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On April 16, 1989 there was an explosion in a gun turret on the U.S.S. Iowa.  47 men were killed. This need not have happened.  It was a foreseeable result of lack of training and the running of unnecessary risks by persons both on the ship and at the highest level of the Navy command.

    Turret 2 burns on USS Iowa, April 16, 1989.
In addition, there was a despicable attempt to blame the incident on a single deceased sailor, claiming he triggered the explosion in response to being spurned in a homosexual affair.

In this multi-part series, I will explore this disaster, which has its roots in the ridiculous worship of an obsolete weapons system, the battleship, by persons who damn well should have known better, starting with John Lehman, secretary of the Navy.  

As I shall show, not only should Lehman and the Navy command known these ships were both obsolete and dangerous, they were actually told so.  Even so, they were placed into service and kept in service -- I believe primarily for political reasons, as the ships had long since ceased to be efficient weapons platforms.

Below the fold, I give some basics of the primary weapons system of these ships as originally designed.  Although obsolete no later than the 1950s, these weapons systems were the primary reason for the reactivation of the ships in the 1980s.

The Iowa class ships.
The Iowa-class battleships were designed in the late 1930s and finished in the early 1940s, during World War II.  Their primary mission was to engage in combat with, and destroy, enemy battleships of similar size, armament and protection.  They were also capable of use for bombardment of on-shore targets.  

Six ships were originally intended to be built, of which four were completed: Iowa, New Jersey, Missouri, and Wisconsin.

To these purposes, the Iowa class carried a main armament of nine large rifled guns.  The inside of the gun barrels is called the bore, which in the Iowa class was 16 inches wide.  These were called "50 caliber" guns because the gun barrel was 66 feet long, or 50 times the bore diameter.

    Main gun turret and magazine of an Iowa- class battleship.
Wiki Commons / Voytek S
Gun turrets
Three guns were mounted in each of the ships' three turrets.  The turrets were numbered from bow to stern.  Each gun was capable of being fired independently and at different elevations (and hence different ranges) than the other two in the turret.  

The multi-story turrets which carried these guns were themselves possibly the most complex and heaviest weapons systems ever mounted in a naval vessel.  They extended from the top deck of the ship, with the visible part being called the "gun house", clear to the lower deck of the ship.  The rotating shaft of the turret was armored to protect against hits from enemy battleships.  

Within the turret, ammunition and propellent, in the form of  pre-measured gun powder bags, was sent up by lifts to the gun house.  To protect against loss of the ship due to an explosion in the gun house, elaborate systems of screening were employed.

Projectile types
There were two basic types of projectiles used, armor-piercing and high explosive.  The armor-piecing shells were designed to penetrate the high-quality steel alloy armor used by other navies to protect their own battleships.  These shells weighed 2,700 pounds.  The kinetic energy alone from a hit on an enemy ship would be enormous.

Beyond that however, the armor piercing shells contained a bursting charge of about 50 pounds of explosive, which was fused to go off with a short delay following the impact, by which time the shell would, or so it was hoped, have penetrated to the interior of the enemy vessel.

The high-explosive shells weighed less, 1900 pounds, and contained a greater amount of bursting charge, 150 pounds.  Their purpose was to create the maximum possible explosive power against ground targets, such as buildings.

Firing the main armament
To fire the guns, it was necessary to open the breach (that is, the end of the gun inside the turret), blow compressed air into the gun to flush out the gun muzzle any flaming debris from any previous discharge, and then insert, using a hydraulic ram, the projectile into the gun barrel.  After that, bags of gun power would be placed into the gun, again, they would be slid into the breech using the hydraulic ram.  Here's a US Navy training film which explains in detail the procedure, as well as giving some idea of the complexity of the turret structure.

The primer for this massive charge was a simple .30 caliber rifle cartridge.  This would be inserted into the breech block (the large seal for the breach, this looks and works somewhat like the door on a bank vault).  When the gun was ready to fire, the gunnery control officers would be informed.  The gun could be discharged either by the turret commander or by a central gunnery control command station.  Once the decision to fire was made, an electrical signal would fire the primer into the power bags, causing them to explode and expelling the shell out of the muzzle of the gun toward the target.  (See here for a basic animation showing how a gun turret worked.)

Ideally each gun could be discharged twice a minute, or maybe a little faster.  Combat with an opposing battleship might last only a few salvos, so it was essential to place as many shells downrange towards the target as quickly as possible.  

Thus, in the 1941 Battle of the Denmark Strait, the largest British ship, the battlecruiser Hood was sunk after just five minutes firing by the German ships.  During these five minutes Bismarck, the principal German warship, had fired 93 armor-piercing projectiles from its 8 main guns, also approximately 2 salvos per minute.  

Inherent danger
A battleship was capable of doing enormous destruction, but it was also quite dangerous to operate.  In combat conditions, particularly on early battleships, a turret fire, caused generally by a hit from an enemy shell, could reach the magazine and cause an explosion which would destroy the whole ship.  But even in non-combat conditions, a ship could be destroyed or seriously damaged by its own munitions.  

For example, in 1943, the Japanese battleship Mutsu was destroyed at anchor by an explosion in the magazine of one its main turrets.  Two Italian battleships were destroyed in World War I by internal explosions, supposedly the result of enemy sabotage, but one wonders.

In our own Navy there had been six prior instances of turret fires on battleships, most were from before World War 1, but two were later, both on the same ship, USS MIssissippi.  48 men were killed on June 12, 1924 as a result of an explosion in the ship's number 2 main gun turret during target practice.  Just over 20 years later, on November 2, 1944, another turret explosion occurred while the ship was conducting shore bombardment.  This time 45 men were killed.

Heavy cruisers, which are smaller vessels than battleships, but which were still significant warships, also suffered turret fires, as their main armament (8 inch guns) was operated similarly to the large battleship guns.  On April 21, 1951, there was a turret explosion on heavy cruiser St. Paul while the ship was engaged in shore bombardment of the Korean peninsula.  

In May 1972, the heavy cruiser USS Newport News suffered a premature shell detonation in the barrel of one of the ship's 8 inch guns, which like the Iowa-class main armament, was mounted in a turret.  The resulting explosion killed 20 men and injured 36 more.

Internal fire barriers prevented these fires from reaching the magazines  and destroying the ships on which they occurred.  But there was never any certainty that the internal protections would always work, and so, on all the Iowa class ships, there were provisions made to permit the magazines to be flooded with seawater to prevent a disastrous magazine explosion.  

The need for such a fail-safe measure had been established in 1916 at the Battle of Jutland when a combat-caused turret fire on the battlecruiser HMS Lion threatened to spread to ignite the magazine of the ship's central turret, with the danger only being averted by the last-minute flooding of the magazine.

First retirement of the Iowa class
Returning to the Iowa class ships, all were removed from service in the 1950s when relatively new.

Missouri was withdrawn from service in 1956 and placed into reserve, as were Iowa and Wisconsin in 1958.  New Jersey was decommissioned following the Korean War, but was returned to service in 1968 during the Vietnam War and used for shore bombardment before being removed again from service in December 1968.  

And so these ships remained, quietly sitting alongside piers for an entire generation.  All the ships they had been intended to fight had been sunk or scrapped long before.  It was possible to tour the Missouri at Bremerton, Washington, which I remember doing as a child.  You could only walk around the main deck, but it was impressive enough even so.

Reagan Administration reactivates the battleships
This situation continued decade after decade, until the mid-1980s, when the Reagan Administration  came up with its idea of having a 600-ship navy, and decided to reactivate the Iowa battleships.  With the exception of the New Jersey's brief reactivation in 1968, the main armament of these ships had not been fired since the 1950s.  

The technology of course dated from the late 1930s.  Almost no one in the Navy had any actual experience of serving on a battleship.  Much of  the ammunition and propellent bags for the main armament dated back to the 1940s.  

Part 2: Dubious decision-making, incomplete renovation work, and underfunding leads to needless risks on the reactivated battleships.

Originally posted to Plan 9 from Oregon on Sat May 26, 2012 at 11:33 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Fascinating. (19+ / 0-)

    Big artillery has always fascinated me; I'm afraid the technical details always outweigh other considerations such as how useful the things have been or are now.

    The system which really grabs my attention is the 80 cm Dora (of which the Germans built 2 in WW II). 80 cm is about 32 inches, yielding rounds twice the diameter of those used in the 16-inch guns detailed in your diary, and also about 8 times as heavy at 7 tons or so.

    Not coincidentally, those guns were about 8 times as obsolete as the ones detailed in this diary. They were land weapons, and at 1400 tons including carriage required the resources of a fair to middling railroad to transport, set up, and operate.

    They eventually got all that working well enough to use one to bombard Sevastopol for a while. Good thing from our point of view in that it tied up a whole lot of resources in a fairly out of the way place with not that much effect on the war effort. Bad if you were anywhere near the target zone of course.

    Moderation in most things.

    by billmosby on Sat May 26, 2012 at 11:55:20 AM PDT

  •  If you go to Battleship Cove in Massachusetts, (14+ / 0-)

    You can tour the Battleship Massachusetts which is also a war memorial for the state. Large parts of the ship are open, including one of the main guns. The size of the thing is amazing. The gun house, the turret and associated assemblies - it's quite a thing to climb around and contemplate what it takes to operate. I believe they're comparable to the guns you describe on the Iowa, since they date from the same era. Just the sheer size of the ship is impressive - and that's without minor details like the catapults for launching seaplanes. If you're with selected groups, like the Boy Scouts, you can arrange to spend the night aboard the ship. There are several other warships there as well, including a couple of PT boats.

    And not that far away is the historic Nautilus and the Submarine Force Museum. The displays there are also well worth seeing. Looking at a map of the world, showing every place where a sub has been lost... it gives one pause. As do the shirts in the gift shop that say "There are only two kinds of ships: submarines and targets."

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Sat May 26, 2012 at 12:28:36 PM PDT

  •  I'm deeply grateful for this (15+ / 0-)

    and pre-grateful for the upcoming sequel.

    From Reagan's jingoist pledge of a 600-ship navy to the final explosion and subsequent coverup, this ranks as one of the worst episodes and best lessons in military-political history.

    Republicans are better on defense? No, they make promises that kill people, then walk away from the truth.

    In your next installment, do name all the names.

    "I was a big supporter of waterboarding" - Dick Cheney 2/14/10

    by Bob Love on Sat May 26, 2012 at 01:38:29 PM PDT

  •  I believe the largest death toll on a WWII BB... (6+ / 0-)

    happened at the Battle of Santa Cruz (?) off of Guadalcanal when the North Carolina was hit by a Japanese torpedo. Then the death toll was in the high 20s (I'm not going to look it up). Our Navy did a poor job early on of holding our BBs back from action when they could have done more good at helping defend Henderson Field and Guadalcanal. However at that time, they were close to being obsolete. During the Battle of Falklands the Argentine ship the General Balgrano (?) formerly known as the USS Phoenix a WWII era cruiser was sunk by a British submarine before it ever got close to British forces. The loss of life was huge.

    "We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both." - Louis D. Brandeis

    by VA6thDem on Sat May 26, 2012 at 02:11:03 PM PDT

    •  I think the torpedo incident was I-19. (8+ / 0-)

      When the USS Wasp (CV-7) was also sunk, same salvo; five sailors were killed.  

      The incident you may be thinking of was the electrical failure aboard the South Dakota at the second naval battle of Guadalcanal that left her unable to fire or radio; in that case, 39 sailors were killed and 60 wounded by gunfire when the ship made an unfortunate turn.  But that distraction actually let the Washington close to firing range undetected (Japanese ships didn't yet use radar) and beat the living bejeezus out of the battlecruiser Kirishima, which had to be scuttled the next day, while South Dakota was still in operating condition.  So in terms of military assets it was a reasonable trade--our post-1935 battleships were really built to last, even if their roles had to be rethought in light of carrier warfare.

      So the USN did actually make use of the battleships, but in the post-Pearl Harbor situation, they tried to be protective about those assets.  Adding an American BB to Ironbottom Sound would have been supremely bad for morale because at that point the battleship was still considered the icon of the Navy, despite the reality of operational supremacy passing to carriers.

      •  If you can find any living Marines... (0+ / 0-)

        that were on Guadalcanal early on they may still have some bitterness to feeling abandoned by the US Navy. Thanks for the clarification. I highly recommend Neptune's Inferno by James Hornfischer to folks who want what I believe is the best read of naval action around Guadalcanal in '42/'43.

        "We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both." - Louis D. Brandeis

        by VA6thDem on Sun May 27, 2012 at 06:05:48 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  VA, I toured the USS NC in Willmington, (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Cartoon Peril, ER Doc

      IIRC the ship lost 6 crew members during the war, at least thats what I remember the plaque saying.

      •  Always wanted to tour the NC... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I have been on the Massachusetts in Fall River and the Wisconsin is moored at Norfolk.

        "We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both." - Louis D. Brandeis

        by VA6thDem on Sun May 27, 2012 at 06:06:47 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  very interesting read... thanks n/t (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    US Blues, vzfk3s, Cartoon Peril, ER Doc

    America could have chosen to be the worlds doctor, or grocer. We choose instead to be her policeman. pity

    by cacamp on Sat May 26, 2012 at 02:26:01 PM PDT

  •  Dad has a story about smoking on the Missouri. (9+ / 0-)

    He was a midshipman aboard her from 48 to 52, and apparently when on duty sailors below decks were not to smoke.  The only place "off the beaten path" enough where sailors could grab a cigarette was in the powder handling room (13 on that image up there).  Since the powder was in charges and not "loose" it was less volatile than you'd think, and they tended to keep those rooms remarkably clean.  

    Still, the powder magazine plus chain smoking never seemed like a very good idea.  When the Iowa explosion happened, my first instinct was to think that someone had been smoking after a problem with the seal on a charge...

  •  Maybe obsolete, but NOTHING compares (10+ / 0-)

    to the sight of a battleship cruising along the coast or coming over the horizon with a full head of steam. A carrier is close, but only if they have flight ops going on.

    I was in the Navy at that time, and the BB's were just beautiful ships to behold. We had the Iowa on a North Atlantic cruise with us, and the site of the Iowa anchored off the coast of Norway in the early morning fog/sunlight as we came out of the fjords is something I will never forget.

    We also played red vs blue against the Iowa (she was dispatched to find us) and the site of her coming over the horizon, shooting her forward guns (with perfect smoke rings off the barrels) is another thing I'll never forget.

    Maybe obsolete, but even in their 80's format, lethal and deadly. With Tomahawks, Harpoons,  and the 16 inchers, they alone were a force to be reckoned with.

    When you added the additional ships/subs in their battlegroups, they were quite the force, especially if they showed up off of YOUR coast. If they started lobbing those shells at you, look out.

    “Dogs’ lives are too short. Their only fault, really.” – Agnes Sligh Turnbull

    by A Man Called Gloom on Sat May 26, 2012 at 03:00:10 PM PDT

    •  Thanks for that perspective, I agree very deadly (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Sychotic1, ER Doc

      in the right circumstances, but as I hope to show in the next installment, those circumstances never presented themselves, and the battleship was in fact a rather vulnerable vessel.

      You have exactly 10 seconds to change that look of disgusting pity into one of enormous respect!

      by Cartoon Peril on Sat May 26, 2012 at 06:15:22 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  A few fighter jets (0+ / 0-)

      with missles and any battleship is in danger.  Or a single tactical nuke.  They are excellent resource-rich targets.  

      The main use of them today would be for when the US bullies undeveloped nations without air forces.  

      "When I was an alien, cultures weren't opinions" ~ Kurt Cobain, Territorial Pissings

      by Subterranean on Sun May 27, 2012 at 11:21:39 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Battleships became obsolete with the (4+ / 0-)

    invention of the aircraft carrier. That was proved when the coal tender Langley was turned into the first carrier. Old school Navy brass did not want to give into a new idea.

    The same story is being played out now with the AC. There is no reason to have a 25 BILLION DOLLAR weapons system that can be sunk by a million dollar missile.

    The other services are no better at thing about future needs.

    •  Post-WWII Aircraft Carriers (8+ / 0-)

      were/are power projection systems.  Despite the reasons given during the Cold War, they never had anything to do with combating the Soviet Union, which knew where they all were at any given time and had several attack subs devoted to each, ready to take them out at the outbreak of hostilities.  Lousy global strategic weapons, they were just the ticket to support a conventional attack anywhere on the globe, and help maintain the empire we supposedly didn't have.
           As for today, meh, it's all about the money.  The Republicans have already started their whining about the supposed state of our armed forces, so that if/when they come into power again, they can drop all pretense concerning the deficit, and once again enrich defense contractors while claiming to bridge some security gap.  Same as always, no money for health care, schools, or infrastructure, plenty for weapons.  

    •  Arguably before that (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      The aircraft carrier decisively relegated BBs to secondary fleet action and naval artillery, but the platform showed its age even before naval aviation took off.  Minelayers and fast attacks like submarines and early torpedo boats were already a threat almost immediately after Tsushima.  Throughout WWI and for two decades after builders and strategists struggled and failed to reverse the dreadnought's diminishing cost-effectiveness.

    •  militaries always tend to prepare to re-fight the (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Carol in San Antonio, vzfk3s

      last war, but the US takes this to a ridiculous extreme, since we are still preparing to re-fight the Cold War with the Soviet Union--an enemy who has not existed for a quarter-century.  Meanwhile, we get our asses kicked by opponents in Iraq and Afghanistan who are armed with little more than captured American small arms and dud artillery shells.

      Americans like our war machines the same way we like everything else (from our cars to our TV sets)---big, flashy, loud, expensive, and, ultimately, impractical.

  •  Arms treaties for battleships (3+ / 0-)

    Prior to World War II, there were treaties limiting battleship construction. Parallels to nuclear weapons today...

    Government and laws are the agreement we all make to secure everyone's freedom.

    by Simplify on Sat May 26, 2012 at 03:13:41 PM PDT

  •  Interesting that.... (6+ / 0-)

    ....the loss of the Japanese battleship Mutsu was also blamed on a suicidal crew member, according to Wikipedia. There seems to be a certain reluctance to consider that the machine was at fault.

    "They smash your face in, and say you were always ugly." (Solzhenitsyn)

    by sagesource on Sat May 26, 2012 at 03:30:00 PM PDT

  •  Thanks for the diary (3+ / 0-)

    One of the sailors killed on the Iowa was from the small town I was living in at the time - Eaton Rapids, MI.  His death was a very sad event.

  •  Still no completely satisfactory replacement (4+ / 0-)

    They'd be easier to get rid of except that there's been a run of failure among programs to replace their ground attack capability.

    A good replacement would have to be mobile, persistent (unlike an airplane), accurate, capable of a high rate of fire, able to deliver heavy payloads, immune to air defenses, and capable of a large number of shots.

    It's possible to get several of those at the same time, but Marines storming a beach need all of them.

    Of course, all the proposed replacements do solve the problems of the spectacular expense of running a battleship and their vulnerability to aircraft and accidents.

  •  The Problem is AGE (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cartoon Peril, PrahaPartizan

    Not the Age of he Ship, But the Age of the Gun Propellant.

    Modern Gun Propellant is usually some form of Extruded
    Nitrocelulose. It is Usually quite Stable.

    Over a Period of time, the Nitro will start to seperate
    from the binder. NOT Good.

    The Fix is simple. Keep the Propellant stored in a
    Temperature and Humidity controlled Environment.

    Well. The Navy doesn't Always do what it should as far
    as storing munitions. Many of those Old bags of Powder
    have been stored on Old Barges and in old storage
    Depots. No Temperature or Humidity Control.

    Take a Guess at What Happens Next.

    On Giving Advice: Smart People Don't Need It and Stupid People Don't Listen

    by Brian76239 on Sat May 26, 2012 at 04:40:47 PM PDT

    •  If I recall correctly, the 16 inch gun propellant (0+ / 0-)

      is good old Black Powder, not cordite. Can any old BB gunners corroborate or correct me?

      "Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens," -Friedrich Schiller "Against Stupidity, the Gods themselves contend in Vain"

      by pengiep on Sat May 26, 2012 at 04:52:44 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  USS Forrestal Suffered Similar Experience (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jakedog42, Cartoon Peril

      The disastrous fire aboard the USS Forrestal during the Vietnam War was also caused in large part by the old ordnance being used.  Newer ordnance was designed to resist some abuse to allow damage control parties the chance to act effectively.  I suspect all militaries around the globe have been guilty of resorting to using old ordnance from storage due to need at some time during their histories.  

      "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

      by PrahaPartizan on Sat May 26, 2012 at 08:10:02 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  USS Forrestal (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Cartoon Peril

        When I was in firefighting school at the refinery where I worked they showed the video of fighting that fire.

        •  Seen on the Military Channel or Public TV (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Cartoon Peril

          I've seen a documentary which details what happened in that incident.  The US Navy's attention to damage control aboard ship is positively stunning.  The documentary showed the damage control officer on the flight deck that day running toward the fire with an extinguisher, clearly hoping to squelch the fire before the bombs lit off.  He may not have even been aware that they were older munitions which were going to deny him the time he needed to save his ship.  The pictures demonstrated what true courage really is.

          "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

          by PrahaPartizan on Sun May 27, 2012 at 12:34:18 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  The Iowa class were very fast ships as well (5+ / 0-)

    When WWII ended, the two additional ships under construction were cancelled.

    There were 4 steam turbines and their associated boilers and reduction gears from the USS Kentucky.  They were repurposed by putting two each of the turbines in the new Sacramento class fast combat support ships.

    Just half of an Iowa class engineroom was able to provide 30 knots of speed on a ship nearly as big as an Iowa class ship.

  •  Not sure I agree with the Diarist (3+ / 0-)

    The choices made in the execution mentioned above may be poor, but the concept of artillery is still valid, and was back then. Aircraft are expensive and fragile and more easily intercepted than inbound artillery rounds then and now. There may be weather when it's unsafe to fly but still be okay to shoot. An artillery unit/platform can generally put more ordnance on target faster than an aircraft. In 1986, the Cold War made nuclear survivability a concern and a heavily armored warship like a battleship would be able to survive a closer strike than naval aircraft and their carrier, and a battleship was also capable of deploying nuclear weapons in the form of cruise missiles and gun rounds (when they were available).

    Sure, many aspects of the WWII era battleships are outdated, but the concept of using naval platforms for artillery is not, especially with the potential for much longer ranges using railguns, but even rocket-extended flight and flight-guidance systems have been investigated for adding to various artillery systems.

    Rockets do have some advantages, but they also have disadvantages. And all weapons systems, or any high energy system for that matter, has an inherent risk of catastrophic failure. If you could make them completely safe, then they wouldn't be useful as weapons.

    -We need Healthcare Reform... but i'm selfish, I Need Healthcare reform-

    by JPax on Sat May 26, 2012 at 05:36:24 PM PDT

    •  I hope to address these issues in the next install (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      ment, when I will address the question of the vulnerability of the battleship to modern weapons such as the Exocet, as well as question the decision to invest such huge resources into these vessels.

      You have exactly 10 seconds to change that look of disgusting pity into one of enormous respect!

      by Cartoon Peril on Sat May 26, 2012 at 06:21:27 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Falklands War Experience Crucial to Decision (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Wheever, Cartoon Peril

        Will you then be exploring how naval brass concluded that the anti-ship missiles (ASM) then available, like the Exocet, could be defeated by heavily armored ships like the USS Iowa class battleships?  The conclusion reached at the time was that they wouldn't be vulnerable to the Exocet, as compared to the British experience with unarmored destroyers lost during the Falklands War.  Since almost all of the most recently built classes of US warships were unarmored, the US Navy planners felt they needed to come up with something to counter the effect of ASM attack and still preserve a counter-strike capability.  In 1984 the US Navy was not going to be building new versions of the American heavy cruisers built during WW2 and used to destruction for the next four decades and the USS Iowa class ships at least had virtually no use on them while having been built with very corrosion-resistant steels.

        "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

        by PrahaPartizan on Sat May 26, 2012 at 08:18:36 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Looking forward to it. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        PrahaPartizan, Cartoon Peril

        I'm fascinated by battleships, I admit, but that won't stop be from agreeing with valid criticism. I think that there is still a use for similar but updated weapon systems.

        I think one of the reasons they reactivated them was psychological, partly ignoring the Sunk Cost, partly feeling nostalgic for the victorious days at the end of WWII, and to inspire themselves, Americans and our allies and put fear into our rivals who had suffered many defeats in the same war. Psychology is important in war and the fear of even a few ships that have the capacity to operate alone and sneak up and hit you from 20 miles away can be enough to alter tactical and strategic planning, costing much in the way of resources.

        After all, it's not impossible to destroy an Iowa Class or other battleship, but it does tend to require dedicated effort and the expenditure of a fair amount of expensive munitions.

        Tactics, as always, are key. A battleship might not be useful in asymmetric warfare except as a target, but sometimes it helps to have a target for them to waste time going after in order to reveal themselves (e.g. USS Cole), which may be painful but can serve as an early warning if heeded. And in a more symmetric tactical scenario, while all the attention is placed on defeating a capital ship, a surgical attack might be able to succeed in its stealthy mission due to the other's diversion.

        -We need Healthcare Reform... but i'm selfish, I Need Healthcare reform-

        by JPax on Sat May 26, 2012 at 09:55:43 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Sustainabilty on Station Issues (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Nebraskablue, JPax, Cartoon Peril

      One of the problems with missile platform ships is that they are difficult to keep on station long-term when they are consume their ordnance at very high rates.  Missiles take up a lot of room inside a ship.  Once their gone, the ship is just carrying empty space until it can return to port to replenish its missile magazines.  Typically, artillery ordnance can be delivered to ships while under-way and for a blue-water navy like the US Navy that makes all the difference in the world.

      "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

      by PrahaPartizan on Sat May 26, 2012 at 08:24:09 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  To counter (4+ / 0-)

      While the points you make with regard to artillery vs. bombing are valid, it must also be remembered how relatively inefficient artillery is with respect to payload.  This is due to the nature of the shell construction and the necessity for it to maintain proper ballistics and withstand the stress of being fired out of the rifled barrel.  
            Thus, in the case of the Iowa's HE rounds, you have a 1,900 pound shell being fired, but "only" delivering 150 lbs. of explosives to it's target (and a lot of shrapnel).  By contrast, bombs don't have to undergo near these stresses.  Thus, the 500 lb. MK82, for example, contains 192 pounds of explosives.
           I bring this up because it often seemed that the Navy (and naval artillery enthusiasts) were/are often fond of quoting how much shell tonnage a ship laid down on a target, while ignoring the above point with respect to the actual amount of explosives.  To be fair, all services do the same thing with respect to bomb tonnage as well, it's just that the disparity between the total weight of the ordinance and explosives contained within isn't as large.

      •  Good point, but is it necessary for the shell... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Old Man from Scene 24

        to be that much casing? I don't know the answer, but I'd be curious to find out. In either case (no pun intended) the casing can provide for a good kinetic energy transfer at impact or help for penetration. The AP rounds for the 16-inchers could penetrate 20 ft of concrete, from what I've read.

        The Air Force went the same way with their BLU-113 bomb body that was originally made from artillery tubes and there has been talk for a long time about "Rods from God", which are solid tungsten rods dropped from orbit or high altitide for pure hyper-kinetic effect. The naval rail-gun project relies upon kinetic energy transfer alone as the warhead will not contain any bursting charge.

        I guess my question is, if the shells were intended for a more generic land-attack role, would they still be like the anti-ship HE rounds or could they be made with more explosive? Or do they even need to have more explosive? After all, for land attack you do want a lot of shrapnel with a predictable damage radius that's not excessive or else you're limiting yourself with regards to close-fire support roles. I recall reading that sometimes a single HE round would be able to clear the jungle for a Helicopter landing assault. It all depends on the mission and what you need.

        If we want different warhead performance, we can always use sabots, barrel liners, various powder loads or other alterations if we have a large barrel to work with.

        -We need Healthcare Reform... but i'm selfish, I Need Healthcare reform-

        by JPax on Sun May 27, 2012 at 11:37:14 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Interesting question (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

            I'm not sure, given the ballistics, whether the shells could have been comprised of a higher ratio of HE.  Also, during a naval bombardment, the objective of the 16 inch guns were often bunkers, either encased in concrete of buried in the earth, or both.  Thus, even in this case, there was still a need for penetrative capacity.
             You raise an excellent point with regard to penetration vs. explosive capacity.  In my reading, if the enemy is in any kind of armored target, any penetration is usually enough to convince them that they are no longer in a safe place to be, regardless of the lethality.  Of course, here is the great difference between soldiers and sailors - the sailors have nowhere else to go.
              Finally, while HE bombs contain more explosive per pound than shells, certainly the amount of earth/stone  thrown up by a 16 inch shell would be substantial, lending credence to the single round clearance observation.  I know from talking to Vietnam era vets that no one ever mistook an incoming main battery round from the New Jersey for anything else.  

  •  When I first skimmed past the headline... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cartoon Peril

    ...on the main page, I thought: "Oh crap! Not again! Why is there live ordnance on a museum ship."

    To be fair, I have had a few tonight. [hic!]

    Great diary, and pictures.  Thanks!

  •  Good diary. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Nebraskablue, Cartoon Peril

    I remember being surprised that word leaked from the investigation that it wasn't a disgruntled sailor, but failure from the top down, that was the cause of the explosion.  Then I forgot about it until the movie A Glimpse of Hell was released on TV.

    Thanks for an excellent piece.  I'm looking forward to the sequel.

    Hope is a good thing--maybe the best of things--and no good thing ever dies.

    by Gemina13 on Sat May 26, 2012 at 07:54:26 PM PDT

  •  VERY interesting reading - (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Nebraskablue, Ian S, Cartoon Peril

    looking forward to future episodes - thanks for posting...

    Especially fascinating considering the recent "Battleships" movie that utilized an IOWA class warship as a main character.

    For a better America, vote the GOP out of office whenever and wherever possible and as soon (and as often) as possible!

    by dagnome on Sat May 26, 2012 at 07:58:44 PM PDT

  •  I was always fascinated by battleships... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cartoon Peril

    and assembled many plastic models. Being Canadian, I tended towards the British ships but loved the lines of the Bismark. Always appreciated that some of the best American ships have been preserved as museums and would love to tour the Iowa when it's settled in Los Angeles.

    Just another faggity fag socialist fuckstick homosinner!

    by Ian S on Sat May 26, 2012 at 08:13:58 PM PDT

  •  Good diary (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Nebraskablue, Cartoon Peril

    I worked at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard during the first gulf war. I was on the New Jersey and Missouri many times. Standing at the head of battle row when they were both in port was quite an impressive sight.

  •  Excellent Diary, I love the BB's. (6+ / 0-)

    As someone who was serving in the Marines in the 1980's when Reagan brought back the Battleships I proudly remember that time.  I think they were brought back more for morale and political reasons more than any actual military need.  They are beautiful and deadly ships.   The Video Cher shot on the Iowa is one of my favorites.  She screwed the Navy Brass over hard when she did all the practice songs, and an impromptu concert for the men watching in a pretty conservative long black dress (you can see her in that in one spot in the video).  Once everything was set up for the final filming out comes Cher in the tiny outfit you see her in the final video (She changed into that, out of sight of her Navy minders) of course the young (All male) sailors aboard thought it was awesome (I mean come on, this is CHER we are talking about).  Anyway, the video gets made, hits MTV and the Navy blows a gasket, mainly due to all the Navy wives screaming at them over the phone about letting Cher pranch around on a Navy ship dressed like a stripper. MTV didn't pull the video but would only run it after 10pm.  The Navy barred Cher from EVER filming anything ever again on Navy property. I got the scoop on this from a buddy of mine that was on that ship during the shooting, he loved it and thought Cher was the bomb. I bet most of those guys still do.  I do.... ;)


    "OK, GOP you take the millionaires and tea baggers, and I will stand with the police, fire fighters, teachers and union members, guess who is gonna win... "

    by Nebraskablue on Sat May 26, 2012 at 08:24:49 PM PDT

  •  Remember the Maine (5+ / 0-)

    It also exploded in dock. But it took a war and 100 years to be known.

    Daily Kos an oasis of truth. Truth that leads to action.

    by Shockwave on Sat May 26, 2012 at 08:31:39 PM PDT

  •  Once upon a time, I was a naval gunnery officer. (5+ / 0-)

    Every word of this diary is gospel truth.  

    Save the U.S. Postal Service, an august, efficient, trusted and indispensable American institution.

    by LeftOfYou on Sat May 26, 2012 at 08:44:12 PM PDT

  •  The 16"/50 Mark 7 Barrel Stockpile (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cartoon Peril

    For the Iowa class was demilitarized and sold for scrap or sent to parks/museums. They have only a barrel life of ~300 rounds before they need to be relined, so retirement this time is for good.

    "Wake up Democrat"

    by ILDem on Sat May 26, 2012 at 09:21:51 PM PDT

  •  No one remembered (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Sychotic1, Cartoon Peril

    How to fire the guns. The Navy literally had to go looking for retirees to bring back into service at the time of their reactivation during the 80's. I had several shipmates who served on the BB's during the 80's. They were and remain impressive weapon systems.

    I had the privilege of touring the Missouri last summer. The preservation society is required to keep it seaworthy for possible reactivation. (There is a grain of truth to the movie Battleship in that regard.)

    Their time has passed in the NAVY but what a truly magnificnt piece of naval history.

  •  Battleships have one extremely valuable feature; (3+ / 0-)

    They are very difficult to sink, particularly in comparison to typical modern warships like (say) the large destroyer U.S.S. Cole or the cruiser U.S.S. Princeton, both of which cost close to a billion dollars to build. For various reasons, no U.S. Navy ship built since the WWII era carries any significant armor protection. The giant carriers have a limited waterline belt and relatively thin flight deck protection, and likely some armor around the magazines, but that's it. The Burke Class destroyers have a modest Kevlar/steel layer at the waterline, but you wouldn't really call them armored.

    Battleships are very difficult to sink not just because they are very large, but because a sizable fraction of their displacement goes toward massive side armor belts and heavily armored decks to prevent enemy projectiles from reaching the engines or magazines. They also have very complex multi-layer torpedo protection, typically involving 4 to 6 parallel layers of bulkheads beneath the outer skin on each beam, with water and/or fuel oil between at least one pair of bulkheads to absorb the explosive force of a torpedo warhead.

    This is far more important than you might think; The U.S. Navy had excruciatingly extensive experience with severely damaged and sunken ships in WWII combat. It's not for nothing that the U.S. Navy is vastly better at damage control than any other navy on earth.

    Every other ship in the Navy besides the battleships are vulnerable to being sunk by a single torpedo hit, or (at most) two or three missile or bomb hits—hits a battleship could shrug off without missing a beat. The sole exception are the giant aircraft carriers, which apparently have decent torpedo protection, but they are extremely vulnerable to fires touched off among the aircraft, bombs and aviation fuel on the hangar deck.

    The Cole was very nearly sunk by a single explosive-packed small boat that punched a huge hole in the ship's side. The Princeton likewise was very nearly lost due to hitting a single mine in the First Gulf War; the hit flooded the ship's engine rooms and broke her back. A single big wave would have split the ship in two. It took something like a year to repair the Princeton and return it to service. The HMS Sheffield was burned out and sunk by a single Exocet missile hit, and the warhead didn't even detonate! The ship was lost mostly due to fragility and poor damage control, but still.

    It helps to have some perspective. In the 1980s, the U.S. Navy was confronted by a rapidly expanding Soviet navy that was equipping itself with very modern and powerful warships. An actual conflict at sea promised to be extremely destructive. And as I've noted, almost all the U.S. Navy's ships were very vulnerable to any kind of hit by modern torpedoes or missiles. But a battleship...I know this is hard to get your head around, but a battleship escorted by a few submarines and with air cover would have been extremely difficult for the Soviets to sink. Furthermore, the Iowa class ships were very fast, as fast as virtually anything in the Soviet Navy. If one battleship got within 15 miles of a Soviet task force, it would be game over for the Soviets. A single 16 inch shell hit would sink or cripple all but the largest modern ships, while the battleships would be virtually immune to return fire.

    I know this is counter-intuitive, what with the battleships being so obsolete and all. But think about it for a bit.

    •  No (4+ / 0-)

      They would not have been that difficult to sink, or disable.  And I am fully aware of the differences in armor of these ships compared to their successors.  There's a reason why subsequent ships have very little armor, and it's the same reason cavalry gradually stopped wearing armor as muskets began to dominate the battlefield.  Because it was increasingly useless, in the face of superior, ranged weaponry.
         See my comments above with respect to aircraft carriers.  They were never geopolitical strategic weapons, a la SSBNs.  A few Soviet missile submarines apiece (one thing the Soviets didn't lack) would have been able to take out the Iowas.  And the idea of getting within fifteen miles of a Soviet task force with one is, frankly, fantasy.  
         The Iowas were brought out of mothballs and refitted primarily for political/national pride purposes.  Along with a president who was part of the WWII generation, they harkened back and attempted to establish a link to that great past.  In this, they were successful, if one considers propaganda a good thing.
          They were also subsidiary power projection systems, similar to our carriers, albeit with a more limited role.  As a counter to the Soviet navy, however, in anything but the prestige sense, they were useless.

      •  I used to joke that Reagan would re-commission (3+ / 0-)

        the USS Constitution next, back in the 1980s

        Republicans take care of big money, for big money takes care of them ~ Will Rogers

        by Lefty Coaster on Sat May 26, 2012 at 11:51:50 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Only Under Nuclear War Scenario (4+ / 0-)

        The Iowa-class battleships could be considered easily sinkable only under a nuclear war scenario.  Now, I will easily grant that any conflict with the Soviet Union during the Cold War would have escalated to nuclear war pretty quickly if it had occurred.  Once the nukes started flying almost any ship or group of ships which could be identified and targeted could expect to remain afloat only a brief time.  That accounts for even the US submariners' caustic comment about the US carrier force - "There are only two types of ships - submarines and targets."  

        "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

        by PrahaPartizan on Sun May 27, 2012 at 12:26:01 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  So true,had Hitler put all the Money,Men and Steel (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Old Man from Scene 24

          that He used building Germany's 2 Battleships and several Cruisers into building and manning Sub's Germany would have won WW2 and had The Kaiser done the same before and during WW1 there would have been no Hitler cause The Kaiser would have won WW1.As for the Cold War Russia feared our Subs not our Air Craft Carriers cause as you said "when the nukes start flying" and if I was Russia I would have at least 10 10-Mega-Ton Warheads landing on the Carrier Battle Groups that can be seen from Space by Satellites and then there is no Carrier Battle Groups.

        •  How damaging do you think nukes are? (0+ / 0-)

          The Able and Baker shots in Operation Crossroads reveal that most ships, except aircraft carriers, are very resistant to the blast and heat effects and require direct hits, meaning the initiation point of the weapon at surface zero is within a fraction of a mile. Using a larger weapon is possible (if they are available), but the damage radii won't increase as much as most people think, and larger weapons produce other problems of deliverability, which is made even more difficult when the target is moving.

          Back in the Cold War, the Circular Error Probability of ICBMs were fairly large and for a target as small as a single naval vessel, you couldn't use a ballistic missile. An air dropped bomb or cruise missile/SSM or torpedo wound be required, but there are countermeasures for those. Sure, a nuclear attack might eventually succeed, but nuclear weapons aren't cheap and in the event of a major nuclear war, a battleship may not be a priority either way. This is especially true if a war was coming, in which case a more visible asset like a battleship that does carry nuclear weapons is more likely to be ordered to use its weapons before it's destroyed than a submarine that might be held in reserve due to its better ability to hide and wait. In other words, yes, a battleship could be destroyed in a nuclear war, but by the time the enemy does it, they won't need to.

          -We need Healthcare Reform... but i'm selfish, I Need Healthcare reform-

          by JPax on Mon May 28, 2012 at 12:09:03 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  That's simply false. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Armoring ships today would still be very effective in enhancing their combat survivability. Modern missiles tend to have warheads in the 500 to 1000 lb. range, and they are not armor piercing. Kinetic energy on impact is substantially less than that of a 16" shell, with the exception of a few giant Soviet-era supersonic cruise missiles. It would not be that difficult to build a modern cruiser much tougher than the very fragile ships all navies are building nowadays. The reason why it isn't done mostly boils down to nuclear weapons and cost. With use of nuclear weapons assumed in any major conflict from 1950 onward, the Navy stopped even considering armor, even though it would be very useful for anything short of nuclear war. It also adds to the cost of warship construction, and U.S. shipyards & steel mills candidly no longer have the capacity to fabricate large amounts of massive steel armor belt.

        But that emphatically does not mean that armor is worthless. In WWII, it took literally hundreds of U.S. warplanes hours of relentless torpedo and bomb attacks to sink the Japanese Yamato class battleships. The U.S. aircraft were unimpeded by any Japanese air cover, and the Japanese ships had notably inferior anti-aircraft weaponry. This was basically clubbing baby seals, yet it still took hundreds of planes dropping hundreds of bombs & torpedoes over hours of repeated attacks to sink these ships. Furthermore, the Yamato class protection system turned out to have a design flaw that rendered them more vulnerable to torpedo hits than they should have been.

        The Iowa class ships could have taken hits from typical antiship missiles all day, and still been combat effective. The engines, magazines, primary weapons and combat information systems were all behind massively thick armor immune to anything out there today. Torpedoes would be the main threat, and even there these ships were far better protected than anything else at sea. Hence an escort of a few nuclear submarines and some air cover would have made them very difficult to neutralize.

        •  Disagree (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Justanothernyer, Wheever

              You keep wanting to fight the enemy you can beat.  Yes, the typical anti-ship missile would break up against the side of an Iowa. However, all dreadnoughts had far less armor on their decks and turret tops than in their belts.  This is what made them far more vulnerable to aircraft.  Yes, the Iowas had an impressive array of AA armament, which was modernized with the refit, but that would not have saved them.  The Soviets would have literally struck from both above and below "the belt."  Talking about how long it would take for the vessel to settle under the waves is beside the point.
              The Iowas themselves were an acknowledgement of the limitations that the battleship operated under by the time of their commission.  They were almost 200 feet longer than the previous class of battleships, with a substantial increase in displacement (albeit American warships always tended to be narrower across the beam than other countries' warships, to navigate the Panama Canal).  Was all this extra tonnage used for increased armor?  Very little.  Larger caliber guns?  We knew that the Japanese already sported 18" guns on the Yamato and Musashi.  No, the Navy thought 16" inch guns were fine for the job they needed to do.  Nor did they need four triple turrets instead of three.  Instead, most of that additional tonnage was devoted to the power plant.  This gave them the speed to keep up with carrier task forces and get to places quickly to lay down a bombardment.  That was their real mission.
               I'm glad you brought WWII back into the debate, though.  In an era when radar and anti-ship capabilities were far more crude, there was precisely one aircraft carrier that was brought within range by surface fire, and it wasn't in the Pacific (see HMS Glorious).  Why you think an Iowa in the 1980s would have had such an opportunity is beyond me.

          •  Gotta disagree there. (4+ / 0-)

            I'm a military dork with a history degree, among other things. Check out Friedman's excellent books for details. Yes, the deck armor was thinner than belt armor, but that was because incoming shells were coming in at a relatively shallow angle relative to the side belt. An incoming sea-skimming anti ship missile is doing exactly the same thing. But the deck armor was still substantial; a 5" main armored deck and several thinner layers totaling about 7", more than enough to break up typical anti-ship missiles. The turret tops are even more solid.

            What made battleships vulnerable to aircraft was the long reach of carrier aircraft, and torpedoes. Bombs were relatively ineffective, as they generally couldn't penetrate the deck armor (with the exception below), though they could suppress anti-aircraft guns. The torpedo bombers were responsible for sinking all battleships lost in WWII, other than the Roma and indirectly the Arizona. The Arizona appears to have been destroyed by a magazine explosion that in turn was touched off by detonation of a poorly protected black powder magazine for the catapult aircraft on board. The Japanese bomb does not appear to have penetrated the main armor. All the other battleships sunk at Pearl Harbor were lost to torpedo hits. Interestingly, the West Virginia took 7 torpedo hits on the same side, yet it was still refloated and was able to fight later in the war. These ships were very tough.

            The other exception was the Roma, a very modern Italian battleship, which was sunk by the very advanced German "Fritz-X" radio controlled guided bomb. But this was a huge 2000 lb. armor piercing warhead with control fins stuck on, and the actual cause of the Roma's destruction was an uncontrolled fuel oil fire that touched off the magazine. The Italians had abysmal damage control. Ironically, an American cruiser survived a hit from a Fritz-X because the bomb punched right through the ship and exited out the bottom, detonating too deep in the water to cause more damage.

            This has been fun; I agree with many of your points. You have a good day.

  •  Know a sailor who had been on the Iowa (3+ / 0-)

    temp deployment - he was on the Wisconsin most of his tour.

    He stated that the Iowa was 'sloppy' when it came to training and procedures - a big issue especially when dealing with powder bags that had sat on barges on the Mississippi in VERY HOT weather  before being loaded on the Iowa.

    His opinion was this was an accident - likely due to the condition of the powder bags compounded by bad training and procedures.

    Life isn't fair but you should try to leave it fairer than you found it.

    by xrepub on Sat May 26, 2012 at 10:24:56 PM PDT

  •  BTW - in Lebanon the NJ was used (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cartoon Peril

    to shell targets on land.

    The spotters on the ground (USMC - heard this from a Lt who was one of them) used info from locals..... unfortunately you had people using the Americans to settle old family grudges.  The targets shelled by the New Jersey were - on occasion - chosen because someone reported as  a 'terrorist' was simply on the wrong side of an old feud.  HIS 'enemy' was advising the USMC spotter.

    Life isn't fair but you should try to leave it fairer than you found it.

    by xrepub on Sat May 26, 2012 at 10:29:57 PM PDT

  •  WWI British battleships had more volatile (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    PrahaPartizan, Cartoon Peril

    ...propellant IIRC.  This was a major contributor to their vulnerability.  I'm going from memory but was studing some of these issues a few months ago.

    "Money is like manure. You have to spread it around or it smells." J. Paul Getty

    by Celtic Pugilist on Sat May 26, 2012 at 11:23:19 PM PDT

  •  My father served aboard the Iowa before (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cartoon Peril

    going to Korea to command a Marine artillery unit in combat. He described the ship when it firing its main batteries to me. I have a souvenir 155 mm casing sitting near my computer.

    Oddly I was just thinking about the sinking of the HMS Hood last night.  

    Republicans take care of big money, for big money takes care of them ~ Will Rogers

    by Lefty Coaster on Sat May 26, 2012 at 11:41:12 PM PDT

  •  Well, all news to me. But that's what edu is for! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cartoon Peril
  •  vulnerability of the turrets was an old problem (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cartoon Peril

    with battleships, going way back to the old "Maine" class during the Spanish-American War. It was always relatively easy for fire to travel from the upper deck down to the magazines. There were a series of fireproof doors that were supposed to help prevent that, but in the rush of combat these were often left open, leaving the whole system vulnerable--many researchers have concluded that this is why so many ships were lost during the World War One naval Battle of Jutland. (Other researchers have concluded that the battleship "Maine" was destroyed in 1898 not by a Spanish mine, but when a fire in the coal bunker was able to reach the magazine hold.)

  •  Great diary, lively discussion! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cartoon Peril, JPax

    The recommissioning of the big BBs by Reagan was a direct response to the sinking of the HMS Sheffield in the Falklands war. It brought to public awareness the total vulnerability of modern unarmored warships to cheap anti-ship weapons. "Exocet" became, overnight, a household word. People were outraged that their loved ones in the USN were also protected by nothing but aluminum, which, of course, readily burns at high temperatures.

    Recommissioning the big BBs was the cheapest and fastest way to get a well-armored ship back into the naval roster. Yes, they were obsolete for their original mission of lobbing shells at other BBs, but as a munitions platform they were unparalleled. As someone said above, they were designed to take an ungodly amount of damage and not only survive, but remain capable of projecting force. An Exocet would have done little damage to one of the Iowa classers, because they were programmed to hit the center of mass of the target, where on the Iowa, depending, there was something like 2-4" of steel. (It goes without saying that a USS Cole style attack would literally have done nothing.)

    But! Yes, there were a lot things wrong with the recommissioning and the ensuing years of service. And I'm looking forward to reading the next installments. Well done, cartoon peril!

    (I just noticed all of this has been said above by other people, and said better. I'm posting my comment anyway because I just did a lot of typing. Hee hee.)

    "'club America salutes you' says the girl on the door/we accept all major lies, we love any kind of fraud"--The Cure, "Club America"

    by Wheever on Sun May 27, 2012 at 08:01:18 AM PDT

    •  In my next installment, I will address the issue (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      of the supposed resistance of the Iowa-class battleship to the Exocet and other anti-ship missiles.  

      No such missile ever struck an American battleship, but there were at least two instances in WW2 where an advanced German anti-ship radio guided missile design was used on battleships, sinking one basically new battleship, the Italian Roma, and seriously damaging another older but modernized ship, the British Warspite.

      You have exactly 10 seconds to change that look of disgusting pity into one of enormous respect!

      by Cartoon Peril on Sun May 27, 2012 at 09:56:55 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'm looking forward to it! (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Cartoon Peril

        I suspect we'll have a discussion regarding projectile targeting, and velocity and armor thickness, and it will be full of lively smart insights and great anecdotes!

        Really, really great that you're doing this series, CP. Thank you so much.

        "'club America salutes you' says the girl on the door/we accept all major lies, we love any kind of fraud"--The Cure, "Club America"

        by Wheever on Sun May 27, 2012 at 01:40:58 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Right, the somewhat cobbled together boondoogle (0+ / 0-)

      FRAM programs kept Alcoa muy happy. (luv dem nuke ASROC's, they didn't have quite enough throw range, heh))
      The Coast Guard also has had corrosion issues with steel hulled, aluminum topsided vessels (tough to beat Señor Galvanic).

      n the USN were also protected by nothing but aluminum, which, of course, readily burns at high temperatures.

      "Double, double, toile and trouble; Fire burne, and Cauldron bubble... By the pricking of my Thumbes, Something wicked this way comes": Republicans Willkommen auf das Vierte Reich! Sie Angelegenheit nicht mehr.

      by Bluefin on Sun May 27, 2012 at 03:28:34 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  2nd Mississippi Explosion (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cartoon Peril

    The US Navy historical website lists the date as 29 November 1943. It happened during the pre-landing bombardment off of Makin Atoll in the Gilbert Islands.

    "Wake up Democrat"

    by ILDem on Sun May 27, 2012 at 11:12:22 AM PDT

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