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Pride goeth before a fall

I’ve always been a bit of a World War II buff. Lately, my interest has tended towards battleships – there’s something I find romantic about the gun navy that I can’t explain. I had a bit of a rather interesting experience on a discussion board about battleships I thought I’d pass along.

Readers’ warning: ahead I will get into some technical minutiae about battleships that a vast majority of you will find incredibly tedious. Read on at your own risk. However, if you’re looking for yet another reason to laugh at me as I humiliate myself, force yourself to plow through the technical details.

One of the regulars posted a link to his web site. He said he had posted pictures showing the main gun turrets of the battleship Texas, and wanted to know what sorts of questions about them people would be likely to ask. He was especially interested in those comments from laymen about features of the turrets.

Considering myself eminently qualified to the position of “layman” on the topic of naval construction, I clicked over to the page. The first thing I noticed was that the ship shown was in NO WAY IN HELL the U.S.S. Texas.

The Texas was built in 1912, and served in both World Wars. She bombarded German positions on D-Day, and currently is a museum ship in La Porte, Texas. But the germane point here is that her big guns are mounted in pairs in her turrets, and the ship shown on that page had three big guns per turret. More specifically, the style of the turret (all flat plates, no curves) was only made in the late 30’s and early 40’s, for three classes of battleships, ten ships in total.

OK, I’d eliminated the Texas as being the actual ship, but narrowing it down beyond that quickly became my obsession. I was determined to show off my vast knowledge and determine the identity of that ship based just on those three photos.

First, I noticed that the ship appeared to be in World War II trim. I didn’t see any signs of advanced radars, missiles, or advanced defensive systems. That eliminated the four ships of the Iowa class, because all were refitted and reactivated for Korea and Viet Nam, as well as undergoing a virtual rebuilding in the early 80’s. That left six ships.

I grabbed a book I have that has a list of the battleship memorials around the country. Of the two Washington-class and four South Dakota-class ships, three are currently museums and three were scrapped in the early 1960’s. There were tourists in fairly modern clothing in the photos, so that seemed to eliminate the three that were scrapped over 40 years ago without ever coming out of mothballs.

I had narrowed it down to the North Carolina, the Massachusetts, or the Alabama. Feeling rather proud of myself, I reached for the “post” button. Then my eyes fell on the page opposite the listing of the memorials.

There was a picture of a battleship, moored in harbor. It was a couple hundred feet behind and a hundred or so feet above the viewpoint of one of the photos on the web page. There was a very distinctive building on the shore next to the ship, and it looked like the same building. And the caption of the photo identified the ship as the U.S.S. North Carolina.

Then I had one more idea. I went back to the web page of the photos. I right-clicked on one of them, then chose “save image as.” The name of the photo popped up: “NC-TURRET-2.” The others were “NC-TURRET-3” and “NC-TURRET-4.” I had come up with the same answer in two mouse clicks that I had just spent half an hour wrangling over.

For the record: the page originally had pictures of the Texas, and does now again. For some reason, the author had briefly changed the pictures to the North Carolina, and has since changed it back to the Texas. I just happened to blunder into the conversation a couple days after everyone else had let it drop, and was too smug that rank amateur me could see something the so-called “experts” couldn’t. My vast knowledge shrank to “half-vast” status.

But it was a fun exercise, and it gave me what I think is a halfway decent and humorous story to tell.


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