Saturday, November 14, 2015

projecting the future, BALLISTICALLY, during WWII

Scientists never ever say mea culpa - they just re-label the big mistakes of earlier scientists as 'pseudo' science.

They dab the mess with some of that orange stuff that stings, give you a kiss and a cookie and croon softly, "all better now ?"

And you definitely better say, "yes mommy."

One of their biggest ever mistakes was High Modernity, that bundle of certitudes that gave us a century of state-organized mass killings, done by people who just knew they were doing the right thing.

It all started, one can suppose, with the "don't worry be happy" scientific theories of Sir Charles Lyell, who saw the future looking exactly like the past, which looked exactly like the present - a present oscillating ever so gently around a norm at happy, eternal equilibrium.

Only if one believes the future will be certain, simple, stable and predictable will you so confidently pick the winners you just know will need in that future - and so ruthlessly liquidate the losers you just know you won't need in the future.

All High Modernity Biology and all High Modernity Social Science, not just Eugenic practise, was about picking the future's winners and losers, the normal and the abnormal.

Draining the gene pool, reducing diversity, putting all your eggs in one basket - albeit the right, the normal, basket of course.

Projecting the future didn't just remain a metaphor -- during WWII, during the apogee ( or nadir - your choice) of High Modernity, the art cum science of Ballistics sent very big projectile indeed confidently into the future.

So confident that the projectile would meet a certain someone (usually an enemy someone) at just the right place and right time, regardless.

It was all just a matter of Newtonian physics, really.

In naval warfare, this produced the Long Lance torpedo and the 18.1 gun, both highly complicated, highly expensive weapon systems built in the high confidence that they could travel twenty five miles and still hit a relatively small target that was moving about unpredictable at high speed in their struggle to survive being hit.

The equally relatively small 'platforms' firing these weapons would also
be moving about unpredictably at high speed, itself trying itself to avoid a fatal hit, at the same time it tried to compute highly complex Newtonian physics (the firing solution) in real time.

No problem : be happy !

The number of confident predictions necessary to make it this all work boggles the rational post-High Modernity mind.

And in fact it didn't work - a fact that was almost totally masked by the fact that a single 500 pound "dumb" bomb, hand delivered by one or two men in a dive bomber and dropped two hundred feet up right over the biggest battleship or aircraft carrier in the world, sunk them more often than not.

If the world's biggest navies successfully buried their dead scientific theories, the world's big air forces and the armies weren't so lucky.

What a 500 pound "dumb" bomb did  so successfully, when hand dropped, by eye alone, at two hundred feet over a rapidly maneuvering  aircraft carrier failed to happen when dropped en masse over a much larger and definitely immobile aircraft factory by hundreds of highly sophisticated big bombers, even when using the world's most sophisticated computer - the famous (infamous ?) Norden bombsight.

From six miles up.

What any former farm boy with a good eye developed shooting rats could do in a dive bomber couldn't be duplicated by thousands of the smartest physicists in the universe, working with no ends of money and equipment.

And it rankled the High Modern faith that science was perfect and more science was more perfect still, enough that this inconvenient truth was successfully concealed from the ordinary WWII taxpayer.

Meanwhile armies all over the world had hundreds of huge rapid-fire aircraft guns, securely fastened to the good earth and connected into highly complex firing systems, trying to hit those rapidly maneuvering ,relatively tiny heavy bombers, through clouds and darkness, also at distances of six to eight miles away.

Neither bomber or flak gun delivered any of their bold pre-war promise.

At best, a few of a huge stream of heavy bombers might land their bombs somewhere across a relatively large urban centre (say a city and suburbs ten miles across).

Very occasionally a flak shell would score a fatal direct hit on a bomber.

Meanwhile the single most effective weapon in WWII, as was in in WWI, was your bog ordinary, low tech army howitzer.

Why was this ?

The unsuccessful torpedoes, shells and bombs were all designed to only be successful if they scored a direct hit on a relatively small target from either a rapidly moving about firing platform or target platform (or both) through long distances of potentially unevenly turbulent air or water.

They needed pin point accuracy from the men firing them, men who were themselves under attack .

And who had to do everything as rapidly as possible : for the first team to score a direct (fatal) shot won.

But the main problem was their future forecasting.

We can perfectly regard longer distances as exactly equal to longer periods into the future.

We can all intuitively sense that if you aim your sawed-off shotgun at the broad side of a barn, if it hardly matters if your aim is a few seconds of a degree off the mark - but if you are aiming a telescope at a star located millions of light years away, it matters much indeed.

Any irregularity of shape of either projectile, fighting tube or the matter they are travelling through, undetected in your calculated firing solution, really adds up over miles and miles of free flight.

The howitzer avoided all of this.

They didn't aim for direct hits but 'suppression fire' instead.

Typically they knew the advancing enemy had to travel only the over bridge still standing that forded a big river, or had to pass through a major road junction to pivot onto the road to Paris.

Enough 'close enough' exploding shells in the midst of that transit would make the passage through those narrow tunnels impossible.

The guns weren't moving and nor was the road T junction.

So the guns were pre-sighted into the  centre spot of that T-junction and then an trained artillery observer, close enough to see the T-junction and observe the fall of fire, could telephone or radio when the tightly packed troop and vehicle column was in the middle of the T-junction.

They could also suggest corrections if the shots fell off target, perhaps because of worn or hot barrels or because this case of shells were short loaded on propellant or because of a strong wind flowing across the five miles to target.

Like dive bombers, the deadly shells were hand delivered and the art/science of long distance "fire and forget" ballistics hardly entered into it.

The Germans considered the Americans (and the British too) only did one thing better than them during the entire war.

That was in consistently delivering quick, heavy, accurate-enough artillery suppression fire, particularly against the hitherto consistently successful German instant counter attacks - and that is why the Germans were defeated.

More panzer attacks were stalled by American howitzer suppression fire hitting and destroying armoured columns than were ever stopped by American tanks or anti-tank guns !

In this post High Modern era, pin point accurate drone attacks are still hand delivered by human operators eye-balling and making constant adjustments.

Newtonian "fire and forget" " we can predict the future" long distance ballistics - Charles Lyell's theory of uniformitarianism made flesh - hardly enters into it.....

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