bring Back the Battleships!

There are rumblings in quiet corners about taking the WWII Battleships out of retirement.
Make no mistakes, they are outmoded remnants of days gone by, and like Aircraft Carriers are the likely scenes of mushroom clouds if a serious war with a major enemy breaks out, but we spend a lot of time fighting less-than-major enemies, and the old Battleships serve a purpose.

Intimidation. Really serious intimidation, of the stealth kind. Oh, the Battleships are not stealthy — far from it — but the shells each 16″ gun sends is stealthy. 2,000 pounds of explosive sent from 25 miles at sea can be really intimidating, and a Battleship has nine of those big guns! Fired in unison, and there goes the neighborhood — or downtown.

But these ships are useful at peacetime “Showing the Flag.” Unlike an Aircraft Carrier whose muscle is mostly hidden, a Battleship is Mr. Muscle in a painted-on T-Shirt!

My first exposure the a Battleship was on the USS O’Bannon, DDE-450, a tiny, WWI Escort Destroyer sent into Wonsan Harbor for protection of a detachment of Marines occupying tiny islands in the North Korean harbor. We had been selected because, although a tiny ship, we had a mighty and new weapon — 3″ 50 caliber, automatic weapons. Two, twin-mounts with each barrel capable of sending 60 rounds per barrel per minute of 12 pound projectiles, high explosive or White Phosphorus. 

The NK was accustomed to rolling out their larger, rail-mounted guns from caves, firing off a couple of rounds at the resident ship, and leisurely retreating deep in the cave behind steel doors before the usual 5″ guns could get the range.

The 3″ 50 was more like a machine gun — it could start anywhere and just “walk” the projectiles into the cave mouth before the NK gunners could retreat.

Our ship won the U.S. Presidential Unit Citation, and the South Korean Unit Citation in two weeks, but more importantly to us we were relieved by the USS New Jersey, BB–62, who fired a broadside in our honor. The New Jersey heeled over, and the wave she created made us think we had been hit!

Years later, as a Midshipman on Third-Class Cruise, I was assigned on that same Battleship for a cruise to Europe, and further assigned as a Midshipman Gun Captain on one of the nine, 16″ guns! The power inside that gun mount was every bit as impressive as watching what those guns were like topside! 

(The projectile was not attached to a powder source, as in most guns — the projectile is loaded by a hydraulic ram, then bags of powder, wrapped in silk are placed in a tray, and rammed behind the projectile. Silk, because, upon explosion, it virtually disappears!)

Those Battleships were never fitted with electronic computers. Even in the Gulf War, they used old hand-cranked computers, which were crude but effective — diesel submarines used those also. (Of course diesel submarines used primarily MK. 14, 3a torpedoes from a distance of 1,000 yards or less — which, as I explained to the Flag Officer aboard the nuclear Aircraft Carrier USS Enterprise, CVN-65, is like shooting the Coast of California!) 

But enough of my Sea Stories. Suffice to say the Battleships have some great benefits. I am told that when the Battleships cruised in the Gulf War, radio traffic went silent in their presence.

Intimidation! (It works!, because it stays in the mind of the opponent.)

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