Thursday, August 20, 2009

Yesterday's Tech Revolutions: Galleasses

English galleass Hart, 1546

Naval planners in the early 16th century had a problem. None of them knew that they were 'naval planners,' but that was not a problem. They knew their assignment: To build warships for the King of England, or the Most Serene Republic of Venice, or at any rate for someone. Their problem was that that some years earlier the French had applied bell making technology to heavy guns, with spectacular results.

The new generation of artillery, bronze muzzle-loading cannons and culverins, were lighter than conventional bombards, safer and more reliable, and immensely more powerful. On land they rendered all existing fortifications obsolete and brought about a new type of fort, the trace italienne, built low and massive behind a ditch – the prototype of 18th century Vauban forts, and ultimately of fortifications up to and including present day firebases.

At sea the new heavy guns were equally problematic. Medieval naval warfare followed a combined arms doctrine, a mix of slow but sturdy and high-built round ships, similar to large transports and functioning as mobile castles, and faster, low-built rowing ships, galleys and smaller 'barges,' that served roughly as seagoing cavalry. The rowing ships had offensive punch (including putting troops ashore), while the big round ships provided defensive strength and logistic support.

Both types could be adapted to carry heavy guns. Galleys carried them above the prow, 'keel mounted,' serving as a super-ram or (more often in practice) to give a blast at 'cloth burning range' across the deck of an enemy ship just before boarding it. Lofty round ships were suddenly far more vulnerable to direct galley attack. Soon after 1500 a partial solution was found: The big ships could also carry heavy guns mounted on the lower decks, positioned to provide all-round defensive fire (though firing directly forward remained a problem). Henry VIII's Mary Rose, build in 1509, sunk in 1545, and recovered from the seabed of Portsmouth in 1982, was an early example of the type.

Mounting a dozen or so bronze great-guns aboard a carrack was very expensive, and while the resulting ship could stand up to galley attack it was inflexible and could not take the initiative against much more maneuverable galleys. Planners looked for alternative ways to bring heavy guns into play at sea, and hit on a couple of related solutions. The ship pictured above, the English 'galleass' Hart, built in 1546 – by no accident soon after the loss of the Mary Rose – was one of them.

In overall design Hart, like her near-sisters Tiger, Bull, and Antelope, is a fairly large sailing ship, with four masts as was common at the time, but longer and narrower than usual and without the lofty fighting 'castles' fore and aft. Her relatively cut-down prow allows her to carry heavy guns firing forward over her galley-style beak, and she carries a row of medium-caliber guns along the broadside of her upper deck above oar ports on her lower deck.

Her mission was to serve as an anti-galley escort. Though slower than the French galleys she was intended to fight she could at least force them back with her heavy bow guns. And if the galleys swarmed in, even though she lacked the high fighting castles of conventional big ships her powerful secondary armament could give them a very hot reception.

These 'galleasses' performed very well in skirmishes against galley squadrons. The Venetians, about the same time, built galleasses of quite different design (oversized galleys, converted from merchant galley hulls) but similar mission, and they did an impressive job of shooting up Turkish galleys in the opening stages of the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. The Venetian galleass type is the one usually mentioned in modern books, though it turned out to be a dead end largely because of geostrategic developments that sidelined the Mediterranean in the 17th century.

Galleasses of the English type, however, had a big future ahead of them – and not one their designers originally had in mind. Probably they were not an English invention, most likely originating in Spain or Portugal, though Henry VIII built one big ship of the type, called simply the Great Galley, as early as 1515. Though effective against galleys they were pigs under oar-power – but swans under sail. And their broadside secondary armament, intended for defense against swarming galleys, turned out to be highly effective in offense.

So larger versions abandoned the lower-deck oars, replacing them with more broadside guns, until the secondary armament became the main armament. This variant type got a variant name, galleon, and ended up as the ancestor of the classic broadside-armed sailing man-of-war. (Some smaller models retained oars well into the 18th century – in an unusual Hollywood concession to accuracy the Black Pearl in 'Pirates of the Caribbean' is fitted for sweeps, as was Captain Kidd's rather similar ship, Adventure Galley.)

No, I am not recommending space galleasses for your constellations of combat spacecraft, though aerial galleasses might fit nicely into those flying-ship settings for graphic novels. But the evolution of the galleass, from anti-galley ship to the ancestor of the frigate and two-decker, is a good example of the impact of changing technology and requirements. Space warcraft of a future era may well develop over time in a comparable way, designed initially for one mission and gradually tranformed to perform a very different one involving different primary weapons and tactics.

This blog has a known weakness for the 16th century, particularly its women, real or fictitious.


Citizen Joe said...

All spacecraft have been mission specific and evolve to address new data and technologies. In that aspect the Galleas represents the paradigm shift from one accepted technique to the next.

Carla said...

Fascinating stuff. Do you know where the names galleass and galleon came from, by any chance? Clearly derived from galley in some way, but do the suffixes mean something in naval terms?

Rick said...

Citizen Joe - Yes. People in the early 16th century assumed that 'battles of the future' would be fought essentially as in the past, but with a lot more gunfire in the opening rounds, that might sometimes prove decisive. It took time and combat experience to discover that the new technology called for entirely new tactics including a new arrangement of armament (elevating the previous secondary armament to a primary role).

Carla - Both words are indeed derived from 'galley,' but the suffixes don't seem to have any special naval meaning. Galeazzo in Italian seems to have meant a large galley (and is also a personal name), but the situation is hazier for galeone (or galeon in Spanish), which seems to have a less fixed initial meaning.

Ship terms have a way of changing meaning over time. In the 16th century a fregata was a small oared dispatch boat, in the 18th century a large sailing man-of-war, and today a naval ocean escort smaller than a destroyer. (But in the 50s and 60s USN frigates were bigger than destroyers, and later reclassified as cruisers.) Even sailors must have used some guesswork in saying 'that is a galleass' or 'that is a galleon.'

Anonymous said...

Ah, a historical analogy used to illistrate how technology has a way of evolving in ways unexpected by even those who invent or develop it! The original space capsules had only one purpose...getting a couple of people into and out of orbit...then they evolved into carrying people to the moon and back, or carrying cargo into orbit...the shuttle was the first spacecraft to be designed as a general purpose transport...I'm sure that sometime in the near future, someone will design a multipurpose interplanetary spacecraft that will evolve into who-knows-what deep-space vehicles.


Citizen Joe said...

I think that it is a useful tool for speculative fiction as well. Story wise, sometimes weird technologies are needed to may the plot go. If you can hit the key points to link current technology to the future tech, that goes a long way to supporting the suspension of disbelief.

Personally, I would love to see a few chapters in the back of a scifi novel that describes the history of some of the gizmos they use in common place during the story. Maybe put endnotes in or something. Another technique would be interspersing technical readouts between story chapters.

Rick said...

Exactamundo to both comments. Major tech revolutions are full of unexpected uses of new technology - the outstanding modern example is the Internet, which has amazingly little relationship to anything that people in the 60s thought of 'future computers' as doing.

The galleass was a technology developed to solve one set of problems, but it turned out to have totally unexpected capabilities, and so evolved in ways that surely would have surprised the first generation of designers and users.

In my Human Sphere setting (currently on the back burner), large interstellar warcraft are still called 'survey ships' because of their technological ancestry in exploratory craft that had launching and control facilities for probes, which proved readily adaptable to missiles.

H said...

I liked the post.

It´s interesting how most technologies begin with one use and end being used in a diferent way than what was initially intended.

As an analogy, something similar may be happening today with frigates (or destroyers) becoming the main combat vessel in most navies, or with figther-bombers being the only combat aircraft in most airforces.
However at the same time we have an increasing number of non-combat heavily specialized military ships or aircraft.

Jean-Remy said...

Rick said: "Yes. People in the early 16th century assumed that 'battles of the future' would be fought essentially as in the past..."

We are always fighting the last war, and that for one good reason: until a new technology is actually battle-tested, we have NO idea how it will hold up on the field of battle. Oddly enough, there's always someone who actually has the foresight to see what the hidden potential of those new technologies are. They are rarely listened to, and when they are, it is the enemy that listens best.

The US army refused to adopt the Henry repeating rifle. Custer discovered that Sitting Bull understood its value. General De Gaulle envisioned a greater role for the tank. The French did not listen, but German General Guderian did. Admiral Nimitz understood the carrier would change naval warfare, but the US navy was still in love with the battleship. Admiral Yamamoto lead the assault on Pearl Harbor with his carrier and sank most of the battleships at anchor.

One last one.

" would have a ship sail against the wind, and against the current by lighting a bonfire under her deck? I have no time for such nonsense..."
- Napoleon Bonaparte.

Yes, Napoleon was offered the plans for the first steam-powered vessel. He refused it.

Biting ironies such as this is what history is made of. I doubt it is going to be any different... IN SPACE!

Rick said...

I'm quite sure it will be NO different in space!

And for some of these cases the doubts were not unjustified. I doubt that steam technology of the time could have built Napoleon a really viable warship ... and if it did, Britain would quickly have built more of them. (Which was more or less what happened with Napoleon III and the ironclad.)

Rick said...

Forgot to add re qwert's comment, an upcoming post will deal with the flip side situation, new concepts implemented with established technology.

Jean-Remy said...

Well the point is that doubt is never unjustified. Those are always new technologies, and armies, because of their necessarily hierarchical nature, are generally conservative and resistant to change. The victorious armies even more so: hey we won LAST time with those! The generals offered the new guns were the captains who used the old guns. They understand the old ones, they don't understand the new ones.

That has hardly changed. The US navy is currently in love with Supercarriers. Most other naval forces are concentrating on low-profile missile cruisers.

One wonders...

P.S. Actually Napoleon III had a great new weapon, which he was very enthusiastic about: Joseph Montigny's Mitrailleuse machine-gun, a 37-barreled breech-loading gun reminiscent of the Gatling and capable of firing 444 rounds a minute.

It was fielded by poorly-trained men.

As an artillery piece...

You just can't win.

H said...

Yes, it usually takes time until the best way to use a new technology is discovered and warfare offers a lot of wery dramatic examples of this.
During WWI tanks were designed and built with the idea of supporting infantry operations rather than leading assaults. This was the reason why most allied powers essentially used them in the same way during the begining of WWII.

However I think its fair to say that you can not tell how the future is going to come out and the past usually offers the best experience. That´s the reason why most weapon systems being researched today are already obsoleted by current warfare.
(think of the F-22, stealth ships, or the Eurofigther Typhoon)

About the ship names:
In spanish, ending a word with on usually means a bigger than usual thing. So "galeĆ³n" may simply mean bigger galley ("galera") in spanish.

Anonymous said...

Both warships and combat aircraft are expensive; purchasing multirole combat platforms only makes sense, you fill all the needed missions with one package. I don't see combat spacecraft being any different. The subject of support craft, however, isn't about an all-round-pretty-good system, but something that can do it's job (a very specific job) as well as can be made to do so; one really good dedicated tanker can service several warplanes a day; one dedicated electronics ship can support an entire taskforce; specializing support craft means you can have less of each kind to support each mission; multirole combat ships and planes means that you can purchase more and still cover all possibilities instead of having a small number of very expensive specialized units; large numbers of multirole units means that while each one can do all the missions needed, it isn't the best at any one; however, you can detail several to each situation, instead of one or two. I see combat spacecraft as evolving in a simular manner.


H said...

Well, if you look a bit to past developments, it seems that most new systems star with a specific purpose. Then some of these becomes with time more effective and is able to replace others which it was supposed to suplement.

In the case of space warfare something similar may happen. You start with satelites for specific tasks like reconaissance, surface bombing or missile defnese. Then new antisatelite-satelites are developed in order to counter these first ones.
Finally you only have one tipe of combat satelite which is capable of striking both, missiles and other satelites as well as launch attacks against the surface.

Rick said...

Jean - I've read about the Mitrailleuse, and have also wondered about the USN's devotion to supercarriers. (Not to mention the whole phenomenon of fighter jock culture regarding manned aircraft v drones.)

Also, we (naturally) write history backwards, so to speak, and thus focus on the brilliant ideas that were not adopted, rather than the ones that were adopted, or for that matter the bad ideas that were.

But one familiar example of the latter is the Germans and the V-2. They spent Manhattan Project equivalent money on something that was technologically brilliant but almost completely ineffective as a weapon. If the Nazis hadn't despised 'Jewish physics' there might have been a very different story.

qwert - 'Bigger galley' would make sense in terms of the original conception, and fits with the Italian equivalent word. These were probably an Iberian development, though their early history is very obscure.

Ferrell - If anything, combat spacecraft will be even more so, very expensive, imposing tough choices on designers and policymakers when it comes to specialized versus multi-mission vehicles.

Your observations also put me in mind of Clarke's classic story 'Superiority.'

Rick said...

qwert (crosspost as I was replying) - The development sequence you outline seems entirely likely!

Jean-Remy said...

We're already talking about weaponizing space!

In a twisted rebirth of the "Star Wars" project, the infamous "Rods From God" project would consist of orbiting a kinetic bombardment platform. In a fantastic demonstration of hypocrisy, the US could be planning to circumvent its own SALT accords in order to place nuclear-yield, if not nuclear-armed, weapons in orbit.

Talk about following the letter of the law while crushing its spirit.

If such a project was ever implemented we'd see a rapid evolution of anti-satellite weaponry, either ground or satellite based.

How the release of such a weapon could be viewed as anything other than a nuclear-type first strike and therefore not cause an escalation is another wall-banger.

Things like that are proof that yes, yes we will bring war with us to space.

Specialization v. multi-mission: The B2 bomber is very much a specialized vehicle, and at 2 billion dollar a piece we've proven that just because a weapon is ridiculously expensive (and of doubtful use even in its special niche) it doesn't mean that it won't be built. Military organizations are not concerned about profitability, so assigning straight economic reasons for not building a weapon are just willful blindness. For a quick comparison: a B2 bomber costs 2 billion. A supercarrier costs 5 billion, so a B2 costs nearly half a carrier!

Speaking of supercarriers: despite their 5 billion individual cost, and the fact that there are 8 currently operational (that's 8 more than anyone else who even *has* a carrier) we are still building more.

The weapons we develop in space are not going to be limited by unit cost. They're going to be motivated by political factors, from the personal tastes of the generals in charge of budget to the decisions of Senators under whose jurisdiction falls the employees of the arms developer.

It won't matter if a single-role battleship costs 10 billion dollars while a dozen multi-role frigates come to a total of 5, in a system of "battleship mentality" the battleship is built.

Anonymous said...

"...The weapons we develop in space are not going to be limited by unit cost. They're going to be motivated by political factors, from the personal tastes of the generals in charge of budget to the decisions of Senators under whose jurisdiction falls the employees of the arms developer.

It won't matter if a single-role battleship costs 10 billion dollars while a dozen multi-role frigates come to a total of 5, in a system of "battleship mentality" the battleship is built..."
Jean, I'm afraid that you're right...politics DOES trump millitary necessity...but only for so long (it quickly changes after the first defeat...)


H said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
H said...

I doubt that the "Rods of God" will be build in the near future. The costs involved are too big and its utility is dubious. There doesn´t seem to exist the political will for it neither.

I don´t thing that more supecarriers are necesary, however i dont think they are useless neither. They provide for excelent mobile forward operating bases for strike aircraft, which in turn allows for shorter reaction times. Excellent for targets which tend to hide quickly. And they aren´t an easy target for terrorists (as long as the carrier stays on high sea).
Other navies (notably France and UK) are also considering to build their own supercarriers.

As a sidenote: The inmense cost of a single B2 is mostly because of the huge research costs and the small number of untis build. The cost of a single new B" is more like $500million (still huge for n aircraft)

You are forgeting one of the main reasons why politicians support certain systems over others: Its the number of jobs it will create in the country, state or city they represent. Now how usefull each taxpayer dollar is (after all most taxpayer live outside your territory, they could well subsidize your ellection).

Jean-Remy said...

"Other navies (notably France and UK) are also considering to build their own supercarriers."

Significant (displacement > 40,000 t) carriers currently in service:

France: Charles De Gaulle 42,000 tonnes, nuclear.

Russia: Admiral Kuznetsov 67,500 tonnes. non-nuclear.

U.S.A: Enterprise 93,500 tonnes, nuclear.

10 Nimitz-class 101,000 tonnes, nuclear.

Other nations, including Great Britain, Spain, Italy and India, use 15-30,000-tonne range V/STOL carriers and assault ships. Brazil purchased the 32,500 tonnes French carrier Foch

In planning/contruction.

China: Kuznetsov-class carrier, purchased through front company as a "casino", currently under refit bearing PLAN colors.

France: 65-74,000 tonnes, non-nuclear (on hold)

India: Virkant-class 40,000 tonnes.

Russia: Undefined plans but up to 6, 50,000 tonnes.

Great Britain: Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales 65,000 tonnes, non-nuclear.

U.S.A: Development of Gerald Ford-class, 100,000 tonnes, nuclear (under debate.)

Even looking at future international carrier and supercarrier development, the number of units operated by the U.S Navy far outstrips not only individual navies (including allies) but all other navies combined, in numbers alone. In terms of tonnage, the discrepancy is even greater.

Anonymous said...

qwert, you're right about the motives of politicians: "...You are forgeting one of the main reasons why politicians support certain systems over others: Its the number of jobs it will create in the country, state or city they represent. Now how usefull each taxpayer dollar is (after all most taxpayer live outside your territory, they could well subsidize your ellection)."

However, even the most craven of career politicians would think twice about supporting a system or program that failed in can't get reelected by associating yourself with something that gets the voters' children killed...

Rick said...

Jean - I'll quibble that 'Rods from Gods' won't have anything like nuclear yield unless they are Really Huge rods. A one ton impactor hitting at orbital velocity has kinetic energy equal to about 7 tons of TNT.

That said, the idea is abysmally stupid - it is the US interest, as the leading spacefaring power, to forestall weaponization of space as long as possible, not hasten it along.

qwert - The USN carrier force does indeed make sense given a) the technology of the last 60 years, and b) the hegemonic maritime role the US has been in a position to exert. The carriers are intended not primarily to fight other navies but to 'project' power.

The next 25 years are likely to be another matter, as manned attack aircraft become obsolescent, and as emergent Great Powers - China, India, potentially the EU - make hegemony unsustainable.

The US interest (IMHO) is to foster as much as possible a 'concert' of Great Powers. If there's anything to the democratic peace theory, and I think there is, relations among the US, India, and EU should be essentially good. China is authoritarian and Russia is demi-authoritarian, which makes relations more guarded, but there's no inherent reason for them to be rivals/enemies. In the postindustrial age all Great Powers have an inherent primary interest in a stable world.

Ferrell - Yep, domestic politics, jobs and also nationalistic pandering, play a huge role in determining military procurement.

Viewed on one level the 1960s space race was silly, but on another level it was an effective form of chest beating that was not overtly military. In that respect you could say that going to Mars does two useful things for the US - it allows us to do the We're Number One end zone dance, and do it in a way that does not threaten people.

Anonymous said...

Erick is the best!!


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