-111,  there are no ailerons, as roll is controlled differentially by the horizontal stabilators and at low speeds spoilers on the upper surface of the variable geometry wings. Pitch is controlled by both horizontal stabilators and the rudder acts to correct adverse yaw. There are also tangential ventral fins that add to high-speed longitudinal stability.

Even though the Raven can be seen as a counterpart to the Navy’s Prowler there are some key differences.

Metric Prowler Raven
Maximum Speed (mph) 651 1460
Range (miles) 2400 (with drop tanks; usually carried) 2,000
Ceiling (ft) 37,600 45,000
Rate of climb (ft/min) 12,900 11,000
Thrust/weight ratio (lbs/ft) 0.34 0.598

These performance differences enabled the Raven to do some things operationally that the Prowler could not. The Raven could keep up with supersonic strike aircraft like the F-111 and later the F-15E in the escort strike role. However the Raven doesn’t have the endurance that the Prowler had because of a few factors. The Raven has a crew of 2, limiting the crew tasking loading for a given mission. The Prowler has a crew of 4 enabling more tasks to be spread to more crew members. The Raven uses “flying boom” method for aerial refueling which limits the tanker aircraft to refuel the aircraft to USAF-only tanking assets. The Prowler had the ability for fire the AGM-88 HARM (High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile) while the Raven did not.

800px-AGM-88E_HARM_p1230047Both aircraft did use the AN/ALQ-99 Tactical Jamming System (TJS). The Raven specifically used the AN/ALQ-99E variant which had more automation for the 2 crew members and about 70% commonality with the Prowlers TJS (at least the earlier versions of the TJS).

The EF-111 houses components of the AN/ALQ-99E within the aircraft. The most visible changes to the EF-111 are the “canoe” in the ventral fuselage (that replaced the PAVE TACK pod in the F-111 variants, the “football” atop the vertical stabalitor, and an antenna on each wing glove for the ALQ-137 low/mid/high band reciever (port) and the ALR-62 forward RWR (starboard).

66-056 Tail

Components of the AN/ALQ-99E are seen on the “football” atop the vertical tail.

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This EF-111 show the ventral “canoe” fairing stowing the components of the AN/ALQ-99E TJS. The bullet fairing top is the AN/ALQ-137 multi-band receiver.

 

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EF-111 cutaway. Click to embiggenify.

 

Operationally, the first EF-111s were deployed in November 1981 to the 388th Tactical Electronic Squadron, Mountain Home AFB, Idaho. From 1984 to 1992 the –111 saw service with the 42nd Electronic Combat Squadron (part of the 20 Tactical Fighter Wing) at RAF Upper Heyford, UK. The –111 also saw service with the 27th Fighter Wing at Cannon AFB in the 429th (1992-1998) and the 430th (1992-1993) Electronic Combat Squadrons. Also at Mountain Home AFB with the 388th (1981-1982) and the 390th (1982-1992) Electronic Combat Squadrons.

The EF-111 first saw combat with the 20th TFW as part of Operation El Dorado Canyon against Libya in 1986. Then during Operation Just Cause in Panama in 1989.

The largest EF-111 deployment for the EF-111 was Operation Desert Storm. The 18 EF-111s in the AOR flew over 900 sorties with a mission capable rate of 87.5 % mission capable rate. EF-1111 frequently operated with the F-4G and because the Iraqis feared the F-4G and its HARM missile, they made brief, limited and ineffective use of their radars. When they did choose to operate these radars, the effective jamming of the EF-111 negated their ability to track, acquire, and target attacking aircraft. Every day the Weasels and Ravens supported shooters as they attacked their targets in Iraq and the Kuwaiti Theater of Operations (KTO). One sign of their success was that after day four, all allied aircraft operated with impunity in the mid to high altitude environment across the AOR. By decreasing the threat of SAMs to our strike aircraft, EF-111s and F-4Gs permitted aircraft to deliver their weapons from an environment where they can be very lethal.

A notable event was a “maneuver” kill by an EF-111 of an Iraqi Air Force Mirage F-1EQ on the opening night of Desert Storm:

On the first night of the war, Captain Brent Brandon was flying his EF-111 “Spark Vark” on an electronic warfare mission ahead of a group of jets on a bombing run. Several IRAF Dassault Mirage F1s came in and engaged the flight. One of them went after the unarmed EF-111. Captain Brandon executed a tight turn and launched chaff to avoid the missiles being fired by the Mirage. A F-15 on the same flight, piloted by Robert Graeter, went after the Mirage trying to protect the EF-111. The Mirage launched a missile which the Raven avoided by launching chaff. Captain Brandon decided to head for the deck to try to evade his pursuer. As he went down he pulled up to avoid the ground, the Mirage followed him through, though the Mirage went straight into the ground. An unarmed EF-111 thus scored an air-air victory against a Dassault Mirage F1, although Graeter was credited with a kill. The EF-111A pilots won the Distinguished Flying Cross

An Iraqi Air Force Mirage F-1EQ.

An Iraqi Air Force Mirage F-1EQ.

The aircraft was EF-111 66-0016 and is on display at the Cannon AFB Museum:

EF-111 66-0016 on outside display at Cannon AFB New Mexico.

EF-111 66-0016 on outside display at Cannon AFB New Mexico.

There was one combat loss of the EF-111 during Desert Storm:

On 13 February 1991, EF-111A, AF Ser. No. 66-0023, callsign Ratchet 75, crashed[11] into terrain while maneuvering to evade a perceived enemy aircraft threat killing the pilot, Capt Douglas L. Bradt, and the EWO, Capt Paul R. Eichenlaub

After Desert Storm the F-111 also flew missions in Operation Provide Comfort,Operation Northern Watch and Operation Southern Watch.

The victory from Desert Storm was shoret lived. The last deployment of the Spark ‘vark was 1998 to Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arablia. Due to the aircraft’s age the USAF decided to retire the aircraft and the last EF-111s were retired on 2 May 1998, at Cannon AFB, New Mexico.

Aside from the EC-130, and the later “acquisition” (if you will) of the Prowler, the USAF pretty much ignored tactical electronic warfare. You can pick up that part of the story here.

 

EF-111 retied at AMARG.

EF-111 retired at AMARG.

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Angled Flight Decks: 1930s Naval Innovation?

Angled flight decks on aircraft carriers enable modern aircraft carriers to simultaneously conduct takeoffs and landings by aircraft. Previously, in the 1910s till about 1945, aircraft carrier flight decks were “axial” flight decks with no special angled area with which to manage aircraft. In this case “go-arounds” were much more difficult and in the event of a landing accident, the aircraft was caught by a barricade stretched across the width of the flight deck. Flight operations consisted on either takeoffs/launches OR landings. After landing, the aircraft would taxi forward out of the landing area, to clear it for the next aircraft. Parking the aircraft was typically done in the forward portion of the flight deck.

HMS Argus (circa 1917) is typical of the first aircraft carriers. Note the full length straight deck. Photo credit: Wikipedia.

HMS Argus (circa 1917) is typical of the first aircraft carriers. Note the full length axial flightdeck. Photo credit: Wikipedia.

This head on view of the USS Enterprise (CV-6) taken during World War 2 again shows the narrow straight deck design that was still prevalent during that time.

This head on view of the USS Enterprise (CV-6) taken during World War 2 again shows the narrow axial deck design that was still prevalent during that time.

Naval Historians credit the Royal Navy, and specifically Rear Admiral Dennis Cambell with the invention of the angled flight deck:

The angled flight deck was invented by Royal Navy Captain (later Rear Admiral) Dennis Cambell, as an outgrowth of design study initially begun in the winter of 1944-1945 when a committee of senior Royal Navy officers decided that the future of naval aviation was in jets, whose higher speeds required that the carriers be modified to “fit” the needs of jets.[13][14][15] With this type of deck — also called a “skewed deck”, “canted deck”, “waste angle deck”, or the “angle” — the aft part of the deck is widened and a separate runway is positioned at an angle from the centreline.[16] The angled flight deck was designed with the higher landing speeds of jet aircraft in mind, which would have required the entire length of a centreline flight deck to stop.[16] The design also allowed for concurrent launch and recovery operations, and allowed aircraft failing to connect with thearrestor cables to abort the landing, accelerate, and relaunch (or “bolter“) without risk to other parked or launching aircraft.

The angled desk indeed allowed for the simultaneous launch and recovery of aircraft. The first aircraft carrier with the angled flight deck was the HMS Triumph (R16) which was tested in 1952:

In 1952, HMS Triumph was used for the first trials of an angled flight deck. Her original deck markings were obliterated and replaced with new ones at an angle to the long axis of the ship. The success of these trials led to the development of the now standard design, with additional areas of the flight deck added to the port side of the ship

HMS Triumph seen in 1950 before the deck marking modification in 1953.

HMS Triumph seen in 1950 before the deck marking modification in 1953. Photo credit Wikipedia.

This diagram of HMS Triumph shows the 5.5 degree deck marking used in tests by the Royal Navy. Photo credit: Wings of the Navy: Testing British and US Navy Carrier Aircraft.

This diagram of HMS Triumph shows the 5.5 degree deck marking used in tests by the Royal Navy. Photo credit: Wings of the Navy: Testing British and US Navy Carrier Aircraft.

The US Navy tested the markings for an angled flight deck on the USS Midway (CV-41) in 1952. “However the orientation of the arresting gear and barriers remained oriented to the axial flightdeck.”

This view of the USS Midway, just after her commissioning on 10 September 1945, illistrates her "pre-conversion" straight flight deck.

This view of the USS Midway, just after her commissioning on 10 September 1945, illistrates her “pre-conversion” straight flight deck.

These are the deck plans for angled modifications aboard the USS Midway in 1952. Photo credit:

These are the deck plans for angled modifications aboard the USS Midway in 1952. Photo credit: Wings of the Navy: Testing British and US Navy Carrier Aircraft.

The USS Antietam (CV-3) had the first “true” angled flight deck, as structural changes to the ship were made to accommodate that feature.

USS Antietam showing her 8-degree angled flight deck. Photo credit: Wikipedia

USS Antietam showing her 8-degree angled flight deck. Photo credit: Wikipedia

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The USS Antetiam with her original axial flight deck.

However upon reading Dr. John T Kuehn’s Agents of Innovation: The General Board and the Design of the Fleet That Defeated the Japanese Navy, it seems that the angled flight deck is a United States Navy invention, not as always thought, a British invention.

Before I get to that a bit about the General Board and flying deck cruisers. The General Board was established in 1900 to play a critical role in linking the Washington Naval Treaty and innovation in the fleet. “Particularly astonishing, given the hierarchical nature of the U.S. Navy, was the General Board’s tolerant and consensus-driven process which led to an environment highly favorable to creativity and innovation.”

The flying deck cruiser was an attempt by the General Board to use remaing Washington Treaty warship tonnage allocation to meet the perceived aviation needs for the Navy war plan in the Pacific, unknown as War Plan Orange.

During one particularly interesting meeting of the Board in December 1930 a design for a ship called the “flying deck cruiser” was undergoing review by the general board which lead to a very interesting discussion:

The refined design included one feature in particular that had received little discussion during the hearings but was an outgrowth of them. During the December 1930 hearings, the Board had questioned the BuAer (Bureau of Aeronautics, the part of the Navy responsible for Naval Aviation) officers at length regarding launching and recovering aircraft on the shortened deck of some of the designs. The aviators had brought up the technique of taking off at an angle in order in order to avoid the island, or perhaps a forward superstructure, as well as to get a longer deck run. Evidently, the BuC&R officers has paid close attention because they included and angled flightdeck in the design. It was offset to the port (left) side of the ship in order to give the aviators more usable deck space for spotting (parking) and flight operations (Kuehn, p.118).

If the US Navy had built this ship they would have learned the same lessons we now know about angled flight decks about a generation before the angled deck carrier.

Here’s a line drawing of what she may have looked like:

USCruiser

The 1920s and 1930s represent a period of unparalleled and rapid technical innovation in the US Navy and the angled flight deck is only one example (even if the CF was never built).
There were quite a few Naval innovations that took place as a result of the Washington Naval Treaty, the Fleet Problem exercises and War Plan Orange and I’ll be posting more about those in the future.

Sources (you can buy all these books by using the Amazon Store link to the right):

Wings of the Navy: Testing British and US Carrier Aircraft by Captain Eric “Winkle” Brown

US Aircraft Carriers: An Illustrated Design HIstory by Norman Polmar

Agents of Innovation: The General Board and the Design of the Fleet That Defeated the Japanese Navy (make sure that you buy this book (through the Amazon link right). It’s an excellent and interesting read).

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Happy Thanksgiving

A very Happy Thanksgiving to you, dear readers. I’ve so very much to be thankful for, this year, as so many years before.  And much like my turkey, I’m about to get stuffed!

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