Saturday, May 31, 2014

D-6: Hot Ship

Contrasts of D-Day "hot ships:"

Here, just to get it out there, is a Hawker Typhoon. Powerful, menacing. Even the radiator is massive, and, of course, there are the four 20mm guns. If you're reading your way, day-by-day, to D-Day, you know that this is already old news, that there is a Hawker "Tempest" out there. The details, you are sure, are irrelevant. This is a hot ship, the kind that you want flying "cab rank" over you.

This is not a hot ship. It is a clapped-out Spitfire V, the kind chased off the continent by the FW190 back in 1942. Just to complete the degradation, the fitters are men of VS-7 Squadron, who usually worked with the floatplane spotters that operated from United States Navy cruiser and battleship catapults.

The old race horse put in harness beside the nag is just as much a nag. It just has bitter memories of glory to keep it going. Normandy, it has been decided, is not a place for floatplane spotters, so some Spitfire VLFs were handed over to the United States Navy and the Fleet Air Arm.

The question no-one ever asks is: why?

Friday, May 30, 2014

D-7: Better Living Through Chemistry

Eh? The theme that I was trying to capture with this image (apart from, you know, me being a terrible photographer who is a little tired of fiddling with cropping right now) is one that I prefer to emerge organically. That being said, it also, at least in my mind, references another image that I also quite like. 

The problem being that I liked this one so much that I have already used it. As the two together make explicit, one of the things you can do on the home front to preserve your loved ones overseas is to contribute blood for battlefront transfusions. Referencing some source that is big on numbers-that-are-bigger-than-other-numbers and a little socially tone-deaf (not the last time that awkwardness is going to crop up on this post), Rick Atkinson tells us that the United States expeditionary force that is about to cross the Channel will be accompanied by 800,000 pints of plasma, "meticulously segregated by white and black donors." The arrival of 3000 pints of whole blood to supplement the plasma signalled the imminence of D-Day, Atkinson tells us, as whole blood will keep only two weeks at  the most. (Wikipedia says that the modern standard is 42 days, but that this is controversial.) 

From this, a couple of history-of-technology facts jump out. The first and most important is the obvious completion of a very rigorous cold chain, without which the blood and plasma would be of very little use. The second is the development of a fractionating method for making blood plasma, and the development of an industrial-scale anti-coagulant. The third is the prehistory of the discovery of blood types, which takes us back into the 1920s and 1930s, and a uniquely American and unspeakable social panic. The discovery of the medical cause of sickle cell anemia, and the classification of blood by sickle cell traits led to a (putative) medical test for the presence of African-American ancestry. The fourth is the anti-coagulant, probably atropine in this period. 1944 is a particular period in the history of pharmacology, as Atkinson signals a moment later in noticing the provision of 600,000 doses of penicillin, and the next page by reference to the "anti-seasickness pills" now being issued.

That's where the other reading of my first image comes in. Drug humour! (You don't see it? Chill. Anything can be drug humour if you just try hard enough.) If I have not been awkward enough already,  it's now time to talk about the Greatest Generation's drug problem!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

D-8: The Rising Tide

Normandy is a coastal Atlantic region. Great tides meet a low coast here, and the result is St. Aubert's monastery, erected, Wikipedia tells me, in 709. It is interesting that it postdates Lindisfarne (though not Saint Honoratus's prototype*), and for that matter Selsey, which gets less press, something that probably pleases Allied intelligence this spring of 1944, as there are some very odd devices resting on the bottom of Selsey Bill right now. 
But we'll get to them later. For now, let's look at the consequences of  high tidal variation.

A pontoon causeway at Omaha Beach, stranded by low tide. (1)

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

D-9: Beaching an LST

An ideal view of an LST:


It is ideal because we see the ramp open, as much as anything else. This is how an LST is supposed to work.

Then there is this inadvertently revealing ad. Nominally, this LST is to be unloaded by an elevator running from top to bottom deck, out through the bow doors via the ramp, and down across the beach. From up here, it seems a bit dubious. Things will get wet, and from this angle I am not even sure that all of the deck load is on vehicles in the first place. (If it is, it is a somewhat impractical way of moving supplies.)

An LST2 is:

Displacement:1,780 long tons (1,809 t) light
3,880 long tons (3,942 t) full load
Length:327 ft 9 in (99.90 m)
Beam:50 ft (15 m)
Draught:Unloaded :
3 ft 4 in (1.02 m) bow
7 ft 6 in (2.29 m) stern
Loaded :
8 ft 2 in (2.49 m) bow
14 ft 1 in (4.29 m) stern
Propulsion:2 × General Motors 12-567 diesel engines, two shafts, twin rudders
Speed:12 knots (14 mph; 22 km/h)
Boats & landing
craft carried:
2 to 6 LCVPs
Troops:Approx. 140 officers and other ranks
Complement:8 to 10 officers, 100 to 115 enlisted
Armament:• 1 × 3 in (76 mm) gun
• 6 × 40 mm Bofors guns
• 6 × 20 mm guns
• 2 × .50 cal (12.7 mm) machine guns
• 4 × .30 cal (7.62 mm) machine guns

That's the Wikipedia specification box, of course. I am such a plagiariser. I provide the link so that you can go there. Scroll down through the boxes, and you will see irrelevant information steadily being pared away. The first box includes the number of cranes carried on the original Lake Maracaibo-type LSTs. By the time that the workhorse LST(2) is reached, almost a third of the text box lines are dedicated to the LST's GUNS. Guns are cool. If it were not for the official US Navy photo above, it would not even be clear that the LST's that are about to ram the beaches of Normandy have cranes. They do. Unloading is hard. 

In search of official photographs, I came up with this one of a landing structure at Inchon in 1950. I think that what is happening here is that an LCT is unloading an attack transport via a temporary pontoon wharf. These men are getting to Korea on a jeep that was carried from an LCT to a pontoon from an attack transport. Call what you like, but do not call this efficient.

Speaking of plagiarism, one more, as it can't hurt. (The source turns out to be Norman Friedman's U.S. Amphibious Ships and Craft. If you're going to plagiarise, go for the best.)

To put it in perspective, an LST is the length of a Fletcher-class destroyer, more or less. (If you want a more accessible analogy, consider a British Columbia Great Circle summer vacation!) It is much wider, and taller, albeit with a far smaller draught. The exploded diagram here shows the similarity to the modern roll on/roll off ferry, not surprisingly give that the LST is the parent of this ubiquitous modern workhorse. If the ship form does not seem all that seaworthy to you, you have a point. 

Here's a better view of an LST unloading via pontoon causeway:

It's Diggers, with diggers! (RAAF heavy equipment is being unloaded to build runways on Leyte.)

These views suggest how important beach conditions are to determining how LSTs will land and be unloaded, but there is more to it. A beached 327 ft ship is going to suffer severe hogging strains depending on beach slope, tidal range, and unloading time. There is not much point in conducting an amphibious operation into a siege if you write off your resupply fleet doing it. It will also be out of service for an entire tide if the beach is too shallow for it to back off.

This is why High Command West's focus in the Normandy effort is Cherbourg, the obvious and immediate Allied objective. It is not always a welcome focus. The men of 1st and 29th Divisions will not be happy to know that the weak defences at OMAHA have been reinforced because of the threat that a landing there poses to the base of the Cotentin peninsula, for example. But it is a focus, and it is stripping resources away from other parts of Normandy.

There might  be a bit of a surprise on the horizon.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

D-Day -10: Not Enough Tanks

That's a Churchill VII (thanks to Wikipedia)., although contemporary Ministry of Production documents refer to it as a "Heavy Churchill," a little judgmental given that it weighs in at 40,643 kg, compared with 39,118 for the original Churchill I. That's not heavy! It's just full bodied! And it's been working out! The front armour has gone from 102mm to 152mm. To put it in perspective, the thickest armour on the 70 ton King Tiger is 185mm --and the Churchill's armour is arguably of higher quality, but that's not an argument I want to get into. Not least because I probably need to revisit The Making, Shaping and Treatment of Steel before I make an idiot of myself with it. 

The armour is compensated by the gun. The King Tiger has a particularly long version of the famed 88mm, while the Churchill's gun is another descendant of the Soixante-Quinze, basically meant to kill men in the open and winkle them out from behind field fortifications and gun shields, leaving the heavy can opening to siege artillery. That's because the armour is supposed to carry the Churchill into No Man's Land. It is heavy enough to stop any forward-sited anti-tank gun, and any of the friendly shells falling far enough short of their mission of suppressing the big enemy anti-tank and artillery. 

One way of framing it is that the Churchill is a "support" tank. You could argue that the King Tiger is different and better because it is a "gun tank," but, really, it has the same role, only with a defensive twist that implies that it is going to fight Churchills --hence he bigger gun, and the heavier gun that goes with it and makes it less deployable, hence less suitable for attacks. 

So that's the "heavy" Churchill. It's a support tank, and it is going to be supporting a beach attack in ten days, and it needs to be heavy.  The Germans have seen "light" Churchills, and they did not have much trouble with them.

(Gruesome picture after the break.)

Monday, May 26, 2014

D-Day -11: Some Assembly Required

"Hey, I know! Let's assemble a ramp out of Mechano parts and then drive a 400 ton locomotive up it and onto a barge! (Safety equipment optional.)"

Seventy years ago today, France is suffering under the Transportation Plan. In the course o this Plan,  60,000 tons of bombs will be dropped on 80 targets. Of this, 44,000 tons will be dropped by Bomber Command on 37 targets with 8751 sorties, losing 224 heavy bombers in the process. Eighth Air Force will fly 4462 sorties, drop 8000 tons of bombs, and lose 65 aircraft.(1) Twenty-six thousand French were killed in the process. 

Some raids were more lethal to the hapless French than others. Fifteenth Air Force's raid on St. Etienne, on 26 May 1944, killed over a thousand civilians. Although ostensibly a daylight precision raid, bombing was delivered from over 13,000 feet, and this south-of-France target was ill-provided with bomb shelters --although Vichy observers also called out the "insouciance" of the inhabitants. Civil Defence officials blaming the victims, and an inadequate civil defence infrastructure? What a coincidence!(2)

Not to spoiler The Lego Movie or anything, but it turns out that the best of all possible worlds is one in a constant state of disassembly and re-erection. (As opposed to our modern world of slow nibbling around the edges.*) Blowing up the French was distastefully incidental to the project of creating a "railway desert" around the initial Allied lodgement, a project that has been a standard part of military planning since the Germans did it in their withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line. The thought is that with the Reichsbahn in terminal crisis --sort of like all railways everywhere by this point in the war, only worse-- this might have a useful knock-on effects. It will certainly help prevent the Germans from ejecting the Allies from the continent using their Mackinderish powers of land concentration, and, in any case, all modern railway bridges (and, in a wide belt across northern France, thanks to the aforementioned Hindenburg Plan, all railway bridges are modern) are prepared for easy demolition in the event of Boche outbreaks.

After that, though, the railways would have to be repaired.Fortunately, there's a plan for that. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

D-12: What Hath God Wrought?

You know what's a good book? 

Even in 1944, they postblogged, and on Thursday, May 25, 1944, someone took time out to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of Samuel Morse's invention of the telegraph. It was not, of course, the date of the actual invention of the telegraph (1,2,3,4,5,6), but, you know, if you want into the American market, you're going to have to play by their rules, and one of their rules is that Very Important People get to take out patents on your inventions and take a licensing slice. 

That's the hook, such as it is: Here's today's Secret Weapon That Won World War II (unpaginated, but p. 6):

(Inevitable. Also, image source.)

Friday, May 23, 2014

D-Day -14: Solent Water

Solent Water is the sheltered anchorage between the Hampshire shore and the Isle of Wight. It's quite large, which is a world-historical fact. Notice that below I elide Portsmouth Harbour and Portsmouth Roads with the Solent proper, because it is all one enormous anchorage.

Here is another way of visualising things:

Rouen-Le Havre-Hastings-Portsmouth. I tried to get Torbay in, but it pushes the scale up too much. Two invasions, a thousand years apart, will have to do. It is interesting that William the Bastard headed for Suffolk instead of Hampshire, and that the Romans did not cross this way at all. I suspect the choice of ferry heads on the British coast might even help us understand the political context of the first two invasions. 

The third was all about needing space for marshalling the invasion, though, something that left it a bit difficult to conceal. Fortunately, the destination was still up in the air. Detecting this invasion was not a high priority for the Germans across the Channel. Predicting where the Allies would land was. They knew it was coming, not where. A day's warning would be useful, a month's utterly superfluous. That is why the Germans fly only a single very high altitude photo reconnaissance overflight of Solent Water each day. It will be enough, because it will be sufficient to detect the first stirrings of movement in the fleet. 

That is what they thought. It happens that they were completely wrong. People of a certain inclination may be suspected of sighing wistfully when they suggest that the Me 262 might have changed the course of World War II if only [Hitler this and that.] They are wrong, of course. But an earlier deployment of the Arado 234 offered every possibility of detecting something almost unfathomably strange taking shape on the Solent today. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Techblogging April 1944, II: He Is Risen

My Dearest Reggie:

We have official word. Your son will do naval preflight training at Berkeley as an engineering freshman, beginning this summer.  One way or another, he will have his own hands on a hot machine soon. He has been told to write you in his own hand, but this will reach you rather faster than V-mail.

And so we are between waiting and tenderness here in Santa Clara as April turns to May. We wait on news of finance (the matter of selling of Government-owned plant, and specifically the Fontana mill  is still unsettled), and of the war, both personal and public.

You may wonder what personal news we have this month, now that your youngest's fate is settled, as well as that of Wong Lee's boy. Well, first of all, your son has been abruptly ordered to Boston, whre there is some kind of tangle over a new kind of engineering-related top hamper that the Navy will shortly be inflicting on ships not already sufficiently inclined to turn over. Second, we have had a down-at-the-mouth report from Fat Chow, and so know as well as you that the attack on Berlin is ebbing, and that the spring air is letting some of the fug of powdered masonry and unwashed bodies out of the waiting rooms where he attends on Nazi madmen.

Not all mad, of course. He reports an encounter with a fellow who is forging Bank of England for the foreign service. Apparently a grand scheme to bring the British war economy down with massive inflation is devolving into profit-seeking. How surprising!

Fat Chow is attached to a much less impressive scheme. I have  referred to it rather ambiguously earlier, perhaps because refined allusion is better than the baldly-spelled out scheme to establish a  clandestine radio station in Lhasa to broadcast religious propaganda in Kazakh Turk. If the idea is "to set the East ablaze," this is much straining over wet tinder, it would seem.

That being said, it seems that the prime mover of the project is a member of the Japanese legation. Fat Chow therefore proposes that the point of the project is less to broadcast foment revolution in Central Asia than to get the distinguished Colonel home before the Twilight of the Gods. If this is the case, we wait, as everyone waits, on the invasion, whose success or lack of it will determine whether there is to be a Gotterdamerung after all.

Or, rather, who the Gotterdamerung is to be for.

On the tender side, we had a photo session with Grandfather, who, amazingly enough, seems on the mend from his pneumonia. With all the household in Sunday best and the twins cooing agreeably, we took a formal portrait or two across five generations. "Miss V.C.'s" suspicions that old "Doctor McKee" is not at all what he seems were further aroused when I accidentally got a little of his makeup on my thumb, and clumsily let it be seen.

I know that I shall catch Hell for this in Chicago, but the amusement is more than worth it, to see the gears spin under that pretty face. And I am not the only devising away, I suspect, as she balances her two would-be beaus against each other. She is playing a long game, is our girl, with bonds that are not to mature before their time.

I include a cutting, to show the not-so-subtle way that advertising these days seems to play to women's marriage madness. Even savings bonds are somehow about making the right match! "To have and to hold," indeed. Can we not have some fun, first?

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Bronze Age Collapse, V: The Beloved of the God, Full of Life, Binds All Who Are Loose

On the banks of the Sea of Zug, in the sump of the lake, good, honest, folk once built their town on the winter pasture

and swore eternal brotherhood (as they said in those days) with the herders of the burned ground.

You all know what happened after that.

(Picture Credits: D300sGerard Sanz, via Google Earth.)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Postblogging Technology, April 1944, I: Ancestral Voices

My Dearest Reggie:

Grandfather has pneumonia again. The breath of life is slipping away, and as sad, even morbid as it is to say, I doubt that there is anything within that withered body that needs to see the banks of the Pearl again. As a burial in British Columbia might attract unwelcome attention, I am having grounds prepared at under Ch'i Wei Tao Wan.   

As one life prepares to journey on, two more come in. I have taken the liberty of enclosing some photographs of your grandchildren. I am not sure what an old rake such as yourself does with such unbearable sweetness, but, after a moment entertaining dark thoughts of your passing them to some comely barmaid as an icebreaker, I retreat to the obvious position. You will have them framed and proudly displayed on your desk. You will have to have them enlarged, but that, of all things, should present you with no difficulties! I regret the cropping, but, as you will see from my review of the last two weeks, this is not a time when we can risk attention. Better any stray load found on an aircraft in, say, Basra, not be traceable to us this month!

Your daughter-out-of-law is in good spirits. We have had her confinement in the ranch house, as the coach house is not ready, and we have seen much of each other in the last few weeks. Some friction --she is so much changed from the sweet girl of 1939, who even then had a not-always-very-feminine hard core to her. Your son arrived two days after the birth. "Lieutenant A." was kind enough to drive him straight down from Hunter's Point as soon as his ship was docked, delivering an exhausted, rumpled engineer to an exhausted, rumpled new mother. At least it made a change from the young man's service duties, which seem to consist of couriering notes around the Bay to the effect that the only American admiral to have ever won an air-sea battle ought to be replaced by the super-annuated rival who is the only American admiral ever to have lost two, on the grounds that he did not win his victory enough, whilst his rival was somehow not responsible for his subordinates' actions, except when they turned out well.

I grouse, but that is because I report the complaints of the newly-minted Admiral Stump, who attended the christening and had long, fruitful talks with your son and Bill and David, with "Mrs. G.C." sitting in as hostess, on subjects of which I know not what. Antennas need to be a certain distance from each other? Mutual interference? 

These electrical matters will be the death of me, especially with the lawyers bogging me down with doleful talk about our friend's contract renewal. Rather a matter of attention given that we intend to break it! The baleful instrument has been revised, although not in any serious way --just an expansion of the "morals clause," no doubt inspired by his young associate's public behaviour. 

I grouse, but that is because I report the complaints of the newly-minted Admiral Stump, who attended the christening and had long, fruitful talks with your son and Bill and David, with "Mrs. G.C." sitting in as hostess, on subjects of which I know not what. Antennas need to be a certain distance from each other? Mutual interference? 

These electrical matters will be the death of me, especially with the lawyers bogging me down with doleful talk about our friend's contract renewal. Rather a matter of attention given that we intend to break it! The baleful instrument has been revised, although not in any serious way --just an expansion of the "morals clause," which you can understand under the circumstances. 

I am grateful to the Earl for his allowance of time. Unfortunately, he is mistaken. Taxes are filed at the middle of April, here, not the end, and so we are in another tax year. I know that he will be angry, thinking me to be temporising, but let me put it another way. We are less than a month away from the invasion. The fifteenth of May is the low tide, and the Allies need to allow themselves a solid month and time to spare to win the war by Christmas, even if the campaign in France goes as quickly as the  "Hundred Days." After that, we shall be outfitting the invasion fleet against Japan, and only after that will it be time for the boys on the Bay to think about incorporation and the issuing of stocks. 

This will happen. And it will happen this tax year, unless the war drags on. We will probably not be able to put the greater part of our investments into a proper, legal form --Bill and David talk as though their incorporation is a decade away!-- But it will happen. 1955 will be the tail end of it. The world will be back in the doldrums of the 1930s, so I am told, but, in the meantime, we will have reaped the profits of the growth of a new American electrical engineering industry. Profits that are likely to be greater than real estate, much less clapped-out "traditional" businesses such as steel.

As a final note vaguely related to news of the Bay, Wong Lee's son graduated. I took photographs of him in his pressed now-official uniform for his father's sake. One cannot be too cautious where Hoover's lads are concerned, after all. We threw a party for the boy at the ranch house, and many were the tired old jokes about Chinese laundry when a sprit of Hoisin Sauce was detected on the nape of his bright new Naval whites. There is the usual note of sadness at the realisation that he is off to war, with  a stop somewhere in the deep Midwest to pick up his vessel, and a private warning that he ought to pack blues as well as whites. Parsing the time, I imagine there is to be a follow-up to the main cross-Channel assault.