Thursday, February 26 2015
Trying to hit the broadside of a ship
With the number of variables involved in naval artillery, it’s a wonder warships can hit anything with their guns. The ship moves in a particular direction at a particular speed, the bow pitches up and down, the ship rolls from right to left, and the target moves. To these variables, add the Coriolis effect (due to the earth’s rotation), wind, temperature, barometric pressure, and humidity.
Fire control computers calculate the firing angle and gun elevation considering the forward motion of the ship and target, Coriolis, target lead angle, and range to the target. Sensors measure the pitch and roll of the ship. Fire control circuits feed this information to large motors that turn the guns and adjust the guns’ elevation. Even in heavy seas, the barrel of a naval gun will appear to remain motionless as the ship rocks beneath it.
The larger the gun, the heavier the gun, and the harder it is for the gun motors to keep the gun steady on a moving ship. Even a fraction of a second’s lag between the ship’s rolling and the motors’ adjusting the gun’s aim can cause the target to be missed.
What does this mean? Hollywood never quite gets it right, and in Vows to the Fallen I portrayed the battles as they really would have happened. The probability of hitting a target with a naval gun is surprising small. Here is a table showing the probability of hitting a cooperative target with sixteen, eight, and five-inch guns.
The table above starts at 0.35 nautical miles because the shells do not arm themselves for the first 690 yards. These values also assume the target ship is broadside to the firing ship. If the target ship is facing the firing ship, it presents a narrower target, and the probability of scoring a hit is less. At longer ranges, a bow-on target cuts the probability of a hit in half. This fact plays a significant role in naval tactics and in the battle scenes from Vows to the Fallen.
The table above also assumes a cooperative target, which means it maintains a constant course and speed. Normally, an enemy ship would not want to be a cooperative target and would zigzag or take other evasive action. Evasive action is a double-edged sword since, the more a ship evades, the harder it is to obtain a firing solution on the enemy. As I will explain in future posts, taking evasive action raises interesting questions about World War II naval doctrines that required arranging fleets in static formations in which evasive maneuvers were difficult at best. This will also be the subject of a future post. Again, in Vows to the Fallen, I attempted to portray the battles in a way that exposes the trade-offs and realities of naval combat.
Thursday, February 19 2015
Yes, they were expendable.
At the outset of World War II, the battleships and cruisers, the capital ships, were the centerpiece of the United States’ and Japan’s naval doctrine. (I will cover this in more detail in later posts.) With armor-plated hulls and huge long-range guns, the doctrine saw these ships as an irresistible force to sweep the enemy from the seas. The doctrine, however, had a flaw due to an inconsistency. The admirals believed the capital ships, and especially the battleship, were too valuable to risk in combat. So how could the capital ships anchor naval doctrine and sweep the enemy from the sea if the admirals would never let them stand in harm’s way?
Personally, I suspect both the doctrine and the fear of losing a battleship persisted because the admirals, like all sailors, were in love. At sea, battleships are graceful leviathans that project an aura of majesty, power, and strength. Watching these ships at sea is an emotional experience. Any sailor who has witnessed these grand ships at sea could not help but fall in love.
The answer to the doctrinal contradictions is that there were two naval doctrines in play: the official doctrine and the doctrine employed by the admirals. With the armored capital ships too valuable to risk, the burden of battle shifted to the destroyer.
The destroyers were equipped with five-inch guns, torpedoes, and an array of anti-aircraft guns. Their hulls were made of standard steel that was three-eighths of an inch thick; and their only hope at defense was their speed and maneuverability. Their paper-thin hulls and speed earned destroyers the nicknames “tin cans” and “greyhounds,” respectively.
When the fleet needed protection from attacking aircraft, destroyers were the first line of defense and took the heaviest casualties. When the fleet needed protection from submarines, destroyers were the first line of defense. When fleets met, the admirals held their capital ships in reserve and ordered the destroyers to attack.
Historians have dubbed the largest sea battle in history, the Battle of Leyte Gulf, “The last stand of the tin-can man.” In that battle, destroyers, with little or no help from the capital ships, fought off a three-prong attack against MacArthur’s Philippine invasion force. The US destroyers faced nine battleships and twenty cruisers, and they forced back the Japanese. In the following days, US aircraft and submarines decimated the retreating Japanese fleet. Battleships and cruisers played little if any role in the battle. In Vows to the Fallen, the fictional Battle of Mojatto Gulf is in many ways similar to the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
Here is a tally of ship strengths and losses in World War II:
Thursday, February 19 2015
Vows to the Fallen: Get Adequate to Stand in Harm’s Way with Patrick “Terror” O’Toole
As I wrote my upcoming novel Vows to the Fallen, I relied on extensive research of the Pacific War to maintain authenticity. My writing process required me to hide the research between the lines of Vows to the Fallen because the novel is not meant to provide a history lesson; it is meant to tell the story of the fictional tactical savant, Patrick O’Toole, and his struggle to become an adequate warrior.
I am starting this blog series for those who want to know “the rest of the story.” I hope it will add to your enjoyment of Vows to the Fallen.
Monday, February 16 2015
Smashwords – an Interview with Larry Laswell – Part 1
Reader’s Note: This interview is an excerpt from a two-part interview with Larry Laswell conducted by Smashwords, the world’s largest distributor of indie ebooks. During this first portion of the interview, Larry discusses his early literary influences, favorite books, as well as what inspires him every day.
Q& A With Larry Laswell:
Q. Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in North College Hill just outside Cincinnati, Ohio. My neighborhood was lower middle class, and almost every household was led by a World War II veteran with at least two children. It was a no- nonsense culture in which children learned to address adults by mister and misses, and answer questions, "Yes, sir." and "No sir." It was a pay-it-forward community. Everyone always helped each other out, and never expected anything in return. In a way, it was militaristic, and a man had to stand for something. I think my readers will see a little of that in my work.
Q. Who are your favorite authors?
I think that depends on the genre. Serious literature would be Ayn Rand, Hemingway, Michener, and Steinbeck, Orwell’s early work, and perhaps Orson Scott Card. I like Heller’s Catch-22 although he beats the reader over the head with his vocabulary.
For action adventure, thriller, spy stories it would be Tom Clancy, Ken Follett, Stephen Coonts, David Poyer, Dale Brown, John le Carre, and Dan Weber.
For science fiction, I would say there’s two: Isaac Asimov, Stanley Kubrick.
Then there’s Douglas Adams, who is a genre all by himself.
Q. Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
Wow, no I can't, but in the sixth grade, my teacher gave me a book report assignment on Quo Vadis. I had to get permission from my parents to check the book out of the library. Let me say, that was a heavy assignment for a sixth grader. I will never forget that experience. Quo Vadis, gave me an appreciation for nineteenth century European literature, in terms of structure and style. I will never forget Lygia,
About that time, I went through periods of reading everything written by different authors like Mark Twain, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jack London, and O'Henry. Each of those authors brought a different approach to storytelling, and I learned from each one.
Q. What are your five favorite books, and why?
For pure narrative art, my favorites would be The Bridges at Toko-re, The Pearl, and The Old Man and the Sea. When I think of emotional impact, The Grapes of Wrath comes to mind. Those four books have heavily influenced my writing style. Douglas Adams was the master of fantasy and humor in his Hitchhiker series. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and Lord of the Rings are excellent examples of masterful storytelling. For techno-thriller action, it has to be The Hunt for Red October.
Q. What do you read for pleasure?
Recently it has been books like Enders Game, and books in the Jason Bourne series by Robert Ludlum. I guess I’m going through a phase again, aren’t I?
Q. What is your e-reading device of choice?
I purchased a Kindle about five years ago, and my wife stuck her nose up at it. Then I showed her how easy it was to find a book and download it. After that, I couldn’t get it back from her, so I bought an I Pad and put a Kindle reader on it.
Q. How do you discover the e-books you read?
Depends. About half my reading is for pure enjoyment. For those books, I pick up what looks interesting or books recommended by my friends. The other half of the books I read are for professional analysis to develop my craft. For those books, I pick up specific authors or genres. Every so often, I re-read what I call my "classics," Hemmingway, Steinbeck, Kubrik, Mitchner, Victor Hugo, LeCarre, and Gustave Flaubert.
Q. Describe your desk.
Organized chaos. I have a hutch-like desk about five feet wide. To my right, I have twelve writer’s reference books and three binders with story ideas and notes. Between those books and my computer monitor, is a stack of papers relating to my current writing project. That stack changes daily, but usually includes my manuscript bible, and a smattering of loose notes. The rest of my desktop is an eclectic collection of notepads, loose papers, and pens that surround my large screen monitor.
I would like to say, that I am better organized since I discovered the power of Scrivener. It’s an editor and organizer for the manuscript and research. The authors designed it for writers, and I love it.
Q. What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Ninety-nine days out of a hundred, I look forward to getting out of bed because I have so much to do that I value. Being retired, I am not responsible to anyone, or for anyone except myself. That’s tremendously liberating, and means I can do what I value. What do I value? I value those activities that enrich my life, and the lives of others. That’s why I write.
Q. When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
My favorite activity is spending time with my wife, Marsha. We do everything as a team, and we learn from each other. When we’re together, five minutes can’t go by before we are laughing about something. We even work together on my writing projects. She has amazing insight, and is my toughest critic, and number one supporter.
I guess reading would be number two. Between my wife and me, we read 10 to 20 novels a month. Number three would be woodworking and tinkering in the garage -- that’s my man-cave.
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Wednesday, February 04 2015
My Interview with Larry Laswell
February 2, 2015
Susan Young for Marshell Publishing
Today I sat down for a discussion with historical fiction author Larry Laswell to discuss his latest book as well as his upcoming book projects. Here is that interview in its entirety:
Susan: What kind of feedback have you gotten so far from readers of your latest book, The Marathon Watch? Was the response what you expected?
Larry: I would say I’ve been blown away by the response. I’m getting mostly 5-star reviews and it’s selling better in the U.K. than in the U.S. right now, but there are a lot of people who have said positive things, including that they can’t wait until it is made into a movie.
(The Marathon Watch) is one of the few military books where there is no fighting or war. It’s all about the turmoil that individuals go through on a ship during difficult times. If I had a catch phrase (for this book) – it would be ‘duty, honor and tradition’ –and the characters succeed because of duty, honor and tradition.
It’s scary when you put a book out there and let everyone comment on it. I’ve received a few critical reviews, and I agree with them and I’m taking them into account in my next book, Vows to the Fallen.
Susan: Tell me about your newest book launch.
Larry: Vows to the Fallen (publishing August 9, 2015) is a World War II book that follows the main character, naval officer O’Toole, who was in The Marathon Watch. It examines what I call the burden of command. O’Toole is a skilled officer who is very good at what he does, but he has to come to terms with his inner demons in that he has to deal with sending men to their death. He is very much concerned about his men and that just makes his inner demons worse.
Susan: So are there themes throughout the book?
Larry: The catch phrase for that book might be ‘a commander can bury his death, but where does he bury his guilt and grief?’ The book follows the evolution of O’Toole from absolutely being devastated by the carnage of war and becoming a fearless leader. It is his men who get him straight (in order for him) to be able to order men in battle to their death.
Susan: What inspired you to write this book?
Larry: Really it’s a couple of things. One – it is a dedication to destroyer sailors. Destroyers never really get the credit for dangerous things that they have to do. For example, 80 percent of all U.S. Navy ships that sunk during WWII were destroyers. The second thing which inspired the book was the tremendous emotional burden that a military commander has in dealing with sending men to their death. I also (briefly) examine the topic post-traumatic stress disorder in the book.
Susan: Do people need to have read The Marathon Watch to understand Vows to the Fallen?
Larry: No –it’s a stand-alone book. There are still three or four common characters between the two books.
Susan: What should your fans look for in the coming months?
Larry: I will be publishing the first chapter of (Vows to the Fallen) in a month or so, and will put that on my website. I will also going to start a blog series, which will include all of the technical, strategic and geo-political facts and figures that were the background research of my latest book. It’s a lot of stuff that people don’t realize and that Hollywood doesn’t get quite right – they gloss over it.
Susan: What type of people will enjoy reading your books?
Larry: The books fall into the genre of “action/adventure” and also “military,” and another category which I’ll call Sea Stories. Anyone in military will extremely enjoy it. The story in The Marathon watch is universal theme and Vows to the Fallen also has a universal theme, so I think the book can be enjoyed by both men and women.
Susan: What do you think is the biggest surprise of the book?
Larry: I think the ending, from an action standpoint, is pretty intense, and the last page of the book is very interesting in terms of the main character’s evolution, and how he resolves his problems. That will surprise readers.