An authorial take on refitting the captured wallers

From: “David Weber”
Subject: An authorial take on refitting the captured wallers
Date: Tuesday, December 20, 2005 5:27 PM

Okay, somebody I owe a favor to dropped me a query about what’s going to happen to all of the captured Havenite superdreadnoughts following the Battle
of Manticore. I am not going to read all of the posts on this thread, because I simply don’t have the time. As I understand it, however, the question revolves around whether or not the Alliance will be refitting the ships for service, and the debate about whether or not that would be done revolves around the need for additional wallers, the cost involved in refitting them, time constraints, crew availability, and long-term maintenance requirements.

(1) The need for additional wallers: While the Alliance will see a definite need for additional ships of the wall, it will NOT see any need for ships of the wall which are not and cannot be equipped with Apollo. Without tearing these ships apart, they can’t be equipped with Keyhole II, which means they can’t be equipped with Apollo, either. In addition, the Alliance has a great many Apollo-capable units of its own about to come out of the yards, and is going to be stretched pretty much to the max finding manpower for THEM, much less ships as personnel-intensive as these designs are. According to the e-mail which was sent to me, some people have suggested that they might be deployed to Silesia or even the Talbott Cluster. They don’t need wallers in Silesia, and while these ships would probably show up well against Solarian designs, if they’re going to commit the manpower needed to man them to the defensive Talbott, it would make an awful lot more sense to put those men aboard modern ships. Which, again, are going to be coming forward from the yards in quite large numbers very shortly, at a time when the Havenites have suffered sufficient losses that they literally cannot take the offensive against the Alliance.

(2) The cost involved in refitting them: As I believe I pointed out quite some time ago in relationship to the question of refitting pre-pod designs and refitting capital ships generally, the nature of the construction of a ship of the wall makes major relocation/replacement of components difficult. For example, you simply CAN’T refit a pre-pod ship into an SD(P), and replacing existing missile launchers or energy weapons is a nightmare task because of the armored compartmentalization you have to work your way through. It can be done, but it ties up a lot of yard capacity and costs a LOT. Trying to put Keyhole platforms into an existing ship of the wall not designed for them would be considerably more difficult than attempting to simply change out or rearrange the broadside armament. In fact, one of the reasons the Andermani refits ran as far behind as they did, was that to incorporate Keyhole required them to be modified on the ways, at a relatively early stage in their construction. (The original plans which Hamish discusses early in AT ALL COSTS were drawn when people didn’t realize how vital Keyhole II was going to be. The objective at that point was to get as many offensive platforms out there as they could [not using Apollo, because they didn’t know for sure if Apollo was even going to work] and relying on Keyhole I ships to provide missile defense for the less capable units. Once the testing program for Apollo revealed just how big an advantage it was, the refit plans had to be redrawn, which led to the Keyhole-dominated delays.) Those new Andermani units which had already passed that relatively early point in their building process either were completed WITHOUT Keyhole (i.e., according to the plans Hamish discussed early in the book), or — if they weren’t TOO far along — ripped apart to get them back to a point at which Keyhole could be accommodated. I would say that the cost involved in refitting these Havenite ships to Apollo standards would be quite high. Not as high as the cost of a complete new build ship, perhaps, but a significant percentage of that.

(3) Time constraints: The time required to refit the ships, for the reasons discussed in point (2) above, would also be significant. The amount of time/manpower hours which would have to be committed to it would, in my opinion, not be remotely commensurate with the value of the ships.

(4) Crew availability: Crew availability is a serious problem for the Alliance at this time. They probably GOOD provide the manpower for the ships, but they just finished losing the old-style MANTICORAN ships which were going to provide the cadre for their own new build construction. Now, quite a few of the new ships already have significant percentages of their commissioning crews assigned to them, so it’s not as if all of those new units are sitting there without any personnel at all. However, they are going to require a LOT of additional manpower, and BuPers is already being pushed hard meeting manning requirements. The ALLIANCE is not going to look favorably on coming up with all of the warm bodies needed to man what are, after all, at best second-tier units by the standards of current Alliance hardware.

(5) Long-term maintenance: IF there were a critical, short-term need for wallers, and IF these ships could be pushed through the refit process within a reasonable time frame, and IF the resources to pay for those refits were available, and IF the Alliance didn’t face manning constraints (or IF the ships weren’t personnel-intensive propositions), then it MIGHT make sense to put the ships into Alliance service. However, it makes absolutely no sense on any long-term basis, and at this point in the war, knowing what the Manticoran Admiralty knows about Havenite losses at Manticore and the relative efficacy of Apollo versus non-Apollo ships, the Admiralty is thinking end game in terms of its procurement strategies. Given all of the new construction which will be available well before the ships could be pushed through the refit process in the first place, there’s no practical use for them in the Alliance. (Mind you, IF the Alliance . . . strongly suspected that it was about to go to war against the Solarian League, THEN the Admiralty would no longer be thinking end game, and their evaluation of the utility value of
the ships might change. But whatever readers may know [or think they know], the Admiralty DOESN’T know/suspect that war with the League is just over the horizon. They are concerned about the possibility, perhaps, but not to a degree which is going to destabilize their existing procurement priorities.) Not only that, but the reason I stuck this under “long-term maintenance,” trying to keep the ships in service for any period of time would be a logistical nightmare. In order to provide them with the technical support they would require just for routine refits, they’d have to be basically completely gutted and refitted with “made in the Alliance” technology. Otherwise, every time you had a major breakdown, you’d be looking at building “one-of-a-kind” components for that specific breakdown. That’s why there are no longer ANY captured Havenite ships in Grayson were Manticoran service. The superdreadnoughts provided to Grayson were provided because it was the only way to get wallers into Grayson hands at that time. As soon as new construction was available, the ex-Havenite ships were taken out of commission and scrapped.

In conjunction with (5), I should probably add that at the beginning of the Havenite Wars, many of the disadvantages of putting captured ships of the wall into service were either overlooked or less significant than they have since become. When the Grayson’s refitted the ex-Havenite wallers they were given, they didn’t change out missile launchers, energy weapons, many of the radars, etc., because THERE WAS NO NEED TO DO SO. All of the long-term maintenance questions applied, but, again, at that time Manticore and Grayson most definitely were thinking about a very pressing short-term need for additional units. Moreover, at that time, there was no difference between the manning requirements of Havenite and Manticoran designs. It didn’t take any more people (at least within very narrow bounds) to man a Havenite superdreadnought than it did to man a Manticoran superdreadnought. Obviously, that’s no longer true. And on top of all of that, the electronics currently mounted in Manticoran designs are still qualitatively advanced over Havenite designs and have assumed sufficient importance — and require sufficiently different support structures — that ships are literally designed around
their EW suites. They have to have the proper bays for Ghost Rider platforms,
if they’re going to mount Keyhole, they have to be designed for that, etc.
In other words, there is a greater current difference between THE PHYSICAL
STRUCTURES of Havenite ships and Alliance ships than there was at the
beginning of the war. So, in order to equip the ships for service with the
Alliance, you’d have to do a much more thoroughgoing refit, you’d be faced with
the question of where you found spare parts when something broke down (if
it wasn’t something you’d completely changed out), and you’d have to come
up with the manpower to man them.

On balance, I’d have to say that unless something very significant comes along to change my mind between now and the next mainstream Honor novel, I can’t see any legitimate reason for the Star Kingdom or its Allies to put the ships into Manticoran service. It may be that if (and I DIDN’T say “if”) a shooting war with the League or a significant portion thereof breaks out, there will be someone in Manticore who will say “You know, it’s a real shame we didn’t put all those captured prizes into the refit pipeline; they may be pieces of crap, but they’d have been better than anything the Sollies have right now!” That, however, will represent a case of wisdom after the fact for people in the novels.

“Oh, bother!” Pooh said as Piglet came back from the dead.

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15 Responses to An authorial take on refitting the captured wallers

  1. _Arthur says:

    There must be hundreds, if not thousands of hulls to salvage, including, of course Manticoran hulls.
    I was asking myself the same question. Thank for answering your fans.

    I doubt Manticore can put superdreadnoughts hulls on the open market, the last thing anyone needs, is pirates armed with refurbished superdreadnoughts.

    In normal times, Manticore could use the raw metals for its shipbuilding industry, but I heard their shipyards had been obliterated lately.

  2. cm-t-bear says:


    I can’t see any legitimate reason for the Star Kingdom or its Allies to put the ships into Manticoran service.

    Manticoran service

  3. Bitslizer says:

    Go read mission of honor once its out! it (at least for me) “sort of” answer this question.

  4. Mark L says:

    The whole discussion of refurbishing captured wallers reminds me of something I often see in wargaming — obsession over ship types in naval wargames rather than their capabilities.

    It probably hit an acme in a series of games centered around “War at Sea” where there were all sorts of variants adding in obsolete pre-dreadnought or dreadnought battleships. The peak of the silliness was a variant adding a Greek contingent that consisted of Kilkis and Lemnos, two ancient Mississippi-class pre-dreadnoughts that were so bad when they were built (much less by WWII) that the United States sold them to Greece prior to WWI just to get rid of them. By 1941 they could barely go to sea, but they *did* have 4 12-inch and 8 8-inch guns on them, so they were rated as the equivalent of a WW-II heavy cruiser!

    Ri-i-ght. I suspect that from Manticore’s point of view the Haven prizes are just as useful — and just as relevant. Even after Oyster Bay.

  5. cm-t-bear says:

    @4 Ri-i-ght. I suspect that from Manticore’s point of view the Haven prizes are just as useful — and just as relevant. Even after Oyster Bay.

    It doesn’t make sense to refurbish them, that a given! But there are political reasons not to scrap them esp. after OB happens.

    The point people seem to be missing is, what if someone(s) didn’t have to refurbish them and have the parts or could get the parts to run and maintain some or all the SD(P)’s.

    Use of these politically would go a long way to repair some of the ill feelings and damage caused by the High Ridge Government, and in one case just help a friend.

  6. Bitslizer says:

    @5, not just politically, i’m sure it help a great deal strategically and tactically as well!

  7. _Arthur says:

    I expect Manticore may have captured several hundreds, if not thousands, havenite LACs, in working order.

    Those can presumably can be put into service in tht Talbot cluster as soon as a regular supply in compatible missiles (and other ancillary services) can be arranged.

  8. jj says:

    I would think that you could just use the Haven SDs as deterents and Potemkin Villages. Place say 10 at Sidemore, make it look like they’re manned, and you’ve got a force to be reckoned with.

    Same with Lynx Terminus, Lynx System, Basilisk, Trevor’s Star. They sit around, and act like forts, or targets that need to be taken out before the forts get attacked (so as to waste enemy missiles)

    You could even use them to get Talbott up to snuff by having them use refitting to gain experience with “modern” hardware, while having an SD or two lying around in the system, looking like a force to avoid, or if you’re the SLN, to waste alot of missiles on. They could even use them for crew training.

  9. Daryl says:

    Yet in 1940 when the Nazi’s newest heavy cruiser the Bluecher led an invasion force into Norway it was sunk by one shot from a shore defence gun that had been obsolete for decades. Just because something is old doesn’t mean it is completely useless.

  10. Daryl says:

    Yet in 1940 when the Nazi’s newest heavy cruiser the Bluecher led an invasion force into Norway it was sunk by one shot from a shore defence gun that had been obsolete for decades. Just because something is old doesn’t mean it is completely useless.

  11. Mark L says:

    @9: “Yet in 1940 when the Nazi’s newest heavy cruiser the Bluecher led an invasion force into Norway it was sunk by one shot from a shore defence gun that had been obsolete for decades. Just because something is old doesn’t mean it is completely useless.”

    Well, that’s the thinking that leads to inferior, decrepit, pre-dreadnought battleships that can barely raise steam being treated as the equivalent of a (then)-modern heavy cruiser.

    Blücher was only damaged by the two (not one) hits from a three-gun battery of 11″ guns. Those were the only two shots those guns were able to fire, by the way. And they fired from point-blank range. The third gun didn’t even get a shot off before Blücher steamed out of its field of fire. While the damage those guns inflicted was severe, it was hardly fatal. Blücher was able to press on with its mission, was engaged by other batteries — including a six-inch battery that knocked out the cruiser’s rudder. Despite that damage, Blücher continued its attack, albeit steering with engines, until it was struck by two very non-obsolete torpedoes launched from a shore-mounted torpedo battery. (Yes, those torpedoes dated from WWI, but they were not much different than those still being used by most navies in WWII.) Those hits filled the hull with enough water to sink the ship.

    So in Weberian terms, the Havenite SD equivalent weapon caused damage, but not enough to prevent the ship from carrying out its mission, and the ship was sunk by the equivalent of pre-Apollo Manticoran weapons that would have destroyed the target regardless of the damage inflicted earlier. So, if you are manpower-constrained (which Maticore and its allies are. . . ) why bother with the Haven SDs?

  12. Thirdbase says:

    Mark L,

    You are a bit wrong about your description of the sinking of the Blucher. True it was hit twice by the 11″ guns, but the 3rd didn’t fire, because it was unmanned. Second the torpedoes were not WWI, but nearly 40 years old, they had been purchased in 1901 when the torpedo battery was installed. So it’s more like it was sunk by single drive missiles, than pre-Apollo MDMs. And while the Blucher continued its mission, it didn’t succeed in it, and the rest of the ships withdrew without completing it.

    “Just because something is old doesn’t mean it is completely useless.”

    I would point out that the Iowa class BBs were in service for over 45 years, and were not obsolete when finally decommissioned, yes they had by upgraded, but the 16” guns were still WWII vintage.

    The Fairey Swordfish Torpedo bombers sank an Italian BB and disabled the Bismarck leading to it’s sinking. They were considered obsolete at the time.

    While counting an old and unmaintained ship for game purposes may seem silly, the Germans did take the time and materials to sink both ships during their attack.


    They captured over 3000 LACs, along with 68 SDs of various types, 7 CLACs and unknown smaller ships.

  13. Daryl says:

    Sorry folks, next time I’ll check facts & not just rely on memory. The point remains that in some circumstances old kit can still be of use. A lot would depend on timing but if the old SDs hadn’t been scrapped by the time of Oyster Bay then the relative value of them would change to better than nothing, even if just as automated targets that would cause the Sollies to waste munitions.

  14. Phil B says:

    I think they should be used as anchor points for disbursed shipyards. The interior can be upgraded in that direction much easier. I was part of the crew that mothballed a US Destroyer. Before it was mothballed, it felt like there was no real room left. The ship was 33yrs old, with 33yrs worth of upgrades crammed into a hull they were not intended for. During the mothball process a fair amount of extra stuff was removed. I remember thinking at the end “now this is liveable”. Interior bulkhead are easier to cut than the hull is supposed to be(ours was so rusted a chipping hammer went though the hull). It still won’t be cheap, but using the hulls and fusion plants as a start would help.

  15. Succotash says:


    Give ’em back :) Just ask for some prize money.

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