The classic 40mm Bofors cannon was clearly obsolete versus high speed jet aircraft by the 1950s. The Royal Navy could ill afford to equip most of its fleet with expensive, and large, guided missile systems such as the Sea Slug missile system. So Shorts Brothers developed the lightweight, relatively inexpensive SeaCat missile system in the early 1960s.

A small, lightweight, subsonic missile using Command to Line of Sight Guidance, SeaCat could be mounted on just about any warship, and was for many Royal Navy ships the only air defense aboard. The gunner used a set of binoculars on a pedestal mount to track the target, and the guidance system relayed steering commands via a radio link.  Theoretically, as long as the gunner kept the target within the crosshairs, the missile would guide to the target.

It was also widely exported to the usual British client states.

In reality, the system, while very reliable, was not terrible capable. During the Falklands war in 1982, out of over 80 SeaCat firings, only one Argentine Skyhawk was brought down. Interestingly, the Argentinians also used SeaCat and its land based variant, Tigercat, though they scored no kills.


Will The Marines Deploy Aboard The British Carriers?

Well, Britain says they will.

LONDON — The U.S. Marine Corps will deploy its Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II strike fighters on combat sorties from Britain’s new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, a senior U.K. Royal Navy officer has confirmed.

Rear Adm. Keith Blount, who is responsible for delivering the two 65,000 ton ships, said that using Marine aircraft and pilots to bolster the U.K.’s nascent carrier strike capability would be a natural extension of coalition doctrine.

“We are forever operating with allies and within coalitions. It’s the way wars are fought”, the Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Aviation, Amphibious Capability and Carriers) and Rear Adm. Fleet Air Arm told an audience at the DSEI defence exhibition in London on Wednesday.

That’s not to say there are planned rotations of USMC F-35 squadrons deploying.

An artist's rendering of the future HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier. Royal Navy Image

At first blush, it makes some sense. The two Brit carriers are being designed with the F-35B in mind, and the British version is essentially identical to the US version. So interoperability shouldn’t be a major technical issue.

While Blount painted the co-operative arrangement in positive terms, it will disappoint critics who believe the U.K. government should provide the R.N. and Royal Air Force (RAF) with sufficient resources, in both aircraft and manpower, to regenerate the country’s carrier air wings independently.

Here’s the problem with assuming the Marines will deploy on British carriers. Just as the RN and RAF are likely to not have sufficient airframes available to operate from the carriers, so to will the Marines always be hard pressed to have sufficient numbers of jets available.

Operating a squadron from a particular ship involves far more than simply flying the jets aboard. The entire squadron, its maintainers, it admin types, and support staff have to move aboard, not to mention the spare parts and jigs and maintenance equipment. The linguistic and cultural differences between the US and the RN are sufficient to make that integration something of a challenge.

The US has routinely practiced “cross decking” with just about everyone who has a carrier, allowing them to trap aboard our ships, and either trapping or doing touch-and-goes on theirs. But that’s a far cry from actually deploying aboard.

To the best of my recollection, the US hasn’t actually deployed a squadron from a foreign ship.

On the other hand, the British ships have a bar and serve beer, so I’m sure there will be extensive and enthusiastic support from at least some elements of Marine Air to give it a shot.

The British Pacific Fleet

Growing up in a Naval Aviation family, it was a given that I would know the major exploits of the Fast Carrier Task Force that formed the heart of the US Navy’s striking power in the Pacific. Operating alternately as TF 38 when under Halsey’s 3rd Fleet and TF 58 when under Spruance’s 5th Fleet, the FCTF roamed the Central and Western Pacific, at sea for weeks at a time, supporting various invasions, striking territory the Japanese had seized, and even raiding the home islands of Japan.  The FCTF was the powerhouse of the Pacific, making that ocean an American pond for 70 years. Every other part of the United States Navy, from the submarine service, to the stupendous fleet train,  to the Seabees to the amphibious shipping and indeed, the entire US Marine Corps, served simply to better enable the Big Blue to rule the mighty Pacific as a wholly American territory.

Of course, the US Navy wasn’t alone in those waters. Britain, with its many colonial outposts, maintained a significant fleet presence in the Pacific. Sadly, the opening months of the war saw them more soundly defeated by Japan than even our own fleet. Eventually, the Royal Navy would retreat to Trincomalee, Ceylon.  The bulk of the Royal Navy’s fighting strength would be devoted to operations in the North Atlantic and in the Mediterranean Sea.

However, by early 1944, the situation in those waters was sufficiently in hand that Britain felt it could spare ships and planes for the Pacific. The Chief of Naval Operations, Ernie King, was not exactly an Anglophile, and was not enthusiastic about the Royal Navy returning to the Western Pacific. In this, he was overruled by FDR.

Of course, it was more than mere politics that gave the US Navy pause about a Royal Navy fleet in the Pacific. The RN mostly operated close to its bases in comparatively close waters. Their ships had less endurance, and even less space for food stores. Furthermore, they had little experience in replenishment underway. Worst of all, they had virtually none of the fleet train of ships that the US Navy relied upon to allow the Fast Carrier Task Force to stay at sea for weeks. Any significant RN participation would almost certainly have to receive at least some support from the US Navy.

The RN did amass a sizeable fleet train to support its operations (though they also received quite a bit of help from the USN) and soon amassed a significant fleet of carriers, battleships, cruisers, destroyers and other combatants.

When operating with the US Navy, the British Pacific Fleet (BPF) was under  the US command structure, and designated either TF 37 or Task Force 57, depending on whether it was with 3rd or 5th Fleet.

The most significant operations of the BPF were in support of the US invasion of Okinawa, where the BPF conducted raids on Japanese airfields to suppress kamikaze attacks. Of course, that invited kamikaze attacks upon themselves. Unlike US carriers that had wooden flight decks, British carriers had steel flight decks. Generally, a kamikaze hit on them resulted in far less damage.

While some British carriers operated British designed planes such as the Seafire and the Barracuda, many operated US built planes, including the Corsair, the Avenger, and the Hellcat.

No audio, but still an interesting look at British carrier operations in 1944.


Sea Skua

Elizzar mentioned the Sea Skua missile’s use in the Falklands war in the comments of an earlier post. And it’s one of my favorite little missiles.

Developed in the late 1970s to give Royal Navy helicopters an Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW) capability against smaller ships such as patrol boats, the Sea Skua had a remarkably fast development time from the first test firings, on the order of about three years, and was fielded and operational in time for the Falklands in 1982.

The helicopter it was designed for, the Westland Sea Lynx, is a fairly small helicopter, so the Sea Skua was designed to be fairly small itself, with an all up round weighing in at around 300 pounds. Each Sea Lynx could carry up to four missiles.

Most anti-ship missiles use either active radar homing (that is, they carry their own radar to search for a target) or infra-red homing, seeking the heat of the target. The Sea Skua, somewhat unusually, uses semi-active radar homing. That is, the launching Sea Lynx shines its radar on the target, and a radar receiver in the missile homes in on the reflected radar energy. This has a significant drawback in that the launching helicopter has to keep its radar locked on the target for the entire time of flight of the missile. But the choice of guidance systems also has some advantages. First, it was likely cheaper and faster to develop. Second, with the decent range of Sea Skua (roughly 15 miles) the launching helicopter is out of range of most small ship defenses, so tracking the target isn’t an unduly risky proposition. Third, semi-active homing means that the launching helicopter can be sure the missile attacks the correct target, and will not be spoofed to attack either a neutral or lower value target. As a contrast, the Argentine Exocet that destroyed the MV Atlantic Conveyor was (probably) targeted as HMS Illustrious, but was spoofed by chaff, and stumbled upon Atlantic Conveyor afterwards.

The Sea Skua has a small warhead, by anti-ship missile standards, just 62 pounds. And given that it strikes above the waterline, it’s highly unlikely for one missile to sink any but the smallest of targets. But the warhead is sufficient to render most small vessels incapable of continuing the fight. That’s called a “mission kill.” For the most part, simply taking a ship out of the fight is sufficient.

In its introduction to combat in the Falklands, Sea Skua was used to damage an Argentinian patrol boat. Its next foray into combat was during Desert Storm, where considerable numbers were expended against the Iraqi navy with good effect, sinking or badly damaging about a dozen ships.

Just as the Westland Lynx has enjoyed considerable export success, so naturally has the Sea Skua. Users beside the Royal Navy include Germany, Brazil, Malaysia, India, Kuwait, Pakistan, and Korea.


The Sea Skua can also be installed and launched from small surface ships too small to accommodate other larger anti-ship missiles.



The US Navy, finding itself in need of a missile system to equip its own SH-60 Seahawk helicopters, opted instead for the Norwegian designed Penguin missile. Unlike Sea Skua, Penguin uses an infra-red seeker. In addition, for even smaller threats, most Seahawks can now carry four or eight Hellfire semi-active laser guided missiles, with a range of about 5 miles. The much smaller Hellfire is quite sufficient for attacking the very small fast boats that would constitute a swarm type attack.

Sea Skua itself, after an admirable career over three decades long, is slated to be replace by a newer missile, Sea Venom, sometime around 2020.

HMS Caroline

On the cusp of World War I, Great Britain and Germany were engaged in a naval arms race. Battleships and battlecruisers usually receive the bulk of attention when historians look at this. But cruisers were a major component of the fleet. Cruisers were armored warships designed both to serve as the scouts of the fleet and to screen the line of battle from enemy scouts and other light forces.

Just on the eve of World War I, Britain laid down what was to become the first of an eventual 28 “C Class” light cruisers, HMS Caroline.

File:HMS Caroline.jpg

HMS Caroline’s greatest claim to fame is that she participated in the Battle of Jutland, the great clash of the British and German fleets that, while indecisive, would do so much to shape naval theory in the interwar years.

Obsolescent even by the end of the war, HMS Caroline was shunted to the reserves in 1924. Used as a moored training vessel for the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserves, she would function in that role until 2011! During World War II, she served as the headquarters for the Royal Navy in Belfast Harbour before returning to her reservist training duties post-war.

File:HMS Caroline 1914.jpg

Now the HMS Caroline has stepped into her well earned retirement, she’s slated to become a museum ship. For one thing, she’s known to a great number of sailors. Secondly, she’s the only surviving ship that was present at Jutland. Indeed, she’s one of only three British ships dating from World War I.

And so…

A £15 million-plus restoration project plans to turn HMS Caroline into a visitor attraction in time for next year’s centenary commemorations of the 1916 First World War battle off the coast of Denmark.

But before the refit could begin on the derelict vessel, which is docked in Belfast, urgent steps had to be taken to ensure it stays afloat long-term.

We can think of many sailors that would like to see any number of ships kept as museums. Sadly, however, there is only a limited market for such ships. And not only must the ship itself be of historical interest to make a go of it. Much of the success or failure of a museum ship has to do with the accessibility of the ship. The Midway in San Diego and Intrepid in New York are doing well, in large part because those cities are already prime tourist destinations, which greatly increases the traffic they get. Given that, one hopes HMS Caroline manages to stay afloat, both physically, and fiscally.


File:HMS 'Caroline', Alexandra Dock Belfast - - 660308.jpg

The Landing Barge Kitchen

We’re in the middle of drafting some posts on landing craft, past and present. In doing our research, we came across on specialized platform we thought we’d share with you right away.

During Operation Neptune, the sea based part of the invasion of Normandy, there were large numbers of British landing craft that were not assigned to a mothership, nor did they have galley facilities on board. Life assigned to these vessels was tough enough. Craft like the LCM and various LCVP assigned to specialized roles had no berthing, and little or no storage for food, nor even heads for sanitation.

The Royal Navy, realizing this was rather burdensome, looked to provide some level of logistical support to the flotillas of small craft. Building specialized variants of landing craft was not an option. The production of landing craft for the assault wave was already behind schedule. So instead, the RN took up into service numbers of the lighters in use on the Thames River. Some were modified to serve as station tankers for the craft. Others carried fresh water. And then there was the LBK, the Landing Barge, Kitchen.

Given just enough engine power to cross the channel in good weather, it was a floating storeroom and galley.  It could carry enough fresh and bulk foodstuffs to feed 900 men for a week. Up to 1600 hot and 800 cold meals per day could be prepared.

After cooking meals, a day’s rations would be placed in insulated containers, similar to the Mermite can,  and handed across to a landing craft crew. Few thing improve morale and efficiency like a good hot meal.

More on this interesting vessel can be found here.

The sinking of HMS Implacable

First, you have to credit the Royal Navy. They knew how to name ships.

Second, they knew a good deal when they saw one. In the Napoleonic Wars, the Royal Navy ruled the waves, but arguably, the French built the better ship. And the RN, being practical seamen, when they captured a French ship, simply put it into service.

Laid down in 1797, launched in 1800 and entering service with the French Navy as the Duguay-Trouin, she would be one of four French ships of the line to escape capture at Nelson’s epic victory, Trafalgar. But she would not long escape the clutches of the RN. Two weeks later, at the Battle of Cape Ortegal, she would be captured.

Repaired and placed into RN service under the new name HMS Implacable, she would fight with distinction throughout the rest of the Napoleonic Wars. She would fight again at Acre and Syria in 1840. But by 1842, she was unfit for further frontline service. Like many wooden ships of the line, she w0uld continue to serve in various training ship roles, and eventually end her days as a hulk.

By the mid-twentieth century, she was the second oldest ship of the Royal Navy, behind the mighty flagship, HMS Victory. But post World War II austerity in Britain meant there were no funds for restoration or refurbishment. In 1949, she was towed to sea, and scuttled. As a fitting gesture, an escort of the French Navy was present to render honors, and she slipped beneath the waves flying the French Flag alongside the White Ensign.


H/T to the Aubrey-Maturin Appreciation Society for spotting the film.

Angled Flight Decks: 1930s Naval Innovation?

Angled flight decks on aircraft carriers enable modern aircraft carriers to simultaneously conduct takeoffs and landings by aircraft. Previously, in the 1910s till about 1945, aircraft carrier flight decks were “axial” flight decks with no special angled area with which to manage aircraft. In this case “go-arounds” were much more difficult and in the event of a landing accident, the aircraft was caught by a barricade stretched across the width of the flight deck. Flight operations consisted on either takeoffs/launches OR landings. After landing, the aircraft would taxi forward out of the landing area, to clear it for the next aircraft. Parking the aircraft was typically done in the forward portion of the flight deck.

HMS Argus (circa 1917) is typical of the first aircraft carriers. Note the full length straight deck. Photo credit: Wikipedia.
HMS Argus (circa 1917) is typical of the first aircraft carriers. Note the full length axial flightdeck. Photo credit: Wikipedia.
This head on view of the USS Enterprise (CV-6) taken during World War 2 again shows the narrow straight deck design that was still prevalent during that time.
This head on view of the USS Enterprise (CV-6) taken during World War 2 again shows the narrow axial deck design that was still prevalent during that time.

Naval Historians credit the Royal Navy, and specifically Rear Admiral Dennis Cambell with the invention of the angled flight deck:

The angled flight deck was invented by Royal Navy Captain (later Rear Admiral) Dennis Cambell, as an outgrowth of design study initially begun in the winter of 1944-1945 when a committee of senior Royal Navy officers decided that the future of naval aviation was in jets, whose higher speeds required that the carriers be modified to “fit” the needs of jets.[13][14][15] With this type of deck — also called a “skewed deck”, “canted deck”, “waste angle deck”, or the “angle” — the aft part of the deck is widened and a separate runway is positioned at an angle from the centreline.[16] The angled flight deck was designed with the higher landing speeds of jet aircraft in mind, which would have required the entire length of a centreline flight deck to stop.[16] The design also allowed for concurrent launch and recovery operations, and allowed aircraft failing to connect with thearrestor cables to abort the landing, accelerate, and relaunch (or “bolter“) without risk to other parked or launching aircraft.

The angled desk indeed allowed for the simultaneous launch and recovery of aircraft. The first aircraft carrier with the angled flight deck was the HMS Triumph (R16) which was tested in 1952:

In 1952, HMS Triumph was used for the first trials of an angled flight deck. Her original deck markings were obliterated and replaced with new ones at an angle to the long axis of the ship. The success of these trials led to the development of the now standard design, with additional areas of the flight deck added to the port side of the ship

HMS Triumph seen in 1950 before the deck marking modification in 1953.
HMS Triumph seen in 1950 before the deck marking modification in 1953. Photo credit Wikipedia.
This diagram of HMS Triumph shows the 5.5 degree deck marking used in tests by the Royal Navy. Photo credit: Wings of the Navy: Testing British and US Navy Carrier Aircraft.
This diagram of HMS Triumph shows the 5.5 degree deck marking used in tests by the Royal Navy. Photo credit: Wings of the Navy: Testing British and US Navy Carrier Aircraft.

The US Navy tested the markings for an angled flight deck on the USS Midway (CV-41) in 1952. “However the orientation of the arresting gear and barriers remained oriented to the axial flightdeck.”

This view of the USS Midway, just after her commissioning on 10 September 1945, illistrates her "pre-conversion" straight flight deck.
This view of the USS Midway, just after her commissioning on 10 September 1945, illistrates her “pre-conversion” straight flight deck.
These are the deck plans for angled modifications aboard the USS Midway in 1952. Photo credit:
These are the deck plans for angled modifications aboard the USS Midway in 1952. Photo credit: Wings of the Navy: Testing British and US Navy Carrier Aircraft.

The USS Antietam (CV-3) had the first “true” angled flight deck, as structural changes to the ship were made to accommodate that feature.

USS Antietam showing her 8-degree angled flight deck. Photo credit: Wikipedia
USS Antietam showing her 8-degree angled flight deck. Photo credit: Wikipedia
The USS Antetiam with her original axial flight deck.

However upon reading Dr. John T Kuehn’s Agents of Innovation: The General Board and the Design of the Fleet That Defeated the Japanese Navy, it seems that the angled flight deck is a United States Navy invention, not as always thought, a British invention.

Before I get to that a bit about the General Board and flying deck cruisers. The General Board was established in 1900 to play a critical role in linking the Washington Naval Treaty and innovation in the fleet. “Particularly astonishing, given the hierarchical nature of the U.S. Navy, was the General Board’s tolerant and consensus-driven process which led to an environment highly favorable to creativity and innovation.”

The flying deck cruiser was an attempt by the General Board to use remaing Washington Treaty warship tonnage allocation to meet the perceived aviation needs for the Navy war plan in the Pacific, unknown as War Plan Orange.

During one particularly interesting meeting of the Board in December 1930 a design for a ship called the “flying deck cruiser” was undergoing review by the general board which lead to a very interesting discussion:

The refined design included one feature in particular that had received little discussion during the hearings but was an outgrowth of them. During the December 1930 hearings, the Board had questioned the BuAer (Bureau of Aeronautics, the part of the Navy responsible for Naval Aviation) officers at length regarding launching and recovering aircraft on the shortened deck of some of the designs. The aviators had brought up the technique of taking off at an angle in order in order to avoid the island, or perhaps a forward superstructure, as well as to get a longer deck run. Evidently, the BuC&R officers has paid close attention because they included and angled flightdeck in the design. It was offset to the port (left) side of the ship in order to give the aviators more usable deck space for spotting (parking) and flight operations (Kuehn, p.118).

If the US Navy had built this ship they would have learned the same lessons we now know about angled flight decks about a generation before the angled deck carrier.

Here’s a line drawing of what she may have looked like:


The 1920s and 1930s represent a period of unparalleled and rapid technical innovation in the US Navy and the angled flight deck is only one example (even if the CF was never built).
There were quite a few Naval innovations that took place as a result of the Washington Naval Treaty, the Fleet Problem exercises and War Plan Orange and I’ll be posting more about those in the future.

Sources (you can buy all these books by using the Amazon Store link to the right):

Wings of the Navy: Testing British and US Carrier Aircraft by Captain Eric “Winkle” Brown

US Aircraft Carriers: An Illustrated Design HIstory by Norman Polmar

Agents of Innovation: The General Board and the Design of the Fleet That Defeated the Japanese Navy (make sure that you buy this book (through the Amazon link right). It’s an excellent and interesting read).

“Make Sail!”

The Royal Navy in the age of sail was a force so dominant that it led a small island nation to rule over a quarter of the world’s population. How many of us are avid readers of historically inspired fiction of the era, such as the Aubrey/Maturin series, or Horatio Hornblower, among many others?

The Royal Navy was the greatest naval power in the world until World War II. The stupendous cost of the war, coupled with the unprecedented  growth of the US Navy saw the end of the RN as the master of the seas. Even so, for some time after, she would remain a significant force, with ships deployed worldwide for a variety of roles.

One such ship was HMS Dampier. Laid down as a Bay class anti-aircraft frigate in World War II, she would be commissioned in 1946 and serve for over 20 years as a hydrographic survey ship, mostly in the Far East.

In 1967, returning to Britain, the ship lost a screw near the off the coast of southern Africa. To be sure, the ship had twin shafts. But a 3000 mile journey, with only one shaft on an elderly machinery plant was a long way to limp home. And there were only three weeks until Christmas. It would be nice to reach home and hearth in time for the holiday. What to do?

Yes, they fashioned lug and square sails from awning canvas.

And made it home on the 23rd of December.

The crew apparently became quite adept at trimming and jibing. Old traditions, like old habits, die hard.

The Death of HMS Vanguard

Look at Life was  a popular British film series, short 8-10 minute documentaries shown in British theaters before a main attraction. Most were upbeat and interesting, if somewhat overly chipper.

But the short on the end of HMS Vanguard, in spite of the relentless optimism of the of the narrator, is poignant and sad.

HMS Vanguard was the last battleship completed anywhere. Laid down during World War II, competing shipbuilding needs meant she wasn’t completed until after the end of the war. A modified Lion class, she bore King George VI on a Royal Visit to South Africa. Other than that, she mostly spent her time in routine training, and serving as the flagship for various fleets and stations. And in 1960, she was decommissioned, and sent to the Clyde for scrapping.