Archive for September, 2009

Thus far, and not surprisingly so, the conversation has focused on the naval forces – afloat and ashore, at work in the Solomons. Today we go a wee bit joint and talk about land-based air and its contribution.

We are all (or should be) pretty familiar with the inter-service rivalry that sprung up pre-war between the Navy and the (upstart) Army Air Corps. Claims and assumptions flew thick and heavy in the open press and behind War Department doors over what each service could do and the relative utility of the (then) fragile motorized kites called aircraft. Mitchell’s demonstration off Vacapes in 1921 served to fan the inter-service flames – but the facts are that it did force Navy to look harder at aircraft in an anti-ship role. On the Army Air Corps side, there was a push on for long-range bombers, leading to the B-17 and later the B-24, and several medium bombers (notables of which were the Douglas A-20 Havoc, the North American B-25 Mitchell and Martin’s B-26 Marauder) which at the time, fell into a “what do we do with these?” train of thought. As the war opened, the record of land-based bombers was, well, spotty. There were isolated instances of note – Doolittle’s raid being the most visible (technically, not land-based), but for the most part, the heavy bombers were still almost a year away from making their presence felt in Europe and in the Pacific, had been more noted for being caught and destroyed on the ground in the Philippines after Pearl Harbor was attacked. While present in the opening stages of Midway, the heavy bombers tried mightily to sink ships from high altitude and only succeeded in destroying lots of plankton and fish(and this, by the way, despite the use of what was then precision targeting via the Norden bombsight, developed originally to attack ships from high altitude), while the B-26’s and other Midway-based aircraft were pretty well decimated, like most of their carrier counterparts, by Japanese carrier-based air and AAA.

As was the case throughout the theater, though, there was some innovative thinking taking place and the sting of Allied land-based air would soon be felt… – SJS

It’s early 1942 and you are inbound to Douglas MacArthur’s staff as his new air commander, commanding the Fifth Air Force and the Allied Airforces in the South West Pacific. The dilemma you are faced with is that the allies have been in retreat in the face of the Japanese onslaught which has seen great swaths of Asia fall into their possession. You, in turn, are to meet that formidable force with a rag-tag group of survivors gathered from around the Philippines and the rest of the theater, now based in Australia. Your counterpart over in the Navy is exceptionally busy as well, struggling to meet the threat with what was still afloat from Pearl Harbor and subsequent attacks (fortunately the carriers survived) and some land-based air. Most of it, however, is out of your territory and besides, controlled by the Navy.

You think about where and how to hit the enemy to effect the most damage, and like your Navy counterparts, deduce that the Achilles heel in the Empire’s far-flung lines of support is shipping, merchant shipping. The thousands of island garrisons, from the biggest at Rabaul to the smallest outcrop of coral and volcanic rock were all heavily dependent on supply from the sea. In later parlance, it would be “a target rich environment.” Problem is, pre-war tactics have proven abysmal when applied in the real world. High altitude precision bombing wasn’t working against a maneuvering target and attempts to replicate at lower altitudes ran into swarms of fighters and heavy flak from escorts. What do you do?

Read the rest of this entry »

Torpedo Boats

1101. The motor torpedo boat is a relatively small craft with great speed and striking power essentially offensive in character. Weapons consist of torpedoes, machine guns and usually depth charges. Its main defensive power lies in its small size, speed, maneuverability, ability to lay smoke and cruise silently at slow speeds.

1102. The primary mission of motor torpedo boats is to attack enemy surface ships. Their high speed, and torpedo armaments make them most suitable for surprise attacks against enemy vessels on the surface, at night or during low visibility. –From Motor Torpedo Boats, Tactical Orders and Doctrine, July 1942

December 9, 1942: Off the coast of Guadalcanal the Japanese submarine I-3 slinks toward the shore, attempting to land supplies for the Japanese troops trying to wrest control of the island and its important air field from American Marines and soldiers. A couple of U.S. Navy torpedo boats are patrolling the littorals and are on watch for just such a resupply effort. They spot a Japanese cargo barge and then – the submarine itself. Speeding in on the attack, PT-59 fires two torpedoes, one of which hits the surfaced submarine and detonates, setting off secondary explosions and sinking this part of Japanese logistics effort.

Since the Allies went on the offensive in the Pacific by landing on Guadalcanal, on other nights, larger ships of the Allied fleet have slugged it out with the Japanese fleet that was trying to obliterate the fragile American toehold at Henderson Field. The battles take place at night because with Henderson and other fields, the Allies have daylight air supremacy. Daytime belongs to the Allies. At night, the Japanese rule the seas, being more practiced at night operations and having a vastly superior torpedo. For months sea battles are fought, cruiser and destroyers come to litter the bottom the waters off Savo Island – waters that come to be known as “Iron Bottom Sound” for the number of disemboweled ships resting on the sea floor.

Fighting through the Allied response, the Japanese land thousands of troops to push the Americans off Guadalcanal. Still, the Americans hold, enduring rigors of war possibly not seen since the American Civil War -disease, malnutrition, a fierce enemy and the “Tokyo Express” roaring down Bougainville Strait bringing supplies for troops and heavy guns to blast Henderson Airfield.

It’s all about the airfields, all about having fixed bases to fly aircraft to attack the next island, to oppose enemy airplanes, to cover the “hop” to the next island and another airfield.

The U.S. Navy is fighting on a shoe string, paying the price for not being prepared for war. The Japanese fleet has proved superior at night fighting and has better torpedoes. Running out of big ships in late 1942, the U.S. Navy tries an experiment – it brings into battle a small group of wooden- hulled, high speed torpedo boats. These Torpedo Patrol Boats (PT) boats offer a high level of firepower for their weight. They also have serious disadvantages. Unlike larger ships, the PT boats cannot operate for weeks at sea – they need support bases and shore based shops for engine maintenance and hull repair. As Captain Robert J. Bulkley, Jr. set out in At Close Quarters: PT Boats in the United States Navy wrote:

“They were not designed to patrol hundreds of miles to sea, but to deliver sudden punches close to shore and relatively near their bases.”

The experiment went forward.

Four PT boats were shipped and towed near the Solomons. They then headed for the island of Tulagi (taken from the Japanese at the same time as Guadalcanal) where they will be based arriving October 12, 1942. Another four boats arrive on October 25.

There are now eight American PT boats in the Solomons. None of them and not many of their crews has ever been in combat. For the next four months they all will see plenty of it.

A Very Little History

It was the Russians who first used “torpedo launches” when fighting the Ottoman Empire in 1877 in waters near the coast – the littorals. They used fast boats firing self-propelled torpedoes to sink a ship. Soon small, fast, cheap torpedo boats became all the naval rage – especially for “lesser” powers who sought to counteract massive battleships without having to cash in the royal jewels to pay for them.

The idea was simple: Release a swarm of torpedo boats which in turn release a swarm of torpedoes and you might just sink that cruiser or battleship – with minimal risk of losing your entire fleet. High speed and maneuverability would protect the torpedo boats from the big slow battleships and cruisers of the day.

Not that these new weapons weren’t met by counter-weapons. You may recall that the modern “destroyer” began life as the “torpedo boat destroyer,” designed to protect major ships from gnat sized boats with a big bite.

The U.S. Navy toyed with torpedo boats during World War I, but, safely protected by vast oceans, let the torpedo boat concept lie fallow until shortly before World War II. After an exceptionally short period of testing, boats were ordered. The first modern American PT boats were built by Elco, Higgins and Huckins.

The Elco boats were 77 feet long, powered by three V-12 Packard aircraft engines. In theory these boats could hit 50 knots and yet had a draft of only 5 feet, making them ideal for inshore operations. They carried up to four torpedoes and an assortment of automatic weapons.

It was the torpedoes and the speed that mattered most. The torpedoes could, if working properly, sink or severely damage large ships. The speed could allow the boats to escape harm by racing in for attack and back out.

Speed had a disadvantage. The boats did have a rather large wake. As the book Motor Torpedo Boats, Tactical Orders and Doctrine notes:

1202. The wakes of motor torpedo boats at high speeds are visible considerable distances, both from the air and surface. The wake of center engine is less visible than that of wing engines. These factors should always be considered when planning operations unless satisfactory wake camouflaging apparatus is installed.

In the Solomons

1204. Employed in tactical units of relatively large numerical strength, the motor torpedo boat squadron becomes a powerful offensive weapon.

Remember the concept of PT boats – swarm attacks at high speed:

These early PT boats have no radar. They must see their target before they can engage it. And they must hope that they see their target before their target sees them.

Moonless nights or nights in which visibility is hampered by rain, like those favored by the “Tokyo Express” are tough on PT boat crews. To try to get ahead of the Japanese, the PT boats post pickets on either side of Savo Island, hoping that a boat will spot the Express as it rumbles by and that a radio signal will tell the other boats which direction to head.

The boat crews know when to go out because coast watchers on islands up the Solomon chain report in. “Ten destroyers inbound” “Two cruisers and 4 destroyers coming through Bougainville Straits.”

The coast watchers are far enough away that the Japanese run by them in daylight. Daylight also means that Allied aircraft can go ship hunting – and the follow up to coast watcher reporting is often attacks by B-17s, B-24s and dozens of fighters. The Japanese pay a price in their efforts to reinforce and resupply Guadalcanal.

At the end of that chain of forces attacking the Japanese navy in October 1942 are eight PT boats. The boats are skippered and operated by young men. Men who understand that speed means life. Night after night they go out, ragged, sick. Boats are cobbled together to keep them running. The main fleet has taken a pounding – Iron Bottom Bay speaks of it. Now, often the night belongs to the gnats.Rarely are all eight ready. They go out in pairs. They lurk in the shadows waiting.

The PT skippers dodge shell fire, coral reefs and work their way into firing positions. Throttles on full, the boats begin their runs – closing to inside 500 yards, torpedoes unleashed. Explosions, but -too often it seems – there is something wrong with the American torpedoes. What appear to the boat crews as certain hits turn out to be premature explosions . . . but the crews fight on. Night after night.

Every now and then, a definite success, as with the submarine I-3 or, a couple of days later the destroyer Terutsuki hit by a PT torpedo and sunk. Terutsuki was part of a twenty destroyer force. At least part of that group sprang a trap on the PT boats. December 11 marked another PT boat sunk by enemy action.

The point is not that the PT boats did or didn’t take out battleships or cruisers. They were not operated as attack squadrons with the ability to swarm a target from several directions. They operated in pairs, maintaining as stealthy posture as possible until they could attack. They were not guided or directed by radar during this time – finding the enemy was based on “feel” and luck. What cannot be doubted is the bravery of the crews and that they applied every ounce of skill they had to try to stop the enemy.

This tiny force saved lives among the Marines and soldiers on Guadalcanal as they unhesitatingly threw themselves against bigger ships with bigger guns.

In time, the combination of air superiority and improved Allied naval tactics caused the Japanese to alter their plans of resupply. At first they attempted to float supplies ashore in drums pulled by barges. The PT boats helped break up that effort. When the Japanese began just tossing drums full of supplies into the waters near Guadalcanal in hopes that they might drift ashore, the PT boats cruised the inshore areas, blasting all the drums they came across.

As the American war effort picked up, things got better for the PT boats:

About the first of December the PT’s received welcome assistance from half a dozen SOC’s–Navy scout observation planes. The SOC’s had been carried aboard cruisers damaged in the many actions around Guadalcanal, and were left behind with orders to work with the PT’s when their cruisers left the area for repairs. Every night the PT’s expected action; one or two SOC’s flew up the Slot to spot enemy ships and report their position. It was a hazardous assignment for the SOC’s, because the Japanese ships usually made their runs under cover of bad weather, and several were lost.

Further assistance was received about the first of January, with the arrival of a squadron of PBY’s, Navy patrol bombers known as “Catalinas” or “Black Cats.” The PBY’s not only reported positions but heckled enemy ships by dropping flares and bombs, sometimes forcing the ships to reveal their positions by drawing fire from them. Once, toward the end of January, when a group of PT’s was waiting near Savo to engage an approaching force of 12 enemy destroyers, the Black Cats bombed the destroyers so effectively that they turned and fled before they had come within 30 miles of Guadalcanal. (Bulkley, p 93)

Finally, surprisingly quickly, the Japanese withdrew their forces from Guadalcanal. The Americans and their allies had won a major offensive. But the battle of the Solomons continued as the Japanese built new air bases on other islands. And the PT boats went after them there, too.

In the summer of 1943, the PT boats were back in the interdiction business – attempting to stop the flow of men and supplies by Japanese barges to the new airfields. As the war moved up the Solomons, the PT boats moved too. PT boats moved to two bases near Rendova and with their new primary mission:

The situation had changed since the first days at Tulagi. Now we had the preponderance of sea power. Our cruisers and destroyers shelled enemy positions on New Georgia and Kolombangara at will, and in the Battle of Kula Gulf on July 5/6, the Battle of Kolombangara on 12/13 July, and the Battle of Vella Gulf, on August 6, in which they sank a total of three destroyers and a light cruiser, convinced the enemy that he would have to place his main reliance on coastal barges rather than the Tokyo Express to transport troops and supplies to his bases on New Georgia, Kolombangara, Arundel, Gizo, and the small neighboring islands. The barges were relatively expendable, and could operate close to shore in waters inaccessible to ships of deeper draft. Vulnerable to aircraft attack by day, they usually passed the daylight hours nestling against the shore, well camouflaged by freshly cut leaves and palm fronds, and made their runs at night, preferably in the dark of the moon. Barges became the Japanese lifeline. For the rest of the Solomons campaign, barge hunting was to be the principal mission of the PT’s. (Bulkley,p116)

Barge hunting became the principal occupation of the PT’s, both at Rendova and at Lever Harbor. From their first contact on July 21 until the end of August, the Rendova boats encountered 56 barges and 5 small auxiliary ships. They claimed 8 barges and 1 auxiliary sunk, 3 barges and 1 auxiliary probably sunk, and 6 barges and 1 auxiliary damaged. The Lever Harbor boats, which had their first barge action on August 3, engaged 43 or 44 barges from then until the end of the month, of which 2 were sunk, 1 was forced to be beached, and 8 to 16 were hit with possible damage.(Bulkley, p.127)

It was from a Rendova base that the future president, John Kennedy, started his ill-fated first combat experience with PT-109.

Don’t discount barges in terms of fighting capability. Too shallow in draft to be attacked with torpedoes, each barge required a PT boat to close to the range of its guns and that also put the PT boats in the range of guns on the barges. Some the barges were armored and posed quite a challenge to the PT “barge busters.”

The Japanese had learned few tricks along the way – that distinctive wake of the PT boats brought nightly attacks by Japanese planes homing in on the wakes. Further,

Japanese countermeasures against PT’s included the mounting of heavier guns–up to 40mm.–on their barges, and installation of shore batteries along the barge routes. Lieutenant Commander Kelly reported late in August, “Heavily armored large barges with 40mm. and machine-guns escort the medium barges which carry only machine-guns and/or 20 mm. In order to sink a barge, the range must be closed well within 100 yards and more than 1,000 rounds of .50 caliber and 500 rounds of 20mm. are required . . . This requires laying to at point blank range of shore batteries and barges for approximately 10 minutes which is tantamount to sacrificing the PT boat.” (Bulkley, p.130)

The U.S. Navy invited Army soldiers to go to sea to fight barges, as set out by Richard H. Wagner, in Barge-Busting With The PT Boats, describing the exploits of his father, George Wagner:

It is not clear who came up with the idea but after fighting in the jungles and swamps of New Georgia … Soldiers were ordered to rendezvous with some PT boats along the coast and to bring their automatic weapons.

The mission was to assist the Navy in fighting the barges that were shuttling troops between New Georgia and the Japanese stronghold on the neighboring island of Kolombangara.

The primary barge used by the Japanese in the Solomons was the Type A Daihatsu. This metal-hulled craft was nearly 50 feet long and weighed about eight tons. It was capable of carrying up to 120 men or 15 tons of cargo. It was no greyhound as it could only do about one knot. However, they traveled by night and hid along the jungle shore during the daytime, making it difficult for them to be spotted by airplanes.

The coxswain and the engine room were armor-protected. In addition, each Daihatsu came equipped with two machine guns. This armament was frequently supplemented in the field by 40mm guns as well as by the firepower of the troops that the barge was carrying. Thus, the barges were formidable opponents for the wooden PT boats…

Some of the PT boats had radar but they also relied upon lookouts for the difficult task of spotting the barges against the dark shorelines. Black Cat night aircraft would also occasionally guide the boats to their targets.

The soldiers took up positions on the PT boats as they proceeded along the coast in the darkness. George set up the BAR on the bow of the boat.

Bullets from the PT boats’ machine guns and lighter caliber weapons could not penetrate the armored sides of the Daihatsus. However, their continuous fire kept the heads of the Japanese gunners and troops down. This enabled the PT boats to maneuver behind the barges where they were more vulnerable.

When a barge was discovered, the night would erupt in a blaze of tracer fire. The Soldiers and the PT boat’s guns firing and the fire returning from the barge. The opponents were at point blank range, separated by some 20 yards – – the Japanese relying on the barge’s protective armor while the PT boat maneuvered for advantage in the shallow water. In a few moments of intense fire it was all over with the barge disabled or sinking.

The war continued to move north toward Japan, with the PT boats also continuing to harass enemy logistics flow, quite successfully, it seems. Captured Japanese reports refer to the challenges presented to barge operations by the PT boats.

Eventually, the war moved out of the Solomons and so did the fighting PT boats.

In retrospect, the PT boats suffered early from a lack of numbers, lack of radar and faulty torpedoes. Whether they could have sunk more ships will never be known. What is known is that their crews were brave men who undertook a challenging task and did it as well as their equipment allowed them to. Whatever failures one can find in the PT operations in the Solomons, it was never because of the crews.


Breuer, William, Devil Boats: The PT War Against Japan, Presidio Press, Novato 1995

Bulkley, Robert J, At Close Quarters: PT Boats in the United States Navy, Naval History Division, Washington: 1962 (available online here)

Morison, Samuel E., The Two Ocean War, Little Brown, Boston 1963

Potter, E.B.(editor), Sea Power, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis 1981

Wagner, Richard H. Barge-Busting With The PT Boats (Originally published by the Navy League of the United States, New York Council in The Log, Fall 2007) (Available on line here)

UPDATE: See also PT Boats, Inc..

HNSA “Know your PT Boat”.

HNSA Motor Torpedo Boats, Tactical Orders and Doctrine”

Posted by Mark Tempest in History, Navy | 18 Comments

Last week, Denmark the Netherlands announced that the amphibious transport ship HNLMS Johan de Witt will participate in Africa Partnership Station. The two month deployment is the Dutch Navy’s first major soft-power cruise. The deployment of the Johan de Witt demonstrates the growing Dutch interest in soft-power. But why?

Part of it has to do will the increasing acceptance of soft-power as a useful tool in international relations. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates argued as such two years ago and I whole-heartedly agree. However, there is likely another reason: soft-power cruises give navies missions for their ships.

The last eight years of war have been, apart from combat air support, sealift, and small maritime security operations, land-based affairs. As such, the US Navy played only a limited, supporting role in both conflicts. In Europe, national security threats are even more remote and European navies have few reasons to justify maintaining expensive blue-water fleets. Enter soft-power.

The possible benefits of soft-power cruises are numerous, but during the USS Nashville’s mission to West Africa, Captain Cindy Thebaud stated “the indicators [of success] will be long-term, not near-term”. In other words, soft-power is important, but impossible to measure. Thus, soft-power provides politicians and naval leaders with both a politically acceptable mission justifying naval budgets and a mission not accountable for effectiveness.

I am a strong supporter of soft-power, particularly using naval assets. There are significant diplomatic and stability benefits to US armed forces providing services and training after disasters and in marginalized regions. But, soft-power mission effectiveness is measurable. If our goal is to develop soft-power into an meaningful tool of foreign relations, then missions must be evaluated on useful metrics.

shield of dreamsWith missile defense being in the news last week , I thought my e-interview with Professor Stephen J. Cimbala, author of Shield of Dreams: Missile Defense and U.S.-Russian Nuclear Strategy, might be of interest. Please note this e-interview was conducted prior to the recent U.S. decision on missile defense for both Poland and the Czech Republic.

You begin Shield of Dreams by laying out the strategic framework of the Russian-US nuclear relationship. What are the overarching foreign policy goals of both the United States and Russia?

The Obama administration has said that it wants to “reboot” the U.S. relationship with Russia. This will be easier said than done. Russia has a list of discontents with U.S. policy that carry forward from disagreements between the two states under George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin. These points of contention include NATO enlargement, U.S. missile defenses in Europe, U.S. departure from the ABM Treaty, the war in Iraq, and, most recently in 2008, Russia’s war with Georgia. On the other hand, the Obama and Medvedev administrations have some potential areas of cooperation and convergent, if not identical, interest: defeating the Taliban and containing jihadism in Afghanistan and Pakistan; achieving a new strategic nuclear arms reduction agreeement to replace START I; and, managing the problem of nuclear nonproliferation in Iran and North Korea by use of diplomacy instead of force.

Who should read Shield of Dreams?

Shield of Dreams is an attempt to return to the “tradition” of national security policy studies that laid the foundation for arguments about deterrence and arms control during the early years of the Cold War. In those studies, policy analysis was combined with strategic theory and empirical measurement to create insights about the rationale for choice among competing national security objectives, weapons technologies, arms control proposals, and so forth. RAND was the first of a number of public policy related think tanks that developed out of this activity, and it also spread into government decision making during and after the 1960s. In turn, this work laid the foundation for Pentagon advances in state of the art thinking about strategy and the art of war: for example, in the creation of the Office of Net Assessment and the widespread respect for its long standing director, Dr. Andrew Marshall, and in the creation of the Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for seeding futuristic research into technology. I call this self conscious trellis of national security studies in and out of the government the “Wohlstetter system” after famed RAND consultant and analyst Albert Wohlstetter. After the end of the Cold War, however, interest in deterrence and nuclear weapons declined except for the professional arms control community, and the U.S. prompt victory in the Gulf war of 1991 was thought to have ushered in an era of U.S. supremacy in smart, advanced technology, conventional weapons that would leave nuclear weapons in the dustbin of history. History now has its revenge: fears of nuclear proliferation and of the possible spread of nuclear weapons to terrorists are reminders of the fact that nuclear danger has not gone away, and in some ways, is worse. As President Obama said in Prague on April 5: although the threat of global nuclear war has receded, the threat of nuclear use has actually increased.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Within the missile defense technology community, future controversy will involve mission priorities and the question of versatility and “requisite variety” among candidate technologies. Some will argue, for example, that the U.S. should focus on protecting its allies from theater or shorter range missiles by using portable and rapidly deployable antimissile defenses – instead of the current emphasis on protecting the U.S. homeland from rogue attacks or accidental launches. For the former mission, protecting of allies against imminent land or sea based missile attacks, smarter defenses might use UAVs that loiter over certain areas of interest, detect imminent threats, and fire hit to kill kinetic weapons or more advanced weapons to disable attackers. For the latter mission, protection of the U.S. or allied homelands, cost effectiveness does not favor the current mainstay of the U.S. global missile defense system: the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system. It is easily overwhelmed by attack strategies designed to confuse the defense or by larger numbers of attackers. In addition, it has a mixed record of success in tests thus far.

The U.S. Air Force and Space Command want to redefine the entire context for military planning by establishing U.S. aerospace dominance as a primary national security objective. This would deny to potential enemies the use of space for hostile purposes, including ASAT attacks on U.S. satellites that support communications, navigation, reconnaissance and surveillance and other C4ISTAR missions. U.S. space supremacy in the 21st century is, according to some airpower theorists, the “high ground” for future success in war and deterrence. If the U.S. were to adopt this perspective on the aerospace medium, it could reconceptualize the role of missile defenses within a larger framework of aerospace denial (to enemies) and maximum aerospace exploitation (for the U.S. and its allies). Air and space based missile defenses would have priority compared to ground and sea based systems, and the United States might move from the “military use” of space for supporting missions to actual deployment of weapons in space and the carrying out of combat missions in space. These missions could include antimissile defenses based on non-nuclear principles and located on satellites or other space based platforms, with capabilities for interspace or space-to-earth strikes. The U.S. arms control community and some members of Congress will almost certainly object to plans for such a robust military use of space, however.

the battle
Can you lose but win?

Of course you can. The key is to understand that the Tactical, Operational, and Strategic are linked – but they are not perfectly linked.

Let’s look at the Tactical.

In the battle, a US warship force of five cruisers and four destroyers under the command of Rear Admiral Carleton H. Wright attempted to surprise and destroy a Japanese warship force of eight destroyers under the command of Rear Admiral Raizo Tanaka. Tanaka’s warships were attempting to deliver food supplies to Japanese forces on Guadalcanal.

Using radar, the US warships opened fire and sank one of the Japanese destroyers. Tanaka and the rest of his ships, however, reacted quickly and launched numerous torpedoes at the US warships. The Japanese torpedoes hit and sank one US cruiser and heavily damaged three others, enabling the rest of Tanaka’s force to escape without significant additional damage but also without completing the mission of delivering the food supplies.

All you need to know about Operational and Strategic is right there, but let’s stick with the Tactical for a bit.

Do Commanders feel today that they are too limited in their ability to exercise their best judgement in combat? Well, consider it a Navy tradition.

At 23:14, operators on Fletcher established firm radar contact with Takanami and the lead group of four drum-carrying destroyers. At 23:15, with the range 7,000 yards (6,400 m), Commander William M. Cole, commander of Wright’s destroyer group and captain of Fletcher, radioed Wright for permission to fire torpedoes. Wright waited two minutes and then responded with, “Range on bogies [Tanaka’s ships on radar] excessive at present.” Cole responded that the range was fine. Another two minutes passed before Wright responded with permission to fire. In the meantime, the US destroyer’s targets escaped from an optimum firing setup ahead to a marginal position passing abeam, giving the American torpedoes a long overtaking run near the limit of their range. At 23:20, Fletcher, Perkins, and Drayton fired a total of 20 Mark 15 torpedoes towards Tanaka’s ships. Maury, lacking SG radar and thus having no contacts, withheld fire.

Amazing even in hindsight. Recall – the action from initial radar contact by FLETCHER at 2306 Tanaka’s withdraw at 23:44 was only 38 minutes …. roughly 13% of the battle was spent waiting to be micromanaged. Recall that the Japanese did not have radar.

There is a point here that one should keep in mind. As opposed to the leisurely combat the USN has engaged in since WWII – mostly keeping station, supporting TACAIR operations or leisurely TLAM missions – this was as it is – quick, deadly, and devastating combat. Luck, speed, training, and finally your weapons determines success.

Knowing your enemy, and acknowledging that you may not fully know him, is also critical.

The results of the battle led to further discussion in the US Pacific Fleet about changes in tactical doctrine and the need for technical improvements, such as flashless gunpowder and improved torpedoes. The Americans were still unaware of the range and power of Japanese torpedoes and the effectiveness of Japanese night battle tactics. In fact, Wright claimed that his ships must have been fired on by submarines since the observed position of Tanaka’s ships “make it improbable that torpedoes with speed-distance characteristics similar to our own” could have caused such damage. The Americans would not recognize the true capabilities of their Pacific adversary’s torpedoes and night tactics until well into 1943.

Now, the god of Operational and Strategic: Logistics.

Due to a combination of the threat from CAF aircraft, US Navy PT boats stationed at Tulagi, and a cycle of bright moonlight, the Japanese had switched to using submarines to deliver provisions to their forces on Guadalcanal. Beginning on November 16, 1942, and continuing for the next three weeks, 16 submarines made nocturnal deliveries of foodstuffs to the island, with one submarine making the trip each night. Each submarine could deliver 20 to 30 tons of supplies, about one day’s worth of food, for the 17th Army, but the difficult task of transporting the supplies by hand through the jungle to the frontline units limited their value to sustain the Japanese troops on Guadalcanal. At the same time, the Japanese tried to establish a chain of three bases in the central Solomons to allow small boats to use them as staging sites for making supply deliveries to Guadalcanal, but damaging Allied airstrikes on the bases forced the abandonment of this plan.

On November 26, the 17th Army notified Imamura that it faced a critical food crisis. Some front-line units had not been resupplied for six days and even the rear-area troops were on one-third rations. The situation forced the Japanese to return to using destroyers to deliver the necessary supplies.

And that is where we get the success of the battle. If all you do is count ships sunk and damages, then sure The Battle of Tassafaronga was a loss for the USA. Cole and Wright sure saw it that way – as do many. But was it really?

What were the Japanese trying to do? What was their Operational Center of Gravity (CoG)?

Of course, it was keeping their land forces supplied ashore. By preventing their resupply, you attack and weaken the Japanese Operational CoG …. therefore, at the Operational (and arguably Strategic as well) you actually won.

Not too different from the American experience with Tet. The USA and South Vietnamese forces destroyed the Viet Cong during Tet – effectively removing them from being a threat to the existence of the South Vietnam government. That wasn’t the point …. as that wasn’t the war’s Strategic CoG from the Communist point of view.

Thanks to a superior INFO OPS and PSYOPS campaign by the North Vietnamese along with their allies – and useful assistance by the likes of Walter Cronkite – Tet was an exceptional victory by the Communists as it significantly undermined the Strategic CoG of the Americans; the support of the American people.

There are two examples of why one should be very careful when declaring a victory or defeat. Perspective and a clear understanding of the larger issue is key.

New Orleans
Finally, here is a nice lesson on how Senior Leadership should not act … and how it should. CYA, wagon circling, and blaming subordinates for your own failure is nothing new.

In spite of his defeat in the battle, Wright was awarded the Navy Cross, one of the highest American military decorations for bravery, for his actions during the engagement. … Halsey, in his comments on Wright’s report, placed much of the blame for the defeat on Cole, saying that the destroyer squadron commander fired his torpedoes from too great a distance to be effective and should have “helped” the cruisers instead of circling around Savo Island.

I think history has done some justice to Cole – and it sure doesn’t put a great deal of glory on Wright.

In contrast, look at what Tanaka said. This is a good way to end the post – Leadership 101.

After the war, Tanaka said of his victory at Tassafaronga, “I have heard that US naval experts praised my command in that action. I am not deserving of such honors. It was the superb proficiency and devotion of the men who served me that produced the tactical victory for us.”

That and some great Japanese engineering in the Long Lance.

Book6What inspired you to write Lighthouses & Keepers: The U.S. Lighthouse Service and its Legacy?

At the time I was thinking of doing one volume history of the U.S. Coast Guard. One of the problems with doing such a history is that the service is made of so many former organizations. I felt by doing a history of each of the organizations, it would help me in doing the book. I had already had a book on the USLSS published, so I now turned to the USLHS. I became side tracked on the one volume history. It still needs to be done, but I am not sure I will do it.

Why are people fascinated by lighthouses?

A good question that I am not sure I can answer very well. I have run into people who love lighthouses all over this country and in areas far removed from the sea or large bodies of water. I believe I quoted someone who wrote, paraphrased, that lighthouses are America’s answer to Europe’s castles. It is as good an answer as any. That Americans are interested in them was best illustrated to me by a BM1 who said that when he served on Cape Cod a real estate agent told him that if the light from the local lighthouse–I do not recall which one–fell on a house, it increased the value of the house. No way to prove this, of course, but it is a nice story.

Who should read Lighthouses & Keepers?

Anyone who is interested in the history of not only lighthouses, but also other parts of the old USLHS, such as lightships, buoy tenders, fog signals and buoys. Of course, those interested in the heritage of the USCG should read the book.

If you could go back in time, would you want to be a lighthouse keeper?

Not really, unless the light was in a non isolated area. It is a romantic idea of lighthouse keepers and I hope I have shown that the life was not so easy in those times. If I could be a lighthouse keeper in modern times it would be a different manner.

What was it like working with the Coast Guard Historian’s office on this book?

Very easy. Between the Historian of the U.S. Coast Guard’s office and the National Archives a person can pretty well write the history of the lights. In my experience, the Historian’s office is a lot easier to work with than the National Archives. The National Archives is in a location easier to reach for most researchers, but the ease of working in the Historian’s office off sets the location disadvantage.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I hope readers find this a “fun” read. I really liked doing the section on keepers, which I find the most fascinating in the history of the USLHS. I believe the book is now in paperback, thus somewhat cheaper.

This from DoD this afternoon:


“Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates announced today that the President has nominated Navy Vice Adm. David J. Dorsett for reappointment to the grade of vice admiral, and assignment as deputy chief of Naval Operations for Information Dominance, N2/N6, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations/Director of Naval Intelligence, Pentagon, Washington, D.C. “


“Information Dominance?” Who was the Legion-of-Merit wearing 05 or 06 who thought THAT one up? Do we actually think we dominate the information spectrum?

Nothing against VADM Dorsett, but this type of terminology represents a badly flawed understanding of “information” as it pertains to warfighting. This seems like the Cult of Cebrowski. Network-Centric Warfare as a concept is found very much wanting where the rubber meets the road. It might work if the enemy we are fighting is the United States Navy, who has elevated information technology to a place on Olympus.


But for the rest of the world, our obsession with a flattened information hierarchy is much more of a vulnerability than an advantage. That obsession treats information like a drug. The more we have, the more we want. We are convinced that the key gem of information that will clear away all the fog MUST be coming in the next data dump. Except the data dump is increasingly difficult to sift through to find the critical information, if we are even aware of what is critical in light of so much unfiltered and unverified gatherings. The effort required to produce pertinent and actionable intelligence, or even timely and worthwhile information, oftentimes suffers from such an approach to information and intelligence gathering.

Without launching a long dissertation regarding NCW and the problems created by “information inundation” resulting from a sensor/shooter marriage across a massive battlefield, I believe such a term as “Information Dominance” pays short shrift to a less sophisticated enemy whose extensive low-tech networks of informants are capable of negating billions of dollars of maritime “stealth” technology (or finding the right merchant ship in a 400-mile long shipping lane) by using the eyeball, the messenger, the motor scooter, or the sandal.


Such an enemy, I would argue, has a much clearer and simpler set of information requirements, and is far more skilled, more disciplined, and much more successful at meeting those requirements than we are. So, who is dominant in the information game? One could argue very effectively that it is not us.

Terms such as “Information Dominance” ring of a grandiose bit of self-delusion that is part plan and part capability, with a large measure of wishful thinking. In the words of a certain retired Marine Corps General, “words mean things”. They also reveal a lot about who uses them, and how. The term “Information Dominance” gives me the willies. Can we call it something a little less presumtuous?

090730-N-XXXXX-003“This new approach will provide capabilities sooner, build on proven systems and offer greater defenses against the threat of missile attack.” – President Barack Obama

Nineteenth-century military theorist Karl von Clausewitz wrote that war is an extension of politics, but by other means. Applying that philosophy to the fallout from the Presidents decision to change the approach for an Eastern European ballistic missile defense shield, In note both the size and scope globally of the political response. This event is final validation that ballistic missile defense has arrived as a strategic pillar of global political power, and represents the third strategic arm of the US Navy.

The first arm of strategic power for the US Navy came with the commissioning of the USS George Washington (SSBN-598) in 1959. Today ballistic missile submarines represent both the front lines and last line of defense in the deterrence of nuclear war. It is unlikely this strategic role of the Navy will go away in any of our lifetimes.

The second arm of strategic power for the US Navy has been the big deck nuclear aircraft carrier since the USS Enterprise (CVN 65) was commissioned in 1961. This is not to be confused with less capable, smaller carriers that cannot field the range of military capabilities US Navy big deck carriers can. By comparison to many countries globally, a US nuclear aircraft carrier forward deploys air power capabilities that exceed the total Air Force capabilities of many foreign nations. No conventional military capability in the world can match the geopolitical and military influence of a US nuclear powered aircraft carrier, making them a national strategic asset.

With today’s news we see evidence that ballistic missile defense has arrived as a strategic capability capable of influencing the geopolitical condition globally. BMD represents a technology with the potential of tilting the strategic balance of power. Conventional wisdom suggests that as the submariner community in the Navy operates their SSBN strategic capability and the naval aviation community operates their CVN strategic capability, ballistic missile defense represents the strategic capability emerging for surface warfare within the Navy. This is true, but to a much lesser degree than you think.

Shifting away from the geopolitical ramifications of today’s decision, one can’t help but notice that the President stated clearly “This new approach will provide capabilities sooner, build on proven systems and offer greater defenses against the threat of missile attack.” The implication here is that the existing AEGIS Ballistic Missile Defense capability will be the replacement for the land based ballistic missile technologies no longer to be deployed to Eastern Europe. This would lead to the question whether AEGIS BMD will become the DoD’s primary ballistic missile defense capability. I believe it will.

There are concepts out there today that all of the political talking heads discussing ballistic missile defense today don’t know anything about, and it may reshape at the conceptual level how war is fought in the 21st century. Gates discusses these concepts in a generic way all the time, indeed he discussed the concept today in his speech to the Air Force Association.

All told, the combination of F-22s, F-35s, and legacy aircraft will preserve American tactical air supremacy far into the future. Moreover, a key additional – and yet untapped – part of this mix of capabilities is unmanned aerial vehicles. Today, because of their effectiveness in Iraq and Afghanistan, these systems are mostly thought of as counterinsurgency platforms. But they have enormous game-changing implications for conventional conflict as well.

And yet untapped.” ” But they have enormous game-changing implications for conventional conflict as well.” Gates is specifically discussing the potential of what unmanned technologies will do to the battlefield of the future. That future is not as far off as people may believe, and the implications of unmanned systems technology extends beyond the Air Force.

The biggest challenge in the future of Navy ballistic missile defense is fielding the missile launching system. Theater ballistic missile interceptors are too long for existing vertical launch systems used to launch missiles from surface combatants. Indeed ground based interceptors for BMD are so large, that the 24,000 ton LPD-17 hull has been discussed as a possible hull for deploying long range BMD interceptors in the future. While I believe the detection of ballistic missiles will remain primarily a surface warfare role, I expect that by 2020 we will be talking about ballistic missile defense interceptors being launched from underwater.

There are various competing ideas how submarines may operate in the future, and that future may be closer than people think. One side effect of fielding the Ohio class SSGN on the submarine warfare community has been a wealth of creativity on what is possible when submerged submarines in forward areas are integrated into communication networks and are able to access remote systems. Has anyone noticed the Navy has never listed a SSGN on any future fleet plan in the past? Have you ever wondered why? The operational concepts emerging from the development and experimentation of unmanned underwater vehicles in the underwater warfare community have led to the conceptual development of new potential strike options for underwater warfare.

The “battle box” concept is one such emerging concept, and could potentially play a major role in future ballistic missile defense. The battle box concept is not new, indeed it is similar to a program developed during WWII in Nazi Germany, stolen and tested by the Soviets in the 1950s in a program known as the Golem submarine towed missile launcher.

The idea is for an attack submarine to tow a large container system when deploying forward, and park the battle box in the middle of the sea – underwater – in its patrol zone. The battle box would remain submerged and stationary in the patrol zone, remain linked to the submarines network, and carry a strike payload on behalf of the submarine. For example, a “battle box” could potentially be 80’x30’x30′, and once towed into location pivot 90 degrees to wait in deep water. Stationary underwater, the battle box becomes a stealthy weapon system giving a remote operator the capability to surface the battle box to ~30′ and launch missile payloads at enemy targets. In the AEGIS ballistic missile defense network, a battle box would act as a stealthy underwater missile silo for large ballistic missile defense interceptors.

With the emergence of new energy technologies, which the US Navy is very interested in, a battle box could potentially remain on station using very low power longer than the rotation of a submarine. This means the Navy could theoretically position battle boxes off an enemy coast over periods of years, stockpiling battle boxes having them positioned underwater… just in case.

Battle boxes could be sized to deploy multiple types of weapon payloads. For example, in response to a regional crisis 5 nuclear attack submarines could pull into the patrol zone, drop off their battle boxes 200 nautical miles and 300′ below the deep blue ocean, and run off to conduct operations while maintaining a rapid strike capability against a belligerent power. In a BMD role, battle boxes could be stealthily inserted by submarine and positioned off the coast of a belligerent nation threatening with ballistic missiles. The key advantage of the battle box is that launching weapons from the battle box does not reveal the position of the submarine operator, indeed, the submarine does not even necessarily have to be the operator of the battle box.

Gates is not blowing smoke when he casually tossed out “untapped” “game-changing implications for conventional conflict” when discussing unmanned systems, indeed he could have easily used the term ‘nuclear conflict.’ Warfare in the 21st century is being influenced by rapidly emerging technologies, not only in asymmetrical scenarios like Iraq and Afghanistan but high end ballistic missile defense scenarios as well. These emerging technologies will influence ballistic missile defense. Obviously much will be discussed regarding the political ramifications of the BMD announcement on Thursday, but when the President says “this new approach will provide capabilities sooner, build on proven systems and offer greater defenses against the threat of missile attack,” taking a technical view into present and future of ballistic missile defense systems, history will likely judge the President 100% correct.

Posted by galrahn in Hard Power, Navy | 25 Comments

Townhall poster Skanderbeg provided a reminder of another significant 9/11: September 11, 1814.

In the grand sweep of American history, the “War of 1812” seems to rank near the bottom of the list of events of possible importance. Just the name given to war seems to reflect this – naming nothing in particular to associate with that war, other than the year in which it began.

However, the “War of 1812” (which actually stretched on until the end of 1814) was anything but trivial. Circumstances concatenated to a fever pitch in the later part of 1814, as the fledgling United States of America frantically fought off a three-pronged British attack of continental scope.

And while today we mark more recent events, we should also note that perhaps the most crucial of those moments occurred on this date in 1814 – in the waters near (of all places) Plattsburgh, New York.

Skanderbeg goes on to provide an excellent overview of Commodore Thomas MacDonough’s ingenious plan to turn back a British invasion from Canada.

Announced today:


The Navy announced today it will down select between the two Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) designs in fiscal 2010. The current LCS seaframe construction solicitation will be cancelled and a new solicitation will be issued. At down select, a single prime contractor and shipyard will be awarded a fixed price incentive contract for up to 10 ships with two ships in fiscal 2010 and options through fiscal 2014. This decision was reached after careful review of the fiscal 2010 industry bids, consideration of total program costs, and ongoing discussions with Congress.

“This change to increase competition is required so we can build the LCS at an affordable price,” said Ray Mabus, secretary of the Navy. “LCS is vital to our Navy’s future. It must succeed.”

“Both ships meet our operational requirements and we need LCS now to meet the warfighters’ needs,” said Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations. “Down selecting now will improve affordability and will allow us to build LCS at a realistic cost and not compromise critical warfighting capabilities.”

The Navy cancelled the solicitation to procure up to three LCS Flight 0+ ships in fiscal 2010 due to affordability. Based on proposals received this summer, it was not possible to execute the LCS program under the current acquisition strategy and given the expectation of constrained budgets. The new LCS acquisition strategy improves affordability by competitively awarding a larger number of ships across several years to one source. The Navy will accomplish this goal by issuing a new fixed price incentive solicitation for a down select to one of the two designs beginning in fiscal 2010.

Both industry teams will have the opportunity to submit proposals for the fiscal 2010 ships under the new solicitation. The selected industry team will deliver a quality technical data package, allowing the Navy to open competition for a second source for the selected design beginning in fiscal 2012. The winner of the down select will be awarded a contract for up to 10 ships from fiscal 2010 through fiscal 2014, and also provide combat systems for up to five additional ships provided by a second source. Delivery of LCS 2, along with construction of LCS 3 and LCS 4 will not be affected by the decision. This plan ensures the best value for the Navy, continues to fill critical warfighting gaps, reduces program ownership costs, and meets the spirit and intent of the Weapons System Acquisition Reform Act of 2009.

LCS is a fast, agile and modular warship designed to complement the Navy’s multi-mission platforms with warfighting capabilities from littoral irregular warfare to mine, anti-submarine and surface warfare. There are two different LCS hull forms: a semi-planing monohull and an aluminum trimaran. The seaframes are designed and built by two industry teams led by Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics. Of the planned 55-ship program, LCS 1 is commissioned, LCS 2 is undergoing sea trials, and construction has started for LCS 3 and LCS 4.

The Navy remains committed to the LCS program and the requirement for 55 of these ships to provide combatant commanders with the capability to defeat anti-access threats in the littorals, including fast surface craft, quiet submarines and various types of mines. The Navy’s acquisition strategy will be guided by cost and performance of the respective designs as well as options for sustaining competition throughout the life of the program.


What does this scurvy band of cutthroats (and others who dare venture here) think? Which did we see as the wiser choice? Advantages and disadvantages in comparison? What say you?

Posted by UltimaRatioReg in Navy | 69 Comments
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