Damaged Equals Killed Part II

Across the board in the Third World War, damage control officers and sailors worked heroically to save their stricken ships. Some efforts were ultimately successful while others were not. In many cases owing to circumstances beyond their control. For the officers and sailors who were able to extinguish fires and restore stability and buoyancy, their efforts provided enough to allow their ships to reach the nearest friendly port.  The real work began after damage experts and shipyard workers came aboard. More often than not, it was determined extensive repairs were going to be necessary before a ship could be returned to duty. Unbeknownst in mid-July of 1987, the war would conclude in a matter of weeks. By 2 August, repair work had yet to get underway on over sixty percent of the damaged frigates, destroyers and cruisers belonging to the US, French and British (Royal) navies. Had the war continued for another 30-45 days and remained conventional it is doubtful very many of these ships would’ve had their repairs completed and been returned to duty.

The Falklands War provided a precursor of what was to come five years later in 1987. The threat posed to warships and merchants by anti-ship missiles and modern attack fighters was made evident in the waters of the South Atlantic in May and June of 1982. The effectiveness of modern nuclear attack submarines against surface ships was also previewed with HMS Conqueror’s dispatch of the General Belgrano. The US Navy and navies of other NATO countries took note and started improvements to shipboard defenses and damage control as soon as the war ended. However, the primary anti-ship missile used in the Falklands was the French-made Exocet, comparable to the US Harpoon. Most of the Soviet air, surface and sub-launched antiship missiles used in the Third World War were of longer range and carried larger warheads. As a result, the damage inflicted upon NATO ships from a direct hit was always extensive.

On D+9 the USS O’Bannon (DD-987) was struck by an SS-9 Siren fired by a Soviet Charlie II class SSGN in the North Atlantic. She suffered considerable damage that knocked out most of her sensor compliment as well as her weapon systems. Damage control efforts saved the stricken ship and allowed her to return to the east coast with the assistance of an ocean tug. But O’Bannon’s first wartime patrol would be her last due to the amount of damage absorbed. The initial estimate was for a restoration period of eighteen months before O’Bannon would be fit for operations again. Although only damaged, the destroyer was out of the war for good. Just as effective as a kill. On the other side of the spectrum many warships suffered glancing blows from enemy weapons that caused little more than superficial damage requiring minor repairs. Most of these ships returned to action before the war’s conclusion and made valuable contributions.

The Soviet Union faced a more desperate situation. The number of damaged surface ships and submarines that made it back to Soviet naval bases was limited. The long distances involved in many instances, coupled with near constant harassment by NATO attack submarines and aircraft increased the danger a damaged warship and its crew had to navigate on the journey home. NATO weapons also turned out to be more powerful and effective. This translated to more damage inflicted on a Soviet warship’s critical spaces, sensors, weapon launchers and magazines. To say nothing of the effects on structural integrity and stability. The fortunate damaged ships that made it back to port then had to contend with shipyards missing critical equipment or supplies essential to repairing a warship in a short amount of time. Suffice to say, the number of damaged Soviet ships that returned to duty before the close of the Third World War was small.

2 Replies to “Damaged Equals Killed Part II”

  1. I think this brings up an interesting quality vs quantity debate as far as anti ship weapons go. All else equal, is it better to have 1 as4 or 4 harpoons, carrying the same total warhead weight? I would say the more numerous munitions, knowing that most of them wont make it. Nearly every ship in a battle group has 8 or more harpoons, plus another 2+ on half of each air wing. Thats very favorable compared to 2 or 3 but likely 1 as4 per heavy bomber.

    With armored ships, id say its a little different, as theres a minimum mass needed to penetrate the armor. As you note, its quite easy to mission kill a modern warship, and thats as good as sinking it. I suppose the intended target matters too, soviet asms are carrier killers and that warrents a big warhead.

    The other factor in the different asms is speed. I think theres no replacement for speed. Makes the missles more survivable and improves accuracy by decreasing flight time. I guess the perfect munition would be fast, accurate and of a size small enough to be deployed in large numbers and by tactical aircraft. Oh and cheap too lol

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The quality vs quantity debate with anti-ship missiles is definitely alive and well even now. Honestly, I doubt we’ll have an answer or at least enough evidence to lean in one direction or another until the next naval war comes our way. Hopefully this won’t happen for a while but I wouldn’t be surprised if we see it within the next 5 years

      Liked by 1 person

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