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Neph

"A Ship's a Fool to Fight a Fort"

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"A Ship's a Fool to Fight a Fort" is a very old saying attributed to Nelson. The concept that a ship is no match for a reasonably fortified naval artillery base. This certainly made sense in the era when ships were wood and packed muzzle-loaded non-explosive cannon, vs stone forts with possibly heated shot. 

At what point would we say fortification lost the race against ships?

Edited by Neph

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27 minutes ago, Neph said:

"A Ship's a Fool to Fight a Fort" is a very old saying attributed to Nelson. The concept that a ship is no match for a reasonably fortified naval artillery base. This certainly made sense in the era when ships were wood and packed muzzle-loaded non-explosive cannon, vs stone forts with possibly heated shot. 

At what point would we say fortification lost the race against ships?

I’d say Civil War. When you had ironclad monitors bombarding forts. See Vicksburg for comfirmation. I think one could probably debate an earlier point where wooden warships overcame the capacity of forts to defend, but a particular example doesnt come to mind.

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43 minutes ago, Neph said:

"A Ship's a Fool to Fight a Fort" is a very old saying attributed to Nelson.

Funny that Nelson said that, considering that he definitely besieged a few forts in his day.

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9 minutes ago, 1Sherman said:

Funny that Nelson said that, considering that he definitely besieged a few forts in his day.

A siege and an assault are two different things.

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On 10/22/2018 at 2:09 PM, Neph said:

"A Ship's a Fool to Fight a Fort" is a very old saying attributed to Nelson. The concept that a ship is no match for a reasonably fortified naval artillery base. This certainly made sense in the era when ships were wood and packed muzzle-loaded non-explosive cannon, vs stone forts with possibly heated shot. 

At what point would we say fortification lost the race against ships?

Part of the reason wooden ships were so vulnerable was elevation.  A single cannon on a modest cliff could be enough to defeat a man-o-war.  A battery emplaced in the rocks could withstand hundreds of cannons balls with minimal losses, vs a wooden warships, which would cause expensive damage to the ship.  And as I recall, bomb ketches only had one or two mortars.  Basically an entire ship had to be dedicated to small battery of anti-fort artillery while any land position could have all the mortars they wanted and counterfired.

I would say before WWI, it became clear that superior artillery guns were just too large to effectively use on land anymore.  The manpower and infrastructure requirements just made these guns too expensive and unwieldy to use on land, and thus not worth it.  In times past, those with the superior artillery with the better range had the initiative, forcing the enemy army to attack, else suffer casualties and have nothing to show for it.

French_railway_guns_340mm_Mle_1912_Schne

However, the unwieldiness of these guns was not felt on the ocean.  Heavy objects could be efficiently transported and used on water.  71% of the Earth is covered by water, and Dreadnoughts could effectively transport these giant weapons and use them in that space quickly and efficiently.  This would be the point I think ships because superior to forts.

Brazilian_battleship_Minas_Geraes_firing

An 11in gun in a fort could only ever be used at that fort, where as an 11in gun on a ship could be used almost anywhere.  At that point, it just wasn't worth arming forts with the same guns as a capital ship.  And if a fort didn't have the matching range of a ship, that means the ship controls the engagement.  While forts still could be sheltered against bombardment, it was no longer foolish for Dreadnoughts to fight forts.  The disparity of firepower was becoming enormous by WWII between forts and Battleships.  The economics of naval fortresses just weren't there.

There are exceptions of course, like the Battle of Drøbak Sound, but that was the result of the element of surprise.  The Pocket Battleship Deutschland had vastly superior fire in that scenario, with matching 11" guns.

Edited by Sventex
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With the introduction of the aircraft carrier.  The ship itself ceased to be the weapon.  Aircraft could deliver a blow to a fort and it could do nothing to the ship delivering it.

The object of forts against naval forces prior to that wasn't offensive, but defensive.  Forts allowed for the protection of important points along a coast that were necessary for an invader to capture in order to pursue a land war.  They also protected harbors friendly naval forces used from attack.  Naval forces would be forced to engage the forts in order to capture the harbor or other important feature the forts protected.

It is interesting to note that with the introduction of rifled breechloading artillery and propellants other than black powder,  it was almost singularly the United States that built coast defenses in quantity using guns that rivaled those of modern battleships.  The 3rd system Endicott forts had guns mounted to 14" in size, and relatively large numbers of them.  These were supplemented in the 20's by a considerable number of 16" guns.  Other nations didn't adopt such guns for the most part, placing a few large ones at the most critical points and generally relying on smaller pieces everywhere else.  The British, for example, settled on using mostly 6" guns with a smaller number of 9.2".  The French and Germans tended to use leftover and obsolescent naval pieces for such purposes.

In Japan, their coast defenses were mostly an afterthought relying heavily on obsolete artillery and leftover bits of ordinance they could scrape up.

Singapore was often called "The Gibraltar of the East" by the British and touted as an unassailable fortress.  Yet, the harbor defenses of Manila Bay by the US easily eclipsed and far exceeded the British ones in quantity and size of gun.

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WW1 was probably the last time forts had any major impact on any battle strategy involving warships. Even then, the exchange between the ships of that time and the forts arsenal were about even. Only big thing being, the fort didn't have to worry about sinking. Forts at that point had to be taken into consideration and any assault by ship had to be thoroughly planned out and gain/losses weighed.

During WW2, warships were sporting more accurate and powerful artillery that could be directed to a target outside line of sight. Stationary Forts were also typically avoidable and only those in the most strategic locations would have to have been bothered with at all. Notice how few were actually dealt with though by warships. Most forts that played any significance during WW2 were mainland and dealt with ground forces, but even they only lasted as long as it took the attacking side to bring up long-range artillery.

Now, that's not to say that sea forts didn't go up during WW2. There are the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maunsell_Forts which were used to "defend" the UK. But I seriously doubt that they'd have stood much of a chance against a enemy warship of cruiser class... maybe could have done ok against a Destroyer. Chances are, they might could probably/potentially deal some damage, but I'd personally say that they'd have been wiped out had something gone after them. Now, as a AA platform, I'm sure they would have/did do wonders... if the enemy was within range.

The last major "fort"ification that Warships had to deal with directly were the Japanese controlled islands with their massive tunnel networks and artillery imbedded in the sides of mountains. Those guns didn't really do much at all to the warships and only really came into play when the transport ships neared the islands. The Battleships were practically uncontested as they lobbed shells into the island. You can imagine just how bad it would be if the Japanese had constructed a concrete "target" and stuffed all of their weapons into it instead of spaced out over an entire island.

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The Maunsell Forts and the Royal Navy's sea forts were intended for a totally different purpose.  They were not there to fight ships.  They were there to close gaps in Britain's radar system and provide early warning of air attacks.  The Maunsell Forts were run by the British Army and were essentially a 3.7"  AA battery with some light AA to help defend it and the associated radar.  These forts were placed across the Thames estuary to close a gap in CHL (Chain Home Low) that was being exploited by the Luftwaffe.  The AA guns accomplished the same goal closing a gap in the AA defenses.

The RN's sea forts  were placed further out in the Channel and performed the same function.  They gave earlier warning of low flying aircraft.  They had 2 3.7" AA guns and 2 40mm Bofors for defense.

Had Japan had the resources to fortify their islands in the Pacific to the degree the US did for coast defense, I would say it might well have been prohibitive to take them.  If you take, say Tarawa atoll and fortify it like the US might, there would have been multiple airfields scattered miles apart on different islands, along with coast defenses on many of the islands as well.

tarawa+Map.jpg

This would have made taking the atoll much harder than it was.  Add in numerous small craft and warships along with some submarines all stationed in the lagoon with support ships and facilities, and it would have presented a much tougher nut to crack than simply having to overcome the defenses on Betio.

For the Japanese this would have been a cheaper means of defending these atolls than if they relied heavily on the Imperial Navy to come to their rescue.

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5 hours ago, Fishrokk said:

A siege and an assault are two different things.

You're still shooting at something either way.

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1 hour ago, Murotsu said:

The Maunsell Forts and the Royal Navy's sea forts were intended for a totally different purpose.  They were not there to fight ships.  They were there to close gaps in Britain's radar system and provide early warning of air attacks.  The Maunsell Forts were run by the British Army and were essentially a 3.7"  AA battery with some light AA to help defend it and the associated radar.  These forts were placed across the Thames estuary to close a gap in CHL (Chain Home Low) that was being exploited by the Luftwaffe.  The AA guns accomplished the same goal closing a gap in the AA defenses.

The RN's sea forts  were placed further out in the Channel and performed the same function.  They gave earlier warning of low flying aircraft.  They had 2 3.7" AA guns and 2 40mm Bofors for defense.

Had Japan had the resources to fortify their islands in the Pacific to the degree the US did for coast defense, I would say it might well have been prohibitive to take them.  If you take, say Tarawa atoll and fortify it like the US might, there would have been multiple airfields scattered miles apart on different islands, along with coast defenses on many of the islands as well.

tarawa+Map.jpg

This would have made taking the atoll much harder than it was.  Add in numerous small craft and warships along with some submarines all stationed in the lagoon with support ships and facilities, and it would have presented a much tougher nut to crack than simply having to overcome the defenses on Betio.

For the Japanese this would have been a cheaper means of defending these atolls than if they relied heavily on the Imperial Navy to come to their rescue.

You made me remember a little thing from the post-war interrogation of VAdm.Wenneker.  He was the naval officer for the German embassy in Tokyo during the war.  One of the amusing things he said:

"Japanese Attitude and Capabilities


Early in the war I made a trip through the South Sea Islands (NEI) and up through the MARIANAS to see conditions with my own eyes. I was astounded in the South Seas. The Japanese there were thoroughly enjoying the lush life. They had parties continually and were drinking all the liquor they had captured. I asked them why they did not prepare fortifications and do something to make these places stronger, but they said that the Americans would never come, that they could not fight in the jungle and that they were not the kind of people who could stand warfare in the south. As far as I know all those people in those places, both Army and Navy, once they had got into a place where there was no fighting, would do nothing more about the war."

 

Anyways, Tarawa was screwed for the Japanese.  Rabaul, New Guinea, the Solomon Islands chain was supposed to be their defensive line but that all went to sh*t by 1943.  Guadalcanal was supposed to be the forward most, but the US suddenly showed up before they could set up a proper base, garrison, and air groups.  The IJA were in deep trouble in New Guinea dealing with the Aussies and Allied reinforcements, the Solomons were lost, Rabaul was being raided and isolated.  All the Japanese effort had been for Guadalcanal and these regions.  Even the IJN bled itself dry in this area of the war.  And when this all went t--ts up, Tarawa was screwed.  These islands, atolls in the Central Pacific were never getting fortified because all the effort was for the south.  The Japanese were barely making shipments to these southern combat zones, and were taking losses as they tried.

 

Anyways, cool thread.  Like seeing stuff with Big Guns.

Edited by HazeGrayUnderway

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What the US did to invade Tarawa and the Caroline Islands was pick an atoll the Japanese didn't own.  That was Funafuti atoll.  A Marine regiment was sent to take the atoll and greeted by an officer of the New Zealand Army and his three constables.  The USN moved in two Seebee battalions and went to work.  In under 90 days they'd dredged the lagoon creating a 100 ship anchorage, built an airfield, and a base on the main island in the group.  The Navy next moved in a fleet service train unit and created a ship repair and service facility in the lagoon.  Ships anchoring there could get almost any but the most major repairs done, were fueled and resupplied, including such luxuries as ice cream (the USN brought a refrigerated barge to make it).

bases2-p233.jpg

The USAAF flew in a couple of B-24 bomber groups that started daily raids on Tarawa, and in the process shot down or destroyed most of the defending Japanese fighter planes.  That was the first mobile island base the US set up in the Pacific War.  Guadalcanal became the rear area base to Funafuti.

Surprisingly, the Japanese didn't discover that the US had even occupied Funafuti until early 1944...

The Japanese did start to fortify many of their island bases in the Central Pacific after the Mankin atoll raid when it was driven home that the US was indeed coming to get them.  But, by then they'd wasted a year and it was getting difficult to ship the materials to those islands.

 

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9 minutes ago, 1Sherman said:

You're still shooting at something either way.

The assaults on forts, rather than 'sieges' were typically done at night, using the ships boats filled with Marines and sailors. Examples would include Nelson being repulsed at Santa Cruz de Tenerife in 1797.

 

For the original question I would probably agree that around the American Civil War marks the turning point with 'forts' of decreasing value after that. The advent of less vulnerable steel ships, longer ranged gunnery, explosive shell, propulsion not dependent on wind, all had parts to play. The arms race over range swings back and forth. Sea power became more 'strategic' with the ability to protect small fixed areas becoming less useful. At the same time normal artillery batteries became more mobile, trucks could tow 6in field guns while earlier trains of horses could slowly reposition less potent artillery, railway guns came into being. Field artillery did end up engaging ships, and being heavily engaged by ships as late as WWII, in particular in connection to amphibious landings. Fortifications still had a role, but were rarely successful.

 

 

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Forts also got expensive as time went on.  The US Endicott forts of the third system (disappearing gun forts) cost the US about $127 million from 1886 to 1905 (that's about $4 to $5 billion in today's money.  That is a huge expense for the time... More than the Manhattan Project for example).  It probably would have ruined most countries to do something similar, but the US at the time really didn't have an army to speak of so this represents most of the defense spending outside of the Navy.

After WW 1, the US built hundreds of "Panama Mounts" for 155mm guns.  These were a simple concrete ring that the gun was emplaced on giving 360 degree 155_mm__Panama_fs.jpg

fields of fire.  They were cheap to build and with mobile guns they represented a way to move coast defense artillery to points that were threatened quickly.

Battery%20155mm%20gunsite%20with%20panam

These batteries were pre-surveyed so they could rapidly bring their guns into action and fire on a target with great accuracy.

The other new mounts were 12" and 16" barbette mounts with 360 degree fields of fire.  These too were relatively cheap to build and the guns typically were set back from the coast in positions where they would be firing indirectly on their targets obscured by terrain from return fire and observation.

Gun16Pan01.jpg

The 16"/50 M 1919 gun was one of the longest ranging pieces built for coast defense anywhere, being able to fire to 49,000 yards and it had a maximum elevation of 65 degrees.  That gave it the ability to conduct plunging fire on almost any target.

The big vulnerability all of this had was to air attack.  Against just ships, these defenses would likely win every time.

 

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And yet forts appear to have returned to the field.

Beijing's South China Sea sand fortresses appear to be very intimidating A2D players (area denial). Combining airfields with hardened cruise missile and point defence facilities, they would be very very expensive to assault.

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1 minute ago, HMS_Formidable said:

And yet forts appear to have returned to the field.

Beijing's South China Sea sand fortresses appear to be very intimidating A2D players (area denial). Combining airfields with hardened cruise missiles and point defences, it would be very very expensive to assault them.

An ICBM costs about what, 20 million USD?  Would these fortresses be able to stop an ICBM?  And are the fortifications as a whole cheaper than an ICBM?

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3 minutes ago, Sventex said:

An ICBM costs about what, 20 million USD?  Would these fortresses be able to stop an ICBM?  And are the fortifications as a whole cheaper than an ICBM?

which means not only game over for all involved, but for everyone on the planet.

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10 minutes ago, HMS_Formidable said:

which means not only game over for all involved, but for everyone on the planet.

Because a sand fortress got nuked?  Doubtful.  The point of no return are civilian targets, and those sand fortresses are lacking that protection, being isolated out in the ocean with little chance for collateral damage.  And if Chinese naval fortresses needed to be assaulted, the crap already hit the fan long ago. 

Edited by Sventex

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4 minutes ago, Sventex said:

Because a sand fortress got nuked?  Doubtful.  The point of no return are civilian targets, and those sand fortresses are lacking that protection, being isolated out in the ocean with little chance for collateral damage.  And if Chinese naval fortresses needed to be assaulted, the crapalready hit the fan long ago.

Clearly you are unaware China also possesses nukes. So if you take out Fiery Cross for example, they'll take out Guam. And the MAD cycle begins.

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10 minutes ago, HMS_Formidable said:

Clearly you are unaware China also possesses nukes. So if you take out Fiery Cross for example, they'll take out Guam. And the MAD cycle begins.

The Chinese nuclear arsenal is very modest, only there for "minimum deterrent posture".  There may not be enough reliable ICBMs at the ready for them to fully counter attack having an estimated 66 ICBMs (some fairly untested with warheads and probably won't reach their targets).  The point is that those naval fortifications can be very cheaply taken out.  The economics of Naval Forts aren't really there in a real total war.

Edited by Sventex

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On 10/22/2018 at 5:09 PM, Neph said:

At what point would we say fortification lost the race against ships?

 

On 10/22/2018 at 5:40 PM, monpetitloup said:

I’d say Civil War. When you had ironclad monitors bombarding forts. See Vicksburg for comfirmation. I think one could probably debate an earlier point where wooden warships overcame the capacity of forts to defend, but a particular example doesnt come to mind.

 

The Civil War was definitely the beginning of the end of the Naval Fortress. Cannon's became rifled as well as explosive which really began to wreck the fort's walls.

 

I think the end of the Fortresses was likely WW2 though. With the dominance of the Airplane, where as a Battleship could only reach as far inland as its guns range, an Airplane could fly in much further.

Most coastal batteries in the US were removed/decommissioned after WW2.

The remnants of several Fortresses and Coastal Batteries still remain.

maxresdefault.jpgcoastal-artillery-battery-sevastopol-ukr6in_Rifled_Gun_No_9.jpg

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