Author Topic: Do convoys have a role in modern warfare?  (Read 11746 times)

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Offline Colin P

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Do convoys have a role in modern warfare?
« on: November 16, 2015, 11:40:27 »
If things went quite hot with either Russia or China. Would convoys to escort merchant ships with warships and aircraft be a useful tactic against modern submarines? I can imagine in a nuclear scenario that a large convoy might be a tempting target for a small nuke. But for conventional warfare would convoys be useful to deter subs. What I see now is that there is a lack of good ASW aircraft to maintain enough presence to suppress submarine attacks along the shipping lanes. We also lack enough escorts to maintain any lengthy convoy system and would not have enough to form hunter killer groups. The only bright spark is I think the US, UK and Canada have a enough subs to help hunt enemy subs. 

Any thoughts or comments appreciated.

Offline BurnDoctor

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Re: Do convoys have a role in modern warfare?
« Reply #1 on: November 16, 2015, 12:20:42 »
I have no relevant expertise to comment on the tactical utility of convoys, but I'd offer the uneducated strategic opinion that maybe we (the West) should recognize that while we have differences with Russia and China, perhaps these should be shelved for the moment in favour of joining efforts to defeat Daesh.

Online E.R. Campbell

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Re: Do convoys have a role in modern warfare?
« Reply #2 on: November 16, 2015, 12:22:26 »
If things went quite hot with either Russia or China. Would convoys to escort merchant ships with warships and aircraft be a useful tactic against modern submarines? I can imagine in a nuclear scenario that a large convoy might be a tempting target for a small nuke. But for conventional warfare would convoys be useful to deter subs. What I see now is that there is a lack of good ASW aircraft to maintain enough presence to suppress submarine attacks along the shipping lanes. We also lack enough escorts to maintain any lengthy convoy system and would not have enough to form hunter killer groups. The only bright spark is I think the US, UK and Canada have a enough subs to help hunt enemy subs. 

Any thoughts or comments appreciated.


At various stages in the last Big War (1939-45) the German U-boats would actually surface in the middle of the convoy, in part because the escorts were, normally, deployed around the outer edges, but, mainly, because they could get off three or four well aimed torpedo shots and then dive and move away before the escorts knew what was happening.

Both Adm Sir Max Horton and our own RAdm Leonard Murray fought tooth and nail for long range (Lancaster) bombers to cover the "black hole:"

     

          ... aircraft carriers, like HMS Nabob (captained by Capt(N) (later RAdm) Harry Lay, RCN and crewed, mostly, by Canadians, also did yeoman service in the black hole.

My question is: how "silent" and "invisible" can a modern submarine be when attacking a convoy? It seems to me that if one of our aircraft can detect a submarine then a "kill" is very, very likely to follow and I suspect that we might be very glad to swap on merchantman for one submarine ...

My next question is: can Maritime Helicopters operating from a smallish carrier provide better (and cheaper) coverage than enough big, long range patrol aircraft over a wide area, covering one large convoy?

Finally, my question is: how many ships does it take to deploy an infantry division? (Assume all the soldiers (say 15,000) fly to the theatre of operations, so we're just moving vehicles, stores, fuel and ammo for a medium sized infantry division which wil be expected to fight, for weeks or months, shortly after it marries up with its kit.)


Edit: typo
« Last Edit: November 16, 2015, 15:17:25 by E.R. Campbell »
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Offline Colin P

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Re: Do convoys have a role in modern warfare?
« Reply #3 on: November 16, 2015, 12:40:54 »
My interest in this subject is because I am currently reading the No Higher Purpose: The Official Operational History Of The Royal Canadian Navy In The Second World War, 1939-1943. Volume II, Part I
What I like about the book is that the authors use both Canadian and German records to correlate what happened whenever possible. What it showed is that the Canadian escort despite the lack of ships, trained personal, general lack of training and lack of good electronic equipment did a far better job suppressing the U-boats then they ever realized.
So while reading it made me wonder about how viable convoys would be both in the Cold war and for the current potential threats.

Offline mariomike

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Re: Do convoys have a role in modern warfare?
« Reply #4 on: November 16, 2015, 12:58:09 »
Both Adm Sir Max Horton and our own RAdm Leonard Murray fought tooth and nail for long range (Lancaster) bombers to cover the "black hole:"

"Bomber" Harris argued that Lancasters should instead destroy the factories that built the submarines, "While it takes approximately 7,000 hours of flying to destroy one submarine at sea, that was approximately the amount of flying necessary to destroy one third of Cologne."

Churchill seemed to agree ( for political reasons ) in a letter to Stalin. Throughout the war Stalin was sent updated copies of Bomber Command's "Blue Books." ( photo album )

« Last Edit: November 16, 2015, 13:33:34 by mariomike »

Online Blackadder1916

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Re: Do convoys have a role in modern warfare?
« Reply #5 on: November 16, 2015, 13:02:16 »

Finally, my question is: how many ships does it take to deploy an infantry division? (Assume all the soldiers (say 15,000) fly to the theatre of operations, so we're just moving vehicles, stores, fuel and ammo for a medium sized infantry division which wil be expected to fight, for weeks or months, shortly after it marries up with its kit.)

http://fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/ship/takr-287.htm
"The Fast Sealift Ships, vehicle cargo ships that are nearly the length of an aircraft carrier, are the fastest cargo ships in the world. Fast Sealift Ships are named after supergiant stars. The ships can travel at speed of up to 33 knots and are capable of sailing from the US East Coast to Europe in just six days, and to the Persian Gulf via the Suez Canal in 18 days, thus ensuring rapid delivery of military equipment in a crisis. Combined, all eight Fast Sealift Ships can carry nearly all the equipment needed to outfit a full Army mechanized division."
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Offline Oldgateboatdriver

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Re: Do convoys have a role in modern warfare?
« Reply #6 on: November 16, 2015, 14:39:33 »
First of all, Blackadder 1916, that number is for a single US Mech Division using their Sealift "superships". For normal country, you would be looking at a little more than twice that number of ships, say around twenty, and then add (it's not in the US sealift superships capability) a couple of large tankers - divisions run on fuel.

That would be about the size of the old Reforger convoy, so its still pretty accurate.

As for convoying, Colin, yes, it is still relevant today. Oceans have not grown any smaller and grouping ships empties the oceans, making searching for the ships more complicated for an enemy, both for subsurface and air attacks. Simultaneously, it makes possible to provision these convoy with the precious few escorts available, which independent sailing would not make possible, especially against air attacks. For ASW, at least in the Atlantic, we would probably be looking at friendly submarine barrier operations to block as much of the access to the ocean as possible at choke points (G.I.U.K gap). With the leakers then coming under prosecution by escorts with tails and embarked helicopters, paired with  air assets from aircraft carriers in hunter groups in support, such convoys would stand a good chance of getting through.

Offline Chris Pook

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Re: Do convoys have a role in modern warfare?
« Reply #7 on: November 16, 2015, 22:12:48 »
http://fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/ship/takr-287.htm
"The Fast Sealift Ships, vehicle cargo ships that are nearly the length of an aircraft carrier, are the fastest cargo ships in the world. Fast Sealift Ships are named after supergiant stars. The ships can travel at speed of up to 33 knots and are capable of sailing from the US East Coast to Europe in just six days, and to the Persian Gulf via the Suez Canal in 18 days, thus ensuring rapid delivery of military equipment in a crisis. Combined, all eight Fast Sealift Ships can carry nearly all the equipment needed to outfit a full Army mechanized division."

And further to OGBD, 

From Wiki

Class & type:   Algol class vehicle cargo ship
Displacement:   55,355 tons (full)
Length:   946 ft 2 in (288 m)

Beam:   105 ft 6 in (32 m)
Draft:   36 ft 7 in (11 m)
Propulsion:   
2 × Foster-Wheeler boilers, 875 psi (61.6kg/cm2)
2 × GE MST-19 steam turbines; 120,000 hp (89.5 MW)
Speed:   33 knots
Capacity:   700+ military vehicles (including trucks, tanks, and helicopters)
Complement:   43 civilians, 12 military technicians (fully operational), 18 civilians (reduced operating status)
Armament:   None
Aviation facilities:   Landing pad



A couple of comparitors

RN Leased Point Class RoRos

Type:   Roll-on/roll-off
Displacement:   23,000 tonnes full load[1]
Length:   193.0 m (633.2 ft)[1]

Beam:   26.0 m (85.3 ft)[1]
Draught:   7.6 m (25 ft)[1]
Propulsion:   
2 × MaK 94M43 diesels; 21,700 hp
2 propellers
bow thruster
Speed:   21.5 knots (39.8 km/h)
Range:   9,200 nautical miles (17,000 km) at 21.5 knots (39.8 km/h)
Capacity:   
14,200 dwt
2,650 linear metres of space for vehicles
130 armoured vehicles and 60 trucks and ammunition or 8,000 tonnes of vehicles
Sensors and
processing systems:   I-band navigation radar
Armament:   None
Aviation facilities:   Can carry up to four helicopters including Chinnok, Merlin and Lynx
Notes:   Sourced from Jane's Fighting Ships 2008–2009, p. 876



And the Triple Es of Maersk

Type:   Container ship
Tonnage:   165,000 DWT
Displacement:   55,000 tonnes (empty)[1]
Length:   400 m (1,312 ft)

Beam:   59 m (194 ft)
Draft:   16 m (52 ft)
Propulsion:   Twin MAN engines, 32 MW each
Capacity:   18,340 TEU
Notes:   Cost $185 million[1]



And OGBD - no, I don't need another lecture about tunnage, tonnage and displacement (heavy OR light).  I grew up with Plimsolls.  ;)
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Offline Chris Pook

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Re: Do convoys have a role in modern warfare?
« Reply #8 on: November 16, 2015, 22:18:40 »

At various stages in the last Big War (1939-45) the German U-boats would actually surface in the middle of the convoy, in part because the escorts were, normally, deployed around the outer edges, but, mainly, because they could get off three or four well aimed torpedo shots and then dive and move away before the escorts knew what was happening.

Both Adm Sir Max Horton and our own RAdm Leonard Murray fought tooth and nail for long range (Lancaster) bombers to cover the "black hole:"

     

          ... aircraft carriers, like HMS Nabob (captained by Capt(N) (later RAdm) Harry Lay, RCN and crewed, mostly, by Canadians, also did yeoman service in the black hole.

My next question is: can Maritime Helicopters operating from a smallish carrier provide better (and cheaper) coverage than enough big, long range patrol aircraft over a wide area, covering one large convoy?


Edit: typo

ERC - consider how much flat surface there was on the Atlantic Conveyor vice the flat surface on either a Triple E or even an Algol.

Lot of room for additional helos I would think.  The miracle of the rotary anti-gravity device.  Every vessel becomes its own Anti-Submarine Escort Carrier.



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Online Ostrozac

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Re: Do convoys have a role in modern warfare?
« Reply #9 on: November 17, 2015, 07:05:54 »
ERC - consider how much flat surface there was on the Atlantic Conveyor vice the flat surface on either a Triple E or even an Algol.

Lot of room for additional helos I would think.  The miracle of the rotary anti-gravity device.  Every vessel becomes its own Anti-Submarine Escort Carrier.

Two issues with that plan:

First, the procurement of ASW helicopters and training their crews is incredibly difficult -- see the Cyclone project.

Second, given that almost the entire merchant fleet we would want to use will be flagged in neutral countries (I doubt Liberia or Panama will be joining in our pointless remake of Red Storm Rising), then the JAGs will have a fit over the use of neutral nation's shipping vessels as aircraft carriers.

Offline Colin P

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Re: Do convoys have a role in modern warfare?
« Reply #10 on: November 17, 2015, 10:22:54 »
The ships and conversions are easy, just buy them and re-register. Crewing would not be to much of an issue, first world wages would make a lot of 3rd world seamen to take the risk.

As pointed out the next hurdles is helicopters, ASW suites and trained crew. Buying helicopters is not that hard, always a bunch for sale, not always the ones you want though. Now in an emergency you could equip most helicopters to carry some small bombs (that means throwing away the standard aviation way of testing the crap out of everything first) The helicopters could drop the bombs based on a sighting or being directed which may suppress the sub. If modern crews are the same as the Uboat crews, they would be reluctant to prosecute the attack in the face of helicopters that they don't know are properly equipped or not.

I wonder if there is a cheap ASW suite that most helicopters could carry, with a dip sonar, transmitter that sends the signal back to the ASW escort for them to determine what they are hearing. Perhaps also a short range homing torpedo that would home in on a propeller regardless of types. With a range short enough you could drop it away from the convoy without risk of it homing in on the convoy. Also the helo could drop sonabuoys linked to one of the escorts.

Cargo ships could be equipped with a hedge hog type mortar and the convoy commander could order certain ships to fire a fixed patterns if they think the sub is inside the convoy.   

Offline GR66

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Re: Do convoys have a role in modern warfare?
« Reply #11 on: November 17, 2015, 10:24:21 »
Two issues with that plan:

First, the procurement of ASW helicopters and training their crews is incredibly difficult -- see the Cyclone project.

Second, given that almost the entire merchant fleet we would want to use will be flagged in neutral countries (I doubt Liberia or Panama will be joining in our pointless remake of Red Storm Rising), then the JAGs will have a fit over the use of neutral nation's shipping vessels as aircraft carriers.
[/color]

Whatever flag flies on the ships they will be the primary target of any peer enemy.  It only seems logical to me that the best way to defeat the US Army is to prevent its equipment from arriving in the first place.

Offline Underway

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Re: Do convoys have a role in modern warfare?
« Reply #12 on: November 17, 2015, 10:53:33 »
Convoys are only useful in specific circumstances.  There's a few reasons why NAVRES eliminated the NCS trade and one of them was the fact that convoys for the transfer of material are not as viable for current container ships etc... which would rapidly outrun their escorts as they are designed for sustained speed at or above 30knots.  Warships of the escort variety are not designed for those sustained speeds.  Similarly container ships can pretty much outrun any submarine out there.  Also as one ship can blast across the Atlantic in no time and carry a massive amount of material convoys for these types of ships is not very viable in an ASW type scenario.  Harder to find one ship that a whole bunch of them.  Your best bet may be to load up and race by yourself, with the military assets positioned to contain or hunt down the enemy subs, aircraft etc...

Combine that with the fact that a modern task group can cover much more area than in the Cold War or world war you have an area defence system vice a point defence (convoy) system.

This may involve hand offs between ships to keep a shipping lane clear etc... But convoys in the traditional sense are used for slower ships, military assets and other specific circumstances.  Convoys are a tool in the toolbox but not as useful as it once was due to the changing tech and nature of merchant shipping.

Edited to fix tablet typos.....
« Last Edit: November 17, 2015, 20:51:11 by Underway »

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Re: Do convoys have a role in modern warfare?
« Reply #13 on: November 17, 2015, 11:54:57 »
Thanks, Underway, that's very useful. Is this being discussed/debated in our joint staff programmes. It was not, many years decades ago when I did staff college ... we did discuss how man ship loads per division, etc, but I guess (I really cannot remember) we just assumed that 90% of them got to their destinations in convoys.

The point about high speed ships was valid in the Second World War, too. Both the RMS Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary sometimes (not always) crossed the Atlantic without convoying because their ability to run at sustained high speeds (30 knots) made lone crossings safer than being in convoy.


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Offline Colin P

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Re: Do convoys have a role in modern warfare?
« Reply #14 on: November 17, 2015, 12:04:48 »
Container ships are the Clippers, but there are a lot of other slower ships, tankers, bulk carriers, livestock ships, heavy lifts, exploration, cable laying, resupply vessels.

Offline GR66

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Re: Do convoys have a role in modern warfare?
« Reply #15 on: November 17, 2015, 13:10:31 »
I wonder how much the increased complexity and cost of submarines (and therefore the quantity available) has changed the nature of submarine and ASW ops...just like it has in many other areas of war.

A quick search on the internet for a list of active Russian submarines suggests that they have a total of 17 nuclear attack subs (13 in the Northern Fleet and 4 in the Pacific Fleet) and 21 conventional attack subs (7 in the Northern Fleet, 7 in the Pacific Fleet, 2 in the Baltic Fleet and 5 in the Black Sea Fleet).  Thats a total of 38 attack submarines of all types (and vintages) currently active in the Russian Navy.

That gives them a grand total of 20 attack subs (13 nuclear and 7 conventional) in the Northern Fleet to target transports crossing the Atlantic.  Granted, their ability to detect, classify and engage targets is greatly improved since WWII, but it's a far cry from the 1154 U-boats that were commissioned by the Germans before and during WWII.  My quick search couldn't find a number of the most they had deployed at any one time, but there were 154 U-boats surrendered to the Allies in 1945 so I'm guessing that the peak would have been a bit higher than that.

What does that mean for the relative benefits of convoys (even less chance of detection with only 20 subs to worry about) vs. the risk of multiple losses in a convoy IF they are detected and engaged by one of those subs?

Offline Colin P

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Re: Do convoys have a role in modern warfare?
« Reply #16 on: November 17, 2015, 16:19:47 »
The book I am reading says they were able to peak at 60 subs in the Atlantic at one time in the 41-42 period. Just like the escort, the pressing demand to be in all theatres affected the Germans as well.   

Offline GR66

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Re: Do convoys have a role in modern warfare?
« Reply #17 on: November 17, 2015, 16:33:47 »
The book I am reading says they were able to peak at 60 subs in the Atlantic at one time in the 41-42 period. Just like the escort, the pressing demand to be in all theatres affected the Germans as well.

Looked a little harder and Uboat.net says:

"On 8 Aug 1942, nearly 3 years after the war began, the number of U-boats at sea reached 100 for the first time (some of these boats were inbound or outbound from bases). Dönitz finally had much of the striking power he had been insisting on.

For the next 11 months the number rarely dipped below 100, reaching as high as 159 on 29 April 1943"


http://uboat.net/ops/combat_strength.html

As mentioned, a number would be in transit at any one time and none nearly as effective as modern submarines, but 20 Russian subs in comparison doesn't seem like a lot to cover such vast areas (assuming that allied subs, ASW ships and aircraft would concentrate on clearing the areas closest to the departure/destination ports).

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Re: Do convoys have a role in modern warfare?
« Reply #18 on: November 17, 2015, 16:56:48 »
Looked a little harder and Uboat.net says:

"On 8 Aug 1942, nearly 3 years after the war began, the number of U-boats at sea reached 100 for the first time (some of these boats were inbound or outbound from bases). Dönitz finally had much of the striking power he had been insisting on.

For the next 11 months the number rarely dipped below 100, reaching as high as 159 on 29 April 1943"


http://uboat.net/ops/combat_strength.html

It also says, "Chief of U-boats Karl Dönitz estimated he needed 300 U-boats to defeat the Allied convoys and force Britain into submission."

Offline Colin P

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Re: Do convoys have a role in modern warfare?
« Reply #19 on: November 17, 2015, 17:47:07 »
Looked a little harder and Uboat.net says:

"On 8 Aug 1942, nearly 3 years after the war began, the number of U-boats at sea reached 100 for the first time (some of these boats were inbound or outbound from bases). Dönitz finally had much of the striking power he had been insisting on.

For the next 11 months the number rarely dipped below 100, reaching as high as 159 on 29 April 1943"


http://uboat.net/ops/combat_strength.html

As mentioned, a number would be in transit at any one time and none nearly as effective as modern submarines, but 20 Russian subs in comparison doesn't seem like a lot to cover such vast areas (assuming that allied subs, ASW ships and aircraft would concentrate on clearing the areas closest to the departure/destination ports).

Was that "at sea" or in the Atlantic?

Online Blackadder1916

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Re: Do convoys have a role in modern warfare?
« Reply #20 on: November 17, 2015, 19:17:31 »
First of all, Blackadder 1916, that number is for a single US Mech Division using their Sealift "superships". For normal country, you would be looking at a little more than twice that number of ships, say around twenty, and then add (it's not in the US sealift superships capability) a couple of large tankers - divisions run on fuel.


My link and quote was a quick and dirty response to ERC's question.  I did try to find some of the old UMSTs that I faintly recollect being in now outdated SOPs/staff data tables that are perhaps somewhere in the collection of boxes sitting in my basement.  I had recently skimmed through the top layer in response to a question (on another subject) from a fellow member of these forums, but unfortunately I haven't been able to find them.

Gazing back through the mists of time, I recall leafing through some old (green covered) CFPs during night shifts in the CP rad van during my first WAINCON in the 1970s (had to do something to stay awake between radio checks).  Among them was a pub on "Movements" (can't recall the number or exact title) that included diagrams of the "CN Marine" vessels and how they would be loaded with military equipment for shipment.  A decade or so later, that specific pub was no longer reference material on the UEO course (at least I don't remember seeing it), but then, there was more focus on air and rail movement than sea despite the then recent example (good or bad) of BRAVE LION.

As for ballpark figures about the shipping needed to move a division, since I haven't found any Canadian data on-line, I'll revert to this 2003 story.
Quote
An armada of nine MSC cargo ships loaded an entire U.S. Army division's equipment for duty in Iraq.

The U.S. Army's First Armored Division received orders to deploy to the Gulf on March 4. MSC was asked to move the division's cargo to the Persian Gulf.  A number of government-owned and privately chartered cargo vessels were selected to do the job.

And this extract from something by the Congressional Budget Office via Google Books.
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