Friday, October 26, 2012

Interesting graphic on global Cvs

There's been a lot of attention recently about the strength of the Navy, most recently in the third presidential debate as the Republican candidate has made increasing the size of the Navy one of his key campaigning points. Similarly there's been a thread on BoardgameGeek about the USN vs. The Rest of the World., as well, which is where this graphic was lifted from.. I don't know the original source, but it does display rather starkly the differences in capability that we are talking about.

Especially noteworthy is the inclusion of the US navy's amphibious assault ships in the list. Often commenters compare the 11 CVNs to the 11 carriers owned by the ROTW, but this is misleading because many of those 11 other carriers are really much more like the amphibious ships than they're like US carriers. Indeed, NO ONE has a carrier that's truly comparable to an American CVN. The seven British, Thai, Spanish and Italian vessels are basically the same as the nine amphibious ships, although generally smaller.

This leaves just five ships that could possibly be called some sort of "fleet" carrier, one each for Brazil, Russia, China, India and France. Again, all of them are notably smaller than an American CVN.

Hyuga, right, with a US Nimitz-class CVN
Of the 11 foreign carriers of all flavors, seven belong to NATO allies and the US has friendly relations with most of the rest. Only the Russian and Chinese carriers might plausibly be considered in opposition to the USN.

One might give the ROTW a little more than 11 "carriers," though because I think you could fairly consider the Japanese "destroyers Hyuga and Ise as really being light aircraft carriers or amphibious assault ships at least comparable to the smaller Spanish and Italian ships shown in the graphic. They're only called "destroyers" for political reasons having to do with the Japanese constitution and relations with neighboring countries.

Still, even adding those two doesn't change the odds in any meaningful way.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Operation Torch convoys depart for North Africa

On this date 70 years ago the American forces taking part in the invasion of North Africa, called Operation Torch, left their various anchorages, including Maine and Virginia.

Operation Torch was a remarkable endeavor. It was the first major offensive taken by the United States since the beginning of the war, almost a year earlier. It involved an amphibious invasion across the entire Atlantic Ocean, making it among the longest direct invasion voyages ever undertaken. And it did this while most of the amphibious techniques and equipment that would later make over-water operations almost routine for US forces were still being developed. The lessons from Operation Torch would pay dividends for the rest of the war.

By a few days, the USS Massachusetts beat out her sister ship the USS South Dakota and near sister USS Washington for the first shots fired by the 16-inch gun in action and the first battleship duel in US Naval history.

The entire force was organized as Task Force 34, otherwise known as the Western Task Force.

The sub groups were:

Task Group 34.1 Covering Group with the new battleship USS Massachusetts, heavy cruisers Wichita and Tuscaloosa, four destroyers and an oiler,
TG 34.8 Northern Attack Group with the old battleship USS Texas, the light cruiser Savannah, two escort carriers, nine DD, eight transports, five support ships and a submarine.
TG 34.9 Center Attack Group with the heavy cruiser Augusta and light cruiser Brooklyn, 10 DD, 15 transports and six minecraft.
TG 34.2 Air Group with the fleet carrier USS Ranger and the escort carrier Suwannee, the light cruiser Cleveland, five DD, an oiler and two submarines,
TG 34.10 Southern Attack Group with the old battleship USS New York, light cruiser Philadelphia, escort carrier Santee, eight DD, six transports, three minecraft, two oilers, a tug and a submarine.

Monday, October 22, 2012

When time stood still -- Cuban Missile Crisis at 50

Destroyer USS JOSEPH P KENNEDY JR sends a boarding party over to freighter Marucla during the Cuban Missile Crisis, October 1962. NHHC photo USN 711187.

You don't go through life without a close call or two. I think most of us can think of at least one occasion where, if things had gone a little differently, we might not be here. But for anyone over the age of 50, there was a collective moment when it could all of come to an end -- late October 1962.

The Kennedy today at Battleship Cove
I was too young at the time to understand what was going on. I was seven years old in 1962, and I can't even recall from this distance any particular feeling of dread during the crisis. I remember knowing that something bad was going on -- and like most members of that duck-and-cover generation, there was a certain low-level terror that never really went away. I remember being under covers and hearing the engines of passing aircraft overhead and wondering if that plane, THAT noise, was the ONE.

I, for one, felt an enormous sense of relief after 1989, that I hadn't even really understood was there until it was no longer there. Notwithstanding 9/11, which brought its own kind of terror, things have been different since 1989. There's still danger in the world, and dangers in life, but instant  annihilation is not one of them.

But in October, 1962 it was  a very real possibility. We know now that the danger was even greater than we knew at the time. And I'm no great fan of John F. Kennedy, as his poorly conducted foreign policy played a not inconsiderable role in causing the crisis in the first place.

Scene from the movie Thirteen Days
The military reality was that the Soviets were not well placed to come out on top of a 1962 nuclear exchange -- even by the horrific metrics that the concept of coming out on top would entail. Evidently well aware of the unfavorable "correlation of forces" (to use the Soviet term), Khrushchev found away out of the crisis that preserved the Soviet state -- if not his job. 

Still, there's no way that "winning" a nuclear war is still not an enormous tragedy for any country, let alone a democratic one. The scarring of the national psyche by 9/11 provides a hint of what a nuclear exchange might have meant for America. It's not a world any of us would want to live in. And, of course, many of us wouldn't have lived in it. How many might have died is impossible to say. A figure of 100 million Americans and 100 million Soviets has been bandied about. I'm very skeptical that it would have been THAT high (that represents more than half of all the people in the country -- 179 million -- in 1962) but even a tenth of that amount would have been an unthinkable loss -- dwarfing the toll of all American wars.

In 1962 the Soviets had about 3,000 warheads, the United States maybe 10 times that number. The Soviets only had a couple dozen ICBMs in 1962 (which is why the MRBMs in Cuba were so attractive) and therefore would have had to rely on bombers to get through. There can be little doubt that some would have made it, but it's fruitless to even guess how many and which ones. Would even one bomb going off in just one major city have not been a disaster?

Fortunately it didn't come to that, but for the next quarter century there was a pretty complacent view in many quarters about the possibility of "surviving" or even "winning" a nuclear exchange. In my opinion, it wasn't until the disaster at Chernobyl in 1986 that I think it dawned on even the most hard-headed and cold-hearted that the consequences of a nuclear exchange made concepts of winning and losing laughable. Chernobyl, as massive of a disaster as it was, was merely a fraction of the fallout of a nuclear exchange.

From the IAEA FAQ on Chernobyl:
12. How does Chernobyl’s effect measure up to the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
The accident at Chernobyl was approximately 400 times more potent than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. However, the atomic bomb testing conducted by several countries around the world during the 1960s and 1970s contributed 100 to 1,000 times more radioactive material to the environment than Chernobyl.

Note that the Hiroshima bomb was  about 16 kilotons yield, making it a tactical weapon by later Cold War standards.

From a gaming standpoint, there haven't been too many that looked expressly at the Cuban Missile Crisis alone, although it does figure as an important event card in the very popular Twilight Struggle game about the Cold war.  Maybe the most on-topic game legacy of the Cuban Missile Crisis is the darkly comic card game Nuclear War, which first appeared in 1965 -- less than two years later.

From the larger standpoint of the human race, it's worth noting that the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred just a little over 17 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Maybe the scare was worth it, after all, because we've already gone half a century more without another nuke being used. That's a better track record than I think anyone could have hoped in 1962.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Remembering the reality of time -- Bunker hIll, Yorktown and the Founders

My wall calendar informs me that the Revolutionary War ended 231 years ago today. My wall calendar is, of course, wrong technically. The war didn't actually end until the Treaty of Paris in 1783. Oct. 19, 1781 is when the Siege of Yorktown ended. This was the de facto end of the fighting, but not the war. While nothing of military significance happened after Yorktown, this could not have been known at the time.

Which helps us keep in perspective that the great movements and events of history are only identifiable as such after the fact. The people living through them have a different perspective.

For example, I think for most contemporary Americans, the era of the "founders " is kind of a big blur. There's a "Tea Party," Lexington & Concord, Bunker Hill, Valley Forge, Yorktown and then a Constitution. Bang, America is born.

In fact, of course, an entire generation passed while all these events transpired. Let's consider a hypothetical Concord yeoman, 21 years old in  late December, 1773 and the proud father of a newborn son when he receives word of the Boston Tea Party.

He's 22 or 23 years old when he fights as a Concord minuteman during t he Siege of Boston and his boy is not quite 2 years old. By the time of Yorktown our yeoman farmer is 30 or so and his son is 8. The boy marks his 10th birthday around the time the peace treaty is signed and his dad is 32.

The Constitutional Convention occurs while the father is 35 and his son is 14 years old. They are about a year older when the Constitution is ratified and the pair are 37 and 16 respectively when Washington takes the oath of office as the first president. The babe that was swaddling clothes when the Tea Party start the ball rolling is ready to enter his own adult life.

A lot can happen in 16 years, and I think it's safe to say that no one who tossed tea into Boston Harbor could foresee the result 16 years later.

Something to remember, today, as we get ready to vote on Nov. 6. We can't really know what the world of 2028 will look like. A lot can happen in 16 years.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Strategy Page describes wargaming by Mexican Navy

An interesting, if general, article in Strategy Page describes some recent interest in naval wargaming by the Mexican Navy, inspired by exposure to USN naval wargaming, presumably at the Naval War College.

While US wargames rely heavily on computers, the article indicates a larger role for manual wargaming in the Mexican case. Given the kinds of threats the Mexicans have to cope with -- mostly drug cartels -- this seems appropriate. It's not like the Mexicans ned to track the activity of large fleets of ships, armed with clouds of missiles and backed by squadrons of aircraft like some NATO-Warsaw Pact confrontation might  involve.

A more hands-on, creative and intimate approach by manual wargames would seem much more useful, I think.

The article doesn't mention any specific, but it does make me wonder if some version of the commercial Harpoon4 rules has found its way into the Mexican Navy's toolkit.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Part 2 of the Cape Esperance games

The Kirishima goes down from a  vital hit at close range by the USS West Virginia

Here's the second part of the Cape Esperance commemorative games I recently played.

As always, Andy did an excellent job of writing up the session.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A little commemoration of the Battle of Cape Esperance -- War at Sea style

The USS West Virginia advances under the steady hand of Admiral Owen in War at Sea

Andy R. and I played a doubleheader of War at Sea Thursday in commemoration of the Battle of Cape Esperance from the naval campaign around Guadalcanal. He reports on the event with one of his fantastic write ups as always.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A little more Benedict Arnold

The gunboat Philadelphia from Arnold's fleet

A year before Benedict Arnold saved his country by winning the Battle of Saratoga he saved his country by losing the Battle of Valcour Island.

Valcour Island was an unusual "b\naval" battle as it was fought on Lake Champlain, which is a large, but not enormous lake. The strategic significance of Lake Champlain is that, while not especially large, it is very long, making it an excellent "highway" for a supply line for an Eighteenth Century army in an otherwise nearly road-less wilderness.

In 1776 the British intended to advance from Canada using the long and narrow Lake Champlain as their main supply route.

The Americans built a fleet and Arnold, who had experience at sea from his pre-war business career, took command. The British were forced to also build a fleet to protect their supply line. On Oct. 11, 1776 those two fleets, about 15 vessels for the Americans and two dozen for the British met in battle at Valcour Island, about halfway down the lake. While Arnold's fleet was destroyed, the mere fact it existed and the British had been forced to deal with it delayed the campaign that year so late into the season that the British invasion had to be suspended.

Almost exactly a year later a second British effort down that path led to the decisive Saratoga campaign.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Benedict Arnold -- most foolish man in American history?

Today marks the 235th anniversary of the Battle of Bemis Heights, the second of the two battles of Saratoga that led directly to the capture of Burgoyne's army and the entry of the French into the war, thereby indirectly leading to overall victory.

The battle was the high point of the already illustrious career of one of the most remarkable military talents America ever produced -- and it also set in motion the chain of events that led to that man's name becoming as much a synonym for betrayal as the name Judas Iscariot achieved.

Yes, Benedict Arnold was the hero of the day for his conduct that day. While Gen. Horatio Gates took the credit, fair-minded opinion of the day and since has given Arnold the lion's share of the honor for the victory. But Arnold was very badly hurt that day, and he never again held an active field command for the American cause. Arnold was personally fearless in action and the Saratoga wound was not his first -- not even his first in that same leg.

While a talented battlefield commander, Arnold had some unfortunate character traits which led him to be jealous of fellow officers and feel slighted when his clear contribution to the cause of Independence were not recognized to the degree he felt was warranted. Some even go so far as to blame his new wife for his base betrayal of the Patriot cause.

Arnold's boot monument
Arnold has a particular interest here, locally, as he is probably the best-known native of Norwich, Conn. His reputation is, of course, irretrievable, but the distance of time has allowed some small remembrance of his vital contribution to the birth of America to occur. A small plaque sits by the side of a street in Norwich, marking the approximate site of the Arnold homestead. Nothing remains of the original structure, of course. Arnold was so despised that in the wake of his betrayal angry residents descended on the cemetery and tore up the headstones of most of his relatives, including that of an infant son's. Only his mother Hannah Arnold's stone was overlooked and remain there to this day.

At the Saratoga battlefield itself there's a monument to Arnold's boot, which doesn't even mention Arnold by name!

Arnold's attack on Groton
When he appears in wargames, Arnold invariably rates highly as a commander, although in a strategic level games such as Washington's War he presents a bit of a design problem. Naturally the benefit of hindsight clues the player that this highly capable general isn't entirely reliable, but if a game doesn't make Arnold a traitor he's likely to rival the "indispensable man" himself, George Washington as the main figure in the game. This isn't something most Americans are going to be able to stomach.

And it is, in truth, hard to gin up much of defense for Arnold. There's no evidence his change of heart was driven by some high principle. And infamously, he turned around and led British forces against his native region and was in field command during one of the war's major atrocities, the Battle of Fort Griswold, where a massacre occurred after the fall of the fort.

Given how many monuments and communities there are in America named after Washington, Lafayette, Greene, Wayne, KoĹ›ciuszko, v. Steuben, etc. there can't be any doubt that Arnold would have grown old showered with honors had he remained loyal. As honor and public acclamation appear to be what he desired most in life, surely he proved to be one of the biggest fools of American history. It's not unimaginable that  his hometown might have been renamed in his honor and I'd b writing this post from Arnoldton Conn. in the very shadow of some tall obelisk erected in his honor.  Instead he's got plaque.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Trains, snipers and defeat, oh my!

Position at the end of the game

Game Store Tony and I got in a game of Memoir '44 after a long break. This was an Eastern Front game but not part of our official grand campaign.

Instead we played the Kiev scenario from the Campaign Book Vol. 1, primarily because it includes an armored train and snipers. Armored trains are an interesting and unusual unit and the snipers gave me a chance to use the Equipment Pack Miniatures for the first time.

The battle, itself, was one of our closer run affairs, with Tony's Soviets pulling off a 5-4 victory at the end when the armored train finished off the fifth German unit for the win. My Germans had managed to kill off three Russian units and capture Kiev as well, but it wasn't enough.

Often the snipers have proven to be a marginally useful unit in past games but in this one they did a good job picking off pieces, including being the finishing blow for at least one victory medal. But the definite star for the Soviet side was the armored train, which is much more mobile and tougher than a regular artillery unit. In theory it's not as flexible as a regular gun because it's restricted to the train tracks, but in my experience you don't normally see a lot of movement by artillery units in Memoir '44, so overall I'd say an armored train is much better i tn eh game than a regular artillery unit.

The Equipment Pack  pieces are, for the most part, purely eye candy, although a few new units and rule are introduced. Still, the appeal of eye candy in Memoir '44 should not be underestimated, as that's an importamt part of the game's popularity. So the Equipment Pack sniper was an improvement over the perfectly serviceable standard game solution of an ordinary solider marked with a badge.  I went ahead and used the badge, too, but it would only be necessary in case both sides in a scenario had snipers -- a case that I don't think has occurred so far.