Category Archives: navy

The Mobile Landing Platform

Before we start writing our series on the evolution of landing craft, let’s address one of the greatest challenges of amphibious operations.

Amphibious landings generally give the attacker the initiative to chose the time and place of their landings. As such, gaining an initial foothold is generally successful, provided reasonable attention has been paid to tactical realities.

Maintaining that initiative is the challenge. The key to this is ensuring a sufficient buildup of troops and logistics to overpower any enemy counterattack.

While the Marines have a reasonable force structure for landing the initial waves of an assault, the buildup phase is therefore critical. And the Marines and the Army both have significant numbers of ships dedicated to carrying the vehicles and supplies that any buildup would require. What is often lacking is a means to land those vehicles and supplies ashore in the absence of significant port facilities.

And so the Marines and the Navy have teamed up to build a ship especially intended to connect those prepositioned vehicle carriers with the landing beaches.

The Mobile Landing Platform is designed so that vehicles can be driven off of the prepositioned ship, onto the MLP, and thence onto a Landing Craft Air Cushion for delivery to the beach.

Based loosely on the design of a large semi-submersible heavy lift ship, the MLP can provide docking for up to three LCACs. While designed with fiscal austerity in mind, you’ll notice that the MLP has significant open deck space. Couple that with a reserve of power and water, that means that it can be configured for other purposes rather easily.

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T-MLP-1 USNS Montford Point alongside a Bob Hope Class T-AKR in preparation for vehicle transfer exercises.

It’s important to note that the MLP is not an amphibious warship, nor indeed a warship of any kind. It belongs to the Military Sealift Command, and is crewed by Civilian Mariners. It is an auxiliary to support other ships.

Let’s take a look at an MLP in action.

Two MLPs, the USNS Montford Point and the USNS John Glenn, have been delivered.

The basic design of the MLP is also at the heart of the Afloat Forward Staging Base, which will be used as a mothership for mine hunting operations and other forward deployed elements that would otherwise require significant pierside facilities.

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USNS Lewis B. Puller (T-MLP-3/T-AFSB-1)

The Puller and a second, as yet unnamed AFSB are due for delivery in 2015 and 2017 respectively.

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F3H Demon

Before there was the magnificent F-4 Phantom, there was the McDonnell F3H Demon.

McDonnell Aircraft was formed in 1939, and aside from a prototype or two, it spent most of World War II building parts and subassemblies for other airplane manufacturers. About halfway through the war, McDonnell began designing what would become the US Navy’s first all jet fighter, the FH-1 Phantom.  Only 62 Phantom’s were built, but for a new company to manage to snag such an important contract was a significant break. Moving from a parts supplier to an aircraft designer and builder was a big business step.

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As soon as the FH-1 was underway, it became apparent that a larger, more powerful plane with the same general layout would be a better fit for the Navy. Soon production shifted to the F2H Banshee.

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The Banshee was a very successful design, and served throughout the Korean War alongside the better known Grumman F9F Panther series. Almost 900 Banshees would serve in the US Navy, Marine Corps and as the only carrier borne fighter of the Royal Canadian Navy.

But even as the Banshee was rolling off the production lines, the era of the straight winged subsonic fighter was clearly nearing an end. The performance of swept wing F-86 and MiG-15 jets in Korea, and the era of supersonic flight ushered in by the Bell X-1 in 1947 meant the next McDonnell product would be a swept wing supersonic jet. Not only that, advances in radar meant it would be intended to serve as an all-weather air defense platform for the carrier group. And so McDonnell began development of the F3H Demon.

Advances in avionics, and aerodynamics were very rapid in the 1950s.  The problem was, advances in jet engine design was rapid, but not universally successful. And McDonnell and the Navy made a bad bet that the Westinghouse J40 engine would be successful. It wasn’t. In fact, the J40 engine was a disaster, with atrocious reliability problems.  The first production run of 58 J40 powered F3H-1 Demons were grounded, useful only for ground maintenance trainers.

McDonnell convinced the Navy to switch to the less powerful (and still not terribly reliable) Allison J71 engine. Roughly 450 Allison powered Demons would roll off the lines, with later models armed first with Sidewinder missiles, and then the early AAM-2-N Sparrow missile.

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The Demon was not considered a failure, but nor was it genuinely considered a successful design. The much larger, more powerful F4H Phantom II would sometimes be called “twice the jet the Demon was” because it had not just two engines, but two crewmen as well.

Still, the Demon did have its good points. It has excellent visibility from its cockpit, and was generally considered a very pleasant airplane to fly, if a somewhat underpowered around the boat.

And speaking of the boat, here’s some home movies of some Demons operating from USS Hancock (CVA-19).

The Demon would have a relatively short service life, entering squadron service around 1956, and with the last leaving the fleet in 1964, replaced by the Phantom.

H/T to Cybermodeler

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3”/50 gun, and the 8”/55 gun

A nice little video showing the autoloading features of each gun.

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The Landing Barge Kitchen

We’re in the middle of drafting some posts on landing craft, past and present. In doing our research, we came across on specialized platform we thought we’d share with you right away.

During Operation Neptune, the sea based part of the invasion of Normandy, there were large numbers of British landing craft that were not assigned to a mothership, nor did they have galley facilities on board. Life assigned to these vessels was tough enough. Craft like the LCM and various LCVP assigned to specialized roles had no berthing, and little or no storage for food, nor even heads for sanitation.

The Royal Navy, realizing this was rather burdensome, looked to provide some level of logistical support to the flotillas of small craft. Building specialized variants of landing craft was not an option. The production of landing craft for the assault wave was already behind schedule. So instead, the RN took up into service numbers of the lighters in use on the Thames River. Some were modified to serve as station tankers for the craft. Others carried fresh water. And then there was the LBK, the Landing Barge, Kitchen.

Given just enough engine power to cross the channel in good weather, it was a floating storeroom and galley.  It could carry enough fresh and bulk foodstuffs to feed 900 men for a week. Up to 1600 hot and 800 cold meals per day could be prepared.

After cooking meals, a day’s rations would be placed in insulated containers, similar to the Mermite can,  and handed across to a landing craft crew. Few thing improve morale and efficiency like a good hot meal.

More on this interesting vessel can be found here.

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They’ve got the laser, now they just need the shark

So, the Navy deployed its Laser Weapon System (LaWS) aboard USS Ponce forward deployed to the Persian Gulf.  Intended to complement the existing suite of close in weapon systems, LaWS is seen in this video demonstrating its prowess.

USS Ponce is an interesting ship in and of itself. Formerly known as LPD-15, an Austin class Landing Platform Dock, it was for many years used to transport Marines and their vehicles and such. She was supposed to be retired in 2011 after thirty years of service. But the Navy was looking at a concept known as the Afloat Forward Staging Base, or AFSB. Before building ships for that purpose, the Navy decided the Ponce would be used as an interim test bed to see what parts of the concept worked, and which didn’t. After a refit period, and being manned with an unusual Navy and Civilian Mariner crew, Ponce was deployed to Bahrain to serve as the forward operating base for both minesweeping helicopters, and for small mine warfare craft.

Since Ponce was already being used for one operational test mission, it made a good bit of sense for her to also host the initial operational testing of LaWS.

No word one when sharks will get their frikken laser beams.

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Poll of the day

We buried my father-in-law the Saturday after Thanksgiving. He was a WW2 veteran, 15th Army Air Force. The local chapter of the VFW did a great job as honor guard. Minutes before the service at the cemetery, the funeral director asked, “Who’s the oldest?” And so it was that the flag was presented to my sister-in-law.

At my maternal grandfather’s funeral, the flag was presented to the second-oldest aunt, and there was a great deal of squawking about it. Consensus seemed to be that the oldest uncle (also a veteran) should have received it.

At my oldest brother’s funeral, the one who received the flag was not the oldest, but the son currently serving in the Army. Everyone was fine with this.

So my question is this:

Just to keep the record straight, I think it’s fine that my sister-in-law received the flag. She had the lion’s share of caring for my father-in-law. I plan on giving her a display case for the flag. I just wondered if there’s a dominant tradition out there.

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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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