Return of the Behemoths

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by Sazzer, Mar 13, 2017.

  1. Workable Goblin Spacepony

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    Not really. Aircraft keep subs submerged because subs are very vulnerable to all types of attacks on the surface if they're spotted, and aircraft are good at spotting submarines. Blimps are, in principle at least, more effective at this per aircraft than other types because they have a much longer endurance than other types of aircraft, therefore they are more effective in preventing attacks (because submarines are too slow underwater to catch all but the most sluggish ships) than other types of aircraft.

    The point is that you might be able to slice things up so that airships use less of some resources than heavy bombers do. Use crappy surplus engines that wouldn't work for a bomber but are fine for a wallowing blimp. Use older or younger personnel than in a bomber squadron. A gondola might use less aluminum than a bomber, because it doesn't have wings or various other bits and bobs. Therefore, Coastal Command or the equivalent can wrangle a few airships out in the political process when it might not be able to get an equivalently effective number of bombers, or for that matter any bombers. It would hardly be the first time that some less than ideal compromise came out of internal politics.

    And what was the rate for conventional aircraft? Without that information, the statistics you've provided are completely useless.
     
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  2. Just Leo Contrarian with a heart of gold

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    The U-boat message, recorded, said there was damage. The record, uncovered post-war, resulted in the crew having their scolding revoked, replaced by commendation.

    So, what's this about a Tiger Moth?
     
  3. Sazzer Well-Known Member

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    To be honest I was more thinking that the Airships would be used as a 'Mothership' with it's aircraft carrying out longer range surveillance and attack missions in the same role as a surface aircraft carrier.
    The main principle would be denying the enemy submarines freedom of action and getting the convoys through, any destroyed/damaged U-boats would be a Billy Bonus.

    I was also thinking that they could utilize obsolete aircraft as they would have local air superiority like Hawker Hind or even American Curtiss F11C Goshawks
     
  4. b0ned0me Well-Known Member

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    Lets parse this out. Subs are scared of aircraft because the presence of aircraft might lead to a dangerous attack - there has to be some sort of credible threat. What sorts of attack might be dangerous? Those from warships or aircraft. Therefore a blimp is effective because it can call in ships or heavier-than-air aircraft. On the other hand, a conventional aircraft is dangerous because it can call in ships, other aircraft, or make an attack itself. So if you are able to provide aircraft on-station to support blimps scouts, why not just have them do the scouting themselves? Again, a blimp cannot do the things a normal aircraft can do, but a normal aircraft can do all the things an airship can. To make a passing swing back to the OP, this is exactly what the flying carrier does - attempt to answer the question "how can I use airships to get conventional aircraft to the submarine?". More sensible to just focus on the aircraft and forget the airship part, IMO.

    Endurance-wise, K-class blimps were impressive, they could fly more than 24 hours. However note that the Catalinas and Liberators could do up to 18 hour missions, carry all the necessary sensors, more weapons, and make credible attacks - escorting effectively even in the absence of any other ASW assets. They could also transit to and from patrol areas a heck of a lot faster, which probably meant a similar amount of time on-station in the mid Atlantic. Aircraft on a MAC make the whole endurance thing moot, they are there on-site with immediate reinforcements to hand.
    Let's not forget that blimps made no contribution to closing the mid-Atlantic gap, which is where one might expect their endurance to come in most useful.

    Yes, you might. Or instead just use some of the obsolete wallowing bombers you have cluttering up your airfields. Hard to see how building brand new highly unconventional aircraft is going to be cheaper and easier than using ones already bought and paid for. The saved money can go to converting some rust buckets to carry biplanes and maybe some high-end aircraft for long-distance work.

    There are none so blind as those who will not see. These statistics cover an area where blimps never operated due to the Luftwaffe threat and cover hundreds of attacks with five sinkings, when we know blimps achieved precisely one attack with zero sinkings. They are very obviously for conventional aircraft. Comparison is easy, just divide nothing by either 500,000 or 400,000 hours (depending on source) of blimp patrols.
    Which records? Uncovered by whom, when? All my searches found only anecdotal references to "searches of the German archives" or "top secret radio intercepts declassified by the British", usually accompanied by tabloid level inaccuracies. No official documents, other than an intercept transcript of what is almost certainly U-134 reporting a different attack, but with 'blimp' scribbled optimistically on it.
     
  5. Workable Goblin Spacepony

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    Your other points are reasonable, but this is just plain rude. Given that the entire discussion has been about the utility or lack thereof of airships, it was reasonable to assume you were saying blimps were doing this per month, not that you were abruptly bringing up statistics for other aircraft without mentioning the fact. The statistics are still entirely useless in any case, for the same reason except inverted: you don't provide the comparable statistics involving airships.

    However, I accept that my second scenario of Coastal Command getting blimps as a compromise between it and Bomber Command (or equivalents, as always) is not reasonable, and anyway blimps are less effective than conventional aircraft in this ASW role. The only way I can see the scenario envisaged by the OP coming about is if ASW is taken more seriously in Britain in the 1920s, and airships are developed at that time by the Royal Navy or RAF to provide an air-based reconnaissance unit in that role to complement sea-based units. In that case, they may follow the United States and develop airborne aircraft carriers, which in principle they may have several of by the outbreak of the war. Probably these would be relegated to secondary theaters, such as (as previously mentioned) the Straits of Gibraltar, southern India, the Caribbean, or the like, where the weather is better than in the Atlantic and there's enough of a submarine threat to be worth combating, but a much smaller one in comparison to the Atlantic gap that they're a distinctly lower priority for more effective resources such as escort carriers and long-range conventional patrol aircraft.
     
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2017
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  6. Just Leo Contrarian with a heart of gold

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    The German naval records, including log records of U-134's radio transmissions, were taken by the Admiralty, post-war, and microfilmed by ONI. The records were de-classified in 1960, and the US Navy Board for the Correction of Naval Records investigated these logs. It recorded an attack by PBM Mariner, and the destruction of one engine, with no damage to the sub. It recorded the K-74's attack and destruction, with damage to the quick dive ballast tank and ballast tanks 4 & 5. It recorded an attack by Ventura, with further damage, and an attack by Avenger and Wildcat, from a Jeep carrier, no damage. It did not record an attack by a Wellington from Gibraltar, because no further transmissions were made. Following this investigation, the US Navy awarded the DFC and Commendation medals to the crew, or mainly families of the crew of K-74.

    I would venture that the crew of U-134 were competent, and could identify a blimp, even at 0531, since there was a moon.

    This couldn't satisfy you, but it was enough for the US Navy.
     
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  7. Sazzer Well-Known Member

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    I know that it would take a ATL but supposing some bright spark at Coastal Command foresaw the mid Atlantic air gap and maybe got the same PR guy who sold the idea of an aircraft carrier made of ice to suggest FAC's (not Blimps)to the bigwigs in the mid to late 30's.
    With the FAC you would have a command centre in the area along with a place for maintenance and re arming/fueling the aircraft. The FAC would be able to deploy and co-ordinate CAP's (combat air patrols) along the proposed convoy routes,something which a CAM fight/bomber couldn't
     
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  8. b0ned0me Well-Known Member

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    I'm sorry if you think I was being excessively snarky, but I feel like we are going round and round in circles here. What statistics would satisfy you? All I did was pluck some random statistics from the British war history on hyperwar as an illustration. In one area of operations in six months conventional aircraft managed very approximately 180 times as many attacks as blimps managed in the entire war and five sinkings as opposed to none, for the expenditure of less than 1/10 the patrol hours.
    What would be good to know is what was happening on the other side of the Atlantic, but the best I could find was something on u-boat.net

    "In this theater, USAAF aircraft flew over 135,000 operational combat hours on anti submarine patrols. Altogether, the USAAF participated in 96 attacks on German submarines between 7 December 1941 and 24 August 1943. These statistics do not include the contribution of the AAFAC in the anti submarine Campaign, European-African-Middle Eastern Theater, nor of the Army Air Force's bombers which frequently attacked the German submarine bases" (their bold).
    Which can be compared to what little we know about blimp operations (400K+ hours, one attack).
    It seems plausible for things that tickle the fancy of the US to interest the UK and vice versa, so LTA should get the RN interested if R101 doesn't happen. However the old British bugbear returns - the RAF would rather lose an eye than divert significant money or effort from bombing to anything water-related. The USN were fortunate in being able to set their own priorities, so I think handing Coastal Command to RN control (and early!) would be needed, as well as no R101. Come to think of it, a no-RAF POD might get the job done. No air ministry, no AM-committee designed R101, no obsession with everything in the air being a strategic bomber, big beefy RNAS with lots of WW1 experience and complete control of fleet air arm and maritime patrol aviation.....

    Perfect, just what I was looking for but couldn't find. Where is this info to be found? All I could come up with was this:
    http://www.uboatarchive.net/U-134A/U-134Intercept.htm

    Edited to add:
    Aha! I don't really do German but this looks it, "marineluftschiff":
    http://www.uboatarchive.net/U-134A/U-134KTB.htm
    I should have ventured into the untranslated parts earlier.
     
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2017
  9. Workable Goblin Spacepony

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    Well, I said exactly what would satisfy me in this regard in the very post you quote: the same statistics, but for blimps. Pick a month, relatively late in the war to avoid "start-up" effects, and lay out how many hours of operation the blimps had, how many sightings of U-boats, how many attacks, and how many sinkings they were involved in. I expect, given your other comments, that the latter two points should be easy to find...
     
  10. sloreck Grunt Bear

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    When a submarine on the surface is spotted by an aircraft (or blimp) the default response is to dive and clear datum. The shoot it out on the surface doctrine U-Boats tried for a while in the Bay of Biscay at one point didn't work very well. In general submarines would be shooting at aircraft when it was the only option. There is no way a submarine can know what support forces will be following up on the spotting report, and even relatively small bombs, or a lucky depth charge can do significant damage to a submarine - at least a mission kill requiring a return home. Even snorkel equipped boats during WWII had to get in position to attack a convoy by running on the surface with few lucky exceptions. Closing the mid-ocean gap did not sink a lot of submarines but what it did was identify locations accurately so forces could be directed to attack submarines and convoys could be rerouted. Airships with biplanes could do this - after all stringbags were used for ASW OTL. Starting to do this in 1939 is way too late.you need at least 10 years of planning, experience etc to do this.
     
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  11. Sazzer Well-Known Member

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    I'm starting to think that it would take an earlier starting point than 1939 given that the USS Akron and Macon (interesting read, apparently the loss of both ships may not have been to poor weather conditions but poor handling/decisions for the Akron and a previously damaged fin failing followed by more poor decisions for the Macon) operated in the early 30's.
    With Britain still retaining the knowledge and skills in the very earlier 30's with the R100 and experimental R101, maybe a good starting point for building and operating FAC's would be after the R102 proposed first flight in 1934?

    n2y-1-akron-hangar.jpg
     
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  12. eltf177 Well-Known Member

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    Donitz had a number of U-Boats converted to Flak Traps with extra 37mm; single, twin and quad 20mm and MG's. Their CO's were under orders to fight it out with attacking aircraft, trying to convince the Allies that attacking surfaced U-Boats in the Bay of Biscay was a risky option. The U-Boats were usually outnumbered and quickly overwhelmed, the whole concept was eventually dropped...
     
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  13. b0ned0me Well-Known Member

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    Sadly, I only have so many hours to spend on surfing the internet and there is very little information on USN blimp operations. Even the official USN history of lighter than air operations https://www.history.navy.mil/resear...ys-lighter-than-air-experience-monograph.html is very light (heh) on facts compared to e.g. OEG51, but does have some summary statistics.
    For North Atlantic, 1942 / 1943 / 1944 / 1945
    Hours 20,088 / 135,997 / 183,731 / 38,420
    Flights 1,544 / 12,233 / 19,447 / 4,330

    So it looks like they peaked at about 15K hours per month during 1944. As a rough comparison, conventional aircraft apparently would achieve something like one kill per 5-10 K hours depending on circumstances. So if blimp hours were equally effective as conventional hours, and target access is equal, that would be one kill a month or thereabouts. However there seem to be no numbers on attacks or kills for blimps, only hours, flights, flight types, ships escorted, and a handful of anectodes. E.g. K-16 and K-58 apparently provided MAD/sonobuoy/depth charge support to DEs in the sinking of U-853, and there are mentions of depth charges being dropped on MAD contacts, etc.
    Surprising that there are no statistics at all for 'assists' on kills by other assets, they seem to have been tracked for ships and other aircraft. Perhaps it may have been a "rounds to zero" issue or just seen as incidental to the main mission. The latter seems odd though for an 'ASW' asset, likewise the lack of any mention i could find in OEG51 other than "At the beginning of 1942, the U. S. Navy sent out all available planes and blimps to battle the U-boats along the coast" in Ch4.
     
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  14. tigercat Well-Known Member

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    An interesting footnote regarding the first HMS Roberts

    Roberts
    sailed for the Dardanelles in June 1915. She remained in the Eastern Mediterranean until returning to England in February 1916. She served as a guard ship at Yarmouth until the end of the War. She decommissioned in May 1919, and was initially sold for breaking up in May 1921, but was retained by the Admiralty for trials.

    Around 1925 she was considered for conversion to a mobile airshipbase with a mooring mast and fueling capabilities, but nothing came of this proposal.[1] In the 1930s, she was used for testing underwater protection for new construction warships. She was finally sold in September 1936 to the Ward shipyard at Preston for breaking up.


    In commandEdit
     
  15. docfl dazed and confused

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    But the fact remains that any convoy escorted by blimps suffered no losses. While they might not be able to sink a U-boat, They can and did called in destroyers and other escorts to attack the subs.
    If Adm. Moffet did not die in the Macon accident, There were plans for even larger rigid airships.

    Resupply could be done at sea, The ZR2 moored on a tower built on the tanker Palooka.
    [​IMG]

    And on the USS Saratoga
    [​IMG]

    Maybe they could hook up a couple of blimps together. Like this
    [​IMG]

    For those who thought rigid airships were not tough. Try getting a sub vertical and recovering.
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
     
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  16. CalBear Your Ursus arctos californicus Moderator Moderator Donor

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    The problem with airships is that, no matter how well made they may be, they are fragile as hell. The USN lost both the Akron and Macon in fairly routine storms. Airships are also extremely limited in maximum ceiling (around 13K for Hydrogen, 10K for Helium), meaning they can not climb over even regular weather, and are so slow that they are hard pressed to outrun weather.

    Balloon busting was a high risk profession because observation balloons were anchored in place at around 3,000 feet and ringed with AAA while the attacking aircraft was only able to make around 100 mph. The higher a balloon/dirigible was tethered the less effective the defending AAA would be. Zeppelins were effective in WW I as strategic platforms because it took the defensive aircraft of the era 30-45 minutes (or longer) to reach the raider's altitude and fighters lack the endurance to loiter over an area once at altitude, something that prevented effective interception. Fighters as early as 1930 could make the same climb in under 10 minutes and loiter for an hour or more over home base, this makes an airship an inconvenient place to die. The same goes for using the airship as a proto-AWACS, the vulnerability of the platform, be it to a single engine fighter, a "destroyer" like the bF-110, or a converted medium bomber in use as night fighter like the Ju-88 makes the effort impractical at best.

    When one couples the vulnerability of the platform with its rather extended build time (around two years) and the rather steep price (~$2.5M in the case of USS Macon, or remarkably close to the cost of a destroyer of the same era) it is very much the sort of solution that is far worse than the problem.

    BTW: the cost of one airship is about the same as 14 Flower class corvettes.
     
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  17. Workable Goblin Spacepony

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    Well, that's fair enough.

    You know, I should have seen that airships would have a ceiling, but I didn't realize it was so low.

    My idea was that the airship could be located far enough north that it would be very difficult for German fighters to actually reach it, as in they wouldn't or would only just barely have the endurance to actually fly all the way to the airship's location. Combined with a CAP that could be vectored on incoming fighters, it strikes me as potentially being quite difficult to attack this target, just like a modern AWACS. However, I suspect that it would then have too short a radar horizon to be useful.

    Thank you for the numbers. I wonder if a few airships fitted as radar or huff-duff stations might be more useful than blimps for ASW work, to detect submarines; obviously this would not involve any serious threat from fighters, and it might be worth giving up a few destroyers for a force-multiplier like that.
     
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  18. CalBear Your Ursus arctos californicus Moderator Moderator Donor

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    One of the difficulties with airships over the North Atlantic, besides the real danger of deadly storms, is that a good steady wind of 20 knots can more or less bring the ship to a dead stop, a cross wind can just push them all over the sky, and even a tailwind can hurt there ability to maneuver.
     
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  19. CalBear Your Ursus arctos californicus Moderator Moderator Donor

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    It seemed like a good idea at the time.
     
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  20. Workable Goblin Spacepony

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    Well, as I've said before my assumption has been that these would be deployed in places like the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean, the Straits of Gibraltar, and so on, where the weather is better than in the North Atlantic but there's still a non-trivial U-boat risk for at least part of the war.
     
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