Category Archives: Air and Naval Weapons

That’ll BUFF Right Out!

The Air Force brings the FOOM with conventional precision delivery of dumb bombs on a tight island bombing range, from a 53 year old B-52 (B-52s still flying date to 1962).

This is what a smart plane can do with dumb bombs these days. It isn’t the (mythical) pickle barrel from 30,000 feet claimed by WWII bombers, but it’s accurate enough to drop dumb bombs danger close to US forces. (They don’t actually do that, but they can, and some day a JTAC will ask for it, and they will. And there will be DFCs for the crew if they hit in combat like this crew did in training).

Look at how loose-fitting the bomb bay doors are (and, for that matter, the bombs, which are dancing around the vibrating jet like Dervishes). Things like that really show you that this technology is half a century old.

Not enough FOOM for your room? Here’s a whole mission flown by the 96th Bomb Squadron from Barksdale AFB, Louisiana: preflight, takeoff, gas up at the tanker (provided by the Utah Air National Guard; you see both the B52 cockpit and KC-135 boomer views, plus a side view of another BUFF hitting the tanker), deliver 3 sticks of 9 dumb bombs to a range (which is, unfortunately, not shown), and then come back to land. Despite the copyright claim at the end, this appears to be 100% official USAF footage.

The old technology this video shows isn’t just the aluminum and aerodynamics of the B-52 itself, but also the primitive monochrome video screens and awkward interfaces of the defensive and offensive weapons operator stations. That awkwardness led to a B-52 dropping a JDAM on an SF element (parts of an ODA and ODB) in December, 2001; and that led to new and improved procedures.

The next time a B-52 dropped JDAMs for an SF team, in 2002, the first JDAM went wild and missed its target. The subsequent bombs were on target and allowed the team to break contact with warlord troops who were engaging the team.

Two sets of fighter rules

These two somewhat similar sets of rules were developed by two different leading fighter pilots in World War I. While they apply particularly to the air combat of the area, they are also, to one extent or another, guides to principles of combat and of warfare that are useful to all warriors at all times.


Oswald Boelcke: Dicta Boelcke, 1916.

This was the first real written set of the principles of aerial combat.

  1. Try to secure advantages before attacking. If possible, keep the sun behind you.
  2. Always carry through an attack when you have started it.
  3. Fire only at close range and only when your opponent is properly in your sights.
  4. Always keep your eyes on your opponent, and never let yourself be deceived by ruses.
  5. In any form of attack it is necessary to assail your opponent from behind.
  6. If your opponent dives on you, do not try to avoid his onslaught, but fly to meet it.
  7. When over the enemy’s lines, never forget your own line of retreat.
  8. For the squadron: attack on principle in groups of four or six. When the fight breaks up into a series of single combats, take care that several do not go for one opponent.

Mick Mannock: 1917. We’re not sure if Mannock ever named these principles.

  1. Pilots must dive to attack with zest, and must hold their fire until they get within 100 yards of their target.
  2. Achieve surprise by approaching from the east.
  3. Utilize the sun’s glare and clouds to achieve surprise.
  4. Pilots must keep physically fit by exercise and the moderate use of stimulants.
  5. Pilots must sight their guns and practice as much as possible, as targets are normally fleeting
  6. Pilots must practice spotting machines in the air and recognizing them a long range, and every aeroplane is to be treated as an enemy until it is certain it is not.
  7. Pilots must learn where the enemy’s blind spots are.
  8. Scouts must be attacked from above and two-seaters from beneath their tails.
  9. Pilots must practice quick turns, as this maneuver is more used than any other in a fight.
  10. Pilots must practice judging distances in the air as these are very deceptive.
  11. Decoys must be guarded against – a single enemy is often a decoy – therefore the air above should be searched before attacking.
  12. If the day is sunny, machines should be turned with as little bank as possible, otherwise the sun glistening on the wings will give away their presence at a long-range.
  13. Pilots must keep turning in a dog fight and never fly straight except when firing.
  14. Pilots must never, under any circumstances, dive away from an enemy, as he gives his opponent a non-deflection shot – bullets are faster than aeroplanes.
  15. Pilots must keep an eye on their watches during patrols, and on the direction and strength of the wind.

In retrospect, Boelcke’s shorter, simpler set of rules are more nearly universally applicable; many of Mannock’s applied only to the particular circumstances of the Western Front and the evenly balanced aircraft there; to commit to a turning fight and not dive away would have been doom for most Allied pilots facing the Japanese in the next war, for instance. Today, squadron bars and ready rooms are more likely to display a framed copy of the Dicta Boelcke.

Of course, Boelcke’s era was two to three years before Mannock’s, an eternity in wartime. Boelcke was the pilot who first tested the Fokker machine-gun synchronizer that allowed the Fokker E. III to fire forward through the propeller, in 1915; he was a contemporary of Max Immelmann in the earliest days of air combat, and flew the early Fokker monoplanes and later Pfalz and Albatros D. II biplanes. He was so well regarded by all sides that he would receive a decoration from his French enemies (for saving a drowning child).

Mannock flew the Nieuport but is primarily associeted with the S.E. 5a, a biplane with an engine of 160 to 200 horsepower, numbers unheard of in Boelcke’s day, and two forward-firing guns. An Irishman whose estranged father was a British Army NCO, Mannock hoped Home Rule for Ireland would be one result of the war. As a civilian, had been a captive of Germany’s ally Turkey and been abominably treated, and he seethed with hatred for the enemy and was contemptuous of chivalry and compassion. To his subordinates (he ended his war leading a squadron), he was a committed teacher and the sort of a leader who would put a squirt in an enemy plane and let the wingman finish it; where the early aces Boelcke and Immelmann competed to see who could score more kills, Mannock’s final score, all histories agree, can’t be known with any certainty, only that it was higher than his claims.

Neither ace would survive the war. Boelcke perished after a midair collision with a wingman, Erwin Böhme, in October, 1916 (his other wingman that morning was a relative newbie named Manfred von Richthofen; Böhme and Richthofen both became great aces in their own rights); British airmen in a POW camp sent a card to his funeral. Mannock, after handing a shared kill to a young wingman he was instructing, led the formation over a machine-gun post and both planes were shot down. The wingman managed an emergency landing in friendly lines, but Mannock went down in flames. A few months later, the war ended, but Mannock’s bleak prediction to a friend had come true: “For me, there is no ‘after the war’,” he reportedly said.

Will Israel Nuke Iran First?

BLOWING UP PARADISEDefense intellectual and former Strategic Defense Initiative planner John Bosma argues in the American Thinker that for Israel the options are closing rapidly, and the least bad option may be to make a nuclear preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, aiming to disrupt development but also to kill the maximum number of scientists and technicians, and to leave any surviving facilities fatally irradiated.

Far from producing peace, Bosma claims, the deal negotiated between two preferentially antisemitic teams could be extremely destabilizing; it…

…also augurs the possibility of a nuclear war coming far sooner than one could have imagined under conventional wisdom worst-case scenarios. Following the US’s betrayal of Israel and its de facto detente with Iran, we cannot expect Israel to copy longstanding US doctrines of no-first-nuclear-use and preferences for conventional-weapons-only war plans. After all, both were premised (especially after the USSR’s 1991 collapse) on decades of US nuclear and conventional supremacy. If there ever were an unassailable case for a small, frighteningly vulnerable nation to pre-emptively use nuclear weapons to shock, economically paralyze, and decapitate am enemy sworn to its destruction, Israel has arrived at that circumstance.

Why? Because Israel has no choice, given the radical new alignment against it that now includes the US, given reported Obama threats in 2014 to shoot down Israeli attack planes, his disclosure of Israel’s nuclear secrets and its Central Asian strike-force recovery bases, and above all his agreement to help Iran protect its enrichment facilities from terrorists and cyberwarfare – i.e., from the very special-operations and cyber forces that Israel would use in desperate attempts to halt Iran’s bomb. Thus Israel is being forced, more rapidly and irreversibly than we appreciate, into a bet-the-nation decision where it has only one forceful, game-changing choice — early nuclear pre-emption – to wrest back control of its survival and to dictate the aftermath of such a survival strike.

via Articles: Thinking About the Unthinkable: An Israel-Iran Nuclear War.

A limited Israeli strike could produce the nuclear disarmament of Iran that Obama and Kerry had claimed, before some of the terms of the deal put the lie to their statements, that they sought. Nuclear weapons are one effective solution to the underground bunkers used by Iran to shelter its systems.

Israel cannot  service this target set with conventional weapons — its stocks are not deep enough, and it’s clear that they can’t rely on the United States, at least under this Administration, for resupply.

The deliberate American silence over Iran’s genocidal intentionality sends an unmistakable signal to Israel that the US no longer recognizes a primordial, civilizational moral obligation to protect it from the most explicit threats imaginable. It is truly on its own, with the US in an all-but-overt alliance with its worst enemy. The shock to Israel’s leaders of this abrupt American lurch into tacitly accepting this Iranian intentionality cannot be understated. Iran is violating the core tenets of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, a US initiative after the Tokyo and Nuremberg war-crimes trials to codify genocide as a crime against humanity. Now the US is silent.

But this shift is also recent. Every US government prior to President Obama would have foresworn nuclear talks with such a psychopathic regime or would have walked out in a rage upon such utterances. Yet Iran’s genocidal threats have had no discernible effect on Obama’s canine eagerness for a deal.

The two main factors Bosma sees making the nuclear option “almost mandatory” for Israel are the Iranian government’s continued propaganda and doctrine calling for nuclear weapons explicitly for the extermination of Jews, and, as recounted above, the US’s sudden tilt to the Iranian position. But he also lists a number of other reasons, which we’ll paraphrase:

  1. Iranian nuclear progress is self-sustaining and can’t be stopped with conventional weapons or sanctions. For Israel, it is a matter of nuke, or be nuked.
  2. Iranian progress is concrete hardening has essentially neutralized such weapons as the 30kp Massive Ordnance Penetrator, meaning it’s nukes or nothing.
  3. The presence in the agreement of a new US-Iranian limited military alliance targeted against Israel.
  4. The Russian agreement to deliver to Iran S-300 anti-ballistic and anti-aircraft weapons. This dual-purpose weapon is in the improved Patriot class and complicates strike planning (to put it mildly). The weapons are enroute to Iran already. (Russia is also delivering nuclear weapons delivery technology, including ICBMs). Some of these Russian missiles come with Russian mercenary crews. In addition, with Russian and Iranian assistance, the terrorist group Hezbollah has been converting its ineffective rockets into precision guided munitions with defense-evading technology.

While Bosma’s grim predictions may never come to pass, his position has a certain logic. (We believe it won’t come to pass because the Israeli government will shrink from following that logic to its inevitable end). In any event you should Read The Whole Thing™. It’s a brief but very information-dense piece.

If the Israelis did take this approach to survival, how would they do it? Given that the US Government is likely to share any intelligence indicators of a strike with Iran, Israel will have to proceed under an unprecedented cloak of secrecy. But at this point, their very least worst option for the long term survival of Israel and its people may well be to nuke Iran.

This is one consequence of awarding the Nobel Peace Prize for lofty intentions, standing alone.

Submarines: The Soviet Sub Experience in WWII

This remarkable documentary is an English dub of an episode of a Russian TV series. In English the series, which ran in the UK in the dubbed version, is called Soviet Storm, and this is episode 13.  (Fear not the language; while the charts and maps still appear in Russian, the narration is professionally rendered in native English). This episode deals with the sea war, which really means, essentially, the sub war. The video shows why: when the Soviets tried surface operations, the Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe cleaned their clock. So Stalin’s sailors took their war below the surface, at great risk, but also, to great effect.

At the start of the War, for instance, the Red Navy was weak in surface power, but it had a numerically strong submarine fleet — not as big as the Germans’ but the Soviets weren’t trying to contest the Atlantic convoy routes.

We didn’t know about the 25-mile-long submarine net barrier that the Germans erected in the Gulf of Finland, from the Porkkala-Udd peninsula to Naissar Island and Makilyuto Island off Tallin.

The guts and daring of the Soviet skippers and crews you learn a little bit about here are not much different from their Allied or enemy counterparts. So are their fates — the Baltic Fleet lost nearly half of their subs in 1942. A sunken sub usually bore its entire crew down to the eternal depths; if sunk on the surface, there might be a handful of survivors. As we saw recently with the cunning mine trap the British laid for U-Boats, mines are deadly to submarines; German and Finnish minefields accounted for many of the Russians’ subs whose fates are known.

For a clearly nationally-oriented production, it’s notably even-handed, with neutral phrasing during a discussion of disputed Soviet sub incursions into Swedish waters. Likewise, neutral phrasing handles the  There is a very interesting treatment of German attacks on Halifax-Murmansk PQ convoys; it hadn’t struck us before that the first seven convoys got through without a scratch, because it took the Germans a while to react to the problem.

Unfortunately, there’s very little about Soviet sub technology. It seems to have been at par with that of other nations at the start of the war, but the thrust of this document is operational, not technical. There’s also nothing about the training or life of submariners, whether they were ace commanders, long-service salts or new recruits on their first patrol. These omissions merely whet our appetite for more knowledge of Soviet sub technology, tactics, techniques and procedures, and for some first-hand accounts.

Also, be aware that the show is very dependent on CGI, and the CGI is dated and blocky by today’s standards.

This link should work to take you to a playlist of all episodes:

Russian Ordies Make Joke, Cause International Incident

In a major exercise in and off the coast of Kaliningrad Oblast — occupied Königsberg, East Prussia, ethnically cleansed of Germans by Russians with one hell of a score to settle in 1945 — Russian Naval Aviation (Aviatsiya –VMF) ran an exercise that included live fire exercises by land- and sea-based maritime aircraft and crews from the Baltic, North, Black Sea and Pacific Fleets of the Russian Navy. Mi-24 “Hind” and Ka-27 “Hormone” helicopters fired guns and practice torpedoes, while Su-24 swing-wing bombers and An-26 multirole transports dropped bombs.

An-26 of the A-VMF

An-26 of the A-VMF

The An-26 is a very interesting aircraft, a real do-anything workhorse from the Soviet era. While the Navy uses it primarily as a transport, it can do maritime patrol and can be armed with a wide variety of weapons, including depth charges, torpedoes, and dumb bombs. An-26s have been widely used as bombers, by the Soviets in Afghanistan and, in the case of export aircraft, in many third world conflicts, but the Russian Navy hadn’t dropped bombs from an An-26 in a long time.

Along with the common transport version, and customizations for everything from air ambulance to electronic warfare, rhe aircraft is readily converted to a bomber by the addition of some bomb racks. The wiring was emplaced in the factory. But bombing is not part of the everyday of most Russian An-26 drivers, so the crews must have been pretty excited to drop some bombs.

Practice bombs like the ones in these pictures are used to save the hassle and fuel burn of using real warshots, while giving the air crew a thorough, testable workout in bombing procedures. Every air force uses them. (Some of ours are little bitty things you can hold in one hand, but they follow the trajectory of big bombs perfectly).

And ordies — ordnancemen — are pretty much the same guys in any armed force on the planet. Their every day grind involves hauling, handling, and accounting for whacking great hunks of explosive that they hardly ever see used, because they’re too expensive to expend routinely, and the real purpose of an air force is to keep the peace by being ready for war. So when a chance comes up to actually load out bombs — even practice bombs like these P-50SH models — and have them dropped, the ordies are in heaven.

As an ordie, you get one privilege: you can scrawl a message on the bomb for its intended recipient. Now, where this tradition began is unknown to us. It’s not like the guy at the loud end has the leisure to read the message before he’s blasted to Kingdom Come, but it’s a venerable tradition. We’ve seen World War I artillery rounds addressed to Kaiser Bill, and American ordies have often sent scatalogical or obscene TNT-grams to our enemies over the years. And patriotic slogans aren’t uncommon. Every once in a while some pearl-clutching old lady (who may be of either sex) gets upset that some boy wrote something naughty on the casing of the TNT we plan to drop on some poor wretch’s head, as if the insult were worse than the injury. For the record, it isn’t.

And that’s just what happened when the Russian ordies had some fun with their bombs, and the slogans were shown in the quasi-official naval magazine Flot (“Fleet”); what interested Flot was that was the first time a Russian An-26 did an actual bomb drop in at least 20 years, but they captured the photos. Here’s what some Ivan wrote on one of the bombs:

P-50SH-bomb-To Berlin

And here’s another:

AN-26-bomb for Stalin 2

Now, anyone who has paid any attention to Russian history should recognize instantly the exact World War II slogans that were often daubed on Soviet tanks, aircraft, and yes, bombs during the formative conflict that Russians still call the Great Patriotic War. The first is To Berlin! and the second, For Stalin! It was an amusing historical reference, and the ordies had a laugh, as, no doubt, did the crews.

Not everybody got the joke. Germans, who counter to stereotype do have a sense of humor, didn’t activate theirs. The daily BILD (“Picture”) condemned the “macabre maneuvers” and explicitly rejected the idea that, well, Ivan’s ordies are just clowning around with a piece of chalk, like every other ordie in every other air force and navy on this spinning spheroid we’re on.

Even the BILD article managed to catch the historical nature of the slogans:

Both sentences were battle cries that were widespread during the campaigns of the Red Army against Nazi Germany.

But they’re still seeing Stalin under the bed.

For the last several years, a glorification of long-past Soviet days has taken place in Putin’s Russia. In it, a cult of Dictator Josef Stalin († 1953) has been created, and parallels between his battle against Fascism and current disagreements between Russia and the West and Ukraine.

Bomb inscriptions like “To Berlin!” and “For Stalin!” are more than pure nostalgia, but show dangerous tendencies in the Russian leadership and Armed Forces.

The last we checked, the diminutive Josef Stalin, like Francisco Franco, is still dead. Vladimir Vladimirovich may be cruel to his opponents domestically, and a royal pain in the neck internationally, but he’s nowhere near deserving equivalence with Stalin, who is the second greatest mass murderer in recorded history. (Hitler barely squeaks in at #3, even if you blame him for all the deaths on all sides in World War II. The champion is Mao Zedong [Tse-tung]).

The story of the Russian “provocation” and the German outrage has made it into Newsweek (what, they still publish that?) and various other press organs where Russian MOD spokesmen try to dismiss it as hijinks (which is almost certainly the case) or deny such a thing happened (a classically Russian response. “What tanks in Prague?”). They should ease up on the denial and let the “so what?” flag fly. It’s a private, sergeant or maybe junior lieutenant with a piece of chalk, it’s not national policy.

And if the Russians are going to pick something from the Stalin era to celebrate, “On to Berlin” is a lot better than some of the things they could choose, like “Assassinate the Polish officers!” or “Purge the International Brigades!” or “Starve the Ukrainian Kulaks,” or, our personal favorite, “Let’s kill Marshal Tukhachevsky and just about all our senior officers with war on the horizon!”

Stalin leaves for Russians a complicated legacy, like Napoleon in France, Cromwell in England, and Ulysses S. Grant in the United States. Centuries later, we’re still assessing the impact of these characters. (Of them, only Cromwell approached Stalin as a murderer, but all are historically reassessed every generation).

But for crying out loud, let’s not get our knickers in a twist over something some ammo handler wrote on a practice bomb.

Hat tip, David Cencotti “The Aviationist.” (If you’re into aviation news, you need to have him bookmarked).

This is Why We Don’t Click on faux-viral Clickbait

Lame, lame, lame. One of those buzzfeed- and gawker- like “clickbait” aggregators teased customers with this come-on:


The airplane, of course, is a Dassault Rafale, and while it’s homely from this angle, it’s probably one of the most beautiful fighter planes flying today. It flies, primarily, for its nation of origin, la belle France, where it’s the latest product of Dassault Systems, formerly Avions Marcel Dassault and before that, before The War, Avions Marcel Bloch. 

It’s hard to imagine what the USA has to do with France’s latest and best-ever fighter jet; the picture is why you don’t want to mess with France. But the idiots who posted that image remind us of the founder of Dassault, and thereby hangs a tale.

Marcel Dassault, née Marcel Bloch, is definitely someone you should know, unlike the miniwit marketeers who come up with these unimaginative, stupid (and in this case, dishonest) advertising come-ons.

Bloch, a son of a successful doctor, was captivated by aviation in his youth and studied under Louis Breguet, and then at the novel École supérieure d’aéronautique et de constructions mécaniques, which had just opened in Paris. His first success was a propeller that produced greater thrust than previous models, and came to be widely used in French aircraft of the First World War. Between the wars, his company Société des Avions Marcel Bloch became successful and provided several of the Armee d l’Air’s key types.

Two calamities befell Bloch in short order: the Communist Front Polulaire government seized his company in 1936, expropriating him and his family; he was kept on, on salary, to oversee production of his designs in the new firm, SNCASO. Meanwhile, Bloch started over from zero with a new start-up to promote new designs — they could seize his work product, but not his mind. But then came calamity #2: Germany invaded France in 1940. The Nazis were willing to overlook Bloch’s Jewish ancestry if he would be willing to build airplanes for the Greater German Reich. He refused, and life got harder. His brother Darius Paul Bloch (who went by Paul, and was a senior military officer) went underground with the Resistance, but Vichy collaborators seized and imprisoned Marcel and his wife and children.

Marcel was sent to a Vichy-operated concentration camp at Drancy, France, then to the authentic SS-run variety at Buchenwald. The camps were incubators for many all-but-forgotten pathogens, and at liberation Marcel was 53, infected with diphtheria — and paralyzed.

He did not recover from paralysis until 1953, but by 1949 had already restarted his company, and changed both its, and his, name. Paul, now a General in the French forces, had used the code name “tank” while underground: in French, “Char d’assaut.” Marcel liked the sound of that, and with a slight twist he and his family became Dassaults, and their firm Avions Marcel Dassault.

Dassault’s personality was said to be somewhat stiff, proper, aloof and formal, yet he has a relaxed smile in most portraits, even formal ones where he’s posing stiffly. He was described by many as “driven”; certainly he drove his company to success after success. This RAND paper (.pdf) describes the company’s unique culture as of the 1980s: quintessentially French, and yet completely unlike any other business in that laid-back, bureaucratic nation.

AMD produced the famous Ouragan, Mystère, and Mirage jets, which equipped French forces and many export customers, including Israel. Israeli success with these jets definitely produced more orders, but after 1967 De Gaulle, who was not significantly less anti-semitic than the Nazis he’d once fought, embargoed further jets and seized the money that had been paid for them.

Somehow, after that, the Israelis managed to get their hands on enough documents to start production of Mirage clones. Certainly an espionage operation in Switzerland was part of it, as was a Lebanese defector who brought his jet along. But there were already charges that Marcel Dassault had helped the Jewish state, under the table, although we’ve never seen anything a court would call “evidence.”

Some people said that Dassault wanted to help his fellow Jews. But he had converted to Roman Catholicism soon after the war.  A private man, his reasons were his own.

Marcel Dassault retired in 1971, after a career that spanned from wood-and-fabric biplanes to Mach 2+ jets. The company he established today exports, along with the beautiful Rafale, the successful Falcon business jets and industry-standard CATIA and Solidworks engineering and modeling software.

The Circular Torpedo Run

If you know anything about naval torpedoes, you’ll understand instantly why a circular run is A Bad Thing. US torpedoes in World War II were prone to circular runs — and that was not even one of our tin-fishes’ top three problems.

Since Whitehead’s invention and/or popularization of the self-propelled torpedo in the 19th Century,  every sea power on Earth worked on these weapons, and by the outbreak of World War II each maritime power thought their torpedoes were the best.

The Japanese, dismissed by racialists in America and Europe as bucktoothed, nearsighted monkeys copying Western design, had come up with both maritime and aerial torpedoes that were miles ahead of any other nation’s. These were principal armament on cruisers and destroyers, outranging the cruiser’s guns and able to sink a capital ship with a single hit (try that with a 5-8″ gun. Not happening). They also armed Japanese subs, and lightweight versions armed world-class torpedo planes. American and British battleships and carriers would feel the lash of these devices in the opening months and years of the war.

The British, Italians and Germans entered the war with effective torpedoes that they had justifiable confidence in, and could launch from warships, patrol boats, or aircraft. (So did the French, but in naval terms they were a footnote to the war).

The US was, in American fashion, the most confident in its torpedoes, but the actual devices were not world class, they were not reliable, had a short range exposing launch platforms to enemy fire, were not accurate, and the most serious problem of all, they tended not to detonate. Weapons safety is all well and good, but it’s not supposed to be safe any more when you manage by industry and luck to overcome all its other flaws and  bang it on the side of an enemy warship. And our torpedoes were safe, and our ordnance officers dismissed complaints about it well into the war. 

A generation raised on movie westerns went to war as the good guy in the white hat, but with an empty revolver. So the black hats won a few.

The three problems with the US Mk. 14 torpedo at the start of the war were:

  1. Depth control that didn’t;
  2. A contact exploder that didn’t;
  3. A magnetic exploder that didn’t, which was replaced by an “improved” version that did, about fifty yards before it got to the enemy target.

In one lucky, harrowing attack, USS Tunny under John A. Scott, which had had a miserably failed war patrol due o non-firing contact exploders, found itself on 9 April 1943 in the middle, literally, of a two-carrier Japanese task force. Scott daringly placed the boat midway between the two columns of the Japanese force, firing his six bow tubes at one carrier and its escort and four stern tubes at the other, at very short range. The carriers escaped, Ultra/Purple intercepts later revealed (although they were not declassified until decades after the war), because the torpedoes blew up short of the target.

The Battle Flag of USS Tang -- a panther breaking through a Rising Sun.

The Battle Flag of USS Tang — a panther breaking through a Rising Sun. From The Last Torpedo.

As far as circular runs go, there are 24 known incidents1. (It is possible some of the subs on Eternal Patrol also fell victim to circular runs, although the circumstances of most sub losses have been corroborated by Japanese records). In 22 incidents, the launching vessel evaded the torpedo. In two, we know it sunk a submarine because USS Tullibee and USS Tang had one and eight survivors respectively from their crews of approximately eighty officers and men. Here’s what it seemed like to a sub crew:

On the bridge, Bill Leibold scanned the waters with his binoculars. He stood next to O’Kane. Suddenly, he saw the last torpedo, Number 24, broach and then begin to porpoise, phosphorescence trailing it. A few seconds later, it made a sharp turn to port and then, unbelievably, began to come about.

“There goes that one! Erratic!” shouted O’Kane.

The last torpedo was now heading like a boomerang, back to its firing point…back toward the Tang. Something had gone terribly wrong. Perhaps its rudder had jammed or the gyroscope in its steering engine had malfunctioned.

“Emergency speed!” cried O’Kane.

Below, twenty-year-old Motor Machinist’s Mate Jesse DaSilva had just left his post in the engine room, having decided to get a cup of coffee. He was standing with one foot in the mess. Over the intercom, he could hear the bridge crew react as the torpedo headed back toward the Tang.

“Captain, that’s a circular run!” he heard Leibold say.

“All ahead emergency!” shouted O’Kane. “Right full rudder!”

“Bend them on,” added O’Kane. “Control, just bend them on.”

In the engine room, Chief Electrician’s Mate James Culp did his best to comply, knowing the Tang needed all the power she could get if there was to be a chance of saving lives.

The torpedo was now making straight for the 300-foot submarine. The men on the bridge stood, transfixed, their eyes “popping out of their sockets.” The Tang was moving at about 6 knots, 20 less than her final torpedo.

“Left full rudder!” ordered O’Kane.

Bill Leibold watched in stricken silence as the torpedo headed right at them, coming dead-on toward the Tang. Then he lost sight of it as it continued down the port side.

Maybe it will miss. Maybe it will veer away and begin another erratic circle. Maybe the Tang will evade just in time….

In the conning tower, Floyd Caverly waited like the other men for the inevitable.

Surely there is enough time to get out of the way—to get thehell out of here? Surely?

Speed. Speed is all we need…just enough to get out of the way. If only the Tang would just set by the stern and set off like a speedboat.

But the Tang was not a speedboat. She could not avoid the charging torpedo. It hit the Tang ’s stern with a massive explosion somewhere between the maneuvering room and the after torpedo room, killing as many as half the crew instantly and flooding all aft compartments as far forward as the crew’s quarters, midway along the boat.

Caverly was standing looking at a radarscope when it happened. He…thought that the Tang had been snapped in two. The waves of concussion from the explosion made him feel as if he were experiencing a massive earthquake. He did not know which way to step to catch his balance. The deck plates rattled and shook. Lightbulbs went out.

In the conning tower, there was chaos.

“We’ve been hit!” cried Executive Officer Frank Springer.2

USS Tang sank in minutes; a few of the men in the conning tower, and a few of the 45 who made their way to the forward torpedo room to attempt to use the forward escape trunk, were the only survivors. (The after trunk was destroyed by the torpedo). The next day, angry Japanese convoy escorts picked up nine survivors from the submarine that had devastated the convoy they were guarding.

Damage analysis, originally classified Confidential, of Tang wreck.

Damage analysis, originally classified Confidential, of Tang wreck. From War Damage Report Nº. 58, 1 Jan 49, hosted at HyperWar.

It turns out the cause of the circular runs was a combination of failed design and human error (although Newpower discounts the design problem). If a torpedo was assembled with the gyro in wrong, or was launched without the gyro installed, it would circle. That problem was not discovered until a sub, USS Sargo, survived a circular run only to have an embarrassed torpedoman find the fish’s gyro still in a case aboard the boat. It did not even occur to anyone at the Navy’s insular, smug torpedo establishment that a torpedo that could kill everyone aboard if one junior rating made one simple error just might be a design problem.

It is an essential principle of machine design that something that can be assembled wrong, will be assembled wrong.

The US Navy did not have working torpedoes until late in the war, when torpedoes designed by private industry came online. The torpedoes designed and built at the Navy’s Torpedo Station in Newport, RI never worked entirely right. But even as submariners and PT crewmen knew the things were no good, the ordnance men were certain they were the best in the world, and weren’t interested in listening to complaints from the field.


  1. That’s Newpower’s number, 24. The original list at Ed Howard’s submarine history site comprised 21 possible circular runs, which after adding 8 more provided by Charles R. Hinman of the sub memorial site, comes to 29.


Howard, Ed. Instances of Circular Running Torpedoes Reported by U. S. Submarines during World War II. Retrieved from:

Kershaw, Alex. Escape from the Deep: A True Story of Courage and Survival During World War II. Philadelphia: Da Capo Press, 2008.

Kershaw, Alex. The Last Torpedo. America in WWII, June, 2008. Retrieved from: (note: this is an excerpt from Escape From the Deep). 

Newpower, Anthony. Iron Men and Tin Fish: The Race to Build a Better Torpedo during World War II. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2006.

Thomas, Russell. The History of the Torpedo and the Relevance to Today’s U.S. Navy. History.Navy.Mil. Retrieved from:

US Navy. War Damage Report Nº. 58. Submarine Report. Section X: USS Tang (SS-306). Retrieved from:

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: N6CC

What’s that? It sounds like a ham callsign? And we think that’s what stands for, although the site breaks it out as Navy 6 Combat Coms. But what we were flagged to was the site author, Tim Sammons’s, stories of his service in the Navy on a forgotten class of small combatants, the Trumpy class PTF patrol boats. The boats were American-made licensed copies of the Norwegian Nasty class boats that were used by the maritime operations wing of SOG in the Vietnam War. Tim has great stories of the Trumpys he knew, PTF-17, -18, and -19, boats that resembled in style, construction and size the classic Elco PT boats of World War II.


The names? The source of Nasty is not clear; during their brief service in the US Navy they were known only by numbers. Trumpy is easier to figure out; the American boats were built to the Norwegian plan by now-defunct yacht builders John Trumpy & Sons.


They were powered by the bizarre and tremendous Napier Deltic diesels, strange engines with three crankshafts arranged triangularly, with cylinders in between, and two pistons in each cylinder — one coming in from each end, until they’d compressed the charge enough to fire. The Deltics were turbosupercharged, put out a staggering 3100 horsepower each (the boats had two) and could drive the wooden Trumpys to 45 knots, sea state permitting.


They were also armed with a small arsenal of 40mm, 20mm, .50 caliber guns and an 81mm mortar. Tim has a page specifically on armament — you guys might like that.

In Tim’s day, he patrolled the Great Lakes, but he has some interesting information about the Trumpys’ predecessors, the Nastys, in Vietnam, and the Trumpys’ ill-fated successors, the Osprey class (whose aluminum hulls were found to be too fragile for the mission).

If you want more info on the boats’ wartime adventures, see and where there are a lot of firsthand stories of these fast little combatants.

It isn’t just boats. Naturally, there’s a lot of cool commo gear on his website, including a clever hack that uses a VFO to stand in for a crystal in an AN/GRC-109 radio. (If you don’t know what that is, just crank this generator while Tim and I tune the antenna….). The hack will work with the OSS/Agency clandestine RS-1, too, which is a very close sibling of the 109.

Other cool stuff on Tim’s website include camouflaged or covert antennas and many other communications rigs, and annotated photos of the communications gear from the commo wing of the museum that the Democratic Republic of Vietnam made of the Presidential Palace of once-free Vietnam. Poor Thieu’s, or maybe by then it was Big Minh’s, situation map still is stuck to a wall in there.




At Cu Chi, he laid out $17 to fire 10 rounds out of an AK. The NVA fought capitalism before succumbing to it.


There’s also an interesting exploration of the wreck site of a rare B-17C (no B-17 that old survives intact).

Why did the Viper Centerpunch the Cessna?

The NTSB and Air Force are investigating a 7 July midair between an F-16CM Viper and a Cessna 150. Two aboard the Cessna died, the fighter pilot was uninjured, both planes were destroyed.

The NTSB and Air Force are investigating a 7 July midair between an F-16CM Viper and a Cessna 150. Two aboard the Cessna died, the fighter pilot was uninjured, both planes were destroyed.

It seems clear that the father and son in the Cessna 150 didn’t suffer. The F-16CM was traveling at over 200 kts over South Carolina 7 July, when it flew through the center of the 1670 pound light plane (and its two occupants). The damaged jet continued briefly, but three minutes after the collision, the pilot ejected. Most of the jet landed in a single crater, where it exploded and burned itself out. The little Cessna and its pilots came fluttering down in pieces; some of the larger ones, like the plane’s 100-horsepower engine, never were found. The jet pilot was, thanks to dumb luck, completely uninjured, neither by the midair nor by the ejection. Any other roll of the die and this would have been a mishap with three fatalities.

As is usually the case with midair collisions, it was 11 AM on a clear day (there were scattered clouds, but they were over 1000 feet higher than the collision) with excellent visibility. As is often the case, both aircraft were clearly on radar. However, only one of them was flying under positive air traffic control, under instrument flight rules. That was the Air Force jet.

Both aircraft were on the screen and known to the controller at the time of impact, as the F-16 pilot practiced instrument approaches (these are flights down electronic beams or pathways that are used for landing in bad weather. Because they’re a perishable skill, pilots practice them routinely in good weather, as this man was doing). He was very busy; he was vectoring to start his third approach in a flight that began only 40 minutes prior, this time a TACAN approach — a military electronic beam of 1950s vintage, conceptually similar but technically different and more precise than the VORs used by civilians. Instrument flying, and especially setting up instrument approaches, demands that the pilot be head down in the cockpit to some degree (you can fight the F-16 through the HUD, but you can’t set up an approach that way. You have to set a bunch of knobs and dials inside the jet). When civilians and most multi-crew military pilots fly practice approaches, they usually have the second pilot looking out of the cockpit as a safety pilot. In a single-seat fighter, that’s not an option. The pilot began to look for the Cessna when the controller called it out to him. He didn’t see it.

The controller made several calls to the F-16 as it became clear that the jet was on a collision course with the light plane. The pilot didn’t seem to react at first, and then, when told to turn immediately, he slowly began a wide sweeping turn that was too little, too late. The Cessna was not talking to approach control (and wasn’t required to); it did have a radar transponder squawking the Mode III code (1200) for an aircraft flying under visual flight rules.

Here’s a hasty transcript of the radio traffic, reconstructed from the NTSB preliminary. CHS is the Charleston approach controller; N3601V or 01V is the Cessna, not that it appears; we’ll use F16 for the jet’s callsign. The jet was heading about 215 degrees at about 200 knots, and the Cessna about 110 degrees at about 90 knots, so they were closing rapidly.

1100:18: CHS->F16, Traffic 12 o’clock, 2 miles, opposite direction, 1,200 indicated, type unknown.
1100:18: F16->CHS, Roger, looking for traffic.
1100:26: CHS->F16, Turn left heading 180 if you don’t have that traffic in sight.
1100:26: F16->CHS, Confirm two miles?
1100:32: CHS->F16, If you don’t have that traffic in sight turn left heading 180 immediately.
1100:49 (last radar return received from Cessna)
1100:52: CHS->F16, Traffic passing below you 1,400 feet.
1101:19: F16 (transmitting blind), Mayday!
1103:17 (last radar return from F-16, indicating 300 feet, near crash site).

The NTSB preliminary does contradict itself. It says, after the 1100:32 call demanding a turn from the F-16:

Over the next 18 seconds, the track of the F-16 began turning southerly.

However, it also indicates that:

At 1100:49, the radar target of the F-16 was located 1/2 nautical mile northeast of the Cessna, at an indicated altitude of 1,500 feet, and was on an approximate track of 215 degrees.

As we noted above, 215 degrees was the jet’s heading before the commanded turn; yet it was still tracking 215 on impact, it says here. However, after the collision the F16 was observed (on radar) to track “generally southerly”.

One thing that’s very clear from this is how quickly this situation developed and went thoroughly pear-shaped. When the controller says “immediate” or “immediately,” that’s a word that gets every pilot’s attention; they only use it when time matters. And from the first traffic call to the “immediately” call was about 14 seconds. Another 17 or so seconds after that, all opportunity to avoid the crash had been lost, two men were dead and one was about to take to the silk. A little more than a half minute elapsed from the controller’s first expression of concern to the collision. A little over three minutes had passed since the Cessna lifted off its runway and was immediately picked up by the ATC radar.

NTSB will have a final transcript with the final report, months from now.

Speculation Follows

The next couple of paragraphs are speculation about a possible contributing factor in this mishap. Speculation based on early reports, while it is the bread and butter of CNN, is often unwise in aviation mishaps, because early reporting is almost always as wrong as reporters can get. But nonetheless, we’ll go ahead and speculate. Therefore, to control the depth of speculation, the only source that we have used is the preliminary report from NTSB. –Ed.

When the radar images merged and the radar image of the shredded Cessna disappeared, the planes were reporting different altitudes. The transponder of the fighter said it was at 1500 feet (albeit descending); the transponder of the Cessna showed it at 1400 feet (and climbing), seconds before the collision. Because air pressure varies from time to time and place to place, a pilot uses a knob and a dial called a Kollsman window (after its 1930s inventor) to adjust the barometric pressure. A standard day’s pressure is considered to be 29.92 inches of mercury at sea level; locally, there was high pressure (that good sunny weather!) and the setting then and there should have been 31.15.

If the pilot of the jet mistakenly set his altimeter to 31.05, his altimeter would have read 1500 feet when he was actually at 1400 (or, if the pilot of the Cessna had set his to 31.25, he’d have been 100 feet higher than his reported altitude). We’re not sure that the F-16 transponder uses the pilot’s Kollsman setting like the civilian one does. We are fairly confident that if the two planes were correctly reporting that they were both at the same altitude, the controllers would have had much more of a sense of urgency (and automatic features of the system would have flagged their attention) much earlier.

What the Investigation Can and Will Determine

The investigators may be able to tell how the altimeters were set in both planes. On the Cessna, it’s a physical knob and dial, and should preserve its last setting if it was not physically destroyed in the impact. That may have happened. Here’s what the investigators found of the wreckage:

The wreckage of the Cessna was recovered in the vicinity of its last observed radar target, over the west branch of the Cooper River. Components from both airplanes were spread over an area to the north and west of that point, extending for approximately 1,200 feet. The largest portions of the Cessna’s airframe included a relatively intact portion of the fuselage aft of the main landing gear, and the separate left and right wings, all of which were within 500 feet northwest of the airplane’s final radar-observed position. Portions of the cabin interior, instrument panel, fuel system, and engine firewall were found distributed throughout the site. The engine, propeller, and nose landing gear assembly were not recovered. The lower aft engine cowling of the F-16 was also recovered in the immediate vicinity of the Cessna’s aft fuselage, while the F-16’s engine augmenter was recovered about 1,500 feet southwest. Small pieces of the F-16’s airframe were also distributed throughout the accident site.

Just to give you an idea how thoroughly even the F-16 was parted out inflight, here is the “engine augmenter” referenced above:

midair engine augmenter

Yeah, it landed on a trailer/RV park.

On the Viper, the altimeter setting should be retained in the data recorders, which were recovered in good order from the pilot’s ejection seat and the wreckage of the airplane.

The investigators were last seen dragging the river for missing parts of aircraft and people.

The investigators are likely to recommend that the Board note, among any other findings, that there are inherent limitations to the “see and avoid” principle, but, ultimately, the crew of the two aircraft failed to see and avoid one another.

Snap, Crackle, and Pop

Well-known (and respected) trainer Kyle Defoor was conducting training at for a military unit when one of the unit’s long guns went down, due to this:

defoor bolt failure

Yes, that’s an AR/M16/M4 bolt with a single lug fully failed. Possible causes for the failure include (at a fundamental level) manufacturing error, corrosion or fatigue. It’s hard to judge from this hole, but going way out on a limb, it looks like there’s a somewhat granular failure at the left end of the fracture, with a smoother “sudden” fracture face on the right end nearer the extractor, presumably because the fatigue failure left too little of the remaining metal to bear the stress of firing locked in battery, and the remainder of the part failed from the crack due to overstress. But it could also be caused by swapping a fresh bolt into a gun with a worn barrel extension (or vice versa) in the field, so that only one lug was bearing all the tension of locking — result, failure. Or the gun may simply have been made without the locking lugs all engaging properly — it’s happened before.

A gun with a failure like this may or may not continue to fire for a while. But if overstress on one lug was a factor, the loads formerly too much for seven lugs now bear upon six — it would not be wise to bet your life on this firearm.

Kyle, though, had another issue with the failure — and the unit whose arms room coughed up the firearm that did it.

On 9 July, he posted this image to his Facebook feed, saying:

Maybe I should start to amend contracts to include an armorer and spare parts?

With a hilarious set of hastags including, but not limited to:

#‎takecareofgear‬ ‪#‎ittakescareofyou‬ ‪

…and the snark-infused:

‬ ‪#‎logisticswinswars‬ ‪#‎waistingtrainingtime‬ ‪#‎youdontpaymetoplumb‬

The part was, as you can see from the markings, a factory Colt, magnetic particle inspected, bolt (or a counterfeit thereof that somehow got into the supply system — not impossible). It had unknown hours and rounds, because Big Green is not in the habit of keeping meaningful usage and maintenance records on small arms.

Apart from spelling “wasting” wrong, there is not much to argue with in Defoor’s response. Apparently the unit in question did not provide an armorer for the range event. In most units, the armorer doubles as a supply clerk and is not thought of as necessary for a range evolution (except to manage draw and turn-in of weapons at the Arms Room). In addition, the Army has been working to reduce the number and kind of spare parts available at organizational level. This is due to politically anti-gun policies, and Army civilian political appointees who believe (however lacking the evidence may be) that Army stocks are a significant source of crime guns.

Even if the parts were by some miracle on hand, the standard Army armorer, one each, is neither trained nor authorized to replace a failed bolt. Armorers given scant and cursory training on maintenance.  Instead, their course, an add-on for supply clerks, concentrates very extensively on paperwork, records-keeping, and the process of appearing to be conducting scheduled maintenance. This is also borne out by what actual combat units and their commanders value, based on how they judge and critique their armorers. No one is ever graded on the only maintenance measure that ought to count, the combat serviceability of the unit’s firearms; everyone is constantly graded on the process, on the appearance of maintenance, and on maintenance busy work. While we’d bet nine out of ten of the readers of this blog could fix this rifle in minutes, the only thing a company, battalion or even brigade armorer can do with it is turn it in.

Military maintenance bureaucracy does all it can to limit effective maintenance of small-unit equipment, notably including small arms, optics, and radios. Problems with these are most effectively solved by trained, experienced personnel at the lowest organizational level, so naturally such personnel are just flat not available.

Instead, you must tag the weapon or other piece of equipment down. Naturally, there are different rules for weapons and weapons equipment, vehicles, radios, and special weapons (i.e. WMD-related stuff), although the Army does try to squeeze them all onto standard forms (DA-2404 for regular maintenance, DA-2407 for turn in, nowadays it’s an electronic form, DA-2407E, done in the SAMS logistics computer system).

The weapon can’t be sent directly to the level that can fix it, even when (like this) the level is obvious and the weapon could be inspected and classified by a well-coached Helen Keller. It must go up the operator-organizational-direct-depot support chain, getting a new inspection at each

Plus, while the weapon is turned in, what is Joe Snuffy supposed to shoot? No Army unit maintains operational floats or spares (unless it is, by happenstance, or the customary incompetence of all Army personnel managers and activities, understrength). So Joe will get the weapon of whoever is on sick call or leave when the unit goes to a range, unless it’s one of the very large number of units that does an absolutely crap job of tracking who is assigned each particular weapon, in which case it’s musical chairs and the last one that shows up gets a new weapon.

The Army actually tries to bill giving a guy a new rifle for every annual, semiannual or quarterly trip to the range as a plus, believe it or not: “Everybody gets valuable experience in zeroing.” (Meanwhile, of course, everyone loses confidence in the ability of his gun to hold zero).

It does not help that the standard M12 rack does not accept a rifle with optics. In the Arms Room, it’s still 1988.

Moreover, the Army’s weapons records are a chaotic mess of rack numbers, serial numbers, weapons cards, hand receipts, pencil sheets, green-and-white property book printouts (that may not put all your unit’s rifles, for example, together on the same pages), and unofficial Excel-spreadsheets and Access databases, which interface more or less (mostly, less) with one another and with the unit’s personnel assignments. This means that every time you cross-level personnel from 2nd platoon to 3rd platoon, if your arms room is nicely organized by platoons, Joe Rifleman is going to get a new rifle and be off zero until next range trip, and so is Bill Bulletician who’s coming from somewhere else… that’s another reason why no Army unit beyond the Ranger battalions and the 82nd Division Ready Battalion actually dares to ship out to combat without a trip to the zero range.

In addition to the deployment delays that come because no one has confidence in his optic zero right now, we also endure a colossal waste of time because weapons inventories are unnecessarily hard. (One of the nice things about HK 416s? Their serial numbers are highlighted. Seems like a small thing, until you’ve tried to inventory a couple hundred M16A2s by the light of a flickering fluorescent bulb that there’s no budget to replace. And if you highlight the number with paint or permanent marker, you can actually get dinged on inspection). Every arms room needs to be inventoried periodically by senior personnel who have better things to do, and many aperiodic inventories are demanded by regulations. The faster these go, the better for everyone, but the Army has a settled way of doing things that proceeds from the assumption that the net value of a soldier, NCO or officer’s time is always zero.