Tag Archives: World War I

The LCS Survivability Debate

There has been a lot of discussion lately about the survivability of the LCS and smaller combatants in general. A recent US Naval Institute News opinion piece contends,

“Small warships are historically unsurvivable in combat. They have a shorter floodable length, reduced reserve buoyancy and are more likely to be affected by fire and smoke damage than larger combatants. In both World Wars, losses in ships below 3000 tons in displacement far exceeded those of larger vessels.

“In World War II, for example, the U.S. lost a total of 71 destroyers and 11 destroyer escorts — all under 3400 tons displacement and less than 400 feet in length.

“By comparison, only 23 larger ships were lost. Part of that figure is undoubtedly due to their operational employment, but in simple terms of engineering and physics, larger ships are inherently more survivable than their smaller counterparts.”

In the Coast Guard we once had a saying, “In our obscurity is our security.” I think that should be kept in mind when we consider the survivability of small surface combatants. No, they cannot take as much damage as major surface combatants, but the enemy gets a vote, and he will be less “excited” by the presence of smaller vessels, while he will normally choose to put more effort into destroying larger, more threatening ships. As in land warfare, tanks are more survivable than infantrymen, but they don’t necessarily last longer.

To look at how this factor might influence survivability, I looked at how many of the ships that were in commission at the beginning of World War II were sunk as a result of enemy action. My source is the Summary of War Damage to U.S. Battleships, Carriers, Cruisers, Destroyers, and Destroyer Escorts which is accessible here. The figures there do not correspond to those quoted above, rather they report 58 destroyers and 9 destroyer escorts sunk, along with 26 larger surface combatants, all listed by name. (The USNI post may have included constructive losses that were not actually sunk or losses to other than enemy action, and does not include the three battleships salvaged although they were out of action most of the war.)

If we look only at the US fleet at the beginning of the war, it included 233 major surface combatants of which 46 or 19.7% were sunk by enemy action during the course of the war. If we break it down by class it looks like this:

Type: Number in Commission, Dec. 7, 1941/Number sunk/% lost to enemy action
Aircraft Carriers (CV): 7/4/57.1%
Escort Carrier (CVE): 1/0/0%
Battleships (BB): 17/5/29.4% (of the 5 sunk, all were at Pearl Harbor, 3 were salvaged)
Heavy Cruisers (CA): 18/7/38.9%
Light Cruisers (CL): 19/1/5.3%
Destroyers (DD): 171/29/17%

(There were no Destroyer Escorts in commission at the beginning of the war.)

If we lump  all the cruisers together, 8 of 37 were lost or 21.6%

If we lump the lone escort carrier together with the fleet carriers then four of eight were sunk or 50%

Additionally three destroyers were lost to weather in a hurricane. They were not ballasted properly, because of the exigencies of impending combat operations.

Clearly, at least looking at the World War II experience, the US Navy did not lose a higher percentage of smaller ships. If anything it appears the opposite is true. A smaller percentage of smaller ships were lost (17% vs 27.4%). More small ships were lost simply because there were many more of them. Undoubtedly some of the DDs and DEs that were sunk, would have survived the damage they received, if they had been bigger, but presumably there would also have been fewer of them. If the decision criteria were an equal chance of being sunk, then probably taking greater risk with smaller ships is both reasonable and unavoidable.

I will note that the probability of personnel loss on small ships is probably higher because they are more likely to sink quickly and catastrophically, while larger ships are more likely to sink slowly.


Photo: USS Newcomb DD 586 was hit by as many as five kamikaze on 6 April 1945 as she was screening for the cruiser USS St. Louis off Okinawa. She survived but was not repaired.




I will add a bit of anecdotal evidence. As part of Operation Overlord, the Normandy Invasion, 60 US Coast Guard 83 foot patrol boats were assigned to rescue those unlucky enough to find themselves in the water or sinking. 30 went to the American beachheads and 30 went to the British and Canadian beachheads. Being wooden hulled and gasoline powered, they certainly would not have been considered “survivable.”

USCG 83 ft patrol boat, probably June 1944. Photographer unknown.

Apparently they were in the thick of it, because they rescued 1438 men from the water and sinking craft. In spite of all the fire from shore, not a single boat was sunk and not a single crewmen was killed. Apparently the German gunners were too busy with the landing craft hitting the beach and the warships that were shelling them. They simply were not a priority target.


This article can be found in its original form at Chuck Hill’s CG Blog.

No Money Back? History Lessons on the Russia MISTRAL Sale

Is there a case for historical analogies and the use of military history for contemporary decision-making? Are we just marking the centenary of World War One or, a hundred years on, are we going back to the future? Like others I acknowledge the value of history as a frame of reference, but I try to avoid (too close) analogies. Especially with World War One. Inconveniently, on 17 July 2014, Russian separatists in Ukraine shot down an innocent passenger aircraft killing 298 passengers and crew. Russia’s international credentials headed south, but questions remained also with regards to Ukraine’s role in this sorry episode. As recriminations were flying back and forth I felt reminded of the sinking in 1915 of the British liner LUSITANIA by the German submarine U-20. Then, 159 (neutral) American passengers were killed (out of a total of 1,198 casualties); the episode caused irreparable damage to Germany’s reputation and international relations in World War One.

And there I was. I suppose you can find such analogies everywhere, if you cast your net wide enough. But as the discussion flared up again about the sale to Russia of two MISTRAL-class amphibious assault ships (BPC-210 class) by France, I really had the impression that we have been there before in some way or another. One of the vessels (the VLADIVOSTOK) has already paid for and France is in a quandary whether or not to deliver the ship to Russia, a country against which the EU has by now imposed wide-ranging sanctions. Reversing the German government’s tacit approval of Paris’s sale of the ships to Russia, some German politicians have now suggested that instead the EU should step into the contract and buy the ships. France argues the crews have already arrived in France for familiarisation and France cannot back out of the contract.

BPC-210 type amphibious assault ship VLADIVOSTOK fitting out at DCSN in St Nazaire, January 2014. (Photo: G Plagué, Shipspotting)

Rewind 100 years: on 2 August 1914 the Ottoman Empire ratified an alliance with the German Empire setting in motion a chain of events whose effects can still be felt today. This step had not been entirely unavoidable for the Entente powers. Unfortunately, the government in Istanbul had placed orders for two dreadnoughts with British shipyards (or rather: it had taken over a Brazilian contract in one case), one in 1911 and the other in 1913 (as well as one in 1914, but work never began on that order). As war loomed large the British government, at the behest of the First Lord of the Admiralty Sir Winston S Churchill, pre-emptively seized the two Ottoman battleships named Sultan Osman-ı Evvel and the Reşadiye after having stalled delivery of the already completed SULTAN OSMAN-I EVVEL for several weeks. The Admiralty offered a fixed payment per day for their usage in war, but this did not mollify the Ottoman government or public. The situation then was, of course, quite different from that of today, since France and Russia are not as war (as the British and Ottoman Empire would soon be after this episode), but the vignette offers a nice object lesson on the diplomatic and strategic reverberations of the cancellation of a major weapons deal in times of heightened tension.

The cancellation of the dreadnoughts’ delivery to the Ottoman Navy pushed Istanbul into the arms of the Central Powers. It also gave the Germans the opportunity to leverage the political and strategic impact of two vessels – the battlecruiser GOEBEN and the light cruiser BRESLAU – that were effectively bottled up inside the Mediterranean. Both ships were sent to the Ottoman Empire, which conveniently “purchased” the vessels as a replacement for the two dreadnoughts on 16 August 1914. However, these two ships were never an adequate replacement for the two heavy dreadnoughts kept by the British. It was only luck and the early demise of Czarist Russia that that prevented the small flotilla from being swept up in the Black Sea by the much bigger Russian dreadnoughts (IMPERATICA MARIJA class) that came into service in the course of the war. The Ottoman Empire also never fully recovered from the loss of her best naval crews that had been interned in Britain, even though the German crews expended much energy on training their Ottoman allies. In this respect, seizing the two vessels made a difference in the balance of power, though one that the Entente was never able to capitalise upon. Ultimately, Russia’s demise was also a result of the Entente’s inability to control the Bosporus.

Battleship SULTAN OSMAN I fitting out at Armstrong in Newcastle upon Tyne, ca. 1913. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Acquiring the two Ottoman dreadnoughts in 1914 was a double edged sword for the Royal Navy. Although it increased the fleet size by two very powerful ships, those never quite fit into the fleet due to the different specifications to which they were built. Agincourt – originally a Brazilian prestige project, failed to impress Admiral John Jellicoe to the point that he initially refused to accept the ship into the Grand Fleet. The ship also required modifications, such as a conversion of the lavatories or addition (in the course of the war) of a better fire control system. The Royal Navy’s lack of enthusiasm for the two gift horses became apparent after the war, when Agincourt and Erin were the most modern major surface combatants to be scrapped in 1922 in order for Britain to meet her obligations under the Washington Naval treaty.

So what is to be done about the MISTRALs due to be delivered to Russia? Just like the dreadnoughts would have been valuable to Ottoman sea control in the Black Sea, the MISTRALs would be just the tool for Russia’s new “ambiguous warfare” and a valuable addition to re-asserting its sea control over the Black Sea rim, as Felix Seidler has argued in a recent post here. Indeed, his suspicion that at least one of the ships would be deployed to the Black Sea, rather than the Pacific, was borne out by a statement made by the Russian Navy on 27 July 2014, stating that one vessel would be based in Sevastopol. Indeed, not just as a C2 platform, but also as a floating base for special operations the MISTRALs would add very convenient capability given Russia’s current security environment and concept of operations in the Black Sea region.

As the Agincourt example shows, purchasing the ships brings its unique set of problems. Beyond the issue of technical integration into western forces, there is Russia’s political response to consider, which includes the small matter of Europe’s (especially Germany’s) dependence on Russian natural gas. The cancellation of the MISTRAL deal (technically only possible if the EU imposes level 3 sanctions) might just be enough to push Russia into retaliating with the “energy weapon”, something that might make even the most vocal German politician pause. France, however, is largely immune to this threat and has little to lose except its credibility as a weapons supplier and the loss of revenue from future arms deals with Russia.

France already has experience with having paid-for warships and problematic (embargoed) customers on her hands. In 1969 the Israelis recovered five Sa’ar 3 guided missile boats that had already been paid for from a French yard after the French had refused to hand them over. This was a somewhat offbeat example of how to resolve such a matter. After the French government under Charles de Gaulle imposed an arms embargo on Israel in 1968, the boats were sold to a mysterious Panamanian-based Norwegian firm which was of course a front for the Israelis. There is some controversy, but it appears that French intelligence was forewarned about Israeli intention to liberate the vessels. So was the shipbuilding supervisor, Felix Amiot, who was later blamed for his part in the affair, but vigorously defended himself by saying “Security is not my problem. My job was to build ships. I got along very well with the Israelis, but as far as I know that is not a crime.” Ironically, Amiot’s shipyard had won the contract largely because it was able to deliver a German-design, which the Germans themselves could not deliver to Israel in the first place due to their restrictive arms export policy. On the morning of Christmas Day 1969 the five boats surreptitiously left Cherbourg and began their transit to Israel. There was some faked outrage, but neither French Mirages who overflew the boats nor Russian, British or American warships engaged the unarmed missile boats on their way.

Two completed Israeli Sa’ar 3 “patrol” boats in Cherbourg in 1969, less their weapons. (Photo credit: forum.valka.cz; photo source: unknown)
Two completed Israeli Sa’ar 3 “patrol” boats in Cherbourg in 1969, less their weapons. (Photo credit: forum.valka.cz; photo source: unknown)

Whatever France’s tacit involvement was in the “escape” of the Stars of Cherbourg, the episode left the relationship between France and Israel markedly cooler for the next 10 years. Israel discontinued the purchase of Mirage aircraft and switched to US products for some time, although France is now again Israel’s largest arms supplier from the EU, especially for equipment that Israel is unable to obtain from the US. Given the protectiveness of France towards its defence industry, it is unlikely that the country would want to risk the highly lucrative arms sale (in the range of US$ 1.5 bn) to Russia just to please its EU neighbours. In any case, short of the EU implementing level 3 sanctions or impending hostilities by Russia against NATO or EU members it would seem unlikely that the MISTRAL deal could (and would) be cancelled without great cost to France – and potentially her European allies, if they are seen to be egging Paris on. More likely that France will try and temporize, hoping that the Ukraine conflict will blow over before the ships are to be formally handed over. Perhaps a lesson from the Ottoman battleships can still be learned here and some “unexpected” technical troubles and delays arising during the acceptance trials could buy France the time needed to avoid having to take an unpleasant decision.

Dirk Steffen is a Commander in the German Naval Reserve and the Director Maritime Security for Risk Intelligence. When not wrestling with West African maritime security issues he reflects on naval and military history, particularly the period between 1840 and 1920. Dirk holds an MA in Military Studies (Naval Warfare) from the American Military University. The views expressed in this article are his own.

Sea Control 38: War Gaming with the CRIC Podcast (1 of 2)

seacontrol2From the entertainment of the risk board to the grand scale of international exercises… war games of varying types and scale inform and misinform us in learning about war and conflict. For the first in a two-part series on wargaming, CIMSEC jumped onboard with Jeff Anderson and the CNO Rapid Innovation Cell Podcast to discuss the CRIC’s Fleet Battle School game as well as a more general group discussion of the benefits, tripfalls, potential and limitations of wargaming. Chris Kona discusses the Fleet Battle School game and some larger wargaming programs. Jeff nerds out on Starcraft, and I talk a bit about the first world war.

Download: Sea Control 38:
War Games (1 of 2)

Speaking of wargames… remember, CIMSEC is running our “Sacking of Rome” series starting 16 June! Instead of talking about securing the commons, maintaining global security… using historic examples, modern-day developments, or predictions of the future, red-team the global system and develop constructive answers to your campaign. If you were an adversary, how would you seek to subvert or tear down the global system and how could we stop you? Paul Pryce is our editor for the week: (paul.l.pryce -at- gmail.com).

Remember, subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher Stream Radio. Leave a comment and rate five stars!

Memorial Day: Your Real Distruption

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the great maw that was WWI. On this Memorial Day, it should be our purpose to bear witness to the great scope of sacrifices made by those who came before us . Today, we all desperately cry out for “innovation” and “disruption” as if these things are new or unknown to our services. We discuss Google glass and 3-D printing, but in 1914 entire veteran armies were wiped out by new technologies and tactics in a war the likes of which soldiers had never seen; a war within which no innovation could save you. British soldiers went to battle without helmets, Napoleonic-era Cuiassiers rode into battle on horse-back against machine guns, the allies invented tanks to transport men and arms across the no-man land’s corpse-strewn horrors in an attempt to end the conflict that had destroyed a generation of their youth.

On Memorial Day, we honor the men and women who fought for our freedoms; it is critical that, in this remembrance, we realize that -we- are not historically unique. Arguably, while some of our number are heroes of the highest order -we- are not special. Out technology, our education, our innovation is nothing compared to the desperate measures taken in battle by our kin in arms who saw around themselves the end of the world. While we must continue to innovate as a matter of survival, never think our “new” is so significant as to escape the horrors of war. The “Wars to End All Wars” don’t, and any technology that claims to do so is only the guise for future failure.

So, when you think of “innovation” or “disruption” today, don’t think of new ways to use your phone, or the efficiencies you can find through knowledge management… think of the disruptions of war, the men whose sturdy minds snapped in the fields of France under the months-long thunder of guns, those whose innovation was forged in the set-jaw of those saving their civilization, their nation, and their families from a future of starvation, blood, and death.  So, “Happy Memorial Day,” because untold generations have snuffed out their quiet light so that we may be here today. Let us not find pleasure in where we are going and what -we- can accomplish, but find happiness today in that there were those, and still are those, willing to give it all so that we may have that opportunity.

Matthew Hipple is a surface warfare officer and graduate of Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. He is Director of the NEXTWAR blog and hosts of the Sea Control podcast. His opinions may not reflect those of the United States Navy, Department of Defense, or US Government.