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"Reflections on the Battle of Jutland" Topic


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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP18 Dec 2019 9:34 p.m. PST

"More than a hundred years after Jutland this famous sea battle remains a source of controversy. Much ink has been spilled over what happened and why. Undeterred, let me spill some more.

My interest in Jutland – not as a credentialed scholar but as an omnivorous reader of military history – is longstanding, starting many decades ago to when I read Cyril Falls epic one-volume history, The Great War1 which included a chapter on Jutland. Around that time I also played the old Avalon Hill Jutland board game a few times with an avid wargamer friend. "Board game" is a misnomer, as Jutland actually required a vast uncluttered floorspace to accommodate the dozens of cardboard ship counters and the enormous distance scale of the action. But my serious interest began many years later when I read The Swordbearers 2, which (to my mind) considerably boosted Correlli Barnett's standing as a historian. His chapter on Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, "Sailor With a Flawed Cutlass," remains, in my opinion, a masterpiece of interdisciplinary historical analysis. Other fine books followed, including John Campbell's Jutland: An Analysis of the Fighting3, which dug as deeply into the details of the battle damage inflicted on May 31st, 1916 as anyone could wish. Eventually (after a few detours) I embarked on a career as a military intelligence analyst, which encouraged even more interest in reading military history – for the sake of context, and from an ingrained belief that most of history has lessons to teach. Barnett and Campbell had whetted my analytical instincts, and my interest escalated even further several years ago when I read Andrew Gordon's magnificent thought experiment, The Rules of the Game: Jutland and British Naval Command4.,,,"
Main page
link

Amicalement
Armand

Blutarski19 Dec 2019 9:11 a.m. PST

Well done essay, Armand. The author has definitely done his homework. You have a special talent for turning up interesting items – Bravo!

Best holiday wishes to you and your family.

B

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP19 Dec 2019 11:47 a.m. PST

Same to you my good friend!. (smile)

Amicalement
Armand

Shagnasty Supporting Member of TMP19 Dec 2019 1:57 p.m. PST

An interesting analysis that spreads the responsibility for failure across the board rather than blaming a single commander.

Blutarski20 Dec 2019 9:22 a.m. PST

Strictly my opinion here, but Beatty wins the "Screw-up" pentathlon trophy by at least a full lap.

B

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP20 Dec 2019 12:02 p.m. PST

Glad you like it my friend!.


Amicalement
Armand

138SquadronRAF Supporting Member of TMP23 Dec 2019 1:14 p.m. PST

The combination of Beatty and Ralph Seymour (his signals officer) was a disaster.

4th Cuirassier15 Jan 2020 3:35 a.m. PST

That is a good essay. So to turn it a wargaming question, to what extent, and in what way, do we model appalling C & C in our battles?

When I first got into wargaming, telepathic heroism was the usual way. Your side won on one flank and immediately turned inwards to roll up the centre where the remainder of your guys were struggling. One got round this in various ways. How does one model the propensity of subordinate squadrons of a fleet to do the wrong thing, without inordinate die rolling?

colkitto15 Jan 2020 3:06 p.m. PST

PIPs?

Murvihill08 Feb 2020 1:40 p.m. PST

Really, the only blame in the battle for the UK is for ignoring safety in their battlecruiser turrets. The communications SNAFU's were the result of absorbing both modern technology and the largest fleet ever built heretofore. The US suffered similar communications failures in WW2 ("The world wonders"). The AC's probably shouldn't have been there but they were still effective against smaller ships and weren't supposed to engage the German battleships anyway. The Battle turn away was a tactical surprise but if it hadn't been that surprise it probably would have been something else; everyone studies their enemy and devises tricks to beat them.

Blutarski08 Feb 2020 9:29 p.m. PST

"Really, the only blame in the battle for the UK is for ignoring safety in their battlecruiser turrets."

I must disagree on this point. There was a fundamental failure to appreciate the highly dangerous volatility of wartime mass produced Cordite. Grant (Lion's gunnery officer at Jutland) was running HMS Lion to the letter of the safe handling rule book, yet the ship still came within a whisker of being lost to a delayed ignition of the eight cordite charges still in the hoists; she was saved only by virtue of the magazine having earlier been flooded. Neither Defence and Black Prince were part of the BCF, yet they were both lost to massive propellant deflagrations. As well, Dreyer ("The Sea Heritage") makes clear that, at the time of Jutland, every gunnery officer in the GF basically ran his own shop as he saw fit; no one really knows one way or the other what degree of vulnerability existed among the GF battle fleet because none of them actually suffered a turret hit in the battle. The closest thing to it was a hit in one of Malaya's secondary casemates which set all the ready ammunition alight and was about to flash down the 6-in hoist when an alert and brave crewman intervened (a very similar situation had occurred earlier aboard HMS Kent at the Falklands).

- – -

"The communications SNAFU's were the result of absorbing both modern technology and the largest fleet ever built heretofore."

Wireless telegraphy had been in fleet use for a good fifteen years by the time of Jutland ("Electronics and Sea Power", Hezlet). While cutting the BCF some slack by virtue of Lions main W/T having been shot away early in the action, the BCF did a rotten job keeping Jellicoe informed of Scheer's approach. Scheer was sighted around 4:30 by Southampton, which made a timely initial report by wireless. The BCF did not make an attempt to alert Jellicoe until 4:45 relaying a sighting report via Princess Royal's W/T; this message reached Jellicoe in such a garbled (IMO mis-coded) fashion as to be useless. Then no communication from BCF for well over an hour until Jellicoe had made successive inquiries directly by S/L, first at 6:01, which yielded no response, then repeated at 6:10, which finally yielded a (to be kind) "minimalist" reply at 6:14. This was a training and organization failure, not a technology mishap.

- – -

"The AC's probably shouldn't have been there but they were still effective against smaller ships and weren't supposed to engage the German battleships anyway."

True in all respects. The ACs were enlisted to serve as part of the GF's screen because there was a shortage of LCs. Only one LC squadron was assigned to the battlefleet; the other three LC squadrons were operating as part of the BCF.

- – -

Not trying to 'cause a big sensation' with you personally, Murvihill. But I've studied the RN of this period and the Battle of Jutland in particular for fifty years. IMO, Beatty was, to put it bluntly, unqualified for the command he was handed by Churchill. The extent to which Beatty then cynically sought to cover his screw-ups by destroying records and blaming others, including both Evan-Thomas and Jellicoe himself, has always really annoyed me no end.


B

4th Cuirassier11 Feb 2020 10:53 a.m. PST

Is it Massie or Gordon who calls the BCF the worst formation the RN ever deployed?

hindsTMP Supporting Member of TMP11 Feb 2020 11:05 a.m. PST

@Blutarski

WRT the Lion almost blowing up despite Grant's precautions, his own words seem to imply an external trigger, rather than the nature of cordite itself:

There are two theories as to the cause of this explosion. The first is that a second enemy shell entered and exploded in the turret, thus causing a fire. With part of the roof open, the draught caused be the speed of the ship would be forced down through the turret, resulting in the flame igniting the cordite which would be in the gun-loading cages. This is turn must have ignited the cordite in the supply trunk which contained two full charges, and being in a confined space, the gases concentrated there exploded. According to the second theory, a fire may have been caused by the first shell that put the turret out of action. If so, than the strong draught of air being forced down ignited the cordite in the gun-loading cages and supply trunk.

Remember that the Arizona blew up at Pearl Harbor, despite our much more stable propellant.

MH

Blutarski11 Feb 2020 1:08 p.m. PST

Hi hinds TMP,

Upon post-action investigation, the cause of the ignition of the eight propellant charges in the hoists was ultimately attributed to a course change by LION 18 minutes after the original hit that altered the flow of air into the turret/barbette spaces via the large hole in Q turret roof. This was believed to have ignited smoldering remains that had not been fully extinguished by the post-hit hose-down. All eight charges deflagrated in very rapid succession. Inspection of the damage and distortion caused to the magazine bulkhead and evidence of flash having entered into the magazine proper led the inspectors to conclude that, if the magazine had NOT been previously flooded, it would have exploded.

I do not argue that other propellants were impervious to magazine explosions. What I am asserting is that WW1 period mass produced Cordite was extremely unstable. After Jutland, much correspondence related to this issue was carried on within the RN. The RN had lost five and very nearly six capital ships to catastrophic magazine explosions at Jutland. By comparison, over the course of the war, the IGN ships Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, Bluecher and Lutzow had been shot to pieces by gunfire without having suffered any magazine explosions. Seydlitz had suffered two turrets completely burnt out at Dogger Bank, then been badly shot up at Jutland without suffering any magazine "event". Neither did the Germans lose any ships in harbor, as did the RN with Bulwark and Vanguard.

It is not IMO a coincidence that the British, after testing German propellant post-WW1, modified their cordite formulation to be more in line with the German formulation. But the poor quality control (especially in terms of foreign matter contamination) practiced by the hastily and massively expanded British propellant manufacturing industry after the outbreak of the war was also a big contributor.

Strictly my opinion, of course.

B

hindsTMP Supporting Member of TMP11 Feb 2020 4:29 p.m. PST

Hi Blutarski,

I know we've had this minor disagreement before, but I still tend to find Friedman's position more convincing. His position is that had the British not been using "suicidal" ammunition handling practices at Jutland, they probably wouldn't have lost the 3 capital ships they lost (ACs aren't capital ships). So most of the blame goes to ammunition handling, and a minority of the blame to cordite itself.

This is relevant to wargamers because these "suicidal" practices were only in effect between Dogger Bank and Jutland. Hence only games within this time period should give British ships the maximum disadvantage.

MH

Blutarski13 Feb 2020 11:02 p.m. PST

Hi Mark,
Finally found some free time to respond, however briefly. It is clear that we will continue to hold differing opinions on this matter, but you may wish to consider the following points during an idle moment -

The scientific community, as a result of early (but inadequate) testing, strongly held the position that cordite would only deflagrate within a confined space such as a closed gun breech and would simply burn (very hotly!) when alight in an open space. The pre-war RN argument for relaxation of magazine safety practices was that a modest increase in the risk of ammunition FIRE was worth accepting in exchange for a material increase in rate of fire. The RN was not suicidal; it was misled.

DK Brown was a highly regarded naval historian, writing from the strength of a long career in naval architecture with the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors, in whose service he ultimately rose to the position of Deputy Chief Naval Architect. He also wrote the official history of that organization. It was his opinion, expressed in correspondence many years ago that the British ships lost to cordite explosions at Jutland would most likely have survived and made it back to port if they had had German propellant in their magazines. Take it for whatever you think it is worth.

In the immediate post-Jutland correspondence between himself, Beatty and D'Eyncourt, Tudor defended the RN's ammunition handling measures circa Jutland on the grounds that they had been based upon the characteristics of cordite as they had been understood at the time. The pernicious effect of foreign matter contamination in wartime mass produced cordite was not discovered and appreciated until 1917.

Beatty pointed out the following in the same document: of fourteen German ships destroyed by gunfire, none had succumbed to a propellant explosion; of nine British ships destroyed by gunfire, six (two-thirds) had been lost to propellant explosions. These facts are IMO difficult to simply dismiss, and do not even account for the three British ships lost to spontaneous magazine explosions in harbor (Bulwark, Natal, Vanguard).

As a corollary to the above, Seydlitz had two main battery turrets completely burnt out, with 8 TONS of propellant consumed in the fires – no explosion or deflagration. This occurred BEFORE (and was in fact the stimulus for) the introduction of better propellant handling practices in the IGN.

As to the question of whether the armored cruisers lost at Jutland are worthy of inclusion as capital ships, it should be noted that they were a great deal closer in size to Invincible than she was to Queen Mary. The crew of Defence at the time of her loss probably counted about 800 men.

With respect to assigning risk factors for game scenarios, I would suggest that maximum risk existed right from the beginning of the war through the Battle of Jutland. The navy became much more careful after that point in time.

FWIW. Nice chatting on a topic of considerable interest to me.

B

hindsTMP Supporting Member of TMP14 Feb 2020 12:18 p.m. PST

Hi Blutarski,

I am (mostly) aware of the material you quote. But not all of it, so thanks for the info.

To recapitulate, I am not claiming that cordite wasn't a factor; i.e. I am not "dismissing" it. I am instead claiming that it was a lesser factor than the post-Dogger Bank "suicidal" magazine practices. This has implications for gaming, since those practices seem to have been in effect from post-Dogger bank through Jutland. Hence, during my favorite WW1 gaming venue of 1914 in the Med, only the cordite factor should apply.

BTW, when Friedman uses the words "suicidal", I think he is referring to the results rather than the intentions. Of course the British used the best information available at the time when calculating risk versus reward, though they clearly made some mistakes in doing so.

My argument simulating maximum risk in games AFTER Dogger Bank is based on stuff like the following (from in this case Friedman's "The British Battleship"):

Beatty's ships could not fire as rapidly as he might have expected at Dogger Bank because over the past few years standard fleet practice had been to overload magazines and shell rooms. Cordite in magazines was normally stowed in fireproof Clarkson cases. Cordite cartridges were removed from the cases when they went into hoists. The fuller the magazine, the greater the congestion cases at the bottom of hoists caused. Beatty was not the only one concerned with the rate of fire. After Dogger Bank, his commander Admiral Jellicoe circulated a gunnery order pressing for a higher rate of fire (and opening fire more quickly) on the grounds that in itself British fire on their ships would make it more difficult for German gunners. That is, rapid fire was both offensive and defensive.

Gunnery officers solved the firing-rate problem in two ways (5). One was to stow bare charges in the turrets, in the working chambers, in the handing rooms below the turrets (placed there to break up the direct path between turret and magazine) and at the bottoms of the hoists (6). In effect the working chambers and handing rooms became ready-use magazines carrying unprotected charges. Anyone aware of the dangerous magazine practices the British had adopted would have concluded that, had the British ships' magazines been operated properly, turret hits would not have sunk them. DNO concluded as much immediately after Jutland (7). A second means of firing more rapidly was apparently to remove the (anti-) flash doors between magazines and the spaces at the bottoms of the hoists, so that cartridges could be passed more quickly. Both practices absolutely contravened magazine regulations. . . .

MH

NCC1717 Supporting Member of TMP15 Feb 2020 5:10 a.m. PST

The story of magazine doors being removed from British ships is repeated in many of the secondary sources I have, but only one gives an example. Campbell, in "Jutland, an Analysis of the Fighting," page 372, says "…flash doors on the gun loading cages in 'P' turret had been previously removed…". He states that this is from Invincible's reports on the Battle of the Falklands, but does not give a detailed source.

Does anyone have any more examples (ideally with a source) of specific doors being removed in specific ships?

Thanks.

Blutarski15 Feb 2020 3:09 p.m. PST

Friedman's thesis relies upon the assumption that all propellant behaved in the same fashion. This is untrue, as evidenced by a comparison of British experience with Cordite MD versus German experience with RPC/12 – British 6 of 9 ships versus German 0 of 14.

Lax or rash or unwise or excessively aggressive ammunition handling practices will certainly increase the risk of propellant fires, but the German experience evidences that an ammunition fire does not automatically result in a magazine explosion – once again, Seydlitz at Dogger Bank had about eight metric tons (equivalent to 80-85 full uncased charges completely burn up in both the hoists and the handling room (from which her magazines were accessed) of her two after turrets with no violent fatal deflagration; the propellant fire was of such a nature that the crew of the stricken turret's handling room had enough time to reach and open the inter-connecting door to that of the adjacent turret (which sadly sealed the fate of that turret as well) before succumbing to the flames and asphyxiating gases.

By comparison, the four charges (according to Gunnery Officer Grant's recollection) in Lion's Q Turret hoists, representing about one ton of propellant, flashed and deflagrated with such rapidity and violence that the structural integrity of Q magazine bulkhead was violated, allowing flash to enter the magazine proper. According to Campbell, inspection of the remains of Q turret reached the conclusion that, but for the prior flooding of the magazine, Q magazine would have exploded.

Here are NJM Campbell's comments on the German RPC/12 propellant in use during WW1: "Meanwhile an important advance had been made in Germany with RPC/12, a solventless propellant in general use in the High Seas Fleet in the First World War. In this nitrocellulose of 11.7 – 12.1 per cent Nitrogen content was dissolved in a mixture of Nitroglycerin and 'Centralite' (symmetrical Diethyl Diphenyl Urea). This non-volatile solvent was not removed, and the 'Centralite' was also an excellent stabiliser. The composition of RPC/12 varied a little, being 'hotter' for smaller calibres, and was within the range 25-29 per cent Nitroglycerin, 64-68 per cent Nitrocellulose, 4-7 per cent Centralite with 0.25 per cent Magnesium Oxide and 0.1 per cent Graphite.

In addition to improved stabilisation from the 'Centralite' the non-removal of solvent gave much better dimensional accuracy. The material was, however, very stiff to extrude and needed much higher pressure than the Cordite MD type."

Cordite SC (in use during WW2), was introduced in 1927 after extensive analysis of German RPC/12 propellant, had adopted Diethyl Diphenyl Urea ("Centralite") as a stabilizing agent in its formulation (and IIRC further reduced Nitroglycerin content to be closer to German levels). SC also benefited greatly from the adoption of much improved quality control in the manufacturing process – a less well known, but very important feature in this drama.

- – -

This story is a very great deal more complicated than Friedman's account suggests. Multiple factors and actors played important roles. IMO, everyone knew what was going on, from the handling rooms all the way to the Admiralty. If you have not already read it, I recommend Nicholas Lambert's essay – "Our Bloody Ships or Our Bloody System? Jutland and the Loss of the Battle Cruisers, 1916" (JMH 62, 1998, pp 29-56).

Also worth a read is Alexander Grant's excerpted Chapter 14 from his service autobiography "Through the Hawse Pipe", which is his account of his service ad Gunnery Officer aboard HMS Lion (I believe this can still be found on the web with a bit of a search.

Please don't me wrong here. I do not discount the importance of the ammunition handling measures (or lack thereof) practiced within the BCF (and the GF!). My argument is that that the fatal relaxation of caution all fundamentally stemmed from a belief within the service that Cordite was a "SAFE" propellant.

Once again, a stimulating chat that has me accessing dusty recesses of my file cabinets that have not seen the light of day for a long time indeed.

B

Blutarski15 Feb 2020 3:22 p.m. PST

Go here – worldwar1.co.uk/grant.htm – for Chapter 14 of Grant's "Through the Hawse Pipe.


B

Blutarski15 Feb 2020 8:19 p.m. PST

Some other material I forgot I had, but managed to stumble across. It offers some insight into service opinions on cordite in the period immediately prior to the outbreak of the war.


EXTRACTS FROM VARIOUS PAPERS DEALING WITH THE QUESTION OF ACCUMULATION OF CORDITE AT GUN STATIONS

G.15184-14
It is generally accepted that the risk of local cordite fires must be taken in order that a ship may be ready to instantly develop her maximum power of gunfire.

F. C. T. Tudor
D. N. O.
11/5/14

- – -

G.15134-14
It is considered more important to provide ammunition for the gun to fire at the enemy and accept the remote chance of a local cordite fire, than to guard against such fire by having little or no ammunition at the gun – i.e. no chance of hitting the enemy, resulting probably in the destruction of one's own ship.

Fred.C.Dreyer
Captain, H.M.S. Orion
4th April, 1914

- – -

G.15134-14
The likelihood of having to repel a Destroyer attack during day action renders it imperative to have an ample supply of cordite at the 6-inch guns.

Walter Cowan
Captain, H.M.S. Zealandia
27t March 1914

- – -

G.15134-14
It should be laid down in the Gunnery Manual that the risk of explosion of stacked ammunition is secondary to maintaining a rapid fire which should affordthe best protection to the stacked ammunition.

C.E.Madden
Rear Admiral
10th April, 1914

- – -

G.15134-14
DAY ACTION – In the older ships regard must be had to the possibility of fire caused by the ignition of cordite charges being communicated to the ammunition passages and possibly to the magazines; in the newer ships, except light cruisers, this danger is very much less as there are no trunks for flame to pass down. No ammunition passages where large quantities of ammunition are exposed, and supply is made from small ready use magazines which would not have a great deal of cordite in them.

G.N.Callahan
Admiral
27th April, 1914

- – -

G.15134-14
It is considered more important to have the ammunition provided and ready for immediate use and to risk the chance of a cordite fire, rather than to guard against a fire, andto have the ship unprepared for an attack.

G.Warrender
Vice Admiral Commanding
Second Battle Squadron
12th. April, 1914

- – -

G.12683-14
If, however, the cordite be retained in ammunition boxes or cases it is less liable to ignition than if in K.A. cases, but, ig ignited, the initial conflagration would be more fierce since about five charges in a more or less confined space would be affected, and an explosion of some force would probably result.
The explosion would, however, be mild in comparison with the explosion of the enemy shell which casued it, and is therefore not of great account.

F.C.T. Tudor
D.N.O.
29 Jan. 1914

- – -

G.14774-14
These trials show that the rate of supply depends on the work inside the magazines of removing cartridges from cases. I am of opinion that a supply of cartridges should be removed from their cases when the ships "prepare for war" and be kept ready in bags in the magazines. By taking the risk of possible explosion (in the event of a cartridge being struck) and starting with 10 projectiles at each gun, the rate of supply should be adequate.

N.Berkely Milne
Admiral, Commander-in-Chief
9th April, 1914


Hope this is of interest.


B

Blutarski15 Feb 2020 8:30 p.m. PST

More material on British, German and French propellants, taken from a technical history of propellants (sorry that I failed to record the reference)

- – -

NOTES ON CORDITE AND OTHER PROPELLANTS

Cordite – A smokeless powder composed of nitroglycerin, guncotton and a petroleum substance, usually gelatinized by the addition of acetone, and the mixture then pressed into cords which resemble brown twine. Widely used by the British with Mark I being the first version adopted by the Royal Navy in 1889. This propellant was much more powerful and thermally efficient than gunpowder or brown powder, as shown by tests with early British 6 inch (15.2 cm) QF guns. These replaced their 55 lbs. (25 kg) charge of brown prismatic powder with only 13 lbs. (6 kg) of Mark I propellant. Mark I cordite did burn very hotly and was found to be detrimental to gun barrels life, as the high temperatures caused rapid wear. For this reason, the proportions of nitroglycerine and nitrocellulose were revised in order to increase the barrel life. This new propellant was designated MD (for Modified) and came into service in 1901. MD charges were about 25% heavier than Mark I for the same ballistic result but doubled the life of the guns. Both Mark I and MD were in use during World War I, and both had poor storage characteristics with their stability degrading over time. The double-based nature of these propellants, containing a substantial amount of nitroglycerine in their composition, was significantly more susceptible to ignition than their single-base American counterparts. These unfortunate traits led to several ships suffering magazine explosions both in action and in harbor. A study performed after World War I found that MD tended to form highly unstable micro-sized dust particles consisting of nitrocellulose and iron pyrites. In 1927, after a study of the German RP C/12 solventless propellant (see below) used during World War I, British chemists developed a more stable version called SC (solventless cordite, also known as solventless carbamite). This was used to replace older propellants as rapidly as possible. SC was used extensively during World War II and had a better safety record, although the loss of HMS Hood may be partially attributed to it. Due to the presence of calcium in the small amount of chalk used to counteract traces of residual acids, SC had a very bright "flash," a characteristic which led to the development of flashless propellants (see below). British cordite propellants were designated by the type and the cordage diameter size, which for MD cordite was in 0.010 inch (0.254 mm) increments and for SC cordite was in 0.001 inch (0.0254 mm) increments. For example, MD45 meant MD-type cordite in 0.450 inch (11.4 mm) diameter cords while SC350 meant SC-type cordite in 0.350 inch (8.89 mm) diameter cords. Some cordite in tubular form was manufactured, designated as SC T followed by two sets of numbers, with the first number indicating the external diameter and the second number indicating the internal diameter, with both numbers in 0.001 inch (0.0254 mm) increments. Cordite in various forms was also used by the Japanese from about 1890 to the end of World War II. Different formulations were used, most containing about 30 percent nitroglycerin and 65 percent nitrocellulose with the remainder being stabilizers. The nominal diameter of the Japanese cords was given in units of 0.1 mm (0.004"). For example, the Japanese propellant DC80 was cordite with cords of 8 mm (0.315") diameter. Cordite N is used as a propellant in aircraft gun ammunition. It actually contains three main explosive components, nitroguanidine, nitrocellulose, and nitroglycerin. Cordite N is very cool burning and produces little smoke and almost no flash.


RP – Rohr-Pulver. "Tube powder," the descriptive designation given to German gun propellants. German propellants were manufactured in the form of hollow tubes. The propellants were classified by model year and by the external and internal diameters of the tubes in millimeters. For example, RP C/38 (14/4.9) meant a tube powder first introduced in 1938 that had an external diameter of 14 mm (0.551 in) and an internal diameter of 4.9 mm (0.193 in). There were several compositions used from 1912 to 1945. Earlier ones used nitroglycerin while later ones used diethylene glycol dinitrate, which was cooler-burning and less bore erosive. All were resistant to exploding even when exposed to a hot fire. For instance, when the small battleship Gneisenau was bombed at Kiel in 1942, over 23 tons (24 mt) of propellant was ignited in a forward magazine. There was no explosion even though turret "Anton" was lifted at least 50 cm (20 inches) from its mounting by the gas pressure generated by the deflagration. As noted above, the British did extensive studies of RP C/12 after World War I and developed "solventless cordite" (SC) based upon the results.

SD – French "solventless" propellant produced during the 1930s for 380 mm, 330 mm and a few other guns. Like British SC, French SD appears to have been developed from a study of German RPC/12, as it was in a single tube grain and the composition was similar in its proportions of nitrocellulose, nitroglycerin and centralite. SD19 was designed for the 330 mm guns while SD21 was used for the 380 mm guns.


B

NCC1717 Supporting Member of TMP16 Feb 2020 12:04 p.m. PST

Thanks for the input Blutarski.

The statement by Adm Callahan about ‘newer ships' not having ammunition passages where large quantities of ammunition was exposed seems in sharp contrast to this recent description of Warspite:

Robert Brown, "Battleship Warspite detailed in the original builders plans," 2017.

Page 18, 6-inch battery: "Delivery of ammunition was slow as the single overhead rail had to serve each gun; this led to large amounts of of ready-use ammunition stowed in each gun bay, and in action, to a large supply of shells and cordite spread throughout the passage."

Page 20, 6-inch magazine: "As built there were no flash-tight doors anywhere in the 6in ammunition supply chain – magazine, shell room, or hoists."

hindsTMP Supporting Member of TMP16 Feb 2020 7:01 p.m. PST

@NCC1717

Not precisely what you were asking for, but I found this, attributed to Adm. Jellicoe from ADM137/2021, Grand Fleet Orders and Memoranda, p630: "If any ship has removed the flash doors in the working chambers of her turret, they are to be replaced . . . "

His wording implies a certain generality to the practice.

MH

NCC1717 Supporting Member of TMP16 Feb 2020 7:17 p.m. PST

Thank you MH, I was aware of that order and I agree with your conclusion.

What would be interesting to know is what knowledge prompted Jellicoe to say that. At the least, it seems possible that in investigating the loss of the Invincible the Falklands report that Campbell mentions might have been reviewed.

hindsTMP Supporting Member of TMP16 Feb 2020 8:17 p.m. PST

That's a lot of material there, @Blutarski…

Firstly, you state that "This story is a very great deal more complicated than Friedman's account suggests", and that "Friedman's thesis relies upon the assumption that all propellant behaved in the same fashion".

I have to disagree with this. Yes, in a number of his books, Friedman has suggested that the primary reason for the loss of the BCs at Jutland was the continuous chain of propellant from the turret to the magazine, caused by "suicidal" (sic) ammunition handling practices. However, it does not logically follow from this that he, in addition, completely discounts differences in propellants, which he does touch on. It's just a question of relative importance.

Seydlitz didn't blow up at Dogger bank, because the flash from a barbette penetration didn't immediately reach the magazines, allowing them to be flooded in time. In the case of the Lion, again, the flash from a turret penetration didn't immediately reach the magazines, allowing them to be flooded in time. The dynamics of the process seem to have varied in the two ships (quantity and type of propellant outside the magazine, physical construction, luck, etc.), but the results were the same in the end.

In the case of Indefatigable, Queen Mary, and Invincible, the flash from (probable) turret penetrations did immediately reach the magazines, most likely due to the lax ammunition handling practices quoted in my previous post, which Lion was not a party to. SFAIK, any ship from the WW1/WW2 era could blow up if a full magazine was ignited. In such a case, the relative stability of the propellant would appear to be secondary. Remember my USS Arizona example.

Finally, thanks for the interesting list of "papers" describing British pre-war evaluations of cordite risk. I have read similar material indicating that they believed that cordite was, as you say, "safe". IIRC, they even tested it in a simulated magazine pre-war, and it just burned. I think I gave them credit for this when in my previous post (scroll on up), I said "BTW, when Friedman uses the words "suicidal", I think he is referring to the results rather than the intentions. Of course the British used the best information available at the time when calculating risk versus reward, though they clearly made some mistakes in doing so."

I find the pre-WW1 dates on these papers interesting, indicating that rate of fire concerns existed prior to Dogger Bank. However, I still tend to go with Friedman on the bulk of the "suicidal" stuff being post Dogger Bank; again this has wargaming consequences. Here's a relevant quote from the "The British Battleship" Chapter 10 Note 5: "The practices are not admitted in any surviving paper, but they were obvious from the post-Jutland investigation by DNO and DNC. Hence it is impossible to be certain that they post-dated Dogger Bank, but the evidence seems obvious . . . ". (He then quotes some gunnery papers, but the logic is muddled by at least one typo).

MH

Blutarski18 Feb 2020 1:23 p.m. PST

MH wrote –
That's a lot of material there, @Blutarski…

Firstly, you state that "This story is a very great deal more complicated than Friedman's account suggests", and that "Friedman's thesis relies upon the assumption that all propellant behaved in the same fashion".

I have to disagree with this. Yes, in a number of his books, Friedman has suggested that the primary reason for the loss of the BCs at Jutland was the continuous chain of propellant from the turret to the magazine, caused by "suicidal" (sic) ammunition handling practices. However, it does not logically follow from this that he, in addition, completely discounts differences in propellants, which he does touch on. It's just a question of relative importance.

>>>>> You make a fair point here. But Friedman's consistent silence on the unstable propellant issue troubles me. It is easy to infer that he considers it irrelevant.

- – -

Seydlitz didn't blow up at Dogger bank, because the flash from a barbette penetration didn't immediately reach the magazines, allowing them to be flooded in time. In the case of the Lion, again, the flash from a turret penetration didn't immediately reach the magazines, allowing them to be flooded in time. The dynamics of the process seem to have varied in the two ships (quantity and type of propellant outside the magazine, physical construction, luck, etc.), but the results were the same in the end.

>>>>> Must respectfully disagree. These two events are, in my view, not the same, except for the fact that both ships fortunately survived their experiences.

Lion had 18 minutes BEFORE the fire broke out to secure and flood Q magazine. At that point, not more than four full charges (approximately one ton of cordite) was set alight, quickly reached the deflagration point and reacted with such violence that the bulkhead of the magazine (despite the support of the water on the other side) was structurally compromised with evidence of flash having penetrated into the magazine. Inspectors concluded that Q magazine almost certainly would have exploded had it not been previously flooded.

In the case of Seydlitz, the magazines of the two turrets were only flooded AFTER the ammunition fires had consumed about eight tons of propellant, much of it in the handing rooms which had direct access to the magazines (see Staff's excellent deck plans in his book "German Battlecruisers"). With both turret crews having been entirely killed in the conflagration, the party that ultimately succeeded in flooding the magazines came from their control station (positioned below the armored deck forward of the engine rooms); they had to climb above the armored deck, make their way aft through smoke, heat and poisonous gases, then feel their way down several deck levels to the compartment containing the magazine flooding valves. The valves, by this time red hot, were opened bare-handed, with the crewmen suffering grievous burns in the process. Although flames from the fires in the two turrets reached masthead height, there was no violent deflagration..

- – -

In the case of Indefatigable, Queen Mary, and Invincible, the flash from (probable) turret penetrations did immediately reach the magazines, most likely due to the lax ammunition handling practices quoted in my previous post, which Lion was not a party to. SFAIK, any ship from the WW1/WW2 era could blow up if a full magazine was ignited. In such a case, the relative stability of the propellant would appear to be secondary. Remember my USS Arizona example.

>>>>> Re the above-mentioned cases –
Indefatigable
I agree with your opinion that her loss was the result of an immediate propellant explosion. X turret in the Indefatigable class was IMO especially vulnerable in terms of armor protection. Here is a translation of Cdr Mahrholz's account (gunnery officer of Von de Tann) – "The deadly blow struck the enemy 14 minutes after opening fire. I looked through the bearing glass [Richtungsweisersehrohr] and saw the arrival of a salvo, followed by a gigantic explosion in the aft turret. A bright sheet of flame shot out of the turret roof and expanded along the entire aft section. Debris whirled through the air, possibly fragments of the turret's roof."

Queen Mary
The details relating to the loss of Queen Mary are both interesting and perplexing to study. For example, here is an excerpt from the report of Midshipman J. L. Storey, R.N., senior uninjured survivor – "At 5.20 a big shell hit "Q" Turret and put the right gun out of action, but the left gun continued firing. At 5.24 a terrific explosion took place which smashed up "Q" Turret and stared a big fire in working chamber and the Gun House was filled with smoke and gas. The officer on the Turret, Lieutenant Commander Street, gave the order to evacuate the Turret. All the unwounded in the Gun House got clear and, as they did so, another terrific explosion took place and all were thrown into the water. On coming to the surface, nothing was visible except wreckage, but thirty persons appeared to be floating in the water."
Storey's account mentions three discreet events in the course of about five minutes: a shell hit at 5.20, a big explosion of uncertain provenance at 5.24, followed by a second big explosion of unknown cause shortly after the survivors of the 5.24 explosion had gotten clear of the turret (how long it took to evacuate the turret is unknown). Make of that what you will.

Invincible
DK Brown's analysis of the loss of Invincible considers the most probable cause of her demise was a shell observed (according to Dannreuther) to have hit Q Turret, followed almost immediately by the explosion of Q magazine and probably P magazine (together containing about 50 tons of cordite), with Q turret being blown bodily into the sea. DKB, however, theorizes that Invincible coasted a short distance (1,000 yards?) before finally breaking up and sinking; he also expresses a suspicion that Invincible may well have had some lots of elderly and volatile Cordite Mark 1 aboard (it was still in service in 1916).

- – -

Finally, thanks for the interesting list of "papers" describing British pre-war evaluations of cordite risk. I have read similar material indicating that they believed that cordite was, as you say, "safe". IIRC, they even tested it in a simulated magazine pre-war, and it just burned. I think I gave them credit for this when in my previous post (scroll on up), I said "BTW, when Friedman uses the words "suicidal", I think he is referring to the results rather than the intentions. Of course the British used the best information available at the time when calculating risk versus reward, though they clearly made some mistakes in doing so.

I find the pre-WW1 dates on these papers interesting, indicating that rate of fire concerns existed prior to Dogger Bank. However, I still tend to go with Friedman on the bulk of the "suicidal" stuff being post Dogger Bank; again this has wargaming consequences. Here's a relevant quote from the "The British Battleship" Chapter 10 Note 5: "The practices are not admitted in any surviving paper, but they were obvious from the post-Jutland investigation by DNO and DNC. Hence it is impossible to be certain that they post-dated Dogger Bank, but the evidence seems obvious . . . ". (He then quotes some gunnery papers, but the logic is muddled by at least one typo).

>>>>> It is a pleasure to share the fruits of my labors with someone who shares my deep interest in the subject.

hindsTMP Supporting Member of TMP18 Feb 2020 8:03 p.m. PST

@hindsTMP>>>>> Seydlitz didn't blow up at Dogger bank, because the flash from a barbette penetration didn't immediately reach the magazines, allowing them to be flooded in time. In the case of the Lion, again, the flash from a turret penetration didn't immediately reach the magazines, allowing them to be flooded in time. The dynamics of the process seem to have varied in the two ships (quantity and type of propellant outside the magazine, physical construction, luck, etc.), but the results were the same in the end.

@Blutarski>>>>> Must respectfully disagree. These two events are, in my view, not the same, except for the fact that both ships fortunately survived their experiences.


By "the same in the end" I mean that the 2 BCs survived, while the 3 BCs in my following paragraph didn't survive. I'm not equating the German propellant with Cordite.

Per Friedman, the most important difference between the 2 that survived and the 3 that didn't appears to be the "suicidal" magazine practices apparently being used by the latter. Most important doesn't mean "only". In turn, this is my justification for reserving the worst (wargame) rating for those British ships using these "suicidal" magazine practices, during the time period when they did so.

hindsTMP Supporting Member of TMP18 Feb 2020 9:43 p.m. PST

(being revised, and of course, I took too long doing it…)

Blutarski18 Feb 2020 9:48 p.m. PST

Hi Mark,
I understand your position perfectly; I just do not agree with it. Lion's experience is no proof that more conservative ammunition handling practice would have forestalled anything, as her magazine had already been flooded prior to the deflagration event.

I suggest that we bring this discussion to a close. You have your opinion; I have mine. Let us leave it at that.

It has been a blast.

B

hindsTMP Supporting Member of TMP18 Feb 2020 9:49 p.m. PST

Actually, I am pretty sure you do not understand my position. In saying this I am not in any way disparaging your intellect. Rather we are seeing one of the disadvantages of written communication, in public, where the topic is multifaceted. The exasperating thing is that this particular issue has come up several times now on TMP, with no resolution.

It would be easier to resolve this offline, or over the phone, but you don't seem to be a supporting member with PM privileges. I don't suppose you have a presence on another forum where I could send you a phone number? Facebook maybe?

Blutarski21 Feb 2020 7:44 a.m. PST

Hi Mark,
Based upon my own experience, your remark re the drawbacks of discussing complicated topics "Ping-Pong fashion" via distant written correspondence is certainly valid. On that basis, I am willing to pursue the discussion via more direct means.

I post on Navweaps as "Blutarski", with PM availability.

I also post on KBismarck Forum under my real name, "Byron Angel", also with PM availability.

Phone would be my preference, if practicable for you. I live in Greenville SC (US Eastern Standard Time).


B

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