Category Archives: Air and Naval Weapons

This Day in 1918: The Death of Richthofen

98 years ago today, the highest-scoring ace and one of the most intriguing figures in the Great War perished after a long morning of gunfighting in the sky. We refer, of course, to Manfred v. Richthofen, known as “The Red Knight” to his German public, and “The Red Baron” to the rest of the world. This video is a computer rendering of Richthofen’s last flight, insofar as can be ascertained.

Richthofen’s mount, the Fokker Dr.I triplane, was dominant (thanks to its staggering rate of climb, primarily) when first introduced, but a year in the air war was an eternity, and the Sopwith Camels of the Royal Air Force were its superior. Richthofen had also flown the Albatros; he would not live to fly the best fighter of  the war, the Fokker D.VII.

There is a rather glaring small arms error in the generally correct video. How many of you will spot it?

When All Marines are Mud Marines

USMC EGA eagle globe and anchorThat day is rapidly approaching when the Marines’ fabled “Every Marine a Rifleman, uh, Rifle Entity” slogan will be literally true: when the last few flyable Marine jets and helicopters join the 70% that are already down for maintenance and lack of spare parts.

In some cases, like the non-Super F/A-18s, spare airframe parts have not been made in such a long period of time that Marines have to raid museums for them.

Sometimes it takes the Marines 18 months to get parts for early model F-18 jets whose production was halted in 2001.

“We are an operational squadron. We are supposed to be flying jets, not building them,” said Lt. Col. Harry Thomas, Commanding Officer of VMFA-312.

But hey, the Marine-hating Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, has a plan. He’s going to replace the parts, and the 30,000 Marines that he’s dumped, who otherwise might have installed them, with genuine fabulous fairy dust, thanks to his laserlike focus on transgender toilets for all.

It’s not like cutting corners has real consequences, eh?

Lt. Col Harry Thomas, call sign “Crash,” deployed to the Pacific with 10 jets last year. Only seven made it. A fuel leak caused his F/A-18 to catch fire in Guam. Instead of ejecting, he landed safely, saving taxpayers $29 million.

You know, if Thomas flew an operational mission and lost three of his jets, Mabus would have him canned. If he loses three jets because Mabus diverted O&M funds into social engineering, well, crickets then, and how do you like your fierce new tranny cans?

But hey, that was the low point, right, 7 of 10 jets operational. Just about anywhere, 70% is passing, and Ray Mabus grades on a curve so it’s an A…

But that wasn’t the low point:

Right now only two of his 14 Hornets can fly. His Marines deploy in three months.

“We are supposed to be doing the type of maintenance like you would take your car to Jiffy Lube for replacing fluids, doing minor inspections, changing tires, things of that nature, not building airplanes from the ground up,” he added.

Marine jet pilots are down to 4 hours a month, less than Chinese or Russian peers and down from 25-30 hours in the air BM, which seems like a suitable acronym for Before Mabus.

What they’re doing with the spare time is unclear, but odds are it’s attending SHARP briefings or working on flash cards of the fifty-odd Genders-with-a-capital-G that Mabus’s Navy considers superior to the ancient Cismale Heteronormative Patriarchy.

The latest Beltway Brainstorm is just to keep flying 1980s- and 90s-vintage F/A-18s, already committed to fly 2,000 hours beyond their design life of 6,000 hours, to 10,000 hours or more.

And the Marines’ helicopters? Apart from a baker’s dozen tiltrotor squadrons, which finally allowed the retirement of the last LBJ-era CH-46s last year, they operate patched and bandaged 1970s versions of  Vietnam War types.


Cool, Your Jets

Well, actually, anybody’s jets are cool. There’s a great post on the history of the jet engine at The Arts Mechanical, including this ~45 minute History TV video.

The video is a great overview of early jet development. (Our favorite bit is Irv Culver’s practical approach to prototyping, as recounted by a junior engineer. You’ll see what we mean). The video oversimplifies the MiG-15/F-86 performance comparison, but it’s good.

Rare video of Heinkel and Caproni-Campini experimental jets is shown. (No reference to Coanda’s 1911 experiments, but you can’t have everything in 44 minutes).

The whole post, though, is a treasure trove of more information on jet development. Check out all the videos and links!

Towards the end of his post, he wonders why GE was chosen to develop the Whittle in their (now, largely abandoned) Lynn, Massachusetts plant. That question we can answer: GE was the major maker of turbosuperchargers, which we now call turbochargers, for American aircraft use. (The video addresses the turbo ancestry of jet engines, a little). Turbos were used to boost power at all altitudes, but also to “normalize” an engine, allowing the engine to produce its rated horsepower even in thin stratospheric air. (There would still be losses to the low air density, because the propeller would move fewer air molecules. Can’t supercharge that). And turbochargers require the same kind of precision manufacture of turbine wheels, bearings and ducts, and the same kind of high-temperature materials, required by turbojets. Turbocharger ancestry is particularly evident in early, centrifugal-flow turbojets.

The Lynn plant may be slowly decaying, but GE is still at the top of the turbine game. This article at MIT Technology Review describes a novel, more efficient, pressurized turbo-generator.

The Problem of Busting Bombers

This B-17 made it home to England with pilot Allen Lewis still aboard. He had his crew bail out.. they all made it back to friendly lines.

This B-17G made it home to England with pilot Allyn Lewis still aboard. He had his crew bail out.. they all made it back to friendly lines. Source.

In World War II, the Giulio Douhet-inspired saying, “The bomber will always get through,” was on every set of lips in the command structure of the British and American bomber elements. What they didn’t say out loud was, “If you start off with enough bombers to saturate the defenses, and steel yourself to some staggering losses.”

Quite a few B-17s lost their noses (usually to flak, sometimes to fighters or bombs from another bomber overhead) and kept flying.

Quite a few B-17s lost their noses (usually to flak, sometimes to fighters or bombs from another bomber overhead) and kept flying.

RAF Bomber Command and the 8th Air Force did indeed take some staggering losses. The 8th had it relatively easy compared to their British cousins — and there were more killed in the 8th than in the whole United States Marine Corps in World War II. Yeah, all those bloodbaths on all those islands? The 8th got creamed worse than that. But just about always, they got through, and bombed, if not the intended target, something belonging to Jerry.

But losing the tail meant losing control. The crew had seconds only to abandon ship. None of the ten men on this B-17 did.

But losing the tail meant losing control. The crew had seconds only to abandon ship. None of the ten men on this B-17 were able to, and they joined the 8ths long honor roll.

The Germans threw everything they had at the bomber offensive, although it took them a while to get serious about it. By “everything” we mean:

  • single-engine and heavily-armed twin-engine day and night fighters, armed with a range of guns, cannons and rockets;
  • the most saturated gun air defenses the world has ever seen, with guns from light machine cannon of 20mm up to big bruisers of 105 and 128 mm (or as the German nomenclature ran, 10,5 and 12,8 cm), fighters and guns alike; all controlled by,
  • a radar and radio control network of a sophistication unequaled until the development of NORAD and SAGE in the 1950s; and finally,
  • jet and rocket planes, and developmental air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles, too late to do the Germans any good but in plenty of time to give Russian and American aeronautical engineers (and even British aeronautical engineers, which were still a world-class thing in 1945) lots of good ideas for the next arms race.

For an 8,8 cm or 10,5 cm Flakanone, or a battery, battalion or great veritable screaming forest of the guns, destroying the plane was relatively assured — hitting it, that was the hard part. The fighter drivers had the opposite problem — they could hit Lancasters, B-24s or B-17s, but more often than not they’d blow all their ammo into (or at least in the direction of) their targets, and watch the stately bombers fly on to rain death and destruction on German industries and cities. A plane couldn’t carry a bomber-busting 88, or even a 75 (they tried, with a recoilless 75. It was more trouble than it was worth). So they decided to try to teach the fighter pilot to kill, not just hit, the enemy.

"If a Fortress begins to suffer, don't yet dream of victory palms. Keep shooting! Many have come to regret celebrating too soon."

“If a Fortress begins to suffer, don’t yet dream of victory palms. Keep shooting! Many have come to regret celebrating too soon.”

horrido_schiessfibelThe mechanism for this instruction: a mock-grade-school primer, like the ones we’ve already seen for German tanks. Horrido, the Fighter’s Shooting Primer, had a cover graced with a cartoon of a smiling German FW-190 jock zeroing in on a doomed Russian in a Lavochkin. The cartoonist signed “Trautloft,” which makes us wonder if it was Luftwaffe ace Johannes Trautloft. (The internal illustrations and cartoons were done by Berlin commercial artist Thomas Abeking, a second-generation first-call illustrator for German industry at the time). The Fibel, published 23 June 1944 as Dienstvorschrift (Luft) 5001, was a tactical guide, complete with a warning: “Do Not Bring on Combat Flights!” lest the tactics, techniques and procedures inside be captured by the enemy.

Sight picture drill, using a woman.. "get closer"... then in the last image, she's homely: "Break away!" Lower, a B17. Using the wingspan to estimate distance..600m "closer in!".. 300m "open fire, still closer in"... 150m "keep shooting!"

Sight picture drill, using a woman.. “get closer”… then in the last image, she’s homely: “Break away!”
Lower, a B17. Using the wingspan to estimate distance..600m “closer in!”.. 300m “open fire, still closer in”… 150m “keep shooting!”

Written in a familiar tone with lots of cartoons, the principal parts of the book were a general discussion of air combat ballistics and marksmanship; a specific overview of the fire control systems and switchology of the two most numerous day fighters, the Me109G-6 and the Fw190A-6; and hortatory, motivational content.

Instead of a lot of instruction in air combat maneuvering, this is all about how to get hits, and enough hits to justify risking your neck approaching a formation of day bombers. The biggest “secret,” something every fighter ace had stressed since Boelcke’s Dicta of 1916: get close, don’t miss.

Closer in is 9 times more effective. "At this distance, don't shoot! Save ammo, it's very expensive." "And it's also embarrasing when one gets there" (200m) "and would really like to, but can't any more." The pilot's looking at an empty round-counter at right.

Closer in is 9 times more effective. “At this distance, don’t shoot! Save ammo, it’s very expensive.” “And it’s also embarrasing when one gets there” (200m) “and would really like to, but can’t any more.” The pilot’s looking at an empty round-counter at right.

The problem with any manual, even one as informal as this, is that tactics constantly evolve in an environment of enemy contact. This had happened with fighter tactics with, for example, the frontal attack, not discussed in the booklet, proving devastating against the F-model and earlier B-17s, which could only bring two to three guns to bear forward. The advent of the G-model with its remote-controlled chin turret , and the B-24J equipped with a full, manned gun turret in the nose, raised the risk of the frontal attack. German fighters quickly adapted to the new risk profile, changing to a preferential use of multidirectional attacks.

Note also that the mini-manual is aimed only at the individual junior pilot. There is absolutely nothing here about organizing or leading fighter combat, or operational unit tactics, something to which squadron leaders and higher officers gave much thought and discussion. It’s beyond the scope of this small attempt to increase the efficiency of the air defense of the Reich.

"What good is all the bullet spraying, if they're only hitting the general area?"

“What good is all the bullet spraying, if they’re only hitting the general area?”

As the Schießfibel was not published into a vacuum, but into a constantly changing tactical and operational environment, the historian’s question, borrowed from Mark Rylance’s character Rudolf Abel in Bridge of Spies, “Did it help?” can’t be quantified, or even, really, answered. So we have to answer the question of its effectiveness with an unsatisfying, inconclusive shrug. We don’t know if it did any good. We know it didn’t win the war for Nazi Germany, but by the Summer of 1944 nothing would have done Nazi Germany any good, with the possible exception of overthrowing Hitler.

Here’s a .pdf version of the Fibel for your enjoyment. We are hosting it here to spare them the bandwidth, but we found it on this Czech war-history site.

Horrido Jagers Schiessfibel.pdf


“One Last Word!” — For German Fighter Pilots, 1944

In 1944, the Germans published a breezy, cartoon-filled booklet for fighter pilots flying against hard-to-kill four-engined bombers in defense of the Reich, attempting to get the word out to that most un-bookish type. Even the title was calculated to appeal to the devil-may-care fighter jock: “Horrido! Jaegers Schießfibel” used the Luftwaffe victory exclamation, “Horrido!” (adopted from German’s remarkable 5,000-word “hunter’s language”; supposedly a prayer to the apocryphal St. Horridus, patron of hunters, and therefore the fighter arm), and presented itself as a “Fighter pilot’s” (which in German is the same word as “Hunter’s”) “primer.”


It began, and ended, on a marksmanship theme, and with a card-players’s analogy:

Hits are Trumps!

… And closed with “One Last Word!” — like an Apple keynote address, in the Steve Jobs era. (Not suggesting Jobs was a Nazi fighter pilot; just that showmanship and the arts of persuasion are eternal). Our translation of that last word, from page 34 of Horrido, is:

When you, with your combat ready machine roar through the sky, you are the lord of over 1200 hp and over the destructive effect of 60 to 80 shots per second. What sole combatant in the world has ever had at his disposal such concentrated combat power?

–None! Be proud of that!

But the Homeland has expended many thousands of hours of work, and exhausting overtime hours, in order to put such an outstanding weapon in your hands. She trusts you to employ it courageously and effectively!

Your machine has only a few seconds to be effective in aerial combat. In these seconds you have to get everything – everything, without exception – out of it. If you don’t fire accurately then, all the labor, effort and sweat of the homeland is in vain — and the enemy triumphs.

For that reason, recognize the errors you make, and drill them out by diligent practice. Hits are Trumps!

That was followed by this cartoon on p. 35, the last printed page in the document.



No one else feels like the hunter does;
Battle and victory so concentrated;
That makes us happy, proud, and glad;
Hunting, to… Horrido!

The meaning of Horrido! in this case, Victory or a Trophy.



Nuclear Attack, for Real (Nagasaki)

"Bockscar" at the USAFM in Dayton, OH (it embiggens)

“Bockscar” at the USAFM in Dayton, OH (it embiggens)

This is Los Alamos National Labs’ archive film of the “Fat Man” atomic bomb as dropped on Nagasaki in August 1945. It comes to us via the Restricted Data1 channel on YouTube.

To us one of the most salient discoveries is that you can’t nuke a city without duct tape, or as we called it in the Army, “100-mile-an-hour tape.” Bockscar was probably traveling at well over 100 (over 200 in fact) indicated airspeed when it released Fat Man, but Fat Man still had the seam around his nose sealed with the ubiquitous tape. (At about 0:40 in the video).

The author of the RD Channel, Alex Wellerstein, describes it like this:

This silent film shows the final preparation and loading of the “Fat Man” bomb into “Bockscar,” the plane which dropped the bomb on Nagasaki. It then shows the Nagasaki explosion from the window of an observation plane. This footage comes from Los Alamos National Laboratory. I have not edited it in any way from what they gave me except to improve the contrast a little — it is basically “raw.” I have annotated it with some notes on the bombing and what you can see — feel free to disable the annotations if you don’t want them.

He also maintains an excellent blog, of the same title, at this location: Further details on the Nagasaki raid —  and this video — at the Nuclear Secrecy Blog. Do read the comments as, with a couple of exceptions, Alex’s blog, like this one, benefits from an informed and thoughtful commentariat.

Elsewhere on his blog, he also addressed a historical mysterywhy was Kokura, home to Kokura Arsenal known to every collector of Japanese firearms, and Fat Man’s primary target, spared; whilst Nagasaki, the secondary target, was destroyed?2

Terrain model of Kokura Arsenal, the primary target. Saved by 10/10 obscuration on the day of the raid.

Terrain model of Kokura Arsenal, the primary target. Saved by 10/10 obscuration on the day of the raid. (USAAF official via Nuclear Secrecy blog).

His cautious conclusion: while there’s a case for obscuration due to an earlier fire-bombing raid on an upwind city, and a case for deliberate obscuration by Japanese defensive measures, two of which possible measures he describes. Ultimately, he concludes:

In the end, it doesn’t really matter which of these things happened. The bare fact is that Kokura didn’t get bombed and Nagasaki did. But I find looking into these kinds of questions useful as a historian. Too often it is easy to take for granted that the explanations given in narrative works of history are “settled,” when really they are often resting on very thin evidence, thinner perhaps than the historian who writes them realizes. I don’t think we really know what happened at Kokura, and I’m not sure we ever truly will.

His first sentence reminds us of something we say to people who have disturbing memories or survivor’s guilt: “In combat, there’s no right or wrong, there’s just what happened and what you did.”

Alex’s is an elegant and responsible historical blog — much recommended.


Littoral Combat Ship Live-Fire Defense Test

First, the good: one of the embattled ships, USS Coronado, successfully defended itself against single and “swarm” attacks by inflatable boats using its only working onboard weapons, 57mm and 30mm guns. LCS is also supposed to mount defensive AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, of Apache helo and Predator drone fame, but as with almost all LCS capabilities, the Navy’s years behind schedule and millions over budget, with no schedule beyond “real soon now.”

Next, some early tests of the navalized Hellfire Longbow system, from last summer. Long way to go to integrate with LCS, but the missiles did hit and kill moving (but nonmaneuvering) speedboat targets.

Now comes the analysis. This post by Syd Freedberg should bring you up to speed on the Navy’s and Director of Test and Evaluation’s conflicting claims about a critical report on the nearly-defenseless ship’s ability to defend itself.

The largest “raid” that has been presented to LCS to date is three boats, of which one got through.

Of course, this is apart from the ship’s deficiencies in sensors and propulsion.

Of course, focusing on the US Navy as we do, we sometimes lose track of the fact that this stuff is hard to do and that our allies and competitors sometimes struggle with live fires, too. As this Russian ship demonstrated last Navy Day near the historic fortress of Sevastopol:

The ship is, despite her attractive lines, at the opposite end of her life cycle than the LCS. She is the Burvestnik (NATO: Krivak)-class frigate, Ladnyy.

Stay of Execution for the A-10 — Until 2022

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, making a virtue of necessity, has quieted a Congressional revolt by extending the final withdrawal from service of the A-10 Warthog (officially, “Thunderbolt II”), for about fifteen more years.

"But I'm not dead yet!"

“But I’m not dead yet!”

This also reflects the reality that the A-10 can deliver ordnance effectively today, and Carter’s preferred replacement, the F-35, can’t. Flight Global:

Carter confirmed that the US air force will also postpone retirement of the Fairchild Republic A-10 Warthog.

“[It] has been devastating ISIL from the air,” he says, referencing the terrorist organisation the American military is fighting in Iraq and Syria. “The budget defers the A-10’s final retirement until 2022, replacing it with F-35s on a squadron-by-squadron basis so we’ll always have enough aircraft for today’s conflicts.”

The budget proposal will also contain more money for combat operations in the Middle East, including $1.8 billion to buy approximately 45,000 precision-guided bombs and missiles to replenish stocks.

via DOD reveals ‘arsenal plane’ and microdrones in budget speech.

The A-10 news was buried deep in Carter’s budget speech; headlining it were two Hail-Mary approaches to countering the F-35’s CAS incapacity and general ground-to-air deficiencies.

The first, and more straightforward, was to use something like a C-130 or B-52 as a brainless bomb hauler to bring the ordnance, making the larger airplane essentially an extended-capacity magazine for the sparely-armed jet (and for drones with the same issue). This approach assumes that the USA will never again have to fight or deter a peer competitor, or a small nation with high-tech or saturation air defense, but that the USAF’s mission, forever more, is to bring Jesus to the heathen races, with the jet serving as a 21st Century analog of the 19th’s Maxim Gun. The “arsenal plane” would be of little use, not only against Russia, China, India or any European nation-state, but also against Third World powers with modern defense technology like Brazil, Iran, Egypt, or North Korea. (While it’s hard to imagine war breaking out with some of those nations, with others, it’s not so hard, and defense planning is — or should be — a matter of capabilities, not hopes). Carter:

It takes one of our oldest aircraft platforms, and turns it into a flying launch pad for all sorts of different conventional payloads. In practice, the arsenal plane will function as a very large airborne magazine, networked to fifth-generation aircraft that acts as forward sensor and targeting nodes – essentially combining different systems already in our inventory to create wholly new capabilities.

The second of these new technologies puts a premium on aircraft as launch platforms, and therefore arrives right at the problem the Arsenal Plane is imagined to solve: the all but absent offensive punch of the F-35.  This is the Swarm of Microdrones. These pilotless aircraft would launch from a fighter jet and then a group of them could, using their onboard artificial intelligence, team up and use swarm tactics to defeat an enemy.

Finally, the budget includes more money for R&D, and almost $2 billion to replace the 45,000 precision guided weapons that have been expended busting trucks and individual jihadis (or trying to) in the failed wars in Syria and Libya.

You might wonder, “Where do we find such men?” Carter is a Yale undergrad and Oxford PhD, who later taught at Harvard, and never considered military service because he considered it beneath him. Instead, he leveraged those educational credentials to start at the top as a political appointee. Of the previous Secretaries of Defense, he most closely resembles Robert S. Macnamara in his belief that merit is only to be found among those whose SATs or family connections got them into the Ivy League, although he lacks Macnamara’s leavening experience in the Dreaded Private Sector.

Among his other achievements, he midwifed that colossal waste of money and menace to Americans’ personal privacy, the Department of Homeland Security.

Crazy Ivan’s Back in the North Atlantic

In the 1990s, the US quit investing in its sub fleet, comfortable in its superiority, and cut its numbers back to token levels. After all, post-Soviet Russia, our principal competitor at sea, had been forced to cut back itself, and  many of its subs lay beached and waiting for scrapping.


What a difference two decades make. In the 21st Century, the Russians have emerged with new submarine designs, better than anything they’ve ever sent to sea, and the Russian Navy has reached new heights of professionalism, while the US kept cutting, both in numbers and in readiness.

We disbanded the Atlantic unified command, because some credentialed idiot in the beltway wrote a book that said there would never be wars or superpower confrontations, and the other credentialed idiots in the beltway believed him.

We now have old boats, a submarine and naval industrial base that’s become welfare-dependent and complacent, few and elderly surface and naval air antisubmarine platforms, and crews that are riven by backstabbing and near-random summary dismissals of commanders, and subjected to the cold and variable winds of social justice engineering. Our undersea capabilities have gone from dominant to nearly nonexistent, while we spend more than ever because of the inefficiencies of our top-down, politically-driven system — one more Soviet in conception and execution than that of the allegedly neo-Soviet Russians. Nicholas de Larrinaga in Jane’s Defence Weekly:

Not only are Russian submarines returning to Cold War levels of operational activity, but Russian submarines have made a major jump in technological performance, Vice Adm [Clive] Johnstone [Commander, NATO Maritime Command] said, with NATO seeing “a level of Russian capability that we haven’t seen before”.

Russia, he said, “through an extraordinary investment path not mirrored by the West” has made “technology leaps that [are] remarkable, and credit to them.” Russian submarines now “have longer ranges, they have better systems, they’re freer to operate”, he said. The alliance has also “seen a rise in professionalism and ability to operate their boats that we haven’t seen before”, noted Vice Adm Johnstone, adding, “that is a concern”.

A modern Russian sub puts to sea (MOD RU vis Jane's)

A modern Russian sub puts to sea (MOD RU vis Jane’s)

Frankly, if the Admiral remembers the 1980s, higher professionalism from the Russian Navy (than its Soviet predecessor) is probably a good thing for everyone, and it should simply inspire NATO navies to pursue professionalism also. Instead, however, we’ve been pursuing race and sex quotas with a singlemindedness that would get fiction’s greatest whaling captain to tell us to “lighten up, shipmate.”

Together, this meant that the level of Russian submarine activity NATO is currently seeing in the North Atlantic is “very different from the period of quiet submarine activity that perhaps we’ve seen in the past”.

But what is really torquing the Admiral, it seems, is that Russia’s silent service is, well, silent:

However he added, “I think none of that would worry us if we knew what the game plans were or we knew why they were deploying or what they were doing … we don’t understand what the strategic and operational objectives are of the Russian state.” This was because “a lot of what the Russians are doing at the moment we don’t understand, and is obscure and is shrouded in other activity which makes us nervous, and makes nations nervous”.

via Russian submarine activity topping Cold War levels | IHS Jane’s 360.

Uncertainty itself is an objective and force multiplier in war — cold or hot, dear Admiral. Like the ATF, which enjoys having vague laws it can enforce for arbitrary or whimsical reasons, or against arbitrary or specified individuals, Russia has everything to gain by keeping NATO guessing, and nothing to gain by providing the leaders and intel analysts of NATO with insight as to their intentions.

It sounds like the Admiral’s analysts have fallen into the trap of only analyzing the adversary’s capabilities in the light of his intentions, and now feel that it’s not fair that they have to return to first principles and see what these capabilities enable him to do.

Russia has a submarine service with a tradition of superior service and selfless sacrifice that goes back a century plus (although Soviet-era textbooks ascribed all submersible inventions of consequence, back to the eighteenth century, to various apocryphal Russian peasants and workers). Those WWI Russian submariners went up against the German and Austro-Hungarian navies in boats that didn’t even have watertight compartments.

The great-grandsons of those iron men in iron boats now put to sea backed by a nation that may have its own issues, but is free of the technical isolation that led Soviet-era submarine technology to lag the West. Of course they’ve gotten better; that’s what humans do, given half a chance. The cause of Admiral Johnstone’s problem is not that the Russians have use the last two decades to get better, but that his nations’ navies have not.

What were we doing? Figuring out how long a plug had to go into new sub designs, so that we could have ladies’ sanitary arrangements, because our lodestar was not the mission but the careers.

Some Early 1960s Jet Bomber Action

Here’s some classic black and white jet bomber videos, from a time before most of you guys were born.

First, a pilot who was a hero and a goat, all in the same mission. He overrotates on takeoff, blowing up his fuel pod — a gigantic tank for fuel and weapons that was aerodynamically integrated in the supersonic B-58. The fuel fire destroys one of his main gear bogies. He can take the plane somewhere safe and eject the crew — or he can try to bring it back to Carswell AFB, rolling the dice on survival, but saving the plane. If his skills are up to it. And he’s really lucky.

And yeah, that’s all fire on takeoff, in the YouTube splash screen:

Second, a pilot runs his B-52 out of gas. This happens only after every other conceivable problem occurs. The short (two or three minutes) briefing film includes color reenactments, and some black and white photos of what’s left of the plane. The crewmen escaped and survived, some with injuries. (For reasons known but to the guy that maintains the embed code, the link below will not embed the video, so we set it up as a clickable link instead).

A fellow could get hurt doing that. One wonders if there are Russian, British and French films of this era, just waiting to be found in a closet and declassified.

Ah, well, here’s one from 1976, when the Royal Navy had carriers and whacking great Blackburn Buccaneers (the first real precision all-weather low-level bomber, the prototype of them all).

First, scenes from the 1976 BBC documentary, and then, interviews with the pilot who was struggling to land his jet, and the squadron commander, that reveal a secret: the positive, upbeat debrief in the documentary was fluff for the cameras: the real debrief took place once the cameras were gone, and the pilot who boltered a half-dozen times before getting aboard apparently took quite a thrashing from his commander and peers!