Shell Games

Every now and then, I am reminded of how embarrassing it can be to spout off and, in a casual aside to a posting, get some fundamental detail so glaringly wrong that those who know better practically beat each other up in their rush to correct me. Most recently, it was on Saturday, when I invented the term “theologists” instead of using the proper term “theologians.”

A good chunk of the right side of the blogosphere is irritated at a guy over at Daily Kos, who compares Osama Bin Laden to Ronald Reagan. I’ll leave the proper dissecting of this Kossack to others, but one paragraph of his leaped out at me:

So is Osama bin Laden truly “evil?” Most people who lost family members at the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001 would probably consider him to be evil. Was President Ronald Reagan evil? Most residents of Beirut who lost family members when the USS New Jersey rained 2,700 pound Mark 7 shells on residential neighborhoods in 1983 during the Lebanese Civil War probably considered Reagan to have been evil. Bottom line? Bin Laden is no more evil than other revolutionary leaders in other times or even than ordinary national leaders who propel their countries to war for “national honor,” or to acquire the resources of others, or even to “do good.”

(Emphasis added)

I’m a serious battleship geek. And this bozo, clearly, is not.

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That 2,700-lb figure leaped out at me. I knew that was the weight of the armor-piercing rounds of the New Jersey’s guns, but those wouldn’t be used for shore bombardment. Far more useful shells would be the high-explosive rounds, which came in at 1,900 pounds.

So I went to one of several sites I keep bookmarked, and looked up the specs on the New Jersey’s big guns. And according to that page, not only were my instincts right, but “FMArouet” is even wronger than I thought.

The New Jersey, like her sister Iowa-class battleships, carries 9 16″ (406-mm) guns. They are formally known as the 16″/50 Mark 7 guns. That translates into a diameter of 16 inches, a barrel length of 50 calibres (or multiples of the diameter, working out to 800 inches or 88 feet, 8 inches), and the seventh version of the 16″ gun to be accepted into naval service.

That’s the gun. Now as for the shells: the Navy accepted eight variants of shell for the gun. I feel fairly comfortable in dismissing the possibility that the target round and the armor-piercing rounds were not used in Lebanon, so that eliminates the two 2,700-lb. shells. I also think we can rule out the Nuclear Mark 23 round as well.

That leaves five possible shells, all of which weigh in at 1,900 pounds and all designed as high-explosive rounds, intended for use against unarmored or lightly-armored targets. And compared to to the kinds of armor the New Jersey’s guns were designed to penetrate (20″ of armor plating at 20,000 yards), pretty much any target in Lebanon was considered “lightly armored” at best.

Yeah, I know, it’s a fairly trivial detail. But it’s little details that add up, and this guy, plain and simple, got it wrong. That doesn’t detract from his point — that a shell from a battleship, whether it weighs 2,700 lbs. or 1,900 lobs, is still going to ruin your whole day — but it is, nonetheless, a simple mistake.

And one that he did not need to make.

Update: Nor did I need to make a math error and give the wrong barrel length for the 16″/50 gun — it’s 66 feet 8 inches, as Boyd pointed out. But then again, this piece wouldn’t have been complete without making some minor, pointless but stupid error, just like the one I’m mocking the other guy for. Sigh…

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