Monday, October 08, 2012

Getting it Right, Warship Names


Few people understand that the names people give objects give that object certain properties.  This holds true for Naval vessels as well, for in naming these ships the Fleet they belong to want to convey aspects of power.  As of late however many countries have been forgetting this.
            In viewing the new Iranian FFG’s of the Jamaran class one gets this impression, for the Jamaran, despite it’s impressive armament, is named after a neighborhood with an association with the Iranian revolution which few people, even those in Iran, understand the meaning of.  Even more unusual was the fact that IS-77 was planned to be named Sahand in honor of the Iranian FFG sunk by the Americans on April 18, 1988, however when many in Iran’s military, myself included, voiced strong approval of the name ali khameni changed the name of IS-77 to Veleyat after his position.  In doing so he broke a taboo of Naval Ships, to avoid naming the ship after a living person or head of state, a tradition I will expound on later, before transferring the name Sahand to another new Warship under construction.  However, the Iranian Navy is not the only Navy to make this mistake as of late, in point of fact almost every major Fleet has done this.
            As stated above one major taboo is not to name a Naval Vessel after the country, the head of state, or a living person.  The reason for this is to prevent any misfortune happening to the nation should some misfortune happen to the ship.  The nazi’s understood this and when war broke out they renamed the battleship Deutschland the Lutzow because of this taboo.  The US navy named one of it’s Supercarriers America, it was decommissioned in 1996, the year after Russia’s only Supercarrier outmaneuvered it during exercises, and was sunk as a target in 2005.  A new Amphibious Assault Ship named America has just been launched, however it incorporated some of the features, including the weaknesses, of the Spanish Juan Carlos I which the Iranians studied after 2 of that class were sold to Australia.  The only other nations in the western hemisphere that has a warship named after the country are Argentina, that ship is a Destroyer, Brazil, that ship is a Frigate used for training duties, and Uruguay, and that for two Frigates, one of which had mechanical problems shortly after being commissioned and which is now kept in reserve.  Consider also the history of every ship named United States.  The first was a sail Frigate, one of the sister ships of the USS Constitution, which was captured by the Confederates, the second was a Lexington class Battlecruiser which was cancelled within days of construction, the third was to be America’s first Supercarrier but was cancelled within days of construction, and the fourth was to be CVN-75 but was instead renamed after Harry S Truman.
            The US Navy, also has had the habit of naming more ships for living people.  While the purpose behind this is to honor someone who has made an outstanding contribution, this tradition has been pushed to it’s limit.  This tradition was revived in the 1970’s, the last time being used during the revolutionary war and stopped because of Benedict Arnold, however in the 1970’s the Navy decided to honor America’s longest serving congressman, Carl Vinson, who made things easy for the military during his tenure in congress.  Then after Admiral Hyman G. Rickover retired in 1982 the navy decided to name a SSN after him.  Though this practice was used sparingly things began to get out of hand after a SSN was named after jimmy carter, and such instances have become commonplace
            Notice also how the US Navy has also named some of it’s ships after foreigners, some of who have not had Warships named after them in their own country of origin, including Von Steuben, Simon Bolivar, and Winston Churchill, and notice how other countries are following the same trend of the US Navy.  The British have named the lead ship of the new Supercarriers under construction Queen Elizabeth, which is also the name of that country’s reigning monarch, as well as the name of a Battleship built during WWI and which served during WWII, and the second ship of the class, Prince of Wales, is named after the heir to the throne, and is also the name of a WWII Battleship which was sunk during WWII.  Spain, as noted already, has named an Aircraft Carrier/Amphibious Assault Ship after it’s reigning Monarch, Juan Carlos I, though it was named by popular decision, and it also has a FFG named after the Queen consort, Reina Sofia, an Aircraft Carrier after the heir to the throne, Principe de Asturias, and a DDG after the King’s father, Almirante Juan de Borbon.
            Just to give an idea of how nations on the brink of conflict and catastrophe tend to name ships after the rulers of a country, let alone living people, consider how on the outbreak of the First World War Germany, Russia, Great Britain, Spain, Sweden, and Italy had Battleships named after their ruling Monarch, Austria-Hungary had a Cruiser named after it’s reigning Monarch, and the Otomans were in the process of having a Battleship built which was named for their reigning Monarch.
            Also the nomenclature system for Naval ships reflects not only the power projection of that Warship but also the tone of that nation.  Notice how the US Navy, like the Russian, British, and French Navies, tends to change the nomenclature system for it’s Warships.  Currently the US navy has SSBN’s and SSN’s using state names, SSN’s, Littoral Combat Ships, aka FFG’s, Amphibious Assault Ships, and Logistical Support Ships using city names, CG’s and Amphibious Assault Ships using the names of battles, and DDG’s, FFG’s and various other ships using the names of soldiers and people who have made contributions to the military.  The British, have reverted to an offhand way of naming their ships, notice names like Astute and Artful for SSN’s, Diamond and Daring for DDG’s, and while these names are shared with historic British Warships they don’t sound too motivating.  The French similarly have now been calling their DDG’s Frigates, though giving them names of French provinces, and now naming their new SSN’s after their famous military officers.  The Russians are naming their new Mistral class Amphibious Assault Ships after cities, with the lead ship being named Vladivostok.  Russia has been naming it’s SSBN’s after founding figures of Russia and by naming the lead ship of the new Command Frigates after Admiral Gorshkov Russia is hinting that those Command Frigates are really DDG’s.
            Speaking of Command Frigates one way people are able to realize that the Command Frigates of Germany, The Netherlands, and Spain are really DDG’s other than by the armament are by the names.  For instance the Germans name their Command Frigates after Provinces, unlike their regular FFG’s which are named after cities, the Netherlands after famous ships and Admirals, and the Spanish after great military leaders.  In the case of the Netherlands the naming of the new Joint Support Ship Karel Doorman makes an excellent point, for by naming that ship after the Dutch Admiral who led the Dutch and Allied Naval forces in WWII, who was responsible for forming the winning strategy used by the Allies in the Pacific during WWII, who was killed at the Battle of the Java Sea implementing his tactics, and who had an Aircraft Carrier and a FFG named in his honor, the Royal Netherlands Navy is emphasizing the Amphibious Assault capability of the Joint Support Ship.  With the first mentioned the naming of provinces may rub some the wrong way.  Take the new German DDG under construction, the Baden-Wuerttemberg.  While named for a province, it is named for a province made up of a former Kingdom, Wuerttemberg, and Baden, ruled by the ranking Grossherzog of the old Deutsches Reich, as well as two Battleships of WWI, the Baden, which was the only German Battleship prevented from being scuttled by it’s crew at Scapa Flow, and the Wuerttemberg, which was not completed.  Many people in Germany have Royalist sympathies as well, and many of the deposed Royals not only perform their compulsory military service as German residents but maintain prominent positions in German affairs, and such a name makes many wince, including the grandnephew of Queen Charlotte of Wuerttemberg’s goddaughter, myself.
            Another excellent example of ship names emphasizing true capability are the coiches the Japanese Navy uses.  Recently the Japanese began naming their DDG’s after WWII Battleships and Cruisers.  When they decided to begin their new Helicopter Carrier, which was officially classified as a Helicopter Destroyer, they named it the Hyuga, after a Battleship which during WWII had it’s aft section converted to launch aircraft during combat.  When the Helicopter Destroyer Hyuga was launched everyone could see it had a flight deck like an Aircraft Carrier, and now the Japanese are strengthening the flight deck to accommodate tactical fighter/bomber aircraft now that China has acquired a Supercarrier.
            One other taboo which the US Navy has been breaking as of late is to name a Warship after a decommissioned Warship which is being preserved as a Museum, a tradition almost every other Navy in the World honors.  As of late the US Navy has named an SSBN after a Battleship preserved as a Museum, the USS Alabama SSBN-731 three new SSN’s after three Battleships preserved as Museums, the USS Texas SSN-775 which almost sank during it’s shakedown cruise, the USS North Carolina SSN-777 and the USS Missouri SSN-780.  Additionally SSN-775 is the second ship the US Navy has named Texas since the USS Texas BB-35 was preserved as a Museum.  Similarly the second Ticonderoga class CG was named Yorktown after the Aircraft Carrier Yorktown CV-10 preserved as a Museum, and since then has been decommissioned.  Already the US Navy has reused the names Constellation, Olympia, The Sullivans, Cavalla, Kidd, Barry, Little Rock, Marlin, Philadelphia, Silversides in active duty ships, some of which have been decommissioned or had less than sterling careers than the ships they were named for.
            There are reasons for giving Warships the name they have, namely for power, protection, and good fortune.  We forget the reason for this at our own risk.

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