Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Battle Damage - Savo Island

One of the worst naval defeats the Allies suffered in WWII was the Battle of Savo Island during the fight for Guadalcanal.  The night battle took place 8-9-Aug-1942.  A Japanese naval force caught an Allied force that was unprepared mentally, physically, technologically, doctrinally, and tactically for combat and sank or badly damaged several cruisers.

Wikipedia has a good writeup describing the overall action if you’d like to learn more about the battle.

Savo Island - Quincy Spotlighted and Under Fire

What we’re going to do today is examine the battle damage received by the Allied cruisers and attempt to compare that to today’s ships and see what lessons we can learn.  Five cruisers were attacked by the Japanese force.  Four of the cruisers were severely damaged or sunk.  Here’s a brief summary of the damage each absorbed.

USS Astoria (CA-34)

Astoria received at least 65 hits with the majority being 8” shells. (6)

Astoria was initially hit by seven 8” shells and responded with her main guns.  Shortly after,

“During a six-minute stretch beginning at 2 am, the Astoria was hit time after time by shells both large and small.” (4)

Though badly damaged, the ship was in no danger of sinking and her main guns were mostly still operational.

“The bridge personnel still had control of both steering and engines. Communications lines were still open with central station, which was believed to be intact. There were no major fires reported below the main deck. However, the ship was on fire amidships, turret one was out, and most of the secondary gun batteries had been silenced.” (4)

Even as the pounding continued, Astoria was still able to fight back.

“Between 02:00 and 02:15, Aoba, Kinugasa, and Kako joined Chokai in pounding Astoria, destroying the cruiser’s engine room and bringing the flaming ship to a halt.  At 02:16, one of Astoria’s remaining operational main gun turrets fired at Kinugasa’s searchlight, but missed and hit Chokai’s forward turret, putting the turret out of action and causing moderate damage to the ship.”

Throughout the following morning, damage control efforts were undertaken and Astoria was taken under tow.  Unfortunately, additional internal explosions caused by fires eventually led to the ship being abandoned and she sank just after noon.

USS Astoria

MHAS Canberra (D33)

Canberra was hit by 24-30 8” shells in the span of a few minutes and one or two torpedoes which may have been friendly fire from the destroyer Bagley. (1)(2)  Despite the damage from shells and torpedoes, the Canberra was still afloat the morning after the battle and in no danger of sinking but could not be towed to safety in time and was sunk by an American destroyer.

“Admiral Turner ordered that Canberra be abandoned and sunk if she could not raise steam. Once all survivors had been evacuated, Selfridge fired 263 5-inch shells and four torpedoes into Canberra in an attempt to sink her. Eventually a torpedo fired by the destroyer Ellet administered the final blow.” (3)

Canberra absorbed 24-30 8” shells and one or two torpedoes during the battle and later required 263 5” shells and 5 torpedoes to sink the ship after it was abandoned.

HMAS Canberra

USS Quincy (CA-39)

Quncy was hit by at least 54 shells, the majority being 8” shells, and three torpedoes. (5)

Quincy was caught in a crossfire between Aoba, Furutaka, and Tenryū, and was hit heavily and set afire. Quincy's captain ordered his cruiser to charge towards the eastern Japanese column, but as she turned to do so Quincy was hit by two torpedoes from Tenryū, causing severe damage. Quincy managed to fire a few main gun salvos, one of which hit Chōkai's chart room 6 meters (20 ft) from Admiral Mikawa and killed or wounded 36 men, although Mikawa was not injured. At 02:10, incoming shells killed or wounded almost all of Quincy's bridge crew, including the captain. At 02:16, the cruiser was hit by a torpedo from Aoba, and the ship's remaining guns were silenced. (1)

The ship sank shortly thereafter.

USS Quincy

USS Vincennes (CA-44)

Vincennes received at least 57 and possibly up to 74 hits, the majority being 8” shells, and one or two torpedoes. (6)(1)

As Vincennes began to receive damaging shell hits, her commander, U.S. Captain Frederick L. Riefkohl, ordered an increase of speed to 25 knots (46 km/h), but shortly thereafter, at 01:55, two torpedoes from Chōkai hit, causing heavy damage. Kinugasa now joined Kako in pounding Vincennes. Vincennes scored one hit on Kinugasa causing moderate damage to her steering engines. The rest of the Japanese ships also fired and hit Vincennes up to 74 times, and, at 02:03, another torpedo hit her, this time from Yūbari. With all boiler rooms destroyed, Vincennes came to a halt, burning "everywhere" and listing to port. At 02:16, Riefkohl ordered the crew to abandon ship, and Vincennes sank at 02:50. (1)

USS Vincennes


Although the exact numbers of shell and torpedo hits will never be known, each ship was hit by dozens of 8” shells and multiple torpedoes.  The amount of damage that these ships absorbed was staggering.  Does anyone believe that a modern Burke, for example, could absorb several dozen 8” shells and multiple torpedoes and continue to fight, to any extent, and have any chance of remaining afloat?

This was not a case of a single ship, in some sort of fluke circumstance, being able to absorb more damage than normal – each ship absorbed dozens of hits and torpedoes and kept fighting right until the end.

That’s another aspect that is striking.  Each ship was able to keep fighting as damage was being absorbed.  To be sure, as damage accumulated, the effectiveness of each ship was diminished but the point is that they kept fighting and, as documented in some of the quotes, were able to dish out some significant damage while being pounded to the point of sinking.  In contrast, the vaunted LCS is DESIGNED TO BE ABANDONED upon receipt of the first significant battle damage.  We’ve seen that gently drifting aground at 1-2 knots and rocking slightly was enough to render the Port Royal’s Aegis arrays and VLS systems inoperable by “knocking” them out of alignment.  Initially, the Navy wanted to scrap the Port Royal, the youngest Aegis cruiser, as a result of the gentle grounding.

Does anyone believe that after absorbing a couple of dozen anti-ship missiles (an 8” shell is very roughly comparable to a Harpoon missile, for comparison’s sake), a Burke could still fire its main battery which is its VLS?

This leads to another striking aspect and that is armor and, in particular, armored main turrets.  Despite, the avalanche of 8” shell hits the cruisers absorbed, the bulk of their main turrets continued to function.  Yes, as the pounding continued the turrets were, one by one, rendered inoperable but, even at the end, the ships generally still had a least one turret functioning.

The turrets were heavily armored.  The Astoria, for example, had turrets with up to 8” of armor.  Ship designers of the period realized that it was pointless to design a ship whose main weapon could be put out of action by anything less than a major caliber shell and tried to prevent even that.  It was intended that the last piece of equipment to fail should be the main battery.

Closely related to turret armor and survivability was sensor redundancy.  Again, ship designers recognized that the largely unarmored sensors (optical, at that time – radar was in its infancy) were critical to the functioning of the main guns and that they were vulnerable.  To compensate for this vulnerability, the designers built in a high degree of redundancy.  Each ship had multiple fire control directors scattered across the topsides and the turrets could be controlled by any of the directors.  Further, each mount had various modes of local control as the ultimate backup. 

Now, consider our Burkes – they have three fire control guidance radars and two of them are located within about 10 feet of each other.  If the Burke loses those radars, they lose their main combat capability.  Does that seem like a good combat design?


  • 5” shells are not ship sinkers.  The Canberra example clearly proves this.

  • 8” is the minimum caliber for ship sinking.

  • Internal explosions, well after the initial damage, are often fatal.  Warships need better flooding mechanisms, better ventilation of explosive gases, and better containment methods of breeched fuel tanks.

  • Armor buys longevity in battle.  We need to not only armor our ships, in general, but the main weapons need additional armor.

  • Sensor redundancy is vital to enable continued combat effectiveness in the face of damage.

  • Main weapon redundancy is vital to ensure that a damaged ship can continue fighting.

  • Excess crew size is mandatory for damage control and attrition replacements for casualties during battle.

We need to recognize the lessons from history and apply them to modern warship design.  Unfortunately, it for the last several decades we have not done this.  Our ship designs are ever more fragile and are not combat worthy.

The vertical launch system (VLS), which is our main battery today, is an interesting case and is worth a closer look.

Applying the lessons of combat, the VLS should be distributed rather than clustered.  We have done that to an extent with the Burke’s VLS being split into two groups, one forward and one aft.  Thought should be given to splitting that even further.  Consider that a WWII cruiser had three main turrets and several secondary guns.  Thought should be given to distributing the VLS into several groups rather than just two.

Noting that our main battery should be armored such that it is the last thing to fail on a ship, it appears that the VLS is armored on the sides and bottom but not the top.  Note that hard information about VLS armor is not readily available so I’m speculating to a large degree about this.  Photos indicate that the sides and, presumably, the bottom of the VLS pit are quick thick – around 5-7 inches.  Presumably, some portion of that is armor.  The top, however, is clearly not armored.  The open VLS hatches are thin.  It appears that the armor is designed not to prevent damage but to direct the damage upwards rather than into the ship.  If true, this means that the VLS is relatively unprotected from topside hits which violates the lesson from combat.  The VLS should be the last thing to fail but this is clearly not the case.  The Port Royal lost her VLS capability by gently drifting ashore.  What would have happened if she had been hit by dozens of anti-ship missiles and whipsawed in the resulting explosions?

We noted the need for redundant sensors.  The jury is out about the damage resilience of Aegis radar arrays but the three fire control guidance radars on the Burke with two of them within ten feet or so of each other certainly constitute a significant vulnerability.  We need more guidance radars (that function is supposedly included in the main array of more recent radars) and they need to be distributed as widely as possible.  Thought also needs to be given to backup modes of guidance such as electro-optical.

In summary, we need to stop designing peacetime ships and start designing combat WARships that are built to absorb damage and keep fighting.  History shows us how to do this if we’ll pay attention to the lessons.

(1)Wikipedia, “Battle of Savo Island”,

(2)”Neptune’s Inferno”, James Hornfischer, Bantam, 26-Dec-2010, ISBN 13: 9780553806700

(3)Navy (Australia) website, “Battle of Savo Island - Loss of HMAS Canberra”, J.H. Straczek,

(4)Warfare History Network, “Disaster Off Savo Island:  The Sinking of USS Astoria”, John Domagalski, 22-Jul-2016,

(5)History of War website, “USS Quincy (CA-39)”,

(6)Naval History and Heritage Command website, “USS Quincy CA39, USS Astoria CA34 & USS Vincennes CA44 Loss in Action, Battle of Savo Island 9 August, 1942”, War Damage Report No. 29, 21-Jun-1943,


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. BSmitty, CNO and I discussed the effects of shells vs missiles a couple of times before. Decide for yourself, I guess.



    2. C-C, somewhere, buried and lost in my files, I have an old (WWII era?) table giving explosive effect equivalencies between naval shells and aerial bombs. I also have a modern version giving equivalencies between naval shells and missiles.

      I want to say they were from Navy ordnance manuals but I can't recall. Have you come across them in your readings and, if so, do you recall the source?

      I'd like to do a post on this subject to put the whole thing to bed once and for all but I can't locate the exact references. With all the files I have it's pretty much like looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack. I'm hoping for help!

    3. I have not seen anything like what you describe. Do you recall how they quantified the "explosive effect"? Was it something like pages 79-83 here?:


      I could see NAVSEA/NavOrd/BuOrd coming up with some sort of document saying x shells, y bombs, or z missiles to sink an n ton vessel, but there are so many variables that I'm not sure how you would measure the "explosive effect." Is the "explosive effect" the peak overpressure? Blast duration? Total work capacity? Number of fragments? Average fragment weight? Average fragment speed? Heat flux? Some sort of composite value? All of these things could be important or not depending on the desired effect(s), but some are also contradictory.

      Again, my only real quibble with what you've said in the past is that I think you're way overstating the importance of the shell wall with respect to the "explosive effect." More specifically, I think you're assuming that the effect of explosive confinement at the shell wall is the same effect as on the "target" when they aren't the same thing and the "target" may be a significant distance from the point of detonation. I'm quite confident that inside a notional 15' x 15'ship compartment, the 215ish pounds of explosive in a Harpoon warhead will have a greater "explosive effect" than the 40ish pounds of explosive in a 16" AP shell. My definition of "explosive effect," however, would EXCLUDE the damage done by fragments/splinters. Of course the fragments of the 2700 pound 16" shell will almost certainly do way more damage than the fragments of the 273ish pound casing of the Harpoon warhead. And of course the 16" shell will penetrate much more than the harpoon.

    4. I've seen that report and, no, that table is just a summary of characteristics. The tables I've seen are direct equivalencies that compared explosive effects on ships. The one that stood out to me was the 8" shell being equivalent to a anti-ship missile. At that time, it would have had to have been a Harpoon/Exocet type missile. I know I have the reports somewhere in my hundreds/thousands of paper files. I'll have to keep looking.

      More generally, you're correct that explosive effect depends on what effect you're trying to achieve. The effects that were deemed important as regards ship damage were, as I recall it, those that produced the most damage within the semi-confined internal spaces of a ship and were,

      -initial blast shock wave pressure (to rip, tear, rupture, move, distort structural elements)
      -fragmentation (to shred people and objects)

      Interestingly, heat release was not considered a significant damage mechanism. Long term fire was desirable but that was considered a given due to the large quantity of flammable materials on a ship.

      As far as unconfined damage (land bombardment), the evidence is quite clear both empirically and anecdotally that 16" shells produce far bigger "effects" than bombs or missiles. The 50+ ft craters left by 16" shells dwarf those left by even Tomahawks with their 1000 lb burst charge. Soldiers on the ground in Vietnam unanimously preferred 16" battleship fire over air support, when available.

      Consider, even if one were to call a 16" shell and a Tomahawk equivalent in "effect" that would be proving the effect of shell wall thickness given the disparity in burst charges.

      Anyway, I'll continue to look for the old reports and hope I stumble on them. I'll let you know if I do.

    5. You might be interested in Appendix A:


      The disparity in total explosive weight and number of hits between bombs and missiles suggests that number of hits is important too. Chance of damaging something important?

      On page 9, it also states, "“The value of Wtg was derived from the warship survivability analysis (Appendix A). It gives added weight to a gun's shell over a bomb of equal explosive weight apparently because a shell adds its much greater kinetic energy of impact to the destructive power of its explosive charge.”

    6. Thanks for the link. I hadn't seen that one.

      I was actually more interested in the Savo Island tactical analysis. Here's the author's conclusion:

      "the model's results indicated the best alternative: concentrate combat power and be vigilant. Had the U.S. commander used the model in the hours prior to the battle, he would have undoubtedly reevaluated his tactical plans."

      This demonstrates the extreme limited utility of the model. "Concentrate forces and be vigilant"? Duh! That's not exactly earth-shaking tactical news. Without a doubt the commander knew this. What the commander didn't know and the model didn't account for was the unknown direction of approach of the Japanese force. Had the Allied force not been split, it would have run the very real possibility of missing the Japanese entirely!

      In hindsight, Allied vigilance was adequate but, at the moment, the various reports were not given credence. Again, the model fails to factor in the fog of war which generates far more erroneous scouting reports than valid ones and the commander is left to guess which, if any, are valid.

      All in all, I found a lot of conceptual problems with the paper although the core model is interesting strictly in terms of salvo combat.

      Interesting that the final Wt's were

      1.0 for bombs
      1.25 for torpedoes
      2.5 for shells

      What was your overall assessment of the paper?

  2. I've always believed in technologies and ideas rotating into and out of relevance. My question is, if China starts producing 8in gun armed ships with significant armor, will the USA follow suit or ignore that hypothetical development?

    1. The Navy is firmly committed to missile warfare just like they were firmly committed to aerial missile warfare, only to be proven wrong in Vietnam. So, right or wrong, wise or unwise, I'm sure the Navy would not follow suit.

    2. http://defencewithac.blogspot.com/2017/01/air-combat-over-vietnam.html

      Although the introduction of all missile fighters to Vietnam was, bumpy, it was far from a failure, and the F4 was not wildly improved by the addition of a gun, which at the end of Vietnam, accounted for roughly 1 in 7 kills. Not exactly the game changer

      All a gun offers is ammunition capacity.
      The Eurofighter Typhoon has 150 rounds, and will expel them all in 5 seconds, but it still needs to get the gun in the cross hair and hold it there long enough to put fire downrange, the same problem you have with a missile, but you can just be rather freer with your fire without upsetting the quartermaster.

    3. I'm not sure where you got your numbers but here's a link to a compilation of every aerial victory in Vietnam: Aerial Kills

      The list totals 215 kills and credits 57 of them to guns. That's 1 in 3.8 or 27%. Over a quarter of the kills were by guns. That's pretty significant. That's 57 kills that might have gotten away or, worse, turned into dead Americans had they not had the option of using a gun.

      You might want to recheck your numbers.

      The E-model F-4 Phantom, the main aircraft of the Vietnam war had an internal gun with 640 rounds, according to Wiki. The latter F-14 Tomcat had an internal gun with 675 rounds. The F-15C Eagle has an internal gun with 940 rounds. I don't know what the European thinking is but the US thinking, until the F-35, was that guns were quite useful and they had plenty of ammunition.

    4. I was specifically on F4 gun kills.

      But even so, a quarter isnt exactly all that special.
      Im not against guns, but its simply incorrect to say the all missile air force didnt work and the addition of guns saved the day.

    5. 27% of all kills were by guns and you consider that not significant? Are you sure you don't have a pre-conceived notion and are trying to make the data fit when it doesn't?

      The data becomes even more overwhelming if we remove the most common aircraft that didn't even have a gun, the Navy's F-4B/N/J/S Phantom, and, therefore, couldn't get a gun kill. Those aircraft accounted for 40 kills. Removing that, the gun kills among aircraft that actually had guns, are 57 out of 175 which is 33%.

      Be objective and let the data draw the conclusion. It's clear that among aircraft armed with guns, gun kills were a significant factor and prove that the US military's pre-war belief that we were in a new era of missile only combat was utterly wrong.

      Even the Navy admitted they were wrong as subsequent aircraft designs all returned to internal guns until the Navy opted to repeat its mistake and eliminate the gun.

      Really, gun kills in Vietnam isn't even a debatable point - it's simple data.

  3. So in simple terms Burke or Tico for that would have a lot of trouble with a 8" shell heavens they would have trouble with a 3 76mm shell also they simply don't have the armor protection of a WWII cruiser or destroyer for that matter in the other hand a WWII would also have issues with the modern cruise missile ASHM especially those that,are designed to hit at or near the water line (NSM) I definitely would like to see some modern 8"gun turret equipped cruisers though for their sheer beauty

    1. A WWII cruiser had around 5+ inches of effective armor at the waterline belt. It is questionable whether a Harpoon type anti-ship missile could even penetrate that.

    2. This is very true I guess I should have bugger missiles like tomahawk and some of the Russian mammoth ASHM I just don't know the Russian missiles all that well

    3. "I just don't know the Russian missiles all that well"

      No one does! We should either obtain one or build an equivalent one for testing and shoot it at a target to see what happens.

      Early tests of US missiles against battleship armor demonstrated that the missiles had no effect. I can't remember what missile was used in the testing and I've long since lost/filed the reports. Of course, no modern ship has battleship armor so, in a sense, it's interesting but irrelevant.

  4. To be fair to modern day designs; most damage is expected to be taken from missiles or air launched munitions from aircraft, not a multitude of shells fired from well within current radar and missile ranges. However you do bring up a good point about reliability and redundancy. I agree with you that I don't think our navy has given a serious thought to most of our surface fleet would react to being "alpha struck", and whether it could actual take relevant enemy fire. Coupled with an over reliance on "guided munitions", this leaves our current naval forces very precariously placed as relying on pure defensive technologies, or early warning and intelligence systems to achieve first strikes or retaliatory launches prior to their destruction.

    Your analysis was really clear and concise and overall thought this was a really well written post. Will definitely link this to most of my friends.

    1. "not a multitude of shells fired from well within current radar and missile ranges."

      I'm missing your point on this? How does the range matter?

      The point of the post was that regardless of whether the explosion on the ship comes from a WWII naval shell or a modern missile, the same principles of combat design apply.

      I suspect I'm missing whatever point you wanted to make. Try again?

      And, thanks!

  5. One other thing that struck me as I read the accounts: Shells batter, torpedoes sink.

    Now, I realize that's not super easy, and that the Japanese had a decided advantage with long lance. But it's maybe worth thinking about having a long range torpedo in case things get close.

    That we need armor, ruggedness, simplicity, and redundancy seems obvious. But we've taken a bite from the technological forbidden fruit. It's like heroin for us.

    And, given what we have in terms of ship based targeting, a bit of a paper tiger as far as I can tell.

    In a contested environment where networks fail, things may end up getting a lot closer than anyone currently thinks.

    Heck, look at the Marine general who blew up ships with his communications degraded by using signal lamps and speed boats filled with explosives.

    To me he showed us that the emperor is naked. The Navy's response was to change the rules.

    And I don't dislike the 'Burke. But Port Royal is very illuminating and disturbing.


    1. "Shells batter, torpedoes sink."

      That's an intriguing premise that I'm not sure is correct. My vague impression is that fire is the cause of most sinkings THAT ARE NOT INSTANTLY FATAL. Yes, a smaller ship may have its back broken and be sunk in 30 seconds but larger (cruiser and above) ships don't sink from torpedoes. Flooding is relatively easily contained. What causes the ultimate sinking is fire, more often than not, and, more specifically, subsequent internal explosions cause by fire contacting explosive atmospheres due to flammable liquids evaporating as well as magazine cook offs.

      My generalization is that shells degrade combat capability (battering, as you put it) AND CAUSE FIRES that are the real threat to survival and that torpedoes slow ships but don't really do much else ON THEIR OWN. Torpedoes tend not to even cause fires!

      As I said, these are impressions I have from reading dozens/hundreds of naval damage reports. I haven't collated data so I'm not quite ready to make this a definitive statement.

      I've considered doing a post on this but I can't quite figure out how to present war damage reports as reducible data.

      Something to think about.

    2. "But it's maybe worth thinking about having a long range torpedo in case things get close."

      We've talked about that in a post. I think it's a good idea and if we'd put some more development effort into our torpedoes like the Russians do, it would likely be a great idea.

      Consider the embarrassing scenario of a Burke trying to sink a modern tanker in a blockade situation. It likely couldn't do it! Some heavyweight torpedoes would be quite helpful.

      You noted the part about nearly 300 5" shells being unable to sink the Canberra? Our Burkes have only a single 5" gun - not much sinking power!

    3. Ugh. No, not much at all.

      As to the fire idea, I hadn't thought of that.

      I remember reading once about how German (Panther?) had issues with fire, but not generally with a shell penetrating.

      It made me wonder if instead of having an AP or HESH round if they could make a 'napalm' round. Hit the thing and let jellied fire seep into cracks.

      Seems a round could be similarly damaging to a ship. Maybe not immediately lethal, but definitely degrading as the raging fire can't be ignored.

      Kind of like a modern day Greek Fire. ;-)


    4. "As to the fire idea, I hadn't thought of that."

      You might want to reread the post about the Enterprise and Forrestal conflagrations and Wiki has a more detailed description. As you read about the incidents, you'll note that the bombs did relatively little damage but the fires, fed by leaking fuel, were the main threat.

      The carriers that we lost in WWII were generally lost to fire and subsequent internal explosions, not flooding.

      Enterprise and Forrestal Conflagrations

    5. Japanese Shells in the 1905 war against Russia set the Russian ships aflame, which they had little defence against and which played havoc with their operation.

      But no amount of fire will sink a ship
      Ships only sink when water gets in.

      "Flooding is relatively easily contained."
      They said that when they built the titanic

      Although its important to note that ships arent water tight.
      Knock the pumps out (which fire and shells will do) and eventually they will sink

    6. Fire is what prevents flooding damage control. Fire is what cuts off damage control personnel from getting to the flooding. Fire is what prevents pumps from working. Fire is what prevents damage control teams from shoring up bulkheads and holes in the hull. Prolonged fire is fought with ... water(!) which over time contributes to flooding. Fire is what kills valuable damage control personnel. Fire is what makes the atmosphere toxic which prevents wholesale damage control efforts. Fire is what causes secondary explosions which cause more flooding, burst pipes, dead damage control personnel, etc.

      Very few ships that survive the initial attack are lost to pure flooding. They're lost to fire.

  6. Odd notes.
    The more one spreads VLS the more one has to armour.I think that this compares to warships having three center line turrets rather than four are more economical to armour.

    As for sensor redundancy, the UK has gone for a rotating radar than fixed arrays (Sampson on the Type 45). I suppose that two rotating back-back arrays (forward and aft) would be better than four fixed- if one fixed array is compromised how much coverage is lost?

    The big thing is (I suppose) one cannot armour the sensors and without sensors modern warships are useless. Soviet era warships had a plethora of sensors and looked very impressive, was this fault redundancy, damage redundancy or technical backwardness?

    D K Brown (UK naval architect) wrote an interesting piece about whether cruisers really needed armouring (many years ago in the "WARSHIP" series of books).Long time ago.He doubted that they did as the most damage was caused by bombs and torpedoes/mines and the weight cost wasn't worth it, I think that the size of cruiser helps because the Counties were large ships and the RN lost lots of smaller cruisers.

    1. "one cannot armour the sensors and without sensors modern warships are useless."

      Well, that seems true on the face of it. However, one of the reasons that seems true is because we've developed radar that attempts to look in 360 deg, continuously. Failing that, we've used radars that have a 180+ degree field of view. If one were willing to accept a somewhat narrowed field of view, it might be possible to embed the radar inside an armored box so that as the radar/box rotated (or stared fixedly, in the case of a flat panel array), three sides and top/bottom would be armored and protected and only the sensing face would be exposed instead of the entire radar assembly.

      Would such an armored box interfere with the radar function? I don't know but I note that radars are routinely situated near large metal structures such as mounts, masts, stacks, etc.

      Also, we using rotating radars (or multiple flat panel arrays) to achieve 360 deg coverage. What if we had dedicated fire control radars whose job wasn't to provide continuous 360 deg coverage but, instead, were trained at the incoming missiles only. Again, there would be no need to expose the other three sides and top/bottom.

      What do you think?

    2. A backup antenna in an armored box that could be extended when needed might be useful option to explore. Missile silos and LCCs have such armored backup antennas, though they are much simpler radio comms.

    3. Conceptually, you're on the right track!

  7. Of course, modern ships are not facing the same threats as their distant ancestors did during WWII. We're currently in a situation somewhat analogous to navies in 1913. We're built lots of ships and weapons, but we don't really know how well they'll perform in high-intensity combat, because they've never fought.

    The only conflict that gives us much guidance was the Falklands, and that was 35 years and two generations of ship ago. There's an obvious risk of over-generalising from incidents in that war, much as was done between the Russo-Japanese war and WWI.

    One thing that definitely is worse is the state of testing. Before WWI, if you wanted to know how a hull would stand up to a mine, you built a hull section and tried blowing it up. If you wanted to know how a ship would stand up to gunfire, you moored an old one and shot at it.

    Nowadays, the fashion is for consultants, rather than practical tests. Those consultants have one major biasing factor: they want to get more contracts. They do that by telling Admirals that they're "getting things about right, maybe a bit more of this part, and we can run a study to work out how much…"

    Something as simple as inviting politicians to SINKEXes to enjoy the explosions might be a way to get things on a more practical basis.

    1. "modern ships are not facing the same threats as their distant ancestors did during WWII."

      I'm not sure what you're driving at here because, yes, they face the same threats in a generalized sense, meaning that someone is launching explosive projectiles (whether 8" shells or anti-ship missiles) at them. Whether a 8" shell or an anti-ship missile hits, you have the same issues of explosions, pressure waves, shrapnel, and fire.

      Some aspects are somewhat different like the difference between armor piercing shells versus anti-ship missiles but given the thin skin of modern ships, a missile probably has all the penetrating power it needs - armor piercing is likely not required.

      So, the threats appear to be generally the same. Where were you going with this?

      You're completely correct about testing, or the lack thereof, by the way.

  8. One point on the VLS is that each cell is independent, And so does give some redundancy in that way, although blast barriers built into sections of them groups would probably be smart, to prevent chain reactions.

  9. Harpoons might not be enough to get the job done, but back in the 90's they experimented with launching ATACMS from subs. A 3500 lb missile on a ballistic trajectory going mach 3 ought to stop basically anything in its tracks. And converting missiles to accept different seekers should be totally old hat by now, so a an AShM variant should be doable.

    It would be nice if the Navy could make a front line gunboat of sorts, dedicated to AShM and maybe shore bombardment. Let the sensitive Aegis ships hang back a little to provide area AA and ABM coverage. Just use a more robust and simple fire control radar and call it adequate, and leave a bunch of SeaRAM and Phalanx mounts to handle incoming missiles (what is the point of those systems if we are just gonna try to knock everything down with Standards?).

    You could have 2 ATACMS "turrets" fore and aft and make that radar simple enough that you could have one on each turret. Make the turrets reloadable like the Kashtan system.

    1. Excellent ideas.

      Just a quick comparison note - The 2200 lb (or so) 16" BB shell exits the gun at around 2500 ft/sec which is around Mach 2.2 if I've done my quick arithmetic correctly.

    2. I've always found it interesting that they used the ATACMS rocket motor as the booster for the X-51 waverider. At about 24" in diameter, the ATACMS motor is too wide to fit in the Mark 41 VLS cells (22" x 22"). The Mark 57 VLS cells, however, can accommodate the ATACMS motor with a little room to spare(supposedly 25" x 25" or 28" x 28"). The Mark 57 cells are still a little short (23.6') to accommodate the X-51s (25') in the configuration they've tested so far, but they might be able to cut some length out of the interstage.

  10. Also, an idea I have been kicking around lately: what about trying to scale down a JLENS and put it on a ship for fire control?

    Make it big enough to carry a few fighter sized AESA arrays, and just give it 1000 ft tether. That alone would increase your detection range for sea skimming missiles by almost 4X! But it could also be totally infeasible like JLENS itself.

  11. One other interesting question I do have running in my head is 'how -wired- were WWII cruisers? Admittedly this is just my impression but I suspect one of the main reasons why WWII cruisers and destroyers were able to go on fighting so long after being hit multiple times is simply because the shells hit nothing critical. Having your bunk blown up might suck on a personal level but on a ship level, it doesn't even rate a mention. With our modern 'wired' ships, the chances of damage cutting a wrong wire goes way up. IIRC the Fitzgerald lost comms when it collided with the Crystal.

    That being said, I'm not sure battleships were all round armored as well. I've been seeing references to 'all or nothing' armoring schemes (i.e only armored in critical locations), something the Wisconsin's collision damage seem to support.

    1. Without a doubt, the dependence of modern ships on delicate electronics is a vulnerability. It doesn't even take a direct hit to render electronics "killed". Simple vibration from a near miss can do it.

      You may have a misunderstanding about armor in general and the all-or-nothing concept, in particular.

      Ships are covered in a "skin" of steel (or aluminum!) plate. In WWII, that skin thickness was twice to several times the thickness used today. Further the "hardness" of the steel was better (weight per pound). Once the skin was applied, then additional armor was added as appropriate. So, the overall "armor" was the sum of the skin and the added armor.

      For example, a Fletcher had a skin of around 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick. A Burke has a skin of around 1/4 inch thick. Thus, before any armor is added, the Fletcher had twice as much "armor" as a Burke.

      Therefore, the all-or-nothing concept was not really nothing. Nothing, for a battleship, meant no ADDITIONAL armor but it still had several inches of skin which is armor.

      Did that make sense?

    2. I read recently that the main reason that the Bismark was considered a very poor design was because most of the deck armour was low down (just above the belt) and that most of this "wired" stuff and other critical equipment was above it (though still in the hull not the superstructure).
      I presume this happened because the protection was based on a WW1 battleship which I suspect wasn't "wired" much at all.
      This implies that the all-or-nothing method puts the "wired" stuff in the all.

    3. I've never heard that. Do you have a reference?

    4. Actually CNO, I think I see, but where does the 'armored citadel' fit into all this?

    5. The citadel is the central core of the ship where the most critical and necessary equipment and functions were located - the things that were most protected. The citadel is like the castle inside of walls and moats.

      The citadel even had extensions that would stick up like chimneys! For example, on battleships there was a small, heavily armored "tube" that rose up all the way to the bridge and provided a heavily armored conning and control station so that the ship could be safely commanded even in battle. The conning extension also included communication wiring/voice tubes for speaking to other critical areas of the ship.

      There are many sets of armor schematics on the Internet. Try some searches and should be able to find some. They'll illustrate the exact distribution of armor on various classes of battleship.

      The "nothing" part is really misleading and is nothing only on a relative basis. Almost the entire ship was armored to varying degrees.

  12. Given the Navy, Administration, and Congress are incapable of launching ANY initiatives to design combat worthy ships, how about you start a crowd funding campaign to raise enough money for a series of grants for Graduate student competitive design effort?

    You could give it to the top maritime architecture schools, or open it up to all schools (if you think the Maritime schools are too tradition bound). You could make the grants small to just get professors interested but then have a large prize at the end like the X Prize.

    Who knows, you just MIGHT get NAVSEA interested, but certainly a lot of experienced Navy advocates would chip in. Just keep NAVSEA and ALL Defense contractors away form scoring or evaluating anything.

  13. I think the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 has some relevance to this discussion. The Cole was hit amidship with some 500 pounds of C4 creating a 40 by 60 foot gash which extended below the waterline.

    The bombing took place when the ship was in port and not on alert, so the ship wasn't prepared for the attack. Had she been on alert, the flooding might have been less extensive than it was.

    A hit like that is probably comparable to a Harpoon or similar size missile. If anything this was a mobility kill. Now, imagine if 2 or 3 bombs were used instead.

    1. The key aspect to the Cole bombing from a weapon damage perspective is that the bomb had zero velocity, as opposed to a falling bomb, plunging naval shell, or flying missile. Thus, there was zero kinetic energy contribution to the damage.

      Further, the explosion occurred OUTSIDE the ship's hull. There was no pre-explosion penetration as there would likely be with a falling bomb, torpedo, missile, or naval shell. Thus, the bulk of the explosive force was directed AWAY from the ship.

      This was as "mild" an explosion as could be imagined for the given weight of explosive.

      For these reasons, it was not comparable to a Harpoon or missile, at least in terms of penetration. A Harpoon or missile would have penetrated the hull and the ENTIRE resulting explosion would have occurred INSIDE the hull.

  14. Didn't a Perry class get hit by the dreaded Exocet missiles

    1. I'm not familiar but didn't she have more armor than the Burkes also

    2. No, neither ship has armor in the traditional sense although the Burkes have some Kevlar type armor around some areas.

  15. Thanks I'm gonna read some more about her I'm wondering if the warhead exploded or not

  16. Ok just read Wikipedia about her 37 killed one 1st missile did not detonate but un burnt fuel caused a fire second one did detonate causing the hole in her side hope that helps

  17. Remember that time a BGM-74 target drone struck a Tico by mistake and penetrated the superstructure just with kinetic energy! On the picture below you can see the hole.


    Engineers with U.S. Navy are still tallying the damage caused when a 13-foot target drone punched a three to four foot hole in the side of guided missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG-62) on Saturday,

    So imagine what would happen if that was a supersonic Anti ship missile

    1. Conversely, imagine what might not have happened if the drone had hit a few to several inches of armor.

  18. As for testing against Super sonic ASM - easy, just go to Japan, they have one new type.

    Powered by a ramjet engine, the missile can reportedly reach top speeds of up to Mach 3 and has an operational range of 80 nautical miles


    1. Or the Taiwaneese Hsuing Feng III missile

    2. Also don't forget the SM6 "wonder" weapon that sank the Rueben James during a test

  19. Somewhat related note, another UAE ship was hit again in Yemen....can't get more info yet or pictures.


  20. "Armor buys longevity in battle. "

    Maybe, but the Savo Island battle clearly doesn't support this, as no cruiser was shot at from a range within his immunity zone against 8" shells (if any involved cruiser had any such immunity zone at all).

    The only use of armour in that battle was about stopping 5" shells (which you claim do not sink ships, and figuratively that's correct) or (rather rarely) limiting fragmentation effects.

    The main armour plating of those cruisers (belt and deck armour) was of very little consequence to 8" shells other than triggering the fuses.

  21. The mentioned qty of 8" hits is a bit surprising to me, as I have read repeatedly that cruisers with 6" guns were superior in night combat because of the much higher rate of fire (8" was superior in daylight at long distances).
    Maybe this was merely a USN-specific conclusion, as the USN had an unusually fast-firing 6" L/47 gun, and the Japanese did just fine with 8"?

    BTW, little hint; many sources point out that the reasonable and lethal shell effect against warships i combat begins at 139-155 mm, not at 203 mm. I suppose it depends on one's expectations, but 127 mm and smaller are indeed not known for ship-killing effect.

  22. Fyi per fox news the army is trying a new 155mm gun and round with a 70k range possible round for the Zummies it uses a ram jet supposedly

    1. Before you get too excited, the gun is an Army developmental effort. The Army develops lots of things and they almost invariably fail to make it to production.

      The extended range round is a rocket adaptation of an existing 155 mm round. As such, it is incompatible with the Zumwalt 155 mm gun.

    2. WasntWasn't too excited just saw a possible chance for the Zummies to get something that actually works and was cheaper seeing as it would be used with army cooperation would seem to make sense just like using Hellfire made sense for LCS

    3. Unfortunately, in a display of stupidity that is almost beyond belief, the Navy opted to develop a 155 mm gun that was incompatible with any other 155 mm munition. Thus, no existing 155 mm munition, no matter how modified, can work with the Zumwalt gun.

    4. You will not get any arguments from me on that for sure

  23. I wonder if modern shell technology would change how many shells it takes to sink a warship. Just look at the anti tank grenades/shells over the last 20 years. They aren't the same as the shells of the 1940's.


    1. That's an interesting question. Fuzing has gotten a bit more sophisticated but that doesn't make the shell any more lethal. There are shaped charge warheads available but those aren't needed since warships are no longer armored. There's been some improvement in explosive chemistry but nothing that's night and day better. Ranges have been increased although often at the expense of shell size and range improvements don't increase inherent lethality.

      So, overall, I'd say no.

    2. Kinda related per CNBC China to deploy railgun by 2025 with at sea resting underway Now this could be big or true and it actually works


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