Warship Wednesday–Territories and Mission

If you ever wonder just how crazy things got with the end of the Washington Naval Treaty, look no further than the Alaska-class large cruisers.  Unlike the poster (and it’s a lovely series), I’ve never been of the school of thought that the Alaska-class were considered to be battlecruisers.  First, generally the Navy tended to be pretty clear about their designations during the design process in the 1930s-1940s.  This was due to Congress having a nasty habit of shifting around funds.  Second, the Alaska vessels were NEVER intended to get anywhere near a battleline or, for that matter, really stand in a line of battle.  Finally, there’s that problem with the underwater protection.  While not strictly true, in general the pre-World War II USN believed capital ships needed to reinforced against torpedoes and mines, whereas cruisers were more of a “Meh, sucks to be that crew, but we had to figure out something to keep it within treaty limitations.”

In any case, it would be interesting to see what would have happened had these vessels have ended up in a surface fight.  Thankfully the constraints of construction prevented it from happening in time for the Solomon Islands campaign.  That would have been very, very bad, given the Alaskas were not known for their nimbleness and presented a rather large target.  I can see First Guadalcanal being even bloodier with Alaska present, as there would have been probably a few minutes of her punching the crap out of Hiei or Kirishima followed shortly by “I’ve never seen a vessel take so many Long Lances in my life.”

All this means is that the Alaska-class really serve as a cautionary tale regarding hysteria, intelligence, and mission.  They were far from bad ships.  However, they really represent resources that could have been better spent elsewhere.  Unfortunately, the lag between design, resource allocation, and construction meant they developed an inertia of their own.

On the alternate history front, expect to see the Alaska and Guam make an appearance in both the Usurper’s War-series as well as another project.  😀

2019 in Review

Man.  It seems like just yesterday I was celebrating the imminent release of Those In Peril and preparing to go to Life, The Universe, and Everything (LTUE) Symposium in Utah.  Next thing I know, 2019 is in the rearview mirror, the Phases of Mars series is complete, and Against The Tide Imperial is…well, still not done, but definitely getting there.  Still, 3 anthologies in a year is not bad, and objectively I think it was a fair trade.  I mean, guys—I edited S.M. Stirling, Kevin J. Anderson, Taylor Anderson, Sarah Hoyt, and David Weber this year.  In books with my name on the front cover.  Shout out to Chris Kennedy for taking on a beer bet and to team “and more” for being amazing.

By the numbers, over 1,500 people visited the page this year, which was almost double the number of folks who showed up in 2018.  Thank you for coming along on this wild ride, and here’s to hoping that you continue to enjoy a glimpse inside the crazy.  Externally, this was my second year in a row over 1,000 books sold / 500,000 Kindle pages read (not counting the anthologies) both online and in person, and with at least one book coming out that will helpfully increase.  Moreover, I learned a lot this year about marketing, networking, and this profession in general.  While those could be 20 or more blog posts in and of themselves, the “Top 3 Things I Learned in 2019 Are”:

#1 Professionalism Matters—Nothing like being the chief editor for something to help you realize one’s reputation precedes you.  From the perspective of dealing with fellow authors, I was taken aback by the number of folks who do not understand some basic etiquette in dealing with their fellow human beings.  Or the importance of things like, “Hey, when the requirement says 7-10,000 words, that means you don’t turn in 6500 and cop and attitude with the editor.”  People will remember if you pull some prima donna crap when you really didn’t have to, and word spreads quickly.  Likewise, if you become, shall we say, radioactive in other venues, there will be folks who have problems with sharing a common battlespace with you.  Bottom line:  If you’re involved in a project, be on time (or admit that you’re not going to be able to do something in a timely manner), write to the specifications, and don’t be a jerk.

#2 People Plan, the Universe Laughs—I can honestly say 2019, while not the craziest year I can remember (oh hey, 2009), was up there.  Between deaths, getting forcibly invited to someone else’s car accident, a new job, and various other “What the Hell?!” things that occurred, I’ve come to realize the path to sanity involves accepting that life is chaos.  Don’t get me wrong–I’m still very much a work in project on this.

However, I’ve increasingly tried to take an objective look at what has occurred, then ask myself “Why did this happen?”  If it’s someone else’s fault, that’s usually followed by “Was this accidental, malicious, or unforeseeable?  If accidental, has the other party acknowledged their role in the negative outcome and taken measures to keep it from happening again? If malicious, is this salvageable or is it time to just close that particular airlock?”

If it’s my error, “What have we learned and how do we keep from dropping that ball again?”  This is usually followed by “How do we make amends?”  Because saying “I’m sorry…” is kind of pointless unless there’s an actual intent to make things right.

Above all these things, however, 2019 taught me this:  “If I died tomorrow, would I be happy I spent ___ minutes / hours / days dealing with rectifying this problem?”  Because having someone go from “I’m glad I’m finally going to meet him…” to “Whoa.  He’s going to be dead in less than eight hours…” definitely made me start assessing time and how I spend it.  Spend time doing what you love and with people who make time for you, as our hourglass only has so much sand in it.

#3 Network Makes The Dream Work—Among the “people who made time” for me were my writing tribe.  It really does take a village, and one never knows what connection will suddenly bear fruit.  I can honestly say that in 2019 I had positive interactions with people I first met back in the 1980s, went to school with in the 90s’, served with in the Army in the ’00s, and even folks I saw in passing at a random con sometime in the last six years.  In some instances this was expected.  In others, it was definitely one of us saying to each other or about someone else “Uhhhh, you know, let me see if _____ can help with that, because holy smokes you’re in a bad way”-response.  The outcomes were almost always great and definitely far better than I would have accomplished on my own. Whether it was fiscal (increasing royalties!), introducing me to another pro who provided a story (or stories) for the anthologies, or just providing a “morale boost” when I was questioning my sanity for even pushing on with this crazy dream, I’d like to issue a blanket THANK YOU! to the tribe and fans at large.  You all made 2019 great, and I look forward to what 2020 has to bring.

All right, that’s enough from the foxhole for today.  I’m going back to figuring out what happens when over 100 American aircraft surprise six Japanese carriers equipped with stolen British radar.  That’s right, it’s called “alternate history” for a reason, and boy howdy does the Kido Butai having decent radar change a lot of factors involved in World War II carrier fights.

 

It’s Time to Get A Little Surly!

To Slip the Surly Bonds has gone live on Amazon.

Cover Art

This was a long time coming, but all the hard work has paid off.  There’s an exclusive Taylor Anderson short story in here, a whole bunch of award-winning authors, a story from your humble narrator involving P-38s on Guadalcanal…yeah, it’s worth the price of admission.

In addition, if your friends like Alternate History, I’m throwing Acts of War up on sale beginning on Saturday (14 SEP) in the US and Sunday (15 SEP) in the UK.

 

 

EJECT! EJECT! EJECT!

Sometimes old videos make a person look at things in different ways:

 

 

While I haven’t gotten there yet, this video does make me think differently about jet combat in the Usurper’s War universe.  Without giving away spoilers, there will be a pseudo-Cold War in the aftermath of the in universe World War II.  Technology and how it works will play a key part in what characters live and die.

 

Covering Alternate History

Where Sarah Hoyt discusses the difficulty of putting a cover on alternate history works.  Go on and take a gander…

Mad Genius Club

This one is difficult, because you have to convey three things: alternate time line, where it deviated from ours, and what in general the reader can expect from the book.  You know: funny, serious or adventure.

The easiest ones are the ones that are sf or Fantasy and obviously so.  For instance, my dragon-shifter-red-baron will eventually when finished and ready to go have a dragon with the paint to match Richthofen’s plane, flying over the trenches. Title and subtitle will help, and I’ll come up with something.

Alternate history that is “just” alternate history is more difficult, and you sometimes have to “represent things that aren’t in the book to represent something that is in the book.”

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LTUE Snippet and Those In Peril

Hey Everyone!

So last week was pretty wild.  I attended Life, The Universe, and Everything (LTUE), a writer’s symposium based in Provo, UT.  Longer discussion coming soon, once I have a chance to collect all my thoughts and note from the weekend.  Suffice to say I had a blast, got to see lots of old friends and make new ones, plus network.  Highly recommend, especially if it’s a trip that won’t require a hotel stay.

While I was at LTUE, Those In Peril, the alternate history anthology I edited with Chris Kennedy, dropped.  To be clear, when I say “dropped,” I’m meaning out the bottom of a B-san on an unsuspecting civilian city.  Not only did Peril rocket to the top of the alternate history charts, at one point is was #513 on Amazon’s charts period.  As in, there were only 512 books that sold more copies than Those In Peril did on 15 February.  I remain totally blown away, and hope everyone reading this decides to go grab a copy.

For all the LTUE folks who were at my panels, feel free to poke around.  As I mentioned, I talk about cover art here, also here, and finally here.  History-wise, I have entire categories dedicated to air warfare and naval history.  Feel free to poke around a little bit, and I’ll probably be putting another short piece together again in the coming weeks.  Thanks for stopping by!

Some News…and Joining the 400 Club

So I’ve just gone over 400 audiobook sales.  While I’m sure there are some folks who pull this off in an afternoon, I’m super stoked at this milestone.  Next month I’ll be running a couple of promos, plus a promotion service just let me know they’re getting ready to start an audiobook-specific email list.  So, hey, maybe Aries’ Red Sky won’t be the only book I try to simultaneously release across print-ebook-audio in the first 30 days.

In other news, I am officially putting together an alternative history anthology for Chris Kennedy Publishing.  The working title is Those In Peril…, and it will be a naval-themed series of stories.  There are several authors in flux, but confirmed folks include 2018 Dragon Award Winner for Alternative History Sarah Hoyt and  2018 Best Military and Adventure Winner Kacey Ezell.  Not bad for an effort that got started like this:

Me:  “So Chris, when are you doing an alternative history anthology.”

Chris:  “When you organize it.”

Me:  “Hold my beer.”  (I think it was something more pithy than that, but you get the idea…)  Needless to say, I don’t think Chris will ever write me a blank check again.  If he does, I’ve got this great idea for an aerial warfare oriented sequel entitled To Slip the Surly Bonds

So if you’ve ever wondered what would happen if the HMS Conqueror did not sink the General Belgrano (thus putting the fear of Davy Jones in the Argentinean Navy), what it’d be like to have psychics aboard search and rescue sea planes during World War II, or what an amphibious assault on Norway during World War III would look like, have we got a deal for you in the 1st QTR of 2019.

Last but not least, I’ll be at the Great Plains Renaissance Festival in the Author’s Tent at the end of the month.  If you’re in the area, feel free to swing by and catch a great festival plus buy some books from myself and several other great KS authors.  The next convention I will be at will be Archon in Collinsville, IL from 12-14 October, followed by Air Capital in Wichita, KS in November.

Warship Wednesday–Damage Control

*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:

orient-makes-a-memory

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.