Streetwise Professor

September 29, 2014

There’s Nothing New Under the Sun, Tumblehome Hull Edition

Filed under: Civil War,History,Military — The Professor @ 6:32 am

The US Navy’s most advanced destroyer, the USS Elmo Zumwalt, will begin sea trials next month:

The ship is plainly visible from Front Street, across the Route 1 bridge in downtown Bath. Nothing like this angular, almost hulking giant has ever been seen here, even after well over a century of shipbuilding at Bath Iron Works.

Here’s a picture of the EZ:


But I wouldn’t be so hasty as to say that the ship’s shape is unprecedented. Here’s an image of the CSS Stonewall, a ram built for the Confederacy in France (and which almost caused a major diplomatic incident between the US and Napoleon III’s France):

The Stonewall had the same basic “tumblehome” hull design as the Zumwalt does today: Who knew the French were building stealth ships in the 1860s?

A Yankee ironclad, the USS Dunderberg, also had a bit of a Zumwalt look about her:


The Dunderberg’s superstructure is more Zumwalt-like than the Stonewall’s.

Of course the purposes of the hull designs were different in the 1860s and the 2010s. The Stonewall and the Dunderberg (I can’t get over that name, by the way) were built as rams, hence their sharply angled prows. But it is interesting to see the echoes and rhymes in designs a century and a half apart.

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  1. It is interesting: this is very common in racing sailboats over the generations. Robert Fish’s UNA (a Cat rigged NY sloop from 1852 – exported to England by some Lord and probably created the sport of small boat racing at Cowes) had a bow extension. It did two things: it extended the waterline and compared to a “normal” bow had less weight in the ends. it also tended to pierce the small chop in a harbor rather than rise to it, thus increasing speed. Current racing cats – particularly non foilers like the C class Catamaran have reverted to this type of bow.

    That is the justification for the more extreme bows on much larger craft: they are Wave piercers and compared to other hull types can maintain much higher seeds in rough water with a much less violent motion.

    Comment by sotos — September 30, 2014 @ 7:10 am

  2. SWP:

    Vlad devoured Clive Cussler’s Sea Hunters over his vacation.

    Funny how our minds traverse in tandem on a wide range of subjects.

    VP VP

    Comment by Vlad — September 30, 2014 @ 5:38 pm

  3. Let’s hope this ship is more successful than the ram idea. I read an analysis once – it might have been in “The Rules of the Game” – of the results of ramming attacks in the ironclad era. Typically, it was generally worse for the rammer than the rammee.

    I’m a bit bewildered by the concept of camouflaging ships. A study was done of the effect of dazzle schemes of WW1 and WW2 and the gist of it was that they had no actual effect beyond making the crews feel unwarrantedly safer. The geometric patterns didn’t work because if the submarine looked at them through a coloured lens the patterns could be made to disappear.

    The most entertaining camouflage was probably that sported by IJN Amagi class carriers. Several of these reportedly had a fishing village painted on their flight deck. They spent so little time at sea for want of fuel oil, avgas, and pilots that this was apparently the most apt camouflage.

    Of course it wouldn’t have worked well had they ever put to sea. One imagines that from the air the wake would have rather given the game away.

    Comment by Green as Grass — October 1, 2014 @ 4:19 am

  4. @Green. That’s a riot re the Amagis.

    Re ramming during ironclad age. Mixed record. CSS Virginia sank the USS Cumberland by ramming, but suffered substantial damage that limited her maneuverability and seaworthiness in the battle against USS Monitor the next day. CSS Albemarle successfully rammed USS Southfield, but was almost dragged under. The Southfield rolled at the last minute, freeing the Albemarle. The USS Sassucus (a wooden steamer) tried to turn the tables on the Albemarle, and rammed her, but ended up tearing a huge hole in her bow: she fired her Dalhgren pivot gun through the gaping hole in a futile attempt to damage Albemarle.

    The most successful ramming attacks in the Civil War were mounted by “cotton clad” rams at the battle of Plum Point Bend on the Mississippi in 1862. Two Union “City Class” ironclads were sunk, but in shallow water, so they were raised.

    The Austrians sunk two Italian ships by ramming Battle of Lissa in 1866, and the naval world thought ramming was the wave of the future. Many rams were built in the 1870s and 1880s, but the development of the torpedo and the continued improvement of naval cannon soon made it clear that rams were a dead end.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — October 1, 2014 @ 8:12 am

  5. @Green-The Union Army (!) turned the tables on the cottonclads shortly after Plum Point Bend. One of the Ellet Rams (which were Army vessels), the Queen of the West, rammed and sank a Confederate ram at the Battle of Memphis.

    Here are some articles regarding the Battle of Memphis and Ellet’s Rams.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — October 1, 2014 @ 10:26 am

  6. this isn’t a ram – it is a wave piercing bow. Youtube some of the sailing vid on multihulls and you will see how they work. For warships, the less violent the action at speed, the less ear on crew, equipment, etc, and the longer waterline relative to deck length gives higher potential speed with less reflective topsides.

    Comment by sotos — October 1, 2014 @ 10:39 am

  7. @sotos. Link?

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — October 1, 2014 @ 2:27 pm

  8. Prof

    Thanks for the links, I shall peruse. If you are interested in ironclad warfare, you will probably enjoy this:

    The author starts with the opening moves of the battle of Jutland then, at a crucial moment, stops the narrative, goes back 40 years and spends the next 250-odd pages explaining what was about to happen next. The gist of it is that the way you got to become a flag officer in the RN of WW1 was to have served aboard the royal yacht in about 1890. He then takes you back to May 31 1916, and continues the historical account.

    It is something of a narrative tour de force. One is forced to agree with him that Beatty’s squadron was probably the worst formation the Royal Navy ever deployed.

    It is eternally interesting how and why military professionals misapprehend the potential of weapons. At various times there has been a remarkable body of support for some very odd views. Commanders have thought rams were a good idea; that battlecruisers were a good idea; that bombers could win wars alone; that submarine torpedoes a mortal danger to battleships in WW1 (eg Jutland), but that aircraft torpedoes were not especially dangerous to battleships in WW2; that Q ships were effective and convoys weren’t; the RAF and Luftwaffe both had radar and both thought that the other did not; that cavalry was useful after the machine gun; Leslie McNair thought in 1944 that the Sherman was best tank in the world and further thought that the Germans agreed with him; and so on.

    It is not just a problem of lay people’s difficulty trying to grasp new military technology and its implications. The UK’s Chief Scientist, Lord Cherwell, was a “rocket denier” who insisted Germany had no ballistic missiles *after* V2s had started falling on London.

    There is probably a book’s worth in there for someone, like that bloke who wrote about the battle of Britain from a management consultant’s perspective.

    Comment by Green as Grass — October 2, 2014 @ 5:48 am


    Comment by Sotos — October 2, 2014 @ 7:48 am

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