Wednesday What We’re Reading (Jul. 22, 2020)

Another two-week gap, and this time, I’m writing it on Tuesday night so I don’t run out of time tomorrow.

WuFlu

China-Watching

Defense

Science and Technology

Games

  • A train sim that’s actually hard? – In a 2016 article (holy cow, has it been that long?), I perhaps snidely referred to games in the transport simulator genre as ‘podcast screensavers‘. I also slagged off Train Simulator and its fans as ridiculously easy and bad at games, respectively. So, when Flare Path chieftain Tim Stone said, “This train simulator is hard” (albeit in more words), my ears perked up. Not so much that I’ve bought the game yet, but nevertheless, it’s on my radar now.
  • Can a Formula 1 car actually drive upside-down? – Unfortunately, building a test track for this in real life is still not feasible, so we have to settle for simulator runs.

Grab Bag

Suppressor Vindication

A couple years ago, I wrote an article talking about how suppressors should be general issue for the modern infantryman. At the time, I thought this idea was good but a little out there, since it was the only one of my force multipliers not adopted by a major military. A little while later, I discovered that someone at the US Marine Corps had a similar idea, and they were putting it to the test.

Now, it appears this testing has produced some results, and these results have been analyzed. The United States Marine Corps has announced that they’ll be issuing suppressors to every infantryman. Check out the full story here, courtesy of Task & Purpose.

I think that’s awesome. Better communication. Hearing protection works better. More effective infantry. Fewer hearing issues for the soldier after he musters out. But you already gathered that. It’s nice to see the Corps coming to the same conclusions.

Let’s talk a little bit about how they plan to implement that in the short term. They’ve got a contract with Knight’s Armament for NT4 suppressors. The NT4 is an older suppressor, with the design dating back to 1998.

This is not a state of the art suppressor, but it’s a known one. It’s in the system already. It’s pretty durable as far as suppressors go. And the mounting is super cheap: the NT4 just requires replacing the crush washer behind a standard A2-type flash hider with a shim kit. So an existing rifle is ready to get quieter for less than $5. And all M27s already have a venting gas block to bleed off excess gas from the suppressor. It’s not the suppressor I would choose if I had to buy a new general issue setup right now, but given the system as it is, the choice is a reasonable one.

It’s great to see this idea get some serious traction. Bravo Zulu, Devil Dogs!

FN HAMR

When the US Marine Corps put out an RFP for companies to submit automatic rifle candidates, FN responded with a SCAR derivative that had some neat technological tricks. Let’s take a look.

The HAMR-16 (Heat Adaptive Modular Rifle) looks like the SCAR-16 that it was derived from at first glance. Same monolithic upper, same folding/telescoping stock with two-position cheek riser. Same polymer lower with short-throw (90 degrees of total travel) safe/semi-/full-auto selector. Same love-it-or-hate-it reciprocating charging handle.1 The barrel has a notably heavier profile than on a regular SCAR-16, and there is a heatsink protruding from under the handguard.

All of that might be expected to handle the sustained fire requirements of the IAR program. But FN hid an extra trick inside the HAMR. They put in a bimetallic thermocouple on the barrel, just in front of the chamber. As the barrel heats up from use, the thermocouple draws a linkage forward, activating a secondary sear. So when the gun got hot enough, it would automatically convert from closed-bolt to open-bolt operation. After the gun cooled, the thermocouple would push the linkage back, automatically returning the weapon to closed-bolt operation.

I might have suspected such a system to potentially cause problems, but the USMC 60,000 round reliability/endurance test showed otherwise. The goals for the IAR were as follows:

  • Three Units Under Test (UUTs) were provided for each model under evaluation.

  • The UUT shall have a Mean Rounds Between Failure (MRBF) of 900 for Class I and II failure combined (Threshold), 5,000 (Objective). The MRBF for Class III failures shall be 15,000 (Threshold), 20,000 (Objective).

The definitions for failure classes are as follows:

  • Class I failure: A failure that may be immediately corrected by the operator within 10 seconds or less while following prescribed immediate action procedures.
  • Class II failure: A failure that may be corrected by the operator, and that requires more than 10 seconds but not more than 10 minutes to correct (less the TM/OM defined cool down period if a hot barrel condition exists). Only the equipment and tools issued with the weapon may be used to correct the failure.
  • Class III failure: A failure of a severe nature. The failure (1) can be corrected by an operator but requires more than 10 minutes; (2) cannot be corrected by an operator and requires assistance (no time limit); or (3) requires higher level of maintenance or correction by an authorized operator cannot be accomplished because of unavailability of necessary tools, equipment, or parts.

The HAMR-16 met the objective goal of 5,000 mean rounds between class I and II failures, and was the only entrant to do so. It did not experience any class III failures, so MRBF for class III failures could not be computed. It was also the only entrant to not experience any class III failures.

For comparison, the winning HK entry that would become the M27 IAR had an MRBF for class I and II failures of 1,622, and a MRBF for class III failures of 20,000.

The HK entry was estimated to have a significantly longer barrel life than the HAMR. It was also somewhat lighter, with the HAMR weighing in a bit over ten pounds (unloaded and sans grip pod it’s usually shown with), and the M27 weighing a bit under eight pounds (unloaded and sans accessories). I might also expect the HAMR to be a bit more expensive than the M27.

I would have rated the HAMR better at being an automatic rifle, and the M27 better at being a backdoor carbine improvement, for what that’s worth.

As for my opinion of the project, I think it’s a very cool design with some well thought out innovations. However, I’m not a big fan of the automatic rifle concept, so I’d pass. It might be interesting to see what the thermocouple/sear setup does in a more standard SCAR design as far as reducing cook offs goes.


  1. Lots of people hate it, but SOCOM did request it in the original design. For what that’s worth. 

Rule the Waves 2: To November, 1938

The field agrees on more carriers, but is split on what to do with the rest of the budget. So, here’s my plan:

  1. When the battleship Solferino completes, start a new carrier.
  2. When the carrier Fraternité completes, start 2-3 light cruiser escorts.
  3. When next the budget allows, build another battleship.

March 1938

There is no battle this month—France declines to fight Germany near Jutland, France declines to fight Austria-Hungary in the Adriatic, Austria-Hungary declines to fight France everywhere else.

An enemy submarine torpedoes and sinks our light cruiser Friant, one of the three remaining Chateaurenaults puttering around on foreign service.

Otherwise, an uneventful turn.

April 1938

The Germans decline battle twice, when it would take them within striking distance of French land-based air.

They accept a convoy attack (that is, we’re fighting a convoy defense) far enough from the French coast that the dive bombers are out of reach. On the French side we have two light cruisers and a destroyer screen, so I don’t expect much of a glorious victory unless the Germans are not out in force.

I commit to the fight, gambling on the chance to sink an old German battlecruiser, but German torpedo gunnery seems to be more accurate than my own. We lose a light cruiser (Forbin, one of our newest ships) and four destroyers for my trouble.

May 1938

I decline a bunch of unfavorable battles. Our old battleship Lyon hits a mine and sinks; maybe it’s time to build a little minesweeper or two. There are also reports of food shortages in France thanks to merchant shipping losses. I crank up the number of destroyers under construction, and consider maybe combining a corvette-minesweeper into a slow destroyer.

In more positive news, I have a new AA picket light cruiser design:

001-friant

June 1938

A surprise battle occurs in the eastern Mediterranean: a German squadron of unknown composition encounters a combined French-American cruiser squadron.

Steaming south of Heraklion, the French squadron heads east. It includes three heavy cruisers: our modern Latoche-Treville, and the obsolete American Frederick and Pueblo. Together, we have 17 9″ guns and 8 10″ guns, along with ten destroyers and air support from French bases in Kalamata and Benghazi.

Additionally, we have our old seaplane tender, Commandant Teste, in attedance. She launches some search planes.

Altough the weather is cloudy, one of Teste‘s floatplanes nevertheless spots a German cruiser, steaming east at the far end of Crete. My mismatched squadron, with a top speed of 27 knots, nevertheless sets off in that direction.

002-cruisers

The two American ships date to 1923 (Frederick) and 1916 (Pueblo). Pueblo, at 15,000 tons, has armor nearly as thick as Latouche-Treville, and the only 10″ guns in the squadron. She’s the slowest of the three ships at 27 knots.

Frederick has the same 31-knot speed as Latouche-Treville, but is very lightly armored, and ships one fewer 9″ gun. Being American ships, however, they’ve been upgraded to the gills. Both sport advanced gun directors and search radar.

By late morning, Kalamata has launched an air strike. Dive bombers approach the enemy cruiser, still 60 miles from our force, at about 11:00 a.m. They hit it two or three times. A group of medium bombers, following up, score no hits. (Oh, how I long for the days when we can put torpedoes on medium bombers…)

At 12:14 p.m., our light cruiser Linois spots the enemy ship. We turn to engage.

003-spotted

The target, a Roon-class heavy cruiser, has taken some damage from bomb hits already, and is slower than our ships are now. Latouche-Treville scores the first main battery hits at 12:40, with three in one salvo from her six forward guns.

She has very much found the range, with at least one hit per minute for the next twelve minutes.

By 1:06, the enemy cruiser is on fire and slowing to five knots. I believe it ships torpedo tubes, so I’m going to keep my distance, and perhaps send the destroyers in on a flotilla attack to deliver the death blow.

Before they can arrive, the German ship comes to a complete halt, and her bow settles beneath the waves.

Latouche-Treville hit with nearly 10% of her main battery fire. The German ship took 55 hits and delivered 2.

July 1938

Strikes and anti-war demonstrations roil Austria-Hungary, and our spies indicate that France isn’t the only country experiencing food shortages. Perhaps we can knock one foe out of the war soon.

Another Mediterranean cruiser battle against Germany lies before us, this one off Rhodes rather than Crete. It’s cloudy and before dawn, and we’re too far from our airbases to expect much help. (Maybe we need a small airbase at Rhodes with a group of dive bombers?)

Still, we have three heavy cruisers in the area to zero enemy heavy cruisers, so maybe we’ll get lucky and happen across the German ships.

Before even that can happen, at 4:07 a.m., we pick up a radar contact at a distance of about ten and a half miles.

004-dawn

We survive the predawn encounter to discover a German light cruiser/destroyer squadron as dawn breaks. If we can avoid getting ships torpedoed, this is a good matchup.

We do avoid getting ships torpedoed, at least to the point where the torpedoing means they’re combat-ineffective, and in a chase up the Rhodian cost, sink two Austrian and one German light cruiser, along with a few destroyers.

August 1938

We have some extra money, and I said originally I was going to build a battleship with it, but things have changed. I think instead I am going to make a class of 32-knot corvette-destroyers, only 1500 tons and much cheaper than our top-line ships. I can get a good ten of them building immediately, which may help with anti-submarine work should this war continue for that long.

The month’s battle is a destroyer action in the Adriatic. Surprisingly, we emerge the victors—the Austrians had a seaplane tender deployed, and we happened upon it while running from the main force of Austrian destroyers.

September 1938

France’s unrest score is now 5, which is a worrying upward trend. Solferino, our newest battleship, is in the dockyards for five months after eating a torpedo.

The UI now has ‘Fuel Shortage’ across the status pane in big bold letters. Consulting the manual, I see that can happen when a nation doesn’t have native access to oil, and is blockaded for a long time. What it means is that large ships may not be able to participate in battles, and strategic moves may be canceled. (Well, that part isn’t too bad.)

October 1938

After another month of declining unfavorable battles, High Command recommends that we not do that anymore or suffer losses in prestige. I’d much rather lose prestige than lose ships, at this point, especially given that we’re well ahead in victory points.

November 1938

The battle is an unexpected fleet battle. Weather limits air operations, which is good, because we’re in the Heligoland Bight and that’s a bit close to Germany’s heartland.

It’s a fleet battle, which is bad, because there are a lot more German ships than French ones. The goal here is going to be straight preservation of forces. If we can launch an airstrike or two, that’s great, but otherwise, fleeing to the northwest is the order of the day.

A Battle at Jutland

Radar contacts at 7:19 a.m. open things up. Hopefully it’s just scouts.

005-jutland

Regardless, the fleet turns north and opens the throttles.

Five hours later, and I’ve forgotten to take screenshots, but in my defense, not much has happened. The light cruisers Surcouf and Coetlogon, serving as scouts, were trapped between the German main force and scouting force. By turning east while the main body fled northwest, they distracted the German fleet while our own ran for the open waters north of Britain.

Surcouf and Coetlogon are lost, but at least two of their escorting destroyers look likely to escape, and all three might. Before Surcouf and Coetlogon sank, they and their destroyers launched two effective salvoes of torpedoes. Perhaps we’ll see some German losses in the after-battle tally.

In the end, it actually goes into the books as a French victory—a submarine sank a German light cruiser as it was returning to port, and the torpedo barrage orchestrated by Surcouf and Coetlogon heavily damaged several German dreadnoughts.

November 1938 continued

And, in the aftermath of that loss…

006-germany

(The game even has a Communist German flag, and it isn’t even the real Communist German flag!) 007-flag

In the peace agreement, we take Pommern, a 30-knot, 16″-gun battleship, as well as all of Germany’s possessions in Africa, and we still have a bit of headroom left for reparations.

Annoyingly, the collapse of Germany means the collapse of Austria as well, and we don’t get a chance to take territory from Austria-Hungary. Morocco remains in the hands of our enemies.

Now that the war is done, however, it’s time for us to take off our dashing admiral’s peaked hats and put on our boring bean-counter’s green visors.

Slashing the Budget

We have a monthly deficit of (drumroll) 9,312 funds, and a current balance of 26,500 funds.

There are a few things we can either mothball or scrap right off the bat:

  • 1300 funds: 13 Carabinier-class corvettes. We have 10 new Arc-class minesweeping destroyers in the dockyards, 11 months away, and they’re more capable than the Carabiniers in every way. At 32 knots, they could actually serve in a fleet battle in a pinch.
  • 105 funds: 5 Diamant-class corvettes. They’re basically useless, and if we want another class of corvettes, it’s not hard to build them down the road.

Those are the obvious candidates, and get us up to 1,405 of savings. Unless there are any objections, I’m going to do those two things.

For the rest, read on.

State of the Fleet

We have six battleships left after the war: Rouen (395 funds per month, an ex-battlecruiser with 9 12″ guns), Suffren and Courbet (two of our late-20s 8×14″-gun battleships, well armored; Suffren is the slowest one left at 26 knots; 500 funds each), Marengo (611 funds, a 27-knot, 16″-gun battleship), Solferino (~650 funds, a 30-knot, 14″-gun battleship), and Terrible (656 funds). Terrible is the ex-Pommern, a 30-knot, 8×16″-gun battleship. Her armor isn’t quite up to the standard of our mainline ships, but she mounts a heavier secondary battery and carries two floatplanes. Solferino is still being repaired from a torpedo hit. Once she’s back in fighting trim, we’ll save another 600 funds per month.

We still have the heavy cruiser Latoche-Treville; she proved her worth in combat in the Mediterranean toward the end of the war. She is, however, all alone, and all of our possible enemies have cruiser squadrons of moderate size. She costs 365 funds per month, and might be one to mothball or reserve.

Our light cruiser force comprises 13 ships, but 10 of them are on overseas service or most likely earmarked for it. We need more light cruisers.

We have five aircraft carriers of various types: the stout and dependable Bearn, the new 90-plane Liberté, and the light carriers Bruix (a converted cruiser), Arromanches, and Dixmude.

The latter three have speeds below 30 knots and only carry 24 planes each. Together, they account for 597 funds per month in maintenance (plus a bit more for their air wings, I suspect). Compared to a Liberté-type carrier, they cost 130% as much to maintain while carrying 80% as many aircraft, and it’s harder for them to coordinate air operations to boot. Potential candidates for mothballing.

For destroyers, we no longer have any really, truly obsolete ships. Our eldest ships, four each of the early-20s 1500-ton Flamberge and Glaive classes, are still in the 34-35-knot range, and each carry plenty of torpedoes. We also have eight 1500-ton Epees from 1933, four 2000-ton Arquebuses from 1935, and four wartime 2000-ton Espignoles from 1938. The Espignoles carry torpedo reloads. The 1500-ton ships each cost 32 funds per month to maintain, while the 2000-tonners cost about 44 funds per month each.

We have thirteen submarines as well, about a third of which date to 1915, a third to 1926, and a third to 1932.

In the Yards

Under construction, we have two ‘light’ cruisers, Friant and Jean Bart, each of 9,400 tons. They’re primarily anti-air pickets, fitting 12 5″ dual-purpose guns in their main battery, 20 3″ dual-purpose guns as a secondary battery, and eight anti-air machine guns of various calibers. They cost 1,675 funds per month each, and are 19 months from completion. We need light cruisers.

Next up are Fraternité and Egalité. They’re weighing us down to the tune of 3,560 funds per month a piece. One will be ready in 13 months, the other in 22. Big carriers are nice to have, and if we’re ditching the light carriers, we should probably keep both. We can pause Fraternité while other ships build, if it makes sense to do so.

We also have two Espignole-class destroyers 11 months away, at 532 funds each. They’re our most modern, most powerful destroyer design, with dual-purpose main guns, torpedo reloads, extra depth charges, K-guns… all the bells and whistles.

Also under construction are ten 1,200 Arc-class destroyers, built for second-line/auxiliary service. They’ll be our first minesweeping ships, which might be handy in future wars. We’ve lost a number of ships to mines. Each costs 360 funds per month; they’ll all be done in 11 months.

Back to Budget-Slashing

So, to recap, here’s where we are:

  1. 1,405 funds: scrapping old, useless destroyers.
  2. 700 funds: ships currently under repair (another 4 months or so).

That puts us at a deficit of 7,260 funds. Ships in reserve cost 50% of their ordinary maintenance, which means that reserving the entire fleet still would leave us about 3,000 funds short of break-even.

Ships in mothballs cost 20% of their usual maintenance, but obviously we wouldn’t want to mothball all that many ships. Mothballing Rouen, Latoche-Treville, and the three light carriers would only save us about 1,000 funds per month.

Pausing one carrier and one light cruiser saves us 5,250 funds per month, and in combination with some relatively broad reserve-fleeting or some targeted mothballing would get us there. It also delays entry into service of critically-needed fleet units.

Finally, pausing both carriers would get us over the hump without any other measures. That would delay their entry into service by about a year.

Re-Deploying the Fleet

We also have a deficit of ships overseas. We need another 2,250 tons in West Africa, another 4,250 tons in the Indian Ocean, and another 2,500 tons in the South Pacific. We can deploy our aging Troude-class cruisers and one or two old destroyers for the moment. Should we build another class of foreign service cruisers, or just continue our habit of shuttling obsolete ships overseas?

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Jul. 8, 2020)

Still busy here, hence the double delay in getting this done. Maybe when the project I’m working on at the office slows down? But then, I have several other ones lined up afterward, so maybe not. (I guess I’d rather be busy than the alternative.)

Hong Kong

  • China forced an oppressive state security law through Hong Kong’s government, laying the groundwork to fully tear down the two-systems… system.
  • UK offers British citizenship to three million Hong Kongers eligible for British National Overseas passports – We’ll take the ones who like guns, if Britain doesn’t want them.
  • I saw it said on Twitter that one distinction we in the West should be careful about is this: the sentiment in Hong Kong is more in favor of autonomy (as part of China) than it is about independence (from China). … for now, at any rate. The seed that became the United States was an argument over representation. Look where we are now.

Defense

Technology

Guns

Rule the Waves 2: To March, 1938

Before we dive in, some Soapbox news: we’ll have a double-length What We’re Reading next week.

It’s been a little while since the last one, but wars take a lot of time to write up.

Still aglow with national pride over the last victory, the fleet swings south out of Brest for the Mediterranean coast.

Or would, except I can’t move ships out of Europe because of the blockade.

July 1937

… starts by generating three battles in the Baltic Sea, within range of German land-based air and without anywhere to run. No thank you.

1850 surrendered victory points later, I come across a battle I’m willing to take a chance on: a cruiser action in the Bay of Biscay.

On the plus side, our ‘cruiser force’ is a pair of 12″, 27-knot battleships, Rouen and Nancy. Their armor is much better than that of the German cruiser force, so we may be able to sink some ships.

Also joining us are the carriers Joffre and Bearn, but the weather is cloudy, and the day begins at 5:30 p.m. It being summer, there’s enough time for one strike, once we’ve spotted the enemy.

Or there would be, if the fleets found each other. The Germans, steaming in for the west, were outside scouting range.

August 1937

001-army

With the budget they so rudely stole from us (granted, with our consent), the army does its part in the land war.

002-radar

We now have radar! We’ll get a certain number of sets each month, which will be installed on ships in approximate order of size.

That good news is somewhat tempered (by which I mean obliterated) by the greatest disaster of the war so far.

003-joffre

With the money the army returned after their successful offensive, I lay down Fratnernité, the second in the Liberté class of fleet carriers, as a replacement. (I suppose Egalité ought to have come next. Oops.)

September 1937

… starts with a carrier battle against the Germans, a fight we should probably win.

The weather is overcast, however, and we only have five and a half hours until dusk. We’ll see what comes of it.

4:18 p.m.

Scouts from Brest report a pair of German light cruisers 250 miles to the west. It’s much too far to get planes there before dusk, however, so the play here is to hover around Brest overnight, then see if we can’t tag them in the morning. (This is a carrier battle, so we get 1800 minutes—more than a full day—to get our strikes in the air.)

004-battle
Note the blue dot well out to sea to the west.

3:37 a.m.

It was a good thought, but gale-force winds and drizzle will prevent us from getting planes airborne this morning. There’s still time for the weather to change, though.

September 1937, continued

The carrier battle was a draw, but news reaches French ears of strikes and anti-war demonstrations in Germany, which can only be good news for us.

The Americans contribute some, sinking the German cruiser Cöln in a battle we aren’t a party to.

Our battleships Lyon, Suffren, and Marengo now have radar, along with the carrier Bearn and a random destroyer.

October 1937

The light cruiser Linois embarks on a raid of Austrian coastal shipping, with a screen of four destroyers.

It’s a hectic day. Thanks to air reconnaissance, we know where the Austrian patrols are, and are able to dart in and knock out a pair of merchants before the patrols can react. They do, however, catch up to us on the way back, sinking the 1920-vintage destroyer Oriflamme.

November 1937

A relatively quiet month. Land-based aircraft from Brest have a chance at getting stuck in against a German cruiser squadron, but fail to find a target in the shortened day.

December 1937

We might have a chance at taking down a German cruiser. In the Mediterranean, we have rough parity in forces with the Germans—us, because we can’t move ships out of Europe, them because their ships don’t have the range. We’re twenty miles from fifty strike planes at our airbases in Durazzo and Valona, and our lone heavy cruiser Latoche-Treville is approximately a match for the German cruisers.

Unfortunately, the German cruiser escapes despite a number of successful air attacks by our land-based forces (for once). We do bag the accompanying German light cruiser, which is enough to make it a victory.

January 1938

The Austrians invade Tunisia, of all the indignities, and there’s nothing we can do about it because the whole fleet is bottled up in Europe.

The battle of the month is a large enemy coastal raid. Opposiing it are two older French battleships, Rouen and Nancy, our 30-knot ship Magenta, and one of our 26-knot 14″ battleships Ocean. The carriers are also on the field, but the battle kicks off just as twilight is approaching, so they won’t be much use to begin with. For the moment, they anchor behind the minefields at La Rochelle.

7:53 p.m.

Nancy, equipped with a radar set, announces an unknown contact at a range of five miles. Cautiously, the fleet turns that way.

7:58 p.m.

It turns out to be a French merchant plying the coastal trade.

8:52 p.m.

Continuing what has thus far been a tense night, the destroyer Arc reports sinking a submarine.

10:40 p.m.

Guns echo off the coast near La Rochelle, and Bearn‘s radar set reports a ghostly contact.

12:27 a.m.

Requin reports the radar contact this time, 30 miles southwest from La Rochelle.

12:46 a.m.

It’s an enemy destroyer. It gets off a spread of torpedoes, one of which sinks the old light cruiser Cosmao. Another hits Ocean, but her torpedo protection system absorbs the blow.

1:09 a.m.

The fleet reports radar contacts to the northeast, at least three or four.

1:15 a.m.

006

Make that five. I don’t think the Germans have radar yet, so I’m going to poke my nose in a bit and see what they have at sea.

1:36 a.m.

The answer is, as far as I can tell, a lot.

3:00 a.m.

I was inclined to leave the Germans alone, until they started driving hard for one of my precious carriers. A knife fight ensues.

007

It ends with the fleets turning away from each other, avoiding torpedoes. Each of the fleets takes a torpedo hit or two. The French battle line drops to about 20 knots.

5:08 a.m.

That brief knife fight leads into another one, nearer the end of the night.

008

7:03 a.m.

Eager to perhaps pounce on any German stragglers, I keep the French battleships close at hand.

As dawn sweeps across the sea, it appears the Germans had the same idea: six dreadnought-type ships to our four, at close ranges where French gunnery and the French preference for heavy deck armor are rendered irrelevant by the sheer weight of broadside from the German ships.

It goes poorly.

010

10:16 a.m.

A brief moment of hope in late morning, as sixty strike planes launch from various airbases along the Channel coast, gives way to final despair. Clouds roll in low over the sea, and though the boom of German guns still echoes along the coast near La Rochelle, the pilots can’t spot their targets to make attacks.

I probably ought to have run for it earlier, but got a bit too greedy in trying to press what I perceived as an advantage. Turned out that it was not an advantage at all.

011-loss

Sadly, this more or less erases our victory against Germany earlier in the war—we’re back to a deficit in dreadnought ships, and the war score is just about even. (We’re a few thousand points in the lead.)

February 1938

Austria attacks a convoy trying to resupply Tunisia. Despite a huge inferiority in forces, I think I want to play this one out—we have a large superiority in land-based air in this part of the theater, which might work out this time, and I want to do everything I can to support the ground forces in Tunisia.

And, thanks to a change made in a recent patch whereby the AI considers local air superiority in deciding whether to accept battle, Austria declines battle.

The next option: a fleet battle against Germany near Jutland, which I think I am going to decline. I’m a bit gun-shy, for one. For another, it’s much too close to Germany’s land-based air and a bit further from mine than I’d like.

The next one is a German coastal raid, similar to the one I just lost. I think I will play this one out, although I’m going to be extremely careful with the fleet. If the weather’s not fit for air attacks, I’ll just steam away from the coast.

012-battle

This one starts at twilight in the same region as the last one, and suggests I need an airbase at either St. Nazaire or La Rochelle. The plan is to steam south overnight, and find the Germans in the morning.

There’s a stiff breeze, but the weather is otherwise clear, which bodes well for getting some carrier-striking action in. The wind is out of the north, however, which will make it difficult for my carriers to make headway to the south when there are air operations going. They have to turn into the wind to launch and recover planes.

7:28 a.m.

Oops. It’s the dawn twilight, not the dusk twilight. Well, I’ll get the strike planes loaded up, and hopefully we’ll have some bombs on some German battleships to take revenge for our losses in the previous raid.

7:51 a.m.

Enemy floatplanes buzz overhead. At about the same time, spotting reports come in, putting the enemy about 90 miles to the northwest. This spotting report is only for a few battlecruisers and cruisers, likely a scouting force ahead of the main body. Not that I’m going to complain about sinking battlecruisers instead of battleships, if it comes to that.

I launch strikes from all three light carriers, a total of 42 planes. I’m reserving Bearn‘s Sunday punch, the largest of the bunch, for a few minutes, in case a better spotting report comes in.

7:59 a.m.

013-spotting

It does. This one says there are some light carriers at sea. That’s where Bearn‘s planes will go.

8:28 a.m.

The strikers are airborne and en route. Here’s hoping they shoot straight today.

8:51 a.m.

A little concerningly, the enemy is closer than I expected, only about 40 miles away.

8:56 a.m.

The bombs start to fall: a German cruiser takes two hits from our dive bombers’ 1000lb numbers, and a ship of unknown type takes three torpedo hits.

9:02 a.m.

Bearn‘s strike arrives, hitting a destroyer with two 1000lb bombs and a battleship with three, and getting some torpedoes off to boot.

9:04 a.m.

Five torpedoes find their mark, along with another bomb.

9:24 a.m.

The first strike is on its way back. In the meantime, seven German torpedo bombers make it through the French CAP, but withering fire from the French battleships drives them off. Only Rouen comes close to taking hits.

9:46 a.m.

The first wave starts to land. It may only be February, but there’s more than enough daylight to get a second wave up, and I think we have enough of a southward sprint to make it relatively safe even with the German fleet bearing down on us.

9:59 a.m.

The last of the strike planes unspools the arrestor cables as it sets down on deck, while land-based strikes from Brest and Cherbourg approach the enemy ships.

014

They’ve come from a long way off.

10:22 a.m.

While the carrier crews, having rearmed their planes with admirable alacrity, get the second wave of strikes spotted to the deck, land-based torpedo bombers take a crack at an enemy light carrier, hitting it once.

10:33 a.m.

015

Level bombing rarely works against ships, but some flying boats out of Brest make it happen.

10:48 a.m.

The second wave of strikes is on its way up.

Our new Bloch dive bombers have very long range for the era, which is why I got this popup for planes out of Cherbourg.

016

When our Liberté-class carriers enter service, hopefully we’ll see more of this sort of thing.

10:52 a.m.

The bombers report six hits on cruisers and six on carriers. Out of 14 bombers, that’s either spectacular accuracy or awful bomb damage assessment.

11:23 a.m.

The second strike from the carriers arrives, a bit less well-coordinated than the first wave. The torpedo bombers nevertheless acquit themselves well, scoring four hits on dreadnought-size ships and one on a cruiser.

11:55 a.m.

The dive bombers, a bit tardy, now arrive on the scene, planting four bombs onto cruisers and one on a carrier.

11:59 a.m.

017

Spotting reports are now placing the enemy within the minefields at La Rochelle. As soon as we have strike planes to launch at them, I’m going to launch a third wave, which should just fit in before dusk.

12:25 p.m.

Dixmude and Arromanches, our elder light carriers, are a bit ahead of the game, and launch a strike a few minutes before Bruix and Bearn see their planes land.

12:34 p.m.

Bombers from Brest attack a German carrier heading northwest, away from the action, and score a hit or two. Perhaps they managed to sink her.

At the same time, German dive bombers approach Bearn, which is currently busily striking planes below to rearm them. Or, perhaps not—her air wing has taken heavy losses, and is down to only six effective bombers, thanks to an afternoon recon launch. Perhaps it’s time to let her pilots take a breather.

1:14 p.m.

After 45 minutes, I realize that the ‘Carrier Name has X aircraft torpedoes remaining!’ popup dialogs I saw when prepping the strikes were not advisories but exceptions. Correcting it by loading the torpedo bombers with standard bombs, I finally get the strikes moving. Because the enemy is so close, the strikes will still arrive in time to return before dusk.

1:54 p.m.

40 minutes later, the last wave of planes is airborne.

The battleships head northward, in hopes of perhaps catching a German straggler or two before nightfall.

2:23 p.m.

018

It might even pay off. The last wave spots enemies a mere 27 miles from our battle line, and goes in for the attack.

2:32 p.m.

A trio of Arromanches‘ dive bombers pull off a picture-perfect attack, rolling over one after the other, pulling into steep approaches, and planting three bombs in a row on an enemy battlecruiser.

2:36 p.m.

As the strike aircraft head back to their carriers, the light cruiser Voltaire, playing scout for the battleship line, spots an unidentified enemy ship.

019

2:46 p.m.

020

The greatest of prizes: a carrier, soon to be in range of battleship guns.

3:09 p.m.

Dive bombers from Brest attack a German light carrier, scoring a number of hits.

The carrier upon which our battleships are closing in begins to open the range. It makes sense that carrier would be faster.

3:20 p.m

Still, there are targets worth shooting at.

021

The gun action begins. Suffren lands a blow on one of two German battlecruisers at a range of more than 28,000 yards.

3:26 p.m.

The destroyer Pique identifies both of the German ships: a Derfflinger type, from 1917, and one of the modern Lützows, which would be a great feather in our cap.

3:38 p.m.

This is the first battle in which we truly see the benefit of the all-forward main armament. Our new-style battleships Marengo, Courbet, and Suffren are each bringing their full battery of eight guns to bear.

4:04 p.m.

Marengo is going to get the lion’s share of the credit for the Lützow. A long-range hit from her 16″ guns hits the German battlecruiser’s engine room. Steam boils up from her hull in a vast cloud.

4:26 p.m.

A flash fire in the Lützow‘s turret breaks her in two. Damage to the Derfflinger is beginning to tell, as well, as the hits from the French battle line, hungry for vengeance, begin to come faster.

5:01 p.m.

As twilight sweeps over the field of battle, the Derfflinger is a burning pyre, rocking in the waves, engines dead. The French fleet turns away from an incoming destroyer attack, but a moment too late—Marengo and Lyon take torpedo hits. Neither appear to be fatal, and with a victory assured, I can take the luxury of slowing down to limit flooding and turning for home.

5:48 p.m.

Nightfall. French destroyers circle the stricken Derfflinger, pouring torpedoes into her battered hull until she rolls over and sinks.

10:22 p.m.

I had intended that to be the end of this battle report, but radar yields an unexpected coda.

022

With the battle line a bit battered, I signal for the destroyers to have a go with torpedoes.

The Germans have the same idea, and in a wild nighttime battle, they get the better of us. Miraculously, even though Lyon and Rouen, older ships with poor torpedo protection already lightly damaged, take several hits each, both appear content to stay afloat.

There was a carrier with the Germans, but with our line slowed by damage, we don’t have much chance of catching it. We settle for beating the tar out of a destroyer.

12:39 a.m.

I had intended that to be the end of this battle report, but once again, radar intervenes.

A contact just south of the fleet turns out to be the German light carrier from earlier, damaged by bomb attacks earlier in the day. With the most heavily damaged battleships already on the way back to port, I’m left with four ships fit for action and capable of 23 knots. The carrier is faster, until the battleship shells find their marks.

023

It is a deeply unfair fight.

Results

And a deeply unfair result, but in our favor, so I’m not going to complain. Three German dreadnoughts are on the bottom of the Bay of Biscay now: the battleship Hannover, and the battlecruisers Hindenburg and Graf Spee. Alongside them are the heavy cruser Prinz Heinrich and the light carriers Weser and Jade, plus a pair of destroyers. French losses amount to one patrol boat and four merchants, along with varying degrees of damage to the battleship fleet.

024-win

025-map
The map is a bit confused, but you can see the battlecruiser battle at the little spur in my main force’s line, where the blue line ends.

Further rumors of mutinies and strikes in Germany and Austria reach our ears.

Plans and Intentions

Germany is still blockading us, so there’s not much war planning to do beyond ‘hope for good carrier weather and sink more battleships’. Intelligence suggests we’re winning the battle of the home front. Unrest in France is low. Unrest in Germany and Austria is believed to be high. We’re ahead 63,603 to 41,969 in war score. An airbase is currently building at La Rochelle, to improve our land-based coverage of the central Bay of Biscay.

We do, however, have some construction choices to make soon. Currently in the shipyards are Solferino (finished in one month), a 30-knot, 14″-gun battleship; Liberté (five months) and Fraternité, 90-plane fleet carriers; and four modern 2000-ton destroyers (5-6 months).

That is to say, we’ll have two budget slots for capital ships in the near future. I plan on using one to build Egalité, completing the set. With the other slot, should we build another battleship, build another carrier, build heavy cruisers, build light forces, or build submarines?

Gear Review: Double Alpha Dry-Fire Practice Mag

If you want to get better at shooting, you take the time to practice gun handling skills in dry fire. One such handling skill is reloading your pistol. It’s pretty easy to practice with the magazines that you normally use, but it doesn’t take a genius to realize that you never reload your pistol with an empty magazine.

To add some more verisimilitude to your practice, you could make (or buy) some dummy rounds and load your mag with those. Or, you could get Double Alpha’s new practice magazines.

I picked some up for my open pistol, which is a 2011-type racegun. 2011 magazines aren’t cheap, so I don’t have as many of them as I’d like. The Double Alpha practice magazines fit great in my gun and my mag pouches. Even though I have a newer, convex magwell, I did not need to file or dremel on the magazines to get them to lock in place. Since the mags have a plastic body, it would be easy to file them to fit if I had to deal with tolerance stacking issues.

The Double Alpha practice mags work as advertised, serving as stand-ins for a magazine weighted down with dummy rounds. You can’t actually load any rounds into the Double Alpha practice magazines, so there’s an extra element of safety there. Being purple plastic, they also stand out from your regular magazines.

Let’s get to value. The practice mags retail for $19.95 on Double Alpha’s website. Some value question will come down to do you care about reloading with mags that ‘feel’ loaded, and how much you value your time. If you had a bunch of spare components lying around, you could make some dummy rounds, load those up in your mags, and get to work. This would work even better if you had some old magazines lying around. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for convenience, especially in platforms with expensive magazines.

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Jun. 24, 2020)

Is it time to officially move Wednesday What We’re Reading to Thursday? No, but you could be forgiven for thinking so.

The ‘Rona

Defense

Science and Technology

Games

Grab Bag

Fishbreath Shoots: Ruger Super GP100 .357 review

Ruger’s been making a big push into the competition world lately, with a USPSA Single Stack-ready 1911 and a Ruger American with slide cuts for Carry Optics. First on the menu from the recently-established Ruger Custom Shop, however, was the Super GP100 in .357 Magnum, a revolver designed from the ground up for practical shooting competitions.

I’ve had this year’s competition revolver in hand for some time now, taken it to two ranges and one match, and put a fair few rounds through it generally.

So, let’s get down to business.

The Gun

The Super GP100 is a .357 Magnum revolver1 built with competition in mind. Though it bears the GP100 name, it is in fact a hybrid design. Its frame is Redhawk-size (that is, large enough for an 8-round cylinder), but its dual-spring lockwork comes from the GP100. The cylinder locks in three places for maximum durability, and is cut down quite a bit to reduce weight.

The trick about revolvers for USPSA (this is one of them) is that an 8-round cylinder is the cost of entry. Under the rules, you can fire eight shots before reloading if you’ve declared Minor power factor, and six if you’ve declared Major. The USPSA rules further say that a stage cannot require more than eight shots from a single shooting position. Fewer than eight rounds loaded, and you have to reload flat-footed. Nobody likes that.

So, although it’s a .357 revolver, I’ll be shooting .38 Special almost exclusively2.

Size, Feel, and Look

To kick things off, it is a big gun. A 5.5″ barrel at the end of a large revolver frame makes for neither a small nor a light handgun. For its purposes, though, this is fine.

It feels pretty good in my hands. I have two minor gripes, however. One, the cylinder release is a bit hard to hit with my strong hand, and is relatively small. (I understand Ruger is working on an extended part.) Two, the stocks aren’t shaped in such a way as to fully promote a hands-high grip—the natural place to put your hands, given the contour of the stocks, is a bit too far down for the proper double-action grip. That can be fixed with aftermarket parts, however, something I may investigate later in the year.

As far as its general appearance, I find it quite handsome indeed. The diagonal cuts in the barrel shroud give it a somewhat retrofuturistic air, along with the fiber-optic front sight, but otherwise, it’s a revolver with classic revolver lines. It wouldn’t look entirely out of place on the set of Firefly, which is an aesthetic I can get behind.

Disassembly and Ease of Maintenance

I do not have very many revolvers, but the Super GP100 is middle-of-the-road on ease of disassembly. Swapping springs or removing the hammer at a match would be a no-go, although the latter is only because there are hammer shims inside to deal with3.

Of course, the manual says that no disassembly is required for basic cleaning. I suspect I’ll take them at their word, and only do the detail strip now and then.

Range Notes

Before the first match, I had two range sessions to come to grips with the gun, one at an indoor range where I did quite a poor dot torture (and ended up adjusting the zero on the sights), and one at an outdoor range with a bunch of steel plates between 15 and 30 yards.

Trigger

Pretty good, out of the box. Better than the 929 Performance Center I tried out at a different local gun store. I haven’t had the chance to play with a slicked-up Smith, so I can’t draw an exact comparison, but even with only lighter springs (no polishing), parvusimperator remarked that it felt pretty good.

The trigger scale says about 7.5lb double action and 2.5lb single action. Single action is a clean break. Double action has a bit of clickiness to it at one point, but I don’t mind.

Accuracy

More accurate than me!

It’s a revolver with a 5.5″ barrel. Not only is the sight radius correspondingly huge, but when it came back from warranty service4, the factory included a copy of the target showing a sub-1″ group at 15 yards.

Given that I’m shooting it double action in a practical shooting sport, that’s plenty sufficient.

Recoil

Tame, at least with .38 Special, which is what most people will be running through it. The gun weighs 44 ounces, plenty to soak up the pop from piddling minor loads.

Reliability

Because this is a competition gun, I didn’t even bother shooting it with stock springs. That, of course, raises questions of reliability.

Unlike my CZ P-09 race gun, which has happily consumed every load I’ve ever fed it, the Super GP100 with lightened springs (a Wolff 9lb mainspring) is a little more finicky. It happily runs on Prvi Partizan .38 Special, but handloads with decade-old CCI primers, though they were reliable in single-action, failed once or twice per cylinder in double-action. Winchester primers of the same vintage worked fine5.

One frequent complaint about .38 Special in competition revolvers is that the ejector won’t fully eject empties. I can confidently say that’s not a problem here—the ejector stroke is long enough to pop empty cases fully out of the cylinder.

Match Notes

Now, we arrive at the meat of the post. The Super GP100 is a competition gun. How can I fully review it if I don’t compete with it?

First thing’s first. Here’s the match video sans commentary. Here it is with commentary, which is probably not going to be too interesting to people without USPSA knowledge ahead of time.

So, how was it in match conditions? Pretty good. Although the stocks, as I mentioned earlier, aren’t quite shaped how I’d like them to be for the grip I want, they’re perfectly acceptable. I didn’t find myself taking the wrong grip out of the holster or off of the table starts, which is a good minimum benchmark.

You might notice in the video that I struggle with reloads in a few places. This is in part due to my inexperience and choice of the wrong basic technique6, but also in part due to the combination of factory ammo without a roll crimp and Ruger’s traditionally-tight chambers. Prvi Partizan-brand .38 Special in both the factory moon clips and the SpeedBeez version binds unless it’s dropped just so7, with the gun almost exactly vertical. Because of the taper on 9mm, it wouldn’t be a problem with the 9mm version, if you’re okay with spitting on revolver tradition8.

Match accuracy is, as I indicated earlier, just fine. I missed a few small steels at long range, but that’s on me more than it is the gun. The sights do come from the factory regulated for a 6-o’clock hold, which is fine if you like it. It’s not what I’m used to, however, especially after a long run of Carry Optics, in which you put the dot on the thing and pull the trigger, so before the next match I’m going up to the range to adjust them for a dead-on hold.

Conclusions

I’ll grant you that I’m not the best person to review competition revolvers. I only have the one, and I don’t have experience with tuned Smith & Wesson guns for comparison purposes.

That said, I’ll still put my recommendation on this one. The problems (iffy reloads with factory ammo, less-than-perfectly-ideal stocks) are relatively minor, and both easily solved (by handloads and by aftermarket grips) are smaller than the benefits (match readiness is a $5 pack of Wolff springs, not a $150 trip to a gunsmith). The value proposition is there, and the performance is nothing to sneeze at either.


  1. You can get it in 9mm too, but 9mm is not a fit caliber for a revolver, no matter what the Revolver Nationals stats say. 
  2. Because of USPSA power factor rules, I’m likely to go (in the low-power direction rather than the high-power one) to more esoteric cartridges in the future, like .38 Short Colt or custom cut-down .38 Special. 
  3. To put the hammer back in, you stick one shim to it with gun grease, put the hammer pin through that shim and into the hammer, and push the opposite shim into the frame with a piece of paper. 
  4. It came with a misaligned barrel shroud assembly. Ruger was highly accommodating, and had it turned around inside a week. 
  5. I understand that primers have been getting more sensitive over the years—thus saith the Lee reloading book, along with some random forum posters. Today’s CCI primers might work. Perhaps I’ll pick up a box at the reloading-supplies counter of the friendly local gun store. 
  6. I’m writing a post on this, too, but it comes down to gross motor movements with my dominant hand against fine motor movements with my weak hand, and I should have realized that before practicing the latter a bunch. 
  7. I bought a reloading press to solve this problem. It was always an inevitability once I started shooting competitive revolver, because you get to keep all your brass, but this is a bit ahead of schedule. Anyway, a roll crimp into the SNS Casting 158-grain coated bullets’ crimp groove drops easily9
  8. I’ve come down hard on 9mm revolvers, but it’s good-natured. If you’re considering shooting a revolver at USPSA matches, pick whatever caliber you want. (And granted, 9mm has advantages.) The division needs you. 
  9. Because I bought a gun that Just Works, like parvusimperator’s Open blaster, I have to find my tinkering where I can, and that’s evidently at the reloading bench. Next year: .38 Short Colt?