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[ 0 ] April 17, 2006 |


Ever since 9/11 he’s been generating words as a fantastical rate the overwhelming plurality of which are based on pretty clear-cut misreadings of Thucydides such that a book about how a once-great country ruined its foreign policy and its own moral virtue in an unnecessary foreign adventure somehow becomes a book about how wars that look really stupid are, in fact, good because they provide a lot of opportunities to show resolve.

Right; the rise of Victor Davis Hanson must rank among the greatest absurdities of our age. His interpretation of the Sicilian expedition (and of the destruction of Melos) really reaches Straussian heights; you literally must believe that what Thucydides MEANT was the exact opposite of what he WROTE.

Lest We Forget…

[ 0 ] April 17, 2006 |

Belle Waring:

No, the thing that strikes me as funny is that everyone who supports was with Iran is all about the “mad mullahs” and how they can’t be deterred by normal deterrance because they’re crazed jihadis content to incinerate their own country, plus OMG THE HIDDEN IMAM The people making this argument now insist that of course MAD worked back when we faced rational opponents like the USSR or, you know, Mao’s China or whatever. But now, in a new era of crazy people having nukes, all bets are off. It’s like Iran is one big suicide bomber! The limits of the internet and my own laziness prevent me from researching this at all, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and bet that all these people (over a certain age) did not regard the commies as secular rationalists who weighed the costs or war carefully back in the day. Not at all. Much more of the “they’ve got a plan to retreat to their bunkers and sacrifice their own hapless citizens upon the altar of destroying America” Just a theory. (Obligatory on-the-otherhanding: I’m sure some of the liberals now advocating deterrance railed against MAD at the time as an armageddon-hastening nightmare.)

Right. They seem to quite ignore the fact that Iran has the same capacity to commit national suicide NOW, without nuclear weapons, as it would if it had a few nukes. These are also the same folks who argued that Saddam Hussein could not be deterred, in spite of the incredibly clear evidence that, in fact, he could be deterred (why didn’t he use WMD against the US in 1991? I guess it just didn’t strike his fancy!).

Sunday Battleship Blogging: SMS Baden

[ 0 ] April 16, 2006 |

The dreadnoughts of the High Seas Fleet had two notable characteristics. First, they were well armored and have excellent survivability characteristics. These qualities extended to German battlecruisers, most of which took brutal damage at Jutland yet survived. On the downside, German dreadnoughts tended to be poorly armed. The first German dreadnought class, the Nassaus, carried twelve 11″ guns in an extremely wasteful hexagon pattern that allowed a broadside of only eight guns. Later German dreadnoughts adopted the 12″ gun, but the Germans continued to arrange the turrets poorly, not adopting a full centerline plan until the Konig class of 1913.

To some degree these choices involved a value trade-off. The Germans focused on survivability more than did the British, although probably less than the Americans. The Germans also believed that battles in the North Atlantic would be fought at short ranges, and that at these short ranges lighter guns, with their increased rate-of-fire, would prove superior to heavy guns. On the other hand, heavy guns did more damage when they hit, and were more likely to penetrate a ship’s main armor belt and do severe damage to the vitals. In another sense, however, the German behavior was just foolish. Heavier guns did not necessarily require a larger frame or sacrifices in speed or protection. The 8 15″ guns of Queen Elizabeth weighed no more than the 10 13.5″ guns of Iron Duke. Correctly arranged, a larger guns could actually save weight while maintaining strength of broadside and increasing effective range.

The Royal Navy steadily increased the size of its guns, from 12″ on Dreadnought to 13.5″ on Orion to 15″ on Queen Elizabeth. The Imperial Japanese Navy designed Kongo with 14″ guns, and the USN followed suit with the 14″ gunned New York. The otherwise quite modern Konig, a contemporary of these ships, carried only 10 12″ guns. The German Navy, upon discovering that the British had decided to arm Orion with 13.5″ weapons, finally authorized the use of a larger gun. The next class of German ships would be built on a larger frame and would carry 8 15″ guns. These ships would become Bayern and Baden, and would be the only German battleships, in either war, to be sufficiently armed for their size.

Baden was an excellent design. She displaced 29000 tons and could make 22 knots, slower, but better armored, than the Queen Elizabeth class. Baden had a mixed propulsion system that used both oil and coal, an arrangement unique to later Imperial German ships. Unfortunately for the Germans, neither Baden nor Bayern were ready for the Battle of Jutland. Baden was not commissioned until March of 1917, while Bayern entered service a few weeks after Jutland. No single ship (other perhaps than the USS New Jersey) could have transformed the outcome of Jutland, but it’s fair to say that the Germans would have done much better if Baden or Bayern had been available. In particular, the battleships of the Fifth Battle Squadron, including Barham and Warspite, would have suffered badly from the heavier German guns. Warspite only barely escaped after being hit by 15 12″ shells. The 15″ guns of Baden might well have sent her to the bottom.

The German Navy did not sortie after Jutland, and Baden had a relatively uneventful career. The High Seas Fleet refused a suicidal order to sortie in late 1918, and at the end of the war the Allies demanded that the most powerful German ships be interned at Scapa Flow. The German fleet (somewhat ragtag after being poorly maintained for the last year of the war) was escorted from Wilhelmshaven to Scapa Flow by a huge fleet of British, French, and American battleships. The situation remained tense, and the Allies were careful to keep their guns trained on the German battleships as they left port. Baden was not originally slated for internment, but another ship, Mackensen, was not complete and Baden was taken as substitute

The German fleet remained, with skeletal crews, at Scapa Flow as peace talks dragged on. Several of the ships would have been significant prizes for the Allies, including Baden and Bayern. France in particular would have liked to incorporate some of the German ships into her fleet. The Royal Navy was content to let the ships rust. The British were reluctant to seize the ships while peace talks continued, and they believed, in any case, that the German crews would react to an attempt at seizure by scuttling the ships.

On June 21, 1919, acting on what may have been an erroneous report about the negotiations, Admiral Ludwig von Reuter ordered the High Seas Fleet to scuttle itself. Eleven battleships, five battlecruisers, and dozens of smaller ships opened up their hulls and sank. The Royal Navy, out on maneuvers, was unable to stop the Germans, although a few German sailors were shot in the confusion. Deeply annoyed, the British imprisoned the crews for some time before allowing a repatriation to Germany. Only the Baden could be saved, as the British towed her into shallow water before she sank.

Over the next two years, the Royal Navy tested, prodded, poked, and disassembled Baden in order to figure out how she compared to British ships. Their conclusions, which should be viewed with some skepticism, were that Baden was definitely inferior to her Royal Navy contemporaries. On 16 August 1921, Baden was mercifully sent to the bottom by fire from Royal Navy battleships. The wrecks of eight German battleships and battlecruisers remain at the bottom of Scapa Flow, and have become an attraction for adventurous SCUBA divers.

Trivia: Which German battleship of the twentieth century had the longest active service career?

Worst 9/11 Story Ever

[ 0 ] April 14, 2006 |


LPD: The New Dreadnought?

[ 1 ] April 14, 2006 |

Another interesting article in the April 3 Defense News concerns the increasing focus of the world’s navies on “expeditionary” ships, like LPDs, LHDs, LCCs, LHAS, command ships, and so forth. Broadly, this group includes just about any ship that is designed to manage, project, and protect ground expeditions as a primary mission. These ships are large, expensive, tend to carry helicopters, and usually have the capability to deliver and keep supplied a contingent of ground forces.

The USN has long been in the amphibious assault game, and currently has 12 amphibious assault ships (Tarawa and Wasp classes- LHA), and a dozen amphibious transport docks (LPDs). The Royal Navy has one LHA and two LPDs, and the French Navy has recently commissioned the first of the Mistral class, a large amphibious command ship. That the Americans, British, and French have such ships isn’t particularly surprising, given that these three countries have decided to maintain both blue water navies and expeditionary capabilities. What’s more interesting is that smaller navies are increasingly getting into the amphibious assault game. The Dutch commissioned Rotterdam, a 17000 ton LPD, in 1998. Spain has built two large LPDs and is building a big LHA, the Italians are building three LPDs, and Portugal is building one. Canada has expressed an interest in purchasing one of the US San Antonio class LPDs, roughly at 25000 ton ship. The trend extends to Asia, where India in attempting to buy a US LPD, and Japan operates three small LPDs. South Korea, believe it or not, is building a 19000 ton LHA. Malaysia is considering building two new 18000 ton LHAs.

The amphibious assault ship spree is somewhat reminiscent of the drive, around 1910, of a number of major and minor powers to purchase or build dreadnought battleships. Countries that had no business owning major modern units, like Brazil and Argentina, spent enormous sums on modern vessels for reasons of national prestige. However, the Defense News article suggests a more rational purpose to the purchases. As major warfare operations have increasingly become coalition expeditionary efforts, states with small militaries want a way to contribute. An amphibious assault ship gives a country like Spain, the Netherlands, or Canada a way to involve itself in an expeditionary operation without being excessively dependent on one of the major naval powers. Like their armies, the navies of these countries are becoming less focused on the traditional forms of territorial defense and more on the need for policing, peacekeeping, and other forms of expeditionary warfare. Also, amphibious assault ships are easier to sell to defense-spending averse European publics (and legislators) because they can be portrayed as more flexible and less “aggressive” than traditional naval vessels.

Still, I wouldn’t discount a constructivist explanation focused on national prestige and “appropriateness”. If Portugal has an LPD, then what does it say about Canada that they lack one?

[ 0 ] April 14, 2006 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Nelson

Lemay II

[ 0 ] April 13, 2006 |

Matt notes that the Weekly Standard has a pet Air Force general, Thomas McInery, who is willing to recycle every bit of nonsense about airpower that you can think of; overestimating the ease of decapitation, overemphasizing the role of airpower in conventional warfare, ignoring or dismissing the civilian consequences of airstrikes, and so forth. That there is considerable correspondence between the Air Force’s vision of warfare and the neocon understanding of the world isn’t particularly new or surprising, but I didn’t realize that there are still people out there who want to grow up to be Curtis Lemay.


[ 0 ] April 13, 2006 |

Interesting article in the latest Defense News (subscription required) about the Navy’s decision to fold its minesweeping assets into the Anti-Submarine Warfare Command. The move obviously doesn’t make sense to the minesweeping community, and doesn’t make much sense to me, either. The Navy has been quiet about the move, but the article suggests that the decision was made by officers without much interest and experience in mine warfare. The move will also result in the retirement of half the USN minesweeper fleet. Some of the material gap will be covered by the minesweeping module of the new Littoral Combat Ship, but the folding of mine warfare into ASW has some officers concerned that minesweeping will get the short end of the budgetary stick in a Command dominated by ASW.

Why is this a problem? Mine and submarine warfare are both naval equivalents of asymmetric warfare. They are weapons of the weak, designed to offset an enemy surface or air advantage. Of the two, mine warfare is less expensive and potentially more dangerous, especially as the USN’s focus has moved toward littoral areas where mines will likely be most effective. Anti-submarine warfare is more expensive, more interesting, and higher tech, which is probably why the Navy seems more interested in it than minesweeping. While this isn’t the most serious crisis facing the Republic, it is evocative of a Pentagon culture that continues to focus on expensive, high tech solutions to problems and ignore low tech, asymmetric threats.


[ 0 ] April 12, 2006 |

Make sure to read Fred Kaplan’s column on the increasing discomfort of the officer corps with the Bush administration, and with Don Rumsfeld in particular. Also take a look at this NYT op-ed by Major General Paul Eaton, which I unfortunately missed at the time. General Eaton gave a lecture in my American Foreign Policy class back in the spring of 2000, while he was stationed at Fort Lewis.

I’m of two minds on the question of dissatisfaction in the officer corps. I recall, at SWAMOS 2000, Eliot Cohen talking about how the Clinton administration had allowed the senior brass far too much latitude, and that a Republican administration would likely see the firing of a few generals in short order, just to put them back in line. I do think that Clinton was too deferential to the uniformed military, and that the one ray of light in the Rumsfeld DoD has been the willingness of civilians to assert control. But that is obviously also a double-edged sword, and the restoration of civilian authority would undoubtedly have gone more smoothly and been less destructive if a) it hadn’t involved the silencing of military voices when that expertise was most necessary, and b) the civilians in question weren’t so goddamn stupid.

UPDATE: Brad Plumer says the same thing, only better.

Drinking Liberally-Lexington Recap

[ 0 ] April 12, 2006 |

The inaugural meeting of DL-Lexington went well, as far as I can recollect.

Submitted without editorial comment, Minka:

The Meeting

[ 0 ] April 11, 2006 |

Rich Lowry’s advice for the President:

Sit-down with conservative bloggers. They are some of his most loyal supporters–include them in the media out-reach.

Imagine that…. just imagine that…

Scene: Oval Office. President Bush is meeting with John Hinderaker, Kathryn Lopez, Jonah Goldberg, Charles Johnson, John Derbyshire, Glenn Reynolds, and Roger L. Simon.

President Bush: Thank you all for coming. I just want you to know that Laura and I value your ideas and support.

Reynolds: Heh. Indeed.

Lopez: Mr. President, you are, like, a god to me.

Bush: Thank you…

Hinderaker: Mr. President, I believe that your speeches will be studied by historians for centuries to come. For now, the only advice that I can offer is to suggest that you should denounce Mahatma Gandhi.

Bush: Denounce Gandhi?

Hinderaker: Yes, sir, denounce Gandhi. And his rabble. Can’t let the peaceniks get a foothold.

Reynolds: Heh. Indeed.

Simon: Mr. President, a lot of people are saying your administration has made mistakes in Iraq, but you shouldn’t pay them any attention. I’d say that the Iraq War is at least as well conceived and executed as, say, Pajamas Media.

Bush: Well, thank you.

Goldberg: Mr. President, South Park is really big these days. I think that you should consider appearing on South Park. I’m sure that Parker and Stone would treat you with the dignity you deserve. The kids really like South Park these days.

Johnson: Mr. President, have you considered giving a speech threatening to incinerate the entire islamic world? Some of my commenters think that would be a really good idea.

Reynolds: Heh. Indeed.

Bush: Well, I’m not sure…


Reynolds: Heh. Indeed.

Drinking Liberally-Lexington

[ 0 ] April 10, 2006 |


Drinking Liberally-Lexington will meet tomorrow (Tuesday) at 6:30pm at the Horse and Barrel, 101 North Broadway.

See you there.