Wednesday, 29 October 2008


Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, members of the Senate and the House of Representatives: yesterday, December 7th, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The USS Arizona (BB-39) was a Pennsylvania-class battleship of the United States Navy.

The vessel was the third to be named in honour of the 48th state, though the first since its statehood was actually achieved. She was commissioned in 1916 and saw action in World War I. The USS Arizona is best known for her cataclysmic and dramatic sinking, with the loss of 1,177 lives, during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941, the event that brought about U.S. involvement in World War II. The wreck was not salvaged, and continues to lie at the floor of the harbour. It is the site of a memorial to those who perished on that day.

Captain Isaac Kidd, USN, pictured prior to his promotion to Rear Admiral.

Acts of heroism on the part of Arizona's officers and men were many, headed by those of Lieutenant Commander Samuel G. Fuqua, the ship's damage control officer, whose coolness in attempting to quell the fires and get survivors off the ship earned him the Medal of Honour. Posthumous awards of the Medal of Honour also went to Rear Admiral Isaac C. Kidd, the first flag officer killed in the Pacific war, and to Captain Franklin Van Valkenburgh, who reached the bridge and was attempting to defend his ship when the bomb hit on the magazines destroyed her.

The blast that destroyed Arizona and sank her at her berth alongside of Ford Island took a total of 1,177 lives of the 1,400 crewmen on board at the time—over half of the casualties suffered by the entire fleet in the attack.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

"No, there is no boat here." The Sinking of the Ferry ESTONIA.

These are the haunting words uttered by the captain of the Mariella, the lead rescue ship, one of many, who raced to the last reported position of the massive Ferry Estonia, on a cold night on the Baltic in late September of 1994.

MS Estonia, previously MS Viking Sally (1980–1990), MS Silja Star (–1991), and MS Wasa King (–1993), was a cruiseferry built in 1980 at the German shipyard Meyer Werft in Papenburg. The ship sank in the Baltic Sea on September 28, 1994, claiming 852 lives and was one of the deadliest maritime disasters in the late 20th century. Superstitious sailors will tell you that changing the keel name of a ship is an unwise thing to do.

Here's what this beautiful ship looked like in happier times.

The loss of the Estonia was a terrible accident, and one which would have implications for open-bow ferries for the rest of time. The story is best told in moving pictures.

Here is a startling video demonstrating the physics of what happened to the ramp housing of the bow visor of the ESTONIA, the failure of which lead to her sinking.

Unusually, here are the actual recordings of bridge communications between the ESTONIA and the Finnish Coast she was communicating with during her transit of the Baltic on that fateful night. They are chilling.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Anatoly Babkin and the day naval warfare changed forever.


Anatoly Babkin, brilliant Russian scientist and most recently head of the rocket engine faculty at the Bauman Technical University in Moscow, designed a weapon the Russians called Shkval. The Shkval is a supercavitation torpedo, which is capable of being fired by air, surface or underwater, and is known to achieve underwater speeds of at least 300 knots, or aproximately 330 miles per hour, and possibly even more. It achieves this by bleeding some of the gasses produced by its rocket powered propulsion device, expelling these gasses through special apertures on the nose of the torpedo, thus enveloping it in a bubble of gas enabling it to 'fly' underwater.

In this way, the torpedo behaves more like a missile, rather than a conventional torpedo. For those of you who recall your high school physics, force equals mass times acceleration. Since acceleration is a square function, the speed squared is reflected in the resultant force. Thus, any object weighing around 3 tonnes, travelling underwater at 330 mph, will cause catastrophic damage to any ship or submarine it impacts with, without the need for a conventional warhead. Were such a weapon conventionally, or even nuclear armed, the SHKVAL represents a fundamental shift in the balance of power within the context of Naval Warfare, and will change the playing field forever.

The Russian SHKVAL weighs 2700 kilograms, is 8.5 meters in length, has an effective operational range of between 7 and 13 kilometers and costs twelve million US dollars each, if able to locate a compliant source.

Naval strategy has changed dramatically over the past one hundred years, with capitol ship importance passing from Battleships, to Aircraft Carriers and then onto Nuclear submarines, but all are in grave danger before the threat represented by the SHKVAL supercavitation torpedo.

First of all, what is cavitation?
Cavitation is defined as the formation of an empty space within a solid object or body. In the underwater case, It is the phenomena whereby rotating underwater machinery, like propellors, release the gasses contained within the molecular structure of water, beyond a certain speed of rotation, angular displacement of propellor blades, temperature, salinity and pressure, by virtue of its rotation through the water. This is important in the submarine world, because cavitation is a hugely noisy phenomenon and can easily betray the location of a previously undetected submarine.

Here is a brief video demonstrating the phenomena of cavitation.

Typical of the Russians, though, they took this unwanted aspect of underwater operations, this potential liability, and experimented with it in order to obtain a tactical advantage. They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams in the development of SHKVAL.

Below is a rather longwinded video, of tabloid instincts in large parts, but one which has some important tactical information about SHKVAL along with some background information on the submarine KURSK and her tragic loss. This is a Canadian production, rather tedious in the beginning, and I recommend you commence viewing at minute 16. It advances the theory that it was a SHKVAL explosion in the Torpedo room of the Kursk, possibly whilst within a firing tube, which lead to her sinking. There is no firm evidence in support of this, as there is for the involvement of USS Toledo and USS Memphis, particularly the protracted visit of the former to a sealed dry dock in Bergen for 3 days immediately following the loss of the Kursk, but information as it pertains to the weapon itself, is somewhat valuable.

In case there is any doubt as to the effectiveness of torpedoes, here is a brief demonstration of what old technology torpedoes can do. This is the handiwork of a Mark 48, conventional torpedo, fired at conventional speeds with a conventional warhead. the SHKVAL is anything but conventional, in every imaginable way.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

The Oceans Most Wicked Tragedy: Russian Submarine KURSK

K-141 Kursk was an Oscar II class nuclear cruise missile submarine of the Russian Navy, lost with all hands when it sank in the Barents Sea on August 12, 2000.

Kursk, full name Атомная подводная лодка "Курск" [АПЛ "Курск"] in Russian, was a Project 949A Антей (Antey, Antaeus but was also known by its NATO reporting name of Oscar II). It was named after the Russian city Kursk, around which the largest tank battle in military history, the Battle of Kursk, took place in 1943. One of the first vessels built after the fall of the Soviet Union, it was commissioned into the Russian Navy's Northern Fleet.

Despite all information to the contrary, this submarine was lost because it was involved in the test firing of a previously TOP SECRET weapon, know in the west as SQWALA. Submarine units of the USN and RN were in close proximity when the test firing took place. As you will see from the video below, US Submarines USS Toledo and USS Memphis have a lot to answer for. In some circles, it has been suggested that the test weapon struck its launch ship KURSK, and although not fatally damaged, the Russian Navy forbade any and all attempts to save her surviving sailors. These men sat in frozen darkness for hours, dying one by one, hour after frozen hour, because of the weapon that I shall reveal here on my site very shortly, in the coming days.

This excellent video describes it detail the events of that dreadful day. For those of you limited in time, begin at minute 23.


The warship was built as USS Phoenix (CL-46), the sixth of the Brooklyn-class cruisers, in New Jersey by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation starting in 1935, and launched in March 1938. She survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, and was decommissioned from the US Navy after World War II in July 1946. The former USS Phoenix was sold, with another of her class USS Boise (CL-47) renamed ARA Nueve de Julio (C-5)), to Argentina in October 1951, for $7.8 million.

She was renamed 17 de Octubre after an important date for the political party of the then president Juan Perón. Ironically, she was one of the main units which joined the coup against Peronism. Perón was subsequently overthrown in 1955, and in 1956 the ship was renamed General Belgrano (C-4) after General Manuel Belgrano, who had fought for Argentine independence from 1811 to 1819. Several years before becoming General, as a colonial officer, he founded the Escuela de Naútica (School of Navigation) in 1799. The cruiser was outfitted with Sea Cat missiles between 1967-1968.

It is the only ship ever to have been sunk by a nuclear-powered submarine and only the second sunk by any type of submarine since the end of World War II. The Royal Navy submarine HMS Conqueror used three Mk 8 mod 4 torpedoes, two of which found their deadly mark. She sank on May 2nd, 1982 with the loss of 323 men. 770 sailors who survived the sinking were rescued from the South Atlantic between May 3rd and 5th of that year.

Pecking the Lobes: The sinking of HMS Sheffield.

HMS Sheffield was another Type 42 guided missle destroyer of the Royal Navy. She was attacked by the Argentine Air Force during the late morning of May 4th, 1982. The attack upon her was in retaliation for the sinking of the Cruiser Belgrano.

The attack was unique in that it was an attack upon a guided missile destroyer, bristling with radar, and neither the approaching aircraft or its deployed Exocet missile was detected by radar. HMS Sheffield was severely damaged by fire and abandoned. Whilst waiting for rescue, the crew sang "always look on the bright side of life", after Monty Python.

The burnt-out hulk was taken in tow by the Rothesay class frigate HMS Yarmouth but sank at 53°04'S, 56°56' W on 10 May 1982; high seas led to slow flooding through the hole in the ships side which eventually took her to the bottom. This made her the first Royal Navy vessel sunk in action in almost forty years. Twenty of her crew (mainly on duty in the Galley-area) died during the attack. The wreck is a war grave and designated as a protected place under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986.

HMS Nottingham versus Lord Howe Island.

The Royal Navy Type 42 destroyer HMS Nottingham nearly sank in the Tasman Sea after hitting a well-known rock on July 7, 2002.

The accident occurred in rough seas and strong winds just moments after a helicopter carrying the ship's commanding officer landed on the ship's helipad. Whilst the collision was unfortunate, the seamanship demonstrated by the crew was remarkable and the fact that she was saved at all is the real story of this incident. Royal Navy sailors at their very finest saved this vessel from certain sinking. HMS Nottingham suffered a 100 foot long gash in her starboard side, from bow to bridge!

The ship struck in the vicinity of Wolf Rock off Lord Howe Island, about 300 miles from Australia. The captain, fearing that Nottingham would break its back, backed the ship off the rocks.

Below, the crew started what turned out to be a days-long, desperate battle against inrushing water. According to one crewman, the multicompartmented warship was at one point within six minutes of sinking.

The ship sustained gashes, one of which was about 100 feet long. Water flooded numerous compartments, including the main engine room, the Sea Dart missiles' magazine and the computer room, and several living spaces.

Nottingham arrived off tiny Lord Howe Island, a mountainous World Heritage Site and tourist attraction, on the afternoon of July 7, The ship stopped there to send a sick crewmember ashore by helicopter.

Part of the crew went ashore for what the captain later described as a bit of leg stretching. By the time the captain was ready to depart the island that night, a small front had hit the island, bringing intermittent rain and strong winds. As Lord Howe Island's harbormaster Clive Wilson remembers the conditions, "It was rough winds, wild seas, breaking waves that night."

The ship's Lynx helicopter ferried the captain to Nottingham, which maneuvered off the eastern side of the island in the lee of Mount Lidgbird so the helicopter could land. While the chopper was being rolled into the hanger, the ship shuddered as it hit the rocks.

Requests for assistance were answered by several agencies. The Royal Australian Navy quickly assembled both heavy pumps and a team of divers and flew them on a Royal Australian Air Force Hercules C-130 transport to Lord Howe Island. The Royal New Zealand Navy sent the frigate Te Mana and the oiler Endeavour, both of which were in the general area.

Australian divers welded steel patches to Nottingham's hull, while massive damage control and cleanup work went on inside the vessel, including a large amount of wood and steel shoring.

Weary workers were replaced by fresh help from Te Mana and Endeavour, while the Australian divers stopped work during spells of 60-knot winds and surging seas.

A reconnaissance flight revealed no signs of any oil spillage, only a light sheen of oil from the water being pumped overboard.

The BBC quoted the captain as stating "a combination of unfortunate circumstances and human error" caused the accident. A board of inquiry has finished its investigation, but its findings will not be made public.

A week after the accident, the ship's watertight integrity was being maintained, and the vessel was being readied for towing, stern-first, to Newcastle, Australia early in August. However, authorities warned that bad weather could still jeopardize the vessel.

Three tugs were to participate in the towing. The 6,000-hp anchor-handling tug Pacific Chieftain would tow Nottingham, while the Hong Kong tug Yam O provided steering. Austral Salvor was to serve as the standby tug.

After removal of stores and ammunition in Australia, Nottingham was to be placed on a heavy-lift ship some time in October for the trip back to Britain for repairs.

Wolf Rock is the most prominent of a cluster of rocks lying about one mile off Lord Howe Island's east shore and about 1.5 miles southwest of Mutton Bird Island, which has shoal water extending toward Wolf Rock.

The captain was reported as stating that Wolf Rock was well-charted and that his crew knew it was nearby.

Wolf Rock should be well-known to mariners because a ship was wrecked on it in 1937, but relevant charts are largely based on data from the 1837 survey by HMS Benham. Wolf Rock may not have been precisely marked.

According to harbormaster Wilson, the latest Royal Australian Navy chart of the island has the notation "inadequately surveyed." He added, "some areas along the shore are not definitely charted." More importantly, AUS 610 and the Admiralty version of it bear a note that Wolf Rock was "reported to lie 1.5 cables NW in 1990." That means Wolf Rock could actually be 900 feet northwest of the position shown on the chart.

Nottingham's bridge should have been manned with an adequate number of competent personnel. The normal bridge team for a Type 42 destroyer like Nottingham numbers four: the officer of the watch, a quartermaster, a boatswain's mate and a communications rating.

"Special sea dutymen" are called during air operations, adverse weather conditions, sailing at night or in poor visibility, and sailing close inshore, as well as several other conditions. Then the bridge team consists of the officer of the watch, perhaps a second OOW (usually an officer under training), the navigator (a lieutenant), the helmsman, a boatswain's mate (a general helper able to leave the bridge), a communications rating, probably two lookouts on the bridge and perhaps an engineering officer.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

HMAS Melbourne. The jinxed aircraft carrier.

HMAS Melbourne started life as HMS Majestic and although she was flagship of the RAN, she never fired a shot in anger and only ever served in peripheral roles. She is, however, infamous for achieving the dubious distinction of being the only British Commonwealth naval vessel to sink two friendly warships in peacetime.

The Sinking of HMAS Voyager

On 10 February 1964, HMAS Melbourne was performing trials in Jervis Bay under the command of Captain John Robertson, following the annual refit. The Daring class destroyer HMAS Voyager was also present, undergoing her own trials following refit, under the command of Captain Duncan Stevens. The trials involved interactions between both ships, and when Melbourne performed night flying exercises that evening, Voyager acted as the carrier's plane guard escort. This required Voyager to maintain a position 20° off Melbourne’s port quarter at a distance from the carrier of 1,500 to 2,000 yards (1,400 to 1,800 m).

During the early part of the evening, Voyager had no difficulties maintaining her position during the manoeuvres both ships performed. Following a series of turns intended to reverse the courses of both ships beginning at 8:40 pm, Voyager ended up to starboard of Melbourne. At 8:52 pm, Voyager was ordered to resume the plane guard station. The procedure to accomplish this required Voyager to turn away from Melbourne in a large circle, cross the carrier's stern, then take position off Melbourne’s port side. Instead, Voyager first turned to starboard, away from Melbourne, then turned to port without warning. It was initially assumed by Melbourne’s bridge crew that Voyager was conducting a series of tight turns in order to lose speed before swinging behind Melbourne, but Voyager did not alter course again.

Animation showing the courses and approximate positions of the two ships leading up to the collision.

At 8:55 pm, with Voyager still turning to port, Melbourne’s navigator ordered the carrier's engines to half astern speed, with Robertson ordering an increase to full astern a few seconds later. At the same time, Stevens, having just arrived on Voyager’s bridge, gave the order "Full ahead both engines. Hard-a starboard.", before instructing the destroyer's Quartermaster to announce that a collision was imminent. Both ships' measures were too late to avoid a collision; Melbourne hit Voyager at 8:56 pm.

Melbourne impacted just aft of Voyager’s bridge structure, rolling the destroyer to starboard before cutting her in half. Voyager’s forward boiler exploded, briefly setting fire to the bow of the carrier before it was extinguished by seawater. The destroyer's forward section sank quickly, due to the weight of the two 4.5 in (114.3 mm) gun turrets. The aft section did not begin sinking until half an hour after the collision, and did not completely submerge until just after midnight.

Melbourne en-route to Sydney, immediately after the collision. The damage to the bow can be seen.

Of the 314 personnel aboard Voyager at the time of the collision, 14 officers, 67 sailors, and 1 civilian dockyard worker were killed, including Stevens and all but one of the bridge crew. Melbourne arrived in Sydney with the survivors on 14 February, and after spending time alongside at Garden Island, was moved to Cockatoo Island Dockyard on 25 March, where a 40 ton prefabricated bow was fitted.

A Royal Commission into the events of the collision was held in 1964, and found that while Voyager was primarily at fault for neglecting to maintain an effective lookout and awareness of the larger ship's location, Melbourne’s bridge crew was also at fault, for failing to alert Voyager and not taking measures to avoid the collision. Robertson was posted to HMAS Watson, a move that he and the Australian media saw as tantamount to a demotion; Robertson resigned rather than accept the posting.

The Royal Commission and its aftermath were poorly handled, and following pressure from the public, media, and politicians, combined with revelations by Voyager’s former executive officer that Stevens may have been unfit for command, a second Royal Commission was opened in 1967. This is the only time in Australian history two Royal Commissions have been held for a single incident. The second commission found that Stevens was medically unfit for command and that some of the findings of the first Royal Commission were therefore based on incorrect assumptions. Robertson and the other officers of Melbourne were absolved of blame for the incident.

The Sinking of the USS Frank E. Evans

In February of 1969, HMAS Melbourne sailed to Subic Bay in the Philipines to participate in a joined US/AUS/NZ/UK naval exercise entitled Excercise Sea Spirit.

HMAS Melbourne’s commanding officer during the exercise was Captain John Phillip Stevenson. Rear Admiral John Crabb, the Flag Officer Commanding Australian Fleet, was also embarked on the carrier. During Sea Spirit, Melbourne was assigned five escorts: US Ships Everett F. Larson, Frank E. Evans, and James E. Kyes, HMNZS Blackpool, and HMS Cleopatra.

Captain Stevenson held a dinner for the five escort captains at the start of the exercise, during which he recounted the events of the Melbourne–Voyager collision, emphasised the need for caution when operating near the carrier, and provided written instructions on how to avoid such a situation developing again. Additionally, during the lead-up to the exercise, Admiral Crabb had strongly warned that all repositioning manoeuvres performed by the escorts had to commence with a turn away from Melbourne. Despite these warnings, a near-miss occurred in the early hours of 31 May when USS Larson turned towards the carrier after being ordered to the plane guard station. Subsequent action narrowly prevented a collision. The escorts were again warned about the dangers of operating near the carrier and informed of Stevenson's expectations, while the minimum distance between carrier and escorts was increased from 2,000 to 3,000 yards.

The paths taken by Melbourne and USS Frank E. Evans in the minutes leading up to the collision.

On the night of 2–3 June, Melbourne and her escorts were involved in anti-submarine training exercises in the South China Sea. In preparation for launching a Tracker, Stevenson ordered the Evans to the plane guard station, reminded the destroyer of Melbourne’s course, and instructed the carrier's navigational lights to be brought to full brilliance. Evans had performed the manoeuvre four times over the course of the night. The Evans was positioned on Melbourne’s port bow, but began the manoeuvre by turning starboard, towards the carrier. A radio message was sent from Melbourne to Evans’ bridge and Combat Information Centre, warning the destroyer that she was on a collision course, which Evans acknowledged.

Seeing the destroyer take no action and on a course to place herself under Melbourne’s bow, Stevenson ordered the carrier hard to port, signalling the turn by both radio and siren blasts. At approximately the same time, Evans turned hard to starboard to avoid the approaching carrier. It is uncertain which ship began to manoeuvre first, but each ship's bridge crew claimed that they were informed of the other ship's turn after they commenced their own. After having narrowly passed in front of Melbourne, the turns quickly placed Evans back in the carrier's path. Melbourne hit Evans amidships at 3:15 am, cutting the destroyer in two.

The stern section of USS Frank E. Evans on the morning after the collision. USS Everett F. Larson (right) is moving in to salvage the remains of the abandoned destroyer.

Seventy-four of the 273 crew from Evans were killed in the collision, with the majority of these believed to have been asleep or trapped inside the bow section, which sank within minutes. Melbourne deployed her boats, liferafts, and lifebuoys, before carefully manoeuvring alongside the stern section of Evans, where both ships' crews used mooring lines to lash the ships together. Other members of Melbourne’s crew dived into the water to rescue overboard survivors close to the carrier, while the carrier's boats and helicopters collected those farther out.

A Joint RAN-USN Board of Inquiry was established to investigate the incident, and was in session over June and July 1969. The Board found Evans partially at fault for the collision, but also faulted Melbourne for not taking evasive action sooner, even though international sea regulations dictated that in the leadup to a collision, the larger ship was required to maintain course and speed. It was learned during the inquiry that Evans’ commanding officer was asleep in his quarters at the time of the incident, and command of the vessel was held by Lieutenants Ronald Ramsey and James Hopson; the former had failed the qualification exam to stand watch, while the latter was at sea for the first time.

Subsequent to the inquiry, the three USN officers and Stevenson were court-martialled on charges of negligence, with the three USN officers found guilty and Stevenson 'Honourably Acquitted'. Despite the findings, Stevenson's next posting was as a minor flag officer's chief of staff, seen by him as a demotion in all but name. In a repeat of the aftermath of the Voyager collision, Melbourne’s captain resigned amid accusations of scapegoating.


During the 70's, HMAS Melbourne's reputation as a magnet for suicidal ships was cemented by not one, but two collisions with the carrier while she was moored in Sydney Harbour. The first with the passenger liner SS Australis on July 11, 1974, and again by the Jap Freighter Blue Andromeda on July 24, 1975.

Over the course of her career, over thirty aircraft were either lost or heavily damaged while operating from HMAS Melbourne. The majority of the aircraft ditched or crashed over the side, but some losses were due to catapult or arrestor cable failures. After Melbourne was decommissioned the Fleet Air Arm, perhaps unsurprisingly, ceased fixed-wing combat aircraft operation in 1984, with the final Tracker flight saluting the decommissioned carrier.

When she was sold to the Chinese for scrap, HMAS Melbourne left Sydney harbour for the last time in late April 1985. But the old girl wasn't going to go without one final curtain call on the stage of nautical infamy. Her towline broke on the journey north damaging her tugboat. She and a second tugboat took shelter in Morton Bay whilst the first tug was repaired, whereupon HMAS Melbourne broke her moorings and ran aground. She finally arrived in China on June 13, 1985, and the doubtlessly much relieved Chinese sent the following telegram to the Australian Government.....
Please be advised that HMAS Melbourne arrived at Port Huangpu, intact and safely afloat, proud and majestic. She has been innocent, never once bowed to the natural or human force, in spite of the heavy storm and the talked about jinx.