SS Jeremiah O’Brien Ghost Fleet Cruise, sighting of USS Iowa (BB-61)


(Image Credit: From here)

I visited the operational World War II Liberty Ship SS Jeremiah O’Brien (official website) for a day-cruise yesterday and had a phenomenal time. Lunch was decent, seating adequate, nautical tour guide over the PA system phenomenal, and the water, soda, and popcorn were free. I took many many pictures of the O’Brien, the USS Iowa, and the rest of the mothball fleet that we have here in the San Francisco Bay Area.

My personal favorite pictures are of the majestic USS Iowa, but for other pictures that I took you should check out the following articles:

At some point, I will upload all of the pictures to see and perhaps create a photo-essay. If anyone is interested in seeing the Ghost Fleet for themselves, it is located here next to the Benecia-Martinez bridge and accessible to anyone capable of driving and swimming or of putting a boat in the water and navigating it using a cell phone GPS.

Many of the pictures, like the one immediately below, have black areas around the edges. That is because I achieved 24x zoom by placing my cheap 3x zoom digital camera up against a pair of cheap 8x zoom binoculars. Incidentally, a more precise version of that is how microscopes work: if you line a 10x zoom lens with another 10x zoom lens, you are now at 100x zoom.


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I also got many close-up images, including this one which I thought would be kind of funny to put on the Wikipedia page for port-a-pottys:


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When I was contributing the below image to Wikipedia, I noticed that the SS Mount Washington was not listed as being part of the mothball fleet and corrected the article based on the name clearly visible on the ship below.


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As we pulled back into port, we saw what I am fairly certain is the Chilean Navy training ship Esmeralda pulling out of port. If that is indeed the ship pictured, it is a fairly unique in being a steel-hulled sailing ship that was built to be military in nature. When navies started putting steel on the hulls of ships, they generally started removing the sails. It was also, allegedly, a floating torture center for political prisoners in the 1970s.


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SS Jeremiah O’Brien Ghost Fleet Cruise, sighting of USS Iowa (BB-61)

Rebels Approaching Hometown of Gaddafi

In recent days, with the assistance of NATO and Arab League air-strikes, Rebel forces have regained momentum and now control more ground than prior to the implementation of the No-Fly Zone. Specifically, Brega, Ras Lanuf, and Bin Jawad have been re-captured by the Rebels in recent days.

Click for full size and best resolution available.
2011 Libyan Civil War as of March 27. From west to east, along the Mediterranean coast: Government forces control all cities up until Misrata, which is under siege by Government forces. Moving east, Sirt is in Government hands. Everything east of Sirt is in Rebel hands.

I still believe this would have been entirely possible without the No Fly Zone as it was implemented, but I suppose we will have to accept it as history and hope for the best moving forward.

You will note that if the Rebels continue to advance, the next city along the coastal highway is Sirt (also spelled Srit and Sirte – same city, different Arabic transliteration). This is the birthplace of Gaddafi, and Gaddafi has treated his former hometown quite well. Because of this, I believe the citizens of that particular city will, for the most part, prove very loyal to Gaddafi. Combine that with the lack of control Rebel commanders have over their troops, and the general lack of discipline in the Rebel army, and you potentially have the recipe for war-crimes by Rebel forces against the citizens of Sirt. Instead of a “Liberation” of Sirt, we may instead see something that more closely resembles a sack of the city and purging of its populace. As before, this is one of those things I hope I am wrong about. This situation wouldn’t exist if Rebel commanders had managed to create an atmosphere of discipline and obedience among Rebel troops, but that didn’t happen.

The best hope we can have to prevent such inhumanity towards man is for journalists to risk their lives and be there with the Rebels as they advance into the city. People are less likely to commit such crimes if there is a camera looking over their shoulder.

Another concern is this, a BM-21 Multiple Rocket Launcher, and things like it which are now in Rebel hands. Note the Pre-Gaddafi Flag of Libya and the “17” on the door, indicating February 17.

Image of a BM-21 Multiple Rocket Launcher flying a Pre-Gaddafi flag and with the number 17 written on the driver-side door. It looks like a large truck, but in the back are 4 rows of 10 9-foot tubes mounted at an angle.

(Image Credit: Al Jazeera)

If the people of Sirt do indeed prove loyal to Gaddafi, and attempt to defend their city by force, the Rebels will likely be using these indirect fire weapons on the city. These are not accurate precision weapons, they are area weapons. Ideally, that “area” would be an enemy troop concentration, were indiscriminate fire doesn’t kill any innocents. If that area is Sirt, however, then innocents will unfortunately die. Weapons systems like this do have sighting systems, and trained troops can indeed deliver fairly precise fire with them – possibly reducing the impact area to the size of a city block. It is unknown if indirect fire weapons such as this have been placed in the hands of Libyan Army veterans who have had that training; It is more likely that many are in the hands of untrained Rebels that are eager to use a new toy. These weapons will be fired, and the rockets or shells will land wherever they please – troop positions, schools, marketplaces, apartment buildings, etc.

Indiscriminate shelling will not encourage Sirt to capitulate the way a few bombs or shells landing in Paris has historically forced the surrender of all of France. In the case of Sirt, it will harden the population, and plant seeds of hate that may fester for some time to come. If anyone participating in the armed Rebellion is reading this, please heed my advice and either use your indirect fire weapons as direct fire weapons or do not use them at all. That means bringing the weapon system close enough to point the system directly at the target and fire, instead of lobbing shells and rockets up into the air and hoping they don’t land on a family home.

Here, I used my artistic skills to generate this beautiful diagram. Click for higher resolution.
Very crappy drawing depicting a weapon being fired into the air from 10km away contrasted with that same weapon being fired directly at the target from 300 meters away. The 300 meter option is noted as being less likely to miss and will kill fewer innocent people.

Rebels Approaching Hometown of Gaddafi

“Operation Odyssey Dawn” Commences

In the aftermath of the UN Security Council resolution a few days ago, NATO begans strikes against the regime of Gaddafi in Tripoli.

First, the pretty map that folks seem to like. I got this one from a screenshot of a Pentagon press release, showing the 20 targets that 112 British and US Tomahawk Cruise Missiles targeted. That is the highest quality of that image that I’ve been able to find, and I haven’t modified the red dots indicating cruise missile strikes.

Click for full size and best resolution available.
Map Labeled 2011 Libyan Civial War, as of the commencement of Operation Odyssey Dawn, March 19, 2011. Blurry embedded map from Pentagon labeled Coalation First Strikes. Red Dots indicated to indicate targets of cruise missile strikes. From West to East along the northern coast of Libya: Zawiya has one dot; Tripoli has many; Misrata has many and it is indicated that the city center is still in rebellion; Srit has one dot; Ajdabiya indicated to be in Government hands with Government forces from Benghazi retreating towards it; Benghazi still in Rebel hands. In Sicily, US Naval Air Station Singonella is marked and indicated as having coalition jets from Denmark, Italy, Canada, and the US. In the Sea, Coalition Fleet is indicated to have warships from US, UK, and France.

March 18, 2011

MIG-23 fighter jet, in flames, spiraling towards the ground.

When the UN Resolution was not immediately followed by air strikes, Gaddafi made a last ditch bid to end the Rebellion. Government forces bypassing Ajdabiya immediately assaulted Benghazi, the heart of the rebellion. The Rebels defeated the attacking force, capturing several tanks and at least one surface to air missile system. Unfortunately the rebels also shot down their own MIG-23 by mistake. The victory demonstrates that Rebel forces are determined and capable, but the friendly fire incident demonstrates that Rebel forces are still having problems with command and control. As I predicted, the outskirts of Benghazi suffered significant damage to civilian buildings.

While the Rebels finished pushing Government forces out of the city, a dozen or two French aircraft flew over Benghazi, destroying four Government tanks. It is very doubtful that any Rebel aircraft have synced friend-or-foe systems with NATO, meaning that it is quite possible that Rebel aircraft will be mis-identified as Government aircraft and future friendly fire incidents will occur.

March 19, 2011

Early in the day, the French Air Force began the NATO assault with the destruction of targets in the southwest of Tripoli. This was symbolic, sending a message that Operation Odyssey Dawn was not just an Anglo-American operation.

Once that symbolic message was sent, the British and American Navies commenced operations in earnest with 112 Cruise Missiles being launched at 20 targets in Western Libya as indicated on the map above. The targets are said to have been focused on coastal radar defense systems. The night and early morning will be spent assessing damage done to Libyan air defense assets – coalition aircraft in the night will simply fly overhead and see if any surface to air missiles attempt to lock onto them. There is no estimate of civilian casualties as of yet.

Meanwhile, celebrations continued in Benghazi.
T-72 tank driving down the street in Benghazi, Rebels riding on top waving the pre-Gaddafi flag of Libya
(Image Credit: Al Jazeera)

The United Arab Emirates will be contributing two dozen jets to the mission, and Qatar a half dozen jets. That represents about 1/3 of the total Qatar Air Force.

The African Union has called for an immediate halt to NATO attacks on Libyan government forces, Russia has offered criticism as well.

More Information

The BBC has a good article on the aircraft currently involved. When you see the armaments of aircraft, you will see mention of two air-to-air missiles. The AIM-9 Sidewinder has a range of 10 miles, the AIM-120 AMRAAM has a range of 30 miles. Not all involved aircraft have the AIM-120, a hint that its air superiority capabilities are limited. Bothering to put cannons on a modern jet indicates that the aircraft was designed with air-to-ground in mind.

Al Jazeera has a good article outlining common limits and problems with no-fly zones.

Al Jazeera has more reporters on the ground than anyone else. Here is their constantly updated blog of tonight.

“Operation Odyssey Dawn” Commences

Rebels Lose Brega, Gov’t 90 Miles from Victory

Gaddafi has solidified his control of Zawiya by taking family members of former rebels hostage, Misrata remains under siege. With the Fall of Brega, Gaddafi’s forces are now 90 miles and one speed bump (the village of Ajdabia) from being in a position to lay siege to Benghazi.

Map of Libya depicting, from west to east: Zuwara and Tripoli in Government hands, Misrata in Rebellion, Sirt, Bin Jawad, Ras Lanuf, and Brega in Government hands, everything East of that in Rebellion with Ajdabiya as the only city in between Brega and Benghazi

A modern siege happens when troops assume defensive positions inside and amongst civilian buildings, and opposing troops attempt to restrict the movement of supplies and personnel into and out of the city containing those buildings. Sieges usually prove fairly devastating to the people living in those buildings. Assuming a defensive position inside of a civilian building is not considered a war crime and, indeed, is has been fairly standard practice starting in the 20th century.

For forces attacking those buildings, the Laws of War require ‘proportional use of force’. As its been interpreted since World War II, that means it is entirely legal for Gaddafi’s troops to level an entire building because one of his troops saw (or claims that he saw, if he’s angry because his buddy just got killed) that one rebel fired one shot in the general direction of Gaddafi’s forces from within that building.

The efficient leveling of civilian buildings while engaged in urban combat is why the Israeli Army maintains a force of armored bulldozers. The most common method of tactical building destruction for other armed forces around the world is a round or two from a tank’s main gun. Tanks can run out of ammunition, dozers only need fuel. Using bulldozers means more buildings will be destroyed overall, but that defenders and civilians will have had a chance to flee as it approaches. Using tanks kills more people, but generally results in fewer people being rendered homeless. I’ll let you decide which is more humane.

In any case, Gaddafi’s troops in the east will advance (taking Ajdabiya) until they meet stiff resistance, probably in the outskirts of Benghazi. At this point, they will attempt to deny movement of people and equipment into or out of Benghazi while arbitrarily shelling the city with the light indirect fire weapons they will have brought with them. Government forces will need to wait for their tanks to have finished up with Misrata and drive the 500 miles to Benghazi. Some of Gaddafi’s tanks could be already on the way to Benghazi, or they could all be tied up in Misrata – its unclear at the moment. Either tanks are arriving on the eastern front as we speak, or they will be arriving within one day of Misrata’s fall.

By this point, we will know if the Rebel’s claims to have made two Libyan fighter jets operational was a true claim or not, and we will very quickly see how many tanks the Rebels have brought to operational status. We will also see if any martial ability has arisen amongst those Rebel units that have been training in Benghazi for the last two weeks instead of fighting. A coordinated defense with troops capable of accurately firing their weapons can be much more daunting to overcome than a haphazard troops-doing-as-they-please affair.

Once the Government tanks arrive and battle is joined in earnest, Rebels will shooting at Gaddafi’s troops from buildings and withdraw a bit to shoot some more as the buildings come under fire. Some rebels will withdraw from a building prior to a tank round hitting it, some will not. Some tanks will be destroyed by Rebel RPG fire, some will not. There may be a few tank-on-tank skirmishes. What is very clear, however, is that the path of destruction resulting from forces engaging in urban combat moving to and fro in Benghazi will be staggering.

People in Benghazi seem to be keeping a stiff upper lip. As one British woman who has made Benghazi her home for the last 30 years put it the other day,

We all got our weapons out. I’ve got a table leg with a nail in it. We’ll use whatever we’ve got.

She has refused evacuation because her husband does not have a British passport. She believes that,

He’s [Gaddafi] going to slaughter Benghazi, and that’s a million people.

If that is what it comes to, she seems to be willing to accept that and die with the rest of her community. An American woman described raising a family in Benghazi under Gaddafi,

People should be free to say what they want. Here, you teach your kids to keep their mouths shut. You teach them not to say things unless they are somewhere where you know it won’t be repeated.

She continued, discussing more recent events in her life and frustration with the international community,

A man called me, saying his wife had just been killed, and “I have a baby. And I have no milk for the baby. My baby’s dying of hunger” … And nobody’s [in the international community] doing anything.

If the West and the Arab League wants the Rebels to be victorious in their defense of the city they need to ensure that food, water, weapons, and medical supplies begin flowing into Benghazi via highway from Egypt and into Tobruk via the large port – and this needs to happen very soon. The residents of Benghazi seem to believe this to be a victory or extermination situation. Perhaps it is worth considering the position they are in, and that maybe they know what they are talking about.

Rebels Lose Brega, Gov’t 90 Miles from Victory

France Recognizes Rebels, Ras Lanuf and Zawiya Fall

France, a very significant regional power in North Africa and Europe, has formally recognized the Rebellion as the sole legitimate government of Libya, and have called on other world governments to do the same. This is a good thing.

The no fly zone option seems to have stalled at both the UN and NATO, at least for the time being. This is also a good thing.

Unfortunately, not all the news is good. Gaddafi appears to have completed the conquest of Zawiya and has taken the Rebel town of Ras Lanuf.

Here is the map from the 6th, the last time a major territory shift took place. The difference now is that Ras Lanuf and Zawiya are in government hands – the red line in the center of the map should be moved just east of Ras Lanuf, were Rebel forces have set up defensive positions along the road. Brega has suffered a few air attacks with minimal damage done in the wake of the fall of Ras Lanuf.

Map of Libya depicting, from west to east: Zuwara in Rebellion, Tripoli Loyal, Misrata in Rebellion, Sirt and Bin Lawad Loyal, everything East of that in Rebellion

The BBC has done a good job summing up the various weapons in play in this civil war. The BBC agrees with me that Gaddafi’s fixed wing ground attack aircraft are rather old, but I believe they have grossly overestimated the number airworthy. I’d say around 10 to a baker’s dozen are capable of flying. I suspect we will see no more of pilots defecting or ejecting rather than bomb their own people — by now, only pilots personally loyal to Gaddafi are going to be allowed in their jets. One easy way for Gaddafi to ensure personal loyalty is by making it clear to pilots that disloyalty will result in the execution of their families.

In Benghazi, several thousand gathered after Friday prayers to rally in support of the Rebellion. By contrast, a few dozen rallied in support of Gaddafi. Worth noting here: people protesting in favor of Gaddafi in the capital of the Rebellion were allowed to express themselves. They were not shot. They were not rounded up and carted off into a van. The peaceful demonstration was allowed. Freedom of expression looks like it is being respected in Rebel-held Benghazi.

I don’t think pro-Government protests would be tolerated in Rebel held areas closer to the front, were it could amount to an immediate tactical threat, but that is the nature of war. Far enough away from the front, a respectable civil government ought to allow demonstrations in support of the enemy. The Rebels allow that. Gaddafi does not. One more reason why the Rebels have gained legitimacy at the expense of Gaddafi’s regime.

(I previously said that I’d go over the rest of 20th century Libyan history today. That will wait until the next lull in Libyan events.)

France Recognizes Rebels, Ras Lanuf and Zawiya Fall

Return of the King? Probably not.

Many lives have been lost today. Once again, no significant territory has shifted hands. Unfortunate, but this gives us a chance to review the events that led up to the current situation in Libya, and a quick run down on the geographical and political entity that is now formally termed “Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab State of the Masses” – No, I didn’t just make that name up. Colonel Gaddafi did, after deposing the King. He wasn’t happy with the King, for a few reasons.

After the Second World War, and after a few years as a protectorate of the British Crown, it was decided that a single independant nation called “Libya” should be formed of the three old Ottoman-era provinces of Cyrenaica, Fezzan, and Tripolitania. This ancient land became colonized by Greeks starting about 2,600 years ago. Their descendants, still alive and well, include Arabs, Tuareg, and people termed “Berbers“.

Falling variously from Greek to Roman hands for a time, it was eventually taken from the Greek-speaking Eastern Roman Empire by the Arabs shortly after the advent of Islam. As the various Arab Caliphates gave way to the Ottoman Empire (that fell as a result of the First World War) the region came again under European influence.

After the Second World War, it was decided that three particular areas formerly defined as Ottoman Provinces and currently under British control ought to become a single independent nation. Elders of the area decided on a Constitutional Monarchy, and offered the crown to the leader of the Senussi movement of North Africa. He was also the Emir (or leader) of Cyrenaica. His name was Idris.

Map of the Ottoman provinces of Tripolitania, Fezzan, and Cyrenaica that form modern day Libya

(Image Credit: Wikipedia)

So, congratulations to Libya achieving independence on December 24, 1951! Constitution that guarantees political freedoms and protects ethnic minorities? Check. Monarchy with limited power that will provide long-term stability and serve as spiritual and social role models for the nation? Check. Oil, discovered in the late 1950s? Check. What could possibly go wrong?

Oil, for one. Libyan oil wealth was not distributed evenly. The Saudi model of bribing one’s population into submission and loyalty had not yet come to be…

Wait…I just had a moment of realization. I’m not a professional journalist. I don’t need to hint, so I can say it: It is entirely possible to run a nation on an oil economy the way the Mafia formerly ran Chicago or the way Putin currently runs Russia.

Except that King Idris forgot the part about handing out vast quantities of bribes. Putin’s model involves few big bribes to big business, industry, and the organs of information (media, etc), the Saudi Kingdom’s model involves millions of more modest bribes. King Idris tried to simply not bribe anyone outside of a few buddies in Benghazi and surrounding areas. Whoops.

King Idris’ attempts to create a single sense of Nationalism centered around his Crown did not materialize. The King was modestly popular in his native Cyrenaica, but not particularly popular in the two Western areas. Idris also amassed far more power to himself than the Constitution ever authorized, something that was not popular with many of his young Army officers. These young men increasingly liked the Arabist ideology of Nasserism and wanted nothing to do with Foreigners. This ideology was especially attractive to young Libyan Soldiers in the late 1960s, a time when both the British and Americans had military bases on Libyan soil.

The 1969 coup involved both large segments of the military (let by Colonel Gaddafi), and the support of much of Libya’s youth. That part should sound familiar. Within a few hours, the monarchy and constitution had been abolished, and the junta assumed powers of state.

Gaddafi and his boys initially renamed the country from the “Kingdom of Libya” to the “Arab Republic of Libya”. The word “Republic” because everyone seems to do that, and the word “Arab” because of the Nasserist ideologies emphasizing that the Arab World ought to be run by Arabs and for Arabs. Remember the part in the old constitution about protecting ethnic minorities? Yeah, Gaddafi isn’t interested. The regime’s hostility to native Libyans that are not Arabs may have played a role in certain tribes choosing to side with the current Rebellion.

Well, that’s all for now. I hope tonight’s body count in Libya is minimal. We’ll cover how we went from “Arab Republic” to “Great Socialist People’s Ridiculously Named yada-yada-yada” tomorrow.

Return of the King? Probably not.

2011 Libyan Civil War as of March 6, 2011

This is an estimation as to who currently controls what in Libya, and the disposition of Gaddafi’s key ground units. See here for a breakdown of what these units are.

(click on map for full size and full resolution version)

Map of Libya depicting, from west to east: Zuwara in Rebellion, Tripoli Loyal, Misrata in Rebellion, Sirt and Bin Lawad Loyal, everything East of that in Rebellion

Key Cities Controlled by Rebels:

Benghazi – Center of Rebel political power and authority.

Ras Lanuf – Forward Edge of Battle Area for Rebels, most rebel heavy weapons located here.

Zawiya – In Rebellion, Independent of Benghazi Authority. Under siege by Mercenaries and Regular Army tanks, expect final body count to include many women and children.

Misrata – In Rebellion, Independent of Benghazi Authority. Under siege by the Khomis Brigade and Regular Army tanks, expect final body count to include many women and children.

Other Rebelling Cities – Rebels in cities west of that red line are more-or-less operating on their own, and are recieving no direct aid from Rebel authorities in Benghazi.

Key Cities Controlled by Gaddafi:

Tripoli – Garrisoned by Mercenaries and Amazonian Guards guarding Gaddafi’s person. The large Pro-Gaddafi demonstrations that took place today amount to an expression of “We will be good, please don’t butcher us like you are doing to the people of Misrata and Zuwara” and should not be seen as to indicate true long-term loyalty to the regime.

Sabha – Former site if Libyan Nuclear Weapons program, garrisoned by police personally loyal to regime. Most of the town’s food comes from the coast, so Sabha’s loyalty may follow whichever side is able to keep the food flowing in.

Bin Jawad – The unit I’ve previously termed “NWG” is currently located here. Repelled Rebel assault today. They have somewhere between 50-100 technicals, each with a medium or heavy machine gun. Disconcerting reports indicate that the population may have fought rebels alongside government troops – or they could have been NWG troops in civilian clothes.

Sirt – Much of population personally loyal to Gaddafi. This may be a touch, and bloody, nut to crack.

2011 Libyan Civil War as of March 6, 2011