Photograph of native Americans loading timber for the Navy

U.S. Navy. Via

Timber may seem like an anachronism in a day of steel ships and motor vehicles, but wood is a versatile and valuable construction material. It was used by both the Japanese and the Allies to construct motor craft and small auxiliaries, usually in yacht yards, so that construction of these vessels did not compete with larger warship for steel or shipyard facilities.

Wooden hulls were advantageous for coastal mine craft, since wooden ships were unlikely to trigger magnetic influence mines.

Both Japanese and American aircraft carriers had wooden flight decks to save top weight. These proved highly vulnerable to damage, but did have the advantage that less damaging hits could be quickly repaired using spare planks from ship's stores.

Wood also served as a source of cellulose for production of synthetic fibers such as rayon. The best "dissolving pulp" was produced from spruce and hemlock, which was rich in long-chain alpha cellulose and grew abundantly in Scandinavia and North America.Japanese rayon produced from the inferior softwoods of northern Japan, Korea, and Karafuto lacked any durability and tended to disintegrate when washed. 

Sitka spruce, which is native along the Pacific Northwest coast from northern California to Kodiak Island, was particularly valued for aircraft construction because of its high strength to weight ratio and lack of irregularities.

In much of the tropical Pacific, the chief source of timber was coconut. In addition to producing copra, coconut palms produced a tough, fibrous, but easily cut wood. This was less likely to splinter than other forms of wood and was used extensively by the Japanese in fortifications.  However, it decomposed relatively quickly, losing its loadbearing strength and becoming easily penetrable by projectiles.

Manchuria was a valuable source of timber for Japan, as was Karafuto.  The United States had vast timber reserves in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.  The tropics were sources of valuable woods such as teak and mahogany, as well as inexpensive lauan or Philippine mahogany, which the Japanese substituted for Douglas fir as a core material for plywood.

Japanese wooden ship classes

Cha-1 class auxiliary submarine chasers

Moku Diahatsu type landing craft

Pa class patrol boats

Wa-1 class coastal minesweepers

U.S. wooden ship classes

Accentor class coastal minesweepers

Ailanthus class net tenders

SC-497 class submarine chasers

YMS class auxiliary motor minesweepers


Miller (2007)
Rottman (2003)

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