Coming on 15 February to an Amazon near you! The anthology includes my new alternative history short story “Fate of the Falklands” along with original short stories by Sarah Hoyt, Kacey Ezell, and William Stroock!
*cough cough* Man, it’s kind of dusty in here. You’d almost think someone hasn’t been in this place for like weeks. Oh, wait…
Welcome to another edition of Warship Wednesday. Today, rather than talking about a particular class of vessel, we’re going to talk about something near and dear to ship to ship fights: damage control.
According to Luttwak and Koehl’s The Dictionary of Modern War, damage control is “[m]easures meant to limit or counteract the effects of battle damage. Naval damage control measures include firefighting, counterflooding to reduce listing, the shoring up of damaged bulkheads or hull frames, and ad hoc repairs. The effectiveness of such measures depends on crew training, as well as on design features, such as compartmentalization, duplication of key facilities, the number and location of fire mains, emergency electrical generators, and pumps; such provisions account for a significant portion of warship costs.”
Sounds like some complicated stuff, right? Well, that’s because it is and it isn’t depending on what era you want to talk about. Age of galleys? Damage control was basically, “Oh f*ck, we just got rammed and…dammit, dammit, that’s it, the rowing slaves are screaming, the ship is sinking, and I’m sitting here in a suit of full metal armor getting pointed and laughed at by the asshats who put a hole in the ship.” I mean, this is simplifying it somewhat, but both because the source material is kind of thin on the ground and the art of shipbuilding wasn’t all that and a bag of chips, if someone let Mr. Sea in, Mr. Fish and Mr. Crab were getting fed.
Oh and fire? Yeah… about that. Basically if you had the misfortune of fighting crazy bastards who were not only comfortable with having incendiaries on their vessels but lighting and launching from a pitching ship, you may have chosen enemies poorly. Because if those lunatics hit you and got a good blaze going, especially with something that adhered well to the hull? Well, suddenly that guaranteed trip to to the bottom didn’t seem like such an inconvenience. Something about “Drowning sure beats being the long pork at Mr. Arsonist’s Luau on the Sea…”
It was during the Age of Sail that things both got better and worse as far as damage control went. On the plus side, sturdier ships and actual compartmentalization meant that there was a fighting chance to repair the vessel. Cannons, relatively extended ranges, and improvements in the ability to maneuver (albeit depending on wind) also meant that there was increased time to effect damage control in many cases. Best of all, damage control could “make the magic happen” with your basic carpentry kit and the supplies most sailing vessels kept on hand. Mainsail get carried away because your opponent likes to aim high? That’s cool, the repair process is the same as if you got Neptune’s pimp hand from a storm. Since everyone knew Neptune was gonna want his money sooner or later, repairing / removing masts or filling holes with patches were drills that the crew performed on a regular basis anyway.
On the flip side–gunpowder. As in, things like this could happen:
That’s the French vessel L’Orient going sky high at the Battle of the Nile because of a moderate fire that got out of control. That’s right–you bring gunpowder to a gunfight, suddenly Mr. Fire becomes even more of a jerk about sinking your ship. Given the rudimentary pumps of the day, a fire getting out of control wasn’t all that uncommon. In many cases, the only thing that kept this from happening a lot more often was Mr. Sea won the “How Can We Make a Crew Homeless?”-contest by a few minutes.
Eventually the Age of Sail gave way to the Age of Iron. That, in turn, became the Age of Steel. Since I’m not Avalon Hill and trying to sell you wargames, I’m gonna lump the last two together. (“Just how many ages are there?” “Shhh, shhh…we’re not going to go to the Age of Missiles”) Without getting into a treatise on weapons’ advancement during this time, suffice to say things kind of got to be the suck for damage control during this era. Various nations perfected the means to reliably detonate explosives underwater. At first, this was only possible via fixed means, i.e. what were initially torpedoes (yes, as in “Damn the torpedoes!”) but now are known as mines. Then some genius (often attributed to one Mr. Whitehead, but there are others), figured out how to add propulsion–and thus the modern torpedo was born.
“But wait a second–I thought large warships had compartmentalization just to keep a single underwater hit from doing it in?” Yeaaaaahhh, about that. In theory, yes. But funny thing about mines and torpedoes–they seldom seem to hit just one compartment. For example, the British battleship H.M.S. Audacious, barely a year old and with the most advanced compartmentalization of the time, took a mine hit that opened up multiple compartments at once. This, in turn, led to “progressive flooding,” which is basically water finding all those passageways that have to left open for a warship to be able to function even at General Quarters. Even with good compartmentalization, a vessel that has three or four major spaces open to the sea will be swiftly in danger of capsizing. Throw in the secondary effects of a torpedo hit (e.g., fires, power disruption, bulkhead distortion, etc.), and its easy to see where things get hairy.
Modern gunfire also posed a much larger problem as far as damage potential went. Outside of the “Golden BB” of a shell going into the magazine (think L’Orient, but instantaneous), there was also the problem of shells passing through the ship’s armored belt or deck and hitting major systems. What do I mean by major systems? Oh, little things like flooding oil tanks, hitting the electrical generators, or sending the central communications box to Kingdom Come. These were all things that could and did happen in the midst of chaotic naval fights, and it was often a life or death matter for the crew to do so. After all, everyone likes a simple gunnery solution, and if the rudder wasn’t working that made things easy peasy for everyone shooting at one’s ship. (The crew of the K.M.S. Bismarck are all nodding sadly at this.)
So how did crews save themselves and their ships? Well, as in the Age of Sail, in both World War I and II most vessels had a kit put together with things like “collision mats,” dimensional lumber. This was buttressed by improvised stopping materials like crew hammocks or mattresses shoved into a hole. By the end of World War I, ship builders began to add things like multiple pumping stations to aid in getting water out of the vessel, followed by making some of these stations multi-functional in order to help get water into the vessel in order to fight fires. Although the Battle of Jutland was the only major fleet engagement, there was more than enough data from that incident to provide ship builders with thoughts on what went well (“Jolly good, the magazine flooding worked well on Lion…”) versus what went poorly (“Bloody hell, we really need to figure out better flash doors…”).
At the beginning of World War II, ship design had made another evolutionary lurch forward based on the threat of modern aircraft and submarines. Unfortunately, as became quickly apparent, damage control was still very hit or miss. The British lost the carrier Ark Royal to a single submarine torpedo despite being fairly close to their base at Gibraltar, and had several other vessels succumb to levels of damage their sister ships would later survive. The Italians, while not quite as incompetent as some sources like to portray them, seemed positively fatalistic when it came to what mitigating actions should be performed. The Japanese Navy’s relative indifference to damage control (with a few exceptions–see IJNS Shokaku‘s longevity) meant that their fleet units were knocked out longer when hit or, in all too many cases, had major damage become mortal due to officer incompetence (see IJNS Taiho). In short, damage control success / failure for most navies became as much a matter of how seriously the captain and executive officer took things prior to the hit as said strike’s location.
The massive exception to this was the United States Navy. This is not to say that the USN was inherently better from start to finish. Indeed, this was inherently not the case. Given that the USN started the war after its major ally (the RN) had been taking knocks for over two years and sharing the information about said beatdowns, the Navy’s early war performance was shockingly abysmal. Pearl Harbor (surprise attacks are always bad) and the Asiatic Fleet (overwhelming force) can be eliminated from the narrative. However, from Coral Sea through the end of the Guadalcanal campaign, the Pacific Fleet lost at least four major combatants (Lexington, Yorktown, Astoria, and Northampton) due to damage control miscues when all four vessels could have been potentially saved. Other vessels were saved more through good fortune than necessarily excellent damage control work. In short, the IJN took the USN behind the School of Hard Knocks and proceeded to take their lunch money, their glasses, and their dignity.
The difference between the USN and most of its contemporaries is that the USN learned. The Department of the Navy collated all of the loss and damage reports and proceeded to distribute them regularly to the fleet. It forced officers and ratings to attend damage control schools and training until every member of the regular crew had at least been exposed to some degree of what to do when the ship got hit. It leveraged the United States’ incredible industrial advantage to produce literally thousands of portable pumps, breathing apparatus, hoses, and fire fighting equipment to issue to its ships. Finally, ship designs were changed while on the ways to improve fire main survivability, add sprinklers, and otherwise make it easier for a vessel to survive when hit by a torpedo or bomb.
Did it work? Yes. One need look no further than comparing the damage that put paid to the Yorktown at Midway versus the utter mauling suffered by the U.S.S. Franklin (newsreel footage here as well) and Bunker Hill. To their horror, the Japanese found themselves facing the nautical equivalent of Jason Vorhees, as ships they were certain they’d sunk just kept coming back…and back…and back again. Meanwhile, especially after the USN got its torpedoes to work, their vessels were getting sunk or knocked out of the war by one or two major hits due to their failure to propagate lessons.
So how does this all translate into writing? The obvious is that if you’re writing historical fiction and placing your character aboard a vessel, do a quick Wiki sweep to see what happened. If you’re doing alternate history, feel free to extrapolate actual ship damage in a notional battle that is analogous to what happened to a sister ship or similar size combatant in that navy. For science fiction, read through some of the war reports and get a sense of how vessels die, then realize that vacuum and advanced systems add “special sauce” to what you can do to place your characters in peril. Being an author means one gets to play a deity…and we all know deities aren’t always benevolent.
In which my friend, Diana, talks about submarines…
HEAVY CRUISERS (CA)
Usually found chasing down pirates or “showing the flag” in distant corners of the Confederation, heavy cruisers were ostensibly designed to accompany battlecruisers or serve as convoy escorts in time of war. Prior to 3030, the mere presence of a heavy cruiser within a few hours of FTL travel was enough to deter all but the most foolhardy of pirates. However, with the rise of the more famous pirate bands (The Crimson Hands, the Screaming Skulls, and the Sons of Lucifer the strongest amongst them) and the destruction of the C.S.S. Brussels, Dresden, and Earheart within a fortnight in 3031, heavy cruisers became increasingly less feared. It was only after the successes of the Exeter-class (most notably the Vincennes and Skopje), the elimination of the Crimson Hands’ leadership under still unknown circumstances, and the utter crushing of the Screaming Skulls’ home base by a Confederation carrier task force that pirates once more learned to fear the sensor footprint of a Confederation CA closing at high speed.
As Ashley always says, “Context!” (Or would that be “Odin” in this case, Ashley?) So the terminology of “heavy” cruisers stems from the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922. TL:DR version–Great Britain was broke, the United States was paranoid, and Imperial Japan felt like they were getting punked at the big boy table. Ergo, those three nations plus the other victors of World War I all noted the naval arms race between Germany and Great Britain had just maybe played a small (/sarcoff) part in World War I going from “Germany kicks France’s ass again while giving Russia the Heisman” to “Okay, everyone in the Northern Hemisphere to the mosh pit!” Lots of geopolitics getting glossed over here, but the signatories all came to an agreement that fleets should be limited. While there are lots of important things that come from this ultimately fruitless exercise, the big one is that cruisers are differentiated between heavy (8-inch guns) and light (6-inch guns) with a size limitation of 10,000 tons. Lots of hilarity involves, and for those of you are fans of both the Usurper’s War and Vergassy series, you’re aware of most of it.
For those of you who like your aliens without a side of alternate history, here are the three things that make a cruiser “heavy” versus “light” in the Vergassy Universe:
1.) Percentage of protection vs. armament vs. propulsion. Do I have that ratio figured out? No, and neither does the Confederation Fleet’s Bureau of Ships. Oh, and even if I did, the Spartans are going to kind of screw this chicken sideways with their cruisers. Yes, that’s it, just cruisers.
2.) Function. Light cruisers tend to be destroyer squadron flagships as well as possess a large number of missiles for dispatching small craft / starfighters / etc..
3.) Independent operations. Light cruisers tend to be about 75% the size of heavy cruisers. This affects their ability to go on long cruisers all by themselves due to issues with everything from habitability to an increased risk of being Scooby-snacked by a couple of pirate ships operating in concert. Look at it as a heavy cruiser is sort of like the Punisher, i.e. even if you brought five of your friends, jumping him would be a bad idea. Light cruisers, on the other hand, are that guy who was the baddest mofo in high school, but now that you’ve got your frat buddies you’re pretty sure you could take him.
In any case, with Though Our Hulls Burn in production, expect to see a lot of cruiser action. Remember when we found out a little bit of Mackenzie Bolan’s backstory with regards to his career? As alluded to above, you’re going to find out why the Atlanta and her sister ships tend to fold like steel chairs. It’s not going to be pretty, either.
The Stalingrad-class (3045) are intended to be commerce raiders / protectors mounting 15 Class ‘A’ railguns with a Class C maser secondary. Projected to be a class of 25 BCs, the recent success of the Constitution-class has caused some analysts to ponder if the Stalingrad order will be curtailed to 15 ships or less.
If you’re looking at the date, you’re probably wondering why the Confederation would build two classes of battlecruisers (Constitution and Stalingrad) concurrent with one another? Simple–the Stalingrads are the hedge against the Constitution-class crapping the bed. As such, they are built with completely proven, reliable technology.
Keen readers of An Unproven Concept will remember the following scene:
“Engineering, I’m going to need all the juice you’ve got once we start this dance,” Bolan stated. “Helm, I don’t want to make the same mistake we’re pretty sure that carrier’s about to make. Once we’re clear of the rocks, I don’t want us holding the same course for more than twenty seconds. It’d be rather embarrassing to have a Stalingrad outshoot us.”
So what a technology hedge? Well, it’s not quite like buying a Lexus sports sedan just in case that Ferrari turns into a metaphorical “hangar queen,” but it’s close. Which, of course, means that if the Ferrari does turn into an “Italian for Yugo,” odds are you won’t buy another one. Ergo, during the exercises in An Unproven Concept, it is critical that the Constitution at least avoid getting “killed” by the oncoming Stalingrad lest future units be cancelled. After all, why pay for a highly expensive “hybrid” if the staid plow horse kicks her ass? This is an added wrinkle that I did not want to overdo, but added for a bit more tension.
Some names for the Stalingrad-class are as follows:
Now as was discussed in the entries for battlecruisers and aircraft carriers, there are two classes of capital ships named for famous engagements. In the Vergassy Universe, the Bureau of Ships (BuShips) tends to assign names based on the primary venue the engagement was fought in, i.e., carriers receive names based on nautical battles whereas battlecruisers receive those for land fights.
Battlecruisers are allegedly big enough to kill anything they cannot run away from in sublight space, fast enough to run away from anything that can kill them, and capable of wreaking havoc amongst commerce in an interstellar conflict. BCs are considered capital ships, and are the lightest vessels of this type in the Confederation Navy. Battlecruisers are named for famous frigates/battlecruisers/battles, with the title chosen usually reflecting the cultural origins of the Confederation sector constructing the ship. It is not unheard of for multiple vessels to be named for the same battle, e.g. Falklands and Malvinas both commemorating the 1982 War, or for multiple engagements that occurred in the same location.***
Battlecruisers will be “bastard stepchildren” through most of the Vergassy novels. Think of battlecruisers as your 6′ 2″, slightly pudgy friend Billy Crain (BC) who lifts weights casually and is a brown belt in some martial art that emphasizes using leg strikes to quickly end a fight. BC can break a stack of bricks with his axe kick, so he is easily capable of beating up that single drunk surfer dude who grabbed his wife’s rear end in some out of the way California dive bar. However, Billy is in serious trouble if he’s jumped banana style by that asshole’s three friends in the parking lot while walking said spouse to the car. We won’t even get into the hospital stay that occurs if BC is caught by Mr. Surfer Dude’s roid monkey twin brother, Biff Brown, a.k.a. “BB.”
In other words, prudent battlecruisers use their speed and intersystem agility to get the hell away from the other capital ships, avoid getting engaged outnumbered, and stand off at range to pummel cruisers with their heavier main batteries. Imprudent battlecruiser captains sometimes forget that even a “Lion” (yes, that’s a historical pun) must fear a coalition of cheetahs. Not that BCs are often by themselves–BC crews often bitterly remark their vessels are sent “when it’s important enough to require a battleship and serious enough that carriers are too scared to go alone.” With the advent of the Constitution-class, it is expected that these vessels will be capable of conducting independent actions in and of themselves rather than simply tagging along with a flat top. Which is a nifty thought, but old habits die hard, and often a flat top will have a battlecruiser parked off a quarter ready to “sacrifice itself for the queen” as a battleship or battleships is giving chase.
It’s not a spoiler to say that at present there’s no Hood vs. Bismarck moment in the Vergassy Universe thus far. This does not mean it’s not coming. (Poor Lancelot Holland…five more minutes is all he likely needed.) As will be discussed in Though Our Hulls Burn, the Spartan Navy also has BCs, albeit with an eye towards towards commerce raiding rather than protection. This may lead to with some interesting results with regards to timing, ranges, and engagements at a couple of critical points in the upcoming story.
Speaking of the Hood, anyone familiar with my Usurper’s War series knows I’m not necessarily a fan of battlecruisers. I’m not saying that Jackie Fisher was an idiot, but as Eric Cobb notes in Acts of War, battlecruisers + battleship guns = bad things. I think it was just as well that technology managed to make actual BBs faster in the original timeline, as these vessels do not tend to survive long when wargaming out fights circa 1942-1943. All too often, something like the picture below happens even if a “golden BB” does not. 😦
Maulers. MoWs (Manifestations of Wrath). Death Castles. While the Carrier faction speaks of their ability to destroy entire systems, Line officers point out that battleships have actually gone out and done it. Although not impervious to modern weapons, the “Grand Bitches of the Fleet” are the celestial equivalent of a hungry Kodiak showing up at a youth group campground with a wolfpack (the escorts) in tow. Named for famous battleships, colonies, fictional or actual planets, Terran nations, oceans, regions, rivers, bodies of water, and mountains.
When I think of battleships, I think of vessels that are the proverbial “slow but powerful.” Like an 8-bit video game boss, BBs are going be the entities that break things with a casual backhand. In the Vergassy Universe, main battery hits from a BB are going to absolutely wreck smaller vessels, while even battlecruisers and carriers are going to think twice about staying to slug it out. As far as protection goes, BBs will not crack open very often, as roughly 30-45% of their hulls will be towards some facet (e.g., armor, point-defense, ECM) of defense.
All that being said, much like historical BBs, those in the Vergassy Universe will have their vulnerabilities. Like a swarm of yak killer hornets, an entire air group can destroy unescorted battleships. Smaller craft, if capably handled, can and will manage to do damage even if their own casualties are horrific. Finally, the proverbial “Golden BB” is always a possibility, even if cordite magazines are a thing of the past. A rail gun through the inertial dampeners at the same time missiles drop the backup means a crew is paste even if the hull is largely intact. Artificial gravity going in the middle of a multi-g maneuver? Yes, that’s going to leave a mark as everything not bolted down starts ricocheting around crew areas.
In any case, it’s not a spoiler alert to say that when battleships show up, things just might be about to go down.
Welcome Chris Nuttall readers. Please check out the front page: https://vergassy.com
The Ark Royal-class are the largest and most modern supercarriers in the Confederation Navy. First projected to carry a full air group of 3 fighter and 3 attack squadrons, the air group’s composition was changed in 3051 to 2 fighter, 2 attack, and 2 mecha squadrons.
Ships in the class are as follows:
When naming the carriers for the Confederation Fleet, I’ve gone far and wide for “battles most Westerners may have never heard of.” The Confederation is basically a polygot of the Earth’s current nations. Odds are someone from the Eurasian Sector is not going to care too much about Sharpsburg, while the Anglo-Saxon shipbuilders aren’t going to go into obscure Korean conflicts looking for inspiration.
The reason I chose Ark Royal for the class-name was my friends’ Mekton campaign revolved around a mecha carrier of that name. The one and only time the GM allowed me to play the OPFOR, I damn near killed her. (“James, the point of the exercise is to give them a struggle, not kill them all.” “Then they should have thought about their strategy more.”) To quote the centaurs in an online game I play, “I promise a painful end…“.
Of course, now that Chris Nuttall has a sci-fi series of the same name, everyone will think I’m taking a swipe at him.
Confederation Fleet carriers are commonly known as “The Fist of the Fleet.” Typically carrying 3-5 squadrons of Starfighters, usually escorted by an additional capital ship or formed into strike groups of 2-3 “flattops,” modern supercarriers are capable of laying waste to entire star systems by themselves. All carriers are horrifically vulnerable during their launch and recovery stages due to the limitations of their catamaran hulls and typically do not carry extensive offensive missile or secondary batteries (see “that’s what the escorts are for”). Carriers are named for old carriers, battles, and vessels in history and science fiction.