Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger.
Warship Wednesday April 1, 2015: Lucky Georgios, the last man standing
Here we see the Italian-made Pisa-class armored cruiser Georgios Averof of the Royal Hellenic Navy as she appeared in 1913, shortly after almost single-handedly routing the entire Ottoman fleet the year before.
In the early 20th Century, the Southeastern Europe, popularly known as the Balkans, was a powder keg of a number of upstart countries living in the shadow of the “sick man of Europe”– the Ottoman Empire. With more than a century of low-key warfare between the Greeks, Romanians, Serbs, Bulgars, Croats and so on to try to break free from the Sultan and his court, by about 1900 the lines had been drawn between the Turks and the Greco-Slavic nations. Combined, the Balkan countries could cough up nearly a million men under arms– more the enough to take on the Turks. However, they could not match the Turkish Navy in either the ancient Adriatic, Aegean, Ionian, Med, and Black seas.
That’s where Greece, who had a small army but an excellent naval tradition, stood alone against the Turks.
Between 1879 and 1914, the Royal Hellenic Navy was transformed into a modern force, picking up battleships and destroyers from Italy, France, the UK, and the U.S.
However, their French built pre-dreadnoughts: Hydra, Spetsai, and Psara, were exceptionally small at just 5,300-tons, and were lightly armed (3x 10-inch guns) and slow (16 knots). After winning the Greco-Turkish War of 1897, the Greeks went shopping for a new mega ship with a 2.5 million gold franc donation from Greek philanthropist George M. Averoff.
Across the Adriatic, they inspected the Italian (by no less of naval engineer than Giuseppe Orlando) Pisa-class “second-class battleship” and fell in love. These 10,000-ton ships, technically armored cruisers, could break 23-knots through the power of 22 Belleville boilers and carried a quartet of 10″/45 cal guns backed up by eight 7.5-inchers in four twin turrets on the center line and more than a dozen smaller anti-torpedo boat pieces. Sheathed in up to 7-inches of steel plate, they could fight off ships their own size and outrun most that were larger.
Although they only needed a crew of about 700, they also could accommodate a battalion of naval infantry if needed for amphibious landings which is key in the far flung and disputed islands that the Greeks cruised in. Not perfect when compared to British and German ships of the day, certainly, these cruisers were still better than anything the Turks had at the time. Better yet, the Italian Navy had a third Pisa that they had ordered but were going to cancel– talk about timing.
Swapping out the 10″/45 cal guns for a set of much more modern British-made 9.2″/47 (23.4 cm) Mark X breechloaders, (which had been the standard at the time of the Royal Navy’s armored cruisers), the Greek “battleship” Georgios Averof was laid down at Orlando, Livorno in 1910. With tensions between the Balkan countries and the Turks ramping up (the Italians themselves went to war with the Ottomans in 1911 over Libya), construction progressed rapidly and just 15 months later the Averof was commissioned on May 16, 1911 and was made fleet flagship.
When war came the very next year, the Averof led the older French battleships to first blockade and then engage the Turkish fleet off the Dardanelles. There, on 16 December 1912, the four Greek capital ships met four elderly Ottoman battleships and the largest battleship fight to take place not involving “Great Powers” occured.
Borrowing a page from Admiral Togo’s 1905 Battle of the Tsushima Straits, the Averof raced ahead all alone at over 20-knots and crossed the Turkish T, taking on each of the enemy ships single file.
While the casualties were minimal, the Turks ran after Averof‘s big British 9-inchers hammered the flagship Barbaros Hayreddin (the old German SMS Kurfürst Friedrich Wilhelm) enough to where they figured that it was either shook and jive or sink. This sharp scrap is remembered in Greece as the Battle of Elli.
Just a month later, the two fleets again met with similar outcome off Lemnos Island.
Between the two battles, the lucky Averof was hit a total of four times by Turkish shells and suffered just three casualties. It was her guns that by large part helped win the First Balkan War.
Although Greece eventually joined the Allies in World War I, she saw little service. However across the Adriatic, her sistership, the Italian cruiser Amalfi, was torpedoed by the Austria-Hungarian submarine U-26 and sank in 1915.
After the war, she became the first Greek warship to enter Constantinople as part of the Allied victory mission to that town and– soon enough — was back in the fight against the Turks in 1919 during the Greco-Turkish War where she was used to help evacuate a defeated Greek Army.
In addition, she helped safeguard the withdrawal of the White Russian exiles after the Russian Civil War, reportedly exchanging a few rounds with the Reds.
In the 1920s, as one of the last armored cruisers around (most had been mothballed, replaced by more modern designs), she was upgraded in France where she lost her obsolete torpedo tubes and half of her low-angle 3-inch guns in exchange for a decent battery of high-angle AAA weapons. At about the same time her final sistership, the Italian cruiser Pisa, was relegated to a training status in 1921, and was eventually scrapped by the Depression.
After that, Averof was the sole remaining member of her class afloat.
By WWII, she had been downgraded to the third most powerful Greek ship, after President Wilson had sold the Greeks the battleships USS Mississippi and Idaho (who served as the Kilkis and Lemnos respectively). Those American ships, though unwanted by the U.S. Navy, at 13,000-tons and with a quartet of 12″/45 and sixteen 7 and 8-inch guns, were a good deal better armed.
Nevertheless, when the next world war came to Greece, both the Kilkis and Limnos were sank by Hitler’s Luftwaffe while at anchor yet the 30-year old Averof was able to beat feet across the Med with three destroyers and five submarines to the join up with the British Mediterranean Fleet at Alexandria.
She spent the rest of the war, which if you are keeping count was at least her fifth, in Royal Navy service escorting convoys in the Indian Ocean and hiding from both Japanese and German submarines. In 1944, she carried the Greek government in exile home from London. As in the first World War, she came out of the Second unscathed and without losing a single man.
After 41 years at sea, she was the last pre-WWI era armored cruiser in active service in any fleet when she was finally decommissioned August 1, 1952. Held in mothballs for three decades, in 1984 she was overhauled, disarmed, and emplaced as a historical museum ship at Palaio Faliro where she is a popular tourist attraction.
Now, still officially on the Greek Navy’s list and with an active duty (if greatly reduced) crew assigned, she will celebrate her 114th birthday under the flag of the Hellenic Navy in May.
Averof is the last armored cruiser in existence above the water. The only two comparable pre-WWI steel blue water ships to her still around, Dewey’s protected cruiser USS Olympia at Philadelphia, and Togo’s pre-dreadnought battleship Mikasa preserved at Yokosuka.
Displacement: Full load 10,200 tons
Standard 9,956 tons
Length: 140.13 m (459.7 ft.)
Beam: 21 m (69 ft.)
Draft: 7.18 m (23.6 ft.)
Propulsion: Boilers: 22 Belleville water tube type, Engines: 2 four cylinder reciprocating steam engines, Shafts: 2 (twin screw ship), Power: 19,000 shp (14.2 MW)
Speed: 23.5 knots (43.5 km/h; 27.0 mph) maximum
20 knots operational
Range: 2,480 nautical miles (4,590 km) at 17.5 knots (32 km/h)
Maximum capacity: 1200
Armor: Belt: 200 mm (7.9 in) midships, 80 mm (3.15 in) at ends
Deck: up to 40 mm (1.6 in)
Turrets: 200 mm (7.9 in) at 234mm turrets, 175 mm (6.9 in) at 190mm turrets
Barbettes: up to 180 mm (7.1 in)
Conning tower: up to 180 mm (7.1 in)
Armament: Original configuration:
4 × 234mm (9.2in) guns (2 × 2)
8 × 190mm (7.5in) guns (4 × 2)
16 × 76mm (3in) guns
4 × 47 mm (1.85in) guns
3 × 430mm (17in) torpedo tubes
After 1927 refit:
4 × 234mm (9.2in) guns (2 × 2)
8 × 190mm (7.5in) guns (4 × 2)
8 × 76mm (3in) guns
4 × 76 mm (3in) A/A guns
6 × 36mm (1.42in) A/A guns
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Denmark had a very brief baptism of fire during WWII. On April 9, 1940 the German Army swept across the unfortified border while simultaneously landing paratroops (the first use of such in combat) and conducting seaborne landings as well. The Danish government, which had been controlled by socialists in the 1920s and 30s, had gutted the military and, while the rest of Europe was girding for the next war, the Danes were laying off career officers, disbanding regiments and basically burning the bridge before they even crossed it.
This made the German invasion, launched at 0400 that morning, a walkover of sorts and by 0800 the word had come down from Copenhagen to the units in the field to stand down and just let it happen. That doesn’t mean isolated Danish units didn’t bloody the Germans up a bit. In fact, they inflicted some 200 casualties on the invaders while suffering relatively few (36) of their own. (More on that in detail here)
There is an upcoming movie from Nordisk Film on that desperate fight scheduled for release next month on the 75th anniversary of that scrap and it doesn’t look half bad.
“In the early morning of April 9th 1940 the Danish army is alerted. The Germans have crossed the border; Denmark is at war against Europe’s strongest army. In Southern Jutland Danish bicycle- and motorcycle companies are ordered out, to against all odds, hold back the forces until the Danish reinforcements can be mobilized. In the fatal hours, we follow second lieutenant Sand (Pilou Asbæk) and his bicycle company – they will as the first Danish soldiers meet the enemy in combat on April 9th 1940.”
For well over a century JM Marlin’s firearms company made a line of pump action shotguns that got little attention when compared to their much more popular rifle line that both began the company and endure today. Among this flock of rare birds included the super groovy Model 120 with its optional forty-inch (40 inch) goose barrel.
That is not a misprint.
As a guy who has a zombie flavored blog, has written two zombie apocalypse books and is working on a third (to be released this fall!), I tend to stay on top of all things green. With that being said, I noticed this most excellent preview for an upcoming zombie film called Maggie, staring one former governor of California.
Back in the early 1990s C. Reed Knight Jr.’s Knight’s Armament Co (KAC) of Vero Beach, California responded to a shadowy call from a government agency as yet unnamed to produce a small and short ranged but devastating suppressed rifle. Their answer was a unique weapon based upon a Ruger Super Red Hawk.
The story goes that KAC built the gun on spec to provide a weapon capable of making effective anti-personnel shots at ranges of up to 100-yards, while being capable of a rapid follow-up shot. The rub was that it could not eject shell casings (so there would be nothing left behind by the user to pick up before leaving the area presumably). This ruled out semi-autos, bolt, pump, and lever actions. In fact, it left the revolver as the answer. But everyone knows you can’t suppress a revolver, right?
Well, about that.
History of suppressed revolvers
Back in the 1930s, the Soviets took the Nagant M1895 pistol and added a neat and (reportedly) very effective suppressor to the barrel for use by their secret police and special operations kind of people. These guns remained in service into the specifically designed APB (Avtomaticheskij Pistolet Besshumnyj- automatic silenced pistol) was produced in the 1970s to replace it.
What made the earlier revolver special was the fact that the inventor, a Belgian by the name of Emil Nagant, designed his wheel gun to push the cylinder forward at the moment before firing, creating a near airtight seal in the chamber. Further, the gun used a unique 7.62×38R cartridge that had a recessed bullet, which completed the gas-seal when the gun fired. Now Emil did this to add some velocity to the underpowered 108-grain bullet– but the Soviets figured out a generation later that it could also work for a suppressed weapon.
In the West, the U.S. made their own suppressed revolver during the Vietnam conflict for the use of tunnel rats who needed an effective but muted gun (for obvious safety reasons– they were underground!) that was short enough to move around the Viet Cong tunnels with that also had a muted muzzle blast.
In 1966, the Army made a half-dozen tunnel rat kits that included a suppressed Smith .38 with downloaded ammunition for use by these underground gladiators. However they weren’t liked and weren’t really all that silent due to the escaping gas from the cylinder.
Another attempted solution was the 1969-era Quiet Special Purpose Revolver, a Smith and Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum that was chambered for a very low power special .410-ish Quiet Special Purpose Round filled with 15 tungsten balls in a plastic sabot. Since the ammunition itself had about as much powder as a 4th of July party popper, the gun was fitted with a short smoothbore barrel and did not need a suppressor. Just 75 were made and, though quickly withdrawn from Army use, were purportedly still utilized by SOG in places that never existed late into the war.
This brings us to the 1990s when again, for an end-user not currently known, KAC moved to make another suppressed revolver and went Ruger.
Today, no less than 137,929 armed law enforcement officers in 104 agencies work for the federal government (and that’s 2006 figures!). Besides agencies under the Justice Department, Defense and Homeland Security, there exists a myriad of armed OIG agents who investigate largely regulatory crimes. This includes such diverse groups as the seven agents for the Peace Corps, a pair of special agents of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the 52 criminal investigators of the Environmental Protection Agency’s OIG.
However back in the early part of the 20th Century, it wast like that at all. The agents for the FBI weren’t even armed until the 1920s. In fact, they had to get local cops to go with them on arrests in case something went sideways. The same goes for Treasury Agents (we’d call them IRS CID guys today) who went after big wigs in the underworld like Alfonse Capone for tax evasion of all things.
Well after the mob violence of that era really ramped up, these agents too began to arm themselves by any means necessary. One was a guy named Mike Malone. Never heard of him? How about this:
“Michael Malone was, I believe, the greatest undercover agent in the history of law enforcement,” said Paul Camacho, a former head of IRS criminal investigations in Las Vegas and an unofficial agency historian. “This was the riskiest assignment you could ever think of. People were dying left and right, witnesses were dying left and right. Nobody wanted to be with these guys.”
Malone infiltrated Capone’s gang and worked undercover for nearly three years, Camacho said, passing himself off as a wiseguy from Philadelphia who had migrated to Chicago.
Ever seen the 80s crime classic The Untouchables? Well Sean Connery’s character, Jimmy Malone, was loosely based on him.
And his piece, that he carried for those three years, a Smith and Wesson .38 with a defaced serial number, is now headed to the Mob Museum to go on display after being shuttled among family and friends for the past 90 years. .
The Coast Guard has been neck deep in the fighting in every U.S. war from the 1800s to the Persian Gulf, with WWII being no exception. One of the coasties that served in that conflict was Linwood “Tick” Thumb, the oldest living veteran from that war.
He just had his 100th.
Tick served on a 83-foot “splinter boat” operating out of Hampton Roads (Little Creek) during the height of Operation Drumbeat, the German U-boat campaign on the U.S East Coast.
Having grown up on the water, Thumm figured he would take to the Coast Guard like the Wright brothers took to flying. After joining the Coast Guard and becoming a seaman 1st class, he tested for the Coast Guard Academy. Thumm’s proficiency in math paid off on the exam when he achieved a near perfect score on the celestial navigation portion. Having entered and successfully completed the program, he became an officer and was given command of an 83-foot cutter crew stationed at Naval Base Little Creek in what is now Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Thumm and his crew spent the first part of the war escorting convoys along the Atlantic seaboard, mostly from New Jersey to North Carolina. During one of these escorts, Thumm and the crew spotted a German U-boat, and with the help of a few depth charges, sent the U-boat to its final resting place on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. A naval panel at Fort Story in Virginia Beach investigated the encounter, but only credited them with a possible kill – a categorization Thumm attributes more to jealousy on behalf of the navy than a lack of evidence. In his mind, Thumm didn’t need the Navy to confirm the kill – his crew found half of a German officer’s body in the water and that was good enough for him.
Happy 100th Tick, thank you for your service.