1916!

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After last week’s VP debate, everybody and her damn brother asked me about the Paul Ryan “Navy is smallest since World War I” line.  And so I decided to devote this week’s Diplomat column to just this question:

May 31, 1916 marks a convenient snapshot for the relative position of the USN.  The two largest flotillas in the world, the German High Seas Fleet and the British Grand Fleet, had agreed to conduct a joint fleet review in the North Sea.  The capital ship strength of the Grand Fleet consisted of twenty-eight dreadnought battleships and nine modern battlecruisers. These were supported by eight armored cruisers, twenty-six light cruisers, and seventy-eight destroyers. With the exception of the armored cruisers, virtually the entirety of the Grand Fleet had entered service in the seven years prior to the battle.  The High Seas Fleet brought a smaller posse to the party, with only sixteen dreadnoughts and five battlecruisers, plus six pre-dreadnought battleships.  Eleven light cruisers and sixty-one destroyers rounded out the German contribution, which was of similar vintage to that of the Royal Navy. Both the British and the Germans left reserve forces at home.

By comparison, the USN possessed twelve dreadnoughts (including USS Oklahoma, commissioned just weeks before Jutland) and no battlecruisers. The second string was made up of a bewildering array of light, armored, and protected cruisers, few equal to their German or British contemporaries. The USN operated sixty-one destroyers, although most were older and smaller than their European equivalents.

Tragically, the editors at the Diplomat had the good sense to cut this line short:

Nevertheless, the talking point has a certain power because the underlying facts are (somewhat) true, and a full appraisal of the claim requires space, time, and an over-developed appreciation of the silly. The Diplomat has space, I have time, and I regularly interact with three year olds. Let’s take Representative Ryan’s claim seriously.

 

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  • Anonymous

    Link appears to be broken

  • I think the link to your Diplomat article is bad.

  • Bexley

    You can get to it here.

    The link in the article tries to take you to hediplomat.com rather than thediplomat.com.

    • Socraticsilence

      Where else is the discriminating foreign service professional going to find hot foggy bottom action?

  • alexander von humbug

    He diplomat. Therefore, not in binder.

  • Robert Farley

    Fixed!

  • Hogan

    The two largest flotillas in the world, the German High Seas Fleet and the British Grand Fleet, had agreed to conduct a joint fleet review in the North Sea.

    nice

  • rea

    1916–US fleet–12 dreadnoughts.

    2012–US fleet–ZERO dreadnoughts.

    It is, indeed, shocking how few dreadnoughts there are in the present-day US fleet. Obama ought to be impeached!

    • Rhino

      I cannot remember where the question was raised, but someone once asked whether dreadnoughts would survive attacks by modern missiles, an the answer was ‘probably’.

      Is it possible that old school armor might make a comeback?

      • njorl

        I’d be surprised if that were true, but even if it is, it’s insignificant. If dreadnoughts could survive missile hits, it is only because there are no dreadnoughts. If someone builds one, the missiles to sink it will also exist.

        • Gepap

          why would it be a surprise?

          A large caliber round from a BB’s gun would weigh more than any modern missile and be moving faster than most modern anti-ship missiles would be at the point of impact, and Battleship armor was designed with getting pounded by such ordenance in mind.

          • greylocks

            Well, too, there’s sinking it, then there’s rendering it ineffectual.

            A modern guided missile with a high-explosive war head would probably disable the main guns without much trouble, simply because of the accuracy.

          • njorl

            Modern missiles use shaped charges to penetrate armor. A “Harpoon” can punch a hole through over 3 times the armor any ship has ever carried.

            • njorl

              Hit reply too soon…

              What is likely is that the battleship would keep enough compartments intact to remain afloat. However, 2 or 3 missile hits and it is certainly dead.

            • Gepap

              Heavy Armor Piercing shells are also designed to defeat any armor a fellow battleship would carry – I mean, that is sort of the point of them.

              The amount of damage done to a ship will always depend on where the hit is.

              • njorl

                But missiles are very accurate. You can reliably hit a ship at the waterline much more consistently with missiles than you could with big guns. Battleships were not designed to survive that.

            • Major Kong

              And I could carry 12 “Harpoons” on my old B-52G.

              I think a B-1 or B-52H can carry more than that with an internal rotary launcher.

              • Rhino

                So the b1 is actually good for something?

                • Major Kong

                  Supposedly they like them in Afghanistan. It carries a lot of ordnance and with its speed it can act as a “fire brigade”.

                  Not the mission it was designed for, but at least they’re getting some use out of the thing.

                • Rhino

                  Billion dollar bombers shooting million dollar missiles at goats. Lovely.

          • SpiderBat

            A large caliber round from a BB’s gun would weigh more than any modern missile and be moving faster than most modern anti-ship missiles would be at the point of impact, and Battleship armor was designed with getting pounded by such ordenance in mind.

            Actually, there are a lot of really fast, really heavy Russian ASCMs out there (though they tend to have pitiful payload fractions). Sectional density (mass/cross sectional area) ends up being roughly comparable; so penetration likely is as well:

            AP Shell from an Iowa’s 16″/50 gun:

            Mass: 1225 kg
            Muzzle velocity: 762 m/s
            Diameter: 406 mm
            Sectional density: ~9500 kg/m^3

            P-700 Granit/SS-N-19 Shipwreck from a Kirov/Oscar:

            Launch Mass: 7000 kg
            Maximum speed: 835 m/s
            Diameter: 853 mm
            Sectional density (launch): 12250 kg/m^3

            • Gepap

              Okay, how does that challenge the analysis? Unless the projectile ignited the magazine, most Battleships could survive multiple hits from even big shells, which was sort of the point, otherwise you had a crappy BB. The point of ym answer is that Battleships were made with the idea of getting battered around in mind since in theory you would go into a slugfest with another BB. The point today is to hit your enemy from far beyond the horizon and hope nothing ever gets back to you.

              • SpiderBat

                A Shipwreck outwieghs a 16″ AP shell by almost six to one. A Kirov carries 20. You hear of a lot of BBs surviving 120 16″ hits?

                I’m not denying that an Iowa can take more punishment than a Nimitz — I’m just saying they’re not invincible.

                • Gepap

                  neither did I, as the number of them sunk in combat shows.

      • Gepap

        No. The point of heavy armor on a BB was to be able to survive the heavy damage that big guns would inflict (and modern missiles do not cause more damange than a 12 inch armor piercing shell would)in a slugfest against other BB’s. Today’s weapons allow any vessel with good enough sensors to dish more accurate and longer range strikes and the point is to see your emeny first, shoot first, disable or sink them, without having to get hit back. Heavy armor would only make you slower or easier to spot, so the increase in the ability to survive hits is not seen as a real advantage.

        • spud

          It certainly was no protection from the small weapons most naval aircraft of WWII were capable of carrying either. See The Arizona, Repulse, Prince of Wales, Musashi, Yamato…

          Small torpedo carrying ships came about as a cheap measure to counter heavy armored ships. The submarine being the apex of this development. Much of the battle of Jutland was fought in a way to minimize the threat to dreadnaughts by smaller torpedo carrying vessels.

          • Gepap

            Since when is a 500lb bomb or a torpedo a “small” weapon?

            Do you know how many bombs and torpedos it took to sink the Yamato? Eleven Torpedos and six bombs. The Musashi took 17 bombs and 19 torpedos. The Arizona was a lucky hit (much like the Hood went down so quickly after one lucky hit from Bismarck).

            The point is that a carrier could send dozens of planes to attack a BB long before the BB could get in range of a CV, by which time the only way for the CV to survive would be to get the heck out of dodge.

            • Major Kong

              As bombs go a 500lb MK82 is indeed considered “small”, or at least “standard”.

              A 2000 lb MK84 or larger is the preferred weapon for anything hardened.

              Also note that the Hood was not a Battleship, it was a Battlecruiser.

              It had Battleship guns but only cruiser armor. It was designed to outrun what it couldn’t outgun.

              For more on British battlecruisers see “Jutland, battle of”…..

              • Gepap

                I know very well the difference between a BB and a Battlecruiser. The deks and superstructure of Battleships were not “hardened” any more than those features on other warships, so a 500 lb bomb would do damage just fine. That is of, course, again, not discussing the torpedos.

            • SpiderBat

              Your standard Nimitz has 2 Hornet, and 2 Super Hornet squadrons — 48 strike aircraft. Despite the USN’s general disinterest in the carrier ASuW mission, these can carry two harpoons each (probably four on a shorter range mission). That’s 96 missiles, each with a ~500 lb warhead.

              Even with just one sortie each, that’s a lot more ordnance than it took to kill Musashi.

              • Spuddie

                My point is you still have a ship which is very expensive and difficult to produce which is vulnerable to much, much cheaper foes such as attack aircraft, torpedo carrying smaller craft and subs.

              • Gepap

                And? Is anyone disputing that the reason a carrier is more powerful than a BB is its ability to launch strikes over the horizon with its airwing? No. The question asked was the relative survivability of a BB vs. most modern warships when struck by modern missiles.

            • Also, the bomb that did the most damage to Arizona was a 16-inch gun round modified to be dropped from an aircraft, simulating the “plunging fire” to which BBs were most vulnerable (again, see HMS Hood).

        • Warren Terra

          As I recall (from reading popular histories, I’m in no way an expert), dreadnoughts were built to engage their targets at a range of a dozen miles. Surely they weren’t relying on direct hits of solid shot at that distance – it had to be explosive warheads detonating near the target. Which, as noted, couldn’t easily meet the effectiveness of a much smaller shaped charge pointed straight at the target and detonating at the perfect time.

          • Gepap

            “Solid shot”? Battleships were equiped with artillery heavy enough to strike a target at that distance, and getting a shell on target was most certainly the point – not to splash the sea around with HP, which is pointless since the waterline armor of a BB was thick.

            I can’t think of a single BB sunk by HP shells hitting around it, but I can think of several Battlecruisers sunk by lucky direct shell hits to their magazines (Hood, Queen Mary, Indefatigable) and the Lutzow had to be scuttled after the Brits got ten 12 inch or more shells on target.

          • g

            No, steel shell punching through steel armor is exactly what they were relying on. The shells were explosive, but if you can’t detonate inside a battleship’s armor then you’re unlikely to hurt it much. All sides spent much effort developing fire-control systems that were accurate enough to get hits at that range.

            • Rhino

              Radar proximity fuzes and shaped charge armor piercing shells were well developed by the end of ww2, and I seem to recall something about the Iowa being able to reliably drop shells in a ten foot circle at ten miles distance… The first salvo tracked by radar to correct the fall of the next one…

              Or it might have been bullshit from a technothriller.

              Anyway interesting thread, but I think I prefer my naval combat to be hornblower and Aubrey as opposed to Nimitz and jellicoe.

    • Alex

      In fact we have carefully stockpiled the world’s entire supply of dreadnaughts and cunningly disguised them as so-called museum ships.

  • DrDick

    Seems you just got a shout out from DeLong. His header is priceless.

  • Cody

    Tragically, the editors at the Diplomat had the good sense to cut this line short:

    How diplomatic of them!

  • greylocks

    Why is it that size always matters to wingnuts?

    • rea

      Is that a pocket battleship in your pocket, Mr. Ryan, or are you about to Graf Spee . . .

      • GFW

        Thanks for that laugh.

  • Fred

    Al Queada, still no navy, still no air force.

  • Fred

    Perhaps our sonar techs must be listening to too much Rush.

    http://www.theday.com/article/20121015/NWS09/310159943/1019&town=

  • El Foley

    I’m glad to see someone pick up on this. Romney has used it twice that I have heard and I keep asking WTF. Hey, no carriers, no subs, recommission Old Ironsides

    • greylocks

      Point of order: Old Ironsides is commissioned. Also afloat.

      Just put a cruise missile launcher in her bow, hoist the sails, and she’s ready to go.

      • ajay

        Just put a cruise missile launcher in her bow, hoist the sails, and she’s ready to go.

        “Killick! My compliments to the doctor and I would be obliged if he would join me in CIC.”

        • Confusion to the French!

        • rea

          Aubrey and Maturin, of course, sailed on the Constitution–as POWs

          • ajay

            Don’t get any ideas, Brother Jonathan. HMS Victory is still good to go as well. 104 guns to 44.

            Just saying.

            • greylocks

              Eh, we’d just outmaneuver your top-heavy old scow and rake your stern.

              • Rhino

                As I recall the victory was one of the fastest and best handling first rates of the era, and first rates were faster and more weatherly than smaller square rigged vessels.

                So probably not.

                • Not so maneuverable in permanent drydock, though. (Rolls dice, consults table for Stern Rake effect)

              • ajay

                Was there ever an engagement in the entire war in which a US vessel managed to defeat a British vessel which outgunned it?

                • rea

                  Plattsburg might be arguable, although in multi-ship combat, comparisions are difficult

                • Rhino

                  No. Arguably the Americans enjoyed prohibitive advantages in every single encounter. The American frigates were huge, carried a lot of enormous guns, and simply declined to engage on any but highly advantageous terms.

                  Which is smart, warfare isn’t a game, but constitution deserves as much credit for her victory as a modern fighter deserves for splashing a mig 25. It was simply to be expected.

      • elm

        That would have been a far better movie than “Battleship” ended up being.

        • ajay

          That would have been a far better movie than “Battleship” ended up being.

          Indeed it would. “Ships of the Line”. The aliens land and use mysterious red matter technology to stop every ship engine from working. Earth’s survival depends on a hastily-assembled fleet of wooden ships and iron men.

          • greylocks

            I hear the producers of Revolution are looking for a plausible plot line.

            • njorl

              D’oh! I swear I scoured the thread for Revolution comments before making mine. I think you used time travel.

          • Barry Freed

            I would watch this movie. Please make.

      • allium

        Hey, in a 1980’s-era tactical simulation, she was able to take out a BB. Presumably the war ran long in the Sunbow-verse.

        Besides, I hear Destro is building a weather dominator for Ahmadinejiad.

      • njorl

        I’m sure it will be involved in a sub-plot in NBC’sRevolution. Or possibly an anti-sub plot.

        • Spuddie

          If its an anti-sub plot, wouldn’t it belong on Last Resort?

  • Socraticsilence

    Tell you what Paul, I’ll spot you the nearly 6,800 ship Navy from 1945 against the sub 300 ship navy of today, we’ll see what happens buddy.

    • greylocks

      I’d put our Navy of today up against any 300-ship combination made up from any other current navies.

      • Murc

        Do we also assume those ships come fully stocked?

        300 Kuznetsovs with a full aircraft load might cause the USN a wee bit of trouble.

        • RedSquareBear

          Are there 300 of them?

        • greylocks

          I was talking about the actual navies and actual ships that actually exist right now.

    • njorl

      Careful. The current navy might run out of ammo before sinking the entire WWII fleet. You might wind up losing a carrier to ramming by 11 cargo ships.

    • CaitlinO

      6800 ships in 1945 and only 300 today?!?!? So Obama has left us completely unprepared for an invasion of Europe by sea while simultaneously taking out the Japanese navy in the Pacific. Clearly the man is utterly unfit for leadership.

    • Halloween Jack

      Does that include those dinky little wooden-hulled PT boats? (Imagine the effect on my youthful JFK-worship when I realized that PT 109 had been run over, with the whole Pacific to maneuver in, by the sort of Japanese destroyer that they were supposedly hunting.)

      • Run over? You left out by a slower ship.

        • Hogan

          Fellas, we finally got the green light to sink a Jap cruiser in Subic Bay. Through those Jap mines, artillery and past them patrol boats. One of our boats ought to get back. Any of you guys not on time
          don’t get to go.

        • rea

          Well, but (1) dark, moonless night–no visibility, and (2) PT 109 is idling on 1 engine, so that its wake would not be visible, while the Japanese destroyer is tooling along at 23 knots. Kennedy didn’t have a chance to get the PT boat up to speed.

        • Alex

          Japanese destroyers were faster than PT boats in actual war time conditions.

          But that is immaterial since PT 109 was more or less idling in the channel when it was run over.

      • Warren Terra

        I’m pretty sure that if they’d had “the whole Pacific to maneuver in” JFK might have had more trouble swimming to shore. They were patrolling the straits.

  • Next we’ll hear this: “Paul Ryan charges that the Obama administration has failed to maintain our chain of coastal fortresses, which are now less well-armed than they were at the start of the Civil War.”

    • greylocks

      Don’t forget the greatest existential threat evah to the US, namely the Evil Empire north of the border. It’s a travesty that we have fewer war ships deployed now to the Great Lakes than we did prior to the War of 1812.

      • UberMitch

        “As Canadians rear their heads and come into the air space of the United States of America, where do they go? It’s Wisconsin.”

        • njorl

          Paul Ryan has reared his head much as I garaged my car.

      • rea

        It’s a travesty that we have fewer war ships deployed now to the Great Lakes than we did prior to the War of 1812

        No, I believe we have the same number now as then–zero. (The US Great Lakes squadrons were only built after the War of 1812 began)

        • Woodrowfan

          but Lake Champlain is totally unprotected!

      • Halloween Jack

        Summer 2013: Paul Ryan in Drums Along the Mohawk II: The Mohawkening!

    • hickes01

      Don’t get me started on the “Horse-Gap”. Today are Calvary arm is in shambles. And don’t get me started on the poor start of our Balloon Observation assets. It WWIII broke out today, we’d have to borrow the Bud-Light blimp.

    • Janastas359

      And how dare the President send our men into battle without sturdy spears and fine, bronze shields?

      • allium

        This administration, and the 43 prior, have shamefully done nothing to adress the atlatl gap.

        • Hogan

          Cutting the assegai and trebuchet programs was the worst thing Carter ever did.

          • greylocks

            Could a trebuchet knock out a BB?

            • Cody

              Sure, just couple a tomahawk missile with it. It would be rather basic to have to missile’s propulsion system activate while in mid-air. Of course, this would be awful for it’s accuracy most likely.

              Could probably still hit a ship though.

              • greylocks

                I was thinking more along the lines of a big ball of some modern high-velocity explosive.

            • hickes01

              Maybe not a BB, but a British Battle Cruiser for sure.

            • Unsympathetic

              It could if you took your tactical advice from Sid Meier’s Civilization. Also, too, fear the alien invasion.

              • Warren Terra

                I remember losing ironclad, steam-powered gunboats to bronze-age hoplites in Sid Maier’s Civilization.

      • Let us not go there; it is a silly place.

      • Major Kong

        This is Sparta!!!

        • rea

          No, this is Sparta.

    • Warren Terra

      You forget the Southern Strategy: Coastal Fortresses are Oppression (and Slavery isn’t).

  • The Republicans, and particularly their Fox propagandists, favor a navy filled with Dreadalls.

    • Warren Terra

      This comment is not getting nearly enough love.

      Maybe if rephrased: The Romney plan reflects a party of Dreadalls looking back to an age of Dreadnaughts.

  • Antonio Conselheiro

    This is goddamn easy.

    In 1865 the Confederate traitors were crushed and at our mercy, and now they control the army and the government. I blame Obama.

  • wengler

    2 tugboats > 1 supercarrier

    Paul Ryan math.

    • arguingwithsignposts

      At first, I was thinking that had something to do with two girls, one cup.

      shudder

  • O da humanity

    What’s with all this Navy talk? What about the cavalry?

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