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The War Nerd December 11, 2002
 
U Sank My Carrier!
By Gary Brecher Browse author Email
 
Page 2 of 3
 
It's a nice idea, but kinda naive. Most war games aren't neutral at all. They're supposed to showcase a new weapon or doctrine. Millennium Challenge was supposed to showcase high-tech joint-force doctrine. So when van Ripen sank the fleet, you can bet that the guys running it didn't just say, "Well played, old boy! We must make a note of your tactics in order to avert such mishaps in the future!"

What most casual readers won't get is that some of van Ripen's moves are chickenshit, and don't amount to anything-but others are so damn scary that the US Navy will be trying to live them down for years.

That trick of sending messages by motorbike is a good example of a move that gets lots of publicity and sounds smart but doesn't mean much. OK, you send your messages by bike. For starters, that means they move at 30 mph, unlike radio messages, which are almost instant. That's a huge disadvantage. And what happens if your biker gets strafed? No message-or a captured message. I'd be happy to fight an army that had nothing better than motorbikes to communicate with.

But what van Ripen did to the US fleet...that's something very different. He was given nothing but small planes and ships-fishing boats, patrol boats, that kind of thing. He kept them circling around the edges of the Persian Gulf aimlessly, driving the Navy crazy trying to keep track of them. When the Admirals finally lost patience and ordered all planes and ships to leave, van Ripen had them all attack at once. And they sank two-thirds of the US fleet.

That should scare the hell out of everybody who cares about how well the US is prepared to fight its next war. It means that a bunch of Cessnas, fishing boats and assorted private craft, crewed by good soldiers and armed with anti-ship missiles, can destroy a US aircraft carrier. That means that the hundreds of trillions (yeah, trillions) of dollars we've invested in shipbuilding is wasted, worthless.

A few years ago, a US submarine commander said, "There are two kinds of ship in the US Navy: subs and targets." The fact that big surface ships are dinosaurs is something that's gotten clearer every decade since 1921.

That was the year Billy Mitchell finally got the chance to prove what he'd been saying for years: large surface ships without air cover had no chance against aircraft. Mitchell had made himself the most hated man in the Armed Forces for saying this, but he wouldn't shut up. Finally, thanks to the huge surplus of military vessels left over from WW I, he got his chance. A German battleship, the Ostfriesland, and three surplus US battleships were anchored off Virginia to see what Mitchell's rickety little biplanes could do to them. You have to remember how big and tough these "dreadnoughts" seemed to people back then. They had the thickest armor, the biggest guns, the deadliest reps of any weapon on land or sea. The idea that aircraft could sink them was a joke for most people. Of course, the Navy brass knew, and tried everything to stop the tests. They knew all too well what was going to happen--and it wasn't good for their careers.

The little biplanes buzzed out...and sank every ship. First a destroyer, then the huge German battleship, then all three US battleships. The Navy tried to ignore the results, but with Mitchell yapping at their heels, they finally started moving from battleship-based to aircraft-carrier-based battle groups.

The British didn't pay any attention to Mitchell's demonstration. Their battleships were better made, better armed, and better manned. With an impregnable British stronghold in Singapore and the RN patrolling offshore, what could those little Jap monkeys do?

Three days after Pearl Harbor, the British found out. A powerful battle group led by the battleship Prince of Wales and the Cruiser Repulse steamed out to oppose Japanese landings in Malaysia, and ran into several squadrons of Japanese planes. In a few minutes both ships were sinking, The Prince of Wales sank so fast virtually the entire crew went down with her. With its Naval screen gone, Singapore the Impregnable fell so fast the British still can't talk about it.


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Gary Brecher
Browse author
Email Gary at war_nerd@exile.ru, but, more importantly, buy his book.
 
 
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