Christmas at Sea: 1942 Convoy Edition

Official caption: “Somewhere on the storm-tossed Atlantic aboard a U.S. Coast Guard Cutter crossing the shipping lanes guarding a convoy of supplies to America’s fighting men on the far-flung battlefronts. Christmas is the same as any other day to the vigilant men of the Coast Guard who seek out the enemy submarines attempting to molest the continual bridge of ships supplying our men across the seas.” Photo released 11/25/1942.

Note the loaded K-gun, stern depth charge racks, liferafts at the ready to snag floating survivors, and the O1 Division guys trying to stay out of the wash. USCG photo. NARA 26-G-11-25-42(5)

Seagoing East Coast-based cutters were assigned to augment the Navy’s Neutrality Patrol in September 1939 and, by November 1941, the entire branch was transferred to the Navy in toto. While squadrons of brand-new U.S. Navy patrol frigates and destroyer escorts were crewed by Coasties later in the war, in 1942 the USCG had six of seven 327-foot Treasury-class cutters, four 240-foot Tampa-class cutters, the 216-foot USCGC Northland, and 12 165-foot Thetis/Argo class cutters operating in the EASTSEAFRON and North Atlantic.

One, USCGC Alexander Hamilton (WPG-34) was sunk on 29 January1942 by U-132 while patrolling the Icelandic coast. However, the service quickly avenged her death as USCGC Icarus (WPC-110) bagged U-352 off North Carolina’s “Torpedo Junction” in May while sistership USCGC Thetis (WPC-115) depth charged U-157 to the bottom of the Florida Straits in June.

70 Years Ago today: King of Battle!

A pair of 155mm Gun Motor Carriage, M40 (T83) “Long Toms” of Baker Battery, 937th Field Artillery Battalion, providing fire support to U.S. Army 25th Infantry Division, Munema, Korea, 26 November 1951.

Tracing its lineage to the 1st Regiment, Arkansas State Guards, in 1897– which was reformed as the 2nd Arkansas Volunteer Infantry during the SpanAm War (but never made it further south than Alabama) then simply as the 2nd Arkansas Infantry to guard the Southern border against Pancho Villa in 1916– they traded their blue hat cords for red when they were redesignated the 142nd Field Artillery Regiment to go fight the Kaiser. Assigned to the 39th Infantry (Delta) Division, they left for France in the summer of 1918 with their tractor-drawn 155 mm GPF howitzers, but were certified too late to “see the elephant.”

Demobilized and sent back to Arkansas, the 142nd was recalled to active federal service on 6 January 1941. Reformed as the 142nd Field Artillery Group with two additional battalions– the 936th and 937th– which landed in Italy in November 1943, participating in the drive across the Rapido River and the liberation of Rom, then the 937th was sent to land in France during the Dragoon operation, fighting its way to the Rhineland. In all, the 937th fired over 200,000 155mm shells during WWII.

Returning home after the VE Day, the 937th had its HQ based at Fort Smith while its three gun batteries and support elements. were at Mena, Paris, and Ozark.

In response to the Korean War, both the 936th and 937th were mobilized 2 August 1950 and the latter was sent to Fort Hood for training, arriving in Korea in time to fire its first combat mission 3 April 1951.

As noted by Arkansas Army and Air National Guard, a History and Record of Events, 1820–1962

The battalion went into line with the I Corps on 30 April near Uijongbu, Korea. During the Chinese Spring Drive, the battalion fell back to Seoul and was moved to IX Corps. Battery A continued with X Corps and was attached to the 1st Marine Division. On 17 May 1952 the battalion was attached to 2nd Infantry Division, IX Corps. For the action with 2nd Division, Battery C and Headquarters Battery received the Distinguished Unit Citation. The battalion continued in general support to IX Corps from 28 July 1953 until 9 October 1954.

Cyd Charisse in Korea. Charlie Battery gun, 937th. Other guns in C Battery in Korea included Cactus Country, Charming Cynthia, Constance Cummings, and Courageous Confederate. See the theme?

M40 155mm Long Toms Charlie Battery 937th FA bn Korea May June 1951

The battalion was awarded battle streamers for the following campaigns: First U.N. Counteroffensive; CCF Spring Offensive; UN Spring Offensive; UN Summer-Fall Offensive; Second Korean Winter; Korea, Summer-Fall 1952; Third Korean Winter and Korea, Summer 1953. The 937th fired 223,400 combat rounds in Korea and suffered thirteen killed in action and 156 wounded in action. The battalion was inactivated on 26 November 1954.

Following the conflict, the 936th and 937th were simplified as the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 142nd Field Artillery, using towed 155s, before upgrading to 8-inchers in the 1970s.

2nd Bn/142nd FA, formerly the 937th of WWII and Korean War fame, deployed overseas during Desert Storm as one of the last units with the big 8-inch M110A2 howitzer, in notable Arkansas fashion.

Howitzer Section Number 1, Battery A, 2nd Battalion, 142nd Field Artillery, Arkansas Army National Guard, Operation Desert Storm, Crew Members SSG Robert Sampley, Jackie Hickey, Stanley Henson, JR Rankin, Earl Duty

Today, “The most combat-ready unit in Arkansas” is still around, having switched to M109s in 1994.

An M109A6 Paladin howitzer of Charlie Battery, 2nd Battalion, 142nd Field Artillery Brigade, fires a round during a fire mission at the Fort Chaffee Joint Maneuver Training Center near Barling, Arkansas, May 14. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Stephen M. Wright) 05.12.2019

There is at least one “Long Tom” still in the 142nd inventory.

This M40 155mm howitzer served Alpha battery 937th FA in Korea in 1951 during the Korean War. This gun A-7 is out front of the Nations National Guard Armory in Mena, Arkansas.

Happy Thanksgiving, Cavite Barracks edition

100 years and one day ago today: Thanksgiving Day menu for a dinner held at the Marine Barracks, Cavite, Philippine Islands on 24 November 1921.

From the Otto Dander Collection (COLL/2431) at the Marine Corps Archives and Special Collections.

At the time, predating deployment of the famed “China Marines” of the 4th Marine Regiment to the region, the entire Corps numbered a paltry 22,990 officers and men, mostly afloat, detailed for the occupation of Haiti, and embroiled in the Banana Wars of Central America. However, with MAJ E. H. “Pete” Ellis working on his unauthorized (at least officially) 30,000-word report– his “Advanced Base Operations in Micronesia” — outlining a strategy for the Marines to win the war he foresaw brewing in the Pacific against a growing and increasingly aggressive East Asian power (then the Empire of Japan) the coming “pivot to the East” seems very relevant today. Ellis had served in the PI on the eve of his, um, extracurricular activities against the Empire.

The Cavite Barracks, dating back to 1900, was in 1921 home to a company-sized element responsible for the security of the area, based at first in the old Spanish Fort San Felipe, then in new-construction barracks after about 1908, as the Navy expanded into nearby Olongapo and the Subic Bay area.

USMC Parade, Review, and inspection, Olongapo, Philippines, circa 1908 “Heavy Marching Order.” From the Earl H. “Pete” Ellis Collection (COLL/3246) at the Archives Branch, Marine Corps History Division

“Pistol Firing, Maquinaya, USMC Range”, Philippines, circa 1909. From the Earl H. “Pete” Ellis Collection (COLL/3246) at the Archives Branch, Marine Corps History Division

The above Thanksgiving menu is prepared by mess officer, 2nd LT JS Monahan, and approved by unit commander MAJ HH Kipp.

Born 16 February 1879 in New York and, after a stint at Wesleyan, taken into service 3 December 1900 at the rank of 2nd LT, Howard Hapgood Kipp went to the PI in 1909 as part of a detachment of four officers (of which he was the junior) and 100 Marines. He spent the Great War detailed to the Inspector’s Department, having been assigned in 1916 as a Captian at Marine Barracks New York. Promoted to Lt. Col. 11 February 1924, his name was added to the retired list 3 January 1927 having served two years, nine months at sea as well as 12 years, five months on foreign service. He died in 1940. His wife, Katherine “Kitty” Bloodgood, was a vaudeville performer of some note and survived him by 25 years. His son, Hapgood Kipp, born in 1907, was accepted to Annapolis while his father was still on active duty, and passed away in 2000.

James Stanley Monahan, born 24 September 1896 in Colorado, seems to have been accepted into the USNRF as an ensign on 6 July 1918, serving 1 year, 11 months, and 23 days. Accepted as a 2nd LT with the Marines on 6 April 1921, Cavite was undoubtedly his first overseas duty as a Devil. Monahan later served as a major with the “Magnificent Bastards” of 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines in 1940 and by October 1942 earned his own battalion, given command of the “Island Warriors” of 2/3 Marines on the lead up to Bougainville. He was a light colonel listed as XO of the 1st Marines for the assault on Iwo Jima then later, after the assault, moved up to head the HQ Battalion of the 1st MARDIV. Monahan– like his old Cavite boss Kipp– was placed on the retired list as an LTC, 1 January 1947. His son is the well-known San Diego attorney David Emory Monahan.

As for Cavite, the 700-strong 1st Separate Marine Battalion, just 20 years after the above menu was approved, was fighting the Japanese all the way to the Bataan Death March. Today, it remains home to the Philippine Marine Corps as Naval Station Pascual Ledesma.

107 Years Ago Today: Winchester Goes ‘Over There’

24 November 1914: the draft document between Winchester and the British government is knocked out for 200,000 “Cal. 303 Enfield rifles with sword bayonet and scabbard” at a cost of $32.50 each, FOB to the docks in New York.

The P14 Enfield contract draft document, via Winchester

Winchester ultimately produced 250,000 Enfield Pattern Number 14 (P14) bolt-action rifles for the British Army in caliber .303 at roughly the same time its factories cranked out 300,000 Model 1895 Muskets in 7.62x54R for the Tsarist Imperial Russian Army.

By April 1917, Winchester was cranking out over 2,000 P14s a day without breaking a sweat, although the contract for the Brits was winding down. Keep in mind that at the same time, the entire U.S. production capacity of the M1903 model .30-06 rifle was just a maximum of 1,400 per day (1,000 at Springfield Armory and 400 at Rock Island Armory).

It was a no-brainer that Winchester was soon building the modified U.S. Rifle, caliber .30 M1917, essentially a P14 chambered in .30-06, dubbed by factory workers (incorrectly) as the P17. The first Winchester M1917 came off the assembly line in August 1917. Winchester finally ceased production in April of 1919, at which point they had produced 580,000 rifles for Uncle Sam. Even a century later, some of these rifles remain in the U.S. Army’s inventory, loaned out  to assorted Veterans groups such as the VFW and American Legion where they are used for honor guard services.

Added together between the British and Russian contracts, without even mentioning the assorted contracts with Britian, France, Russia, and the U.S, for 3,400~ Winchester Model 1907 semi-autos in .351SL, and Winny produced an easy 1 million rifles for the push against the Kaiser.

The British kept the P-14 Rifles in their inventory until the end of WWII, although re-designated as the Rifle No. 3 Mark I* in 1926. The asterisk indicates a 1916 modification to the P-14s slightly lengthening the left locking lug.

P14 was renamed the ‘Rifle, No.3’ in 1926, via the Royal Armouries

The British utilized several models as sniper weapons throughout their service life due to their extreme accuracy compared to their SMLE Rifles.

Pte. John Michaud sniper from Quebec P14 target sights coveralls for training 1945. LAC MIKAN 4232750, original Kodachrome

Lost Battalion Actual

Other than Sgt. York, Eddie Rickenbacker, and Pershing himself, perhaps the best-known American Soldier of the Great War was a bookish lawyer from New York City, Charles Whittlesey.

The bespectacled 33-year-old unassuming Harvard-grad– a reformed Socialist of all things– took leave from his succesful Manhattan law firm partnership (Pruyn & Whittlesey) and joined the forming National Army for the great push against the Kaiser in May 1917.

Within a few months, with no prior military service, Whittlesey was a captain and then a major, placed in command of 1st Battalion, 308th Infantry Regiment, a unit with no prior lineage and few veterans. The battalion shipped out for Europe as part of the 77th “Liberty” Division, so-called due to the Statue of Liberty patch it carried, a reference to the fact that its men hailed largely from NYC and its boroughs and trained on Long Island in the summer and winter of 1917. Because of this, it was often referred to as “The Metropolitan Division and “The Times Square Division.”

Receiving additional training from British cadres in France, the 308th entered the trenches in the dreaded Baccarat Sector in July 1918.

After moves to the Vesle front and a subsequent shift to the Argonne Forest to participate in the Oise-Aisne campaign, the regiment was embroiled in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive where, overextended with no flank support, nine companies– mostly of 1-308 with other elements of the 77th– under Whittlesey and Captain George McMurtry found themselves encircled in a ravine by at least two enemy regiments (IR122 and IR254) behind German lines following a counterattack.

Holding out for five days under hellish conditions in the pocket before they were finally relieved, the group became known to history as “The Lost Battalion,” later the subject of at least two films of the same name.

“Our Famous ‘Lost Battalion’ in the Argonne Forest. Seven hundred of our boys were surrounded by thousands of Huns. For thirty-six hours they had had no food. Death seemed inevitable. In answer to the enemy’s messenger with an offer to spare them if they would surrender, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Whittlesey roared his historic “Go to Hell!” –which was at once “refusal, malediction, and prophecy.” By Frank Schoonover.

For much more detail on The Lost Battalion, see the extensive piece over at the WWI Centennial’s site.

Hailed for their five days against all odds and refusal to surrender, Whittlesey and McMurtry received the Medal of Honor, feted as “Heroes of the Charlevaux Ravine.”

Whittlesey’s citation:

Although cut off for five days from the remainder of his division, Major Whittlesey maintained his position, which he had reached under orders received for an advance, and held his command, consisting originally of 46 officers and men of the 308th Infantry and of Company K of the 307th Infantry, together in the face of superior numbers of the enemy during the five days. Major Whittlesey and his command were thus cut off, and no rations or other supplies reached him, in spite of determined efforts which were made by his division. On the 4th day Major Whittlesey received from the enemy a written proposition to surrender, which he treated with contempt, although he was at the time out of rations and had suffered a loss of about 50 percent in killed and wounded of his command and was surrounded by the enemy.

When it came to adjusting back to the breakout of peace following the Armistice, Whittlesey became something of a hounded rock star of the day on his return to the City. Constantly hunted down to appear at events and engagements, he worked with the Red Cross and was installed as a colonel of the 108th Infantry Regiment in the NYANG. He was likewise a lightning rod for the demobilized veterans of the 77th who found themselves cast off by the Army with no support in a slack post-war economy.

He told a confidant in 1919 that, “Not a day goes by but I hear from some of my old outfit, usually about some sorrow or misfortune. I cannot bear it much more.” To another, following a Red Cross dinner in which he made the now-expected speech about his experience with the Lost Battalion, “Raking over the ashes like this revives all the horrible memories. I can’t remember when I had a good night’s sleep.”

The final straw, it seems, was serving as a pallbearer for the Unknown Soldier at Arlington on Armistice Day 1921.

He was haunted by the thought that the nameless Soldier in the casket could have been one of the 63 members of his command that disappeared in the Charlevaux Ravine, telling McMurtry, who was also at the ceremony, “George, I should not have come here. I cannot help but wonder if that may not be one of my men from the Pocket. I shall have nightmares tonight and hear the wounded screaming once again.”

With that, just 13 days after the interment, the most eligible bachelor in Manhattan got his affairs in order and, on 24 November 1921– 100 years ago today– boarded the banana boat SS Toloa, bound for Cuba. He had told no one of his sudden trip to the Caribbean, only mentioning to his housekeeper that he would be gone for a few days over the Thanksgiving weekend. 

Two days later, he disappeared after dinner, joining the missing of the Great War in a very real sense. 

As noted by Arlington National Cemetery: 

In Whittlesey’s stateroom, crew members found a letter to the captain requesting that his belongings be thrown into the sea. They also found nine letters addressed to relatives and friends. The letters had not been written on the ship’s stationary, suggesting that the colonel had composed them prior to his trip. After an investigation, the U.S. consul in Havana determined that Charles Whittlesey had “drown[ed] at sea by own intent,” with “no remains found.”

The Lost Battalion marker by the American Battlefield Monuments Commission. 

Thunderchiefs and Skyhawk

It just doesn’t get much prettier than this.

Official caption: “Three Republic F-105B Thunderchief aircraft from the 508th Tactical Fighter Group, U.S. Air Force Reserve, and two U.S. Navy McDonnell Douglas TA-4J Skyhawk aircraft from Fleet Composite Squadron VC-1 flying in formation off Oahu, Hawaii (USA), on 25 January 1978.”

Source U.S. DefenseImagery photo VIRIN: DN-SC-82-02245 Author PH3 (AC) T.J. PFRANG. Via the National Archives.

Of note, both types saw extensive service in Vietnam with their respective branches, taking heavy losses in both cases. The photo was close to their swan song, as they were both set for imminent retirement. 

Buzos Tácticos!

The Buzos Tácticos de la Armada de Chile, literally the Tactical Divers of the Chilean Navy, are an elite part of the 300-strong Comando de Fuerzas Especiales (COMFUES) commando unit. Dating in its current form back to just 2005 when both Marine and Navy units merged to create the current format, Chile has maintained a frogman unit continually since 1959 when it was formed with help from the British SBS and Italian COMSUBIN types.

Today, they continue to train regularly with both NATO combat swimmer units and the SEALs, and it shows.

The Buzos Tácticos show lots of U.S./NATO influence. I mean just dig those shorty Colts, multicam, boonies, and Dragers! (Photo: Armada de Chile)

The country’s defense ministry last week posted an interesting 6-minute doc on the Buzos Tácticos that, even if you don’t speak Spanish, really needs no subtitles. Lots of helicasting, Drager rebreather use, kayak teams, raider boats, and the like. Curiously, they also are trained in hazardous SAR and hard hat salvage/construction diving as well, skillsets that could have other applications in wartime or counter-terror ops.

Anyway, enjoy!

You get an optics cut! You get an optics cut! Everyone gets an optics cut!

Smith & Wesson continues with the industry-wide trend towards carry optics by adding new M&P9 M2.0 variants with factory MRD cuts.

The two new pistol variants– the full-sized and Compact M&P9 M2.0– ship complete with Smith’s C.O.R.E. system of seven mounting plates, allowing the user to mount a wide variety of popular micro red dot optics. Tall optics/suppressor-height three-dot sights co-witness through MRDs. A further upgrade is the company’s new M2.0 flat face trigger, a design that S&W says optimizes trigger finger positioning and delivers consistency for more accurate shot placement.

Which has to be a good thing, right?

More in my column at Guns.com.

Griffin it up

ARABIAN GULF (Nov. 05, 2021) The Cyclone-class coastal patrol ship USS Firebolt (PC 10) fires a Griffin missile during a test and proficiency fire in the Arabian Gulf, Nov. 5, 2021. Firebolt, assigned to Commander, Task Force (CTF) 55, is supporting maritime security operations and theatre security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Aleksander Fomin) 211105-A-PX137-0082

Technically the BGM-176B Griffin B, or the Sea Griffin, is the navalized ground-launched version of Raytheon’s low-cost (compared to more advanced missiles) 34-pound bunker/tank buster that was lighter than the Hellfire used by the Army was originally designed for use from helicopters, UAVs and Marine KC-130s/USAF MC-130s.

Originally pitched as an add-on for the LCS to enable it to zap especially rowdy pirates and asymmetric fast boat threats, the 13-pound warhead would only really be effective against a larger ship in the case of bridge shots and needs an operator with a semi-active laser to paint a target. With that, the Navy opted for a modified Longbow Hellfire– which can use the ship’s radar and be used against multiple targets at once– for the LCS, along with the Naval Strike Missile for heavy work.

However, adopted as the MK-60 Patrol Coastal Griffin Missile System (GMS), the chunky Griffin B has been getting it done on the 170-foot Cyclones, in twin four-cell topside mounts, since 2013. This gives each of these short boys eight decently powerful close-in (3-5nm) missiles, coupled with the ability to use the ship’s mast-mounted Bright Star EO/IR camera for targeting, which gives them a solid stand-off capability against Iranian Boghammars and similar threats. 

Personally, I’d like to see it installed on the Coast Guard’s very similar 158-foot Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutters, at least for the six of the class intended to operate forward deployed with PATFORSWA in the Persian Gulf under CENTCOM. They could also likely be of use on the USCG’s increasingly WestPac units of the same class

Video of Firebolt’s recent test:

 

Saluting AB Clark, late of HMAS Sydney

From the office of the Australian Defense Minister:

Eighty years after the Australian warship HMAS Sydney (II) sunk off the West Australian coast, the only body recovered from the tragedy has now been identified.

New DNA evidence has confirmed Able Seaman (AB) Thomas Welsby Clark from New Farm in Brisbane as the previously unidentified sailor.

The Sydney sank on 19 November, 1941 following an intense battle with the disguised German merchant raider HSK Kormoran, about 120 nautical miles (222 km) west of Steep Point, WA.

AB Clark is believed to be the only sailor to have made it to a life raft after the ship went down.

Despite surviving the battle and the sinking, he tragically died at sea in the life raft. His remains were found near Rocky Point on Christmas Island nearly three months later.

DNA samples collected from his body in 2006 have been extensively tested over the past 15 years and revealed both mitochondrial DNA, passed from mother to child, and Y chromosome DNA passed from father to son.

Research facilitated by the Sea Power Centre – Australia has successfully identified two living direct relatives.

Minister for Veterans Affairs and Minister for Defence Personnel Andrew Gee said the formal identification was a significant development in Sydney’s story and an historic moment for Australia.

“To finally learn Tom’s name, rank, service number and home town, 80 years after he was lost is truly remarkable”, Minister Gee said.

“It is says a lot about Australia that, despite the decades that have passed, our nation is still working so hard to identify those lost in war and ensuring we honour the sacred commitment to remember them.

“I know this is a terribly sad time for Tom’s family. Like his brave shipmates, he died defending Australia, our values and way of life. His family should be immensely proud.

“The Office of Australian War Graves has agreed that next year Tom’s grave in Geraldton War Cemetery will be marked by a new headstone bearing his name. He will be ‘unknown’ no longer.

“By identifying Tom, our nation honours all those who lost their lives in HMAS Sydney (II).

“His story helps Australia understand the immense sacrifice made for our country and also the loss and grief that is still felt by the descendants of those who perished on that day.

“Today our nation also extends its deepest sympathies to the descendants of the 644 other crew members who were sadly never recovered after that infamous battle.

“They gave their lives protecting our nation and fighting tyranny, and by ending the threat posed by the Kormoran they undoubtedly saved many other Australian lives.

“At this time we remember them and all of the 39,000 Australians who lost their lives in the Second World War.”

Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Mike Noonan said AB Clark was just 21 years old when he died and was representative of the many young lives lost in the battle.

“Of Sydney’s total complement of 645 men no one survived. This included six Royal Australian Air Force members, eight Royal Navy personnel and four civilian canteen staff. Eighty-two officers and sailors were killed in Kormoran,” said Vice Admiral Noonan.

“We revere the service and sacrifice of all who perished.

“Solving this World War II case involved specialists in DNA analysis, forensic pathology and dentistry, ballistics, anthropology, archaeology and naval history. I commend the combined effort spearheaded by the Sea Power Centre to confirm AB Clark’s identity.

“The Australian Federal Police National DNA Program for Unidentified and Missing Persons was instrumental, as were the Australian National University, Australian War Memorial, University of Adelaide and University of Sydney, not to mention Able Seaman Thomas Clark’s family.”

“His long voyage is complete, may he Rest in Peace.”

Dr Leigh Lehane, (a retired academic) was surprised and saddened to learn her Uncle Tom was the unknown sailor.

“To be quite honest it was a bit upsetting,” she said.

However, she said establishing the truth was important.

“I am so grateful for the many, many people, well over a hundred, who helped ascertain the truth about his identity,” Dr Lehane said.

She was born in July 1941, the month before her Uncle Tom joined Sydney. According to a family story he met his new niece on a final visit to Brisbane.

“He came and held me as a little baby. That’s a very pleasurable thought because I don’t think anyone else is alive now who knew Tom sort of eye to eye,” Dr Lehane said.

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