Saturday, May 25, 2019

A Technical Appendix to Postblogging Technology, February 1949: I Heard An Owl

I've been fascinated by Vice-Admiral (E) Sir John Kingcome (1890--1950) since I first encountered him in the Proceedings of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers article summarised by Engineering in the 26 February 1949 number. Part of that is the fact that his title is "Engineer-Vice Admiral of the Fleet." I'm just plain partial to that neat old English wordsmithing.

Part of that has to do with the local connection with Kingcome Inlet, and my youthful interest in Lisa Halliday, of the town of that name. I bring this  up because I find that this post is just better if I dive into my earliest, callow youth; not so much because of Lisa as because, a little later in 1982, when I arrived at UBC, I fell into the company of the UBC Wargamers, much to the detriment of my first year grades, and had various profound and difficult naval matters explained to me in an extremely glib way by the participants in that club's then-thriving naval miniatures set. To the extent that they still wargame, they've been playing rail games for years now, but, back in the day, they collected naval miniatures and crawled around the tables at the old Student Union Building of a Sunday, blowing up Montana with Kitakami 

Pursuant to this fascinating diversion, someone explained to me that British warships of WWII sucked because they lacked "locked train double reduction geared turbines" that would have allowed them to use "high pressure steam." This was consequent to some generalised failure of British science and engineering which had lost the Empire, doomed the Royal Navy, and occasioned Margaret Thatcher. (One could not be so optimistic as to hope that Thatcher would fix this, but any damage she did to British society would be fit punishment for a country that allowed Two Cultures to  get in the way of the Social Role of Science. Notice that this is four years before the publication of Correlli Barnett's Audit of War, which took this argument up to varsity. I think by this time I'd already read a biography of Admiral of the Fleet Sir John Fisher, and been introduced to the Fisher Scheme,  the controversy over which, culminating in the 1923 cancellation, further overdetermined the end of British engineering culture. (Also, Jutland's in there, somehow.)

It's interesting to come back to this, thirty years on, to see how things came to this pass, with a little distance.

HMS Tenby, a Whitby-class frigate, in 1969. Powered by the Y-100, yet another example of British postwar high Dieselpunk. Here's what a Google search turned up. Interesting stuff if you've the time! (1,2)

Since Admiral Kingcome's name came to be attached to a community in my high school's feeder area due to a family connection, I'll start with that. According to the very brief professional obituary provided to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers by Engineer Vice-Admiral Sir Denys Ford,  Kingcome was born in India, entered the Royal Naval Engineering College, Keyham, in 1905, putting him in the last Keyham class, resulting in some occasional confusion with him being the last Engineer Vice-Admiral, which just goes to show how obscure the office has become. He was promoted quickly, and served in newly-launched ships, as fast track Engineering branch men used to do, I confidently say, on the basis of the three obituaries I have before me. (Data!) He had a career that alternated between shore-based appointments in research and development facilities and service at sea, or at least at naval bases, as an increasingly-senior engineering officer, culminating with being Sir Charles Forbes' Fleet Engineer at Home Fleet in 1939.

Kingcome was promoted to the position of Engineer Vice-Admiral in 1945 and retired in 1947 after a very brief tenure. Although, Ford says, he was virtually the last of his contemporaries to retire. In fact, he had served under Sir John Turner, who, in turn, succeeded George Preece [1881--1945], who served 1936--1942, and, like Kingcome, died prematurely. By way of contrast, Sir Harold Brown, who escaped the office by way of the new position of Director General of Munitions Production when Chamberlain needed to manoeuvre the Master General of the Ordnance out of office in preparation for taking out the rest of the Army Council, saw his 89th birthday in 1968; while Reginald Skelton made it to 84. (Congratulations to me for apparently being the first source on the Internet to give a partial list of Engineers Vice-Admiral.)

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Kingcome Inlet is named after another Admiral Sir John Kingcome, and when I came to this project, I naturally assumed direct descent. It turns out that the Kingcomes have an active family history presence on the Internet, and it disabused me of the notion. The two admirals may even have been closely related. resigned, although I think the betting money would be on the engineer being a great-nephew, descended from a brother who married a Maitland girl, with that family, a real Royal Navy dynasty, standing behind the later admiral's career, if any patronage were needed.

Now let's talk about the technical issues. Steam is vapourised water, but contains "entrained" drops of water vapour that is very, very bad for any turbine blade upon which it impinges, until the steam has been heated to "saturation point," a temperature which varies with the pressure at which the steam is contained, thus the ASME Saturated Steam Tables that will be familiar to the older generation. Heating steam above that temperature results in "superheated" steam.

Superheating steam is a bit tricky, as you have to hold the steam in some kind of pressure tube and transmit the heat to it through the walls of the tube.Inter alia of preparing this post, I couldn't help but notice that the next article before Engineer Vice Admiral Sir George Preece's 1942 "Some Influences on Naval Machinery Design" was H. J. Tapsell's "Creep Properties of Steel Utilised in High-Temperature Superheater and Steel Practice, Part I: Carbon Steels," from whence I extract this page of cheerfully asymptotic curves of creep (a bad thing) versus time at various temperatures:

Steel's mechanical properties decline with temperature, and the upshot of the tables above is that simple carbon steel is not what you want to use at higher temperatures and pressures. The question is whether new alloy steels are all that.

As Kingcome reminds us, in 1922, British ships were using saturated steam at 220lb/sq inch. This was why Queen Elizabeth achieved 26 hp per ton of machinery, compared with 51 after its modernisation, while an unspecified modern large ship gave 60, and a "modern cruiser," which I assume to be the Dido by virtue of its use as a reference in designing the Y-100, gave 75 and a "modern destroyer"  gave 95. Nelson saw the first use of superheated steam, at 250lbs, 575o(F). By 1928 this had risen to 300lb, 625o. Considering the construction history of the 1920s, the Admiralty must have been experimenting on cruisers, which seems a bit spicy for my tastes, and apparently the Admiralty's as well, as the first postwar destroyer flotilla had a class member marked out for an experimental 500lb, 750o plant. The unfortunately named Acheron appears to have been a bit of a disaster. Kingcome singles out problems with the astern turbine, and I'm pretty sure I've seen references elsewhere to "wild heat." Given how prominently Acheron features in discussions of what might have been, I'm a bit surprised at just how brief the Wikipedia article is. Suffice it to say that it became a cautionary story, and the 1935 war construction standard accepted 400lb, 700o on big ships, 300lb and 650o on destroyers.

The United States, meanwhile, adopted 600lb, 850o from the Somers-class destroyers laid down in 1935--6 and completed in 1937--8. Kingcome is either envious or a bit unkind in suggesting that the American success in achieving these higher steam conditions was made possible by the later start of American rearmament. To bring the story up to 1982 and well beyond, Admiral Harold Bowen, the longtime head of the Naval Boiler Laboratory, later the Naval Research Laboratory, published a 1954 memoir, Ships, Machinery and Mossback, which celebrated the comprehensive and awesome success of this standard WWII machinery, which subsequently became the necessary [citation needed] in the 1990 memoirs of  Vice-Admiral Louis Le Bailly and copious footnotes and appendices slagging the machinery branch in the design histories of British naval architect turned historian, David Brown.
This beautiful wartime picture shows a man filing away burrs on individual spurs of a reduction gear. As was done, back in the day. Source.

Naval practice is fundamentally a subset of land practice. Given that there were land plants operating above 1800lb, 900o using a combination of alloy steel and very thick tubes, the horizons of naval practice were well beyond where anyone, even the Germans, had gone. The American plant was based directly on current GE and Westinghouse land power plant practice. I've discussed the issues that actually beset this plant before, and refer you there. 

Kingcome refers to a late-war Royal Navy destroyer design "prepared" for 650lb at 850o. I have no idea if this is the "modern destroyer" he refers to above. As far as I can tell, the candidates are Late War Emergencies, "Battles," "Darings," "Weapons" or, given David Bowie [pdf]'s reference to an"unbuilt" ship, the mysterious"Gs." Unfortunately, Wikipedia says that the "Gs" were to have a repeat of the "Weapon" power plant, which was to use steam at 400lb, 750o.

Edit: No, wait, it's the Darings. Well, there you go. One more thing for the Australians to figure out.  With that clue, I was able to track down this history of the Scots yard, the authors of which have done some archive-diving and have found Denys Ford wringing his hands in 1950 about how the Royal Navy will be twelve years behind current American practice if it doesn't start building something around the Y-100 now now now now.  

The Y-100 is beginning to look like the Admiralty Engineering Branch's idee fixe. Bowie says that it saw the light of day with a new ASW frigate ordered as a direct result of the Korean War, but as we're being reminded with this month's coverage of the 1949 Estimates, Cold War rearmament began a few months before the Korean War. Bowie indirectly confirms this by finding that this was the point when the RCN ordered the Y-100 for its postwar ASW frigates that became the St. Laurent-class

At this point, Kingcome diverts to discuss the infrastructure of research. The prewar institutional base was the Admiralty Fuel Experimental Station and Admiralty Experimental Laboratory. These were inadequate because the could not build complete experimental installations and run them. Postwar, he is enthused to report, has been established at the Parsons work,  combined state/private sector lab at Parsons, PARMETRADA. Kingcome's enthusiasm might be somewhat linked to the fact that he became a director there shortly after his retirement. (This might be as good as any a place to mention that we know almost nothing about the Engineer Vice-Admirals because the records of the office were all stolen at some point. It's as tragic a loss to the technological history of the United Kingdom as the  fire that engulfed Air Chief Marshal Freeman's papers on his retirement.)

In any event, the Y-100 would emerge from PARMETRADA into the light of day in 1958. Bowie summarises:

Specific Requirements • The full power of 15,000 h.p. per shaft to be obtained when supplied with steam to turbine nozzles at 450lb. per sq. in. gauge and 825 deg. F., the vacuum at exhaust being 23-in. Hg. under tropical conditions with a cooling water temperature of 85 deg. F. • The ahead turbines were to attain a high efficiency at all powers between 5% and 100%; a good performance over the range of 5% to 20% being particularly important. • The astern turbines were to produce 5,000 s.h.p. under both tropical and temperate conditions. • Machinery weight and space to be kept to a minimum. • Simplicity of manufacture to allow for mass-production. • Suitable for manufacture by licensees. • Avoidance of relatively scarce materials. • The design to be one which could be operated by wartime conscripts with comparatively little training. Advanced Machinery These onerous requirements influenced all aspects of the ‘Y100’ steam plant design and required the introduction of several features then novel to the Royal Navy. • Increased rates of boiler furnace forcing with fuel oil being fired in high draught loss air registers. • The employment of flue gas by-passing for superheat temperature control. • The condenser was built integral with the main turbine casing bottom half. • Slow-running – 220 r.p.m. versus the previous norm of 350 r.p.m. – high efficiency 12-foot diameter propellers. • Auxiliary systems were simplified and where possible automated. Automatic control of turbine shaft gland sealing steam pressure and turbine lubricating oil temperature was included. 
Blogger doesn't seem up to parsing Bowie's formatting, but this seems understandable enough, and is word searchable, unlike a screen cap. Consider this a taste of his diligent research, which comes down to discovering that the Y-100 was not a failure (alternatively, "incomplete success") because the innovative Napier clutch that kept the high speed turbine from horning in on the cruising turbine at cruise power, didn't work. It was a failure because the cruise turbine didn't actually deliver the promised efficiency, and was therefore deadweight.

To back up for a moment, any steam turbine plant has the difficulty that it only operates efficiently at a set speed and direction. Warships have to go fast, but also cruise efficiently and back up, while the turbines will rotate much faster than the screws. This means that there has to be reduction gearing between the turbines and the screws, and because of the need to couple in high and low pressure, or high pressure and cruising turbines, and provide for forward and reverse speeds, the gearbox is going to turn out to be quite complicated. In one last attempt to figure out what was so special about the locked-train double reduction gearing, I googled around. Here, have an image:

And here's navals aficionado Gene Slover trying to explain. Between illustration and Slover's gallant effort, the one thing I think we can agree on is that the technical issues are beyond my ability to adjudicate. What I'm going to come back to is that Acheron had persistent difficulties with its low speed turbines --and so did the Y-100. Fortunately, there was more to the Whitby's machinery package than just the cruising turbine, and when repeated in the Leanders the Y-100 gave a generation's worth of successful service, which is more than can be said for the US Navy's 1950s leap forward to 1100 degrees.

This is pretty long and substantial for a technical appendix, and it will be noted that I've a great deal to cover left of Kingcome's article. Well, actually, you'll have to take it on faith that I haven't, because it's not on the Internet. He also discusses boilers, with a very brief digression into the atomisers that have already made a name for themselves by migrating to jet engines. He also briefly discusses really belong in a fuller discussion of this problem, since how you apply superheat is as important as what diesels, auxiliaries, and various wartime experiences. That all seems a bit digressive for one post, and auxiliaries, here meaning aircraft catapults in particular, will probably turn out to be a good place to rejoin the Admiral in a few years time when the steam catapult is revealed. Catapults and the survival of naval steam are going to turn out to be linked for a great deal longer than seventy years!

In the mean time, I'm beginning to sense a theme of British engineering practice in the 1950s and 1960s being, if anything, too ambitious. What's up with that?

Step 1: Build it and get it into service; Step 2: Figure out a way to use it as a bomber instead of a very expensive Rototiller; Step 3: Come up with an Underpants Gnome joke. By Sisaphus -, CC BY-SA 2.0 uk,

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