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Shell Games

Every now and then, I am reminded of how embarrassing it can be to spout off and, in a casual aside to a posting, get some fundamental detail so glaringly wrong that those who know better practically beat each other up in their rush to correct me. Most recently, it was on Saturday, when I invented the term "theologists" instead of using the proper term "theologians."

A good chunk of the right side of the blogosphere is irritated at a guy over at Daily Kos, who compares Osama Bin Laden to Ronald Reagan. I'll leave the proper dissecting of this Kossack to others, but one paragraph of his leaped out at me:

So is Osama bin Laden truly "evil?" Most people who lost family members at the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001 would probably consider him to be evil. Was President Ronald Reagan evil? Most residents of Beirut who lost family members when the USS New Jersey rained 2,700 pound Mark 7 shells on residential neighborhoods in 1983 during the Lebanese Civil War probably considered Reagan to have been evil. Bottom line? Bin Laden is no more evil than other revolutionary leaders in other times or even than ordinary national leaders who propel their countries to war for "national honor," or to acquire the resources of others, or even to "do good."

(Emphasis added)

I'm a serious battleship geek. And this bozo, clearly, is not.

That 2,700-lb figure leaped out at me. I knew that was the weight of the armor-piercing rounds of the New Jersey's guns, but those wouldn't be used for shore bombardment. Far more useful shells would be the high-explosive rounds, which came in at 1,900 pounds.

So I went to one of several sites I keep bookmarked, and looked up the specs on the New Jersey's big guns. And according to that page, not only were my instincts right, but "FMArouet" is even wronger than I thought.

The New Jersey, like her sister Iowa-class battleships, carries 9 16" (406-mm) guns. They are formally known as the 16"/50 Mark 7 guns. That translates into a diameter of 16 inches, a barrel length of 50 calibres (or multiples of the diameter, working out to 800 inches or 88 feet, 8 inches), and the seventh version of the 16" gun to be accepted into naval service.

That's the gun. Now as for the shells: the Navy accepted eight variants of shell for the gun. I feel fairly comfortable in dismissing the possibility that the target round and the armor-piercing rounds were not used in Lebanon, so that eliminates the two 2,700-lb. shells. I also think we can rule out the Nuclear Mark 23 round as well.

That leaves five possible shells, all of which weigh in at 1,900 pounds and all designed as high-explosive rounds, intended for use against unarmored or lightly-armored targets. And compared to to the kinds of armor the New Jersey's guns were designed to penetrate (20" of armor plating at 20,000 yards), pretty much any target in Lebanon was considered "lightly armored" at best.

Yeah, I know, it's a fairly trivial detail. But it's little details that add up, and this guy, plain and simple, got it wrong. That doesn't detract from his point -- that a shell from a battleship, whether it weighs 2,700 lbs. or 1,900 lobs, is still going to ruin your whole day -- but it is, nonetheless, a simple mistake.

And one that he did not need to make.

Update: Nor did I need to make a math error and give the wrong barrel length for the 16"/50 gun -- it's 66 feet 8 inches, as Boyd pointed out. But then again, this piece wouldn't have been complete without making some minor, pointless but stupid error, just like the one I'm mocking the other guy for. Sigh...


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Comments (15)

Whoa, 88 feet of loose cann... (Below threshold)
kim:

Whoa, 88 feet of loose cannon sounds like a hell of a big stick.
=======================

What I want to know is who ... (Below threshold)
stan25 Author Profile Page:

What I want to know is who in their right mind would use armor-piercing shells to bombard a land target. As Jay Tea says, high explosives do a much better job of moving the mud. Now, if there were reinforced concrete bunkers, I could see the use of these shells, but most of the buildings that were allegedly shelled were made of dried mud. Besides these shells are very expensive and hence are fewer in numbers. Does the author know where the ships were located at, if any were there?

and I thought I was the mos... (Below threshold)
Paul:

and I thought I was the most anal-retentive obsessive compulsive blogger on Wizbang. my apologies. ;-)

The New Jersey reportedly s... (Below threshold)

The New Jersey reportedly shelled Syrian command posts in the Bekka Valley, which were designed and built to Soviet specs to survive a nuke. It is Navy legend that the command staff for the Syrian Army in Lebanon was killed in this shelling.

It would have been highly unlikely that the 16 inch guns would have been used on anything but bunkers and fortified positions.

Ain't the internet great, C... (Below threshold)
kim:

Ain't the internet great, Chuck?
===========================

Something must be wrong wit... (Below threshold)
Boyd Author Profile Page:

Something must be wrong with my calculator. Every time I divide 800 by 12, it comes up with 66.6666666, or 66' 8".

I guess it's just a simple mistake. :p

A littler big stick? Say i... (Below threshold)
kim:

A littler big stick? Say it ain't so, Jay.
============================================

Hi Jay,The NJ did us... (Below threshold)
jdgjtr:

Hi Jay,
The NJ did use her 16 inchers off Beirut a few times but many times, IIRC, she used her 5" 38 calibers, which were traditonally manned by her Marine detachment.

I think jdgjtr is right, Ja... (Below threshold)
jim2:

I think jdgjtr is right, Jay!

I seem to recall that the BB used pretty much only 5" shells when firing into the city (if it fired at all instead of letting DDs do it). If so, that means the shells were ~55 pounds each.

The New Jersey did use the 16" shells when DEFENDING Beirut from some gun batteries who were shelling Beirut!

http://www.pierretristam.com/Bobst/library/wf-329.htm

To be fair, the BB may have fired 16" shells into Beirut at some other time(s) but, if so, I cannot recall it. I would think the USN would be glad to answer such a question.

jdgjtr, jim2, I flubbed the... (Below threshold)

jdgjtr, jim2, I flubbed the math on barrel length, but I double-sourced that the Big J had used her main guns in Lebanon. First up, I used Wikipedia's entry on the ship:

On November 28 -- after October 23, 1983 Beirut barracks bombing -- the U.S. government announced that New Jersey would be retained off Beirut although her crew would be rotated. On 14 December, New Jersey fired 11 projectiles from her 16 inch (406 mm) guns at hostile positions inland of Beirut. These were the first 16 inch (406 mm) shells fired for effect anywhere in the world since New Jersey ended her time on the gunline in Vietnam in 1969.

On 8 February 1984, New Jersey fired almost 300 shells at Druze and Syrian positions in the Bekaa valley east of Beirut. Some 30 of these massive projectiles rained down on a Syrian command post, killing the general commanding Syrian forces in Lebanon and several other senior officers. This was the heaviest shore bombardment since the Korean War.

Then, because Wikipedia can be unreliable on occasion, I double-checked on the ship's official web site:

NEW JERSEY was on a three-month shakedown cruise to the Western Pacific, with scheduled stops in Pearl Harbor, Manila, Singapore and Pattya Beach Thailand. Enroute to Hong Kong, political flare-ups in Central America that demanded her attention. After nearly three months off the coast of Central America, the Beirut crisis began. She transited the Panama Canal, having been designed to do so with a clearance of approximately two feet. NEW JERSEY remained on station with the Sixth Fleet for six more months in support of U.S. Marines in the Multi-National Defense Force. On three occasions, she fired her 16-inch guns in defense. On February 8, 1984 she fired 288 rounds into the surrounding hills to effectively knock out Syrian anti-aircraft missile sites. The accuracy of the guns was questioned by some critics, but the mission was clearly accomplished. Toward the end, volunteers began relieving many of the crewmembers, but in May, 1984, eleven months after departure, NEW JERSEY returned home.

Finally, I just now triple-checked it on the US Navy's official web site for the Big J:

On 28 November, the U.S. government announced that New Jersey would be retained off Beirut although her crew would be rotated. On 14 December, New Jersey fired 11 projectiles from her 16-inch guns at hostile positions inland of Beirut. This is the first 16-inch shells fired for effect anywhere in the world since New Jersey ended her time on the gunline in Vietnam in 1969.

On 8 February 1984, New Jersey fired almost 300 shells at Druze and Syrian positions in the Bekka Valley east of Beirut. Some 30 of these massive projectiles rained down on a Syrian command post, killing the general commanding Syrian forces in Lebanon and several other senior officers. This was the heaviest shore bombardment since the Korean War.

J.

"Some 30 of these massive p... (Below threshold)
Mike:

"Some 30 of these massive projectiles rained down on a Syrian command post"

Whuppin, ass, 1 each, large.

...which weigh in ... (Below threshold)
...which weigh in at 1,900 pounds and ...

The weight of 1900 lbs. is why it was often referred to as "launching Volkswagens" - which weigh about 1850 lbs. Well, at least the old Beetles did.

As I recall, most of the big rounds went into the Bekaa. At least that's where we were flying TARPS missions for recce and BDA.

Of course, we probably knew less about what was going on there on Bagel Station than most of the people who weren't.

If you ever want to read a pretty good book about that time, check out Supercarrier by George C. Wilson.

He was on Kennedy for the whole deployment and it's a pretty good account of events. Lots of inside baseball.

Jay -Be patient wi... (Below threshold)
jim2:

Jay -

Be patient with me, here!

Look carefully at what you block-copied and what the quoted complainers said in your original post:

"Most residents of Beirut who lost family members when the USS New Jersey rained 2,700 pound Mark 7 shells on residential neighborhoods in 1983 during the Lebanese Civil War probably considered Reagan to have been evil."

Your citations seem to agree with mine, that no 16" shells did NOT land in "residential neighborhoods" in Beirut.

Instead, they landed "inland of Beirut", "in the surrounding hills" where there were AA and gun batteries, and in the "Bekaa Valley".

Ol' Ronnie new how to kill ... (Below threshold)
moseby:

Ol' Ronnie new how to kill ay-rabs eh? God bless him!!

My bad:"Your citat... (Below threshold)
jim2:

My bad:

"Your citations seem to agree with mine, that [no] 16" shells did NOT land in "residential neighborhoods" in Beirut."

(delete the "no" - must remember to take a last edit look before I post)




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