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" Eggshells Armed With Hammers" Topic

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Guthroth27 Jul 2017 8:49 a.m. PST

Eggshells Armed With Hammers was a criticism applied to Battlecruisers during the First World war, but how applicable is it today ?

Would any modern warship be capable of continuing operations after being struck on the hull by a missile who's warhead detonated ? (For the sake of discussion let's ignore any hit within the first 10% of the hull length.)

I suspect that all current warships – including the big US carriers – would be rendered hors-de-combat for an extended period (i.e. at least 24 hours) by a single such hit.

Andrew Walters27 Jul 2017 9:39 a.m. PST

The question of how to model in a game combat damage to a ship, plane, or person has been burning on my mind. It's always on my mind when reading, and I've even read books specifically looking for background info on this. It is my firm conviction that you really never know what might happen. I've read of minor hits that disabled or destroyed might people or things, and significant hits that accomplished very little.

So I am not in a hurry to produce or accept a simple answer to this very important question. It's always possible that a bomb goes down the smokestack or a missile disables the rudder, and it's always possible that you blast the laundry to kingdom come and flight operations resume after everything is inspected.

And of course, there are larger and smaller warheads, bigger and smaller ships, hits above and below, and some warhead designs are a lot more dangerous, pound for pound. Air operations are really involved and those people are safety freaks, so it might not take much to shut those down, while a cruiser might be back to it's ASW duties much more quickly.

That said, if you look at the Falklands or the USS Cole, it looks like a few hundred pounds of explosives is more likely to send a warship home now than in WW2.

I expect this means that surface warfare is going to converge on submarine warfare, with emphasis on detection and detection avoidance. Missile range and accuracy are not the limiting challenges any more. Point defense is still dicey and missiles are now flying low, dodging, and spitting out flares and chaff. So the game becomes detecting the enemy before they detect you.

Of course, Midway and Richtoffen and Roger's Rangers would teach the same lesson, and Sun Tsu made a good argument for spending money on spies, so maybe nothing is really different.

Guthroth27 Jul 2017 12:30 p.m. PST

My question assumes a hull hit somewhere not in the bow 10%, and the Falklands HMS Sheffields fate in particular is what I find worrying. She was almost 5000 tons, and almost brand new in naval terms, yet was effectively destroyed when hit amidships by a missile that didn't explode.

Given the lack of amour and the overwhelming dependence on electronics, could any ship today function after a hit that did explode ? Ah wait, they now reckon it did explode. The question is still valid though.

Carriers etc are good in the flag waving and aerial support role, but are modern navies especially the USN just ignoring this particular "Elephant In The Room" ?

Are submarines really the only way forward ?

Cacique Caribe27 Jul 2017 1:34 p.m. PST

Eggshells armed with hammers?

Even when sporting Kevlar on a few choice spots, aren't humans just "bags of mostly water"* and yet we send them out to shoot at each other with stuff that's way more lethal than a hammer?

Or is there a different principle here that I'm missing?

* The exact quote is "ugly giant bags of mostly water", but I hope you get my point:
YouTube link

Louie N27 Jul 2017 2:21 p.m. PST

My pure speculation is that you are right.

It will be WWI when the generals realized troops could not cross an open field under HMG fire.

I don't know if defense systems can counter the array of weapons that can be mounted against them.

StarCruiser27 Jul 2017 4:05 p.m. PST

And that is the classic rivaly – defense vs. offense.

Generally, offense wins…

Striker27 Jul 2017 4:09 p.m. PST

Cacique, humans are self-replacing organisms. Ships are expensive assets.

Mardaddy27 Jul 2017 4:16 p.m. PST

I am no expert on the matter by a LOOONG shot (and please, someone chime in if they recall or can refute…) if memory serves, wasn't the Sheffield's demise attributed mainly to its "low cost hull" which had a substantial aluminum content to save costs and weight?

AND -- If that is the case, unless all the ships you are thinking about have this same weakness, you really could not use the Sheffield as an accurate example.

Lion in the Stars27 Jul 2017 5:08 p.m. PST

@Mardaddy: more like not having all the bulkhead penetrations fireproofed, 'to save money'

But yes, any ship that gets directly hit by a weapon is pretty much hors d'combat for at least 24 hours, if not dead outright in the case of anything smaller than a carrier versus a heavyweight torpedo from a submarine.

The paradigm has shifted to not getting hit in the first place.

David Manley27 Jul 2017 8:17 p.m. PST

Mardaddy – no, Sheffield has a steel hull and superstructure. The aluminium thing is an urban myth that refuses to die.

Andy ONeill28 Jul 2017 12:45 a.m. PST

I thought that aluminium thing was true. Easy nowadays with the interweb to read up on anything like that.

I thought the main problem stopping the missiles was the software controlling the anti missile systems.

Bozkashi Jones28 Jul 2017 1:19 a.m. PST

Sheffield isn't alone either; although not sunk the USS Stark was inoperable after two exocet hits. From the accounts I've read of the damage control efforts the result would have been the same even if one had hit.

Guthroth's reference to "the overwhelming dependence on electronics" is perhaps the point here: for any vessel under, say, about 10,000 tons any hit in the central part of the ship is likely to cause sufficient shock, fires and damage to interfere with the electrical systems (at least temporarily) and to render the ship out of action. The lights go out, the water pumps stop, the screens go blank. All the ship can really do is survive.

HMS Glamorgan, at 6,400t, was considered a 'sturdy' ship having survived an exocet strike and still returning to action and yet I'd be genuinely interested to know how long it was before she was operational again (my guess would be 12-24 hours).

For an excellent account of damage control on a modern warship I would recommend "Inside the Danger Zone: The U.S. Military in the Persian Gulf, 1987-1988", by Harold Lee Wise. Not only a cracking good read but it has detailed accounts of the efforts to save both the USS Stark and the USS Samuel B Roberts.


Andrew Walters28 Jul 2017 10:31 a.m. PST

I'm not sure they're ignoring the problem. They're simply shifting their reliance from armor and ruggedness to not getting hit, ECW, ECCW, flares, chaff. A carrier is surrounded by a ring of ships, aircraft, and usually at least one sub, to keep enemies out of striking range. Sure, a $15 USD million aircraft with a $1 USD million missile two miles from a $2 USD billion Nimitz could do a lot of damage, but how is it supposed to get there?

Here in the San Francisco area there are a million former naval bases, and if you're in the mood for a trip to some fantastic views you can go visit the former coastal artillery and Nike missile sites. There are essentially no defenses around here now. We're relying on the San Diego – Honolulu – Seattle perimeter.

KniazSuvorov28 Jul 2017 2:14 p.m. PST

Another quotation about the battlecruisers was "speed is armour". For better or for worse, pretty much much all modern surface combatants rely on this principle-- or perhaps a slightly-amended version, where "mobility is armour".

A carrier battle group capable of 30+ knot sprints (and, in the case of the carrier itself, a sustained 30+ knot speed) is--supposedly-- quite hard to track. If an enemy SSN or AWACS manages to paint it long enough to vector in a major attack, then it's in trouble. The battle group's strategy would be to keep moving to ensure that never happens. It doesn't matter if one hit can sink you if no enemy ever manages to line up a shot.

For example, if you're the enemy commander, having a fleet of 50 diesel attack subs sounds like a lot until you take a look at how big the ocean actually is. How would you deploy them to find a moving carrier battle group? String them out in a piquet line? Concentrate wolfpacks at strategic choke points? Unless you're launching a surprise attack, chances are that carrier battle group is just going to bring an extra tanker or two and sail the long way around. And if it approaches your littoral, you can bet it's doing so at speed. That surface battle group can outrun your submerged diesels effortlessly.

What if you have nuclear subs? An SSN is obviously dangerous: it has the acceleration and endurance to keep up with the carrier, plus it carries enough ordinance itself to destroy the battle group. On the other hand, to avoid detection it has to rely on passive sensors with limited range and reliability. Plus the cooling systems for its reactors can never be turned off--it's a lot noisier than a diesel sub.

SSM batteries are the other oft-touted "carrier killers". They sound very dangerous, especially when the missiles are hypersonic. At least until you once again consider that they need targeting information. The real world isn't like a videogame (or a tabletop wargame) where distances have been shrunk down to almost nothing in order to guarantee contact. Do you have a network of advanced military satellites to pinpoint that moving battle group and send targeting info to your missile batteries? If you're China, maybe you do; but probably not, if you're anyone else. That means you're relying on ground-based radar (a big, juicy target), and/or AWACS (a big, juicy target) for vectoring your strike on target. How long can you keep that moving carrier group painted? Will you even find it in the first place, or will the enemy's own extensive intelligence assets mean that your "eyes" get blinded before they can perform their function?

Can mobility and control superiority actually overcome those modern hammers? Who knows. But the arguments above are what the builders of modern surface combatants are banking on. The ECW, ECCW, flares and chaff they carry are more like last-ditch efforts in case the enemy DOES manage a good shot--in wargame parlance, they're the saving throws.

altfritz29 Jul 2017 6:36 a.m. PST

The Aluminum thing is not true. I've had that from answer from metallurgists.

David Manley29 Jul 2017 9:16 a.m. PST

Its more of a naval architects thing than metallurgists, since the Sheffield and the other 42's weren't made from it. The T21s are also often cited as examples of the perils of aluminium in warship building but again neither loss in the Falklands was attributable to their aluminium superstructures. Where aluminium WAS a problem was in its use for deck plates and ladders; such items exposed to extreme heat could appear to be intact but could actually have been severely weakened so that anyone standing on a plate would have fallen through, or a ladder could collapse when used. Neither a particularly attractive option. I saw this first hand in a recent survey of a fire-damaged aluminium ship. Deck structures could go from completely sound to dangerously fragile in the span of a couple of feet. In extreme cases it was possible to crumble the material between your fingers.

Mardaddy30 Jul 2017 5:19 p.m. PST

KniazSuvorov, To complicate those matters even more…

My Mom used to do electronic warfare prototype assembly for Dalmo Victor. I can recall her telling me one time about a new project they succeeded with (late 1980's.) It was a bouy that was dropped by plane, unfolded and sent out substantial and sustained EM signals mimicking an aircraft carrier.

The idea was they would drop them in a half-dozen, dozen spots and the enemy would have a difficult time pinning down exactly which groups signals were the actual carrier.

If they were doing that in the Late 1980's…

BenFromBrooklyn Inactive Member31 Jul 2017 11:29 a.m. PST

Just to note;

100kg of modern explosive is several times more boom than 100kg of 1945 explosive, which was more powerful than 1940 explosive.

soledad01 Aug 2017 5:09 a.m. PST

Not only are modern explosives better than old explosives but they can also be "used" in a better fashion.

For example the Swedish Rb15 anti ship missile uses a kind of shaped charge to increase damage done to a ship. it, from what i have understood, flies above the ship and explodes with the most of the force downwards . This is to push the middle of the ship down and basically break the ship in half. The ship middle is forced down and then buckles up, breaking the ship. Much more effective than entering the ship and exploding there.

Lion in the Stars02 Aug 2017 5:00 p.m. PST

Related, most 21" torpedoes (the kind shot by submarines) these days blow up under the keel, which leaves a nice big gas bubble in the middle of the ship, breaks the keel in half.

No more, "hit by 4-6 torpedoes, sank in 30 minutes" like in WW2, now it's "hit by one torpedo, sank in 3 minutes".

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