Archive for December, 2009

Though a later shot, this picture gives an ida of the relationship of El#2 to the landing area.

Staggered, Bloodied but Unbowed

After the morning’s attacks Enterprise had suffered significant damage, but still able to put up a fight defensively and conduct air ops. The number two elevator, aft most on the flightdeck, was temporarily stuck in the down position, leaving a large, square hole just forward of the arresting gear. Forward, just aft of the forward elevator, the forward hangar bay was a riot of flame, smoke and destroyed aircraft. Burning avgas was siphoning down into the forward elevator pit. Two decks below that was more smoke, fire, severed electrical cables, sprung hatches and a grotesquely sweet smelling mixture of oil, seawater and blood, camouflaging decks scattered with jagged metal and shattered bodies. Smoldering storerooms were separated from avgas and bomb bunkers by watertight bulkheads that had, thus far, remained intact.

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LTJG John Connors, USN

December 2009



Twenty years is a long time. It spans the entire life of many a young Sailor and Marine. Twenty years is four Presidents ago. Twenty years ago, the Berlin Wall had just come down, and the impact of that event was yet to be known to East or West Germany, to the United States, or to the Soviet Union. Heady times, and a hopeful if uncertain future.

Twenty years ago today, just five weeks after the momentous events in Europe, US forces were in action in Panama. Operation JUST CAUSE led to the capture of Manuel Noriega, in a short, sometimes sharp fight that was far less costly than predicted estimates. Twenty three American servicemen were killed, as were about two hundred Panamanian soldiers.

I wasn’t there. A First Lieutenant assigned to MCRD Parris Island, I was overseeing recruits being made into Marines. But I remember JUST CAUSE very vividly. That day, I was the 3rd Recruit Training Battalion Officer of the Day (OOD), and upon completing my squad bay checks at 0200 I flipped on the TV in the duty room. The 24-hour news cycle was in its infancy, but there was coverage on every channel of US forces engaged in a number of firefights, with a byline of “Fort Sherman, Panama”. It took a while to sort out the details, well into the next day. The news dominated discussion in the Bn CP the next morning, with some fairly amusing comments from the old man about this being what happens when you choose the wrong dictator. Casualties were reported as very light, thankfully.

That evening, as I ironed my uniform for the next day, the phone rang. The voice of my friend on the other end of the line said, “Don’t know if you heard, but Connors was killed. He was killed in action some time yesterday, in Panama”. Wow. Jee-zus. John was not the first friend of mine who had been killed in service to his country. Nor was he even the first to be killed in action. A high school friend had died in the Marine barracks in Beirut.

But John was the first of my friends to die who’d seemed, I don’t know, bulletproof, invincible. John was a piece of work. He was sharp, motivated, and dedicated. Funny as hell, too. And he was very, very smart. He had graduated from WPI, for chrissakes. He was one of the toughest guys I have ever known. In the time since I’d last spoken to him, he had completed SEAL training, and had been assigned to his team. In order to make the mission in Panama, he dragged himself out of a hospital bed, where he had been battling an intestinal parasite. How the hell does a guy like THAT get killed?

He shouldn’t have been on that mission, could have stayed in his hospital bed and continued his recovery. But anyone who knew John was not surprised that he would find a way to be with his men when they needed him most. They would also not be surprised to know that John was a top-shelf leader in a community of top-shelf leaders.

But LTJG John Patrick Connors was not bullet-proof. He and three members of his team died coming to the aid of comrades who were pinned down. (Chief McFaul, TM2 Rodriguez, and BM1 Tilghman were the other SEALs who had been killed.) They had followed their leader into harm’s way.

John Connors was not the first friend to die for his country. He certainly wouldn’t be the last. Indeed, the list is far longer than I care to remember these days. But when I hear the notes of Taps playing, and I think of all of those brave souls who gave their tomorrows so that we could have our todays, it is John’s face I see first. LTJG John Connors was 25.

Maybe twenty years isn’t such a long time after all. You are missed, my friend.

Back in April I gave some initial grades to the Obama Administration’s management of national security issues. Of particular concern to me was the absence of any grand strategy:

National Security Strategy: Incomplete, and my sense is the due date on this assignment is not far off. I suspect that Gen. Jones is laboring mightily on one, but excessive delays may send a message that global security problems are something to be reacted to and not planned for. You can’t shape the world if you don’t have any blueprints from which to work.

Now, the broader policy community is starting to notice and making the same arguments.

When President Obama announced his decision to deploy 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, he presented a clear argument for why he believes U.S. national security is threatened by violence and extremism in that country and in the region.

What was missing from the speech, however, was a sense of how and to what degree continued U.S. involvement in that region fits into the United States’ comprehensive national security agenda. That evaluation is the key to keeping U.S. foreign policy consistent and balanced, and should be based on the president’s national security strategy (NSS).

Almost one year has passed since Mr. Obama’s inauguration, and the White House has yet to issue that seminal document.

A new strategy is not only a practical requirement; it’s a legal obligation. Congress mandates that a new president issue an NSS within five months of taking office, and annually thereafter. Mr. Obama has passed the deadline without delivering, yet several Cabinet agencies are developing key tactical documents, such as the Defense, Homeland Security and State departments’ quadrennial reviews, which should be based on the White House’s overall strategy.

This process is entirely backward. Mr. Obama needs a new NSS to make sure the country, Cabinet agencies and, most important, the men and women in the field have clear and comprehensive guidance on their role within broader U.S. national security efforts.

Personnally, my observations make me wonder whether there’s a vision behind this administration’s policies. I get no sense they are trying to shape the world; it seems like they’re merely trying to shape the processes and are ambivalent about the results. So, I have two questions for the group:

1) Is the National Security Strategy an essential component in the big picture or just a formality, and;

2) From your perspective, does this administration have a coherent grand strategy?


Today marks the 37th anniversary of the start of Operation Linebacker II aka Christmas Bombings so it was only appropriate that I e-interviewed Robert Harder, author of Flying From the Black Hole: The B-52 Navigator-Bombardiers of Vietnam.

What inspired you to write Flying From the Black Hole: The B-52 Navigator-Bombardiers of Vietnam?

After reading Marshal Michel’s “The 11 Days of Christmas”, I realized that not only had no one told the story of Linebacker Two from the navigator-bombardier viewpoint, no one had told the full story of USAF rated non-pilot flying officers. I decided to wrap both major topics into one package. I was fortunate; Naval Institute Press was my first choice as a publisher; and was the first and only press I submitted it to.

How does Flying From the Black Hole fill a void in aviation historiography?

Explaining American post World War Two heavy bomber history from the viewpoint of the B-52 navigator-bombardier, the mainstay heavy bomber in the USAF from 1955 to present day. While several vanity books have written about this topic, from this navigator-bombardier slant, Black Hole is the only book to deal with it from a national royalty press.

What were some of your more insightful sources?

My primary information came from my personal files and experience. Michel’s “11 Days” was the most important printed source; following closely on its heels were dozens of email interviews with World War Two, Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, and Linebacker Two veterans.

How does writing your first book compare to your 145 combat missions during the Vietnam War?

Not comparable really. I could not have written about my experiences in the manner I personally wished for at least a quarter century due to classified material concerns. And then it took me another 20 years for me to realize that it was something that cried out to be done, for the sake of all the USAF rated nonpilot flying officers. It really came home in 2004 when the Air Force and Navy said that all the former positions in those rated nonpilot fields (RIOs, navigators, bombardiers, electronic warfare officers,observers, etc) would be discontinued and that such related cockpit positions still remaining would in the future be manned by Combat Systems Operators (CSOs) and Weapon Systems Officers (WSOs). I was also very heavily encouraged (indeed mentored) by aviation historian and best selling writer, Walter Boyne. Boyne has long lamented the lack of documentation of the work of the B-52 navigator-bombardiers. I am very grateful for his confidence and support.


Plot of 25-26 Oct Action (click to enlarge)

Overnight: 25-26 OctoberCATS

During the night, crews on the Hornet positioned aircraft on the flightdeck if the prospects of a night strike by moonlight made themselves present. In the meantime, PBY Catalina’s, using the first crude airborne radar sets, continued to try to locate the Japanese fleet in the darkness. Shortly after midnight, one PBY successfully located Nagumo’s carriers (Shokaku, Zuikaku and Zuiho) roughly 300 miles from Kinkaid’s forces. Three hours later, a torpedo attack (unsuccessful) by another PBY on Zuikaku forced Nagumo to turn back to the north.

Watching the proceedings from his location in Noumea, COMSOPAC (Halsey) clearly felt here was a chance to deliver a Midway-esque smashing blow to the enemy and issued a terse order: STRIKE. REPEAT. STRIKE.

88-159-kaOnboard Enterprise, the picture was less clear – and illuminates one of the Command and Control problems of the theater. The PBY’s, amphibs though they were, were assigned to Fitch’s shore-based aircraft and as such, made their reports directly to their commanders ashore on Espiritu Santo and thence to Noumea. Those reports were then relayed back to Kinkaid’s command at sea, but given the delays inherent to such a setup, position reports could be as much as 3-6 hours. The resulting area of uncertainty, assuming ships operating at 20+ knots, was such that, absent CV-based organic search aircraft with equivalent radar and reporting capabilities, the probability of success of a strike, much less one launched at night, rapidly diminished with each passing hour. As it was, Kincaid would not receive the position reports until almost 0600 – well after the Enterprise launched her dawn patrol.

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Posted by SteelJaw in Aviation, History, Navy | 1 Comment

At the Battle of Surigao Strait, five of the battle ships “crossing the T” on the Japanese force had been sunk or MD OKdamaged at Pearl Harbor.

A look back at one heck of a salvage operation here.

So, Bluto was partially right, wasn’t he?

Bluto: Over? Did you say “over”? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!

Posted by Mark Tempest in History, Navy | 5 Comments

Looks like the Naval Academy is still struggling to balance diversity with quality:

Midshipmen entering the Naval Academy from its preparatory school were arriving with badly underdeveloped study skills for the past two years, the academy’s superintendent said, which is why the prep school curriculum got a major overhaul this autumn.

Vice Adm. Jeffrey Fowler said plebes who had come from the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, R.I., had so much trouble with basic studying that academy officials decided to redesign the courses at NAPS to focus on completing assignments and asking for help.

“We decided the first thing that was most important was, get young people to do homework, supervised homework, in class, because that seemed to be the biggest thing over my two previous years: They’re not turning in any homework,” Fowler said. “We found out they didn’t know how to do the homework, or they had questions on it, and at nighttime even if they wanted to ask, the support [at NAPS] wasn’t as robust as we would like.”

Unfortunately, with the news that 75% of potential recruits are unfit to serve, I think there are much more serious problems lurking behind this story. Any thoughts on how the services should be resolving these problems, or whether they should be in this business at all?

Heck yes! If the rumors are true, the yet-to-be-announced Taiwan deal puts the U.S. back in the conventional sub business. I’ve seen this coming for awhile. Back in July 2008, I wrote that Fincantieri’spurchase of the Manitowoc Shipyard looked, ultimately, like a move to support the U.S. promise of subs for Taiwan. In August 2008 I followed up with some additional signals and indications, and now, it looks like my guess might be right.

At any rate, as details of the U.S.-Taiwan arms deal leaks out, the chances the Manitowoc shipyard–a legacy building site for U.S. subs–will return to the sub businesses look like they’ve gotten a substantive boost.

Appreciate the nuance, here. The best reporting to date is coming from Reuters, and they’ve offered an interesting tidbit on the Taiwan arms sale–the aid package may likely include design work for advanced subs and not the subs themselves–yet:

“The design work, estimated at $360 million, would require a U.S. company to show it had the ability to build them or had found a foreign partner that would do so, said Ed Ross, director of operations at the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency from 1994 to 2007. The cost of building eight diesel-electric submarines had been estimated at $10.2 billion and would take 10 to 15 years, he added in a telephone interview.”

So what, exactly, are some implications of granting Taiwan permission to pursue sub “design” work?

  1. It won’t totally infuriate the Chinese or Taiwan. (It’ll just make ’em angry.)
  2. It will give the U.S. an opportunity to fund design of non-nuke subs without totally infuriating nuke-loving U.S. Submariners. (It’ll just make ’em angry.)
  3. It may give the Navy a means to somewhat painlessly cancel the Manitowoc-built LCS-1 platform, throwing sub design work and potential contract work to a spurned Manitowoc yard might find some Congressional friends. (It’ll just make the locals angry–for awhile.)
  4. Though I’m looking to see the big boys (Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics) get bought off by an acceleration of the SSBN(X), any contest for non-nuclear subs may give established U.S. sub fabricators a means to weather the slow-down of the Virginia Class buy (It’ll just…well, they’re angry already, anyway.)

Keep in mind, the submarine deal is something Taiwan has long wanted, long asked for, and that the Bush Administration kinda heedlessly granted three months into his first term (and subsequently didn’t proceed upon).

So now, nine years later, Obama is trying to put this “un-backed” obligation to rest–as best he can–in a way that might benefit the U.S. a tad. At any rate, this bit of defense politics seems to be one of those interesting deals that includes everyone–and yet irks everybody, as well. We’ll see…But this “everybody gets a tiny piece holiday pie” strategy is fascinating to watch.

Remember, it might be worth reading Undersecretary of the Navy Robert Work’s Navy-oriented portion of the CSBA’s Strategy for the Long Haul, particularly this passage:

“The tactical submarine fleet must develop a whole new generation of undersea
weapons and capabilities including smaller multipurpose submarines (both manned and unmanned), vehicles and weapons…”

Feed a Joint Multi-Mission Submarine some steroids (hey, it’s so new it could grow into anything) anytime before it is scheduled to reach initial operational capability in 2016, and you might even end up with a Type 212. It’d make a nice compliment to any Taiwan buy…and, so doing, tie into Robert Work’s wider interest in offering U.S. Navy platforms for export.

If the U.S. dives in, the international submarine market is going to be an incredibly interesting place. But, that said…do we really want to join the rest of the nation in exporting these things? Really? Is that wise? What’s more dangerous? A Chinese carrier-killer ballistic missile, a multi-component, multi-site weapon system held under tight central control, or a lucky sub commander (from one of any number of nations) with an anti-U.S. grudge and an American carrier coming down the maritime choke-point?

Me, I fear the latter.

OK — entering the homestretch of the Solomons Campaign. Before we get to the final sea battles of that campaign, we need to go back and capture the Battle of Santa Cruz for the pivotal impact it had on the campaign. Part I is presented here with II and III to follow in the coming week. – SJS


. . . And then there was one.

At 1025, Enterprise emerging from a rainsquall turned east to begin recovery of her search aircraft. Topside, flightdeck crews beheld a sight that made their hearts sink. There was Hornet, off to the southwest, dead in the water. Rising above her, like an accusing finger, was a huge column of of thick, black smoke, marking her position to the enemy. One needn’t be up in the flag plot or bridge to grasp the implications — with Wasp lost to Japanese torpedoes earlier in the month and Saratoga out of action with her own torpedo damage, there was just one carrier left in the southwest Pacific to hold the line.

And the Japanese knew it…


The situation at Guadalcanal had become unbearable for the Japanese and over the course of the late summer and early fall forces were gradually landed with a view to remove the Allied presence and reclaim the airfield. On 13 Oct, a Japanese force of two battleships, a light cruiser and eight destroyers began shelling Henderson field near midnight. The following night was a repeat. While there was little in the way of personnel casualties, most of the aircraft on the field were destroyed. As a result, a subsequent landing by Japanese land forces was only lightly opposed by a single SBD from Henderson and even though SBDs from nearby Espiritu Santo and supporting B-17’s sank three transports, the majority of Japanese forces were able to put ashore.

Over the next two weeks, the Japanese forces pressed their way across Guadalcanal towards the objective at Henderson. Bereft of most of their heavy gear, they could rely on artillery support from the ships of Yamamoto’s force which held local supremacy over the seas. In their minds, any other shortfalls would be more than made up by their own warrior spirit in the face of the American defenders whom they knew to be hanging by a slim lifeline of support.

Between the 23rd and 24th of October, Japanese land forces deployed around Henderson Field, looking for one final, overwhelming push to retake the field. At sea, Japanese naval forces were gathered, centered again around the carriers and in numbers not seen since the attack on Pearl Harbor. Just as the forces ashore would rid the island of the American invaders, Yamamoto’s naval forces would engage the numerically inferior American Navy and eliminate it as a threat

The time for confrontation was drawing nigh –

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