Tag Archives: history

Lay Aloft! Climbing the foremast of USS Constitution

Which, wow, that’s a fair bit of cordage involved.

The caption from YouTube:

CHARLESTOWN, Mass. (Oct. 29, 2014) Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class Pablo Solano climbs to the top of USS Constitution’s foremast during the crew’s final climbing evolution prior to Constitution being de-rigged in preparation for her entry into dry dock 1 in Charlestown Navy Yard scheduled for spring 2015.

I always get a tad queasy and dizzy watching stuff like this. Do note that our cameraman climbs the foremast, and the foretopmast, up to the crosstrees, but doesn’t climb the next segment, up the foretopgallant. Which, when making sail in the old days, not only would our sailor climb that, he’d be accompanied by quite a few others. And no safety harnesses back then. And while the weather this day in Charlestown was just about perfect, many a time sailors laid aloft in less than pleasant conditions. At night.

Yo ho, no wonder a bottle of rum was needed for the sailor’s life!

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Filed under history, navy, ships

Cold War Redux

The XX Committee* has a great post on just who NATO is facing in Russia, and why our responses have been so poor.

As the situation in Ukraine continues to deteriorate, with the Russian military and its “rebel” minions never having honored the Minsk-brokered “ceasefire” for even an hour, something like low-grade panic is setting in among NATO capitals. Western elites have a tough time sizing up Putin and his agenda realistically, for reasons I’ve elaborated, and the situation seems not to be improving.

German has a delightfully cynical line, die Hoffnung stirbt zuletzt (hope dies last), that sums up much of the wishful thinking that currently holds sway in Berlin, Paris, and Washington, DC. As the reality that Putin knows he is at war against Ukraine, and may seek a wider war against NATO too, is a prospect so terrifying that thousands of Western diplomats and “foreign policy experts” would rather not ponder it, so they don’t.

A classic example comes in a recent press report about how Western foreign ministries are striving to prevent Putin from doing more to destabilize Eastern Europe. Amidst much dithering about how to deter Putin — more sanctions? maybe some, but not too many, weapons for Ukraine? how about some really biting hashtags? — NATO leaders aren’t coming up with anything that can be termed a coherent policy, much less a strategy.

Western nations have consistently underestimated Putin’s willingness to use force.

How can we forget Putin overseeing the Second Chechen War? The 2008 invasion of Georgia? We’ve already effectively conceded Crimea. For that matter, who seriously thinks diplomacy will ever return eastern Ukrainian lands from Moscow’s grip?

Will we see a straight up invasion of Germany right out of Red Storm Rising? Probably not.

But almost certainly some “incident” will eventually take place in Latvia or one of the other Baltic nations that will, by amazing coincidence, be used by Putin to justify some Russian intervention.

Which, what a coincidence:

Increasingly frequent snap military drills being carried out by Russia near its eastern European neighbours could be part of a strategy that will open the door for a Russian offensive on the Baltic states according to defence expert Martin Hurt, deputy director at Estonia’s International Centre for Defence and Security.

The Lithuanian and Estonian defence ministries have expressed alarm at the increased military activity, and drawn comparisons with moves prior to the Russian invasion of Crimea.

Commenting on Russia’s announcement last week that its armed forces will not cease holding snap military exercises, Hurt, who has previously worked for Estonia’s Ministry of Defence as well as for the armed forces of both Estonia and Sweden, warned against taking this news lightly.


*If you don’t know where they got their blog name from, you most certainly should read this.


Filed under his, history, Russia

Iwo Jima- Seventy Years Ago

I’ll leave it to URR to write the history of one of the most vicious battles of the war, a battle that still serves as a touchstone to the Marines today. He has several weeks to address it. That tiny island you see in the photo below would take six weeks to secure.

Uncommon valor was a common virtue- Nimitz



Filed under marines

The Marine Infantry Regiment circa 1944

For those that are interested in this sort of thing. Personally, I think the differences with an Army Infantry Regiment are minor, but intriguing.


Filed under marines

(Don’t) Meet Your Maker In A Martin-Baker

We think it goes without saying that military aviation is fraught with hazards. Actually, it is a great deal safer today than in days past. But even so, it is still quite hazardous.  It is not at all unusual for 10 percent, or even 25 percent of a given fleet of tactical aircraft produced to be lost to maintenance, operational, or combat losses over the course of a type’s service life. For instance, Canada lost 110 of the 235 CF-104s it operated in 25 years of service, or 46%.

Right up to the end of World War II, when an aircraft was in distress, the crew left by bailing out, that is, simply stepping out of the cockpit or fuselage. But the speeds of aircraft by the end of the war, and the speeds of jets soon after the war, increasingly made that a very hazardous proposition. A pilot bailing out was quite likely to strike the empennage with fatal results.

And so, the ejection seat was born.

Early ejection seats were mostly of the “gun” type. A cartridge much like a huge blank shotgun shell was fired into a closed, telescoping tube attached to the pilot’s seat. The shell filled the tube with expanding gasses, causing the tube to extend, and forcing the seat up the rails it was mounted on. Also called a catapult, this gun mechanism was sufficient to force the seat and pilot high enough to clear the vertical stabilizer of the stricken craft.

The gun type seat wasn’t without its drawbacks. First, it imposed very high g-loads on the pilot. Spinal injuries were to be expected. Second, getting the seat over the tail was about all the early ejection seat accomplished. The pilot still had to separate himself from the seat and manually pull a ripcord to deploy his parachute. This complication actually raised the minimum safe bailout altitude, as it took time, time in which the pilot would be falling to earth.

While a great deal of development of ejection seats early on focused on safely egressing at supersonic speeds and high altitudes, it turned out that most emergencies tended to happen at lower speeds and altitudes. What was really wanted was a seat that could safely allow a crewmember to escape at very low altitude. Simply using a larger gun charge wouldn’t work. That would merely exacerbate injuries to the crewmember’s back.

And so, the British firm, Martin-Baker opted to use a rocket motor. The catapult was still there, to give the seat its initial impetus. But a rocket motor would then loft the seat to a higher level. As an added bonus, the combination of the gun and rocket gave a greater total vertical vector, but a imposed a lower g-load on the pilot.

Other advances included automatic separation of the pilot from the seat, and automatic deployment of the parachute.

As time has passed, ejection seat designers have added improvements to seats to continuously expand the envelope of where and how a crew can successfully eject.  First, there are “zero/zero” seats, where a pilot can be at zero airspeed and zero altitude and successfully eject.


Other improvements include not just automatic deployment of the parachute, but ballistic deployment, where pyrotechnics are used to speed up the deployment of a parachute.

At one time, the US Navy was working on a vertical seeking ejection seat that would allow ejections inverted from very low altitudes.


A modern ejection seat in a high performance fighter such as the F-35 is quite sophisticated.

Speaking of sophisicated, Martin-Baker isn’t the only manufacturer of ejection seats, but they do have one of the best PR departments in the business. If you use a Martin-Baker seat, you are eligible for induction into their Tie Club.

The primary objective of the Club is to provide a distinctive tie to be worn with civilian clothing which therefore provides a visible sign of the members’ common bond. Every Club member is given a certificate, membership card, patch, tie, pin or a brooch for the women. All the Tie Club memorabilia depicts a red triangle warning sign which is the recognised international danger symbol for an ejection seat.

Every good company knows that your best salesmen are your customers. 

The Russians, by the way, are no slouches in the bang seat business. Their excellent K36 series seat was forced to put on a convincing display at the Paris Air Show a time or two.



Filed under history, planes

Required Reading

I didn’t emphasize enough how you should definitely read this piece in The Atlantic about the Islamic State.

And when you’re done with that, you might want to read this piece from the Council on Foreign Relations.

I’ve mostly skimmed the second piece. Haven’t quite digested it yet. What are your thoughts?


Filed under history

Carrier Think Pieces Today

We first saw this looooong piece at USNI from Professor Moore.

Just four days ahead of the 73rd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Navy announced its intention to award Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc (HII). approximately $4 billion to construct the USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79) super carrier, the second vessel of the new Gerald R. Ford-class of carriers. The cost has raised eyebrows, as the Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) experienced cost overruns of 22 percent.

Additionally, debate is raging over the utility of the aircraft carrier and whether it’s even relevant anymore in the face of China’s new, lethal anti-ship missiles. It’s a debate worth having, but it needs to be rooted in realistic naval principles and war precedents, not politics and hype.

And addressing that piece is none other than Bull Halsey! We suspect that might be a nom de plume.

“The New Strategic Realities of U.S. Carrier Operations.”  As much of the East Coast naval establishment sits at home with their Snuggies and bottles of craft beer (or for some, sitting in a tree stand freezing your keester off), this is sure to be heavily forwarded around the web (thanks, Al Gore).

Moore’s piece touches a particular nerve with me:  the American aircraft carrier and how Americans use her.  It is no longer self-evident and requires a generation of both young and old aviators and ship-drivers to safeguard.

First, our ability to justify the existence of the aircraft carrier beyond the battles of WWII is essential.  It’s great to talk about Coral Sea and Midway, but those events took place more than seven decades ago, and for a force that pegs itself as an innovative one, able to counter the threats of today and tomorrow, it strikes as unimaginative.  There are at least hundreds of examples of CVNs providing critical support or comprising the sole option for offensive or defensive American military operations in the many decades that have followed WWII.  Let’s talk about them candidly.

For the most part, US aircraft carriers have been used as supplemental airfields for power projection in our nation’s wars since World War II. What they haven’t much been called to do is act in the sea control role. Or, if you will, fighting a war at sea. Some, but not much.

The primary reason for that is not that carriers are bad at war at sea. Instead, they’re so good no one has realistically been able to challenge our fleet for many years. The Soviet Union was the only nation to come close to mounting a credible threat of parity, and that was through a sea control fleet that couldn’t realistically project power to our shores, whereas the whole point of the Lehman/Watkins Maritime Strategy was to project power against the Soviet Union itself.

Moore spends a good deal of time discussing the threats to modern carrier operations, and not surprisingly, Halsey adds a rebuttal:

Second, the author paraphrases Robert Haddick’s dire swarm supposition of hundreds of Chinese ASCMs descending upon an unsuspecting aircraft carrier.  The problem with Haddick’s logic–and Moore’s, by association–is that it presupposes a sort of inevitable willingness on the part of the People’s Republic to launch such costly attacks that would result in unquestionable war.  Though we all remember Pearl Harbor, we also remember the children’s tale of the “boogeyman” in the closet.  We must not allow the fear of a missile whose very use would be loaded in incredible geopolitical meaning to be the tail that wags the dog.

Of course, that’s a political consideration, a subject that Halsey spends a fair bit of time on, rightly.

What isn’t sufficiently addressed, to my lights, is the actual difficulty China (or anyone else) would have massing missile attacks on a fleet. Probably no other organization in the world has as robust a maritime ISR capability for targeting a surface fleet than the US Navy, and even we can have trouble finding our own carriers.

Alfred Thayer Mahan would find this debate about the threat of shore based ASCMs and missile armed fast attack craft little different than the Jeffersonian vision of gunboats and coast artillery defending the shores from the line of battle of the Royal Navy. The technology has changed much, and the ranges are greater, but the fundamental concept of a fleet in being able to sail to the enemy shore at the time and place of his choosing to impose his will is very much still the case.

And while our skills seemed to have diminished somewhat from lack of practice, it’s not like we didn’t used to know how to place entire carrier task forces well within the range of an opponent shore without them even knowing it.

Control of the air is a prerequisite for success in battle today, and only the carrier can provide that for substantial naval forces far from our shores. Further, the carrier remains the centerpiece of our ability to execute both sea control and power projection in the maritime space. Carriers alone are not sufficient to successfully challenge the Chinese or any other near peer power at sea, but absent the carrier, the any challenge is simply impossible.


Filed under history, navy, ships