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Category: Robert Farley

You Brought a Coastal Defense Ship to a Battleship Fight

[ 152 ] October 5, 2012 |

In order to prove that battleships had little utility in World War II, John Quiggin links to this list of battleship losses.  As you’ll note, this list includes a variety of vessels that no reputable historian of World War II maritime affairs would call “battleships,” including pre-dreadnoughts serving in the Greek and German navies, the German “pocket” battleships, and a plethora of Scandinavian coastal defense vessels that, whatever their official designation, do not merit discussion in the same terms as actual battleships.  The Norwegian Eidsvolds are a great example; they were built in 1899, displaced 4400 tonnes, and carried two 8″ guns in two single turrets.  John would understand that the Eidsvolds were not battleships in any useful sense of the term if he were familiar with basic maritime terminology.

FWIW, the actual data on battleship losses in World War II is as follows (parentheses include ships refloated and returned to service):

Frogmen: 2 (2)
Submarines: 3
Land based air: 4
Carrier air: 13 (5)*
Surface ships (non-bb): 2**
Surface ships (battleships): 8 (2)*** ****

Of the ships lost to carrier air, 11 were in port, two under way.  Had the war continued, Haruna, Hyuga, and Ise could have been refloated and returned to service, but of course there was no point.

Some lessons:

1. Carrier attacks were devastating, especially to ships in port.  Taranto, Pearl Harbor, and the 7/27/45 raids on Kure account for 11 sunk battleships.

2. Submarines account for far fewer battleship sinkings than you would expect. Indeed, far more carriers than battleships were lost to submarine attacks.

3. Land based air was, in general, far less effective than carrier air. This trend extends to aircraft carrier losses.

4. Battleships themselves accounted for a significant proportion of losses, especially of enemy battleships underway.

It is possible to imagine a universe in which the proposition a) “battleships were of considerable utility to the navies of World War II,” and proposition b) “the major navies by and large ceased or reduced battleship construction during the war,” are both true.  Battleships accomplished certain jobs very well, including air defense, carrier escort, shore bombardment, and fighting other battleships.  However, given the effectiveness of carrier air it became more efficient to concentrate on aircraft carriers rather than battleships. Indeed, I’d suggest that anyone with more than a passing knowledge of the actual course of operations in the North Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Pacific theaters would find these statements almost completely unobjectionable.

*Does not include USS Oklahoma as “returned to service”

** Includes HIJMS Hiei, although Hiei was also damaged by carrier aircraft.

***Treats battleships as the primary cause of Bismarck’s destruction, although carrier aircraft and other surface ships participated.

****Includes Provence and Dunkerque as “returned to service.”



And it Continues

[ 241 ] October 4, 2012 |

Back in April, John Quiggin wrote what was at the time, to my mind, the worst post in the history of Crooked Timber. To their credit, the commenters at CT utterly disassembled the first iteration of that post, forcing Quiggin to make major revisions. They then utterly demolished the second iteration of that post. I wrote a 1400 wordish points on why Quiggin was crazy, but decided to hold fire both because the commenters had done such a good job, and because there was no need to develop any bad blood between CT and LGM.

And so now that we’re in the midst of an inexplicable war between LGM and CT, let me point out that this post is worse. The commenters are again giving it a good once over (the CT commentariat is not notably hawkish in disposition, but they do know sloppy and indefensible when they see it), but a couple additional points:

What does it deliver for that money? The US hasn’t engaged in naval warfare on any significant scale since 1945, a period during which the other arms of its military have fought five major wars, and lots of smaller ones. The record in those wars, including an outright defeat in Vietnam, a status quo ante ceasefire in Korea, and highly equivocal outcomes in the two Iraq wars and Afghanistan casts plenty of doubt on the idea of that US military as a whole is a “high-performing agency”, and raises the question of why so much of the budget has been allocated to an armed force that does hardly any actual fighting.

It’s hard to figure out where to begin. I’m happy to grant, for sake of discussion, the outcomes he describes, but John is apparently utterly ignorant of how those wars were fought. Finding out that the USN participated in the Vietnam War, the Korean War, both Iraq Wars and the Afghan War isn’t particularly difficult; there are books about it and everything. There was even a Presidential candidate named John Kerry who was in the Navy during the Vietnam War, and engaged in actual combat. Swift boating is a thing.  I’m guessing that John must be equating aircraft with “Air Force,” because he apparently doesn’t appreciate that a very large proportion of the aircraft engaged in all conflicts were flown off the decks of aircraft carriers.

This sets aside the most important issue, which is logistical; turns out that there are relatively few rail lines between Pusan and the United States, and that in any case the trains run infrequently.

The arms race between Britain and Germany before 1914 was focused on ‘dreadnought’ battleships. They helped in building up the fever that led to war, but did almost nothing in the war itself.[2] Many more battleships were built after 1918, contributing once again to the resurgence of militarism, and again they proved an expensive waste of resources when war broke once more. Battleships and cruisers were sunk by planes, submarines and even frogmen, but otherwise did little or nothing.

I dunno what to say about this, other than it’s probably the single most unsophisticated, ill-informed passage that I’ve ever read about World War II on the internets. I want you to know that I fully appreciate the gravity of this claim.

Since World War II, vast amounts of money have been spent on navies that have not fired a shot in anger. The one exception, the Falklands War, is scarcely encouraging for naval advocates. The Royal Navy came to the edge of defeat against the air force of a Third World dictatorship, operating at the limits of its range.

Again, John is defining “in anger” as direct ship-to-ship combat, which is an appallingly stupid war of describing the combat contribution of a naval force. With regards to the Falklands, naval advocates often note that the United Kingdom could not have prosecuted the war without the Royal Navy; whatever the wisdom of the decision to go to war, the Royal Navy proved an effective tool for securing the ends of the British government.

The trillions of dollars that have been spent on building, maintaining and scrapping fleets since 1945 has yielded almost zero benefits to the nations that have spent this money, in the belief that all respectable countries should have a navy. China’s carrier is an extreme example. About the best that can be said is that a zero benefit-cost ratio is substantially better than that for military expenditure in general.

It turns out that most MiG-21s and Patton tanks ended up in the scrapyard, too.  And if “zero benefit-cost ratio is substantially better than that for military expenditure in general,” then why is this a post on naval spending rather than military expenditure in general?

There’s so much more… U.S. naval predominance is one reason there’s so little naval combat…. naval combat is different in character than land combat in the sense that it’s difficult to compensate for material disadvantage by using terrain or defensive position… navies play a more important role in humanitarian relief operations than either armies or air forces… and so on, and so on.

… John responds by searching for “battleship” on Wikipedia. I’ve had some thoughts over the years on battleships…

LGM Baseball Challenge Championship Goes to ZZzzzz…..

[ 0 ] October 4, 2012 |

Free Leonard wins again. At least brokenax16 pushed FL in the final segment.


1 Free Leonard, mattricci 3920 8574 98.2
2 brokenax, brokenax16 4014 8503 97.7
3 Chacin Amy, thearistokatz 3633 8035 91.7
4 Too Much Coffee, PeterFD59 3719 7885 89
5 WesternDave, dsalmanson 3699 7682 85.2
6 TMTZac entry 1, TMTZac 3686 7657 84.7
7 I Think It’s a Pomeranian,NassauTiger92 3529 7300 77.6
8 Fister? I hardly knew her, sandalteam 3474 7283 77.3
9 [random], FTAVII 3588 7069 73.5
10 dr_eats_babies, rowland3550 3294 6843 70


mattricci should contact me for the prize he never wants etc. etc.  Next thirty LGM Baseball Challenges cancelled.

Debate Reax

[ 139 ] October 3, 2012 |

React! I “missed” all but the first five minutes of the debate, and twitter is telling me that this is an extremely good thing.  Fire away…

…Obama crushed. Let’s hope this shit don’t matter.

Rise of the South Korean Navy

[ 8 ] October 3, 2012 |

For this week’s Diplomat contribution I discussed the impressive growth of the ROKN:

South Korea’s robust shipbuilding industry (the world’s largest) helps support and underwrite the ROKN’s expansion and modernization. Four Dokdos and six KD-IIIs are planned, although actual construction may not match these numbers. If it does, however, this would represent one of the most potent naval warfare squadrons in the world, potentially capable of conducting many different missions in the region. The KD-IIIs and Dokdos are supported by a force of nine modern large frigates (designated destroyers), all displacing from 3500-6000 tons and specialized for surface and sub-surface warfare. Another fifteen 3000 ton frigates are in the ROKN’s plans

Much like the PLAN, the ROKN has taken advantage of every opportunity to develop experience with distant, long-term deployments. South Korea is a regular participant at RIMPAC, as well as other significant multilateral exercises. Also like the PLAN and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), the ROKN has maintained a continuous presence in support of CTF 151’s anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia.

As one reader suggested, the gap between South Korea and Brazil, a state seemingly well-positioned to take on a larger maritime role, is huge.

Foreign Entanglements: A Red Line Here, a Bombing Campaign There…

[ 11 ] October 2, 2012 |

On the latest episode of Foreign Entanglements, Matt speaks with Jamie Fly about Bibi’s Bomb Cartoon speech:

New Logo!

[ 86 ] October 1, 2012 |

As you may have noticed, we have a new banner and a new logo.  As you can see, we’re still working through some technical difficulties with regards to fitting the banner onto the header, and in general we’re still tweaking the appearance of the site; expect modifications to the header, and also possibly to the color scheme.  All said, we’re extremely pleased with how both the banner and the logo have come together. The designer was our very own Vacuumslayer, whose work you can find here.

Of course, we have made it possible for you to purchase reproductions of this logo on a wide variety of different consumer products. We encourage you to give such reproductions to friends, relatives, and whatever other various loved ones that you may have.  You can expect responses such as the following:

  • “So… you’re a gun nut now?”
  • “I thought you still loved me.”
  • “I don’t get it.”
  • “What’s a ‘blog?'”
  • “You’re planning to go to law school?  That’s great; I’m glad you’re finally doing something with your life.”


China’s Aircraft Carrier

[ 28 ] September 30, 2012 |

Everyone I know sent me a link related to this event. First things first, congratulations to the PLAN and to the people of China on turning a half-finished hulk into a major, if limited, warship.  Some thoughts from around the internets:

Falling in Line

[ 34 ] September 29, 2012 |

Shockingly enough, there’s something of actual interest in the latest “Ben Domenech” column:

One of the most interesting aspects of the 2012 election is how the tea party movement has proven more politically mature than the center-right’s self-styled elites, and those who spent much of the Republican primary season chiding swathes of people for being insufficiently pragmatic have turned out to be far more childish than the conservative base.

The tea party movement—once again proving its pragmatism once the general election season rolls around—lined up in the immediate aftermath of the Paul Ryan pick and has proven they can grow up. Professional concern troll David Frum, who spent most of the primary season telling liberals why conservatives were never going to suck it up and go for Romney, now seems very concerned that they have.  Michelle Malkin, who could be taking the wood to Romney on a daily basis for his infidelity to the immigration hardline, has morphed into a loyal soldier while Peggy Noonan is calling for Romney to bring in the 82-year-old Jim Baker to rescue his campaign (yes, really). Ann Romney seems a bit perturbed about this.

The roles of all these figures have completely reversed. Why is this happening? A number of reasons, but chief among them that the tea party movement just wants to beat Obama—they understand that as a necessary first step before continuing any of their internal battles on policy grounds. In contrast, while most insiders want to win, they value the importance of winning on their own terms. The tea partiers could be freaking out about any number of things from Romney.  Heck, his re-endorsement of Romneycare in the past few weeks barely got a peep.  They’ve largely sucked it up, making peace with the idea that they’ll have to keep him honest if he gets to the White House.


1. Do we know enough to say with certainty that Romney’s problems don’t involve an inability to motivate the conservative base? When I read this initially I concurred with the notion that Romney’s difficulties lay on the centrist side of the coalition rather than the right, but thinking about it now I’m not 100% sure. Even weakness in Ohio and Florida could come from far right distrust of Romney’s Mormonism, Romneycare, etc.

2. Rhetorically I think that the column is correct; whatever the private plans of Tea Party types, the right wing noise machine largely shut up about Romney’s deficiencies after he won the nomination. There’s certain to be blood in the future (lots of it if, as appears likely, Romney loses), but the right of the Right is holding its fire for now, even as conservative elites begin to scurry for cover. I have my doubts that the peasants will ever actually purge the lords, but it’ll certainly be fun to watch.

3. There surely is a productive comparison to be made between how the left and the right blogosphere treat their nominees. My interest in this is both academic and political, wherein both the “Why does the Right approach solidarity differently than the Left,” and “Should the Left accord a higher value to solidarity?” I haven’t blogged about the Friedersdorf column, but I should note that I find “Why don’t these liberals talk more about drones like they did with Bush?” an utterly uninteresting question on both empirical and normative grounds. Bloggers and commentators aren’t neutral; they expect to prefer one candidate over the other, and will tend strategically to focus on aspects of the record that make that candidate look good rather than aspects that make that candidate look bad.  What’s interesting, perhaps, is that active support for the drone program (among the larger set of civil liberties concerns) has been very restrained in the left blogosphere over the past four years; by and large (there are exceptions), pro-Obama bloggers have not convinced themselves that the drone campaigns in Pakistan and Yemen are positive goods to be celebrated.


[ 22 ] September 28, 2012 |

First Bolsheviks no hitter since Browning. Congrats to Homer Bailey!

Incidentally, is there serious debate to be had regarding Johnny Cueto‘s appropriateness as Cy Young award winner?

Inter-Service Conflict and the System of Systems

[ 8 ] September 26, 2012 |

My latest at the Diplomat discussed efforts to make military services play nice with one another:

I’ve belabored the organizational aspects of China’s system of anti-access systems because bureaucratic boundaries matter. AirSea Battle seeks, above all, to iron out the wrinkles that could prevent tight cooperation between the United States Navy and the United States Air Force.  Years of hard won experience have demonstrated that military organizations don’t necessarily play well together; they have different priorities, different practices, and often different system of communication that generate friction and detract from overall capability.  The history of USN and USAF collaboration in KoreaVietnam, Grenada, and the Gulf is littered with stories of hostility, rivalry, and miscommunication. The Pentagon understands this, and over the years has enacted a plethora of reforms (not least the Goldwater-Nichols Act) to ensure that the Air Force and the Navy can operate effectively together.

As of yet there is little indication that the PLAN, PLAAF, and 2nd Artillery have developed the practices necessary to ensure an efficient, effective partnership in battle.


Layers of Conspiracies

[ 51 ] September 25, 2012 |

Just a brief set of additional points on the poll skewing theory, which I understand to be that a wide array of polling organizations (excluding Rasmussen and periodically Gallup) are highly susceptible to Democratic lobbying, and have modified their procedures in order to make it appear more likely that Obama is well ahead of Romney. Queries:

  1. Why are such a wide array of organizations susceptible to Democratic pressure, but not to Republican? What renders Rasmussen immune to such pressure?
  2. Given that polling organizations have determined, because of this pressure, to report findings that they must know are false, why don’t they do a better job of covering their tracks? Why report the accurate cross-tabs at all?
  3. Given that polling organizations have determined, because of this pressure, to report findings that they must know are false, why are they bothering to conduct polling at all? Why not just go the Research 2000 route and make it all up?
  4. If the results on November 6 closely resemble the expectations of the polls, will the GOPsters currently devouring this theory a) recognize that they were being had, or b) adopt the belief that the conspiracy was successful, and that campaign of misinformation discouraged some significant percentage of Republican voters?

I think I know the answer to the fourth question.

The discussion in the comment thread here is interesting for the comparison with Democratic attitudes in 2004. Democrats certainly expressed skepticism about Bush’s lead, for two reasons. First, there was a widespread (but not apparently well-founded) belief that undecideds tend to break for the challenger, and that if Kerry was within twoish points of Bush he stood an excellent chance of winning the election. Second, people were beginning to develop an appreciation of the cell phone effect, which was believed to favor Kerry due to the demographics of cell phone ownership in 2004. Apparently, there’s more empirical support for the latter than for the former, although it didn’t turn out to be a major factor in 2004. [Update: Thers offers an artifact of the skewing obsession from 2004].

What differentiates the Democratic beliefs in 2004 from their Republican counterparts in 2012 is the reliance on conspiracy theory; Democrats were surely over-optimistic in 2004, but (and I’m sure there were exceptions), didn’t tend to believe that the polls were being intentionally skewed in order to discourage participation. Democratic conspiracy theories in 2004 were of a different flavor, involving suspicion that the administration would create some sort of national security justification for delaying or ignoring the election, and in general received little mainstream attention. The Republican theory is considerably more elaborate, involving a widespread effort at intentional deception undertaken not only by the Democratic Party, but also a host of independent polling firms.

If Mickey Kaus were still alive, and had he ever been able to apply his critical faculties to the GOP, he might have referred to the incubation of such theories as “cocooning.” But I suppose we’ll never know…

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