Searchlight Use

Discussions about the history of the ship, technical details, etc.

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30knots
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Searchlight Use

Post by 30knots » Fri Feb 18, 2011 4:42 am

Hi Folks,

Quick question for you experts;

How much does the use/effect of searchlights come into play during a sea battle (even during the day, but more at night of course). Can you use them, even from substantial distances to ‘dazzle’ the enemy and the enemy’s range finding equipment, at the expense of giving your own position away? I wouldn’t want to be looking through a pair of high powered binoculars full on straight into a searchlight or 3.

Or am I way off the mark?

Thanks for any replies.

30knots

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Re: Searchlight Use

Post by celticmarine10 » Fri Feb 18, 2011 3:52 pm

I'm no expert but I think it would be a lot harder to find the range for the guns onto a dark target at midnight. If there are searchlights on, you'd probably be able to guess where on the ship the light is and thus be able to aim more precisely. Maybe get the range through the brightness of the light? I don't know but searchlights would probably be a lot more useful at close range, but even then you probably wouldn't need range finders anyway if your that close.To be completely honest, these are only guesses... but its the best I've got.

regards,

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Re: Searchlight Use

Post by Olaf » Fri Feb 18, 2011 4:58 pm

I think searchlights would be impractical. Given the great distance, the 'beam' needs to point exactly at the enemy's optics, even a fraction of a degree off, and you would ruin the blinding effect. Think about how difficult it would be to 'hit' the small optics and to keep the beam on a moving target - which btw, is maybe as large (small!) as your thumb if you look at it with the naked eye.

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Re: Searchlight Use

Post by lwd » Fri Feb 18, 2011 7:38 pm

There are a fair number of references to their use in the battles off Gaudalcanal. I haven't gotten the new book out on this yet but the author did a pretty good job with Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors. See:
http://www.borders.com/online/store/Tit ... 055380670X
or
http://www.amazon.com/Neptunes-Inferno- ... pd_sim_b_5
or your favorite book seller.

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Re: Searchlight Use

Post by 30knots » Sat Feb 19, 2011 11:15 pm

Thanks for your replies guys.

30knots

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Terje Langoy
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Post by Terje Langoy » Sun Feb 20, 2011 10:10 am

G´day all

The searchlights aboard the Scharnhorst class were, if I remember correctly, linked directly to their range finder equipment via something called Synchron-Richtgeräte ... thus whatever direction their range finders were pointed their searchlights would automatically be pointed in the very same direction.

I presume they were to aid the artillery process by illuminating the target for the range finders; enhancing the stereoscopic image at night, rather than acting as a blinding instrument upon the target. Range would of course be a variable crucial to their effectiveness.

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Re: Searchlight Use

Post by phil gollin » Sun Feb 20, 2011 10:54 am

Looking at "early" (pre-radar) WW2 Royal Naval practice, their main idea would be to have supporting destroyers using their large stabilised searchlights to illuminate targets "from the side" - whilst the big ships used their flashless or reduced flash charges to fire to keep relatively hidden. (See Matapan).

However, the development of an effective, long-lasting star-shell was an alternative - such that tactics for star-shell use were practiced extensively.

If/when the enemy started firing on a lit searchlight the idea would be to change to another destroyer and depending on circumstances the big ships would use theirs.

Searchlights were extremely effective, but a very good aiming point. Except in major engagements star-shells SEEM to have been more effective and flexible. Radar obviously changed the game, but note how star-shell were used at North Cape - they were an integral part of RN night-fighting (remember the early Battle class destroyers being completed with an extra low-angle 4.5" "star-shell" gun !)

.

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Re:

Post by Dave Saxton » Sun Feb 20, 2011 3:30 pm

Indeed starshell remained a intergral part of RN night fighting throughout WWII, with or without radar. The starshell practice probably helped to spot the fall of shot for bearing with either 284M or 274 radar direction. 284M used an A-scope presentation, and if the antenna was not aimed directly at the target the trace would blink, but if it was aimed directly at the target the trace would hold solid. Type 274 10cm surface gunlaying radar introduced in 1944 could not spot the fall of shot.
Terje Langoy wrote:G´day all

The searchlights aboard the Scharnhorst class were, if I remember correctly, linked directly to their range finder equipment via something called Synchron-Richtgeräte ... thus whatever direction their range finders were pointed their searchlights would automatically be pointed in the very same direction.

I presume they were to aid the artillery process by illuminating the target for the range finders; enhancing the stereoscopic image at night, rather than acting as a blinding instrument upon the target. Range would of course be a variable crucial to their effectiveness.

Best regards
Just to clarify this would be the special night optics and not the regular large range finders used in daylight. The night optics had an effective range of about 10,000 meters and required some form of artificial light to illuminate the target for the night range finders. Usually this was starshell, unless the range to target was rather short. The KM also had infared equipment to assist the night optics mainly for target acquisition and bearing. Note that when Bismarck drove off Vain's destroyers it used no artificial light to target the destroyers.
Entering a night sea battle is an awesome business.The enveloping darkness, hiding the enemy's.. seems a living thing, malignant and oppressive.Swishing water at the bow and stern mark an inexorable advance toward an unknown destiny.

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Re: Re:

Post by José M. Rico » Sun Feb 20, 2011 6:02 pm

I think you are correct, Dave. I had a conversation some time ago with a guy who asked me if Bismarck used her searchlights during that night, and I have never found anything to suggest that she did. Müllenheim-Rechberg said that the night was pitch-black, but they tracked the destroyers on their rangefinders from 8,000 meters down to 3,000. The British did however use starshells.

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Re: Searchlight Use

Post by Bill Jurens » Mon Feb 21, 2011 2:50 am

The USN found that seachlights were almost useless in firing against a target that was firing against you; the haze of spray thrown up by enemy 'shorts' quickly reduced one's own visibility to near-zero. And, of course, they also provided an excellent aiming point for the enemy. If an enemy ship using searchlights engaged you, the best practice was to fire 'shorts' until he was blinded. If he doused searchlights, which was the smart thing to do, then so be it. If he kept searchlights on, then range up until you felt hits were more probable. Never turn on one's own searchlights at an enemy that had the potential to shoot back; illuminating someone else's target could be very productive indeed.

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Re: Searchlight Use

Post by RF » Wed Feb 23, 2011 8:41 am

There was an interesting observation by Theodor Detmers in his account of hilfskreuzer Kormoran - after the first nightime attack on a merchantman he decided to dispense with his searchlight in favour of starshell as the field of vision of the searchlight was too narrow and appeared to illuminate objects such as smoke and spray in front of the target rather than the target itself. This decision was made he says even though one one of Kormoran's four guns would be needed to fire the rocket shells.
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Re: Searchlight Use

Post by paul.mercer » Fri Feb 25, 2011 9:26 pm

It certainly worked when Warspite, Barham & Valiant blew the Italian cruisers to pieces at Matapan, just imagine, 24 X 15" shells smacking into relativly lightly armoured cruisers - carnage!

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Re: Searchlight Use

Post by phil gollin » Sat Feb 26, 2011 10:37 am

It has always amused me when I hear the "gee wizz" naval gunnery accuracy fans exclaiming how wonderful WW2 era gunnery was to remember Matapan.

Warspite managed to hit her (ridiculously short-ranged) target with 5 out of the 6 shells of her first salvo (only three turrets bore on the target). Cunningham said words to the effects of " My God ! We've hit her ! " - I don't think he was as optimistic as many on the internet nowadays.

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Re: Searchlight Use

Post by RF » Mon Feb 28, 2011 4:15 pm

paul.mercer wrote:It certainly worked when Warspite, Barham & Valiant blew the Italian cruisers to pieces at Matapan, just imagine, 24 X 15" shells smacking into relativly lightly armoured cruisers - carnage!
Quite a few searchlights here - and a disaster that could only befall the Italians....
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Re: Searchlight Use

Post by paul.mercer » Mon Feb 28, 2011 10:00 pm

phil gollin wrote:It has always amused me when I hear the "gee wizz" naval gunnery accuracy fans exclaiming how wonderful WW2 era gunnery was to remember Matapan.

Warspite managed to hit her (ridiculously short-ranged) target with 5 out of the 6 shells of her first salvo (only three turrets bore on the target). Cunningham said words to the effects of " My God ! We've hit her ! " - I don't think he was as optimistic as many on the internet nowadays.
I agree, but the subject was on the use of searchlights, not on the range which, as you say was point blank.

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