Model warship combat

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VNS Verdun takes a shot at USS Nathaniel Greene at the 2007 North American Big Gun Open [1] event

Model warship combat is an international club activity, in which participants construct radio-controlled scale models of actual warships, most commonly those built by various nations during the early portion of the 20th century prior to 1946 such as the USS Des Moines, HMS Dreadnought or German battleship Bismarck. These models are armed with pneumatic cannons, and fight against one another on ponds and lakes. Model warship combat is sometimes considered to be a form of Naval Wargaming, but can also be considered a water-based version of Robot Combat since much of the internal systems and concepts are the same with similar radio control electronics, and in some cases possess similar pneumatics systems.

The sport is predominately divided into 'Big Gun' and 'Fast Gun' (or 'Small Gun') clubs. Both 'Big Gun' and 'Fast Gun' formats host annual national/international inter-club events. There are two major 'Fast Gun' clubs, International Radio Control Warship Combat Club (IRCWCC), and Model Warship Combat, Incorporated (MWCI). Both clubs have events known as "NATS". 'Big Gun' battlers have the annual event known as the North American Big Gun Open (NABGO),[1] and - since 2008 - the annual Big Gun Robotic Warship Combat open invitational at California Maker Faire.[2]
The Australian Battle Group (AUSBG) has two annual National Battles, held in January and June.

History[edit]

Radio controlled combat of warships owes its popularity to a small group of men living in Texas (USA) in the late 1970s. The founding fathers of the hobby are Stan Watkins, D.W. Fluegel, and Jeff Poindexter. Back in the day, these men "toyed" with the idea of using radio controlled ships and equipping them with some kind of cannon so that they could then engage in combat.[3]

After much efforts, Stan created the "Mark I" cannon using an odd variety of plumbing parts and pieces. In those days, freon was used as a propelling agent and often their engagements resulted in little if any damage. After some time, and more engineering, they were able to "sink" an opponent in combat by shooting steel balls through balsa hulls. Organized groups formed very quickly after this achievement, with the formation of the IRCWCC, and Big Gun groups starting up in 1982 with the formation of NASWCA.[4]

From this inauspicious beginning and after years of technological advances, the hobby has improved dramatically in both reliability and playability. Many different groups having formed, fighting scale model warships ranging from the reasonably rare 1:48 scale to the most common 1:144 scale, with different and largely regional variations on the rules used.

Design conventions and model construction[edit]

Extensive design conventions exist to provide that the fighting effectiveness under various conditions remain proportional to the prototype vessels. These conventions also dictate safety features [5] as well as mandating design features to allow for recovery of defeated vessels.[5]

The model warships are fully workable, with small electric motors or servo-operated sails for propulsion,[5] working steering systems actuated typically using servos, and are generally armed with self-reloading pneumatic cannons.

The models cannot be purchased as many scale models can, from a company, with everything in one box. They always include a degree of scratch building. There are, however, several suppliers that sell many of the necessary parts for construction. For example, Strike Models, and Battlers Connection.

Mechanical systems[edit]

While many models use a combination of switches and/or relays physically actuated by servos to control the propulsion system, most newer models now use either Electronic Speed Control units or solid-state switching boards such as those found in Robot combat, greatly reducing the complexity of the wiring of the propulsion system as well as overall complexity of design. Propulsion is achieved through the use of electric motors coupled to shafts passing through stuffing tubes driving semi-scale propellers. All active mechanical systems are required to be operated via electrical or pneumatic means. Banned are any and all mechanisms relying upon chemical combustion which could contaminate the water with fuels, oils, and other biologically toxic chemicals.[5]

Weapons systems[edit]

Cannons use steel balls ranging from .177" to .25" in diameter as projectiles, and typically CO2 or compressed air is used as the working gas for propellant. As of 2009, a small handful of small Big Gun ships were equipped with cannons powered by compression springs. In Big Gun combat, club rules frequently include provisions for the arming of torpedoes, represented through the use of fixed cannon firing 0.25" diameter projectiles.[6] Although individuals have attempted to construct self-propelled 0.25" diameter torpedoes, they have yet to be formally documented or demonstrated in use. Additionally, vendors have demonstrated working prototypes of weapons control systems suitable for Big Gun combat to enable multiple turrets on a single vessel to be coordinated as a single weapons battery to produce converging weapons fire at a given vector and range from the vessel so equipped. Pyrotechnics are specifically prohibited from use for weapons to protect the safety of people and animals in addition to preventing environmental contamination.[5]

Cannon types[edit]

  • Arizona Cannon/Single Barrel Gun System - easy to manufacture cannon named after one of the first model ships in which it was successfully implemented [7][8]
  • Ball-bearing interrupter - one or two steel balls in-line with the gas supply line interrupts the feed of ammunition into the breech, ensuring that only one projectile is fired at a time
  • JC White Rotating Cannon - first widely successful multi-barrel rotating turret [9]
  • JC White Torpedo cannon - similar to the rotating cannon without the rotating magazine on top [10]
  • Indiana Cannon - a refinement of the JC White Rotating Cannon [9] so named due to the US State in which it was first manufactured. Evolution of the JC White design into the Indiana Cannon marked the point at which the design encountered widespread adoption in the Big Gun format.
  • Jam elbow - [11]
  • Negative pressure/Quick Exhaust Valve - Typically uses a Clippard Exhaust Valve in its construction and relies upon a discharge of pressure from a pneumatic control circuit to actuate the cannon.[12]
  • O-ring breech -
  • Piston interrupter - a "piston" in-line with the gas supply line interrupts the feed of ammunition into the breech, ensuring that only one projectile is fired at a time[13][14]
  • Sliding breech -
  • Spring-loaded breech - [15]
  • Spring-fired/Spring-powered cannon - instead of directly utilizing exclusively compressed gas to impart kinetic energy to the projectile, a spring affixed to a piston to compress gas in a chamber or a spring directly acting on the projectile is used.
  • Spurt cannon - a spurt cannon is a type of fast gun cannon that lacks a mechanism to interrupt feeding of steel balls into the breech. Subsequently, it will continuously fire until either the supply of ammunition or compressed gas is depleted.

Cannon configuration[edit]

  • Depressing - due to concerns for safety and the goal of inflicting damage to an opposing ship at or below the waterline, cannon can be configured to incorporate negative elevation with an adjustable mechanism
  • Fixed - Fixed cannon cannot be trained, requiring the captain to maneuver the ship to bring them to bear on a target instead.
  • Rotating - To enable a ship to bring the maximum possible firepower to bear on a given target, cannon can be equipped with a mechanism to facilitate rotation if the corresponding cannon on the real ship were so equipped. Additionally, cannon rotation permit a ship to continue to fire upon a target while maneuvering, potentially increasing the number of successful hits within a given period of time. While uncommon in Fast Gun due to a combination of complexity and limited tactical benefit, cannon rotation is common in the Big Gun format.[16]

Ammunition magazine configuration[edit]

  • Straight-magazine — Steel ball ammunition is housed in a relatively straight length of rigid or flexible tubing and can be gravity or force-fed into the cannon breech.
  • Coil-magazine - Ammunition is housed in tubing as with the straight-magazine configuration; however, the magazine tubing is tightly coiled, sometimes around the cannon riser and/or valve so as to reduce the longitudinal volume required for the cannon. Ammunition can be gravity or force-fed into the cannon breech.
  • Canister-magazine - In a canister-magazine configuration, ammunition is housed within a cylindrical chamber integrated into the cannon body. Ammunition is typically gravity-fed into the cannon breech.

Structure[edit]

While some early vessels were built in 1/150 scale, scales have become standardized with the most common construction scale of 1:144, although 1:96, 1:72 and 1:48 scale modeling groups also do exist. The majority of hulls are constructed from either fiberglass (with penetration windows cut into it), or scratch built with wood ribs. The exteriors of the ship's hulls are sheeted with balsa wood, which allows the relatively low velocity cannon projectiles to penetrate them to let in some water, with the idea of sinking the model if the on board bilge pumps can't compensate for the rate at which water enters the hull.[5] Superstructures are often constructed with a combination of lightweight wood, plastic sheet, thermoset plastic resins, and corrosion-resistant metals. Smaller vessels such as light cruisers and destroyers often incorporate less-durable but lighter superstructure construction in order to maximize the displacement available for weapons systems. Other than the balsa skin, the models typically escape real damage, and can be patched and turned around in typically 15–30 minutes.

Combat formats[edit]

Campaign[edit]

Instead of a single battle, multiple battles or sorties are combined to form a campaign of combat events, sometimes with a preceding battle dictating the available of rearming opportunities afforded to a team in the succeeding battle. A campaign can also consist of multiple objective-oriented battles or team free-for-all battles.

Free-for-all[edit]

Typically held in sessions divided by vessel combat units or combat value, during a free-for-all, each captain operates his or her vessel to sink or damage as many of the other vessels on the water as possible while minimizing the damage incurred. It is often played in a "last-man-standing" format where the winning vessel is identified simply as the last to sink or be disabled.

Objective[edit]

Objective format combat is typically executed in the form of a scenario, requiring that each team accomplish specific objectives to earn points and/or win the scenario. Such combat may involve sides of asymmetrical strength, such as when attempting to simulate a recreation of a historic battle.

Team free-for-all[edit]

A common combat format across the different model warship combat formats, team free-for-all involves the division of players present into two teams that are equal based upon a combat strength rubric (i.e. units in Fast Gun or a combination of displacement tonnage and cannon count in Big Gun) which then sortie against each other in accordance with the club's rules and scoring system.

Club formats[edit]

Big Gun[edit]

NTXBG's Richelieu and Missouri duke it out on the water
Kagero (1/72 scale) stern damage

Unlike Fast Gun clubs, Big Gun clubs operate based upon a loose confederation, with each club reserving the ability to establish and maintain its own rules, provided that they coincide with the spirit of Big Gun Model Warship Combat. With versions in 1/48, 1/72, 1/96, and 1/144 scale, Big Gun Model Warship combat clubs have rules that make provisions for cannon caliber and armor thickness to be scaled according to that which existed on the prototype vessel. Big Gun Model Warships allow weapons to be installed in rotating turrets as they were mounted as the prototype historically.[5][17][18] Damage Control is accomplished via a centrifugal bilge pump capable pumping a regulated volume of water out of the hull. The volume allowed is based on the prototype ship's displacement. Typically the flow rate varies from 30 gallons per hour (GPH) for the smallest ships to 90GPH for the largest ships.[5][17][18]

Big Gun clubs are largely descended from the now defunct "North American Warship Combat Association" (NASWCA) dating back to late 1981/early 1982.[3][4]

Fast/Small Gun[edit]

Principally known as Fast Gun by its members due to few restrictions on rate of fire, this format is sometimes also identified as Small Gun because of its exclusive use of .177" (BB) caliber guns. About 80% of active clubs are of the fast gun variety, in which all ships are built in 1/144 scale and use .177" caliber guns, which in most cases are installed in fixed mounts but may rotate depending upon ship class. Additionally, all ships are fitted with a standardized 1/32" thick balsa wood 'Armor' to yield an easily penetrable hull. Damage control is accomplished through the use of centrifugal bilge pumps fitted with either a 1/8" or 1/16" diameter flow restricter. The clubs that follow this format of combat include the International Radio-Controlled Warship Combat Club (IRCWCC) and Model Warship Combat, Incorporated (MWCI).

A subset or adaptation of small gun is known as Treaty Combat. Treaty Combat, also abbreviated simply as Treaty, incorporates uniform caliber weapons, armor, and combat units in a way similar to that defined in IRCWCC or MWCI rules; however, speeds and pump capacities are limited based upon the prototype vessel and displacement, respectively. Thus, Treaty Combat incorporates some of the reduced-cost aspects of the Fast Gun format with some of the scaled characteristics of Big Gun.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b North American Big Gun Open
  2. ^ Big Gun Robotic Warship Combat open invitational at California Maker Faire
  3. ^ a b History of Big Gun Combat
  4. ^ a b NASWCA History by Paul Fleming
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Rules of Construction from the North Texas Battle Group
  6. ^ Big Gun History of Torpedo Development
  7. ^ Arizona Cannon
  8. ^ Single Barrel Gun System
  9. ^ a b JC White Cannon
  10. ^ JC White derived Torpedo Cannon diagram
  11. ^ Jam Elbow Cannon
  12. ^ Negative Pressure/Exhaust Valve
  13. ^ Piston Interruptor
  14. ^ Interrupter Piston Adjustment
  15. ^ Spring Loaded Breech
  16. ^ Cannon Rotation demonstrated for Indiana Style Cannon
  17. ^ a b Rules of Combat from the North Texas Battle Group
  18. ^ a b Technical Appendix from the North Texas Battle Group

External links[edit]