Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Roman Galley from Ben-Hur

Here is something you don't just run into every day. This is one of the model Roman galleys used in the production of the 1959 epic Ben-Hur. It is located inside the Baltimore Convention Center. (The Sheraton next door has awesome Maryland She-crab soup by the way) It was donated to the Mayor and citizens of Baltimore by the family of Peter S. Atsaides and renovated by the Vocational Education Department based on photos from the MGM archives and historical sources. Sorry about the quality of the pictures. This was only one of about a dozen large ship models in the Convention Center, including a very impressive model of the USS Constellation (the frigate, not the sloop-of war that is actually in the Harbor two blocks away)

I really liked the attention to detail on the ballista, catapult and my personal favorite, the ram.

BTW, unlike in fiction, the Romans did not usually use slaves to man the oars in their galleys. So there.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

USS Torsk (SS-423)

Here is another of the historical ships moored in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. This is the USS Torsk, a Tench-class submarine from WWII.

The Torsk is famous as the last US Navy vessel to sink an enemy warship in World War II. Torsk is one of the 26 Tench-class submarines built for the Navy in 1944-1951. Originally, there were plans to build 146 Tench-class boats, but 115 were cancelled after Imperial Japan's defeat. Only ten ever saw combat service in the war. The Tench class was an evolutionary improvement over the older Gato and Balao classes- larger, stronger and better laid out internally.

The Torsk was built in Portsmouth, Maine in the summer of 1944 and commissioned on 16 December 1944. Her first commander was Commander Bafford E. Lewellen.
She trained in the waters off New London Connecticut for two months and then sailed to Port Everglades, Florida to take part in antisubmarine research for four days. She then transited the Panama Canal and sailed to Pearl Harbor, arriving on March 23, 1945.

Torsk then began the work she was built for. She arrived off the northeastern coast of Honshu on May 13 and began her patrol after linking up with the subs USS Cero and and Sand Lance. Little was discovered other than Naval mines until the Torsk finally found an enemy ship, the very mine layer that had seeded the area with mines. She fired six torpedoes that the ship was able to maneuver away from and then she dove to escape the area. She then returned to Pearl Harbor for refitting and new equipment and began her second patrol on July 17. On August 11, after rescuing seven Japanese merchant seamen adrift from the wreck of the Koue Maru, she made her first kill, torpedoing a coastal freighter from periscope depth.

On August 14, Torsk sighted a 745 ton Kaibokan-class patrol escort vessel and its charge, a medium-sized cargo ship. She took up position near the mouth of the harbor at Kasumi Ko and launched a new Mark 28 torpedo at the warship. They scored a hit and the vessel rose some 30 degrees at the stern and sank quickly. Less than half an hour later the freighter attempted to enter the harbor and Torsk fired but missed, possibly hitting uncharted reefs. Torsk waited and another hour or so later another frigate was sighted, coming to reinforce the harbor. Torsk fired another Mark 28, having already been detected by the frigate. The order was passed to dive and rig for silent running by Commander Lewellen. She reached a depth of 400 feet, (which was getting close to as deep as subs of the era could dive) and launched another torpedo. This one was a Mark 27, able to acoustically home in on the enemy's propeller sounds. The crew heard the explosion of its impact on the frigates' hull and about a minute later, a secondary explosion and the tell tale sounds of a ship breaking up. The Torsk and her crew had proved themselves, sinking two enemy warships in one encounter. This would turn out to be the last Japanese warship sunk in the war. She was forced to dive due to patrolling enemy planes and ships, and remained submerged more than seven tense hours before surfacing and leaving the area.

Escape trunk from the Forward Torpedo room. It could hold four men at a time and was then flooded with seawater to equalize the pressure. The process was then repeated until all the submariners had abandoned ship. Sounds like fun, right?

Forward Torpedo room with six 21 inch torpedo tubes

One thing I have found amazing about subs I have been on is how busy and crammed the inside is. Everywhere you look there is machinery, bunks, gear. I can't imagine what it was like on a combat patrol with supplies and sailors everywhere. To be honest, the whole ship smelled like oil and diesel. Can you imagine what it was like with the engines on? How about with 81 dudes breathing and farting in it?

Engine room with two Fairbanks Morse diesel engines

After Torpedo room with two 21 inch torpedo tubes

BTW a torsk is a North Atlantic fish, related to the cod

(from Wikipedia)
General characteristics
Type: Diesel-electric submarine
Displacement: 1,570 tons (1,595 t) surfaced
2,416–2,429 tons (2,455–2468 t) submerged
Length: 311 ft 8 in (95.0 m)
Beam: 27 ft 3 in (8.3 m)
Draft: 17 ft (5.2 m) maximum

4 × diesel engines driving electrical generators
2 × 126-cell Sargo batteries
2 × low-speed electric motors
two propellers
5,400 shp (4.0 MW) surfaced

2,740 shp (2.0 MW) submerged
Speed: 20.25 knots (38 km/h) surfaced
8.75 knots (16 km/h) submerged
Range: 11,000 nautical miles (20,000 km) surfaced at 10 knots (19 km/h)
Endurance: 48 hours at 2 knots (3.7 km/h) submerged
75 days on patrol
Test depth: 400 ft (120 m)
Complement: 10 officers, 71 enlisted
Armament: 10 × 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes
(six forward, four aft)
28 torpedoes
1 × 5-inch (127 mm) / 25 caliber deck gun
Bofors 40 mm and Oerlikon 20 mm cannon

USS Torsk received two battle stars for its service in WWII and a Navy Commendation Medal for service during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

She set the all-time record of career dives, at 11,884.

USS Torsk, taken from the deck of USS Constellation with the National Aquarium in the background (which is also nice)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Kel Tec KSG 12 gauge

This is the new shotgun from Kel-Tec, the KSG. It is a bullpup 12 gauge shotgun with dual magazine tubes. Ever since it was announced a few months ago, I have been excited about it. The KSG manages to be as compact as legally possible with a 26.1" overall length and an 18.5" barrel. It is pretty neat design, almost revolutionary, the only other thing that is close to it is the South African Neostead.

The magazine tubes carry seven 2-3/4" or six 3" shells apiece for a total of 14+1, which is nearly ridiculous (-ly awesome). The user can switch between the tubes with a three position lever located in the area behind the trigger guard. The lever can also be set to a central detente area to allow the chamber to be emptied with the pump action without feeding a new shell from the mag tube. The pump is linked to the bolt via dual operating bars. The spent shells are ejected down through the loading port. Once the selected magazine is empty, the user must manually switch to the other tube. There is a cross bolt safety located above the pistol grip and a pump release lever at the front of the trigger guard.

The KSG comes in at 6.9lbs (unloaded I am assuming) and while that is maybe a little heavy, you will likely want that extra weight to soak up the recoil. Which I imagine will be, ummm, noticeable even with the rubber butt pad. It has a Picatinny rail along the bottom of the pump to mount a grip, light or laser and another rail on the top of the weapon for sights. As of right now, it seems it will come bare, and that is a bad decision on the part of Kel-Tec. If I buy a gun, it should come with sights. So do me a favor and throw a cheap fiber optic on there. Forward and rear sling loops are built in, and a regular sling is included. There is a cheek rest structure that also functions as a type of blast shield in case of a catastrophic failure of the chamber or barrel. And that is nice, because, you know, your face goes there.

KSG field stripped

There have been some internet rumblings about perceived shortcomings of the the design though. One thing is recoil, which in large bore bullpups can be a bit much. Another is the fact that its extremely short overall length may lead to negative views by the media, law enforcement or the States. I could easily imagine California, for example, looking on the KSG with scorn. There are also some issues with the magazine selection lever and the trigger. But keep in mind that any design takes a little while to reach maturity and this is still a new design, not yet for sale at this time.

In the pic above you can really see how much more compact the KSG is compared to a standard pump shotgun. If the design proves solid, I think it might find a lot of acceptance in the Law Enforcement and civilian areas. MSRP has not been stated, but it has been mentioned to be in the $800 US range. Hopefully that would make it about $625-675, which I think would be a good price, I would probably be willing to pay that, but they are not going to find a lot of people willing to pay $800 for a pump action 12 gauge, no matter how stumpy.

USS Constellation

USS Constellation in 1862 by Tomaso de Simone

I recently took a trip to Baltimore, Maryland and Washington D.C. and while there I went to see the USS Constellation, the last ship to fight in the Civil War still afloat. This is the second ship of the US Navy to bear the name Constellation. The first was a frigate built in 1797 and carried 38 guns and was only the second ship to be commissioned in the United States Navy. It was the first US Navy vessel to put to sea and the first US Navy vessel to engage, defeat, and capture an enemy vessel. The ship that I saw was a type known as a sloop of war and was built in 1854 in Gosport Naval Yard, Virginia.

USS Constellation

176 feet (between perpendiculars)
Beam: 40 feet, 6 inches (molded beam)
Draft: 21 feet
Displacement: 1,400 tons
Complement: 20 officers, 220 sailors, 45 marines

The Constellation served in the Mediterranean Squadron from 1855-1858 and was mostly used for diplomatic duties. In 1859 she was transferred to the USN African Squadron became its flagship. In two and a half years, she interdicted three slave ships, including the Cora, which was carrying a cargo if 705 slaves that were set free in Monrovia, Liberia.

Constellation spent most of the Civil War cruising the Mediterranean to deter Confederate commerce raiders, cruisers and blockade runners. In 1864 she was assigned to Admiral Farragut's West Gulf Blockading Squadron.

After the war, Constellation was tasked with bringing famine relief to Ireland. It then became the training ship for midshipmen from the US Naval Academy, serving as the ship for their summer training cruises. She has even been called the "Cradle of Admirals" because so many future high ranking officers served aboard her in their youth. She then became a stationary training ship for the Naval Training Center from 1894 to 1933. The Constellation was used as a relief flagship for the US Atlantic Fleet during WWII.

In its heyday around 1855, the Constellation was armed with sixteen 8 inch "Shell guns" and four 32 pounder, solid shot firing "Long Guns". A secondary battery of two 10 inch pivot guns mounted fore and aft on the spar deck. It carried five cutters and one launch with a 12 pounder howitzer. It would have also carried a large assortment of small arms, including Model 1840 and later 1860 cutlasses, boarding pikes, hatchets, and various muzzle loading pistols and long arms. These would be kept in the armory and issued out when close action was expected.

In 1862 the ship's armament was upgraded with one 30-pounder Parrott rifle at the bow and one 20-pounder Parrott rifle at the stern; also two additional 12-pounder boat howitzers were added.

One very nice thing about the Constellation is that you get to pretty much see the entire ship. Many old ship will let tourists walk on the deck and maybe in the gun deck, but the Constellation was almost completely open. Below the gun deck is the area that most of the crew would have spent their time. It was cramped and had very low ceilings, no more than 6 feet high. One could see that sharing the berthing area with 250 or so unwashed sailors off the coast of West Africa would have been pretty awful. On the other hand, the hammocks did look pretty comfy and were wider than the jungle hammock that I sleep in when I go camping. However they were hung a lot higher up. That might not sound bad, but it is said that the petty officers would cut the cords of anyone not getting up fast enough to suit them. Which would be a pretty crappy way to start your day of backbreaking labor and risking your life. I was able to go in most of the cabins, see period surgical instruments and read the large amount of placards and so forth of historical information. I was even able to go down into the hold and bilge areas (pics did not come out) which was even more cramped.

USS Constellation is the last Civil War era naval vessel still afloat and the last all sail warship built by the U.S. Navy. In 1963, the ship was preserved as a National Historical Monument the Inner Harbor of Baltimore. In 1999 a nine million dollar restoration project was completed and returned the ship's exterior to its Civil War era appearance.

USS Constellation at Pier 1, Baltimore Inner Harbor