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Aircraft Carriers: Lessons of the Past

September 10, 2009

If  you return to the lessons of the last great naval war in World War 2, you will find it was not the large aircraft carrier which decided that conflict but specifically naval airpower. Certainly the bigger decks were essential enablers of this victory, but many other platforms played important roles as well. Light aircraft carriers were built quickly on fast cruiser hulls that proved important adjuncts until war’s end, to the harder to build and much larger Essex class. Over 100 tiny “Jeep” escort carriers were constructed on cheap liberty ship hulls, operating in all theaters, fighting submarines, and supporting amphibious invasions. Who could imagine these same off-the-shelf-warships with their more or less 2 dozen planes each, would some day stand up to the capital ships of the IJN, at the Battle of Samar, including the fearsome battleship Yamato, and prevail!

There were other facets of naval air including the long range PBY patrol seaplanes that first discovered the Japanese Invasion Force bearing down on Midway in 1942. The Air Force deployed its own maritime patrol plane with the powerful Liberator bomber to combat the U-boats, while also blasting Hitler’s Germany to rubble. Later in the war, airships made a comeback protecting the vital convoys on the Atlantic Run.

Today we think the admirals and some politicians have elevated the status of large carrier platforms in importance above its primary reason for existence, the naval fighter/bomber. This is why you hear in the US of a naval “fighter gap”, and in Britain their new large deck carriers will enter service before the new Joint Strike Fighter is ready. India has the opposite problem. After entering in a deal with Russia to buy a modernized Cold War carrier she has Mig 29K naval planes ready but the ship itself seems as far off into commissioning as it ever has. In the hearts of minds of their advocates the giant ships have taken the place of battleships as sacred vessels, but at least with the old dreadnoughts you never heard them going to sea without their guns! Eric Palmer of F-16.net, writing in his own blog, looks at this bizarre discrepancy:

Without some kind of worthwhile tactical fighter to fly off of the carrier deck for the next 30 years, the USN is going to look awful silly if things go bad for the gold plated flying wonders they hope end up in carrier fighter squadrons.

For example if the Super Hornet production is cut off and the F-35C goes bad, the USN will be down to populating the carrier air wing with 2 fighter squadrons as opposed to 4. In ten years you will need an Ouija board to get in touch with legacy Hornets at the rate we are using them.

In US service, where the carrier once sailed with numerous varieties of fighters: heavy, medium, and light attack jets, reconnaissance, early warning, anti-submarine warfare, and helicopter search and rescue planes, now only a handful do the work of many jets. This is fine considering the reliability of modern jets, notably the F/A-18 Hornet and its derivative the Super Hornet. Unlike many current weapons programs, the newer Hornet has come in on time, within its budget, and affordable. Still, the single plane seems downright mediocre compared to the current generation of nuclear flattops, the most sophisticated, the largest, most powerful, and at a starting price of $8 billion each by far the most expensive warship ever devised. The best the SP could boast of, is it is the youngest fighter in service!

The Navy does itself a disservice by packing so much firepower in so few hulls. New Wars often points out the amazing capabilities of modern jets, which require greatly less servicing, can perform larger number of sorties (as Raymond Galrahn Pritchett reveals to us), and thanks to the power and accuracy of smart bombs like JDAM, finally realizes the long sought after goal of true precision bombing.

If any lessons from the land wars in Iraq and Afghanistan applies to modern naval airpower, is the carrier pilots need to get out of their giant floating “green zones” and place them where they are accessible to the “population of the sea”. Already the US is looking to base UAVs around the globe on land bases where their proven abilities in the Middle East can act as force multipliers, and in many instances, carrier alternatives. We  see then the folly of keeping so many planes tied to these fearsome symbols of our power, especially considering the less exquisite but very effective alternatives available.

CVNposter

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37 Comments leave one →
  1. Graham Strouse permalink
    October 18, 2009 10:22 pm

    I think you’re spot on as far as Yamato and Musashi are concerned, Mike. Guadalcanal was one of the few real mano-a-mano slug-fests of the war & it favored ships that could maneuver tightly in confined waters. Both Yamato class battleships had EXCELLENT maneuverability & they were comparable in speed to the top-flight US battleships of the time (Washington, South Dakota, etc.) Frankly, Yamato & Musashi had one fatal weakness–they were about 2-3 knots too slow for open ocean engagements. Top speed was around 27 knots. The Kongos did about 30-31 after refits (with heavier armor). This made the Kongos very useful as fleet escorts, hit & run bombardment ships & cruiser killers. Yamato & Musashi packed a brutal punch & were unbelievably resilient but to operate effectively, they needed to be deployed in areas where Americans were already “pinned down” as it were.

  2. Mike Burleson permalink*
    September 23, 2009 1:25 pm

    Thanks alot Graham! I think the Yamato’s might have played a greater role had the Japs used them early on, say in Guadalcanal?

  3. Graham Strouse permalink
    September 23, 2009 1:13 pm

    What a lot of people forget about the Battle off Samar is that it wasn’t just a strategic victory; it waqs a tactical victory as well. The US DDs & DEs were balls-out heroic. Dace & Darter inflicted devastating losses on Center Force before the fun even started (sinking the Japanese flagship & killing half the operations staff in the process) & the combined efforts of the the aircraft from all THREE Taffys inflicted tremendous damage. The US lost two CVEs, two DEs & one DD. The Japanese lost three heavy cruisers, suffered severe damage to three more, lost a destroyer & had another destroyer suffer heavy damage. And they were forced into a disorganized withdrawal hampered by the slower speed of the crippled ships which made them an easy target going the other way.

    Tangent: IMHO, the most effective Japanese BBs throughout the war were the Kongos. They were fast (about 30-31 knots after refit), had decent protection (again after refit when they were upgraded from BCs to fast BBs) & could deliver a pretty decent punch (8×14″). They fared poorly in slugfests with US BBs but were still valuable assets.

  4. Mike Burleson permalink*
    September 14, 2009 6:37 am

    Tarl, even the minimal airpower at Samar and the Falklands made a difference and helped turn the tide of battle. This is proof enough you don’t always need large deck carriers, but you always need airpower of some sort. A fleet built around a few Big Decks, with your force so concentrated is a waste of resources and a hording of firepower. Firepower should be used where it is most needed, and concentrated only for the decisive battle. But the practice of the USN is to concentrate power and ignore the numerous small missions of sea power. This is a recipe for bankruptcy and disaster for a global fleet.

    There are many alternatives today, from land based air, cruise missile firing ships, to the light carriers. Again we don’t advocate the end of the large deck, just against the concentration of force. In an era with so many threats, a few Big Decks are no longer sufficient. In our hands these alternatives might be our salvation, in the enemies hands, our doom.

    Your information on light carriers was made when other nations deployed large carriers. Today no one else does beside the US. We have no peer threat armed with aircraft carriers. There are none. So they will fight us in the next war with missiles, and probably lots of them, these little unmanned kamikazes where now every warship is aircraft carrier.

  5. Tarl permalink
    September 13, 2009 10:32 pm

    I came across a passage today in Mark Peattie’s Sunburst that is relevant to our discussion (p. 60):

    “In the mid-1920s the Japanese Navy, like the American Navy, believed that small carriers – 10,000 tons or less – in larger numbers would provide greater aircraft operating capacity. Given the vulnerability of carriers, such a dispersal of carrier air power would lessen the impact of the loss of any single carrier… Yet the Japanese and American Navies later came independently to the conclusion that a carrier of 10,000 tons was ineffective as a combat unit because it could not operate enough aircraft. In the 1930s, other factors were to favor the increased construction of larger and faster carriers, including the continuing need for longer flight decks to allow the takeoffs of larger and heavier aircraft.”

    Thus, in an environment when money was very tight for both Navies, they both nevertheless chose the more expensive and more capable larger carriers. Wargaming and analysis supported this choice, and subsequent combat experience validated it.

  6. Tarl permalink
    September 13, 2009 10:25 pm

    This conclusion is a mistaken one, since it is the quality and effectiveness of your airpower that is the key to winning.

    It’s the conclusion you drew from the Samar battle. The Americans had “some” airpower, the Japanese had none.

    It is as true today as it was in WW2 that a larger carrier enables you to employ larger and better aircraft in larger numbers than with small carriers.

    With the cost of large carrier continuing to rise, we are forced into an ever shrinking, ever aging fleet when there are equally effective but less costly alternatives available.

    Tell me again what those alternatives are?

    Big carriers have fought with distinction in every “small” war since 1945.

  7. Mike Burleson permalink*
    September 13, 2009 7:44 am

    “The conclusion that “some airpower is better than no airpower” is a trivial one”

    This conclusion is a mistaken one, since it is the quality and effectiveness of your airpower that is the key to winning. Not how big and bad your flattop is. I always insist that without planes your carrier is just a hollow shell, and I think this fact has escaped modern big deck advocates, as they can no longer build ships with adequate airwings. Which is why small carrier are so important in that they are gap fillers. In the absence of other enemy carriers, they can perform the naval air function well enough on their own, as the British proved.

    I would be the first one to admit a small carrier isn’t as powerful as a supercarrier, but this doesn’t mean it is not ineffective at all. In many cases, and as I said in the absence of significant enemy forces, it can be just as effective as a large carrier. With the cost of large carrier continuing to rise, we are forced into an ever shrinking, ever aging fleet when there are equally effective but less costly alternatives available. It makes no sense to limit your military power for the sake of tradition, and fear of alternatives. This is how a military stagnates.

    Again I agree that the Big Decks are superior in all respects, which means then we can afford fewer of them with little risk, and small ships can take up the slack. CVLs would also be perfect for the small wars the Navy most often fights, saving the Big Ships for the really big crises or the infrequent major conflicts.

  8. Tarl permalink
    September 12, 2009 11:56 pm

    it was airpower that proved dominate, not the question of what type of carriers, large or small, were present.

    The conclusion that “some airpower is better than no airpower” is a trivial one, and hardly makes a conclusive case for big carriers over small. A force of small carriers versus big carriers or land-based air is most likely gonna lose.

    How about off Okinawa where the large carriers suffered grievously and about that number were damaged or out of action?

    If the US force had been composed of small carriers, it would have suffered even more grievously. Give the Navy some credit – the issue of carrier size was studied extensively between the wars, and they did not come up with the Essex design by accident.

    if that can’t be afforded, it is safer to have many small than a few large.

    Alas, the smaller ships are neither as militarily effective as the larger ships, nor as cost effective.

    the action at Samar and later the Falklands conflict, also prove this essential fact, which is smaller, seemingly less capable vessels managed to hold their own prevail against extremely harsh odds. I am fervently against the notion that “they won but they didn’t win right”. they won.

    They don’t “prove” anything of the sort. You might as well argue that the sinking of the HMS Glorious by the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau proves that battleships can sink carriers and therefore we need more battleships. Yes, in certain circumstances small carriers can prevail, but the most likely outcome is they’ll get smoked.

    Lets learn lessons of economy and a balanced fleet from this, and not build a top heavy niche force good for only major crisis and wasted in smaller roles.

    Big carriers have not been “wasted” in small wars since 1945.

  9. Chuck Hill permalink
    September 12, 2009 9:50 pm

    I think if there is a lesson to be drawn from Samar in support of your general direction of thinking, it is that the Japanese should have left their battleships in port and massed their destroyers and cruisers for a night attack. The battleships just slowed up the faster ships and held back the destroyers.

  10. Chuck Hill permalink
    September 12, 2009 8:38 pm

    “Of the four CVs that were sunk, Wask was sunk most easily”

    Sorry, that should have been Wasp.

  11. Mike Burleson permalink*
    September 12, 2009 8:33 pm

    “At this point we both agree that some small carriers should be built, but I don’t think they are a replacement for CVNs”

    In the absence of other CVNs, the CVL could replace the larger ships. Corbett, as I often quote bears me out on this. the action at Samar and later the Falklands conflict, also prove this essential fact, which is smaller, seemingly less capable vessels managed to hold their own prevail against extremely harsh odds. I am fervently against the notion that “they won but they didn’t win right”. they won. Lets learn lessons of economy and a balanced fleet from this, and not build a top heavy niche force good for only major crisis and wasted in smaller roles. Stop thinking wholly about our F-22 Raptors ( using the USAF as a relevant analogy) and consider other essential roles, especially today’s wars.

  12. Chuck Hill permalink
    September 12, 2009 8:19 pm

    #
    2009 September 12
    Mike Burleson permalink

    “How about off Okinawa where the large carriers suffered grievously and about that number were damaged or out of action? We also started the war with 7 carriers and by Guadalcanal were often down to one in that essential theater, and sometimes none.

    “It is preferable to have both types of aviation ships, large and small. But if that can’t be afforded, it is safer to have many small than a few large.”—Mike Burleson

    No this is where we disagree. I do think we need some smaller ships to provide geographic dispersion–more presence by being in more places, to provide those cruiser functions, even if the cruiser is a small aircraft carrier.

    I think the point you were making elsewhere is that we no longer need the sortie generation capability of a super carrier. In most cases a single smaller carrier will do fine. I think that has a lot of merit.

    But if you need to generate sorties at the rate that only a super carrier can do, they are both the most economical and most survivable way to do it.

    If they had had Essex class instead of CVEs at Samar, they could have simple out run the Japanese and they would have never landed a shell. The deeper magazines of the Essex class would have meant there would have been more torpedoes available. The larger deck would have meant that all the fighters would have been the more capable Hellcats with there greater ability to act as attack aircraft. There would also have been dive bombers in the mix.

    There was also the issue of flying at night. By the time Samar was fought, there were night carrier operations, but they were not done from CVEs. This may be the reason 7th fleet did not take over surveillance of Kurita Center Force and keep track of them over night.

    Experience with Kamakazis, including Okinawa is also instructive. No CVs were lost to Kamakazis although they were hit on 15 different occasions. In fact no US CVs were lost in the last 34 months of the war.

    By contrast CVEs were hit by suicide planes 17 times and three ships were lost.

    If we compare the number of time ships lost (does not include ships raised and returned to service after Pearl Harbor) with the number of times they were attacked and hit it looks like this:

    BB 2/38=0.0526
    CV 4/36=0.111
    CVL 1/6=0.167
    CVE 6/25=0.24
    CA 7/30=.233
    CL 3/36=.0833
    (all cruisers: 10/66=0.151)
    DD 60/251=0.239
    DE 9/47=0.191

    Not surprisingly, the larger a ship is the less likely it is to be sunk by an attack. But what this means is that many of the CVs were able to take a hit and make a come back when they were needed.

    Enterprise was damaged on six different occasions. Yorktown survived the damage at Coral Sea, to fight at Midway. Intrepid (CV11) and Franklin (CV 13) were each hit on four different occasions. Saratoga was torpedoed in January and August 1942, and was hit by four kamakazis and two bombs in 1945 and still managed to survive the war.

    Of the four CVs that were sunk, Wask was sunk most easily, requiring only two torpedo hits, but it was also the smallest of the CVs, only slightly larger than the CVLs.

    At this point we both agree that some small carriers should be built, but I don’t think they are a replacement for CVNs

  13. Mike Burleson permalink*
    September 12, 2009 5:22 pm

    Thanks for your comments Graham! We plan to study the Battle of Okinawa next week, and its relevance toward fleet tactics today. The US ships were hard hit, and it wasn’t limited to the “small boys” proving there are no invincible warships. But having plenty of replacements and a healthy shipbuilding industry makes a difference. Today warships are so specialized we have a shrinking number of yards able to build them, and they are no more better protected against modern threats than our much more numerous war-built vessels were against their enemies, I fear.

  14. Graham Strouse permalink
    September 12, 2009 4:50 pm

    Mike,

    One more thing in the lessons not learned file:

    CVs & CVNs have a particularly fatal flaw.

    They tend to explode.

    This was a lesson lost on many after Midway but it remains relevant. Sen. McCain’s carrier, Forrestal, was set ablaze in Viet Nam at great loss of life by a stray Zuni rocket. Most of the Japanese carriers at Midway went boom because they were loaded with aviation fuel and decks chock-a-block with armed warplanes.

    Once you kill the escorts, the carrier itself is an easy kill. You don’t skim the surface. You go the Chinese way & come down fast & hard on the deck. The fact that American “super-carriers” are so poorly armed to DEFEND THEMSELVES is practically criminal. The new Japanese ASW helicopter carriers have extensive ASW & SAM capabilities–really well-designed ships, I think. They’re helo carriers & sub-killers w/ strong self-defense capabilities. They have multiple 324 mm ASW launchers & I believe 64 ASM missiles. That’s a deterrent.

    The Nimitz class super-carriers are basically helpless on their own by comparison.

  15. Graham Strouse permalink
    September 12, 2009 4:41 pm

    I owe a lot to Taffy 3. My existence, possibly. My grandfather was with McArthur.

    Emotional stuff aside, Sprague & the crews of the CVEs, DDs & DEs, the fighter pilots, they all deserve credit for their brilliant tactics and incredible tenacity. Same goes for the submarines Dace and Darter, which put a serious dent in the JPN force on the approach by sinking, crippling three cruisers including the fleet flagship Akagi. More critically, when Akagi went down, she took a lot of her bridge crew with her. And amongst those who survived, many were transferred to another crippled ship which was guided back home by a destroyer.

    A head shot, basically. The Japanese admiral was without most of his top people on an unfamiliar ship against a wily opponent with airborne attackers coming from all three Taffy groups.

    Center Force actually suffered FAR MORE damage then those little jeep carriers, DDs & DEs they were fighting.

    When Sprague said, “Big boys follow small boys” he wasn’t aiming at a diversion. This was a full-on attack.

  16. Mike Burleson permalink*
    September 12, 2009 7:13 am

    Chuck said “it would obviously been preferable to have 6 Essex class (two per Taffy) carrying the same number of aircraft compared with 18 CVEs”

    How about off Okinawa where the large carriers suffered grievously and about that number were damaged or out of action? We also started the war with 7 carriers and by Guadalcanal were often down to one in that essential theater, and sometimes none.

    It is preferable to have both types of aviation ships, large and small. But if that can’t be afforded, it is safer to have many small than a few large.

  17. Chuck Hill permalink
    September 11, 2009 5:50 pm

    Don’t really think that cases where they are used in multiples makes a good case for smaller carriers. In the case of the battle off Samar it would obviously been preferable to have 6 Essex class (two per Taffy) carrying the same number of aircraft compared with 18 CVEs.

    Where it becomes convincing is when they can be used one at a time–convoys, hunter killer groups, aircraft transport. Not as glamorous but very useful.

    An alternative that never got much recognition was the MAC (merchant aircraft carrier). The Brits used these in convoys. It was an improvement over the CAM (catapult armed merchant ship). Put the simplest form of flight deck on a merchant ship and fly off swordfish to do ASW or Wildcats to chase away the Condors.

  18. Anonymous permalink
    September 11, 2009 5:44 pm

    “Anonymous-Yeah, as far as we know, we are the only defense alternative daily on the web. I hope we aren’t stifling any debate. ScottB is one of my favorite people, and we don’t agree on much! Except maybe the littoral combat ship.”

    No harm done!

  19. Mike Burleson permalink*
    September 11, 2009 5:26 pm

    He had already lost the Yamato’s sister previously. He wasn’t taking any big risk, even though he said exactly the opposite before going into battle, and he knew this was his Navy’s last chance. The airpower was just too overwhelming, as you detail, even from the baby flattops. It was an awesome capability and still is, though currently not the only way to project power at sea. Thanks to land attack and anti-ship cruise missiles, the surface ships have made a comeback.

    Anonymous-Yeah, as far as we know, we are the only defense alternative daily on the web. I hope we aren’t stifling any debate. ScottB is one of my favorite people, and we don’t agree on much! Except maybe the littoral combat ship.

  20. Chuck Hill permalink
    September 11, 2009 4:44 pm

    Not to take away anything from the “Small Boys” at Samar, it’s one of my favorite stories, but the Japanese had a lot more to worry about than 3 DDs and 4 DEs. They weren’t just fighting them and the planes from Taffy 3’s. They were fighting planes from all three Taffys.

    202 Avengers
    60 Hellcats
    247 Wildcats

    This is substantially more aircraft than participated in the attack on Pearl Harbor, and almost as many carrier aircraft as fought on both sides at Midway.

    Crews had worked all night preparing the Avengers to launch torpedoes in anticipation of the attack by the Southern force. Unfortunately many of the aircraft had launched before the attack was recognized with loads that included supplies or weapons inappropriate for attacking ships. They did rearm with torpedoes after the aircraft were recovered but apparently numbers of torpedoes available were limited. From what I’ve seen, it looked like only one torpedo per Avenger, or 9 to 12 per CVE. There were several torpedo hits by aircraft.

    It does appear that Kurita snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, but they were taking considerable loss. US personnel losses were 1130 killed or missing and 913 wounded. I haven’t seen any figures for the Japanese, but I suspect theirs were two to three times as high.

    If the center force’s turn back toward Leyte Gulf had been recognized when it happened instead of when they were almost in gun range, the Taffy’s could have done much more damage, and avoided ever getting within gun range.

    The Japanese were not able to close the range as rapidly as would have been expected because they were constantly evading attacks by aircraft and “small boys.”

    A significant factor in the battle was that the winds allowed the CVE’s to launch and recover aircraft while still running away. Had they had to turn toward Kurita, it would have been a very different battle.

  21. Anonymous permalink
    September 11, 2009 3:41 pm

    “Anonymous-Seems that lack of an opponent means we can do without so many battleship types.”

    I am British. Believe me I understand the importance of the gunboat and cruiser.

    Everything you discuss here is hypothetical. I find your advocacy for small carriers (relative term) interesting because I am interested in naval matters. And is nice to read a webpage on one of my favourite subjects written by somebody so knowledgeable. What I have found on other sites is that they basically become a supporting chorus around the site owner if opposing views are just stiffled. It would be easy for me to just post link after link to refute your position. Those sites grow stale and have little validity. Be careful that your lovely site doesn’t go down this route. At least you are not advocating the return of the big gun battle ship…….

    Look up what ;) means in an internet text dialogue………….

  22. Mike Burleson permalink*
    September 11, 2009 2:06 pm

    Tarl, again i disagree. it was airpower that proved dominate, not the question of what type of carriers, large or small, were present. the aircraft were there, however they got there. Airpower turned Kurita back, and saved MacArthur (with more than a little help from some small boys-DDs and DEs) .

    It wasn’t such a lucky break for Sprague and the carriers either. The previous dominance of the naval bombers were already proven at pearl Harbor, Midway, ect. Even had Kurita sunk every jeep carrier there, Halsey would have eventually caught up with him, even later in Tokyo Bay. The age of the battleship was clearly over by 1944.

  23. Tarl permalink
    September 11, 2009 1:38 pm

    Again I don’t believe in luck, but still empires have risen and fallen as the saying goes “for want of a nail”.

    True, but you shouldn’t plan your military or its operations on the assumption that the enemy won’t have that nail on the day of the battle.

    I think the lesson here is the dominance of new technology over the old, as proved by the Japanese Admiral’s terror of naval airpower, even from the supposedly inferior jeep carriers.

    As I recall, Kurita did not think he was facing jeep carriers, he thought he was facing fleet carriers, and withdrew because he thought more American fleet carriers were on the way.

    The outcome at Samar was not a product of technology so much as intelligence (or lack thereof) and leadership.

  24. Mike Burleson permalink*
    September 11, 2009 7:23 am

    Thanks as always UNRR!

  25. September 11, 2009 7:15 am

    This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 9/11/2009, at The Unreligious Right

  26. Mike Burleson permalink*
    September 10, 2009 8:13 pm

    Anonymous-Seems that lack of an opponent means we can do without so many battleship types. I quote Corbett “Even, therefore, if our enemy had no battle-fleet we could not make control effective with battleships alone. We should still require cruisers specialized for the work and in sufficient numbers to cover the necessary ground. But the converse is not true. We could exercise control with cruisers alone if the enemy had no battle-fleet to interfere with them.”

    By cruisers, Corbett is talking of the patrol ships of Empire: the gunboats, frigates, destroyers, ect which can maintain control in medium to low risk areas, while you keep your battleships (or aircraft carriers) for crisis or war. It is far more economical and just makes sense.

  27. Anonymous permalink
    September 10, 2009 6:28 pm

    Subtitle? Because the site owner takes lessons from it and then applies them to the USN, which isn’t a medium sized navy.

    Knowing when he died makes the use of the word defunct in a way even ruder.

  28. Scott B. permalink
    September 10, 2009 5:03 pm

    Anonymous said : “Defunct is a bit rude, late would be more polite,”

    D.K. Brown died last year, on 16 April 2008 to be precise.

    I don’t understand what the subtitle of the book has to do with the brief paragraph I posted on the escort carriers.

  29. Anonymous permalink
    September 10, 2009 4:43 pm

    Defunct is a bit rude, late would be more polite,

    That is one of my favourite books too. But you have to remember its sub-title,
    “Options for Medium Sized Navies.”

  30. Scott B. permalink
    September 10, 2009 4:12 pm

    Mike Burleson said : ” Over 100 tiny “Jeep” escort carriers were constructed on cheap liberty ship hulls.”

    Allow me to quote a brief paragraph from one of Mike Burleson’s favorite books, The Future British Surface Fleet by the defunct DK Brown, page 133 (bold emphasis added) :

    It must also be appreciated that the best wartime escort carriers, such as the Casablanca and the Commencement Bay classes, were quite far removed from simple merchant ships, particularly in their subdivision and in the protection of fuel and weapon stowage.

    These two classes accounted for over 50% of the escort carriers built.

  31. Anonymous permalink
    September 10, 2009 4:12 pm

    In a way isn’t the lack of an opponent of parity with the USN really a reason to build these large expensive warships? Surely this means the CVNs are nice and safe…. ;)

  32. Hudson permalink
    September 10, 2009 4:04 pm

    Mike: OK, so our naval pilots didn’t have the right weapons, as I surmised. The Japanese well understood the use of airpower. There were admirals in the 1930s who wanted a fleet of carriers and submarines only. Though the IJN was noted for building the world’s largest battleships, the Yamato and her sister ship, actually it built more carriers than battleships during the war. By the end, the Japanese had neither the planes, pilots, ships or nerve to carry on much of a fight. We had beaten them, at great cost.

    No fleet of any size ship can survive an onslaught of thousands of missiles.

  33. Mike Burleson permalink*
    September 10, 2009 2:54 pm

    Tarl said “They “prevailed” because the Japanese made a mistake and ran away when they shouldn’t have.”

    Again I don’t believe in luck, but still empires have risen and fallen as the saying goes “for want of a nail”. I think the lesson here is the dominance of new technology over the old, as proved by the Japanese Admiral’s terror of naval airpower, even from the supposedly inferior jeep carriers. I am curious if the USN will be willing to risk her space age battleships in the face of thousands of missiles weapons in the next war at sea? The tables then will have turned.

    And Hudson, the baby flattops were “surprisingly unable to defend themselves” because they were armed with mostly land attack weapons, because they were geared to support MacArthur’s invasion troops at Leyte. This is a role in which we now insist our largest and most expensive nuclear powered supercarriers can only perform, which is fine if you expect the Yamato and her sisters to come charging at you in the next war. But there is nothing comparable now in existence, and hasn’t been for quite a while.

  34. UndergradProgressive permalink
    September 10, 2009 1:20 pm

    The Taffy 3 comparison is with some merit, but only that which reflects the multipurpose armament of the DDs and DEs and audacity of their crew. The LCS has the latter, I would imagine, but certainly not the armament. As Tarl said, the Japanese were defeated because they thought they had come into contact with a more powerful or at least equally powerful force. Regardless, the upshot of the battle, at least for the design of the LCS, is that small ships with lots of weapons and mobility can defeat, hold off, or, at worst, slow the advance of a much larger, ostensibly more powerful force. Mike has made reference to this point in the past – if I recall correctly, he once referenced an exercise that ended up with a senior officer being sacked because the officer in question had too effectively shown how our large craft could be bested?

    It’s too bad we didn’t go with a Sa’ar 5 instead of the LCS.

  35. Hudson permalink
    September 10, 2009 11:50 am

    My reading of the Battle off Samar was that the jeep carriers were surprisingly unable to defend themselves. Maybe they were low on torpedoes, I don’t know, but it was the destroyers that turned the Japanese around with their audacious torpedo attacks.

    The moral here is to build complete warships and skip this mission module idea intended for the LCS class. The Taffy destroyers hardly had time to return to Pearl to pick up their “battleship pack” and rejoin to the fray.

    BTW, the real mothership in service today is the super carrier. It is the only warship capable of launching large numbers of fighters as depicted in sci fi movies like Star Wars and Independence Day, with motherships the size of Manhattan. Maybe someday new categories of uavs and bots will replace the F-18s F-35s and Harriers. I also think small carriers and hybrid carriers have a place in the fleet. Let’s not exaggerate their capabilities.

  36. Tarl permalink
    September 10, 2009 11:44 am

    Who could imagine these same off-the-shelf-warships with their more or less 2 dozen planes each, would some day stand up to the capital ships of the IJN, at the Battle of Samar, including the fearsome battleship Yamato, and prevail!

    They “prevailed” because the Japanese made a mistake and ran away when they shouldn’t have. I wouldn’t want to plan my fleet around the assumption that the enemy’s going to make a mistake when his fleet meets mine for a decisive encounter.

    The small, light carriers were adjuncts in WW2 that the US built because it had an abundance of resources and didn’t have to choose between big and small. It is one thing to build light carriers in addition to large carriers; it is another thing entirely to build light carriers instead of large carriers.

    If any lessons from the land wars in Iraq and Afghanistan applies to modern naval airpower, is the carrier pilots need to get out of their giant floating “green zones” and place them where they are accessible to the “population of the sea”. Already the US is looking to base UAVs around the globe on land bases where their proven abilities in the Middle East can act as force multipliers, and in many instances, carrier alternatives.

    The argument that we should base fighters ashore instead of on carriers is fine from a national perspective, and may even be true. However, this is an argument for a larger US Air Force, not an argument for naval aviation. Aircraft that are not based on carriers should belong to the USAF, right? What is the case for land-based carrier aircraft that duplicate Air Force functions?

  37. Scott B. permalink
    September 10, 2009 6:18 am

    Here’s is a September 10 article published on Defpro’s website that might be of interest in this new carrier discussion :

    Challenging the STOVL Myth

    Enjoy… ;-)

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