Bagpipes and Boomers and Beer, oh my! 7

Holy Loch Scotland

One of the saddest days of my life was the day we left Dunoon Scotland and the Holy Loch so many years ago. It was 1991, our tour was shortened by the end of the Cold War drawdown and I was headed to a tour as M Division officer on the Hunley. But we packed a lot into that short tour of fourteen months.

We arrived at the end of summer in 1990 to take over the duties on the USS Los Alamos AFDB 7 as the Docking and Repair Officer. The Los Alamos was one of the best investments ever made in Naval history. It was originally designed as a seven section floating dry-dock. Both seven and ten section dry-docks were built  to be big enough to be transported to a forward base in the Pacific and provide forward repair services for ships as large as the Iowa class battleship or a host of smaller ships. At that time, it was a huge savings of time and battle resources since it meant that damaged ships would no longer have to take the slow and perilous journey back to Pearl Harbor or the west coast ship repair facilities.

After the war, the AFDB 7 was broken down into sections and towed to its berth in Florida where it would sit waiting for another mission. That mission came when the Polaris program was born and the need for overseas bases became critical. The range of the missiles on the early boat was fairly limited so they would lose precious time transiting from US bases on their way to the patrol areas. The waters in Holy Loch Scotland were determined to be deep enough and easy enough to protect if need be so she was one of the sites chose to support the boomers.

I have a cruise book from the Los Alamos that one of my guys put together and it chronicles the way the LA was reassembled once she arrived in Holy Loch. The original design was devilishly simple. The walls of the dock were laid flat on the deck of the individual barges. You used giant jacking devices to put them upright and then connect all the piping and electrical connections. The berthing and machinery spaces (plus the galley) were housed in the individual barges and all of those were connected together as well.

When the LA was originally designed, she was a seven section drydock. The engineers determined that in order to dock a Polaris submarine, you only needed four sections. A couple of cranes, some upper level repairs and an overhaul every few years kept her running smoothly for over thirty years.

In between dockings, the crew spent a lot of time in the wee town of Dunoon Scotland. Over the years, Dunoon had adapted herself well to the visitors. The sailors from the submarine tenders, the boat ops gangs and the visiting bubbleheads kept an awful lot of people employed for many years. It was rumored that there were more taxi’s concentrated in Dunoon than in any other location in Scotland but you know who rumors are. One thing is for certain was the number of pubs. I had heard of the infamous Pub Crawls before but walking up and down the main streets of Dunoon, you could almost feel the souls of all the past crawlers making their way up and down the way.

One of my favorite memories however was the Annual Cowal Highland Games. Can you possibly imagine 150 bagpipe bands gathering in one field (often over 3000 pipers) and playing amazing grace? The whole day was exciting with athletics and dance competitions rounding out the group and solo pipes contests.

Like all good things, our tour came to an end much too soon. Dunoon still hosts the games each year (this one is coming up soon from the 25th to the 27th of August).  My dream is to go back once more before I do my final checkout.  I would highly recommend the same for you!

Haste ye back

The Anchor’s Missing Sir 3

Anchors Aweigh is described as the response to the order to weigh anchor when the anchor has been tripped and is no longer attached to the bottom.

I am unaware of there is an official response if the anchor is no longer attached to the ship. A number of four letter expletives come to mind, but people of many ages and sensitivities read the blog so I will allow the reader to use their imagination and fill in those blanks.


A submarine is best employed when it is underway. Sitting next to a pier, it is relatively helpless except for the shutdown duty crew that can shut the hatches and button up in signs of trouble. A submarine at anchor is also an abnormal condition and one that is fraught with potential adventures.

Riding high 2

Thinking back, it was pretty rare for any of the boats I rode to sit at anchor and the one time that the San Francisco used hers off the coast of Maui, it didn’t turn out so well. We were stationed at Pearl Harbor at the time and had been on a special operation. Towards the end of the run, the Captain announced that we were going to do a port call in Maui before returning home and that the wives had been notified that they could join us there and return home on the boat.

Romantic Maui

That was a pretty exciting thing for the families that would be joining us. Not only would we get a few days together in romantic Maui, but they would get a ride on board the boat including a submerged run. So all the plans were made and the only detail that needed to be attended to was the place where we would anchor.

D _ 711 Homeward bound

As the old whaling ship masters could tell you, the sea around Maui is relatively calm but the wave swells are long and fairly strong.

I can imagine that they would want to securely fasten their anchor so that their ships would not drift into the shore or into a nearby ship. Anchoring is definitely an art and I suppose submarines don’t get a chance to practice it as much as other types of ships. The other disadvantage an old school 688 has is that its hull is mainly submerged even on the surface so underwater swells and currents will have a pretty strong effect on her.

The big day arrived and we anchored within sight of the island. The small boats took those of us lucky enough to have someone waiting for us to the nearby shore. Maui is a very nice vacation spot and the people are friendly and hospitable. The hotels are a fresh change from being stuck inside a berthing area with a lot of other guys and frankly that first real shower is one of the best feelings you can ever experience after those abbreviated submarine showers.


My wife and I had a great meal and then headed back to our hotel to get reacquainted after not seeing each other for too long. It was early in the evening and we were about to settle in when that one noise you never want to hear at a hotel in Maui with your bride occurred. A knock on the door. Then a more insistent knock on the door. I suppose we could have just ignored it but the sailor in me knew I had to answer it. Of course it was one of my shipmates in uniform who told me that I had to report back to the boat immediately. The anchor had broken free of its chain and the boat was slowly making big circles off the coast. The crew that was left on board was missing a few key people and one of those was Chief of the Watch.

Suddenly that decision to become the first second class petty officer to qualify as COW on board the 711 boat seemed like not such a great idea. The crew member that found me told me that all of the other people qualified to stand the watch were no where to be found. That left me and the one guy already on board to man the station until the next day when we were scheduled to depart. The fact that we had already paid for the room and my wife would have to stay on shore until the next day by herself became inconsequential.

So I headed back to the boat and shared the next twelve hours with my comrades while we gracefully sailed off the coast in very large circles.

711 Chief Of the Watch 1983

It ended well since we picked up the wives and headed to Pearl the next day. My wife even got to help me initiate an emergency blow which was quite a thrill (for both of us since she did the aft group first and then froze because of the noise it created!).


The thing I have thought about since then is how important it is to have the right anchor for the right situation. As a kid, I remember my Dad teaching me how to anchor the houseboat on the Monongahela so that it would stay in one place despite the currents. Its definitely a skill because doing it incorrectly would allow the boat to swing port or starboard with sometimes unexpected results.

With the situation in this country right now, I really thing we have either lost our anchor or are about to. All the change we were told was coming was nothing more than swinging wildly on the anchor chain and unfortunately the results are exactly what you would expect. At a time where we need some stability, you have people who have no clue about the proper way to use an anchor at the helm. Frankly I am not sure they know how to pilot the ship either but that’s for another day.

My hope is that we finally get some leadership back up on the bridge before its too late. In the meantime, let’s hope we don’t lose the anchor completely.

Mister Mac

2016 Update: When I wrote this, the country was in need of great leadership. I was thinking this morning, we need it now more than then.

The Common Thread Reply

I was about five years old when the work was started that created the Polaris Missile Submarine Program. If you think about the complexities of that time frame, there were six distinct challenges facing the Navy and their civilian counterparts. Despite the advent of nuclear power, the systems that needed to be created were all just unmet goals when the program was put into motion. The challenges of meeting so many technological advances at the same time must have been a true test of the engineers and technicians assigned to the work. The whole program had to be constructed and delivered so that a working solution could be in place in less than four years.

Rear Admiral Rayborn and Admiral Burke

First, the missile itself. Up until that point liquid-fueled missiles were the only option so a solid fuel rocket option needed to be developed. There was an effort to create such a rocket for the ICBM land based missiles, but it was not yet perfected. A combination of work from the Lockheed corporation and Aerojet General resulted in the successful creation of a solution. On the 20th of July 1960 the first missile was fired from the submerged USS George Washington SSBN 598.


Missile guidance guidance was also an unknown factor and new developments were needed to accurately deliver a missile downrange. SO General Electric and MIT worked together to develop miniaturized inertial components that could be used to put the missile on target.


The complexity of navigation and estimated range to a particular target required an accurate system of determining where the boat was at any given time. If you think about it, you have a moving submarine that is constantly changing its position. You have to be able to somehow tell the missile where it is and where it needs to go and have that message updated to a very fine point of accuracy. Granted, if you are delivering a nuclear weapon, it will probably have a rather large footprint, but the accuracy of delivery does give some options to limit civilian casualties.

The fire control system and the launcher both presented their own unique challenges. Again, a missile being fired from below the surface of the sea (without destroying the submarine in its path) had never been done before. Prior to this program, ships like the Halibut could fire early cruise missiles but they needed to be on the surface.


Finally the submarine itself needed to be able to adapt to the weapon’s firing capabilities. If you launch a missile, the submarine suddenly has a completely different displacement which could result in an unplanned depth excursion. Plus, in order not to show the enemy where the boat was with any certainty, the ability to rapidly fire the missiles needed to be compensated for.

Silouette of 598

All of the various forces, combined with the crews that pioneered the boat’s operations proved that with the right common thread, a project as immense and strategically important could be put together in a relatively compact time period. The common thread was a projected threat that the Soviets had initiated with their land based weapons systems and their displayed arrogance towards national sovereignty.


The question in today’s environment is this: will we still have the ability and the will to find that common thread for the next threat? If history is any judge, there will be a next threat. We will need to continue to maintain our technological edge in the world if we are to be ready to face it when it fully appears. The shear weight of that potential threat demands it.


Washington Patch

Follow the leader 2

All of us remember that children’s game called follow the leader. Someone played the role as leader and of course everyone else had to follow their lead. During the Cold War the Soviets played this game and played it fairly well. The submarines they developed always seemed to be strikingly familiar with the boats we were putting to sea. Based on the number of high visibility incidents they had, its debatable whether or not their quality was quite to our standards but that has always been a hallmark of American shipbuilding.


I remember the end of the Cold War and had a strange feeling about the desire of some of the nation’s leaders to disarm us. Frankly I think the “surplus” that keeps getting credited to Bill Clinton was significantly enhanced by the drawdown and slowdown on ship building and development (not to mention the other savings in defense spending).

In the past few years however, China is starting to emerge as the new dragon on the horizon.  While they may be far away from gaining parity in the traditional sense, they are well aware of our reliance on technology in both weapons systems as well as general sea command. The capability of our ships and submarines are the results of years of learning and continuous improvement. But the ability to respond and respond quickly will be limited as the numbers of subs and ships continues to shrink.

Victor III

When America has faced threats in the past, the enemy was always separated by oceans and technological limitations of that particular age. Those of us who were Cold Warriors saw firsthand though that a dedicated foe could threaten the homeland even with technologies that were not as capable as ours.


The oceans that used to protect us now offer a greater threat than ever before. A ballistic missile submarine within range of our major population centers brings with it a threat that there is little defense for. Is it any wonder that that capability is high on the list of the Chinese military?

Nimitz Flyover

Even our mighty carrier fleet would be subject to the new type of weaponry that the Chinese are creating. If they were able to flood the immediate combat area with ship killing missiles, how capable are our defenses? How long would a traditional battle group be able to survive in an atmosphere where EMP and other forces which we may not even know about become the dominating force?


No, the modern nuclear submarine will be the most sustainable weapon of defense in the foreseeable future. The ocean still makes up 75 % of the earth’s surface and our ability to protect shipping in all sea lanes still represents our status as a world power. Four generations of my family have served to preserve that status and hopefully many generations to come.

The economic situation we find ourselves in is a problem but being subservient to any world power will be much more problematic. Continued investment in submarines and the technology they represent is vital to our future. In the end, they may be the last line of defense that allows us to freely fly the American flag anywhere, anytime and any way we choose. Other wise, we will be doing nothing more someday than Following the Leader.


Torpedo in the water! Reply

“Conn sonar, Torpedo in the water bearing Mark 140 degrees”

Conn Aye, Chief of the Watch, sound battle stations, Diving Officer Commence Emergency Evasion Maneuvers”

“Conn sonar, the weapon has acquisition, estimated time to impact is twenty seconds”

“Diving Officer, emergency deep”

SSN 612

Anyone who has ever watched “Hunt for Red October” (and I know most of you have) has had some idea of the tension that passes through a control room (and the ship) as a submarine responds to this particular event.

I was very fortunate that in all my years, I never had an actual attack, but be assured that we drilled for them pretty regularly. The idea was to practice all of the skills needed to survive a life threatening event that would make a quick end to the submarine and all who rode in her. There is nothing more time-stopping than when this is done on a mid-watch when everybody is settled into a rather boring routine. Frankly, I think it’s the best time to drill but I say that from a position of being retired.

If you think about the balance of communication and actions in this scenario, you can understand why I often say that submarining and lean are similar in their success driven actions. The right communications and the right actions at the right time are essential in survival. Having anything out of sequence in a submarine could prove instantly catastrophic, The time line might be longer for a lean event, but the general end outcome could be pretty significant.

The first event that happens is identifying the problem (Sonar). They need to accurately describe the problem to the Conning Officer so that he (or she) can then decide the most immediate response to the newly identified problem. The Officer of the Deck then relays his reaction/decision to the Diving Officer and his team. In another part of the ship, the engineers are also responding to the change in circumstances based on communications and previously trained reactions.

All the while, other support communications are pouring back into the Officer of the Deck’s station (feedback loop). He (or she) adjusts their next actions based on the immediate observations from the evasive activities that are underway. The end goal is to live to fight another day.

I have worked in a number of factories where this type of communication has made a difference in helping them to meet their Key Performance Actions. The proper flow of information is absolutely vital in any organization where work flow crosses physical and information related barriers. If the receiving group is not aware of an immediate need for a particular component, waste is driven into the process (waiting or in some cases inventory piling up in the wrong place).

If the workers see problems but know that their team is not empowered to address them, they are reliant on middle managers to solve them. If the middle managers are not in a position to “see” the problem or are not capable of communicating within their system, the interactions will slow down the process and create pockets of inventory and more waiting. The results will be decreased levels in your Key Performance Indicators (KPI) and added cost to making your product or delivering your service.

Submariners practice the “what if” scenarios all the time in order to be able to respond to things that may occur. I am sorry to say that almost no modern factory I have been in will allow itself to be proactive enough to even approach this idea. Instead, most that are not lean merely react and force their people to do Non Value Added work to contain and overcome the problem.

Better communications will help teams to react when the unexpected occurs. Understanding why the unexpected occurs and being proactive about setting coutermeasures in place will help to shorten the gap between the event and return to normal.

We seem to be stuck. Reply

No matter what endeavor you are undertaking, these are words you really don’t want to hear.

Anyone who follows submarine history at all can tell you about one of the most famous groundings in modern history. A Soviet era submarine (Classified Whiskey Class by NATO) found herself on the rocks near the largest Swedish Navy base on October 27, 1981. She found herself no only on the rocks but on the front pages of every newspaper in the free world.


Now it should come as no surprise to anyone that there was probably some amount of espionage going on at the time but the resulting drama certainly left a black mark on the Soviet Submarine Service. Frankly, it was not a good thing to get caught, but much worse to get stuck and need interventions.

Some things to think about. Do you think the submarine had a plan before it left port? Was the equipment designed to support the operation it was assigned to? What could have been different about the crew? Did the environment itself play a role? I can assure you from my limited experience, I don’t think any boat I ever served in left port without all of these in place and a lot more. Yet from time to time things happen you didn’t or couldn’t prepare for.

For those of us who have ever found ourselves “stuck” during the middle of a lean implementation, believe me when I say that the spotlight is harsh and unpleasant. Those who are responsible quickly find out who their supporters and who their detractors are. People often say that success has many parents but failure is an orphan. What should you do if you find yourself in this position?

Probably, the program started out with a lot of fanfare. Announcements were made, key individuals were photographed and published in all of the newsletters. Everything at the start is shiny and new and filled with the promise of what can be. Then, either quietly or with a loud bang, you find the program literally stuck on the rocks. Now what?

First, don’t panic. It is not the first time a major initiative has gotten stuck and it won’t be the last time. For now, just recognize that it is only one place on the timeline and does not have to indicate the end. You should act with a sense of urgency, but don’t let that urgency cancel out your sense of commitment to finding the immediate root cause. Gather the facts as you know them and then gather the key stakeholders.

Those facts will be assembled in a way for the stakeholders to help drive to the real root cause. I normally use an Ishikawa (fishbone) approach since it seems to help visualize the problem much more efficiently. Manpower, methods, machinery, materials and environment are typically the starting point for most session. You can change the categories to encompass the situation but at the completion you should have visualized where the problem is most likely to have started.

Once you have that problem isolated, there are decisions that must be made by the stakeholders. Do you stop and declare victory where you are? Do you put things on hold until another time? Or do you look at your original reason for starting and determine what ended up being missed in the leadership vision or plan?

Experience has shown that there will be times in the implementation where things will go soft for a while. Unless you have someone who has the strength of ten thousand, the leaders of the program will end up losing the vision of the big picture. The way to defeat that is to create a plan that includes stakeholder re-commitment at planned intervals. Since a lean journey can take years if it is done with the methods commonly accepted, that refreshing of commitment may be the best way to maintain the  forward progress.

The session should include a recognition of victories and things that still need work. It should include a review of where the original mark was set and a determination of the relevancy of that goal. Capture the changes in environment to see what may be important to future success. But in all these, be honest with yourself and with your stakeholders. Putting a pretty picture on a garbage can doesn’t change it from being a garbage can.

Create your map. Check your compass. Periodically do reality checks. and for heaven’s sake, if you get lost, ask someone who may know for directions.

Swedish sign for whiskey

Boom 9

Submarines operate for extended periods of time under the ocean. This ability gives them the advantage of stealth in performing her missions. Since even the most modern submarine requires people to operate it, providing the basics of life while submerged has always been a challenge.

sub duty

Think about those World War 2 movies where the Destroyer had forced the U-boat to the bottom. The destroyer captain could be patient since all he had to do was ride around on top and wait for the air on the inside of the submarine to become so horrible it could no longer sustain life. At some point, the boat would have to come to the surface.

When the idea of using nuclear submarines as launching platforms became a reality, something different needed to be done. So the Treadwell corporation proposed building a new type of “Oxygen Generator” that would ensure a high rate of oxygen production from pure water. The process is called electrolysis.

Direct current is passed through a KOH (Potassium Hydroxide) solution, which electrolyzes the water to H2 and O2. The water has been treated by an ion exchange system to eliminate other electrolytes. Sixteen electrolytic cells at about 1000 amps are required to produce 120 SCFH of O2 (sufficient for 120 men) at 11 of 16 pressures up to 3000 psig. The gases are removed from the cells and distributed (O2) or disposed of (H2). Hydrogen is discharged overboard. (or at least that’s the plan”

The early model had 7 foot cells inside and had a nick-name: “The Bomb”.


Picture of a 6’ Generator. Ask any sub sailor what the most dangerous thing is on a submarine and you might get a lot of different answers. Obviously anything that can explode and potentially kill you will probably rise to the top of most people’s list. While my first patrol on the George Washington was spent mess-cooking and driving the boat, my second and subsequent patrols were spent in the atmosphere control room.

I had heard about the Bomb ever since sub school. Stories from the early days talked about how unstable it could be. Even if you don’t know anything about science, you have to believe that any machine that has that much pressure and that much electricity running through it could be a bit of a problem if things went wrong. Add to that the fact that Oxygen in high concentrations will feed a pretty good fire and hydrogen… well, let’s just say that hydrogen was not our friend.

The bomb sat in the forward starboard corner of the machinery room on the GW and you had six or seven other pieces of equipment to monitor at any given time. Everything on the early models was manual except for one or two automated devices. There were rows of indicator lights that would flash in series to tell you that all was well inside the box. Gages also told you that the correct balance between the oxygen side and the hydrogen side was being maintained. If either of those stopped being normal, the loudest alarm you would ever hear in your life would tell you that you have fifteen seconds to close a series of blocking valves to prevent an uncontrolled release of something that could just ruin your day.

Not only was the O2 and H2 pretty dicey if released, but the potassium hydroxide itself would eat through paint and at 3000 PSI, could shoot around corners with ease and blind you. Legend had it that in a few early models, the force of the explosive events was so strong that it blew off the metal panels and cut a guy’s head clear off. (okay it’s a legend and they did teach it to us in O2 Generator school but who wants to take a chance of that happening?)

Did I mention how many parts this thing had? I will tell you that during the upkeep before I made my first “Room watch” I had to order all of the parts to completely rebuild the beast. I got writers cramp after one day. O-rings, penton seals, gaskets, and on and on were required since the bomb had an “event” on the previous patrol with the Gold Crew. Any leaks on the inside of the box would result in KOH being sprayed on components and creating more leaks. If the H2 and O2 sides became unstable, the rapid depressurization would result in an explosion. So putting it back together with no flaws was absolutely critical. We were still finishing the job as we got underway for Patrol 43.

SSBN 598 A gang

Auxiliary Division from Patrol 43

I still dream about Patrol 43. If there was ever a thing that could go wrong on a submarine, it happened on that patrol. Most of those stories will come at a different time but this one stands out among the most memorable.

We were submerged and the Bomb was running. It was my first time by myself running it and I was pretty intimidated. In the first hour or two, I must have reviewed the emergency shut down procedure a hundred times in my head. I could see every flicker of every light and every tiny movement on the gages that would tell me a leak was developing. I practiced evacuating the room a few times but quickly realized there wasn’t a great place to hide. You see, just on the other side of a very thin bulkhead was the upper level of the missile compartment. Yep, the perfect place to put something that could blow up was right next to the warheads of nuclear missiles.

Go in the other direction and you find yourself staring into the hatch that leads to the reactor compartment passage. Now that part is a bit safer since there is so much safety shielding around a reactor. But you still thought about the potentials.

After a six hour watch, I was never so glad to see my relief, Dewey Watson. Dewey was a young guy from Ohio and seemed a lot more confident than I was about his new duties. (Yes, we both graduated from O2 Generator school at the same time). I had work to do in the engine room so I signed everything over to him and left. I was laying on top of a condenser in lower level fixing a pump when I heard the most dreaded announcement followed by the General Alarm “Fire in the Machinery Room”

It was the Bomb. I later found out that shortly after taking the watch, Dewey had an uncontrolled release of pressure which caused the machine to become unstable. He was trying to get all of the emergency shut down valves so the machine could be blocked out. The machine started spraying caustic and the roving watch in the missile house saw a cloud of “smoke” and called it in.


All the watertight doors were shut and I ran to the hatch in the reactor tunnel. The Engineer was standing there with a CO2 fire extinguisher in his hand. I looked through the observers hole and Dewey was jumping back and fourth trying to get the machine blocked while the spray continued.

Just at that moment, another announcement came across the 1MC that chilled me to the bone… “The atmosphere monitoring station has reported that Hydrogen level in the boat is 4% and rising”  4% is the level where Hydrogen becomes so unstable, it could possibly explode! You could feel the boat taking a very strong up angle as the control room crew tried to drive us to the surface. Dewey had a look on his face that looked like it was his last few moments. The engineer handed me the CO2 extinguisher and said “Get in there and help him” as he pushed me through the hatch he had just opened. He shut it behind me.

“Dewey, what do you want me to do?” “I don’t know Mac, it’s blocked but it keeps spraying” “Shut the power off, its not helping now anyway”

Just then, the boat leveled off and the 1MC announcing system came on.

“All hands this is the captain. Disregard the previous announcement about the hydrogen level in the boat. There was a mistake reading the instruments and hydrogen was at .04 % not 4 percent. Damage control teams are assembling to help combat the casualty. There is no fire.”

The bomb, hissing and crackling, slowly settled to atmospheric pressure. We had a heck of a mess to clean up over the next few weeks but we had dodged a bullet.

When we went back in to repair, it turns out that one of the penton seals had not been placed correctly. It would not show up immediately but at higher pressure and heat, it allowed the leak to slowly become a bigger problem.

I learned a lot about built in quality after that day. You can never assume that any test or inspection will save your butt down the road. The whole spirit of BIQ is that you do the job absolutely the right way with the absolute right parts every time.

Now some people might be saying that this is a life and death thing that rarely ever happens in their job. Really? Who do you think designs the parts that go into the cars, trucks, boats, planes and so on? People. And who do you think can be effected if just one percent of the airbags fail on a car series that will include over a hundred thousand cars? Maybe your family member?



Picture of the sail from the USS George Washington… flowers in memory of MM2/SS Dewey Watson

Mister Mac

Blinders? Why no, these are my new leadership Goggles! 1

For over a century the leadership of the U.S. Army and Navy were in agreement about how the United States coast would be managed: the Army would defend the beaches and out to the range of their coastal guns, and the Navy would protect anything beyond that range. The advent of the airplane challenged that arrangement. The new theory was that the U.S. Army Air Service’s airplanes could attack an enemy fleet far from the range of the coastal guns, the airmen wanted to take over that mission. The only problem they had was that up to that point no airplane had ever actually sunk a battleship.

In May 1921 men and aircraft from various units arrived at Langley Field, Va., to prepare for the Ostfriesland bombing trials. Designated the 1st Provisional Air Brigade, this unit was commanded by Brig. Gen. William “Billy” Mitchell during the bombing trials. At the time, the largest bomb available was a 1000 pounder which most experts agreed would never be able to achieve the goal. Special 2000 pound bombs were created just in time for the events about to begin.

Billy Mitchel

The Navy leadership was particularly keen to disprove the claims by the outspoken Mitchell. The Chief of Naval Operations just prior to this period had actually disbanded the naval air services at the conclusion of the first World War.


Admiral William S. Benson said “I cannot conceive of any use that the fleet will ever have for aircraft,” and that “the Navy doesn’t need airplanes. Aviation is just a lot of noise.”

Billy Mitchell was a firebrand and a visionary. He was a leader and air service pioneer in the First World War. He was also not diplomatic and could not understand why men who were endowed with a reasonable amount of intelligence could not see the wisdom of investing in a technology that would allow them to leap into the future.

Even the Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels mocked Mitchell. As he was preparing to retire after a long service in some fairly progressive service he said:


“I would be glad to stand bare headed on the deck or at the wheel of any battleship while Mitchell tried to take a crack at me from the air. If he ever tries to aim bombs on the decks of naval vessels, he will be blown to atoms long before he gets close enough to drop salt on the tail of the Navy.”

In the eyes of the Navy and most of the civilian leadership, the test was a complete waste of time. The Battleship had emerged as the backbone of the Navy and defender of the seas. Military strategy had been wrapped completely around the relative strength of these floating fortresses. Most importantly, Secretary Daniels and his congressional supporters had made a huge investment in the battleship concept. The very thought that a $20,000 aero plane could sink a $40,000,000.00 battleship was beyond anyone’s ability to believe. Anyone but Mitchell and his supporters.  Some people are convinced that is why the Navy did everything it could to influence the outcome of the test that were about to begin.

Mitchell's Bomber 1921

In Mitchell’s view, the test was supposed to determine whether a battleship could be sunk by aerial bombing. That was also the question that congress wanted answered. The Navy took the position that it was merely a test to determine how much bomb damage a battleship was capable of absorbing.

The rules were set by the Navy and made it as difficult as possible for Mitchell. The ships needed to be sunk in deep water which meant 100 fathoms or more. The Navy said no to two locations with sufficient depth close to the shore and instead insisted on a location 50 miles out to sea from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. The base the bombers would eventually use (Langley) was further west by 50 miles. This resulted in a two hour flight for the bombers (1 hour each way) which would further limit the bombers time over target.

Ludicrously enough, no aerial torpedoes could be used and the air service was only allowed two hits with its heaviest bombs. This statement comes from the after action report:

The torpedo plane was not used in the tests and there is little reliable information available concerning torpedoes fired by aircraft. The mining effect of bombs dropped close to the side of a vessel brings up the question as to whether or not the torpedo is as desirable a weapon for aircraft as bombs. The torpedo has certain advantages over bombs and certain disadvantages. It can be fired with accuracy from great[er] distances than bombs, but is much more expensive to manufacture and is more complicated to handle. For a given weight of projectile the bomb carries a much heavier explosive charge than the torpedo.” I wonder how long it took for the Japanese delegation to stop laughing.

An inspection team would be allowed to go on board each ship between each hit to carefully inspect the damage. Just to make sure the deck was sufficiently stacked, the Ostfriesland was the main event specifically since she had been built with watertight compartments that were specifically designed to withstand multiple direct hits and still survive.


But Mitchell had a few tricks up his sleeve too. Instead of directly attacking the ships with his powerful bombs, he would aim them to the sides of the ships. Then when the underwater explosions would occur, it would cause damage to the hull by the force of the water being shocked by the bombs. This made the Navy rule of no more than two hits null and void.

During highly publicized tests held in June-July 1921 off the Virginia capes, the Navy and Army studied the effects of bombing on ships taken from the German navy after World War I. During the tests, Navy inspectors tried time and again to interfere with Mitchell and his crews. Delays, extra long inspections, changes in rules and so on forced Mitchell to continue to adapt in order to be successful


The climax came on July 21, 1921, when Army Air Service bombers attacked the last ship, the powerful German battleship Ostfriesland. These tests, General Mitchell stated, would prove that bombs dropped from airplanes could easily destroy “even the most modern of battleships.” Furthermore, they “demonstrated beyond a doubt that, given sufficient bombing planes — in short an adequate air force — aircraft constitute a positive defense of our country against hostile invasion.”

The official after action report (From a Naval observer) stated”:

“The Ostfriesland tests began with an attack by Navy planes dropping thirty-three 250-pound bombs, scoring eight hits, followed by eight 550-pound bombs, making four hits. The Army then dropped eleven 600-pound bombs registering one hit. An examination of the vessel after these attacks showed that she had sustained little damage from direct hits with the exception of a hole in the starboard side of the forecastle made by a 600-pound bomb, which put out of commission the two 5-inch ammunition hoists directly under it; but the mining effect of the bombs that dropped close to her had damaged her considerably under water, and several compartments were leaking. She had gained water during the night and the following morning was three feet down by the stern, with a list of 5 degrees to port. Engine and fire rooms were partially flooded, when the attack with 100-pound bombs was launched.


Five of these were dropped and three direct hits were made on the main deck causing no vital damage to the ship or battery. However, her fighting efficiency might have been affected by a large hole on the starboard side of the forecastle, taking in water. By noon she was down five feet by the stern and one foot by the bow.


In the final attack, seven 2000-pound bombs were dropped, none of which hit the vessel. The possible effect of the explosion of this type of bomb on deck, or between decks, could not therefore be ascertained. Three of these bombs were close enough to do extensive damage to the hull. The most effective bomb detonated close under the port quarter, throwing water up under both sides of the hull. She immediately began to settle rapidly by the stern, listing heavily to port, water entering through injuries on deck, broken air ports and through gun ports. She turned completely over and went down by the stern at twenty-two minutes after the first 2000-LB bomb was dropped.”


Billy Mitchell standing with two unidentified men on deck of battleship USS “Indiana” surveying the considerable damage caused by a 300lb. bomb dropped from a plane.

The Navy officers were shocked. But soon there were cries of “Foul” and for years afterwards the Battleship club claimed that Mitchell had violated the “rules and destroyed the value for the tests. In their minds, it was a senseless demonstration that clouded their real purpose of showing how a battleship could absorb multiple direct hits.

Congress and the public saw it differently of course. The test proved what Mitchell had claimed. The birth of modern aviation power in the nations arsenal can truly be marked by the sinking of this ship.

After touring the Pacific, Mitchell returned in 1924 and submitted a report that stated the defenses at Pearl Harbor were almost nonexistent and the military build-up by the Japanese made war only a matter of time.

Never one to keep silent about inadequacies in the Air Service, Mitchell was court-martialed in late 1925 for public criticism of the policies of his superiors. He resigned his commission the following year but kept up the campaign for an independent air service until his death in 1936.

Mitchell did not live to see his ideas vindicated in World War II. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 1946 as an early architect of American airpower.

The Navy resisted for a few more years but eventually newer voices were heard and soon early aircraft carriers were built. Based on the events at Pearl Harbor, we all owe a debt of gratitude to that firebrand Mitchell for speaking up even in the face of adversity.

Even after the tests, the Battleship Club was not done bragging about their place in history. The program for the Army-Navy football game on November 29th, 1941 included a picture of the Battleship Arizona. “It is significant that despite the claims of air enthusiasts no battleship has yet been sunk by bombs” the caption said. The program did not include any mention of the events off the Virginia Capes in 1921.


Eight days later, the Japanese, in a sneak attack that violated all the rules, sank the Arizona at its moorings at Pearl Harbor.

The only role she played in the following World War would be to stand as a stark reminder that not seeing the dangers that are coming at you does not eliminate them.


Think about that today as you do your strategic planning for 2012. Do your leaders have their blinders on? Do your visionaries have a voice to tell them about the things they don’t want to hear?

Mister Mac 7/21/2011

Turn On Your GPS Reply


A few weeks ago, we went up to the Finger Lakes region of New York. Neither of us had ever been there before so we did what we have always done. One of us will go on either Yahoo or MapQuest and see what the best route is. I should point out immediately that we made a decision the last time we bought a car NOT to pay the extra money for the GPS system that was available.

I am not sure if you have ever used the Yahoo/MapQuest approach before but it is filled with interesting possibilities. For instance, it won’t always tell you when a road suddenly veers to the left or right in the backwoods and suddenly becomes a completely different road with absolutely no identifiable route or name besides “Billy Bob’s Boulevard”. Another favorite part of the mapping tools is the decision you have to make about shortest distance or most freeways (shortest time). Its really kind of important that you make the right selection before you start.

So off we go and the first part of the journey went relatively calmly. It wasn’t until we actually got to the lakes region that things started going a bit off. I am relatively adventurous. I know that at some point, one road will lead to another and you will hit one of four places in the Mainland US: Canada, Mexico, Atlantic, or Pacific. That could explain why I have been to over 600 cities around the world in the past forty years (I keep a travel log of all the places). My co-pilot was understandably getting a bit concerned as we were falling further and further behind on our schedule.

As pretty as the country was, we were scheduled to go on a dinner cruise and it was “non-refundable” whether we made it or not. We finally arrived at the B&B and found that the owners were at the hospital welcoming their first Grand Child. We called the husband for directions to the boat since we were now sure that Yahoo/MapQuest might have led us to the Titanic instead of the actual boat we needed to be on. He said, “Well, just turn on your GPS.” At that very moment, we realized that there was a great tool we could have easily used if only we actually had one.


Upon hearing the sad news about our lack of proper preparation, he gave my navigator very detailed directions… to the wrong boat landing. In his defense, the joy of seeing his first grandchild the day it arrived in the world probably distracted him. There are two boat cruises that the Inn recommends to its customers and the one we actually needed was about thirty miles in the opposite direction we were sent to.

Fortunately, the boat owners were understanding and all worked out well. But it did remind me that if you don’t have the right tools and don’t know how to use them, you will more than likely not make it to where you thought you wanted to go.

Lean has a tool called Value Stream Mapping

Since flow improvement and waste reduction are pretty important goals in lean, this tool is designed to help you understand where you are at the beginning (Current State Map) and where you would like to go (Future State Map). There are measurements and tools within the model that can quickly identify your pockets of waste, bottlenecks, work flow imbalance, inventory pools (planned and unplanned), and if you really know what to look for you can see where your team has reacted to all of these problems with systems they developed which don’t show up on any plan you have ever seen.


I have helped teams walk through this process many times and can assure you that if they are being honest with themselves, they quickly become overwhelmed with low hanging fruit. Hidden inventory is one of my favorites. The old system could not guarantee the Just In Time delivery of parts or goods to where they need to be. But if the team doesn’t make its share of widgets that day, they feel the wrath of the production manager. So the unintended consequence is that the local team leader gathers up all of the “extra” material they need to make sure this never happens. There are so many clever tricks to do this and I will not put them in this article (no use making your work harder…)

The interesting thing about finding these “extras” is the fact that often times the line side people are better at doing inventory planning than the people who are actually supposed to do so. All the charts, graphs, analysis on stock level and AMD will not compare with a well trained cell leader who has been burned on too many occasions.

Value Stream Mapping will help the teams to identify where those issues are, what the root causes are, and how to make sure you come up with a more reliable fix.

But be warned: Value Stream Mapping can be deceptively simple

You might feel the urge to run out this afternoon and buy a good text book on VSM and start making money saving changes first thing tomorrow morning. As someone who likes to experiment, I would say that it will be a lot of fun to watch for all the unintended consequences of blindly bumping into your existing systems. As someone with a conscience, I would feel horrible if I actually encouraged you to do this.

In the early books on lean such as “Learning to See”, the authors take us on a journey of discovery. In today’s competitive environment where so many of the people who want to take your customers away from you, it might be a little late for you to take a leisurely walk through the discovery forest. You need a faster GPS and you need someone to help you turn it on and use it. Then, and only then, you can make use of this tool in ways that will create the long term DNA within your organization.

By the way, VSM can be used in a number of organizations that are not manufacturing. Some of the hottest trends in lean are in health care and finance. But the need for existing manufacturing businesses continues to grow.

Your competition probably already has started their lean journey… what are you waiting for? Turn on Your GPS!!!

Tomorrow’s blog will have a story about how some of the smartest men of their time almost kept America from being able to win World War 2.

Mister Mac