REPOST – Billy Mitchell, Fighters vs. Ships, and "Ten Davids, Two Goliaths"

10 Jun

Reposted with updated links.

Billy Mitchell, Fighters vs. Ships, and "Ten Davids, Two Goliaths"

by Matthew W. Quinn

Once upon a time, large ships carrying cannon were the core of the world’s navies. At first, they were made of wood, but technology marched on. The Civil War’s Battle of Hampton Roads, in which the Confederate Merrimack (or as they called it, the Virginia) faced the Union’s Monitor, showed that wooden ships would fall before ironclads. The older ironclads were replaced by the steel "pre-dreadnought" battleships and ultimately by the dreadnoughts themselves. Though each new type of ship was more impressive than the last, they were all variations on a theme. Nobody thought of a weapon that would make gun-bearing ships themselves obsolete, or at least greatly diminish their role.

Nobody, that is, until American aviator Billy Mitchell. He believed that the airplane would be the decisive element in 20th Century warfare, trumping the great ships and their guns, and proved it with a series of demonstrations. Although his views were not popular with the U.S. military establishment, events soon vindicated him. The sinking of the Yamato, the biggest battleship ever built, by American aircraft in the waning days of the Pacific War, serves as the perfect example.

The great battleships were reduced to escorts for aircraft carriers, the new queens of the seas, and to shore-bombardment platforms. The vaunted U.S.S. Missouri served in this role in the Korean War and after extensive upgrades, in the Persian Gulf War.

Although Lindsay Buroker’s Fallen Empire series takes place in the future, it seems that the tyrannical Sarellian Empire did not learn from the past. The Empire maintained a military fleet consisting of enormous warships that the rebellious Tri-Suns Alliance avoided facing in open battle, instead engaging in "guerrilla tactics."

And one possible tactic an ill-equipped space guerrilla army could use is eschewing matching the enemy in big ships and focusing on fighters. In my Kindle Worlds novella "Ten Davids, Two Goliaths," set at the beginning of the rebellion several years before Buroker’s first novel Star Nomad (which you can read for free), the Alliance attack two Imperial cruisers on a training mission with many fighters, not rival cruisers. Fighters can be more easily kept in hidden bases (the primary Alliance hideout in Buroker’s story "Remnants" seems to be a fighter base), plus it’s much easier to recruit defecting fighter pilots than getting the crew of a larger vessel to agree to bolt. There were many pilot defectors during the Cold War, but no attempts by Soviet ships to flee. A dissident pilot can hide his feelings until he bolts; organizing a mutiny on a larger ship, especially in a police state like the Soviet Union (or the Sarellian Empire), is a much harder proposition.

So if you like space opera, I would recommend reading the Fallen Empire series, and if you want to see the war that took place before her stories begin, I would recommend you check out "Ten Davids, Two Goliaths."

15 Responses to “REPOST – Billy Mitchell, Fighters vs. Ships, and "Ten Davids, Two Goliaths"”

  1. Simon June 10, 2019 at 5:56 pm #

    Slight issue with no Soviet ship attempted to flee:


    • Matthew W. Quinn June 10, 2019 at 9:07 pm #

      I checked on that one specifically. It sounded like they wanted to kick off a military coup against the USSR, not to straight-up defect.

  2. John Ford June 11, 2019 at 2:21 am #

    Sigh,Battleships got a bad rap in WW II, many were from the 1910s and 20s with poorly designed protection for over the top attacks, the famous Bismark didn’t even have All or nothing armor.Most of the more modern ships designed to take such attacks in the late 30s were cancelled.The New Jersey and Yamato class were the best actually built,the Yamato was on a death ride against far superior forces and little support when sunk.Bad tactics also played a role battleships have always needed screens against small ships submarines and aircraft.When used without proper screens ships got sunk and everybody agreed the battleship era was over.However when used as part of a combined arms force operating miles in front of the carrier force they were very effective.This was mostly the USN,Surigao straights the largest battle, but many smaller fights as well, the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean Sea also saw some examples.What killed the battleships was expense and politics not lack of combat effectiveness.

    • Matthew W. Quinn June 11, 2019 at 3:00 am #

      You might be interested in the sequel, “Discovery and Flight,” where the Imperials use their capital ships to much greater effectiveness against fighter-heavy rebel forces. 🙂

  3. William Ameling June 11, 2019 at 2:46 am #

    One thing that I would like to point out for military battles in space: it is hard to justify hard upper speed limits on weapons and ships from very small ships, i.e. fighters, all the way up to the largest ships, other than the speed of light. There is no ocean of Water or Air to slow things down and keep them from going faster and faster and faster all long as they can keep accelerating.

    What limits you is your energy source and supplies of whatever you use to fuel that energy source, that powers your engines. Other limits are imposed by mass of all the equipment, time and the affects of acceleration on the cargo, particularly any life forms, i.e. the crew. People can withstand somewhat high g forces, i.e. several g s (for short periods, perhaps hours), but long periods will wear them down quickly. Higher g forces, like 10s to 100s or more g s, require something to shield them or reduce those g forces somehow.

    Higher (but still not near relativistic) speeds in planetary systems do have to worry about hitting space junk.

    I would also like to point out time scales, at 1 g it will take about a year (365 days) to get close to the speed of light and in that time you also travel about half a light year, which is MUCH larger than planetary system distance scales. Even at 100 g s it will take over 3 days to get close to the speed of light.

    At near relativistic speeds, you also have to worry about running into ANYTHING, including gases. You also have the affect of increasing the energy of cosmic rays, i.e. mostly high energy ionized atoms (hydrogen) or protons. When those ionized particles hit the hull of your ship they are going to generate a LOT of high energy secondary ionizing radiation that have VERY BAD affects on ANYTHING they hit, people, equipment, and electronics.

    I would also like to point out the problem of converting fission, fusion and anti matter energy sources into running your engines: it is very difficult to turn the energy they produce into net thrust, i.e. momentum going in one direction. Normally the high energy particles and X-rays and LOTS of Very high energy Gamma Rays (for anti matter reactions) spread how uniformly in direction. To get thrust you have to somehow capture most of the energy going in the wrong direction and turn it into energy going in a narrow direction. Most of that energy is either going to be lost or do bad things to the crew and ship, i.e. lots of very penetrating ionized radiation.

    Most Fusion reactions are also going to generate a lot of high energy neutrinos, which will not do anything to the ship and cargo since they are neutral, but on the other hand they take away a lot of the energy produced in that reaction.

    Turning that energy into a drive that uses light to supply thrust is very inefficient at producing thrust, first all the lost energy in absorbing the energy from the reaction and turning it into power, then large scale inefficiencies at turning power (probably electrical) into pumping your laser, and then the fact that photons do not generate a lot of momentum compared to their energy.

    On a different subject, using entanglement for FTL communication,

    First, it does not allow transfer of information at Faster than light. The scientists have have done many ingenious experiments trying to find FTL transfer of information and they can not find it. Our present well validated theories do NOT allow it, but they have looked a lot for it anyway.

    Second, it is very hard to keep the particles/photons entangled, so even if it did operate FTL, the entangled particles/photons would not stay that way for long enough to be useful. You will have to find a way of separating and carrying those entangled particles/photons to different locations, without breaking their entanglement.Trying to transport them to interstellar (or even interplalanetary) distances is going to be extremely difficult, i.e. impossible.

    Third, in order to read the information they are carrying you have to interact with them, i.e. measure them, after which they are NO LONGER Entangled and can not carry any new information. So even if you somehow found a way to do FTL communication with an entangled pair of particles or photons, as soon as you used them once, they are no longer useful.

    I reiterate: once you measue either particle in an entanglement, they are NOT entangled anymore after that. You HAVE to measure it in order to extract the information it is carrying. That information from a single pair of entangled particles/photons, by the way, is only going to be a single bit, i.e. yes/no or One/Zero, or a binary digit.

    • Matthew W. Quinn June 11, 2019 at 3:02 am #

      About non-FTL propulsion, are you familiar with nuclear pulse propulsion? The old-school version (Project Orion) involved a nuclear bomb pushing the spaceship along, but there’s a simpler version involving shooting uranium pellets with a laser.

      Compare propelling a car by shooting at gasoline cans with a shotgun and catching the explosive force in a sail vs. an internal combustion engine.

  4. William Ameling June 12, 2019 at 2:06 pm #

    Just to make things even clearer, when you create an entangled pair of particles or photons, the only information they carry was set when you created them, i.e particle/photon 1 is spin up and particle/photon 2 is spin down or vice versa 1 is down and 2 is up. Now separate them without measuring them by some distance, say a light minute (18 million kilometers). Now I measure my entangled particle/photon and I get spin up, that means that you a light minute away when you measure your particle/photon will get spin down. BUT that does NOT Transmit ANY information from me to you, the information was determined when the entangled particles/photons where created.

    If I try to send any information via the entangled particles, I Have to interact with it which breaks the entanglement which means that I know thaw it WAS spin up when I changed it, after that I may have changed it to spin Down. But ALL you will see is that your particle is spin Down. You will NOT see your particle as spin UP when you measure it. My changing of particle 1 has NO affect on your particle 2 because they are NO longer entangled after I change it. Therefore I can NOT transfer any information to via that formerly entangled particle. All I can do is send a photon from me to you at the speed of light to send message: spin Up or spin down. It is very difficult to keep the particles/photons entangled.

    Remember, in quantum mechanics, you can not measure something without affecting it (and those affects can only spread at the speed of light), the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle which is well verified.

    Yes, I bought and read the book (in paperback) about Project Orion that came out many years ago (20 or 30 years go). The author had access to many of the documents and people involved. If I remember correctly, the author may have been a son of one of them or talked to the son of one of them. Project Orion happened during the late 1950s and early 1960s, but eventually got canceled. The treaties forbidding nuclear tests in Earth’s Atmosphere would have killed it, if it was still alive when those treaties were signed (I do not remember what the dates were). At the time it was seriously considered and investigated (but we did not hear about it because it was classified for a long time).

    It might have been workable, but it would have been VERY dirty radioactively in it’s affects on the earth’s atmosphere. It was a very interesting book. It might have been workable from Earth’s orbit to another planetary body or moon. However, a lot of the energy from a nuclear bomb exploding below the pusher plate would have been wasted. They were looking at about one (small) fission bomb exploding PER SECOND during the acceleration phase. Trying to shield the crew and cargo from all of the ionizing radiation would have very difficult.

    If you are trying to use antimatter in SF stories what you are going to get is pure gamma rays, high energy photons. High energy gamma rays are very penetrating (they are much worse than X Rays) and will have bad affects on any energy collection mechanism, i.e. most the energy will be lost and do nothing useful, besides causing a LOT of damage your own ship and people, or the missile trying to use it for propulsion.

    If you want a weapon, try using an antimatter particle beam, but the self charges will disperse the beam quickly in a vacuum. A charged particle beam would have similar problems in a vacuum. In an atmosphere, interactions with the atmosphere will affect the (particle) beam fairly quickly. An antimatter particle beam in the atmosphere would affected even more quickly.

    By the way, an antimatter reaction or explosion will cause a lot of direct (ionizing) radiation damage from the gamma rays, but it will NOT producing any lingering secondary radioactive pollution like a fission bomb. Fusion bombs are little more clean, but will still interact with material around the bomb, i.e. the bomb casing, and therefore still create radioactive pollution (However, fusion bombs are still triggered by a fission bomb which generates it’s own pollution.)

    Any warship that carries antimatter for energy, propulsion and/or missile propulsion and/or warheads is carrying it’s own death sentence. If anything damages the antimatter storage, reactors, or missiles, that antimatter will severely damage or probably destroy the ship carrying it.

    • Matthew W. Quinn June 13, 2019 at 12:52 am #

      The guy who wrote the book PROJECT ORION is the son of one of the original people on the project.

  5. William Ameling June 13, 2019 at 4:05 am #

    That is what I thought I remembered, but I was not completely sure about it. If anyone who is a bookworm science nerd who likes SF and real history, it is interesting to read. I do not know if it is still in print, but I am sure it is available from major public libraries (maybe), used books sources, and possibly from online ebook/Kindle sources, or online sources.

    They might have been able to make it work. I think that they were looking at proposals for voyages to Mars and moons of Jupiter, for a manned spacecraft, possibly in the 1960s or 1970s, i.e. the same time period as the USA Apollo landings on the Moon.These would have been fairly substantial missions, much larger than Apollo’s 3 man crews going much greater distances for much longer periods of time.

    The biggest roadblock would have been all the radioactivity it would have put into the Earth’s atmosphere and biosphere (water and land as well), since we are talking about thousands or tens of thousands of fission bomb explosions., i.e. enough to fight a fairly large to major nuclear war.

    Even starting from Earth Orbit would have bad affects on our ability to use Earth’s orbital space afterwards (and we would have had to worry about it settling into the Earth’s Atmosphere from orbit), not counting the damage and contamination of where ever it tried to land (Mars or moon of Jupiter).

    A more modern version would use fusion bombs. A Science Fiction version might try to use Anti Matter reactions. But producing and storing safely enough Anti matter is a MAJOR technological challenge, Anti matter reactions would at least not generate any long term secondary radioactive contamination, but the primary ionizing radiation affects would be pretty bad: you would start with a lot of very high energy gamma rays (on the order of 1 GEV (or 1 billion electron volt) per photon), and if in an atmosphere those gamma rays would be absorbed and downgraded to X rays, 1000s to 10,000s of electron volts. A proton annihilating an anti proton would generate 2 one GEV photons, or close to millions of X rays in an atmosphere, from whatever energy (photons) that did not go into moving your spacecraft. Eventually those X rays get downgraded into Ultraviolet (UV) and visible photons, along with atmospheric shocks and heat.

    Someone could try to come up with SF stories where you had to leave in an emergency and did not worry about what was left behind, but it would still be a major effort that consumed a LOT of resources, that would not normally be available to be consumed, and would take a LOT of time to produce.

  6. W June 13, 2019 at 5:35 am #

    It takes a LOT of mass and equipment to stop and absorb the gamma rays from anti matter reactions, so that you can then “somehow” turn that energy of those gamma rays into thrust for space ships or missiles. That “somehow” will also take a lot of mass and high technology. There will be a lot of lost energy at all stages in the process, which will show itself as ionizing radiation, heat, etc. to your spacecraft or missile, which will drive up the mass needed to make it work safely.

  7. William Ameling June 14, 2019 at 3:43 am #

    Most secondary radioactivity come from two sources:

    1) nuclear fission of very heavy nuclei, usually U235 or Plutonium 239 which is created from U238 in special breeder reactors. The split nuclei are about half the mass of the original atoms are often very radioactive.

    2) the second source is from intense fluxes of neutrons generated in fission bombs, and can also be generated in fusion reactions depending on which materials are being fused. These neutrons can then react with other nearby atoms in the bomb case or whatever is near the bomb when it explodes (bombs that explode very close to the ground for instance). These neutrons will be absorbed by nuclei of other atoms and some of the products will also be very radioactive. Also fusion bombs are started by fission bombs.

    Ionizing radiation: Gamma rays and X rays lose energy by interacting with electrons of atoms they pass through and cause those electrons to escape the atoms leaving ionized atoms behind (hence the name ionizing radiation) which can break the chemical bonds holding those atoms in what ever material they are in, this has bad affects on the structure of that material, particularly when that material is biological, i.e. living cells.

    Gamma rays and X rays can also interact with the nuclei of those atoms and lose energy which will have bad affects as well. One Gamma Ray or X ray will ionize many (thousands or millions) atoms before it loses all of it’s energy.

    Trying to turn ionizing radiation into useful energy, e.g. electrical power, etc., is not easy and a lot of that energy will get lost.

  8. William Ameling June 14, 2019 at 3:54 am #

    Remember the neutron bombs that the USA was threatening to (or did) deploy back in the 1980s? Those bombs generated such high fluxes of neutrons that they could kill or make extremely sick the crews of many Soviet tanks at considerable distances on a battle field from just one bomb exploding. That is a LOT of neutrons from just one bomb. Those bombs generated a lot of controversy at the time about whether they should be made and deployed.

  9. William Ameling June 15, 2019 at 4:43 pm #

    You can use entangled particles/photons to serve as a one time key for communications. But my communication is to encrypt my signal by reading a sequence of entangled particles (which breaks the entanglement, hence the ONE time Key), and then I send my encrypted signal to you at the SPEED OF LIGHT with a laser beam (or with a radio signal which might be intercepted and copied in it’s encrypted form), you receive my message and then use your half of the set of entangled particles to decrypt my message. So I am NOT and CAN NOT send any message to you FTL (Faster Than Light). My message to you was at the speed of light. Sending you and me a ONE Time Key does not transmit any signal between us, and is done at light speed or slower. (Usually a courier HAND carries the ONE time pad to each of us).

    Entanglement is an inherently quantum mechanical process and has to analyzed quantum mechanically. Large, classical objects can not be entangled, only very small objects, such as individual photons and particles such as single atoms, or electrons can be entangled and stay entangled until something disturbs them, i.e. which breaks the entanglement and “hopefully” reads the state it WAS in. The other half of the entangled pair stays in the state it was created in until something disturbs it at the other end, it does NOT change it’s state because of what I did to the first entangled particle/photon. The only way I could send a message via an entangled particle requires me to change that particle/photon and hope that change is reflected in your half of the entangled pair, which you would like to happen at FTL speeds but it does not work that way. Objects are entangled when ONLY when they are created, and they only stay entangled until something disturbs(measures) them.

  10. William Ameling June 16, 2019 at 4:14 am #

    More precisely any pair of objects can be entangled if they are very near each other, but if they are very large, the entanglement collapses extremely quickly at ANY small disturbance, including any attempt to move them, i.e. change their state of motion, or any varying gravitational fields they encounter, or any inherent thermal noise of each large (a collection of many particles) object that you want to be entangled.

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